He never wanted a partner. And then she came along.
After more than a decade chasing shadows, Antonio Santos finally has a lead on the hiding place of The Serpent, the elusive villain who kidnapped him as a child and murdered his mother and uncle. But in order for Tony to get close, he’ll need access to an exclusive private island—where he can only enter with a woman on his arm.
Antonio goes to Stark Security to call in a debt … then walks out with Emma Tucker on his arm. A loner, Antonio isn’t interested in having a partner. He just needs a female. But the striking redhead’s skills soon impress him. More than that, her lush body and beguiling self-assurance tease his senses in unanticipated ways.
A longtime operative with deadly skills, Emma resents being arm candy for someone else’s agenda. But the more she works with Antonio, the more she admires his razor sharp intelligence and formidable prowess. And when the island’s games push them over a sensual cliff, she can’t deny his talents in the bedroom, too.
As passion rises on this island playground full of lust and danger, they both fight the growing attraction between them. But with danger racing toward them from both on and off the island, they soon realize that more than their hearts are at stake. Because unless they can trust and rely on each other, they also risk losing their lives.
Charismatic. Dangerous. Sexy as hell.
Meet the elite team at Stark Security.
Wrecked With You is Story # 4 in the Stark Security - Standalone Novels series.
Wrecked With You - Buy Now
About this StoryPublication Date 05/26/2020 Story Type Book Series Stark Security - Standalone Novels Place in Series Story #4 Genre Contemporary Romance Romantic Suspense
The world is a fucked up place.
That was probably the first lesson I learned in life. A hard-taught lesson when he’d yell at me or slap me. Or worse.
He was supposed to love us. To protect us.
But “supposed to” is only the truth in a fairy tale world. We lived in the real world, my sister and me. And when it got to be too much—when there was nothing and no one we could turn to except each other—that’s when we ran.
I’ve done things I’m ashamed of. Things I had to in order to survive. To keep us safe.
And I learned a long time ago not to trust anyone but myself and my sister. Because the people who are supposed to protect you will fail you. And the people who are supposed to love you can just as easily be monsters.
But lately, things have started to shift. My world is opening, and people are surprising me. I’m letting down my guard; I’m letting people in.
It’s a mistake, and I know it. Because now he’s come into my life.
And though I know I need to keep my distance—though I know damn well that he’s going to hurt my heart—I can’t help but slide down that hill toward him, terrified all the while that he won’t be strong enough to catch me.
And even more scared that he will.
“Any luck?” Antonio Santos stood with his arms crossed as he stared over Noah’s shoulder at the nonsensical string of numbers, letters, and symbols that flowed across the screen in time with the tapping of Noah’s fingers on the keys.
“Almost there,” Noah said, his attention never veering from the monitor.
Tony shifted his weight, then took a step back and leaned against the massive oak table that made up one of the three sides of Noah’s cluttered workspace. Despite being the top dog at the Austin division of Stark Applied Technology, Noah’s office looked more like the basement of a kid who loved to code and play video games.
Then again, Tony could hardly fault his friend for that. Noah Carter had mad skills with computers, electronics, anything tech. Tony had skills, too, but his leaned toward the more deadly variety. A skillset for which he’d been well-paid in the past, though only for jobs that were on the right side of his conscience.
Those paid gigs, though, had been simply a means to an end. Even the time that Tony had spent working with Noah for a vigilante group called Deliverance had been for a purpose. Tony fully supported the work that the group had done rescuing kidnapping victims and taking down their tormentors. But he’d also utilized the organization’s massive resources for his own purpose.
Specifically, the search for one man, known only as The Serpent.
Tony could never get back what The Serpent had stolen from him. His mother. His uncle. His whole goddamn life. But he could have revenge.
And he was getting pretty damn close to the prize.
He had Noah to thank for much of his recent progress. His friend was the one who had set Tony up with a secret identity on a notorious dark web message board. A place where, over the span of years, Tony had cultivated a reputation as a badass mercenary with skills for hire. Not a lie … but not exactly the truth, either.
He’d posted fake details to boost his reputation and taken just enough real jobs to support the cover. But only jobs that he’d vetted first, carefully making sure the targets weren’t innocent. In fact, far from it. Murderers, sexual predators, and the like.
He’d built his reputation slowly until he had enough cred to ask questions about The Serpent without attracting too much unwanted attention.
Still, progress had been a slog. For over three months, he received no leads. Then a few trickled in, but none panned out.
Months passed, and even though he’d known that this was a long-haul game, he’d started to lose hope.
Then a private message from The-Asst had appeared. A woman, or so she said. And she promised Tony that although she didn’t know where The Serpent was at the moment, she knew how to learn his true identity.
More important, she promised to share that information if Tony would meet her at the exclusive Debauchery Resort, a no-holds-barred sex party island located in the Caribbean.
She named the date—exactly five days from now—and that was an appointment he intended to keep. So long as it wasn’t a trap.
Like his own dark web identity, The-Asst’s profile had no identifying information. Which meant that he had no way of verifying if she was even really a woman, much less someone in a position to, possibly, have access to information about The Serpent.
And that, of course, was why Tony had come to Austin to see Noah. Because if anyone could peel through the layers to discover who The-Asst was, it was his tech genius friend.
Dragging his fingers through his close-cropped hair, he once again came up behind Noah as words and symbols flashed rapid-fire across the screen. “What’s—”
His friend held up a hand, cutting off Tony’s question. “Almost done. Just one more—yes. Got it, you slippery little fuck.”
Tony looked from the nonsense on the screen to Noah, then back to the screen. There was a reason Tony didn’t do tech. There wasn’t a damn thing on the screen of interest that he could see.
“I could explain it,” Noah said dryly, looking over his shoulder at Tony. “But then I’d have to kill you.”
“Funny man.” Tony pulled over one of the chairs and sat, rolling close for a better view of the nonsense. “Don’t explain. Just tell me what you’ve learned.”
“I can’t get a name for you. Not yet. But I’m working on software that will—”
“—do something magical with bits and bytes and quantum physics. Yeah, man, the whole world knows you’re a genius. What’s the bottom line?”
“Eighty-seven percent probability your contact really is a woman. I derived that from—”
“Ah, ah. Do I bore you with ballistics?”
Noah rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing boring about ballistics, and I’m a damn good shot, too.”
“I’m better.” Tony grinned, enjoying himself. Hell, the first time he’d laughed in months was last night at Noah and Kiki’s new house overlooking Lake Travis.
“Right now, the only cojones that count are mine. You want the intel or not?”
“You know I do.” He leaned back in the chair and kicked his feet out, prepared to get schooled.
Surprisingly, though, Noah skipped over the miracles of semiconductors and whatever programming language was in vogue these days. He dove straight to the results from his still-in-beta software.
“I can’t confirm your contact is a woman, but the probability is high. And based on where I’m pinging back from the shadow on her messages, she’s located in Southern California.”
“I didn’t think you could trace that kind of thing on the dark web.”
“Most can’t. I can. At least to a seventy-two percent certainty rate. Like I said, this is still in development.”
“So there’s a good chance she’s in California.”
“Either that, or knows her way around this nerdy tech stuff as well as I do and is purposefully shielding not just her location but the shadow of her location that I’m tracking.”
Noah grinned, but continued. “Since your intel suggests The Serpent’s based around LA, the probability that her information is legit increases.”
“All of which means it’s worth a shot to meet this woman.”
“Sounds to me like she’s the best lead you’ve had.”
“Lately, she’s been the only lead.” He’d had a bead on The Serpent years ago, but the plan had gone horribly wrong, and Tony had lost a hell of a lot more than the year of tracking and planning.
“Women are allowed to arrive alone at Debauchery,” Noah continued, and Tony nodded. That much he knew. “Men aren’t.”
“And she’s planning on meeting me there,” Tony said. “Yeah, I’ve thought about it. That means that she assumes I’ll find someone to come with me. And it means that she isn’t trying to entice me to travel with her. She’s probably going early to protect herself or to set a trap.”
“Right now, the probabilities are pretty much equal. But I did find a few single seats booked on Debauchery’s private jets booked the day before you’re set to meet her.”
“Nope. Their security is tight. Not surprising considering the nature of the resort. I’m sure I can get around it if you think it’s important. Want me to keep poking?”
Tony shook his head. “Don’t bother. Odds are good I won’t be able to tell whether she’s there to help me or kill me just from a name on a ticket.”
His friend sighed. “That’s true enough. This whole mission is a question mark. It might be a trap. It might not. She might have intel about The Serpent she wants to share with you, though God only knows why. Or she could be someone in your line of work, and she’s coming to the island to kill you. Hell, maybe The Serpent screwed her, too, and she wants to kill him and hopes you’ll team up with her.”
“Only way I’ll know is to go,” Tony said without hesitation, because the trip became a done deal the moment The-Asst had suggested it. After all, he’d risked his life for things a lot more mundane than his own lifetime vendetta.
“Figured you’d say that. You’ll need to go in as a couple. You seeing anyone these days? Anyone you’d be willing to take on a mission?”
“No on both counts,” Tony admitted, ignoring the tug on his heart that came with the admission.
Noah watched him for a moment, those deep green eyes never leaving Tony’s face. “It’s not so bad, buddy. Honestly, it’s pretty damn good.”
That tug turned into a downright squeeze as he silently shrugged. He was doing just fine, at least so long as he lived in the moment. It was only hard when the dark, lonely nights came, a reminder that he couldn’t ever truly get close to anyone because that would be like painting a target on their ass, then—
He grabbed the mug of now-cold coffee and took a long swallow, just to camouflage his souring mood.
“I’m happy for you,” he told Noah after he set the mug down with a thunk. “I really am.” He smiled, the expression genuine as he remembered dinner at their house the night before. “You and Kiki are great together.”
He meant it, too. Tony didn’t know the whole story, but he knew that Noah had lost a wife and child, and that the tragedy had scarred him. Kiki, he knew, had helped heal those wounds.
“Yeah,” Noah said, smiling so wide that Tony could see all his teeth. “We really are.” He hesitated, and Tony tensed, afraid that Noah would give him the you should settle down speech.
Instead, Noah cleared his throat and said casually, “So who are you going to take? Or are you planning on a surreptitious arrival.”
“I read a bit about the place. The only habitable area is the resort. Beyond that is a small, dense jungle. There’s a road to and from the airport, but that’s about it. So if I’m going to the island, I’m going to the resort.”
“And you need a woman. Got one in mind?”
“I don’t. Anyone I take, I put at risk.” And even if that wasn’t the case, he didn’t have anyone in mind. While he’d picked up a few women here and there, those hadn’t been the kind of encounters where he’d kept a phone number. And as for women with the kind of skill set to be a partner and not a decoration? Well, his contact list was short as he preferred working alone and had been fully solo since Deliverance disbanded.
“You need someone who can hold her own,” Noah said.
“Agreed. But who?”
His friend shook his head. “No ideas. I’ve been riding a desk for too long now, and my contacts have dried up. I wish I could point you somewhere.”
“I do, too. I need someone connected. Someone who has a large pool to—of course.” He smiled. “Stark.”
“Stark?” Noah repeated. “As in my boss? Damien Stark of Stark Applied Technology?”
“And the Stark Security Agency,” Tony reminded him. After his daughter was kidnapped, Damien Stark founded the elite security group to go after scum like the kidnapper—and worse. The goal of the SSA, as Damien had told him, was to be a line in the sand. To fight the battles that law enforcement couldn’t—or wouldn’t—and to help those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
The SSA was relatively new, but it had already earned a stellar reputation. And though Tony had declined Stark’s offer to join the team, that didn’t mean that he didn’t respect the hell out of its mission or its operatives.
“Good idea,” Noah said, nodding slowly. “You want me to give him a call and see if any of the women on the team are free for a job? Or, hell, Liam and Quincy are both with the SSA,” he added, referring to two other former Deliverance members. “You could hit either of them up to approach Stark.”
“No worries. I’ll call him myself.”
Noah’s eyes widened, and Tony had to chuckle. Tony had learned that Stark was a hell of a nice guy, but there was no denying the billionaire was intimidating as hell. And Noah had no way of knowing that Tony had met Stark on multiple occasions—and that Stark had been actively recruiting him.
“He owes me a favor,” Tony explained.
Noah leaned back, clearly intrigued. “That’s a hell of a chip to be holding.”
“Yeah, well, let’s just say he thinks I’m worth it. I helped his wife out of a jam in Paris a while back.”
An attacker had gone after Nikki and, thankfully, Tony had been in the right place at the right time.
“Stark said to give him a shout if I ever needed anything. Guess I’ll call in the favor and tell him I need a woman.”
I’m hanging upside down outside the window of one of Burbank’s hotels, and I can’t help but think that the world looks pretty much the same from twenty-four floors above the ground as it does right-side up at sea level.
But then, I’m not a sunshine and roses kind of girl. On the contrary, I’ve always thought that the world was a fucked up place, as often upside-down and backwards as it is safe and navigable. No, that’s not true. It’s more often fucked up. The warm and cozy world that you see on television commercials? That everyone’s grandmother claims to remember? It doesn’t really exist. I don’t think it ever really did.
Harsh, maybe. But the truth usually is.
I first learned about harsh realities when I was still in diapers. I didn’t have a stellar childhood, that’s for sure, but my perspective on the world gave me an edge. And my interesting string of jobs over the years has given me some very unique skill sets. The kind of expertise a woman needs if she plans on gathering a shit-ton of compromising intel from a money laundering asshole who, once upon a time, also brokered the sale of little girls on the black market.
Unfortunately for me, Billy Cane isn’t an easy guy to get close to. Which explains why I’m hanging upside down in front of his hotel window, a cable and a reinforced harness keeping me in place, as I try to hold my camera steady while I zoom in on his computer where he’s doing some very naughty things.
Not sexual things, though.
There are no scantily clad prostitutes in my view. No revelations into Mr. Billy Cane’s personal predilections. I’m not trying to catch him in that kind of compromising position. I’m trying to catch him moving money. Lots of money for lots of underworld clients.
I want to capture the keystrokes. I want shiny footage of the account numbers. I want all the juicy details. Because the more info I have to bargain with, the less likely anyone is going to care that I popped the guy.
Because that, of course, is the real reason I’m here.
A crackle of static in my earpiece catches my attention, then Quincy’s smooth British vowels fill my head. “Status, Auntie?” It’s a silly call sign, but protocol requires no names over the radio. The code name comes from Auntie Em of the Wizard of Oz, one of my favorite movies. And since I’m Emma, it’s a name I choose often for missions.
“Five-by-five. Just enjoying the view.”
“As much fun as waiting to reel you in might be, this mission is a bit below my pay grade.”
Quincy Radcliffe is not only one of the Stark Security Agency’s first recruits, he’s also a former Deliverance operative and a former MI6 agent. Which means he’s absolutely right. “Feeling extraneous?”
“You said you needed me specifically,” he reminds me. “And you asked me to bring company equipment even though you’re not with us.”
“I practically am.” The company is the Stark Security Agency, Quincy’s current employer.
“Are you, now? Do go on. When you asked me, I had the impression you’d be signing on the dotted line any day now. And yet I don’t believe you’ve signed a bloody thing.”
I almost smile. “You sounded seriously fucking British right then.”
“I am seriously fucking British. I’m also the man who is going to decide when and if I’m going to reel you up again. I want a straight bloody answer. Did you sign on to the company?”
If I weren’t hanging upside down, I’d shrug. “Technically, no.”
Damien Stark’s been asking me to come on board as an operative with the elite security agency ever since I rescued a kidnapped princess and Quince helped take down the fuckwad who was after her.
I admire the heck out of the SSA, but I also like my freedom. Working on my own terms. I spent too many years as a covert op for a deep-cover government intelligence organization. Under the circumstances, that was a kickass deal for me. A hell of a lot better than death row, that’s for damn sure.
Now that I’m no longer yoked to the government, my freedom is important to me. Quince knows it. My sister knows it. I know it.
I’m still trying to figure out if Stark Security knows it.
“Explain not exactly,” he demands.
“Well, you’re here, and you’re part of the company, and you’re my sister’s boyfriend. That’s way less than six degrees of separation. You do the math.”
His beleaguered sigh fills my ear, and I have to smile. Right now—upside down and all—I’m having one hell of a good time.
“Which begs the question of why I agreed to your absurd request in the first place.”
Through the crack in the hotel room’s curtain, I see Cane shift in his chair, revealing even more of the computer screen. I grin, then zoom in for a much better image of the spreadsheet he’s editing, chockfull of names and account numbers. “That’s it, you fucker. And thank you for being so anally organized.”
“Fine, fine. I’m assuming you agreed because you’re screwing my sister. God knows that was a big part of why I asked you.”
“Trust me. As much as I adore that particular activity, it wouldn’t be enough.”
“Then it must be because you love my sister.”
“Ah, yes. That’s why.”
“She’s lucky to have you,” I tell him. “And I’m not just saying that because you could push a lever and drop me on my head.”
“I’m lucky to have her.”
“Damn right, you are.”
“And right now, you’re lucky to have me.”
I laugh softly. “Can’t argue with that one either.”
“Care to give me a bit more information about what exactly you’re doing? Nature of the intel? Your mission objective?”
“Because I might tell your sister?”
“You know she’d—”
The bastard is pushing back from the desk, and it’s clear why—my own reflection right there on his goddamn computer screen. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
I wanted more footage. Lots more.
But I’ll have to make do with what I have, because it’s now or never time. And I’m not willing to stop now.
I do a quick flip in the harness, shifting my position to right-side up, then use the clip at the top of the harness to hook me into this position. These aren’t ideal conditions, but when are they ever?
I grab the Smith & Wesson .45 that’s holstered to my hip, say a prayer that the wind doesn’t shift, and quickly take aim. I’ve done this before, albeit not while suspended, but I’d always been assigned a partner on those missions. One of us to shoot out the glass, the other to almost simultaneously shoot the target, thus eliminating the need to account for the deflection of the kill shot when it penetrates the pane.
But I don’t have a partner beside me, and I don’t have time for hefty calculations. And while I’ll aim for a kill shot the first time, most likely I’ll have to take the second shot on its heels. If it works, great. If not, I damn sure hope Quince can haul my ass to the roof before Cane takes a shot at me.
Time seems to drag on dangerously slow, but that’s an illusion. The world is moving in slo-mo now. My thoughts coming at such a fast clip that he’s not even fully steady on his feet yet. But I’ve got the weapon ready, and the moment he’s upright and facing me, I fire. The glass shatters, and he’s close enough to get sprayed by the shards.
Flying glass can be deadly, but I’m not willing to take a chance, and the glass is still flying when I take aim, pull the trigger again, and send the bullet zinging through the newly formed hole in the window. And right into that son-of-a-bitch’s head.
I rattle off an ironic curse. Ironic because though I’d been aiming for his chest, I nailed the more difficult shot. Even so, I hate it when subpar conditions fuck with my aim.
I draw a breath, calm myself, and tell Quince to pull me the hell back up.
Immediately, I start to move up, and at a pretty fast clip. But that’s also when I realize that he hasn’t said a word. Yeah. He’s pissed.
“Listen, Bond,” I say, using this call sign. Because, hey, he’s British. “This was—”
“Bloody hell,” Quince growls. At first I think he’s even more pissed than I anticipated, but a split second later, I start to free fall and realize he’s dealing with an equipment fuck-up.
The clip holding me upright isn’t designed to withstand intense pressure, and when I jerk a few feet above Cane’s room, I also spin forward, the air coming out of my lungs with a whoosh. Suddenly I’m upside down again, staring through the glass into Cane’s room.
He’s still there, still dead, and still alone. There are no sirens. No sign that anyone at three in the morning noticed the shower of glass that rained down on the parking lot below. And no indication that hotel security is racing to his room.
I do have a problem, though. Because when I flipped, the camera shifted. Now it’s hanging from my arm, tethered only by the strap I’m wearing across my body.
Considering I’m currently upside down, this isn’t the most secure of positions. “What the hell are you doing up there?” I demand.
“Got a jam in the recoil system. Give me a—there.”
His final word is unnecessary, because I can hardly miss the fact that I’m now zooming upward, the crank’s motor having obviously re-engaged.
The camera starts to fall, but it can’t go far because the strap is around my body.
Except that it’s not. I realize too late that the metal clip that attaches the strap to one side of the camera has come loose—and now the weight of the camera is pulling the damn thing free faster than I can scramble for it.
“Goddammit,” I snarl as my fingers brush the end of the strap, but I can’t get a grip. And I watch, helpless, as the camera tumbles through the night to smash unseen on the dark parking lot below.
There’s a chance—a slim one—that the SD card survived. But I’m not holding my breath. Instead, I growl into the mic. “Tell me the wifi was working. Tell me you got the image transfer.”
“No glitches,” Quince assures me. “I’ll confirm the images were transferred once you’re up here. Can you see where it landed?”
“More or less. We’ll retrieve it when we exit the scene.” A moment later, my feet have reached the barrier that marks the edge of the roof. I pike up and re-orient myself with my head up, as if I’m some sort of trapeze artist.
I grab hold of the ledge around the roof and pull myself up and over in time to see him standing beside the now-locked crank, his attention on the tablet in front of him.
“Got them. Let’s go.”
To his credit, he says nothing else as we pack the equipment in seconds, then use the utility elevator to get to the basement. We exit through a service entrance, both keeping our heads down and shielded by black, generic baseball caps.
Only after we’ve retrieved the broken camera, confirmed the images transferred safe and sound to the remote tablet, and are miles away in the plain, black Toyota—without license plates—does Quincy turn to me and say, “What the bloody hell is going on?”
He’s driving, and he pulls into a deserted bank parking lot. I don’t even grimace. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting this.
“It’s personal,” I tell him. “And sanctioned. Don’t worry. There won’t be blowback.”
“Sanctioned,” he repeats. “But not by my company.” He kills the engine and looks at me, his expression as hard as glass. He glances to the backseat where our gear, including one of Stark Security’s tablets, are safe and sound in a go-bag. “I’m assuming the photos are important and you weren’t just practicing your artistic composition skills before taking out the guy.”
I cock my head, not even bothering to answer.
“So here’s what happens. Tell me what this is all about, and I’ll get the images for you. Keep me in the dark, and you’ll have to steal the bloody tablet and hack the passcode. And no offense, but I don’t think you’re that good with tech. I’m not sure anyone is. The SSA has serious security. You might find someone to eventually hack it, but I wouldn’t want to take those odds.”
“Quince.” Over the years, I’ve cultivated a firm and intimidating voice. Unfortunately, my sister’s boyfriend isn’t the type to be intimidated.
“No.” His voice is harsh. No nonsense. This is the man who withstood torture. The man who saved my sister. And the man who now protects her, just like I once did.
I feel my resolve shift.
“This isn’t an SSA mission,” he continues. “And despite suggesting as much when you asked me to come with you, you aren’t actually on the cusp of joining the SSA, are you?”
I say nothing.
“Fine. Tell me what the fuck’s going on, or this whole exercise was for nothing.”
“Eliza said you were a principled hard-ass.”
“She knows me well. Talk.”
“It’s personal. Me and Eliza.”
“That makes it personal to me, too.”
“Oh? Have you proposed?”
His mouth twitches and even in the dim ambient light I can actually see the hint of color rising up his neck.
“Oh my God. You did propose. I can’t believe she didn’t tell me.”
“Not yet. But soon. I have the ring in my pocket.”
“Your pocket,” I repeat. “Here? Now?”
He lifts a shoulder. “Until it’s on her finger, I’m not letting it out of my sight. And even then, I’m not letting it get too far away.”
I feel my heart melt a little, which is not a common feeling for me. Yes, I’ve been known to tear up during the occasional sappy film when my sister forces me to watch them, but on the whole, relationships and the mess that goes with them really aren’t my thing.
Sure, I’ve had a few friends with benefits over the years, but that’s sex and laughs and a good time. Nothing serious. Because what’s the point? I’ve got Eliza. I’ve got my circle. And that’s plenty. The world’s a harsh enough place as it is, and the more you get close, the more you get vulnerable.
Still, I’m happy for Eliza. She’s practically floated through life ever since she and Quince got together again after a particularly bad parting many years ago.
He’s since redeemed himself a hundred-fold. And since he had a significant hand in saving my life and the princess, I have to admit I’m predisposed to liking the guy again.
Most important, I know he loves her.
“The mission,” he presses.
I hesitate, then nod. He came tonight to help me, no questions asked. And, yes, I might have suggested that Stark was okay with it, but I know damn well he didn’t believe it. Not when the briefing consisted of the two of us discussing mission specs in my Jeep outside a Taco Bell.
And, yeah, I sort of forgot to mention the part about my plan to kill Cane.
Bottom line, he deserves to know. And I should probably get used to the fact that Quincy Radcliffe is family, too.
Family. What a weird fucking word. When I was little, I thought it meant blood and birth and genealogical shit. DNA and genes.
But that’s bullshit. Blood isn’t family. Not the kind of family that counts.
“Our father was planning to sell us,” I tell him, surprised that the furious noise in my head translated to a whisper in the dark.
I see the pain cross his face, but there’s no surprise. I already know that Eliza has told him our story. And while she never knew that particular vile plan of daddy dearest, I guess it’s not a shock when you know about the rest of the evil that clung to that man.
“I never told Eliza, but I’ll understand if you tell her now. I know you two don’t like having secrets, and I probably should have told her long ago.”
He shakes his head. “She didn’t need to know, and you were doing what you’ve done your whole life. Taking care of her.” He reaches out and casually brushes my hand. “It doesn’t change a thing, but I want you to know it matters to me.”
I nod, then realize I’m looking down because there are tears in my eyes, which makes no sense whatsoever. Or maybe it does. Because he loves who I love, and that’s a good thing.
“So Cane was the buyer?”
I shake my head. “No, that was someone else. An entitled prick with fingers in industries both legitimate and not. But he’s dead.”
“And Cane was the next best thing.”
I nod. “He brokered the deal. He brokered a lot of deals. Still does.”
He nods slowly. “You should have told me before.”
“Would you have come with me?”
I shrug. “Then what’s the difference?”
He rubs his temples. “Emma…” He trails off, then rubs his temples again. “Of course I would have helped. You know what I’ve done. Who I’ve worked for.”
I nod. He was with MI6 and with Deliverance, a vigilante group that was formed to take out men just like Cane and rescue kidnapping victims.
“You don’t have to always work alone,” he says.
“I don’t. There’s Lorenzo. There’ve been others.” When I worked as a PI, I partnered with an ex-cop. Lorenzo had helped get me and Eliza off the streets. But the truth is, even when we worked together on cases, we had our own separate threads to follow. Most of the time, like Quince said, I work alone. I like it that way.
“You know this could get messy. I would have helped. But you should have kept me in the loop. When cops get involved … if this somehow comes back to us…”
His brow furrows.
“The site will be clean by morning. And if the body’s discovered before then, it’ll be covered up. There won’t be blowback.”
He’s silent for a moment. He knows who I used to work for, the kind of connections I have. “You wanted to take out Cane. And the government wanted to know who he was laundering money for.”
“You’re a smart guy, Mr. Bond.”
He waits for me to say more, but I stay silent. He knows the score. I think he even understands what drives me.
I didn’t change the past by killing Cane, but I think I did get justice. At least a little.
Eliza deserves that. And so, I think, do I.