Secrets and Satin (A MACKENZIE NOVEL) 2/11/2013
No one knows heartbreak like Jade Jax. After losing her husband to a tragic death, she doesn’t believe love can happen twice. But after years of living a half-life without her husband, her body starts to waken again, and needs she’d forgotten come to the surface.
Max Devlin never thought Jade would want him outside of his dreams, but fate plays a helping hand when they’re thrust into a high stakes mission, protecting each other’s backs like old times. Max decides he’s finally ready to end his bachelor ways, but he learns quickly that happily-ever-after isn't always possible. Because Jade has no desire to ever love again. Not when she knows how painful it can be.
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“I’m on the roof,” Max said. “You’ve got to be my eyes.”
“I’ve got you in my sights,” Elena Nayal said through the tiny bud in his ear. “You’ve got about a minute and a half until the two Secret Service agents make their way back around the house next door. Otherwise you’re clear.”
“Plenty of time.”
His rubber-soled shoes helped him keep traction as he slid down the sharply pitched roof to the small window on the top floor. Black gloves kept his fingers from being torn to shreds, and the black mask over his face and the matching clothes helped him blend in with the night.
The climb up the side of the Dallas mansion had been the hardest part—not to mention a former president lived in the house next door, and on a night like this, where unfamiliar cars and people lined the street, security was at a peak.
The climb had tested his strength and endurance ten fold, and he was glad he’d pushed himself so hard through rehab. Even now, his leg was aching and he’d had to stop for a few seconds to catch his breath once he’d reached the top.
His feet touched on the tiny lip that jutted from the edge of the roof, and he lowered himself down until his hands had a good grasp on the ledge. His muscles bunched and strained and sweat dripped from his temple from the relentless summer heat. He lowered himself inches at a time and then dropped the rest of the way to the balcony. He landed silently and then took the tools from the zippered pocket of his pants.
“Forty-five seconds,” Elena said.
“I’ve got a visual on the senator,” Cade MacKenzie said. “He’s dancing with a woman who has a face like a hatchet and a diamond the size of a quail egg on her finger.”
Cade was the oldest MacKenzie—there being five in all—and once upon a time, Cade had been one of Max’s best DEA agents. At least before the del Fuego cartel had killed Cade’s lover right in front of him. Cade had left the DEA and moved to Texas, which was where he’d met the love of his life and settled down to a nice, normal life, where they had a house in a busy neighborhood, a toddler, and another baby on the way. Or at least it was normal if you ignored Cade’s highly trained intuition and the ability to protect and defend—no matter what it took.
He and Cade had slipped back into their old routine as if they’d never been separated, and the change he’d made in his life over the past year had felt good. Damned good.
“That would be Martha Sandusky,” Max said, taking a slim tool and using it to unlatch the window. “She’s the wife of one of Senator Henry’s biggest donors.” The latch gave and Max slid the window up and slipped inside. “I’m in,” he said.
“Just in time,” Elena said, her voice soft and slightly accented.
Elena had been adopted by the MacKenzie clan over the past year—much like Max and Jade and a few other team members. Once the MacKenzies decided to bring you into the family fold, there was no point in fighting it. Family was everything. You could always trust family and you knew they’d always have your back. Max had often wished he’d been born a MacKenzie instead of one of the Boston Devlins.
They’d met Elena in Mexico when their team had gone to wipe out the del Fuego cartel once and for all. Elena had been caught in the crosshairs and she’d been kidnapped, beaten and raped repeatedly before Alexander Ramos’s men tossed her aside like garbage. She’d survived, and every day was a struggle, but she was a fighter.
Declan MacKenzie had talked her into coming to America and taking the job with Max and Cade in the Texas office of MacKenzie Security. Dec had promised her they’d train her how to fight—how to protect herself no matter what the cost—and he’d promised they’d hunt down every last member of the cartel that had touched her. It had been enough to convince her. And Dec had come through on his promises. There was nothing left of the del Fuego cartel.
Elena had been quiet at first—wary of the men she worked with—and she had a look in her eye that all but broke your heart. But Cade’s wife, Bayleigh, had befriended her and had done a lot to help her heal. Therapy and the training she was promised had done more, though she still had a long way to go. Now it felt like Elena had always been there, keeping the office running smoothly and doing the occasional field work when they needed her.
