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A Private Novel
By Rees Jones
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Private, the best investigation unit in the world, has agents who are the smartest, fastest, and most technologically advanced in the world — and they always uncover the truth. No wonder the most influential men and women on the planet seek their help on a daily basis.
But there’s only one client who can make its founder, Jack Morgan, drop everything and fly to London at full speed: Princess Caroline, third in line to the British throne.
She needs Morgan to find a friend who has mysteriously disappeared, a woman named Sophie Edwards. Though Princess Caroline insists it’s just a missing-persons case, Morgan knows she’s hiding something. The closer he gets to uncovering the truth, the more he realizes there are powerful people who will stop at nothing to keep Sophie from being found.
One day earlier
JACK MORGAN WAS alive.
For a former U.S. Marine turned leader of the world’s foremost investigation agency, Private, that could mean a lot of things. It could mean that he had survived knife wounds, kidnap and helicopter crashes. It could mean that he had survived foiling a plot to unleash a virus on Rio, or that he had lived through halting a rampaging killer in London.
Right now, it meant that he was twenty thousand feet in the air, and flying.
Morgan sat in the co-pilot’s position of a Gulfstream G650 the private jet cruising at altitude as it crossed the English Channel from Europe, the white cliffs of Dover a smudged line on the horizon. To the east, the sun was slowly climbing its way to prominence, the sky matching the color of Morgan’s tired, red eyes.
He was exhausted, and it was only for this reason that he was a content passenger on the flight and not at the controls.
The pilot felt Morgan’s hunger: “You can take her in, if you’d like, sir,” the British man offered.
“All you, Phillip,” Morgan replied. “Choppers were always more my thing.” He thought with fondness of the Blackhawks he had flown during combat missions as a Marine. Then, as it always did, the fondness soon slipped away, replaced by the gut-gripping sadness of loss—Morgan had walked away from the worst day of his life, but others hadn’t.
What is it the British say on their Remembrance Day? “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.” Morgan liked that. Of course, he remembered those he had lost every minute between the rising and the setting as well. Every comrade of war, every agent of Private fallen in their mission. Morgan remembered them all.
He rubbed at his eyes. He was really tired.
But he was alive.
And so Morgan looked again at the printed email in his hand. The friendly message that he had read multiple times, trying to draw out a deeper meaning, for surely the simple words were the tip of a blade. As the sprawl of London appeared before him, he was trying to figure out if Private were intended to be the ones to shield against that weapon, or if it would instead be driven into the organization’s back.
He was trying to figure this out because the email had not come from a friend. It had come from Colonel Marcus De Villiers, a Coldstream Guards officer in the British Army. Though no enemy of Morgan’s, he was certainly no ally, and when in doubt, Morgan looked for traps. That was why he was alive.
But De Villiers was more than just an aristocratic gentleman in an impressive uniform. He was the head of security for a very important family. Perhaps the greatest and most important family on earth.
And that was why Morgan was flying at full speed to London.
Because Jack Morgan had been invited to meet the powerful people under De Villiers’ care.
He had been invited to meet the royal family.
MORGAN STEPPED FROM the jet into a balmy morning of English summer.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the man waiting on the tarmac beamed.
Morgan took in the uniformed figure—Colonel Marcus De Villiers was every inch the tall, impressive man that Morgan remembered from two years ago, when Private had rescued a young royal from the bloody clutches of her kidnappers. De Villiers had been a sneering critic of Morgan and his agents then, and Morgan was certain that, beneath the smile, the sentiment was still strong.
“It is a beautiful day, Colonel, but you weren’t so keen to exchange pleasantries last time we met,” Morgan replied. “After I refused to cover up the Duke of Aldershot’s involvement in the kidnapping of his own daughter.”
“All’s well that ends well.” De Villiers shrugged, trying hard to keep his smile in place.
“The Duke died before he got to trial and faced justice.” Morgan shook his head. “I wouldn’t call that ending well.”
“One could say that death is the most absolute form of justice, Mr. Morgan, but that’s beside the point. The whole business went away quietly, which was very well received where it matters.”
“If you’ve brought me here to boast that a royal scandal stayed out of the papers, Colonel, then you’re wasting my time. I took this meeting out of respect for the people you represent, but I’m ready to step back onto this jet and head home if you don’t tell me in the next ten seconds why I’m here.”
“Very well, Mr. Morgan. I didn’t bring you here to boast about avoiding a royal scandal. I brought you here to prevent the next one.”
MORGAN JOINED DE Villiers in the blacked-out Range Rover that waited beside the landed jet. The Colonel would divulge no more information, but he had said enough to get Morgan’s attention.
The men were driven from London’s outskirts into the lush green countryside of Surrey, where multimillion-pound properties nestled in woodlands. It was beautiful, and Morgan watched it roll by the tinted windows as he considered who he might be heading to meet, and why.
The British royal family was large, with Queen Elizabeth II at its head and dozens of members tied in by blood or marriage, but Morgan had some clue as to who they were driving to see in the English countryside. Colonel De Villiers had once told Morgan that the family’s inner circle was his concern, so the American was either on his way to meet the Queen herself, or one of her closest family.
Morgan allowed himself a smile at the thought. Here he was, an American—and once an American serviceman at that—driving to meet the monarchy that his nation had fought against for their independence. The fact that the bloodiest relationships could be repaired made him pause and look to De Villiers. There were enough people in the world that wished Morgan dead. Why not take a lesson from the United States and the United Kingdom?
“Thank you for inviting me here,” Morgan said to the Colonel. “It really is a beautiful day, and a beautiful country.”
“It is.” The Colonel nodded. “But don’t let it fool you. At this time of year, you can get the four seasons in a day.”
The Range Rover left the main road and entered a long driveway flanked by woodland. It would have been hard for anyone to spot the two armed men camouflaged among the trees, but Jack Morgan was not just anyone.
“Relax.” De Villiers smiled, seeing Morgan tense. “They’re ours.”
As the Range Rover came to a stop and crunched the gravel, Morgan took in the exquisite Georgian farmhouse of ivy-covered red brick that stood before him.
“It looks like something out of a fairy tale.” He smiled, allowing himself to relax.
But then, as the house’s green door opened, Morgan’s pulse began to quicken. It was not the sight of more armed men that caused it, but the figure that walked by them and into the dappled sunshine.
Morgan stood straight as he was approached by one of the most famous women in the world.
Her name was Princess Caroline.
THE PRINCESS PUT out her hand, offering it to Jack Morgan as he stepped away from the Range Rover.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Morgan,” she said.
“Please, call me Jack, Your Highness,” Morgan answered, feeling himself bow on instinct.
“Let’s take a walk, Jack. De Villiers tells me that you’re the person I need to speak to.”
Morgan looked to De Villiers, surprised that such praise would come from the Colonel. De Villiers’ face gave nothing away, nor did he move to follow as Princess Caroline led Morgan away from the courtyard.
“It’s too nice a day to be inside,” she explained as they entered a walled garden. Bright red strawberries clung to the planters. “Try one,” she insisted.
Morgan raised his eyebrows as he bit down on the fruit and the juice hit his tongue. With food in his mouth, he had the excuse he needed to keep it shut—introductions to a mission always worked better when he let the client do the talking. Nothing brought out the little details as well as just keeping quiet and allowing the other person to fill the dead space.
“This place belongs to a friend of mine,” Caroline offered up against the silence. “Aside from my security detail, there aren’t many people who know that I come here. I like it. It’s quiet and it’s close enough to London that I can sneak off here for some peace without it being noticed. I hope you know how to keep a secret, Jack.”
Morgan nodded, but said nothing.
Princess Caroline smiled. “You don’t say much.”
“It’s not every day I meet a princess, Your Highness.”
Her smile grew, but from insight, not flattery. “I think it’s more that you like to let your clients do the talking, to see what they may let slip.”
Morgan couldn’t help but grin. She was smart.
