Drake arrived at the Rogue Unit headquarters in central London at precisely 09h00. His shirt was clean and pressed, his suit was far from Savile Row, but it was the best he could afford. His shoes were so shiny he could see his reflection in them. He wanted to look the part. This was the most important meeting of his career. He couldn’t afford to fuck it up.
“Don’t worry, Pat’s a good guy,” Grant had told him during his surprise visit last week. “I served with his son over in Afghan.”
Drake wasn’t so sure. He’d heard that Pat was a hard man to get to know. Stubborn and unflinching when it came to picking and choosing their operations, absolutely incorruptible, and a force to be reckoned with. Rumor had it that he even made the smooth-talking politicians in Whitehall quake in their boots. A man to be admired, but it did make him rather formidable. But then, he’d expect nothing less from a former parachute regiment commander and special forces operative.
Pat’s reputation preceded him. He’d built the Rogue Unit up into an organization steeped in secrecy and rumor. His operatives were all ex-special forces, and they got the job done. Their success rate was through the roof, which was a lot more than could be said for similar private security companies.
Drake had researched them thoroughly after Grant’s visit.
Now that was a blast from the past. He’d never thought he’d see the mountain of a man again, not since the SAS captain’s last op in Afghan where Grant’s entire team bar one had been taken out. Grant had bailed on the military and the last Drake had heard, he’d gone missing, presumed dead in the Middle East during an off-the-books assignment.
“I thought you were dead,” he’d told him through a God Almighty hangover, when his old friend had appeared at his door.
Grant had laughed. “No, as you can see, I’m very much alive. I heard you were out and thought I’d pop over for a cuppa. You going to invite me in?”
Drake didn’t have much choice. Grant was blocking his doorway and didn’t look like he was going to move any time soon.
“Sure, why not? I could use one myself.”
Drake ran a hand through his disheveled hair and winced at the tender spot on the side of his head. He’d literally peeled himself off the couch five minutes ago.
“Nasty graze you got there. How’d it happen?”
“I think someone hit me over the head with a bottle,” he complained. “But it’s a bit hazy.”
Grant studied him. “Bar fight?”
“Something like that.”
They walked into the kitchen. “You take milk?”
“Yeah, no sugar.”
Drake got the kettle on the go. He was still confused as to why Grant was here. “So, you were just passing through and thought you’d look me up?”
“Yeah, and I’ve got a proposition for you.”
Drake sat down a little unsteadily. His head was pounding but he couldn't decide if it was because of his hangover or the dent in his hairline.
“A proposition? What kind of proposition?”
“Let’s have that brew first, then we’ll talk.”
The kettle clicked off and Drake made the tea. Strong, just like they took it in the military. Even when they were on ops, they were never short of a brew. It was a way to wind down after the chaos. To regroup and take a breather.
“I heard you'd been making a bit of a nuisance of yourself,” said Grant. He’d always been very direct. Not one to beat around the bush.
“Who told you that? I was helping a damsel in distress. Some bloke was laying into her. I just shoved him off.”
And got a bottle in the head as a fuck you.
Grant glanced at the wound that Drake hadn’t even bothered to clean up yet. It looked worse than it was. “Something tells me he didn’t appreciate it.”
Drake winced. “You could say that. The coppers didn’t appreciate my good will either. Spent half the night in lockup.”
Grant sipped his tea contemplatively.
“What’s going on Drake?” he asked, after a pause. “This isn’t like you. You don’t go around looking for bar fights.”
“I told you, I was helping…”
“Yeah, I know what you said. It’s just unlike you, that’s all. Are you bored or something?”
Drake stared into his tea, still gently swirling from where he’d stirred it. A long moment passed. “I’m so fucking bored, I’m thinking about putting a bullet through my head.”
“Jesus, man. Why don’t you get help?”
“Hey, don’t panic. I’m not suicidal, not really. I just don’t know what to do with myself. I thought about getting a job, but I’m not qualified for anything, except maybe working on the oil rigs up north. I don’t want to be a security guard at a shopping mall or anything like that. This not knowing what to do is killing me.”
He ground his jaw and clutched his mug so hard he thought it might break.
“That’s why I’m here,” Grant said.
Drake looked up.
“I’ve got a job for you.”
He frowned. “Where?”
“Where I work, at the Rogue Unit.”
“You work for them?” Everyone on the private security circuit knew about the Rogue Unit. Ex-spec ops guys on off-the-book assignments for the British government, as well as some private clients. Most of the time they were talked about in hushed tones with a degree of reverence usually reserved for legends in the field.
