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Rebel heart, p.15
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       Rebel Heart, p.15

           Lizzy Ford
 
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  Brady’s hormones surged at her proposition. He’d barely managed to walk away from her earlier. He could think of so many things he’d do to her sweet little body. And then he recalled his promise to Tim, and looked away from her.

  “I can’t,” he said with regret.

  “What do you mean?” she asked, surprise in her voice.

  “I’m not willing to consider it.”

  “But I’ve seen how you look at me. You could’ve fooled me with how you kissed me.”

  “It would be a mistake,” he said.

  “Brady, I don’t understand you.” Anger was back in her voice.

  Lana approached him and paused within arm’s reach. Brady met her gaze again, taking in the array of emotions crossing her features. The wounded look bothered him most, the same vulnerable expression that had disturbed him twice before. He didn’t want Angel to feel that way, not when it was his duty to take care of her. As the Guardian, he’d been her emotional support, and he’d imagined this look when she discussed how scared she was of what was going on outside the Peak. To see the expression in person both touched and frustrated him.

  When he took a step towards her, she reached out to him. He moved closer, her small hand on his arm, until they were toe-to-toe. Her breathing quickened, her body tensed. Her eyes flickered up to him then down again. He reached out with one hand and lifted her chin before crossing his hands behind his back. She looked from his eyes to his lips and moved closer. He lowered his head and caught her lips with his. He kissed her gently, plying her warm lips until she responded. She opened to him once again, reminding him of how she’d yielded to him earlier.

  She tasted like honey, and her hot mouth soon became more demanding. She leaned into him, her warm, soft body molding against his. He kept his hands behind his back and tasted her, enjoyed her, tested her without pushing either of them over the edge. She was responsive, hungry and yielding, a combination that lit his blood on fire.

  When he withdrew, she weaved against him, face flushed and eyes glazed.

  “Go lay down,” he ordered in a husky tone and walked past her. “I need to think.”

  He’d had a lot of women throw themselves at him, most of them more interested in the genetically altered body that made him as good in bed as he was in battle. He didn’t normally turn them down, unless he didn’t have the time. Of course, he’d never felt so personally responsible for any of the women that passed through his life. Most of them were no more than one night stands.

  But he couldn’t let himself do it, no matter how much he wanted her or how willing she was. He didn’t need more emotions to hamper his decision making, and he didn’t need Tim to disown him at the end of this mess for exploiting the girl Brady was charged with guarding.

  He watched Lana from the corner of his eye, returning to his weapons, this time with his back to the wall and not towards her. His head hurt from the shock of the baton, and he couldn’t help hoping she was a better shot than she was figuring out the baton.

  Brady’s body was hot, his mind racing. He took his time with his weapons, needing to keep his hands occupied so he didn’t take her up on her offer. He couldn’t take her as his companion, no matter what he felt for her. The world was falling apart around them, and he couldn’t risk either of their mental states in a relationship that may not see both of them surviving.

  He finished and laid out his clothing and weapons in neat piles for the next day then stood at the bed. Lana was curled into a tight ball on the far end, asleep. As much as he ached to crawl into the bed beside her, he pulled a blanket from a trunk and went to the couch.

  The next morning, he woke before dawn and before she did. He toured the progress of the camp before going to the exercise area. He spent an hour on a punching bag before joining a few others sparring. Dan appeared soon after, and they sparred until Dan finally signaled he was finished.

  “You okay?” he asked, gaze intent.

  “Yeah, good. Let’s go again,” Brady said, swiping the sweat from his face.

  “We’ve been at it for an hour, and you’re still rarin’ go to.”

  Brady straightened from his sparring stance. He was hot and sweaty, but he’d not yet been able to rid himself of the wired energy humming through his blood. He felt like sparring until noon.

  “I thought you wanted to hit the comms site today,” Dan added. “Save a little in case you run into any bad guys.”

  Brady gritted his teeth but nodded. Dan was right. He had a four-hour helo and hiking trip ahead of him to their nearest secure comms facility tucked into natural cave a few ranges over. The way things were going lately, he’d be lucky to make it there and back at all.

  “You taking me?” Dan asked.

  “Not this time, in case I don’t come back.”

  “Think happy, man.”

  “You’re awfully chipper today,” Brady said with a grimace.

