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Senior Colonial Mining Authority agent Natalia Hallowell slammed both palms on her supervisor's desk and leaned toward him, arms stiff. She pressed her fingertips into the surface until they turned white. "That's three months of undercover work you're throwing out."
Garces raised an eyebrow at her.
Natalia suppressed a growl and added the obligatory, "Sir."
He flicked a glance at her chest before meeting her eyes again. She'd worn a high-collared sweater and loose trousers, her usual office attire, so there was nothing for him to see.
What an ass.
Garces leaned back in his leather chair, the material of his black-and-gold uniform stretching across his chest, and spread his hands in a "what can I tell you?" gesture that made her want to punch him. Insubordination was one thing; assault made the Nevarro CMA brass uncomfortable. It was probably best to leave her pulser holstered at her hip too. "Illegal search and seizure, Hallowell."
Heat surged up Natalia's neck and into her face. Between the red coloring she knew stained her cheeks and the strands of hair that had come loose from the bun, she probably looked skitzie. She certainly felt that way at the moment.
Sure, she'd had to skirt the edges of legal searches now and againwhat agent hadn't?but not this time. She'd been meticulous in her preparations for catching Hirahm Brothers Services skimming credits off supply contracts. At least she'd thought she'd covered everything. The investigation had ensnared not only the elder Hirahm brother but a couple of the government's own lower-level contract developers as well.
"Hirahm claims there's no evidence that would merit a search, and you were never given open access to his office, SI or records." Garces laced his fingers together on the desk. His look of frustration seemed to mirror her own, but something gleamed in the supervisor's dark eyes. The corner of his mouth twitched with contempt.
Not for the situation, she realized, but for Natalia herself.
What the hell?
"Bullshit." She straightened, curling her hands into fists at her sides. "Sir. I followed procedure in gaining his confidence. He brought me into his office himself that night, too drunk to do more than cop a feel then pass out."
She'd done worse with targets in the past and had been relieved when Hirahm had dropped into his chair and started snoring. He'd stunk of too much alcohol and the smoke of synthetic tobacco. With him safely unconscious, she'd accessed his system interface and copied the data necessary to bring charges, using codes and passwords she'd gleaned from Hirahm when he worked outside the office. She'd watched the man more closely than he had realized and utilized a comm app that analyzed hand movement and reflections. Had she somehow triggered a security alert to Hirahm?
Garces shrugged, as if having one of his agents accused of sloppy procedure was commonplace. "That's not what his solicitors are saying. Their take is that you convinced him to bring you up then drugged his drink to make him open files before he passed out. Until this gets straightened out in Legal, the surveillance vids are all we have to go on. Everything you retrieved from his computer is inadmissible."
The heat of anger seeped out of her body, replaced by a spine-stiffening chill of rage.