Private princess, p.1
Private Princess, p.1Part #14 of Private series by James Patterson
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the authors.
Copyright © 2018 by James Patterson
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Originally published in May 2018 by Century, a division of Penguin Random House UK
First U.S. edition published by Grand Central Publishing in May 2018
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2018934477
ISBNs: 978-1-5387-1443-0 (trade paperback), 978-1-5387-1444-7 (hardcover library edition), 978-1-5387-1452-2 (large print), 978-1-5387-1445-4 (ebook)
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To the fighting men and women of the United States Marine Corps
CRACKED LEATHER TOUCHED rich soil. Knee in the dirt, the man thought of what was to come, and smiled. A broken nose took in the smell of the damp earth, memories carried in its dank scent. Memories of digging spades, pleading eyes and shallow graves.
The owner of the gloves wiped them against his camouflage trousers, his memories cleansed as easily as the leather. To him, the image of those graves was as inert in his mind as the way a postman views the mail. It was his job to fill holes in the ground, and with pride—the man knew that he was good at it. Better than good. He had been born as just another shitbag on the estate, but now he was a hunter.
He was a killer.
He’d tracked in forests, stalked in deserts, kidnapped in jungles and killed in cities. He had done these things for service, for his country and for his brothers. Sometimes, he’d done it for money.
Today he did it for pride.
He did it for justice.
The hunter-killer turned his eyes up to the sky. Rain was beginning to fall, bouncing from the thick green leaves of summer. The hunter-killer welcomed it. It was his ally. It would cover him as he slid and crept his way closer to his target. Closer to justice.
He could see his prize now, and the proximity caused his heart to beat against his scarred chest, endorphins flooding his body as he pictured his kill and the satisfaction it would bring.
It had been a long stalk, but the prize would justify the suffering and the cost. This kill would come at a price—a great price—but he would not shirk it. The butcher’s bill would be paid in full, and then there would be justice.
Fifty yards away now, and the hunter-killer begged his heart to still, despite the thrill of what was only moments away. Wet branches pulled at him as he moved forward, checking his pace. He forced himself to slow, too close now to fail.
He looked down at the pistol in his hand, checking it for dirt. There was none, as he knew there wouldn’t be. Inside the weapon in his hand, a bullet rested snugly in the chamber, ready to shatter on impact, and to tear out a great chunk of flesh in the body of his prize.
The hunter-killer smiled as he pictured that carnage.
Then he brought the pistol up into the aim, and centered its sights on the back of his target. A target that had caused pain and misery and suffering.
With a smile on his face, the hunter-killer pulled the trigger.
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.
Private Princess by James Patterson / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes