Authors: Carole Mortimer
An Alpha series novel
USA Today Bestselling Author
Copyright © 2015 Carole Mortimer
Cover Design Copyright © Glass Slipper Designs
Editor: Linda Ingmanson
Formatter: Matthew Mortimer
ISBN: 978-1-910597-09-5 mobi
ISBN: 978-1-910597-10-1 epub
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Reserved.
My wonderful family,
I couldn’t do this without you
“Um… Excuse me, but are you Mr. Grayson?”
Callie gave a perplexed frown at the man sitting in the high-backed leather chair, booted feet up on top of the glass-topped desk that separated them, a dark Stetson pulled low over his eyes and nose. He didn’t so much as twitch a muscle in response to her tentative query.
And he certainly had a lot of those.
A white T-shirt stretched over the taut and defined muscles of his arms and chest, faded and well-worn blue jeans outlining lean hips and long, powerful legs.
It had taken all of Callie’s courage, after finding the address of Grayson Security’s head office in London amongst her father’s papers, to then travel up from Cornwall by train. Only to be disconcerted, after stepping out of the elevator onto the fifth floor, to find no one on the reception desk.
She should have telephoned first and made an appointment, of course, but a part of her had been hoping—praying—that her father would arrive home and she wouldn’t need to come to London at all. But a week of not hearing from him was more than long enough to delay the inevitable.
Grayson Security was her only hope of finding her father now.
Trying not to be too deterred when no one had answered after she called out, Callie had walked warily along the deserted hallway just to the side of that empty front desk, only to be met again and again by empty offices, this last one—it would have to be the one at the end of the hallway—being the only one occupied.
By Dair Grayson, she hoped.
He was the owner of the prestigious security company. A group of ex-Special Forces men who specialized in executive and personal security for public figures and heads of governments around the world. Her father had hinted that these men carried out less…public security missions on occasion too.
More importantly, her father trusted Dair Grayson implicitly.
The man seated behind the desk didn’t exactly fill Callie with that same confidence. She couldn’t even see his face properly beneath that dark and battered Stetson, just a heavy growth of stubble that had gone way beyond designer and into scruff as it framed firm and sensuous lips. The dark hair was overlong and curled slightly as it rested on his shoulders. He also had all those bulging muscles.
And he looked as out of place in these ultramodern chrome-and-black-marble offices as an elephant would in the lobby of a five-star hotel.
“Not Grayson.” The voice was low and gruff. “Name’s Lijah Smith.”
Her father had his own names for all the men who had once served under him in the army. Dair Grayson was the Shadow, because of his stealth as a sniper, and Lijah Smith was the Renegade. Her father had never offered an explanation as to why he had given the younger man that name, and Callie knew better than to ask him personal questions about any of his men.
Looking at Lijah Smith now, Callie could easily guess the reason for it. The stubble and the long hair weren’t exactly stylish or fashionable, nor was the way he was dressed. Nor did he feel the need to be in the least polite to the woman who had just spoken to him!
Obviously he didn’t give a damn what people thought or said about him.
The fact that his accent was distinctly British—so much so it rivaled that of the royal family—was also a little disconcerting, considering the rest of his appearance.
“Is Mr. Grayson available?” Callie persevered doggedly. There was too much at stake for her to be put off by this man’s rudeness.
Callie’s heart sank. It hadn’t been easy for her to come here—to come back to London at all—and she had only done so now out of desperation. A desperation that was being callously ignored by a man who wouldn’t even give her the courtesy of looking at her when he spoke to her. “Then perhaps I might speak to the person in charge?” There was a slight edge to her voice now.
“You’re already speaking to him.”
Her heart sank even further. Who on earth had been insane enough to put
man in charge during Dair Grayson’s absence? His offhand manner was more likely to scare away potential clients than to encourage them.
Her mouth thinned. “When will Mr. Grayson be back in the office?”
His shoulders lifted in an uninterested shrug. “My guess would be never, but don’t quote me on it.”
Dair Grayson was
never coming back?
Callie’s knuckles were white as she reached out to grasp the front of the glass-topped desk, her heart no longer sinking but seeming to have stopped altogether. This was— She had so hoped— “Why not?” she managed to ask in a strangulated voice.
Chiseled lips hardened into a straight line. “That depends on who’s asking.”
“My name is—Mr. Smith, do you think you could at least look at me when I’m talking to you?” Callie’s already frayed nerves had reached breaking point.
Revealing how much she had been hoping, depending on Dair Grayson to help her.
Her father had always told her if she was ever in trouble and he wasn’t available, then Dair Grayson was her man. She had laughed it off at the time, never thought for a moment she would ever find herself in the position of needing the other man’s help.
She also had absolutely no idea whether Lijah Smith would be willing to offer her that same assistance.
