Read Chapter One HereCOPYRIGHT LISA RENEE JONES 2016. NO PART OF THIS IS TO BE COPIED OR REPLICATED WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR.
Present day – Dallas, TX
“Holy hell,” I murmur, glancing in the rearview mirror of the black classic Mustang I’m driving, my gaze catching on the white pick-up two vehicles back, and the outline of two familiar people inside it. Scowling, I grab my cellphone from the drink holder to hit the call button. “Siri,” I command. “Dial Whataburger,” I say, my favorite burger joint, code for the number connecting my temporary phone to Royce Walker’s.
“Dialing Whataburger,” Siri replies, and I decide right then that she’s the only woman in the Walker Security regime that actually follows orders. The ex-FBI agent in that damn truck behind me sure doesn’t, but then neither does the ex-ATF agent sitting next to her that I usually call my friend and boss. Royce ordered him to hold down the fort for Walker Security in New York.
“Yeah?” Royce answers gruffly.
“Blake and Kara are here, tailing me, and if they don’t know I’m about to meet with a bigwig inside the Alvarez cartel, they will if you don’t get them off my ass.”
“He was just at a wedding in Sonoma. How the hell would they know we’re in Dallas?” I can almost hear him scowl at the question before he says, “Don’t answer. He’s my fucking pain in the ass younger brother, which means he figured out the case I pulled you in for is really about Alvarez, and hacked every electronic device we own.”
“Like I hacked my way into finding out that Alvarez is alive,” I say, a skill I share with him, as surely as I do a bloody history. “They can’t know Alvarez is alive. If they find out we have a lead on him after rumors of his death a few months ago, that gives them hope that Kara’s sister is as well, and we have no idea if that’s true.”
“She’s alive,” he says. “She might not be the flavor of the month at his side, but he wouldn’t kill her. Not when he could push her into the sex trafficking operation.”
“You don’t know that, Royce, and I was there the night Alvarez blew up a helicopter and made us all think he and she were dead for a split second. And then the solid rumors of his death, and possibly hers, months ago…It was hell for Kara and I saw how Blake responded. He has a lot of pent up hate for Alvarez. Give him a reason and he will kill him before we save the rest of the women.”
“It’s been almost three years since Whitney died, Kyle. He has Kara now.”
“Three years, since his then-fiancée was slaughtered by Alvarez feels like yesterday, if you open the wound. Believe me, I was there when that happened, too. You don’t want that Blake to return.”
He is silent for several beats in which I turn a corner, and so does that damn white pick-up. “I’ll contain them,” he finally says.
“Contain them?” I demand, scrubbing my newly shaved face, having given up my beard for this assignment. “Tell me that means you’re getting them the fuck out of here.”
“I’ll evaluate when you let me off the damn phone.”
“I need to cancel the meeting,” I say, certain this is going to get us all killed. “I’m pulling over.”
“You will not pull over,” he orders, pulling the hard-ass boss routine. “You know damn well that if you do, Blake will follow, and you risk your cover being blown. We both know you aren’t going to do that. And you say you know Blake, so you know that means he’s not following you on a hunch. He knows. I’m not going to trick him into thinking this isn’t about Alvarez.”
He’s right. “Fuck,” I growl.
“Yeah,” he concurs. “Fuck. And for the record, you and I might share an FBI background, but you don’t understand the fuck about me if you think I can’t handle my brother. Get to that meeting and get inside Alvarez’s operation. Be the guy they hire to be the notorious bodyguard those with big secrets hire when they need protection. Then be his worst nightmare.”
“I’m already sold as that guy.” I shift back to what’s important right now, in this moment. “You’re close to this too, Royce. This isn’t a job we took for Walker Security. It’s family.”
“You’re right. It is. And you’re our family now, so focus on your damn job or you’ll end up dead, in which case I’ll drag you out of your grave to kick your ass.” And in typical Royce fashion, he assumes my compliance, as he does everyone’s, and hangs up, giving me no time to question if I should back the hell out of this meeting tonight.
But I’m not backing out. I’m going to get this done and over with, for all of us, once and for all. Bodyguard isn’t exactly the kind of infiltration Blake once had as a security expert that could shield Alvarez’s entire operation, but it’s an in. I’ll make half a million dollars for eight weeks of work, which says I’m reaching fairly high up the chain. The hotel is now in my line of sight, and it’s time to pray Royce has this handled.
“Siri,” I say, pulling into the driveway of the Ritz.
“Yes, Kyle,” Siri says. “What can I help you with?”
“Clear all phone and text logs,” I say, eyeing my rear mirror with no white pick-up in sight.
“Clearing all phone and text logs,” Siri confirms, and I stop at the door, grabbing my phone and confirming her work.
“At least you’re reliably compliant, Siri.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Kyle,” Siri says.
“Of course you can’t,” I grumble, scrubbing a hand through my blond hair that screams outsider to a Mexican cartel, or so my contact Juan told me at our first meeting. But then that was the point of shaving my beard, too. I’m supposed to be the outsider they need on the inside, and it’s worked or I’d never have made it to meeting number two and now three.
The doorman opens my door and despite it being February, I step outside into the year round Texas humidity of my childhood, my roots here helping establish my cover story. “Hello sir,” the fifty-something, rather stately, man greets me. “Will you be staying with us tonight?”
“Just a few hours,” I say, offering him my keys before I smooth down the navy jacket of one of my “go to” suits from my days in the FBI. “Keep her safe.”
“Always, sir,” he assures me, offering me a ticket, his face completely straight as he adds, “But I shall fantasize about driving her on the highway at a hundred and forty miles an hour.”
“I’ve had that same fantasy,” I assure him, and considering I used this job as an excuse to buy the gorgeous beast, I revel a bit in the idea that I can actually do it. “I need to get on that.”
“You do indeed, sir.”
“Kyle,” I say, palming him a large bill. “Sir makes me feel like my father.”
“Kyle,” he repeats, “and I’m Les Gordan, should you need anything.”
“Thanks, Les,” I say, heading toward the double doors, and entering to find shiny tile beneath my feet, a centerpiece table filled with a couple dozen vases of flowers and a glass chandelier above my head. It’s dripping money, and for some that would make them regret what they don’t have, but not me. I have money, beyond the income I make at Walker Security, which I don’t touch for one reason and one reason only. It’s blood money.
Cutting left into a bar area, where a thick, blue and gray swirled rug sits beneath clusters of tables with high back chairs, my contact is nowhere in sight. As I’m about to turn back and call him, he slides out of a booth and waves me forward, his suit 70’s pale blue, but expensive. At the same moment, a woman wearing a slim-fitted white dress, with long, dark hair, slides out of the seat across from him and walks toward the bathroom. I discreetly suck in air, the idea of this being Myla, impossible to ignore, but that’s ridiculous. It can’t be her. Could it be her? Could it be this easy to have her land in my lap?
I step forward, closing the space between myself and Juan, who is thirty-nine, five years my senior, and my research tells me that all those years were spent doing very bad things, with zero remorse. “Glad you made it,” he says, as I reach him, eyeing his watch. “You’re five minutes late.”
“You told me about the meeting thirty minutes ago. I’m fifteen minutes earlier than I should have been, considering I had a woman in my bed at the time.”
“At least you came up with a good excuse,” he snaps, the lights in here doing his sun baked skin no favors, giving it a kind of raisin-like quality.
“I don’t do excuses,” I say, about to sit down when another brunette, dressed in jeans and boots, walks by…and holy shit. It’s Kara, and she’s headed straight for the archway the other woman disappeared around. “And actually,” I add, “I need to make a quick phone call to a paying client.”
“We’re going to be paying clients.”
“I’ll put off the ones that already are when I have the cash.” I don’t give him time to argue, making fast tracks in pursuit of Kara, rounding the corner and finding an alcove with two doors, one marked Men, while Kara exits the second one marked Women, her hand pressed to her face.
“What the hell are you doing?” I demand, stepping toe-to-toe with her.
