Excerpt

A Guarded Raider

 

Chapter One

Cole

 

THE PLANE jumped as they hit a rough patch in the sky. Cole grabbed Cade’s cup of whiskey from the tray table so it wouldn’t spill. The turbulence lasted all of ten seconds, but it was enough for someone to shriek loudly. Cole took a deep breath, and when it didn’t help, he downed what was left of the whiskey.

Cade was leaned against him, his head resting against Cole’s shoulder as he snored softly. He didn’t know how Cade could sleep, but he didn’t want to wake him, so he kept still, only his fingers moving to brush through Cade’s hair. It was still a bit on the long side. He didn’t mind. He loved Cade’s curls. He loved Cade.

It still took him aback every time he thought about it. Cade had come into his life like a hurricane and fought his way straight into Cole’s heart. They’d been through a lot of shit in a short period of time and it didn’t seem to be looking up for them. Nevertheless, he was sure he’d never been happier.

He knew there were still things Cade hadn’t told him but that went both ways. Now they were at least on the same page regarding their relationship and what they felt for each other. He’d never been in love before. Hell. He’d barely been in a relationship before. He’d never wanted one before Cade. Now he wasn’t sure if he could ever be without the man.

Cade moaned and mumbled, “Are we there yet?”

“There’re about thirty minutes left.”

Cade sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes before batting his eyelashes at Cole. “Tell me again why we didn’t take Meg so you could put her on autopilot and I could’ve gotten my way with you in the cockpit?”

Cole shook his head. Considering he’d explained why at least twice, he doubted Cade actually wanted an answer.

“That’s a funny word,” Cade said around a yawn.

“What?”

“Cockpit.”

A groan pushed through Cole’s lips. “Don’t even.”

“Please tell me someone hung up pictures of dicks all over it.”

“Twice.”

Cade guffawed, and Cole rolled his eyes at him.

“Let me guess; Franklin,” Cade said.

Cole didn’t say anything. He just pulled a face and rolled his eyes.

Cade grinned at him and said, “That’s my man.”

“I helped,” Axel said as he dropped into the aisle seat. He was grinning like the lunatic he was. Cade leaned over Cole to fist-bump Axel.

“Your sister’s been drooling on me for three hours,” Axel said, pulling a face. “And your niece won’t shut up.”

“What exactly made you think coming over here would make a difference?” Cole asked, amusement filling his voice.

Axel shrugged. “I’m used to guys drooling over me.”

Cole rolled his eyes and gestured for Axel to move so he could get out. In the aisle, he yawned and moved his head from side to side to crack his neck. His body was not made to be stuffed into a normal plane seat. With a pitiful glance at Axel, he headed towards the lavatories. He passed a sleeping Grace who was drooling onto her own shoulder now she didn’t have Axel’s. Cole couldn’t help his smile. When he reached the lavatories, Sam was just stepping out of one. Morgan braided her hair in the morning before they drove to the airport, and she looked cute in her pink summer dress and the ballet flats Lara had bought for her. While she might look like an innocent little girl he’d quickly learned she was just a miniature version of her aunt and uncle.

“Hey, Sammy. Axel’s in my seat next to your uncle,” he said with a conspiring wink.

Sam lit up, and a calculated grin spread on her face. He was sure he heard her cackling when she headed down the aisle. He was starting to learn what it meant being a Smith. So far, he was mildly scared and very intrigued. He’d flown them all back to Maryland, and Sam had been in the cockpit with him and Cade, asking all kinds of questions about the plane. Cade said she was probably trying to find a way to steal Meg, and at first, Cole thought he was joking. Then Sam asked how easy it would be to find the plane and if it could be seen on radars and such. He’d told her it was very easy which was a tiny, white lie. But he’d been somewhat freaked out by her obsessive questioning.

When they landed, Brent had been waiting for them. Since there were a few extra passengers this time, they couldn’t fit in the cars they had at the airfield, and Cade had called Brent. The man was all smiles until he found out Cade had been shot. Cole was pretty sure he’d never seen a guy fly off the handle quite like that before. It was actually sorta sweet. It just told him how much Cade meant to Brent.

