Now on Christmas Eve he was locked inside a skyscraper equipped with a state-of-the-art security system alongside Colby receptionist Elaine Younger, a doe-eyed beauty not to be underestimated. But with four masked men intent on bringing the agency to its knees, it was going to be a long night of gunfire and dangling mistletoe before Christmas dawned on the most dangerous couple in Chicago.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
December 23, 4:30 p.m.
Inside the Colby Agency
How could Christmas be here already? Day after tomorrow. The year had flown by.
Victoria Colby-Camp smiled as she watched the snow float down past the floor-to-ceiling window behind her desk. She loved the snow—loved this city. The flurry of pedestrians rushing to and fro on the street below made her tingle with excitement. Such vibrancy, such diversity, all rolled into one fabulous town.
Her smile stretched into a grin. And any day now she was going to be grandmother. A grandmother! Imagine it. For so many years her son had been lost to her. Just having him home again had been such a blessing. That he'd found a woman who loved him despite his horrific past was simply icing on the cake. But to be blessed with a grandchild, too, Victoria just didn't know how she could possibly be more fortunate. She had worried after last year's failed pregnancy. Thank heavens there had been no problems with this one. Her son deserved every moment of happiness that came his way.
The glittering lights draping every office and shop window twinkled especially bright this evening. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and Victoria couldn't wait to share this special holiday with her family. She had very special presents wrapped and waiting to tuck beneath the tree for Lucas, Jim, Tasha and the coming grandchild. Watching their faces as they opened those gifts and anticipating their surprise had her giddy already and there were still twenty-four hours to go.
She glanced at her wristwatch, the tiny diamonds embellishing the face winking at her like the Christmas lights outside. Lucas had given her this watch for her birthday. She put it on every morning and cherished the feel of it against her skin. Her husband wouldn't be home until late this evening. She hoped there were no significant delays with inbound flights with this winter storm surrounding the city. She couldn't bear the idea of spending the holiday without him. The very idea sent an ache through her soul. That he'd had to rush off to Washington so close to the baby's arrival date had worried her, but Lucas had commitments to his work just as she did. She certainly couldn't deny him his work, even if she would prefer to have him all to herself every minute of every day.
Clearly she had grown quite selfish as she moved farther past the mid-century mark.
"Victoria, could I have a moment of your time?" She turned around to face her personal assistant, Mildred Parker-Ballard, who waited just inside her office door. "Certainly, Mildred. Is everything on schedule for tomorrow?"
Mildred looked even lovelier than usual this morning. She wore her hair in a smartly coiffed pageboy style that flattered her oval face, and Victoria was certain she'd lost a few more pounds. Perhaps it was the recent workouts at the gym she and her new husband had joined. Or maybe it was nothing more than wedded bliss. Mildred and Dr. Austin Ballard had finally gotten married last month, in the very same church where a Ballard grandchild had been christened only weeks before.
Victoria had already ordered a very special christening gown for her first grandchild. She and Mildred had pored over magazines and catalogs for weeks before finding the ones they'd wanted in a local shop, where the gowns were handmade, one-of-a-kind creations.
Nothing was too good for the next Colby generation. "Unless this storm takes a turn for the worst,"
Mildred assured, "all will go as planned for tomorrow's Christmas party."
Victoria clasped her hands in front of her. "Excellent." Anticipation welled in her chest. "Think, Mildred, how long it has been since we've had Trevor Sloan and Nick Foster here. I can't believe they were all willing to work their holiday schedules around the agency's Christmas party."
With her eyebrows arched high, Mildred peered at Victoria over her glasses. "Don't go jinxing things, Victoria. We still need the full cooperation of those big silver birds."
Mildred was right about that. Cancelled and delayed flights were par for the course around the holidays in Chicago. Thankfully most were traveling this evening or very early in the morning. Even Angel Parker-Danes and her enigmatic husband Cole were coming. Jack and Katherine Raine. And so many others.Victoria's pulse skipped with the mounting excitement. This would be the very best Christmas ever.
"You've touched base with the caterers one last time?"
Mildred nodded. "And the entertainment folks. In fact, they're coming in tonight after hours to set up their instruments and equipment in the big conference room. Elaine has kindly offered to stay and oversee their work."
Elaine Younger, the agency's receptionist. She was very good at her job. Very pleasant, very dependable. But untouchable in so many other ways. Despite having been with the agency for more than two years already, she hadn't bonded with the rest of the staff as most new members did.
"I worry about that girl," Victoria said, voicing her thoughts to her closest confidant outside her husband.
"She's asked for tomorrow off again," Mildred commented, a note of concern in her tone as well.
"She does it every year. It's as if she doesn't care for Christmas in the least. She never volunteers to help put up the decorations, but she's always more than happy to help take them down. I don't understand it."
Decorating the agency was a bit of an undertaking, Victoria wasn't so sure she could blame Elaine or anyone else for avoiding that task. Mildred required perfection. Still, it did seem odd that Elaine had no desire to join in any of the holiday traditions. The rest of the staff had welcomed her warmly when she'd come on board.
