Chapter 1 - Just A Normal Day At The Office
The rising sun was already dazzling through her window and she smiled looking down over the city beneath her. It was going to be a great day. She could feel it in her bones.
She walked to the bathroom and splashed some water on her face before quickly brushing her teeth and then throwing on some running gear. She had at least an hour before she needed to get into the office and on beautiful day like today she knew of only one way to spend it.
The streets were busy, even at that time but that was central London for you. She rolled her eyes at the cyclist that nearly knocked her over as she ran, cursing him under her breath before half jumping down the steps that led to the river’s edge. This was her favourite run route. Her favourite part of the city, truth be told. The air was cold, catching in her throat as she ran but she liked that too. The feeling of it made her feel alive. Made her feel almost invincible.
She sprinted down the stretch of path ahead of her, making the most of the few moments of solitude before more commuters started pouring out from the Underground down the road.
And then she turned around and headed back home, back to her apartment. Back for a quick shower and turnaround.
She liked to get to the office fast, to be one of the first in. Not that it really mattered because no one kept track, no one logged in, the office was unofficial, off the map. But still, she liked to be one of the first. Lead by example, she always thought.
She walked in, pass in hand, though truth be told she didn’t need it because the security on reception always let her in. She’d made sure to take her time getting to know them, getting to know everyone in this office, because she didn’t want to create the wrong impression, the wrong reputation. She knew what people said about her, what they’d said at her old office, that she was a hard nosed bitch, that she was too ambitious for a girl, too driven as if that was even a thing. Coming here though felt like a bit of a fresh start, that she could be herself, and not have to fight to prove herself because she’d already done that; she’d already proven herself more than enough back in Shanghai when she brought down the infamous Ming Xie almost singlehandedly and managed to get him to international waters so he could be arrested and extradited back to face justice.
She dumped her bag under her desk and headed straight for the coffee machine. Burke was already there, coffee in hand and he passed her her mug, already at the perfect temperature.
“Just how you like it boss.” He replied and she rolled her eyes. He insisted on calling her boss even though technically they were the same rank. She half thought he’d done it to tease her, to make her feel intimidated at the start and then she realised it was his way of showing respect, and for making sure everyone else on site treated her accordingly. Not that she cared. She’d faced off enough over inflated egos before, she was more than happy to put someone in their place if and when the occasion called for it.
“Listen up everyone.” Holden, the big boss’s voice hollered from the main office and Maddie frowned looking at Burke who gave her a confused look back. Holden was rarely ever in, and when he was he was usually busy locked in his office with his head stuck in something way above Maddie’s pay grade.
She followed Burke out into the main office and saw everyone now gathered. It wasn’t a big office, despite it being the main London one. Shanghai’s had been bigger, more impressive but she liked the low profile of the London one, she liked the fact that she knew everyone she worked with now and wasn’t constantly bumping into strangers. She sipped her coffee, letting the caffeine sink in and glanced around seeing everyone else’s confused faces too. She bit down the irritation. She didn’t like surprises. No one in security did, because surprises meant they’d not anticipated something, they’d misread something, they’d screwed up.
“We have a surprise visit today.” He announced and Maddie could hear the edge to his voice. He wasn’t happy either. “Our great overseers have decided to honour us with a visit so I want everyone looking the part. No fuck ups, nothing but perfection. You’ve got two hours people. Get your desks in order and your asses wiped. Lead Agents, get in the briefing room.”
He turned then, knowing everyone would be springing into action at his words before strutting out of the office and down the corridor.
“Sounds like someone fucked up.” Burke muttered and Maddie narrowed her eyes.
“Who?” Maddie asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine boss. You made any mistakes recently?” Burke said.
“None that I care to mention.” She replied with a smirk.
He laughed. “What am I saying, you’re a machine. Machine’s don’t fuck up. They just follow their programming.”
“Seriously? I’m not a machine.” She retorted following him out to the briefing room. She didn’t want to be late and risk Holden’s wrath especially when he was on the warpath already.
“Tell me you didn’t go for a run this morning then. And tell me you haven’t got a tuna salad for lunch just like every Monday.”
“Urgh stop it.” She muttered.
“You know the fraud guys have a bet running on you right.” He said and she frowned.
“What bet?” She asked narrowing her eyes. They’d all made a bet about her in Shanghai too, around who would get her into bed first and she’d taken delight in knocking out the main orchestrator and leaving him lying cold on the office floor when she’d found out.
“How long before you replace Mathers as Squad Lead.”
“What? That’s ridiculous. I only just got here.” She said as they walked in and quickly grabbed a seat. Not too far to the back but not right up front like a suck up either.
“Mathers is old school and there have been complaints.” Burke stated.
“What do you think?” He asked and she sighed. Mathers was like a stereotypical cop from a tired detective series with too many reruns. He liked things his way, the right way, except he was about ten years out of date with how investigations operated. He was stuck in the 90s while the world was already hurtling full throttle into the twenty first century.
“So you think they’ll get rid?” Maddie asked him.
“Why are you interested in his job?”
She laughed. “No thanks. Fraud is not my thing. And I like being Team Lead. My team are great and right now it’s what I need too.”
He gave her a look like he wasn’t convinced but Holden clapped his hands together throwing a look at the last two Team Leads who sill weren’t seated.
“Come on people. We don’t have all day.” He half shouted.
“Sorry.” They both muttered and sat down in the last remaining seats.
“Right, in two hours Curtis will be touring this vicinity along with the CEO from BrightLinks. They’re particularly interested in the fraud department, apparently some of their higher ranking employees have been very naughty of late…”
A few people snickered but most stayed quiet. The very thought of Curtis, their European President wandering around was enough to set them to silence.
“They also want to speak to the Serious Crime teams…”
Maddie frowned. What would BrightLinks want with Serious Crime she wondered. They were an intuitional investment company, what serious crimes could have gone on there.
“Cooper I want you and Burke to be obliging. Anything they ask they get..”
Maddie nodded. “Yes sir.”
“And Burke. Get a clean tie will you.” Holden snapped and Burke looked down at where the coffee had dripped onto it.
“Right that’s it folks. Get back to your desks and get your teams in order. I want this visit to go off without a hitch.”
Maddie got up and walked quickly back to her desk. She wasn’t bothered that they had a visit, not really, she was more curious as to what had prompted it and why in particular they wanted to speak to her department.
‘EUROPEAN AHOLE IS IN THE BUILDING.’ Burke’s message flashed up on her monitor and Maddie shook her head before quickly deleting it.
‘Was that really the best you could come up with?’ She messaged back.
‘I was underpressure boss.’
‘You had two hours notice…’
‘Okay smarty pants what would you have called him?’
‘Ginger Ninja Alert??’ She sent before she could stop herself and she heard Burke’s snigger from across the room. She caught his eye and grinned. Burke had been almost an instant friend from day one. He’d helped show her around, not just the office but the politics as well. And god were there politics. She was grateful he had given her the heads up on some of it, before she’d put her foot in her mouth and ruined any chance of a fresh start.
Her phone rang just as the doors to their office opened and she quickly picked it up without thinking.
“Cooper.” She said.
“Heads up Cooper, Cole Black is here…”
“Who?” Maddie asked.
“Seriously?” Rab half drawled down the phone and she rolled her eyes. The man thought he was god’s gift to all the women in the office because he was second in command and he’d somehow made a beeline for Maddie since day one, dropping not so subtle hints about how she could fit in better with his team.
She narrowed her eyes then. She knew BlackWater. Everyone did. They were the leading Global Private Security firm with a reputation for doing anything necessary to get the job done. She’d come across some of their guys in the past and though she hated to admit it they knew exactly what they were doing and had pretty much everyone’s respect.
“Why is he here?” She asked glancing up and seeing a group of men in expensive suits all congregating around Burke’s corner and clearly putting him through his paces.
“Your guess is as good as mine sweet cheeks but be a good girl and charm him for us.” He replied.
“Urgh. Go fuck yourself.” She snapped slamming the phone down and then realising half the office had heard. She stared at her screen then, fighting the annoyance that she couldn’t just get up right now and punch Rab in his stupid sexist face but then she realised they were all staring at her now. All the men in suits. She groaned internally and took a swig of her now cold coffee forcing it down because spitting it back out clearly wasn’t an option.
“Cooper is our other Team Lead…” Burke said loudly and she gritted her teeth before getting up to join them all. Play nice Maddie, she thought, as she walked over.
“Nice to meet you.” She said to no one in particular and hoping that she looked like she wasn’t as seething as she felt. This day was going from great to shit in less than it took to drink a coffee, she thought. And speaking of coffee, god did she need a fresh one right now.
“How old are you?” One of the men asked and she raised an eyebrow.
“Why you want to see my ID?” She snapped back before she could stop herself and Burke and a few others snickered.
“No offense miss, you just look a little young to be a Team Lead that’s all.” He said quickly.
“This isn’t the first team I’ve led so I’m not exactly inexperienced and I’m not miss, I’m Cooper, you know my name so call me by it just like you would anyone else.” She looked at Curtis then and Holden stood beside him. Shit, she thought, she didn’t often speak out of turn but right now was not the moment for it. Neither of them said anything but she almost detected a smirk from Holden though she couldn’t be sure.
“Cooper is very experienced. She ran a very successful op in China. She brought in Ming Xie almost single handedly.” Holden stated and she saw a few raised eyebrows. Clearly that impressed them.
“That was you?” Cole Black said and she looked at him then. He was tall, just like all of them but his presence stood out. His suit was more tailored, more expensive, his shoes were obviously Italian and his hair cut must have cost more than her entire weekly food bill. It was hard not to be intimidated by him, he looked like a man that got everything he wanted without having to try but he also looked like a man that could best you with barely any effort either.
She nodded and narrowed her eyes slightly. It felt like he was staring her down, or at least trying too. She gritted her teeth and looked away, not because she was intimidated, not because she was afraid of him but because if she held his stare much longer it felt like she might melt under the intensity of it.
“Cooper is a highly commended Agent Mr. Black and both she and Burke run exemplary teams.”
“What ops are you on right now?” Cole asked her ignoring Holden’s comments.
“I’m not at liberty to disclose that.” She said and he smirked before looking her up and down like he was sizing her up for a fight.
“You do know who I am?”
“Yes but it doesn’t make any difference. My clients like their privacy. It’s part of our contract with them and I’m not going to breech that by disclosing information to someone who should not be privy to it.” She replied and she saw his face harden. Clearly he wasn’t used to anyone saying no to him.
“Let’s move on.” Curtis said holding his hand out to direct the suits away from the Serious Crime Office. Maddie leant against Burke’s desk and he let out a low whistle.
“Are you mad?” He said quietly and she frowned.
“That was Cole Black, he can make or break your career.”
“So I should have just laid it all out for him on a plate?” She muttered and he shook his head.
“Careful Maddie, he looks like he’s marked you.” Burke replied and she glanced back over at them, at the suits as they were leaving. Cole Black was looking right back at her, his eyes honed right in on her. If she were any less brave she would have flinched under that gaze but she stared right back, almost daring him to say something.
Word of warning: This book is being removed at the end of the month (April) but it is available fully edited on Amazon, Kindle Unlimited and in Paperback with beautiful exerts x