Read Guarding Raine (Security Ops) Online

Authors: Kylie Brant

Tags: #Romance

Guarding Raine (Security Ops)

Guarding Raine

By Kylie Brant

Published by Kylie Brant

 

Copyright 2012 by Kylie Brant

 

Cover art by Middle Child Marketing, LLC

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you are reading this ebook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy.

 

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at
[email protected]
.

 

All characters in this book are fictional.

 

www.kyliebrant.com

Prologue

 

She ran through the night with a speed born of terror. She could hear his heavy footsteps behind her. He was close, very close. She could feel his breath on her neck, imagined his arms reaching toward her. Sobbing, she tried to put on a burst of speed, but her legs seemed wooden, unresponsive. They couldn’t move her fast enough, far enough to avoid him.

He caught hold of her long hair and yanked her to a painful stop, and then his weight hit her, knocking her to the ground. He loomed over her like a shadow born of the total darkness around them. She fought wildly, with a strength belied by her youth, fed by her panic. There was a single hopeful instant, when she thought she could get away from him. And then her eyes fixed on something in his hand coming toward her, before her head exploded in pain . . . .

 

She came awake with a start, bolting upright in bed, hauling in huge breaths of air to fill lungs as starved as a runner’s. She pulled the sheet and coverlet up to her chin, and wrapped it around herself to still the shaking in her limbs. Even as she made the motion, she knew it was in vain. The chill skating over her skin wasn’t due to the temperature, but to the deep, pervasive cold spreading within her.

The darkness in the room was broken by the gleam from a small lamp near the window. The night seemed even more oppressive than usual, more sinister. Eleven years had passed since she’d regarded the darkness with anything less than fear. In that time she’d learned ways to deal with her lingering phobia.

But none of the tricks she’d devised, not the deep breathing or the mental gymnastics would help her tonight, she knew. It wasn’t only the old nightmare that had her shaking in her bed like a child, it was the one being revisited on her daily. Dawn wouldn’t bring an end to her fear anymore, because the specter from her sleep had been transferred to daylight.

Her eyes went to the window, as if she could search out her tormentor in the night outside. She couldn’t make herself think of the darkness rationally when she knew someone was out there. Someone was watching, weighing her terror, planning yet another move against her.

She huddled in her bed, unable to stop trembling. She could no longer deny what was happening in her life, couldn’t shake the feeling of foreboding.

The very real nightmare from her past had begun all over again.

 

Chapter 1

 

Simon Michaels surveyed the man seated across from him from beneath lowered gray brows. No wasn’t an answer he ever accepted gracefully, and certainly never from a man who looked as disreputable as this one. “Surely you could postpone your vacation.” His tone changed his words from a suggestion to something approaching a command.

“I could,” Mac O’Neill agreed, “if I wanted to.” He crossed his arms lazily, leaned back in his chair and added, “But I don’t.” He paused to note the mottled red color his answer brought to Simon Michaels’s face before going on. “I told you on the phone, my partner is perfectly capable of handling your security problem, whatever it may be. If that’s not acceptable, you’ll have to find another company.”

Only the fact that Simon had been a good friend of Mac’s father had convinced Mac to at least show him the courtesy of this visit. But no amount of pleading was going to change Mac’s vacation plans. He hadn’t taken any time off since starting his company, and after four years he was burnt out to the core. This trip wasn’t for pleasure only, although he was going to do his damnedest to fill it with such. A man too long on any job made mistakes. In his line of work, miscalculations could cost lives.

It was his attitude as much as his words that triggered Simon’s temper. “Dammit, Mac,” he thundered, slamming his hand against the top of the polished teak desk. “What difference does it make if you spend this month lying on a tropical beach, or the next? What are you planning that could possibly be so damn important?”

“What I’m planning,” Mac replied bluntly, “is to get tanned, drunk and lucky. And not necessarily in that order. I just hope a month is long enough.”

Simon snapped his mouth shut, not for the first time reconsidering his selection of Mac for this particular problem. He needed to be absolutely sure that the person he hired was a gentleman, as well as damn good at his job. Unfortunately, in this case, the two qualities seemed to be mutually exclusive. Macauley O’Neill, or Mac to all but the unwise, had the experience necessary for the job, but Simon remained unconvinced that the man wasn’t as morally corrupt as he sounded. Nothing about his appearance was reassuring. The look in those blue eyes was sharp enough to cut glass. His dark brown hair could use a talented barber, and it didn’t appear as though he’d shaved that day. He looked like a good man to have at your back in a fight, and a bad one to cross.

Simon squelched his misgivings. He needed Mac O’Neill, needed that uncompromising toughness and experience. There was too much at stake to change his mind now, at any rate. He’d have to hope that the memory of his friendship with Mac’s late father would temper any less admirable qualities the man had.

