CODE NAME: CAYMAN
A man of strength
A man of danger.
Cayman will destroy anyone threatening his world.
I take my job seriously. I’m strong. Hard as nails. Nothing hurts me, and I refuse to let anyone hurt those I love.
As the new commander of the UK Task Force on Human Trafficking, I have important work to do, and innocent lives to protect. There’s no time for mistakes or distractions.
But when I encounter the beautiful and damaged Bexli, I’ll move mountains to keep her safe. After the hell she’s endured, she needs my strong exterior more than anything. For the first time, my hard shell just may soften with her touch.
CHAPTER ONE - CAYMAN
I came down the main staircase when I received an alert that two vehicles had pulled through the gate of my parents’ manor house in Shere. Not my parents’—mine.
I hadn’t grown accustomed to the fact it had been deeded to me as a gift for my thirtieth birthday. Truth be told, I hadn’t wanted it. However, as the sole heir of the Duke of Somerfield, this was only one of several properties that would eventually be handed down to me.
I supposed of the three duchal estates my father had to choose from, this made the most sense. A month ago, when I’d been appointed to the United Kingdom’s Task Force, one of the five such named to the UN Coalition Against Human Trafficking, I’d offered the property for use as a command center.
The request for such had come from the head of the US Task Force, Philip “Ares” Kappas, by way of my boss’ boss, Z Alexander, leader of MI6.
Now that was the job I really wanted—Winston “Cayman” Trace, Chief of Military Intelligence Section 6. It had been my career aspiration since secondary school. Serving on this task force certainly made for a high-profile stepping stone in my quest for the job.
“Who’s that?” Margeaux “Nemesis” Jordan, CO of the UK task force and my immediate superior asked, pointing out the window.
“Poseidon, Zeppelin, and Magnet,” I responded, already knowing the three were in the vehicle parked behind Z who’d arrived with Henri “Baissier” Marchand, the French ambassador to the United Nations as well as the leader of the UN’s coalition.
“He’s going to brief us on Mithras, isn’t he?” Nemesis asked. Since I had no idea why the ambassador requested the meeting, I didn’t respond. Instead, I greeted the five arriving guests at the front door.
“Thank you for allowing me to intrude on your morning,” Marchand began once those of us who’d participated in the coalition’s first joint mission gathered in the largest sitting room in the main house. “I have been called to New York for a meeting with the Security Council to update them on the coalition’s progress. Forgive me for doing this publicly; however, what I am about to say affects everyone in this room.” An awkward silence permeated the space when he asked Z and Nemesis to stand and join him.
“Agent Jordan, the Security Council and the United Nations Coalition Against Human Trafficking would like to formally ask you to serve as the coalition’s leader.”
I, along with the rest gathered in the room, stood and applauded.
“I have another announcement.” Marchand turned to me. “As long as Nemesis approves the recommendation, I’d like to suggest Cayman Trace replace her as the UK task force commanding officer.”
I was stunned—and thrilled. While Nem’s appointment hadn’t surprised me, I hadn’t begun to consider who might be promoted to her former position. And even if I had, I never would’ve expected to hear my name.
“Of course I approve. Congratulations, my friend,” Nemesis said, holding her hand out to me.
As I stood to join them, my mind wandered outside the room we were in, to Bexli. The one person I wanted to share this news with more than any other. The one who’d risen to the rank of MIP—most important person—in my life the day I first laid eyes on her. I’d been age eight to her seven and it was our first day of primary school year three.
Rather than shake Nem’s or Z’s hand, or even the ambassador’s, my fingers itched to pull out my mobile and call Bex.
I could already hear her response in my head. “I’m so thrilled for you, Cay,” she’d squeal. While my parents would be happy to her my news, only Bexli understood how important it was to me to make a name for myself, to achieve something myself, outside of what I’d been born into. Something beyond the marquess who would someday be the duke.
“Cayman, isn’t this fabulous?” I heard Kai “Poseidon” Allora, my closest friend and CO of the Maltese task force, ask.
Poseidon’s head cocked. “Zep has been named CO of the Swiss task force and Mag to Albania.”
“No kidding?” I said, turning to congratulate Henry “Zeppelin” Bonham and Justin “Magnet” Magnussen.
“You all right, mate?” Zep asked, putting his hand on my shoulder.
I’d attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst with the three men who stood staring at me. We’d continued on to Fort Monckton together where we’d completed SIS training. What I was about to say would come as no surprise to them.
“I want to share the news with Bexli.”
Poseidon nodded. “I’m sure you’ll be able to break away once Marchand leaves.”
“Where is she anyway?” Zep asked.
“Milan. She’s been there since September.”
“That’s right,” said Magnet. “Some fancy modeling gig, right?”
Like my desire to one day be chief of MI6, Bexli’s dream had been to walk the runways of the largest fashion houses in the world. She certainly had the beauty and the body to do it. She was tall, thin, and graceful with thick, rich auburn hair and the eyes the color of the Himalayan Blue Poppies that grew in our gardens. God, I missed her.
“Think anyone will notice if I excuse myself?” I asked Poseidon.
He squeezed my shoulder and chuckled. “Baissier is approaching, then you may.”
“Welcome aboard, gentlemen,” the ambassador said, shaking each of our hands. However, his expression immediately darkened. “The mandate you and the rest of the coalition members have been given by the United Nations is a monumental undertaking. However, there are no others I trust more to lead the fight against human trafficking than those assembled here this morning.”
After thanking him and seeing him to the door, I raced up the staircase, and placed my call. My disappointment was palpable when it went straight to voicemail.
I sat on the bed and pulled up the last photo Bexli had sent to me. Her smile was intoxicating and the excitement she felt capturing the photo shined in her eyes.
“The elusive Lorenzo Moretti,” the accompanying message read. Her head was tilted in the direction of the man who stood a few paces behind her, speaking with another woman.
Moretti was the man who’d “discovered” Bex and offered her the opportunity to walk the runways in Milan. My gut tightened wondering if that’s who she was with now. If he was the reason each time I rang, my calls went directly to voicemail. Was she sleeping with him? Worse, did she love him?
I had no right to feel jealous. She’d ended things between us weeks before she met Moretti, not for the first time. Bex and I had been on and off and on again since secondary school. We’d lost our virginity to one another when we spent gap year alone at our family’s private island in the Grand Caymans, and when I left for Sandhurst, we broke up then too. Or rather, she broke up with me. It was always Bexli who ended things between us, and always Bexli who somehow wound up back in my bed for days, weeks, or months, only to leave me—and my heart—behind.
Was this time actually for good? I couldn’t bear to think it might be.
Fantastic news to share. Ring me back! I wrote before returning downstairs to join the celebration I had no doubt was taking place.
As everyone knew, we’d take up our collective cause on the morrow but for one day, we’d celebrate our recent successes. In separate raids, taking place on the same day, we successfully took out two major trafficking rings, one in Lesovo, Bulgaria, and the other in Edirne, Turkey. Over sixteen hundred victims of human trafficking were rescued that day and countless arrests were made. It was sobering to think we hadn’t scratched the surface of the number of victims in the world nor of the vile people who trafficked them.
I reached the bottom of the stairs at the same time Ares and Nemesis came in the front door after walking the ambassador to his vehicle.
“This is odd,” said Nem, looking at something on her mobile.
“What’s that?” asked Ares.
“I just received Marchand’s brief. I thought he said I wouldn’t receive it until he arrived in New York.”
“I can review it if you’d like,” I offered. Truthfully, without being able to share my news with Bexli, I was in no mood to celebrate.
“No,” murmured Nemesis, continuing to study her phone’s screen. “This is too important.”
Ares and I followed her into the main room.
“Everyone, I’m terribly sorry to interrupt and call our party short. However, I’ve just received a briefing on Mithras.”
All conversation ceased. In the past few weeks, we’d heard and seen the name countless times. Mithras was believed to be the head of the largest trafficking ring operating out of Egypt. The man, until now, had been a complete enigma. No one in the intelligence world, even those within the most elite units, had been able to track the man. In fact, no one seemed to have any idea what he even looked like.
I walked over and picked up the remote that would lower one of the screens the MI6 tech team had installed in several areas of the house. Nemesis plugged in her laptop and the cover of the brief appeared on the screen.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she announced. “This is Mithras.” When the image on the screen flipped to a photograph, I gripped the chair in front of me as adrenaline surged through my blood stream.
“Cayman?” I heard my name as if it were being spoken from somewhere in the distance, drowned out by the thrum pulsing in my ears. Sweat broke out on my forehead and a wave of nausea spread through me.
“Cayman!” I looked into Poseidon’s eyes when he put his hands on my shoulders and shouted my name but I couldn’t speak. Instead, I handed him my mobile, swiping my screen so he could see the image I’d been looking at before I came downstairs.
“Jesus, it’s him,” Poseidon gasped.
Yes. It was him. Mithras. AKA, Lorenzo Moretti.