Zorba’s van had not been vandalized, which was a blessing to all gangbangers everywhere, because bad things could happen if it was tampered with. After disarming the security system, he jumped in and zoomed back onto the highway.
The GPS said he had five more hours until he reached Athena Construction. Too damn long, but there was nothing he could do about that. So he hovered at the speed limit, because for all he knew, Zorba had reported his van stolen. It didn’t seem likely, given the contents of the vehicle and the questions a police inspection would raise, and besides, Morgan still wasn’t sure if Zorba was involved with the Allison situation.
He plugged his cell phone into Zorba’s car charger—his entire team carried the same brand, just for situations like these—and tapped his fingers on the dash, debating about calling Allison again, or maybe Athena Construction and saying the magic word. Gordita. But he figured he’d spooked everybody enough for now. And lest he forget, he didn’t know who Allison had steak with last night. It could have been Katie, the Kestonian dictator, or the leader of the Circle of Justice. Or a guy she picked up in a bar.
One hour, two. He was still alert and driving straight. He figured he had a future as a trucker if NSA didn’t work out. Three. Four. He looked down at the GPS and out at the stretch of desert. He was supposed to turn here, and barrel through the sand. Slowing, he inched along, searching for some indication of an actual road. He saw none.
What the hell, he thought, making a right and rolling from blacktop to desert sand.
The van proved to be the equal of the environment as it shushed along. After about half an hour, Morgan turned off the headlights, allowing the moon to guide him. According to the GPS, he should have ten miles to go.
Like a large black shadow, a mesa rose ahead of him, jutting perpendicular to the desert floor, rising up toward the moon. Athena Construction should be perched on top. But as he drove a little closer, he saw that the sky was tinged with red light.
He cracked open his window.
There was smoke, thick and oily. And he heard the echoic blam-pop! of mortar fire. Fireworks lit up his windshield.
Crap. They’re being attacked!
His sister’s face filled his mind; then Allison’s superimposed it and Morgan floored it, every cell in his body drenching with testosterone as he switched over to fight mode. He could feel his mind running possible scenarios as his body focused on the immediate mission of delivering himself to the battle. Figuring one more party guest wasn’t going to matter, he flicked on his high beams, searching for a way up the mesa. He thought he had one, and started to race up the steep incline. But it was too steep for the heavily laden vehicle, and the van slid backward.
He caught traction and surged forward, locating another flat wash dotted with pebbles. The van clung on and started to climb. The plosive backblow of an explosion rocked him like the yaw of a slingshot turn in an aircraft. He alternated between staring at the horizon and watching out for his tires. The smoke was growing thicker. He cracked the window again and listened to the crackcrackcrackbam of submachine gun fire.
Damn, what the hell?
Rocketing upward, Morgan bore down on a boulder at least ten feet high and ten feet across. He guided the van around it….
…And then he slammed on the brakes so hard he nearly went through the windshield.
About two hundred yards ahead of him, on top of the mesa, the roof of a one-story bunker was on fire, and the wall facing him had been shattered into rubble. The place was entirely surrounded by armed troops shooting the hell out of an electrified fence. Four female shapes were silhouetted on the roof, wielding machine guns at a Black Hawk helicopter chopper as it shot straight up into the night clouds and disappeared.
Oh God, if she’s in that mess…
As he threw himself out of the truck, he grabbed his cell phone.
And his rocket launcher.
H ere we go.
As soon as Allison got Katie’s call, she shot out of the house in her nightgown like a madwoman, leaped into the truck and drove away. Her duffel bag was where she left it, stuffed in the catchall in the cab. She reluctantly placed the pendant under the driver’s seat.
She drove with one hand as she called Katie back. She could hear explosions in the background of the safe house.
“They got him out,” Katie shouted into the phone. “Loschetter is gone.”
“Damn it!” Allison shouted back. “How?”
“They hit the tunnel. They knew where it was. I don’t know how.”
My God. Do we have a mole? Maybe Echo hacked into Oracle and found the plans. She couldn’t imagine either possibility. They were both too terrible.
The safe house itself was actually underground, through a tunnel and down several flights of stairs. The attackers had hit the tunnel.
“Status,” she said to Katie.
“We’re okay so far,” Katie informed her. “The superstructure’s mostly gone but we have the bunker for coverage. We’re returning fire. There’s a chopper and they’re trying to pick up some ground forces that must have been the first wave. I don’t know if they have orders to eliminate us or just get their people out.”
“Hang on. I’ll bring reinforcements,” Allison said. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” If she pushed the truck to a hundred miles an hour, she’d make it.
“Roger that. Appreciated.”
Allison dialed Diana and told her what had happened. Diana and Josie would be in the air in ten minutes. Allison didn’t know if they had ten minutes.
Then her phone rang again.
“Allison.” It was Morgan. “Your people are under attack.”
A tremendous explosion blared in the background, and Morgan’s cell phone went dead.
Oh God. She stayed on the line. “Morgan, Morgan, do you copy?”
Her call waiting pinged. She took it.
“Switched to radio phone,” Morgan said. “I’m going in. Do you have anyone else coming?”
“Are you attacking us?” she demanded.
“Negative. There’s a Black Hawk above me. There’s troops on the ground—”
The radio phone went out.
Oh God, oh God.
Allison hurtled along the winding road to the highway, mentally cursing herself for spending the night off-site when she knew the risks were sky-high. Better she had left her personal business unfinished than be this far away from her people. She floored the truck, lips set in a grim line, blurring down the tarmac.
I am the center of the storm.
Oh God, Morgan. My agents….
I am the center of the storm.
And she was, as she reached the eastern road that would take her to the top of the mesa. A cold calm washed over her, shielding her warrior’s mind from distraction as her body was galvanized into attack mode. She pushed the truck as hard as it would go, until it was rattling with stress. She kept pushing. If it gave out she’d run the rest of the way.
Cacti guarded the road—little more than a path—as she began to climb. The sky glowed white with explosions and red with fire. As she reached the top of the rise, she saw that the safe house exterior was ablaze. Four silhouettes danced on the roof, shooting skyward. Katie, Lindsey, Nikki, and Chesca. No one looked hurt.
She was watching them so intently that she almost didn’t see the shape in the middle of the road. She swerved, registering only afterwards that it was Morgan, his back to her, armed with a rocket launcher—aimed at the safe house. At her people.
She slammed to a halt and flung herself out of the truck in her nightgown and her slippers. She was about as vulnerable to injury as if she were naked; more importantly, she was unarmed. It didn’t stop her as she cut the distance in half between her and Morgan, cut it again; if that bastard got off a round at the safe house—
When she was two feet behind him, she bent her knees and pushed off as hard as she could, sailing against his back. He l
Then Morgan stopped himself from falling by making a tripod with one giant step on his left, straightening and aiming for his assailant’s temple with a outward crescent kick. Allison saw it coming and blocked it with her forearm, then pushed forward again, folded her right leg and bringing it through his wide stance and up, to his private parts. He bellowed but lost no concentration as he tucked into a forward roll, sprang to his feet and hauled ass right at her. He tackled her, grabbing her around the waist and driving her backward onto the dirt. She gripped his biceps and jammed her forehead against his as hard as she could.
He fell on top of her and would have knocked the wind out of her, if Allison hadn’t exhaled sharply first. The force against her ribs was excruciating. She ignored it as completely as if it belonged to someone else.
He scrabbled to pin her but she kept one hand free, curling her fingers to deliver an eardrum-bursting punch…if it came to that.
Then the whine of a bullet and a shower of dirt clouds smacked her face. Someone was shooting, hopefully at Morgan.
“Freeze!” she heard a voice. It was his sister, Katie.
Morgan pushed himself upright, so that he was straddling Allison. His eyes flared for a second, and then he was on his feet and yanking her up with him. Allison could have used any number of breakaways to get free, but unless he planned to hold her hostage against his own sister, the fight was over.
Allison ticked her glance past him to the safe house. The battle on the roof was over as well. She counted five silhouettes—all five of Katie’s fellow guards.
Katie had a radiophone, which squawked. She thumbed a button and pressed it against her ear.
“We’re airborne, going after target.” That was Diana.
“In an unarmed Learjet 40? Tell them to abort,” Allison told Katie.
“Roger that. Abort, Diana, abort mission. Do you copy?”
Allison became aware of Morgan’s gaze on her nightgown again. It was coated with sand and striped with blood—Morgan’s, she hoped, and not more from her nose. The right strap had ripped away, revealing all but the nipple of her right breast. Now she did execute a breakaway, snapping herself out of his grip—he didn’t fight it—and covered herself.
To his credit, he didn’t smirk like a sixteen-year-old. He cleared his throat and shifted his attention to her face.
“For God’s sake, Morgan,” Katie hissed. “What are you doing here?”
“Trying to help,” he told Allison. “I was aiming at the chopper, damn it.” He stared at her in disbelief. “You have to know that. I wouldn’t shoot at my own sister.”
Katie narrowed her eyes at him but remained silent.
“But how you got from Point A to Point B,” Allison said, “is the part I’m currently interested in.”
“Gordita,” he said. “I intercepted a call from Valenti and triangulated.”
“No way,” Katie began, but Allison raised her hand.
“We know that,” Allison said. “Morgan, we let you hear it. Do you really think we’re that stupid?”
She thoroughly enjoyed the look of discomfort on his rough-hewn features. He was here, finally, and whether friend or foe, he was no longer after her. One source of anxiety she could cross off her list.
“You lured me here, and then you attack me while I’m helping you?” he demanded hotly, the veins in his neck roped with anger.
“I lured you here so I would know where you were. Then I see you facing my safe house, shooting in the direction of my people with an RPG-7, so I don’t stop and ask you if you had a pleasant trip from Virginia.”
“What are you doing with a rocket launcher?” Katie demanded. “I mean, why do you even have one? Holy cow, Morgan, why do you know how to use one?”
“It was a Christmas bonus,” he said. “At work.”
Katie huffed. “You’re so dead.”
“You’re black bag?” Allison asked. “Who do you work for?”
Morgan made no response.
“Okay, we’ll torture you later for the intel,” Katie said, maybe only half joking.
Allison glided barefoot—she had no idea where her slippers had gone—and gazed down at the artillery he’d brought. If she had ever needed confirmation that Morgan was something beyond a codebreaker, she had it now. There was a duffel bag beside the rocket launcher, zipped open to reveal the barrel of an Uzi. She glanced farther down the road to see what appeared to be a black panel van.
“Disarm yourself,” she told him, “and give every single weapon you’re carrying to your sister.”
“I’m on your side,” he gritted. “I heard Katie vouch for me herself on the phone. I’m sure she’ll vouch for me now.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Katie shot back. “Morgan, what the hell are you up to?”
“I’m here to help.”
“Prove it,” Allison said. “Give Katie your weapons.”
He looked supremely frustrated. “I won’t be able to help you if I do that.” He gazed down at her nightgown. “And if I may make a suggestion, a few layers of protection beats racing into battle half-naked.”
“Don’t screw with me, Morgan. This is not your op and I am not your subordinate,” Allison snapped.
“Me, neither,” Katie said coldly. “You are so damaged, Morgan. We’re in the middle of a firefight and all you give a damn about is…boobs.”
“Right. Knowing she would drive here in her nightgown, I risked my life for a free peek,” he replied.
Allison left them to it, loping toward the fiery structure. Sharp rocks and, possibly, bits of shrapnel sliced into the soles of her feet. She didn’t care. She would have walked across molten glass to get to her people.
Nikki came from around the building, saw Allison and headed for her. Her wavy black hair cupped her dirt-smudged face and her dark eyes flashed with fury.
“Thank God you’re all right,” Allison said. “What about the others?”
“We’re banged up, but we’re basically okay.” Nikki scowled. “God, I’m sorry, Allison. They came right in and took him. Bombed the tunnel and broke it open like a piñata.” She slung her Uzi around her neck and raked her hair away from her face. “Approximately a dozen helmeted soldiers in full body armor. Three were shorter, I’m thinking maybe young girls.” She gazed meaningfully at Allison.
“Maybe egg babies,” Allison said. “Maybe they brought along girls with enhanced abilities they could use. Someone who can see through barriers, someone who can create explosives?”
“Sounds right,” Nikki said, shaking her head. “Egg babies, being used against us. If Echo is collecting them and feeding them false information to pit them against us, we could be in big trouble. Thanks for the assist,” she added.
“I didn’t do anything except show up in my nightgown,” Allison said unhappily.
Nikki jerked. “Oh, my God, is that Katie Rush’s brother?”
Allison nodded. “Until I give the word, he’s to be treated as a hostile.”
“Roger that.” It was clear that Nikki had questions, and equally clear that she wasn’t going to ask them. “What’s our next move?”
“Figuring out our next move,” Allison riposted. “Someone should stay behind to lock this place down, then meet us back at AthenaAcademy. We’ll need a driver for my truck and Katie can drive Morgan’s van. I’ll ride along and guard him.” She was sorry to turn the school into their home base for now, but it made the most sense, and it would have to be done.
“Will do,” Nikki said smartly. Then she turned and dashed back toward the burning building.
Now that the spigot on Allison’s adrenaline had been turned off, the cuts in her feet competed with her bruised ribs for most painful injury. As she brushed her hair away from her face, she touched her nose, and a jolt of fresh pain rocketed through her. She could hardly breathe. She was a mess. She needed some downtime.
Katie had forced Morgan to put his ha
“I can’t believe you,” Katie growled at her brother. “What are you doing here? And don’t tell me you came to help or I’ll haul you off and shoot you.”
He grunted. “Why don’t I save it for one debriefing. I’m guessing you’re Allison’s subordinate, even if you aren’t mine.”
“That would be a good guess,” she said frostily.
“So I may as well wait to tell you both everything at the same time. Meanwhile…what are you running? Is AthenaAcademy just a front?”
“Yup. I went there for four years and graduated with honors so they could pretend it was a real high school,” Katie said, rolling her eyes. “Jeez, Morgan, did you take an extra dose of conspiracy theory with your vitamins this morning?”
“Don’t be so touchy,” he needled her.
“Don’t be so patronizing.”
Allison reached them. She was pressing her hand against her side, bunching the diaphanous fabric over her breasts, which were small and very firm, the nipples taut. The small triangle of darkness at her bikini line made him stir, despite his situation. Maybe Katie was right and his sexual drive was somehow unnatural.
“Stop staring,” Katie hissed at him.
“Can’t,” he said unapologetically.
Katie rolled her eyes. “You’re disgusting.”
“I’m a man, Katie.”
“A very sick, wrong man.” She raised her voice. “Hey, Allison, we have three vehicles plus your truck plus my brother’s van. I can drive you back to…where your clothes are.”
Disclosure by Nancy Holder / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes