COLE (Dragon Security Book 1)

COLE

Dragon Security Book 1

 

Copyright © 2016

 

All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Prologue

 

Peter

The bright headlights came from out of nowhere. These highways were often deserted this late at night. I could drive for miles without seeing anyone else. But, suddenly, these lights were directly behind me, blinding me.

I reached for my cell phone. I had an idea I knew who it was and what they wanted. They must have found out about my visits to Ada, about the things I’d found out. I had to get that information to Megan. I had to let her know what was going on.

I texted as quickly as I could. The headlights were brighter now, coming closer. And then…
boom!
The car slammed into the back of mine. Everything flew forward, including the phone, wrenched from my hand before I could push
send
.

It was all I could do to keep the car on the road. I stared at the phone, willing it to pop back up into my hand as the car slammed into the back of mine again.

Oh, Megan, you’ve got to find it. You’ve got to stop them!

And then…

Chapter 1

 

Megan

Seven months later…

I groaned as I watched him storm into my office, only too aware of what it was he wanted. But I had to say no. Again.

“Don’t even start with me, Cole.”

“You know I’d be good at this. I was special ops, for Christ’s sake!”

“I’m aware of that. But I don’t need you messing things up here.”

“What am I going to mess up?”

I glanced at him, tossing a knowing look in his direction. At least he was sheepish enough to look away.

“I know I’ve fucked up in the past. But I did my time.”

“Not for me.”

“What do you want me to say, Megan? I’m a damned good soldier. I know I can do well at this work!”

“I don’t need good soldiers. I need guys I can rely on. I can’t rely on you.”

“Why not?”

Again that look.

“That was high school. When are you going to forgive me for that?”

“You slept with my English teacher. And then you slept with my best friend, convinced her that you were going to stay with her, and then bailed two days later when a prettier girl looked your way. To this day she won’t speak to me.”

“What about Sam? I thought she was your best friend.”

“She is. So was Rebecca. I’m allowed more than one best friend, aren’t I?”

He shrugged, falling into one of two chairs positioned in front of my desk, his long legs spread out in front of him. I had to admit to a little affection when I looked at him. He was a year younger than me, precocious as all hell, and so charming that he could break curfew, but convince Momma that he was home two hours early. I loved him to death, but I wasn’t about to hire him to work for my security company. No way in hell.

“You’re wasting your time. These jobs required a lot of trust, a strong line of communication, and danger. I’m not putting you out there.”

“Why? Because of Peter?”

My blood ran cold when he said that name. Peter was our older brother, three years older than me, four more than him. Despite that, he and I were closer than any brother and sister I’d ever known. When I went to basic training straight from my high school graduation, he was the one who proudly watched me get on that bus. When they sent me to Afghanistan, he was the one who made me promise not to get dead. There was always a letter in my cubby from him, always a phone call and an email when I was in a place to receive them.

When he died, it was as if a part of me was ripped away.

“I won’t lose another brother.”

“You won’t.”

Cole sat up a little straighter, leaning against the front of my desk as he looked up at me with those round, blue eyes that were so much like Peter’s.

“I’ve had agents get shot in this job, Cole. It’s not some sort of joke.”

“I know that.”

“This isn’t just playing soldier. This is doing actual protection work. This is confronting stalkers and ex-husbands and assholes who think they have a right to take the law into their own hands. These people are scarier than any ISIS terrorist you might meet.”

“I know, Meg. I understand what you do here, and I think it’s a wonderful service. I want to be a part of it, and Dad said you were looking for new people.”

“I’m always looking for new people. But you don’t qualify.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve told you over and over.”

“And I’m going to keep asking until it makes sense.” He stood up, thumping his fist on the top of my desk. “I know Peter’s death shook you up. It shook us all up. Mom still cries in the middle of the night and Dad still refuses to let anyone go into his office. Did you know that?”

I inclined my head slightly. I knew.

“I want to work with you because I want to make a difference. And I want to be here, close to you because you and Mom and Dad are all I have left.”

It must have taken a lot for Cole to confess to such a thing. I studied his face, looked for any trace of the jokester that he’d always been. But that was gone. Eight years in the military must have done him some good. But I couldn’t.

“I’m sorry, Cole.”

Anger flashed across his face—that was familiar—and he opened his mouth to speak, but then Sam stuck her head in the door.

“There’s someone here asking to see you, Megan.”

“Do they have an appointment?”

“No, but—”

“You know how I feel about people who can’t be bothered to make an appointment.”

“I do. But I think you’re going to want to meet this one.”

Sam rarely ever argued with me. I looked up at her, at the familiar curves of her face. I’d known Sam since I was a freshman in high school. We did everything together, including going into the military. She was trained in computers. I went to Afghanistan. But we mustered out together and started this agency together. I wouldn’t be this successful if not for her right there behind me. So when she said I should do something, I knew I probably should.

“Okay.”

She gave a little nod, stepped back and pushed the door open, revealing a petite brunette with pretty green eyes. The girl was clearly pregnant, her swollen belly barely tucked into a soft cotton dress. She looked hot and tired, but she had a bright, welcoming smile on her lips.

“How can I help you?”

She held out her hand as she approached me. “I’m sorry to bother you at work, Ms. Bradford,” she said quite politely. “I know I should have called, but I wasn’t even sure I was going to come all this way today until I was in my car and headed this way.”

“It’s fine,” I said, even though it wasn’t. I had a full schedule of meetings that I was already running a few minutes late on. I didn’t have time for this…whatever it was.

Cole stepped back, his arms crossed as he watched the young woman shake my hand, then step back.

“Do you want to sit, Miss…?”

Her smile broke a little. “I’ve been sitting all day.”

“Of course.”

I glanced at Sam, but she just shrugged.

