*Disclaimer
UNHACKABLE HEART: Cole -- Cold with Class



A creepy gravely growl from inside the house cackled and the hairs on Cole’s nape refused to go down even when he brushed one hand over his neck. When he lifted one arm from the keyboard to swipe his neck, Tessa who had been sitting on his lap with one of his arms on each side of her, slid off and stepped out the van door.

“Hey,” he leaned back in the swivel chair until he could see her outside the open door. “I hope you don’t intend to go back in there. It’s,” he shuddered, “laughing. Can’t you hear it?”

She nodded once as if he couldn’t see the stark terror exposed in her eyes. She lifted the walkie-talkie and pushed to talk. “Glenn, we need to leave now.”

Glenn bleeped back, and Cole looked at the monitor to see Glenn even if Tessa couldn’t from outside. “Fear not. Can’t go now. Kinda busy. Sun is coming up and the power is about to shift to our side.”

Cole leaned back again to see her. What was she thinking? Last night, the ghost hunters had told them she was lucky she slipped out last time without the demon following her. “It’s not finished, Tess.”

She bleeped back. “Thanks for everything, dudes.” She handed him the walkie-talkie and turned on her toe to walk past the torn up yard and landscaping equipment.

Glenn bleeped back. “It’s not done. Do you want it to follow you to DC?”

Cole expelled an icy breath of fear and responded to Glenn since Tessa took off. “She’s leaving.”

He glanced back at the screen and saw Glenn cuss even if he didn’t broadcast it over the walkie-talkie. When Glenn did finally respond, his voice was calm. If Cole couldn’t see him, he’d believe the unruffled voice. “Keep hacking the house, bro, until we locate it.”

Cole stepped out of the van to check on Tessa’s progress. She was about to enter the foggy cemetery at dawn. Where did she think she was going? There was endless rural land for miles before it ran into a lonely old highway with very little traffic other than in the morning. Surely she wasn’t planning to hitch a ride with a trucker?

He growled, but went back in the van to keep fuzzing the house with white noise to find this evil thing and be done with it.

He picked up his cell phone, but could not pick up a decent signal out here in the sticks. Whatever her problem was, he doubted it would improve if Cole called her. She had never given him her number which was registered under a male name with an Alaskan address; to call her anyway would surely set off her privacy invasion fuse and the firewall around her heart would reprogram to shoot intruders first, ask no questions after.

Three hours into morning daylight and the demonologist called off the hunt. None of them could find where the demon was hiding. They decided to come back again the next night when it was active to pick up it’s location in the house.

A different crew of men who worked for Glenn arrived and tore up her yard some more in the first phase of landscaping. As Glenn grabbed his truck keys, Cole started his motorcycle.

Glenn rubbed the back of his neck, looking beat. “Heading to Haven and then home for a few hours of sleep. Call me when you find her. She’s probably on her laptop at the hotel shooting dudes in the head.”

Cole grunted in agreement. She did game when she was frustrated to work off steam sometimes. He traveled the path she was taking, but there was no sign of Tessa on the highway. She had hitched. He sighed and headed to the hotel. She was not there either.

On the way back out to his motorcycle, his cell rang.

Glenn stated, “She’s here at Haven. She used a little black magic to gain access to my server room. Said she had to tighten the hatches before Haven takes a hit on a senator’s behalf from the cyber-warriors. Why didn’t you warn me, big brother, that she’d brought the Russian mafia down on my place of business?”

Cole growled. “If she’s fixed it, you’re good to go. I’ll be there in five minutes. Keep that bundle of trouble there.”

He walked into Haven to find Tessa waiting for him at the high front counter. She immediately handed him a large cup of hot coffee. Glenn sat beside her, drinking his. Well she could be as calm and collected as she wanted, but Cole was ticked. Her immediate hospitality though warranted manners. “Thanks, Tessa.”

“You’re welcome.”

He took a sip, studying her. Maybe she had spent years in a haunted house, so her nerves weren’t as raw and jagged as his?

Glenn said, “I told her we’d have to go back tonight. I told her we were all frustrated with her for leaving and ending the activity in her house. She told me she left because she’s done with it and not going back.”

Glenn slapped one hand on his chest. “I told her she’d best shower in holy water for the rest of her life. Could be the demon followed her out and that’s why we couldn’t locate it. You’re up to speed now.”

Tessa still had not volunteered anything to Cole, sitting there drinking her coffee like it was a regular morning before work. She’d shut him out when he’d gotten close to breaching the firewall around her unhackable heart.

