Authors: Kate Allenton
Seconds that felt like an eternity ticked by before he replied.
“I already knew you worked for Floyd.”
His words cut straight through her resolve.
Gracie knew her mouth hung open, and she snapped it shut. “How?”
“Floyd’s dead. He’s no longer a threat
, so you can remove yourself from this little spy game you’ve started playing. We found your employment file in his office.”
How much do you know?” The butterflies in her stomach turned into summersaults.
bell above the door chimed again, and she watched as the strongest of the Phantom’s who was also her father’s second-in-command, Ridge Connors, strode toward their table. She let her gaze linger on his strong, tempting physique. Even in the diner, his presence was compelling. He too held an air of authority. His deep brown, wavy hair was styled neatly in place, but it was his intense stare giving her pause. His blue eyes pierced hers as he stopped at her father’s side. She didn’t need to see his eye color or him using his gift to know which twin this was; his demeanor gave him away. “Sir, it’s time.”
The General nodded. “Ridge, I believe you’ve already met my daughter, Gracie.”
He smiled warmly down at her. “Of course.” He gave a slight nod. “How are you, Gracie?”
Gracie folded her arms on the table. “I’m fine.” She turned her gaze back to her father
’s. “It’s time for what, General?”
Her father slid out of the seat and stood. He lifted his coffee cup to his lips
, draining the remainder before he grabbed his trench coat from the seat and tossed some bills on the table. “It’s Phantom business. Nothing you need to concern yourself with.”
With a move she’d seen him do countless times
before, he leaned down and pressed a fatherly kiss to her forehead. “We’ll finish talking about this later, and you can fill me in on everything else you’ve done.”
her hand out, seizing her father’s hand. “Answer me one thing before you go.”
The General nodded.
“Only one thing, Gracie?”
“Did you find the serum? The one Floyd used on Thompson. Was it at the compound?”
“No.” The General didn’t even blink at her questions. There was no surprise in his eyes. His gaze held hers, searching her face. “I need you to stay out of this.”
He moved swiftly to the door and out into the parking lot.
“Seems I still have work to do,” Gracie mumbled under her breath as she watched her father’s retreating back.
The general pulled the passenger side door open to the SUV and stilled.
“Sir, is everything all right?”
He glanced over his shoulder and smiled at his daughter through the diner window. She wiggled her fingers and gave him a smirk as she pressed the phone against her ear. “She sure is stubborn.”
He climbed inside the SUV and
waited for Ridge to slide in the other side. “If I know my daughter, she’s already concocting another plan.”
Ridge put the SUV
in drive and pulled out onto the asphalt. “My brother is the same way. He never listens either. Always jumping in head first and never thinking about the consequences.”
general chucked. “One day they’ll both grow out of it.” The general glanced down at his watch. “Are you ready for your next assignment?”
Ridge stifled his excitement as his
heartbeat sped up and adrenaline coursed through his veins. He’d been waiting anxiously for orders from the general. “Do you want me to go after the other sector leaders? The longer we wait, the more time they have to regroup and reorganize. I think we need to strike fast if we’re going to take them out.”
general shook his head. “No, not the leaders, but this latest threat might actually send me to my grave.”
e’s eyes widened. “Sounds dangerous.”
general gave a slight nod. “It is. It’s the most important mission I’ll ever send you on.”
ped the wheel. “What is it? Do you want me to go undercover? Handle the interrogations?”
general’s brow furrowed. “Nope…this is going to be a lot harder than any other thing I’ve asked you to do. I’m putting you on Gracie detail.”
Ridge momentarily swerved the SUV off the road before guiding it back onto the asphalt. “You can’t be serious
. You would rather I babysit than deal with the latest threats?”
general’s voice remained firm as if he hadn’t just deflated Ridge’s hopes and dreams. “I wouldn’t call it babysitting. Gracie Lou is...how should I say…-spirited; she always has been. But don’t misjudge her. She’s a smart cookie, and she has good instincts. She infiltrated Floyd’s camp, which was more than we ever did, and if I know her, she won’t let this drop.”
general lifted his hand. “I’m not asking, Ridge. This is an order. I wouldn’t trust her safety to just anyone. We’ve worked together for a long time, and I trust you’ll handle this for me.”
