Merry Christmas! Here’s the 1st chapter of MEN OF PSI: LUKE (out 1/10/23)–my gift to you! ❤ I hope you like it!
Who Are You?
“Ms. Steadfast? Can I get you anything while you wait?”
I looked back at the receptionist manning the autumn-decorated desk of Private Security International. Like the open-air lobby of the converted century-old warehouse with its white-washed interior and exposed brick walls, Mary Jane Case was not what she seemed. Her smile was professional, of course, as was the rest of her appearance. Her curly brown hair had been tamed in a neat topknot, and her makeup and nails were all perfectly on point for the role she played at PSI. On the surface, she was the expected pretty face fronting a professional business that catered to the wealthiest, most special snowflakes in the world.
But Mary Jane’s calf muscles were way too defined for a run-of-the-mill receptionist.
Her eyes were also not that of a normal meet-and-greeter. I’d been sitting long enough in PSI’s Zen-inducing waiting area to note that whenever the front door opened, the receptionist’s eyes were already trained on the visitor, looking them over in a visual frisk that missed nothing. I’d clocked the cameras outside before heading into the building myself, so it didn’t surprise me that Mary Jane had fair warning someone was about to enter her domain. What did surprise me was that in a converted warehouse full of mercenaries and soldiers of fortune, whoever was in charge had decided the building’s first line of defense—the gatekeeper—had to be this woman.
Bottom-lining it, Mary Jane Case was someone I would never mess with.
I rearranged my face into a polite smile while searching her eyes to see if she had any wayward suspicions about me. “No, but thank you. I appreciate it.”
“Of course.” Her professional smile didn’t alter as she went back to her desk, revealing absolutely nothing except those overly developed calf muscles. Talk about a standoff. Good ol’ Mary Jane and I could sit in that lobby for the next year and probably never learn what the other was thinking. Either she was as good at guarding herself as I was, or I had lost my touch when it came to sussing out a potential mark.
Maybe I’d gotten soft since trying to live on the straight and narrow.
I almost grimaced at the thought before catching the telltale expression and renewed my concentration of keeping a blank face. Yup. Definitely getting soft. I seriously needed to work on that.
“Ms. Steadfast.” A man with short graying hair and horn-rimmed glasses approached where I sat, and his suit breathed top-of-the-line in its simplicity of cut and style. Tom Ford’s Royal line for summer, if I didn’t miss my guess. “Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m Cap Fogelmann, head of PSI. Will your father be joining us?”
Well, well, the head man of PSI himself. Didn’t I feel special. “My father?”
“Yes, your email said you both have been threatened in recent weeks.”
“Ah.” What I hadn’t put in my email request for a meeting with the private security business was that my father and I hadn’t actually spoken in three years. I’d texted him to join me today—something that had twisted my stomach into queasy knots—but silence had been my only response. “I’m afraid my father’s schedule is quite a monster, Mr. Fogelmann, Not that he isn’t taking this seriously,” I hurried to assure him, trying my best to push the earnestness of a doting and dutiful daughter into my tone. “It’s just that he packs his schedule so much, trying to help those who come to his House of Enlightened Greatness, that he barely has time to take care of himself. That’s where I come in.”
Cap Fogelmann nodded. “I can understand that, and I’m sure my daughter can relate as well.” He tilted his head toward Mary Jane. “Isn’t that right, kiddo?”
“He’ll skip things like lunch and dinner if I don’t stay on him,” Mary Jane said without glancing up from reading an email. Which was just as well, since I was trying to recover from the surprise that Mary Jane and Cap were related, and I hadn’t detected even the slightest resemblance between the two. “I totally understand where you’re coming from when it comes to workaholic fathers, Miss Steadfast.”
“Please, make it Eden.” Since we had so much in common, I tried a long-suffering smile with her. “Us helicopter daughters of the world have to stick together.”
That had Mary Jane glancing up with a grin. “Absolutely, and feel free to call me Mary Jane.”
“I’ve always loved the complexity of that particular name—blessed, but bitter, and all things in between.” Eden wrinkled her nose. “Mine’s just a boring garden.”
“I would hardly call Eden boring.” With an aura of unshakable calm I could only admire, Cap Fogelmann gestured toward a hall leading into the depths of the building. “Now, if you’d like to come this way—”
The front door suddenly burst open and a man strode into the lobby, his shock of frost-tipped hair cut short on the sides and gelled into coiffed perfection an all too familiar sight.
What in the world…?
“Sorry I’m late.” My father’s right-hand man and the one person I could have pointed to as a best friend walked right up to where I stood and caught me up in a bearhug. “Traffic was murder, hon, but I got here as fast as I could. Have I missed anything?”
“Kels?” For crying out loud. I was good at putting on a front as the next person, but if no one kept me in the loop, there was nothing I could do about showing the world how flummoxed I was. “What are you doing here? My father didn’t say anything about sending you.” He hadn’t said anything at all, but that was beside the point.
Kels rolled his eyes as he let me go. “It was a last-minute thing that came up that needed his attention, so he packed everything into an envelope and shoved me out the door. Kelsey Crosby, Kels to my friends,” he added, offering a hand to Cap. “Attorney for the aforementioned Truman Steadfast and the House of Enlightened Greatness, as well as childhood friend of Eden Steadfast. We were raised like siblings, so it’s understandable Tru would send me in his stead for this all-important meeting. So.” Looking from Cap to me and back again, Kels offered a toothsome smile. “Shall we begin?”
Okie dokie, then.
A handful of minutes later we walked into a conference room with mellow cream walls and one burnt umber accent wall that had a wall-mounted flatscreen TV and an electronic console that looked like it had been boosted off the space shuttle. Professional decorator accents were all over the place, in the bronze overhead pendant lighting, the lush potted plants in the corners and the twelve umber-colored leather swivel chairs around a gleaming conference table. The color of rich brown carpeting beneath our feet was echoed in the drapes pulled back to show a view of the street below, and the interior walls of glass looking out at the hall from which we’d just come also had drapes that could be pulled for absolute privacy.
Like everywhere else I’d been in this building, discreet cameras in the upper corners of the room blinked silently, reminding me that every move was being watched. Pretending to tuck my hair back behind my ear, I used the movement to glance at Kels. He’d spotted the cameras too, and wore a placid expression.
He’d been trained by my father.
Just like me.
“If you decide to go with PSI’s security detail—and if we decide to take your case—you and your father will each be assigned a bodyguard detail. But first and foremost, our job here today is to get to know everything about you—who you are, and why you’re here.” Cap gestured to the padded leather chairs. “Have a seat. Can we get you anything before we begin?”
“Coffee with lots of cream, please.” Kels offered up a grateful smile while I shook my head and slid into a chair just one over from where Cap sat at the head of the table. Kels sat beside me, placed a soft-sided case on the table and pulled a file out of it. “While we’re waiting for that, I’d be grateful if you’d review this standard NDA that protects the interests of both Truman and his daughter, along with the Steadfast Corporation, which includes the House of Enlightened Greatness, his main charity New Hope Teen Shelters, and all business holdings pertaining to said entity.”
As Kels handed the file over and an assistant brought in his requested coffee, I turned to stare at him to see if I could actually kill someone with the force of my gaze. Nope. “This is just an initial meeting, Kels.”
“All the more reason to make certain that whatever is revealed here, stays here. I’m sure NDAs are par for the course for a private security company, since keeping secrets goes hand in hand with maintaining proper security for people who live life in the spotlight. Isn’t that right?” Kels added, looking to Cap with raised brows.
Cap tilted his head in faint acknowledgment while perusing the file’s contents. “More often than not, PSI works with people who have nondisclosure agreements at the ready—like you, Mr. Crosby. However, I have a certain soft spot for those who walk through our doors who don’t question our discretion, like your client’s daughter.” With that, he set the file aside. “I’ll have our legal department look this over and have it back to you by the end of the workday. Pending that, would you like to postpone this initial meeting?”
“Yes,” Kels said.
“No,” I said at the same time.
Kels tried to swivel my chair toward him. “Eden, I think—”
“If you were actually thinking, Kels, you’d leave my chair exactly where I want it to be.” I gave him what he wanted for just a moment and faced him. In that heartbeat of time Kels looked into my eyes and accurately read all about the murder I wanted to commit, and hastily backed away. Then I concentrated on pulling a file of my own out of my bag, and by the time I faced Cap once more I had my serene face firmly in place. “Where would you like me to begin?”
Cap lifted a shoulder. “At the beginning.”
“Of course.” I wanted desperately to grip my hands together as the tension inside me twisted my stomach into knots, but that would never do. Giving away my true feelings had been knocked out of me by the time I’d hit double digits in age. My hands remained loose and still on the chair’s armrests. “The first incident I experienced was over two months ago, in a Grover’s Food Market parking lot. A note was left on my windshield, threatening both me and my father. I’m the only one who’s touched that note, so it’s in that file in a protective plastic bag in the same condition as when I found it. Also, there’s a USB drive in there showing video of all the cars in the parking lot at the time I discovered the note. Then—”
“Who took the video?”
“I did. Then about a week later, a dead cat was left on the hood of my car, a cat that looked virtually identical to a cat I’d been photographed with when I was a child. The image of that cat can still be found all over the internet, as my father once used a New Year’s photo of us—with me holding that cat—as part of a promotional campaign to show how family-oriented HEG is. Again, I took video of all the cars and people around me the moment I found the dead animal.”
Cap went through the file and paused on the picture of the dead animal that clearly had been shot. “HEG?”
“House of Enlightened Greatness,” Kels supplied. “It’s not a church, but rather a nondenominational gathering place for people seeking enlightenment.”
“But it does practice the basics of prosperity theology, correct?”
So he knew what HEG was, I thought, watching his face for any telltale expressions. Yet there he sat, asking us questions about it. Why? What was he looking for?
“It’s more of a prosperity belief system,” Kels said, looking earnest. It was a look that rubes had fallen for since the time he’d been a teen, and I almost grinned with nostalgia when I saw it now. “Tru Steadfast refuses to call his belief system a theology, as that might have connotations of a specific religion, and he’s all about welcoming everyone looking for answers on how to unlock their potential greatness. Motivational speaker is his official job description, though he’s been called a guru, a mentor, even a rabbi, but I assure you he’s none of these things. He refuses to allow the world’s stifling labels or preconceived notions of religion to prevent him from reaching out to anyone who wants to unlock their potential greatness.”
“I see.” As Kels spoke, I watched Cap’s expression and had to give him props for taking all this in without a blink or even a dubious scoff. Instead, he glanced over at me and tapped a finger on the file I’d given him. “This is a pretty thick file. How many instances of harassment and stalking have you documented?”
“Six. The last occurred almost four weeks ago when my tires were slashed at my house in the middle of the night. But that was also the event where I almost caught them, whoever they are. I haven’t been bothered with another visit since.”
Cap’s brows drew together. “What do you mean, you almost caught them?”
In half a heartbeat I weighed all the possible outcomes of telling the truth, and ultimately couldn’t find a downside. “I mean that I have a decent security system at my place, though I’m sure it’s nothing that you all are used to. The video footage of the intruder coming up to slash my tires is also on that thumb drive, and though he or she is wearing a ski mask, they show up pretty well on the video. What you don’t see is that as they run out of frame, I’m running out of the house barefoot and in my pajamas. I chased them down the driveway while shooting at them with a BB gun.”
Cap’s brows remained raised. “A BB gun.”
“It looks like a handgun, but it’s actually just a BB gun. It’s a leftover from my childhood,” I explained on a pained sigh when he continued to stare at me. “When my father first started HEG, he wanted to show off what his darling daughter could do.” I thought it best not to mention that my skills up to that point in life were things that could have gotten the both of us arrested, so I kept to another set of facts. “I don’t know how to play any musical instruments, seeing me dance might cause terminal hysteria, and my singing usually makes people run to the other side of the globe.”
“She’s really terrible,” Kels offered confidentially.
I didn’t bother to roll my eyes. “The one thing I’ve always been able to do is hit a target, whether it’s with a pellet gun or darts, or even a bean bag. When my father realized this, he enrolled me in junior shooting competitions and took videos of me doing my thing. Our internal research showed that those videos played well, especially in the southern and southwestern demographics.”
Cap seemed to take all of this in stride. “If you’re that good of a shot, and you know you’ve got a stalker problem, why use a BB gun? Why not an actual gun?”
I wondered if feeling the blood drain to my knees was just my imagination, or if I’d actually lost color. “I might be able to shoot, Mr. Fogelmann, but you’re talking about shooting at another human being. I would think you’d understand better than most that there’s a difference between being able to shoot, and being able to shoot a person.”
Again, Cap tilted his head in acknowledgment. “All right, I think that’ll do for our basic assessment.” He motioned to one of the cameras. “Come on in, Luke. Let’s talk.”
“Luke?” Beside me, Kels looked from the camera to Cap. “What is this? Weren’t you supposed to be doing the evaluation?”
“I never said that.” Cap’s poker face didn’t ripple as someone moved past the glass walls of the conference room toward the door. “I’m a good read when it comes to people, but I’m nothing compared to our Quantico-trained profiler. When I was in the military I did a tour of duty with this man, and I can guarantee you that he’s the best profiler this world has to offer. He’s the man I asked to evaluate you and your story while I conducted this little interview.”
Kels’s scowl was impressive. “Our story? I find that insulting. Do you usually treat prospective clients as potential guilty parties?”
“The famous ones, yes,” came the jaw-dropping reply. “Past history has shown me that famous people usually have much more to hide than regular folks, and the things they hide could get my people killed. Over the years I’ve learned to make sure I turn over as many rocks as possible before taking on famous clientele. If you don’t like that, you know where the door is, Mr. Crosby.”
Predictably, Kels came to his feet. “Fine. Eden?”
I remained seated, turning only to watch the man—Luke—enter the room.
That’s what this man was—absolute hell on wheels, at least when it came to someone like me. Open books and wilting flowers wouldn’t have a problem with this guy, because he’d no doubt tear them apart in thirty seconds and walk away with their souls tucked in his pocket before they even knew what had hit them. If I’d run into him as a child, it would have been on accident and not as the usual ruse to pick his pocket. This man was no easy mark.
So what was he?
Dangerous, my mind whispered back while my heart began to pound. So, so dangerous.
His eyes were as beautiful as they were terrifying. Electric blue and somehow unblinking, it was as if he had the ability to see everything—in the room, in my mind, maybe even in that thing I optimistically called my soul.
How was it possible those eyes could be both breathtaking and my worst possible nightmare?
Grimly I stared back at him, though it took all my will to do it, and tried to assess the rest of him. Bronze-colored hair that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be brown or dark red, cut short and in a subtle fade, and so thick my fingers had the oddest urge to sift through it. Broad shoulders told the story of a man who didn’t just sit around evaluating people all day—another reason not to mess with him, my mind diligently noted while I watched him round the table to take a chair directly opposite me. His skin was a pale gold, like his summer tan was slowly fading, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his perfectly straight, aristocratic nose did their damnedest to charm me.
I wasn’t about to be charmed.
But not charmed.
How could I be charmed when every instinct I had screamed that an enemy had just entered the room?
“Well.” Clearly flustered that I hadn’t gotten up in a huff, Kels looked like he didn’t know whether to retake his seat or drag me out of my chair. “Eden, let’s go. We don’t approve of being treated like common criminals.”
To my shock, the man seated across from me burst out laughing, all the while never looking away from me.
“Damn, that’s hilarious,” he announced to no one in particular, while his eyes bored into mine.
