Blacklist Rogue by Sarah Mäkelä

Blacklist Rogue by Sarah Mäkelä

Blacklist Rogue
Hacked Investigations, Book 3
by Sarah Mäkelä

Changeling Press

eBook BIN: 05684-01821

MAX’s legal team thinks it looks good for their PR to have Hacked Investigations involved, forcing Ian and Hannah’s hand. But Ian’s headaches are getting worse, and Hannah and Ian will have to rely on each other even more if they stand a chance of getting out of this mess alive.

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Chapter One

Ian Bradley hit send on an email to one of Hacked Investigations’ frequent customers. This time, the business owner had needed him to check on his future partner to make sure there wouldn’t be trouble if he signed the partnership agreement. Ian had the potential business partner’s email hacked in no time, and within five minutes, he’d completed his task.
Easy.
The client was paranoid, and, even if Ian thought those types of assignments were frivolous, he had a paycheck on its way.
Slender, feminine arms wrapped around his chest as Hannah hugged him from behind. Her lips brushed his earlobe, and her velvety tongue slid along the edge of it. “Now that we’ve wrapped another case, how about we celebrate?” Her voice was a low purr.
He shivered and placed his hands over hers. “I’ll be right there. Let me lock down the computer. Bernard has been surfing some nasty porn sites. I’m not chancing that he’ll get another virus on my machine.”
Hannah nibbled his neck, and he groaned. She pulled away, trailing her fingertips over his chest and shoulder.
Swiveling in his chair, he watched her saunter toward the bedroom. Once she got to the doorway of the bedroom, she looked back at him, giving him a seductive smile.
Ian grinned and then spun around to face the computer. He changed the password again, tweaking the system’s safety features, and shut it down.
From the living room, he heard Bernard, the pint-sized gnome, talking in hushed tones entirely different from his usual loud, obnoxious demeanor.
The urge to see what mischief Bernard was getting into nearly drove him toward the living room, but Hannah’s sexy smile won out. He headed toward the bedroom, thinking of the things he’d like to do to her. His hand was hovering over the doorknob when the phone rang.
Sighing, he walked to the office phone, but it fell silent.
From the other room, Bernard spoke in an annoyed, yet strangely husky voice. “Uh huh. Well, buster, I don’t care who you are. There’s someone important on the other line giving me some, uh, juicy details about something,” Bernard said. He had a slight manic pitch that always grated on Ian’s nerves.
Reaching for the phone and fearing the worst, Ian hoped whoever had called their business line wasn’t already completely insulted by Bernard’s behavior. He mentally made a note to keep Bernard caged when at all possible.
“Oh, stop your whining. You can call back later.” Impatience picked up in the gnome’s voice as did his volume.
Ian barely managed to pick up the office phone as he heard the other phone slam onto the receiver in the living room. “Hello? Anyone there?”
“Ah, Ian, hello. It’s been a while.” Senator Kendall’s voice came through clearly.
“Hello, Senator. How can we help you?” Ian said, remembering the trial by fire the three of them went through with MAX Home Security after their first meeting not long ago.
“Who was that? A new assistant?” The senator sounded both intrigued and insulted. “Never mind. You need to know about what’s going on. So far, my team has brought the corruption suspicions up to middle-management level, but we’re blocked from going to the executive level.” He let out a harsh sigh. “All leads we have point to a separate operative within MAX who has worked outside the executives’ knowledge. Or so they say.” Senator Kendall didn’t sound like the same guy Ian had talked with before. His voice came across as worn down and harsh, probably from the legal battle against MAX he was orchestrating.
Bernard toddled around the corner into the office. His face was red, and he shook his fists at Ian as the senator filled Ian in with what he could from the courtroom.
“You made me hang up on something important! You’ll pay for this.” Sparks of magic and power vibrated out from the gnome. “I’ll put pigeon droppings in your breakfast!” Bernard cursed a string of profanities, some in languages Ian didn’t know. Ian held his emotions in check and subtly stepped away. If he gave the gnome any fuel, Bernard would have deadly power over him. He placed a hand over his ear, pressing his other tighter against the phone, trying to pay attention to what the senator was saying. They knew someone in charge of the megacorporation was aware and involved in the corruption the company was known for, but they had no way of proving it yet.
“There are rumors about a side project. Something that would make the current fiasco seem like playground material. I don’t have details yet, but there’s a lot of money from the yearly budgets we cannot trace. Company meetings and trips without receipts, cargo requests of military grade equipment reported as lost in transit, and much more. There are people who have their signatures on documents they claim to have never seen or signed. Some people who haven’t worked for the company in years.”
“You’re kidding.” Ian couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He’d known his former employer was no good, but this… It was almost more than he could imagine.
The senator chuckled, but there was no humor in the sound. “What’s worse is money coming from sources they have marked as trade secrets, meetings around intellectual property and business licenses. MAX doesn’t provide licenses to the public, which makes it even more suspicious. When we try to question them about it, we get shut down about speculating on things not relative to the trial.”
“So, the executives are playing cloak and dagger games? Pushing the blame down and claiming they had no idea?” he asked.
“Exactly. And with MAX Home Security being such a large company with so much influence and power, other politicians are treading lightly, fearing the collapse of a global trillion-dollar company. ‘What’s a little corruption to spare ourselves another collapse?’ That’s the words going around. Anyway, the former president of the company is clearly outraged. With the company having been in his family, his children work there in various positions. The old man strongly believed his children should get no special treatment and needed to work their way up the chain, so to speak. One of them, Johann Li, reached out to my office to ask how he could help save the business from all this.”
Ian frowned. This had become more complicated than he ever dreamed. He knew there wasn’t a good side to MAX. They’d tried to kill him and Hannah, but what he really wanted to know was why Senator Kendall had called. Why share these details with him?
He had opened his mouth to say as much when he heard a door open. Hannah leaned against the doorframe leading to his bedroom, concern creasing her brows together. He held up a finger, then returned his focus to the senator, who was still talking.
Ian cleared his throat. “Excuse me for a moment, Senator, but what exactly is it you want me to do?”
Senator Kendall sighed. “I’m calling to warn you. You’ll be receiving a call soon. You’ll know what I meant then.” Without another word, there was a click, and then the dial tone beeped in Ian’s ear. He set the phone down, and once he did, Bernard screamed.
Looking down at the gnome, Ian frowned as Bernard let his temper tantrum go wild, rivaling any two-year-old. He grabbed his head and jumped around in frustration. “What did you DO?” He scrambled onto Ian’s chair and then reached for the phone, but Ian pushed it out of reach.
Frowning, Ian glanced over at Hannah. Her full lips were pursed.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Looks like we’re getting another case, but…”
Bernard sighed with relief as he climbed onto the desk. His small hand reached for the phone. It rang almost on cue. Ian grabbed the back of Bernard’s lederhosen as he picked up the phone. Bernard screeched again, loud and long.
A headache formed behind Ian’s right eye at the sound. “Hello?” Ian shook Bernard and shot him a look. If he didn’t stop soon…
“Mr. Bradley, did I catch you at a bad time?” The man’s voice was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place it. Where had he heard it before?
Ian set Bernard on the floor, knowing he needed to pay attention. The gnome grabbed his leg and sank his teeth into Ian’s calf. Stars flashed before his eyes at the onslaught of pain. Tossing out his hand, Ian threw thin, charged wires that roped Bernard’s hands and ankles, hogtying him.
“What is this about?” Ian said, managing to keep his words from sounding too gritted and hostile. Bernard knew how to bring out the worst in him. He was curious about this, and he didn’t want to make a bad first impression.
“This is your business line, correct? Wouldn’t that signal my intent to hire you? My name is Johann Li. I’m from MAX Home Security, the leader in security. You’ve probably already heard of me.” He chuckled, arrogance and cockiness saturating his words.
That’s where he knew the voice. Damn it. If only Kendall had been clearer in his warning. “Yes, I was informed you might be interested. Frankly, there’s a conflict of interest here. After what we have experienced with MAX Home Security –”
“Excuse me, but I don’t see this conflict of interest. You have been instrumental in tearing down the corrupted section of this wonderful company. What my father helped build over the decades is more than a public front for thugs and criminal behavior.” Ian had known about the fanaticism in the upper echelons, but he hadn’t heard it for himself until now. “I want you to continue what you’ve done so far. Take your moral high horse, so I’ll simply let you ride it. Expose the idiots who think they can take advantage of this company. Find those responsible for this fiasco, and I’ll be more than grateful. My family deserves a purification of the company,” Johann said, practiced passion evident in his voice.
Wariness settled over Ian. Dealing with MAX Home Security again and, even worse, helping them out was not what he wanted. He didn’t want to publicly associate with a corporation that had been responsible for the deaths of good people standing up to MAX’s corruption. He didn’t care what this guy said. He knew there had to be more going on than met the eye.
He’d worked for them and knew what they were capable of. The last thing he wanted was for his magic to be discovered. Maybe this was all a ploy. He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t want to get trapped in a tight situation.
“Mr. Bradley?” Johann’s suave voice broke into his thoughts. “What is your answer?”
“I’m afraid we won’t be interested.” Hannah’s eyes went wide, and she opened her mouth to say something. He held up his hand. They weren’t going to take this. “If you need the name of someone else who would be qualified to…” The dial tone broke the silence from the other end of the line.
Johann obviously hadn’t liked his answer.

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