She clicked it open.
“I’m running virus checks on it,” she informed Morgan, taking a sip of beer.
As the programs ran, Morgan rose and walked around the small room, light on the balls of his feet. His body was hard, his shoulders and pecs well-defined beneath the filthy dark gray sweater he wore, angling to a pair of narrow hips. His jeans hung on the sharp indentations of his pelvis, revealing a swirl of hair around his navel; Morgan was so meticulous about his appearance at work that she figured he must be wearing someone’s castoffs after having escaped the explosion.
“Whose van is that?” she asked suddenly.
“Team member,” he said. “He’s been flipped.” If Zorba had still been on Morgan’s side, he would have called him by now. He was glad Zorba wasn’t going to try to bullshit him, pretend to be concerned about where Morgan was and why he had taken the van. He knew Morgan had his number. They were enemies now.
“That’s hard to take,” Allison said.
He looked over at her, the stubble on his cheeks accentuating the hollows there. He cleaned up nice but she preferred him this way, more feral, ready to bring the jungle to the battle. He was prowling; he couldn’t seem to stay still. Edgy, like she was, and probably just as worn-out.
And yet, aroused.
She glanced over at the graph on the screen, indicating that the virus check was thirty-five percent complete. It moved to fifty percent. She became aware that Morgan had stopped moving. She turned her head to see him with his beer to his mouth, studying her over the lip of the bottle.
He caught her gaze and didn’t look away. His long eyelashes fringed his deep blue eyes. Not for the first time in her life, Allison wished she was just a regular woman. She didn’t even know what that meant. She didn’t know very many regular women—the secretaries at work, maybe, who hated her for the most part, because she wasn’t like them. Not that she pitied herself. It was what it was. But it would be nice to not have such broad shoulders, relatively speaking.
“So this guy who flipped,” she said. “Do you know why?”
“Unsure. You know how it goes, in our line of work. We put a lot of drug lords out of business. There’s this Russian guy, Monya Kishinev. We totally fucked up his operation last year.”
She felt a chill. “We captured phony traffic from someone posing as me in a scheme to squeeze Monya Kishinev.”
“Small world.” He smiled thinly.
She turned back around to the screen. Eighty-seven percent completed. She was anxious about having him in the room; he was so smart, and his job was putting two and two together. He would probably figure out that she was Delphi. She wasn’t sure why she was letting him stay.
The virus check was done. She doubled-clicked on the memory stick icon. It opened.
An e-mail icon appeared. She felt Morgan’s body heat along her back, his warm breath against her neck as he gestured to the screen.
“Does Christine Evans know you’ve got a system like this at her school?”
She put her hands on the keyboard and pointedly waited, until he sighed against her earlobe and moved away.
She opened it.
It was a photograph. Backlit against a shimmering web, two spider necklaces, each slightly different, gleamed and sparkled. Allison touched the chain around her neck. The pendant that hung between her breasts was clearly the third of a trio. She had put it back on in the field, when she’d gotten dressed. It was concealed by her black mesh top. Her skin itched as if the necklace had been dipped in acid.
“Spider necklaces?” he asked.
She answered his question with another question. “Who are you really working for?” She looked away from the screen to him.
Morgan ran his cold beer bottle across his forehead and down the side of his face. It was chilly in the room; maybe he was fighting his fatigue.
“Who, Morgan?” she demanded.
“Delphi,” he replied. “I’m working for Delphi.”
She took a steadying breath. “Does Delphi know it?”
His gaze bored into her, deep and penetrating, willing her to believe him, know him, accept his help. Her body quivered.
He didn’t blink or look away, didn’t release her from his gaze.
“She does now,” he said in a sandpapery whisper.
H e knows. Morgan Rush knows I’m Delphi.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” he asked her.
“I need to take a shower.” Allison turned away from him and concentrated on shutting down the desktop. Her stomach knotted; sweat beaded on her forehead. She tried to keep her hands from shaking, but she could barely type in the commands to quit.
“Who else knows? My sister?”
She rose, saying nothing, still not looking at him. He would read it on her face. All these years, no one had pried that secret from her. He was an outsider. He was not Oracle.
But he’s Morgan.
“Don’t push me,” she said.
He raised his hands over his head in an I’m-your-prisoner stance. “Does this have something to do with the research you’re doing on force fields?”
She blinked and her lips parted in complete and total shock. Then she remembered the printout in her dresser in her destroyed town house—the town house he had been searching when it had blown up.
Facing him, she stayed outwardly calm, but her mind was racing. This was why she hadn’t had a lover or anyone else close to her. He had waltzed through layers of security as if they weren’t even there.
“I can help you. I will help you,” he promised.
“This isn’t your fight.” She licked her lips and turned to go.
“Oh, but it is,” he insisted. He took a step toward her. “Let me in.”
She left the room, practically running into the bathroom and stripping down before realizing that she hadn’t brought a change of clothes or even her robe; she was used to being alone, and she was distracted.
A mild term for it, she thought. Oh God, I can’t let him know. Know that I’m Delphi and that I’m…
She felt her barriers rise up around herself.
That I’m what? Attracted to him?
She knew it was more than that. She knew it.
No way. Not love. Not Morgan. Ever.
She turned her back to the hot, steamy stream of water. Her ribs ached abominably and washing her hair was an ordeal. She did it compulsively, unsure even why she was doing it. She was shaking so hard she was afraid she might be ill. Was she having an anxiety attack?
She sank to the bottom of the tub, heaving, fighting for control.
I am the center of the storm.
He is the storm.
No. I am fine. I am calm. I can figure out what to do next.
She took deep, steadying breaths. She let the water run over her head, imagining herself beneath a waterfall in a garden paradise. Saw herself relaxed and at ease.
Talked herself down.
Composed at last, she wrapped herself in a towel and walked back into the living room, wet hair dripping over her shoulders and down her arms.
“Okay, your turn,” she said, as if their previous conversation had never happened. She looked at his filthy clothes while his stare raked her body. Ragged, dirty and bloody—he had been through the war. Now came the battle. “I’ll have your things washed and try to find something for you to wear in the meantime.”
“Thanks.” Eyes on her, he unabashedly unpeeled his sweater, revealing his naked, muscular torso, etched with a few scars that created bare spots in the tufts of hair on his chest. He placed the sweater on the floor like a peace offering…or an invitation to seduction. Eyes on her, he was easy in his skin, undamaged despite their skirmish.
Apparently she was the one with the wounds.
He was reaching for the fly on his jeans when he disappeared into the bathroom. She heard the shower go back on.
She grabbed her robe and slipped it on, glancing around for telltale signs of electronic
She went over to her desktop, which she had shut and locked before leaving the room. At least she had had the presence of mind for that. Morgan was hacker enough that he might have been tempted to go back in, but he’d refrained. He was probably trying to prove himself. Delphi’s loyal lieutenant.
Then she retrieved her laptop and connected to the Oracle mainframe, looking to see if the picture of the necklaces had kicked out. It hadn’t.
She called Kim to verify the announcement of Step Two.
“We think it might have something to do with General Pace’s jailbreak,” Kim told her on the phone.
“Oracle West spit out an interesting visual attached to an e-mail sent to my home,” Allison said. “I didn’t see it when I connected to the mainframe. Which is troubling.” She described the jpeg to Kim.
“I’ll go over to HQ and take a look,” Kim said.
“He left work early today.”
“I’m wondering when and where he’ll surface,” Allison grunted.
There was a light rap on the bathroom door—Morgan, letting her know he was coming out.
I forgot to get him something to wear.
“I need to go,” she said to Kim.
“Copy that, what’s the status on Morgan?”
“I’ve read him in a little,” she said, wondering afresh if that had been the right thing to do. “You have anything on him?”
She smelled steam and soap, and heard him padding barefoot across the Mexican pavers, then onto the mohair rug. She deliberately kept her back to him, not wishing to give him the slightest impression that she was ogling him.
“Nothing has kicked out,” Kim said. “When he works, he’s in deep.”
Warmth crawled up Allison’s neck and fanned over her cheeks and collarbone.
“So I’ve heard,” she said.
Kim chuckled appreciatively. “If you read him in, you have your reasons. I’m guessing you’re not alone.”
“You’re correct. I’ll check back in,” Allison promised her.
She hung up and turned to Morgan. She blinked. He was wearing a towel wrapped around his middle, revealing not only his torso but his well-defined calves and bare feet. There were tufts of hair on the knuckles of his toes. Droplets of water glistened in his hair and absurdly long eyelashes. He looked like a commercial for home exercise equipment.
She daemon-dialed Lynnette’s cell phone number. “Does Pat have any extra clothes he can lend Morgan?” She looked over at him and nodded. “Yeah, I’d say large across the chest, narrow hips.”
He grinned at her. She didn’t react.
“There’ll be something here soon,” she informed him.
“Thanks,” he said. “Allison, let’s stop it. Let’s lay out our cards.”
She shook her head. “I’m too tired.” And too scared. Too much is at stake.
They regarded one another. Allison raised her chin. “It’s not happening, Morgan.”
“Guess I’ll be doing research on force fields, too,” he replied, not smiling. “Okay, you’re on point.” He let out a breath. “Now, I realize it’s only ten in the morning, and we just lost an important prisoner, but I’m falling down exhausted. Is there by chance a bed in the brig?”
Of course there was no brig at AthenaAcademy. And she didn’t want him out of her sight. So she gestured to her own bed, in a smaller room just off the living room.
“Thanks,” he said.
He grabbed the bedspread off her bed and the extra pillow next to the one she always used and crossed to the couch. He spread half of the coverlet across the couch cushions and fluffed up the pillow, then lay down, pulling the top half of the coverlet over himself like a sleeping bag. He squirmed a few times, and then the towel he had been wearing appeared in his grasp. He folded it and set it on the floor.
He was naked.
She tried not to let that matter while she waited for his change of clothes to show up. By the time they did, Morgan was fast asleep.
