Shane watched the woman work. Despite the bandaged arm, she typed at a furious pace, switching between open tabs on her computer, completely absorbed in her work to the exclusion of anything else. He had watched her for nearly an hour now, as the sun slipped slowly down behind the horizon and darkness stole across the expanse of steel and glass, removing the harsh glare.
The office was large, meandering, with a mixture of both antique and modern influences – in its furnishings and knickknacks. Outside of Lila’s office was a large Oriental wardrobe that was in pristine condition, its lacquer shone, despite being hundreds of years old. The company was family-owned and family run. Shane had learned that Mrs. Kurgen spent several months each year traveling the world and collecting treasures. Never satisfied to limit herself to one culture or region, Mrs. Kurgen’s collection spanned the world.
He had heard this from the receptionist, Trish, who practically trembled in her seat whenever he smiled at her. She had rattled on for a while on about the 15th-century artifacts in the west wing, which apparently included a full set of armor worn by a duke or European prince. He had just smiled and nodded as the girl stammered on.
In another life, he would have taken advantage of the situation. It wouldn’t have been hard to cross the line and use his charms on this slip of a girl – either to find his way to her bedroom or found out when and where the security detail passed through. Hell, he would have seduced her while he sent a team in to clean the place out of all of its expensive, rare artifacts. Get laid and rake in the cash. How many times had he done it? Too many to count. But that had been another life and a whole other set of choices.
Instead, he smiled at the girl and watched her body and mind struggle to maintain a professional appearance. A few well-placed inquiries and he learned that the real estate firm did not have an internal security system or guards specifically assigned to the floor. The only cameras were in the elevators and a single camera for each main hallway, something easily avoided or short-circuited. In short, the security here sucked.
He waited for most of the staff, including Trish, to leave the office. His questions and research into Lila Benoit had revealed very little about why she was being targeted, but volumes about her personality. He couldn’t just march in there, sling her over his shoulder and drive her to the safe house. This had to be finessed. So he made as if he was leaving, waited out of sight in the men’s room in the outer hall, and watched as Trish and the others slowly trickled out, leaving the office empty save for Lila.
“She shows up before everyone else and is still here when we leave,” Trish had said, “She’s the most dedicated worker here.”
He had watched them all leave over the course of a few minutes before five p.m., moving with purpose towards the banks of elevators. Lila wasn’t one of them. He gave her a full thirty minutes after the last one left before he walked into the office. It was empty, the maze of cubicles quiet, the front desk abandoned.
Shane had also learned from Trish, that when Lila had a free moment she would often walk this floor, gazing at the different pieces. He wondered if she imagined going to those faraway places some day. Shane stood there next to the intricate lacquered cabinet with its depictions of various nature scenes, and watched Lila work. The scanned image that her friend Kaylee had sent to his boss – the crumpled and torn note that Lila had found in her parking garage – had given him few clues. Tor had yielded little more. Someone definitely wanted her dead, and they had been watching her for at least a few days. But why? Her record was clean, not even a speeding ticket or fender bender, and she was barely out of college. He shifted his position and continued to watch her.
The fact that she hadn’t registered his presence told him a lot about her. She certainly wasn’t like the rich bastards he was usually assigned to. He couldn’t help but wonder what she had done or possibly seen, that could have put her in this predicament.
The reality of providing security, especially a one-on-one detail, with high-level armed security, like the services provided at Benton Security Services, was that a solid percentage of the clientele were shitty human beings. They weren’t victims, they were rich, powerful people who had earned the enmity of others by doing something scurrilous, something that had truly welcomed the price they now found on their heads.
Most of them were folks that made the life he had lived before this look like a walk in the park. Sure, Shane had screwed people over, literally and figuratively, but the rich fucks he was tasked with guarding? They wrote the book on screwing people over.
Shane knew that Jack Benton preferred to avoid those clients and often turned down contracts for the worst of them. But business is business and Shane had found himself assigned to plenty of cold-hearted, self-absorbed pricks or their spoiled, trust fund babies. After a while, he had gotten a knack for reading people. Hell, he had acquired that before he ever ran into Jack Benton. Watching Lila Benoit now, he could see she was a refreshing change from the usual clientele of half-criminal, egocentric pieces of crap he had been pulling in recently.
The last one he had worked with had been a mob informant that the police weren’t sure they could protect, especially not with a mole in their ranks. He had spent three long weeks with the guy. The killing blow had been when the piece of shit broke the code, got online, and they both nearly died. The guy had gone straight to his favorite kiddie porn site, which his old cronies already knew him to frequent. It hadn’t taken them long to track his online activity and then the general vicinity of the safe house. Shane had discovered it well before that and relocated him to a new safe house. But not before he punched him in the face, breaking his nose.
That was when Jack had stepped in and told him he was reassigned. No real surprise there.
Less than ten feet away and she hadn’t even noticed him. She was alone, the last two making a beeline for the elevators some twenty minutes ago. He had watched them go, checked in with the boss and sent a text to Kaylee letting her know he was on location and that Lila was fine. Despite his stare, despite him moving well within her line of sight, still, she remained there in her seat, fully absorbed in her work.
Shane shook his head. This woman was different from his usual client. They were nervous as cats, and with good reason, they usually deserved the situation they found themselves in. But her? Not a chance. Still, a little more situational awareness would be preferable over this. This kind of behavior was what got most people killed.
Hours earlier, when the dial tone had signaled the end of their conversation before it had even truly begun, he had stood there listening to the low drone issue through the receiver. He had stared at it, thought of calling her back and decided that meeting her in person made more sense. The arrangements had already been made after all. His assignment had been formally issued from Jack, and Shane had been arranging for the safe house when her call came in.
He stared at her shapely legs, peeking out from the standard pencil skirt, her ankles crossed and tapping a silent beat on the floor, against one leg of her desk chair. She was wearing a charcoal silk blouse that scooped down, just low enough to show a hint of perky breasts. His gaze moved to her neck which would have been flawless if it hadn’t been for the mottling caused by strong, large fingers. The bruises were already fading, and he felt his jaw clench at the thought of her struggling to survive that attack. There was a bruise on her right cheekbone, along with a small cut and her left arm still remained in a sling. It hurt, she winced when she had to move it. And yet, here she was, working harder than anyone else in the office, alone on a Monday evening.
Lila’s hair was black, straight, falling just past her shoulders. A few minutes ago she had pulled it up in an impromptu bun, twirled it a few times and stuck a pencil in it. She had high cheekbones and she was athletic and slim. With her hair up she reminded him of a younger, slimmer version of a librarian he once knew. His lips twitched at the memory of Liv Parker, she had made a difference when few others had.
Lila had been attacked three days ago. The attack had been interrupted by a neighbor within her building, giving her enough time to put some distance between her and her would-be killer. The attack had all of the hallmarks of being a planned murder for hire, and the fact that the police hadn’t bothered accessing Tor, asking Lila any questions, or even questioned the methods of the attack, was puzzling. It hadn’t been random.
Perhaps it is because her record is so clean that they didn’t bother to investigate. Occam’s Razor, and all that. With all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the right one. A contract hit didn’t make sense to the police, easier to label it a snatch and grab.
According to her file, she was single, which Shane found surprising considering her looks. Who knows, perhaps she’s high maintenance. A beautiful woman knew how to twist a man around her little finger. Do they teach pretty girls that maneuver straight out of the cradle?
Her delicate fingers moved like the wind on the keyboard, typing, pulling up charts and graphs that he could see dimly in the reflection of the glass window behind her now that the sun had slipped behind the buildings, and held the world in an orange-hued glow. She was tiring. He could see it in the way her shoulders slumped. That wasn’t surprising considering the beating she had taken. And it appeared that she had been hard at work all day. Shane checked his watch, it was almost seven p.m. and she was still at it.
He didn’t trust their isolation to continue. If he was watching, so were others. It was time they met.
He cleared his throat.
Lila heard the sound, looked up, and gave a small yip of fear. Who was this man and how long had he been standing there? She jumped to her feet, her eyes wide. He watched as she reached into her desk and pulled out a letter opener with her left hand. Her fingers curled around it tightly, her body tense. The office chair drifted away from her, and Shane could see she was preparing to fight or flee.
Shane didn’t advance. He didn’t want to spook her any more than she already was, “Ms. Benoit? We spoke on the phone earlier today.”
Lila took in the man standing in the doorway. He was tall, over six feet, with dark hair and brown almost black eyes. A five o’clock shadow covered a strong jaw and he wore a black button down shirt, tucked into clean well-fitted jeans, the shirt rolled to the elbows, giving her a tiny glimpse of a tattoo on his upper arm. At first, she was at a loss.
Who had she spoken to? Distracted by a hunk appearing in her doorway, she had forgotten, if only for a moment, about that phone call. She stared at him, momentarily unable to speak.
“Ms. Benoit?” He took a step forward, “You called Benton Security Services and we spoke about a protective detail?”
Benton Security Services, he really did look as good in person as he sounded on the phone. “Oh! You! Pecan pie…” She stopped, looked embarrassed, and shook her head at his puzzled expression. She couldn’t seem to concentrate, all she could see was this extreme hotness standing before her, “I mean, I…you…” Trying to unsee hotness was apparently too hard for her sex-deprived brain.
And then it hit her.
“Wait a minute, how are you here? How did you find me?” And suddenly, she felt a cold wash of fear. She had made a call and now he was here, at her work. What was he doing here?
Shane, having already crossed the threshold into her office space, sat in the chair farthest from the door. She was nervous, he could see it in her eyes. Lila took a defensive stance, her body twisting and her hands raising into position, ready to strike out and defend herself. Interesting, he thought, she had obviously had some training.
Not enough to stop someone with a specific skillset, but still. He put up his hands, “I’m not here to hurt you. Your friend Kaylee, she gave us your basic information yesterday. And everything else is online, anyone can find it if they know where to look.” He smiled wryly, “She said you would be difficult to convince, that you weren’t sure you were in danger.” His smile faded, “But you are, whether you are willing to admit it or not. And that is why I am here.”
Lila’s initial panic faded, and she relaxed slightly, approached him, reaching out her left hand which he took and clasped firmly with his. His skin was warm, slightly calloused.
“You can call me Shane.”