Years ago he’d loved her, then one traumatic event made him walk away to forge ahead in a dangerous career that had him skimming the edge of being a killer. Now working for an elite security company, he’s never forgotten her, the echoes of Ella buried deep in his heart and memories, locked safely away.
Seeking revenge on those who’d betrayed her, the last thing Ella expected was to come face-to-face with the man who’d shattered her heart. But here Ryan was, determined to be her protector, and equally determined to once again be a part of her life…and her lover. But the echoes he’d left behind were both sweet and soul destroying.
Playing a dangerous game, getting information from a friend delving into the Dark Web, being an anonymous AFP informer to bring down an underage sex ring, she had no idea just how much everything was going to change.
For good or bad, the rules are altering, and every echo is becoming reality.
Entering Wells Security, Ryan took off his sunglasses, glanced around and found everything in order as usual. It’d be a rare day that Raymond didn’t have control of the reception, ruling it with the iron fist of an ex-college professor with an IQ that was almost off the charts.
Anyone would think a man of his calibre would have found a high paying job elsewhere, but the burned out professor had found this job at Wells Security and was more than happy with it. It also helped that Aaron, boss and owner of the company, used him to help plot strategies when needed, and do research at which Raymond excelled.
“’Morning.” Raymond’s voice was deep for such a skinny little bloke.
“Aaron’s with a client.”
Ryan nodded again.
Raymond turned back to the computer. “Two sets of security cameras to go in today, the mayor’s office called to see if anything else was required for you to know in time for the convention next week, the new shopping arcade wants a quote done for both security cameras and a static guard.”
“Onto it.” Walking past the reception desk, Ryan went through the door into the office where desks were set. One was his alone, several others for the other security team to enter their data and do their paperwork.
Marietta was already seated, brow furrowed, chewing her bottom lip as she concentrated. Going behind her, Ryan stopped and surveyed the screen.
On it was a photo of a car. Raymond’s car. She hadn’t bothered to even blot out the number plate. She had, however, in artistic abandonment, added a pink banner down the side emblazoned with ‘Shag Wagon – for a good time call Ray-Ray! Double rates for double-ups!
Silently shaking his head, Ryan started past her. Raymond would wig out when he saw it, which was just what the mouthy and sometimes outrageous Marietta was aiming for, much to the security team’s amusement. They did a dangerous job, though, and fun times helped ease the tension, so he wasn’t going to stop the fun until he decided it had run its course – or Aaron decided it.
So caught up in her nefarious deeds, she suddenly realised someone was walking behind her and quickly flashed up some form onto the screen, twisting in the chair to give Ryan a smile as sweet and innocent as a newborn babe.
A babe that could appear from seemingly nowhere to slip a knife between your ribs before fading back into the shadows.
Sitting behind his desk, Ryan fired up his computer.
“Hey,” Marietta greeted him. “Aaron is seeing a possible client which you would normally deal with, seeing as it’s just security cameras.”
“And, you know, I only just got in from shift and no one else was available to do it.”
He nodded again.
“You’re a little late. It’s ten o’clock.”
“Worked late last night.”
“Oohh, did Aaron send you out on a job that interfered with beddy-byes?”
He slanted her a look.
“I’m right, aren’t I? Or…” She smiled wider. “Did you have a date?”
He brought up the email.
“Did you take her somewhere nice? Wine and dine her, buy her flowers?”
“Who?” Ben appeared in the doorway that led to the small hallway behind them.
“Ryan was out on a date last night.”
Ben’s mouth fell open.
Sceptically, Ben looked at Ryan. “Fiction.”
Ignoring them, Ryan started methodically checking the emails.
“He was rabbiting on about it to me.” Marietta placed one hand on her chest. “Cross my heart.”
Shaking his head, Ben disappeared back into the hallway and up the stairs to Control Centre.
“My God, everyone wants to talk at once.” Marietta returned cheerfully to her mischief.
Doing a quick perusal of the emails, Ryan saw nothing amiss. The usual were there, forwarded on to him by Aaron after he’d personally scrutinized them first – contact from those doing bodyguard duty, reports from the monitors at the mayor’s office, the requests that Raymond had mentioned, reports from the security teams currently covering the government officials gathering in Canberra, another report from a security team covering a visiting A-List actor from the US that had requested Wells Security while in Australia, and finally the reports from the security teams in two middle Eastern countries covering dignitaries.
All was under control.
Once Aaron was finished with the potential client, Ryan would go to him and they’d organize the day’s work, his boss filling him in on reports he’d personally gotten. Not everything went through Ryan, even though he was Aaron’s second-in-command. Aaron liked to keep his fingers strongly on the pulse of his organisation, often getting correspondence that Ryan didn’t – namely anything that faintly smelled of terrorism that he would pass on to his contact at the Federal Police. Other things such as the darker side of the organisation – things that happened to keep things running smoothly that no one but the highest authorities had to know – went directly to Aaron. From there, he passed on what needed to be done to Ryan.
The sound of voices approached from the hallway behind which Aaron’s office came off. He was finished with the client.
“Thank you,” a woman’s voice said.
Ryan’s head snapped up. That voice… His eyes narrowed, gaze zeroing in on the doorway. It couldn’t be…
Aaron’s deeper voice responded, “Ryan will organise for someone to go out to your house and assess the best places to put the security cameras.”
“I appreciate it,” came that familiar, dulcet tone.
A voice he hadn’t heard in years. A voice he knew so well. A voice that had echoed on and off in his memory for so long. A tone that – in a lightening move he was on his feet, striding past a startled Marietta who swung around in her chair to watch.
Reaching the doorway, Ryan stepped into the hall, his eyes locking onto the woman moving out of Aaron’s office. Her back was to him, but he knew.
With that uncanny ability Aaron sensed his shock, his gaze lifting from the woman to fasten on Ryan, his pale blue eyes taking in whatever expression Ryan wore though not one flicker of an eyebrow betrayed his knowledge of his second-in-command’s reaction to her.
Disregarding his boss, Ryan stared at the woman’s back. Golden blonde hair bundled up in a ponytail, prettily plump hour glass figure, sweetly rounded rump beneath black slacks, a thin black jumper hugging into a dipped-in waist and curvy hips.
Mouth going dry, every nerve-ending in his body snapping to attention, heat, longing, regret – all surging through him with cruel, raking nails.
Turning, she started to smile at him, and froze.
He knew. He knew every line of that pretty face, the big dark grey eyes framed with naturally thick, black eyelashes. Knew the lushness of those pink lips, the sweet taste of her mouth. The way that small chin could firm stubbornly. The way those big breasts overflowed his palms, the press of pink nipples against his skin.
The way she fit so perfectly beneath him, all those plump curves open to his caresses, his touch, his lips, his tongue.
The way her body gave to him, welcomed him in deep. So very decadently deep.
Shocked, he stared at her. Never thought to see her again, not after… Not after so long and what he’d done.
The woman’s eyes were wide with equal shock before fury flashed briefly, a world of pain quickly shuttered as she stiffened, her shoulders drawing back and chin lifting.
Aaron surveyed Ryan calmly before his gaze dropped thoughtfully to the golden-haired head that barely reached his shoulder.
“Ella?” Ryan whispered disbelievingly.
In a decisive move she stepped to one side to look up at Aaron. “Ryan works for you?”
“Ella?” Still not quite believing that she was actually here, in this very building, Ryan took a step forward.
“I’ll get back to you,” Ella told Aaron. “I just realised that I need to review my budget before I give a definite ‘yes’.”
Not by a flicker of an eyelash did Aaron betray his thoughts on her about-face. “Just let us know.”
“Thank you.” Turning, she walked towards Ryan.
Heart in his mouth, heart beating a rapid tattoo, he watched her, drinking her in. “Ella-”
“No.” She gave him one last, angry look before sliding past him into the office where Marietta made no attempt to hide her fascination.
Jesus. Ella’s scent filled him, the warmth of her hip as she brushed past him sending a fissure of forgotten flame licking through his body. He could only watch as she strode through the office into the reception area, automatically noted her limp slightly, heard her bid Raymond a good day before the door dinged as it shut behind her.
Leaving him staring in her wake, his emotions in turmoil, his usual calmness so rattled at the knowledge that she was here, in this city, this state. So close.
And she hates me.
His gut clenched, emotion surging through him.
She hated him. Hated him, didn’t want to acknowledge him.
Looked like he’d succeeded in his plans. He just hadn’t counted on what seeing her again would do to him.
It took him several seconds to realise that his boss was talking to him, Aaron having to call his name a second time before it registered. “Yes?”
“Come in. Shut the door.”
It wasn’t a request. Regaining focus, he took a deep breath and followed Aaron down the hallway into his office.
Taking the chair on the other side of the desk, Aaron leaned back in a familiar pose – one ankle resting on the opposite knee, elbow on the armrest, mouth resting lightly against his hand as he studied Ryan.
Inside might be turmoil, but Ryan was a master at controlling his expression and emotions around others. Seeing her again had sent it all into a spin, but with practised ease he resumed impassively meeting his boss’s scrutiny.
The silence lengthened as they regarded each other.
Normally Ryan had no problem with this, it was something they often did when Aaron was thinking or even on the phone, talking while watching him, neither of them in the least ill-at-ease, Ryan waiting for him to start talking. Now, however, Ryan had other things churning in his mind, such as why Ella had turned up here, and at the thought his gut clenched. Security cameras. She’d come for security cameras. That had to mean she felt threatened.
His hands clenched, knuckles going white at the thought. Catching Aaron’s gaze drifting down to study the involuntary action, he deliberately straightened his fingers, rested his palms on his thighs.
Then he did something he had never done in all the time he’d known and worked for Aaron Wells. He broke the silence first. “What’s her story?”
“What’s yours?” Aaron answered quietly.
Before Ryan could even reply, the phone rang.
Without breaking the deadlock of their gazes, Aaron picked up the phone and spoke immediately. “Hello, Ella.”
No guesses to know before he’d even spoken who was on the other end. It didn’t surprise Ryan.
“I see,” Aaron said. “Thank you for letting me know.” After a couple of seconds he added, “Goodbye” and hung up.
Ryan’s jaw clenched a little. “She doesn’t want Wells Security.”
“No.” Relaxing back in the chair, Aaron resumed his usual pose.
Because of me. A muscle jumped in his jaw. “How bad does she need this security?”
Reaching out, Aaron placed the tips of his fingers on the introductory detail sheet and pushed it across the desk before leaning back in the chair.
Picking it up, Ryan read through the details, each one jumping out at him. Vandalism and some harassment. Not a good neighbourhood . “What was her excuse for turning us down?”
“She rethought the costs and decided she couldn’t afford it right now.”
Involuntarily, Ryan’s hand crushed the section of paper in his fist as anger coursed through him. “That’s bullshit.”
If Aaron was surprised by his swearing, the unusual show of emotion, he didn’t show it, simply nodded agreement.
“It’s because of me.”
One eyebrow quirked slightly.
Taking a deep breath, Ryan smoothed the crumpled sheet out and placed it back on the desk. “I’ll talk to her.” He shoved upright.
Aaron waited until he got to the door. “Do I need to be worried?”
“About Ella? No. I’ll sort it.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “Yes?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Talk? “No.” Hell, no.
“Do you need to talk about it?”
His hand tightened on the door handle before easing. “No.”
Aaron studied him before nodding and sitting forward, picking up the crumpled introductory sheet. “All right.” He glanced up once. “You know where I am.”
No way in hell was he about to have a heart-to-heart chat about his past to anyone. He’d never been one to spill his guts and he wasn’t about to start now.
Well, he had been once, but that was long ago. And he was a different man now. Too different.
Leaving the room, Ryan ignored the furtive glances Marietta cast him from the printer in the corner. Retrieving the keys from the key cabinet, he strode back out into the car park behind the Wells Security building, climbing into the Toyota Landcruiser parked in the employees’ eight car garage.
He didn’t need to write the address down, it was burned into his mind.
Pulling into the traffic, he drove with single-minded determination, threading through the morning traffic, going deeper into the city then out again until he came into a more trodden-down estate.
Now that he was over the shock of seeing her, other thoughts swamped him. Why was she living here? Why was Ella not back in Victoria? And even more, why had she been limping? What had happened? Had someone – his gut clenched, knuckles whitening on the steering-wheel – hurt her?
He’d kill them. He’d find the bastards and do some slicing and dicing. No regrets.
No regrets like he had now.
Too late for regrets.
copyright Angela Verdenius 2017