She jolts and looks up at me, having been unaware I’m even present until now, and considering what a badass investigator she is, that’s saying a lot about where her head is. “Kyle,” she gasps, hugging herself, defeat in her face. “I’m sorry. I just thought…I thought it was her, but it wasn’t.”
Not only do her words confirm she and Blake know about our hunt for Alvarez, but their revelation punches me in the gut. I wanted that woman to be Myla, too, for Kara and for all of us. “Even if it had been her-” I begin.
“I know,” she says quickly, holding up a hand. “I know. I was stupid to rush in here. Blake’s furious with me and I need to go before that woman, whoever she is, comes out of the bathroom.”
“Yes. Go. Now.”
“Thank you for trying to find Myla,” she whispers, but she doesn’t step away. “But first a warning. The woman I followed has deep cleavage, and I know that doesn’t mean much, but my gut, which is good, says that she’s either meant to test you or reward you.” She doesn’t wait for a reply, darting around me and disappearing, after delivering what I am certain is a spot-on assessment of the setup in the works.
Nevertheless, I’m pissed as hell that she was here, and I snag my phone from my pocket, and dial Royce. “Kara was just here. What the fuck happened to contained?” I’ve barely issued the question when the woman Kara had followed exits the bathroom, her cleavage indeed deep, her features harder and darker than Myla’s, but none of these things matter. What matters is the way she pauses, looking at me like she expects me to walk her back in the bathroom and fuck her here and now.
She points and says, “I…I’ll see you back at the table.” She rushes past me, but not before I spy a certain familiar mix of fear and desperation in her eyes that has me flashing back to the past. To the moment when a helicopter that was supposed to have Myla inside exploded, and Kara had let out a blood-curdling scream at the loss of her sister. Then to a moment later that night when I’d watched the security footage of Myla just before she walked to the rooftop where the incident had taken place. She’d passed a camera and looked right into the lens, and there was no mistaking the fear and desperation in her eyes that spoke to me. I wanted to save her. I needed to save her, and then the damn helicopter had blown up, leaving her dead in everyone’s mind but mine for some reason.
“Kyle,” Royce snaps. “Are you there? Is your cover blown? Are you in danger?”
Shaking off the memory, I return to the present. “No and no,” I reply. “I have to get back to my meeting. I’ll call you when I can and no sooner, but no more fucking surprises.” I end the connection and clear the record of the communication, already walking as I do.
Slipping my phone back into my pocket, I re-enter the bar, and make my way to Juan and the woman who now sits across from him, in the spot that would be mine, obviously meant to force me to choose to sit by one of the two of them. Not about to be forced into anything, I grab a chair from a nearby table and place it at the end of the booth, effectively putting me between them both.
Juan arches a brow. “You have a problem sitting with us?”
“I prefer a workable distance.” I eye the woman and then him. “Is she my new assignment?”
“She’s my sister,” he says, the announcement shifting my gaze back to him.
A sister who hates her life and wants to be saved. He’s a bigger bastard than I imagined. “You want me to protect your sister?”
“I protect my sister,” he corrects.
“Then why’s she here?”
“To see how easily you’re distracted,” he says, confirming she was a test.
“I’m not. Now what?”
“You’re very white in the midst of a Mexican operation,” he comments, the change of topic obviously meant to rattle me. It doesn’t work.
“For an extra million I’ll get a tan,” I promise dryly.
“You stand out,” he says, as if I haven’t spoken. “You draw attention to us we don’t need and I don’t like that you’re ex-FBI.”
“And here I thought you enjoyed turning law enforcement against its own. If I make you nervous-”
“Not nervous,” he snaps. “Suspicious and yes. We like corrupting the supposedly incorruptible, but this is too close to comfort for me.”
“And yet we’re on meeting number three.”
“The closer you are, the easier to put a bullet in your head,” he counters.
My lips quirk. “Had I known we were going to talk dirty tonight, I’d have had a drink first.” I don’t give him time to reply. “Why am I here?”
“Because the powers that be think this is a good idea,” he says, no doubt referencing Alvarez.
“Does he win this conflict, or do you?”
“He always wins, but I influence him.” He pauses. “Strongly.”
My eyes narrow, finding a bluff in his call. “Time is money. Two free meetings is all you get, and this is number three.” I repeat and I start to stand.
“Wait,” he says, stopping me midway to my feet. “You’re hired.”
I hesitate several beats for effect, then slowly ease back into my chair. “I thought I was a sore thumb FBI agent?”
He ignores the remark. “A million dollars for eight weeks of work.”
It’s double the named price, which tells me the person I’m mean to protect is closer to Alvarez than I’d thought. “Who am I guarding?”
“Does it matter? You’re making a million fucking dollars.”
“Do you want the person protected or not?”
His eyes glint hard and he reaches into his pocket, handing me an envelope. I accept it and open it, finding a contract for the money discussed with the terms for which I will perform my duties. The jest. No one gets killed, captured, or wounded, or I pay the money back times two, while further consequences will be considered.
“I need to meet the person in question before I sign this.”
“We’ll be in touch.” He stands and so does the woman, whose name I don’t even know at this point, and they leave.
Standing, I follow in their footsteps, dialing Royce as I do, and stating, “Where do you want to meet?”
“Your buddy’s bar,” he says, naming a spot downtown, which one of my ex-FBI pals now runs. It’s also a place I know I’ve been followed to many times, making a trip there expected rather than suspicious. A perfect place to have a one-on-one with the ever hard-headed men of Walker Security.
Twenty minutes later, I pull into the parking lot of “Dan’s” and while I don’t find any familiar cars, I’m confident Royce and Blake are present. Reaching across the vehicle, I grab my Walker Security phone from the glove box, and stick it in my pocket, before exiting, and crossing the parking lot. Entering the bar through the back door, I’ve made it all of two steps when Dan, as bulked up and Hulkish as ever, greets me.
“Downstairs,” he says, motioning toward a stairwell between us, his graying dark hair aging him to forty when he’s actually in his thirties like me.
“I’ll lock the back and watch the front.”
“Thanks man,” I say, stopping toe-to-toe with him, shaking his hand, our grips strong, as was our bond for five years in the same Texas field office. “Come to work for Walker Security and you’ll get paid for shit like this.”
“You’ve been home a month, and said that at least six times. You know my answer. I’m retired.”
I press my hands to my hips. “Thirty-four is too damn young to retire.”
“It’s also too damn young for a lot of things,” he says softly, referencing the cascade of blood that’s been his life, far more than it has mine.
“That’s why we stick together.”
“That’s why I’m getting the damn door and you’re going downstairs.”
I rub my jaw, a light stubble forming, and he steps around me, successfully shutting me down once again. “I’ll keep asking,” I say, heading down the steps and entering the concrete cellar that is wrapped in wine-filled wooden shelves. In the center is a long wooden table, with Royce on one end and Blake on the other, with Kara by his side.
“Anything on Myla?” Kara asks, shooting to her feet the moment she sees me.
“Nothing,” I say, stopping at the side of the table, hands on the back of a brown leather chair, “and that’s exactly why I didn’t want you involved. There may never be anything, Kara.”
“She knows,” Blake snaps, standing, while Royce does the same, both brothers big and broad, their long hair tied at the nape, but Royce is bigger, his features harder, his attitude all about control while Blake’s is all about daring.
“I do know,” Kara adds, hugging herself as she had back at the bathroom. “I know, but I have to try to find her.”
“What do you think Royce and I are trying to do?” I look at Blake. “No one knows more than you how dangerous being too close to something can be. How can you want her here?”
“I don’t fucking want her to be here,” he snaps. “She came on her own. We were in Sonoma for the Chris Merit wedding, and she disappeared. I chartered a plane and got here just in time to catch her as she was following you to the meeting.”
“And yet you didn’t fucking stop her.”
“Stop saying FUCK!” Kara shouts. “Stop. I hate the way you always say fuck, Blake. And fuck you! This is my sister. You knew they were doing this and you didn’t tell me. I found your notes. You kept this a secret from me.”
“I was waiting to see what they found out before I got your hopes up,” Blake states. “I didn’t want you to feel everything you’re feeling right now.”