  They walked into the camp from the designated exercise areas. The camp was being broken down quickly, with pallets already loaded and sealed, awaiting evacuation. Despite his less-than-serious nature, Dan was detail oriented and quick to execute, two traits Brady found priceless over their years together.

  “We’ll have everything down by tomorrow morning,” Dan said, following his gaze to a pallet.

  “Good man. As usual, you deliver.”

  “Yep. I can move the girls tonight so they’re not stuck without a tent to sleep in.”

  “One night wouldn’t hurt ’em,” Brady grunted.

  “It might hurt me.”

  He gave a sidelong look at Dan. “You and Elise?” he asked, surprised. “I thought she’d slit your throat.”

  “I’m not saying she didn’t try,” Dan said with a snort. “I put up a fight, but it was useless.”

  Brady ignored Dan, eyes taking in the progress of their preparations to leave. Dan’s estimates were always conservative. It looked as if the camp would be packed up—if not evacuated—before dark.

  “Move them to the nearest underground site today.”

  They entered his tent. Lana looked up from her seat on the couch. Her searching gaze lingered on him. He withdrew the micro and handed it to her.

  “Emerops stations,” he directed, watching. “Send the coords to Dan.”

  She chewed her lip but complied. He removed the micro from her hands and took her injured wrist. She’d tried to change the bandage on her own. It was messy and uneven.

  “Did you use the anti-bac?” he asked.

  She gave him a blank look.

  “Damn feds. I’ll get it,” Dan said, crossing to the kitchen, where one whole cabinet was filled with medical supplies.

  Brady pulled a chair beside her. She was studying him again. He glanced up at her, caught by her direct gaze. They gazed at each other for a long moment, and he tried to figure out what was going through her thoughts.

  “Incoming!” Dan called, tossing a small package.

  Brady caught it and pulled out the medical supplies.

  “Cleanser, anti-bac, quick wrap. Don’t use the traditional bandage next time. The quick wrap is easier,” he instructed, holding up each of the products as he spoke. He stripped the bandage and showed her the steps again. “Dan’s going to move you somewhere safe today to one of our permanent sites. I’ll rendezvous with you all late.”

  “You always have the good shit!” Dan exclaimed, pulling chocolate out of the cabinet.

  “Drop it, Dan. I’ve killed men for less,” he retorted.

  Lana looked at him, frowning. Dan ignored his warning and snagged two pieces of the precious few he had remaining.

  “It’s supposed to alleviate bad moods,” Dan said to Lana. “Doesn’t work on him though.”

  “You, behave,” he ordered the woman, rising. “You, too, Dan.”

  “I’ll leave you some.”

  Brady shook his head, wanting nothing more than to return to the sparring ring. Instead, he hefted his pack and left for the awaiting helo.
r />   Tim was already on the large screen when Brady entered the comms center several hours later. Brady peeled off the top of his suit, drenched in sweat and splattered with blood.

  “Never seen you sweat, son,” Tim said.

  Brady grunted in response. The two-hour hike had turned into a six-hour battle when his men tripped over a scout in the lower valley. Brady was burning up, his blood thrumming. Tim, on the other hand, looked as if he’d gotten some sleep since their last talk. He wore a breezy, short-sleeved shirt. The commo room where he sat was large with marble walls and leather chairs, a sign of the upper class’s decadence.

  “It’s a little rough back east,” Brady said.

  “I’ve been reading the reports from both sides.” Tim frowned, disturbed.

  Even without their shared history, there had always been something about Tim that Brady liked. He was ruthless, beyond loyal to the few he trusted, and quick to use his influence to get Brady access to any of the government’s supplies, technology, intelligence, and anything else Brady requested it. And Tim never asked why.

  “You hear about the Peak?” Brady asked. He threw himself into one of the beat-up chairs in the tiny comms center.

  “Indeed I did,” Mr. Tim said. “Never saw that coming either, though I hoped …”

  “What?”

  “I knew something was wrong there. I hoped we’d find out what—or who—was responsible before it all went up in smoke.”

  “I think someone did figure it out, or it wouldn’t have gone up in smoke at all,” Brady replied.

  “Possible.”

  “Lana’s with me.”

  Tim’s gaze sharpened. Brady assessed him, not sure what to think of the sudden guardedness to Tim’s face.

  “Is she okay?” he asked.

  “Yep.”

  “She know you for the Guardian?”

  “I haven’t told her. I don’t think she’s figured it out.”

