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By Gennita Low
MiraCopyright © 2007 Gennita Low
All right reserved.
COVERT-SUBVERSIVE COMMAND CENTER (COS COMCEN)
Did he really want this assignment? He was used to being asked to seduce, but never one of their own, and agreeing to do so would mean getting closer than a regular monitor and trainer. His fingers tapped on the well-used dictionary on the small table next to him. The word for the day was quintessence.
Here at COMCEN, the quintessential element uniting all its operatives was danger. He'd perhaps been here too long, because now they wanted him to train the newcomer. Not just any newcomer.
If situations were assigned as some form of karma, there was no question that danger was his. He thrived on it, not out of necessity, but because it was what was natural to him. Danger called to him and he'd always answered.
And by design, if there was karma, then it always came to him in the form of dangerous women. Poetic justice, he supposed. Everyone had a weakness. He was one of the fortunate few who knew exactly what his weakness was. He again looked at the woman on the screen.
There was something enticing about a dangerous woman. He should know. He'd been married to one. He understood his inclination for them very well. They had the aura of toughness that he admiredand enjoyed stripping down. Their strength,intimidating to some men, was both sexy and challenging at the same time. It added an extra kick, knowing that the woman he was bedding might kill him in bed. It must be that poetic justice thing again, the secret wish to die while fucking around with danger.
His lips curled mockingly at the thought as he continued studying the screen in front of him. How could a woman everyone called Hell be anything but dangerous in and out of bed?
And he knew instinctively that sooner or later, he would be inside her. His eyes followed her movements, catlike and sure, as she went through her morning exercises. Even in a controlled environment, there was something untamed in the way she threw herself into the training. Wildcat. If they even made it into bed.
From the beginning, his reaction to her had been visceral. Any normal male's would have been. After all, he'd watched her in training for months, watched her eat, sleep, drink, watched her take her clothes off whenever she went swimming in the pool. She didn't like to swim with any clothes on, and he'd enjoyed those sessions, knowing that it was partly voyeuristic, partly because he knew she knew someone was watching her. Mostly, it was because of all the candidates, she had won. A woman who'd beaten out a bunch of men in mental and physical war games. He already knew that all the male operatives at COMCEN were curious about her.
She'd started her nude swimming innocently enough, and he'd enjoyed the undisguised pleasure often that first time. Her hands carelessly unzipping her pants. Her long, long legs kicking them aside. And she'd looked at the warm water and a small smile had spread out, a glimmer of sheer abandon that had pulled at something inside him.
It'd caught him by surprise, that emotional tug. He wasn't usually so easily moved. He'd had to stop himself from leaning forward, closer, as he continued taking in the sight of her slipping off her underwear.
He recalled that moment even now. She was impatient, as if she couldn't wait to be free of the restrictions of clothing. He was equally impatient, too, in that male sort of way that was also restricted by clothing.
for someone who'd gone through so much training. He'd caught a few seconds of soft feminine curves before she'd dove into the water. She'd surfaced with a small sigh of delight, sweeping her hair out of her face. Pure unadulterated delight. And that smile!he'd dreamed of that smile that night. He'd known it wouldn't be there as soon as she figured out that there were always cameras at COMCEN.
The day had come. He'd felt the difference immediately. It was in the way she stripped her clothes, in the furtive motion of her eyes trying to find the camera eye. The interesting thing was, it hadn't stopped her from continuing to swim naked. She did another unexpectedly interesting thing. She hadn't gone to Kirkland, her medical advisor, or her any of her trainers. Instead, she'd asked the interactive supercomputer at COMCEN. He'd listened in to the conversation with interest.
"Hey, Eight Ball, am I being watched at this moment?" she'd asked aloud. "Besides by you, I mean."
"By how many people?"
He'd authorized certain information to be released.
"One, Hell," the computer had replied.
"Man or woman?"
"Is he my trainer, the one who's been watching my workout every day?"
That question had amused him. He should've known she wouldn't have bought into Kirkland's explanation about it being standard procedure since she was now going into a new phase. She was smart enough to figure out that they had tapes and records of all her training since day one, so her asking now was for someone's benefit. His.
"What do you mean, sort of? What kind of computer are you anyway? Computers don't say sort of, don't you know that? It's either positive or negative."
But Eight Ball, short for "Magic Eight Ball," a prediction-through-computation program, was a different kind of computer. His programmer wasn't averse to adding odd little programs that gave his creation a unique personality. The result was a computer that frequently mixed up its language usage between that of a surfer and a robot.
"It's neither positive nor negative as of now, Hell. So!sort of, dude."
"Where's the camera?"
"I have not been authorized to tell you, dude. Do you have the password for information access?"
"For a computer that's supposed to be way cool, you suck, Eight Ball."
