Authors: Lynn Raye Harris
When she’d gotten to Union Station, she’d hailed a taxi and given them this address. As the taxi took her into the suburbs of Maryland, she’d started to wonder if she’d made a mistake. When they’d turned onto a remote road with no houses, she’d been convinced of it. She’d had her hand on the door handle, ready to escape.
And then the taxi driver stopped and motioned toward a darkened house sitting off the road. Once she’d paid and been left standing in the dark, it had taken her a moment to realize there was another building, a garage with an apartment over the top. That was Chase’s place. Now that she was inside and could see his living room, she was surprised to find it tastefully furnished despite its small size. Surprised because there wasn’t a board with concrete blocks to hold up his television or anything.
There was, however, a guitar on a stand and an amp sitting near. There were also pictures of album covers on his walls. None of Tyler’s, but plenty of other famous guitar players.
His mouth tightened as her gaze slipped over his walls and back to him. “Out with it, Sophie. It’s late and I want to go back to sleep. If you aren’t here to beg for a kidney or some bone marrow, what do you want?”
“I wish it were that simple,” she said softly. “But it’s not. It’s nothing to do with Tyler. It’s me.”
His eyes narrowed. “We aren’t actually related, you know. I can’t give you blood or marrow or an organ.”
She felt her teeth grinding. “Actually, that’s not necessarily true. You wouldn’t know without tests.” His nostrils flared and she realized she was getting distracted. “But donations aren’t why I need help. It’s…” She swallowed. “Have you ever heard of Grigori Androv?”
It was kind of a stupid question in a way, considering that Grigori owned Zoprava, a Russian technology firm that sold a popular antivirus software. He’d been in the news a lot lately, not all of it good, but that was to be expected when a man was as powerful and controversial as he was.
She’d grown up with people who lived in the media spotlight, so she knew to take it with a grain of salt. And yet sometimes what they said was true. She’d learned that too.
“What does Androv have to do with you?” Chase demanded, his sexy green eyes flashing fire.
Sophie swallowed. “I met him at a charity event. We seemed to connect, and he asked for my number. I gave it to him.”
Chase swore. Not the reaction she’d expected.
“He was nice to me. He sent flowers every day. He was… romantic.”
It felt so stupid to say that now, but it had been the truth. He’d been romantic, hitting all the right notes as he sent flowers and cards and whisked her to fancy dinners and Broadway shows. He’d romanced her the way a girl wanted to be romanced. Slow, deliberate, attentive. And since she hadn’t had a lot of romance in her life, she’d fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
Chase was looking at her with a hard expression. “Any guy who sends you flowers every fucking day is a stalker, not a romantic.” He shook his head. “I don’t care how many orphans he donates money to, Androv is bad news. You need to stay away from him.”
Sophie shivered. She’d come a long way tonight and she still wasn’t safe. She wrapped her arms around herself and rubbed. Tears threatened to spill over. “I didn’t know that at the time. I thought he was just a rich guy with enemies.” She swallowed. “But I know better now.”
Chase looked a little furious. Or maybe a lot furious. “What happened? Did he assault you?”
She shook her head even while her throat burned. Assault her? He’d never even kissed her.
“No, he didn’t assault me. But I… I heard him arguing with someone on the phone, threatening him if he didn’t do what Grigori wanted.” Chase frowned and she hurried on. “I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I thought it was just business, quite honestly, even if it wasn’t very nice. Sort of like when you’re pissed at someone and you say you could kill them, but of course you don’t literally mean that. B-but that same man was found in the East River four days ago.”
She had Chase’s full attention now. She could tell it by the way his nostrils flared and his eyes flashed. “A coincidence,” he said—and she didn’t blame him because she’d said the same thing when she’d seen the news report. Grigori’s argument with the man had chilled her, but even then she couldn’t say that Grigori had anything to do with his death.
“It looks that way, but it’s not.”
“How can you be sure?”
This was the part she hated. The part that made her sick. It still wasn’t a smoking gun, so to speak—but she knew the truth. She’d seen it in Grigori’s eyes. He was unbalanced, vicious.