After finishing in the lavatory, he walked back down the aisle to their seats. The seatbelt sign flashed on and a member of the flight crew told people to take their seats as they were headed into a bit more of turbulence. He walked past what looked to be a mother and her young son who was clutching the armrests of his seat, his face devoid of color.

“Are we going to die?” the boy asked in a shaky voice.

Before the mother could answer, Cole turned around and sat down in the empty seat next to the boy. “No one’s going to die. It’s just a bit of turbulence.”

Even though the mother gave him the side-eye, she seemed relieved someone else stepped in to help. Cole offered her a friendly smile before saying, “Hi. I’m Cole. Sorry for intruding, but I couldn’t help but overhear.”

“I’m Trudy and this is Grayson. He’s a bit scared of flying.”

“I was scared of flying once, too,” Cole said.

“How did you get over it?” Trudy asked.

He grinned and said, “I became a pilot.”

That caught Grayson’s attention. He turned big eyes on Cole. “Wow. Are you really a pilot?”

“I sure am. I have two planes, actually.”

He had Meg, of course, and then there was his most treasured possession; his mom’s old plane. He’d always loved flying with his mom, and she’d taken him with her since he could remember. He’d heard his parents argue about his mom flying with him and his father had said some things that would’ve terrified any four-year-old and it took a whole bowl of Sour Patch Kids and his mom singing to him for over an hour before he calmed down. When she’d taken him out to fly after that he’d been scared but she’d told him he couldn’t be brave unless he was afraid and then she’d put him on her lap and let him grab the control wheel. He’d loved every second of it and he’d never let anything come between him and flying again.

“You must be used to some turbulence, then,” Trudy said, a wry smile finding her lips.

“I sure am. You see, there are different types of turbulence, and since they told us to buckle in a while ago and we haven’t hit the turbulence yet, that tells me this is a very safe kind of turbulence.”

Grayson cocked his head to the side and asked, “Are there unsafe kinds?”

“Yes, but only because we can’t see that kind of turbulence, so people might be standing when we fly into them. Have you ever been in a car that drove over a pothole or a bump? That’s pretty much what turbulence is for planes. They aren’t exactly dangerous, but they can sure surprise you.”

Trudy mouthed a “thank you” to him.

He stayed with Trudy and Grayson for a while, talking planes with Grayson. Turned out the kid loved model planes. The seatbelt signs turned off again and Trudy breathed a sigh of relief. Grayson didn’t even notice because he was busy telling Cole about his collection of military model planes. Grayson has a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, so Cole showed him photos of Meg so he could see what the real thing looked like.

Cole found a picture of the Black Raiders in front of Meg. Dom and Will looked serious as ever with their crossed arms and scowls in place as they stood in opposite ends of the group. Axel had his arms around Cole and Davin while Franklin and Derek were wearing matching grins. Tank was smiling at the camera while reaching one hand towards Franklin as if he was about to grab him. They were lucky the photographer managed to capture the shot because no more than two seconds later, a cacophony of fireworks erupted behind them thanks to Franklin and Derek. Dom lost his shit, Will threatened to throw them out of the plane next time they went flying, and Tank told Derek and Franklin in his best dad-voice to clean up their mess while Axel was on the ground, laughing his ass off because Davin screamed like a little girl. Those had been simpler times. Great times.

He felt someone nearing and looked up to find Cade heading down the aisle. Cade’s lips twitched when he saw Cole. He walked up and stopped right in front of Cole, bracing a hand against the seat in front of Cole.

“Hi, there,” Cade said.

“Hi, babe. This is Trudy and Grayson,” Cole said. “Grayson was just telling me about his model plane collection.”

Cade turned a big smile on Grayson and spent a few minutes asking him all about his collection while Cole chatted a bit with Trudy. The two of them lived just outside of Frederik’s County and were going to London for Trudy’s sister’s wedding. Apparently, she was marrying this awful fella who seemed to only be after her money, and Trudy didn’t plan on keeping quiet about it.

“Good luck with that. I hope you get to knock some sense into your sister,” Cole said.

“Thank you. Unfortunately, I think I’m gonna need it.”

The look on her face said as much. Though she did seem to look forward to spending some time with her sister. He imagined it was tough to watch someone you love marry someone who wasn’t in it for the right reasons.

“Would you mind terribly if I stole my partner back?” Cade asked Trudy.

Trudy smiled up at Cade and shook her head. “Not at all. He’s already done more than enough for us.”

She reached across Grayson to squeeze Cole’s hand.

“Thank you,” Trudy said.

“You’re very welcome.”

Cole stood and ruffled Grayson’s hair before saying goodbye and following Cade down the aisle. He grinned, his eyes on Cade.

“Missed me, huh?”

“Always, babe. But don’t think it’ll make me forgive you for what you did,” Cade said.

“I haven’t done anything.”

Cade gave him a dry look over his shoulder. “You drank my whiskey, and then you put Sammy up to hassling Axel and me.”

“Oh, that,” Cole said with a smile.

When they reached their seats, they both chuckled. Axel sat in the middle, between Sam and Tank who’d returned to his seat after checking on Ilyas and Shadow. Axel’s arms were crossed, and he was sulking as Sam and Tank carried a conversation across him.

“I think it’s time for you ladies to return to your seats,” Cade said.

Axel scowled up at Cade who blew him a kiss much to Sam’s amusement. Tank stood to let the others out and Cade and Cole back in. He settled in his seat and turned to Tank.

“How were crazy one and two?” Cole asked.

“Getting chummy,” Tank said, raising an eyebrow. “Please tell me I’m not the only one frightened by that?”

Cole shook his head and said, “You’re not.”

Cade gave a little cackle that made Tank and Cole turn their attention to him. Cade rubbed his hands together and said, “Those two will be terrifying together. Let the fun begin.”

 

Cade

 

When they landed in Heathrow, it was five in the evening. They rented three cars and drove off towards Nottingham Castle. Cole was driving their Ford Focus. Grace and Sam were in the backseat, talking and laughing with Cole. Cade didn’t hear a word they said. He stared out the window during most of their two-hour trip. He knew Cole was watching him, and he was thankful when Cole didn’t try to get him to talk and simply reached for Cade’s hand.

He knew it would be a shit show when they arrived, and he had no one to blame but himself. He’d missed his family like crazy, and while he couldn’t wait to see them again, he was also terrified.

Cole pulled up to the gates and the guard standing out front went to Cole’s side to speak with him through the window. Three men in suits stood by the gatehouse, their vigilant eyes assessing everything around them. They weren’t the normal security. They were some of the men Neil placed here to protect Cade’s family.

Cade rolled down his window. “Which one of you is James?”

A tall, well-dressed man walked out of the smaller gate and headed towards the car. His voice was deep and his accent American. “I am.”

Cade smiled at him. “Thank you for taking care of my grandma.”

“My pleasure,” James said with a wink.

The gates opened, and they were waved through. Cole drove up the long driveway and Grace told him where to park the car. The others parked next to them.

Cade opened his door and got out. He breathed in deeply as he ran his eyes over the beautiful sight Nottingham Castle was. He turned around, and finding everyone out of their cars, he spread his arms wide. “Welcome to Castle Rock.”

“I thought it was Nottingham Castle,” Franklin mumbled.

Grace turned to him, looking unimpressed, and said, “It’s built on a rock. A giant bloody rock.”

“Whatever,” Franklin said, waving a hand dismissively.

Cade chuckled and motioned for Cole to follow him as he headed for the front door. It was surrounded by pillars set in an arc with a beautiful balcony on top. He hadn’t actually gone through the front door much back in the day. That was what all the secret entrances were for. Grace put a hand on his arm, stopping him. He looked up, meeting her soft eyes.

“Let us go in first,” she said, motioning at Sam.

“Okay.”

Grace took Sam’s hand and turned to walk inside just as the door swung open. The blond hair was the first thing Cade saw, then the leather jacket. Blue eyes widened in surprise when Aston noticed Cade, and he came to an abrupt halt in front of him.

“Rebel?”

“Hey, cuz,” Cade said.

Aston’s big smile was surprising, and he wasn’t prepared when his cousin wrapped him up in a hug. He leaned his head against Aston’s shoulder and closed his eyes. He’d seen Aston on a few occasions in America since leaving England, but that didn’t mean he didn’t miss him.

“It’s good to see you,” Aston said.

“You, too.”

Aston looked over Cade’s shoulder, and Cade bit down on his lower lip, knowing what was about to happen.

“Ilyas,” Aston said.

Cade turned around. Ilyas was standing at least ten away, a fierce look on his face. The anger pouring off of him was almost palpable.

“Asshole,” Ilyas said through gritted teeth.

Aston grinned. “Cute.”

“Can we not?” Grace asked, a heavy sigh falling from her lips.

Aston licked his lips and nodded, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. Grace gave Aston a stern look before opening the door and ushering Sam inside.

“It’s been a while,” Aston said and lit up his cigarette.

Cade nodded. “Yeah. How have you been?”

“Fine.” Aston’s eyes were over Cade’s shoulder as he spoke. “Just fine.”

Cade bit his lip to keep his words back. He knew who Aston was looking at and as much as he wanted both of them to be happy, he also very much liked to kick both their asses. Mostly Aston’s, though.

“You’ve found some new friends, huh?”

Before Cade could answer, Franklin walked over, saying, “Family, actually.”

Cade met Franklin’s gaze. There were warmth and the shadow of a twinkle in those eyes. Franklin winked at him. Yeah, they were becoming family alright.

“Lovely. So, what’ve you been up to? You still a cop?” Aston asked.

“Yes. I’m a homicide detective in Baltimore.”

“Sounds… boring.”

Cade chuckled and padded Aston on his shoulder. “Of course, you would think that.”

Aston shrugged, an unapologetic look on his face. It was just like his cousin to find something normal boring. He’d always been one to go over the top no matter what he was doing. Aston had been the black sheep of the family until Cade left.

He asked Aston what he’d been up to, and after a suspicious glance at the men around them, Aston filled him in on his latest adventure. He wasn’t really listening, though. It felt like two hours had passed, though he was pretty sure it was only two minutes, but he just couldn’t wait any longer. He reached for Cole’s hand and tugged him towards the door.

“Can we go inside now?” Franklin asked.

“No. Give them some time,” Dom said.

Cade sent Dom a grateful smile before leading Cole inside. They made it three steps before Cole stopped and looked around with his mouth hanging open. The twin staircase with its gold-plated railing and the marble floors beneath their shoes spoke of the luxury found everywhere in this place. It certainly wasn’t the medieval castle most thought Nottingham Castle to be. It wasn’t an actual castle either. The main building was a ducal mansion. The original mansion was built in the 17th century but burned down in 1831 and wasn’t rebuild until 1875.

“Wow,” Cole said.

“Never been in a castle before, huh?”

Cole shook his head, and Cade couldn’t stop a smile from pulling at his lips at the astonished look on Cole’s face. He was so glad he had Cole with him. He wasn’t sure he could face his family without him.

He led Cole towards the Great Hall where he knew his family would be, just about getting ready for dinner. Walking into the room, the first thing he saw was his oldest sister, Rosalind, holding her daughter close, her husband’s arms around them both. The table was set, and most were seated. For the first time in almost a decade, he was in the same room as his whole family.

“Don’t you ever do that again,” Rosalind said, cupping Sam’s cheeks. “We always stick with our family. Always.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I just wanted to prove I could do it on my own, like Uncle Rebel,” Sam said.

Cade saw, even from across the room, how Rosalind’s body tensed.

“Oh, love. Your uncle—”

“Is really cool,” Sam interrupted. “And his boyfriend even taught me to fly.”

Cade’s lips twitched at that. Cole had let her grab the control wheel from her seat in the co-pilot’s chair, but she’d never actually been flying the plane.

“There’s this girl he knows. Her name’s Morgan. She’s pretty awesome, too.”

“You…” Rosalind cleared her throat. “You’ve met your uncle?”

Sam nodded eagerly and said, “Yeah. He’s here.”

“Here?” Rosalind asked. “What do you mean here?”

It was then all eyes turned on Cade.

Anger colored his father’s face, making it hard for Cade to breathe. A hand wrapped around Cade’s, centering him and giving him the courage to face his family. Cade’s mother stood, her eyes watering as she watched him.

An older woman, her grey hair styled fabulously on top of her head, stood and made a beeline towards him. A wide smile spread across her face when she neared. “Oh, my sweet baby. You’re finally home.”

“Grandma.”

He opened his arms to her, and she didn’t hesitate for a second to wrap him up in her embrace. He breathed in her perfume, and it hit him full force how much he’d really missed her. Being cut off from his family had been like losing a limb. She squeezed him tightly once before releasing him. She cupped his cheeks.

“My beautiful boy. I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you, too.”

Grace cleared her throat dramatically to get Cade’s attention and asked, “Can we tell them now?”

“Tell us what?” Rosalind asked.

Cade opened his mouth to answer, but before he could find any words, his grandmother jumped in. “He left to protect us.”

“Protect us?” his father quipped. “From what? His own ambitions?”

Cade took a step forward. “Dad—”

“You have some gall coming here, Henry,” his father said and motioned towards Cole. “And who the hell is this guy?”

“My boyfriend, Dad.”

“He’s a handsome fella,” Grandma said, wagging her eyebrows at Cole.

Color filled Cole’s cheeks. “Why, thank you, ma’am.”

“Polite as well.”

“He calls me ma’am, too,” Grace said.

Grandma chuckled and said, “He can’t have too good judgment, then.”

A loud clatter came from the hallway. Cole groaned and cursed under his breath. If Cade hadn’t been as nervous as he was, he would’ve laughed knowing that could only be the Raiders causing trouble.

Aston speed walked into the room all the while glaring in Cade and Cole’s direction. “Your friends are insane.”

Cole shrugged. “It comes with the territory.”

The Raiders poured into the room. Franklin walked in first, a badly hidden smile on his lips. Dom was right behind him, glaring at the back of Franklin’s head. But Cade knew who the real culprit was when he noticed the smirk on Shadow’s face.

“Sorry for the intrusion, but we were freezing our balls off outside and I rather like mine intact,” Franklin said.

Dom slapped Franklin in the back of his head and snapped, “There are kids here.”

“Excuse me, but what the bloody hell is going on?” Adrian asked, looking from Cade to the men filing into the room. Cade felt a bit bad since they’d pretty much invaded Adrian’s home, but the man knew exactly what he’d married into.

Kayla stood. “Ilyas?”

“Hey, sugar,” Ilyas said and walked across the room to hug her.

“Oh, great,” Aston said. “He gets a hug, and I have to be smuggled inside?”

“Shut up, you arse,” Kayla said.

Aston glanced at Scarlet, and with a raised eyebrow he said, “We should form our own group; the ones who have to be smuggled in.”

“Don’t lump me in with you, arsehole.” Scarlet flipped him off. Aston looked like he hadn’t expected any different from her.

Cade tried not to fret, but he couldn’t stop himself from wringing his hands. He heard the tremor in his own voice as he said, “You all deserve an explanation.”

“Come on, kids. Time to let the adults talk,” Grace said.

Cade sent her a grateful smile. While Grace herded the kids out of the room, he tried to pull himself together. The only thing that seemed to calm him was Cole’s presence, so he took a step back, putting himself closer to Cole. A hand landed on his lower back and he could feel Cole’s warmth through his clothes. He managed a deep breath before the words came.

“When I was in Paris, I watched a young girl get shot. She was murdered right in front of me and I did nothing. I’d be dead if I had, but at least I would’ve done something. Instead, I made a vow to get her justice.

“In order to do that, I had to make a deal with the CIA. They locked up her murderer, and to keep you all safe, I knew I needed a new identity. One that couldn’t be traced back to you or even Rebel. In exchange for that, I became a CIA officer.”

“That’s rubbish. You didn’t have to cut us out of your life because of that,” Rosalind said.

“Yes, I did. Because everything I feared would happen if he found out who you are, just did happen. He took Sammy. He knows who all of you are. He was going to kill Sam, then Grace, and he’d never stop until you were all dead. That is why I needed to keep you away from me.”

“Who? Who took our daughter?” Sam’s father, Stanley, asked.

Cade turned to him and had to clear his throat before he could speak. “His name is Richard Hughes. He’s an arms dealer among other shady things. He’s also the man who murdered the girl in front of me.”

“If you knew this would happen, why didn’t you just let it be?” Aston asked.

“Because I’m not you, Aston. I knew what he was capable of and there was no way I could ever let him get away with it. If he could kill his own niece without flinching, what else do you think he can do?

“What I’m trying to say is, I never wanted to leave you. But at the time, leaving seemed like the only option I had. I’d never forgive myself if any of you got hurt because of me.”

“So you didn’t leave to become a cop?” his father asked.

“No, Dad. I left to protect you. I did become a cop, though. In fact, all of these guys are cops,” he said, pointing a thumb over his shoulder at the Raiders.

“You brought cops into my home?” Kayla shrieked.

“Federal agents,” Axel corrected.

“It’s alright, Kayla. They’re with me. Just like Ilyas.”

He knew she couldn’t argue with that since she considered Ilyas a part of the family and he worked for the British government.

“They can’t operate on foreign soil, and they aren’t white collar, either. So there’s really no need to worry, Kayla.”

Kayla shook her head and huffed. She looked like she was about to argue but changed her mind in the last second, her eyes softening as she met Cade’s gaze.

“This is a lot to take in for all of us,” Kayla said.

“I know.”

Kayla nodded and pursed her lips. “We need food. Lots of food.”

“Don’t forget the chocolate,” Cade said.

She threw him a dirty look and put her hands on her hips. “What do you take me for? Like I’d ever forget the chocolate.”

 

Cole

 

Dinner had been a mix of awkward silences and witty remarks. Cade’s family was something else, and surprisingly, he really liked them all. He knew, if he hadn’t been in love with Cade, if he’d never gotten to know him, he would’ve stayed far away from him and his family. But they were just like Cade, and it was one of the things that had drawn him to the man, even if he hadn’t known it at the time.

Cole hung up the last of his shirts and closed the closet doors. When Kayla led them to their room, she told Cole it was the room Cade used back when he still lived in England. She also told him Cole was the first guy Cade brought home.

Cole sat down next to Cade on the gigantic bed.

“That went okay, didn’t it?”

Cade shrugged. “I guess.”

“You guess?”

“It’s just…” Cade sighed and ran his hands down his face. “Everything is so freaking complicated, and even though I know they love me—because I do—I can see the scorn and pain in their eyes. It just hurts so damned much.”

Cole wrapped an arm around Cade and pulled him closer.

“Hey. You did what you thought was best. You were protecting them, and while they might not see that yet, they will. You just have to give them time.”

Cade tilted his head to look up at him. There were so much love and warmth in those beautiful blue eyes.

“Thank you,” Cade said. “For staying with me.”

He pressed a sweet kiss to Cade’s lips.

“I love you.”

A wide grin spread on Cade’s face. “I love you, too.”

He’d never tire of hearing that. Hell, he lived for that smile. Those words. With Cade, everything began to just make sense.

So,” Cole said, dragging out the word. “Should I call you Henry?”

Cade shuddered and shook his head. “Please, do not call me that. Ever.”

The outraged expression on Cade’s face made him burst out in laughter. Cade’s glower only made him laugh harder.

A knock sounded on their door. Cade stood, throwing a glare at Cole over his shoulder, and went to open the door. The spunky lady that was Cade’s grandmother stepped into their room and promptly squeezed Cade’s cheeks in her hands.

“I am so glad you’re finally home, sweetheart,” she said and ran her eyes over Cade. “But you need to get some meat on those bones, boy.”

Cade groaned but didn’t look like he was actually bothered. He chuckled and stepped back from his grandma to glance at Cole.

“I don’t think I’ve introduced you two properly,” Cade said. “Grandma, meet Cole Banks. Cole, meet Alena Smith.”

Cole stood, his lips spreading in a smile.

“It’s such a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

Alena ran her eyes over Cole and purred. “The pleasure is all mine.”

Cade narrowed his eyes at her and said, “Hey, keep those grabby hands to yourself. This one’s mine.”

She waved him off. “He wouldn’t be able to keep up with me anyway. I made sure your room was available for you. I couldn’t have my favorite grandson sleeping on a couch,” Alena said with a wink. “I didn’t know you’d be bringing so many friends along, or I would’ve secured some rooms for them too.”

“I’m sure they’ll be just fine, ma’am,” Cole said.

The Raiders were sleeping in the lounge room because the other bedrooms were occupied by Cade’s family. Alena placed a hand over her heart and turned her eyes on Cade.

“Oh, Rebel. Where did you find this fine young man and are there more?”

“I’m an only child,” Cole said with a one-shouldered shrug.

“That’s unfortunate. Lexus could use a man like you, all handsome, polite, and badass,” Alena said, her eyes sparkling.

“What exactly happened there?” Cade asked. “I thought she hated kids and now she’s a single mum?”

“Clover was a one-night stand, but the second Lexus laid eyes on that beautiful girl, she fell in love. Clover is her whole world now.”

“It’s amazing how much things can change while you’re gone,” Cade said, a melancholy smile finding his lips.

“Yeah. Who knew sweet, little Lexus would go out and get herself knocked up and not even be able to remember the guy’s name?”

Cade burst into laughter ,and watching him and his grandma have fun together made Cole appreciate his own little family that much more.

 

Cade

 

“So?” Cole asked.

Cade looked up at him with a frown. “So, what?”

“The flash drive?”

Cade bobbed his head. How best to explain? He’d done a little research while Cole flew them from Seattle to Fredericks County. He knew exactly where the flash drive was. The question was, how did he tell Cole?

“You’ve heard about the Resolute desk, right?” Cade asked.

“The one in the Oval Office? The president’s desk?”

Cade nodded and asked, “Ever seen National Treasure?”

Cole cocked his head to the side. “Yes?”

“Well, Cage got it wrong. There are no ‘twin’ desks. There are at least three desks, but they don’t look the same. Do you know why they’re called Resolute?”

“What’s with the twenty questions?”

Ignoring Cole’s question, Cade said, “The desks, among other things, were made out of the timber from a ship. The HMS Resolute.”

“Alright. You mind skipping the history lesson and tell me what the hell the Resolute desk has to do with finding this damned flash drive?”

“Fine,” Cade said with a huff. “You’re no fun.”

Cole raised an eyebrow at Cade who made a face back at him.

“There’s no desk at Buckingham Place. But there used to be two at different museums in Britain. The Grinnell desk used to be at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. It was there back when I needed a place to hide the flash drive,” Cade said.

“Please tell me you didn’t hide the flash drive in a Resolute desk.”

“Sorry.”

Cole sighed. “You realize I’m not Nicolas Cage, right? I don’t know shit about breaking into museums.”

“You look so much hotter than Cage,” Cade said, biting his lip to keep from smiling. “But as I said, it used to be at the museum. It’s not anymore.”

“Please. No.”

“It’s rented out to a private collector.”

“Don’t tell me.”

“His name’s Arkady Vasiliev.”

Cole groaned deeply. “Fuck.”

“I know, right? The museum I could pretty much handle alone, but a Russian billionaire with ties to the Russian mafia? Not so much. Good news is, Vasiliev is throwing a party this Saturday,” Cade said.

“What’s the bad news?”

Cade made a face. “He’s got crazy good security and a bit of a deadly temper from what I’ve heard. But we might be able to get into his party as guests.”

“What’s it gonna take to make that happen?”

“A little magic and two spies working together,” Cade said.

“You think Shadow and Ilyas can get us in?”

“It’s worth a try.”