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Rebel heart, p.12
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       Rebel Heart, p.12

           Lizzy Ford
 
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  Chapter Seven

  BRADY LOOKED UP FROM the radar imaging on the screen before him. Dan entered their command tent and threw down a chunk of blackened metal.

  “That’s it,” he said. “That’s all that remains of the command center on the Peak.”

  “That’s not our work,” Brady said and lifted the metal. “What happened?”

  “Bodies and a whole lot of that. We think General Greene and a few others got away. We intercepted some emergency transmissions but couldn’t get everything because of the electromagnetic field.”

  “Our prisoners are the only survivors. And I don’t know they knew anything.”

  “Something made them leave,” Dan reminded him. “I think Angel will just cry if you ask her anything. Why don’t we bring in Elise?”

  Brady didn’t think Dan was far off. The woman in his tent was something else. He still didn’t fathom what had driven her to leave the Peak in the first place when she clearly couldn’t even make it down the side of the mountain on her own.

  He touched the micros in his cargo pocket as he rose, recalling his night. He was a saint for letting her out of his bed the night before. The moment their bodies touched, he could think of little else than how long it had been since he had a woman and how much he’d wanted Angel since soon after he’d started talking to her weeks ago. He doubted Tim would appreciate him making moves on her.

  “Elise it is,” he said. “If she doesn’t kill us first.”

  “You have no idea how hard it was to tie her to that damn tree,” Dan said. They started away from the tent towards the center of their camp.

  While Brady knew Lana was too afraid to leave his tent even if it wasn’t guarded, he’d had to order Elise chained to a tree within view of four guards. The special ops specialist was fearless, genetically engineered to kill, and as lethally trained as any of his men. She glared at them both with a cross between disdain and fury. Brady held up the chunk of steel.

  “This is all that’s left of the Peak,” he said.

  Her eyes went to it, and he saw confusion in their depths.

  “I didn’t order it destroyed. That leaves your people.”

  Her anger turned to thoughtfulness. Dan pulled the tape from her mouth, and the first words out were curses. Then she shook her head.

  “No. The Peak is there. If it’s not, you destroyed it,” she insisted.

  Dan showed her his viewer with the images he’d taken the day before. She stared at the screen.

  “Not my kind of op,” Brady said. “No one else escaped. Does anyone know about you?”

  Understanding crossed her features.

  “If you know what happened,” Dan said, “you damn well better tell us.”

  “Fuck you,” she snapped. “Why would I tell you anything?”

  “Because if you don’t, we’ll pop Lana,” Brady said.

  Her head whipped around to him. Brady crossed his arms. The moment dragged on.

  “Let’s go get her, Dan,” he ordered and turned away. He counted to five before she broke.

  “Greenie knew we left,” Elise said.

  Dan shot him a look of amusement before they both turned.

  “Lana said she needed help getting to the Peace Command Center in Colorado, that Greenie was going to kill her once she found out what she’d done,” Elise continued.

  “What she do?”

  “I don’t know. She’s my friend. She doesn’t have to say much more than she needed my help,” she said, glaring at them. “Where is she?”

  “She’s safe for now.”

  “I want to see her.”

  “Maybe,” he replied.

  “No. Now.”

  Brady bristled and strode to her, stopping when he was close enough for their bodies to touch in an unmistakable attempt at intimidation. Elise was much larger than most women, but she was still smaller than him.

  “Look around you,” he ordered in a low voice.

  She stared at him.

  “Look.”

  Elise did so grudgingly, taking in the PMF insurgents crowded around.

  “These men hate you and everything you stand for. You’re not in your world anymore. You better learn fast if you want to survive my world, challenging me isn’t the way to go,” he warned. “It’s not just your life you need to worry about. You got it?”

  Her jaw clenched, then she yielded with a sigh.

  “Please let me see her,” she said, looking up at him.

  “If I free you …”

  “I won’t try anything. I swear it.”

  He stepped away. Dan touched his thumb to the thumb pads, and her chains fell away. She stretched with a grimace. She cursed, her mutter fading away as she tested her body.

  Brady rested one hand on his laser gun until he was sure she wouldn’t try anything. She straightened finally with an angry look at Dan, who smiled in response. Brady wondered what the good-natured man had said to piss her off so much.

  Dan led them to Brady’s tent and pushed the tent flap open.

  “Elise!”

  He didn’t think he’d heard such a happy tone in his life. Lana sprang up from her corner of the couch and flung her arms around Elise.

  “Lana, stop it,” Elise groaned, pushing her away. “I hurt everywhere.”

  Lana’s face glowed. She pulled Elise to the couch. Elise dropped onto it with another groan. Brady watched them, sensing the depth of their friendship despite Elise’s discomfort. He folded his arms and approached. Lana was braver this day. She studied him with more interest than fear, even if she did push herself into the corner again. Elise glared at him.

  “We wanted to talk to you about the Peak,” Dan started, pulling a chair near them.

  He showed Lana the same scene he’d shown Elise. Brady watched her face pale. She looked up at him, and he answered the unasked question.

  “No, we didn’t.”

  “Allegedly,” Elise added under her breath.

  Lana clenched her hands.

  “They want to know if anyone knew we left. Greenie did, right?” Elise asked.

  “Yeah. Greenie,” Lana said.

  “Anyone else?” he asked, sitting close to Lana.

  “I didn’t tell anyone. Greenie would’ve figured it out. I don’t know who he told,” she answered. She was twisting the edge of her shirt as she spoke. He watched her face, sensing she was hiding a great deal.

  “How would he figure it out?” Dan asked.

  “I locked out all the terminals, the emergency operations networks for the eastern part of the country, and re-routed the communications systems to my micro.”

  “That’s pretty insane!” Dan said with a startled laugh.

  “You knew this would happen,” Brady said, pointing to the picture on Dan’s viewer.

  She didn’t look at him or the picture.

  “Did you know?” Elise asked, surprised.

  Lana clenched her hands but didn’t answer. Brady glanced at Dan, his face echoing his own puzzlement.

  “Jesus,” Elise breathed. “And you didn’t warn anyone? You let everyone die?”

  “No, Elise,” Lana said in a hushed voice. “I didn’t know exactly … I didn’t know when or what or …” She stopped, knuckles white as she gripped the edge of her T-shirt.

  “What did you know?” Elise demanded, grabbing her with a shake.

  Lana shook her head. Elise released her, sitting back in shock.

  “What was it you had to take to the Peace Command Center?” Elise asked in a hushed voice.

  “Elise, please don’t!”

  “What was worth the lives of the thousand people at the Peak, Lana? Tell me there was something!”

  Brady sat back, as surprised as the others. Lana shook her head again. He burned to know the answers to Elise’s questions, not even able to fathom what the answer could be. Lana was a gentle soul; the secret must have been great if she left behind that many people to die!

  Her actions suddenly struck him in
a different light. She hadn’t been foolish; she’d been desperate. Whatever she found at the Peak had driven her into a forest full of insurgents despite her injury and her lack of familiarity with the forest or the world outside hers. If she left behind a thousand lives, she’d been running for something greater.

  “Out,” he ordered.

  Dan rose at the command and gripped Elise’s arm. The woman was too stunned to resist. Brady leaned back, gazing at Lana. If she’d protected her secret from a thousand people, she wasn’t about to reveal it to him. He rubbed the back of his neck. Whatever wiped out the Peak could wipe him out as well.

  “Do you have any reason to believe someone is tracking you?” he asked.

  “I left my ID at the Peak and disabled my government implant.”

  “What about your micro?”

  “It’s untraceable. I checked.”

  “What about any of the other shit with you?”

  She shook her head. He rose, angry and unconvinced she wouldn’t bring whatever danger followed him to his backyard. His instincts warned him there was no stopping someone like General Greene, once he set out to find someone. Brady strode out and motioned to one of the guards.

  “I need Dan, now.”

  Within ten minutes, his second-in-command met him in the tent they used as a war room.

  “Plan on disassembling our camp within the next forty-eight hours. And, issue an emergency warning order that we’re going to send the Appalachia militia to neighboring militias. We’ll be a harder target to hit if we’re separated,” Brady said.

  “What are you expecting?” Dan asked.

  “I don’t know, but it’ll be bad,” he answered. “I’ll give you the coords for the emerops facilities. We can use those for supplies. We’re going to dump everything we don’t need.”

  “You think something followed her?” Dan asked in a hushed tone.

  “I’m not taking any chances. Whatever wiped out the Peak could wipe us out just as easily.”

  “Wow, Brade. What’s really going on?”

  Brady shook his head. He didn’t know, and he knew the one person who might wasn’t about to tell.

  “Can you talk to Elise again?” he asked Dan.

  “Oh, yeah, that’ll be fun.” Dan slapped him on the arm and strode out.

  Brady watched him, wishing they were closer to one of their secure facilities so he could make a call to Tim. He returned to his tent, deep in thought. He walked by the woman and paused. She looked up at him from her hurt wrist, pain in her brown eyes.

  “Don’t look at me like that,” he warned.

  He sat across from her again, studying her. He wished she trusted him as much as she had when he was the Guardian.

  “You can send me away,” she said. “I won’t endanger your … men if I’m not here.”

  “True,” he allowed.

  “I already have a thousand deaths on my soul,” she whispered. “I don’t want more.”

  “You know what I want to do to you when you’re so sad?” he asked, leaning forward.

  “What?”

  He lifted his chin towards his bed. She flushed. She cleared her throat.

  “If nothing else, can I have my things back? Please,” she said without looking at him.

  He thought about what Elise said, that she’d been trying to take something west. Maybe it wasn’t a secret after all. Maybe it was something she carried with her.