Blink, you fucker. Blink, for God’s sake…
Life was strange. One minute my family’s being harassed by a stalker, the next I’m in a staring contest with the world’s most dangerous man. Any second now I expected a meteor to come barreling in and wipe us all off the map. It wouldn’t even surprise me.
“I beg your pardon?” Kels sputtered, sounding like he was about to blow a gasket.
The blue-eyed monster seated across from me ignored him. “Who are you?”
Without warning, my throat locked up.
“This is my client, Eden Steadfast, the daughter of Truman Steadfast, quite possibly the greatest motivational speaker who ever lived,” Kels all but shouted. Clearly he didn’t appreciate being ignored, if his volume stuck on high was any indication. “And I will ask you again, what’s hilarious?”
“You’re hilarious, telling this woman what to think. Or feel. Or do. Or say.” Slowly the man named Luke shook his head. “Nah, that’s never going to fly with this lady.”
“Interesting.” Braiding his fingers together, Cap leaned back in his chair. “Luke Keyes, Eden Steadfast and her family’s attorney, Kelsey Crosby. Why do you say that would never fly with this lady, Luke?”
“I’m not getting a lot off of her yet, but this much I do know—she doesn’t scare easily, if at all.”
How amazing it was, that they were so comfortable talking about me like I wasn’t even there. If I could get my damn throat open, I’d tell them both to go to hell.
“I mean, think about it, Cap,” the blue-eyed devil went on. “Someone gets harassed, they don’t usually respond by filming all the nearby cars and people around them so they can get their hands on them later if they need to. Nor do they think to put the harassing note in a baggie, at least not right away. Normal people freak the hell out, then get scared, then call the police. That’s just the natural order of things.”
“That may be the natural order of things for normal people, as you say, but the police have never been overly helpful in situations like this.” At last Kels retook his seat, and I had to admire the tone he’d chosen to hit—vaguely condescending to cover up the defensiveness he had to be feeling. The way he kept glancing at Luke Keyes told me he was about as thrilled with having PSI’s expert profiler there as I was. “This isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve dealt with overzealous fans in the past, and contacting the authorities isn’t worth the publicity. All it usually does is create an outbreak of copycat stalkers, and before you know it a small flame suddenly becomes a raging forest fire.”
“That’s why I came to Private Security International, rather than the police.” At last my throat loosened enough for me to speak, and I gave myself a mental pat on the back for sounding calm, if stressed. Considering the situation stress was a given, so I leaned into it and hoped I’d score some sympathy points. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to shake off this stalker by myself—you know, trying to show a brave front to make them think I wasn’t scared. Refusing to give a bully what they want, which is usually fear or distress, seemed like the fastest way to get rid of them.”
“I take it that didn’t work?” Cap asked, not sounding surprised.
I shook my head, wondering if I should throw in a dainty, woe-is-me sniffle. Probably not. “No, but I didn’t feel that the situation was escalating. As I said, I really haven’t been bothered since the slashed tires incident almost a month ago, and I thought I was coping pretty well. But then I caught my father’s latest podcast two nights ago. That’s when I realized I wasn’t the only one having problems.” With that, I took my phone out of my bag, hit the right app, and set the phone down with the volume up.
“…and sad to say, sometimes you can measure the success you’ve garnered for yourself by the amount of strife the outside world throws at you.” My father’s voice, folksy with echoes of his Kentucky boyhood, filled the room. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, y’all. For weeks now, I’ve been plagued by all manner of slings and arrows—harassing calls in the middle of the night, packages addressed to me filled with unspeakable foulness, even a brick thrown through the window of our New Hope Teen Shelter in downtown Chicago just last night. Where’s it all coming from? I’ll tell you where. Small-minded people whose jealousy and resentment have stunted their inner growth, and honestly, I pity them. Their pettiness keeps them chained to an existence that has no meaning. They have yet to realize all the energy they’re expending on me should be used on fixing what’s wrong with them. How I wish I could sit down with them, share with them a space that’s peaceful and welcoming. Then I’d look them in the eye, tell them they’re forgiven, they’re loved, and they’ll always be safe with me as they work on confronting their innermost truths. Then I’d invite them to dig down into their heart to work on those truths, and I wouldn’t leave their side until they unravel what’s holding them back from their greatness. We all have that greatness inside of us, you know. I have it, and I’m not ashamed to tell y’all about it. I know you have it, because you’re smart enough to be listening to me now. Don’t be ashamed to admit you’re brilliant. In fact, say it with me. You. Are. Brilliant. You know it. Let’s focus now on that breathtaking greatness of yours, and manifest it into the kind of success you damn well know you deser—”
I reached over and hit pause, then forced my gaze back to the blue-eyed monster across from me. “A minute later I texted my father, wanting details. The harassment he’s been experiencing has been going on for weeks. That’s when I decided to call PSI, and here we are.”
“So you don’t live with your father?”
“What an odd question.” I tilted my head, trying to see him from another perspective. Nope. Still terrifying. “By any chance were you raised by a domineering, older male chauvinist? Or perhaps you belong to some orthodox religious order where all the females of the family have to stay at home until they marry?”
His smile was sharp enough to cut. “We ask the questions, Ms. Steadfast, not the other way around.”
I changed my face, aiming for bewildered. “Okay. Sorry. Far be it from me to question the male authority who thinks that I should still live with my father at the age of twenty-eight.”
“The man I just heard on that pod is all about control—controlling people by pushing their buttons without them ever even realizing he’s playing them. He works to get them hooked on all those feel-good dopamine hits by telling them how great they are. A man like that doesn’t like to lose control of the people in his sphere, especially those who are closest to him. Like a daughter, for instance.”
Holy crap, he got all that from just a few measly sentences off a podcast? “If Truman Steadfast were such a control freak, he would have been the one to contact PSI for help, not me.”
He shook his head, and still he didn’t frigging blink. “Nope. Generally speaking, control freaks never admit they need help, so it’s no wonder that you—not your father—were the one to send up a flare. Then again, you sent that flare up because you believed he needed help. Not you.”
Was he probing around to see if I had any control-freak tendencies myself, or was he looking for something more? When in doubt, staying in the neighborhood of the truth had to be my best policy. “It doesn’t make sense that I’m the actual target. When it comes to HEG, I’m not important. I’m not even in the public eye anymore, I haven’t been for years. My father is.”
Luke Keyes lifted a careless shoulder. “The majority of stalking victims aren’t famous, they’re just regular people trying to live regular lives. What’s more, you used to be famous—Tru’s perfect little blonde baby angel with eyes as big and green as a kitten’s, and a smile pure enough to make the heavens weep. It makes perfect sense that you’d be a target.”
It had to be my imagination that his gaze lingered caressingly over my hair, eyes and mouth as he spoke of them. “You’re not helping the state of my nerves.”
“I’m not here to help the state of your nerves.”
Clearly. “Then what are you here for?”
“To find the truth of you.”
I’d die before admitting his statement made my blood run cold. “The only truth that matters to me is that I’m not the real target here. My father is the one with a target on his back, and that’s what has me worried enough to be here today.”
“But it can’t be overlooked that you’ve been attacked as well.” This came from Cap, who tapped the folder I’d given him. “Threatening notes, a dead animal, slashed tires. What else?”
Ugh. “It’s sophomoric, really. The day after I got the note on my windshield, a dead rat came in the mail. There were a couple of whispery phone calls that may or may not have been a bad connection. Just last week there was a delivery order of my favorite combo plate of salmon sashimi and a California roll. Strangely enough it was paid for, but of course I didn’t eat it. I no longer go into my DMs on any of my social media platforms because they’ve been inundated with garbage—as much as twenty DMs in a single day, all saying basically the same thing as the note on my car. I turned off my notifications weeks ago and just stopped looking.”
“‘Eden Steadfast, you dumb bitch, you’re first. Then your bullshit-artist father will meet you in hell.’ Charming.” Cap read the plastic-covered note, then handed it over to Luke. “If we were to take your case, we would need full access to all your social media platforms, as well as computers and phones, both at home and at work.”
