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The Power of Two
By Patti O'Shea
Copyright © 2004
All right reserved.
Hell's reputation hadn't been exaggerated. The authorities
could make quite a dent in their one hundred most wanted
fugitives list if they came here with identity scanners. How
the heck had this bar become a favorite hangout for Special
Forces commandos? It hardly seemed as if they'd be welcomed,
yet the two groups peacefully coexisted.
Since the soldiers were the only clean-cut men in the bar, it
was easy to identify them although none were in uniform. From
a distance, they looked like choirboys who'd inadvertently
wandered into the wrong place. Cai knew better.
She'd trained with these men. They were hard, formidable, and
dangerous in their own right. Maybe the truce wasn't so much
peaceful as wary. For both parties.
A bellow of rage jerked her attention back to the guys arguing
over the horse race and she saw them square off against each
other. Conversation ceased as everyone turned to watch the
brawl. It didn't last long. Four bouncers converged on the
combatants and a couple of zaps put both fighters down for the
count, their bodies convulsing strongly. Then the men were
picked up and carted away.
The customers returned to their own pursuits as soon as the
show was over, but talk seemed more animated than it had been
earlier. When she intercepted a few calculatingglances, she
knew she'd delayed long enough. It was time to do what she'd
come here for and get out before she attracted more unwelcome
attention. How hard could it be anyway?
Inhaling deeply to calm her nerves was a mistake. The stench
of stale beer, body odor, urine and vomit nearly made her
choke. Really, there was no reason to worry; she knew Jake
better than anyone. Okay, so she never would have guessed
he'd come to a bar like this, but it had been an unusually
Maybe he wasn't in Hell. Maybe she'd gotten the information
wrong. Yeah, their probes were synced and she could track him
anywhere at anytime, but maybe she'd mixed things up somehow.
It was a miracle that her data implant had resumed functioning
at all, the accuracy could be impaired.
Cai bit her lip. Ignoring the tension building between her
shoulders, she perused the crowd. She wasn't wrong. Now that
she was looking, she found Jake easily. He sat at a round
table in the corner with two other soldiers. Her hands
clenched at her sides as she studied his profile. Though deep
shadows concealed his face, she could see he was watchful, his
eyes never still.
She took a step forward. Stopped. Squared her shoulders and
walked toward him. She could do this.
Though he didn't react as she came up beside him, Jake was
aware of her presence. He had to be. Even if he hadn't
sensed her approach, which she doubted, his friends were
staring at her. Cai stared right back until Jake turned.
His expression said get lost, but it quickly became neutral.
She knew he was waiting for her to explain why she'd come
over, but she took a moment to study him anyway. The first
thing she noticed was that he was coiled, ready to spring if
she posed a danger. And he was even better looking in person.
His glacier blue eyes were striking with his dark hair and
tanned face, but it wasn't the color that prompted her to gaze
deeply into them. She was trying to find the man she knew.
The man who was always tender and thoughtful with her, the man
she talked with and comforted in the aftermath of his
nightmares. Cai's stomach twisted when she couldn't find
anything familiar in this stranger's hard face.
Part of her wanted to excuse herself, but she couldn't. She
needed to talk with him tonight. There were no other options.
He lifted an eyebrow. "No one calls me Jake." He sounded
different to her ears. Harsher than she'd thought he would.
A shiver began deep inside, but she fought it off before it
became noticeable. "I do. I always have."
She held her breath as he pushed slowly to his feet. In her
peripheral vision, she saw him slide the chair out of the way
with his foot. This had been the wrong approach, she decided,
exhaling with a silent sigh. Perhaps she'd have been wiser to
wait till he'd left Hell to talk to him. If she'd thought it
through longer and not let her impatience get in the way, she
would have realized he'd be on his guard here.
"Always?" he asked menacingly. "I don't know who you are."
When the other men stood, flanking Jake on either side, she
realized they'd heard the warning in his tone as well. Great,
just what she needed. The three musketeers. As she met their
hard stares, Cai tried to decide the best tack to take.
Before she picked an option, the hair on her nape prickled.
It was the only tip-off she had before a beefy arm went around
her neck. Training took over. She squatted and leaned
forward, sliding her hand between her throat and the arm as
she stepped sideways. Almost in the same motion, she brought
her elbow back into his mid-section, using the full force of
her body to add all the power she could. She heard an
"oomph," but didn't hesitate.
Turning, she hooked her foot behind his leg and pushed the
man. Since he was already off-balance, he went down like a
polar bear on wet ice. Cai was about to take him out of the
equation indefinitely when she was wrapped in a hug. Though
she had no clue how she knew, she was sure it was Jake.
When the man she'd put on the floor began to stand, she tried
to get free. "Down, killer," her recep said, mouth near her
ear and she thought he might be laughing.
That was when she realized her attacker hadn't been one of the
lowlifes from the bar, but a commando. A big, huge, enormous
commando. When he was upright, she saw he was at least six
and a half feet tall with muscles that strained the seams of
his T-shirt. Holy crap. All that practice really had paid
off. She could react, and succeed, outside of a controlled
"Didn't your momma ever tell you not to grab a woman without
an invitation?" she snarled. She heard the snickers from the
men behind her a split second before Jake let go and stepped
"I won't make that mistake again," the man grumbled, sidling
past her to join the other three.
She moved with him, keeping him in front of her. He wouldn't
be easy to take down a second time. It surprised her that he
kept her in his line of sight too. As if someone his size
would be leery of a woman who was five foot eight, and half
his weight. Yeah, right.
When he stood with his buddies, the stare down resumed. None
of the men were laughing now and she bit her lip as her nerves
returned. She'd been damn lucky that the bouncers hadn't
swooped in and zapped her. Since she needed to keep her mind
on the situation, she put that thought aside.
"Who the hell are you?" Jake demanded.
Well, as her great-grandma Nguyen used to say, in for a penny,
in for a pound. "I'm Cai."
"Nice try," he drawled sarcastically. "I don't know where you
heard the name, but you made a mistake. Cai isn't human."
"Not before I've had my first cup of coffee, no, but after
that, I'm as human as anyone else."
"She's not bad, Tuck," the commando she put on the floor said.
"Quick witted enough to keep up with you. Maybe you should
play nice for a while. You could use some fun."
Cai looked past Jake and frowned at the grinning man. She
knew what he meant by fun. "Let me guess, you're Gnat,
That wiped the mirth off his face. Unfortunately, it also
brought her closer scrutiny than before. She should have kept
her mouth shut. Now the cross-examination would begin.
Unless.... Hmm. Her idea would either preempt the
questioning or they would want to haul her into headquarters.
"Yes, I know who you are and that you were nicknamed after an
insect because you're such a pest. They picked Gnat because
of your size." The man really was a damn mountain. She
shifted her focus over one. "You're always reading something,
the more obscure the better, so they call you the Professor.
Not too original, but it could be worse."
Cai switched to the man on Jake's other side and bit the
inside of her lip when she couldn't identify him. Then she
realized why. "You're not on the same team with these guys.
I don't think Jake's worked with you before. Not recently
"You sure you don't know her, Tuck?" the man she didn't
recognize asked quietly.
"Do you think I'd forget?" Jake didn't take his attention
from her. "How do you know this stuff?"
Cai shrugged. "You told me."
"No, I didn't."
She fought the need to back up a step at his tone. This
wasn't going well. There was only one way to salvage this
mess. Cai sighed. She'd hoped he'd believe her without it,
but clearly that wasn't going to happen. Mentally, she
reached for the neural implant and opened the pathway that
Jake, I couldn't know these things if you hadn't told me.
For a split second, he stared at her, then it sank in. She
saw it happen. "Son of a bitch," he muttered. He took her by
the elbow and hauled her toward the exit.
"I think he remembered her," Cai heard Gnat say with a short
laugh before Jake had her out of earshot.
Excerpted from The Power of Two
by Patti O'Shea
Copyright © 2004 by Patti O'Shea.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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