He looked around the small guest bedroom and noticed a few items of clothing and a jewelry case open on the dresser. One of the guests from the party must be staying overnight.
Max stripped off his gloves, pants and shirt, revealing his tuxedo below, and then he peeled off the thick rubber soles on the bottom of his dress shoes. He carried everything into the bathroom and dumped them in the clothes hamper, and then remembered the ski mask and tossed it in as well.
He checked himself in the mirror, making sure the putty he’d used to disguise himself was still in place. His nose was a little longer and his jaw softer. Dark brown contacts covered his normal blue. He straightened his tie and smoothed back the dark wig. He’d let his own hair grow out since the accident, so it was just long enough to pull into a tail at the nape of his neck, and it covered the ridge of scar tissue in the side of his head quite nicely. But for now it was all tucked under the protective cap. Not even his own family would recognize him.
“The senator is moving to the game room,” Cade said. “Looks like he’s settling in for a round of poker. Bayleigh’s going to be mad she missed this. There are almost as many celebrities here as politicians.”
Max grunted and opened the bedroom door, looking out into the hallway. Music and the muted sounds of laughter could be heard from the first floor, and he quickly left the bedroom and headed towards the back stairway that was reserved for family.
The halls were deserted and he walked boldly through the second floor family wing towards the senator’s office. He tested the doorknob and found it locked, so he used the lock pick tools he’d placed in the inside pockets of his jacket.
“Man, I’m good,” he said as the lock snicked and the doorknob turned beneath his hand.
“That’s not what I’ve heard.” Cade said. “There was a lovely story about you in the Enquirer last week. Something about Agent Danger and how he should be called Minute Max instead.”
“Fuck off, MacKenzie. I’m going to tell your wife you’re reading tabloids instead of building those shelves she wants for the baby’s room.”
As far as the public knew, Max was an ex-DEA agent who was disgruntled with the government after receiving a life threatening injury, and he’d gone back to his wealthy roots like the prodigal son, though his family had been less than happy to welcome him into the fold. No one but a select few knew he’d taken a job with MacKenzie Security—a government funded private firm that was so top secret only a few in power knew of its existence.
It had been Declan MacKenzie’s brainchild for the past several years, and he’d been the one with the connections to make it happen. Declan was an interesting man—a secretive man—and whatever he’d done for the CIA had garnered him respect from everyone who’d ever heard his name. Max had worked with him on occasion, and he knew he was a brilliant strategist and an agent who could get the job done. It hadn’t taken a lot of convincing for Max to resign as Special Agent in Charge of the DEA and go to work for MacKenzie Security.
Being shot in the head by Alexander Ramos was the best thing that could have happened to him—though it hadn’t seemed like it at the time. Society thought Max was spending his days as a playboy, living off his trust fund and going through as much of his family money as possible on anything from cars to real estate to questionable investments. Even his family thought that’s what he spent his time doing.
And yes, the tabloids had started calling him Agent Danger—which gave those he worked with unending amusement and ammunition. It didn’t matter that he’d never slept with any of the women they’d interviewed or done half the things he’d been accused of. The important thing was that people believed the illusion he presented.
“What kind of language is that?” Cade said. “You’re famous now, Agent Danger—like a superhero. You’ve got to set a good example. Maybe you need a mask. Or some little tights.”
“Or maybe I need to kick your ass. It’s been a while since you and I stepped into the ring. I think it’s time for a rematch.”
“Hell, no,” Cade said. “Last time I sparred with you, Bayleigh made me sleep on the couch because she couldn’t sleep with all the groans. You have an unfair advantage. I still think you cracked one of my ribs.”
“Nah, you’re just a pussy.”
Max did have an unfair advantage in the ring since he’d had MMA training, but Cade made up for the lack of training by fighting dirty. Max had almost as many bruises as Cade, but it had been fun. He locked the office door behind him and went over to the thin laptop on the desk.
“You read me, Elena?”
“I’m here,” she said. “I didn’t want to interfere with your male bonding time. Go ahead and open it. You’ll need to put the device in the USB port, and then I can run it from here.”
Max opened up the laptop and watched the screen flicker on. It was password protected, but Elena could get around that. It hadn’t taken them very long at all to notice she excelled in technology, and Dec had made sure she’d gotten the extra training she needed for situations just like this one.
Davis Henry was a member of the Senate Defense Committee, and there were enough leaks coming from that office to sink a ship. Too many of the United States’ enemies knew too much, and it couldn’t be a coincidence any longer. It was a mess the government didn’t want to dirty their hands with because Henry held a lot of power, and where there was power, there was money. Always the bottom line when it came to the government. And when the government didn’t want to dirty their hands, they called MacKenzie Security.
Their mission was to get into the senator’s personal files where they suspected he kept records of what he was selling and to whom. As of yet, they hadn’t found a money trail, but it would only be a matter of time.
“This champagne is terrible,” Cade said. “You’d think they could bring out the good stuff for five-thousand dollars a plate.”
“It must be terrible to rub elbows with the rich and famous while some of us are sweating our asses off in the car,” Elena said, her accent thickening with irritation.
“Well, when you put it that way—”
“Could we pretend we’re on a mission here?” Max interrupted. “The device is in the USB. Get me the password, Elena.”
Numbers scrambled across the screen before he finished the sentence, and one by one the numbers turned into letters until the password was revealed. The screen went black and then the desktop flickered on.
“Go ahead and put the flash drive into the other USB,” Elena said. “We’re just going to download his entire hard drive, and then I can sort it all out back at the office on our own computers. He’s got several encrypted files that are going to take some time.”
“Uh, oh,” Cade said. “Looks like the senator had a shitty hand. He’s headed out of the game room and making his way towards the center stairs.”
Max looked up at the door to make sure it was locked and he willed the computer to hurry. He got up and looked around the office. It was bigger than most people’s living rooms. Floor to ceiling bookshelves were lined up across the wall at his back and a small sitting area sat directly across the room from his massive oak desk. An ugly painting hung on the wall over the sitting area, and it was so obviously a wall safe Max wondered why the senator even bothered to hide it. If he had more time he’d look inside and see if the senator kept hard copies of his records or a journal.
“He’s heading up the stairs,” Cade said.
Max went back to the computer to check the progress and did a quick search through the desk drawers while he was waiting. His hands were steady and his search methodical.
“Can you stall him?” Max asked.
“Not without jumping over all these people and making a fool out of myself. My other options are to shoot him in the arm or throw a glass of champagne at his head.”
“Maybe you should just stay where you are,” Max said dryly. He quickly flipped through a stack of loose papers in the top drawer but didn’t find anything of consequence. He closed it softly and opened the next drawer. There was still two minutes until the download was complete.
“Wait a minute,” Cade said. “It looks like the governor has a bone to pick with Senator Henry. Neither of them looks very happy.”
“Not surprising. They hate each other’s guts. The governor is a moron but he has impeccable timing. I just need one more minute.”
Max finished looking through the drawers and started on the bookshelves. More than one person had the thought that the best hiding places were those in plain sight.
“It looks like the Secretary of Defense needs an urgent word with Henry as well,” Cade said. “The governor has walked off in a huff, and now Henry and the Secretary are headed back down the stairs in a hurry. Something must be wrong.”
“Not our problem,” Max said.
“It’s clear,” Elena said. “You can remove the device and shut down.”
“Something’s going on down here, Max,” Cade said. “You should probably hurry. Some kind of political powwow is happening in one of the alcoves. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to know that every one of them are on our suspected list.”
“Elena,” Max said. “There’s no chance our signal was picked up?”
“No, I would have gotten an alert if there was someone else monitoring the system.”
Max grunted and shut down the computer, closing the lid and placing it exactly how he’d found it on the senator’s desk. He pocketed the flash drive and the nifty device Elena had given him to transfer the signal from over a mile away, wiped down the surfaces he’d touched, and headed back to the door.
He listened carefully for anyone out in the hallway and then slowly cracked the door open. The hall was clear and he stepped out of the office and made sure the door locked behind him. He straightened his bowtie and then headed for the stairs.
He almost made it.
“Hey! You there,” a man’s voice called from behind him. “Stop where you are.”
Max turned and gave the guard a superior look. Another guard joined him, and Max swore silently as he saw the guard was already talking into his headset to alert security. Max shoved his hands in his pockets casually and adopted a bored expression, not looking like a man who’d just stolen national security files from the senator’s computer.
“Are you talking to me?” he asked.
The guard came closer until he was standing just in front of Max. The stairs leading down to the party on the first floor were more than a dozen feet away.
“The senator’s office is off limits to guests.”