I nodded. “Of course.”
“Because Eden no longer has any affiliation with House of Enlightened Greatness, the verbal agreement she just gave does not encompass her father, HEG, New Hope Teen Shelters in Illinois or surrounding states, or any of Tru Steadfast’s legal holdings and subsidiaries,” Kels said, and it took all my strength to not turn and give him another death glare. Nitpicking was the hallmark of any decent attorney, certainly. But if he kept going on as if this were just a dry contract negotiation, I was going to have to knock his block off.
Instead, I plucked my phone off the table. “Do you know if any of HEG’s social media platforms or my father’s Twitter feed has gotten anything like what’s going on in my DMs?” I opened up a social media platform at random and gave Kels my phone so he could scroll through my DMs. When his eyes widened, I knew I’d gotten through to him. “That’s just one social media site, Kels. I have four, and they’re all like that, or at least they were the last time I checked on them a few weeks ago. Tell me, do you like the pictures taken of me while I’m in line waiting for my coffee order? Or how about that one of me getting my hair done? I look so sexy with aluminum all over my head while getting those post-summer honey-toned highlights, don’t you think? The real question is, is my father getting this much harassment as well?”
“If he is, we’ll find out.” Cap took the phone when Kels tried handing it back to me, scrolled through it for a while, then handed it to Luke. “Though Mr. Crosby is correct, Ms. Steadfast. Your father will have to agree to allow us full entry into all his devices, and his life, if we are to provide security for him.”
“I’ll talk to him first thing tomorrow.” Though the very thought of coming face-to-face with my father after three years made me want to hyperventilate.
“Good. But whether or not he agrees with our policies is irrelevant at the moment. Right now you are my main concern.”
I blinked. What did I do? “Me? Why?”
He nodded at my phone, still in Luke’s hands. “That’s a hell of a lot of pressure being thrown your way, from someone who’s very clearly stalking you. When someone takes pictures of you as you go through your everyday life, they want you to know how close they are. How easy it would be for them to reach out and get you. They’re doing it to scare you. To threaten you. To make your life unlivable.”
“And you’re helping them,” Luke Keyes put in as he at last handed my phone back, and for some reason he looked pissed off, like he thought it was my fault I was being targeted. “You’re helping them, because you’re not taking this threat seriously.”
“I’m here, aren’t I?” I countered on a huff. Damn it, this wasn’t my fault. “Isn’t that proof I’m taking this situation very seriously?”
“You came in only after learning your father was also being harassed. And you said you’ve had six instances of being targeted, yeah? I just scrolled through at least fifty threats on your phone, and that was just me looking for the highlights. Obviously you need to get your damn eyes open and see how much danger you’re in.”
“My team and I will have a meeting on whether or not we’ll accept your case,” Cap put in calmly before I could answer. “If everyone’s on board, we’ll get a standard contract drawn up and have your family’s attorney look through it. Once you sign on the dotted line, you will have around-the-clock protection.”
Wow. That escalated quickly. “I… understand.”
“I hope you do, Ms. Steadfast,” came the swift reply. “We’re a professional outfit, and when we’re on bodyguard detail, we do our best to be unobtrusive and accommodating. But in the past we’ve had clients who hired us, then turned right around and tried to ditch us, like our job is some cutesy little game of hide-and-seek. Then there are those clients who withhold crucial information from us. One time a PSI team member nearly shot the secret lover of a client because said client did their best to hide that person’s existence from us. So be warned now—we do not put up with any interference in how we guard you. We know how to do our job, and our job is to keep you alive. Not happy, not pampered, not at your convenience. Alive. Understood?”
What I understood was that my life was about to get turned upside down, and I was paying for the privilege of it. “Understood.” “Once my team gives the go-ahead on your case, we’ll send over the contract.”
I hope you all enjoyed my gift to you! From my family to yours, I wish you a warm, safe and joy-filled holiday season!
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