After receiving a violent threat on the heels of her father’s disappearance from the town of Arrowhead Bay, Devon Cole fears for her life—until Vigilance, a local private security agency, steps in to shield her from danger. Although she isn’t usually quick to surrender her freedom, she has no problem stripping her defenses for her new sexy bodyguard . . .
Tortured by the painful memory of lost love, Logan Malik is determined not to fall for a client again. So when he’s tasked with watching over Devon day and night, he’s focused on doing his job. Day is no problem, but as tensions rise at night, nothing can protect them from giving in to unbridled passion . . .
“Sexy, intelligent, pulse-pounding!”
—USA Today bestselling author Debra Webb on Deadly Business
“Hide and Seek combines hot romance and thrilling suspense in Desiree Holt’s new sizzling romantic suspense series.”
—Allison Brennan, New York Times bestselling author of the Lucy Kincaid series
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"Your father is missing."
Devon Cole tightened her grip on her cell phone and tried to make sense of what Sheridan March had just told her, as fear swept through her. Maybe she hadn't heard right.
"What do you mean, missing?"
"The Coast Guard found the Princess Devon drifting five miles offshore early this morning," the Arrowhead Bay chief of police explained. "But there's no sign of him anywhere. And no clue to anything in the house. We went through every inch of it. The alarm was fried, probably needs to be replaced, but otherwise the place was clean as a whistle."
Devon clutched the phone. "Was there anything on the boat? Something he might have had with him that could give us a clue?" "Nada."
"Where's the boat now? Would the Coast Guard hold on to it?" "In its slip at the Bayside Marina. After the Guard went over every inch of it, they had one of the men on the cutter bring it back in and berth it. I have the keys."
Devon swallowed to ease the tightness in her throat. "When was the last time anyone saw him?"
"Sunday," Sheri told her. "As soon as I got the word from the Coast Guard we began checking with his friends. The last time anyone saw him was when Cash Breeland had lunch with him at the Driftwood."
"That's the same day I talked to him." She rubbed her hand nervously on her jeans. "He didn't say a word about going anywhere. Did the Moorlands say anything about seeing him?"
Ginny and Hank Moorland owned both the Driftwood Restaurant and Bayside Marina.
"Hank was in Miami for a couple of days but Ginny was there. She said she never laid eyes on him."
"And Gary at Bayside? Did he see anything?"
Sheri made a rude noise. "I talked to him myself but he's usually so off in his own world a marching band could have taken off and he'd never notice. I swear I don't know why Hank doesn't can his ass. Besides, it was a Sunday, so the marina was jammed with people arriving and leaving and some just working on their boats. He did say a couple of guys were asking about him, but he thought they were just friends."
"Did you talk to anyone who has a boat in a slip near his?" "The ones we could find."
"God." Devon tamped back the rising fear. "I can't believe this could happen. He's an avid sailor and very, very safety conscious."
Her father had been sailing for as long as she remembered. When he still lived in Tampa he was out on the water every Saturday, sailing down the coast, sometimes with business associates but more often with her mother. That was how he'd discovered Arrowhead Bay. But he almost never went out during the week. Saturdays were his days on the water. And, after her mother passed away, sometimes on Sundays. It was something both her parents had enjoyed, and Devon often thought it was a way for him to recapture her presence.
"I know," Sheri agreed. "Everyone knows that about him."
"And the other boat?" Devon asked. "The Lady Hannah?"
"Still here. There's not even a sign anyone was on it." She paused. "We know he's an excellent sailor. The Coast Guard thought maybe he'd fallen overboard, but —"
"I guess that's possible, except he was a nut about water safety. He'd be careful."
"That's what I told them," Sheri agreed.
"The Coast Guard started searching immediately, right?"
"Yes, but it's a big ocean. They brought in another cutter to search as well as one of their Dolphin helicopters. I promise you it's a full-out search and rescue operation. And there's another thing."
"What?" What else could there be?
"I don't know if you caught it, but there was a story on the national news yesterday that Vincent Pellegrino, one of your father's vice presidents, was killed in a one-car accident."
Ice chilled her blood. "Are you saying the two things could be related? That my father didn't just fall overboard?"
"I'm saying we have to look at all possibilities. This is too much of a coincidence to ignore."
"Did you call his office? Ask his admin if he'd decided to take an unannounced vacation?"
"I did, but she knew nothing. And they are all in a turmoil over Pellegrino's death."
"But who would want to kill him?" Nausea bubbled up in her throat. "Either of them?"
"We don't know, and that may not be it at all. I'll just have to connect all the dots."
"Holy crap, Sheri."
"One other thing. His house was meticulously clean, as if someone had gone through and sanitized it. But — this is weird — his computer was on his desk but the internal hard drive has been removed."
"What? What the hell?"
"My thoughts exactly."
"What about the external hard drive? It should be right next to it."
"Nada," Sheri told her. "Gone, gone, gone."
Even as she tried to dial back the sick feeling creeping through her, Devon was already dragging her suitcase out and pulling things out of her drawers and closet. She ran through her mind all the projects she had in process, which could be put on hold, who she needed to try to renegotiate deadlines with.
"I'm coming down there right now. I can't just sit here and wait around. I'll finish packing as soon as we hang up and be on the road right away."
"Good. I think you need to be here. Corporate is sending some people down here and I know they'll want to talk to you, too. Call me or come see me as soon as you get here." Sheri paused. "We're all over it, Devon. I just wish we had more to go on."
"I know. It's just ..." Just that she'd already lost one parent and didn't know if she could deal with losing another. "I think I'll go to the house first and take a look around."
"Sounds good. I'll wait to hear from you."
The minute she hung up from Sheri's call, she packed the suitcase and threw it and her computer stuff into her car. Less than thirty minutes later she was headed south from Tampa on Interstate 75. She alternated between the threat of tears and full-blown panic as the conversation replayed like a looping tape in her head as she ate up the miles.
While she drove, she kept trying to reach her father. She had both the cell phone and the house phone on speed dial, but she got nothing. Where the hell was he? She'd been on the road for about an hour when her cell rang. The readout showed Sheri's name so she pushed the remote button to answer.
"Have you found him?" she asked, forgoing any kind of greeting.
"I wish. No, I just wanted to give you a heads-up."
"What's going on?"
"We've got a couple of reporters sniffing around here, asking about your father's disappearance."
"How did they find out so fast?" Devon asked.
"A million ways. This is the age of the Internet. Maybe they were after your father to ask him about the death of his executive. I wouldn't put it past them to rent a boat and go check on the search."
"Damn, damn, damn." Devon pounded a fist against the steering wheel.
"You said it," Sheri agreed. "Anyway, I'll bet anything the first story will hit the newspaper tomorrow and they're looking for more details."
"Oh my God. Sheri, I can't talk to them now."
"Don't worry. I'll keep them off your back. But it's possible if they give it a big play, someone seeing it might remember something."
"You're right," Devon agreed. "I'm just not good with stuff like that and right now my mind's in too much of a whirl to even speak coherently. I'll probably say the wrong thing and make the situation worse."
"I understand. We can't shut them out, and but I will do my best to keep them off your back for as long as I can."
"Thanks." Devon blew out a breath.
"If they catch you, the best thing is to tell them no comment. I'm sure they'll hit the Cole International offices in Tampa. Just let the people there make any statements."
"Sounds good to me."
"Don't forget. Call me or come by as soon as you get here."
She disconnected the call and stuck the phone in the console.
Great. Just great. Reporters, looking for juicy scandal about the disappearance of a business giant.
Oh, Dad, how could you do this to me?
The fact was, she'd been worried about him for the past several months. Her mother's death five years ago had thrown him for a loop. Piled on top of that were problems with Cole International. He didn't discuss them with her but there was a hint here and there, and he was constantly on edge. Then, suddenly things seemed to be better.
She'd missed him when he moved to Arrowhead Bay, but she understood him wanting a change. The house was filled with too many memories of her mother. Plus her father said he was tired of city living.
On the trips to the little town while he was still living in Tampa, he met people. Made friends. The times she sailed down there with him she'd gotten to know people, too, and fallen in love with the small, sleepy Southern town. He was as happy as she'd seen him since her mother died.
She'd met Sheri March at one of the many festivals the town held and they'd connected at once, becoming good friends. Through Sheri she'd met a lot of other people, including the chief's sister, Avery, who ran a private security agency. With friends to hang with and her father almost himself again she'd begun to look forward to visiting him. He loved hearing about the growth of her graphics design business and praised her for what she accomplished.
Then he'd stopped asking her about it except on rare occasions.
She tried to pinpoint just when that had all started. Almost two years ago, she thought. The tenor of the visits had changed. He had changed, becoming more tense, edgier, sometimes even withdrawn. When she asked about it, he just brushed it off. She missed their tight relationship. They had always been close, so it bothered her more than she let on.
He was abruptly more preoccupied with the business than ever, even obsessed with its financial situation. It never made sense to her because Cole International was worth millions. Whenever she asked him what was wrong, he assured her everything was fine. Just some pesky business details, he told her, that were taking a little more of his attention.
She'd continued to make sporadic visits, hoping to recapture the tight sense of family they'd had. After all, it was just the two of them now. But no matter how hard she tried, she'd felt them drifting apart more and more. There was a wall of some kind around the man she just could not breach.
When she noticed the change in him, she tried to question Cash Breeland about it. Cash was the president of the locally owned Arrowhead Bay Bank. Devon didn't know him all that well, but he and her father had become friends even before the big move. In fact, it was Cash who had introduced her father to friends of his and drawn him into their social circle. But Cash just downplayed her questions.
"I know your daddy's been preoccupied some," he drawled when she asked him to meet her for coffee. "He's just working through some knotty business problems. With all this overseas competition, some of his units aren't performin' the way they should. He'll pull out of it as soon as there's an uptick in trade."
But he hadn't and now he was gone.
The word gave birth to a lot of speculation and none of it good.
She spotted the highway signs for Arrowhead Bay and gave herself a mental shake. She needed to clear the garbage out of her head until she could find out for sure what was going on.
She took the farthest exit for the town, the one that took her to the road where her father's house was. He had built at the far end of town in the area known as Seacliff. More land, larger homes. He liked space, he'd told her. Cole International board members and executives routinely visited him there. And from his side patio he had a magnificent view of Arrowhead Bay and the harbor.
His house was the next to last one on Seacliff Road, and in minutes the familiar gateposts came into view. She gave silent thanks that there were no reporters around. They must have taken Sheri literally. She pulled up in the driveway and shoved the car into park, then stared at the house for a long moment. Automatically she reached into the half-empty bag of red licorice bites on her console and popped a couple in her mouth.
Sitting there now, chewing on the candy, she remembered the last time she'd seen him, a little more than a month ago. Their brief conversation played out in her head.
"You're leaving already?" He had looked up from his desk when she stopped in the doorway to the den.
"You're busy and I have work back in Tampa to take care of."
"I thought you brought your laptop with you."
"I did, but I think I'd be more comfortable at home."
For a fleeting moment, a pained expression crossed his face, one almost of sorrow.
"We should spend more time together."
She'd nearly snorted at that. They'd always been so close, especially after her mother died, but he'd withdrawn from her.
Still, he was her father and she loved him.
Was it possible this was voluntary? Had her father chosen to disappear so completely? No. Too outrageous, she thought. He was the epitome of the corporate icon. A mover and shaker. Winner of awards. Profiled in magazines. Business school graduates used him as their aspirational model. What on earth could make a man like that choose to vanish as if he'd never existed?
Even with his changes in personality and behavior, she could say this was 100 percent unlike him. What if he'd been grabbed by someone? But who? It could be a competitor, a disgruntled employee, someone on the bad end of a business deal. She knew very little about his business dealings. Would there be a ransom request? Would they contact her or his corporation? How would she get the money if the call came to her? How —
No. Sheri hadn't said anything about a kidnapping.
Another thought stabbed at her, one that chilled her. Had someone killed him and dumped the body overboard? But who? And why?
She would ask Sheri those questions as soon as she spoke to her again. Meanwhile, back to square one. If neither of those things turned out to be a reality, why had Graham Cole disappeared? What was going on with him?
God, she was driving herself crazy.
She felt an unexpected rush of tears and a tightening of her throat. Despite the state of their relationship, he was her father. She still loved him and his disappearance frightened her.
Enough, missy. Get your ass into the house.
But the moment she climbed out of her car, a sudden chill raced down her spine and an ominous feeling gripped her. She stood there, gathering herself. Could a house be menacing?
She wasn't the type of woman given to feelings like that. She was down to earth and practical. Some might even say hardheaded, she thought with a tiny smile.
Okay. I'm here. I should go inside and see if I can find anything the police might have missed. Or that would give me some kind of clue as to what had happened, something that would mean something only to me.
Go on. Don't be a chicken.
It was just bricks and stucco. What did she think was inside? A body? Not likely. The police had already searched the house. When she was sure she had herself under control, she hiked up the steps to the front door, for the moment leaving all her stuff in the car. As she slid the key for the front lock into place she wondered if it still worked. When the key turned and the lock clicked open, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Automatically, she reached for the alarm panel in the front hall, then remembered Sheri said it wasn't functioning. That a whole new one would need to be installed. How very weird. It was always on.
At least the air-conditioning had been left on, a blessedly cool change from the furnace that was Florida heat in the summer. Jingling the key ring, she walked through the house, looking around, although she had no idea what she expected to find.
The house was open and airy, with a wall of windows the length of one side that looked out to the lawn and beyond that to the bay itself. Her father had hired a decorator and given her free rein. The result was a tastefully decorated home that was open and welcoming.
As she walked from room to room, the same eerie feeling that gripped her when she'd stood in front of the house swept over her again. As if something very bad happened here. The chill racing over her skin had nothing to do with the artificially cooled air. She sensed a presence of evil in the air, and kept looking over her shoulder, as if expecting someone to pop out of a closet.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. I've been watching too much television.
Excerpted from "Hide and Seek"
Copyright © 2017 Desiree Holt.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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