Penumbra (Spook Squad Series #3)

Overview

TWIN KILLING
 
Agent Sam Ryan wants out of the Special Investigations Unit. She’s sick of the attitude from her partner, Gabriel Stern. She’s sick of the paperwork. Most of all, she’s sick of feeling lonely. But her boss isn’t about to let her go that easily. He gives Sam a choice: either stay stuck in her office or guard a clone replacement of Dan Wetherton, a ...
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Penumbra (Spook Squad Series #3)

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Overview

TWIN KILLING
 
Agent Sam Ryan wants out of the Special Investigations Unit. She’s sick of the attitude from her partner, Gabriel Stern. She’s sick of the paperwork. Most of all, she’s sick of feeling lonely. But her boss isn’t about to let her go that easily. He gives Sam a choice: either stay stuck in her office or guard a clone replacement of Dan Wetherton, a government minister. Sam reluctantly chooses the latter—even though she suspects she’s being used as bait to draw out the SIU’s elusive nemesis.
 
Gabriel would like nothing better than to be on his own, without a partner to hold him back. Then he learns that Sam has been assigned to protect Wetherton—or whatever it is that’s replaced him. Wetherton’s clone could have come from only one place: Hopeworth, the military base that contains the secrets of Sam’s past. Determined to protect her, Gabriel is drawn into a fight against unspeakable evil. And all too soon, Sam and Gabriel discover that the connection between them is far more powerful than anyone could ever have imagined.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440246602
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2014
  • Series: Spook Squad Series , #3
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 659,424

Meet the Author

Keri Arthur, author of the New York Times bestselling Riley Jenson Guardian series, has written more than two dozen books. She’s received several nominations in the Best Contemporary Paranormal category of the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards and recently won RT’s Career Achievement Award for urban fantasy. She lives with her daughter in Melbourne, Australia.
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Read an Excerpt

Samantha Ryan placed her hands on the front of her boss's desk and said, "I want a transfer, not more of your damn excuses."

She knew that speaking to your boss in such a manner generally wasn't a good idea, especially when he was the man in charge of both the Special Investigations Unit and the more secretive Federation. A man more inclined to kill first, and ask questions later.

Not that she thought he'd kill her. He had as much interest in finding out who and what she was as she did. But he certainly could make her life hell, which was precisely her current situation.

She leaned across and added, "Sir," a touch sarcastically.

Stephan Stern, the boss in question, raised one blond eyebrow, as if mildly surprised by her outburst. An outburst he'd known was coming for months. "You know I don't want to do that."

"I don't honestly care what you want anymore. This is about what I want." She pushed away from the desk, unable to stand still any longer. Damn it, she'd spent more than half her life with her head basically in the sand, cruising through life rather than participating, and she'd had more than enough. The time had come to get greedy, to think about her wants, her desires, for a change. And what she wanted right now was not only a more active personal life, but a working life that involved more than a broom closet. "Transfer me back to State, let me resign, or find me another partner. As I said, I don't care. Just get me out of the current situation."

Her angry strides took in the length of the beige-colored office in no time. She turned to face Stephan. His expression was as remote as ever. But she'd learnedvery early on that Stephan was a master at hiding his emotions--and that that dead face was just as likely to mean fury as calm.

"I prefer to leave you with Gabriel. I still believe you two will make a formidable team."

She snorted softly. "That has never been an option, and I think you and I realize that now."

It wasn't as if she hadn't tried, for God's sake. But her damn partner was still going out of his way to exclude her from everything ranging from investigations to chit chat. Access to the SIU's vast computer system just wasn't worth all the frustration and unhappiness.

Especially since she was getting jack shit in the way of information about the past she couldn't remember. Hell, her dreams were providing more information than the SIU's system. Only trouble was, how much could she actually trust the dreams?

How much could she trust the man who constantly walked through them?