“I wasn’t in the senator’s office.” Max picked at invisible lint on his sleeve and then gave the guard a sheepish look. “I was in that room right there,” he said, pointing to the door next to the office. “A lady friend and I had a—meeting. She’s familiar with the house and told me where to meet her. But I’d prefer that not get out. Her husband might not like it.”
“You’re going to need to come with us, sir,” the guard said, pointing towards the way Max had originally come—back to the family wing. “Do you have your invitation?”
Max let out an audible sigh and started walking. He stayed relaxed when the other guard flanked him. “I don’t think you know who I am,” he said indignantly. “I’m not going to be treated like a common criminal in the senator’s home.”
Max heard footsteps pounding up the back stairway and knew he had to make his move quickly. His foot lashed out and kicked the guard on his right at the side of the knee. A sickening crack sounded and Max covered the guard’s mouth with his hand so his scream couldn’t be heard over the party below. Max touched the pressure point in the guard’s neck and let him fall unconscious to the ground.
The other guard reached for his weapon, and Max grabbed his wrist, twisting it so the bone broke and the gun fell from his useless grasp. He gave him a short punch to the jaw, and the guard crumpled on top of the other one.
“I need a distraction,” he said, running towards the stairs at the front of the house.
“I’m on it,” Cade said.
An enormous crash sounded below, and Max heard a few screams from the women in the crowd as champagne glasses filled to the rims crashed to the marble floor and splashed their dresses. Cade had come through, and Senator Henry was apologizing to his guests while berating the poor server Cade had tripped.
Max walked at a sedate pace down the wide center stairs at the front of the house as several people moved to stand there while they waited for the mess to be cleaned up. He caught the sight of Cade from the corner of his eye, and he ignored the shouts from upstairs where he’d left the guards. Cade bumped against him in the crowd and Max slipped the flash drive into Cade’s pocket before Cade moved on through the throng of people. The front door was only steps away and people were starting to panic from the unknown shouts and the sudden swarm of security everywhere.
“There he is!” Someone yelled from behind him. “Stop him!” He didn’t turn around to see who had said it. His training kicked in, and the only thing he worried about was blending. Making himself invisible. None of the people around him could tell who the guards were pointing to.
“I’ve got an alternative pick up en route,” Elena said. “I just got word from Declan about half an hour ago that he’s in town and we have extra men. I’m trapped behind a limo. Head east towards the next cross street and they’ll meet you there.”
Indignant shouts of partygoers echoed in his ears as guards shoved their way through the crowd, and Max slipped out the front door and down the garden path. The front gardens were lush and the fragrant scent of roses reminded him of his grandmother—overpowering and slightly stifling. Each of the estates in the exclusive neighborhood sat on an acre of property that was tree lined and picturesque. Only people with a lot of money could force their lawns to be that green in a Texas summer.
The air was stagnant and smothering and the humidity so thick it felt like breathing water, so the only people outdoors were parking attendants. Max was halfway down the arched driveway before security guards swarmed from each side of the house. He couldn’t fight all of them, and he didn’t want to kill anyone. They were only doing their jobs. But he knew they wouldn’t have any compunction about using their weapons on him, and damned if he felt like taking another bullet anytime soon.
He ran. It was all he could do, and he hoped to God the pick up team was waiting where Elena had said it would be. Yells came from behind him, but he focused on the trees to the east and to the street he knew would be on the opposite side.
The loud crack of a gunshot sounded like it was right next to his ear, and the bark on the tree in front of him exploded, sending tiny shards of wood into his face and neck. Blood ran into his eye and his leg ached as he pushed himself harder and harder. He weaved in and out of the trees, in no particular pattern, making himself a smaller target, but the gunshots didn’t stop and if anything, they sounded closer.
He ran out of the cover of trees and straight into the open residential street in front of him. If his driver wasn’t there, he was screwed. He heard the squeal of tires before he saw the tiny silver car turn the corner and drive straight toward him. He kept running as the driver’s side window opened and a slim hand appeared, holding a semiautomatic handgun.
Shots from the car were fired rapidly as the driver laid down cover for him, and he heard a couple of grunts from too close behind him as the bullets found their target. The driver turned the wheel at the last possible second and the passenger door flung open. Max jumped inside, and the car was speeding back down the street from the direction it had come from before he was able to get the door closed.
“Thanks for the ride,” he said.
Jade looked at him out of unreadable green eyes. “It just so happened I was in the neighborhood.”