Agent Sam Ryan wants out of the Special Investigations Unit. She’s sick of the attitude from her partner, Gabriel Stern. She’s sick of the paperwork. Most of all, she’s sick of feeling lonely. But her boss isn’t about to let her go that easily. He gives Sam a choice: either stay stuck in her office or guard a clone replacement of Dan Wetherton, a government minister. Sam reluctantly chooses the latter—even though she suspects she’s being used as bait to draw out the SIU’s elusive nemesis.
Gabriel would like nothing better than to be on his own, without a partner to hold him back. Then he learns that Sam has been assigned to protect Wetherton—or whatever it is that’s replaced him. Wetherton’s clone could have come from only one place: Hopeworth, the military base that contains the secrets of Sam’s past. Determined to protect her, Gabriel is drawn into a fight against unspeakable evil. And all too soon, Sam and Gabriel discover that the connection between them is far more powerful than anyone could ever have imagined.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
One Samantha Ryan placed her hands on the front of her boss’s desk and said, “I want a transfer, not more of your damn excuses.”
She knew that speaking to Stephan in such a manner wasn’t the best idea, especially when he was the man in charge of both the Special Investigations Unit and the more secretive Federation—-a man who’d ruthlessly do whatever it took to get the answers he needed or the job done. She knew that from firsthand experience; she’d suffered through his interrogation without the medical help she’d required after she’d been shot while trying to stop the shapeshifter imitating her partner—-a man who also happened to be his brother.
Not that she thought he intended her any sort of harm right now. He had as much interest in finding out who and what she was as she did. But he certainly could make her life hell—-though how much worse it would be than her current hell was debatable.
She leaned across the desk and added, “Sir,” a touch sarcastically.
Stephan Stern raised one blond eyebrow, as if mildly surprised by her outburst. An outburst he’d known was coming for months. “You know I don’t want to do that.”
“I don’t honestly care what you want. This is about what I want.” She pushed away from the desk, unable to stand still any longer. Damn it, she’d spent more than half her life with her head in the sand, cruising through life rather than participating, and she’d had more than enough. The time had come to get greedy—-to think about her wants, her desires, for a change. And what she wanted right now was not only a more active personal life, but a working life that involved something better than a broom closet. “Transfer me back to State, let me resign or find me another partner. As I said, I don’t care. Just get me out of my current situation.”
Her angry strides carried her the length of the beige--colored office in no time and she turned to face Stephan. His expression was as remote as ever, but she’d learned very early on that Stephan was a master at hiding his emotions—-and that his dead face was just as likely to mean fury as calm.
“I prefer to leave you with Gabriel, as I still believe you two will make a formidable team.”
Sam snorted softly. “That has never been an option, and I think we both realize that now.”
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t tried, for God’s sake. But her partner was still going out of his way to exclude her from everything from investigations to chitchat. Access to the SIU’s vast computer system just wasn’t worth this frustration and unhappiness.
Especially since she was getting jack shit in the way of information about the past she couldn’t remember. Hell, her dreams were providing more information than the SIU’s system. The only trouble was, how much could she actually trust the dreams?
And how much could she trust the man who constantly walked through them?
She didn’t know, nor did she have anyone she could talk to about it—-and that was perhaps the most frustrating thing about this entire situation. She needed to get a life. Friends. People she could trust and talk to. Hell, even a pet would be better than going home alone to a soulless hotel room every night.
“I prefer to give the situation more time.” Stephan crossed his arms and leaned forward. “However, I do have another option that might suit us both.”
Sam met his gaze. His blue eyes were sharp, full of cunning and intelligence. Stephan was a shark by nature—-and this was the reason he, rather than his twin, Gabriel, ruled the SIU and the Federation.
Of course, that also meant she was beating her head against a brick wall where Gabriel was concerned, because Stephan was always going to look after his twin’s interests first. Even if said twin didn’t appreciate his efforts any more than Sam did.
She came to a stop in front of his desk and couldn’t help feeling like a fish about to be hooked. “What might that be?”
“You remember Dan Wetherton?”
