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"I don't think I can live with what I've done ."
In an effort to cure an ailing relative, Dr. Kat Odgers makes a revolutionary new drug—and powerful new enemies. She has no idea what her latest concoction is capable of, but Jake Isaacs knows. And Jake must get to Kat before someone else does. Her safety is his mission, but the assignment gets complicated when a strong mutual attraction threatens to throw him off course. Centered in the crosshairs of corrupt adversaries, Jake and Kat must suppress their growing ...
"I don't think I can live with what I've done ."
In an effort to cure an ailing relative, Dr. Kat Odgers makes a revolutionary new drug—and powerful new enemies. She has no idea what her latest concoction is capable of, but Jake Isaacs knows. And Jake must get to Kat before someone else does. Her safety is his mission, but the assignment gets complicated when a strong mutual attraction threatens to throw him off course. Centered in the crosshairs of corrupt adversaries, Jake and Kat must suppress their growing passions and focus on survival. But when Kat's formula falls into the wrong hands, they may face full knowledge of the drug's catastrophic effects.
Katherine "Kat" Odgers fought the urge to cry.
"No," she breathed, staring at her research and back again at the rhesus monkey she'd secretly named Auguste after the first clinically diagnosed Alzheimer patient who lived in the late 1800s. The monkey didn't seem to know what to do with the banana she'd tried to give him. Worse was the fact that he seemed to have lost the ability to do anything a monkey would normally do.
"C'mon, Auguste, don't do this to me," she said, reaching into the cage against protocol. The monkey, frightened, climbed into her arms like a baby and clung to her as if she were its mama. "Oh no, oh no, oh no." She gently administered a sedative and carried the monkey over to a machine geared toward mapping his mental acuity. As she waited anxiously for the machine to do its work, she bit at her fingernails, nibbling at the near-nonexistent sliver of nail, worried and scared-not only for Auguste but for her research.
Had something gone wrong? Had she missed something?
Three years' worth of careful, painstaking research, animal trials that showed brilliant, exciting promise in the area of Alzheimer's research, all hinged on the results of that scan.
The machine finished and after returning Auguste to his cage, she stared at the monitor, reading the results with a sinking heart and a nauseous stomach.
Her drug, MCX-209, was supposed to repair the brain but instead it had destroyed it.
Somehow she'd missed something crucial, because according to Auguste's scan, the area that stored memory was less wrinkled and nearly smooth in places. His memories had just disappeared courtesy of MCX-209. "I failed," she murmured, tears springing to her eyes as her stare returned to the unconscious Auguste. "And I've ruined poor Auguste."
Bad. Bad. Bad.
She wiped at her running nose and searched for a tissue. She'd been so close. So close to victory over this insidious disease, but now all was lost. Her boss would likely can her for failing so miserably. So much for being a so-called genius. She was so smart she'd found a way to destroy brains without leaving a mark. Brilliant! Yes, she could just imagine the scientific journals already, lauding her for her failure to help a single person suffering from Alzheimer's. Better polish up that résumé, she thought miserably as she collected herself, shuffling to the tiny mirror over the sink.
Her hair hung in its usual disarray, refusing to stay put no matter how many pins she used to try to hold it together. She pushed a strand behind her ear and adjusted her glasses with a disheartened frown as the same face she'd been born with stared back. Not exactly a heart-stopper. As far as career choices go, stripping was not going to be a viable plan B. She had no breasts and she was horribly clumsy, she reminded herself. One attempt at gyrating on a pole would end with someone getting a stiletto in the eye as she careened from the stage, arms and legs akimbo.
Science had been her only gift. And now? Clearly not.
And poor Auguste. He'd been the cutest of the monkeys. Now he was a drooling mess.
She didn't even know if the results were permanent or temporary. Kat blew an irritating strand of hair from her eye. Time to pay the piper. She had to write up her findings and let her boss know that MCX-209 was a total, abject failure.
Jake Isaacs stood respectfully as his superior Miles Jogan walked into Jake's office, his expression stern. "Take a seat," he advised Jake as he dropped a file on
Jake's desk. "I have a job for you-one I would only trust to you even though you're no longer working the field." Jake took the folder and opened it, his interest piqued. "What you're about to read could change the world."
Jake scanned the file, a subtle widening of his eyes the only indication that the information had troubled him. "Who is she?" he asked, regarding the file photo of his subject. At only five feet four inches and one hundred and fifteen pounds-petite-with long wavy light brown hair and very thick black glasses that hid half her face, Katherine Odgers wasn't portrayed in a flattering light. "And why does she matter to the Defense Intelligence Department?" he asked, closing the file.
"Dr. Odgers is the hottest ticket in town," Miles answered, causing Jake to frown. "That woman has just changed the world we live in by creating one of the most dangerous drugs known to man."
"What does it do?"
