The day before the London office of Benson Security first opened for business.
Elle Roberts woke with a start to find three guns aimed at her head. She didn’t scream. It never helped. The men were dressed in black, but their clothes were cast in a blue sheen from her nightlight. Yeah, she had a nightlight. Because she knew bad things happened in the dark. Bad things like this.
“You’re a hard woman to track down, Ellie James,” the one in the middle said.
Even though her palms were sweating and her heart was thumping so loud it was distracting, she still barked out a laugh.
“Really? I’ve passed you on the street dozen times. Must be age, William, you’re not as with it as you used to be.” She drawled his name out, knowing he hated to be called anything but Bill.
The blow came as fast as she expected it would. A starburst of light exploded in her gaze and her cheekbone felt like it’d been cracked. The force of it sent her over the side of her bed where she hit the floor with a thump, bruising her hip. Elle didn’t let it stop her. She rolled under the bed and slammed her hand on the panic button she’d installed hours after moving into the warehouse.
The room turned into a war zone. Elle covered her head as blasts rang out, knowing the bed would protect her from the worst of it. The men screamed as shots hit true. Smoke made her choke back a cough as thumps made the floor beneath her shudder, letting her know the bodies had fallen.
It all stopped as suddenly as it had started. The silence even more deafening than the chaos that had preceded it. Slowly, Elle crawled out from under her bed and stood. Hands on the hips of her Wonder Woman shorts and tee pyjama set, she surveyed the carnage in what used to be her bedroom.
The walls were filled with holes from the rapid-fire guns she’d set up in the corners of the room. Guns that were hidden, but rigged to her emergency system. The bullets had ploughed through everything at waist level, cutting her favourite Batgirl lamp in half, shredding her retro polka dot curtains and freeing the goose down from her pillows. She batted away some of the feather floating around her. It could have been a scene out of any war-torn city. Instead, it was her home.
She looked down at the three dead men, guns still in their hands, blood pooling around them.
“I told you I was never going back,” she whispered.
In the distance, she heard sirens. Even though her home was built into the empty office space of an old warehouse in London’s dockland area, instead of in a built-up residential area, there were still enough people around to call the cops.
Elle stepped over the body of the man nearest her and picked her way through the broken glass strewn across the pale blue carpet. There was no point reaching for clothes in her closet, they too had been torn to shreds from the bullets. Instead, she rushed into what used to be the main office of the building. All she’d changed in the warehouse, since moving in, was to turn one of the smaller offices into a bedroom and install an electric shower in the bathroom. Apart from that, the place looked just as abandoned as it had been when she’d first bought it.
She ignored the comforting hum of the bank of computers she’d set up on the tables in her main living area and pulled her go-bag out from the cupboard nearest the door. As the sirens became louder, Elle changed into the clothes she kept in her bag—lime green jeans, bright pink Hello Kitty t-shirt and sneakers patterned with comic book covers. She grabbed a yellow hair band and slid it on, to keep her bobbed blue hair out of her face.
With one last glance at her computers, her babies, Elle ran for the front door. As she shut it behind her, she pulled out her phone and tapped the app she’d designed just for this occasion. Walking into the darkness, she heard a series of small, contained explosions go off behind her. By the time the police arrived, all they would find was a burning pile of rubble and the charred remains of three men. There were no records of Elle ever having owned the building. There was nothing to lead back to her at all. Which made it all the more worrying that William had managed to find her.
Elle cut through alleyways and carpark areas until she hit the street outside the train station. A sole black hackney cab was idling in the taxi rank. Elle jumped into the back of it.
“Benson Security, Westminster,” she told the driver, rattling off the street address.
“You’re out late, luv,” the driver said as he made a tight U-turn and headed across London city centre towards her new workplace.
“No,” Elle caught the man’s eyes in his mirror and smiled, “early start. Shift work.”
He snorted. “I hear you. What do you work at?”
