Dangerous surrender, p.1
Dangerous Surrender, p.1Part #4 of The Serafina: Sin City series by Katie Reus
The Serafina: Sin City Series
Copyright © 2014 by Katie Reus
Cover art and design by Sweet ‘N Spicy Designs
Copyediting by JRT Editing
Digital Formatting by Author E.M.S.
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For Kari Walker. Thank you, again, for always being in my corner.
Taylor Arenas smoothed a hand down her light-gray, pencil skirt as she exited the main elevator onto her boss’s floor. Normally she just wore jeans and a casual top to work, but today she’d pulled out all the stops and actually gone for the business-professional look.
She resisted the urge to wipe her damp palm on her skirt as her heels clicked against the tiled entryway on the tenth floor. The ten-story building in Oceanside, California was non-descript on the outside so that most people didn’t know what went on here.
Today she wondered if she even knew what Powers Group did. Or whether it was all one big lie.
The glass and metal desk the executive assistant sat behind wasn’t occupied. No surprise since it was only six in the morning. Taylor was early for a reason. She needed to talk to Hugh Powers and couldn’t wait a second longer. Since he was often in by five-thirty, she had no doubt he’d be here.
And with her all-access card to the building she was one of the few people who could get to this floor without bothering with security. Even if she didn’t have the access card she could have just hacked her way in. Which was one of the reasons Hugh had hired her five years ago, fresh out of college. There were only three offices on this floor; two for the owners and one belonged to the head of security, Benjamin Escobar.
With her slim briefcase in one hand, she bypassed the first two and went straight to the last one at the end. This morning the glass walls of Hugh’s office weren’t frosted over and his door was propped open. But she easily saw he wasn’t inside before she’d even neared the door.
As she stepped inside, the door to his private bathroom opened. Since it didn’t have a regular door, it was as if the wall opened up. When it was closed it was difficult to see the seam.
His dark eyebrows rose as he looked at her attire. In his early fifties, he was a handsome, fit man graying at the temples with a sprinkling just starting to show throughout the rest of his hair. Even when he was dressed in board shorts ready to surf—and that was as often as he could—he had a regal air about him. “Is there a meeting I forgot about?”
She shook her head.
“Good because I don’t think those zombie shoes would cut it.” His lips twitched at the corners.
Okay, maybe her heeled pumps weren’t business-professional, not with the green and pink zombie teeth design covering the front and the skulls dotting the sides. But they made her feel better, more normal. She swallowed hard. “We need to talk.” She hated that her voice came out shaky.
His dark blue eyes filled with concern, which made her angrier. If he was the liar he appeared to be, she didn’t want his fake-caring. He pointed at one of the seats in front of his beat up desk. “Sit,” he said quietly. The man could afford anything he wanted but he still had the piece of crap desk he’d gotten from a big, box store decades ago before he’d made his millions. She’d always thought that said so much about the type of man he was. He’d never forgotten how far he’d come.
She prayed she wasn’t wrong about him. If he was ripping off his own company…it would break her heart.
Swallowing hard, she didn’t bother taking off her coat as she sat ramrod straight and met his gaze. “For the last week I’ve been working on investigating those six companies you wanted me to.” She had a tendency to ramble when she was nervous so she cut right to the point. “Long explanation short, in the process of my investigation I ran across some files regarding Chemagan.” She paused, waiting for a reaction, but Hugh just nodded, listening intently as he always did when she outlined something for him. He didn’t seem disturbed at all by the mention of the company. “I visited the Chemagan building yesterday.” A new company Powers Group had been funneling money into the past six months. A company that didn’t actually exist.
He frowned. “You did?” He seemed genuinely confused.
For the first time in a week Taylor allowed a sliver of relief to slide through her veins. He didn’t seem defensive or worried. She nodded and set her briefcase on the desk. She’d taken pictures of the decrepit building yesterday with her phone but had them blown up to 8x10s and printed. She pulled out a stack and slid them across the desk to him.
He looked down, scanned them, then looked back at her in confusion. “What is this?”
“Chemagan. A company you’ve been putting a lot of research and development funds into the past six months.” Or someone was. She pulled out two pages of financials, a condensed version of the trail of money she’d discovered.
“What the hell?” he muttered, scanning the readout.
She could have emailed it to him, but she’d wanted to see him in person, to confront him and to see if he was a crook and a liar. Taylor didn’t trust many people but Hugh had given her a job when she was twenty-two and in the last five years he’d become the only father figure she’d ever had. This kind of fraud could bring down his company, everything he’d worked for. And in her experience people weren’t just a little dirty. That type of dirty business outlook expanded to all aspects of their lives, like a cancer. She just couldn’t believe that he’d been hiding what type of man he was, that he’d somehow fooled everyone, including her.
“This is way too much R&D…” Trailing off, he glanced at the pictures again. He picked up one, his jaw clenching tight. “You’re sure this is Chemagan?”
“You’ve never been there?”
He shook his head. “No, this is one of…Neal’s projects.”
Neal Lynch was Hugh’s partner and a man Taylor tolerated because she had to. Ten years younger than Hugh, the two had partnered up over a decade ago, before Taylor had even known who Hugh Powers was.
To her surprise Hugh let out a savage curse. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
Taylor shifted slightly in her seat. “Everything is in your name, Hugh.”
His jaw tightened again, the anger in his blue eyes palpable. “That bastard… All that R&D money has to be going somewhere. We need to find out where. It’ll prove what he’s been up to. Whatever the hell this is,” he said, gesturing to the photos and paperwork on his desk.
Hugh seemed angry but not exactly surprised. “Hugh, has he done something like this before?”
Her boss shook his head. “Not that I know of, but lately…he’s had some money problems th
Personal meaning his gambling problem, something Taylor was aware of, but she didn’t comment on directly. “Are you going to involve the authorities?”
He let out a long sigh and glanced back down at the readout. “Maybe. I need to figure out how deep this goes and who else is involved, then we’ll have a better game plan. If it’ll effect the company…honestly, I don’t know that I’ll prosecute, but if we can get enough leverage to oust him, he’ll be done in business. I’ll make sure of it.”
She nodded, relief slamming through her now that she knew Hugh wasn’t involved. Unless he was the best actor in the world, then she believed him. He’d never given her a reason not to and he was so successful that she couldn’t imagine why he would start stealing from his own company. Neal, however, did. “I can help with that.” Because she had no problem working to bring Neal down. In fact, she relished the idea. The guy was a creep on a personal level, but stealing from his own company and making it look like his partner did it? Super douche. “Do you mind if I use your bathroom?”
He shook his head and pressed a button under his desk. The door on the wall made a soft snicking sound as it opened a couple inches. Standing, she made her way to the plush room and pulled the door shut behind her. Her hands were still damp with sweat so she washed them, then splashed cold water on her cheeks. She’d been so consumed with worry that she hadn’t been able to eat much for almost two days. The jittery effect was finally catching up to her.
As she turned from the sink back to the door, she shook her head at the sight of the panel of four video screens. Even in here Hugh had to be in control. She loved her boss but he was a bit of a freak when it came to security like this. He had a shot of his office, outside the main lobby, in the main lobby and a shot of the hallway outside his office.
She started to exit the bathroom when she saw Neal Lynch in the hallway heading for Hugh’s office. Ugh. He came in early sometimes too and she really didn’t want to see him now. She didn’t think she’d be able to hide her disgust of him. When he appeared in the doorway to Hugh’s office, Hugh started gathering the photographs.
There was no sound unfortunately so all she could see was their interactions and hear a muffled conversation. She hoped Hugh didn’t give them away. She didn’t want to give Neal time to start covering his tracks. Hugh took one of the photos and shoved it at Neal.
“You fucking bastard!” Hugh’s angry shout carried through the bathroom door.
Well so much for not giving them away. They needed time to gather evidence against Neal, not tip their hands. Too late for that now.
On screen Neal said something then Hugh shoved another photo at him, right into his chest. Damn it, Hugh, what are you thinking? Worry spiked inside her.
Neal said something else, still too low for Taylor to hear. He turned away, leaving, and Taylor breathed out a sigh of relief. They might just have to call the cops on him or at least have security escort him from the building. If they revoked all his access to the company system immediately then she’d be able to gather the evidence she needed, she was sure of it.
Suddenly he whirled back and pulled out a gun from the interior of his jacket. He aimed it at Hugh.
Pop, pop, pop.
Her boss stumbled backward, sprawling on the desk as blood bloomed on his chest.
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. Taylor slapped her hand over her mouth. She had to get help, to call someone to—oh my god! Neal stiffened as his gaze landed on her briefcase. He knew she was here.
His gaze swiveled toward the seamless entrance to the bathroom. With smooth movements he strode toward Hugh’s desk.
Taylor hurried toward the other door that exited to the foyer for the executive elevator. Her heels clacked on the tile as she yanked it open. Panic slithered through her veins as she spilled out into the open room that led to Hugh’s private elevator. When he’d bought this building he’d made a few modifications, the executive elevator being one of them.
Without glancing behind her she raced across the open space and punched in Hugh’s code. Her fingers shook but she got it right the first time. The doors whooshed open and she dove inside, her heart slamming against her ribs double-time.
She hit her finger against the garage button then the button to close the doors. Come on!
