Monday 10 a.m.
Elle Roberts was bored. And that was never a good thing. Usually, she loved team meetings, as it was like one big dysfunctional family forced to socialize together every week. They’d bicker about someone eating more than their fair share of the snacks. Or tease each other about something stupid they’d done. Or poke their noses into each other’s business, offering unwanted advice. But today, the meeting was all about the run-of-the-mill operations they had going on. And none of it interested her.
If she had to do one more background check on a prospective employee for a generic financial company, she would jump into the Thames. For weeks, all they’d dealt with was Instagram influencers who felt they needed personal protection from their hordes of fans because they were like, so popular and totally misunderstood (a direct quote from the last lipstick guru who wanted a bodyguard), businesses that thought they were so important someone might steal their ideas (spoiler: they weren’t, and no one wanted anything they had), and people who needed security systems installed by the best.
Dull. Dull. Dull. Dull. Dull…
Where were the flying bullets? The international travel? The life-or-death situations? And, best of all, the call for her to hack her way into places very few people could enter? There was no getting past it—the glory days of Benson Security seemed to be over. Maybe it was time to move on…
“We boring you, Elle?” her boss, Callum McKay, barked, making her jump in her seat. Although, his tone wasn’t a sign he was annoyed with her, it was just a sign that he was a grumpy arsed Scotsman.
“Not you,” she said honestly. “The jobs. They’re mind-numbing. I’m fed up with background-checking boring people and combing through crappy private networks for bugs. Can’t we infiltrate an oppressive regime somewhere and bring down a dictator? Or even negotiate for a hostage or two? Surely someone, somewhere, has been kidnapped and needs our help.”
Callum stared at her like she’d grown two heads. Meanwhile, Ryan Granger, the ex-soldier and native Londoner she considered a younger brother—despite him being marginally older—pointed at her. “What she said,” he told their boss before reaching for the last Danish pastry on the meeting room table.
“I’m with Elle.” Megan Raast nodded. “I haven’t shot at anyone in months.”
The Scottish bombshell had been Benson Security’s first trainee—which had only happened because she was too dangerous on her own not to train her. Megan seemed to think that a bad temper, an inability to feel fear, and questionable ethics were a good substitute for the military training the rest of the team had. Well, not all of the team. Elle’s expertise lay in computer hacking, coding, and her encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe. Oh, and Julia, their office manager, was hell on wheels with a whiteboard.
Dimitri, Megan’s American husband, cocked an eyebrow at his wife. “You shot at me last week.”
Megan waved a hand. “That doesn’t count. I wasn’t really aiming for you.”
“You barely missed my shoulder,” the former army ranger pointed out.
“Exactly.” Megan tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder. “I didn’t hit you.”
Dimitri’s grin summed up their marriage—crazy did it for him.
Callum, who stood at the end of the table because sitting meant he couldn’t pace when something annoyed him, pinched the bridge of his nose. It was his go-to move when their lack of professionalism frustrated him. Even after countless operations together, he still wished his team would behave like the SAS soldiers he used to command.
It was a foolish wish. While his old commandos used to work like a well-oiled machine, his Benson Security team worked like a cobbled together MacGyver project. Although, to be fair, like MacGyver’s improvisations, the team got the job done. And hardly ever blew things up while doing it.
“I like the jobs we’ve been doing,” Julia Barone, their office manager, said.
It was still strange to hear shy Julia talk during a meeting without being forced. It was even stranger to see her sitting at the table with everyone else instead of hiding behind one of the huge plants she’d positioned throughout the building. But then, she did have her husband at her side, and Joe wouldn’t let anything or anyone intimidate his wife. Ever. There were days when watching Joe and Julia together was just too cute for Elle to bear.
“That’s because you’re up to your eyeballs in schedules and paperwork, baby.” The former Marine’s eyes lit up when he looked at his wife. “It’s your happy place.” His eyes cooled when he turned to the rest of them. “I, on the other hand, wouldn’t mind seeing some action for a change.”
“For a change?” Callum exploded.