She didn't know. Nor did she have anyone she could talk to about it--and that was perhaps the most frustrating thing about this entire situation. She needed to get a life. Friends. People she could trust and talk to. Hell, even a pet would be better than going home alone to a soulless hotel room every night.

"I prefer to give the situation more time." He crossed his arms and leaned forward against the desk. "However, I do have another option that might suit us both."

She met his gaze. His blue eyes were sharp, full of cunning and intelligence. A shark by nature, and the reason he ruled the SIU and the Federation, rather than his twin, Gabriel.

Of course, that also meant she was beating her head against a brick wall where Gabriel was concerned, because Stephan was always going to look after his twin's interests first. Even if said twin didn't appreciate his efforts anymore than she did.

She came to a stop in front of his desk, and couldn't help feeling like a fish about to be hooked. "What might that be?"

"You remember Dan Wetherton?"

She nodded. Gabriel had found a clone of Wetherton in the trunk of a car after some goons had Gabriel beaten up and then kidnapped him. To what aim, no one knew. Nor did anyone know why the clone had been killed. The real Dan Wetherton--who was a minister with the current government--was still very much alive and well.

"Well, as it happens, it wasn't a clone Gabriel found that day. It was the original."

She snagged the nearest chair and sat down, interested despite her wariness. "I was under the impression no one could create a clone that exactly duplicates the mannerisms and thoughts of the original person. That they may be genetically identical, but are nevertheless different." She hesitated, frowning. "Besides, the newspapers reported the find and the subsequent tests. He was declared human in all scientific results."

"And a clone isn't?"

She grimaced. Clones were human, no doubt about that. But whether that fact actually gave them humanity was a point of contention between the scientists and the theologists. "Having only met one clone, who at the time was trying to kill me, I don't feel qualified to answer that particular question."

Amusement touched the corners of his thin lips. "The test results were altered by a party or parties unknown long before we got them. We just released them." He picked up a folder from his desk and offered it to her. "These are the originals. Have a look."

From past experience she knew it was pointless to ask how he'd gotten hold of the original papers. Stephan worked on a need to know basis--and generally, that meant the less every one knew, the better. She doubted even Gabriel was privy to all his secrets.

Not that Gabriel himself worked on a caring, sharing basis. Not with her, anyway.

She leafed through the information inside the folder. They included the genetic tests on both Wetherton and the clone, the coroner's report, and Wetherton's medical history.

"Wetherton had cancer," she said, looking up. "Incurable."

"Which the current version no longer has."

She threw the folder back on the desk. "If you know he's not the original, why release the press report saying he was? And why not simply kill him?" Which is what they'd planned to do originally, before he'd been declared human.

"Because we wanted to know why he was cloned. And where he was cloned."

"But not who had cloned him?" Did that mean they suspected that the ever-present, but never found, evil they called Sethanon was behind Wetherton?

"We find the where and we'll find the why. But there is only one suspect as to the whom."

"The military is experimenting with genetics. They might very well be playing in the cloning minefield, you know. There's no reason why Wetherton can't be their boy."

"No, there's not."

His voice made it sound doubtful, and yet she had a vague notion she'd hit the nail on the head. That for some weird reason, he just didn't want to acknowledge it. "And what about the replacement parts industry? Have you checked to see if they have started developing fully-formed beings, or is that just too obvious?"

His expression became briefly annoyed. "We never overlook the obvious."

Of course not. She smiled slightly. Irritating Stephan might be akin to prodding a lion with a very short stick, but when she got even the slightest reaction, it was oddly satisfying.

"The black market trade in clones is booming," she said. Of course, it was fueled mainly by humanity's desperation to cheat death. An incredible number of people seemed willing to pay the exorbitant prices the marketers charged and take the risk of attempting a cloning miracle--a new body in which to live when their own was no longer of use.

But humanity was more than just a brain; it was also heart and soul. Medical science might be able to transfer flesh and brain matter, but how could anyone transfer a soul? Even if they could pin down what a soul actually was?

Not that rules ever stopped anyone, especially when there was huge money to be made.

And somewhere along the line, someone had succeeded in at least achieving part of the impossible--fully fleshed, viable clones who looked and acted like the original. Wetherton, and her ex-partner, Jack Kazdan, were proof of that.

"His source is not black market. We're sure of that."

She studied him for a moment, then changed tactics. "Wetherton's just been made minister for Science and Technology, hasn't he?"

He nodded. "Two years ago he was trying to shut down many of the science programs, stating the money could be better spent on the health care system. Now he's in charge of the whole lot."

"Why hasn't anyone questioned this sudden change of heart? Surely the press has noted it."

"Noted a political back flip?" Amusement touched his lips again. "You're kidding, right?"

Point made. Back flips by politicians were such an everyday fact of life that even the press had got tired of them. And the public at large simply ignored them, except when the flips directly affected their pockets.

"What advantage would having a clone in such a position be to someone like Sethanon? I would have thought it would be more advantageous for him to have the Science and Technology division's development hindered rather than increased."

"That question is not one we can answer."

Not until they caught Sethanon, anyway. And he had proven as elusive as a ghost.

"So, you've had Wetherton watched?"

"Had an agent in his office for the last two months. She can't get close enough. Wetherton plays his cards very close to his chest."

If the man was a clone, he'd have to. One mistake and the truth was out.

"What does all this have to do with my wanting a transfer?"

He smiled--all teeth, no sincerity. "The minister has recently received several death threats. He was given police protection, but the would-be killer has slipped past them on a number of occasions and left his notes. The minister now requests SIU's help."

She regarded him steadily. "So who did you use to drop the notes? A vampire? Or a shapeshifter?"

Amusement flickered briefly through his bright eyes. "The original threats were real enough."

Yeah, right. There was just a little too much sincerity in his voice to start believing that statement. "Am I the only agent being sent in?"

"No. You'll handle the night shift--it better suits your growing abilities. Jenna Morwood will do days."

Morwood wasn't someone she'd met. "What's her specialty?"

"Morwood's an empath and telekinetic."

So she'd be able to see an attack coming by simply reading the emotions swirling around her. A good choice for this sort of work. "We the only two going in?"

"Yes." He hesitated. "Wetherton has requested that the night watch stay at his apartment when he's there at night. Since the first two threats were hand delivered, I've agreed to his request. I want you to observe everyone he meets. Become his shadow and learn his secretes."

A big task. "I doubt whether I'll learn much. Surely most of his business will be conducted during the day?"

Stephan smiled grimly. "Wetherton has a surprising number of business meetings at night--and usually at nightclubs, where it's harder to get a bug in."

"He'll be suspicious of me. He's not likely to trust me with anything vital."

"Not for a while. It may take months."

Months out her life and her need to find her past. But also months away from the stone wall that was Gabriel. Would absence make his heart grow fonder? A smile touched her lips. Unlikely. "What about time off? You can't expect either of us to work seven days a week."

He nodded. "You get two days. Which two will depend on his schedule. Generally, it will be the days he spends home with his family. We have other arrangements in place there."

The man spends two days a week with his family? That didn't quite jell with the caring father image he'd painted of himself over recent years. "A real family man, isn't he?"

"Only since the original's death. Bought a nice apartment on Collins Street and now spends most of his nights there."

She frowned. "Will I be alone with the man? At night, I mean."

"Generally, yes."

Oh Joy. "I hope you're not expecting me to share the man's bed." That went way beyond the call of duty. Though maybe Stephan figured she'd be a shoe-in for under-the-cover work given her current lack of a sex life.

"No." He hesitated. "Though I should perhaps warn you that Wetherton has had an endless stream of beauties on his arm lately."

Great. She was protecting a lecher. Then she frowned. Wetherton was somewhat ordinary in the looks department, though that in itself didn't mean anything. Some of the ugliest spuds in the world had beauties far and wide eating out of their palms, simply because of the wealth these men had, or because of their sheer, magnetic power. But from what she remembered of Wetherton, the man possessed neither of those qualities.

So why the bevy of beauties? And how come it wasn't reported in the papers? Hell, any politician cheating on his wife was big news, let alone one doing the horizontal tango with a bevy of them.

"Will the press buy our sudden appearance in his life? This sort of protection is usually handled by the Federal Police, not the SIU."

"They won't question our appearance after tonight, believe me."

The dry coldness in his voice sent chills down her spine. "What have you planned for tonight?"

"A spectacular but ineffectual murder attempt. Wetherton may be injured, and will, of course, demand our help."

"Who's the patsy?"

Stephan shrugged. "A young vampire we captured several weeks ago. He'd been something of a political dissident in life, and afterlife has only sharpened his beliefs."

And Stephan had been feeding his madness, aiming it toward Wetherton. Meaning this plan had been burning in his mind for some time. And that the picture was bigger than what he was currently admitting.

Goose bumps ran up her arms, and she rubbed them lightly. Perhaps the vampire wasn't the only patsy in this situation.

"I gather the vamp will die?"

"He murdered seven people before we captured him. This death is merely a delayed sentence."

"What if he escapes?"

"He won't."

She shifted in her chair. "If Wetherton is up to anything nefarious, it's doubtful I'll be privy to it."

"No. There will be certain times you'll be sent from the room. This is unavoidable. To counter it, you'll bug the room."

"Most federal buildings have monitors. The minute a bug is activated an alarm will sound."

"They won't detect the ones we'll give you. The labs have specifically developed them for this sort of situation."

And no doubt developed a means of detecting them, too. "How long do you think I'll be guarding Wetherton?"

Stephan shrugged. "I can't honestly say. It could be a month, it could be a year. Parliament doesn't form again until the middle of next month. By then, the two of you will be such a fixture no one will comment."

By then, she hoped Wetherton would reveal his secrets and she could get on with her life. Spending months in Canberra, yawning her way through endless cabinet sessions, was not something to look forward to.

She crossed her arms and stared at Stephan. He returned her gaze calmly. The uneasy feeling that he wasn't telling her everything grew.

"You're doing this to get back at Gabriel, aren't you? You want him to care."

"I'm doing this because no other agents have your particular range of talents. Your ability to detect evil could be vital in this case."

No lies, but not the exact truth, either. She sat back, feeling more frustrated than when she'd first entered his office. Wetherton was not an option she really wanted, but what other choice did she have? It was this, or put up with endless hours of mind numbing paperwork in the shoebox.

"How do I keep in contact?"

"You'll be wearing a transmitter that will be monitored twenty-four hours a day." He reached into his desk and pulled out what looked like a gold ear-stud. "This is the current model. It records sound and pictures. You turn it on and off by simply touching the surface."

"I don't have to get my ears pierced, do I?" She'd rather face a dozen vampires than one doctor armed with a body piercing implement.

Stephan's smile held the first real hint of warmth she'd seen since she walked into his office. "No. The studs are designed to cling to human flesh. You actually won't be able to get them off without the help of the labs."

Just as well she could turn them off, then. She needed some privacy in her life, even if it was only to go to the bathroom.

"When do I start?"

"Tomorrow night." He picked up another folder and handed it across the desk. "In here you'll find detailed backgrounds on his friends, family and business acquaintances."

She dropped the folder onto her lap. There was plenty of time to look at it later. "You were pretty certain I'd take this job, weren't you?"

"Yes. What other choice have you actually got?"

Indeed. "And Gabriel?"

"Will be told you have been reassigned."

Which would no doubt please him. He'd finally gotten what he wanted--her out of his way. "And will I be? After this assignment is over, that is?"

Stephan considered her for several seconds. "That depends."

"On what?"

"On whether or not he has come to his senses by then."

A statement she didn't like one little bit. "You owe me, Stephan," she said softly. For ordering her shot when she'd been trying to stop the shifter who'd taken Gabriel's form. For the hour of questioning she'd faced afterwards when she should have been in the med center. For saving his twin's life. "All I want is permanent reassignment."

His gaze met hers, assessing, calculating. "All right," he said slowly. "As I said, this assignment could take more than a year to complete. If you still wish a new partner at the end of it, I shall comply."

She stared at him. His agreement had come too easily. She didn't trust him. Didn't trust that he meant what he said. But for the moment, there was little she could do.

"What happens if I need access to files or information?"

"You'll have a portable com-unit with you, coded to respond only to your voice and eye scan. You'll also have priority access to all files, though a copy of all requests and search results will be sent to me."

She raised an eyebrow. Priority access? Whatever it was Stephan thought Wetherton was involved in had to be big.

The intercom buzzed into the silence. Stephan leaned across and pressed the button. "Yes?"

"Assistant Director Stern to see you, as requested, sir."

"Send him in." He gave her a toothy smile that held absolutely no sincerity. "Thought you might like to say good-bye."

Gabriel was the last person she wanted to see. She was barely controlling her temper around him these days, and hitting him--a superior--would only get her into more trouble than Gabriel was worth. And Stephan damn well knew it. She thrust upright. "You're a bastard, you know that?"

"No, I'm a man faced with two people who won't acknowledge that, at the very least, they are meant to be partners at work."

The door opened, giving her no time to reply. She clenched the folder tight, but found her gaze drawn to the tall man entering the room. His hazel eyes narrowed when he saw her.

But just for an instant, something passed between them--an emotion she couldn't define and he would never verbally acknowledge. And that made her even angrier.

"Sam," he said, his voice as polite as the nod he gave her.

"Gabriel," she bit back, and glanced at Stephan. "Will that be all, sir?"

A smile quirked the corner of his mouth. He hadn't missed her reaction. "Yes. For now."

Gabriel stepped to one side as she approached. It was probably meant to be nothing more than a polite action--he was simply making way for her to get past--but it fanned the fires of her fury even higher. One way or another, this man was always avoiding her.

She met his gaze and saw only wariness in the green-flecked hazel depths . Ever since the factory shootout with Rose and Orrin six months ago, he'd regarded her that way. She wasn't entirely sure why. And in all honesty, it was time she stopped worrying about it. There were more important concerns these days.

Like finding out who she really was. What she really was. Getting a life beyond the force.

She stopped in front of him. His scent stirred around her, spicy and masculine, making her want things she could never have. Not with this man.

"You win, Gabriel. You have your wish. I'm out of your life." She held out her hand. "Wish I could say it's been pleasant, but you sure as hell made certain it wasn't."

His fingers closed round hers, his touch sending warmth through her soul. A promise that could never be.

"You've been reassigned then?" Relief edged his deep voice.

"Yeah."

He released her hand. Her fingers tingled with the memory of his touch. Part of her was tempted to clench her hand in an effort to retain that warmth just a bit longer. But what was the point of holding on to something that was little more than an illusion? A desire that probably came from loneliness more than any real connection?

"Who's the new partner?"

There was something a little more than polite interest in the question. With anyone else, she might have thought they cared. With Gabriel, who knew?

She shrugged. "It's really none of your business now, is it?" She glanced around at Stephan. "I'll talk to you later."

He nodded. She met Gabriel's gaze one final time, her gaze searching his, though what she was looking for she couldn't honestly say. After a few seconds, she turned and walked out.

Gabriel watched her go. The anger so visible in every step seared his mind, reaching into places he'd thought well shielded and far out of reach. Whatever this connection was between them, it was breaking down barriers not even his twin had been able to traverse, and raising emotions he'd long thought dead.