The bathroom door opened, ricocheting loudly against the wall as Neal strode out. “You stupid bitch,” he growled, raising his gun.
Taylor dove to the side, trying to hide as the doors started to close. The pinging of the bullets against the metal doors was like rain on a tin roof until the door finally whooshed shut in a rush.
Her heart hammered wildly in her chest as the elevator descended. Only as the door opened into the garage did she realize she’d been shot.
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Neal cursed as the elevator slid closed behind that bitch Taylor. She was too fucking smart for her own good.
Think, think, think.
He’d only have minutes to act, minutes to get everything in order, to cover his tracks. He whipped out one of his cell phones as he backtracked to Hugh’s private bathroom and through his office. Ignoring his dead partner’s body, he dialed 9-1-1 as he hurried down the hallway.
“9-1-1 operator, what is your emergency?” a woman with a crisp, serious voice asked.
“My partner…he’s dead. She shot him!” He sounded panicked even to himself as he reached his office. Immediately he started tugging his jacket and shirt off. He had to strip, shower in his private bathroom and scrub off all the gunshot residue from his hands and any on his body. He’d be disposing of his clothes and the gun, which wasn’t registered to him. And he’d be pinning everything on her. If it was his word against hers he had no doubt the cops would believe him.
“Who’s been shot, sir?”
“My partner, Hugh Powers. I came in to work early like I usually do and found Taylor Arenas in his office standing over his dead body with a gun in her hand. I barely managed to escape. She tried to shoot me too but I was able to make it to our executive elevator.”
“Sir, I need your physical address.”
After he rattled it off, he said, “I just left him lying there. I need to check on him.”
“No, sir. If you’re in a safe location you need to stay where you are. I’ve got officers and paramedics en route now.”
“He’s my partner, my mentor. I…I’ve gotta check on him. He could still be alive.”
He hung up on her. Later when questioned he’d say he lost service in the elevator, which he hadn’t been in. But they’d never know that. He was going to turn the story around so that he was the victim and Taylor the aggressor.
Half-stripped, he sat in front of his computer and pulled up the security feeds. As a partner he had access to everything in the building. Not using his code, but Hugh’s, he logged in and deleted today’s and yesterday’s feeds. Taylor had wanted to upgrade their system so that everything transmitted to an external server, but Hugh had shot her down because he wanted to keep his old-school technology. Very anti-Big Brother, he hadn’t wanted outsiders to have access to anything to do with his company. Now the old man’s stubbornness was going to let Neal get away with his murder. The irony made him smile.
Next he turned off the security feed completely. Taylor was a genius with computers so it made sense she’d be able to hack in and erase what she’d done. As soon as he was done deleting the files, he tugged off his pants and balled all his clothes together, hurrying back toward his private bathroom.
Shaking, he scrubbed himself raw from head to foot, taking care with his hands and face, the places that had been exposed. He read enough and watched enough television that he knew gunshot residue washed away easily enough. Getting rid of his clothes would be important though. He couldn’t do it now, but he would soon enough. Until then he’d have to stash them… Where?
What else…shit, he had to make sure there wasn’t any blood in the elevator she’d escaped in. He didn’t think he’d hit her, but if he had, he needed to wipe up the evidence.
Hurrying out of his bathroom, he was relieved to find his office still empty. The head of security wouldn’t be in for another hour but he’d need to call him. First, he had another call to make. He grabbed one of his burner cell phones from a hidden compartment in his desk drawer. He glanced at the clock on his wall. He had maybe seven minutes left. At least it would take the police a few minutes to get upstairs once they made it to the building.
His contact picked up on the second ring. “Yeah?”
“Taylor Arenas is on her way to the police station. I need her to disappear quietly. It needs to look like she’s gone on the run. Ten thousand in your bank account today if you do it.” He was going to make sure that she died one way or another. Even if she went to the police, they’d believe him over her. They’d have to. And he’d make sure she ‘killed herself’ over her guilt from taking Hugh’s life. He just hoped it didn’t come to that. It’d be much easier if she simply disappeared.
“I’m on my way. What happens if I can’t get to her in time?”
“Make sure that you do.” Otherwise he was screwed. “Call me when it’s done.” He hung up and turned off the phone before tucking it into the bundle of clothes. He wouldn’t be using it again and would dispose of it along with his gun and clothes. Next he hurriedly got dressed in a spare set of clothes he kept at the office before grabbing Lysol wipes from the bathroom. If there was blood in the elevator he’d clean it. After that he’d call his head of security then go back to Hugh’s office. He needed to bend down near the body and act as if he’d given Hugh CPR, make sure the evidence proved that he was telling the truth.
Dangerous Surrender by Katie Reus / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes