MARCUS (Dragon Security Book 4)

BOOK: MARCUS (Dragon Security Book 4)
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MARCUS

Dragon Security Book 4

 

Copyright © 2016

 

All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Prologue

 

Cadence

I walked out of the lawyer’s office, my head spinning. This was it. I’d signed my life away. For the next nine months, or however long it took, my life belonged to the Zimmermans. I wondered what my grandma would think if she could see me now. She’d wanted me to change the world, to make a real difference. But I’m not sure she meant by giving a childless couple a child. I think she meant by becoming a doctor or a lawyer or something important like that.

And I was. I was a nurse. But I wanted to do more.

When I met Blake Zimmerman and his wife, Annie, I just couldn’t help myself. I’d never considered being a surrogate before. But when he mentioned that they’d tried everything else and a surrogate was their last option, the words fell from my lips before I could stop myself.

I thought Dr. Martinez might fall over when I spoke up. It was, after all, a sports medicine office, not an infertility office. To his credit, he saw that Mr. Zimmerman—Blake—was excited by the idea and he let it go. But he wasn’t terribly pleasant when he yelled at me later for breaking office protocol by speaking to a patient about a personal matter. I was lucky I didn’t lose my job.

Blake called me the next day and told me that he and Annie had been trying desperately to get pregnant for five years and nothing they did helped—infertility treatments, holistic treatments—they even went to a shaman at some point, but that didn’t help. The doctors told them that the problem was with Annie. She had scars in her fallopian tubes that prevented her eggs from traveling through them. Blake thought a surrogate would be perfect. But, so far, they hadn’t been able to find one that Annie liked.

She apparently liked me.

The contract was signed. Now I was headed to the hospital for my physical. If everything panned out, they’d try implanting a couple of embryos by the end of the month. It was sort of crazy, thinking that within the next two weeks, I could be carrying another couple’s baby. It was exciting.

And the money didn’t hurt. Blake didn’t want me to work while I was pregnant. He said all that stress could be detrimental for the baby. So he was paying me enough that I could take time off and not suffer financially. Not that I would have. When my grandmother died, she left me well off. I tried to explain that to him, but he insisted. He didn’t want me stressing over anything.

I wished I could find a boyfriend who was that considerate!

I stepped off the curb, and suddenly I was flying backward. Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me off the street just as a car swerved, nearly hitting me.

“Careful,” a tall man said, letting go of my arm.

“Thanks.”

I looked both ways before I stepped off the curb this time. It wouldn’t do to have an accident now.

Chapter 1

 

Marcus

Megan was watching me as if she thought she could see something on my face that would tell her if I was trustworthy enough to handle a case on my own. If she knew that I was only here because it was the best cover I could come up with at the time, she’d probably throw me out of her office. Or give me all the best jobs; I’m not quite sure which.

“I need to know that you’ll follow our protocols before I offer you this job,” she said after a long silence. “And you’ll restrain yourself from becoming involved with the target.”

Who’d she think I was? Just because Vincent couldn’t keep his hands to himself…

“I am highly professional, ma’am.”

“I’m sure you are.” She looked me over again. “But this case involves highly sensitive information. Our clients trust that we won’t betray their privacy.”

“I would never do that.”

She hesitated a moment longer, her eyes moving over me like my drill sergeant in the Marines had done on the first day of boot camp. Then she sighed, picking up a file folder that’d been sitting on her desk.

“Have you ever heard of Blake Zimmerman?”

“The football player?”

“He was, I believe. But now he owns a bunch of car lots here and in Dallas.”

I nodded, more aware of who Blake was than she could imagine. He was part of the reason I’d left my home in Illinois—the only home I’d ever known beyond the Marines. Again, if Megan knew the truth about me, she wouldn’t even consider putting me on this case. But she didn’t know.

“He and his wife are on their way here. They want to hire a bodyguard.”

“For personal security?”

“No. To follow their surrogate around.”

I tilted my head slightly. “A surrogate?”

“To have their baby. She’s their maternal surrogate.”

“People still do that?”

Megan’s eyebrows rose. “It’s not ours to judge. We just provide security.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She handed over the file folder she’d been holding.

“The target’s name is Cadence Price. She’s a twenty-five-year-old nurse. She works for Dr. Martinez, a sports medicine doctor downtown. From what the Zimmermans have told me, she recently quit her job in anticipation of the pregnancy. Her address and known friends are in the file along with a brief bio. Memorize it. You’ll find her at the Zimmerman home this evening at seven. You can pick her up there. Follow her. Don’t let her know you’re following her. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“The Zimmermans don’t want her to know they’ve hired us. They’re afraid it will put her under unnecessary stress during the medical part of her surrogacy.”

I inclined my head, wondering if that was really the reason.

“Is there a specific reason why they want her protected?”

“Someone tried to run her down with their car three days ago. She thinks it was just a random accident, but the Zimmermans want to make sure it wasn’t something more than that.”

“Does anyone know who she is?”

“Not as far as the Zimmermans know, but it’s almost impossible for people like them to keep their private lives private. It’s possible someone in the doctor’s office or their lawyer’s office leaked the information to someone.”

“Okay. Anything else I need to know?”

Megan studied my face for a long second, and then shook her head. “Your code name will be grosbeak. Whenever you call in, give your code name first so that your call can be routed to the appropriate place.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I turned to go, but the door burst open and Sam, the office manager, stuck her head in.

“Dante needs you, Megan.”

A blush flashed across Megan’s pretty face at Dante’s name. Another asset, he was hired not long before I was. I saw the way he looked at her sometimes, the longing looks that he shot her when he thought no one—not even she—was looking. She lectured us about sleeping with our targets, but she was sleeping with one of her own assets. Very unprofessional. And hypocritical.

Then there was Sam. She was also beautiful—I was beginning to think that was something of a criterion around here—average height, but that was all that was average about her. She had long, silky auburn hair and green eyes that were often magnified behind prescription glasses. Her features were delicate, her body curvy, but also delicate in some strange way, and always hidden under frumpy, church-lady clothing. She had this aura about her of a woman who needed to be protected, but whenever Hayden pissed her off, this wildcat came out that was clearly part of a strong, independent woman who would resent a man trying to take care of her.

I liked her the moment I met her. If I wasn’t convinced that she and Hayden had something going on outside the office, I might have asked her out weeks ago.

And Megan. Tall, blonde, model-like…she appeared to be the opposite of what she really was. She looked like the kind of woman who’d be comfortable in a ball gown, the kind who spent her childhood flitting from party to party. But she’d been a Marine, and that came out in the way she ran her business. I respected Megan…until the thing with Dante became obvious.

“Morning, Marcus,” Sam said with a quick smile.

“Morning.” I flashed a charming smile, then tilted my head in Megan’s direction. “I’ll get right on this.”

I could feel them watching me leave the room. Neither of them knew quite what to think of me. And that’s the way I wanted it.

Chapter 2

 

Cadence

“Annie went out,” Blake said as he welcomed me into the living room of his home. “But she wanted me to tell you how happy she is you’re doing this for us.”

I sat gingerly on the edge of the couch, self-consciously pulling my skirt down over my knees. My grandma always told me that a lady should always be a lady, no matter the circumstances. Dress modestly. Always say thank you. Smile as often as possible.

Blake brought me a cold bottle of water and I smiled, “thank you” slipping from my lips without thought. I wasn’t even thirsty.

“The doctor’s office called and said all the tests came back perfect. They said you’d be ready to begin the procedure in a few days.”

“Yes. They called me, too.”

“The nurse said they’d already given you a prescription for the hormone shots?”

“They did. I’ll get it filled in the morning.”

“Are you okay with giving the shots to yourself?”

I smiled again. “I
am
a nurse.”

He smiled, too, and when he did, this dimple appeared in his cheek that made him look like a little boy trying to please his mother.

“I realize that. But I’ve also heard that medical professionals tend to be the worst patients.”

“I’ve heard that, too. But you don’t have to worry. It doesn’t apply to me.”

“Good.”

He sat on the edge of the coffee table and leaned forward, his fingers intertwined between his legs. He studied my face, his dark eyes full of curiosity and other things that I didn’t know him well enough to define. I tried to imagine what the child I would soon be carrying in my belly would look like. He was a handsome man—which explained the multiple endorsement deals he had during his football career—and that charming smile was enough to make most girls melt when he focused it in their direction. I fully believed that was part of the reason I volunteered to do this thing even though the idea had never crossed my mind before. Mix his impressive looks with my genetics—they normally used the wife’s eggs or donor eggs for these things, but Annie apparently had some issue with her eggs, and they didn’t want to involve another party—and the result would probably be an intensely beautiful child. Not that I thought I was all that pretty, but I figure that his pluses would far outweigh my weaknesses.

“Then you do the shots for two weeks and then we meet at the doctor for the insemination.”

“Yes.”

He nodded, reaching over to touch my hand. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your doing this. We’ve wanted a baby for a very long time.”

“I’m happy to be a part of it.”

A part of me wanted to touch him, too. It was stupid. I’d spent the last two years meeting athletes, usually in the darkest moments of their lives. Injured athletes who were counting on Dr. Martinez to get them back on the field. Football players. Tennis players. Baseball. Soccer. We even had several track and field stars, a few golfers, and swimmers. Every sport there was, we had at least one participant, usually professionals, Olympic-level athletes. I’d met Troy Aikman, Michael Phelps. Even Roger Federer once. So sitting here with Blake Zimmerman should have been nothing. But I wasn’t about to attempt to have Troy Aikman’s baby.

And Troy Aikman wasn’t looking me in the eye like I’d just given him the best Christmas present ever.

He squeezed my hand and was about to speak again when the tap-tap of high heels sounded on the marble floor out in the hallway. He pulled back as if I were fire and stood, running his hands over his shorn head.

“Annie.”

I turned to find his beautiful wife standing in the doorway. She was a model a few years ago, appearing on the cover of
Vogue
a few times. She was pale where he was dark, blonde with these blue eyes that were like ice. They were quite a couple. Photographers loved to catch them together at social events, screaming their names and snapping pictures as quickly as they could to catch them before they disappeared. I’d only met her twice. She seemed surprisingly shy, never really speaking. But her eyes were snapping fire at the moment, almost as if she hadn’t known I’d be there.

“Cadence just stopped by so that we could talk about what comes next.”

“Is that right?”

There wasn’t just ice in her eyes. It was dripping from her voice, too.

I stood up, feeling like I’d just gotten caught in a fight that wasn’t my fight.

“I should go.”

“No,” Annie said, putting down the shopping bags she was holding. She came across the room and took my hands in hers. “Forgive me. I’m just really tired.”

“It’s okay.”

She studied my face for a moment, almost like her husband had done. But her expression was much harder to read. And then she leaned into me and kissed my cheek.

“Stay for dinner. The cook has made a wonderful chicken piccata that I think you’ll enjoy.”

She took my hand before I could answer and pulled me toward the dining room, chatting about some shoes she found today that she felt were such a good buy that we should celebrate. She even had a bottle of wine already chilling in the dining room that she snatched out of the ice the moment we walked in, working the electric corkscrew like an expert. Blake’s expression tightened as he watched her, anger flashing in his eyes briefly.

“Do you want some?” she asked me.

“No. the doctor said—”

“Really, Annie,” Blake said, “you shouldn’t drink either.”

“You make all these decisions unilaterally. Why can’t I decide whether or not I drink?”

“Because it’s not good for you.”

Annie glanced at me. “He worries about me. I have this little heart thing and he thinks that means he can boss me around, make all my decisions for me.”

“It’s not just a little heart thing.”

Annie took a long swig of her wine, and then leaned over me where I was sitting at the dining room table.

“My heart has trouble regulating its beat. The doctors have a fancy name for it and they give me all these medications to treat it, but I’ll probably have to have a pacemaker put in some time soon. That’s why I can’t have kids, much to his disappointment.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m not.” Annie set down the glass and poured more wine into it. “Getting fat and going through the pain of labor is simply something I don’t look forward to doing. I’ll leave that to others.”

She must have caught the slightly offended look on my face because she reached over and touched my arm.

“Don’t let me take away the glory of the whole thing for you. I’m just…disillusioned.” She glanced at Blake. “Isn’t that what you call it?”

He got up and marched around the table, taking her arms and pulled her back toward the doorway. “Why don’t we go upstairs?”

“Not now, darling, we have a guest.”

He whispered something in her ear and practically dragged her out of the room. I didn’t know what to do but sit there and watch. It was humiliating, but I’m not sure if it was more so for her or me.

I was about to sneak out when Blake came back downstairs.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said, blocking my exit. “She’s been through a lot these last few years. She’s really very disappointed that she can’t carry a baby.”

“It’s okay. I understand.”

“I just…I don’t want you to think badly of Annie. She seems like she has it all together, but she has had a very difficult time of it. Her parents sucked, and then her manager took advantage of her. She never really had anyone who cared about her until she met me.”

“I get it, really.”

“I know. I just feel like I need to explain.”

I shook my head. “You don’t owe me anything.”

“We owe you everything. You’re doing this amazing thing for us. I can’t tell you how grateful we are.”

I glanced toward the stairs, then turned and headed to the door. “I’ll call you next week when I start the hormone shots.”

“She’s going to be a really good mom. I promise.”

My hands were shaking when I got into the car. I felt like I’d just gotten caught in the middle of something that was beyond my understanding. I didn’t grow up with parents, so I had no experience with parents fighting. I grew up with just my grandma. And the two of us rarely fought.

It took me a minute before I could start the car. I pulled out of the driveway slowly, not wanting to give them the wrong impression any more than they wanted to do the same with me. When I turned out into the street, there were a couple of cars parked there, people with cameras glued to their faces, trying to get candid shots of the star athlete turned businessman and his model wife. They were pretty disappointed that it was only me, some nobody they probably thought was the maid or something.

I was three blocks away before I realized that one of them had followed me down the hill.

I merged onto the highway, trying to get lost in the heavy, rush-hour traffic. But the car stuck with me, three or four cars back. I’d never been followed before, but ever since I came out of that lawyer’s office, it was like everyone wanted to know who I was and why I was meeting with Blake and his lawyer. I wondered what the headlines would be. Blake meets with mistress and attorney? Blake divorces Annie for frumpy nurse?

I could already see it. Wouldn’t they all be shocked when I started showing up in familiar places, my belly swollen with Blake’s baby?

It was a surreal thought, really. I was going to have a baby. I knew I wanted to have children someday, but it had never crossed my mind that my first child would belong to someone else. I’d have to hand it over the moment it was born. Could I do that? I thought I could when I first jumped at the opportunity, but now I was wondering if I really could.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I should back out before things got too serious.

But then I thought about the gratefulness in Blake’s eyes, and I couldn’t bear the idea of seeing disappointment there.

I was doing a good thing. They wanted a child so badly; I couldn’t take that away from them.

I called my friend Lettie just as I headed off the highway, merging onto the side streets near my apartment.

“You want to meet for dinner? I could use a little friendly companionship.”

“No problem.”

“You weren’t busy, were you?”

“Only trying to meet Mr. Right.”

I smiled. That meant she was at a bar. This should be an interesting night.

We met at the local
Chili’s
, nachos and fajitas sizzling on the pan. I sipped the cold beer the waitress set in front of me, sighing as the cold liquid flowed down my throat.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to be drinking.”

“Next week when I start the hormone treatments. Not now.”

She studied my face. “I can’t believe you’re willing to put your life on hold for nine months for some people you hardly know.”

“Put what on hold? It’s not like I’ve had a decent date in more than six months.”

“What about Peter Mitchell?”

“Peter was a self-absorbed asshole who didn’t want to talk about anything other than himself.”

“What about Jack?”

“Jack Nichols? He was more interested in a good time than a relationship.”

Lettie lifted her drink even as she wagged a finger at me. “You know what your problem is? You’re too picky.”

I shook my head. “No. I just want a guy who wants me. Not some self-centered prick who’d just as soon stare in the mirror than in my eyes, or some guy who looks at me long enough to get into my bed.”

She laughed, her eyes moving around the room. “In the meantime, you should have some fun. What about that one?” She pointed to a waiter coming into the room with his hands loaded with heavy trays of food.

“Too young.”

She studied him. “College age. Not too bad. We’re not that far out of school.”

“Speak for yourself.”

She groaned, but she kept looking. “What about that one?” She gestured toward a middle- aged man sitting alone in a booth. He was good looking, a little white at his temples that made him look distinguished. But as I was looking, a woman came and joined him.

“Too married.”

Lettie looked around for a longer moment, her eyes flitting over this face and that. Finally, she gestured with a little nod of her head. “What about him?”

He was sitting at the bar, an untouched drink in front of him. He was a little hunched over, half turned toward us, half turned toward the television over the bar that was showing an old Dallas Cowboys game. He was dressed casually, in jeans and a black t-shirt that was tucked in. His hair was a dark blond, the kind of hair that looked like brown butter in a frying pan. His jaw was wide, flared out a little at the corners, his nose straight as an arrow. He had intense blue eyes, the color of cobalt, which seemed to look through me when our eyes met.

He looked as though he’d just left the military, the way he was tucked in and his hair was clearly growing out a buzz cut. The tattoo peeking out from under his shirtsleeve seemed to back that up, the bottom edge of the Marine emblem clearly visible against his deeply tanned skin.

BOOK: MARCUS (Dragon Security Book 4)
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