An undercover mission goes awry in Dangerous Mating
Shifter agent Bryon Day has been deeply undercover for over a year. A.L.F.A. hasn't heard from him for months, so they fear he's been outed and killed. A shifter team, including newbie agent Kari Tomlin, is sent to bring back news of his mission or a body. Only Kari's search for answers gets her on the wrong side of a local prince--and tossed into a dungeon, where she discovers Byron--a man she's been looking for in more ways than one...
A.L.F.A. headquarters is under fire in Fearless Mating
Shifter Director Josh Tumbel is up for a challenge when he has to protect A.L.F.A. from Shifter Candy Obermier who's sent in to determine the agency's value to the U.S. government. When headquarters is taken in a hostage situation, Josh does what he can to protect his team and keep Candy from pissing-off the suicide bomber...
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Kari Tomlin threw open the entrance door to the FBI building, stubbed her toe on the metal floor-transition piece, then stumbled into a lady holding a cup of coffee in the security checkpoint line.
"I'm so sorry," Kari said to the woman's scowling face when she looked to see who had run into her. The woman said nothing, just turned. Under her breath, Kari retorted, "Well, good morning to you, too." God, she hated being awake this early. Her brain didn't function until after seven a.m. And that's with two cups of coffee in her system.
She glanced at her watch. When her boss had called forty minutes ago, he'd sounded as if aliens were attacking the planet. The "director" wanted to see her right away. Top secret information had come and they needed her.
She'd met the director once, if you called shaking his hand as he handed over her FBI certification a meeting. She'd never forget that day, not because she became an official FBI agent but because she tripped over a taped-down microphone wire on the stage and took out the podium. It was the fault of the stupid high-heel shoes she'd worn. She was more of a flip-flop kind of gal.
After getting through security, she hurried to the elevators. One started to close and she dashed between the doors and stood facing the others. There wasn't enough room for her to turn around. She hadn't realized how crowded it was. She barely fit, and her bag didn't. The briefcase crunched, then the elevator doors popped open, the security feature kicking in.
"Oh, crap," Kari said. She pulled her case toward her and turned around, which required her to move back in the cab, jostling everyone behind her. She cringed at the moans.
The last to get off at the top floor, she rushed down the hall to the director's door. She took a deep breath and smoothed out her suit jacket, then knocked. She heard "Enter" and opened the door.
Director Lancaster, the head of her division, grabbed his cup of coffee off the desk and leaned back in his chair. On her side of the desk sat two older military men in highly decorated military uniforms. She didn't know the ranks of the armed forces, but she saw both men had two stars on their collars. "And here she is now, gentlemen." Lancaster looked at her. "Come in, Miss Tomlin." She plastered on a fake smile and reminded herself to breathe.
"Good morning, sir," she managed to get out.
"Good morning, Miss Tomlin." He gestured to the two men. "These are Generals Smithton and White." She nodded and mumbled a good morning as they did the same. "Miss Tomlin, thank you for coming in early. We've received intel from the field we need decoded urgently. The CIA has had it for several hours and are making slow progress.
"I've been telling these guys for a while now," Lancaster gestured at the men sitting in front of his desk, "that you are a miracle worker when it comes to this kind of thing." The director winked at her. "And now we get to put our money where our mouth is, if you get what I mean."
She had no idea what he meant, but she'd play along. "I'll try, sir." He handed her a sheet with Classified stamped on it. That was normal for her. Most of her work was fresh off the press with a get-it-done-yesterday deadline. "Do we know the originating country?" she asked as she scanned the lines of gibberish.
"Russia, we think," General White said.
"What about intended recipient?"
The director answered, "Mexico, we're guessing."
Russia sending coded messages to Mexico-not what she'd expected.
"Do you need to go back to your desk?" the director asked.
"No," she said. "I have my laptop with me." She pulled her bag around, the one crunched by the elevator. Inwardly, she groaned. Please, don't be broken. "I just need a place to set up."
"Go on next door to the deputy director's office. He doesn't get here till noon most of the time."
"Thank you, sir." She hurried out before she passed out. She'd forgotten to breathe, dammit. Standing in the hallway, she leaned back on the closed door and took a quiet breath. Why was she so nervous? She'd met high-ranking people without flipping out. Too badly. But those people weren't depending on her to decipher something important enough to start a world war if she got it wrong.
Sitting behind the desk next door, she pulled out her laptop and set the paper in front of her. She stared at the strange symbols and their layout. Russian and Spanish. In her head, the patterns and similarities formed. She Googled Russian language and took a minute to look it over. It'd been a while since she'd dealt with that part of the world. Ever since she'd started, the agency had been dealing with the Middle East.
Skimming through the Russian alphabet, diphthongs, and sentence structure, facts and figures soaked into her head. She puzzled out the basic possibilities. Her mind filled in letter combinations and translated them into Spanish and Russian for decryption. She counted characters, looking for a hidden pattern. Then she saw the trick to solving the puzzle. Every letter that corresponded with a prime number was a dummy character. Removing the fake characters allowed for meaningful arrangements of other pieces.
She went through and crossed out the third, fifth, seventh, eleventh, up to the last letter. Her mind sorted and resorted. She noticed something about the structure. The words were not arranged in sentences. They seldom were. Those were too easy. After a quick mix in her brain, it was done.
Reading the message, she thought Russia was trying to get their asses in trouble. If they thought they could get Mexico to fight a war against the U.S., they had another think coming. She closed down her laptop, stuffed it into her bag, and left the office.
She knocked on the director's door. Getting the go-ahead, she entered, trying to be more confident. She should be.
"I have the decoded message for you, sir."
The two generals gawked, then their eyes narrowed quickly. They didn't believe she'd done it. She got that reaction all the time. Nothing new. Ever since the childhood accident that nearly killed her, she'd been a wiz at math and puzzling solutions. She wished she had the same ability with her social and love lives, which were both in the toilet.
The director grabbed his cup of coffee and sat back in his chair. She came up to his desk and handed him the paper. When she scooted to the side, her elbow hit the picture frame on the corner of his desk. She quickly knelt to pick it up, apologizing profusely. She put her hand on the desk to help get her back to her feet and her hand knocked over a bronze flag statue, which in turn set a rubber band ball rolling across his desk.
She leaned over the desk to grab the ball and her fingers brushed over pens in a black mesh cup, sending them sprawling. Still apologizing, she scooped the pens back into their holder. The rubber band ball had rolled to the floor, so she wasn't worried about that. Then she straightened up and her elbow bumped the same picture frame to the floor.
She sighed and the two generals gawked at her again. This time for a different reason. So much for coming across as a professional agent. That was the story of her life. Whenever she was on a roll, doing great at something, she'd ultimately end up with egg on her face.
The director leaned forward and put his coffee on the desk. "As I said, gentlemen, she's the best there is for decoding."
She looked at the military men. "Would you like me to explain the patterns or would you rather I just talk to your guys?"
"Just talk to our guys," was all they managed to say. Typical. Most people didn't understand the algorithms anyway. She took the business card one of the generals proffered and walked out of the room.
The card had the symbol of the CIA stamped on it. Looked important, unlike hers. Wait, scratch that-she didn't even have business cards. She figured someone had forgotten to order any or just deemed her unworthy of the distinction of having her name on something.
But despite all that, she was the first to know things no one else did or would ever know. The airplane crash over the Ukraine-it wasn't caused by local dissidents as the news had reported. Nope. The world knew North Korea was working on nuclear capabilities, but had no idea about the biological chemicals the country was stocking by the ton.
And some things, she was sure the world was never meant to know. One was what really happened in the infamous Area 51 and the other about a nonhuman species blending in and living among us. What would the world be like, she wondered, if the public knew of this species? It'd probably go to hell in a handbasket quickly.
The funny thing was no one would believe her if she did tell them all she knew. That was one thing that kept her from having the meaningful relationships she craved with girlfriends and boyfriends. Her social IQ was about as low as it could go. Growing up as a freak to her peers had started it. Now knowing little of the world beyond work, she had nothing to talk with others about.
