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Electricity charged the air, preparing the night for the incoming storm. Black clouds swirled and thundered—a tempest in the midnight sky. From its center, spiraled a pair of sleek, nylon wings.
Lara Mercer ignored the storm and focused on her target—the crest of a concrete roof seventy stories above Central Park West. The wind burst beneath her, shoving her slightly off course. Immediately, she pulled the steering toggle, compensating.
One hundred feet...sixty...twenty. Another quick adjustment. After Lara's feet hit concrete, her thumb punched the small laser mechanism on her harness. The para wings fluttered, once...twice, then vanished into ash, allowing the brush of the wind to scatter the remains across the concrete and tar. While she had expected the result, her eyes widened in admiration. She crouched, gun in hand. Damn. Doctor Kate D'Amato was getting downright scary with her gadgets.
Lara checked the corners of the rooftop through infrared goggles. The light bounced against, then behind the walls and the air-conditioning units, telling her no one hid in wait.
The storm picked up, torrent gusts of air spitting rain and snow. Lara judged the distance between the Manhattan skyscrapers to be approximately fifty meters.
After moving to the three-foot concrete barrier surrounding the roof, she pointed her cable gun down and squeezed the eject trigger. The steel anchor shot into the cement floor with a loud, clipped chink. After testing the secure anchor, she hooked the loose end—a pulley—to her harness.
Quickly, she holstered her gun and jumped, feet-first. One...two. She eased the brake on the pulley, preventing the cable from jerking. Any movement against the windows triggered a vibration sensor imbedded in its tempered glass.
She braced her feet against the steel of the building, her knees relaxed. The targeting system on her infrared goggles locked on the building across the street—number two in the triad of buildings. Lara aimed the cable gun, pleased when the red stream of its laserscope cut through the falling snow.
Swiftly, she shot another cable, her lips tilting into a wicked grin when she saw she'd nailed her mark—six inches of steel separating twin panes of smoked glass.
Behind the window stood huge cooling units and boilers. The rumble from the machinery made it impossible for the vibration sensors to function properly, so none had been installed. Mechanical floors were located every eighteen stories. This particular window was the closest to her objective—illegal arms dealing information on the hard drive of the corporate computer.
Glancing at her watch, she couldn't stop a rise of satisfaction. The mission, although difficult, had not proven impossible.
Suddenly, the whir of cable sliced through the wind. Within seconds, Lara's Glock was in her hand.
"Holster your weapon, Red." The voice rumbled low through the transmitter in her ear.
Lara pushed her goggles down, leaving them dangling around her neck. A figure, male, dressed in a black Lycra bodysuit identical to hers, slid into position beside her. Even with his face hooded, Lara recognized the wide shoulders, the lean waist and hips. She took a deep breath, resisted the flutter in her stomach.
"Damn it, Ian. You almost got yourself shot." Lara snapped the infrared specs back into place and shoved her pistol into her side holster.
"And here I thought you'd be glad to see me." Like Lara, Ian MacAlister braced himself against the building, feet spread.
"Get the hell out of here. This is my operation." Dismissing him, she linked her anchor cable to the one she'd just shot across to the second building. "I don't need you hovering like I'm some new trainee."
"You're acting like one. This is a level four mission," Ian said. His tone remained light, but his stance tightened. "Requires a minimum of two operatives."
"The recommendation is two operatives," she snapped, checking the lock on her harness, making sure it wouldn't move down the cable until she was ready. "It's not mandatory."
"Still trying to prove something to Daddy, Red?" Ian aimed his cable pistol and fired. She didn't have to look to know he'd placed the anchor close to hers.
Lara's back teeth slammed together. For the last few months, she'd dealt with Ian. Ever since he'd been attached to Labyrinth—an elite black ops division of the CIA.
At seventy stories, they both knew she wasn't in any position to stop him from joining her. And she wasn't about to scrub the mission.
Irritation gnawed at the base of her neck. The man looked harmless enough—a white muted figure through her infrared goggles—but experience had taught her that Ian MacAlister was dangerous. And more importantly, her heart had taught her that he wasn't to be trusted.
"I don't have to prove anything to anyone, Ian." It was no secret that Lara had to work harder than most Labyrinth operatives. Not because she was a woman, but because up until a few months ago, her father, Jonathon Mercer had been their boss. Now, he was the Vice President of the United States. "I don't need you to pull this off."
"Wanna bet?" Ian asked, hesitating, while he adjusted his own line, long enough to shoot her a sideways glance. "A small wager, just to make things interesting."
"No wager. No nothing. Just get the hell away from me." Haven't you done enough? Her mind screamed the question.
"What's the matter? Afraid?"
The taunt hit home, an arrow piercing the deepest part of her heart and feeding the rage at her own insecurities. Deftly, she attached a small portable winch to her cable and started tightening the gear. Within seconds, her line was taut. "First one in the building wins," she said, her voice flat, businesslike. But the air between them crackled and this time it wasn't the storm that created the electricity.
"Winner chooses the prize, Red?" His voice dipped into a slow, smoky burn that touched off a fire in her belly. Damn it. Only Ian MacAlister would consider seducing a woman dangling hundreds of feet above concrete.
"Yes," she accepted, knowing she'd left herself no other option. It had been months since he'd last worked with her. In that time her skills had sharpened, her strength grown.
A sudden rush of adrenaline shimmied up her spine. Ian was in for the surprise. Lara replayed the mission points in her head. Already, her little interaction with him had cost her time.
It took a few seconds for Ian to secure his line. In those moments, she'd thought about taking a head start, but it wasn't her way to cheat. She didn't want to give him any reason to cry foul when she won.
Lara's nod was quick, decisive. "Go!"
Air blasted her face, hitting her with bits of ice and snow. Lara tuned it out along with the whine of Ian's cable beside her. Instead, she focused on her point of contact a few yards ahead.
Without warning, his cable jerked then dropped. He grabbed for his harness lock, catching the mechanism a split second before he dived into a sudden free fall.
The line snapped. An insidious crack exploded against the steel and glass. In the back of her mind, she registered the fact that she had yelled his name into their transmitter. He slammed against the window, took the impact with his shoulder, absorbing the punch with a grunt.
"Damn it, Ian," Lara bit out. "Hold on, I'm coming down."
"Stay there. I'm okay." A quick glance showed the end of his cable lashing through the air like a whip. "My line broke loose from the winch. If I use my suction cups, I should be able to minimize any more vibrations."
"How hard did you hit the glass?"
"We'll find out, won't we?" They both knew he could've already set off the silent alarm. "Check the perimeter."
"I am." Lara tugged her mini computer out of her utility belt and scanned its screen. "So far we're secure," she advised, her tone flat but not convinced.
"No hostile movement toward our position."
Ian grabbed the suction cups from his utility belt. A combination of rubber-rimmed steel and polyurethane, the suction cups locked over hands and knees allowing an individual to scale any smooth surface within minutes.
"Hurry up, Ian."
Ian dropped another floor. But this time when he grabbed for the rope, the suction cups fell to the street below. "Lara, my anchor slipped. I'm guessing my fall broke it free of the cement. It must have caught on the roof's railing. If I'm right, the anchor's not going to hold for long."
Lara swore. "Just hang tight. I'm repositioning myself, then I'm going to cut my cable."
"No! I'll climb my line. I think I can make it before—"
Time took the luxury of rapelling out of the equation. Ignoring him, she unlocked her cinch and plunged into a free fall.
Seconds later, Ian dangled only a few feet away. "Take my hand!" she yelled.
He reached, grabbed. His anchor gave way. Lara braced her legs and absorbed the jerk of his fall.
"Yes." She ignored the painful burn in her shoulder and reached for her knife. Quickly she cut him loose from the damaged cable.
His upper body flexed, then strained with the reach. He clipped his harness to her line. "I need to get above you for better traction. Slide onto my back."
She sheathed her knife. Using her free hand, she grabbed his shoulder and levered herself onto his back. Her fingers dug into his flesh, the firm muscles beneath soothing her fear.
In the distance, thunder rumbled and Lara froze recognizing the sound for what it was. "Chopper."
"Get in front of me, Red."
"No." She was literally covering his back, and from his tightened muscles against her chest, he wasn't pleased about it.
Ian swore. "That aerial's coming in fast. You can bet that any ammo it shoots will be armor piercing and kill us both, whether you're on my back or not. These bulletproof suits won't protect us one bit." Ian shifted, using one free hand to hike her higher on his hips. The whop, whop of a helicopter rose behind them. "On my shoulders! Now!"
Quickly, she hoisted herself up his back, knowing with each move, she left bruises. Sitting on his shoulders, she slid her harness up her rope, locked it in place above his harness, then braced her feet against the glass.
"Run!" Ian ordered before bumping her off her perch. Both sprinted using the rope tension to keep them perpendicular to the building.
Bullets strafed behind them, blowing out windows in their path.