Gracie watched her dad and Ridge pause at the SUV. She waved her fingers at the two of them. He wasn’t anywhere near done with his quest
ioning. She knew first hand he was just getting started. The fact that he’d left without grilling her was curious enough. She sipped her coffee and talked into the phone pressed to her ear. “Jamie, I told him. Now it’s time to put my plan into action.”
The woman who
’d taught Gracie everything she knew about combat training replied, “Don’t do anything foolish. Just let us handle this; it’s what we do best. We’ll take all of them out so just stay out of this.”
Gracie placed her coffee cup on the table
. “I’m sorry, Jamie. I have to. I’ve got the inside track, and I’m going to use it to my advantage.”
“Sorry, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you later and keep you posted.” Gracie hit the end button on her phone. She pulled a file from the seat beside her and flipped it open. She had been going to share the information with the General, but he never gave her the chance. It was up to her to set everything right…no matter the cost. She picked up the top sheet of paper and the picture attached. She’d already started her surveillance of most of the recipients attending the party. She glanced down at a copy of the mailing list of attendees Floyd had invited before his untimely demise. Finding out the importance of how the corporations fit with the heads of the other territories was her first concern. If she was going to do this, she was going to do it right. She needed information and lots of it, and there was only one way to get what she needed. She grabbed her phone, dialed, and pressed send. She spoke in hushed tones as a smile formed on her lips.
Hey, Mike, do you have a minute?”
Mike Bennett was her sister’s new husband and also happened to be a cop and broth
er of four other gifted sisters, one of which was now employed by the unit for her gifts. Elizabeth wasn’t going to like her plan, but that didn’t mean she had to tell her…did it?”
, Gracie, what’s up?”
Gracie cleared her throat and leaned back into the seat. “I need your help.”
She could almost feel Mike’s energy through the phone. His brotherly instincts were kicking in. “What’ve you gotten yourself into now?”
Gracie let out a low chuckle. He had the right to assume she had. Heck
, she’d almost gotten her sister killed by a stalker last year; it served her right that the man didn’t trust her…much. She thought it was about time she came clean, at least to someone who would understand her need to protect her family.
“A couple of months ago, I g
ot a job as a secretary working for a really bad guy. I did it to get close since he was a threat to your sister, Lydia, and my dad.”
“Please, just let me finish.” Gracie sat up taller. “As you know, the guy was bad news, and eventually my dad’s guys killed him, but not before Thompson had been injected with a substance giving him his own unique gift.”
I remember Gracie, but if the guy is already dead, I’m not sure what the problem is. Does your dad know your involvement?”
ie swallowed around the lump forming in her throat. “Somewhat, but Floyd left more questions than anything else, and they never found the serum.”
Mike let out a heavy sigh
and, if Gracie had to guess, would probably repeat every word of their conversation to her sister. But it didn’t matter for what she had in mind. She did need his help, and she wasn’t above asking for it.
“Let your dad handle it.
He does this crap for a living.”
, but these people already know me. They know I worked for Floyd, and I can get close again, real close. I can get the answers to take all of them down. I’ll leave the fighting up to my dad; he just needs the right intel to do the job.”
“Your sister would kill me if I helped, but let’s just pretend for a second you can get
her to go along with your plan. What type of help are you looking for?”
Gracie felt the heat rise from her neck to her cheeks. Never in a
million years had she thought she’d be asking her brother-in-law for what she needed. She closed her eyes. “Well, when I was in Southall, Emma’s husband, Jake, owned a bodyguard business, and I need to borrow one of them for one night.”
Mike chuckled. “Why is it you need a bodyguard for
only one night. What exactly am I sending one of his men into?”
Gracie waved her hand. “I need a date for a fundraiser
, someone who can walk the walk and watch my back. Not a romantic entanglement I would have to worry about upsetting. I need a professional.”
Aren’t there any men in the unit you trust?”
“Some…but that’s the problem. If anyone at the party recognizes them, I could be compromised. I need an outsider
who can handle himself in a jam.”
.” Mike sighed into the phone. “If I know you, you’re going to do this anyway, regardless of whether I send someone, aren’t you?”
,” she replied without a single moment’s hesitation. There was no way she could take a backseat and hope for the best where her family is concerned.
Here’s how this is going to play out. I’m going to send someone I trust over to you. He’ll fit in just fine, and I’ll explain what’s going on to Elizabeth. She isn’t going to like it.”
Gracie closed her eyes. “I know.”
“But I will tell her you were level-headed enough to call for help when you needed it, and as long as you don’t charge into something you aren’t trained for…then I’ll vouch for you.” He sighed in resignation. “Just intel, Gracie, nothing dangerous, and if my guy tells you to back off, you listen. Do you understand?”
A grin formed on her lips. “You have my word.”
“You can expect him in the morning…and Gracie.”
“Expect a call from your sister. There
is no way I can keep this a secret from my wife; she’d kill me.”
, even knowing that Mike couldn’t see her. “Have her call my cell.” She hesitated. “Thanks for your help, Mike. I really do appreciate it.”
“Uh huh, stay out of trouble
, little sister. I don’t want to have to explain if I have to come bail you out of jail.”
Freddie Sinclair lifted the menu to hide his face when he noticed the general about to enter the small diner. He and the general shared a past, one he didn’t wish to relive. He peeked over the top of the menu as the general slid into the seat with his back to the rest of the restaurant. It hadn’t been long since Floyd had been killed, and Freddie hadn’t wasted any time in claiming the new territory as his own. The closer he got to the general, the quicker he could take the pain in the ass out of the equation.
When Freddie had first
walked into this god-forsaken hole in the wall the locals referred to as a restaurant, he’d thought he’d lucked out spotting Floyd’s assistant sitting across the room. He’d planned to approach her about working for him, but now he was glad he hadn’t. He watched in utter silence as the general sat with the pretty young woman. He didn’t have to strain to hear their words. His hearing was superior without any of the enhanced gifts he’d taken through the years. While some of his men had strong gifts, he’d had a weak one growing up, but it served him well just the same. It was amazing what could be overheard when he’d actually started to tune in to what people were saying around him. He’d used it to his advantage every chance he’d gotten.
. He held back his chuckle. The prick Floyd had hired the general’s daughter without even realizing she was a potential threat. It was no wonder the asshole was dead; she’d done Freddie a favor when she’d infiltrated Floyd’s camp. He’d hidden and watched from a distance as the Phantoms killed Floyd and removed him as a threat for Freddie without Freddie having to lift a finger. They’d saved him the trouble of having to do it himself.
Freddie dropped some bills on the table and slid out the front door
, knocking shoulders with another familiar looking man as he’d entered. Freddie slid into his black SUV and watched from a distance as the other man and the general walked out of the restaurant.
“He has to be a phantom
,” he mumbled to himself as he watched them drive away. Freddie waited patiently for the brunette to exit the building. He didn’t have to wait long until she got into her car and drove away. Freddie tailed her from a distance as a plan to take down the Phantoms formed in his mind. If he could talk the sexy brunette into working for him, then it would all be in place.
Gracie drove on autopilot back to her house, the one place she loved where she was at total peace with the world. Her house was her sanctuary. It was more than walls and a place to lay her head; it was her home. She lived a lonely life. Yes, she had friends, but her best friends didn’t live nearby and her sister was three hundred miles away. Grace wasn’t the average party girl most people assumed she was. She liked her quiet time, vegging out in front of the television or fixing things around her house. She lived a solitary life when she wasn’t playing undercover spy with the bad guys.
Gracie dropped her keys
and purse on the entry table and kicked her high heels off as she glided into her kitchen. She wasn’t actually hungry, but the need to nibble when nervous was a bad habit to break. She grabbed the chunky triple-chocolate-chip ice cream from the freezer and a spoon from the drawer and settled at the kitchen table, getting lost in the file she was trying to figure out.
Ridge clenched the steering wheel after hearing the general’s next assignment. Playing babysitter to the general’s daughter was not what he had planned. He was too important to the missions, too important to ensuring the compound ran smoothly. The general was out of his mind. Ridge would have to find a way to convince the general it was a bad idea. Watching little Gracie wouldn’t have been a hard task, just a useless one. Non-essential agents could be assigned while he could help track down the other notorious territory leaders. Ridge loosened his grip on the wheel as he pulled into the compound, exiting the SUV he followed his leader into the building.
“Sir, wouldn’t you rather
assign Brody to Gracie’s detail? I think they’d get along better than she and I would. We’re...” He paused, looking for the right words, words that wouldn’t offend his commander. “We’re opposites.”
general raised his brows and patted Ridge on the back. “That’s why I chose you. Let’s face it, Ridge. You follow the rules, and, well…she doesn’t. I figure one extreme deserves the other in order to restore balance.” The general strolled toward his office and left Ridge standing in the command room. The general briefly stopped before closing his door. He turned back to face Ridge. “Everything will work out fine. How hard can it be?”
felt the electrical current stirring between his fingers as he stomped down the hall to his quarters. He should have felt elated the general trusted him with the task, but all he felt was annoyed. He needed an outlet, and fast, before he said things that would land him a desk job. After changing, he entered the gym. Physical exertion would have to do to help him alleviate his frustrations. He paused at the sight of his twin. Brody was leaning against a treadmill, chatting up a little blonde batting her eyelashes. Just once, Ridge wanted to be carefree like his brother. Nothing fazed Brody; if anything, he lived to see how much trouble he could get into. Ridge was envious that Brody took nothing seriously. Just once, he wished he could do the same.
Ridge dropped his towel on the bench and ignored the flirting across the room. He shoved his
ear buds into his ears and let the music soak into his soul and the vibrations drown out his thoughts. He hit the red bag with a vengeance sending it twirling on the hook, the only outlet he ever allowed himself. Sweat dripped from his hair down onto his forehead with each powerful punch he landed on the bag. He lost himself in the music and the rhythm. For an instant his thoughts turned to what had brought him and his brother to this compound, and he quickly dismissed them. There was no room for regrets in his world; he had room for only rules and action. He punched the bag harder, each strike coiling the muscles in his arms and building another barrier around his heart. He grunted as he pounded the bag, keeping his gaze on the task at hand.
moved to the other side of the bag and held it still while Ridge punched harder, giving everything he had into beating the crap out of the red bag. Brody didn’t say a word; he just stood there, his eyes assessing as he watched Ridge take out his frustrations the only way he allowed himself.
Ridge slowed his punches, his muscles fatigued and needing a rest. He pulled the
ear buds out of his ears and grabbed his towel, swiping at the sweat across his face and from his neck.
It must be bad.” Brody chuckled. “I think they’re going to have to replace the punching bag. You sure did a number on it.”
Brody’s lips turned up in the corners. Of course Brody could chuckle
. He wasn’t the one saddled with the general’s daughter…at least not yet. Maybe there was still hope after all.
general gave me a new assignment.” Ridge walked to the cooler and pulled out a bottle of water, downing half of the contents. He let the water wash down his throat, wishing his anger could wash away with it.
Brody raised a brow. “It can’t be that bad.”
Ridge shrugged. “Not if you like hot women who can be a handful.”
He knew his brother just as well as he knew himself. Getting Brody intrigued about the possibility and pulling the hook was just what he wanted. Brody would jump at the chance to take his place and then badger the general until he agreed. Yep, this was just what he wanted.
Brody’s brows dipped. “T
hat doesn’t sound like a bad thing…actually it sounds right up my alley.” His brows relaxed. “Where do I sign up?”
Ridge folded his arms across his chest.
“Sorry, brother. I don’t think you’re qualified.”
Brody held out his arms. “Not qualified? We’re twins
, remember? Only I’m the fun one, the charming one, and you’re the stick in the mud.” Brody let his arms drop. “What was the general thinking when he chose you over the more obvious twin? I can charm the pants off anyone, anytime, anyplace.”
Ridge hesitated knowing what he was about to say was wrong on so many levels
. “It’s not like you’ve had a winning streak lately. I guess the general doesn’t think you’re up for the challenge.” Ridge tossed the towel over his shoulder momentarily regretting his words. “I actually suggested you as my replacement, and the general didn’t go for it.”
Ridge placed his palm on the metal security box
, waited for the click, and pushed through the door. He hated to undermine Brody’s confidence. Truth was Brody was the lady killer between the two of them. He exuded confidence and charm just like he said. His stomach twisted in knots at the thought of using his brother’s ego to get what he wanted, but he knew it was for the best. Gracie needed a sitter, someone more like herself, who knew what she’d be thinking before even she did. She didn’t need someone like Ridge. She needed Brody just as much as he did. He’d set the bait on the hook, and now it was a matter of time before he moved on to a more dangerous mission, one that didn’t include a sexy brunette who was clearly off limits.
Brody followed him back to his quarters and closed the door behind them. “I don’t get it.
Ridge shrugged. “I guess he trusts me not to lose sight of why I’m there. You’d have her out of her panties in the first ten min
utes and forget why you were sent in the first place.”
Brody chuckled as he plopped down on Ridge’s couch and lifted his boots
, crossing his ankles as he rested them on the coffee table. “The first ten minutes? Really, Ridge, you don’t give me enough credit; it would be more like five.” Brody rested his hands behind his head. “No woman can resist me.”
Ridge pulled two waters from his fridge and tossed one to his brother. “This one can
, and trust me when I tell you she’s too much for even you to handle.”
Brody caught the water.
“Who could possibly withstand my charm?”
down in the recliner and grabbed the remote. “Only the finest woman who’s ever set foot in this compound.” He glanced over at his brother. “Trust me. You don’t want any part of this.”
Brody pushed to his feet. “
Ridge chuckled as Brody slammed the door closed behind him. Yep, he’d set his brother up for f
ailure, but better Brody deal with the feisty woman than him. His eyes widened at the thought of Brody and Gracie together. Talk about more trouble than not. He hesitated, thinking about what he’d just done. The two of them would wreak havoc in the little town, and God forbid if they conjured a plan as their way to help take down the other territory bosses.
Ridge took a deep breath and exhaled
. With a heavy heart, he knew what he had to do. He climbed into the shower to get ready for his impromptu visit. He needed to win over the general’s daughter before Brody got it in his head he could actually take on Gracie. He didn’t stand a chance. Maybe the general had been right when he’d chosen someone as level-headed as Ridge to keep an eye on the lady.
ushed the door closed behind him after entering the general’s office. The general held up one finger and motioned for him to wait. “When they’re ready, bring them in my office.” He placed the phone on the receiver and motioned to the chair. “Just in time.”
Ridge glanced from the phone to the
general “For what?”
“I need you to take Gracie her new security badge
s to get into the compound. Since everything went down with Floyd, we’ve increased our security.” The general leaned back in his chair. “Your orders are to get close to her. Befriend her so to speak so you can keep an eye on her and that means you’re going to have to make yourself available. This can’t be handled like normal surveillance. I need you on the inside.”
Floyd had been one of the territory bosses the unit had fought against. The maniac had it in his head he could take down the Phantoms and tried to attack. Lydia, the newest member of the Phantoms
, had seen the attack in a vision and pre-warned them all. If it hadn’t been for Jamie, figuring out her past and realizing that Floyd was her father, it was possible they’d all be dead.
Ridge cleared his throat and leaned forward in his seat. “She won’t ask me to stay for dinner or drinks
. I can almost guarantee it.” He let his head drop and took a deep breath before he raised his gaze. It was time to fess up to what he’d instigated to give the general warning of his brother’s pending pestering. “I told Brody of the assignment, and I may have…” He leaned back in his chair. “Instigated his interest.”
general leaned forward, crossing his arms on his desk. “May have?”
Ridge pushed from the chair and started pacing the office. “Al
l right, I all but told him he wasn’t good enough to handle the assignment.”
general raised a brow. “You all but dared him, didn’t you?”
Ridge stopped pacing and placed his hands on the back of the chair he’d
vacated. “I thought the assignment was beneath me. I thought you could use me for a more dangerous mission.” He let his head drop. “I was wrong to question your judgment.”