There appeared to be no rhyme or reason for her distance. And it certainly wasn't as if Elaine's parents lived far away, requiring that she leave the city early on Christmas Eve in order to be home for the holiday. She clearly didn't want to be a part of the agency's celebration and that saddened Victoria.
"I'll speak with her," Victoria offered. "Perhaps I can persuade her to drop by for a few minutes anyway."
Mildred lifted her shoulders in a noncommittal shrug. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try."
A rap on the door drew Victoria's, as well as Mildred's, attention there. Ian Michaels, Victoria's second in command, waited for an invitation to enter. He looked elegant as always in his black suit. Black shirt, black tie. The man always wore black. It was his trademark. Tall, dark and incredibly handsome as the saying went. There was just one difference in Ian's appearance today. He wore a little Rudolph pin on his lapel and the famous reindeer's nose flashed like a beacon. Victoria was entirely certain that one of Ian's children had insisted he wear it.
"Pardon me, ladies," he said in that charismatic voice that kept all the female employees swooning, and Victoria and Mildred were no exceptions. "May I have a moment of your time, Victoria?"
"I'll call Santa to make sure nothing's come up that would prevent him from appearing on time tomorrow," Mildred volunteered as she headed for the door. She smiled at Ian as she passed him. "If he's looking for Rudolph, I'll tell him to give you a call, Ian."
Victoria put her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh at Ian's unamused expression. When Mildred had closed the door he strode straight up toVictoria's desk, his countenance turning infinitely serious as he neared.
"We may have a problem with Gibson."
"Please." Victoria gestured to a chair. "Sit. Fill me in." The last she'd heard all was a go with the selection of the newest member of staff. Bradley Gibson had completed the series of interviews required, each done on his lunch break since he worked such long hours with Welton Investments down on the second floor of this very building.
Victoria and Ian had gone out of their way to facilitate the young man's schedule. Truth was, they wanted him that badly. Though he would be an investigator in training, Victoria had offered him a starting salary that he couldn't easily ignore. The agency needed a man with his caliber of expertise in the area of high finance. So many of their clients were snared into scams within that complex world it made perfect sense to employ the very best in the field to work on those cases. Hence Bradley Gibson had been wooed away from Welton. Victoria wasn't the least bit apologetic. The young man had admitted to being unhappy in his present position for some time. She would hate to lose him at this point.
"A friend from the local Bureau office called to warn me about an imminent announcement that could possibly affect us if the media discovers Gibson is connected to our agency. Apparently they've been watching him and are aware of his visits to our offices."
Victoria let the frown tugging at her brow have its way. "What sort of announcement?" She'd been extremely impressed with Bradley Gibson. She couldn't believe her instincts had failed her so completely. Only once in her entire career had she misjudged a new hire and even that one time had turned out for the better of all concerned. The idea that the FBI had been watching didn't faze her. It was the new millennium; with terrorism at epidemic proportions, vigilance was essential.
"Apparently the FBI has had Welton Investments under surveillance for months now. My source wasn't at liberty to disclose the suspected charges, but I can hazard a guess. Money laundering, perhaps embezzlement. In any event, it appears our Mr. Gibson may be one of the top players involved in this distasteful business. The warrants will be served late tomorrow afternoon, ironically at approximately the same time that our holiday party is scheduled. That's as much information as he could give me and I doubt I would have gotten that much had he not owed me a tremendous debt."
Victoria could see where he was going with this. "You think we should withdraw the invitation we made to Mr. Gibson that he join our holiday celebration? Let this play out without our involvement?"
Ian propped his elbows on the arms of the chair, steepled his fingers and considered his response a moment. "I believe we should do what's best for the agency. If the media gets wind of this sting, they'll be right behind the arresting agents. You know there's always a leak to the press. The Bureau likes every move they make to be high profile."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm pretty sure I picked this series romance novel up at the local library sale with the thought in mind that I might have read others in the series before it. Now that I've read the tale (#25 for the Colby Agency) I'm still pretty certain that this is the case, but darned if I can remember what the books were about. However, it doesn't really bother me that I can't remember for sure.In this tale Colby Agency receptionist Elaine is working late again on Christmas Eve when she discovers the building has been infiltrated by some really bad men. She also discovers Brad Gibson, also in the building in an attempt to clear his name from an attempt by his bosses to frame him for a crime he didn't commit. This story is kind of a "Die Hard" light as Elaine and Brad try to dodge terrorists and figure out what's going on while staying alive. As with many of he series romances, there isn't much in the way of graphic eroticism, just a few pretty chaste kisses and allusion to further bedroom activities after the end of the story. I did like the story, although I found the matriarch parts to be slightly annoying and think that if there are fans of this series of books out there, they will be quite pleased by the ensemble and the role call at the end of the book.A pretty simple, relatively exciting short story set in a universe probably best suited for those who may already be familiar with the background of this author's series.