Or if she even wanted him to.
This man was not only dismissive and abrasive, but there was something about him that made Callie feel…uneasy. She was also totally aware of him, despite the fact he hadn’t moved since she entered the room.
“I could, yes,” he answered her dismissively.
“Well?” Callie’s agitation deepened as he made no effort to do so.
“You only asked if I could, not if I would.”
She breathed in deeply through her nose as she fought for composure in the face of this man’s—what was it exactly? Rudeness didn’t even begin to cover his less than helpful behavior.
Callie’s frustration deepened. “Where are all the other employees?”
“It’s a Saturday, Miss…? Whatever,” he dismissed at her continued silence.
“This is a security company.”
“Doesn’t mean the office opens on a weekend. The outer door should have been locked. I must have forgotten to do it when I came in earlier this morning to do some paperwork. There’s an emergency number listed in the telephone directory. I suggest you go away and use it to make an appointment to come in and chat with someone on Monday.”
“Is this how you treat all your prospective clients?”
“On what?” she prompted exasperatedly.
“On whether or not they’re a paying client or a bleeding heart.” That hard and sculptured mouth twisted into a mocking smile. “From the tinge of a country burr in your accent and the inexpensive perfume, my guess would be you come under the latter category?”
Callie gasped. “Do you practice being rude, or does it just come naturally?”
He smiled humorlessly. “It’s a gift.”
“One you would do well to give back!”
He gave a shrug of those muscled shoulders. “I didn’t say I don’t like your perfume, only that it isn’t top of the range.”
“I’m allergic to most perfumes. This happens to be one of the few I can wear without suffering a migraine.”
“I sincerely hope that wasn’t your idea of an apology, Mr. Smith, because if it was, you failed utterly!” Her hands were clenched at her sides in an effort to stop herself from ripping that Stetson off Lijah Smith’s head and
him look at her.
“Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.”
She raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Oh, heaven forbid you should ever show any sign of weakness—”
“Well, well, well, and what have we here?” A second man strolled into the office. At least this man was wearing a suit, even if the long dark hair and the scar lancing across his left cheek and down his throat proclaimed him as being another warrior. “Doing your best to frighten away a beautiful client, Lijah?” He made himself comfortable by perching on the edge of the desk, his dark gaze fixed admiringly on Callie rather than the man he was speaking to.
“Fuck off, Armstrong,” came the dismissive reply from beneath the Stetson.
“Seth Armstrong.” The man with the scar introduced himself to Callie as the two of them shook hands. “Excuse him, won’t you?” He gave a glance back at the sprawled Lijah Smith. “Lack of sleep tends to make him even grouchier than usual.”
Callie recognized this man’s name too. He was the one her father called the Rogue.
The reason for that was obvious. That vicious scar gave Seth Armstrong a decidedly piratical appearance. Callie could see him now, cutlass in hand as he stood on the deck of his ship, repelling all boarders.
She couldn’t help but feel grateful for his interruption, at the same time as she realized his arrival now meant there was suddenly too much testosterone in the room for her comfort.
It had been just Callie and her father for most of her life, her mother having died when she was just five, and she’d lived on army bases with her father all over the world until she went away to boarding school when she was twelve. Even then she’d spent the holidays with him, flying out to wherever he might be in the world. She’d had no idea that her father worked in Special Forces, but even then she’d known not to ask why he was where he was, and just to accept the time she spent with him.
As a consequence, she was used to being around men trained to within an inch of their lives. Hard and dangerous men who used stealth against the enemy but at the same time thought nothing of running headlong into battle. Or killing.
This was different. These two men were different, both giving off a low electric charge that was all hot and barely leashed male, and so overpowering it was enough to cause Callie to take a step back.
Her father had served with these men, she reminded herself. Trained them, trusted them with his life time and time again.
She’d come here today because she was afraid her father’s disappearance meant she had no choice but to trust them with it again.
Lijah didn’t need Seth to tell him their visitor was beautiful. He’d been able to tell that from the flirtatious note in the other man’s voice.
On the surface, Grayson Security provided protection for heads of state, politicians, and the rich and famous, and, quite often, the
famous. Beneath that veneer of legitimacy, they were also called in for incursion and retrieval during kidnappings and other less reputable missions.
Having only returned to England from one of those missions just a few hours earlier, Lijah really wasn’t in the mood to deal with a new client. Even a beautiful woman.
a beautiful woman.
If he wasn’t going to be allowed to sleep, then he wanted to fuck. Sleep or fuck, those were the only two choices when coming down from the roller-coaster adrenaline high like the one he’d been through this past week.
He should have gone straight home after writing up his report, of course, but the lure of putting his feet up on the desk and resting his head back against the chair for a few minutes had just been too strong.