Authors: Diane Taylor
Copyright Crimson Frost Books 2013
Published by Crimson Frost Books
Copyright © 2013 by Crimson Frost Books
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2013
Cover Designed by: Nekkid Designs
Edited by: Patricia Bates
Carmen Marshall stumbled down the stairs vigorously towel drying her short, red hair and dressed in a pair of smoke gray sweats. A quick glance at the clock told her she had to be locked, loaded and fully alert for the virtual meeting in thirty minutes. Moving to her desk, she began the boot up and log in sequence on her computer before heading into the kitchen for her morning coffee. After filling her mug and grabbing a plate of graham crackers, she headed back to her desk, pausing only to bump the heat up a notch.
The Colorado Mountains turned cold in October, so Carmen had spent the spring and summer months getting her mountain retreat fully stocked for winter. Several cords of wood were now stacked against the outer walls to protect the house from high winds and snow drifts. Outside, the main window, the white stuff created a winter wonderland across her front lawn and even the trees had their own dusting of the cheery brilliance. She never really liked the cold or the snow, but it was situated in a remote little canyon next to a national park. It gave Carmen complete privacy away from the everyone and everything.
Once back in her chair, she worked her way through the ton of e-mail which had accumulated overnight while she slept. It took a few minutes to sort through the updated requests from clients, angry letters from lawyers trying to blame her for their client's current state of affairs, bank statements and, of course, spam mail. She'd just finished the last letter when her the video icon she was expecting, popped up on her monitor. Picking up the remote, she pressed a button which turned on the wide-screen monitor which also doubled as a TV when she wasn’t working. Another tap of a key activated the video cam at the top of the screen. She didn't need to actually use a microphone because the camera had built in pickup.
After a few moments, Daria Randall’s image appeared on the screen. Her hair was the color of new fallen snow and the ends brushed the shoulders of the black blouse she was wearing. Ice blue eyes stared at Carmen from a face that’d had more than a few cosmetic enhancements done over the years. At sixty-five years of age, a lot of people make the mistake of thinking she would be too old to run her own business. Daria’s formidable attitude soon had them thinking otherwise, and apologizing all over themselves.
Her full name used to be Daria Randall Tarrington. After a rather nasty divorce from her husband, she dropped the last name on everything except the Agency.
Don’t know why
, Carmen thought to herself,
Kent’s been in prison for extortion and sexual assault for five years now. Must be part of the divorce agreement.
Daria smiled as the video link steadied itself. “Carmen, you’ll be happy to know there’s a big fat bonus from Prince Ahmed’s accountant being sent to your bank account as we speak.”
Carmen took a sip of her coffee, then stared at the woman on the screen. “Daria, the next time you send me a man whose twisted taste in entertainment includes BDSM bars and leather shops, I’m going to strangle you.” She growled.
Prince Ahmed had been a test of patience and an application of sheer willpower to keep from beating the little brat bloody. From the moment her team had taken the contract, he’d proceeded to treat them people like his personal submissive slaves. Carmen had to fly to Hollywood and step in before he wound up getting a taste of his own pain. Compliments of her people. “Matter of fact, Louis and Carla asked me to pass on the message that if they have to put up with another leather lover, they’re going to resign.”
Daria’s eyes widened. “But he paid the consultation fee and agreed upon your terms.”
Carmen reached up to scratch the scars decorating her face. A dark pink color stained Daria's cheeks a rosey hue before she looked down at her paperwork. “Yes, he did.” She paused to make sure she got her point across. “Do you want the full details of his version of the
agreed upon terms
before or after you get the bill for flying all the way to California to save him from becoming a eunuch?”
Daria’s eyes widened and she gaped. “Carmen, your people are the most rock solid people I know. What in hell did Prince Ahmed do to piss off the Twins?”
“Everyone has their breaking point. Even the Twins. Apparently, the Prince wanted to find out if a certain fact was true about twins.”
Daria rubbed her forehead and sighed. “I have a feeling I’m not going to like the answer to this.”
Carmen shook her head. “No you’re not. He wanted to have sex with one twin while the other was restrained to find out if the myth was true.” At Daria’s confused look, she sighed, “Apparently there is a general consensus that if one twin felt something, the other one would feel it too.”
It seems Ahmed wasn’t particular about which one got tied up and which one got used either.” Carmen leaned forward, “I will not subject my team to that sort of abuse again.”
If I’d known about his preferences, he’d have been out the door in a heartbeat. With my foot buried deep in his ass!” Daria began typing on the keyboard in front of her with an evil smile. “Did you know that the Prince’s father, Sheik Ali Hamadi, has no idea what his darling little boy has been up to or what his taste is in sexual deviancy?”
If you’re asking that question, when it’s so obvious, I won’t bother to say yes or no.” Carmen carried her laptop and coffee mug to the couch so she could relax while still talking.
Daria matched Carmen’s grin with one of her own. “True.” She finished typing. “I think that we can safely assure the twins and the other members of your team they won’t have to suffer through another episode like that.”
Carmen grunted. “Divvy up the bonus equally between the four and put my usual fee in the bank. I don’t need the bonus and these guys do. Now, what else have you got on your list of clients that you’re planning to foist on me, in my innocence?”
Innocent, my ass. Miss Marshall you’re the least innocent woman I know.” Daria shuffled her papers on the desk, then looked up at the video camera. “What do you know of
Carmen shrugged. “He’s a master of illusion. No one knows what he looks
like underneath his mask, which makes him somewhat of a forbidden fruit to the female persuasion. Those who have tried to come on to him have gone away either pissed off or in tears. Those who have claimed to have slept with him aren’t believed. The ones which are rebuffed proceed to slander and smear his name, which is really useless because he never responds to bullshit like that unless it really gets messy, then the person responsible gets a
.” She made quotation marks in the air with her fingers. “Rumors run thick and fast about what’s underneath the mask. They run the entire range of being horribly disfigured to just an affectation so he can go out into public with it off and not be recognized.” She smiled slightly at Daria, “The rest of the rumors are just too outrageous to think about.”
Anything else, Oh
Great Abundance of Wisdom
?” Her boss grinned.
She smiled and took another drink of her coffee before responding. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Daria Randall. As a matter of fact, the tabloids and the internet have commented that his crew and stage hands are very tight lipped. Even his manager won’t spill the beans about the props or how his illusions are done, no matter how much money is offered. More than a few people have attempted some of his more dangerous stunts, trying to duplicate and or improve on them.”
Carmen arched an eyebrow and looked meaningfully at her boss. “With very fatal results. At the beginning of each performance, everyone is warned not to try these stunts. They make the statement which basically says anyone attempting them is doing so under the full knowledge they were warned ahead of time.”
Daria nodded, “Well, according to his manager, someone’s trying to sabotage his performances
and possibly turn him into an illusion, permanently. From what I've read in the report I have on my desk, all the mistakes have been caught before the actual stunt was performed. But the manager wants to find out what in hell is going on and put a stop to these incidents before something really does go wrong. He’s paid double the usual fee, wanting to ensure you and your team will personally handle the assignment. He said The Rogue has specifically asked for you, saying he wishes a face to face meeting before he signs any agreement.”
Carmen’s eyes widened. “You know my rule on that, Daria. It’s held true and every client has agreed to it. If he wants a video conference, we can arrange a time and place. But I do not meet face to face.”
“Oh come on, you can do it just this once.” Daria’s eyes widened and became pleading on the video screen. “If he doesn’t meet you in person, he won’t sign the contract. When I mentioned your rule, he said, and I quote, ‘
If this woman is afraid of me, then perhaps you should fire her and hire more men
At least they aren’t afraid to meet
face to face
Carmen scratched at the scars on her face again. “The last time you said
just this once
I spent a month in the hospital looking like a sewing machine went insane on my skin. That ‘face to face’ incident
turned out to be an asshole who, when we went for the meet up, had a snow leopard inside his house. Remember?” Her fingers drummed against the keyboard of her laptop. “Mr. Warner, the wannabe wild cat trainer? Wanting us to do security for his animal park?” Daria flinched and looked down at her own keyboard. “I see you remember. When we refused, he turned his cat loose on me before going after Michelle. If it hadn’t been for her self-defense background, I’d have been cat food.”
No buts! Either he agrees to a video conference or we don’t meet at all.” Carmen paused a moment in thought. “Where did this guy want to meet, anyway?”
Someplace north of Glasgow.” Daria picked up a note from her desk. “I’ve got an address, first class plane tickets to London, and a rail pass. It says there will be someone to meet you at the station in Glasgow and guide you on to the destination.”
Anger burned through Carmen as she clenched her teeth together,
that proprietary bastard already assumed I'd jump when he called!
“It would have to be in the middle of the winter wonderland out there. But I’m not going to rise to the bait because someone tried to goad me into doing what they want.” She smiled and knew it was more predatory than a true smile. “When he calls to ask, tell him the only women afraid of him are the ones who want him for the mystery. Tell him, baiting me with bullshit doesn’t work. If he wants to play the game, he does it by my rules or he forfeits the prize.”
Daria arched an eyebrow at her.“And what prize would that be?”
“Me and my team keeping his ass in one piece on stage and off.”
Okay Carmen. But I’m not going to mediate a war of words between the two of you. You know that. Just tell me you’ll consider it.”
Carmen sighed. “I’ll consider it. But don’t give me any more ammo. He’s insulted my intelligence once already. I’m just returning the favor. Fax me the file and I’ll at least look at what you have. If you’ve got pictures, scan them and send them along as well.”
“Will do. You’ll have them in the next hour.” Daria disconnected, leaving Carmen glaring at a blank screen.
Carmen sighed and shut off the computer before standing to do a bit of stretching to release the tension in her back and neck. She hadn't told her boss the entire story about Prince Ahmed. In order to keep him happy and away from her team, she had to spend the last three days of his stay locked into a rigid collar which kept her head permanently erect. To add insult to injury, her outfit was nothing but strategically placed leather straps, buckles and chrome O-rings. The only two things she put her foot down about was no sex, and she would be wearing a floor length coat to hide her weapons. The moment she showed up with the outfit on, it was all he could do to not cop a feel. Carmen’s knife in his crotch and a subtle threat of being a eunuch killed any more sexual attempts.
The Prince got his subtle revenge at the end of his vacation, leaving her standing on the tarmac, still padlocked into the collar she’d been wearing. Fortunately for him, she was in her street clothes and her gun was in the car. Otherwise she’d have shot him.
Good thing her team took precautions, suspecting Ahmed would pull some petty stunt. A quick application with a pair of bolt cutters took care of the lock
and the collar stashed in the trunk of her car. As a thank you present, the team dropped her off at a weekend spa to be pampered and massaged back to her normal grumpy self. When she got home, she put the collar in a box addressed to Ahmed's father, all Carmen had to do was take it down to the post office and send it off.
A little blackmail ammunition of my own if that little brat tries anything else.
The thought danced across her brain as she finished working out the kinks in her back. The cold always had a way of making every joint pop and complain if she didn't stretch a couple times during the day.
Walking into the kitchen, she began making eggs and bacon for breakfast. As they sizzled in the skillet, she tossed a small steak in another pan, adding onions and garlic to it. A half an hour later, Carmen was sitting in her chair in the living room getting ready to dig in. Unfortunately, before she could take a single bite, three things happened at once. Her laptop beeped, announcing an incoming piece of e-mail, the fax machine burped and began printing things, and the doorbell rang. Grumbling at the multiple interruptions, she set her plate aside, stood up and went to answer the door.