He'd laughed at her reaction. But since that day, that smile had disappeared. He'd kind of missed it, except that it was now replaced by a different kind of smile. A knowing, dangerous curve of those shapely lips, as if she were challenging him to show himself. She was, after all, a GEM operative; like all the female operatives in her elite independent agency, she knew how to get a man's attention, even if she couldn't see it.
If it was male reaction she was going after, he had plenty on his end. A naked dangerous woman like her didn't get angry. She got even. Even though she couldn't see it for herself, there was now a mockery in her eyes and her smile that told him she knew. Any normal man watching her slow taunting movements would combust from the heat.
But normal wasn't a word usually associated with him. Ice water flowed in his veins. Women had accused him of having a lump of ice for a heart. He had wondered, sometimes, if maybe he'd forgotten what love was. So before they'd even met, they now played a game.
He kept watching, assessing how he could push this woman out of her comfort zone. She kept fighting him with a nonchalance that was targeted to make him feel male discomfort.
It had been a long time since he'd reacted to someone so strongly and thoroughly.
Not that he didn't like women. Just mostly the dangerous kind. He sat very still as he watched the womanhands looking small in contrast to the thick links. She pulled, testing it, her head cocked slightly as she looked up at her target.
Elena Rostova, GEM operative, now working for COS Command. Although others called her Hell, and she preferred to be called Helen, Elena suited her. There was something about her!.
It must be that challenge thing again. His instinct told him that the lady had something to hide. But then, didn't every operative? He had quite a few secrets himself, things that he preferred not to share with anyone. He respected an operative who kept certain things to himself because one who blindly followed orders and told every single detail exactly as it happened, like the perfect little soldier, could be very dangerous to him and his team.
His eyes narrowed slightly. Therein lay the problem,attacked her routine. The perfect soldier-spy. Every agency had been looking for one, training dozens and experimenting on countless others to find the perfect combination of traits. Someone high up on the covert chain had managed to convince different agencies to train special candidates, even as they sweetened the deal by giving them extra funds for which to compete. It didn't matter. There were limited bodies to get to the finish line.
"Quintessence," he murmured. He liked opening the dictionary randomly every morning to pick out the word for the day. Uncanny, how it fit. COMCEN wanted a supersoldier-spy, contracting the best available indeoperative from their new partner, GEM. Elena Rostova was very good at many other things besides soldiering. Supersoldier-spy. The quintessential dangerous woman.
And she was his. At least, he amended, for a while. Then, like all of them, she would go and do her job. Because she wasn't just going to be a supersoldier.
In the end, COMCEN's candidate had won the big prize, and to all intents and purposes, Elena Rostova was his to mold. She didn't know that yet, of course. She'd been given the usual need-to-know-only information and she had apparently followed her contract to a T, so far. Well-paid for it, too, and now, very, very well trained. But a woman didn't give up two years of her life just to train herself for an experiment. No, she definitely had something else she was keeping to herself. Knowing that pushed away some of his reservations a little. He didn't want to be part of a program where the candidate was just an obedient contract employee out to make money.
She was an attractive womansome might say exoticwith a natural strength and grace that showedgiven, she'd shown that she wasn't afraid of taking risks, almost foolhardy sometimes, but her report cards from various trainers before him sang nothing but praises. And these were from men he knew were very difficult to train under.
Having seen her on tape and close-up, he had no doubts about her extraordinary skills. Once he agreed to include himself as part of this experiment, they would find out for sure how good she was because he would be there to watch her. Not just physically, but mentally.
That was why he'd been watching her. Wanting a dangerous woman was one thing; agreeing to do dangerous things with her was another. And this coming experiment would mean he'd be a lot closer to this woman than he'd ever been with any other.
And watching her had become!a habit. The physical package alone would tempt a man, but he'd found himself wanting access to her mind, to know her as intimately as he knew how she liked to nudge one of her hands between her legs when she slept.
He'd seen her in action with other trainers; he knew her capabilities. Yet, there were moments when she'd let down her guard, when she'd thought no one was watching. He'd seen that look in her eyes, and had wondered what'd put it there.
And COMCENdamn its knowing think tanks, always measuring and calculatingwas waiting patiently, letting him walk into this himself. They hadn't had him all these years without knowing a little about how his mind worked.
He watched as she climbed at a slow and controlled pace that showed the physical fitness some of the best from Special Forces had honed into her. The length of the chain extended for nearly thirty meters from ceiling to floor and she was halfway there already. He glanced at the stopwatch on top of the screen. She must be going for a personal record today.
He'd never seen a woman with such an intense need to succeed. There was something personal in this contract for her and it was the driving force that had motivated her from day one.
Excerpted from Virtually His by Gennita Low Copyright © 2007 by Gennita Low. Excerpted by permission.
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