“You don’t get to decide what I feel or don’t feel. You just get to be there to help me deal with it. Do you understand?”
Blake turns her to face him, his hands on her hips. “We’ve talked about this. We’re both too close to this case to be objective. We’re both known by the Alvarez inner circle. I trust my brother and I trust Kyle. Let’s let them handle this.”
“I don’t want to let them handle this,” she hisses.
“If Myla is alive,” he says, “one wrong move and she could be dead. Think about it, Kara.”
They exchange some sort of silent communication, the air crackling around them, before she says, “I need to control this.”
“I know,” Blake says softly, “but you can’t. I have a lead on the Ella Ferguson case. Let’s get on a plane and go to Italy where I think she may be. We’ll find her while they find your sister. Distance will help you in ways you can’t understand now.”
“You have a lead on Ella?”
“I do and it’s solid. Let’s go be the ones who find her, while Kyle and Royce try to find Myla.”
He cups the back of her head, their foreheads coming together, while Royce motions me toward the stairs, and we quickly leave them alone. I’ve only just made it to the top of the landing when my phone rings, and I glance down, then up at Royce. “Juan. I told him I wanted to meet the person I’m guarding before I take the job.”
“A call this soon has to be a good sign.”
“Kyle,” is how I answer.
“That meeting you wanted is on. Back at the Ritz. Come prepared to take over tonight.”
“I haven’t agreed to take the job.”
“Be that as it may,” he says. “That decision happens tonight, and you need to be ready to stay the night.”
“That gives me no time to prepare.”
“Go by your apartment. Get your things. That’s all the preparation you need. I’ll meet you at the hotel elevator in an hour. Don’t be late this time.”
“An hour and a half.”
“An hour,” he repeats, and hangs up.
I shove my phone in my pocket. “Whoever I’m guarding is at the Ritz waiting on me. I told them I want to meet the person first. They’ve agreed, but expect me to come prepared to stay the night.”
Footsteps sound and Blake joins us, stepping between myself and Royce. “We’re going to Italy, but fuck you both for not telling me you’d found Alvarez.”
“Blake, man-” I begin.
“Fuck you, Kyle,” he says. “We’re brothers. All of us. You don’t fucking keep secrets like this.” He looks at Royce. “And you, brother. You have a wife. You know Kara changed everything for me. I put Kara before revenge.”
“I also know from having a wife,” Royce says, “that secrets are poison. I didn’t want you to have to choose to keep one from Kara. I wanted to know if this was real before we told you.”
“I have to go,” I interject, and knowing that if Blake hacked our records he knows everything. “I’m meeting the person they’re paying me to guard.”
“So you’re in,” he says, his tone flat.
“I’m in,” I confirm. “I’ll make this count, Blake. If I can find her-”
“I get Alvarez,” he says. “I get to be the one who kills him.”
“Blake, damn it-” Royce begins, and before he finishes Blake is flattening him with a stare.
“Don’t tell me how killing him will blacken my soul or some fucking bullshit like that, big brother. I’m killing him. And right now, I’m leaving the country with Kara on this job, which will be long enough to save everyone you can before I do it.” He turns around and walks down the stairs.
Royce and I look at each other and I sigh. “I guess that’s as contained as he gets.”
“No,” Royce assures me. “It isn’t. And as I said, I’ll contain him. You just go do your job.”
“Right. I’m leaving, but from this point forward, I’m keeping only the phone line I purchased for this job on me.” And because undercover is what I do well, I reach into my pocket and hand him my company phone I use for about everything, but undercover work. “I don’t want it on me.” He nods, accepting it and I add, “Tell Blake how to reach me and I’m sure I don’t have to say this, but I have to say it. Make sure he knows we’re using only non-traceable lines, from this point forward.”
“Copy that,” he says. “Just for confirmation. All calls will come from a line that will be routed to a disconnected message if called by an unknown number. And all calls made from the line will be automatically purged by our team.”
“Excellent,” I say, turning and heading for the back door, and doing so, with the world on my shoulders. Blake’s world. Kara’s world. And maybe, just maybe, Myla’s life, but that would be a good thing. It would mean she’s not dead and I have the chance to save her. Exiting the bar, the hot air suffocates me, but my adrenaline is pumping, my desire to know where this is headed, high. Clicking my locks open, I have the tingling sensation of being watched.
My lips quirk. Like I don’t know Alvarez’s people have been following me everywhere I fucking go. I climb into the Mustang and settle my phone into the holder connected to my dash. “Siri, text Whataburger.”
“Yes Kyle. What would you like to say?”
“Eyes on the bar,” I say, starting the engine.
“Texting: Eyes on the bar. Text sent.”
“Clear text, Siri,” I say, putting the car into drive.
“Text cleared, Kyle.”
And now I’m ready to find out who is worth a million dollars in eight weeks to Alvarez, and why.
An hour later, I’ve picked up a week’s worth of clothes, and handed my keys off to Les again. I also palm him a hundred dollar bill. “My bags are in the trunk. Make sure you’re the only one who touches them and bring them to me when I’m ready.”
He glances down at the bill, and gives me a short nod. “With pleasure, sir.”
I leave him and make my way inside, then to the elevator, where Juan waits on me, sans his sister. “You didn’t need your chick bait this time?” I ask.
He punches the elevator button and arches a brow. “Chick bait? I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“You wanted to know if I could be bought or bribed with pussy, which I assume is because of certain aspects of your business.” In other words, their sex trafficking operation.
“Among other things,” he concurs, and when the doors open we both step inside the car, where he sticks his key in the slot and punches in a floor.
“You are here for business. You get your pleasure elsewhere unless you’re offered compensation outside of cash.”
“By the powers that be.”
“Which would be who?” I ask, since he’s yet to tell me Alvarez is alive.
“To you, that’s me. You get all your instruction from me and through me.”
“And this person I’m protecting is important to you or your boss?”
“Whatever, and whoever, is important to my boss, is important to me. Enough for me to bleed.”
“No one bleeds when I’m around, unless I want them to,” I assure him, but of course, I want him to, and a perk of no longer being with the FBI is that there’s no longer any paperwork and reviews to follow when he does bleed.
His eyes narrow on me, as if he’s reading my mind, the intelligence in his stare declaring him a dangerous and worthy adversary, poorly placed between me and the powers that be. The elevator stops moving and he steps forward, expecting that I’ll follow, and it’s then I decide he’s not all that smart after all. You don’t put a man you’ve indicated you don’t trust at your back. I damn sure wouldn’t.
But he has, and I follow, falling into pace with him as we find our way to a double-door entrance into a suite. “You have fifteen minutes to decide if you want the job.” He slides his card and opens the door, making it clear that I’m to enter alone.
“That should be plenty of time,” I say, stepping into a long hallway that seems to walk a path through a massive suite, which must be bigger than many houses. The kind I’ve stayed in as a protective guard for a few elected officials and a movie star, compliments of Walker Security.
I shut the door behind me and flip the bolt shut, ensuring my fifteen minutes is alone, and extended, should I wish to stay longer. Instinct has me sliding a hand under my jacket, just below my gun, and the one at my ankle is more cool comfort. I start down the hallway, cautiously inspecting an empty office, several bedrooms and bathrooms, before finally reaching the end of the path, opening to a living room wrapped in windows. It’s there in the archway that I pause, sucking in air, at the sight of a woman with her back to me, staring out of the window, her petite body silhouetted in a fitted black pant suit. Adrenaline surges through me at the realization that, even without her ever turning, I know her identity. A year of searching and I’ve found Myla, but I don’t shout for joy, nor will I grab her and just get her out of here, because nothing too good to be true, is ever true. For all I know, she’s one of the Alvarez clan now and that could make her lethal to everyone in the Walker family circle, including me.
Tall, dark, and deadly, these are the stories of the men who run Walker security. Each man is unique in his methods and skills, but all share key similarities. They are passionate about those they love, relentless when fighting for a cause they believe in, and all believe that no case is too hard, no danger too dark. Dedication is what they deliver, results are their reward.
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