Authors: Patti O'Shea
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2006, 2013 by Patti O’Shea
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Cover art copyright © 2011 by Hot Damn Designs
True love is friendship set on fire. — French proverb
After hours of relentless searching, Wyatt found Jim “Catfish” Hunter in one of the many parks inside the Old City. His buddy was lying on his back with his hands behind his head, stargazing, and Wyatt hesitated before closing the distance between them. “You’re a hard man to track down,” he said.
“Not hard enough.” Hunter’s gaze returned to the sky. “Nothing is familiar in the heavens here. Take a look and tell me what you see.”
Since Wyatt planned to ask for a favor, he obliged. He squinted, trying to get a better view, but it didn’t do much good. “Sorry, Catfish. I can pick out a few of the extra bright stars, but the energy field around the Old City makes it hard to see much more than that.”
There was a long silence, then, “So you’re one of the handful of people who can see the field, huh? What’s it look like?”
Wyatt hesitated, shrugged. “It’s orange right now, but that changes depending on the time of day.”
The quiet dragged out again before Hunter asked, “So what’s up, Marsh? There must be a reason you came searching for me.”
Wyatt took a deep breath. “I need a favor.”
“Watch out for Kendall while I’m gone, will you?”
“Sure,” Hunter agreed easily. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but something’s bothering her.”
“Did you ask what it was?”
“Yeah. She said there’s nothing to talk about yet, but she’d tell me if and when there was.” That cryptic statement made him nervous, but he hadn’t been able to get any more out of her. Kendall could be damn stubborn when she wanted to be.
“Well, at least it can’t be another man after her. The only person stationed on Jarved Nine who doesn’t realize you’ve staked your claim is the lady herself.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better? She’s driving me insane.” And she was. As long as he stayed firmly in the “friend” category, everything was fine, but if he took one step outside that box, he felt as if he were walking on eggshells.
“I’d suggest you find someone else, but it’s much too late for you, Marsh. She has you hogtied.” Catfish laughed. “And the best part is that she doesn’t know it.”
“Some buddy you are.”
“Come on, you can’t blame me for enjoying this. What’s that thing called? You know, what goes around comes around?”
“Karma,” he said glumly.
“Yeah, that’s it. Karma. The rest of us endured some rocky love affairs, while you escaped unscathed. Now you’re the one suffering. It’s only fair.”
Wyatt wasn’t in the mood for jokes.
“So,” Catfish said a bit too heartily, sensing his friend’s concern, “are you going to inform Kendall that I’m on the job or is this a covert mission?”
“I’m going to tell her. I want her to know she can count on you if she needs someone.” Wyatt wasn’t sure why he was worried. There were only a little more than six hundred troops and consultants stationed on Jarved Nine and plenty of MPs to keep order. The few problems he’d heard about were some minor fights, but he never discounted his instincts, and they were turning cartwheels. “In fact, I should head for her quarters—she has early morning duty tomorrow. You want to come along?”
“Nah, I’ll let you mess this up on your own.” Jim reclined on the grass again. “I’m going to do some more stargazing.”
Wyatt took a few steps, then stopped. “Catfish? Thanks, man. I owe you.”
“No, you don’t.” Hunter didn’t look away from the sky.
After a brief hesitation, Wyatt walked away. Smart money said Kendall would be furious that he’d arranged for someone to look out for her, but he’d handle it. And maybe, while she was spitting fire, he could provoke her into telling him what was gnawing at her.
He heard the wind chime as soon as he turned onto the street she lived on. Since there was no breeze inside the Old City—the protective shield kept out all the elements—someone had to be making it sing. As he grew closer, he saw Kendall’s shadowy outline sitting on the railing, her fingers toying with the dangling rectangles of glass.
In daylight, it was an incredible piece—the sun would send prisms of color shooting around the porch. The corners of his lips tipped up in a small smile. Kendall was saving every cent for grad school and owned nothing that could be labeled frivolous. Except for the wind chime. The musical tones stilled and he put aside the contemplation. She sat on the balustrade, one arm wrapped around her knees, her fingers tangled in the chime.
“I was wondering if you’d come by tonight.” She released the ends and the tinkling music resumed, but softer than it had been, and it continued to lessen as the movement slowed.
“Hey, Bug.” He climbed the two shallow, slate steps and leaned his hip against the stone railing near her bare feet. “I didn’t expect you to be outside this late.”
Wyatt wanted to take her in his arms, but instead he curled a hand around her ankle and rubbed his thumb across the bone. Even this innocent touch sent a thrill through his body. He ached to wrap his arms around her, kiss her, love her, but the reserve in her eyes held him back.
Damn, he wished she could recall their past life here—the life when his name had been Berkant and she’d been called Zolianna—but like most people, Kendall had no memory of any other incarnation. He didn’t know why he remembered, just that he’d always been aware of it.
She’d left the lights off on the porch, but he saw her clearly despite the shadows. Kendall had pulled her light brown hair back into a loose braid and his fingers itched to free it—he had wet dreams about her long tresses grazing his naked body as they made love. With a silent sigh, Wyatt settled for trailing a finger down the blond streak near her temple. Wariness filled her jungle-green eyes. Regretfully, he withdrew his hand from her face and stopped caressing her ankle.
“What time are you leaving tomorrow?” she asked quietly. Bug wasn’t meeting his gaze and he didn’t know how to read that.
“First light—allegedly—but I’ll believe that when I see it. Civilians,” he added with a grin. She smiled up at him and he lost his breath for a moment. He had to clear his throat before he could resume speaking. “We’re supposed to be gone for two weeks, but it seems the geologists always find something they want to investigate more closely. My team will probably be out there baby-sitting them longer than what we’re scheduled for.”
Kendall bit her lower lip, her lightness gone. “More than two weeks? Really?” Her gaze dropped to her knees, but not before he saw the concern flit through her eyes.
Wyatt took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and tipped her face to his. “What’s wrong, Bug?” he asked. “I can’t help fix it if you don’t tell me.”
“If I were ready to tell anyone, you’d be the one.” She gently brushed his fingers from her face, but she didn’t let go of him. “It’s nothing concrete, you know, and I’d feel really stupid if I was jumping to conclusions.”
“Don’t you understand?” Every instinct told him to gather her close, but he fought it. The fact that she’d linked her fingers with his was a hell of a big step for her, and if he pushed, he’d lose this tiny bit of ground. “You can tell me anything and not worry about feeling stupid later.”
“You’re a good friend,” Kendall said with an overly bright grin. She freed her hand from his, swung her feet to the ground and crossed the porch, putting space between them.
He wanted to curse, but swallowed the words. She always did this, always pulled away whenever things started to get intimate, and he hated it. When he regained control, he said, “I talked to Catfish. He’s going to check on you while I’m gone.” Wyatt threw that out like a gauntlet.
Bug was feisty, fiery and independent to a fault; he’d expected her to tear into him, but she didn’t, and that made him even more uneasy. “For God’s sake, Kendall, if whatever you’re stewing over starts coming to a head while I’m away, go to him. He’ll take care of you till I get back.”
For a minute, he thought she was going to deny it was anything serious and that would have pissed him off big time. He knew her too well to buy that bullshit. Instead she nodded and said, “I will. Promise.”
Wyatt had been in Spec Ops long enough that it took one hell of a lot to leave him terrified, but with three words, Bug managed to turn his blood to ice. If she wasn’t fighting him on this, it meant she was scared. “Kendall?”
She turned and gave him another too-bright smile. “It’s late and I need to get up early tomorrow. So do you if you have to report before first light. Have a safe trip.”
Bug held out her hand. She held out her
as if he were some stranger she’d just been introduced to. The gesture infuriated him—and it pierced him to the very core of his soul. He struggled to keep his tone neutral. “Friends hug goodbye.”
“You heard me.” He stared until she lowered her arm. He wasn’t willing to make it easy for her. Not this time.
Slowly, she studied him, her head tilted a shade to the left. “I’m sorry,” she said at last. Kendall closed the space between them, and shocking the hell out of him, she wrapped her arms around his waist. He’d never expected her to actually do it. “You
my best friend; I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Aw, damn, Bug, you’re my best friend too.” She’d taken the heat out of him that easily. Wyatt returned the embrace, but kept his hold loose since he knew how uncomfortable she was with such close contact. Her eyes never wavered from his, and in the darkened porch, the communion seemed more intimate than a kiss. At the thought, his gaze dropped to her lips. They were slightly parted, moist, and he wanted a taste so damn bad he nearly shook with need.
She swayed toward him. Her breasts pressed into his chest as her face tipped up to his and Wyatt felt his heart skip a beat. Finally, he was going to kiss Kendall.
But he miscalculated. He started to lower his head to meet her and that one motion broke the spell. She stepped back from him so fast, he didn’t have time to react, and before he could blink, Kendall reached her front door.
“Take care of yourself, Wyatt.”
“You too, darlin’,” he said quietly, but she’d already disappeared inside the house and didn’t hear him.
She had them. She had them!
Well, kind of. She had
name. Maybe. If it wasn’t coincidence. Dr. Charles B. George. Kendall took a deep breath and tried to quiet her trembling hands. She had to stay calm and not call attention to herself. Not now.
Surreptitiously, she peered around the room, but no one appeared interested in her. Still, she couldn’t take any chances. Not when she had no idea how many people were involved or whom she could trust.
She’d stumbled on the thefts by accident. One of her jobs was to clean up the notes made in the field by the archeologists, so she viewed the raw data almost daily and she also read the reports that the research team sent back to the Western Alliance. It had been a little over three weeks ago that she noticed some of the digital sketches seemed to have been altered and artifacts erased. At first, she’d been sure it was her memory—after all, she processed a lot of information—but she still felt uneasy.