She tried to get into the TV shows she overheard other women talking about. Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz. But a lot of the things discussed were flat-out wrong. Especially about foods. One would think organic meant coming from your grandmother's home garden. Not the case. So much so that she ate fruits and vegetables from cans. Preservatives were better than things used in the organic world.
Once, she dared to tell a few ladies she wanted to befriend in her apartment building about the hidden aspects of the food industry. They looked at her as if she was from a different planet. Who would they trust more? Dr. Oz with all his commercial backing or a person they hardly knew who wouldn't tell them where she worked or what her job was.
Well, piss on them. She didn't need friends who didn't get her. She could make it on her own. As long as batteries for her Rabbit were in stock.
Kari schlepped her bag down to her office bullpen. She needed coffee in the worst way. She wondered when she'd gotten so hooked on the stuff. It didn't help that all the adrenaline streaming through her body since the phone call from her boss was now draining. She was crashing hard. Maybe she could go back to sleep at her desk until her clock-in time. Not that she really punched a card. But this was the FBI building. Those who needed to know knew everything about everybody, including the minute you walked in or out a door.
Even dragging butt, and she had substantial butt to drag, she was glad to be here. She was able to decode messages important to national security. How many others could really say their job was as important as hers?
Looking around the room, she had no idea so many people came into work this early. They were the ones who had children to pick up from soccer practice or band rehearsal. Had a loving spouse to go home to, and whatever else that was wonderful in their lives. She wouldn't know. Never been there. No T-shirt.
She turned down the aisle toward the kitchen and was startled by a man standing in the center of the corridor. "Hey, Marty. I wasn't expecting to see you there. What are doing standing in the middle of the hall?"
He grinned. His eyes were as round as plates. "Oh, just lucky, I guess, to not run into you at the corner. You've done a great job of teaching me how to be careful." He was fidgety, seemed a bit afraid of being close to her. "Well, need to get back to work." He scooted over, his back against the wall and sidestepped until he was a distance away, then hurried on.
She sighed. Yeah, she'd done the proverbial run into a coworker carrying coffee while coming around the corner act. But she hadn't done that for a long time. Not yet this year, and they were halfway through.
In the kitchen, someone had placed a dozen donuts on the table. Oh my god. She was so thankful. In her rush out the door this morning, breakfast hadn't happened. Not when the director wanted to see you right away. Maybe she should find an apartment closer to the office. But stuff was so expensive in this part of DC.
Coffee in hand, she sat at the four-person table and plucked a glazed donut from the box. And it was still warm. Oh my god, again. If they did this every morning, she was changing her work hours. The dough melted on her tongue, the glazing sliding onto her taste buds. Pure heaven, and the reason she had a lot of butt to drag around. Oh, well. She'd rather live shorter and be happy than live longer and be miserable.
From the hallway, she heard high-heeled shoes clack on the terrazzo floor. Annie, a lady who worked across the room from her, walked in. Upon seeing Kari sitting at the table, she froze in her tracks.
"Good morning, Annie," she said.
"Hey, Kari." The smile on her coworker's face was faker than shit. Even she could see that. "You're here early." Annie poured coffee into a mug designed as a cat face.
"Yeah, had a rush job come in. Didn't take long, so here I am eating donuts," she said. Surprising her, Annie took a cream-filled pastry from the box instead of running out of the room.
"But they're freaking good. Still warm," Annie said. Ahh, Kari thought, the draw of sugar was strong enough to create even the most awkward of meetings. The silence between them was thicker than the lemon goo squirted into the donut Annie held.
Kari noticed the diamond ring on Annie's hand. "How's it going with Keith?" she asked. She hoped that was the man's name.
"Good, good," Annie said. "Any men on your horizon?" Kari saw the slight cringe Annie made after asking the question. Yeah, the woman didn't care, just being polite and asking the wrong question to someone she didn't want to talk to. But Kari had a funny comeback for this. First time for everything.