I roll my car window down, more than a little surprised at what I see. This can’t be where she lives. Granted, it’s an oceanfront property in New England, so the price tag must be hefty, but—it’s small. Not a house I would expect some fancy-pants singer to own. It’s probably just one of many. Rolling my eyes at the thought, I ease forward.
An older gentleman with a long white beard waves me down from the driveway. Who is this?
“You must be X,” the man chirps as he shuffles over. I see a set of jailer’s keys in his hand, the sight immediately setting my nerves on edge. If Grandpa here and an old wrought-iron gate are the only means of security, then we’re going to have a huge problem.
“Call me Harold,” the old man says as he reaches my window. For some reason, he seems delighted to see me. I can’t imagine why; no one is ever delighted to see me. “We’ve been expecting you. Come on in.” And just like that, he starts walking back toward the gate.
I watch his retreat in silence. Stunned silence. I’m nearly speechless, in fact. Nearly. “Harold!” I call.
The man halts in his tracks, spinning to face me. I give a little wave outside the window, beckoning him back to the car. He starts to walk back toward me, and I notice a bit of confusion marring his otherwise friendly face. He has no idea.
I make sure to look him in the eye. “Harold, aren’t you going to ask me to identify myself?”
The old man frowns. “Rob gave me a description of you and what time you’d be arriving. You are X. Aren’t you?”
I run a hand over my face, trying to rein in my temper. This is worse than I thought. “Harold, as I’m sure you’re aware, the mistress of this house was violently attacked last Friday.”
“Of course I’m aware,” Harold says defensively. “Terrible, nasty thing it was.”
“So you understand my concern that you’re not, at the very least, checking IDs when unidentified strangers pull up to the property.”
Harold cottons on to my meaning and puffs his chest out. “I can assure you, young man, I take the guarding of that gate very seriously. No one gets by me!”
I glance back at the gate, noting the layers of rust and the single padlock sitting in the center of two bars that look like a strong gust of wind could take them out. “That gate will be the first thing to go,” I tell him seriously.
“What was that?” Harold asks. I can tell he genuinely didn’t hear me. Which is another problem. Christ.
I decide then and there not to argue with him until I can fully assess the situation and get all my ducks in a row. “Nothing. Can you please open the gate and direct me to the security office? I want to take a look at the camera systems.”
“Camera systems?” Harold gives me a funny look. “We don’t have any of that fancy stuff here.”
I’m going to kill the colonel. I grind my teeth and look out the windshield. “Just open the gate, Harold.”
The old man crosses his arms over his chest. “Well, now, I’d like to be seeing your ID first.”
Once I get the car parked in the circular driveway, I begin a cursory assessment of the grounds. Besides Harold and his trusty gate, there’s really nothing to deter an eager intruder. The stone wall surrounding most of the property could easily be scaled. And the trees dotted around the quaint yard would provide excellent cover. This is the only house for at least a quarter of a mile on either side. Does anyone even live here with her? What a fucking joke of an operation.
Frustration mounting, I walk around toward the backyard. Miles of blue ocean spread before me, and I notice that the house is built on an inlet. Large rocks piled haphazardly together form a natural border on both ends of the yard, spreading out toward the beach. I watch the waves crash against the sand for a moment before I hear a slight noise behind me.
A carbon copy of the colonel—just ten years younger—is stepping outside onto the back deck. He gives me a small wave before heading in my direction. I don’t wave back while I wait for him to come to me. I’m afraid if I do move, I’ll shake him so hard his teeth will rattle. Clearly he doesn’t give a shit about his client if he’s allowing her to stay here.
“Xavier,” he greets me as he gets closer. “Harold just rang and said you’d arrived. I’m Rob.”
“X.” I hesitate for a moment before grabbing his hand in a firm grip, making sure to give it a good squeeze. It doesn’t really do much for my frustrations.
He pales a bit once I release him and gives his hand a shake. “X, yes. We’re all very happy you’re on board.”
I don’t respond. Just give a short nod. There’s no time for pleasantries when there is clearly a lot of work to be done.
After a moment of tense silence, he laughs. “My brother did say you were a man of few words. How is the colonel, by the way?”
“He’s fine,” I answer shortly—then decide to change the subject. “Can you please direct me to the security team? Joe and Big. The men I spoke to earlier.”
Rob stands his ground at my rudeness in a surprising show of will. “Of course. But there are just a few things I’d like you to know first.”
I raise a brow and don’t break eye contact as I wait for him to speak. He clears his throat.
“There will be about 180 people under Eloisa’s employ for this tour. That includes her band, her hair and makeup team, her costume designers, the caterers, the truck drivers, production assistants, roadies, and lighting crew.”
“I read all that in the file,” I say impatiently. “I also asked for background checks on every one of them, e-mailed to me in PDF format by end of day tomorrow. Also—”
I decide to bulldoze over him and get to my point. This is taking too long. “This property is a security nightmare. She might as well be standing with a target on her back for all the protection this place lends.”
“I know, but—”
“I’m calling a private team recommended by your brother. They’ll have a new security system installed by nightfall. The locks will all be touch sensored, and we’re reinforcing that stone wall out front. And moving forward, there will be no visitors coming in or out unless they’re on the master list, all of which is approved by me. The security is deplorable out front.”
Rob sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I know. The gate has seen better days.”
“So has Harold,” I respond coolly.
Rob’s mouth forms an O shape as he catches my meaning. “Eloisa will have a fit if you try to fire him.”
“Eloisa isn’t in charge.”
Rob barks out a quick laugh. “Right. Well, X, I’m on board with all your decisions. I’ve been wanting to make some changes around here for a good long while. Just let me know how I can help and if Ellie gives you any trouble.”
I give him a sharp nod. “One more thing,” I ask. “Who else lives here?”
Rob shrugs. “There’s always people around, but just Eloisa.”
Fucking hell. As I figured. I turn toward the house. But, come to think of it, the fewer people milling about the better. I’ve always hated living in crowded quarters.