His aggravation ticked up a couple of degrees. There had been plenty of strife in the air after he went with her the first time in her scary old house. Strife from him mentioning the GPS tag he authorized for her motorcyle once upon a time. He leaned forward. “I didn’t check Glenn’s servers either. Good job going back to cover Haven from Korskovf. That was who tried to assassinate the senator with a heart hack.”

Good, he thought. She looked a little less in control, a little rattled now.

“Yes. I left Haven exposed after going in from here. I fixed that stupid oversight. I’m waiting on my car to be repaired and then I’m off.”

Cole grunted. “Get rid of that heap. Go green. What happened to your other car?”

She appeared a bit more ruffled when he admitted he knew about her nice sports car. Her voice quiet, she stated, “I like that heap. It’s old with no modern technology or tracking capabilities. I’ll get rid of that heap after tryouts.”

She sipped her coffee, but her fingers drummed over her cell phone like she was awaiting a call.

Cole lifted his phone and punched in text. What is ur problem???

She lifted her phone before glaring at him. She glanced at Glenn. “Did you give him my number?”

Glenn lifted both hands up like he surrendered. “No way. All’s fair.”

She continued to stare at Glenn. “Listen, I can’t go back and stay at the hotel. Yori Korskovf will find me. I’m sure he’s still hunting my head, but I crossed him when he would have taken out the senator. Can I stay with you for a couple days?”

Cole lifted one hand, universal signal to stop. He notched an eyebrow and asked her quietly, “Do you have a thing for my little brother?”

She flicked her finger between the men. “You’re brothers?”

Glenn nodded. “Different fathers.”

“There was once a bet between brothers,” she said in a low growl.

“Sorry,” Cole said as quietly. At least she’d shown a crack in the ice of her calm. “Does that mean you will or you will not still plan to play us off each other?”

She leaned toward Cole. “That’s insulting, Stone. Revenge isn’t the end; it’s beginning again on the wrong foot. I’m smarter than you must give me credit for being. It’s not like that between your brother and me. Never was, never will be.”

Glenn stood up and stretched. “Alrighty then. I’m going home to bed.” He grinned at Cole before turning to Tessa. “You coming?”

“Cute, bud,” Cole replied.

Tessa’s phone sang out and she snatched it to her dainty ear immediately. “Thanks,” sounded sad. “The mechanic said it could take a week. I don’t have a week to sit and spin. I have to be there in five days.”

She sighed and then turned to Glenn. “Thanks, but I’ll catch a flight out of here. Sleep well, Glenn. Your landscape designs are lovely.” She shifted to pull the checkbook from her jacket and tore out a check for Glenn. “Let me know when it’s ready for the market, okay?”

She stood and held out her hand to shake his brother’s hand and then she held out her hand to him.

Cole snorted. “Not funny, woman.”

“Am I laughing? Goodbye, Cole Stone. Meeting you was a pleasant yet eye opening experience long overdue.”

“Ouch.” Glenn walked out the back exit.

Cole took her extended hand in both of his. “I know last night scared you. I might never have sweet dreams again after the haunted experience, but you can’t run off. It’s not finished. You can’t go forward until it’s done.”

“Glenn is a man of action and he’ll finish it. Let go of my hand please, Cole. A wise man would not attempt to tell me what I can or cannot do.”

He didn’t let go, he pulled until she stood close to him. He leaned down near her ear. “You told that creepy shadowman you loved me. You told him that I am your future and that you forgive me. Do you play headgames with the shadowland?”

She tipped up on her toes and brushed a quick kiss across his cheek. “Bye, Cole.”

He let go of her, but stepped beside her outside on the sidewalk. “You can’t get on a plane.”

“You can’t tell me what to do.”

How did she manage to keep her icy composure? He decided to crack it open. “You don’t think you can stroll into an airport and onto a plane without being detained for questioning, Tessa? You do! No flights out for you. Take my word for it; you’re on the list of possible terrorist suspects.”

“That’s a mean thing to suggest!” At least he succeeded in chipping off some of the ice.

She picked up her cell phone and punched a number. “Hey check something for me please. Am I authorized to use the helicopter?” She waited and then smiled. “Yeah. Thanks, David.” Calm composure, her game face if he’d ever seen one, securely in place again.

Cole rocked heel to toe, gritting his teeth, trying to keep the words locked in his mouth. When she smiled at him, the words escaped without the go ahead from his brain. “Who is David?”

She snorted. “You are nosey. Sure you don’t still work for the F.B.I.?”