She nodded. “Last I heard, no one was sure if the body Gabriel found was the real Wetherton or a clone.”
“Well, as it happens, it was the original.”
Sam snagged the nearest chair and sat down, interested despite her wariness. “Gabriel and I theorized about the possibility of whole brain transplants making clones a viable replacement option, but officially—-as far as I’m aware—-it’s still considered impossible to create a clone that exactly duplicates the mannerisms and thoughts of the original person. They may be genetically identical, but they are never-theless different.” She hesitated, frowning. “Besides, I read the in--house reports and tests done on the living Wetherton. He was declared human in all scientific results.”
“And a clone isn’t?”
She grimaced. Clones were human, no doubt about that. But whether that actually granted them humanity was a point of contention between the scientists and the theologians. “Having only met one clone, who was trying to kill me at the time, I don’t feel qualified to answer that particular question.”
Amusement touched the corners of Stephan’s thin lips. “As it happens, the test results were altered by a party or parties unknown long before we got them.” He picked up a folder from his desk and offered it to her. “These are the originals. Have a look.”
From past experience she knew that it was pointless to ask how he’d gotten hold of the original papers. Stephan worked on a need--to--know basis—-and generally, that meant the less everyone knew, the better. She doubted even Gabriel was privy to all his secrets.
Not that Gabriel himself was particularly open. Not with her, anyway.
She leafed through the information inside the folder. It included the genetic tests on both Wetherton and the clone, the coroner’s report and Wetherton’s medical history.
“Wetherton had cancer,” she said, looking up. “Incurable.”
“Which the current version no longer has.”
She threw the folder back on the desk. “If you know he’s not the original, why not simply kill him?”
“Because we wanted to know why he was cloned. And where.”
“But not who had cloned him?” Did that mean they suspected the mysterious Sethanon was behind it all?
“As I said, we don’t know the where and the why. But there is only one suspect for the who.”
“But the military is experimenting with genetics. There’s no reason why Wetherton can’t be their boy.”
“No, there’s not.”
His tone seemed to dismiss her speculation, and yet she had a vague notion that she’d hit upon the very issue that was troubling Stephan. Only, for some weird reason, he didn’t want to acknowledge it. “And what about the replacement parts industry? Have you checked to see if they have started developing fully formed beings, or is that just too obvious?”
His expression became briefly annoyed. “We never overlook the obvious.”
Of course not. She smiled slightly. Irritating Stephan might be akin to prodding a lion with a very short stick, but when she got even the slightest reaction, it was oddly satisfying.
“The black--market trade in cloned parts is booming,” she said. Of course, it was fueled mainly by humanity’s desperation to cheat death. An incredible number of people seemed willing to pay exorbitant prices to grow new body parts, so why not take it a step further, and attempt a cloning miracle? Not just a replacement heart or liver or whatever other part had failed, but a whole new body?
But humanity was more than just a brain; it was also a heart and soul. Medical science might be able to transfer flesh and brain matter, but how could anyone transfer a soul? Even if they could pin down what a soul actually was?
Not that rules ever stopped anyone—-especially when there was huge money to be made.
And somewhere along the line, someone had succeeded in achieving at least part of the impossible—-fully fleshed, viable clones who looked and acted like the original. Wetherton, and her ex--partner, Jack Kazdan, were proof of that. Although something had gone wrong with Jack’s clone; it might have looked like him, but it had had serious problems speaking. But then, it had been given a shitload of growth accelerant, so it wasn’t truly a surprise that it couldn’t speak well. It had never really had the time to learn.
“His source is not black market. We’re sure of that.”
She studied him for a moment, then changed tactics. “Wetherton’s just been made Minister for Science and Technology, hasn’t he?”
Stephan nodded. “Two years ago he was trying to shut down many of the science programs, stating that the money could be better spent on the health care system. Now he’s in charge of the lot.”
“Why hasn’t anyone questioned this sudden change of heart? Surely the press has noted it?”
“Noted a political backflip?” Amusement touched his lips again. “You’re kidding, right?”
Point made. Flip--flopping politicians were such a fact of life that even the press had gotten tired of them. And the public at large simply ignored them, except when the flops directly affected their bottom line.
