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Later that night
Twenty–five miles outside of Bullet City, Wyoming
ABBY ENTERED THE COMMUNICATIONS van, and the
men stopped talking. Typical. Men complained that women were the difficult gender, but it seemed to her the penis–carrying half were far more thorny.
Not to mention downright problematic.
Not that she cared, because when it came to personal relationships, she'd given them up. A fact that made her life much simpler.
Sliding the door shut behind her, she shivered. Late fall in the high altitude Bighorn Mountains meant that razor–sharp air cut right through her, layers and all. As she rubbed her frozen hands together, her gaze inadvertently locked on Hawk, who had his long–sleeved black shirt open and the matching T–shirt beneath it shoved up so that he could get wired.
He stood there, six feet two inches of solid badass complete with a wicked, mischievous grin, topped with warm, chocolate eyes that could melt or freeze on a dime. From beneath the sleeve of his T–shirt peeked the very edge of the tattoo on his bicep, which she knew was a hawk.
The women in the office practically swooned at it, every time.
But not Abby. Nope, she was made of firmer stuff. There was a four–inch scar, old and nearly faded, along his left side between two ribs, and another puckered scar above his left pec. The first was a knife wound, the second a bullet hole. She could also see his smooth, sleek flesh pressed taut to hard, rippled sinew. One long, lean muscle, not an ounce of extra on him.
Whew. Had she been cold only a moment before? Because suddenly, she was starting to sweat. She cursed her 20/20 vision.
Maybe she wasn't made of firmer stuff after all…. But regardless, she was over men. So over men. And seeing that she'd become so enlightened…she blew out a breath and moved to her communications station.
Where for the first time, she hesitated. That in itself pissed her off. So a year ago she'd nearly died out in the field. She hadn't.And she wasn't going to this time, either. Shrugging off her nerves, Abby looked around and caught the long, assessing look Hawk shot her as he pulled on a flak vest. He was sharp, she'd give him that. Clearly, he sensed her hesitation, but hell if she'd let him see her sweat. She lifted her chin and sat down.
But if she was a good actress, then he was a great actor, because she had no idea what he was thinking behind that perpetually cynical gaze.
And she didn't care. She was here for the job. She would remain in the van, in charge of communications, while the team made their way to the farmhouse, and then to the barn a half mile beyond that, where they'd execute the raid.
"There," Watkins said to Hawk as he finished wiring him.
Hawk shrugged back into his shirt. "You fix the problem from the other day?" he asked.
Abby's eyes had wandered again to Hawk's body—bad eyes—but her ears pricked. "Problem?"
"Bad wire." Watkins lifted a shoulder. "Happens."
"It shouldn't," she said. "Make sure it doesn't." Watkins nodded.
Hawk let his T–shirt fall over his abs, hiding the wires as his gaze again met hers. One eyebrow arched in the silent question: Were you staring at me?
No. No, she wasn't. To prove it, she turned to her own equipment, trying not to remember the last time she'd been wired before a raid. Elliot Gaines, the head honcho, had done her up himself.
Of course he'd had a personal interest. They'd had a burgeoning friendship, at least on her part. For his part, he clearly wished for more, far more. In any case, he couldn't have known how bad it would all go….
And it had gone extremely bad. One minute she'd been listening to Gaines's quiet, authoritative voice in her ear, telling her she was doing great, just to hold her position while his team to the west "handled it," and then the next, there'd been a 12–gauge shotgun to her temple and she'd been taken hostage.
Now, a year later, in another time and place, someone murmured something in a low voice that she couldn't quite catch, and several of the men behind her laughed softly.
Releasing tension, she knew, most likely with an off–color joke that she didn't want to hear. Living as a woman in a man's world was nothing new, but she had to admit, tonight, it was grating on her nerves.
Granted, her nerves were already scraped raw just by being here, but that was no one's fault but her own. Gaines had transferred her at her request after a leave of absence. She'd wanted to prove to herself that she could still do her job, that she hadn't let the "incident" take anything from her.
But with damp palms and butterflies bouncing in her gut, she wondered if maybe she had more to overcome than she'd thought.
With a start, Abby turned toward Hawk. He was geared up and ready to face the night, looking big, bad, tough and prepared for anything. She bet he didn't have any butterflies.
The others were engaged in conversation, but Hawk stood close, looking at her as if he could see her anxiety. "Ready?"
That he could see her nervousness meant she didn't have it nearly as together as she'd like. "Of course I'm ready." "Of course," he repeated, but didn't move. "Listen, I know you're going to bite my head off for this, but I'm getting a weird vibe from you here, and—"
"I said I was fine." She swiveled back to her computer to prove it.
"All right, then." She could feel him watching her very closely. "You're fine. I'm fine. We're all fine."
