These secrets won't stay hidden
Jacob Ross needs Isabel Sage. She's a beautiful, brilliant heiress to Scotland's wealthiest family fortune—but Jacob isn't interested in her looks or money. Isabel holds the key to questions about his past. And when he gets a weekend assignment as her bodyguard, Jacob finally has a shot at getting the truth.
But Jacob never expected Isabel to be anything other than a spoiled rich girl. Never expected to feel such a connection. And when Isabel realizes why he's really there, she'll be furious at being used. Jacob will have to convince her that she's become so much more than an assignment...
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Cathryn Parry writes contemporary romance from her home in Massachusetts. Her Harlequin Superromance novels have received such honors as a Booksellers' Best Award, Holt Medallion Awards of Merit and several readers' contest nominations. In her free time, she loves figure skating, planning as many vacations as possible and pursuing her genealogy hobby. Please visit her website at CathrynParry.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
U.S. Special Agent Jacob Ross was sitting in an intimate Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, next to a woman he wasn't interested in being with, when the text message that he'd been waiting for came in.
Jacob reached for his jacket and stood.
"Where are you going?" Eddie asked from across the table.
Jacob glanced at his oldest friend and ex-partner, the guy who'd ridden with him nearly every day for seven years, back when they'd still been on the New York Police Department together. Clinging to Eddie, practically in his lap, was his wife, Donna, and though she leaned forward, desperately trying to catch Jacob's eye, he was purposely avoiding the two women and their blatant interrogation.
"A job," he said to Eddie. "Sorry, but I have to go."
Eddie put down his wineglass and raised his eyebrow. He probably figured Jacob was bluffing about the text message, but would never say so in front of Donna.
"Right," said his ex-partner. "The Cifelli bust?" The Cifelli bust was their personal code. It was nonsense—meant absolutely nothing. Jacob and Eddie had made all kinds of fake codes and shorthand between them over the years. Since they'd been special agents in the U.S. Secret Service together, though, they'd been working under stricter protocol, as part of bigger teams with more complex oversight.
Jacob paused. He still had his phone out, in the process of texting back, but in terms of operational backup, it probably was best to involve Eddie. They'd both gone through the brutal Secret Service background check at the same time—from polygraphs to psychological testing, and in Jacob's case, to the dark cloud that still hung over him: the threat of further, future investigation. There wasn't much his old partner didn't know about him.
"Actually," he said to Eddie in a low voice, "it's about Sage."
"Sage?" His former partner made a soft whistle. Then he reached for his jacket. "I'm coming with you."
"Eddie, not you, too!" his wife said. "We just ordered."
"Give me five minutes, hon," Eddie said as he kissed her, and then he motioned Jacob toward the exit. Jacob led the way, weaving through a crowd of waiting diners as he pushed through the heavy glass doors.
Outside, the street was brightly lit, loud with students and tourists. The Friday after-work rush was in play, too; businesspeople hurried past, intent on getting to their subway and bus stops. The sky was spitting rain; a miserable, late-October night.
They took refuge under an awning near the sign for West Fifty-third Street. Not wasting any more time, Jacob pulled up the text message.
Eddie angled toward the screen, squinting at it. "Why are you getting a text about John Sage after all this time? What's happening, Jake?"
What was happening was that Jacob's application to the most elite and sought-after of Secret Service jobs—the Presidential Protective Division—had been put on hold. The new department psychologist had flagged Jacob's file, and not in a good way. "I got called into headquarters today with a list of questions I need to answer," Jacob said.
"You're kidding. Questions about your father?"
Jacob nodded. Eddie knew he didn't like to talk about him. He shuffled his feet from side to side, not saying anything more.
Then again, special agents were superstitious. Nobody liked to talk about police officers killed in the line of duty.
"Can your mom help with the questions?" Eddie finally asked.
"No." His mom never discussed it—she'd already remarried by the time Jacob's biological father had died, and Jacob didn't want to upset her by reopening old wounds.
Exhaling, he tried to relax. "I thought I'd covered this stuff in the original interviews, but there's a new psychologist on staff. She's not giving me a choice. I have to deal with it if I want to advance."
"Well, if you want help investigating anything, you know I'm in."
"Thanks. I appreciate that." Jacob just had a bad feeling in his gut about the whole thing. It wasn't as if he'd ever even met his biological father, so he didn't see how the fact that he wasn't clear on the details of his father's death was even relevant. After the new department psychologist had buttonholed him, he'd pushed aside the old anger and confusion and had tried to look at the situation objectively, like an investigator would—the way he'd been trained.
Unfortunately, very little was available online about the botched kidnapping-rescue, twenty years earlier, of the young niece and nephew of the Scottish industrialist John Sage. In Jacob's experience, it wasn't normal for information to be scrubbed like that.
"I phoned authorities over in Scotland, but they don't have dossiers anymore. They don't want to talk to me, and I think it's because they don't know what to say. My instinct tells me the case has been covered up, and I don't have jurisdiction to force the subject."
"I didn't know that," Eddie said quietly.
Jacob shrugged. There was nothing he could do to change history.
Eddie gestured to Jacob's phone. "How is Lee helping you with this?"
Lee Palmontari was ex-Secret Service, and Jacob and Eddie's boss until he'd retired. Now he owned a highend bodyguard/driver business, mostly staffed by other retired federal agents working on contract.
"Lee is me thinking outside the box," Jacob said. "Every billionaire industrialist in the world needs to travel to New York City sooner or later, right? Who else would John Sage call for local security services during his stay?"
Eddie nodded. "Lee."
"Exactly. I left Lee a message explaining what I wanted. He just texted back saying he could help."
"I don't know yet."
"So call him and find out."
"I will," Jacob said drily, "when you go back inside. Your five minutes are up."
"Nope. You're not getting rid of me." Eddie shook his head and grinned. "Look, Jake, I know you're angry about the setup tonight, but don't blame Donna. My wife means well—she wants you to be happy."
What did happy have to do with anything? Jacob just wanted to do his job and get to D.C. He would be part of the Presidential Protective Division. Filling the holes in his personnel file was the first step in getting there.
"You know I'm not family material. Not like you." Jacob gave his friend a look as he punched up Lee's contact number. Eddie just rolled his eyes.
"Hey, Jake." Lee himself picked up the call. "I do have a side job available you might be interested in. I can't promise anything, but…yeah, the opportunity is there."
Jacob's heart beat faster. Talking to Sage face-to-face was the answer to everything he needed. "Great. But you know I can't take payment for it, right?" With his already shaky work status, he couldn't make it official—no money changing hands, nothing he could potentially get in trouble for.
Eddie slid his hands into his pockets. He knew the risks, too.
"This would just be a favor to you, off the books?" Jacob clarified.
"Sure," Lee said. "That's not a problem. It's just a short driving gig, mainly."
There was something about the way Lee said mainly that stood out to Jacob. But the promise of a "driving gig" had already snagged him: alone, in a car with the man who held the answers Jacob needed.
"Okay. When and where do I pick up Mr. Sage?"
"Ah…not quite, Jake," Lee said. "The job is to drive his niece."
"His niece? Why would I want to do that?" Beside him, Eddie shook his head. A quick thumbsdown movement as he scratched his chin. Ratchet it down, that meant. Ratchet down the intensity.
One thing Jake had learned in his life was that intensity was not appreciated. People weren't supposed to care too much, and if they did, they were supposed to hide it.
Take it easy. Relax. Go with the flow. Withdraw. Nothing is all that important.
That's what people said to him. Sorry, but it just wasn't who he was. Everything to him had meaning. It was his weakness and his strength. That fact that Jacob cared, intensely, helped him as an investigator and a bodyguard, even though in real life, it often seemed to alienate him from everybody else.
Or maybe Jacob was just better off alone.
"Look, Jake," Lee was saying, "you're right, never mind about the job, why don't we just forget I called and we'll—"
"No," Jacob interrupted. With the phone still at his ear, he stepped away from Eddie, out from under the awning and into the street, where the rain was coming down a little harder. More of a drizzle than a spit. "Sorry. That didn't come out right. Tell me more about the…niece."
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Are you sure you're okay with this?" Lee asked in the same tone of concern the psychologist had used earlier in the day.
Jacob scrubbed his hand over his face. He was screwing up here, and for a stupid reason. Maybe he was just sensitive from having been fixed up with Donna's friend. It was ridiculous to even think that way—it wasn't as if Lee had suggested that he date the niece.
He thought back to the restaurant, and the redhead with the heavy eyeliner who'd looked at him with such expectation.
He really needed to get out of New York.
"Tell me about the job," he said quietly. "What does it involve, specifically?"
"Nothing you and I haven't done dozens of times before. Just three days of bodyguard security and easy driving. You're required to pick up the niece and escort her from Manhattan to the small-town inn in Vermont where she'll be staying."
"And then?" Jacob asked, his voice sounding tighter than he wanted it to be.
"And then…you drop her at the inn. It's a Friday night, and you'll stick around through Saturday. Sunday morning, you drive her back to Manhattan. Job over."
Jacob glanced to Eddie, beside him yet again, even in the rain. His eagle ears would be picking up every word.
Eddie smirked at him. "Sounds romantic."
Jacob ignored the comment. "I assume Sage will be at the inn already?" he asked Lee.
"Affirmative. That's the point of this exercise.
He's flying directly from Scotland, for the family wedding."
"A family." Jacob closed his eyes. Eddie made a noise beside him. A cross between a snort and a laugh.
"Yes, a wedding," Lee repeated. "Will that be a problem?"
Jacob hadn't even gone to Eddie's wedding two years ago. The fact that it had been in Maryland and Jacob had been out of town on a special assignment had been a great excuse to miss it. Nobody had pushed him to go because they knew the nature of his job. Now, however.
"Nope, no problem," Jacob said. "It's all good." Just peachy.
"Okay. I'm told the whole Sage clan will be there. Most of them are flying over from Scotland directly. It's the, ah, nephew's wedding. He's heir apparent to Sage's empire, so, yes, you had better believe that John Sage will be present."
Jacob shifted his feet on the slick sidewalk. He saw how the stage would be set. Lee was right. This wedding would be his best opportunity to talk with John Sage alone.
But still… Jacob wasn't getting a good feeling.
"What's the deal with the niece?"
There was a pause. "Are you sure this won't be too hard for you?"
"Why would it be hard?" Jacob demanded.
There was another, longer silence on the other end. "I know the Sage family is personal to you, Jake…"
And like a flash, Jacob understood. How could he have missed this? "The nephew getting married…he's the boy who was kidnapped as a child, isn't he?" The kid that Jacob's policeman father had died while protecting. "And this niece I'm driving…she's the sister? The little girl who was with my father, too?"
"No, she's not his sister," Lee said quickly. "Isabel Sage is a different niece. Jake, I wouldn't have called you without checking that first. Okay? You won't need to interact with them unless you decide you want to."
The pulse in Jacob's neck felt as if it was on overdrive. Extra hits of adrenaline.
He shouldn't be reacting this way to having to meet them. He shouldn't be letting it bug him at all. If anything, he was playing right into the agenda of the department psychologist when she'd given him that miserable set of questions.
So you never met your real father? He was Scottish, right? And you were born there, too? Why haven't you been back? And let's talk about his death—exactly what happened, and how did you process it, step by step? How does it make you feel?
She'd made it seem as though Jacob was defective when he'd told her that he didn't feel anything, because he wasn't familiar with every little detail.
That even at the time, he'd felt it only slightly. He'd tried to explain that it was an early divorce and his mother had remarried and his biological father had never been part of his life. Still…blood was blood, the psychologist had implied, and the death must have affected him somehow. And Jacob, to his shame, knew she was right.
He would like to know the details and circumstances surrounding his father's death. If he was honest with himself, he'd wanted to know for his whole life. He'd been almost twelve when it had happened—just a kid—and nobody had talked much about it to him.
Until now, he'd been discouraged from asking questions. He just wished that his future didn't rest on his ability to dig up answers from a reclusive Scotsman.
Beside him, Eddie cleared his throat. Jacob had forgotten he'd been listening in. Had forgotten he was standing there with a phone in his hand while he stared into space, lost in the past, furious and not knowing what to do about it.
But he owed Lee an answer.
"Jake," Lee said quietly into his ear, "if you want the job, it's yours. But only if you feel you can give Isabel Sage the professional security she deserves. Sage works with my firm because he trusts me. He knows I hire only the best. You've got to promise me you can handle the assignment—to guard and protect her—with the professionalism you were trained to do. I'm exposing myself here, big-time, but I don't need to tell you that. You know where I'm coming from. You know what I owe you."
"Yeah," Jacob said. He did know. He got what a favor this was to him, bu...
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