  “Keep it that way,” Tim said. “She doesn’t need to connect the dots back to me. She’s a brilliant analyst and one of the few non-PMF members I trust. I’m happy to hear she’s okay.”

  Brady was surprised to see a genuine smile on Tim’s face. He’d often wondered what it was that drew Tim to Lana and suspected it was nothing more than what drew him to other women. That the smooth politician genuinely cared for her never crossed Brady’s mind. Tim didn’t show much affection, even to his thirteen sons.

  “She won’t say whatever it is she figured out,” he said. “And she’s transporting something. She won’t talk to anyone about it.”

  “How big is it?”

  “It’s in a vault the size of my hand.”

  “It could be anything. I got her access to everything, even shit the President didn’t have access to,” Tim said with a shake of his head. “There are many secrets in the government.”

  “I get that,” Brady said dryly. “One of them took out the Peak after we left.”

  “Bring her to me. We can meet at the Peace Command Center. I have reason to believe that’s about the only place that hasn’t been infiltrated by those professing allegiance to East or West.”

  “Will do. How do you know her anyway?”

  Tim flashed a smile. “Her grandfather knew my father a long time ago. Class loyalties run deep, and he called me up about twenty years ago and said he was calling in a favor my dad owed him. He said he had a granddaughter who was special and he didn’t want her to get stuck doing some sort of manual labor. I agreed to enroll her in school. I have thirteen children among my companions, so no one asks questions. I figured I’d open the door and then pawn her off as a companion to someone in the government.”

  Brady pulled out his water bottle as he listened.

  “He was right. She was brilliant, loyal, sweet. I’ve never been a saint; I saw I could use her, so I put her in college and brought her to work for me. Had her trained in intelligence, emergency operations, technology. She can learn anything. Sent her to half a dozen agencies on rotation. I turned her into something I could use in my office to open more doors for our cause.”

  “I didn’t think there was anyone capable of the nukes, if not us,” Brady observed. “You think she knows who did it?”

  “I think she knows enough to help me put the final pieces of the puzzle together. Things haven’t been right since the war, but the issues haven’t been out in the open. And, the government chose to pursue the PMF rather than risk another civil war by going after people with a lot of influence and money. The last civil war set us back fifty years.”

  “Who would want to start another civil war?” Brady breathed.

  “A civil war where both sides have enough dangerous shit to destroy the world twenty times over. How big is the vault she has?”

  Brady held up his palm and drew a square around it.

  “You think you know what it is?” he asked.

  “Not at all. But if she’s not talking, I’d take extreme precautions if I were you,” Tim said, again thoughtful.

  “We’re breaking camp and scattering today,” Brady confirmed.

  “She’ll probably have an issue with being under the protection of the PMF,” Tim said.

  “I have it handled. I explained that she needs to do what I say or else.”

  “Gently, Brady,” he chided. “Take her underground, if you must. Keep her safe until I know who’s after her.”

  “I’ll take care of her.” Brady promised. “I think it was General Greene.”

  “Greene? Not Smith?”

  “Smith went crazy and dove off a cliff.”

  “What do you mean crazy?” Tim asked, eyes narrowing.

  “I mean, totally insane. They said he’d been a basket case for almost two months by the time he jumped. The doc declared him unfit.”

  “Greenie wasn’t on our list,” Tim admitted. “He spent too much time overseas.”

  “Maybe Arnie found out about Greenie.”

  “Maybe. I’ll run his name through a few different people. Can you check in again in a few days?”

  “I’ll do my best. It’s a warzone out here,” Brady said. “My time is up. I can’t risk being on this channel too long.”

  “Take care of my girl.”

  “I will. Brady out.”

  The viewer turned off, and he pulled his suit back on. The eight-hour ordeal to get there was worth the ten-minute conversation. At least he’d confirmed that whatever secrets Lana had were well worth hiding. He replaced his weapons around his body.

  “Brade.” Dan’s breathless voice came over his net.

  “Yeah, Dan.”

  “We’re leaving now.” The grim note in Dan’s voice made Brady quicken his movements.

  “What happened?” Brady asked.

  “I had a gut feeling that we needed to leave. Thank God we did. Someone ordered a strike on us. Most of the camp was gone already and all the important stuff airlifted this morning.”

  “You all right?”

  “Yeah. The girls are fine,” Dan said.

  “I’m on my way to the hard site.” Brady chuckled and strode from the communications center. “Send me your coords.”

 
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