Home > Red After Dark (Blackwood Security, #13)

Red After Dark (Blackwood Security, #13)
Author: Elise Noble


CHAPTER 1 - BETHANY

IF TWO WEEKS ago, somebody had told me that I’d be sitting on a private jet heading for an apparently luxurious estate near Richmond, Virginia, I’d have died laughing.

But there I was, and quite honestly, there was nothing funny about the situation.

In fact, everyone on board looked tense.

Emmy Black was sitting at the table up front, pieces of gun spread out across the polished black wood in front of her. She’d been cleaning the thing since we left Northolt. When we hit turbulence half an hour ago, the bullets had all rolled onto the floor, and she’d cursed like hell while she crawled around retrieving them. Then she’d lined them up neatly on end again, exactly the same as they were before.

Sky Malone, her not-quite-eighteen-year-old sidekick, had downed a large glass of wine as soon as we levelled out, and now she was sprawled on the grey leather sofa, lips twitching. Even in sleep, she was unsettled. Could I blame her? Not really. She’d quit her whole life to work for Emmy, left everything she knew, and no way would Emmy give her an easy ride.

And then there was Alaric. My hot new boss. My hot new totally off-limits boss who rumour said had stolen ten million dollars from the FBI, then done a bunk. I was almost certain that he hadn’t. Almost. There was still a tiny niggle at the back of my mind that wouldn’t let me trust him completely. I knew he lied. I’d seen him do it, smoothly, convincingly, without a hint of guilt clouding those soft brown eyes.

The last passenger was Ravi, Alaric’s friend and colleague, and now my colleague too. I’d just been hired as a PA at Sirius, the private intelligence agency they ran along with two others—Judd and Naz.

“Having second thoughts?” Alaric asked.

“Of course not,” I lied.

How could I not be having second thoughts? I’d abandoned my old life too. First, I got fired from my job, and then I walked away from my family and my inheritance. My ex-husband as well, although I didn’t miss him one bit. In the decade we’d spent married, Piers had turned from a slightly cocky trainee dentist into an obnoxious, philandering prick whose brain in no way matched the size of his overinflated ego.

The last fortnight had been fraught with drama—drama that started when Sky pinched my car. After that, I discovered I’d been inadvertently transporting stolen goods, which quickly got stolen again, and before we could think about recovering them, my friend got abducted by a psycho. Right now, my brain was still trying to catch up.

“Because I’d understand if you were reconsidering. Has your father called again?”

“Once this morning, but I didn’t answer.”

What would I say to him? I doubted very much he was calling to apologise. My father never said he was sorry. Not for selling my beloved horse behind my back, not for pushing me to stay with a man who’d cheated on me, not for his own extramarital affairs. No, if I spoke to him, he’d only pressure me to change my mind, to come back into the fold and toe the family line.

But no more.

Once I’d made the decision to go it alone, a weight had lifted. Yes, the future was daunting, but better to face the unknown than the certainty of being yanked back every time I made a decision that disappointed my parents, and threatened with being cut off financially if I ploughed ahead anyway.

“It gets easier, Beth. I promise.”

I had to believe that. The same thing had happened to Alaric eight years ago, and he’d survived. I suspected that was partly why he’d given me the job with Sirius. Out of pity. That and guilt because he’d been instrumental in me getting fired from Pemberton Fine Arts—the gallery where I used to work—in the first place.

“Holy shit.”

Emmy’s quiet exclamation made everyone look up. Well, everyone except Sky because she was still fast asleep.

“What?” Alaric was at her side in an instant, looking over her shoulder at the phone in her hand.

“Irvine Carnes just endorsed Kyla Devane for his old senate seat.”

Alaric gave a low whistle of surprise, so clearly that was unexpected, but I had no idea why. All I knew was that Irvine Carnes was somehow wrapped up in the disappearance of the aforementioned stolen goods, seeing as it was his assistant who’d picked up the package in London and then fled the country.

“For those of us who don’t follow American politics, could you explain?” I asked.

“Carnes is a Republican, Devane’s independent,” Emmy said, as if that answered everything.

“Carnes recently retired from the senate,” Alaric explained. “Said he wanted to spend more time with his family. Everyone expected him to throw his weight behind the next Republican on the ballot for the special election to replace him. Carnes is well-liked in Kentucky, so his opinion carries a lot of sway. For him to push Devane instead of David Biggs…that’s huge.”

“So why would he do it?” Ravi asked. “Does he have a problem with Biggs personally?”

“Not that I’m aware of. Their policies align, and Biggs seems like an okay guy.”

Emmy snorted. “The term ‘okay’ being relative. Biggs is a lawyer turned politician. He checked his morals at the door.”

Considering Emmy had thrown a man off a building two days ago, I wasn’t sure she was the best person to make that argument, but then again, I’d had a hand in helping her. I kept my mouth shut.

“Maybe it was tactical?” Alaric suggested. “Devane’s been surging in the polls, and Aidan O’Shaughnessy’s been rising too. Perhaps Carnes figured that if Biggs was going to lose, Devane was the lesser of two evils.”

“But is she though? I heard she wanted the US to pull out of UN peacekeeping operations.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“From the horse’s mouth. Her Twitter account. Apparently, the US military’s just too expensive, and those countries should be fighting their own battles.” Emmy gave her head a little shake. “No, Carnes’s move doesn’t make sense. If he’d publicly backed Biggs, Biggs’s poll numbers would’ve gotten a boost.”

“Then why do it?”

“Who knows? Maybe we’re missing something.”

“Like what?”

“If we knew that, it wouldn’t be fucking missing, would it? But I’m curious. Aren’t you curious? Let’s add it to the list of questions when we talk to Carnes and his assistant.”

I had to admit, I was curious. I’d long since learned from my father’s cronies that when a politician did the unexpected, it was usually to benefit themselves rather than the country. Like the time Digby Bartrum, MP for Surrey Heath and Daddy’s doubles partner, had awarded the contract for a new government computer system to a company my parents had invested in, despite it being more expensive than the other options. They’d split the spoils. I heard them bragging about it over drinks.

“Why not? Sure we can’t fly straight to Frankfort?”

“Sky needs to go to Richmond. Plus I have a meeting, and it’s already been rescheduled twice thanks to all the shit that happened in London.”

Alaric sighed, and Emmy’s tone softened.

“We’ve been chasing this painting for eight years, Prince. Another day won’t make much difference.”

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