“What can we do for you?”

“Oh, of course.”

The girl reached into the small handbag she had over her shoulder, searching for something that she wasn’t finding right away. She knocked a tiny bottle of lotion out of her purse, mumbling under her breath as she struggled to reach down for it. Cole came around her and snatched it, making the movement look incredibly graceful, underscoring how awkward the poor girl was.

She finally found what she’d wanted and held it out to me. It was a business card, one of my business cards. It was an older one, several back from the ones I handed out like candy these days. But I recognized it as one that Peter had always favored. I gave him like five hundred of them because he loved them and he was so proud of his little sister that he handed them out more than I did.

“Where’d you get this?”

“Peter.”

There was anger in her voice when she said his name. Anger and exhaustion.

I studied her face a little closer, wondering how this pretty nobody knew my dead brother.

“What was your name?” Cole demanded, moving around in front of my desk, his arms crossed, as he leaned back and studied her, too.

“Amber.” She reached up and wiped a little sweat from her forehead. “Amber Zavalas.”

“And how do you know our brother?”

The girl touched her belly, her hands sliding over the roundness, smoothing her cotton dress down against her skin so tight that we could see her belly button pressing against it.

I shook my head before she spoke the words. I knew exactly what she was going to say…and I didn’t want to believe it. Peter was much more careful than that. He was the kind of guy who would pick up a lost puppy on the side of the road and take it to the nearest vet. He wouldn’t knock some girl up and just leave her. That wasn’t who Peter was.

“I’ve been trying to call him for months,” Amber said, almost breathlessly. “He left me his office number and his email. I tried those over and over when he wouldn’t answer his cell phone, but the phone went to voicemail and he never answered the emails. And then I remembered him giving me your card, and I thought you might know how to get ahold of him.”

“Why?” Cole asked.

I wanted to smack him over the side of the head.

“He’s the baby’s father. I thought he’d want to know.”

Cole glanced back at me, anger snapping in his eyes.

“It’s not possible,” he announced.

“Cole—”

“Why not?” Amber asked.

“Are you after money? Did you happen to see his picture in the paper and realize how much he was worth? Because, I’m sorry to tell you, but his estate has been settled. You aren’t getting anything out of it.”

“Cole!”

I saw the color drain from the girl’s face and the strength go out of her legs. I moved around my desk and helped her into a chair. Then I spun around on Cole.

“You need to go.”

“Me?” He stared at me with outrage written all over his face. “She dares to come in here and claim that Peter would do that to her, and you want
me
to leave?”

“Yes.”

I grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the door.

“She’s just a fucking gold digger. Tell me you see that, Megan.”

“Get out, Cole. Let me handle this.”

“Don’t let her fool you. She’s lying.”

“Get out, Cole!”

I pushed him through the door and then slammed it, turning the thumb lock just for good measure. He slammed his palm against it, causing it to rattle in the frame. I closed my eyes and leaned against it for a second, waiting for him to do something more. But he must have backed off because everything was silent after that.

I slowly turned to regard the girl sitting on the edge of one of my chairs. She was staring at the floor, her hands resting on the top of her swollen belly, tears staining the dark material as they rolled freely down her face.

I grabbed a box of tissues I keep handy for client and held it out to her.

“I’m sorry about Cole.”

She shook her head, taking a tissue and pressing it to her face.

“I just…I feel like a fool that it never occurred to me that something bad might have happened to Peter. I was so mad at him! I thought he’d just disappeared because he didn’t want to live up to his obligations.”

“Did he know?”

She made a small movement with her shoulders that could have been a yes or a no. I sat on the edge of my desk in front of her and waited for her to get ahold of herself, wondering who the hell she was and what Peter had seen in her.

Peter wasn’t the womanizer that Cole had always been. He was kind and gentle and he had a huge heart that could be broken quite easily when he let you in. But he didn’t let people in very often. He’d had a girl in college, one he was pretty serious about. He even had a ring he carried around in his pocket for weeks. But then…she was the one with the wandering eye. After four years, he found out that she’d been seeing a couple of other guys on the side. She even had the audacity to be surprised that he had expected her to be monogamous. After that, he dated some, but there really wasn’t anything serious, nothing that lasted more than a few months at a time. So, to find this young woman so far along in her pregnancy with his child, it was a little shocking.

When the tears stopped, she sat back a little, reclining in the chair like it was the first time she’d relaxed in a long time. “I guess you have a lot of questions.”

“I do, actually.”

She brushed one last tear off her cheek. “Peter…he used to come into this diner where I work. Twice a week, regular as clockwork. One night, he was drinking from a bottle he’d snuck in, pouring shots into his coffee like he thought we couldn’t see. It was so out of character that I asked him if he was okay. He asked me to join him and…well, we got a little drunk and I took him home with me so that he wouldn’t drive.”

I nodded, not really needing the details.

She ran her hand slowly over her belly. “I liked him, but I wasn’t really prepared for this, you know? When he woke the next morning, he was full of apologies. Gave me his business card and his cell phone number, told me to call him if anything came of it and he’d take care of me. He was almost out the door when he set your card on the counter. Told me if for some reason I couldn’t get ahold of him, that I should talk to you. That you’d take care of anything I needed.”

“When was this?”

She tilted her head slightly. “Thirty-five weeks ago.”

I nodded, calculating the time in my head. Thirty-five weeks was just over seven months ago. A week, maybe two or three, before Peter died.

“You didn’t hear from him again?”

“He came into the diner once more. We didn’t really talk about it, but he was real sweet, just like he always was. Left me a nice tip.”

“Can I ask…?” I studied her face for a second, looking for deceit, for anything that would suggest she wasn’t being truthful with me. “Why did you wait so long to come see me?”

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