“I moved on from that job. Now you answer me. Who. Is. David?” he asked staccato style.

“Sheesh. He’s a colleague. He’s a friend. He’s on the senator’s payroll too. Happy now?”

“Not even a little,” he replied. “Get on the back of my bike, babe. Get some sleep so your reasoning reboots.”

“Have I been anything but logical since you came into Haven this morning?”

He grunted, but she did hop on the back of his bike. He drove them to the hotel, fuming that she could be logical around him when his logic had vanished since the trip to her creepy house. He didn’t want her logic; he wanted her illogical and in love. She was making him crazy!

He dug two baseball caps from his side bag. He hung one on her head and pulled it down low near her eyebrows. He jerked the other one on his head and pulled it low too. He followed her to the door of her hotel room.

She turned, lips tipping in a lopsided sad smile. “Thank you.” She shut the door.

Cole caught it with his toe and walked in behind her. He watched her collect her laptop bags, pulling three over each shoulder. She dropped the electronic key on the nightstand. She frowned when she saw him waiting at the door.

“Cole, why are you making this so difficult?”

I’m being difficult?” He stepped aside and stepped in the hallway, only she didn’t walk toward the lobby. He followed her out the back door. He walked beside her past the parking lot into a field behind the hotel.

He slid one finger under her chin to tip her eyes to his. “I haven’t even given you too much too fast yet. Why are doing this? Why are we standing in a field?”

“Practice for tryouts of course.”

“Has that demon got hold of you, Tessa?”

Her cold composure busted wide open, pain flashing in her green eyes. Yet she held up her cell phone. “I have your number now.”

“You could have asked for it!”

“Thanks for the heads up about airports. How did you know that?”

“Same way I know Yori Korskovf is the enemy and he’ll be hunting your head now.”

“Who do you work for?” she asked but she really looked like she didn’t want to know.

“DHS.”

“You privacy carving thieving pirate!” No icy composure left, her lovely face red hot with anger. “Oh and I really liked you way way too much, you big dumb jerk.”

Positive stroke and poison blow. Only Tessa could do that to him in one swift move.

A helicopter flew into sight, the whoosh whoosh whoosh whipping tall grasses of the field as it landed.

His mouth fell open, stunned to see the senator’s private taxi, stunned when she ran for the door. His shock heated to fury when she hopped inside and the helicopter lifted off the ground.

His phone bleeped and he pulled it out of his pocket. She’d sent him a text.

So who won the bet between bros???

He growled before turning back to the hotel. “No one.” If she’d have asked in person, she would have heard the answer. He did not answer her text. He deleted it.

Tessa spent the next three days with one of her friends. It didn’t hurt that they both worked for the senator, both had strong opinions about privacy, security, freedom or the lack thereof. It didn’t hurt that he lived in Virginia, right outside DC. They became friends when Tessa discovered David was a digital musician in every meaning of the word. And when they hacked or counter-hacked together, it was a lovely thing to behold. He liked guys, so did she, it was a match made in cyberwar heaven.

Yori Korskovf, maker of Medatron medical implants had crossed them. The senator was a strong proponent for privacy. Yori had made a very unwise mistake. They were in the cyberwar too and just as capable of assassinating enemies with medical implants. Yori had the newest insulin pump on the market. Yori would come for them to make sure they did not make the cyber CT team.

The fourth night, David twirled his finger around in front of her eyes.

Tessa twirled for his inspection of her new little black dress and heels, but she pointed at him. He had on black jeans and a black t-shirt and hadn’t shaved in a week. “How come I have to dress up and you can look like a reckless hack instead of binary mastermind?”

“Come on, Tessa, you like him. I don’t think I’m his type. Besides, I’m bored and you’re bored and this will give us something to do to keep us out of trouble. Too close to tryouts.”

“Department of Homeland Security! Could we be any more unsuited? Besides,” she tossed her phone back on the couch. “He gave me his answer by not answering.”

“Hey, chick, he can’t be all bad or you wouldn’t be all hot and bothered for him.”

Tessa groaned. “God help me. Do I know how to pick them or what? I’m done with train-wrecks for relationships.”

“I can’t wait to meet the man that makes you this crazy!” David laughed and they left his condo.

He drove them a couple miles and parked his car in the driveway.

Tessa dialed Cole’s cell phone. It jumped to music, two rings, before a very male voice whispered, “It’s about damn time. I hate it when you go silent.”

Tessa didn’t really know the appropriate social response for that. “Hi.”

David sighed. He opened the driver’s door with a creak. He walked to her side and opened her door. “Get out.”

