Authors: Kate Allenton
Brody leaned over and kissed the top of her head as they stood in front of the SUV. “Be careful, princess. I’m not sure the king could handle it if anything happened to you.”
With renewed humiliation she looked away. “I will.” She started walking back to her house and abruptly stopped spinning around on him once again “Now that you know, you can get Ridge to back off. I’m sure the date was just to get the information I already gave you.”
Brody chuckled. “Sugar, if you believe that, then you don’t know a thing about my brother. He wants to take you out….so let him. You never know
. You two just might hit it off.”
Brody climbed behind the wheel and left Gracie standing in her yard. A glance to Gracie’s window
confirmed the feeling someone was watching him. Her friend Tara was standing in full view, not peeking or trying to hide. She wasn’t afraid of being caught. Brody chuckled again as he backed out of the drive. Maybe sticking close to Gracie wasn’t such a bad idea at all. Her father was right; she did need a babysitter.
A knock on the
door aroused Ridge from his recliner, where he’d been sitting lost in thought about a certain brunette. He was failing his mission. As Ridge reached for the door, the knob turned; and Brody barged in with bags in his hands almost knocking Ridge over.
“I’ve stopped by and talked to Gracie and convinced her to tell me what she’s up to.” He s
et the bags down and laid the garment bag across the arm of the couch. “And, brother, let me just say…you’ve got your hands full.”
“How did you get her to talk?”
“How I convinced her isn’t the right question.” Brody
sat on the couch and started pulling stuff out of the bags sitting it on the table. “You should be asking how the hell you’re going to keep her from doing something stupid.”
Ridge plopped down in his recliner and ran a hand through his hair. “
What am I up against?”
Brody paused from emptying the bag. “You really want to know?”
Ridge narrowed his eyes. “Yes, damn it!”
His brother chuckled and leaned back on the couch. “She plans to get another job working with these assholes in an attempt to get close. She’s using the fundraiser as her foot in the door.”
“You can’t be serious. She’s lucky she didn’t get hurt last time. What the hell is she thinking?”
Brody nodded. “She’s
thinking she can save everyone, and Jacobs is here to help her.”
raised a brow. “I’m not sure I follow. What does Jacobs have to do with this?”
Brody picked up the closest electronic package and started opening it. “It’s simple really
. He’s not from here. He doesn’t have any ties to the unit, and even better, he’s not a distraction. He can keep an open mind and watch her back, and no one will think twice about it since he’s an unknown.” He gnawed on his bottom lip for a brief second. “It’s kinda smart when you think about it.”
Ridge pushed from the chair and started pacing the length of
the well-worn path in his tiny living room. “I don’t like it. It’s too dangerous. I need to tell the general.”
Raising a brow and abandoning his rummage through the bags, Brody glanced up.
“If you go running to daddy, you’re never going to gain her trust, and isn’t that what you’re after?”
pinched the bridge of his nose and clenched his eyes closed trying to push back a headache that was forming. “What the hell do you expect me to do? I can’t sit by and do nothing.”
His brother stood
, picked up the garment bag, and handed it to him. “We’re not going to.” Brody glanced down at his watch. “You need to go change, or you’re going to be late. I’ll fill you in on the way.”
to his room, Ridge pulled the zipper down. The black tuxedo lay in the garment bag.
This can’t be good.
Ridge pulled on the penguin suit and ran a brush and gel through his hair, styling it before he emerged back into the living room. “How exactly am I going to convince her to let me help?”
Brody patted his brother on the back. “Simple really, you’ll tell her
it’s her only option. Either she agrees or you call in the rest of the unit and/or blow her cover she’s so fond of. She’ll have no other choice but to agree.”
all of his new toys into the black leather tote bag, Brody started walking toward the door. He tossed Ridge the keys. “You’re driving.”
“I don’t even know where the hell we’re going.”
Ridge followed Brody through the intel room. Jonah was nowhere to be seen. They pushed through the door and out into the parking lot and climbed into the SUV.
“We’re going to the country club. We already have eyes inside and the place wired with c
ameras now that we know where she’s going. Gracie is convinced the heavy hitters at this party are somehow in bed with Floyd’s replacement.” Brody pulled out a watch and handed it to Ridge. “You’re going to need this too.”
Ridge glanced down at the familiar watch. “Who
se is it?”
Jonah copied the schematics from Lydia’s watch. It has a tracker woven into the band and will give us your location, just in case. But it had one major overhaul added; it has a microscopic microphone in the face of the watch. You’ll be able to communicate back.”
Ridge pulled the SUV over and fastened the watch around his wrist. Brody held out an earpiece. “This will be virtually undetectable, but it will allow you to hear us, in case we spot a problem.”
Ridge shoved the earpiece in his ear.
handed him a small black box. Ridge opened it to find contacts. He turned toward his brother. “You know I don’t wear contacts.”
“These aren’t just contacts
, brother. These will let us see what you see. Jonah will be in a truck nearby and running a scan on all of the faces, so make sure you get a good look at everyone.”
Ridge gently placed the lenses in his eye and blinked rapidly. They felt foreign on his eyes
, but there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help the unit. The thought gave him pause. Hadn’t Gracie done the same thing?
Ridge put the SUV back in drive and pulled back out on the asphalt. “
Anything else I need to know?”
Brody leaned back in his seat. “Just remember t
o keep your eyes above her neck or you won’t be the only one checking out her assets.”
Ridge nodded. “Where is Jonah parked?”
Brody motioned his head in the direction of a black van nestled in the back of the parking lot. “He’s over there. We’re doing onsite surveillance, and I’ll be with him.” He patted his brother on the back and opened the passenger door as he handed him the invitation. “You’re going to need this.”
“How did you get an invite?”
“I can’t help it if a certain blonde thinks I’m charming.” Brody chucked. “Good luck explaining to Gracie why you showed up.” He chuckled. “Come to think about it, maybe you should have brought a date.”
Ridge slid out of the car and pocketed the keys. “I’ll figure something out.” He walked into the party
, hoping he did indeed figure out what he was going to tell Gracie. Not only was she at a party with some shady characters, she was with Jacobs. He spotted her when he first stepped foot into the swanky country club. Ridge moved around the outer wall as he let himself get lost in the crowd, not ready to explain why exactly he was there.
Men in tuxedos and women in ball gown
s crowded the table and dance floors. A twelve-piece orchestra played from a stage set above the dancing crowd. The soft melody drifted to his ears. The lights were dimmed and giving off a romantic vibe, if it weren’t for the three hundred in attendance.
Ridge slid up to the open bar and ordered a beer. He was going to need something to get him through tonight. He glanced down at his watch and mumbled
, “Testing, do you copy?”
, annoying voice filled his ears. “Check out your three o’clock.”
Ridge swung his gaze to the right and down the length of the bar. A blonde woman in a
red silk gown stood sipping her champagne. Her eyes were drinking him in. Ridge clenched his free fist and averted his gaze to the portly man standing nearby before he turned on his heel. “Focus, Brody.”
Ridge let his gaze fall on everyone around him
, spending ample time studying the faces and letting his lenses adjust to get the needed information.
comm in his ear clicked. “It might be helpful if you moved to another location to get a better look. We’ve got detail at your six with the same gear. The exits are covered, and visuals are being taken of everyone that’s coming and going, so quit being a wallflower.”
Ridge left the sanctuary he’d found and stepped out into the crowd as he mumbled
, “If you think you can do it better, Brody, we can switch places. I’m sure you wear the same size.” Ridge clenched his teeth and slowly scanned everyone he passed. “Got a hit yet?”
“A lot of CEOs
, not much else.”
Ridge halted in mid stride. “Oh shit.
I’ve been made.”
“What, who is it?”
Ridge lowered his gaze to the floor and quickly stepped out of the double doors into the courtyard beyond. “She spotted me, and she looks pissed.”
“Man up. She’s following you.”
Ridge turned before Gracie stepped out under the night sky. He let his gaze drift over her black satin gown. Her hair was shiny and sleek and straight down her back. She was more beautiful than he could have ever imagined. She slowly walked over to him and crossed her arms over her chest. The move lifted and pushed out her breasts. He was helpless not to notice as his gaze followed suit. His brother’s voice rang in his ears. “Thanks for the show.”
Ridge snapped his gaze up to her face. “You look stunning.”
Her cheeks reddened, either from the compliment or how mad she was. “I see Brody couldn’t keep his mouth shut.”
“Hey.” His brother’s voice came through the
comm, and Ridge clenched his eyes closed. He wasn’t sure he could have this conversation with Brody in his head, but seeing how he didn’t want to give away the fact that he was wearing an earpiece, he’d muddle through it for now.
“He told me what was going on
, and you can’t blame me for coming.”
She lifted a brow. “Afraid I can’t take care of myself?”
Ridge shook his head. “Hardly. I’m just here helping out in the recon.” His gaze went briefly to the door before meeting hers again. “There are more of us in there.” His expression changed in a way she couldn’t decipher. “Why are you out here? I thought you didn’t want to be seen with anyone from the base.”
Gracie let her gaze fall to her three
-inch heels before she glanced back up at him. “I already got what I came here for. I have a meeting with Mr. Sinclair tomorrow about a possible job.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Jacobs and I are going to mingle and see what else we can find out before we leave, although I don’t think we’ll find anything and he wasn’t too pleased I came outside to talk to you.”
No sooner did the words leave her lips before Jacobs stepped out through the doors
. His gaze went from Gracie to Ridge and back. “You okay?”
She placed a small smile on her face. “I’m fine. Thanks
He nodded at her and narrowed his eyes at Ridge. “Give me the signal if you aren’t.”
Ridge reached for her hand and kissed her knuckles. “The lady said she’s fine. I won’t let anything happen to her.”
Gracie gave a slow nod. “He’s on our side.”
Ethan nodded once and vanished back inside the country club.
Brody’s voice chirped in his ear. “Well played
, brother, but you’re wasting time, and Jonah’s getting antsy.” Brody’s comment reminded Ridge that he wasn’t alone with Gracie. He’d wanted to grab her and pull her close and kiss some sense into her, but Brody was right; he wasn’t alone. He didn’t need the other guys in the unit questioning their relationship when he was still trying to figure it out himself. He let her hand drop and shook his head. She was an assignment, nothing more. “I’ll let you get back.”
She stepped closer. “Ridge…”
Ridge rubbed her arms. “We’ll talk later, Gracie. I think your date is waiting.”
Gracie’s eyes searched his as if trying to see clear down to his soul. It was in that moment he wished i
t were just the two of them. He would have been free to act on these foreign feelings he had for her. Her lids slid closed as she nodded. “You’re right. I don’t want to keep Ethan waiting.”
She lifted her chin and squared her shoulders
. “Goodnight, Ridge.” She turned on her heel and left him standing where she’d found him. His stomach sank as he watched her leave.
Gracie spotted Ethan across the ballroom. Her eyes locked with his, and in seconds, he was by her side, sliding her hand into the crook of his elbow. He leaned down and whispered, “Is everything all right?”
Gracie nodded. “Some guys from the unit are here
. They’re doing their own recon.”
“Ah. I thought so. I’ve already spotted a few
.” He tilted his head to people around the exits. “There…there…and there.”
Gracie let her gaze follow his and almost gasped in surprise. She hadn’t noticed the guys before now. She hadn’t been paying attention to her surrounding
s. It was a damn good thing she was with someone who was. She let her eyes travel over all of the familiar and not-so-familiar faces until they settled on one man in particular, a tall, dark-haired older gentleman speaking with Sinclair. The lines on his face were hardened into a scowl. He didn’t look happy to be at the party, but then again, she wasn’t either. He looked up and held her gaze from across the room. She watched as his unwelcome gaze traveled down her body and back up, making her feel a bit violated, a feeling she’d only experienced once in her life. A fear crept into her bones. She couldn’t put her finger on how she knew the man was bad news…she just did. Sinclair, the younger man, and the dark-eyed man glanced in her direction, and Sinclair nodded. The younger man’s eyes widened.