Monday, January 16
“What does it matter what she looks like?” Caleb Edge said into the phone, hoping like hell the dark, primal lust drumming through his veins didn’t bleed into his voice. He frowned absently at his control’s odd question as he shifted the compact sat phone between chin and shoulder, and the binocs left an inch for a better view.
A San Francisco street and a shitload of swirling fog separated the two apartment windows. The lights over there were on. The lights here weren’t.
Desire tightened his body and clogged his throat. His heart, which was normally as steady as a rock, still pounded uncomfortably sixty seconds after he’d lifted the binoculars to his eyes and taken his first look at her.
Bam! Caleb felt as though someone had punched him in the solar plexus, grabbed his heart, and squeezed. Hard.
That’s what Heather Shaw looked like.
Not that he’d share his physical reaction with his control, Lark Orela. She was like a frigging dog with a bone if she thought her people weren’t focused. Unfortunately he was plenty focused.
“Earth to Edge?”
“She looks . . . I don’t know.” Classy. Beautiful. “Deluxe, expensive,” he told Lark smoothly. His heart was racing, he assured himself, because his goddamned knee hurt like hell. He leaned a little more of his weight on the shoulder he had propped against the wall.
Heather had pushed the sleeves of the soft-looking purple sweater up her creamy forearms while she worked on something at the table. The fabric draped over her tall slender body as if it had been custom-made. Probably had. Heather Shaw had more money than many third-world countries.
“Interesting location for her to hide out,” Caleb dragged his gaze from the gentle swell of Miss Shaw’s breasts back to the top of her head. Look up again, honey, let’s see those gorgeous eyes again. “How long’s she been there?” Were her eyes green? Brown? Hard to tell from this distance.
“About six months,” Lark told him. “Why?”
Reluctantly Caleb shifted the binocs. “Place’s pretty stark. Chair. Bed. Table. Nothing personal that I can see.”
“She’s been moving around.”
“Yeah.” And not easy to track down, according to Lark. Finding Heather’s father first would’ve expedited this op, and made it a lot more interesting, Caleb thought. Unfortunately, Brian Shaw had been missing for the better part of a year. Not surprisingly, he’d completely obliterated his trail, so he was a little freaking hard to find at the moment.
Which left his delectable daughter to the wolves.
Caleb figured he’d been in physical rehab for too damn long if just looking at the tango’s daughter gave him a hard-on.
Long, elegant bones. Pale slender fingers. Silky- looking hair that would feel like sunlight on his skin. He’d begged Lark to send him on a mission. Anywhere. Any damn thing to escape the hospital. This had been the best Lark claimed she could come up with at short notice.
Bullshit. Fact was: She didn’t think he was ready to go back into the field.
This wasn’t an op. A simple question needed answering. Hell, someone could call it in.
But here he was. Because anything was better than being stuck in a rehab center for months on end. Boredom seemed to be a family trait this week. His older brother, Gabriel, had visited him a couple of days ago on his way to Arizona to get intel from some scientist there. He’d been uncharacteristically cranky and out of sorts. Clearly needing a little action himself.
His younger brother, Duncan, was secretly lobbying to become head of the wizard council and was off somewhere, totally focused on his goal. And when Duncan focused he was pretty frigging single-minded.
So Caleb didn’t even have his brothers to spar with at the moment. Too bad, he wouldn’t mind a kick-ass, sweaty workout with Gabriel and his claymores, or Duncan and his knives—or both—right now.
Instead he was in San Francisco watching the daughter of the banker to some of the world’s most lethal tangos.
Surprisingly, Caleb’s reaction to the woman he’d been sent to find had been visceral and immediate. He liked women just fine. No, he loved women. But he’d never had such an instantaneous, energizing, chemical . . . jolt looking at a woman before.
Adrenaline junkie that he was, his physical reaction on seeing her—blood pressure up, libido up, temperature up—intrigued him. Pheromones were one thing, but he wasn’t even in sniffing distance of her.
His reaction was so immediate, so primitive it shocked the hell out of him.
Why her? Why here? Why now?
“Okay, then let me ask you an easy question,” Lark said in his ear. Caleb braced himself. Lark was an empath, and he didn’t want her picking up any screwy signals. “How’s the leg?” she asked, throwing him.
Yeah. Concentrate on something that made sense. The new knee still hurt. Which annoyed the hell out of him. One of his unique powers was the ability to heal, but the only person’s injuries he couldn’t fix were his own. Pissed him off no end. Caleb considered his body another tool in his arsenal against tangos. He needed to be in tip-top condition to do his job well, and he worked to keep himself in the peak of physical performance at all times. He was rarely ill, and this knee injury was the first time in his career that he’d been stuck in the hospital for so long.
“One hundred percent A-okay,” he assured Lark.
He’d been pathetically grateful when he’d gotten the call an hour ago during his hopefully final physical therapy session in San Jose. Hell yeah, he was only an hour from San Francisco, he’d talk to Shaw’s daughter. Anything to cut short the boring sessions. He’d been going stir-crazy.
He’d commandeered an apartment across the street, one whose windows looked directly into hers. A typical winter’s day in San Francisco. Damp, misty fog eddied in gossamer ribbons between the tall, narrow buildings in an ever-changing screen that made it difficult to maintain a clear view into Heather’s apartment, even with her lights on. Caleb had seen enough.
“Liar,” Lark told him. “Dr. Long just told me you’re still favoring that knee.”
“Then why did you ask?” He’d had his knee replaced, but there’d been some nerve and muscle damage. It would heal. Eventually. These things usually did. He had plenty of scars to prove it.
Watching Heather Shaw was more interesting than discussing his knee. Which in turn made him bad tempered. Which in turn made him even more antsy to get back to work so he could forget about it.
Based on photographs, Shaw’s daughter had changed some during the last year.
“To see if you’d lie,” Lark informed him.
Lying was the least he’d do to get back to work. “I have a medical release from the doctor and the therapist. So, quit torturing me, honey. Find me something. Anything. I beg you. This lack of activity has made me a basket case.”
“You’re a workaholic, Middle Edge.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing. Come on, Lark, help me out here. Send me to some exotic hellhole to kick some terrorist butt.”
“Can you run?”
“Better than most.” No. But he didn’t want his control to know that his doctors were right. He wasn’t fully back up to speed yet. But he’d get back into shape on the job. “And since when does an Edge need to run? We show up and take names.”
“That may be, but you should still take some downtime until you’re fully recovered. Think of it as a vacation.”
“I don’t want a vacation. I don’t need a vacation.”
Lark had a pretty laugh, even if it was mocking. “You sound like a truculent five-year-old. But I agree. You can do your job just fine limping. Your trigger finger’s just fine. Your brain wasn’t damaged—much—by that beating you took.”
“Heartless, Lark. I’m sharp as a tack.” Was she going to send him back in? Caleb imagined the young woman who was his control. Lark Orela looked like a cross between a biker chick and a Goth rocker. With spiked black-and-fuchsia hair, and half a dozen silver rings in each eyebrow, and one in her nose for God’s sake. But behind that pale face and scary black eye makeup lived the brain of a brilliant tactician.
“Tell me what you see.” She’d circled back to Heather Shaw.
This was a “look see.” He wanted to get back to real work. “Are you sending me back into the fiel—”
Lark was like a particularly friendly pit bull. Caleb shifted to do a quick scan of Shaw’s one-room apartment. “How the mighty have fallen. Like I said, it’s almost empty. The walls are bare. No pictures. No knickknacks. Nothing whatsoever to personalize her living space.” The covers on the narrow single bed behind her were thrown about haphazardly. Restless night or lover?
His insides clenched at the thought of a lover, and his reaction surprised him. Good thing he would be with Kris-Alice in Germany within the hour. That was one of the benefits of being who he was. What he was. He could teleport with ease.
Caleb worked for T-FLAC/psi. T-FLAC was a privately funded counterterrorist organization. Psi was the psychic phenomena offshoot.
This wasn’t a psi op. He’d been in Silicone Valley undergoing forced physical therapy on his knee—it had been just a small bullet hole—when Shaw’s prints had been ID’d. Since he was closest, he’d been requested to get intel from the woman. Intel they sorely needed if they had a hope in hell of tracking down her father, Brian Shaw.
“She live alone?”
Caleb found downtime redundant. Unlike his laidback younger brother, Duncan, Caleb liked to be on the go all the time. But they’d insisted. Getting shot in the knee was a pain in his ass. Technically, he was supposed to be off duty for another three weeks. He’d never been real big on technicalities. All he needed was to be sent on an op now, and he’d prove to the team and control that he was in top form. And this wasn’t an op. It was a frigging conversation. And a short one at that.
No action to prove he could still outrun, outjump, outshoot the best of them.
Right now even watching a woman through binocs beat lying around on a sun-drenched beach somewhere doing nothing. Give him action and he was a happy man. An op relaxed him. Hell, a fast-paced op made him sleep at night like a baby.
Watching Heather should have been a step in that direction. But instead his body grew even more coiled and tight. He needed to get a grip. And not—he thought with a mental thump on the head—on that perfect body of hers. Still, the mere thought of running his fingers through her honey-colored hair, of allowing his palms to slide over the gentle curve of her hip, was interfering with his assignment.
Time to focus.
He finished checking out Heather’s living quarters. The kitchen occupied one corner, an open door led to the bathroom, another door led, he presumed, to the stairwell. The bed and folding table where she now sat were the sum total of her furnishings. The small, sterile accommodations, after living the high life, must really cramp the socialite’s style.
She was seated at the table, some sort of small tool in her hand. Prying a stone out of a piece of jewelry, or putting one in. She made and sold her own jewelry to local jewelers. That’s how she’d been found. Her fingerprints had been lifted from a jewelry store after a robbery there yesterday. The local cops had run them with all the other prints they’d found at the scene. Her prints hadn’t been in their database. They were in T-FLAC’s. Not under the name Hannah Smith, but Heather Shaw. The jewelry store had a current address for her.
She’d filled out some. In the last photograph they’d had of her—some high-society thing in Hong Kong a year ago—she looked almost skeletal. Now she had more meat on her bones.
Not that Caleb could see much of her, dressed as she was in jeans and a purple sweater. But her face looked softer, more appealing now. His heart, which had started a peculiar erratic beat when he’d first set eyes on her, picked up more speed as he took in the creamy curve of her cheek, the silky sweep of her hair, the stubborn jut of her chin.
His reaction to her was . . . weird.
The accelerated pounding was the staccato beat of fear. Or was it excitement? Or some sort of premonition? Damn, he didn’t know what. Nor did he want to find out. Lark was the one with precognitive powers, not him. But every instinct in him flashed a big neon warning to keep the hell away from Heather Shaw. And in his line of work, Caleb trusted his instincts. They hadn’t failed him yet.
“Earth to Middle Edge? Humor me,” Lark said smoothly in his ear, snapping him out of his reverie. “Expensive doesn’t exactly tell me what she looks like.”
Touchable. Dangerous. Trouble. “She’s not a blonde anymore.” In all the pictures, Shaw’s daughter was a golden, California blonde with about fifteen pounds of curls. Now the woman’s thick, stick-straight, honey-brown hair hung to her shoulders in a shiny curtain. A nice improvement.
“Not particularly.” No, not pretty, Caleb thought, stunning. Appealing as sin. Her even features, and lack of makeup, made her appear younger, more . . . vulnerable, than her publicity shots had done. He didn’t believe in tarring the offspring with their parents’ brush, but the delectable Miss Shaw had run in her father’s very fast, very public social circles. Stood to reason that there’d be nothing innocent or vulnerable about her.
“Who cares,” he muttered, distracted by the way the lamp over the table brought out caramel highlights in Heather’s hair. She was making some sort of necklace, he decided. Something with swirls of silver and purple stones. Pretty and delicate. As pretty and delicate as the slender hands holding it up to the light.
Her hair spilled over her shoulder as she tilted her head to inspect her work. “We have her. Send someone in for the interrogation. My work here is done.” He was annoyed that he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off Shaw’s no-longer-missing only child. Surveilling her was one thing, ogling, for God’s sake, quite another. Yet, for some mysterious reason he was drawn to this woman in ways he hadn’t experienced in years. Years? Ever.
“Not so fast, Hopalong. This is now your op.”
He frowned again. While he’d love an op right now—save him from more hydro-treatments, ultrasound tissue massages, and all the other crap—this wasn’t it. Too low key. Too mundane. “Questioning Shaw’s daughter doesn’t necessitate a psi operative. I found her, now I’m ready to hand her off. Who are they sending? I’ll hang around until he/she gets here.”
They being T-FLAC proper. His particular talents weren’t needed. He’d just happened to be in San Francisco when Heather’s fingerprints had popped on the T-FLAC fingerprint database.
“I’m assigning Shaw’s daughter to you. Use your rakish charm to get that intel ASAP.” For an extremely Goth-looking young woman, Lark Orela’s no-nonsense tone always came as a surprise. This afternoon it brooked no argument.
Made no sense, but Caleb figured he was there, might as well save someone the trip. Fifteen minutes and he’d be done. He’d report in, results in hand, then pursue Lark in person for a mission. A real one.
“Yeah. Sure,” he told her easily. “I’ll give you a shout when I get the father’s location.”
“Good luck.” Lark sounded . . . odd?
Caleb’s frown deepened at the strange inflection in her usually well-modulated voice. “What am I missing?”
“Life, love, and the pursuit of happiness?” On that cryptic note the phone went dead.
Caleb stared at it as he snapped it closed. Trust Lark to be enigmatic. She was a cross between a wizard, a mother figure, and a pain in the collective asses of her operatives. But as a control she had no match. Lark could juggle from one to twenty-one operatives simultaneously. Caleb would’ve staked his life on the fact that Lark could see the future. She never spoke of it. Ever. But the ability had saved many an operative’s rear end, no doubt. Her advice and direction were always sound and spot-on. No one argued.
When Lark Orela said jump, intelligent people asked how high.
Caleb didn’t bother glancing around the commandeered apartment to make certain he hadn’t left anything behind. He hadn’t. He’d shimmered in. He’d leave the same way. Sight unseen.
From the Paperback edition.