Authors: Kennedy Layne
Tags: #Military, #Romance
Red Starr, Book Six
Copyright © 2016 by Kennedy Layne
E-Book ISBN: 978-1-943420-17-9
Print ISBN: 978-1-943420-21-6
Cover Artist: Sweet ’N Spicy Designs
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Liz Berry and M.J. Rose—Thank you so very much for including me in such a talented group of women who make up the 1,001 Dark Nights Discovery Authors. I’m honored and appreciative of such a prestigious opportunity.
Jeffrey—Fate can be very fickle. I love that you are a part of mine and that I am a part of yours.
USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne continues the Red Starr series in a build-up to the one question everyone has been asking…is Brendan “Red” O’Neill dead or alive?
Grady Kenton has loved and lost—and he doesn’t plan on repeating it. He enjoys his semi-retired life as a consultant with the CIA while only taking the cases he finds interesting. He relishes the long seductive weekends with Brienne Chaylse, the beautiful liaison who understands his boundaries and accepts things the way he needs them to be.
Secretly, Brienne doesn’t understand why Grady can’t move on from his past. What she does know is that he’s more emotionally distant than when they’d first met and she can’t accept the friends-with-benefits play any longer. Something has to change, and fate forces her hand when her identity as a CIA special agent is leaked to the media. She and Grady must race to discover whose betrayal runs deep while their true feelings emerge in this perilous time. Unfortunately, the secrets revealed have the potential to shatter the love they’ve shared while on pursuit of a danger that could change everything.
rady Kenton stormed
through the glass security doors of the CIA’s Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis Desk in the Intelligence Division located in the maze of halls at Langley. He was looking for the one woman who could give him the answers he sought. He didn’t care about the curious stares he was receiving as he made his way through the sea of cubicles facing the multitude of executive offices lining the outer wall. The analysts who worked here didn’t get an office with a view—at least, not until they had been promoted to the level of their incompetence.
When Grady had a choice between the two separated hallways, he veered down the left corridor with a purpose. The office he was targeting was the last one on the left, offering a view out of the specially designed windows of multiple rows of pine trees. The vista was definitely a one-way experience, deliberately constructed to keep prying eyes from determining what was going on inside one of the world’s most secretive buildings. It would also prevent anyone from seeing or hearing the upcoming argument that was about to ensue.
“Sir, you can’t—”
Grady held up his agency identification badge dangling from his company lanyard without breaking stride, most of these employees knowing exactly who he was and the influence he had at the highest levels within the National Clandestine Services (NCS) Division at the Agency. He’d worked hard in garnering the rank of Lieutenant Colonel from his career in the Marine Corps within the Intelligence field and he’d been recruited as a senior planning and operations advisor to the CIA after his retirement from the military.
He was good at his job and worked closely with those within his particular department. This young administrative assistant was notably not among them, but at least he had the wisdom to step aside while lifting his coffee mug out of the way of Grady’s headlong path.
It didn’t surprise Grady to find the dark wooden door to Brienne Chaylse’s office currently closed. Their paths had crossed numerous times throughout his years in the military, especially during his lead role in dismantling the fledgling IRG leadership cabal formed shortly after the invasion during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was always conscientious of their personal boundaries and it was rare he ever entered into the Intelligence Division’s territory without at least a courtesy heads-up, but he was too irate to mind his manners or professional protocol at the moment. He glanced back at her assistant as the man buzzed him in and opened the door a little harder than necessary, but he might as well get his point across early on.
“When were you going to tell me, for Christ’s sake?” Grady demanded, seeking Brienne out and finding her seated behind her cluttered desk as expected.
She’d been conducting a meeting with Bob Jensen, one of the other office POG analysts Grady didn’t particularly like, when she broke off the conversation. The fact that she didn’t seem too surprised to see Grady when he should be on a plane to Florida on a counterintelligence case told him all he needed to know about her motives. She’d gone behind his back with information related to an old friend’s death and she hadn’t had the decency to inform him.
Jensen immediately stood after clearing his throat, the slender man not needing an invitation to leave what he had to know would be a volatile discussion. He didn’t lack common sense and ducked out of the office quickly, closing the door behind him as he muttered something about picking up the discussion at a later date. It would be a long wait if Grady had anything to say about it.