“What advantage would having a clone in such a position be for someone like Sethanon?”
“Sadly, we don’t know the answer to that one yet.”
Not until they caught Sethanon, anyway. And he had proven as elusive as a ghost.
“So you’ve had Wetherton watched?”
“We’ve had an agent in his office for the last two months, but she can’t get close enough. Wetherton plays his cards very close to his chest.”
If the man was a clone, he’d have to. One mistake and the truth would be out.
“What does all this have to do with my wanting a transfer?”
He smiled—-all teeth and no sincerity. “The minister has recently received several death threats. He was given police protection, but the would--be killer has slipped past them on a number of occasions and left notes. The minister has now requested the SIU’s help.”
She regarded him steadily. “So who did you use to drop the notes? A vampire or a shapeshifter?”
Amusement flickered briefly through his eyes. “The original threats were real enough.”
Yeah, right. There was just a little too much sincerity in his voice for her to believe that. “Am I the only agent being sent in?”
“No. You’ll handle the night shift—-it suits your growing abilities better. Jenna Morwood will do the days.”
Morwood wasn’t someone she’d met. “What’s her specialty?”
“Morwood’s an empath and telekinetic.”
So she’d be able to see an attack coming by simply reading the emotions swirling around her—-a good choice for this sort of work. “Are we the only two going in?”
“Yes.” He hesitated. “Wetherton has requested that the night watch stay at his apartment when he’s there at night. Since the first two threats were hand--delivered, I’ve agreed to his request. I want you to observe everyone he meets. Become his shadow and learn his secrets.”
A huge task. “And the reason you’re sending two female agents?”
Once again, that insincere smile flashed. “Wetherton appears less guarded around females.”
“Meaning what? That he’s likely to hit on us?”
“It’s a distinct possibility. And before it’s mentioned, no, I do not expect or want you to sleep with the man.”
“Good, because I wouldn’t.” She hesitated, frowning. “Wetherton’s made much of his caring, family--man image over the last few years. That doesn’t quite jell with him hitting on anything with breasts.”
“He and his wife separated not long after the original’s death. Since then, he’s bought a nice apartment on Collins Street and now spends most of his nights there. He’s also been seen with an endless stream of beauties on his arms.”
She frowned. Wetherton wasn’t exactly a looker—-though that in itself didn’t mean anything. Some of the ugliest spuds in the world had immense success with the ladies simply because of the wealth they controlled, or their sheer magnetic power. But from what she remembered of Wetherton, neither of these was a factor.
“I’m surprised the press haven’t had more of a field day.”
“They did initially, but a politician behaving badly isn’t exactly news these days.”
That was certainly true. “I doubt whether I’ll learn all that much doing night shift. Surely most of his business will be conducted during the day, no?”
Stephan smiled grimly. “Wetherton has a surprising number of business meetings at night—-and usually at nightclubs, where it’s harder to get a bug in.”
“He’ll be suspicious of me. He’s not likely to trust me with anything vital.”
“Not for a while. It may take months.”
Months out of her life and her need to find her past. But also months away from Gabriel. Would absence make his heart grow fonder? A smile touched her lips. Unlikely. “What about time off? You can’t expect either of us to work seven days a week.”
He nodded. “You’ll each get two days—-though which two will depend on Wetherton’s schedule. Generally, it will be the days he spends at home with his children. We have other arrangements in place there.”
“Will the press buy our sudden appearance in his life? This sort of protection is usually handled by the feds, not the SIU.”
“They won’t question our appearance after tonight, believe me.”
The dry coldness in his voice sent chills down her spine. “Why? What are you planning for tonight?”
“A spectacular but ineffectual murder attempt. Wetherton may be injured, and will, of course, demand our help.”
“So who’s the patsy?”
Stephan shrugged. “A young vampire we captured several weeks ago. He’d been something of a political dissident in life, and his afterlife has only sharpened his beliefs.”
And Stephan had no doubt been feeding his madness, aiming it toward Wetherton. Meaning this plan had been in motion for some time, and that this assignment was part of a bigger picture than he was currently admitting to.
Goose bumps ran up Sam’s arms and she rubbed them lightly. Perhaps the vampire wasn’t the only patsy in this situation.
“I gather the vamp will die?”
“He murdered seven people before we captured him. His death is merely a delayed sentence.”
“What if he escapes?”
Sam shifted in her chair. “If Wetherton is up to anything nefarious, it’s doubtful I’ll be privy to it.”
“No. There will be certain times you’ll be sent from the room; this is unavoidable. To counter it, you’ll bug the room.”
“Most federal buildings have monitors. The minute a bug is activated, an alarm will sound.”
“They won’t detect the ones we’ll give you. Our labs have specifically developed bugs that will function in just this sort of situation.”
And no doubt developed a means of detecting them, too. “How long do you think I’ll be guarding Wetherton?”
Stephan shrugged. “I can’t honestly say. It could be a month; it could be a year. Parliament doesn’t convene again until the middle of next month. By then, you will be such a fixture in his life that no one will comment.”
By then, she hoped Wetherton would have revealed all his secrets and she could get on with her life. Spending months in Canberra, yawning her way through endless cabinet sessions, was not something to look forward to.
She crossed her arms and stared at Stephan. He returned her gaze calmly. The uneasy feeling that he wasn’t telling her everything grew.
“You’re doing this to get back at Gabriel, aren’t you? You want him to care.”
“I’m doing this because no other agents have your particular range of talents. Your ability to detect evil could be vital in this case.”
No lies, but not the exact truth, either. She sat back, feeling more frustrated than when she’d first entered Stephan’s office. Guarding Wetherton was not the job she really wanted, but what other choice did she have? It was either this or put up with endless hours of mind--numbing paperwork in her shoe--box office in the Vault.
“How do I keep in contact?”
“You’ll be wearing a transmitter that will be monitored twenty--four hours a day.” Stephan reached into his desk and pulled out what looked like a gold ear stud. “This is the current model. It records sound and pictures. You turn it on and off by simply touching the surface.”
“I don’t have to get my ears pierced, do I?” She’d rather face a dozen vampires than one doctor armed with a body--piercing implement.
Stephan’s smile held the first real hint of warmth she’d seen since she walked into his office. “No. The studs are designed to cling to human flesh. You actually won’t be able to get them off without the help of the labs.”
Just as well she could turn them off, then. She needed some privacy in her life, even if it was only to go to the bathroom. “When do I start?”
“Tomorrow night.” Stephan picked up another folder and passed it across the desk. “In here you’ll find detailed backgrounds on Wetherton’s friends, family and business acquaintances.”
She dropped the folder onto her lap. There was plenty of time to look at it later. “You were pretty certain I’d take this job, weren’t you?”
“Yes. What other choice have you actually got?”
Indeed. “And Gabriel?”
“Will be told you’ve been reassigned.”
Which would no doubt please him. He’d finally gotten what he wanted—-her out of his life. “And will I be? After this assignment is over, that is?”
Stephan considered her for several seconds. “That depends.”
“On whether or not he has come to his senses by then.”
A statement she didn’t like one little bit. “You owe me, Stephan,” she said softly. For ordering his agents to shoot when she’d been trying to stop the shifter who’d taken Gabriel’s form. For the hour of questioning she’d faced afterward when she should have been in the med center. For saving his twin’s life. “All I want is permanent reassignment.”
His gaze met hers, assessing, calculating. “All right,” he said slowly. “As I said, this assignment could take more than a year to complete. If you still wish a new partner at the end, I will comply.”
She stared at him. He had agreed to her demands far too easily. She didn’t trust him—-and didn’t trust that he meant what he said. But for the moment, there was little she could do about it.
“What happens if I need access to files or information?”
“You’ll have a portable com--unit with you, coded to respond only to your voice and retinal scan. You’ll also have priority access to all files, though a copy of all requests and search results will be sent to me.”
She raised an eyebrow. Priority access? Whatever it was Stephan thought Wetherton was involved in had to be huge.
The intercom buzzed into the silence and Stephan leaned across and pressed the button. “Yes?”
“Assistant Director Stern to see you, as requested, sir.”
“Send him in.” He gave her a toothy smile that held absolutely no sincerity. “I thought you might like to say goodbye.”
Gabriel was the last person she wanted to see. She could barely control her temper around him these days, and hitting a superior officer would only get her into more trouble than Gabriel was worth. And Stephan damn well knew it. She thrust upright. “You’re a bastard, you know that?”
“No, I’m a man faced with two people who won’t acknowledge that they are meant to be partners.”
The door opened, giving her no time to reply. She clenched the folder tightly but found her gaze drawn to the tall man entering the room. His hazel eyes narrowed when he saw her.
But just for an instant, something passed between them—-an emotion she couldn’t define and he would never verbally acknowledge. And that made her even angrier.
“Sam,” Gabriel said, his voice as polite as the nod he gave her.
“Gabriel,” she bit back, and glanced at Stephan. “Will that be all, sir?”
A smile quirked the corner of Stephan’s mouth. He hadn’t missed her reaction. “Yes. For now.”
Gabriel stepped to one side as she approached. It was probably meant to be nothing more than a polite gesture—-he was simply making way for her to get past—-but it fanned the fires of her fury even higher. One way or another, this man was always avoiding her.
She met his gaze and saw only wariness in the green--flecked hazel depths of his eyes. Ever since the factory shootout with Rose and Orrin nearly two weeks ago, he’d treated her this way. She wasn’t entirely sure why. And in all honesty, it was time she stopped worrying about it. She had more important concerns these days.
Like finding out who she really was. What she really was. Like getting a life beyond the force.
She stopped in front of him and his scent stirred around her, spicy and masculine, making her want things she could never have. Not with this man.
“You win, Gabriel. You have your wish. I’m out of your life.” She held out her hand. “I wish I could say it’s been pleasant, but you sure as hell made certain it wasn’t.”
His fingers closed round hers, his touch sending warmth through her soul. A promise that could never be.
“You’ve been reassigned, then?” Relief edged his deep voice.
He released her hand and her fingers tingled with the memory of his touch. Part of her was tempted to clench her hand in an effort to retain that warmth just a bit longer. But what was the point of holding on to something that was little more than an illusion? A desire that probably came from loneliness more than any real connection?
“Who’s the new partner?”
There was something a little more than polite interest in the question. Were he anyone else, she might have thought he cared. With Gabriel, who knew?
Sam shrugged. “It’s really none of your business now, is it?” She glanced back at Stephan. “I’ll talk to you later.”
He nodded and she met Gabriel’s eyes one final time, her gaze searching his—-though what she was looking for, she couldn’t honestly say. After a few seconds, she turned and walked out, her fury a clenched knot inside her chest.
Gabriel watched her go and the anger so visible in every step seared his mind, reaching into places he’d thought well shielded and far out of reach. Whatever this connection was between them, it was breaking down barriers not even his twin had been able to traverse, and raising emotions he’d long thought dead.
Which was just another reason to get her out of his working life. Whether or not she should then appear in his social life was a point of contention between the two parts of his soul. The hawk half—-the half that had already lost its soul mate—-wanted no strings, no ties, nothing beyond those that already existed, but the human half wanted to pursue what might lie between them. Wanted to discover if, given the chance, it could develop into something more than friendship.
Not that there ever would be a chance, if her anger was anything to go by. Which was precisely what he’d wanted, what he’d been aiming for over the nine months they’d been partners. So why did his victory feel so hollow?
He shut the door and walked across the room to the chair. “So,” he said as he sat down. “Where has she been reassigned?”
Stephan leaned back in his chair, his blue eyes assessing. “She’s right. It really is none of your business now.”
“Don’t give me that crap. Just tell me.”
Stephan smiled, though no warmth touched his expression. It was that, more than anything, which raised Gabriel’s hackles. Stephan was up to something, something he wouldn’t like.
“She’s on special assignment as of tomorrow.”
Gabriel regarded him steadily. His brother was enjoying this. He could almost feel his twin’s satisfaction. “Give, brother. What the hell have you done?”