“I went to his apartment tonight to tell him I needed space, that I wanted to take a break for a while. He was having a small party, so I felt safe. He took me into his home office to talk—and then he got very angry. He asked me if I’d seen the news—and then he said the same thing would happen to me if I tried to stop seeing him.”
Chase’s face was a study in controlled rage.
Sophie swallowed as she tumbled on. “I thought he might hit me, but he didn’t get the chance. He grabbed me—but his butler interrupted and Grigori let me go. He left me in his office and told me not to move until he came back.”
“But you did move.”
“I was scared, so I ran while I could.” She hadn’t left his apartment empty-handed, however.
Chase shoved a hand through his dark hair. It stood on end, but in a sexy way. “I’m sorry, Sophie—but exactly what do you expect me to do about this? You had a fight with Androv. He’s a bully and an egomaniac, but I doubt he’s going to kill you because you argued. It’s risky to go around killing everyone you don’t like, and he knows that. He’s a fucking bully, and you don’t need to see him again. Go to the police and file a restraining order.”
She clenched her hands into fists. “You don’t know him.”
“Neither do you if you thought he was just a nice man with enemies.”
She deserved his sarcasm. “I’m afraid, Chase. I need your help.”
“Why my help? Why not the police?”
She swallowed. She’d thought about going to the police, but what could they do? It was her word against Grigori’s—and they weren’t going to arrest him because he’d threatened her. Not to mention she had technically stolen his property when she’d fled his apartment.
“You’re a soldier. An elite soldier. You do counterterrorism work—”
His brows lowered and he looked pissed.
She hurried on. “That’s what Tyler said. He told me you could protect me.”
And God, she hoped it was true. Because if Chase turned her down, what would she do?
He swore, long and hard. She wasn’t encouraged by the look on his face.
“I’m not a fucking bodyguard, Sophie. Tyler is wrong. You need the police for this, not me. I can’t help you.”
hase couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so pissed. He didn’t give Tyler Nash much thought these days, and he certainly never thought of Sophie. He knew she’d gotten advantages in life because of Tyler’s influence, and that used to piss him off. Now he couldn’t care less.
But knowing that Tyler had called his mom and gotten his address? Knowing that his mom had told Tyler—because who else would have?—that he worked in top secret stuff and could help? Was the man ever done taking advantage of Carrie Daniels?
Sophie was looking at him with wide eyes, her cheeks flushed though her skin was pale. He could see her pulse beating in her throat, that soft fluttering like a hummingbird’s wings. He felt a rush of sympathy for her and immediately stomped it back down.
What kind of dumb twit got involved with Grigori Androv? Even if Sophie didn’t have the advantage of working for HOT, which maintained a dossier on Androv and knew precisely how he’d built his fortune—it wasn’t in software but rather in the ugly world of organized crime and petty arms dealing—the Russian had been in the news recently for an alleged assault of a hotel maid.
The details were ugly and brutal—and the maid was being systematically taken apart in the court of public opinion by Androv’s spin doctors.
“If you don’t help me, I’ll be dead by the end of the week,” she said. “Maybe sooner.”
Yeah, he was pissed at the idea of Androv threatening her, but if the man hadn’t eliminated the hotel maid by now, he wasn’t going to kill Sophie. “He’s not going to hurt you. He’s smarter than that. He has too many other interests to protect, and you’re nothing to him in the scheme of things. You wounded his pride. Nothing more.”
She didn’t look relieved. If anything, she looked even more desperate. “I took s-something from his office. A flash drive. He’ll have realized it by now—and he’ll want it back. He’ll stop at nothing to get it.”
Interest sparked deep inside even though he told himself it was probably bullshit. “Do you know what’s on it?”
“No. But I never saw him without it. It’s important to him.”
“It could be anything. Or nothing. Lots of people use flash drives. It doesn’t mean anything. It could be pictures of his vacation—or dirty pictures he gets off on.”
“But what if it does mean something? What if there’s information he doesn’t want made public?”
She looked hopeful. And, damn, he had to admit he was hooked. She’d thrown him the fucking bait and she was reeling him in bit by bit. She tumbled on before he could speak.
