Onyx Keys Chapter One

Copyright © Grace Harper 2021

The right of Grace Harper to be identified as the author of this book has been asserted by the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copying of this manuscript, in whole or in part, without the author and her publisher’s written permission, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved

Chapter 1

Tom

I thought my days of lying in wet grass were over, yet here I was in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Europe, freezing my arse off. My second in command and best mate, Mickey, had gone ahead to check out the stone barn structure at the top of the hill. Our assignment was to track our targets, then report their location. We needed to keep eyes on the targets until back up arrived to take them away. Mickey and I stayed in the dark.

The two men, in their mid-forties, sneaked into a disused barn twelve hours ago. We’d been watching them for three days, tracking them across the barren countryside. Tonight we could go home as soon as the other team came in to take them away.

They were minor league in the big operation of trafficking sex workers into the UK. Intelligence had identified them as the people who transported the women across the border. It would be someone else’s headache to catch the people who ran the whole operation.

Mickey and I were assigned to track and confirm the whereabouts of the individual targets, it’s what we did best. Get in, do what we’re supposed to do and then get out. Her Majesty’s Government didn’t call on us that often, but when they did, we dropped everything to go. Mickey’s wife, Angie, understood the deal when she married him. She became his PA at his security firm as cover. Anyone else being a PA to Mickey would ask too many questions. She could cover up his absence at work. I didn’t have that level of commitments unless I considered the owners at Red & Black who seemed to have a target on their backs. No wife or girlfriend.

Anymore.

So far, I hadn’t been away from them for over five days, and there was only so much trouble they could get into in that brief time.

The morning dew soaked through my cargo pants, giving me the chills. The sun would rise in an hour, and with a bit of luck, I’d be back at the cottage which was our base, taking a hot shower by the time the sun warmed the ground.

“They’re definitely in there,” Mickey said as he crawled up next to me.

I had my eye looking through the lens of my sniper rifle. It didn’t stop me knowing Mickey was approaching from the east.

“Good, this should be over in ten minutes. Then I can get the fuck out of here and head back home. I’ve been away too long as it is,” I replied.

“Are you missing Erin?” Mickey asked in an annoying baby voice.

“Fuck off, you know it’s not like that.”

“I know. Just taking the piss, mate. I think it’s sweet how you carry on this solemn vow you made that no other fucker knows about.”

“She saved my life. I owe her everything.”

“I think you’ve paid her back tenfold.”

“Whenever I’m away for more than a handful of days, something blows up in her life. I’ve never known a single person to attract so much drama. Half of it, she doesn’t even know about.”

I saw movement in the top window of the barn. There wasn’t any glass in the window frames in the structure, which made my job a lot easier. I needed to know where the other body was before I took this shit head out.

“Capture, Tom, not eliminate,” Mickey warned. He knew my thoughts before I did.

“Yes, I know. These disgusting excuses for human beings traffic young women into the sex trade. They shouldn’t be allowed to live.”

“Not our call, we track them, find their location, and then wait for the cavalry,” Mickey answered.

“Shame.”

“Erin has Alex now, you can move on, mate.”

“He doesn’t have the skills to protect her like I do. She still has two threats in her life, I won’t move away until they are out of the picture.”

“Is that why you hang around with me? Do I have a threat aiming a rifle at me?

“No, shithead, I just like your company.”

“I knew it. The paycheck too, right, that’s the other reason?”

“It’s not the paycheck I give a shit about, it’s the access to information. It helps me keep tabs on anyone entering Erin’s life.”

“What happens when you want a civilian life, a wife, maybe a child?”

“That life is not for me. That much I’m certain about. Erin may want me out of her life one day, but I’m not going until she gives me my marching orders.”

I held the entire conversation while I kept my sights on the barn in the waking dawn. No sign of the sun yet, or the cavalry, but it was getting brighter, and our position would soon be compromised.

“Don’t knock having a warm body to come home to. Angie is my peace in this mad, fucked up world. The kids are my hope for the future.”

“Sounds idyllic, until you’re lying in wet pants, wondering if the other team will show up,” I said.

“You don’t need the cover of working for me anymore, tell them you’ve quit the shitty job you had with me. You can use your position at Red & Black as your new cover.”

“I can use the excuse of disappearing for days on end of working at Red & Black to everyone except those who work at the record label. Saying that I work for you is easier. I don’t know any of your employees. It’s easier to keep the lie from no one rather than a building full of people.”

“You care about them, you big softie. I knew you had a heart.”

“Fuck off, Mickey. Get your arse moving, the boys are here, I want to be back before sun up.”

“Yes, boss,”

“I’m not your boss.”

“You are today,” he replied and started his crawl back up the hill.

Mickey would always see me as his boss. In reality, I was his back up for this assignment, in case it went tits up in a heartbeat. I was serious about getting this over with soon, to get back to the label. I didn’t like that two men were taking far too much interest in Erin Devlin. When I was at my lowest point, she trusted me on blind faith on gut reaction and never asked me to explain myself. She allowed me to be whoever I wanted to be without judgement. It helped that she was fighting her own demons. Erin gave me a sense of purpose, helped me believe that I could be of some use in the world. In the rare times no one wanted to kill her during the past years I knew her, I could get my head back on straight after the colossal mess that happened in the Middle East, and I was all but dead.

“Let’s go,” Mickey said, back at my side, tapping at his wrist piece.

“You need not tell me twice.”

We high tailed it out of the area, heading back to where we were staying. The cottage was forty miles away, on the edge of a lake. By the time I steered the jeep down the gravel path and parked in the garage, the sun was up and shining across the water, making it look like glass.

“Your turn to make breakfast,” Mickey said, striding ahead to open the door to our hideaway.

“It’s always my turn, arsehole.”

“You shouldn’t make a mean omelette then. Make me a shitty meal, and maybe I’ll learn how to cook and do my fair share.”

“I might just drop eggshells in yours today and test your theory.”

He chuckled as he ducked in through the door while I waited outside. A few minutes later, he came back to tell me it was clear. We were on an assignment to get some serious dangerously guys. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d come back to a compromised safe house.

Mickey cleaned up while I prepared breakfast. We’d been out all night on the job, and I could’ve eaten a very large steak, I was so hungry. I hated night jobs, but they were a necessary part of the job. I wondered when Her Majesty’s Government would put me out to pasture for being too old for this shit.

As soon as Mickey vacated the bathroom, I had a quick shower and got back to my duties to feed us both. I made the coffee and omelettes while Mickey reported in on our assignment. We were free to leave as soon as we’d eaten, and there were flights booked for our return.

“Man, that smells amazing, I could eat anything you put in front of me,” Mickey said while taking a chunk of bread from the basket in the middle of the kitchen table.

The fridge had been stocked with enough food for a week. In the duration of our time in Eastern Europe, we’d made use of every morsel.

“I’ve got some news for you,” Mickey said.

We sat at a Formica-topped table on metal-framed chairs that weren’t built for men who had muscles. I felt like a man sitting on a kid’s chair.

“Tell me.”

This meant something to do with Red & Black. If it was about him, he would have boasted about it on the flight over here.

“Errol married Ivory, they’re expecting a baby at the end of June.”

“You’re kidding me?”

“It’s not unexpected that they’d get married. How Ivory and Errol pulled it off with no one knowing is a miracle. But the bombshell will drop eventually. Someone will go snooping.”

“Ivory will be due at the same time as Tara, Erin and Leia.”

“Jeez, that must have been one hell of a time last October, what are the chances?”

“With them, anything is possible. I think the couple slipped under the radar because Megan Moreland isn’t writing for her magazine.”

Mickey chuckled, holding the back of his hand to his mouth, the fork dangling from his fingertips.

“Say her name again,” Mickey asked.

“Megan Moreland.”

Mickey full-on laughed, dropping the utensils to the empty plate.

“You say her name differently, reverently. Have you met your match?”

“She intrigues me,” I replied.

I tried to take the indigent look off my face, but Mickey saw it.

“Intrigues you? More like you’re pissed that you couldn’t track her. She outsmarted you. How did you know it was Megan at the opening night of Devlin’s?”

“She was the only one there not enjoying the show. I called her bluff, and she revealed herself. She may be a computer genius, but she has no idea how to hide her emotions.”

“I can’t wait to meet the woman who has outfoxed Tom Boone.”

“Never going to happen,” I replied.

Megan was gone in the wind, no trace since I’d escorted her out of the mansion and back to Brighton.

“Eat up, we’re out of here in an hour,” Mickey said, clearing his dishes. I didn’t want my food any more. Thoughts of Megan Moreland filled my head. Who was she and where did she learn her disappearing skills?

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