Stephan steepled his fingers and studied them with sudden interest. “I’ve assigned her to the Wetherton case.”
The Wetherton case? The one case she should have been kept well away from, if only because of its possible links to both Sethanon and Hopeworth? “Get her off it, Stephan. Get her off it now.”
His twin’s gaze finally met his, filled with nothing more than a steely determination. “She is the best person for the job, whatever the risks.”
“You haven’t even warned her, have you?” Gabriel scrubbed a hand across his jaw. Christ, she could be walking straight into a goddamn trap, and there was nothing he could do to save her.
“She knows we believe Sethanon is involved,” Stephan commented.
“Which is the least of our worries. Wetherton’s and Kazdan’s clones can have only one source, and we both know it. Neither the government labs nor the black marketeers have succeeded with personality and memory transfers. Hopeworth has.”
“Or so our spy tells us. It’s not something we’ve been able to confirm.”
The Federation had attempted to place spies in Hopeworth on several occasions, but it was only in the last few months that one of their operatives had leaked this information—-though so far it was only his word backing it up.
“I think Hopeworth basically confirmed their involvement when they maneuvered to get Wetherton’s clone in charge of their budget.”
“If they wanted their clone in charge of their budget, they should have got him assigned to Defense.”
Gabriel crossed his arms. Hopeworth had fingers in both pies, and Stephan knew it. “Did you even mention Hopeworth to Sam?”
“It was mentioned. But we don’t know for sure if Hopeworth is involved.”
“Then did you at least tell her Sethanon is more than likely involved with Hopeworth?”
“No, because we have nothing more than a suspicion to back this up. We have no photographs of him. We don’t even know if he truly exists. He is currently nothing more than a name.”
“A name that has over thirty SIU and Federation deaths attributed to it. And I don’t particularly want Sam’s name added to that list.” His voice was tight with the anger coursing through him. True, he’d wanted to lose her as a partner, but he certainly hadn’t wanted to throw her to the lions, and that’s basically what his brother had done. She would have been safer remaining his partner than taking this mission.
Stephan grimaced. “Nor do I, brother. Believe me. But we need to uncover the source of these clones. We need to draw Sethanon out, and we need to uncover whether or not he is involved as deeply with Hopeworth as we suspect. And the truth is, she’s the best bait we have to achieve those aims.”
“What about our source in Hopeworth? Has he heard any whispers about Sethanon?”
Stephan shook his head. “It’s not a code name the military uses.”
“Kazdan knew who he was, so others must. It’s just a matter of uncovering the various layers of his organization.”
“Which is why Samantha has been assigned to Wetherton. We know he’s a clone. We know his name was on that list she got from Kazdan. We need to know what that list was, and what Wetherton had promised to do in return for life eternal. And why the original was deemed expendable enough to kill and clone and not directly exploit.”
“But that still puts her too close to Hopeworth. That could be extremely dangerous.”
Stephan leaned back in his chair and regarded his brother steadily. “Only if, as you presume, she is a product of Hopeworth itself.”
“You’ve seen the initial reports from O’Hearn. You’ve seen the coding. Whatever Sam is, she’s definitely not a product of natural selection.”
“Yet it was Sethanon who assigned Kazdan to monitor her every move. Sethanon who appears to know just who and what Samantha is. You noted that yourself. Couldn’t that mean he’s responsible for her creation?”
Possible, but not likely. Gabriel didn’t doubt that Sethanon wanted to use her, but if the man had been responsible for her creation, why would he take the risk of releasing her?
“Sam had a military microchip in her side,” Gabriel pointed out. “The same sort of chip that we found in both the Generation 18 rejects and in Allars.” She was also afraid of Hopeworth. Though she had never said anything, he could feel her fear as clearly as if it were his own.
“And yet our source in Hopeworth can find no rec-ord of her, though he can find records on every other reject.”
“Maybe because her project was destroyed by a fire years ago.”
“A fire would never destroy every scrap of information. Nor could it erase every memory.”
“And yet everyone says that Penumbra was destroyed that completely.”
“People still remember the project, Gabriel. They just don’t remember her.”