“He told me he doesn’t trust the cloud with what’s on it—and I know that’s crazy because he makes a living selling antivirus software, so presumably he should have the best firewall protection there is. But it’s true. He told me he doesn’t trust the cloud and that it was better if his enemies didn’t get this information.”
Chase could only gape at her. “Why would he tell you this? And how did you get ahold of it if it’s so important to him?”
“He was using his laptop in his limo when we were going somewhere once, and he inserted a flash drive. I asked why he didn’t just use the cloud. He told me he didn’t trust it. As for how I got it… it was on his desk with his papers. When the butler interrupted, he left me in his office. I grabbed it and ran.”
Chase’s senses were tingling now. He held out a hand. “Better hand it over and let me have a look.”
Her eyes dropped away. “I… I don’t have it. I mailed it before I left town. I thought it was safer that way.”
“You mailed it? To me?” He turned his head to the pile of mail he’d brought in earlier. If she’d just mailed it, it wouldn’t be here yet. But fuck, this was not at all what he needed right now.
She reached for him, her fingers grazing over his arm for the briefest of seconds. He felt as if someone had touched him with a hot iron. His head whipped around, his eyes boring into hers. She licked her lips again, a quick maneuver that had him thinking about pink tongues and pleasurable uses for them.
“I didn’t mail it to you,” she was saying as he dragged his mind into the present. “I sent it to Tyler’s apartment… in Paris.”
Chase felt his brows arrow down. Of course the fucker had an apartment in Paris. Chase’s mother had always said she wanted to go to Paris someday. And Tyler had a fucking apartment there. Figured.
“You sent it to Paris. And I suppose you want me to go get it, right?” He really couldn’t believe the nerve of this girl, but then why not? She’d been raised in privilege and splendor. She’d never had to work a day in her life while he’d always worked for everything he had. He resented the fuck out of her for that.
“Yes… but I want to go with you. It won’t be there for three more days, so there’s time. But we should be there when it arrives.”
He blinked at her for a second before the truth of what was going on here hit him. Holy shit, she was crazy. Too many fucking conspiracy theory movies probably. And he wasn’t about to play along. She was a drama queen, fishing for sympathy and trying to drag him into her own twisted world of intrigue and danger. Hell, for all he knew, she was making up the existence of the flash drive—though the why of it eluded him.
But she did seem genuinely scared, which didn’t help.
He raked a hand over his head. Fuck, he hadn’t had enough sleep for this shit.
“Look, sweetheart, even if I wanted to help you, I can’t just take off for Paris. I’m a soldier and there are procedures to be followed. I go to Paris with you, I’m AWOL from my job. And I can promise you I’m not doing that.”
Technically, since they’d just returned from a mission in Qu’rim where they’d rescued a group of archaeologists, his squad was off duty for another week. The guys were all taking holidays, going to beaches and mountains and relaxing until time to return for duty.
But the difference was that everyone was staying within an eight-hour radius of HQ. That was the requirement unless officially on leave. The eight hours was travel time, not distance—and Paris was over eight hours when you added airport delays and car time.
“I’ll pay you, if that’s the issue.”
Chase stiffened. He was just about to tell her to get the fuck out when the neighbor’s dog started barking like crazy. Sophie whirled and stared at the door. The hair on Chase’s neck prickled, but he dismissed it. Crazy night. Lack of sleep.
“Relax, it’s probably a possum or a raccoon. One time, that idiot dog got worked up over a skunk—didn’t work out well for his owner, I can promise you that.”
She threw him a look over her shoulder. For the first time, he was looking at the rear of her—and it was a mighty fine rear to look at. Baby had back, that’s for sure. Sophie might be the privileged stepdaughter of a wealthy man, but she didn’t look like someone who had a personal trainer and a chef who fixed salads for her.
No, the girl looked like she liked her fries and milkshakes a bit more than that—and yet she was still fucking gorgeous with her red-gold hair and killer curves. No wonder Androv had been interested.
“I really need to get out of here,” she said, her voice tinged with panic. “When Grigori figures out I’ve left New York, he’ll come looking for me.”
He had to admire the depth of the conspiracy theory scenario she had going. Yep, Sophie had watched too many