COLBY AGENT OR NOT, HE DIDN'T DARE CROSS THE LINE WITH THIS
Former U.S. marshal Shane Allen made one mistake on the job, and it cost him his reputation. Now he had a second chance working an inside case for the newly rebuilt Colby Agency. And nothing, certainly not some tagalong woman, was going to ruin it.
After her sister's murder, justice was all that Mary Jane Brooks wanted. And Shane was crucial to nailing those responsible, even if he did send her pulse racing.
Keeping things professional was downright impossible, especially when Mary Jane kept putting out conflicting signals. If Shane's instincts were right, this fragile beauty was a virgin in the worst kind of trouble-but was he ready to take it all the way?
About the Author
DEBRA WEBB is the award winning, USA Today bestselling author of more than 130 novels, including reader favorites the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency, and the Shades of Death series. With more than four million books sold in numerous languages and countries, Debra's love of storytelling goes back to her childhood on a farm in Alabama. Visit Debra at www.DebraWebb.com or write to her at PO Box 176, Madison, AL 35758.
Read an Excerpt
Mary Jane Brooks understood the news was bad the moment she opened her door and saw the resigned slump of the detective's shoulders.
"We've confirmed that the" Detective Brandon Bailen, Chicago PD, cleared his throat "the remains are Rebecca's."
Mary Jane's heart plummeted and her knees weakened. Holding on to the doorframe was all that kept her vertical. "You're certain there's no mistake." She moistened her trembling lips and struggled to hold back the tears. "Labs do make mistakes. I read about"
"There's no mistake, Ms. Brooks."
Rebecca was dead.
On some level Mary Jane had known for a while now that her sister was gone, but hearing the words somehow made it new made it hurt so badly.
"Thank you, Detective." Mary Jane managed to draw in a deep, shuddering breath. "Do you know what happened? Was she" working up the courage to say the word took monumental effort "murdered?"
Sympathy softened Bailen's usually firm expression. He was a tall, thin man with stark features, yet he was the kindest cop she had met during this awful ordeal. "Yes, ma'am, we have reason to believe so."
Mary Jane closed her eyes. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear the details, but how else could she ever know the whole truth? She opened her eyes and looked directly into the detective's. "How?"
"Massive head trauma."
The image of a broken and battered skull flashed in her mind. She tightened her hold on the door-frame, her fingers ice cold. "I see."
But she didn't see. Her sister hadn't been in trouble. She had been guilty of nothing more than doing the right thing. Rebecca had told her weeks before she disappeared that she was going to have to take a stand against her employer. She hadn't elaborated on the specifics, only that the company or the CEO or maybe both were up to something illegal. Rebecca had known she had to do some-thing the right thing.
Mary Jane had known the situation was far more serious than her sister had related when the federal authoritiesFBI as well as the Marshals Service had called to inquire as to Rebecca's whereabouts less than forty-eight hours after she had vanished.
Now, eleven months later, Mary Jane's worst fears were confirmed.
There was nothing she could do but bury her only sibling just as she had buried both her parents in the past three months.
Mary Jane was alone. The realization crashed in around her, leaving her shaking in spite of her best efforts to remain stoic.
Her whole family was gone. "When can I claim her remains?" Mary Jane forced the question past her lips. Seeing that Rebecca had a proper service and burial was the one remaining detail she could attend to for her sister. In all these months one would think that she would have been better prepared for this moment. But she wasn't. It felt impossible surreal.
"That may take some time," Bailen warned, his tone careful. "The FBI is launching a new investigation and, of course, we'll be coordinating our own with theirs in an effort to get to the bottom of what really happened."
Mary Jane understood. "You'll keep me posted?" That seemed like the proper question to ask next in light of the circumstances. She had no idea how this sort of business was handled. Her only experience with criminal investigations was watching television. Surely the authorities kept the family informed.
Dear God. Her sister was dead.
Mary Jane was alone. "Where?" Mary Jane hadn't even realized the had taken shape in her brain until she heard word echo in the corridor outside her apart-She should have asked the detective in, she belatedly. Instead, she'd stood here in the and listened to the news no one ever agency," Bailen explained. "Been a prominent Chicago fixture for more than a quarter of a century. The building was blown up last Christmas Eve by thugs attempting to cover up fraud at an investment firm located at the same address. For a while there was some question as to whether the Colby Agency or the investment firm was the target, but that investigation is closed now."
"Why would my sister have been at a private investigation agency?" That didn't make sense to Mary Jane. Why wouldn't Rebecca have told her about that kind of thing? But then, she hadn't told her everything about the trouble with her employer. Did the Colby Agency have something to do with her testimony against Horizon Software?
There was no way for Rebecca to even guess. Her sister would have kept things from her in an effort to protect her. It was part of the "older sibling" mentality. She hadn't told Mary Jane the gritty truth about her employer for that very reason. Sure Mary Jane had known there were problems and that Rebecca was going to blow the whistle, but, as Mary Jane had learned over the past few months, those details had only scratched the surface. Mary Jane doubted she would ever know everything that had happened between her sister, Horizon Software and the federal authorities.
"I can't answer that question, Ms. Brooks," the detective admitted, drawing her from her painful thoughts. "But I can tell you that we're going to find out. That's a promise."
Mary Jane thanked the detective and then watched him go. The thought of going back into her apartment was almost unbearable. She knew what would happen.
She would go inside and close the door. And then she would break down. The idea of being in public, if only in the deserted corridor of her apartment building, helped to keep her unsteady composure in place. She had to be the strong one when it came to situations like this. She'd always been the one everyone counted on to handle the routine things life threw in her path the one who took care of things no one else had the time or inclination to. Rebecca had been too busy making her mark in the business world to bother with the everyday trivialities.
Now she was alone. Completely alone.
Mary Jane straightened away from the door, squared her shoulders in defiance of the trembling rampant in her body. Yes, she would cry. And then she would pull herself together and notify the distant relatives; and then she would make the memorial service arrangementswith or without the remains.
Then, when those necessary arrangements were out of the way, there was one other thing she decided she had to do.
She had to know for certain why Rebecca was dead.
Rebecca Brooks had been a good person. A wonderful woman, barely thirty-two, with her entire life ahead of her. She had gone to church most Sundays and had provided significant financial support for her elderly parents. Rebecca's help was the reason Mary Jane had been able to take an extended leave of absence from her teaching and stay home to care for their ailing parents rather than putting them in a nursing home.
Someone had murdered Rebecca for attempting to do the right thingthat had to be it, there simply was no other possible reasonand Mary Jane intended to see that whoever did this horrible thing was punished to the fullest extent of the law.
She had no idea how a murder investigation was conducted, but she did know where to start.
The Colby Agency.
The last place her sister had been before she was murdered. The place where she'd taken her final breath.
The Colby Agency had a new home. The tenth floor of a daring high-rise that gleamed against the Chicago skyline, displaying the same elegance and domination the world had come to expect of the prestigious agency.
Victoria Colby-Camp smiled as she looked out over the city she loved. The view was somewhat different, but the pulse of the thriving metropolis stretching out before her was exactly the same. Thanksgiving was only a couple of weeks away, and Victoria had a great deal to be thankful for.
A soft rap on her door pulled Victoria's attention from her thoughts and the view. Ben Haygood, the agency's software and hardware expert, hovered at the door of her office.
Now that, to his way of thinking, permission to enter had been granted, he burst into the room like the lean mass of vibrant energy he was. "Ma'am, we've encountered a slight glitch in the backup files we retrieved from the cyber storage system."
All had been lost in the explosion that had brought down the agency's former home. Ben had worked tirelessly for weeks since the opening of the new building to get everything in order. While working from their temporary quarters, minimal files had been pulled from cyber storage. Now that they were settled in their new home, hard copies of all electronically stored files were to be retrieved and reorganized.
"What sort of problem?" Victoria asked as she moved to the chair behind her desk. It wasn't the one she had used for so very many yearsthe one that James, her first husband and the founder of the Colby Agency had usedbut it was quite comfortable and unquestionably elegant. "The download has stopped midstream, and a secondary password has been requested." Ben pulled at the tie that already hung loosely at his throat. "I ah can't remember the secondary password we selected."
That didn't sound like Ben at all. He never forgot anything, much less a password. And even when there was a glitch, he generally took care of it and then told her about it. Evidently settling into the new building had disrupted his usually un-shakable sangfroid. "Is that going to be a major problem?" she inquired cautiously, not wanting to make him more uncomfortable but needing clarification.
He shook his head enthusiastically. "I just need your authorization to override the password."
Now she got the picture. "Of course." Victoria settled into her chair and opened the laptop on her desk. "Walk me through the steps, Ben."
Ten seconds later Ben had his authorization. "Thank you, ma'am."
Victoria gifted him with a smile she hoped relieved his obvious embarrassment. "Thank you, Ben, for taking such good care of our files."
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