“Let me get this straight, you let her go off with this jackass named Carlos, who isn’t only strictly an ex, but her ex-husband?”
Masters strode back and forth in front of his desk, raking a hand through his dark hair. He’d never wanted to hurt the ones in this room so much in his entire life. There were two men in his office with him—two of his best, but for the moment he wanted nothing more than to beat them to death for allowing this to happen. Ethan and Beau Jackson didn’t look any happier than he was, but still. It was different.
“She didn’t give us any choice, Masters,” Ethan commented. “You know damn well Anabelle Lee doesn’t let anyone tell her what she can or can’t do.”
While the man was still thin from his confinement and torture but had improved all the way around. It had no hope of saving him from getting his ass beat, given the mood Masters was in. Masters crossed his arms and sat on the edge of his desk. “How do you figure?”
He cocked an eyebrow and gave Masters a ‘duh’ look. “Because she told us she would go and we couldn’t stop her.”
New anger surged to life within him. The moment he got her back, he was going to bend her over his knee and spank her. That is fun on an entirely new level. And it will do something for our relationship.
“I think she has plans to take him down. She wanted us out of the way. You know how his sister gets when she’s pissed off. Plus, they tried to strip search her at the palace and it still irked her. When he showed up on the scene, we both knew that man was going to get the brunt of her anger.” Beau stretched his legs and hooked his cowboy boots at the ankle. Of the three gathered in the room, he quite honestly didn’t appear concerned about what his cousin had gotten herself into. Masters wasn’t too sure what to make of it.
Then again, perhaps my reaction is completely unprofessional of me.
Masters stared at the cousins, eyes flicking back and forth between them like a ping-pong ball used in a championship match. “I want her found and brought back. We went through this already after you were taken, Ethan. I can’t keep having my agents kidnapped.”
“No offense, Masters, but I also wish my sister back home. Not just your agent. But our family.”
“Keep me posted.” He stood and hollered for his secretary. “Mino!”
He exhaled and held out his hand for the papers she carried in. “What are these?” His words were sharp.
Mino didn’t appear at all affected. “Basic things that need to be signed. I haven’t heard from Anabelle Lee as of yet but will let you know when her phone comes back online or we hear from her.” She looked to the cousins. “Ethan, Beau.”
Masters carried the stack to his desk and signed them all with a flurry, not paying a lick of attention to what was there. He didn’t mind. He trusted Mino with everything. Scrubbing a hand over his head, he cracked his neck and looked at the woman picking up the papers.
She glared right back at him, obviously unimpressed by the scowl on his face. That was part of why he liked her so much—she wasn’t timid around him. “Don’t bark at me just because she didn’t ask for your permission to do what she had to in order to help save her family.”
“Excuse me?” He leaned back in the black leather chair.
“You heard me fine.” She stated walking to the door, not bothering to look back in his direction. “I’m not here for you to fight with. While I have many job duties, that is not one. If that’s what you need, call upon Ethan or Beau and take one of them to the mat.”
She vanished before he said anything else. The two men in the room had smiles they wiped from their face the moment he glared back at them.
It didn’t surprise him in the least when Beau stepped forward. The man loved hand-to-hand combat and took any and all opportunities to increase his knowledge of it.
“Not me,” Ethan said, holding out his hands as he shook his head. “I’m going home to my princess, then I’m going to start tracking down my sister.”
“Let me know when you get a hit.” Beau made the comment without moving toward the door.
Ethan slipped from view. Masters rested his hands on the desktop and looked at the man in his office.
“She’ll be fine, Masters.”
“At least until I get my hands on her,” he growled. However, that was a double-edged sword for him. He coveted Anabelle Lee in ways he hadn’t any right to. She worked for him.
Not that his being in a position of power would be an issue for her. Hell, most of the time she defied orders, anyway. All he knew was that when she stood next to him, warmth swallowed him. He could smell her skin and longed to bury his face in her thick red tresses.
God, he wanted her hair of liquid flame streaming over him while they were in bed, limbs entwined. He held his breath and strove to keep his emotions under control. The woman was all fire and ice. She was his weak link—the chink in his armor. Lord help me if she ever figures that out.
He allowed this group of Theta Corps operatives a lot more leeway than he did other teams. They were his best group and yet he couldn’t help but think of the issues they’d had over the past few years.
“Stop blaming yourself.”
He snapped his head up to find Beau helping himself to the scotch sitting on the sideboard.
At least he’s pouring two.
“What makes you think I’m blaming myself?” He accepted the drink and took a healthy swallow, relishing the burn.
“Because I know you. You still blame yourself for what happened to Valentino and Lexy.”
“It’s my job to keep you safe so you in turn can keep the world safe.”
