It’s finally release day! For those of you who have been waiting for Duncan and Mandy’s story, this is it! I hope you all enjoy the conclusion to their journey. <3
Here’s the first chapter!
Blackness lay ahead.
Mandy navigated the darkness with precision, knowing this office like the back of her hand. She kept her footsteps light, soundless, as she headed towards the exit. The only light slipped from the narrow slit beneath Duncan’s door, barely illuminating the black furniture, green feature wall to her left, and the green decorative items she’d sprinkled through the space.
A few more steps and she’d be free of Duncan’s overbearing ways for another day.
A dark shadow loomed before her. Adrenaline spiked through her and her heart skipped a beat. She stumbled to a stop. She blinked until the features of the man in front of her coalesced into the familiar face of her business partner.
“Duncan,” she said, pressing a hand against her chest to calm her heart rate. “You scared me.” He was a large African-American man, broad across the chest and still in peak physical condition though he’d left the Army almost two years ago when a piece of shrapnel tore his knee to shreds.
His scowl deepened. “You were sneaking out of the office.”
She rolled her eyes, but guilt nagged at her. His words weren’t completely untrue. “I wasn’t. I told you I needed to leave early tonight. I should’ve been out of here fifteen minutes ago if I wanted to make Sierra’s house in time for dinner.” Sierra was Mandy’s best friend, and had been since college. Both their lives had been pretty crazy the last few months and they hadn’t had time to see each other. This dinner was meant to make up for that, and Mandy didn’t want to be too late.
“You should’ve waited for me.”
“I reminded you twice.” Her heartbeat had slowed to a normal pace, but left behind a feeling of unease. Constantly looking over her shoulder for threats had taken its toll on her.
“Mandy,” he growled, his jaw working. “You have a killer after you.”
Like she needed the reminder.
“We both do. Sort of.” She glanced away so she didn’t have to look at Duncan’s irritated expression. He so often gave her that look, but she still hadn’t become immune to it. She wished she was. It would make her life so much easier.
Instead of looking at Duncan, she glanced around the office—the symbol of the company they’d built together. Professionally, they made a good team. Personally? The jury was still out.
Duncan sucked in a breath as if to say more, then snapped it shut. He hesitated, then continued on what Mandy knew was a different track. “I’ll escort you down to your car.” He palmed a gun from a holster on his lower back and held it loosely at his side.
Mandy agreed, only because he’d been doing the same thing for the last two and a half weeks, since she’d found the letters threatening her life. She’d told him time and again that he didn’t need to. No one could get into their garage without a pass. But Duncan never listened.
She left the office with one last glance behind her, Duncan leading the way.
“I can’t keep doing this,” she murmured, leaning her head back against the wall of the elevator and letting out a sigh.
Duncan rubbed his injured knee, but Mandy said nothing, knowing he’d start scowling again if she did.
“We’ll get them,” he muttered. “We’ve almost got all the information we need to take to the authorities. And when we do Beaton Security—and Tulane—will be left powerless.”
Mandy nodded, but she wasn’t so sure. Beaton had proved themselves to be incredibly powerful, getting away with murder, and even a terrorist attack on American soil.
“Have we found out who Tulane is, yet?” she asked.
Duncan shook his head. “He’s slippery.”
“So it’s probably another fake name.”
“Probably,” Duncan grumbled.
“How much longer?” she asked.
“How much longer until we can take our evidence to the authorities and I can get my life back? I’m sure you’re sick of having to escort me everywhere, too.”
The elevator doors opened with a bing, and Duncan stepped out before he answered. “Not long. And I don’t mind. All that matters is you’re safe.”
Her heart warmed. Duncan may be annoyed with her constantly, but he still cared, even if it was against his will.
“Duncan?” Mandy began as they strode towards her car. Duncan didn’t look at her, his eyes darting around the underground parking structure. Ten of the cars belonged to Soldiering On—all bulletproof black SUVs—and the rest of the space was empty. All the other businesses must have closed for the day.
“Yeah?” Duncan replied.
A blast sounded above them, shaking the building with violent force. Mandy stumbled, falling into the nearest car so hard it sent a shooting pain through her shoulder. Duncan came with her, curling himself protectively over her back, shielding her from the concrete that rained down from above them.
Car alarms echoed through the underground garage with pulsing, discordant shrieks, and orange lights flashed all around her.
Her head swam as she tried to understand what had just happened.
“Bomb,” Duncan growled in her ear, answering her unspoken question. She shivered in reaction to the word, fear gripping her, choking her. The concrete had stopped raining from above them, leaving the garage eerily still despite the insistent car alarms. She turned her head to look at Duncan, taking comfort in his warm, strong presence.
Their heaving breaths mingled as she turned her head, and his arm tightened around her.
“Are you okay?” he asked softly, his eyes searching hers.
She nodded, unable to speak. They didn’t break eye contact.
“We have to get out of here,” he told her. Briefly, his hand stroked her hair, just once, as if assuring himself she was unhurt and offering her comfort.
Her heart lurched at the simple act of affection. Dust fell from her hair and she blinked, then pulled away from him and pressed closer to the car. It hadn’t been affection; he’d just been cleaning her. Disappointment sank in her gut.
She struggled out of his grip as he reluctantly loosened his hold around her. He picked up his gun and she stood, then levered himself to his feet with a wince.
“The building could collapse at any minute,” he told her urgently as he strode toward the closed rolling door to the outside. His limp was more pronounced now.
Mandy dug into her handbag as she followed him, finding her keys. She pushed the button to open the rolling door and it slowly creaked upwards. She coughed as the dust that covered the garage floor kicked up with their every step, clogging her mouth and nostrils.
As they reached the door, it shuddered to a stop. One painful whine sounded as it tried again to open before it fell still. It had barely opened to the height of their knees.
Mandy glanced up. The roll had been damaged in the blast. It wouldn’t budge.
She groaned, then crouched and rolled beneath it, sucking in a breath of the night air. But it didn’t clear her lungs. Something crunched beneath her and she realised shattered glass was spread across the asphalt beneath her. She lay there for a moment, staring up at the flames pouring out of the third story windows—their windows.
Despair welled up as she watched everything they’d worked for burn in hot flames.
“Duncan,” she murmured as he followed her outside.
“Look,” she said, gesturing up.
He did, positioning himself so they lay side-by-side.
“It was meant for us,” he muttered. He didn’t sound surprised by this revelation, but Mandy sucked in a breath.
“Tulane?” she asked, turning to Duncan. “He tried to blow us up?”
Duncan nodded slowly. “That would be my guess.”
Mandy swallowed past the thick lump in her throat. Tears burned her eyes. Tears of fear and anguish and being totally overwhelmed. This was all too much for too long.
Duncan sat, then got to his feet with another pained wince. He held out a hand to Mandy and she took his large hand in a firm grip and he pulled her to her feet.
“What do we do now?” she asked as they hurried away from the fire that leapt and grew behind them with every step. The heat burned at their back.
Duncan stopped and turned, his eyes travelling over the building that had just minutes before housed their hard-earned offices. He took a few deep breaths, and even as Mandy watched, his expression transformed from despair to determination.
He took the keys from her hand and pressed the button to close the garage door. It groaned as it descended, then clanged shut.
She looked at him in question, and he turned to her with a grim smile.
“We need to buy ourselves some time.”
Mandy blinked. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that Tulane has no reason to think we weren’t in the building when it blew. It’ll take a while for the fire department to put out the fire, then for it to cool enough for the fire investigators to come in—if the building stays standing. If we let everyone think we were in there—”
He paused, and Mandy completed his sentence. “Tulane will think so, too.”
He nodded, gripping her upper arms, his eyes alight with excitement. “That will give us at least twenty-four hours, maybe more, to figure out how to use this to our advantage.”
“We’ll need a place to stay,” she reminded him.
“I know just the place,” he told her.
“Should we get a car?”
“Yes, but not from in there. It’s not safe, and they might notice it’s missing. We’ll take one of the spare ones hidden nearby.”
“Okay,” she said, squaring her shoulders and hardening her resolve. A plan. She could work with a plan.
He yanked her handbag open, still attached to her shoulder. He dug through it until he pulled out her phone, then slammed it onto the ground with all his might.
“Hey!” she cried, but he ignored her.
He crouched and whacked her cracked and beaten phone with the butt of his gun until it shattered into tiny pieces.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Was that really necessary?”
He held her gaze as he slowly rose to his full, intimidating height. “Yes. Beaton have hacked into our systems once before. I know we just got you a new phone when the first letter came in, but we can’t take the risk they’ve hacked us again and can trace your phone.”
She clenched her jaw. “Fine. But where’s yours?”
He shrugged and his eyes flickered over to the building now completely engulfed in flames. “I left it in the office.”
She rolled her eyes. The man hated technology, and would avoid it entirely if he could. In this instance it hardly made a difference. The phone would be destroyed either way.
“In that case, let’s go.”
He stilled for a moment, holding her gaze, then slowly wrapped his hands around her biceps, pulling her closer. For a mad moment, she thought he meant to kiss her, but he only held her still.
“Do you trust me?” he asked, his eyes burning into hers.
She frowned at the question, and the intensity in his expression. Her answer mattered to him. “Of course,” she whispered softly.
He nodded once in satisfaction, then took her hand and led her away from their burning offices, their destroyed life. Sirens sounded in the distance as they disappeared into the night.