Sadie Brooks grew up knowing she was different…special. And she thought the undercover work she did for the government was making a difference…making a better world. Then she discovered she was simply an asset—to be used or destroyed at whim. Escaping her government controllers, Sadie is determined to get her revenge on the organization responsible for the death of her twin sister—the Conclave.
Ethan Weiland has doubts about the Conclave but he’s never known anything else. Brought up from birth as the next hereditary leader, Ethan has never questioned his destiny. Until he comes face to face with a beautiful enemy who can read his mind and bring him to his knees with a thought. For the first time, Ethan sees a chance for redemption. When he’s in charge, he’ll be able to change things.
Too bad it won’t be that simple….
Ethan Weiland pulled his car in a few doors down from the house. After switching off the engine and lights, he sat for a moment, staring at his hands on the wheel. He’d never been one to avoid unpleasant truths, so he didn’t try to deny the fact: I don’t want to do this.
That didn’t mean he wouldn’t. He’d done many things in his time that he found distasteful. This was just one more. And he couldn’t even deny that it needed doing—well, according to the weird set of rules he lived his life by. When people joined the Conclave, it was for life. Of course, by the time anyone even knew of the Conclave’s existence, it was too late to back out. It was join or…well…the alternative, while not spelled out, was made very clear.
He took a deep breath, picked up his bag of equipment from the passenger seat, and climbed out of the car. The air was cold and a few flakes of snow drifted in the sky, settling on his shoulders. Winter was his favorite season in London.
He stood for a moment, letting the freezing air clear his mind of doubts. It was too late for reservations. For him, as a hereditary member of the Conclave, it had been too late on the day he’d been conceived, his future already set out.
At close to ten o’clock on a weeknight, the up-market residential street was quiet, though lights glowed behind heavy curtains. Only Forrester’s house was in darkness. An alley led between the buildings, opening into a lane that ran parallel, and he counted off the houses until he came to Forrester’s. He pulled himself up and over the five-foot fence and into the yard beyond. Here, the house was also in darkness and unease prickled across his skin.
Something was wrong. Ethan had learned early to rely on his gut instincts. Was Forrester already gone? He didn’t think so. The man was unlikely to bolt without funds, and Ethan had locked up his accounts as soon as he’d begun moving his assets. From that moment, Forrester had been a marked man.
As he drew closer, Ethan’s eyes fixed on something.
The glass of the window had been cut, a clean round circle to allow the latch to be opened. Someone had gotten here before him. But who?
After slipping his hand through the cut glass, he opened the latch and slid the window up. He climbed over the ledge and pulled a torch from his bag, flashed it around the room. His nostrils filled with the sweet, heavy scent of alcohol, and he played the beam of the torch over the floor. Broken bottles littered the deep red carpet, and an overturned cabinet spilled out its contents. Another stood still upright, all the drawers opened, papers pulled out as though a robbery had taken place. Ethan didn’t believe it for a moment.
Through an open doorway, a figure slumped in an upright chair.
Shit. Too fucking late.
He stood for a minute, listening, but the place was silent. Whoever had done this was gone, and he cursed silently that he hadn’t put a watch on the house and the man.
As he drew closer, the sharp tang of blood filled the air. Forrester had been tied to the chair, a neat hole in the center of his forehead, a splash of dark blood on the wall behind him where the bullet had exited.
Why had he been running?
And who had killed him? That was supposed to be Ethan’s job. There were protocols.
He switched off the torch and made his way in darkness back though the house, and then to his car. He got inside but didn’t start the engine.
He’d thought this was a routine case of a member getting cold feet, and it was his job to prevent it. But now there was clearly a third party involved.
A movement up the road caught his eye. Two women were strolling along the pavement from the opposite end of the long street. A blonde and a brunette, both tall, both wearing very short dresses and high heels.
He waited for them to pass; instead, they came to a halt outside the gate leading to Forrester’s house. Ethan pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and took a picture. After studying the house for a moment, the blonde pushed open the gate. Again, they paused at the door, then she put her hand to the handle and pushed. The door swung open, and a second later, they disappeared inside.
He knew from the files that Forrester had a habit of employing high-class hookers. Was that what this was?
What else could it be? He could think of no reason why anyone would visit a murder scene after the fact. But he was conditioned to be thorough. He punched the number of the Conclave’s contact at the Metropolitan Police into the cell phone. “There’s been a break-in and murder at 44 Layton Street. There are two women there now. I want to know who they are.” He closed the call without waiting for an answer and sent the picture to the same number.
Time to go.
“I don’t like it,” Sadie said as they stepped through the door and into the wide hallway. “Absolutely nothing is going right with this job.”
Rose brushed past her and studied the alarm on the wall. “It’s not even set.”
Sadie gritted her teeth and pushed down the red-hot anger that was always close to the surface. It wouldn’t help right now. “Goddamn it, he can’t have got away. It’s taken us six months to find this bastard.”
“If he’s run, we’ll catch him.”
They’d better—Forrester was their only link to the Conclave.
Sadie and Rose were both members of the Tribe, a former covert operations group of telepaths, who had always believed they were working for the British government. In fact, for years, they’d been under the control of the Conclave, a huge shadowy organization that spanned the globe.
The Conclave was behind every crappy thing that had happened to them over the last few years, including the death of Josie, Sadie’s twin sister. Now, if they wanted any hope of a future, they had to take the Conclave down. Unfortunately, they had to find the key players first, which was proving far from easy.
The Conclave was set up so that the majority of its members only knew two other members: the one who had recruited them and the one they subsequently recruited. It helped maintain secrecy and meant the only way to get to the top of the organization was to follow the chain. They’d studied literally hundreds of men and women until they’d finally found Forrester two days ago. He was their link in that chain—one step closer to identifying the people in charge. They’d been waiting for Jake, their leader, to arrive—he was due in tomorrow—when they’d gotten a hint Forrester was about to run.
So they’d put together a quick plan and here they were.
Except something wasn’t right.
She closed her eyes and searched the house. “There’s no one fucking here. We’re too late. He’s definitely vanished. Goddamn bastard.”
Rose sighed. “I think you’re right. I’ll have a look around and see if we can get any clue where he’s gone. You keep an eye on the road and make sure we’re not interrupted. I have a bad feeling about this.” She pressed a finger to her forehead. “There’s someone close. Not Forrester. Someone concentrating on us, but I can’t get a fix with all the people around.”
Sadie calmed her mind. If she closed her eyes, she could sense someone focusing on them. She crossed to the window, pulled back the curtain, and peered outside. Everything seemed quiet and nothing moved. She stopped looking with her eyes and reached out with her mind and found the source. A car was parked a few houses down the road, in the shadows between the streetlamps. Someone sat in the front seat, watching the house, and she eased into his mind…
For a second, her brain went blank as shock punched her in the gut.
Not freaking possible.
She knew him. Or rather she didn’t know him, but she recognized him, recognized his thoughts.
The headlights flashed on, and she blinked. The car pulled out slowly. As it passed under the streetlamp, the driver turned to look at the house, and she caught a glimpse of his face. Midnight dark hair and golden eyes. But she already knew what he looked like. She had seen him many times.
In my fucking dreams.
What the hell was going on?
He was the most beautiful man she had ever seen, a face of savage angles and sharp lines. She’d always believed she had made him up, a figment of her imagination, conjured him out of the crap that was her life. One good thing that was just hers.
She shook her head. Instead what? She had no clue.
The car was speeding up and she was gazing after it like a goddamn idiot. Reaching into his head, she snatched a brief flicker of information, and then he was out of range. She stared for long minutes after the car vanished from sight and the man’s thoughts faded from her mind.
Rose called in her mind, her tone urgent, and Sadie dropped the curtain and hurried into the next room, almost skidding to a halt. “Great, just fucking great,” she snarled.
“He’s dead,” Rose said.
“No kidding.” Forrester was tied to a chair, a bullet hole in the center of his forehead. “Crap.” She kicked at the chair that held him, then swore again. Open-toed sandals were not made for kicking.
It had taken them six months to find Forrester. Now he was dead…leaving them with nothing.
“It looks like a burglary.” Rose waved a hand around the room. And it did. Furniture was strewn across the floor, the cabinets upturned and emptied, and a safe hung open on the wall.
“Yeah, right. Of course it’s a burglary.” Not. She ran a hand through her hair, felt her fury rising.
“Calm down,” Rose suggested in a reasonable tone.
