Safe at Last

By: Maya Banks

ONE


ZACK Covington simmered with impatience as he waited for the go signal from his team leader. He didn’t know exactly what was going on in the basement of the McMansion—not unlike the house he’d once dreamed of building for the girl he’d planned to spend forever with—but he knew it wasn’t good. Sometimes bad lurked in seemingly benign locations. People existed in denial that it could happen in their little corner of the world. How very wrong they were.

It was a lesson he’d learned the hard way. Coming from a small town nestled against the shores of Kentucky Lake, he’d thought—just as most of its citizens had thought—that they were impervious to bad. And Zack? He was more confident about that than most, because his father was the chief of police, and he’d grown up knowing his father’s job was to ensure the safety of the town, regardless of size.

But he’d damn sure failed when it came to Gracie. Everyone had failed her and Zack had led the pack. His father’s refusal to use county resources on someone who didn’t belong anyway had caused a rift between Zack and his father that to this day hadn’t been mended.

It never would be.

Zack sighed as he contemplated the stately homes, the expensive cars, the swimming pools behind high privacy fences, the immaculately landscaped yards. The white-collar families who resided in the gated community that boasted top-notch security would be horrified to know that evil lurked in their midst. The irony of it all was that the affluent neighborhood had recently been voted the safest and most desirable community in the greater Houston area. Hell, it had scored in the top five in the entire state of Texas and in the top twenty for the whole country. So yeah, these people were utterly convinced that they were safe.

But he knew better. Inside was a child. Just a baby. Well, not so much a baby, since she was only two years younger than his Gracie. Goddamn it. Not here. Not now. It was no time for the past to intrude. Besides, Gracie was hardly the beautiful, innocent sixteen-year-old girl he’d loved more than a decade ago. She’d be twenty-eight now.

If she was even alive.

And she wasn’t “his” Gracie anymore. She wasn’t his anything.

Maybe he hadn’t been able to save Gracie. Maybe he’d failed her. But over his dead body would he fail this young girl whose dreams were as big as the sun. Not when the two most important people in her life—or at least the two who should have been the most important—had failed her in every possible way.

Alyssa Lofton had been a very promising ballerina at an early age, a fact her mother had taken pride in when she’d participated in kindergarten recitals and received high praise and glowing accolades both locally and across the state. Later, when the demands of her training had encroached on her mother and father’s social life, Alyssa had fallen far down the list of their priorities.

Until the father had received pointed threats, aimed at Alyssa.

The Loftons had five children, with Alyssa being the middle child, between two older brothers and two younger sisters. When Howard Lofton had called in Devereaux Security Services, it had disgusted Zack that the man seemed irritated not that his daughter was being threatened, but that he wasn’t the subject of the threat. It was a blow to his ego that evidently he was not as important as his daughter.

A pompous, arrogant pig who had no business having children. His wife was no better. Zack could only dream of the life they had—a life he once thought he would have—with a houseful of children. Happy. And yet the couple was more concerned with their social standing than the care of their children.

They’d hired a nanny and it was the nanny who attended all sports events and dance recitals and provided the love and support the parents should have. And now she was dead, shot when trying to protect one of the younger Lofton children after masked men had burst into the auditorium where the dance recital was being held and cut the lights, causing instant chaos as gunfire erupted.

The father? Had dropped like a fucking coward, hiding behind his wife, while the nanny had saved his son. Zack would like to put a bullet right between the asshole’s eyes for that alone.

Howard and Felicity Lofton hadn’t even been there so they could see their daughter shine. They’d attended solely because the CEO of another oil company also had a daughter performing and Howard was in negotiations to merge the two companies because the competitor was looking to retire and Howard wanted to take over both companies and expand his “empire.” Hell, he and his wife hadn’t even sat with their children. They’d left the nanny to tend to the kids while they sat a row back talking business and their daughters performed.

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