Honestly, it was a miracle he’d lasted that long. And it was a welcome sound. It had been weeks since his temper had gotten the better of him during a meeting, which was another sure sign that things were far too quiet.
“Come on,” Ryan said, looking around for more food. “Nothing interesting has happened since we helped Rachel out with her problem.”
“Nicely understated. I like.” Elle grinned at him. “Although, I don’t like that sorting Rachel’s problem meant she left us. Meetings aren’t the same without her.”
Rachel Ford-Talbot had once been a partner in Benson Security but was now CEO of her family’s pharmaceutical company. It didn’t stop her poking her nose into her former business, but it wasn’t the same as watching her ongoing power struggle with Callum.
“It’s like Mum and Dad got divorced, and she doesn’t live with us anymore,” Ryan said.
“I miss their fights,” Elle said wistfully.
“I miss having to come up with creative threats for when she crossed the line with her bitchiness,” Megan said morosely.
“It’s her complete lack of tact I miss the most,” Dimitri added. “Never met anyone who cared less about what they said.”
“I miss having access to her family jet,” Joe said with a grin.
Callum slammed his hands down on the table. “Will you listen to yourselves? You sound like a bunch of spoiled teenagers who only want to whine about their lot in life. ‘Boo-hoo, poor me. I wish somebody would shoot at me. Why can’t my life be in danger? I miss my old boss’s toys.’” He slapped the table again. “Cry me a bloody river. You’re professionals. Do your job and shut up about it.”
There was a beat of silence before Elle said, “I forgot Isobel was still visiting her sister. Want me to call and get her and the kids to come back early?” She wasn’t joking. Elle saw herself as the carer of the team, and Callum’s mental health was directly tied up with his love for his wife. Only she could calm his wild inner beast.
“This is not about my absent wife!” He pointed at them. “It’s about you lot.”
Ryan pretended to cough. “Yeah, right,” he said.
“Get a grip,” Megan told Callum. “They’re only in Scotland for two weeks. If you’re suffering from withdrawal, go up and see them. We can cope without you.”
“What could go wrong?” Elle said. “The Instagram Queen takes a bad photo? A background check shows that some guy’s bought too many bottles of wine? Somebody hits their thumb with a hammer while installing a security system?”
“I swear,” Callum growled at her. “If you jinx us with your attitude, I will fire you.”
“No, you won’t,” Elle said cheerily. “You love me too much. Anyway, you need me around for a female opinion. Megan doesn’t count, her viewpoint leans more toward anarchist than female, and Julia is still too scared of you to tell you what she really thinks. Without me, you’d be lost.” She beamed at him. “You also wouldn’t be able to access your email. Or work your computer. Face it, if I didn’t change your password for you every week, it’d still be password.”
Ryan gaped at him. “Your password was password? Dude, you run a security company.”
Callum’s face turned red, and it wasn’t clear whether he was embarrassed or about to explode. But they didn’t get to find out which way it would go because Elle’s ever-present laptop emitted a loud wailing sound.
“Crap!” She grabbed the machine, flipped it open, and typed fast, her stomach a tornado within her. “Oh no, that isn’t good.” Code streamed across the screen before her, and none of it was good. “Damn, damn, damn.”
“Elle,” Callum snapped. “What’s going on?”
She couldn’t answer; her whole focus was on shutting down the threat in front of her. Someone had backtraced a search she’d set up in her attempt to uncover who her favorite sexy spy worked for.
“Elle!” Callum shouted.
“Someone’s trying to hack us,” Elle spat out the words as her fingers flew over her keyboard. “They can’t get past our firewalls, so they’re looking for a soft target. Shit! They’re attacking the Wi-Fi. Julia, shut it down while I deal with this.”
“How?” Julia rushed to the meeting room door.
“Cut the power to the building!” It was the fastest way to turn everything off.
Julia ran for her office and the control panel.
But it was too late.
Elle slammed her laptop shut and shot to her feet, her eyes flying to all the personal phones sitting on the table. Each one of them hooked into the office Wi-Fi. “The hacker was looking for our physical location. Check your phones. Make sure the GPS is disabled. If it isn’t…” She wrapped her hands around the bunches on either side of her head and yanked them hard, feeling the bite in her scalp. Oh boy, she’d totally screwed up this time.
“I thought you gave everyone a program to protect their GPS,” Joe said as he reached for his phone. “To stop people from turning it on remotely.”
“I did. But it doesn’t stop them from gaining access if you’ve turned it on yourself.”
“We know enough to keep it disabled.” Megan checked her phone. “I’m clear.”
“Me too,” Dimitri added.
“Shit.” Ryan paled as he stared at his phone screen. “I’m sorry, Elle.”
Callum let out a stream of curses. “Why the hell would you have it enabled anyway?”
Ryan turned a deep shade of red. “Tinder.”
There was a moment of stunned silence.
“You compromised all of us to get laid?” Joe demanded.
“I thought I’d switched it off after the last time I looked at it,” Ryan said.
“It doesn’t matter.” Elle’s brain raced. “Accidents happen. It’s not your fault.” She swallowed hard. “It’s mine.”
Callum let out an almighty growl. “What did you hack this time, and which government agency should we expect to come after us?”
“It wasn’t the government.” She shuffled nervously, her pink Dr. Martens thudding on the thick carpet. “It was a dark web chatroom. I was following up on a lead I got in my search for info on—”
“David? Right?” Callum started pacing like a mad man.
“Damn it, Elle,” Dimitri said. “David warned you about this. He told you not to search for him. You told us you’d given up on trying to find out who he works with.”
“And I had. Until I got bored and started looking again.” She threw her hands in the air. “He shouldn’t have asked me to stop anyway. It was like shaking catnip in front of my face. I mean, a problem I need to hack to uncover? Involving a sexy, dangerous spy who kisses like a god? Of course I’m going to keep on looking for the man.” She hung her head. “I have issues. There should probably be an intervention and some intensive therapy in my future.”
“Kisses like a god?” Megan asked, making her husband frown at her.
“I did not need to hear that.” Ryan had turned a little green. “First, no guy wants to hear about another guy’s performance in anything. Second, you’re like a sister to me, which means you are never to tell me that your lips or any other part of your body have touched anyone.” He shuddered.
“Focus!” Callum roared as he came to a halt at the end of the table. “Do you have any idea who was tracking you and why they’d want your location?”
Elle shook her head, but a heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach made her want to curl into a ball. “I’ve seen that hacking technique before, though. A hacker or a group of hackers for hire that goes by the name of SurfNinja. I don’t know much about them other than they’re scary good and don’t care who pays them.”
“How much time do we have until somebody turns up here?” Callum’s eyes were laser hot.
“I don’t know. They could be hacking us from anywhere. Hell, they could be next door or on the other side of the world. Worse, they could be working for anyone, and the person they’re feeding information to could be on their way already. If we’re lucky, we’ve got days before someone turns up. If we aren’t”—she wrapped her arms around herself—“ten, fifteen minutes, maybe? I have no idea.”
Her boss ran a hand down his face. “Wipe this place down, dump all devices with Elle for disposal, and get to the safe house out by the airport. Until we know what we’re dealing with, our priority is to protect our clients’ information. Got it?”
They were running before he’d finished barking orders.
If you enjoyed that, then preorder your copy of Run now! It’s out November 18.
6 People reacted on this
I love, love, love your books, and have been excited to read this story since the first mention of Elle and David. I’m counting down the days until it lands on my Kindle. Thanks for all the fun wild adventures you take me on, and for always making me smile.
Now, reading that just made my day! Thank you Meredith!
You know I truly love everything you write! Just got thru rereading everything in Invertary, Benson security, and the Sinclair sisters! Just in time for Run!! I’ve been waiting FOREVER for David and Elle’s story! And your news about the Red Zone series is AWESOME!! Note to self reread them next!
Love you Janet Elizabeth Henderson! Your brain is awesome!
I’m so excited about the Red Zone news too. Can’t wait to get that series going again! x
Wow. Great opening. Can’t wait for rest.
Thank you, Sharon!