“Computer stuff. Nothing exciting. I just joined a new security company. My job will mainly revolve around running background checks on potential employees.” And, she hoped it stayed that way. From what Harry had told her about Lake Benson’s Scottish office, the business was pretty low key. Which was just what she needed. She’d worked on and off for Harry Boyle’s tech company for years and this was a new change of direction. One she wasn’t sure about. But she’d find out more when the whole team met for the first time in the morning, to discuss a case to find a missing woman. Katrina Raast. That was her name. And unlike Elle, this woman desperately wanted to be found.
“That’s a shame,” the driver said, pulling her from her thoughts. “Young woman like you should have some excitement in her life.”
“I prefer my excitement to come from video games,” she replied honestly.
“Kids.” He shook his head. “You’ll never get to experience real life through an online game. You need to get out there. Take risks. Feel the adrenaline rushing through your veins.”
Elle folded her arms to hide her shaking hands. “Some of us just aren’t cut out for taking risks.”
Wise eyes met hers in the mirror. “How do you know unless you try?”
All Elle did was smile back at him as she focused on the lights of London. Once in the office, she’d use the software Harry had set up for her, to erase all traces of her life.
Only, this time, she wasn’t moving city.
This time, she was staying right where she was—at Benson Security.
From a dark alley, across the road from the burning warehouse, a man stepped out into the orange glow of the street lights. He was dressed head to toe in black, his features generic. It was as though he’d been genetically designed to blend into the woodwork. A prerequisite for his type of work.
A car drew to a halt at the edge of the kerb in front of him and the driver’s window lowered. Like the man, the car was non-descript.
“The woman?” his contact asked.
“She’s safe.” Even if she hadn’t taken care of the situation all by herself, he’d been seconds away from stepping in. “The police are on their way. There’s no time for clean up.” All they could do was hope the bodies were too burned to be identified. But even then, there were ways to tamper with records to make the victims appear any way they chose them to appear.
“Her cover?” the contact said, eyes on the burning building.
Cold eyes met his. “But they know who she is.”
“No.” He shook his head. “This was a chance encounter. Someone who knew her from before, heard her laughing and saw past her disguise. They followed her and led the team to her door. They don’t know who she is now, and all records for the warehouse are buried deep enough as to be impossible to find.” Unless you had the skills Elle Roberts had.
“Make sure everything is secured,” the contact said. “It could be years before we’re ready for the woman to come into play. Until such time, we need her to be available, but hidden.”
He nodded. “I’ve already taken measures to bolster the efforts she’s making on her own.” And her efforts were almost titanium. If you didn’t know where to look, you would never be able to find her. “I’ll release word that she was caught in the blaze.”
“Don’t let anything happen to her,” was the impervious command. “We’ll only have one chance at this.”
“I know what I’m doing.” There was a warning in his tone.
His handler wasn’t intimidated. “If I even suspect you’re getting too close to this situation. I will pull you.”
“And I would expect nothing less.”
“Don’t get attached. She’s a pawn. Nothing more.”
He nodded. But he knew Elle was far more than a pawn. She was brilliant at what she did, and she still managed to keep an air of innocence and delight around her that most people in her situation would have lost years earlier.
“Are you sure the security company is the best place to put her?” The question had him focusing on the occupant of the car, rather than on his thoughts of a woman who’d intrigued him. “Lake Benson has quite the reputation. He could make things difficult for us.”
“Benson has the skills needed to protect the asset. As does Callum McKay.”
A sneer. “McKay’s injuries render him little more than a liability.”
He didn’t reply. From what he’d seen, and what Lake had told him, he’d put his faith in Callum McKay any day of the week.
“Just do your job,” his handler said. “I won’t have anything ruining this operation. Not when we’re so close to taking this bastard down.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” There was nothing else to say. He always did his job. It was all he had and it defined him.
“I look forward to your report.” The window started to rise slowly, but stopped briefly just before it closed. Her eyes bore into him. But he knew she would see exactly what the government made him into—their perfect spy. Nothing more. “I’ll be watching, David,” she said before the window closed and the car slid into the night.
With one last look at the blaze, David turned and walked into the shadows.
Where he belonged.
*** Elle and David’s story is coming Benson Security Book 6. In the meantime, don’t forget to catch up on the other books in the series. ***