Which was just another reason to get her out of his working life. Whether or not she should appear in his social life was a point of contention between the two parts of his soul. The hawk half wanted no strings, no ties, nothing beyond those that already existed. But the human wanted to pursue what might lie between them. Wanted to discover if given the chance it could develop into something more than friendship.

Not that there ever would be a chance, if her anger was anything to go by. Which is precisely what he'd wanted, what he'd been aiming for over the nine months they'd been partners. So why did his victory feel hollow?

He shut the door and walked across to the chair. "So," he said, as he sat down. "Where has she been reassigned?"

Stephan leaned back in his chair, blue eyes assessing. "She's right. It's really none of your business now."

"Don't give me that crap. Just tell me."

Stephan smiled, though no warmth touched his cold expression. It was that, more than anything, which raised Gabriel's hackles. Stephan was up to something, something he wouldn't like.

"She's on special assignment as of tomorrow."

Gabriel regarded him steadily. His brother was enjoying this. He could almost feel the satisfaction oozing from his twin's pores. "Give, brother. What in hell have you done?"

Stephan steepled his fingers, and studied them with sudden interest. "I've assigned her the Wetherton case."

The Wetherton case. The one case she should have been kept well away from. "Get her off it, Stephan. Get her off it now."

His twin's gaze finally met his. In it was nothing more than steely determination. "She is the best person for the job, whatever the risks."

"You haven't even warned her, have you?" Gabriel scrubbed a hand across his jaw. Christ, she could be walking straight into a goddamn trap, and there was nothing he'd be able to do to save her.

"She knows we believe Sethanon could be involved," Stephan commented.

"Which is the least of our worries. Wetherton's and Kazdan's clones could have only one source, and we both know it. Neither the government labs nor the black marketers have succeeded with personality and memory transfers. Hopeworth has."

"So our spy tells us. It's not something we've been able to confirm."

"I think Hopeworth basically confirmed it when they maneuvered to get their clone in charge of the budget."

"If they wanted their clone in charge of the budget, they would have got him assigned the Defense portfolio."

Gabriel crossed his arms. Hopeworth had fingers in both pies, and Stephan knew it. "Did you even mention Hopeworth?"

"It was mentioned. But we don't know for sure if Hopeworth is, in fact, involved."

"Then did you at least tell her Sethanon is more than likely involved with Hopeworth?"

"No, because we have nothing more than a suspicion about his involvement. We have no picture of this man. We don't even know if he truly exists. He is currently nothing more than a name."

"That name has over thirty SIU and Federation deaths attributed to it. I don't particularly want her name added to that list." His voice was tight with the anger coursing through him. True, he'd wanted to lose her as a partner, but he certainly hadn't wanted to throw her to the lions, and that's basically what his brother had done. She would have been safer remaining his partner than taking this damn mission.

Stephan grimaced. "Nor do I, brother. Believe me. But we need to uncover the source of these clones. We need to draw out Sethanon, and we need to uncover whether or not he is involved as deeply with Hopeworth as we suspect. The truth is she's the best bait we have to achieve all those aims."

"What about our source in Hopeworth? Has he heard any whispers about Sethanon?"

Stephan shook his head. "It's not a code-name the military uses."

"Kazdan knew who he was. Others must. It's just a matter of uncovering the layers of his organization."

"Which is why Samantha has been assigned to Wetherton. We know he's a clone. We know his name was on that list she got from Kazdan. We need to know what that list was, and what Wetherton promised to do to get his new lease on life."

"But as I said, that puts her in too close a contact with Hopeworth. That could be extremely dangerous."

Stephan leaned back in his chair and regarded him steadily. "Only if, as you presume, she is a product of Hopeworth itself."

"You've seen the initial reports from O'Hearn. You've seen the coding. Whatever Sam is, it's definitely not a product of natural selection."

"Yet it was Sethanon who assigned Kazdan to monitor her every move. Sethanon who appears to know just who and what Samantha is. You noted that yourself. Couldn't that mean he's responsible for her creation?"

Possible, but not likely. Gabriel didn't doubt that Sethanon wanted to use her. But if the man had been responsible for her creation, why would he take the risk of releasing her?

"Sam had a military microchip in her side. The same sort that we found in both the Generation Eighteen rejects and in Allars." She was also afraid of Hopeworth. Though she had never said anything, he could feel it in her, feel her fear, as clear as if it were his own.

"And yet our source in Hopeworth can find no record of her, though he can find records on every other reject."

"Maybe because her project was destroyed by a fire years ago."

"A fire would never destroy every scrap of information. Nor could it erase every memory."

"Penumbra was destroyed that completely."

"People still remember the project, Gabriel. They just don't remember her."

The nurse who worked on the project apparently did. But she was just one mind of many, and a woman with a faulty memory at that. Partially thanks to Alzheimer's, and partially thanks to the military's habit of "readjusting" memories. Gabriel shifted restlessly in the seat. "What if she isn't a reject? What if she's something else entirely?"

Stephan raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

He didn't really know. It was just a feeling. The extent of Sam's memory loss, the depth to which the truth appeared to be buried, and the fact that someone was willing to bomb the SIU in order to destroy her test results--it all spoke of intent. It suggested that someone, somewhere, was protecting her from her past, whatever that might be.

He actually doubted that it was Hopeworth trying to conceal who she was, even if they were her creators. The military weren't that subtle. Besides, if Sam was one of their creations, they would never have let her go. Not with the potential she was now showing.

"Look," Gabriel said, somewhat impatiently. "All I'm saying is that if Sethanon feared her enough to place a watch on her, we should not risk using her as bait in an attempt to catch the man."

"We don't even know if, in fact, it is a man we are after."

Gabriel leaned forward and glared at his twin's altered features. It was in moments like this, moments when he almost wanted to punch the cold smile from his brother's face, that Stephan being a shapeshifter, who could take on the shape of any male he touched, became a real problem. It was harder to restrain the urge to hit him when he wasn't wearing his own face. "Damn it Stephan, don't play word games with me."

Something flickered through the blue of his eyes. Anger perhaps. Or regret. "Do you, or do you not, agree that we must learn more about Sethanon?"

"Yeah, but--"

"And do you, or do you not," Stephan continued, his voice soft but relentless, "Agree that Sethanon's interest in Sam might be the lever we need to draw him out of the shadows?"

Gabriel rubbed his forehead. This was one battle he wasn't going to win. Not that he ever won many against Stephan. "The first hint of danger, and I'm going in."

"Samantha can take care of herself. She's proven that time and again."

But this was different. This was leaving her roped, tied and blindfolded in front of an express train. "I won't see her harmed."

Stephan smiled. "And here I thought you didn't care for her."

"I've never said that. All I've ever said is that I don't want her as a partner. That I don't want to see her dead."

"Have you ever considered the fact that this fear of losing partners is irrational and maybe you should seek psychiatric help for it?"

"Considered it? Yes. Acknowledge it? Yes. Am I going to seek psychiatric help? No." He met his brother's stony gaze with one of his own. "If I wanted to talk to anyone I'd talk to our father."

"Because, of course, you couldn't talk to your brother." Stephan's voice was almost bitter.

Almost.

"My brother has a tendency to put the needs of the Federation and the SIU above the needs of everyone, including his brother."

Stephan didn't immediately comment, just leaned forward and picked up a folder from the desk. "Here's the file on your new partner."

Gabriel ignored the offered folder and stared at his twin through narrowed eyes. "What do you mean, new partner?"

"I've told you before. All field agents, whether SIU or Federation, now work in pairs. There's been too many murder attempts of late to risk solo flights."

"I don't want a partner." What was his brother trying to prove?

"Then you remain at your desk and leave the field work to the agents in your charge."

He was tempted, very tempted, to do just that. But both he and Stephan knew that being confined by four walls for any length of time would make him stir-crazy.

Besides, he was more valuable to the SIU and the Federation in the field.

"Who have you assigned?"

Stephan dropped the folder on the desk and leaned back in his chair. Though there was no emotion on his face, Gabriel could feel his twin's amusement.

"James Illie."

Who was the State police officer they'd recruited after he'd made a series of spectacular arrests--arrests that involved one of the biggest vampire crime-gangs in the city. He was good, no doubt about it.

Only trouble was, the man was a womanizer who was always on the lookout for his next conquest.

"It won't work." And Stephan knew it.

"Then make it work. And don't try dumping Illie in the dungeons. The man's a stickler on workplace conditions. He'll bring in the unions the minute you try."

Wonderful. Just what he needed in a partner. "Is this all you called me in here for?"

Stephan smiled. "No. There's been a break-in at the Pegasus Foundation we've been asked to investigate."

"The Pegasus Foundation?" Gabriel frowned, trying to recall what he knew of the organization. "They won a military contract recently, didn't they?"

"To develop a stealth device for military vehicles, yes. But whoever broke in wasn't concerned about stealth devices."

"Then what were they after?"

"That's something you'll have to find out. All I've been told is that the person or persons involved managed to get past several security stations, three laser alarms, and numerous cameras. Only the fact that a photosensitive alarm had recently been installed in the lab in question warned them there was an intruder."

"Why were we called in? The Pegasus Foundation has more military ties than we have agents. Why not ask them to investigate?"

"It was the military who asked us to investigate." Stephan hesitated. "Asked specifically for you and your partner."

"They mean Sam." But if the military didn't know anything about her, why had they specifically asked for her to be included in the investigation?

"Who signed the request?"

"General Frank Lloyd."

As Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser. "Sam met Lloyd at Han's." She'd been wary of the General and convinced they'd meet again. "You have to warn her about the military's interest."

"No, I won't." Stephan hesitated. "And neither will you."

Like hell he wouldn't. It was one thing to let her go. It was another to leave her blind. He crossed his arms. "What time is the Pegasus Foundation expecting us?"

Stephan glanced at his watch. "Four thirty."

It was nearly four now. Gabriel rose. "I'd better get moving."

Stephan nodded. "Illie's requisitioned a car and is waiting out front."

Then he could wait. Gabriel met his twin's gaze. "Thought I'd skip without him, huh?"

Stephan's smile touched his eyes for the first time. "I know you, brother. Know the way your mind works. Don't ever forget that."

Then he'd know Illie wasn't going to be a fixture in his life for very long. If he'd wanted a partner, he would have kept Sam.

"Then you'll know precisely what I'm thinking now."

Stephan's smile widened. "Yeah, and it's not polite to abuse a family member like that."

It was when your brother was being such a bastard.

Stephan's smile faded. "Keep away from her, Gabriel. She has a job to do. I don't want you getting in the way."

"What I do in my own time is my business, not yours," Gabriel said, voice flat. "I'm warning you, don't ever try to control my moves there."

Stephan raised an eyebrow. "You have an obligation to both the SIU and Federation, just as I have."

"Yeah, right." Gabriel turned and headed for the door. The Federation and the SIU could go hang if it meant letting Sam walk unwarned into a trap.

He may have succeeded in getting rid of her as a partner, but that didn't mean he wanted her dead.

"Gabriel, I'm warning you. Leave her alone."

He stopped with his hand on the doorknob and glanced over his shoulder, meeting his brother's gaze. "Or you'll what? Censure me? Bust me down to field agent again? Do it. I don't really give a damn."

"This could be our one chance to draw Sethanon out."

"That doesn't justify sending her out blind."

"I'm giving you a direct order. Do not go near her. Do not warn her."

"You'd better get my file out and add the black mark to it now, because that's one order I have no intention of obeying."

He slammed the door open and walked from the room.

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