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"Someone is trying to destroy me."
Quinn Gallagher touched the temple of his dark-framed glasses, an ingrained habit left over from his youth, when he'd been a four-eyed brainiac from a rural Missouri trailer park who'd learned how to defend himself and his mother from the respective bullies who'd preyed on them. He was no longer poor, no longer had his beloved motherand up until the murder of his wife, Valeska, nearly three years earlier, he'd believed that he no longer feared anything.
Now three employees that he'd never met, but for whom he certainly felt responsible, were dead in a foreign country. And the office building that he'd closed for the holidays, with paid vacations off for all but the skeleton crew of security guards receiving overtime pay, was being searched from basement to rooftop by a team of black-uniformed cops, armed like the special-ops security details his company outfitted for wealthy individuals and companies across the country. The captain of KCPD's SWAT Team 1, Michael Cutler, often served as a consultant to GSS when they were developing new weapons, protective gear and security technology.
He was also one of the few men in this world Quinn Gallagher trusted without question. He strode into the penthouse office suite with a disturbing yet unsurprising announcement. "Thus far, we've found no sign of forced entry into the building or your office. I've got my team checking the top floor here now. Of course, this place is locked up tighter than Fort Knox. Whoever got in had to have the same kind of talents you possess." It was a wry compliment. An enemy with Quinn's technical skills would be a formidable opponent, indeed. The SWAT captain turned toward the small, unwrapped Christmas present Quinn had left on his desk. "Don't let me or my men interrupt your meeting."
"Come and go as you need, Michael. Thanks." Quinn adjusted the knot of his silk tie and paced the length of his office. The men and woman in suits on the matching sofas waited expectantly for some sign that he was ready for their problem-solving input. But none of them dared offer any personal condolence or sympathetic look. He paid them exceedingly well to be the best at the jobs they'd been hired to do, not to be his friends. That was a bonus he rarely bestowed on the people around him. Caring had cost him dearlywhen he'd lost his mother, and three years ago when he'd lost his wife.
He didn't need the distraction of emotional ties to interfere with the efficiency of this Christmas Eve meeting. And his people knew that. Keeping an eye on Michael Cutler and the furtive movements of the rest of his five-man team through the chrome-and-glass partition separating his office from the rest of the floor, Quinn turned his attention back to the executives who'd been able to report on such short notice.
Louis Nolan, his vice president of operations and Quinn's eyes on every aspect of Gallagher Security Systems, was speaking. "I've already been on the phone with Nikolai Titov, our primary investor there. He wants answers."
"He'll know them as soon as I have them," Quinn promised.
"The Kalahari plant hadn't even begun production yet," Louis continued. "We were still in the hiring process with the locals. I know we were building there to save money, but now we're posting a loss on GSS's bottom line and facing speculation from the press. Titov's already putting the pressure on to let him reopen and expand the St. Feodor plant in Lukinburg. The last thing we need right now are nervous stockholders. I think we should entertain his offer before this unfortunate incident turns into a catastrophe."
As Quinn suspected, his security chief, David Dami-ani, wasted no time pushing to his feet and confronting the older businessman. "Unfortunate? I lost three good men in that explosion. Try making that phone call to their families when Christmas is tomorrow."
"I'm not denigrating the loss of life." Louis was a cagey old salt who had no problem defending himself. "I'm pointing out that this could be an environmental or political attack on GSS's expansion into South Africa. I know our base of operation here in Kansas City is thousands of miles away, but this could snowball into a real tragedy if we don't spin some control over the situation in the next few days, if not the next few hours."
David raked his hands through his hair, the movement exposing the Beretta he wore holstered beneath his left arm. "It's already snowballing, Lou. How do you explain someone breaking into GSS headquarters when we've got the best damn techno-security on the planet? I can't. As far as I can see, we're already under attack."
"Gentlemen," Elise Brown intervened. Quinn knew his executive assistant could be counted on to keep everyone focused and moving forward. "None of us are thrilled to be taken away from our families and vacations at this time of year, and certainly none of us are pleased to hear about sabotage and the murder of GSS employees, but you're missing the point. Quinn said someone was trying to destroy him, not GSS." She turned her soft brown eyes up to him. "Isn't that right?"
"Yes." That was the painful distinction he'd made. Going after his business empire was one thing. But the gift-wrapped package he'd received on his desk this morning
His gaze drifted over to the shiny red paper and white tissue decorated with candy canes, of all thingshis daughter's favorite holiday treat. Quinn seethed inside, momentarily experiencing that same helpless fury that had plagued him growing up, before he'd learned to use his brain as a weapon to outsmart the kids who'd picked on him and the men who'd thought his mother didn't have anyone to protect her.
He forced his gaze away from where Michael Cutler was processing the unwanted gift with his gloved fingers. He looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows, over the stone-gray parking lot, highways and wintry fields around the modern building he'd erected near the Kansas City International Airport north of the city center. The isolation he felt made the glass windows, marble tiles and Oriental rugs seem especially cold and sterile today. He'd mistakenly thought he'd left the users and abusers of the world far behind him in that smalltown trailer park. Instead, after the destruction of his South African plant two days ago, Quinn realized that he'd simply graduated to a more ruthless, more covert class of users who wanted to hurt what was his.
He wasn't so naive to think he hadn't made a few enemies over the years. At forty, he'd already earned and lost one fortune. But now that he'd established himself and his company as a world leader in high-tech security support and management, he was sitting on an even bigger fortune and had enough influence across several different industries that only a foolor one very sick, very cruel bastardwould dare to defy him.
Judging by the message he'd received this morning, he was opting for the latter.
"What? Now? I'll be right there." Elise had pulled her cell phone from the coat she'd tossed over the sofa beside her. The distress in her tone was enough to divert Quinn's attention. Her eyes darted to him, then just as quickly looked away. More trouble? "Excuse me."
"Ma'am." An oversize SWAT cop, carrying one of the electronics-scanning devices Quinn himself had invented, stepped aside to let Elise exit the door into the privacy of her office. The big man, who answered to the name Trip, settled in behind the desk to run a check on the phone and computer for any hint that someone had downloaded entry codes to the building and offices.
One by one, the rest of Michael's team filtered in. Quinn traded a nod of recognition with the SWAT team's second in command, Rafe Delgado, whom he had met when he'd offered him the use of a secure safe house for his wife, the witness who'd finally identified the man who'd murdered Quinn's wife. Rafe introduced himself to David Damiani and took the security chief aside to discuss possible incursion scenarios into the building.
A short, muscular cop with curly black hair came through the doorway next and reported in. "Murdock and I have got nothing, Captain. This place is locked down tighter than a tomb. This room and the roof are all that we have left to search. You want us to head on up?"
"Have Murdock check the cameras in here for any signs of tampering. You go on up, Taylor. Stay warm."
Officer Taylor turned his Benelli shotgun and disappeared from the doorway, only to be replaced a moment later by an unexpected colleague. Quinn's eyes narrowed as he found himself studying the last member of Michael Cutler's elite team. He didn't know if the long ponytail, as straight and shiny as a palomino's tail, or the Remington sniper's rifle strapped over her right shoulder surprised him more. "Captain?" she spoke.
"Front and back, Murdock. If we can't find an unauthorized access point to this room, then we damn well better find where the perp covered his tracks." Michael Cutler pointed to the two cameras at either end of the room, and after her moss-colored eyes took note of every person here, including him, Officer Murdock's long legs carried her to the security camera mounted over the bar/kitchenette at the back of the office.
Quinn watched her climb on top of the counter in her ungainly boots and shimmy around a counter to stand eye to eye with the camera. He couldn't be sure if it was her monkeylike athleticism and disregard for the obstacles in her path or the hint of firm hips and buns in her snug black pants that fascinated him.
Annoyed with his scientist's penchant for observing and explaining conundrums like the well-armed woman, Quinn cursed under his breath and summoned the focused business mogul inside him instead. The momentary diversion of the lady SWAT cop was a distraction he could ill afford today. There was only one female in his life who mattered, and she was the reason Quinn had called Michael Cutler and his team, as well as the leaders of his own staff, into GSS today.
Quinn buttoned his jacket and strode over to stand beside Captain Cutler at his desk. "Did you read it?"
The words Michael read were already branded into Quinn's memory. But the others in the roomhis staff, Michael's teamneeded to hear this.
"Do I have your attention now? Your daughter will pay the price if you don't make things right by midnight on New Year's Eve. Instructions will be texted to you." Michael carefully slipped the letter into a plastic evidence bag for examination in the KCPD crime lab. "And you received the text?"
"Not yet. I wanted to have a plan in place before he contacted me again."
"Any idea who your enemies are?"
"Any idea who they aren't?" Louis Nolan pushed himself up off the couch to join the conversation. "I'm sorry, Quinn, but we'll be here all day if we start compiling a list of people you've ticked offemployees you've fired"
"Only with just cause."
"business rivals, greedy cutthroats after a chunk of your money, maybe even a brokenhearted lover or two?"
Quinn shook his head. "There's been no one since Val."
Louis patted Quinn on the back and raised one eyebrow in a skeptical, paternal look. "Not for lack of trying. On the part of the ladies, I mean. A widowed billionaire makes for a fine catch."
"This reeks of inside informationsomeone with building schematics, someone with knowledge of my schedule, someone with access codes to this building as well as the plant in South Africa. The fact that I have enemies doesn't bother me as much as not knowing who this particular one is." And he hated to admit that the possible list of suspects Louis referred to was as long as it was.
Quinn had fended off takeover bids, negotiated with foreign governments and endured scathing reviews of his products in the press. He wasn't a warmonger, nor did the upgrades to weapons and protective technology he owned dozens of patents for turn the police patrolling the streets of Kansas City and other towns around the world into a military state. Everything he invented, every product his company produced, from home security systems to bulletproof flak vests, was designed to keep people safe. He protected people. The same way he'd learned to protect himself. And his mother. The way he'd protected his wife, Valeska, from the violence of her pastonly to have her die at the hands of an obsessed serial killer in the backyard of the home they'd once shared together. A home he'd since razed to the ground and replaced with a fortress more secure than the government buildings his company sometimes equipped.
Nothing, no one, would ever harm his remaining family again.