She heard him turn to follow the others out the door, and glanced back to watch the long–limbed ease that didn't do a thing to hide the latent power just beneath the surface. Or the irritation.
Abby let out a rough breath. Damn it. He might be a hell of a charmer, but he was also a hell of an agent, and truth be told, she admired his work ethic even more than she secretly admired his body. And she wanted him to be able to admire her work ethic. "Hawk."
He looked back, his broad shoulders blocking the night from view, but not the chill that danced in on an icy wind. "Yeah?"
A hint of a self–deprecating smile crossed his lips.
"Thought you were doing that for me."
She felt the heat rise to her face, but he'd caught her fair and square. His smile came slow and sure, and far too sexy for her comfort.
As he left, she let out a slow breath and fanned her face.
"DAMN, IT'S BUTT–ASS COLD out here."
At Logan's statement of the obvious, Hawk blew out a breath, which changed into a puff of fog before being whipped away by the cutting wind. The two of them lay on their bellies on the battered roof of the barn that had been pinpointed as a bomb–processing plant.
And yeah, it was butt–ass cold up here, but he was more focused on the fact that he was thirty feet above the ground without a safety rope, with the wind threatening to take him to the land of Oz.
Christ, he really hated heights.
Logan lowered his binoculars to blow on his hands. "Maybe we could do this thing before we freeze to the roof like a pair of Popsicles."
Like Hawk, Logan was built with the capacity to do whatever, whenever. Tough as nails. Physically honed. Trained to be a weapon all on his own, with or without the aid of bullets. But he enjoyed complaining. Always had, and Hawk should know–they'd been together since they'd been eighteen and in boot camp. They'd gone from bunkmates to brothers and knew each other like no one else.
To get here, they'd drugged a pack of rottweilers, disabled the alarm on the farmhouse and stealthily made their way through the woods to the barn. The place was a nice setup for criminal activity. Surrounded by the sharp, jagged peaks of the Bighorn Mountains, there were also rolling hills and a maze of lakes and streams, all of which were nothing but an inky black silhouette in the dark night. No neighboring ranches, no neighboring anything except maybe bears and bison and coyotes.
And the many cars and trucks parked behind the farmhouse.
Odd. It would seem that there was a large group of people here somewhere, and yet there hadn't been a soul in the house or in any of the small storage sheds behind it.
Which left the huge barn.
An icy gust hit Hawk in the face, burning his skin. He had to admit, things had definitely gone from interesting to tricky, because now the metal tiles beneath them were icing over. Any movement could be detrimental to their health, because slipping off here meant a thirty–foot fall to the frozen earth below.
Thanks to his goggles, Hawk had a crystal–clear view of the ground, and the distance to it made him want to puke. They'd been in far worse circumstances, he reminded himself, where his fear of heights had been the least of his worries. He and Logan had done some pretty ugly shit involving some pretty ugly people. On more than one occasion, they'd managed to stay alive on instinct alone, in parts of the world that didn't even warrant being on the map.
So all in all, things had improved. "Hope it doesn't rain, because this baby'll turn right into a giant metal slide." Logan said this calmly, because he, damn him, did not have a height issue. "Like the one at the carnival—"
He laughed softly.
The temperature had indeed dropped to two degrees above freezing their balls off, and with that wind icing up their organs, Hawk wanted to get a move on. But they were stuck up here until they got the signal from communications, which happened to be Abby and crew parked in a van on the main road half a mile south of here. "We need to move closer," he said to her via his mic, over a noisy gust that whipped dust from the roof and into his face.
"Remain in position," she ordered, her voice breaking with static, but still sounding soft, warm… and sexy as hell.
At least in Hawk's opinion.
Just listening to her made him react like Pavlov's dog. Only he wasn't drooling. Nope, listening to her elicited visions of wild up–against–the–wall sex, which caused a much more base reaction than slobber. "Remaining in position isn't going to work," he told her.
"Soon as I hear from Watkins and Thomas," she said, the static increasing, "we'll move."
We. As in not her. He knew she used to be a great field agent, and yeah, so he'd read her files. But all her cases had ended abruptly a year ago, and no amount of digging could produce a reason. Then, after a six–month leave, she'd transferred from Seattle to Cheyenne, where Hawk had done his best to ignore his inexplicable attraction to her, because that had seemed to work for her.
But now he wondered, how was it she'd gotten so comfortable behind the safety net? Why had she given up being in the trenches with the rest of them for a computer screen? "Watkins and Thomas are making their way to the east and west doors beneath you," she added, referring to Logan's and Hawk's counterparts on the ground. "Wait for my cue."
Uh–huh. Easy for her to say. She sat out of the slicing wind in that van, and Hawk would bet money she had the motor running and the heater on full blast.