“I did everything exactly by the book, Grady,” Brienne informed him in a rather confident tone, which only made him more intent on forcing her hand on this one. She was too self-assured in what she’d done to see the irreparable damage she had most likely caused to a very dear friend of his. “It’s my case. I dotted every I and crossed every T before I made that phone call. It was the right thing to do, given the situation.”
“For who?” Grady wanted to know, shaking his head at her naïve knowledge of the situation. It was times like these that highlighted their age difference and level of experience. His proficiency at the tradecraft required to operate in the field had taught him better than to react with emotion. “You? So you could claim you did your job well, according to procedure?”
Brienne leaned back in her chair with conviction brimming in her blue eyes over what Grady believed to be a terrible decision, looking every bit as poised as he knew her to be. Her long blonde hair had been pulled back into a bun, but in such a manner that a person could see the soft natural curls while she maintained her professionalism. Her features reminded him of the actress Gene Teirney, whose classic beauty reigned back in the mid-1940s. He had a penchant for the black and white films, and at the moment he would have given anything to go back to an era where things hadn’t been so complicated. Brienne had made a terrible mistake and it wasn’t something he could easily fix.
“Catori Starr is a good friend of mine…and that of the director’s as well,” Grady explained slowly, not telling Brienne anything she didn’t already know. He purposefully closed the distance to the front of her desk, leaning down to rest his knuckles on the hard surface. He needed to get across to her the damage she’d done. “Starr’s been through hell and back after losing her husband, and you calling to tell her about some outdated intelligence from an unknown source to give her an unrealistic hope he might still be alive wasn’t your best work, Brienne. And I will have to justify your position while discussing this whole incident with the director, because what you did affects operations. Starr is the owner and operator of Red Starr HRT, and she has every right to know that the bodies of her original team were never recovered because there
no official record of their deaths according to the Pakistani government. You have no idea what you have set into motion. You should know better than most.”
“Don’t you dare go there, Colonel.” Brienne abruptly stood, causing her black leather chair to roll into the windowsill behind her with a thud. Her white jacket was unbuttoned and revealed a red camisole he’d never seen her wear before. Another thing she never did was call him by his nickname used by those around the Agency, preferring to use his given name, but it proved he finally had her attention. Good, because her saying she’d just been doing her job didn’t cut it when it came to the shakers and movers within their community. Her hands started waving in her usual manner as she tried to explain a decision he would never agree with, but he didn’t think it was charming at the moment. “I’m not saying they are alive, but they were
killed the day they made their way into that Christian enclave to rescue those mission workers as we originally suspected. She deserves to know and more importantly, she has clearance from people farther up the ladder than I could ever hope to be. My hands were tied and I did what I had been directed to do. You don’t get to pass judgment on me for doing my duty. Besides, the intelligence I received was good or else I would never have forwarded it on.”
“Based on what? Who?” Grady shot back, demanding to know the identity of Brienne’s source. He had a personal stake in this and had every right to know where she was getting her information. “Starr and her team are a primary operational independent contractor for the NCS. You may have just fucked that up. We’re talking years old information and most likely from someone who’s requesting a lighter sentence in exchange for a pack of fucking lies. Hell, you weren’t even the chief liaison back then. And now you’re allowing this bastard to give false hope to a woman who’s already gone through the grieving process and picked up the pieces of her life and moved on. You never should have made that call without first talking to me.”
“Why?” Brienne countered fiercely, leaning down and setting her manicured hands in front of his. Her red lips, perfectly outlined with her favorite lipstick, were inches from his and her warm breath caressed his clean-shaven chin. Grady should have been more prepared for where she was going to take this, but her brutally honest words were still like bullets striking his hardened flesh. “Because you never got over the death of your wife?”
Grady couldn’t have heard her right, but damn if Brienne didn’t appear a little shocked at her own words. He pushed off of her desk as slowly as he could, doing his best not to pick up the clear paperweight she’d had in the same place for the last four years and throw it through the exceptionally expensive electronic window behind her. He inhaled deeply to give himself balance and turned away from Brienne, not wanting her to see how her accusation stung. She knew based on personal facts better than most that he’d moved on with his life.