Read an Excerpt
"Son of a--"
A sharp elbow in my side, courtesy of my right-hand man and lead technician, Pete Calandar, made me bite the whispered expletive in half.
It was two in the morning, and we hid in the shadows of the large maintenance tent that rested at the edge of our small, ten-member camp. I shivered in the night air, wishing I'd taken the time to slip on a pair of shoes. It was winter in the desert, almost December, which meant that while the days were hot but bearable, the nights were as cold as Massachusetts in the middle of a snowstorm.
I had bigger worries than frostbite. Beyond our hiding place and outlined by moonlight, some of the locals were sabotaging my oil rig and ruining my progress.
Technically, the destruction in front of me should not be happening. My company was allowed to drill on Nubian land due to mutual agreement--but not everyone in the local village felt we had the right to be in their desert.
Oddly enough, it was the younger people who were the least receptive to our presence. That, or they were the most bored and we were the easiest people to annoy. The distinctive sound of twisting metal clipped the air. Whatever their reason, I didn't care. A growl of frustration rose from my throat, and I raised my rifle.
"What are you doing, Tru?" Pete whispered, his deep voice carrying no farther than my ear.
"Stopping them." I took a moment to sight them through the night scope. The moon made the view as bright as midday. Not that the time of day mattered when it came to my aim. Pete said I couldn't hit water if I was standing in a lake.
I looked anyway and confirmed my evaluation of the intruders.
I was right. They were boys. Ageeighteen, maybe less. Dressed in jeans and T-shirts. They looked harmless with their skinny legs and thin, adolescent shoulders.
But I knew how much harm a wrench or length of pipe could do in the hands of a teenager.
One of them kicked the oil rig's engine.
Every muscle in my body contracted as anger roiled through me, making me shake. Taking a deep breath to calm myself, I shifted my aim before I did something I'd regret, repositioning my sight from them to their Jeep.
With luck, I could take out a tire. Then there'd be no way they could escape unless they tried to run on foot, and in the southern Egyptian desert, that was a death sentence, even for the locals.
Grabbing the barrel, Pete pulled my rifle until the muzzle pointed at the glittering sand beyond us. "You can't shoot them."
I yanked my weapon out of his grasp. "Not them. The Jeep. I was getting a closer look at them, that's all."
"Oh." He had the presence of mind to look foolish as he ran a hand through his thinning red hair--a nervous gesture he'd had since before we met on the Bantha project five years ago in Russia.
Twenty years my senior, Pete had seen it all. Done it all. That experience commanded loyalty. His crews worked like dogs for him. So, when I started Geo Investigations Incorporated three years ago, I knew Pete was the one person I had to have on my team. It hadn't been easy to convince him to join a start-up company, but a generous bonus tied to our first success had convinced him.
Now, we were together out of mutual loyalty, and I enjoyed our quasi father-daughter relationship.
Except at times such as this, when he acted like I was still a pampered heiress who didn't know her head from a hole in the ground, and who was not the boss of a successful oil exploration company.
With a sigh of exasperation, I raised the rifle again and took a last, quick glance at the intruders.
"Just kids," I muttered.
Kids that were tearing my main engine apart. Shifting, I sighted the Jeep. "Be prepared to chase them," I whispered. "Chase them?" Pete's tone was incredulous.
"You've got to be kidding. They may be skinny as rails, but they're wiry and all muscle. Athletes. I'm a middle-aged oil rig manager."
"Just do it," I said, exasperated with arguing.
"We should have brought Griffin," Pete whispered.
"Let him chase them."
"He's a powerhouse, not a runner." My liaison to Dynocorp--the conglomerate that had hired me to run this project--and head of security, Griffin Sinclair was capable and calm, took everything seriously and considered his rock-hard body another weapon in his arsenal.
I considered his physique the one perk of having him around. On more than one occasion, I'd seen him half-naked, and it was well worth the stolen glance.
Unfortunately, it was the only perk. Griffin was a gorgeous specimen of the human male, but he also reported everything I said, did and probably ate back to Dynocorp's board.
I tried to keep him out of the loop as much as possible.
"Yeah, but he's still younger and faster than me," Pete insisted.
"Thanks." His voice dripped with sarcasm.
"You're welcome," I said with a grin. Pete wasn't Griffin, but he was more fit than most men, and we both knew it. "Look, I don't want Griffin informing the Dynoguys that we couldn't keep a bunch of kids from shutting us down. Not if I can help it."
A loud clanking refocused my attention on the vandals. Someone yanked God-knew-what out of the engine.
No more talking. I sighted the Jeep's back tire and fired.
The muzzle flashed bright in the shadows, and the ping of the bullet striking metal echoed in the night.
Followed by a shriek as one of the boys cried out and fell to the ground. My gut clenched as I realized what had happened. Ricochet. "Damn it."
The rest of the boys froze like wild animals caught off guard, eyed their friend, hesitated, and then sprinted for the car leaving him behind.
The driver gunned the Jeep to life, and seconds later the intruders roared past us, shouting what I figured were obscenities in a combination of Arabic and possibly Nubian.
Rifle still in hand, I let them get away so I could deal with the more pressing problem.
I'd shot someone.
Pete and I raced over to the wounded boy. "Wait, let me," I said, grabbing Pete's arm and stopping him. "I'm a girl and less scary."
"Only if you don't know women," Pete muttered. I held back a retort and bent down, putting myself at eye level with the fallen boy.
His eyes wide with both pain and fright, he tried to crawl away from us, using his right Levi's-clad leg to push himself across the sand. I realized that I'd hit his left leg. Luckily, the blood wasn't pooling or spurting, which meant I hadn't hit an artery.
I followed his panicked gaze and realized his attention was locked on the rifle I still gripped in my hand. Hell.
Even I'd try to get away from me under these circumstances.
"Pete." I handed him the rifle, took a deep breath and held out my hand, hoping I appeared more sympathetic than I felt. "It's okay," I said in my softest voice. "It's okay. We're going to help you."
Lying on the ground, he looked harmless. Like a youth caught up in something he hadn't planned and wished he could take back. "Come on, kid. It'll be all right," I assured him, as I inched closer. "Let me help you."
I felt like a bitch, but reminded myself that if the little idiot hadn't been trashing my oil rig, none of this would have happened.
Suddenly, his eyes shifted, tracking past me. I followed them.
Griffin. His short, dark hair was a swatch of moonlight-silvered black. Despite the chill desert night, he only wore boxer briefs, his every chiseled muscle highlighted and defined by light and shadow. He glared at me like a reproachful Egyptian god come to earth in contemporary form to discipline a particularly wayward follower.
He looked very, very good.
Then he opened his mouth. "What did you screw up now?"
Five minutes later, Griffin had managed to do what I could not--convince the boy to stay put so we could bandage his wound.
In that same time span, Pete and I had talked to all the crew members awoken by the noise, telling them that everything was under control, the boy would be fine, and to go back to bed.
Although they all left, their obvious skepticism told me that none of them believed our assurances.
Neither did I. "Pete, can you take our friend here to the med tent?" Griffin asked, rising and dusting the sand off his bare knees.
"Of course," Pete said. Besides being my right-hand-man, he was also a trained EMT. "Luckily, it looks like a flesh wound. He's scared more than anything. I'll give him something to drink, put him to bed and watch him while he sleeps. We'll take him home in the morning."
"Thanks," Griffin replied.
"We'll leave you two alone to discuss business." Pete helped the boy up from the ground and rushed him away as fast as his wound allowed.
I didn't miss the amused glint in his eye. Coward, I mouthed as he backed away, wishing I could go with him. Griffin's anger bothered me more than he knew and more than I would ever let on.
Growing up, my mother had shouted at me when my actions called for it. Time-outs were the norm. The occasional missed meal. She'd even spanked me once.
As for my father, when he was mad I'd felt the back of his hand. I shuddered at memories of his fury, and then shoved them back in the part of my mind where I could ignore them. And him.
Either way, my parents' response to my misbehaving was clear. So I never quite knew how to react to Griffin's calm, controlled admonishments.
When Pete and the teen were out of sight, Griffin turned back to me, his jaw rigid. "You want to explain why you didn't come to me for help?"
"Your tent is too far away. There wasn't time to get to you," I said.
He didn't look convinced. Not that I blamed him. Griffin's tent was at the edge of our encampment, but since the only things between him and the maintenance tent Pete and I had used for cover were worker tents and a few small structures for things like cooking and communications, the far end of camp was not really a great distance off.
Still, I had to tell him something. "It's two in the morning. If there was time to come out here and shoot at someone, there was time to stop by my tent." His hands tightened into fists. "You're lucky no one was seriously hurt. You could have been hurt."
He made a tsking sound, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose in response. "Does your blond go all the way to the brain, Tru? You're smarter than this."
I met his glare with one of my own. "I'll thank you to leave my hair out of the conversation."
"And I'll thank you to wake me up when my project is in jeopardy," he countered.
"Your project?" I sputtered like someone who'd drunk a gulp of water and had it go down the wrong pipe.
"You're a contractor. I work for the company that pays you. So, yes. My company. My project."
I crossed my arms to keep from punching him in the head. "I can break the contract if you keep annoying me and interfering with my job."
His expression hardened. "Go ahead. Do whatever you need to, but I can tell you right now that I will not stop doing my job. And my job is making sure you do your job."
He took a step closer, breaking the rule of personal space. I didn't back up.
His mouth inches from mine, he continued. "You're bluffing. I've read the report on you. You walk away from this project, from Dynocorp, and it'll be years before you get significant work. I know it. You know it."
I glared at him, indignant, but he was right. In this business, reputation was everything, and mine was good, but it wasn't impeccable. Last year, when my mother died, I'd left a project, my unexpected grief interfering with my oil-finding gift, leaving me unable to find the promised deposit. Not that the industry knew, or even cared, why I'd left.