Authors: Rebecca York
A Decorah Security Novel
By Rebecca York
Ruth Glick writing as Rebecca York
Published by Light Street Press
Copyright © 2011 by Ruth Glick
Cover design by Patricia Rosemoor
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Her head was a little fuzzy, but that was okay. She didn’t have to work tomorrow. Really, she didn’t have to work at all, but she liked puttering around the little boutique on Charles Street that Daddy had bought her. It was fun having something of her own. Having employees and customers who liked the whimsical clothing and jewelry she brought back from New Delhi and Bangkok.
Tonight she only had to make it from the club to her apartment. She could have gone home with Craig, or one of the guys she’d flirted with on the dance floor. But she didn’t like him enough to fall into his bed.
The din inside Temptation faded as she wove her way to the parking lot. With a sigh of relief, she reached her Beemer and clicked the button to unlock.
Before she could open the door, someone grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth with his hand. When she tried to pull away, he caught a fistful of her hair and yanked her head back, almost snapping her neck.
“Careful, you idiot,” a rough voice cautioned. “She’s a valuable commodity.”
The pressure on her neck eased as someone shoved her into the backseat of the Beemer and lifted the key from her hand.
The second guy climbed behind the wheel while the first one held her in place.
“Please,” she whimpered as the car headed away from the club. “My father will pay to get me back.”
The guy up front laughed. “Yeah. We know, sweetheart.”
The kidnapper in back pressed something wet over her nose and mouth, and blackness closed in.
The phone jerked Emma Richards awake at 5:00 a.m.
The harsh voice on the other end of the line said, “We’ve got a priority job. I’m assembling a team. Get in here ASAP.”
It was her boss, Frank Decorah, a tough former Navy Seal who had worked for a couple of top security companies before going into business for himself.
Instantly alert, she climbed out of bed and headed for a quick shower, then gave her medium-length blond hair two minutes with the hair dryer. Good enough.
The jeans she’d discarded before her three-mile jog around the lake were lying over the arm of a chair where she’d tossed them. A white blouse hung in the closet along with a tweed blazer.
No time for makeup. Not when something urgent was going down. But she knew better than to ask about the assignment until she was inside the Beltsville headquarters of Decorah Security. It was in an unpretentious warehouse area off Route One, convenient to both DC and Baltimore.
She pulled into a parking space beside the windowless building and hurried through the bland reception area. Once she’d punched in her code and entered the back of the building, everything changed to high tech efficiency.
She’d been with the company for five years, ever since she’d turned down an offer from her dad’s security outfit in order to prove she could stand on her own two feet. So far she’d done pretty well, starting with routine surveillance assignments and graduating to sophisticated sting operations and hair-trigger search and rescue.
She’d been happy at Decorah, until Cole Marshall had come on board last year. Frank Decorah had been enthusiastic about getting him. Emma wasn’t quite so sure. There was something strange about the guy. Something she simply didn’t understand and didn’t trust. It wasn’t just that he never socialized with the rest of the Decorah team. She had sensed an invisible barrier around him, a barrier nobody dared step through except Frank.
None of that stopped her from being attracted to him—an attraction she’d fought because she’d sensed that if she got involved with this man, it would be a lot more than a casual affair. And that frightened her in ways she couldn’t explain.
She and Frank met in the hallway, his gait less steady than usual. Most days you wouldn’t know that one of his legs was artificial. This morning he looked like he was in pain.
“Thanks for getting here so fast,” he said. Another anomaly. It wasn’t like him to thank his staff for reporting to work, all of which made her think that he was on edge over the upcoming job.
The moment she followed him into the conference room, her own nerves started to jangle.
Cole Marshall was sitting on the other side of the polished rosewood table.
Dark hair. Dark eyes. Dark tee shirt. He always reminded her of a predator on the hunt, which was probably why he made her nervous. They’d partnered on a few assignments, and she’d wanted to tell Decorah no way in hell would she do it again. But she knew that the boss understood the strengths of his staff and put the best team together for every job. This morning, it appeared that the outside operatives would be her and Cole.
He gave her a tight nod, indicating that he wasn’t any happier to see her than she was to see him.
Teddy Granada came rushing in.
“Sorry I’m late.”
Decorah gave him a stern look but said nothing because they all knew they were lucky to have the computer geek.
Teddy’s name came from his appearance. He was six feet tall with the bulk of a grizzly. This morning he wore a wrinkled plaid shirt with a rip in the sleeve.
His cohort in the division, Stinger Henderson, rocked back and forth in his swivel chair like it was part of an amusement park ride. The polar opposite of Teddy, he looked like a refugee from a biker gang complete with leather jacket and boots. Under the jacket was an impressive set of tattoos, mostly of the horror movie variety.
Teddy and Stinger would be working from headquarters. While she and Cole would be doing what?
“What have we got?” Stinger asked as he bit at a hangnail.
Frank Decorah passed out folders with photos and background information. The photos showed a young woman with striking strawberry-colored hair and blue eyes.
Emma gasped when she saw the picture. “It’s Karen Hopewell.”
“You know her?” Frank asked sharply.
“We both went to Carlton Academy. She was a few years behind me. What happened to her?”
She failed to come home last night, and her dad is worried sick. Her mom died last year, and she’s all he’s got.”
“Maybe she bunked with a friend,” Teddy said.
“Possible, but unlikely. Considering that the father got a ransom demand early this morning.”
Emma’s stomach was churning as she took in the information. Someone she knew. Kidnapped.
Frank went on to give a few particulars. “She’s the daughter of Morton Hopewell. Twenty-two years old. Dad set her up with a boutique on Charles Street after she graduated from the University of Maryland—with a major in partying.”
He paused. “You can get more background from the briefing folders. The main point is that the kidnappers want five million dollars. If they don’t get it in the next few days, Karen’s life as she knew it ends, and they’ve said that if Hopewell contacts the cops, he’ll be sorry.”
Stinger’s feet hit the floor as he abruptly stopped rocking. “They’re going to off her?” he asked in his flat, matter-of-fact voice.
“The implication is that she’ll wish she were dead,” Frank answered in a voice that could have turned water to ice.
Emma winced, her imagination running wild as she thought about what the wrong kind of men could do to a twenty-two-year-old female.
“Take a couple minutes to look through the folders,” their boss said as he reached into his pocket and took out the gold and black eagle coin that he always carried. While they read the material, he used his thumb and finger to turn it over in his hand.
He gave them ten minutes with the folders, then began speaking again, making assignments. “I’ll interview Hopewell. Arriving in a plumber’s truck, in case someone’s watching the house. Teddy and Stinger will work the computers. Emma and Cole will go to her apartment, like they’re friends dropping by. See if you can get any clues about where she was last night.”
Emma glanced at Cole, thinking he probably didn’t look like a friend of a millionaire’s daughter. Neither did she, for that matter. She and Karen hadn’t had much in common back in prep school. Karen had run with the in crowd. Emma had had a few friends, all of them outsiders.
“Stop by makeup and wardrobe and get some war paint—and something a little sexier to wear,” Decorah told her. To Cole he said, “The jeans are okay but a polo shirt would look better.”
They both nodded.
“Make it fast. We’re working on a tight deadline. Hopewell told the kidnappers it would take him three days to get the money. Maybe he can stretch it to four, but that’s pushing her safety.”
Stinger and Teddy rushed off to do what they did best—get the scoop on Karen and her father.
Emma headed down the hall to make herself look a little more like a frivolous rich chick. The rich part was true. She’d never lacked for anything material growing up. But her household had never been frivolous. She’d resented her father’s strict discipline, but she’d also been raised with solid values that had put her squarely on the side of people in harm’s way. She’d wanted to do something important with her life, not just live off Daddy’s money.