In a hushed tone, Mason informed Sean that he’d take over Carlos’s job, guarding the children and moving them upstairs to their bedrooms. The hotel had provided extra security guards on the seventh floor, where the entourage was staying. “While I’m gone, you watch the admiral.”
“I’m worried,” Sean said. “What if Carlos was drugged?”
Mason was about to ask if Carlos had eaten anything or had anything to drink. Before he spoke, he realized that it was a dumb question. Carlos was always eating and drinking. “Let’s hope it’s just the flu.”
He scanned the crowd. As more people were served, the sound of conversation was replaced by the clink of silverware against china. The situation was under control. Earlier today, they’d come up with several possible evacuation plans. But what if the attackers had outthought them and were already waiting outside? Mason contacted his snipers on the roof, letting them know that he intended to exit with the kids.
He seriously doubted that the bad guys had gained entrance to the banquet hall. The guests, cooks and servers had all been vetted and the TST Security computers were a foolproof system, protected by something Dylan Timmons, who was the second T in TST Security, called the mother of all firewalls.
Mason’s gaze flicked around the room. Could he trust computer clearances? Doubt assailed his judgment. “Maybe we should shut this operation down.”
A voice in his head—which was actually Sean—advised, “It’s your call, Mason.”
At TST Security, the three partners had their areas of expertise. Dylan specialized in computer security. Sean was former FBI, more of a detective and a profiler—a deductive genius. And Mason was the muscle—the man in charge of action and strategy. “First, I’ll get the kids to safety.”
As if he needed another complication, the admiral had left his banquet seat and was coming toward him. Smiling and genial, the admiral picked his way through the crowd and stood beside Mason. “What’s the problem?”
“The bodyguard protecting the children has a suspicious case of the flu.” He kept his voice low so the other guests wouldn’t take notice. “It’s probably nothing, but I recommend escorting the kids to their rooms on the seventh floor.”
“Agreed. I don’t take chances with my children’s safety.” He beckoned to Lexie, who began moving the kids in their direction. “I’ll help.”
“My men can handle the situation, Admiral. It’s not necessary for you to leave the banquet.”
“I’m retired, Mr. Steele. You can drop the admiral and call me Prescott. But make no mistake—I still give the orders.”
The expression on Mason’s face didn’t change a bit. Inside, he was cheering for the old warrior who was still man enough to take care of his children, marry a movie star and lead the charge into battle. Still, he said, “Sir, let me do my job. If you come, I need to pull other security. Please, stay here.”
Their gazes locked. Each man took the measure of the other.
Prescott grinned. “I worked with your brother.”
“Carry on, Mr. Steele.”
While Prescott returned to his seat, Mason signaled his man who had earlier locked the terrace door and instructed him to accompany them, bringing up the rear. When the children and Lexie had gathered, Mason opened the door onto the flagstone terrace and stepped outside into a rose-colored dusk.
He led the way down a wide set of stone stairs to a wooden door. Like the rest of the hotel, this entrance was less than a decade old, but had been aged to look antique. What did they call it? Distressed. The wood had been distressed to make it seem as though this door and the stone wall were part of a hundred-year-old hunting lodge. In contrast, the door was opened by a computer pad that required Mason to enter a code. He opened the door and led them into the parking lot under the hotel.
The sound of their footsteps made a hollow echo in the concrete structure filled with vehicles. Many of the guests at the banquet were also staying at the hotel. Tomorrow, some of them would play golf with Admiral Prescott, which was another complicated scenario for TST Security.
Mason had already checked out the parking garage. With four separate exits on each level and six elevators, it was a good place to bring the kids for an escape. He hustled his little crew toward the elevators.
The teenagers were mature enough to know that something wasn’t exactly copacetic. The oldest girl held the youngest boy’s hand. These were military kids; they knew how to behave. Not so much for the Hollywood twins—handsome ten-year-olds with shaggy blond hair and dark eyebrows. They were punching each other, whining about how they wanted pizza and making growling noises interspersed with high-pitched squeaks.
Lexie hustled the gruesome twosome forward. Throughout this whole process she’d kept her cool and followed instructions. Mason noticed that she was carrying the emergency alert equipment Carlos had given her. If she ran into a threat, she was supposed to hit the red button and all TST Security personnel would respond.
He wondered if she’d had any specialized training to protect the kids. She was in good shape, had an athletic stride and her arms were well toned. But did Franny the nanny do kung fu?
He wanted to know more about her. Maybe tonight after the kids were in bed, they could get together. Maybe they’d talk, maybe laugh, maybe she’d allow him to glide his fingers down her smooth, tanned shoulders and arms. At the elevators, she shot him an over-the-shoulder glance before turning her full attention to the twins, who were trying to expand their obnoxious behavior to include the other kids. She moved quickly to separate the twins from the rest of the herd.
But one of the twins shoved into the teenage boy, Eddy Jr., who was at the age when he was almost manly. In a voice that was significantly deeper than that of the twins, he muttered, “Watch what you’re doing, dork face.”
“You’re not the boss of me.”
“But he’s bigger than you.” His twin poked him in the back. “He could kick your—”
“Enough,” Lexie said.
She stepped between the twins and Eddy Jr. Both elevators dinged as the doors opened simultaneously. Lexie entered one elevator and dragged the twins with her. “The three of us will take this one. We’ll meet the rest of you on the seventh floor.”
“Wait!” Mason said. This wasn’t procedure. The kids should be accompanied by a bodyguard at all times.
She flashed him a wide grin. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”
The elevator door snapped closed, and he was left with a vision of her dark eyes sparkling. Her expression was full of mischief and something more. There was something mysterious about her, and he wondered what she knew that he didn’t. She seemed to be laughing inside as though she had the punch line to an untold joke.
In the elevator, Lexie stood between the twins and glared at the wood-paneled walls. The boutique hotel’s impersonation of an old-time hunting lodge was beginning to annoy her. She didn’t mind the elk and moose heads mounted on the walls in the lobby. After all, her dad and three older brothers had taken her on her first hunting trip when she was eight years old, СКАЧАТЬ