Grrr. “I don’t want to calm down. I—”
A whine came from beneath an upturned sofa. Sadie reached out with her mind and encountered a definitely nonhuman brain. She crouched down and the dog growled. “Hey, buddy, we’re friends.”
The growl quieted and the animal whimpered. Sadie lifted the heavy sofa, and for a second time that night, shock held her in place. He was a beautiful animal, a Doberman with a glossy black coat and dark chocolate eyes. And she’d seen him before. Not in real life, but in a dream, and the realization sent a wave of foreboding crashing through her. She shook herself; there would be time to contemplate the implications later. The dog scrambled up and raced across to where Forrester’s body hung from the chair. The whine escalated to a howl.
“Hush.” As she sent out calming thoughts, the howl dwindled.
“Forrester’s?” Rose asked.
“Yeah. Poor pooch.” She stroked his head, and he gazed up at her longingly. He wore a leather studded collar, and she read the name tag. “Max?” The dog wagged his tail.
She sighed. “What next?”
“I suppose we’d better check the place out,” Rose replied. “Though I’m not expecting to find anything. While I’d love this to be a straightforward burglary, I don’t believe it for a moment.”
“Someone got to him first. Which means they’ll have cleared anything of use.” She looked around the room. Where to start? Finally, she crossed to the desk and began going through the papers that had been pulled out of the drawers. Household bills. Nothing of any interest, but then what did she expect? A big notice saying: My contact in the ultra-secret Conclave is… “So who do you think did this?” she asked.
“Maybe his own people. If we got wind that he was running, then perhaps the Conclave did as well.”
“And they sorted out the problem.”
Rose had been kneeling on the floor picking through papers. Now she stood and crossed to the window, where the heavy velvet drapes were open.
“What is it?” Sadie asked.
“Sirens. But they can’t be coming for us. The alarms weren’t activated.”
“Maybe.” The double glazing on the windows had muffled the sound, but if Sadie concentrated, she could hear the sirens getting closer. She remembered the man in the car. Had he called the police? And if so, why? Who was he? She had a flashback to her dreams, to the feel of his mouth on hers, his whispered words of—
“It’s too late to run,” Rose said. “Our cover will hold. We’re unarmed. There’s nothing to say we’re not just a couple of working girls. Play the part—be nice.”
Sadie had to admit they looked the part, but she suspected “nice” was probably beyond her. But what did she know? She’d never actually tried before. “What do you want me to do?” she asked. “Offer them a free blow job?” Rose giggled. “Just don’t lose your temper.” “I’ll do my best,” she said dryly.
Rose peered out the window. “They’re pulling into the street.” She dug a cell phone out of her pocket and pressed a number. “Police, please.” She was silent for a moment while she was transferred. “There’s been a murder at 44 Layton Street.”
She didn’t say any more, just shoved the phone back in her pocket. “At least we’ll look like we reported it.” She took a deep breath. “Let’s go meet them.”
Sadie cast a last look at the dead body—he was no help to them now—and followed Rose to the front door. From the road outside, the squeal of tires showed the police had arrived.
Rose was about to open the door, but Sadie stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s do a check first.” Quickly, she did a scan of the minds approaching, searching for key words—the Conclave, the Tribe—but found nothing unexpected. “Okay, we’re good to go,” she told Rose.
She opened the door and they stood waiting while four police officers, three in uniform, one in plain clothes at the back of the group, walked up the drive. Max nudged at her ass, whining, and she put a soothing hand on his head, whispered calming words through his mind, and he pressed up close.
“Ma’am,” the first officer said. “We had a call that there had been a murder at this property.”
“Oh, my Lord, thank God you’re here.” Rose’s voice was filled with panic. “It’s horrible. He’s in there, and he’s dead, shot and…dead and there’s blood and—”
“Calm down, ma’am.” He nodded to one of the other officers who slipped past Sadie and into the house.
He came back a moment later. “They’re right. There’s definitely a dead body. Looks like a burglary, the place has been ransacked.”
“I’ll call it in,” the plainclothes guy said. “Get homicide out here. You lot set up a perimeter. No one gets through.”
“Can we go?” Sadie asked. The man turned to her with a narrow-eyed stare. He was handsome in a tough sort of way, tall, with dark messy hair and gray eyes.
“Sorry?” he asked.
“I said, can we go? You know, time is money.”