He wasn’t completely asleep, but he was so exhausted he couldn’t do anything to prove otherwise. He could hear her moving quietly around the room; the soft rap on her door, which she opened.
“Thank you,” she told someone in a low whisper. “These will probably fit him.”
Then he smelled fresh laundry close to his nose, mingling with the scent of Allison’s clean skin as she bent over him. And…did she reach out a hand and almost touch him? Did she hesitate, and then move tendrils of hair away from his forehead?
Couldn’t be. Allison was not the tender type. And besides, he was too close to her secrets. He knew it.
He must be asleep after all.
Morgan woke refreshed and ready to take on the world—or at least Delphi. Did everyone else pretend not to know Allison was Delphi, or did they honestly believe Delphi was some anonymous tactician calling the shots?
When Allison saw that he was conscious, she gestured to a tray on the coffee table. On it gleamed several covered dishes. He picked up the biggest one and gazed down hungrily at a thick New York cut steak, a baked potato and some thinly sliced French green beans.
“God bless you,” he breathed. He moved the coverlet around his waist as he sat up, got his knife and fork and began to cut himself a bite of steak.
“Here’s the deal,” she said. “Josie and Diana are going to take some of the Oracle agents to FortHuahuache. No one in the Army will know exactly who they are or why they’re there, but the Lockworths get a lot of the things they want. The others will stay here and guard the school.”
He parsed that as he spied a glass of red wine and took an appreciative sip. Then his attention shifted to the view of Allison’s bed in the little room off the living room. It hadn’t been slept in.
“What about us?” he asked her.
“We’re going to my family’s retreat.”
He nodded. “Half of America’s after you, and I’m probably being hunted, too. I’ll finish breakfast and we’ll go.”
“It’s dinner. You’ve been asleep for ten hours.”
“You shouldn’t have let me do that,” he reproved her mildly.
“Is it possible there’s a tracker on your van?”
“I swept it, but I wouldn’t want to be overly complacent,” he told her. “You know how it is. Spycraft changes by the hour. I have something strong and powerful, you have something stronger and more powerful.”
“Like a nuclear weapon,” she said.
“Yes, like that.”
Morgan finished his delicious meal and had another half a glass of wine. After much discussion, they gave Morgan’s van to Diana to drive to FortHuahuache. She brought them back a khaki green Hummer.
Then Lynnette and Allison worked around the clock to stuff her laptop with as many Oracle applications as possible. Morgan was asked to leave, and Lucy Karmon accompanied him as he jogged around the grounds, trying to burn off some energy.
Then it was time to go. Allison had strong emotional ties with Christine Evans and her people. It was clear as she said goodbye to them.
They left by cover of darkness, Allison driving. Morgan was comfortable in a pair dark gray sweats, a navy-blue T-shirt and a gray sweatshirt. Allison had on another pair of cammies and a navy-blue sweater. She was wearing kicker boots; if someone had told Morgan Allison Gracelyn owned kicker boots, he would have laughed him out of the office.
Allison was constantly scanning; Morgan wordlessly rode shotgun. He had his Medusa and his Uzi on the floor and she had a Glock placed in the drink console between them.
The stars were hard and brittle; they glowed a silvery-blue as the Hummer climbed the mountains. Morgan had seen this part of the country many times, but its stark be
The outline of a rustic stone house rose against the moon like a howling coyote. Allison rolled up to it and killed the engine.
She climbed from the truck and walked slowly to the back door. She held out her hand, telling him to stay, while she went inside. Chivalry was equal opportunity when it came to special ops, but it was difficult not to insist on taking the protector role.
“All clear,” she announced, poking her head outside. “I’ve called in. Let’s leave the lights off for now.”
“Roger that,” he said, following her in.
“We have staples,” she announced, walking into the kitchen, which was dimly lit by moonlight flooding through a large rectangular window. “Cereal in the pantry, frozen food.”
She got two bottles of water from the fridge and tossed one to him. Her face in the moonlight appeared luminous and otherworldly. God, Allison was beautiful.
She drank her water. He could see her mind working. She was stressed, and she was fatigued. At any other time, he would call her burned out. But he knew how it was when you were running an op. You didn’t have the luxury of being burned out.
“I’ll take first watch,” he said. “I’m rested. You need to sleep.”
He watched her bristle. She was so much like he was—had to be in control, didn’t like being second-guessed. He’d take care not to cross her.
“Sure. Go ahead,” she said. “Let me show you around first.”
She showed him where his room was—nicely appointed, featuring a lot of Gracelyn family photos—and he set his small travel bag, purchased while he was on the road, coming after her, on the bathroom counter down the hall.
Then he went outside, guarding her as she rested. He had promised to wake her up in three hours to take a turn, but three became four became five became six.
She still hadn’t let him in on what was really happening. He still had the version she had doled out to Christine and Kayla Ryan, which was galling. He thought back to his last mission with his team—how his people were content to wait for the information Morgan would provide in due course.
Disclosure by Nancy Holder / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes