There’snothing like autumn in New York City.
The changing weather, the rich colors of the leaves on the trees. The sense of anticipation of a fresh start in a new season.
As I walk down the street in Manhattan, I take an appreciative sniff of the air, then pull open the heavy, glass-and-steel door to the building where my offices are. It’s all the appreciation I have time for.
I nod a hello to the security guard, flashing my ID, and push past the stainless-steel turnstiles and stride toward the elevators. My company is not the only business in this tall skyscraper, which tends to go against the nature of the work we do, but I’ve always believed in hiding out in public.
The elevator arrives at the top floor. I paid top dollar for this floor, and it’s worth it. Very few people will mistakenly come all the way to the top to visit “Smith Financial.” But those who do make it up here are almost always meant to be here, because they’re the team who make up Black Shadow Security.
We provide elite security services to anyone who can afford us. And we charge exorbitant fees because we’re the best of the best. Former Navy SEAL. Former Army Rangers and Secret Service. Former Marine Raiders. Former British SAS. Tech wizards.
We don’t advertise. We’re word-of-mouth only.
Despite the fact that it’s not even eight a.m., I’m not the first one in the office. The smell of brewing coffee flows into my olfactory senses as I punch the key code into the panel set into the wall by the door, which is made of more steel and reinforced—bulletproof—glass.
Our company occupies the entire floor. Each of us on the team has our own spacious office. There’s also a main sitting area and a fireplace. The space is cool shades of gray and white with dashes of black for a sleek, modern look. We have no receptionist, but I’m considering hiring one, since business has been picking up lately. Needless to say, finding the right person will be a monumental task in and of itself.
“Coffee, Mr. Sloane?”
The dry voice behind me makes me grin as I open my office door and step inside, setting my laptop bag down. I glance over my shoulder to find my little sister Thea Sloane—better known as “Baby Sloane” in our office—leaning against the doorframe holding two large, clear glass mugs of fresh coffee.
“Why, thank you, Ms. Sloane.” I reach out for the mug she holds out to me—black, while she prefers cream and sugar in hers—and sit down behind my desk. Thea gracefully drops into the stuffed chair across from me, managing not to spill a drop on her sleek black designer dress, and crosses her legs.
“Don’t get used to it,” she replies, taking a sip.
Thea—short for Theodora—is our resident technical genius. Ever since we were kids, she was fascinated by computers and wanted to learn everything about them. She graduated from high school at sixteen and went straight to MIT, where she graduated at the top of her class at age twenty. None of us at Black Shadow Security are slouches in the brains department, but the rest of us put together—me, Ethan Steele, Nathan Storm, Liam Sharp—are half as smart as she is. She heads up our IT security wing.
“I put the di Salvo file in your inbox,” Thea adds, nodding toward the acrylic tray on the corner of my desk.
“Yes. The software mogul.” I pull the file toward me and flip it open. Thea mentioned this yesterday afternoon as a client inquiry that came up. “I’m surprised you’re not handling this one.”
“Well, it’s not the software that needs the security,” Thea replies. “It’s the designer. Autumn di Salvo. Her father is Anthony di Salvo, President and CEO of DS Software Solutions. He’s the one who called us. She was attacked last Thursday night leaving the company building.”
“Do they have any idea who might’ve been behind it?”
Thea shrugs. “Take your pick. She’s leading a team that’s developing experimental software that can project holographic images for business—think interactive meetings with stakeholders all around the globe at the same time.”
“Holographs?” I repeat doubtfully.
“It sounds weird, I know, but it’s legit. You can imagine how much money it’ll be worth when it’s complete. And you can imagine how badly other companies would love to get their hands on it. Steal it.”
I nod pensively, scanning the documents—background on the company, background on the di Salvos, background on Autumn herself, and the police report from the attack. She was walking out of DS Software Solutions and heading toward her car—the one night when she didn’t have a chauffeur, because he was out sick—when a masked person in black clothing grabbed her and attempted to drag her away.
“And the meeting is when?”
“Tomorrow,” Thea says.
I flip another page, then freeze. It’s a photo of Autumn di Salvo.
The photo is from a fancy Christmas party last year. She’s standing next to her father in front of an opulent lit tree wearing a strapless emerald-green dress, the shade perfectly setting off her creamy olive skin, glossy dark hair, and dark eyes. It also hugs her curvy shape, highlighting her round breasts, the nipped-in waist, the beautiful curve of her hips. Her heart-shaped face is both sweet and sharply intelligent. I note the proud tilt of her chin, the slight smile curling the corners of her lush, deep pink mouth.
Thea clears her throat, causing me to jolt. She arches a knowing brow at me, but graciously—and very un-Thea of her—says nothing about catching me red-handed ogling the client’s photo.
She unfolds her legs and rises. “I’ll leave you to your work, big bro.”
“Thanks.” I wait for her to close the door behind her, then I open the file folder again. I can’t stop studying her picture, her beautiful face.
Tomorrow’s meeting just got a whole lot more interesting.