Jameson Force Security hides in plain sight. Housed within a dilapidated old brick warehouse in the decaying Hill District of Pittsburgh, no one in a million years would guess hundreds of thousands of dollars of advanced computer equipment and servers were inside.
Or an indoor, soundproofed gun range.
Or some of the most highly trained military and law enforcement specialists in the world.
Or a research and development division that produces some of the most high-speed tech gadgets that would make James Bond’s Q die from jealousy. That particular area is housed in a sub-basement level of the building I didn’t even know about until a week ago. The owner, Kynan McGrath, loves his surprises.
I have to say… I love everything about my move to Pittsburgh so far. I’ve been here for almost six weeks, and I’ve had no problems settling into this place as my new home.
I actually live at the headquarters on the fourth floor where Kynan built five small but luxurious apartments along with other communal-living areas like a gym, media and entertainment room, and a commercial-sized kitchen.
A few minutes late for a mandatory meeting Kynan had scheduled, I quickly leave my apartment. I don’t bother locking my door as no one here would dare enter without my permission. It goes without saying I have implicit trust in everyone Kynan employs at Jameson because I have implicit trust in him.
I don’t bother with the slow-as-molasses freight elevator at the north end of the hall. It’s always faster to take the stairs. Plus, I think they’re an architectural wonder in and of themselves. I have no clue what type of money Kynan spent renovating this dump, but the floating staircase spiraling upward from the first to fourth floors is a myriad of reclaimed wood and steel support cables that make the damn thing appear to float in thin air.
I take the steps two at a time down to the second floor where the offices and conference rooms are located along the perimeter. The interior walls are glass and a quick head count into the largest conference room shows I’m the last to arrive.
The huge table that takes up the middle is a work of art. It seats twenty, and the base is made of twisted, rusted beams of steel with a thick cement slab on top. Almost every plush leather chair around the table is filled.
Kynan cuts his eyes to me as I enter, then mutters, “Glad you could take the time from your busy schedule to join us.”
“Sorry,” I reply with a smirk as I take an empty chair next to Bebe. “Was answering an email to the president.”
Everyone whips their heads my way, but I’ve only got eyes for Kynan, who cocks an eyebrow. Not in skepticism, because I do indeed know the president of the United States, but more in annoyance I would just casually drop that name to excuse my tardiness.
So I appease him a bit. “He says he needs to talk to me about something important.”
Kynan’s expression smooths, and he sits a little straighter. “Perhaps this meeting isn’t as important as talking to the president,” he suggests.
Laughing, I shake my head. “He wants me to come to D.C. Asked you to come along as well. Tomorrow if we can.”
I’ll give Kynan credit. He’s the coolest of cucumbers, and doesn’t so much as flinch or blink in surprise. Instead, he just gives a curt nod. “We’ll talk after this meeting.”
I nod back, giving some thought as to what could be so important that Jonathan Alexander, president of the United States, wants to see Kynan and me tomorrow in D.C. But that’s going to have to wait a bit since Kynan stands from his chair to begin the meeting.
He sweeps his arm around the room. “As you can see, our conference table is getting full and we’ve got some fresh faces here today. I’ll start off by introducing the new folks.”
I look around the room, briefly glancing at each person. Since I was the first hire Kynan had made, I actually know everyone, especially since he’s had me sit in on all subsequent interviews with the exception of the man sitting across the table from me, Saint Bellinger. He was hired just days after I was, but I was on an assignment watching over Kynan’s fiancée the day Saint had been interviewed.
Of course, it’s amazing to think I still have a job after that day, seeing as I’d managed to let Joslyn get kidnapped by a psycho stalker while she was on my watch.
On the flip side, and in fairness to me, Kynan understands Joslyn gave me the slip and doesn’t fault me for losing her.
“I’m just going to go around the table to make quick introductions. I expect members who have been here longer to step up and offer guidance to the newbies.”
To Kynan’s immediate right sits a young black man with a bald head and freakish bluish-gray eyes. He’s sporting diamond studs in his ears, and he’s impeccably dressed in a tailored suit, which is expertly cut and stitched around an impressive array of muscles. I’d peg him as a professional athlete or something, but I know that’s not the case as it’s not the nature of our business.
Jameson Force Security is a private agency that contracts military and security specialists for any host of reasons from recovering kidnap victims to coordinating black-op strikes against foreign enemies.
“This is Dozer,” Kynan says as he points at the man. “I haven’t come up with a title for him yet, but he’s officially the smartest man employed by Jameson. He has an IQ of one hundred and seventy, and he turned down a very lucrative job at NASA to come join us as our head of strategy and planning as well as working with Bebe in tech. Dozer has been known to see things no one else can, which can be an invaluable resource in our line of work.”
All heads now whip toward Dozer, who has suddenly become the most interesting man in the world.
He merely grins, bright white teeth flashing against his black skin, and says, “Plus… Kynan promised me I’d get to learn how to blow shit up.”
This dude has it going on. Dresses like a damn movie star, has the good looks to go along with it, brains that make Stephen Hawking look stupid, and he wants to blow shit up. I cannot wait to have a beer with him.
My gaze moves from Dozer over to Saint, who is smirking at me. He’s thinking the same thing as I am… that we’re going to pull Dozer into the bromance we’ve had going since we started working here. We came on at the same time, and we weren’t part of the original Jameson crew that moved here from Vegas. While those guys are all amazing and I’d trust with them with my life, Saint and I bonded since we were the newbies at the time.
Kynan then points to the stunning brunette sitting on the other side of Bebe. “All of you know Dr. Corinne Ellery as she did each of your psych evaluations before you were offered employment here. I’m pleased to announce she’s going to be coming on board permanently with Jameson starting next month. For now, she’s winding up her psychiatric practice in D.C.”
“And what will the beautiful Dr. Ellery be doing, exactly?” Cage Murdock asks with a charming smile thrown her way, which she ignores. He’s one of the Vegas transplants.
“She’s going to be making sure all of you stay in top mental health, especially given some of the traumatic shit we’re going to be getting ourselves into.”
At the solid reminder we do dangerous missions, the mischievous grin slides off Cage’s face.
“Corinne will have regular visitation hours and an office on this floor. Utilize her services freely, and don’t make me send you.”
Nervous laughter sounds around the table.
“The guy on the end with the ‘high and tight’ is going to be joining us in a few weeks,” Kynan continues as he points to a man who’s clearly active duty. “That’s Malik Fournier, and he just got out of the Marine Corps—2nd Recon. He’s going to spend a few weeks with family before starting here at Jameson.”
I study the man. Late twenties, I’d guess, with dark hair and hazel eyes. He’s special forces, and I can tell by the look in his eyes he’s seen some pretty sketchy shit. He catches my gaze and gives me a slight nod, which I return.
Welcome aboard, dude. We’ll do beers, too.
“Some of you might know Malik’s famous hockey brothers,” Kynan continues in his crisp, British accent.
“Fournier?” Cage drawls in hesitant but hopeful surprise. “As in Max and Lucas Fournier?”
Malik grins as he nods at Cage.
“Holy fucking shit,” Cage explodes, giving a Southern holler of glee as he bangs his fist on the table. Corinne Ellery about jumps out of her seat. “The Carolina Cold Fury is my hockey team. Mine! Two-time Stanley Cup Champions, baby.”
Kynan shrugs. “I wouldn’t know about that shit. We don’t have bloody hockey where I’m from.”
Everyone laughs because Kynan’s been in the States long enough to know what ice hockey is, and he sure as hell should have heard about the Cold Fury. They’re looking good for a three-peat championship this year, but they might just get upset by the new franchise team in the league, the Arizona Vengeance.
In fact, that seems to be what everyone’s chattering about now. Kynan only lets it go on for about three seconds before he’s banging his hand on the table to get quiet again.
“You can talk hockey with Malik later,” he grumbles, then gives his attention to the dark-haired woman sitting next to me. “But for now, we’ve got some new tech to discuss, so I’ll turn it over to Bebe.”
All eyes go to our favorite hacker.
Well, our only hacker, but if there were others, none would be as beloved as Bebe. She’s actually a convicted felon, but Kynan sprung her from a thirty-five-year prison sentence early. She’d been rightfully convicted of stealing sensitive military codes to launch nuclear weapons, but her reasons for doing it were understandable. Her son’s life was at stake, and there wasn’t anything Bebe wouldn’t do for Aaron. But she loved her country, too, so she fucked over the group forcing her to steal the codes and made sure she was caught so the codes remained safe.
Our country was safe, her son was safe, and Bebe went to prison.
Until Kynan brought her aboard Jameson.
Bebe is officially one of the coolest people I know, and she launches into some new security feature she just installed that requires retinal scans to get into the building.
I tune her out. Apparently, I’m going to have to get my eyeballs scanned over in her lab soon, so she can fill me in then.
Instead, I fish my phone out of my pocket, then pull up the email I’d received a little bit ago.
It’s not the official presidential email from the White House. No, this is a private email sent through an encrypted server.
The email address alone told me it was from President Alexander.
“Cavalier” was Jonathan Alexander’s Secret Service code name when he’d been vice president and I was assigned to his protection detail.
The email was precise, but I recognized it as coming from him. I’d worked closely with him too long not to.
I know I’m the one who owes you the favor, but I really need your help. This is off the books.
You saved my life once. This time, I need you to save someone whom I love deeply.
I’ll send Marine One for you and Kynan McGrath in the morning.
It wasn’t signed, but I knew it was from Jonathan Alexander, former vice president and current president of the United States. This wasn’t a request but a command.
He’d said he was sending one of the presidential helicopters tomorrow for Kynan and me. He’s equating his need to when I saved his life last year, so I know it’s beyond important to him.
Of course, I never even thought about declining. One simply didn’t do that when the president demanded their presence.
So I merely emailed back, Yes, sir. See you tomorrow.
And it looks like Jameson is going to have its first big, off-the-books contract straight from the most powerful man in the world.
“The president will be with you shortly,” the woman says as she backs out of the Oval Office, smiling before shutting the door behind her.
Kynan and I had been ushered here after Marine One touched down on the White House lawn. It’s a helicopter ride I’ve made before when Jonathan Alexander was the vice president, but it still never fails to thrill. Kynan tried to act all cool about it, but I could see him practically vibrating in his seat as we came down for a landing.
For today’s meeting, we’d decided on sedate suits—mine black and Kynan’s a dark gray. My hands are tucked casually into my pockets, and Kynan holds onto a leather portfolio with a note pad and pen inside. Ten to one says he doesn’t write down a single note. It’s more of a business prop.
“What’s it like to have the president indebted to you?” Kynan asks as he turns away from a portrait of George Washington above the fireplace mantel.
“He’s not indebted to me.” I take in the new decor President Alexander chose for his office. Steel blues and creams. Manly yet elegant. “I was just doing my job.”
“Yeah, but you did it far and beyond what anyone would have expected. Put ten other agents in your spot and faced with that same scenario, he would have died those ten times.”
I don’t argue with him on that point. Who knows what would have happened?
All I know is my reaction speed was far greater than I had ever known possible. I learned a valuable lesson that day—I should always trust my gut instinct.
It happened just about a year ago. Alexander was still serving as the country’s vice president but he was also on the campaign trail, having decided to throw his hat into the ring after then President Cary Allen decided not to run for a second term due to health issues.
We’d been at Loyola and Alexander was giving a commencement speech. After it was over and as we were walking out, one of the other agents pulled something from his pocket. I had milliseconds to react, not really understanding what I was seeing. Without thought or hesitation, I took my service pistol out and pumped bullets into my fellow agent’s chest.
Turns out, it was an 8-inch shiv and the agent was a treasonous prick who was pissed at our government because of our foreign war policies. Sure, they said there was some mental illness, but fuck that. He was a fuckwad who tried to kill the sitting vice president, and he deserved to die. All there was to it.
One of the doors to the Oval Office opens—a different one from the entrance we used—and Kynan and I turn that way. President Alexander walks in, followed by two important-looking men in dark suits who are chattering to him. The president’s eyes find mine, and he shoots me a welcoming but short smile as he moves to his desk. One man reminds the president he has another meeting in five minutes and the other puts something in front of him to sign, which President Alexander does without hesitation.
Then, just as quickly, the two aides melt out of the office, leaving the way they entered in a very seamless fashion.
The president moves around the desk, striding toward me. When he holds his hand out, I take it, and I’m not in the slightest surprised when it turns into a half hug rather than a formal handshake. “Damn, it’s good to see you, Cruce.”
“Good to see you, too, sir.”
The president pulls away, giving me a chiding smile. “It’s Jon. You can call me Jon.”
Laughing, I shake my head. “Not going to happen, sir.”
He gives my hand an extra squeeze before letting it go.
I turn to Kynan. “Sir… this is Kynan McGrath, owner of Jameson Force Security.”
A formal handshake occurs, and the president says, “I’ve heard incredibly good things about you from some pretty high-ranking members of Congress. Seems your company and our government work very well together.”
“That we do, sir,” Kynan replies crisply. “And we want to continue that tradition.”
The president stares at Kynan with a fixed smile for just a moment, perhaps wondering just how far Jameson would go for its country. He then clears his throat, motioning to the two sofas sitting opposite each other.
Kynan and I sit on one while the president takes the other. While Kynan and I perch on the edge of the cushions, alert and ready to listen, the president leans back, casually crossing one leg over the other.
He picks at the pressed crease in the pant leg of his dark blue suit, brushing at the material before giving us his attention. “We’ve received some intelligence recently that has alarmed me on a personal level. It’s vague, and some of my advisors believe it’s too benign to take seriously at this time.”
“Chatter?” I take a guess, referring to the term signals intelligence uses to refer to intercepted communications. There’s lots of ways to get intelligence, but it’s often merely by listening in on other people talking. This happens all over the world.
The president nods. “Traffic analysis picked it up out of Oman.”
I blink in surprise while Kynan answers. “Not exactly a hotbed of terrorist activity as far as Middle Eastern countries go.”
President Alexander nods. “Which is why my advisors don’t think it’s something to worry about.”
“What exactly is the chatter?” I ask.
There’s no mistaking the way the president’s expression changes to one of personal worry, which doesn’t make sense to me.
He moves forward to the edge of the couch, rests his elbows on his knees, and focuses directly on me. “Our government has contracted with The Praemium Group to work on some groundbreaking developments in fusion energy. They are remarkably close to completing some theoretical formulas that, once tested, could provide the cleanest, most efficient energy the world has ever seen.”
“And the United States would own this technology?” Kynan asks.
“Technically, Praemium would own it, but our contract specifies they’d license it solely to us.”
“And what would the United States do with it?” This is important toward motivation and possibly identifying who would want this technology. My mind has already made the leap that the chatter picked up was perhaps about some other country stealing the technology.
The president doesn’t answer right away, and it’s obvious this is perhaps information he shouldn’t divulge. But then he leans forward a bit and drops his voice. “If I had my way, I’d share it with the countries that need it the most.”
“I take it that’s not popular with Congress?” Kynan asks.
The president chuckles. “Not with those in the other party.”
“So you want Jameson to what… set up some protective services around Praemium? The goal is to prevent some digital theft of the work already created?”
Kynan turns to me, continuing his line of thought. “Because that’s right up Bebe’s alley. She can fortify whatever they have as well as lay traps to capture the—”
“That’s not what I want Jameson for,” the president interrupts, and we turn to him in surprise.
He settles his gaze on me. “In fact, it’s mainly Cruce I want to hire, but he will need some backup as well.”
“For what?” I ask, brows furrowing in confusion.
“The main scientist working on this is my niece, Barrett Alexander,” he replies, his voice tense with worry.
“Barrie?” I ask incredulously, for some reason utilizing the nickname I always heard Alexander and his wife use when referencing her. “But I thought she worked out in California for some big think tank or something?”
“She made the initial breakthrough on the research. Praemium snatched her up after I begged her to come to D.C. to be closer to us. What she’s doing is too important to the world not to use it for our government’s benefit.”
“Who’s this niece of yours?” Kynan asks, having fallen behind because I know more about Alexander’s family since I’d protected him for four years.
The president gives his attention to Kynan. “My niece is Barrett Alexander. She’s the one who got all the brains in our family. MIT educated with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and physics at the age of twenty, along with a master’s in electrical engineering and two PhDs, one in electrical engineering and one in physics by age twenty-six. She’s been in California the last six years, but she moved here to work for Praemium about four months ago.”
“The chatter pertained to her?” I hazard a guess.
He swallows hard. “Like I said… it was vague. Just her name and the research mentioned.”
“But why mention her name if it’s just the formulas they wanted?” I ponder.
“Nothing coming out of the Middle East should be taken lightly,” Kynan says with surety. “And if they said her name, you have to assume the plot is specifically against her.”
When he realizes we understand, the president’s expression turns relieved. “But it’s not enough to put military or further intelligence resources on it. Technically, this research is being conducted by a private organization. The government has to maintain some distance. But—”
“But it’s your niece, which makes it personal,” Kynan concludes.
The president nods, and I let my mind scroll backward to see what I remember about Barrett. I’d never met her. Just overheard conversations and seen some photos of her in the vice president’s house.
Her father—the president’s brother—died when she was really young—heart attack, I seem to remember. Her mom died when she was just heading off to college at the age of sixteen. That detail is easy to remember because she graduated high school two years early.
Jonathan Alexander—who was a U.S. Senator for the state of New Hampshire at the time—and his wife took her under their guardianship, but it was more in an advisory capacity as she was off at MIT expanding her brain pan with more knowledge. I struggle to recall what she even looks like. She was in California the entire time I had vice presidential detail with the Alexanders, so we never officially met.
Still, I heard enough during my time with the family to know he loves his niece like his own daughters, and there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do to protect her.
“So this is off the books?” I ask.
“As far off the books as we can get,” he says. “I’ll be paying for this on my own, and very few people will know. Only my most trusted advisors in the White House.”
“The fewer the better,” Kynan suggests.
President Alexander locks his eyes on mine. Whatever he’s going to ask, I cannot say no to him.
“Cruce,” he begins, his voice slightly quavering. “I want you to be the one to personally protect her. She’s in a secure facility during the day as she works, but she’s vulnerable when not there. I want you stuck to her side when she’s not at work.”
I can do nothing but nod my agreement. This man I respect has just made it personal to me. While Kynan thinks the president is indebted to me, there’s an element that’s just the opposite. Once I became the man who saved his life, I became invested in his life as a whole. Besides, he’s a fantastic leader. He loves our country, and I believe in everything he stands for. And if it’s important to him that I keep his niece safe, then I’m going to oblige.
Kynan and Alexander start talking about what other resources he wants from Jameson. But I’ve already started thinking about what I’m going to need to adequately protect Barrett Alexander.
“She’s not going to like this,” the president says, the words catching my attention.
“What do you mean?” Kynan inquires.
Alexander blows out a huff of frustration. “Barrie is… well, she’s just super focused on her work. Always has been, to the point of being a bit antisocial. She’s also a little too independent, but worst of all… as independent as she is, she’s as equally naïve. Barrie won’t believe there’s a threat, or even if she does, she’ll push away efforts to protect her. She doesn’t like her routine being messed with.”
Kynan and I exchange a look. We’ve dealt with difficult people in our lines of work before, but we both know when protecting someone, they have to respect our position of authority over them so we can effectively do our jobs. For example, if I were to yell at the vice president to “get down” when I was on his protective duty, he should drop to the floor without a moment’s hesitation.
Sounds like Barrett Alexander might prove to be a little difficult.
The president continues. “I’d like to hit her with this immediately. As in now, if you two don’t mind an overnight stay.”
“We can do that,” Kynan assures him.
“Sounds like I’m going to need to have my stuff shipped to me,” I mutter, pulling out my phone to text Bebe to see if she would mind handling it for me. It’s clear I’m not returning to Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.
“Thought you’d left DC for good, didn’t you?” Alexander murmurs with a wan smile.
“You know how much I hate driving around Dupont Circle,” I joke in an attempt to put him at ease.
The gratitude is clear in his eyes and voice. “Thank you, Cruce. This means the world to me.”
It’s hard to be annoyed by Uncle Jon wanting to have dinner with me tonight. Him coming over is a rare treat because as busy as I think I am, he’s a million times more so.
Seeing as he’s the leader of the free world and all.
But I am a little put out because in order to get ready to host him at my DC townhome, I had to cut out of work early and I never leave work early.
Work is my life.
My reason for living.
The entirety of my being.
Some would say I might be a little obsessed.
But I didn’t have to leave early to meet the Secret Service while they did a security sweep for safety. Not that anyone legitimately thinks I’m a threat to my uncle or there might be a rogue assassin waiting in my coat closet off the foyer in the remote chance the president happened to stop by.
No, the sweep was handled while I had my nose buried deep in my work.
But I did have to leave early all the same because if Uncle Jon was going to take time out of his busy schedule to come see me, then I was going to make his favorite meal.
Tuna fish casserole.
No, it’s not glamorous, but Aunt Janet doesn’t like tuna fish—at least not from a can—so he only gets it when I can make it for him. It’s about the only thing I know how to cook.
I check the timer, then peek inside the oven. The crushed potato chip topping is browning nicely, and, I have to admit… it will be nice to have a home-cooked meal. Most of my dinners are at my desk in my lab, and they consist of a granola bar or protein shake.
Which, sadly, is also my lunch and breakfast most days.
But I’m so close to a breakthrough, and I’m operating on pure adrenaline right now. I work, and I work hard. When I come home, usually around midnight, I crash hard—usually just falling face-first onto the bed. But then my alarm goes off at six, I get a run in and then a quick shower, and I’m back out the door to put in another eighteen hours.
Imagine… free energy for the entire world. Poor countries could have running water and heat, run irrigation systems for farming, and implement medical machinery in the hospitals to help diagnose and treat disease.
My doorbell rings, pulling me out of my dreams for all the good my work can do. I glance at the clock, wondering who it could be.
How can it be seven already?
I’m still in the clothes I wore to work. I dress for comfort, not style, and the heather-gray leggings with a light blue button-down blouse isn’t as dressy as it should be to greet the president. My dirty, off-white Chucks have certainly seen better days.
I know my hair is a mess. It always starts in a short ponytail, but my bangs eventually get in my way, so I end up shoving a bobby pin in to hold them back. It’s my “hot mess” look, as my research assistant, Derrick, likes to say.
“Oh, well,” I mutter, patting at the top of my head in case I’ve got a big rat’s nest on top for some reason. I’ll often lean over my computer, my fingers clutching and twirling my hair in consternation, which tends to make it an even bigger hot mess.
When the doorbell rings again, I bolt for the door, my Chucks squeaking on the hardwood floors.
I twist the deadbolt, turn the knob, and throw the door open with a smile on my face. “Uncle Jon—”
My words fall flat, ceasing when I see my uncle standing there with two men I don’t recognize. Behind them are two Secret Service agents, recognizable in their classic plain dark suits with earbuds in place.
“Barrie,” my uncle says affectionately, using the nickname I despise. It’s what I was called when I was a kid, but now it just makes me feel like a 1970’s porn star. Still, I graciously accept his warm hug, lingering a bit since we haven’t seen each other in so long.
When he pulls away, he motions the men on the porch across the threshold. “I hope you don’t mind, but I brought two guests I need to introduce you to.”
The two men move into my home, with the two Secret Service agents following. But when my uncle holds up his hand, they stop. “If you two will just wait on the porch.”
“But, sir,” one of the agents protests.
“I’m adequately protected, gentleman,” is all he says before he closes the door in their faces. He gestures to the first man, a tall blond with warm brown eyes and a stylish goatee. “Barrett… this is Kynan McGrath. He owns a company called Jameson Force Security.”
This mildly piques my interest, and I shake his hand in greeting.
The other man steps forward. Before my uncle can speak, he introduces himself. “I’m Cruce Britton. I work for Kynan.”
A bell goes off in my head when we shake hands because while I don’t recognize his face, his name is well known to me. “You used to be Secret Service. You saved my uncle.”
Cruce gives me a nod of acknowledgment, his lips curving up only slightly—seemingly more in embarrassment than amusement.
My uncle takes a deep breath, dramatically inhaling as he rubs his stomach. “Dinner smells delicious, honey. I’m starved.”
Suspiciously, I cross my arms over my chest. “What’s going on? Are you in danger or something?”
My uncle blinks before giving a nervous laugh. “Of course not, but how about we head into the kitchen and you serve up some of that famous tuna noodle casserole?”
“Uncle Jon,” I murmur warningly. I don’t have the patience to wait if there’s something wrong or if I should be concerned about him.
“I swear I’m okay,” he assures me, then hurries toward my kitchen. Kynan follows him, leaving me in the foyer with Cruce.
He hadn’t seemed intimidating before, but now he has a certain overwhelming quality. He’s taller than the other guy by a few inches, and I have to tip my head way back to see him. His hair is dark, neatly swept back, and he has a trim beard and mustache.
His eyes are disconcerting, though. A light crystalline blue that seems to slice right through me as he stares.
He’s an incredibly handsome man. Intense is the word I’d use to describe him. In fact, his expression is worried, and it raises my suspicions about my uncle being in danger.
Cruce makes a motion with his hand, silently indicating I should head to the kitchen and he’ll follow. Instead, I adjust my stance, putting myself in between him and the hall that leads into the kitchen.
“What’s really going on?” I ask. “Why is the man who saved my uncle here? What kind of danger is he in?”
Cruce appraises me, seeming to size up my ability to handle bad news. I brace at his scrutiny, then become frustrated when his eyes cut past me to where my uncle and Kynan wait because it seems he’s going to put me off.
Instead, I’m stunned when he says, “He’s not the one in danger. You are, and I’m here to protect you.”
“I don’t understand,” I say for the third time. All three men sit at my kitchen table, working on second helpings of my tuna casserole. I’ve barely had two bites, but my stomach rebels against the idea of food right now.
My uncle shoves a huge forkful of noodles and creamy tuna into his mouth, so I turn to Kynan, who owns the company hired to protect me. “Until we can determine the full extent of what’s being planned, we have to assume the worse.”
“And you think they’ll kidnap me?” I ask, even though they’ve already told me this.
“It’s the most logical assumption,” Kynan replies. “That they’d take you somewhere and force you to finish the formula for them.”
“But I’d refuse,” I point out.
“They’d force you,” Cruce says quietly, and the surety in his voice causes a tremor to run up my spine.
But no… I can’t accept what they’re saying. “It doesn’t make sense. The formula is nothing without the ability to test it, and fusion reactors can’t be bought at Target.”
“True,” Kynan says, but then proceeds to burst my bubble. “But there are plenty of foreign countries and terrorist organizations with the funding and access to the materials needed.”
“And you want to hire protection for me?” I ask. This time, I direct my question at my uncle, who is still chewing the last bite he’d taken.
He swallows, then wipes his mouth on a napkin. “It’s only until we can ferret out who these people are and shut them down. But until then, I can’t take a risk—”
“I’m already protected at work.” I say, cutting him off with an impatient wave of my hand. “And if you need to assign someone to escort me home, that’s fine. But I don’t need—”
“It’s already been decided, Barrie,” my uncle says, his high-handedness making my teeth gnash together.
“I’m an adult, Uncle Jon,” I snap. “You can’t dictate—”
“I am your president—the one who ensures your company gets the funding for your research,” he growls, leaning toward me from his chair. “And you will accept the security I’m hiring.”
I swallow hard, fuming but silently admitting he just intimidated the shit out of me.
His face softens, though, and he reaches out to take my hand. “But indulge an overprotective uncle, will you, honey? I’m really worried about this threat. While it might turn out to be nothing at all, you are going to help an old man sleep at night if you just let these men protect you for a while. Okay?”
I let out a long, submissive sigh.
Because after hearing him put it that way, I’d never do anything to cause him distress.
“Okay, fine,” I mutter as I pick up my fork and stab a noodle. “But what exactly does this ‘extra protection’ look like?”
“We’re going to have two men escort you to and from work each day,” Kynan answers for him. Of course, we’ll tweak our plan over the next twenty-four hours, and I suspect Bebe and our new hire, Dozer, will be involved as well. “Same at work… two men outside your lab at all times.”
“But my building is secure,” I say, feeling like I’m causing an awful lot of trouble and expense. “Anyone who goes inside has to have top-secret clearance and credentials to get in.”
“Nothing is foolproof,” Kynan replies, and I shoot a glance at Cruce. He’d finished eating, and he’s just silently watching the exchange. I wonder why he’s even here since he hasn’t said much. “People can be bought off. Money is a powerful influencer. It wouldn’t take much for someone to get into that building with the right type of planning.”
I incline my head in understanding. “Okay… that makes sense. And here at my home?”
“At night, two men will patrol outside,” Kynan replies before nodding his head at Cruce. “And he’ll always be with you—inside and out—when you aren’t at work.”
“What?” I exclaim, bolting upright in my chair, my fork clattering to my plate. “No. Absolutely not. This is my home—”
“And Cruce will be staying here with you,” Uncle Jonathan decries in a deep voice that is not to be trifled with. “In this world, he’s the person I’d trust the most with your life, Barrett. I’m not going to be swayed on it.”
My eyes cut to Cruce, and he stares right back. Not in defiance, but definitely not in understanding either. I can tell by his expression he’s already accepted the duty bestowed on him by my uncle.
I push up from my chair, sullen and sounding slightly bratty. “I’ll have to go change the sheets in the guest room.”
“Sit,” my uncle orders, and my ass hits the cushion of my kitchen chair. He gives me an understanding smile. “I know this is disruptive to you, Barrett, and how involved in your work you are. But your safety is paramount to any damn formula that will create fusion energy.”
“I understand,” I clip out, trying to be respectful to him as my uncle and my president. “But I don’t have to like it.”
Sighing, Uncle Jon reclines in his chair. “No, I don’t suppose you do.”
Silence ensues. Longingly, Uncle Jon stares at his empty plate while Kynan sips at his ice water. Cruce continues to stare, but I find it hard to meet his eyes.
“Don’t suppose you’d pack me some leftovers to take back with me?” my uncle asks hopefully.
I can’t help but snort, knowing even during the tense discussions we’ve had tonight, his priorities are my tuna noodle casserole. For a moment, I forget about my worries, pleased I could make him happy for a bit.
It’s not until I’ve got Uncle Jon loaded up with the leftover casserole and he steps out onto my porch with Kynan, leaving Cruce behind, that it becomes real to me. I now have a roommate whether I want one or not.
And to be clear… I do not. He’s way too intense and distracting.
Personally, I think everyone is overreacting. My work is theoretical, and it isn’t worth much until it can be tested. Which means I’m not all that valuable.
“Stay safe, Barrett,” Uncle Jon whispers as he hugs me, plastic Tupperware dish gripped hard in his other hand. “I’ll check in on you soon.”
“I love you,” I say, because I do, even though I’m not all that happy with him.
“Love you, too, kiddo,” he says.
I don’t wait for them to disappear into the motorcade. Instead, I shut the door softly, locking it behind me.
Turning to my guest, I nod up the stairs. “Come on. I’ll show you the guest room.”
Cruce is silent as he follows me. At the top, we turn right, the opposite way from my bedroom. The small guest room is sparsely furnished since I’m not big on guests to begin with. Pointing at the bed, I say, “I really don’t have to change the sheets. I’ve only got the one set, and no one has slept on them.”
“It’s fine,” he replies casually.
“Bathroom’s right out in the hall, and there are clean towels in the closet in there,” I add.
“Thank you,” he replies. Those blue eyes pierce through me, causing my eyes to drop. “Think I could borrow some of your shower stuff tonight?”
My head snaps up as images of him in my shower flash before me. Beneath that suit, there are hidden layers of muscle that would look nice in my shower.
Wait! What? Where in the world had that thought come from? I haven’t looked at a man like that in well… shit, I can’t remember the last time. And maybe it’s not those piercing blue eyes that have me disconcerted. Perhaps it’s the entire package.
Cruce Britton is tall, strong, and has the face of an angel. Plus, he’d saved my uncle’s life in an extremely dramatic fashion, making him the nation’s hero at the time. And now he’s in my house, wanting to use my shower.
“My stuff should be here tomorrow,” he provides, and I blink stupidly. I’m still trying to figure out why his muscles fascinate me. He dips his head to lock eyes with mine. “When I came to Washington, I didn’t know I’d be staying so I didn’t pack anything. But two of my teammates, Bebe and Dozer, are driving up tomorrow with my stuff.”
“It’ll take two teammates to bring your stuff?” I ask. “How long are you planning to stay?”
Laughing, Cruce tips his head back. “Just a suitcase for me, but they’re coming to help us do some strategy planning. In addition to protecting you, we’re going to try to find out who wants you before they make a move.”
“Oh,” I murmur, retreating toward the door. “I’m just going to go get some toiletries you can borrow to get you through the night. I’ll be right back.”
I whip around, needing to put some distance between us. He’s too damn magnetic, especially since I’ve let my mind wander places it shouldn’t have.
And hey… what do you know… I just went a whole three minutes without thinking about fusion reactions.
Code Name: Sentinel (Jameson Force Security, Book #2) is a standalone romantic suspense within The Jameson Force Security series. See the full details and get your copy HERE.