He relaxed in his leather chair again, reassessing his strategy. It was obvious that Grady O’Neill had bequeathed to his son his damnable Irish stubbornness. But Simon had had plenty of experience getting around Grady over the years, and he didn’t doubt his ability to persuade his son. “It occurs to me that I’ve been unfair to you.” He spread his hands expansively. “Here I’m asking you for a commitment before I’ve even outlined the job.” He paused invitingly, but when Mac didn’t respond, he continued. “You know how close your father and I were when we were growing up.”

“That’s the only reason I’m here, and not already on a plane headed south.”

The man nodded, as if in appreciation for that consideration, but Mac wasn’t fooled by his affable pose. When Simon Michaels wanted something, he got it. That’s what Grady had always said, torn between admiration and disapproval. And it was clear that Simon wanted Mac. It just wasn’t clear for what.

“I don’t think you’ve ever met my daughter, Raine,” Simon said. He gestured to the wall behind him. “That’s her in the picture with her mother. She was about fourteen when that was taken.”

Mac gazed at the picture impassively. There was actually very little to see of the girl. The portrait showed Lorena Michaels, Simon’s wife, smiling a warm, sweet smile, with a girl’s silhouette in the background. He examined her delicate profile and heavy fall of hair for another moment before shifting his gaze back to Simon.

The other man was still studying the picture, and his face had visibly softened. He collected himself after a moment and faced Mac again. “Most men would move heaven and earth for their children, and I’m no different. I know that’s how I feel about Raine. And the boys, too, of course, but . . .” He shrugged. “They’re men now, capable of solving their own problems. But Raine has always been special, and now she’s in trouble.” His gaze was level as he added, “That’s why I called you, Mac. I need your help to keep Raine safe.”

Mac crossed one leg to rest his ankle on the opposite knee. “From what?”

“My daughter’s being harassed. God knows how long it’s been going on—she doesn’t like to confide in me. But I recently found out that she’s been receiving threatening letters, phone calls, that sort of thing. I think she might be the target of a stalker, and I don’t mind telling you, I’m scared for her. She’s too damn trusting for her own good. If this person, whoever it is, decides to step up the intensity of this unpleasantness, Raine would make an easy target.”

“You could call the police.”

Simon snorted. “She did that, of course, but they’ve been no help. Came by her house a couple of times, asked some questions and left. They haven’t even been able to find out who’s behind the harassment, much less get it stopped. I called the detective in charge of her case, and all I got was a runaround. The bottom line is, my daughter remains in real danger.”

“So you decided to take matters into your own hands,” Mac concluded. That fit with what he knew of Simon Michaels. He wasn’t a man to sit idly by when he or his were threatened. According to Grady, he was overprotective to a fault. Mac recalled his father saying once that Simon went through all the newspapers before his wife read them, removing any news that might upset her.

“I decided to put the matter into
your
hands,” Simon corrected. “I’ve been following your successes. Your company is growing rapidly, and you have quite a reputation in the field. You must admit, your experience in military intelligence gives you a unique background. Walt Hightower is still singing your praises for the way you discovered and defused that bomb in his office complex. You saved him several million dollars. He owes his life to you.”

Mac ignored the flattery and leveled the man a look. “It does sound like you could use a security expert. But it won’t be me. If you refuse to let my partner do the job, you’ll have to find someone else.”

“I’m willing to make it worth your while.” Simon named a sum that would put a sizable dent in Mac’s share of the company’s mortgage, with enough left over to buy some of that fancy equipment his partner, Trey Garrison, was always talking about. But Mac remained unmoved. He’d never been a man who could be bought, although he wasn’t surprised Simon had tried. He’d met the man only twice previously, despite the friendship that had existed between him and Grady. Yet everything he’d heard about Simon indicated that he was unused to being told no.

But there was always a first time.

Mac uncrossed his legs and rose lithely to his feet. Simon looked surprised, then, as understanding dawned, grim.

“Sorry I can’t help you, Simon,” Mac said, not bothering to sound in the least regretful. “But I can recommend another company that’s very reputable.”

“How’s your mother doing, Mac?” The smooth words, delivered in that innocent tone, could be mistaken as polite if one didn’t have a suspicious nature.

“She’s doing well. Real well.”

Simon shook his head in remembered sorrow. “She took Grady’s death hard. I don’t remember ever seeing a person grieve like that before. Of course, you didn’t make it back until after the funeral, but your mother had a very difficult time coping with all the arrangements. When she called me I was glad to help out.”

Mac gave a tight, humorless smile. The wily old bastard was really turning the knife now. “My father was right about you,” he said in a deceptively mild voice. “You can be a real son-of-a-bitch.”

Simon chuckled. “Grady never pulled any punches. A person always knew where he stood with your father.” He sobered. “He’d want you to do this, you know that, don’t you, Mac? We were like brothers growing up, your dad and I. We always stayed in touch. I know how upset he was about your decision to join the military. But he was proud, too. He knew you were damn good at your job.”

It was what Simon didn’t say that kept Mac rooted to the floor when common sense advised him to head for the door. Unspoken was the fact that Mac and Grady had never agreed on the intelligence work that had kept Mac out of touch for months at a time. That same work had prevented him from hearing of his father’s death until after Grady had been in the ground a week.

There were many people across the globe who would swear Mac O’Neill didn’t have a compassionate, human bone in his body. Simon Michaels was sitting before him banking on the hunch that Mac had at least one. And with the unerring accuracy of a master, he’d honed in on the biggest regret in Mac’s life. Even acknowledging the finesse with which he was being manipulated didn’t detract from the guilt that flooded through him. The last time he’d seen his father, his parents’ small house had reverberated with raised voices and slamming doors. Mac had crashed out of the house that day in a fury, never guessing that it would be the last time he’d see his father. Grady had died two months later, victim of a heart attack.

The hell of it was, Mac knew Simon was right. Grady had been fiercely loyal to his family and friends. He’d have moved heaven and earth to get his son to help Simon. And it was this realization that caused Mac to pause. It was a poignant truth that it was impossible to make amends to a dead man.

It was a psychological reality that Mac couldn’t help but try.

He sank slowly, reluctantly, into his seat. “Exactly what do you have in mind, Simon?”

To the older man’s credit, he didn’t show his satisfaction by so much as a flicker of an eyelash. “I’m sure you’ll want to tighten up the security at Raine’s home. And then—” his voice hardened “—she’ll need around-the-clock protection. I don’t want the bastard who’s behind these threats to get anywhere near her.” Frowning, he added, “I invited her to come home until this thing was resolved, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Raine used to be a very amenable girl, but over the past few years she’s developed a real independent streak.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty-six.”

Mac raised one eyebrow. “Old enough to deserve independence, I’d think.”

“Maybe,” Simon agreed reluctantly. “God knows, she’s accused me often enough of being overly protective. But she can’t deny that she needs help now, as much as she’d like to.”

“You could always cut off her allowance,” Mac said cynically. “That would bring her back in a hurry.”

For the first time, Simon looked a bit uncomfortable. “I don’t give her an allowance. She wouldn’t take it, and she hasn’t any need for it. She’s an artist, and her paintings are enjoying some modest success. She’s able to be financially independent. A couple of years ago she bought a house that sits on five acres in the San Fernando Valley.”

Mac didn’t doubt that the fact stuck in Simon’s craw, since her success put her outside of his control. He also suspected that Simon was downplaying his daughter’s accomplishments. Although the house Raine Michaels had bought might not match this Burbank home for glitz, any property in the Valley wouldn’t have come cheaply.

The thought of spending the next few weeks at that home in the Valley made his back teeth clench. Nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to tell the man before him to go to hell. “All right,” he said, his tone little more than a snarl. “I’ll go out there and recommend the necessary security measures.”

“And you’ll see to those measures yourself?” the older man prodded.

His jaw tight, Mac gave a short nod.

Simon gave a slight smile. “I’ll call Raine and tell her to expect you. I trust your judgment, Mac. If you assess the situation and can honestly tell me that she’s in no danger from this weirdo, well, then I’ll go along with you. But if there is even the remotest possibility that her safety is in jeopardy, I’m trusting that you’ll be there to watch over her as long as is necessary.”

Mac mentally said goodbye to his plans for spending the next month with solicitous, well-endowed blondes and bottles of Scotch for companions. Maybe if he was lucky this case wouldn’t take up too much of his time. If he could get it tied up in a couple of weeks, then his much-needed vacation wouldn’t have to be canceled, just postponed.

With any luck, his role as glorified baby-sitter for Raine Michaels would be of blessedly brief duration.

 

The next day Mac was swinging down from the sleek black pickup that had his company’s logo painted on its side. He stopped for a moment after he got out, eyes narrowed against the bright afternoon sun as he studied Raine Michaels’s home. Compared to most he’d passed on his way through the Valley, this one was completely unpretentious. Unlike most of its neighbors, it was two-storied and had a large wooden porch running across the front. A double garage was attached. The paint was blindingly white, the contrasting trim painted black. Pots of bright red geraniums lined the porch steps.

Mac didn’t go immediately to the door. Instead, he walked all around the house, noting the spacing of the windows, the doors, the overgrown brush close to the house. When he’d reached the front again, he turned slowly around, squinting in the direction from which he’d come. There was a semicircular drive, each end leading to the road. He frowned when he counted half a dozen cars parked haphazardly along the drive. He’d obviously arrived in the midst of some kind of party.

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