Authors: Maggie Marr
Tags: #hollywood, #Organized Crime, #contemporary romance, #glamour, #hitman, #movie star, #Kidnapping, #hero
“How many others have there been?”
Remi glanced toward Beck. Caution in his eyes. “The women that we’re aware of are two noblewomen, one actress in India, one in Japan, and one socialite here in the US.”
Natalie’s brows furrowed. “Who in the US?”
“I . . . no one ever said—”
“She’s handled this quietly and privately, much like Palook’s other victims.” Remi’s tone conveyed the weight of his statements. “Estrella is determined that Palook never hurt anyone again.”
Fear flashed in Natalie’s eyes and her hand trembled. Like always she tried to maintain the tough look glued to her face, but with each fact Remi tossed toward Natalie, that galvanized facade she’d spent a lifetime building chipped.
“In light of this evening, Beck will remain here instead of returning to Greystone. Jax will do the late night patrol. I’ll take perimeter. Hudson will return to Greystone—”
“I—” Natalie’s gaze caught Beck’s.
“Natalie.” Remi lowered his voice, picked up the photo, and returned it to his suit jacket pocket. “Estrella’s aware of you and Beck.”
“How . . . who told you?”
“These things become obvious when you work security. Beck didn’t inform me or Estrella of the relationship, and normally that’s a termination offense, but Estrella still believes Beck is the right operative for the job. She thinks your personal connection to Beck will help keep you safe.” Remi’s stony gaze landed on Beck. “I’m not as convinced, especially after tonight.” He looked back at Natalie. “Beck’s still primary on this case, however, for your safety we need to have another agent on site and in public. Are we clear?”
Natalie nodded and bit her bottom lip.
Would his and Natalie’s relationship continue? After tonight, there was simply too much at risk. He was distracted. Too close. With some distance he was sharper, more focused, better equipped to protect her without emotions like anger and jealousy clouding his logic.
Her gaze contained questions, as though she knew all the concerns that raced through his mind.
“It’s time for my perimeter check. Miss Warner, your house is clear.” Remi walked out of the living room.
Natalie turned to Beck. “I—” A pleading look in her eyes. Confusion. Fear.
“Your safety is the most important thing.”
keep me safe.” She walked to him and pressed both her hands to his chest.
“Not tonight. Tonight you left your security and when I found you I wanted to beat the hell out of someone who wasn’t a threat. I didn’t remain aware of our surroundings, I didn’t scan the perimeter; I simply wanted to beat the guy I thought had beaten you.”
“I know that now.” Beck pressed his fingertips to her chin and tilted her head upward. “My first instinct when I heard about Palook was to keep the information from you. Do you know why?”
Natalie shook her head.
“Because I didn’t want you to be scared.”
“Isn’t that your job?”
“No. My job is to keep you safe. Informing you of legitimate threats helps to keep you safe. I failed twice tonight.” A long breath shuddered through his lungs. “I failed twice tonight because I’m too close. I’m emotionally involved and that won’t end well.”
Natalie stiffened in his arms. Pain seared from her gaze. “You’re breaking up with me?”
“I’m doing what’s best for you.”
Anger clouded her face, and she pulled away from him. “For
and your job?” She closed off with a hard chill. “I know I’m a big paycheck for you and the folks at Greystone.”
“My decision isn’t about money, it’s about your security.”
“Right.” She grabbed her purse from the couch. “Just like Rico wanting money from me is about capitalism. Un-fucking-believable. I made the mistake of thinking I meant something to you. That I wasn’t just a way for you to get dollars.” She walked to the living room entrance. “Guess I’m the dumbass again. Not so different than that seventeen-year-old-girl after all.” Natalie stomped out of the living room and across the foyer and up the stairs.
Beck didn’t move. He didn’t chase her. He didn’t shift a muscle. The two of them apart was better. Safer. Emotional involvement hindered his ability to protect Natalie. On the ride from Greystone, hadn’t Remi said just exactly that? What were his words . . . “compromised as an agent”? Beck’s emotional closeness compromised his logic and skills.
Natalie ascended the stairs. Beck couldn’t rip his eyes from her body.
Jax walked up to him. “Nice job, cowboy. See, you pissed off the little lady. Not sure she’s
mad, though, more hurt. Could win an Academy Award if a director managed to capture that rage onscreen.”
“Fuck off, Jax.”
“Right. Like your romance is my problem.” Jax ambled toward the front door.
“They like snitches in prison?” Beck tossed angry words at Jax. He itched to release his anger.
Jax turned back to Beck with a slow and determined motion. “What the hell you talking about?”
“Estrella and Remi, and that perimeter check I was late on.”
“That could have cost us her life.” Jax nodded to Natalie disappearing down the upstairs hallways.
Beck’s hands curled. “Fuck that. You had to tell them I was an hour late on the handoff.”
“First, I don’t cover for other people’s fuckups, but second and most importantly, I’m not some whiny bitch of a tattletale.” Jax covered the distance between them and they stood toe-to-toe in the foyer. “Better check your source, cowboy, because
didn’t tell them shit.”
Jax was a liar as well as a snitch? Better to know the type of guy he worked with now. “Right. If not you”—Beck poked his pointer finger into Jax’s chest—“then who?”
“I don’t know.” A smug smile crossed Jax face and he shook his head. “Maybe you’ve got even more to worry about than all that shit you can’t remember from Argentina.”
Beck moved closer, the leash on his rage strained. “What the hell do you know about my last mission?” The words came out low on a breath of anger.
“More than you do, cowboy. Seems everyone knows more than you do.”
Pain slid through Beck’s temple. Fuck. Argentina. What the hell had happened in Argentina? And why couldn’t he pull those memories into his mind?
Jax’s brow furrowed. His gaze scanned Beck’s face. “Seems like you got even fewer friends than you thought.” Jax tilted his chin and his eyes took on a deadly stare. “Now, if you want to keep that finger, I’d ask you to remove it from my chest.”
“What the hell happened in Argentina?”
A look flashed from Hudson to Remi as Hudson pulled open the driver’s side door of the black Greystone SUV.
“Good luck with that,” Hudson mumbled to Remi, and climbed into the vehicle and started the rig.
Remi’s hard gaze remained on the SUV as Hudson pulled down the drive. Finally he turned to Beck. “You think now is the time to get into questions about Argentina?”
“Everyone at Greystone knows more about my last mission than I do. So yeah, I think it’s a good time.”
Remi stepped closer. “You’ve violated Greystone protocol fifty ways to Sunday with your involvement with Natalie. Do you understand? You are compromised. You are emotional and if I had my way you’d be off this case.” Remi started up the stairs to the front door.
“But you didn’t get your way on this one, did you?” Beck called. Fuck it, what did he have to lose? Absolutely nothing. His head hurt and his brain seemed unable to remember any details about his mission and Marisol’s death. He needed answers and dammit he was going to get them. “Estrella’s the one calling the shots. Maybe I ask her about Argentina? Maybe I’ll get further by going to Estrella.”
“Ha!” Remi threw back his head and laughed. A giant smile covered his face. “If you think
happens at Greystone without Estrella knowing and pulling the strings, then you are one big fool and that whack to your head on your last mission caused more damage than memory loss.”
Remi stepped back down the front steps toward him. He glanced around and locked his gaze on Beck. “There’s a reason she put you on this case and it’s not just because of your experience or your kill record or the fact that before your last mission you were cold like ice.”
“Cold like ice,” Beck mumbled. His fists curled and he shut his eyes. “Marisol.” His heart cracked. “You put me on this case because of what went down between me and Marisol.”
“We put you on this case because of who you pissed off while you were in Argentina because of what went down with Marisol.” Remi’s voice grew soft. “You were put on that case to draw someone out from the darkness, and from what I’m seeing and hearing, that is absolutely happening.”
Beck’s gut clenched. He squinted. “Marisol was involved with Palook?”
“Her brother was involved with Palook.” Remi shook his head. “And from the intel I’ve received, what happened that night and what Palook had planned for her—”
“Are you fucking kidding?”
“I wish I were.”
“I was on a government mission about arms smuggling and terrorists.”
“Right.” Remi nodded. “We all have official statements that we use to fill out forms. Did any of your missions ever put you in play for only one reason?” He lifted his eyebrow. “Come on, you’re smarter than that. You were in Argentina with Andreas for a multitude of reasons.”
“This is . . .” Beck squinted and scrubbed his hand through his hair. “This is fucked up.”
“Most of life is fucked up. I’d think with your background you’d have that little nugget of information sorted out by now.”
“I fucking can’t remember all the details . . . what happened, how everything went down.”
“And you might never.” Remi turned toward the front stairs leading to the house. “You and Marisol’s brother are the only two who came out alive.” He looked over his shoulder. “If it helps, what happened in Argentina could save a lot of lives. Maybe even the life of the person you’re in love with right now.”
Beck’s hands fisted at his sides. Cold solace for a man who lived on details, but these were the only answers Beck had for now.
“Ari, I want the Greystone guys out of my house.” Natalie turned away from the windows in Ari’s office overlooking Century City. Her agent was particularly keyed up today. A big day for big deals.
“Ha! And I’d like to own Google. Neither is happening.”
Natalie crossed her arms. Beck was on the other side of Ari’s office door, relegated to standing in the outer area where Ari’s three assistants worked.
“Nat, I just made you a shockingly wealthy woman. How can you be irritated?” Ari vibrated with excitement.
made me rich?” Again, not even her agent acknowledged that it was her hard work, her talent,
that caused the tracking for
to be off the charts, which caused the studio’s desire to now close a deal for two sequels.
“Well, it’s your talent on screen,” Ari admitted, as though an afterthought. “But my deal points are stellar and so are the escalators. My God, Nat, if two and three do half as well as one is expected to do, you and your kids and even your grandkids won’t ever have to work again.”
Big sigh. Money. She had loads and loads of money. Money that made up for all the dollars her parents had squandered on big houses, fancy cars, furs, foreign travels, and her dad’s addiction to Vegas. Money was awesome, but she was still completely alone.
“Babe, those guys you want out of your house are keeping you safe. Worldwide wants them there because the studio is into you for eight figures for the next three years. Big investment. Huge! No way they let whatever whackadoo is out there trying to get close near you. The Greystone Agency is the best, everyone knows that.”
“It’s my house and my life.”
“Right, and you’re meant to go into production right after the premiere and roll through not one, but two films with a total budget of 450 million. No can do, princess. They’re not calling off the watchdogs until you’ve shot those films. Just settle in and enjoy the big bucks you’re pulling down.” Ari reached for his Bluetooth and placed it behind his ear. “You’re finally getting everything you ever wanted.”
Her gut churned. Was she getting all she wanted? After this deal, her house was paid for, she was currently the star of what was presumably going to be the biggest movie of the summer, and she had money in the bank. Yeah, so aside from some crazy cult leader wanting to torture her, and her non-relationship with her family, and her heart being absolutely shattered by the man she’d fallen for . . . yeah, everything was A-okay.
“Money isn’t everything,” Natalie sighed.
“Wow, not sure I’d ever hear you utter those words. You feeling okay?”
“No, I mean . . . not really. Yeah, I hated it when Daddy blew through all my money but . . . God, Ari, what the hell? How am I having this career and feeling so alone?”
Ari spun his chair from his desk and faced her. His gaze locked to hers. Could he say something, anything, that didn’t sound agenty or money-hungry or smarmy and about the movie business?
“Babe, it’s lonely at the top.” A giant smile spread over his face. “But now you’ve got enough dough to buy friends.”
Nope, Ari couldn’t do it. He was good at what he was good at, which was being an agent. Buy friends? Who wanted to be surrounded by people who only wanted to be around you for a good time?
“Why don’t you and Stacia go shopping?”
“Because Stacia has a job and there’s only so many times you can go to Rodeo Drive.” Natalie dropped to the couch and sighed. She needed a hobby. Something in her life that made sense. A person she trusted and loved, and who loved her.
She glanced toward the closed door. She needed Beck.
But he sure as hell didn’t seem to need her.
“I have some other news.” Natalie’s gaze flashed to Ari. His smile was replaced with a thin-lipped look. “Your dad called me yesterday.”
A giant lump snowballed in her throat.
“Jerry wants premiere tickets and an invite. Plus your new cell number. Says you owe him that much.”