  “I promise, I’ll give you anything for them.”

  He rose and crossed to the small safe where he kept what they’d found on her. He brought the small bag to the table. He held up her micro, watching her face. Worry, but no elevated level of distress crossed her features. He lowered it. The moment his hand paused over the vault, she tensed.

  “What’s it worth to you?” he asked.

  She didn’t respond, but her hands wrung her T-shirt again.

  “This is it, isn’t it?” he asked and picked it up.

  She paled, eyes glued to the vault.

  “This is what you’re taking west.”

  It was so small, not even the size of his palm. There was a quadruple lock system on it, requiring not only two thumbprints, but a code, a retinal scan, and another sensor pad he didn’t recognize. He looked at it, wondering how something so small could be so important.

  “Anything,” she breathed. “Please put it down, Brady. I’ll give you anything for it.”

  He rested it on his knee and looked at her. She met his gaze, emotions skimming through her eyes.

  “Anything,” he said. “That’s dangerous for someone as pretty as you.”

  “I’d sleep with you, Brady.”

  He didn’t expect the calm words. Her gaze was steady. And unafraid. He wondered what changed her from the cowering girl he’d brought home with him yesterday to the almost confident woman seated across from him. Whatever was in the vault, it must be important.

  “That’s what you said last night, isn’t it?” she asked. “I promise to sleep with you tonight.”

  Amusement filtered through him. He’d known she was sheltered after their long talks. He’d toned down his side of the conversation out of respect for her, not expecting to find her worth talking to and pleased when she was. But now, things had changed. He’d found out his Angel was not only bright, but brave and beautiful. She was in his world now, offering him something he’d allowed himself to fantasize about more than once.

  “You know what you’re doing?” he asked.

  “I think so. Yes. I do. If it’ll give me what I want.”

  “We’ll both get what we want.”

  Her face flushed, but she didn’t lose the look of resolution in her features.

  “Let me give you a demonstration before you make up your mind,” he said, rising. He crossed to her and sat on the couch beside her. She tensed but didn’t move.

  Brady nudged strands of her hair away from her eyes and cupped her face with his other hand. Expecting the sheltered woman would flee at the first kiss, he brushed her lips with his. To his surprise, she leaned into him. Her hands went to his cheeks, and she touched him lightly. Brady didn’t move away as he planned, instead teasing her mouth open.

  Lana yielded without any sign of hesitation, returning his kisses with timidity born of both inexperience and hunger.

  He’d wanted her since soon after talking to her but never thought it possible. Brady felt his control slip a notch. Their kissing turned to petting, and he pressed her back onto the couch. When he broke contact, Lana pulled his head back to hers, her hands skimming over his shoulders before she undid the top two buttons on his uniform. His own desire lit hot and fast at her eagerness. He helped her without breaking the kiss, their hands fumbling in their haste to have his clothes off. Brady leaned away only to peel off his undershirt.

  Lana stared at his wide chest, taking him in with a look of desire. She touched him timidly, her cool hands branding him as heat coursed through him. Brady kissed her forehead, eyelids, cheeks, and nipped her neck, enjoying the feel of her hands roaming over his chest and back. She groaned softly in response.

  “You still sure?” he whispered.

  Lana’s eyes opened at his voice. They were cloudy with the same lust he felt.

  “I trust you,” she said, touching his face again.

  Rather than feel pleasure at her words, they struck him like the cold shower he needed. A pang of morality reared its ugly head. Brady had taken care of this woman from a distance. She deserved more from her Guardian than to be slung over the couch for a quickie. Her first time with him wasn’t going to be the product of coercion; he respected her too much for that. He also knew Tim wouldn’t consider this part of taking care of her.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked, her voice low with desire.

  Sensing he had the upper hand in any case, Brady forced himself away from her. He sat back and rubbed his face, fighting the urge to touch her again and take their relationship to the next level. The Guardian’s rel
ationship, he reminded himself. Lana didn’t know who he was.

  Not like this. Regretfully resolved, he rose and fixed his uniform then picked up her belongings.

  “Brady, what’s wrong?” Lana asked. Sensing the change in him, she sat up.

  “I’ll think about it,” he said, walking towards the back of the tent with her things.

  After a stunned silence, she asked. “What’s there to think about?” She followed him and stood several feet away, face flushed with different emotions this time: anger and embarrassment. “Did I do something wrong?”

  “Maybe I doubt you’ll keep your word,” he said, admiring the fire in her eyes. “And maybe, I don’t want you tempting me to do something I shouldn’t. You should never offer carte blanche to someone who just might take you up on it.”

  “Some things are more important than me,” she retorted. “I will keep my promise!”

  “One night isn’t enough for this.” He held up the vault again, and desperation crossed her features. “We’ll deal with this later. In the meantime, I’ll keep this locked up.” He strode to the safe, placing the vault within.

 
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