Tap. Tap. Tap.
A voice sounds from within. “Come in.”
I open the door and step inside, making note of my boss, Colonel Jackson, tapping furiously away at his keyboard. He doesn’t look up from his laptop as he says, “X. On time as always. Please, have a seat.”
I sit myself down in one of the utilitarian chairs across from his desk and wait patiently. The colonel is on his own schedule and won’t begin talking until he’s ready. Usually it doesn’t bother me, but I’m anxious to get this meeting over with. I’ve been sitting with my thumb up my ass for a week now, waiting to get back to work. I don’t do well alone with my thoughts.
After exactly seven minutes, the colonel sets his pen down and rubs his eyes. He’s looking more tired than usual these days. But forty years of running the secret service security office will do that to you.
The colonel crosses his arms and looks up at me for the first time. “X, how has your week off been?”
“I’m ready to get back to work, sir.”
He laughs loudly. “Eight years with the president without one vacation, and you’re antsy after seven days?”
I shrug. “When can I head back to DC, sir?”
I’m positive I’ll be assigned to the White House again. I revolutionized the security system there and have a perfect safety record. I know that building and the grounds inside and out, and the—now former—president himself told me I was the most trusted member of the team. Which is why I’m surprised when my question is greeted by silence.
The colonel’s lips are pursed as he swivels in his high-backed chair. “You’re not going back to DC just yet.”
My body immediately reacts, but years of training transform my features into a look of disinterest. “Oh?”
The colonel sighs. “Something came down the pike this week, and you’re the only man I trust for the job.” His expression puts me on high alert. Reading people is my specialty, and right now, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the colonel looks—wary.
He grins when he realizes I’m not going to respond. “You always have been a man of few words, X. Here, I’ll just show you the video.”
I lean in, and he turns his laptop on the desk so it’s facing me. The video gets going, and I see a gorgeous woman speaking in front of the camera as if in an interview. I quickly catalog the facts. She’s short. Height about five feet three, give or take half an inch. Long, dark-brown hair. Green eyes. But before I can wonder about why I’m watching this, an object—my guess is a rock, from the size and velocity—flies in from the side of the screen, and the woman drops out of the frame.
I lean in closer as shouting erupts in the background, the whole scene turning chaotic. The camera guy pans down to focus on the woman who is now sprawled on the ground. I squint, and I’m able see a small but nasty wound just starting to bleed above her ear. Missed her temple, so she probably walked away with only a mild concussion. Lucky.
The video shuts off, and I lean back in my seat, crossing my arms over my chest. Tough luck for the woman, but why am I being shown this video? The colonel presses his fingers together and watches me as if he’s waiting for me to figure it out. One second goes by—two—
“No.” My response is immediate. He wouldn’t dare ask this of me.
“Her name is Eloisa Rae Morgan. She’s a singer.”
I’m not surprised when the name doesn’t ring a bell. The safety and security of the president of the United States has been my only focus for the past eight years. I’d still be there now if I wasn’t forced to take a vacation. There’s been no room for trite celebrity drama in my life, and I certainly don’t stay up-to-date on the who’s-who bullshit. “I’m not doing personal security for some prima donna.”
“There was a note attached to the rock she got hit with,” the colonel goes on to explain. He drags a photocopied version of a crumpled letter up on screen. My hackles rise as I scan the words. A sick, sick person wrote this. There are even creepy hearts as the dots in a few of the i’s. I give my head a small shake in an effort to rid myself of the gruesome, violent prose. I meet his eyes, both of us thinking the same thing. Whoever wrote this letter is extremely dangerous. And clearly not afraid to make contact with her. Probably got a thrill. Did anyone see anything? As soon as the question enters my mind, I quickly banish it. It’s not my problem, and it’s not going to be.
“Rob’s thinking she’s got a stalker,” the colonel says, rubbing his eyes again.
“My little brother and Eloisa’s current manager. Called me a few days ago. Said she’s about to go on tour and needs her security detail completely revamped. You know, just in case this guy decides to show his ass again.”
“Absolutely not. I didn’t sign up for the secret service to do private security.”
“No offense, sir, but you’re way off pulse here. I don’t even know who the woman is.”
“I think that will work in your favor,” he responds curtly. His hands are folded on his desk, a sure sign he’s settling in until he gets what he wants. Not this time.
An image of me trailing after some hardheaded, narcissistic Barbie doll with a microphone has me grinding my teeth. “I don’t have the patience for a job like this, sir. You know that.”
He shrugs, knowing it’s true. My efficiency is legendary in this business, and I don’t wait on anyone. “It would be a small, temporary leave of absence. My buddy runs a private security company that can help you out with any equipment and transportation you may need. Four months for the tour, and then I’ll assign you back to DC.”
I leisurely brace my hands on the arms of the chair and give him the eye. Anyone else would wither under this expression, but the colonel holds tight. He comes across as a softy to those who don’t know him, but he can be hard as nails. Both he and I know I don’t really have a choice in the matter—not if I want to keep my job—even if he’s making it seem like he’s trying to convince me.
Despite that, I sigh and rub both hands over my face, not wanting to give in. This job is a nightmare materialized. I refuse to go from protecting the most important man in the nation to some entitled princess. “Why me?”
The colonel leans across the desk. “Look. This is my little brother, and I owe him the best I’ve got. You’re the only man I trust to get this thing done right. You’ll be working with the police if need be. I need you, X.”
Fuck. There’s just no way. Clamping my jaw shut, I stare at him in silence.
His eyes narrow. “Home base would be Stamford, Connecticut.”
My stomach flips over. There’s only one thing that would make me accept this asinine career detour, and he just landed on that hidden square. I have to wonder why he didn’t just tell me this from the beginning. He knows where my father lives.
The colonel nods his head and picks up his pen, which means he’s done with the conversation. “All the paperwork and your plane ticket are waiting for you in your PO box. They’re expecting you by tonight.”