“Who else are you talking to, Tessa?”

“Cole, would you be so kind as to walk out to your driveway?”

Thirty seconds ticked by before he said anything. His front door opened.

She slid out of the car and stepped toward him. She couldn’t wipe the silly grin from her face. He looked good enough in her dreams. In real-time, he was too much for her senses. “Hi,” she said again and hung up her phone.

Cole stood there staring at her without blinking. Had she struck him dumb? Was he furious? His navy gaze touched her from head to toe and then back up. How did he do that, touching her without touching her?

David stuck his hand forward. “I’m David. Pleased to meet you.” David grinned at Tessa. “I can see it, a rebel outlaw.”

Tessa cleared her throat and tried to smile at David. “Thanks, dude.”

Cole seemed to unfreeze before shaking David’s hand. “And you are?”

“Gay. Sadly I take it that you are not.” David slid his arm around Tessa before moving her up in front of Cole. “Tessa wants to ask you something. Tessa?”

She stepped in a bit closer to Cole and whispered, “How can you work for DHS, Cole?”

David laughed. “That wasn’t it, Tessa. Try again.”

“Cole, would you like to go out with us for the evening?”

“Not a bar, right?”

“Can I interest you in buying your dinner?”

Cole shook his head once and waved one finger up and down. “You can’t go out in public like that, Tess.”

David touched her forearm. “A compliment, not an insult.” He frowned at Cole. “She doesn’t know the difference. You better do better than that.”

Cole nodded once. “You look hot. Not even in the same spectrum as invisible. Better?”

“God help me,” Tessa said for the second time in an hour. She felt almost naked, exposed, invisibility factor to the Nth of nill. “Cole, I’m standing in your driveway. Come to dinner with us at least. It’s too early for you to have eaten yet.”

David laughed and walked back to the driver’s door. “He does look hungry, Tessa. Let’s get a move on, people. I have an important interview tomorrow. She’s bored, dude, and I don’t think I can keep her out of trouble. Can you?”

Tessa held out her hand, palm up. “Time to fly. You’ll like David; he’s a wizard of the digital realm.”

He placed his hand in hers. She squeezed his hand and then slid into the car beside David on the bench seat. She patted the spot to her right. “Coming, Cole?”

He lifted one finger and then disappeared into his house. He returned with three baseball caps and a long duster. She laughed when his slid it over on her lap to cover her legs. She adjusted the blowing air conditioning vent. “It’s hot out, dude. You are seriously gonna overdress if you put this thing on.”

“It’s for you, Tess. Korskovf will have you spotted within fifteen minutes.” Cole opened the coat and then strapped on a shoulder holster and his gun!

David turned the corner. “Out to dinner with DHS. Let’s just jump right to it then shall we?”

“What’s this about?”

“Don’t growl, Cole.” She smiled at him. “Want the nice answer or the cocky answer?”

“Bring it.”

“The perfect weapon, one keystroke within 500 meters and he’ll be dead in under a minute.”

Tessa leaned forward and slid open the compartment with her sunglasses. She slipped on her shades with one hand and handed a purple USB to Cole with the other. “You said I’d crossed Yori? He crossed me! Who do you think wrote the program to patch the hole in his insulin pump? And he crossed David too. Most unwise.”

Cole accepted the USB from her hand. Tessa sharing her cryptology code?

Tessa folded her hand over his. “I’ve bumped into you way way too many times online, Cole. It’s like I can feel your digital presence no matter your alias. I don’t much care for your day job, but you fight in the cyberwar at night. You’re like some kind of guardian angel.”

David grinned before parking the car behind a resort hotel. “You go, girl.”

Tessa laughed and squeezed Cole’s hand. “What you do defines you, not your job department.” With her other hand, she squeezed David’s arm. “Look at us? Do we look like Big Brother material? I don’t think so.”

Cole cupped her cheek. “Tessa honey, who do you think was truly doing the recruiting at DefCon? It’s not for Big Brother. You two hack in tandem like you do tag team it, you will be hacking for DHS.”

“No way!”

David rubbed one finger up and down his short beard. “You mean like go to work, get paid to hack, have immunity? And the dudes at DefCon said there weren’t any other restrictions or job description? No head shrinking, no FBI camp? Only a test for the government version of certified ethical hackers?”

Cole nodded. “That about sums it up. If people like you and me don’t stay in power on the backend of it, how long do you think before we become a fully policed country?”

David hopped out of the car.

“God help me,” Tessa groaned.

Cole grinned. “He is, babe.”

“Let’s go inside, Cole. David says it’s a pretty nice place. Take off your gun, outlaw, or you’ll never make it past the security gate.”

“What are we really doing here, Tessa?”

“Can’t I take you out to eat, silly man?”

“You want Korskovf to find you.”

“We’ve got this, Cole. It’ll be fine. I’ll protect you if and when he comes.”

Cole snorted. “Are you stoned?”

David drummed his fingers on the open passenger door. “A compliment, not an insult, Stone. Thought you knew her?”

Cole hopped out after sliding his gun under the seat. “Let’s do this. Ambush by supper.” He held out his hand to help Tessa out of the car. “Coming? Or will I need the purple USB?”

“It’ll pass through security, Cole, even a bone scan without going off. We have a beta drive from the scientists studying invisibility.” She giggled.

“Beta?”

David laughed and grabbed it out of Cole’s hand. “Prototype. Perk for working to protect the senator. I’ll hold that while you go in. Have a fun date, kids.”

After they entered the building and were escorted to a table, Tessa pointed to a band in the background. “Want to dance with me, Stone? Or are you hungry?”

“Oh yeah.”

She laughed, not sure if she should sit or if they were dancing. “Which one?”

“Didn’t you ask me the same question twice? Do you intend to make this difficult too, Tessa, or do you want to kiss and make up?”

“I missed you, Cole,” she admitted and tried not to show how miserable her knowing that made her. She shot him a lopsided smile. Time away from him had hurt her; time away made it worse.

Cole took her hand and led Tessa to the dance floor. “That about killed you didn’t it?”

“We are unsuited. This is not wise, but I’m going to work here, to live here. I don’t think I can be this close and stay away from you.”

“Good.”

When he wrapped his arms around her on the dance floor, swaying to the slow music, she rested her cheek against his chest. She sighed. “I knew a little more patience wouldn’t kill me, but it about did, Cole.”

Cole inhaled deeply, taking her sexy essence deep into his lungs. “I think we suit well.” He slid his hands to cover soft bare skin on her back as if he could keep her invisible from Korskovf. He pulled her tighter against him. “He’ll come, Tessa. I guarantee Yori will show.”

“Do you suppose a person would go to hell, straight to hell, do not pass the pearly gate, do not collect a crown, if they killed another person?”

Cole shifted his hands on her body, memorizing the feel of Tessa in heels, her height, how their bodies touched, turning her in circles as they danced. “Like in battle? To protect their country or to protect their rights? No, Tessa. Justice of the right kind defeats evil. Men have waged war since the dawn of time. God knows what war is even if He promotes peace. He helps the good guy, not the bad guy.”

Her lips touch his earlobe. “Heroes try to change the world; they don’t accept the bad as it is. You are the good guy, right, Cole?”

“I am now, babe. I wasn’t when my brother and I had a bet going. Everyone deserves a second chance. If they don’t take it then . . . .”

“Even Yori?”

“Even Yori.” Cole frowned when she stiffened in his arms.

“Do you want his head, cause he’s headed this way.”

“Tessa,” Yori Korskovf said with a slight bow. “I’ve been waiting on you.”

Cole pulled her to his side, moving them to the far dark side of the dance floor. “Korskovf, you are a fool to follow her onto U.S. soil.”

“On the contrary, gaining her gun on my side would help us win the war.”

Tessa lifted one hand. “Stop. People don’t want to have surgery to replace a functioning medical device when they can’t understand just how vulnerable they are, that the implant saving their life can also take it. You asked me to help you patch it all up, to make it all right. You don’t want to protect people; you want the right to assassinate them. Who decides who dies? Zeros in their bank account, power on the political circuit? Who decides, Yori? You?”

Cole grinned. “Sounds like her gun is on my side, Korskovf.”

Yori raked a hand down his pale face, his beard. “He decides, Tessa Kendall? This man is your known enemy as well as mine. I can make you rich beyond your wildest desire. I can shield your notoriety. Come with me to Moscow, Tessa, and I’ll make you invisible.”

“Dead as in invisible?” she countered. “Is David next? How about the senator!”

“You join my enemy, you are my enemy.”

Tessa nodded, but turned away from Cole. “Let’s take this outside, Yori. See where David falls when he jumps off the fence. You’ve been headhunting him too. You crossed us, Yori.”

Cole grabbed her arm. “I don’t think so.”

Yori marched off the dance floor, past the tables, past the security scanner.

Red lights flashed, sirens beeping.

“Guess David decided.”

Yori clutched his stomach.

Cole shook his head as the guard ran a wand over Yori. “Know any prayers, Korskovf?”

Yori dropped to his knees, blood gurgled out of the side of his lips.

With the sirens and lights turned off, and a dozen people moved past the scanners, a crowd gathered around Yori. “God forgive me,” Cole heard Tessa murmur.

“Let’s get out of here, Tessa.”

She stood staring at the man laying face down on the tile. “I’m gonna go to hell,” she whispered this time.

He slid his arm around her and strolled past the casino and out the resort door.

“Can’t you hear it, Cole? That unearthly gravelly voice telling me to join it in hell?”

“God, help her,” Cole said and hurried toward the car.

David waited, motor running. “Where to?”

“Spelunking,” Cole replied.

“To a cave?” David shook his head. “Isn’t that a touch paranoid? We can’t be traced for what happened.”

Cole raked one hand down his face. He picked up his cell and called Glenn. “I’m bringing Tessa back to the house. Bring your people.”

Glenn sighed. “It followed her?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t take her to your house, brother. You don’t want it to set up house elsewhere. Bring it back to where it’s dwelled for the last dozen years.”

“We’re hopping on a helicopter. Be there as soon as we can get there.”

David dropped them off at a private airstrip.

Cole leaned down. “Good job. See you at tryouts tomorrow.”

David tapped his watch in reply. “Don’t let her miss it.”

“I won’t,” Cole stated and escorted a protesting Tessa to the helicopter. He did not allow her to draw him into an argument. Instead, he did not release her hand and prayed silently. An evil gravelly growl threatened him, using everything he feared most, losing Tessa, trying to convince Cole to turn around and to take her home with him while he could. At least the vile thing wasn’t in her, just battering around in her brain, his brain.

“Hang on, Tessa,” he said to her pale face. “Victory is close.”

After the pilot landed on the now manicured side yard, Cole told him to wait. Then he hustled her out and into the open front door where his brother and the demonologist waited.

Paul prayed in Latin, making the sign of the cross on Cole’s forehead. The evil swirling fears in his head stopped immediately. Tessa let out a cry of relief after Paul applied the blessing and oil on her forehead. The demon must have shot off into the house.

She rubbed her forehead, smearing the oil into her curly hair. “Let’s do this. I want it to go! It was hacking my head.”

“Mine too,” Cole admitted.

Glenn pointed at the van outside. “You two go hack the house so we can finish this. We blessed the cave, sealed off the portal.”

From the van, Tessa fuzzed the house to isolate the evil spirit hiding in the furnace room in the basement.

Cole reported the location to Glenn via walkie-talkie. He turned to Tessa. “You’re not going to hell, babe. It is.”

A monitor showed the walls rumbling in the basement like an earthquake rocked it. The group of men squeezed into the furnace room had locked hands, praying. The demonologist continued to chant, swinging the decanter of incense with one hand and sprinkling holy water by shaking a pewter cross with his other hand.

The evil growl screamed, shrieking inhumanely, and then everything stopped. The walls stopped rumbling as well as the scratching scream that lifted hair from his nape. “It’s gone,” he said as relief flooded him.

Glenn radioed, “Tessa, come in here now.”

She blew out one shaky exhale and held out her hand to Cole. He took her hand, willing to follow this woman anywhere.

“Wow,” she gasped when she walked into the house. “Smell that? Like roses or something sweeter.”

Glenn topped the stairs. He inhaled too and then grinned. “A sign of a successful exorcism. It’s over, Tessa Kendall. Go forth and conquer in your new life.”

“Thank you,” she told them all.

Glenn accepted her hug and whispered, “Nothing in here now but truth and blessings. It might be a good time to tell my brother how you feel about him, so he knows it wasn’t headgames with the shadowland.”

Cole waited until she turned toward him, waiting to see if this sexy woman in a little black dress could say it to him now.

“I love you, Cole. Would you be interested in more than my ability to hack hearts?”

“Count on it, Tessa.” He opened the front door. “Ready for tryouts?”

She laughed a little shakily. “Yeah. I’m ready to hack a heart.”

Cole stepped onto the helicopter behind her and slid the door shut. On the back bench, he leaned close to her ear so she would hear over the rotating blades. “You don’t have to hack mine. I give it to you freely. I love you, Tessa.”

“Bring it,” she smiled against his lips. “I’m ready to travel the same path as you.”

“It’s about time. Thank you, God, for making this handful of trouble all mine.” Cole laughed and then he kissed her.

Happily Ever Afters!