Authors: Sydney Croft
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Erotica, #Adult, #Erotic fiction, #Occult fiction, #Occult & Supernatural, #United States, #Brazil, #Cryptozoology, #Animal communicators, #Rain forests
“I know. But I have to do it.”
He kissed the top of her head. “Just don’t get yourself worked up.”
She snorted. “As if I would do that.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy talk.”
“Smart-ass.” She socked him in the shoulder and went into Dev’s office, closing the door behind her.
Dev looked up from where he was sitting at his desk, his hair a spiky wreck, his eyes bloodshot and framed by dark crescents from lack of sleep. “I’m not changing my mind about your training assignment or your mission status.”
“That’s not why I’m here.” She looked around his office, which was as wrecked as he was. “I’m here to apologize.”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “It’s not necessary.”
“Yes it is.”
“I’m not good at this,” she broke in, “but I need to do it. And you need to hear it.” She inhaled raggedly. “I’m really sorry, Dev. I haven’t been myself lately, but that’s no excuse. I crossed a line and was more than a little disrespectful. You didn’t deserve that. Not as a friend, and certainly not as my boss.”
For a long moment, he just stared at her. “Thank you. I know that wasn’t easy.”
“And about Gabe—”
He held up his hand. “We’re not discussing him.”
“Yes, we are.” She started pacing, careful to avoid stepping on crumpled files, a stapler and the broken shards of a coffee mug. “Look, I’ve been jealous, okay? It’s stupid, I know. But for a long time you were all I had. You were the only family I’ve ever known. I have Creed now too, and I’m still getting used to balancing the both of you. Hell, I’m still learning how to have any kind of relationship. No one ever told me that the problems don’t end with those three little I love you words.” She dragged her hand through her hair. “And it’s all the dumb little things I catch on, because I’ve never had to share with anyone. I mean, the other day I bought toothpaste, and I wondered if couples are supposed to share or get their own. Dumb, huh? I still don’t know the answer to that one.”
She didn’t give Dev time to respond. She kept going before she lost her nerve. “So I’m learning and stumbling and doing my best to not screw up or lose you or Creed, and then suddenly, there was Gabe, taking up all your time, so you didn’t come over for dinner anymore …” She cut him a meaningful look. “And it didn’t help that Gabe’s an asshole. I don’t know how to add another person into my life. I mean, look how long it took me to let Creed in, and I love him. It takes time for me to adjust, and you know I have a tendency to strike out first and ask questions later.”
“Annika, you’re handling your relationships very well, considering your past.”
She almost laughed. “Everyone at ACRO hates me. I wouldn’t say I handle any kind of relationship well.”
“That’s not true. Everyone wants to work with you.”
“That’s because I’m good. But no one wants to be in the same room with me outside of work.” No one except Haley, ACRO’s head parameteorologist, with whom Annika had forged a strange friendship over the last couple of years. Which was fine with her, the way she wanted it. She just didn’t know how to deal nicely with most everyone else. She was too awkward when it came to social situations, and she was always making stupid mistakes, which created self-doubt, and if there was one thing she couldn’t handle, it was not being confident in herself.
Dev leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his abs. “You’re being too hard on yourself.”
“Whatever.” She stopped pacing and faced him. “I was wrong to say the things I said about Gabe. He makes you happy, and I’m a shit for being an ass about it.”
He sighed. “It’s okay. You actually helped me confront something with him that needed to be handled.”
Oh, shit. “What did you do?”
“Nothing that concerns you.”
She drew in a harsh breath, because she had a feeling Dev and Gabe had fought, maybe even broken up, and if so, it was her fault. “Look, I can talk to him.”
The tone of his voice said he was done talking about Gabe, so she gave up.
For now. She planned to hunt down Gabe and find out what had happened though.
“Okay … but … can I go back on active mission status now?”
“I thought you said that wasn’t why you were here.”
“I swear I was going to apologize anyway. But … I need it. Please.”
“I’m sorry,” Dev said firmly, “but the answer is no.”
“Dev, I’m begging you.” Fear that he’d truly not change his mind made her emotions start swimming in that crazy soup again. “I’m so lost right now. My moods are all over the place, and I can’t control them. Creed doesn’t want kids with me. I’m not training anymore. Miles just called and he’s not even putting me in a classroom. Since I’m not on active mission status, he thinks I should fill in for other instructors when they go on missions. And in the meantime, he wants me to fucking inspect trainee quarters. My life is going to consist of endless hours of making sure beds are made and underwear is folded properly. I’ll die, Dev. Please.
You don’t have to actually send me on missions. Just let me have my active status back so I can feel a little normal.”
Dev pinched the bridge of his nose as though warding off a headache, and then his gaze snapped up at her again. “Wait. Go back to Creed and the kids. You 150
said he doesn’t want any?”
“No, I said he doesn’t want any with me.”
Scowling, Dev shoved to his feet. “When did he say this?”
“Couple of days ago.”
His expression darkened. “God, Annika. No wonder you’ve been so upset.”
“It’s no biggie.” She jammed her hands in her pants pockets and looked down at the floor. “I’m sure he thinks I’d be a shitty mom, and he’s right. I mean, a few months ago he thought maybe we should have a pet, so he got me a goldfish, and I managed to kill it within three weeks.”
“What do you think he’d do if you got pregnant?”
Her throat closed up so tight she had to swallow half a dozen times before she could speak. “I think he might … leave me. He’d take the kid and leave me.”
“I doubt that would happen, but you need to talk to him.”
“I already did. He was adamant.” The tremor in her voice was humiliating.
“I can’t lose him, Dev. On top of everything else, I can’t lose him.”
Dev’s arms came around her. “Your fear is making you doubt him and yourself. Talk to him, okay?”
She braced her forehead against his chest. “I will. And the mission status?
Please, can I have it be active again?”
“Tell you what,” he said. “You go to medical and get a full physical, and if everything looks good, I’ll put you back on active duty.”
Disappointment sapped her strength, and she stepped away from him on wobbly legs. “Why?”
“You said yourself your moods are all over the place. You nearly passed out in my office yesterday. I want to know you’re healthy.”
“This isn’t negotiable. You want to go on assignments, I need to know you’re in top form.”
Fuck. There was no way he’d clear her for missions if he knew she was pregnant. Not unless the mission was something lame, like posing as the wife of another agent—an agent who would get to do all the fun stuff.
“Fine,” she sighed, as though she intended to get that exam. But what she intended to do was find Gabe. She couldn’t fix any of her own problems right now, but at least she could try to fix Dev’s.
Yep. Avoidance mode was definitely engaged.
ANNIKA SEARCHED PRACTICALLY EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY
ON the ACRO grounds, but Gabe was nowhere to be found. He hadn’t been in the tiny base bar where he liked to hang out after class, he wasn’t at the gym, in his dorm room or even at the little park where she sometimes caught him lying on the grass in the sun.
No one had even seen him, and she was about to give up when her cell 151
rang. She dug it out of her BDUs’ leg pocket—an awkward trick while driving a stick.
It was Kira, an animal psychic who worked at ACRO’s massive animal complex. Gabe had been assigned there months ago, mainly just doing odd jobs when he wasn’t in a training class. Both Dev and Kira had thought that working with animals would focus him, and okay, Annika had definitely seen improvement since he started working there … but not enough.
He still tried to weasel out of lessons and half-assed his studies of past missions that were supposed to teach him about successes and mistakes. His detail work was sloppy, because the only thing he wanted to do was practice with his abilities. He hadn’t yet learned that there were reasons the recruits were taught seemingly crazy things, like folding their T-shirts into perfect squares.
People who didn’t follow orders got killed.
“Yeah?” Annika asked, by way of greeting. She eased the Jeep to a stop at an intersection near the medical clinic. “Did Gabe come in?” The animal facility had been the first place she’d looked, but that had been an hour ago, and she’d asked Kira to call if she heard from him.
“He stopped by to visit Jag—”
“Border collie. Bomb sniffer. Gabe has kind of bonded with him.” Kira paused, and Annika heard a snort from something that sounded like a horse.
“Anyway, I didn’t hear what Gabe said, but he took off when he saw me. So I asked Jag what was up.”
Kira didn’t actually hold conversations with the animals, but she was able to communicate through images, scents and projected words, if the animals understood them. “And?”
“Jag indicated that Gabe was taking a holiday. Something about a plane.
And a jungle? I don’t know. It wasn’t very clear.”
No shit. That wasn’t a lot of help. Wait. “Jungle?”
“I think so.”
“Thanks, Kira. I owe you.” She hung up and flung her phone into the passenger seat as she sped toward the base airport.
ACRO’s fleet of custom aircraft included three helicopters, two jets and one C-130 cargo plane, the latter of which was on the tarmac, its rear cargo ramp down, and Annika had a sneaky suspicion that Gabe was on that plane. The crew might not know it, either because he was pulling his invisible trick or because of the thick bulkhead separating the crew and passenger section from the cargo hold.
He could hang out with the supplies and no one would know he was there until the plane landed.
Cursing, she slammed the Jeep into a stall in the hangar parking lot. She leaped out and ran toward the plane.
The whir of an engine vibrated the air, and the cargo bay ramp began its slow crawl upward. Without thinking, she leaped onto the ramp, sprinted into the 152
rear of the plane and dove for the control panel. The ramp couldn’t be stopped, but the door could, alerting the pilots to a problem.
As her fingers brushed the toggle switch, something hit her shoulder, and she wheeled into a steel crate. What the—
Gabe stood there, between her and the control panel. The bastard had been doing his damned invisible thing. “Oh, no, you don’t.”
“Gabe,” she snapped. “Get off the plane. Now.”
The ramp was a third of the way up. “If you get off now, I’ll make sure your punishment is minor.”
“What part of fuck you are you not getting?”
Annika clenched her fists to keep from knocking Gabe’s teeth out. “This plane is heading on a mission. A mission you are definitely not ready for. You’ll get yourself killed. Or worse, you’ll get someone else killed.”
She’d obviously struck a nerve, because his eyes flashed and he took a menacing step toward her. She smiled. Bring it on. She’d kicked his ass so many times in training that she knew every move he’d make before he even made it.
“I need to do this,” he growled.
Oh, she was tempted to deck him, but once the ramp closed, the door would shut, and they’d be screwed. There was a custom-made, thick wall between the passenger section and the cargo hold, with a door that could only be opened from the other side. The moment the cargo doors closed, Annika and Gabe were in for the ride.
She was done being nice.
“You,” she said crisply, “had your chance. You are now in so much trouble, you’re going to need a backhoe to dig yourself out of the deep shit you’re in. And this time, I guarantee that no amount of dick-sucking is going to get you out of it.”
She shoved him aside and reached for the panel again, but he snagged her arm and spun her back to him. She wanted to light him up, but the sudden motion had made her head spin and her stomach churn, and it took everything she had to keep from passing out.
“You little bitch. I have no idea what a cool guy like Creed sees in you, but I hope one of these days he gets wise and dumps your ass.”
The buzzing in her ears muted his words. Saliva filled her mouth and a cold sweat broke out on her skin as nausea rolled over her. Swallowing sickly, she jerked out of his grip and went for the switch once more, a little sluggishly.
This time, when he grabbed her, she lit herself up—or tried to. Nothing happened. Even as Gabe shoved her toward the bulkhead, panic flared. Her power
… gone. She tried again, nausea making her weak and fear making her clumsy, and her feet hit something and then she was falling. Her head slammed into the corner of a crate, and blackness took her.
OH, SHIT. F UCK, FUCK, FUCK!
Gabe knelt next to Annika, disbelief clouding his brain. Annika couldn’t be hurt. He was pretty sure she was indestructible.
“Annika?” He shook her shoulders, gently at first, and then with increasing urgency. “Annika!”
Behind him, the cargo door closed with a clang and a hiss, and darkness filled the bay. Only one recessed light illuminated the forward section of the huge space, but he could see well enough to note the blood streaming down Annika’s temple.
“Shit! Annika?” No response. He had to get her help.
Desperate, he scanned the bay. The control panel. She’d been trying to trip the switches, which obviously must control the ramp and door. He stood, but the aircraft shuddered and lurched forward, and Gabe stumbled into the crate Annika had hit.
Awkwardly, he shambled to the panel and flipped the switches. Nothing happened. He glanced at Annika, who still lay motionless.