"The drug, MCX-209, erases memory-permanently. Yet, it leaves other brain functions intact." Miles watched Jake's reaction. As the implications tore like a forest fire through Jake's mind, Miles nodded. "This is why it's imperative that you collect Dr. Odgers and bring her to Washington for her own safety. All other attempts to persuade her have been unsuccessful."
"And what attempts were those?" he asked, taking a second look at the woman in question.
"Naturally, a woman of her caliber would be an asset to the DID," Miles said. "We made quiet inquiries as to her interest in moving from the private sector to government work but all inquiries were rebuffed."
Jake shrugged. "Government work isn't for everyone."
"It certainly didn't seem to appeal to Dr. Odgers that's for sure. The fact of the matter is, we've run out of time for civil negotiations. We need to secure Dr. Odgers before her work falls into the wrong hands."
"How many people have access to this drug trial?"
"Only her superior, and we've taken care of that weak link." Jake lifted a brow in question and Miles said, "Alive and well but decidedly spotty in recollection of what Dr. Odgers was working on."
"And her research materials?"
"Removed from the laboratory and placed under lock and key. All I need you to do is procure the doctor."
"If she resisted the idea of working for us, what makes you think she's going to want to come with me willingly? Seems a fine line we're walking here."
"Unfortunately, at this point it is necessary to procure Dr. Odgers whether she appreciates the U.S. government's help or not. It's vital that her research doesn't fall into the wrong hands."
Jake knew that sometimes the U.S. government found it necessary to operate under the radar for the good of the people but it always made him feel dodgy when the lines were blurred. And this felt a lot like blurring the lines. "Perhaps she'll change her mind and come willingly after we explain the danger she's in," Jake said.
"We don't have time to hold her hand and hope she makes the right decision. I have it on good authority factions within organized crime and corrupt dictatorships are licking their lips at the prospect of stealing Dr. Odgers's work and using it for their own devices. Our friends in North Korea are quite keen to get their hands on Dr. Odgers, and I can assure you, that will end badly for everyone involved," Miles pointed out with grave certainty. "Including Dr. Odgers."
A drug such as MCX-209 in the wrong hands would certainly upset the balance of power. What if someone drugged the president of the United States with that concoction? Or each member of Congress? A drug like that could ruin the United States of America, reduce it to ash within months as enemies-such as North Korea- jumped at the chance to attack when the country was at its most vulnerable. Jake shuddered at the thought. Even though the mission didn't leave him with a good feeling, he knew the alternative wasn't palatable, either. He nodded to Miles. "I'll leave for San Francisco in the morning," he told him.
Miles offered a tight approving smile. "Bring her straight here. This mission has the highest security clearance. I don't want to run any undue risks."
"Consider it done."
"You're a good man, Isaacs," Miles said. "You do your country proud."
Kat had just popped a frozen dinner into the microwave when the doorbell rang. Her uncle Chuck would've freaked out if he knew what kind of processed junk she ate these days, she thought idly as she ignored the bell. She'd never quite caught his talent for the culinary arts. Once he was no longer in charge of her meals, her cooking skills had rapidly deteriorated. She liked to justify that she didn't actually have time to spend tinkering in the kitchen but the truth of it was, she just wasn't any good at it. She frowned, glancing at the clock when the doorbell sounded again. Too late for churchgoers on their rounds to convert the masses but not quite late enough for vacuum salesmen trying to wheedle their way into her cramped apartment to wow her with their products' suction power in the hopes of selling one of their exorbitantly priced units. She sighed and wondered if she didn't answer would they go away and bother someone else? They ought to hit up Mrs. Frig-gen. That old lady would buy anything, and had, judging by the number of times UPS delivered to her door. It was a wonder Mrs. Friggen had any social security left to spend. Kat had a feeling the older woman kept QVC rolling in dough.
Giving up the doorbell, whoever was at the door resorted to knocking forcefully. Hmm persistent bugger. The microwave dinged and she carefully removed the steaming offering of processed cheese and spiraled noodles, her stomach already growling in ready anticipation. As a scientist she knew there was absolutely no nutritional value to what she was about to consume but her taste buds didn't care. She was only two generations removed from Southern white trash, according to the genealogy trace she'd done for fun two years ago, and she loved herself some old-fashioned carb-loading- much to her uncle's chagrin.
She grabbed a root beer to wash her meal down and prepared to hunker in front of the TV and catch up on her favorite DVRed shows-Renaissance Revelry was her favorite! But just as her behind hit the recliner, the knock sounded again, only this time, there was a stern voice attached to the incessant pounding. "Dr. Katherine Odgers, open the door or I'll be forced to open it for you."
What? If that was a vacuum salesman, they'd really become more aggressive than she remembered, but the warning tingle in her stomach told her that whoever was on the other side of the door wasn't trying to sell her anything and she wasn't so stupid that she'd comply with their demand to be raped or murdered.
"Go away," she squeaked, trying for bravery. "I have the cops on speed dial. They're coming right now. Run before they catch you. Don't say I didn't warn you. Police brutality is at its all-time high from what I've read in the papers. You better run if you don't want a face full of pepper spray or, worse, a zap from a Taser." She held her breath, biting her lip. Did it work? Where was her cell phone? Drat it. This was her karmic punishment for being so focused on her project that she never remembered where she put a darned thing the minute it left her fingertips. "I swear, they're on their way!" she bluffed, hoping they didn't hear the pathetic tremble in her voice. She shoveled a bite of macaroni in her mouth, burning her tongue in the process but she didn't care. If she was going to die, she wasn't going to go without one last pleasure!
There was a rustle on the other side of the door and she heard the distinct sound of a key slipping into a lock and suddenly she was staring at the super, Henry Wil-lits, as he opened her door for a suit-wearing stranger.
"Henry! What are you doing?" she asked in a strangled voice, unable to believe sweet Henry had just let a possible murderer into her apartment, simple as you please. "What's going on?"
"I'm sorry, Kat, but he's got official business with you that I don't want to get in the middle of," Henry said, ducking his gaze in apology before casting a quick, wary look at the austere stranger. "He says he's from the government."
Kat sat up straighter. "The government?" Her gaze flew to the man who was striding toward her with clear purpose, staring at him with wide eyes. "What are you doing?" she gasped when he stood before her, assessing her boldly and causing her cheeks to flush.
"Your super was kind enough to let me in. Come with me, Dr. Odgers. My name is Jake Isaacs with the Defense Intelligence Department-"
"What's that? I've never heard of such a thing," she interrupted as she stared at him with a mixture of awe and terror. "How do I know you're not making this up?"
Jake pulled his identification and showed it to her. "You haven't heard of us because we operate under the radar. The general public has no reason to know about us."
She found the wherewithal to frown. "That doesn't sound right. Government is supposed to operate with transparency. Are you sure what you're doing is legal?"
He exhaled as if irritated. "I've been tasked to bring you to Washington for your own protection, not embark on a debate as to the ethics of my employer. Your safety depends upon your cooperation, so I suggest you stop arguing and start moving."
"Girl, you'd better listen," Henry advised, looking all of his sixty-eight years, his weathered hands twisting the ring of master keys in agitation. "You in some serious trouble or something."
"She's not in trouble," the man corrected Henry sharply. "But she is in danger. Come, I will explain in the car to the airport."
Fly? Oh, no "I don't fly," she said in a small voice. "I have a ph-phobia."
"That is unfortunate. Nevertheless, you are coming with me."
"I have rights," she said, absurdly lamenting the fact that her macaroni was cooling into rubbery goo. The trick to eating those microwaved meals was to eat them while they were piping hot or else they returned to their previously unpalatable state. "I want to make a phone call," she said, her lip trembling. Wasn't that standard protocol when one was taken into custody?
"Negative," he said, hauling her to her feet as she gasped in surprise. He had a firm grip on her arm as he dragged her to the door while she clutched her macaroni meal and managed to snag her purse only because it was within reaching distance of the front door. She looked to Henry, beseeching his help but old Henry could do nothing, and she had no choice but to stumble after the mean man until he stuffed her into an awaiting black town car with no offer to allow her to pack or grab a toothbrush.
"Is this some kind of joke or prank?" she asked, shrinking against the leather upholstery of the sleek vehicle as they navigated the dark San Francisco streets like a predator in the night. "Someone put you up to this, right?"
He spared her a short glance, his angular jawline illuminated in the moonlight slanting in from the window. "I assure you, this is no joke. There's a price on your head for creating the world's most dangerous weapon in recent history. You are being taken into custody for your own protection until such time as the government can decide how best to proceed."
"There has to be some mistake," Kat protested in shock. "I don't make weapons, I swear to you. I'm kneedeep in research for the cure for Alzheimer's. I promise nothing I've done is to hurt anyone."
"Are you not Dr. Katherine Olivia Odgers, social security number 321-65-3498, employee of Tessara Pharmaceuticals, badge identification K-O-O-1183, birth date-"
"Yes," she cut in, openly horrified that a total stranger had access to her most sensitive data. "But I didn't create a weapon! My most recent experiment ended in failure. Surely, you have the wrong person."
"Did you create drug MCX-209?"
Kat drew back, blinking. "Yes."
"Then you're the right woman. Your drug-whether you deem it a failure or not-is now considered a drug more dangerous than every bioweapon out there."
"That's impossible," Kat whispered, shaking her head. "MCX-209 was never created for any purpose aside from healing the brain. Everything was going really well until Auguste forgot how to be a monkey."
"Be that as it may, the potential ramifications of such a drug in the wrong hands are too catastrophic to leave unchecked."