“Yeah, I’m the Ops Manager. I started the company with Pat Burke after I got back from Afghan. I was in a dark place, and he came to me with his idea and we took it from there.”
Drake stared at him. “I had no fucking idea, mate.”
“Not many people do.”
“So, what does the esteemed Rogue Unit want with me?”
“We have a job that requires your particular skillset and we’re pretty swamped at the moment. Business is booming. There’s a lot of bad shit going down in the world.”
Drake snorted. Grant didn’t have to tell him that. He’d been involved in his fair share of it over the last decade.
“You’ve done personal protection work before, haven’t you? I seem to remember you guarding those oil engineers out in Iraq a couple of years back.”
“Yeah, amongst others.”
“Great.” Grant grinned. “We’ve got a client who needs close protection around the clock. She’s a very important client, a personal friend of Pat’s and she’s been getting death threats.”
“Who is it?”
“Does it matter? It’s a job. We could really use your help on this one, mate. If all goes well, we’ll sign you on full time. Pension plan, dental, the works. We have ops all over the world, it’s a great opportunity.”
Drake hadn’t had to think about it for long.
After Grant had left, he’d showered, gone to the nearest walk-in clinic and got three stitches in his head, then called Grant back and accepted.
His stitches had been removed yesterday and while his scar was still red and ugly, it was healing fast and was partially covered by his hairline.
“Wait here,” the receptionist told him and picked up the phone.
“Your nine o’clock’s arrived, sir.”
She smiled at Drake and stood up. “Follow me, Mr. Morgan.”
They walked through a set of thick, glass security doors and down a short corridor. His shiny shoes sunk into the plush carpeting as he gazed out of large, spotless windows on the right-hand side that overlooked London’s gleaming financial district.
She knocked on a door, then opened it without waiting for a reply. “Mr. Burke will see you now.”
Drake nodded his thanks and went inside.
“Ah, Drake Morgan. I’ve heard good things about you. Excellent job in rescuing those hostages in Nairobi. Could have been much worse than it was, if not for your brave act.”
Drake shrugged it off. “I did what anyone in my position would have done, sir.”
Pat locked his dark eyes on him and grinned. “Nonetheless, it was very well done. I’m sorry you got discharged over it. How are you feeling?”
“Fine. Never been in better shape.”
“Bullet wounds healed?”
He nodded. “Weeks ago.”
Pat’s gaze lifted to the wound on his temple.
Drake held his tongue. The Rogue Unit boss would have been told about his little bar fight and stint in the holding cells down at the local police station. Too bad, there was nothing he could do about that now.
Would it scupper his chances?
He bloody hoped not.
He needed this job. It was more than just a job, it was a lifeline. The Rogue Unit. He would be lucky enough to be offered a position as a PPO at any firm, let alone here.
“Is that going to be a problem for you?” Pat asked, pointedly.
“No, sir. It won’t happen again.”
Pat nodded and moved on. Drake exhaled.
“I think Grant explained what we need?”
He nodded. “Yes, sir. You need a personal protection officer for a client.”
“A personal friend,” he corrected. “I knew her mother.”
“And I understand you’re keen to take on the role?”
Please… He was clenching his fists under the table.
Pat nodded and looked him up and down. “Your reputation speaks for itself. If you’re in agreement, then we can sign the paperwork right now.”
He slid a document over the desk towards Drake.
“It says this is a probationary phase, and after this assignment ends, we’ll make you a permanent offer. Short and sweet. I didn’t have time to go into much detail.”
Drake picked up a pen and signed on the dotted line.
“Excellent.” Pat grinned. He seemed far less intimidating now. “I believe our client is waiting, so you can meet her right away.”
“She’s here, now?” Drake sat up straighter.
“Yes, I asked her to come in so I could introduce you.”
He’d been so sure Drake would say yes. But then, who wouldn’t? It was the Rogue Unit. He’d be a fool not to accept.
Pat picked up the phone. “Bring her through, Maisie.”
A few minutes later, the office door swung open and in walked the most beautiful woman Drake had ever seen. Tall, close to five foot ten, with endless legs, a Marilyn Monroe hourglass figure and a face that could grace the cover of a magazine.
He was momentarily speechless. Then he stumbled to his feet.
“Izzy, come in. I want you to meet your assigned personal protection officer, Drake Morgan.”
The woman walked in and raked him over. Her expressive brown eyes studied his face, then dropped to his chest, lingered briefly on his biceps, before lowering to his legs. She gave a little nod, as if to say, you’ll do, then stuck out her hand. “Izzy Beaumont. Delighted to meet you.”
Her voice was like cut glass, posh and crystal clear.
He engulfed her proffered hand. Soft skin, nails perfectly manicured, firm handshake.
He caught a whiff of a wonderfully exotic fragrance. Warm, with a hint of something alluring. “Likewise.”
He waited until she’d sat down, then resumed his seat.
“I take it you’ve told him about the death threats?” Her question was directed at Pat.
“Yes, but perhaps you’d like to fill him in on the details?”
She turned to Drake. He tried not to gaze at her long, smooth legs ending in black high-heeled sandals. The short summer dress she wore had risen up around her thighs. He had a fleeting image of those legs wrapped around him.
What the fuck?
He hardly knew the woman. He banished the indecent image.
“I don’t know if you’re aware, Mr. Morgan, but my father, Richard Beaumont, recently passed away.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. He didn’t have a clue who Richard Beaumont was.
“Thank you.” She paused. “He was the founder and CEO of African Enterprises, a mining conglomerate with interests all over Africa. When he died, he left the company to me. I am now the majority shareholder.”
Drake had heard of African Enterprises. Money and power. That was quite a responsibility for one so young. She looked about twenty-four, twenty-five, which made her eight or nine years younger than him.
“I think these death threats are related to that.”
“Do you have them with you?” Drake asked.
“No, I had to give them to the police.”
“There are copies in Miss Beaumont’s file,” Pat informed him.
Drake nodded, he’d look them up later.
“Anyway, the police believe I’ve got to take them seriously, so I sought out Pat, who said he could help. I understand you have prior experience in this area?”
Drake nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Okay, good. Well, I’d like you to start immediately, if possible. I’m leaving for Tenerife tomorrow, it’s kind of a working holiday, and I want you to come.”
Drake glanced at Pat, who nodded. “Don’t worry, Drake is ready to accompany you. We’ll have to sort out the license for his weapon, but otherwise he’s good to go.”
Guess he was going to Tenerife.
Izzy smiled, the first time since she’d walked into the room. “It’s a fashion shoot for my new swimwear line. To be honest, I could do with a bit of sunshine. It’s been a very trying few weeks.”
“I’m sure.” Pat smiled fondly. “Have fun and don’t worry about a thing. Drake is as good as they come. You’re in safe hands.”
When he wasn’t drinking himself into a coma and getting involved in bar fights, yes.
She looked at him. “You can pick me up at five o’clock tomorrow morning. We fly out at seven-thirty.”
“I’ll need a list of those traveling with you,” Drake said. “In order to vet them.”
She hesitated, then nodded. “Of course, I’ll see my assistant gets that off to you ASAP.”
He was battling to reconcile the swimwear line with the mining conglomerate. What did one have to do with the other? But he kept his questions to himself. All would be revealed in time when he’d had a chance to look over her file.
“See you tomorrow, then, Miss Beaumont.”
She gave a terse nod, then turned to his boss.
“Thank you, Uncle Pat. I appreciate your help.”
Shit. When Grant had said friend of the family, he wasn’t kidding.
Pat came around the desk and embraced her. If he was embarrassed by her term of endearment, he didn’t show it. “Any time, Izzy. You know that.”
Drake’s eyes widened even further. Human contact from the formidable Pat Burke. Who would have thought it?
Izzy Beaumont swept out in a fragrant cloud of designer perfume.
“She’s quite something, isn’t she?” mused Pat, staring after her. “Done remarkably well for herself since her mother’s death.”
“Sir?” He wasn’t following.
“Izzy’s got her own fashion empire. She’s what they call an influencer. Instagram, I believe, not that I’m one for social media. Millions of followers. That makes her a very important asset to brands. She’s got her own swimwear line, as you heard and signature perfume. And she’s in talks for other ventures too. Quite the entrepreneur is our Izzy.”
“You’re related to her, sir?”
Pat’s eyes flickered. “No, not in the traditional sense, but I’ve known Izzy since she was a baby and since her parents are both dead, I feel a certain responsibility towards her. She’s my goddaughter.”
Goddaughter. Bloody hell. He’d better not fuck up.
He cleared his throat. “I want to thank you, sir, for giving me this opportunity. I’m honored to be working for the Rogue Unit.”
Pat acknowledged his words with a little tilt of the head. His hair was turning silver at the sides, but he was still a rock of a man. Stocky and broad, he was built like a wrestler and clearly worked out in the gym.
Even his handshake was crushing.
“Maisie will show you to your desk where you can prep for tomorrow. There’s quite a bit more on Izzy in the file, and you should check out her Instagram profile, see what all the hype is about.” He grinned. “I think you’ll be surprised.”