“Nothing is safe anymore, Masters.” He lowered himself into a chair and rested one booted foot over the opposite knee. “We do the job because we believe in it. We do it for you because we trust you. Ethan doesn’t blame you—we don’t blame you for Anabelle Lee. Hell, even Valentino doesn’t blame you. So you’re the only one—”
Masters looked to the doorway on the heels of the frustrated roar coming from Mino’s desk.
“Her dulcet tones,” he drawled, pushing to his feet. “I do so love to hear her calling my name.” After finishing his drink, he sauntered from the office, moving as if he hadn’t a care in the world. As if Mino hadn’t spat his name with the heat of a thousand suns or the chill of the coldest winter.
Masters got about two sentences before the door slammed and he couldn’t hear them bicker any longer. He rubbed his temples and wished he was home.
Ain’t all I wish. I want that woman home where she belongs.
Masters did a bit more work then rose to his feet. He walked to the coat rack he hung his black leather coat on each morning and pulled it free. He slipped into it as he exited his office and found Mino wasn’t at her desk. Her things were still there so he knew she couldn’t have left yet.
“Mino?” he called out, digging for his truck keys.
“In the copy room fixing the printer.”
He headed to where she was and stuck his head into the room. “What happened to it?”
He rolled his eyes. “The two of you need to work out this issue you have with each another.”
“There’s no issue,” she snapped. “I’m just tired of him thinking I’m his secretary here to take all the messages from the whores he fucks.” She jerked on the paper, ripping it free.
Really, what does one say in response to that? “Do you want me to talk to him?”
“God, no!” She jerked her head up and looked at him, an apologetic expression on her face taking place of the stress and anger previously there. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean it that way. Just if he thinks I run to the boss because I’m not happy he’s only going to annoy me further. It’s his way. He gets under my skin is all.”
Yeah, and in ways you may not even want to acknowledge. “If you’re sure. But if you change your mind, I’m more than happy to let him know you’re my secretary.”
She slammed the door shut on the copier and snarled at him. “I believe the politically correct term is administrative assistant.”
This was one reason he had her, besides the fact that she was damn amazing at her job—she made him smile. And, on occasion, laugh.
“I stand corrected.”
She crumpled the papers in her hand and cocked an eyebrow in his direction. “You do realize I make your coffee in the morning. And I know all your drinks. Working around the lot of you, I’ve learned more than I should on how to kill someone.”
“Noted.” He sobered. “I’m heading out. Are you ready to go?”
She shook her head. “I’ve got a bit more to handle. Don’t worry, I will be fine.”
He hated leaving her alone in the building, regardless of the fact that it was safe. Masters shook his head. “I’ll just do more in my office and leave when you do.”
“No, you have things to do tonight. I would have been done but with Beau’s women interfering in my job, I am behind.”
“Okay, then.” He whipped out his phone and called Beau.
“You need to come to the office and wait for Mino to finish so she has an escort to walk her out. She’s behind because of the messages from your women.” He ended the call before Beau complained. “I’ll wait until he gets here, then I’ll head home.”
She walked past him and squeezed his arm. “You do realize just how secure this building is, right? I’m perfectly safe in here.”
He viewed her as his little sister. The one female in his life he trusted not to break his heart. She had her past and he didn’t care—they all did. She was one of his now and he would keep her safe.
“Are you telling me to leave?”
“Yes.” Her word was succinct and instant.
“You know who’s the boss, right?”
“I know who thinks they are and who truly runs this place. Go home, I’ll be fine.”
He debated but left as soon as Beau sent him a text that he was in the building. The drive home was quiet. He didn’t even turn on the radio. His mind swarmed with the possibilities of what Anabelle Lee could be going through. “Damn her for making me worry.”
He pulled into his garage and climbed out of his truck. He unzipped his jacket as he walked into the house and drew the door shut behind him. A warning tingle ran up his spine, and within seconds he had his VP9 Tactical in hand.
He cleared each room in silence as he worked his way to his bedroom. He paused outside the door before bursting in, ready to fire at whatever may be facing him.
Blinking the sleep away but holding a Walther PPK on him with unwavering steadiness was none other than Anabelle Lee. Her red hair streamed forward, messy and sexy, only partially covering the bruise on her light tan skin.
“What the fuck are you doing in my house?” he demanded, eyes widening as he lowered his sidearm. “And where the hell have you been?”
She rested her gun on the mattress. Her blue eyes homed in on him and a slight quirk of her lips went straight to his groin.
“Not asking me what I’m doing in your bed?”
He cocked his head to the left and lifted his right eyebrow. His chest burned and his stomach clenched as he struggled to regain control. His brain raced to form a sentence that wouldn’t come out as, ‘If you’re in my house of your own accord, I would assume you to be in my bed, for that’s the place I plan on keeping you.’
“Let’s start with you answering my questions.”
Anabelle Lee ignored the overwhelming stiffness in her body—made worse from her unexpected slumber—and glided from the bed. No, correction, not the bed, his bed. As in belonging to her boss, Masters. Ever attentive, all seeing, and the one man she wanted in a way that was less than professional. She had no desire for her boss to get a bead on just how truly sore she was.
Truth be told, she’d had intentions of being awake when he arrived back to his place, but five seconds on his large bed and she’d pretty much fallen unconscious. It didn’t hurt that she was surrounded by a combination of warmth and his scent.
“I am waiting, Anabelle Lee.”
The fury lining his tone, barely contained, sent fissures of warning throughout her body. His black eyes were hard as obsidian.
“Your place was closer.” There had been a time when she would have deepened her drawl and flirted, but not with Masters. Theirs was a different relationship.
Business only. No matter what her body might be in favor of sharing with him.
“Still no reason for you to be here, much less in my bed.”
She approached him, just slowly enough to mask her sore and injured body. Halting before him, she exhaled one long breath as her gaze locked onto his.
“I didn’t interrupt anything because you don’t bring women home with you. So why the anger? My brother and Beau, I get, but you? I’m an employee who is back fine. Unless you’re mad you weren’t in your bed with me.”
His nostrils flared, but that was the only reaction aside from the clenching of his squared jaw. Okay, perhaps not strictly business, because I do love getting these reactions from him.
“Is that it? You wondering if I’m a true redhead?” She smiled. So much for boss-employee lines, because I just jumped way over them. “Only a few know the truth. Good night. You know where to find me if you want the answer to that.”
Without looking back, she continued her slow trek out of the door and onward to the elevator. Once the silver doors slid closed behind her she allowed the wince to cross her face. Beads of sweat had gathered on her forehead and with an angry swipe she dashed them away.
I hate feeling weak. “Shit, I hurt. He’s right. I should have gone straight home.”
However, she wouldn’t have made it home. She still had nearly to an hour and a half to make it to her property and personal bed. When’d she broken into his place, she’d been bruised and still bleeding.
Now I’m just bruised.
She also had avoided home because her family would know and be at her place playing twenty questions. She just needed sleep. Anabelle Lee wriggled her toes, welcomed the pain and schooled her emotions to give nothing away the moment the elevator doors slid back open, allowing her to walk out.
A hotel room. That was her first order of business. I can’t check in under my name or any of my aliases. Those will pop to my family, as well. And she had no doubt her brother had each one flagged.
And she wasn’t about to recover in a hellhole. There were cash reserves and weapon stashes she could access. That would, however, take more energy than she had.
She left Masters’ house, withdrawing her phone as she went. As she waited for a cab ride, she placed another call.
“Hello?” The woman on the other end had a deep, southern drawl.
“I need your help, Lexy.”
A brief moment of silence. “Red?”
Anabelle Lee bristled over the name. This was the only woman—hell, the only person—who called her that.
“Has hell frozen over? I didn’t think it had, yet you are calling me and asking for help.”
Anabelle Lee waved at a nearing taxi. “A simple yes or no is all I need.”
“Of course, I’ll help. It’s got to be serious if you’re calling me over Val.”
Lexy’s husband Valentino Casanno was a man she’d worked with on numerous occasions. She actually liked the man but she and Lexy went together about as nice as oil and water. She’d never call them friends. And that was the precise reason she called her. No one would think she would reach out to Lexy for help of disappearing.
“I need a hotel room rented for me.”
“I can book one for you under our clinic. Since it will be under us, I’ll still be able to use your name. If that works for you.”
She wobbled on her feet as she approached the idling vehicle. “That would be fine. I can’t use any of my own cards, but I will—”
“Don’t worry about it. How long do you need it for?”
A slight grunt. “Give me a moment.”
Typing came over the line as she settled into the back of the cab.
“Where to?” the driver questioned.
“I’m making hotel arrangements, head downtown please.” She made sure to alter her voice, there was no southern accent at all. Right now, she sounded like someone who’d grown up in Boston. Even that minor adjustment was a huge feat for her and took more of her wanning energy.
Exhaustion nipped at her heels as she gave one-word responses to Lexy, who had to figure out where she was and what hotel to get her to. Once the hotel had been booked, she sighed.
“Sure thing, Red.” Lexy hung up.
Passing along the name of the hotel, she fought the sleep weighing on her. Even near collapse, she didn’t let down her guard until she set the locks on the door to the suite. She’d hung the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.
After another shower that sapped her remaining strength, she staggered to the bed, wrapped in a large white robe. Perched on the edge, she hung her head and reached for the Walther PPK beside her.
She might have been about to crash for a while but she wasn’t an idiot. She never slept without a weapon. She ensured it had a full magazine before she stuffed it under a large pillow on the bed and crawled in with only a long shirt on, after having shed her robe on the chair nearby. Generally, she slept on her side but right now, on her back was how it was going to have to be.
Once she was situated, she slipped her left hand beneath the pillow with her sidearm and curved her hand around the butt. Then she allowed herself to succumb to exhaustion.