Authors: Chelsea M. Cameron
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
BEHIND YOUR BACK
NEW YORK TIMES
CHELSEA M. CAMERON
Behind Your Back
Copyright © 2015 Chelsea M. Cameron
All Rights Reserved.
Cover by Sarah Hansen at
Formatter: Elle Chardou at Midnight Engel Press, LLC
Behind Your Back
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are use fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.
he wore a wig and colored contacts the first time I saw her in person. But underneath the plain brown wig, the brown contacts and the bored expression, something shone through that she couldn’t cover up.
I recognized it right away. Raising myself from my chair, I crossed the coffee shop. She watched her phone, pretending to be the kind of girl who can’t abandon her Facebook page for longer than three seconds. But I knew. I knew
Her finger hovered over the screen of the phone, her shoulders slumped, but her foot jiggled just a little bit. Not enough for anyone besides me to notice. But I saw it. I saw her.
I passed by her table on my way out the door and gave her one glance. A visual brush over her body. I knew she saw me, but she pretended not to. She brushed the wig back and I could just barely see the flash of red hair at the nape of her neck, along with a tattoo. I couldn’t see all of it, but I didn’t need to. I knew that, too. A Celtic knot.
I passed through the door and didn’t look back. Her eyes followed me down the street to the crosswalk and until I was out of view.
She saw me.
One month earlier…
nother?” the bartender says, leaning his hairy arms on the bar as I set down my empty beer glass. I shake my head and get up.
“Son of a bitch,” a voice says behind me and I try not to flinch at the sound of it. I’d thought, by coming to this particular bar, that I wouldn’t be bothered by my day job. But it seems to follow me everywhere.
I keep my face blank and turn around.
“Dale, fancy seeing you in this part of town,” I say, automatically sticking my hand out for him to shake. He takes it and guffaws, the sound bouncing around the bar and grinding against my eardrums. I can’t stand this man, but he has no idea. He thinks we’re the best of pals. Golf buddies, gambling buddies, drinking buddies. We are none of those things. Yes, I may do those things with him, but we are not friends. I don’t mix business with pleasure, and I would never mix with his sort. He doesn’t even know my real name.
“Oh, I just decide to go slumming sometimes. You know how it is, Quinn.” He winks and laughs again. Dale thinks he’s funny, but the only reason people laugh at his jokes is because he has money and essentially pays them to.
“Oh, I do,” I say with a smile, hating myself for it the entire time. “Well, I’ve got things to do, if you know what I mean.” It’s my turn for the roguish wink. Christ, I hate doing this, but it’s the price I pay to get what I want.
Dale shakes my hand again and heads further down the bar, slapping his meaty hand on it and calling out to the bartender in a booming voice that I’m sure makes the bartender cringe. I feel as if I should leave him an extra-large tip for his troubles. No doubt Dale will wind up being carried out and thrown into a cab in a few hours. That is, if he doesn’t woo some woman with his promises of jets and jewelry and a wife that’s away.
I hate him.
I leave the bar, considering hailing a cab, but deciding on walking instead. I need the air.
But my feet don’t take me home. They take me to the park. I easily hop the iron fence studded with warning signs; I’ve come here for years and never been caught. I’d say it’s because I’m especially stealthy, but it’s probably pure dumb luck. That’s how most of my life has gone so far. Dumb luck, bad luck, shitty luck. But I’m foolishly trying to change that. So far, things have gone in my favor, but eventually, my luck will run out.
I pace the garden, every now and then peering through a window at the darkness inside. It’s late and most normal humans are tucked in bed with their husband, wife, or another companion. I lean down and take off my shoes and socks, letting the blunt tips of the grass brush the undersides of my feet as I walk.
I have to work tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. I used to relish every day, but now…
Things change. They do. Always.
When I started, I’d been full of fire and vengeance and passion. Now all I feel is boredom and frustration. I’m burning out at the ripe old age of twenty-four. Shaking my head at my self-indulgent thoughts, I head out of the park and back toward my shitty apartment and my shitty bed.
“Hey, Leo,” I say to my cat as he runs to the door to greet me. At least I have him. I’ve never thought of myself as the type of guy to have a cat, but when I found him in a box outside on the street, I couldn’t just let him die. I’d intended just to care for him for one night and then take him to the humane society. That plan went to shit when he curled up in my lap and fell asleep with his tongue partially sticking out. I couldn’t resist him.
I have no idea what kind of cat he is, except that his orange and white fur grows extremely long around his neck, making him look like the least ferocious lion ever.
He rubs himself on my legs and makes a pitiful sound. I fed the beast only a few hours ago, but that doesn’t matter. He’ll sing me the song of his people until I feed him again.
“Fine,” I say going to the cupboard and getting down a can of food for him. He freaks out until I actually put it in his bowl, his tail swishing wildly. Of course, as soon as he’s done with his food, he’ll want to play fetch. Just like a dog.
I get myself a glass of water to start staving off any lingering effects of the beer I consumed earlier and walk toward the living room. I’m no decorator, so my place is filled with things I’ve either picked up off the side of the road for free, or have come from Scandinavian companies through the mail and needed to be assembled.
My coffee table is one of the only things I’ve had with me for a long time. I brush my hand over the corner that’s charred, getting a little bit of black soot on my hands. I rub my hands together. It’s a superstition, but I can’t shake doing this every day.
Leo, finally satiated, races to me, a ball of yarn in his mouth.
“Fine, but just this once,” I say, taking it from him and tossing it across the room. He dashes to retrieve it and bring it back, dropping it at my feet.
“No, I said once,” I say. He answers in Cat Language, which could probably be translated as
throw the damn ball, you bastard
. Of course I do, and he chases after it happily.
My phone goes off and I groan. It’s not my work cell phone, but the crappy burner I got from Cash two weeks ago.
I pull it out of my back pocket and answer it.
“What’s up?” I say, knowing it has to be something huge, or else he wouldn’t have called. Sure, the phone may be untraceable, but it’s best to keep communication to a minimum anyway.
“We have a problem.” This is my least favorite phrase in the entire world. Right behind “we need to talk.” Cash always has the same tone of voice when he speaks. Fucking cheerful, even when delivering bad news.
“What?” I say, taking the ball from Leo and tossing it again. He can go on for hours like this, and sometimes he’ll wake me up in the middle of the night to play.
“That stupid secretary Baz has been banging is a liability. I have reason to believe she’s not going to keep her mouth shut.” I knew this was going to happen. I told him, but Baz can’t resist a pretty face and a great pair of tits. Lets his cock get in the way of everything. This isn’t the first time he’s fucked things up. Jesus Christ.
“Then tell him to get the fuck out of it. And to stop thinking with his dick instead of his head.” Cash laughs. So fucking cheerful. All the damn time.
“I’ll get right on that. But do you think we should still go through with it?” he says. I nod, even though he can’t see me. Leo meows because I’ve been taking too long to throw his ball. I pick it up and toss it as far across the room as I can.
“Yes, we’ve put in too much time to pull out now. We don’t need her anymore. Just extract Baz and go ahead. We should be golden, but if anything goes wrong, you know what to do.”
“Got it. See you soon.” I hang up without saying goodbye.
“I’m surrounded by idiots,” I say to Leo. He blinks at me and paws at his ball. “Not you, of course.” He meows again.
n the morning I don my suit and tie and shoes that squeak when I walk. In hindsight, it was smart of me to get into a job where my uniform covers any number of sins, including my multitude of tattoos. If my regular customers knew anything about them, they’d never let me touch a cent of their money, which would be a shame.
“Good morning, Grace,” I say as I walk past my assistant. I’m sure she’s in love with me, but I’ve never pursued anything. Once again, not a good idea to mix business and pleasure. She’s a bit too buttoned-up for my tastes anyway; all perfectly-lined lips and hard angles and stiff hair. I like my women with a bit of a wild streak in them.
“Good morning Mr. Brand,” she says, patting her hair to make sure nothing is out of place. She may not be my type, but sometimes I wonder what she’d be like if I got her home and tugged on that hair a little bit. Smeared her lipstick. Ripped her skirt. But then I might lose her as an employee and she’s a damn good assistant.
She hands me a printed version of my schedule for the day. Meetings with clients, with just a few spare hours to work on paperwork and make calls. Yet another shitty day.
“Mr. Beaumont is here for you,” Grace says in a quiet voice, gesturing to the man in the waiting room. He’s early, the bastard. I haven’t even had time to drink my coffee and eat the scone I know is waiting on my desk, courtesy of Grace.
“Tell him I’ll be ready in a moment,” I say, and Grace knows exactly what this means. I head to my office and set my briefcase down. Mr. Beaumont’s file is already on my desk, along with a few others I have waiting for me. I examine it while sipping my coffee and eating the scone. Beaumont’s a new client, but an important one. I’ll need to take special care with him.
I brush any crumbs off my suit and double check my appearance in the mirror in my bathroom. I’m one of the only people here who have an en suite bathroom, and I’m also the youngest. Because I’m damn good at what I do. I’m damn good at a lot of things.
I send a signal to Grace to show him in.
She ushers him through the door and asks if he needs anything. He sits down and tells her he’d like a glass of water, which she fetches from the table in my office. One of her main jobs is to keep the coffee coming, and the pitcher full of ice water. She’s also in charge of fulfilling all guests’ requests. These are powerful people and they expect to get what they want.
We start off with the preliminary small talk. It’s all the same. What brings him here, what he hopes to achieve, how risky he wants his investments to be. All standard for a financial advisor. But my questions veer off quickly.
“How far are you willing to go?” I ask, and he knows exactly what I mean.
“Can you promise me everything will be off the books?” I nod.
“Mr. Beaumont, I’m damn good at what I do. I take rich men like yourself and make them richer. My means may be… unorthodox, but I get the job done. And you’ll come out smelling like a rose.” All the language is subtle, nothing directly alluded to. But that’s how we have to play it. You can never be too careful.
“That sounds like what I’m looking for. How much will you need?” I write down a figure and slide it across the desk so he can read it.
“That’s a start. But I have the feeling the more profit you’ll see, the more you’ll want to put in.”
He looks at the figure and nods.
“When do you need it?” he asks.
“As soon as possible.”
“I’ll make arrangements.” This isn’t his first rodeo. Only those who are referred and vetted make it to this meeting.
I wish him a good day as we stand and shake hands and he says he’ll contact me as soon as he has the money together.
He leaves and I tear up the note with the figure on it. No paper trail. I have a few minutes before my next meeting, so I turn on my computer and bring up the electronic file on him that I didn’t have on my desk. The one Cash worked on for me. I didn’t get a chance to look at it before this morning.
It contains more than just his financial records and bank accounts and basic personal information. This has just about everything, including pictures.
I scan the information, taking all of it in for future reference. As far as they go, Mr. Beaumont is one of the worst. From child labor to buying off government officials to using shoddy materials and selling them at a premium. He’s done it all with his discount clothing company. A few years ago, I would have been disgusted, but now it’s just par for the course. I scan the rest of the information, noting that he has a twenty-year-old daughter, but don’t notice anything until I get to the pictures.
I scroll until I see one of Mr. Beaumont on his boat with his wife and daughter.
Red hair. Wild red hair blows across her face, partially obscuring her brilliant green eyes. Her lips are drawn into a smile as she tries to push her hair back. Her parents are stiff. Posed. Mannequins. In contrast, she nearly leaps out of the picture.
Saige Juliette Beaumont.
I hadn’t accounted for her in my original plans, but now I have to reevaluate everything. I need to get to Mr. Beaumont, and she just might be the way to do it.