Mary Elliot, the nurse who’d worked on the project, apparently did, but she was just one of many, and a woman with a faulty memory at that. Partially thanks to Alzheimer’s, and partially thanks to the military’s habit of “readjusting” memories. Gabriel shifted restlessly in the seat. “What if she isn’t a reject? What if she’s something else entirely?”
Stephan raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
He didn’t really know. It was just a feeling. The extent of Sam’s memory loss, the depth to which the truth appeared to be buried and the fact that someone was willing to bomb the SIU in order to destroy her test results—-it all spoke of intent. It suggested that someone, somewhere, was protecting her from her past, whatever that might be.
He actually doubted that it was Hopeworth trying to conceal who she was, even if they were her creators. The military wasn’t that subtle. Besides, if Sam was one of their creations, they would never have let her go—-especially not with the potential she was now showing.
“Look,” Gabriel said, somewhat impatiently. “All I’m saying is that if Sethanon feared her enough to place a watch on her, we should not risk using her as bait in an attempt to catch the man.”
“We don’t even know if, in fact, it is a man we are after.”
Gabriel leaned forward and glared at his twin’s altered features. It was in moments like this—-moments when he almost wanted to punch the cold smile from his brother’s face—-that Stephan’s ability to shapeshift into the form of any male he touched became a problem. It was harder to restrain the urge to hit him when he wasn’t wearing his own face. “Damn it, Stephan, don’t play word games with me!”
Something flickered through his twin’s blue eyes. Anger perhaps. Or regret. “Do you, or do you not, agree that we must learn more about Sethanon?”
“And do you, or do you not,” Stephan continued, his voice soft but relentless, “agree that Sethanon’s interest in Sam might be the lever we need to draw him out of the shadows?”
Gabriel rubbed his forehead. This was one battle he wasn’t going to win—-not that he ever won many against Stephan. “At the first hint of danger, I’m going in.”
“Samantha can take care of herself. She’s proven that time and time again.”
But this was different. This was leaving her roped, tied and blindfolded in front of an express train. “I won’t see her harmed.”
Stephan smiled. “And here I thought you didn’t care for her.”
“I’ve never said that. All I’ve ever said is that I don’t want her as a partner. That I don’t want to see her dead.”
“Have you ever considered the fact that this fear of losing partners is irrational, and that maybe you should seek psychiatric help for it?”
“Considered it? Yes. Acknowledge it? Yes. Am I going to seek psychiatric help? No.” He met his brother’s stony gaze with one of his own. “If I wanted to talk to anyone, I’d talk to our father.”
“Because, of course, you couldn’t talk to your brother.” Stephan’s voice was almost bitter.
“My brother has a tendency to put the needs of the Federation and the SIU above the needs of everyone else—-including his brother.”
Stephan didn’t immediately comment, just leaned forward and picked up a folder from the desk. “Here’s the file on your new partner.”
Gabriel ignored the offered folder and stared at his twin through narrowed eyes. “What do you mean, new partner?”
“I’ve told you before. All field agents, whether SIU or Federation, now work in pairs. There have been too many murder attempts of late to risk solo missions.”
“How many times do I have to say it? I don’t want a partner!” What was his brother trying to prove?
“Then you’ll remain at your desk and leave the field work to the agents in your charge.”
He was tempted, very tempted, to do just that. But both he and Stephan knew that being confined for any length of time would make him stir--crazy.
Besides, he was more valuable to the SIU and the Federation in the field.
“Who have you assigned me?”
Stephan dropped the folder on the desk and leaned back in his chair. Though there was no emotion on his face, Gabriel could feel his twin’s amusement.
Who was the State Police officer they’d recruited after he’d made a series of spectacular arrests—-arrests that involved one of the biggest vampire crime gangs in the city. He was good, no doubt about it.
The only trouble was, the man was a womanizer who was always on the lookout for his next conquest.
“It won’t work.” And Stephan knew it.
“Then make it work. And don’t try dumping Illie in the dungeons. He’ll bring in the unions the minute you try.”
Wonderful. “Is this all you called me in here for?”
Stephan smiled. “No. There’s been a break--in at the Pegasus Foundation that we’ve been asked to investigate.”
“The Pegasus Foundation?” Gabriel frowned, trying to recall what he knew of the organization. “They won a military contract recently, didn’t they?”
“To develop a stealth device for military vehicles, yes. But whoever broke in wasn’t concerned about stealth devices.”
“Then what were they after?”
“That’s something you’ll have to find out. All I’ve been told is that the person or persons involved managed to get past several security stations, three laser alarms and numerous cameras. It was only due to the fact that the intruder set a lab on fire that they were even aware someone had slipped their net.”
“So we’re saying that the person who started the fire is someone who can become both invisible and insubstantial? Is such a thing even possible?”
“We’ve never seen it before,” Stephan answered. “But then, we’ve never seen a lot of the things we are now encountering, so who knows?”
“Was it just the lab that was destroyed?”
“That I don’t know. They’re not giving much away—-not over the phone, anyway.”
No real surprise there, given how easily phone conversations could be hacked these days. “So why were we called in? The Pegasus Foundation has more military ties than we have agents. Why not ask them to investigate?”
“It was the military that asked us to investigate.” Stephan hesitated. “They asked specifically for you and your partner.”
“So they want Sam.” But if the military didn’t know anything about her, why had they specifically asked for her to be included in the investigation?
“Who signed the request?”
“A General Frank Lloyd.”
As Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser. “Sam met Lloyd at Han’s.” She’d been wary of the general and convinced they’d meet again. “You have to warn her about the military’s interest.”
“No, I won’t.” Stephan hesitated. “And neither will you.”
Like hell he wouldn’t. It was one thing to let her go; it was another to leave her blind. He crossed his arms. “What time is the Pegasus Foundation expecting us?”
Stephan glanced at his watch. “You’re to meet with the director—-Kathryn Douglass—-at four thirty.”
It was nearly four now. Then Gabriel frowned. “Kathryn Douglass? Why does that name sound familiar?”
“Because her name is on that list Kazdan gave to Sam.”
A list that had marked potential clones and vampires, as well as assassination possibilities. “So which one is she? Clone, vampire or potential dead meat?”
“That we can’t say, as there’s no note beside her name,” Stephan said. “Illie’s requisitioned a car and is waiting out front.”
Gabriel met his twin’s gaze. “Thought I’d skip without him, huh?”
Stephan’s smile touched his eyes for the first time. “I know you, brother. I know the way your mind works. Don’t ever forget that.”
Then he’d know Illie wasn’t going to be a fixture in Gabriel’s life for very long. If he’d wanted a partner, he’d have kept Sam.
“Then you’ll know precisely what I’m thinking now.”
Stephan’s smile widened. “Yeah, and it’s not polite to abuse a family member like that.”
Although it was when your brother was being such a bastard.
Stephan’s smile faded. “Keep away from her, Gabriel. She has a job to do, and I don’t want you getting in the way.”
“What I do in my own time is my business, not yours,” Gabriel said, voice flat. “I’m warning you, don’t ever try to control my personal life.”
Stephan raised an eyebrow. “You have an obligation to both the SIU and the Federation, just as I have.”
“Yeah, right.” Gabriel turned and headed for the door. The Federation and the SIU could go hang if it meant letting Sam walk into a trap out of no more than ignorance.
He may have succeeded in getting rid of her as a partner, but that didn’t mean he wanted her dead.
“Gabriel, I’m warning you. Leave her alone.”
Gabriel stopped with his hand on the doorknob and glanced over his shoulder, meeting his brother’s gaze. “Or you’ll what? Censure me? Bust me down to field agent again? Do it. I don’t really give a damn.”
“This could be our one chance to draw Sethanon out!”
“That doesn’t justify sending her in blind.”
“Gabriel, I’m giving you a direct order. Do not go near her. Do not warn her.”
“Then you’d better get my file out and add the black mark to it now, because that’s one order I have no intention of obeying.”
And he slammed the door open and stalked from the room.
Excerpted from "Penumbra"
Copyright © 2014 Keri Arthur.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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