“I like to read about crime, and detectives,” the Princess admitted, her smile then falling. “I didn’t ever think that I’d be needing one.”
Morgan held his tongue and waited. She gathered herself, and he noticed the briefest trace of sadness pass across her face, and something else: fear.
“I need you to find someone for me, Jack. A dear friend of mine. She’s missing, and I need her found. Her name is Sophie Edwards.”
“Are the police looking for her?” Morgan asked, knowing the answer before her reply.
“No,” Caroline said.
Morgan knew that he would not be standing here if they were. More than that, he was certain that Princess Caroline’s fear was an indication that this was more than a simple missing-person case. Where there are complications, people tend to want to avoid the shining beam of the law.
“De Villiers said there’s a scandal to avoid,” he said bluntly. “It’s easier to avoid if I know what it is.”
“He shouldn’t have told you that,” she whispered after a moment.
“I’d have been back on the jet if he hadn’t.”
Princess Caroline nodded, but instead of talking, she walked toward the far door of the walled garden. Morgan followed, and they stepped out into the woodland that butted against the house. Shafts of warm sunlight cut their way through the canopy.
“Do you believe in second chances, Jack?” she asked, her eyes on the path that wound ahead through the trees.
“I do,” he answered, his eyes to the trail’s flanks—some fifty meters away, armed men moved parallel to the royal who was third in line to the British throne. They were her deadly shadow. The guardians who protected her at all times.
“There are things in Sophie’s past—things in her life—that should not be public knowledge,” she explained. “I live life under a microscope, Jack, because I was born into it. I wouldn’t change that. But for Sophie? She hasn’t lived with it. She hasn’t trained for it.”
“And what are these things in Sophie’s past?” Morgan asked.
She walked on in silence for a few moments before giving her answer. “Sophie is a young woman who’s lived her life, and in doing so—like all people—she’s made some bad decisions.”
Suddenly she stopped. She turned to face Morgan, her expression earnest. “She doesn’t deserve to have those bad decisions made public as a consequence of being my friend. Do you understand, Jack?”
Morgan did. He also understood that those under the closest scrutiny became guilty of the sins of their company, and guilt by association was never more magnified than in the scandal-hungry media of the twenty-first century. Morgan knew that Princess Caroline was a reflection of the time she had been born into—a people’s royal who connected to the country on all levels, leading a life that seemed as close to their own as was possible, given her position—but the same machine that had built her reputation could savage her overnight.
Caroline read his thoughts. “It’s in the country’s interest that the monarchy avoids scandal, Jack. We’re the benchmark. The example. I should be someone whom people look up to.”
“And you’re not?” Morgan asked directly.
It was a long time before she replied.
“I’m human, Mr. Morgan. De Villiers will give you everything you need. I hope to see you again soon.”
She turned away from him then and continued to walk further into the woodland. Out in the trees, her armed shadows moved with her.
“I didn’t say I’d take the job,” Morgan said to her back.
“You didn’t need to,” Princess Caroline replied without breaking step. “Your eyes did. You should learn to be a better liar, Jack.”
Morgan said nothing, because she was right.
He would take the job.
He would find Sophie Edwards.
ALONE IN THE woodland, Morgan pulled his phone from his pocket. He was surprised to see he had such good reception, but then reasoned that residents of one of the wealthiest regions of England would be unlikely to put up with poor service.
His call was picked up on the first ring.
“Hello, Jack,” Peter Knight answered in his London office. The head of Private London, Knight had been side by side with Morgan through some of their toughest scrapes. He was also the American’s friend. “The office told me you diverted here. Business or pleasure?”
“Business, Peter. Let’s get together and talk about it. I’m going to send you my location.”
“What’s the case?” Knight asked, knowing that their calls were encrypted to government levels and stood no chance of being monitored.
“Missing person with connections.”
“I might need to send you a team in my place, Jack. I had a case come in a few days ago. A man named Sir Tony Lightwood was found hanged in his home a few days ago, and his daughter wants us to take a look into it.”
“What have the police found?” Morgan asked, disappointed that it appeared he would be working without his British right hand.
“Said it looks like a straight-up suicide. Daughter wants a second opinion.”
“Says suicide doesn’t fit her dad.”
“Everyone says that. The truth’s hard to accept.”
“True,” Knight mused, “but the Sunday Times did list him at number fifty-two on their Rich List.”
“You’d better run with that case,” Morgan agreed. “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but…”
“It does give people a good reason to want you dead,” Knight finished.
Morgan was about to follow up, but then movement along the trail caught his eye.
“I’ll meet you at your site,” Morgan told Knight, then hung up and walked over to join the tall figure of the Guards officer.
“Did you get everything you needed from the Princess?” De Villiers asked.
“She said Sophie had some things in her past, and that she made bad decisions. Can you be a little more specific?”
A look of distaste passed over the Colonel’s face. “Sophie was a good friend of your pal Abbie Winchester, if that helps,” he revealed, referring to the hard-partying royal whom Morgan and Knight had rescued from murderous kidnappers.
“I need more than that,” Morgan told him, but the officer shrugged, enjoying the moment.
“You’re the world’s greatest investigator, Mr. Morgan.” De Villiers smiled. “So let’s get you back to London. Then you can begin investigating.”
MORGAN DECLINED COLONEL De Villiers’ offer of being driven to London. Instead, he asked to be taken to the nearest helicopter landing site. There he was collected by a flight chartered by Private and flown back into London. Morgan’s mind was full of questions, but after asking his team to come up with a background file on Sophie Edwards, he forced himself to sleep on the short flight—experience told him that such luxuries would be in short supply during the investigation, and he needed to be sharp.
Collected by car from the heliport, Morgan peered at the London streets as he was driven to Eaton Square, one of the many homes of business tycoon Sir Tony Lightwood. Eaton Square was one of the most expensive places to live in the UK, with an average house price of £17 million, and Morgan could see why. The buildings’ white stucco facades gleamed in the sunlight, and Bentleys and Rolls-Royces lined the street. Everything about the area screamed opulence. Only one thing seemed out of place.
It stood in the street, all smiles beneath a mop of red hair, a West Ham United football shirt tucked into skinny jeans.
Morgan stepped from his car and greeted the man. “Good to see you, Hooligan. Really good.”
The men shook hands. Jeremy “Hooligan” Crawford was a double Cambridge graduate turned MI5 tech guru turned Private London legend. He was also a diehard Hammers fan, and a man who had helped save lives several times over for Private—Morgan’s amongst them.
“Good to see you too, boss,” the East Ender replied, still shaking Morgan’s hand. “The rest of them are inside.”
Morgan turned and followed Hooligan toward the entrance of the home. The building wasn’t large, and was adjoined at both sides to its neighbors, but its colossal price could buy someone an entire village in the north of the country.
“Sir Tony wasn’t shy about flashing his cash,” Morgan noted.
“You can say that again, boss,” Hooligan agreed. “Inside looks like the Saatchi Gallery.”
“Contemporary art a passion of yours, Hooligan?” Morgan asked, trying to hide his surprise.
“Bloody hell, no.” The Londoner laughed as they stepped inside. “I heard her say it.”
“Her” was Jane Cook, former British Army major, and newest agent of Private London. Astute and striking, Cook had worked alongside Morgan as they’d raced to save Abbie Winchester’s life before the Trooping the Color parade, two years previously. Their mission had ended with Abbie’s release, but their time together in London had not. Morgan had delayed his flight back to the U.S. twice before a critical case had finally pulled him from Cook’s bed.
“Jane.” He smiled.
Hooligan opened his mouth to speak and excuse himself, but quickly realized he had already been forgotten. Chuckling to himself, he moved away along the richly appointed hallway.
A moment of silence held between Cook and Morgan.
“Peter here?” Morgan finally managed.
“Upstairs. I’ll follow you up,” Cook said softly.
Morgan was forced to brush by her in the narrow entrance. It was the slightest touch, but he felt as though he’d been shoved into a flame.
“After you, boss,” Cook teased, adding fuel.
Morgan walked on, glad to have the beautiful woman out of his vision. He had been recovering from a deep knife wound at the time of their brief affair, but not even the pain from his injuries had held them back in their passion.
With such sexual tension in the air, he was almost relieved to enter Sir Tony’s study. Surrounded by mahogany furnishings, Peter Knight was on his hands and knees, fastidiously working every inch of the room for a clue that would suggest the rich man’s death was suspicious.
“You don’t have to kowtow,” Morgan joked. “A simple bow would be enough.”
“Good to see you, Jack!” Knight grinned as he got to his feet and took Morgan’s outstretched hands. “It’s been too long!”
“It’s always too long,” Morgan agreed, having missed the company of his trusted British friend and colleague. “How are things looking here?”
“Sir Tony was found hanging from this beam,” Knight began, pointing to the ceiling. “No note has been found, which is one of the reasons his daughter is certain it wasn’t suicide.”
“What are the others?”
“That he was happy, successful and wanted to continue to be that way,” Knight answered. “From the people we’ve interviewed, it does seem out of character.”
“You never know what’s going on inside someone’s head,” Cook added.
“You don’t,” Knight agreed, but he could make a good guess at what was going on inside Morgan’s and Cook’s—the pair seemed almost at pains not to look at one another, and so it was with a little surprise that Knight heard Morgan’s next words.
“I’ve got nothing to start with on this missing-person case, Peter, so I’m taking Cook with me. Going to need to cover a lot of ground.”
“I can handle Sir Tony’s case alone,” Knight agreed. “Where are you going to start looking?”
Morgan hadn’t been given much to go on from Princess Caroline, so he drew on the initial information Private’s office had been able to gather.
“Sophie moved here from the country,” Morgan explained. “And when someone comes to a big city and gets in trouble, there’s a good chance they run for home.”
“And you think she’s in trouble?” Knight asked.
“From what I can see so far, she doesn’t seem like the kind to just drop off the grid. She was a friend of Abbie Winchester’s.”
Knight nodded. “Abbie Winchester was in the papers as often as the prime minister. If Sophie was in her circle, then it’s likely she tried to live her life on the grid as much as possible.”
“So we start at her home?” Cook asked.
Morgan nodded. “We’re going to Wales.”
THE HELICOPTER CUT its way through the sky above a patchwork of fields and villages, the spires of local churches reaching up to Morgan and Cook like long-lost friends.
“I love this country,” Cook said proudly, her eyes on the ribbon of a river that glimmered silver in the morning’s strong sunlight.
Morgan glanced at Cook and smiled. “It has its charms.”
Cook let the compliment hang in the air before pulling a tablet from a packed rucksack that held a few changes of clothes, wash-kit, and all manner of items that ranged from torches to bolt-cutters. Cook had learned in the army that she should always be ready to deploy on short notice, and this pre-packed kit had been waiting patiently in her Private London office for an occasion such as this.
“Did you bring sandwiches?” Morgan teased.
Cook rummaged in the rucksack and pulled out a packet of freeze-dried rations.
Morgan laughed and waved the food away. “Never again.” He smiled, thinking back on his military days. “Did the background come through on Sophie?”
Cook gave a curt nod. She was all business now—the woman who had risen to become a major in the British Army, earning an OBE for her leadership in Afghanistan. “Sophie Bethan Edwards, born on the third of December ’89 in Brecon, Wales.”
She went on to describe how Sophie had been raised in a middle-class family, and how she had excelled in school, winning a scholarship to the London School of Economics. No sign yet of the mistakes that Princess Caroline had alluded to.
“What did the Princess’s protection team send us on her?” Morgan asked—he had pushed De Villiers further for information.
"The man who can't miss."
- "James Patterson does everything but stick our finger in a light socket to give us a buzz."—New York Times
- On Sale
- May 15, 2018
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing