JOSS: A Standalone Romance (Gray Wolf Security)

BOOK: JOSS: A Standalone Romance (Gray Wolf Security)
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JOSS

A Gray Wolf Security Novel

 

Bonus: My first box set. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2016

 

All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Prologue

 

I was late. I was never late.

I pulled up to my daughter’s private school and slammed the SUV into park, stepping out before it had even stopped moving.

“I had a meeting,” I said breathlessly, as I approached the school’s headmistress. “That almost never happens, and it definitely will not happen again.”

The woman looked at me as if she thought I’d gone insane. Had I mistaken the headmistress with a parent? It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Your daughter’s been picked up, Mr. Matthews,” she said.

“No, I’m the only one authorized to pick her up.”

“The man said there was a family emergency. He’s just right there,” she said, relief coming into her eyes as she spotted someone just to my left. “You can ask him what’s going on.”

I turned and found myself looking into the eyes of a stranger. But he knew me. His eyes widened, and he quickly turned, rushing to a car parked almost a block down. I chased after him, moving on instinct.

“Daddy!”

McKelty, my eight-year-old daughter, appeared in the back door of the car, fighting against something I couldn’t quite see. I heard the woman behind me yell to someone to call 9-1-1, but I knew that it was too late. They were already taking my little girl.

I ran faster, trying to reach her before she disappeared for good. I couldn’t lose McKelty, too. I couldn’t…I couldn’t believe this was happening.

The man in front of me reached the back of the car, but he was out of breath and couldn’t do much more than shove my daughter’s forehead back, making her head snap at an odd angle. Something about the movement, however, freed her from whatever or whoever was holding her in the car. She fell to her knees on the sidewalk, scrambled up, and rushed toward me. The first man reached for her, snagging her backpack, but the strap was broken—I’d been meaning to do something about that—and it snapped under the pressure of his grip. McKelty reached me just as the man’s partners revved the car’s engine and took off, away from the curb. He managed to grab the door, running beside the car for a moment before someone grabbed him by the belt and pulled him into the backseat.

They were gone. For now.

“The police have been called,” the headmistress said, coming to stand behind me as I cradled my daughter in my arms.

But I knew the police couldn’t do anything. I knew who it was. They’d made threats against my daughter six months ago. I hired a security firm to watch over her, but they were next to useless and did little. I ended up firing them before the emails with pictures of my daughter going about her daily routine stopped coming.

I could protect her better than those fools. But then the emails started again a week ago. Clearly, they were a little more serious this time.

It was time to make another call to Gray Wolf Security. I’d been told that if they couldn’t keep McKelty safe, no one could.

They had better live up to their reputation. If I lost my daughter, I’d have nothing left.

No one wanted to deal with a man with nothing left to lose.

Chapter 1

 

Joss

I was scrubbing the wax off my hands at the kitchen sink when Kirkland came up behind me. He pressed the side of his body against the length of mine.

“How’s it hanging, Joss?”

I shrugged.

“That bad?”

I gestured at the wet suit I was wearing and made a wave motion with my hand. Kirkland smiled.

“As long as the waves are good.”

I nodded.

He leaned in and kissed my cheek. “Here’s to good waves, hot women, and another couple weeks of easy jobs, huh?”

I nodded again, enthusiastically. That made his smile widen as he turned and wandered off.

Kirkland is the most charming man I’ve ever known. And I’ve known quite a few. At five foot four and barely a hundred and twenty pounds, I’ve had my share of charming men try to tell me I can’t do the things I’ve done—and done quite well—in my life. Kirkland was one of them until I flipped him over my shoulder and got him in a chokehold on our first meeting. He hadn’t tested me since.

I work for Gray Wolf Security, a private security firm started by a buddy of mine from boot camp, Ashford Grayson. Ash. He started the company a little more than two years ago after his brother was involved in a car accident that took the lives of their parents and left him in a wheelchair. Ash runs the office, with his office manager Rose, and David runs the technology part of things. It’s his job to design and oversee the installation of cameras in a target’s home, as well as to monitor the program that alerts him to any danger picked up by said cameras or the motion detectors installed with them. In turn, he alerts the operatives watching over that specific target. There were three of us all together: Kirkland, Donovan, and me.

Where Kirkland is a charmer, a lady’s man who never seemed to lack for female attention, Donovan is the strong, silent type. He was part of Ash’s Green Beret unit over in Afghanistan. They often ran ops together, sometimes in connection with the CIA. Donovan was an explosives expert and saw a lot of things over there that no one should have to see. He never really had PTSD like many soldiers who came home from over there, but he was messed up just the same. Personally, I think he was headed down a bad road, but then he reconnected with his high school sweetheart and—after he was shot and went through weeks of rehabilitation—everything was just different.

I was a big believer that true love could do that. It worked for David, too. He was confined to a wheelchair because of damage to his spine. The doctors told him they could remove the bone fragments that were causing the paralysis, but he refused because he felt guilty for the death of his parents. But then he met Ricki Dennison, and suddenly he was having the surgery. It was odd to look over at his workstation and see him standing.

But true love could also destroy everything.

Ash lost his fiancée over in Afghanistan. She was a CIA operative he worked with on multiple ops. She went missing during one of those ops and Ash, a vowed lifer, quit the Army to devote himself to searching for her. If it hadn’t been for his brother’s accident, he would probably
still
be looking for her. In fact, I suspected that he was. Not full time. But every once in a while I caught him looking through a file folder that was filled with dead leads. He was obsessed with her. He would never let her go.

If I had the option, I wouldn’t either. But my love was gone and there was nothing I could do to bring him back. And my life would never be the same again.

“Joss? Meeting time.”

I turned and forced a smile even though my thoughts had gone dark.

Everyone was gathering in the former formal dining room where a conference table had become the center of our regular company meetings. Ash was standing at the head, as always, so tall and dark and achingly familiar. We’d known each other for more than twelve years now. We met in boot camp. He helped me through some of the darkest moments, and I liked to think I did the same for him. He struggled, those first months in the Army, because the other recruits knew who his father was. They were fascinated with the idea that a state senator’s son would go into the Army. I never understood why it mattered. Maybe that’s what made me the one person Ash turned to. The one he let in.

He told me once that he owed me his career. I owed him so much more than that. I owed him my life.

Kirkland pulled out a chair and gestured for me to sit. I curled up in the chair, pulling my legs up underneath me and wrapping my arms around my chest. Donovan took a seat across from us, nodding to me when our eyes met. Then David…it was still so strange to see him out of his wheelchair!

“We have three new cases this morning,” Ash announced.

Kirkland groaned, as he leaned close and whispered, “So much for wishes.”

“Kirkland,” Ash said, forcing him to pay attention. He held up a file folder. “We have a visiting dignitary that has requested a male escort while he’s in Los Angeles.”

“Male?” Kirkland said with a bit of disappointment in his voice.

“They can’t all be beautiful women, my friend,” David said.

I saw the envy in David’s eyes. It made me wonder what he’d seen on the video feeds he watched when Kirkland was on assignment. I’d heard rumors, but you couldn’t always be sure the rumors were true.

Ash tossed the file across the table toward Kirkland. “Get familiar with it. You’re to report to the airport in an hour.” Then he turned to Donovan, holding up a new folder. “This is a lawyer who has a client who makes threats against her. She doesn’t believe the threats are credible, but she wants protection just in case she’s wrong.”

“What kind of lawyer?”

“Family law.”

Donovan nodded, as he took the file and began perusing its pages. “A custody case? Sounds interesting.”

“Why can’t I have the female lawyer?” Kirkland asked with a bit of pout to his voice.

Ash simply ignored him.

“Get to work, people,” he said. “And don’t get dead.”

Then Ash’s eyes fell on me, and I knew the expression living in them. He had something to tell me that he knew I wouldn’t like. And I was pretty sure it had something to do with the remaining file fold he was holding between both hands.

“See you later, darlin’,” Kirkland said, laying a hand on my shoulder before he walked away. I watched him go, watched him stop and chat with Donovan for a minute. David joined the conversation, the three of them, gorgeous men each one, talking like it was the most natural thing in the world. It used to be a natural thing to me. My husband once told me I could talk circles around anyone. He insisted I could sell ice to an Eskimo. But that was a long time ago.

Four years, six months, three weeks, two days ago.

“Joss,” Ash said, laying his hand on my shoulder the same way Kirkland had done, “will you come with me?”

I got up and followed him across the wide, open space of Gray Wolf’s offices. It was once a home belonging to a wealthy real estate developer, but Ash bought the property when he decided to begin the business. We used the first floor of the main house as the office and Ash lived upstairs. There were small cottages spread out over the property where Kirkland, David, Donovan, and I lived. The entire compound was protected by a wrought iron fence, nighttime security guards, and David’s state of the art security system. It was probably the safest place in Santa Monica.

Ash’s desk was some distance from the rest, sitting in a small alcove in the back corner. He gestured for me to have a seat in the chair placed strategically in front of the desk for clients.

“We’ve had a new case come in this morning that’s a little time sensitive.”

I nodded.

“I got a call months ago, the day David went in for his back surgery. An executive had a problem with some potential clients of his shipping business. I blew off the meeting when I got the call about David and totally let it slip my mind. The guy hired someone else and I didn’t hear from him again. But, this morning, he called because the problem’s come back.”

I sat back and crossed my arms over my chest. I understood the urgency to appease this client, but didn’t understand why he felt like he couldn’t talk to me about it in front of everyone else.

Ash watched me a long moment, something like fear, or maybe weariness, in his eyes.

“I wouldn’t put you on this case if it weren’t for the fact that there’s no one else.”

I gestured toward Donovan and Kirkland where they were still standing with David. Ash followed my gesture, but then shook his head when he understood my meaning.

“Kirkland would be totally inappropriate for this case. And Donovan…I promised Kate that I wouldn’t put him on high-risk cases anymore, especially with the wedding coming up in November. After he got shot, I can’t blame her for being concerned. Can you?”

My eyebrows rose.
What danger
? I wondered. Ash knew me well enough, he knew what I was asking.

“This case likely has ties to a drug cartel.”

Now I
was
curious. I leaned forward, my hand held out for the file folder. But Ash pulled it out of my reach.

“I need you to promise me you won’t freak out. I really need you at your best on this one.”

I shook my head. I wasn’t making promises.

“Joss…”

I shook my head again.

He sighed. “Just come with me to meet the client.”

I wanted to know what the catch was. I’d never shied away from a hard case. In fact, the harder the better. I joined the Army because I had nowhere else to go. But I stayed because I loved the adrenaline that came with being in a dangerous situation. It was the promise of that adrenaline rush that brought me to Gray Wolf when Ash came to me and made me a proposition to join the company. My only stipulation was that I wouldn’t take a case that had to do with children.

Children.

I suddenly sat up and reached across his desk, snatching a piece of paper and pen.

It’s a kidnapping threat, right?

Ash read the note, hesitating before he finally looked up at me again. I didn’t need him to confirm, I could see it in his eyes.

I shook my head again.

No way was I doing this case.

I jumped to my feet and started across the room.

“She’s eight,” Ash said in a low, steady voice. “A third grader at a private school in Los Angeles. A group of unidentified men tried to take her from in front of the school yesterday afternoon.”

I stopped, but I didn’t turn around.

“If there was anyone else…”

I closed my eyes, a memory rushing through my mind, a laughing child looking up at me with huge, dark eyes. It was like torture, like someone shoving bamboo sticks under my fingernails, only it was my heart suffering the continuous pain.

Ash lay his hands on my shoulders. “It’s been four years,” he said softly.

I jerked out of his touch, but then I turned and met his eyes. I knew he knew that I would comply. I had never been able to turn him down. And after all he’d done for me, how could I?

I gestured to my wet suit, then pointed in the general direction of my cottage. Ash nodded.

“I’ll pick you up in forty-five minutes.”

I turned and left before anyone could see the tears forming in my eyes. I didn’t cry in front of people anymore. And I didn’t plan on starting now.

BOOK: JOSS: A Standalone Romance (Gray Wolf Security)
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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