His gaze dropped down over her short dress, the long length of her stocking-clad legs, the four-inch scarlet stilettos, and then back to her face. She dipped into his mind; he thought she was sex on legs and what a pity he could never afford her on a cop’s salary.
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his battered black leather jacket. “I’m afraid you’re witnesses to a murder, so we’ll need to take a statement from you.”
“We weren’t actually here,” she said. “The guy was already dead when we arrived.”
“Do you live here?”
“No, we were just…visiting.”
“You knew the owner?”
“Not exactly. Let’s just say we had plans to get to know him…” Sadie licked her lips “…very well.”
She dug around in his mind a little more, but got nothing worth following up. The wave of anger pulsed through her again. All for nothing. They were back to the beginning.
He held out a hand and she shook it. “I’m Detective
“I’m…” Hell, what was her cover name?
“Suzi,” Rose whispered in her mind.
“Suzi,” she said, “and this is Ruby.” She waved a hand to Rose, and he shook hers as well. Very polite. His gaze dropped to Max, who was glued to her side, slight tremors running through his big body. “Your dog?”
She peered down at Max, and he gazed back longingly.
She really did not need a dog, and after Josie, she’d sworn never to care for, or be responsible for, anyone or anything ever again. But she had a feeling she and Max were destined to be together. Somehow the words fell out of her mouth. “Yeah, Steve. You have a problem with that?”
He hunkered down and stroked the dog’s head. Max liked him. “You always take dogs on…jobs with you?”
Did he sound disapproving? “Not always.” Something flickered across his mind, and a giggle escaped her. “And no, he does not join in.”
He cleared his throat. “Good…I think. Look, why don’t you take me through what happened. Then, as soon as the homicide guys get here, we’ll head to the station, take your official statement, fingerprints—”
“Fingerprints,” Rose said. “Are we suspects?” “Are we?” she asked silently in Sadie’s head.
“I don’t think so. He thinks we’re exactly what we appear to be.”
“You do make a good hooker.”
“Aw, thanks. So do you. An alternative career if everything goes to shit.”
“Not at the moment,” Steve said. “It’s standard procedure so we can eliminate your prints from the scene. Once that’s done, hopefully, you can get back to…work.”
“That would be nice. But actually, Mr. Dead Guy had us booked for the night, and he paid in advance, so no worries. Lead the way.”
It was an hour later before they were hustled into the back of a police car—Max between them—and on their way to the station. Sadie was pretty sure their story had been accepted, and if the paperwork held up, then they’d be free and clear. And the paperwork had better hold up, or she was going to be pissed.
As they drove through the silent streets, she closed her eyes. Instantly, her mind flooded with images of a man. A beautiful man, with golden eyes and midnight hair, who kissed her in her dreams. She thought back to that last glimpse into his mind as he’d driven away. Ethan, his name was Ethan Weiland.
Who are you, Ethan?
And am I going to have to kill you?
The shrill ring of his cell phone woke Ethan. He’d been dozing on the sofa, waiting for a call. He glanced at the ID— his contact at Scotland Yard—not the call he was expecting, but he pressed the button to accept. “What have you got?” he asked.
“The background checks were clean. They were just a pair of hookers. Apparently, Forrester was a regular user.”
“Where are they now?”
“They just left the station.”
“No. A man picked them up.”
“Send me his details along with the background checks.”
After the call ended, he sat staring into space. Something didn’t feel right. He tapped a button on his phone, and the photo he’d taken outside Forrester’s house came up. The two women were both beautiful, but his gaze was drawn to the blonde. Her hair was short, spiky, and revealed her face, with its sharp cheekbones, big dark eyes, and a wide mouth.
His phone rang and this time it was the call he had put in. He pressed the scrambler, heard the clicks as the call was relayed.
“What’s the problem?”
“I want to know why Eric Forrester is dead when I didn’t kill him.”
“Give me the details.”
He relayed what had happened that night.
“Coincidences do happen.”
“No, probably not.”
Ethan heard the amusement in his father’s voice.
His father was the only person with access to all the Conclave’s ongoing projects and even he only accessed that information in the event of discrepancies in the protocols. Such as the unexplained death of an asset.
“I’ll find out what I can and get back to you,” his father said, then ended the call.
Ethan’s gaze wandered back to the picture still on his screen.
Maybe he’d look her up. He didn’t normally pay for sex, but perhaps, in this case, he would make an exception.