|UNHACKABLE HEART: Cole -- Accept him & let him in|
Tessa shook her head at the closed door between their rooms. What was there to decide? He’d unlocked her mental encryption and her brain did not object when her heart tried to rule her head. Did he think she made out with dudes in a hotel often?
Did he think she hacked and counter-hacked hearts with guys every day?
She hopped up and took a cool shower. After she combed her wet hair and slipped on a black silk night dress, she blew out a long exhale. Still not cooled off, she knocked on the connecting door.
“It’s open, Tess.”
She opened her door to discover his connecting door open. His room was dark, but light spilled in from behind her. She heard him groan.
“Never imagined asking you this, but please put more clothes on than that.” His quiet request sounded pained.
“It’s after midnight, Cole. It’s morning.”
“Come over here,” his request as quiet but determined now.
“There are some things you should know, things you should ponder before deciding to partner with me.”
“Like what?” He leaned on one elbow, head cocked by his fist. “Come closer, Tessa. I want to wreak havoc on your logic as you have mine.” He lifted one finger to her bare shoulder, sliding down her arm from the little silk strap. “I want you illogical and in love.”
She shivered. As her eyes adjusted to the deep gray shades of darkness, his deep blue eyes seemed to blaze from within, touching her. Her stomach flipped over.
What had she meant to tell him? “I can’t think when you look at me like that.”
“It’s important.” Her brain kicked offline and when she opened her mouth, the words that popped out had not been authorized by mental encryption. “I’m on the pill.”
He chuckled, but removed his stroking fingers. “I don’t really want to give your brain time to reboot, babe.”
“That’s not what I intended to say. Remember how I stepped between the drug dealers, the undercover narcs, knowing everyone’s name and what they looked like, knew them all? That’s sort of repeating, only it makes the last time look like playtime on the playground sandbox.”
“And his name is . . .?”
“Who said it was a he?”
She sighed. “He’s the head of the Russian mafia, owner of a legitimate business, Medatron. Yori won’t sit back and happily watch us start a medical security business directly pointing to the vulnerabilities in his ICDs.”
He repeated the stroke with his finger, sliding down her arm. “Anything else, Tessa, you care to trust me with?”
“I patched his insulin pump; wrote the program, met him once in New York City when I fixed him up. He said he wanted to make it right, the vulnerabilities in the implantable medical devices. His pump is brand new, state-of-the-art, and more exploitable at a longer range than anything Medatron had come out with. He wants to hire me to consult.”
“Did you go to his hotel room?”
She held up her index finger and thumb with a tiny bit of space between them. “Give me a little credit.”
He blew out a long exhale, his finger dipping to exposed skin on her leg, sliding down her thigh to her knee and back up. “Anything else you want me to ponder, partner?”
“I have to finish this, the haunted house. I have to fix it and then walk away from here forever. Don’t suppose you’d want to come along?”
“For you, yes. For you, I’d hack DHS.”
“Once you get on their list, it’s impossible to get off! Are you high, Stone?”
“Just tempted, Tessa, and crazy in love, wanting to whisper in your ear. Wanting to see you in candlelight. Wanting you to lay under me, on top of me, beside me. Wanting to see you in the morning light.”
“Oh, Cole,” she groaned.
“I want to take you high above your past, up to heaven above. Come closer.”
From her room, she heard buzzing vibrations of her cell phone bouncing against the top of the dresser.
Cole groaned, flopping back on the pillow. “Turn that off, Tess. Stay ghosted, so your Russian mobster can’t track you.”
She sped off to her room to see who was calling. “It’s Glenn.” She answered the phone. “Hey there you. Do you know what time it is?”
Glenn laughed. “A ghost hunter’s job is never done. My fellow paranormal investigators are here at Haven. Want to come up and tell us where to setup and what to expect where?”
Not so much. She didn’t say that though because she wanted it done. Wasn’t he tearing up her yard tomorrow trying to make sure the entities in that house were wide awake? “Sure, Glenn.”
“Pick you up in five minutes.”
She hung up and then turned off her cell phone. She dug through her laptop bags, before selecting a change of clothes. After jumping into her skirt, she stuck her head in Cole’s hotel room. “Get some sleep. Gotta go, handsome.”
He’d pulled on his jeans, standing with his cell phone in his hand, pushing in text. He glanced up at her, shirt off and sexy as sin. “I’ll take you to Haven. I’ve already told Glenn.”
She stepped into the bathroom to change shirts, hoping Cole would have one on by the time she finished or else she might not be able to leave without jumping his sexy body. Hadn’t he made it clear that he did not like the idea of ghost hunting, or witnessing paranormal events? When she returned to the open connecting door, he had pulled on his shoes. “I appreciate it, Cole, but you don’t need to be up all night hearing real ghost stories and not urban legends.”
He shook his head. “I want to be prepared. The skeptic in me wants to know what to expect when I’m out there with you to finish that scary segment in your life.”
“I’m not rethinking it, I still would like to have you with me during the ghost hunt . . ..”
“The evil inside that house can change people, make them stupid, scary. Recall your state of mind and mood after being in the house alone? No control when it’s haunting your head.” She blew out a cleansing exhale and found him studying her hard. “But I think I’d rather do it alone than have you tag along and have the entities in that house turn you just like Sammy.”
“Oh, Tessa.” He stepped over to her, cupping her cheek. “All the more reason I must go. I’m not Sam. Not in that house or anywhere else. I’m scared of the spooks in your house; my brain does not want to accept it so I may not be at my best. You’ll see I’m not the same jerk from a decade ago. Even at my worst, I’m not him. Understand?”
She lifted her lips on one side, wanting to believe it, but not wanting burned like that again ever in her life. “I hear you. I’m listening. I hope so.”
“It’s hard to change on your own. It can be done, but it’s difficult to change your thinking patterns, your thoughts, and your state of mind looping corrupt data from the past. It’s hard to risk your heart for love. I can’t change you, but God can. Maybe by ghost hunting with you, something creepy for us both, may be how God changes your heart-set on love, wife, the things you consider four letter curse words.”
“Yikes. God? Wife? Not things I believe in anymore.” She tapped her watch. “Tick tock, Glenn and a dozen other ghost hunters are waiting.”
She tried not to groan when he pulled on a shirt. When he grabbed the keys, she grabbed a hat and pulled it low over her face. Facial recognition software and eyes in the sky were not going to help Yori find her. How could she put Cole up against such a cyberspook enemy as Yori Korskovf by becoming her partner?
After they arrived at Haven, Glenn introduced them to eleven paranormal investigators and one demonologist, Paul. She shivered and then shook her head. “Sorry, sounds deeply creepy dealing with demons and dark forces. If it starts telling me its name, I’ll be glad you’re there.”
They all laughed but Paul told them before entering her house, a blessing on their foreheads, a cross anointed with oil, would help protect their minds from the demon.
Tessa sat with the team in Glenn’s office around a large conference table. “I didn’t know if it was a demon, but that one is the strongest entity in the house. There’s a misty cloud that floats around up and down the stairs to the second floor. It sometimes pulls together into a form, and then it’s like looking at a glowing grayish-white Confederate soldier as if Johnny Reb stepped right out of the Civil War. You can hear his wooden-heeled boots clip-clomping down the stairs.”
She answered a few more questions about those two, where, what, when, how. The group of men, with the exception of Cole, seemed excited to find out the why. They wanted to know what else. She shot Cole a mental apology to drag him into this, but added, “There’s an ape-shaped shadow that jumps around . . . it has claws and it’s vicious. But there is also a shadowman, I call him Shadow, who kept the monkey monster away from me.”
She held up one hand before they hammered her with questions. “And Sammy blew out his brains in the master upstairs. I haven’t been up there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is stuck in that house. He wouldn’t leave it in life.”
They did not treat her like she was insane and this was the first time she’d ever talked to anyone about her haunted house way out in the middle of nowhere beyond the backdoor of Podunk. They seemed most interested in Shadow, not pleased she had named the six-foot shadowy man, but interested when she said he was also intelligent and would interact with her. They seemed interested in discovering how she managed to leave that house and not have Shadow follow her.
That’s ridiculous, she wanted to say, but admitted, “I tiptoed out of haunted hell like a barefoot thief in the night, not taking anything, not wanting to alert them or Sam of my imminent departure.”
Glenn clapped his hands together. “So we’ll setup tomorrow where she’s told us and hunt out her spooks tomorrow night.” Then Glenn pulled Cole aside, the two men talking quietly and glancing her way occasionally.
Cole escorted her outside. Before he swung over his bike, he hugged her. “I’ll hunt your cyberspooks. I don’t know how my brother chases the other kind. Glenn is my younger half-brother, Tessa. You have to find out sooner or later, but I knew it would tick you off. He’s not your enemy and I’m not your enemy. I apologize for the bet we had a decade ago, but I can’t change that it happened. Not only buds, we’re brothers.”
She’d started to ask him about his cyberspook comment, but discovering Glenn Reston and Cole Stone were brothers cranked the throttle on an old anger before Cole opened up the throttle on his motorcycle to drive them back to the hotel. Pieces of an old puzzle snapped into shape; Cole directing an illegal investigation, Glenn working on her crappy network; Glenn’s dad, the bored network administrator. These three were also the father and his two sons who had hammered at her hard, her head, long long ago . . . when she changed from Suzy Sunshine to Evil Eve. Them at their very worst while she was at hers.
She didn’t speak to Cole and he didn’t speak to her, both of them with a hat low on their forehead.
He slid the keycard through his hotel door and reached over to grab her around the waist and pull her into his room. He moved quickly to stand between her and the open connecting door to their rooms. He looked about as movable as the Rocky Mountains. He lowered his face to hers and whispered, “You’re making my brain hurt, trying to think of all the things you might be thinking. Talk to me, Tessa.”
“You’ve seen me at the most desperate moments of my life.”
“You’ve seen me scrape the bottom too.”
“I’m not like that anymore.”
“Me either. Neither is Glenn, nor my step-dad. You could say we all found religion when everything blew so wildly out of control at the backdoor of Podunk.”
She stepped in closer to him. “What else do you need to tell me, Cole? Too much too fast, you said that right after I chose to ride on the back of your bike from Haven. What else?”
He shook his head. “You haven’t even been here twelve hours yet.”
He looked from her, to the bed, back to her. “Yes, ma’am.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she warned him, but still he scooped her in his arms like he had every intention of sweeping her off her feet. Her skin tingled where her body touched his, his arms pulling her close, animal magnetism pulling them in like the strongest, sweetest addiction. His lips covered hers before his body covered hers on the mattress.
Her mental encryption flickered and crashed liked cracked, firewall around her heart shutting down, body and heart ruling her now. All she could do was feel his fast fingers flying over her skin, firing her up, taking her higher and out of control, before his mouth followed the trail and she flew apart at the peak of satisfaction. When he took her over the ledge the next time, she surrendered to him completely.
Panting, soft and sated, she opened her eyes to find him on one elbow beside her, staring at her, so handsome, so overdressed for the occasion and with all his clothes on. “Mmm.”
He ran his fingers over her slick passion-heated skin. His pen testing had exposed all her vulnerabilities and she could feel her heart staring at him with love.
Tessa adjusted her skirt, rolling over and up against him. Her fingers couldn’t seem to stop touching him, trying to pull off his clothes. She straddled his hips, unbuckling his belt. “Do you do this often with women in hotel rooms?”
“I know the ethical hacker life, tweaking, traveling, teaching.”
“Still a mostly male dominated career path . . . so aren’t dudes from conferences always trying to get you into their rooms?”
“I share a room with David.”
His fingers closed over hers at his fly.
“He’s an uber digital wizard, one of my favorite people to hack with. It looks like I’m with someone, comfortable though, safe.” When one dark eyebrow lifted, she qualified, “He likes guys, I like guys; it’s a great match. We work together for a senator, protecting his heart from being hacked.”
When his fingers did not release hers, she slid forward over the ridge in his jeans. “I want you, Cole.”
He rolled, taking her under him. He slid back, sliding her skirt up as his fingers traveled. “I’ll take you over the edge again, beautiful.” And he did until her body trembled with aftershocks.
He pulled her close, spooning against her while she was exhausted and sated now. She felt warm, safe, and loved as she slept in his arms.
She didn’t awaken until late afternoon the next day, still feeling illogical and in love. Where was Cole? Not in his hotel room. She slid out of bed, walking to open the now closed connecting door to her hotel room. She could hear the shower running. She grinned, ready to join him. She didn’t intend to be sidetracked by satisfaction this time until he’d reached his too.
Steam crept up from a strip of light under the bathroom door. The handle didn’t turn. He’d locked the door? Not left it cracked open, or even closed, but locked. What did that say about the level of intimacy he felt toward her? Not good, not good at all.
She tilted her head against the door, hearing a very male groan. “Hmm.” She grinned, so he thought to take care of it like that? Well she’d just see about that.
The water shut off.
She stepped back from the door, but it opened before she walked away. Steam rushed out the door, fogging the mirror, and Cole stepped out with a towel wrapped around his waist. She grinned again, scoping out the spectacular view, starting at his bare toes and working up, mouth drooling until she saw one big red welt under his collarbone.
“What happened to you?”
“Let me get dressed, Tessa.”
He stepped around her, but walked backwards toward his room.
“Dude, why are acting so weird?”
He pivoted toward his room. Four long, red, ugly scratches ran from the back of one shoulder down his back.
What kind of wicked woman would tear up a man’s back like that? She growled. He’d left her in his hotel bed and went off to meet some hussy? “Who in hell got hold of you!”
He closed the door connecting their rooms in her face. “I didn’t want you to see this, Tessa. Not before you went back out to that haunted house.”
“God help us,” she whispered as realization hit her. The long scratches were claw marks. The monkey-shadow had attacked her once. Is that why he resisted last night, because he’d planned to leave? “Why did go back out there last night?”
He opened the door, fully dressed, and if she hadn’t have seen the scratches, the welt on his chest, she would have never known. He pointed at his watch. “Time to go, babe.”
“Cole . . ..”
He closed large hands over her shoulders, smoothing down her arms. “Glenn seemed pretty convinced your friend from the shadowland, Shadow, was a jealous ghost. We didn’t want you to go out there, for him to follow you from the haunted house, or for you to be stuck out there in the sticks until Glenn could hunt the shadowman out of your life.”
She pivoted out of his arms. She yanked another clean set of clothes from her laptops bags. Panic striking her head and her heart, she disappeared into the bathroom to step under the water for a minute and then change.
As soon as she was done, she stated, “Shadow wouldn’t hurt you.”
“Don’t bet on it.” He tapped one finger below his collarbone. “Maybe I smelled like you, but Shadow hates me. He pointed at the ceiling where I had once planted web cams in your house and then he shoved me so hard, it picked me off my feet and tossed me into the other room. Shadow also seemed to have no apparent qualms about the monkey-shadow ripping open my back once I was down.”
Tears pricked the back of her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Time to fly, Tessa.” He held out his hand, palm up, patiently awaiting her.
She scoffed. “You can’t go back out there!”
“We have to finish it. If God answers my prayers, all of your spooks will be gone by morning.”
Knots twisting like a sack of angry snakes in her belly, she placed her hand in his. “Let’s finish it then.”
He flicked the hat off her head. “You won’t be needing this now.”
“Eye in the sky, hello? It’s not just a conspiracy theory.” She lifted the edge of her shirt, pointing above her navel ring at thumb drives dangling from a long chain. “I have something someone wants badly. Do you recall Yori Korskovf?”
He pulled her hand holding his. “Yes.”
She ducked her head, but he blocked her mostly from the security cameras. He didn’t have a hat pulled low on his forehead either. The man was reckless; he needed her to watch out over him. Her guardian angel was many things, but not a reckless hack. The knots in her stomach clenched again into a tighter knot of nerves.
She must be paranoid, she decided, as a helicopter flew in the sunset above their path on his motorcycle. The problem with working security, you found out there really wasn’t any.
He glanced over his shoulder and winked. “Don’t be nervous, babe. That one is ours.”
She leaned her lips to his ear. “Ours? I’m starting to freak out and we aren’t even there yet. Please explain now.”
“Enjoy the ride. Tell you when we get there.”
She didn’t relax though. There had once upon a time been a helicopter, used by the cops to find illegal crops in the county. It had followed her around when she drove her motorcycle one day, turning every direction she turned. It had freaked her out, only to go home to more freakiness, scaring her almost witless as the entities foamed at the mouth. She had felt like Alice falling into Wonderland, right before she turned into Evil Eve. If this were a bad dream, the scent of the man in front of her and his leather jacket tickling her senses wouldn’t be there.
Cole took one hand off the handlebars and patted hers at his waist. She could hear him, barely, but he was praying! His prayers brushed over her, whispered in the wind, mentioning her by name.
The helicopter flew to the east even before he turned off the old highway onto a gravel road. Paranoia hammered her again as she watched the helicopter hover over a field.
“Damn you, Sam,” she muttered, “and your stupid crops.” She’d thought in the three months since his death, his cash crops would have died out without him to water them, to fertilize them, a farmer by night. She hadn’t however considered the possibility of him not planting this year, not Sam. She hadn’t been back here in ten years; surely the cops wouldn’t hold her responsible? Hadn’t she jumped off the fence once, landing on different sides of the law than the man in front of her on this bike?
She squeezed his waist. God, she prayed in her head for the first time in a decade, please have Cole tell me that he is not DEA now. She leaned up to his ear. “Cole?”
“Everything will be okay, Tessa,” he assured her.
Sure enough, the helicopter swung off and disappeared into purple dusk. She let out a shaky laugh. This stupid place did make her paranoid. Maybe an entity in her house, the strong one, the demon, was reaching out and activating again like last night, like a pen tester lurking quietly in the background.
He drove slowly over the rest of the bumpy gravel road before pulling into her circular driveway full of cars and two vans . . . the ghost hunters! Her heart kicked at her rib cage again.
He turned off the engine and swung off the bike. “Hack the house, honey.”
He led her toward a black van and opened the door. The two dudes inside had not been at Haven last night with the ghost hunters. They wore all black and she glanced around at all the equipment. This wasn’t what Glenn had described to her. She fuzzed with white noise before, but never for paranormal entities. One of the camera views showed in x-ray vision, recording through the walls of the many men moving around inside.
“What is going on?” she demanded quietly but firmly from Cole. “Partner?”
“I think he might have been desperate, linking you to Sam and this house, phishing for you, but there was a delivery way out here in the middle of nowhere before Glenn and I left today.”
She snorted. “What kind of delivery? No one even lives here.”
“White long-stemmed roses. Two dozen of them. Your secret admirer also left a card.“
“Oh no.” She dropped into a swivel chair in front of a computer. Yori Korskovf had sent her dozens of white roses over the last several months, trying to persuade her over to his side. “What did Yori’s card say, Cole?”
“I’m coming to take you to Moscow.”
“God help me,” she whispered.
“He is,” Cole said confidently. “He’s finally given me the green light. We’re hot, Tessa, recording. Fire up the frequency from your USB to broadcast in the house. When Korskovf shows, kick off his insulin pump and he’ll talk fast. DHS will take it from there.”
She rubbed one hand over her eyes, but Cole didn’t disappear and neither did the two other men in the command center. “Homeland Security? Okay, this is one of the worst nightmares of my life. I’m ready to wake up now. I wouldn’t fall for a DHS dude.”
Cole grunted upon seeing her distress. He brushed his lips over her cheek. “If you don’t go to tryouts, which are actually for DHS cyber CT, then I’ll resign so we can start up, partner.”
She looked at the ceiling like maybe she could consult with God better that way. “Okay so not DEA, but come on. This isn’t funny!” She held out both hands, weighing them like a scale. “Russian cyber-terrorist,” she lifted the other hand before it fell as heavy, “Homeland CT.”
His radio bleeped before one of the ghost hunters announced, “I’m picking up six heat signatures coming through the woods behind the house. Hot, white-red, six men and six cold blue objects . . . they’re packing heat.”
Cole returned to his motorcycle and then pulled his gun from a side bag. He cocked it and then pointed one finger at Tessa. “Do not leave this van.” He shut the door. At least the woman with the lovely gaping mouth wasn’t yelling at him about the evil she saw in Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, one of her hottest and heaviest hacktivist hammers, privacy stealing DHS.
“Twenty-four hours,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Much more trouble than her digital double.” He’d been through hell, temptation, and attacked by non-cyber ghosts in a haunted house. He couldn’t wait to finish it, so he could wrap both hands around her in real-time. He’d gotten an answer from God, a definitive one, it’s a go.
He stopped at the next van, a command center for the paranormal investigators. Thermal cameras recorded six men coming out of the woods. He picked up the radio and bleeped a message to Tessa. “Honey, hack the house now.”
The heat signatures blazed white-hot before disappearing from range and nearing her back patio. On another camera view, he saw paranormal investigators and flashes of dark red coming from the mouth of the cave behind her house.
One of his team members responded, not Tessa. “We’re picking them up at the backdoor.”
“Get out of there, Glenn,” Cole warned. He could see his little brother and the demonologist giving something hell upstairs in the master bedroom.
“Little busy,” Glenn responded, not moving as a chair upstairs rocked wildly like an invisible hyperactive person was sitting there. Last night, the brothers had tangled with a couple of characters from the shadowlands.
Cole hurried up the front steps. He’d seen her code, a program to exploit Korskovf’s insulin pump, over her shoulder last night at Haven not ten minutes after he gave her a ride. She had been tweaking a worm when he’d interrupted. Cole wondered how long Korskovf could survive when she reverse-engineered her patch. She wasn’t done, but she’d unplugged when Glenn brought Cole into chat.
Other agents waited in a front room where Cole stepped inside only to be hit by a flying book as others flew like small tornados around other men. Cole bet they never went on another assignment like this. Each of their heads had been blessed earlier in the day by a demonologist before they were allowed in the house with guns.
“Nyet,” a Russian man demanded. “Do not run from it!”
Another man hollered with fright and pain as the three-foot shadow jumped onto his back.
Korskovf walked forward toward the six-foot shadowman, gun pointed at the inky black shape of its head. Korskovf fired; the bullet passed through the black shadow mass and thudded into the wall. But Korskovf fell forward like he had been shot, falling to his knees, clutching his abdomen with one hand and his heart with the other.
The ape-like inky black mass jumped back and forth, back and forth, closer to the Russian mobster on the ground.
As agents outflanked Russian’s counterparts, Cole walked into the dining room with his enemy and the shadow-demon that had attacked him last night. Shadow had shoved Cole into the other room, against the wall, and down.
“You should pray now, Yori. You are a fool to come for her on U.S. territory. We may not have caught you last time you were in this country to meet with her, but you are dead now unless you release to the public the truth of how faulty and vulnerable Medatron’s ICDs are.”
“Tessa!” Yori Korskovf roared.
A dark flash and Shadow zoomed into focus like a wicked sick gaming speed hack. Both dark shadowy hands closed around the Russian’s throat and yanked Korskovf off his feet.
As if the Russian’s roar had summoned her from the van, Tessa placed one hand on Cole’s forearm. “No, Shadow,” she said like the shadowman was a misbehaving puppy.
The six foot shadowman dropped Korskovf and zoomed into focus between Tessa and Cole. Where the shadowman stood, against her hand on Cole’s forearm, his skin grew as cold as if he’d dipped it into an ice bath.
“No, Shadow,” she growled this time. “Stay away from Cole!”
Korskovf kneeled, panting like maybe he was trying to recuperate from the insulin. Had she turned off the program to hack his insulin pump? The Russian rose to his knees, pulling one leg under him to stand. “Bring your protective pet, Tessa, and your code with you to Russia.”
Cole shook his head. “Send your pet away, partner, and then go back to the van.”
Before Yori could pull up to stand, the monkeylike demon from the shadowland leapt on his back. Korskovf screamed with pain of what Cole knew were sharp talons slicing through his back.
Tessa grabbed Cole’s hand, “I vote run. It’s rabidly mean!”
Korskovf fell face forward on the ground.
The shadow-monkey jumped toward her.
The six-foot shadowman lifted his hand without even touching the other shadow-creature, yet some invisible power tossed the monkey-demon into the kitchen one room away.
Glenn thundered down the steps, hooting, “Whoo!” His big smile waned when he nearly ran into Shadow. “Send Shadow through the portal, Tessa. Firmly tell him to go.”
She still clutched his hand as when she had wanted to run but Cole hadn’t. She stepped over in front of Cole. “Shadow, I love this hacker. I’ll love him even if he stays with DHS. Get out of my house, get out of my life. Run to the portal before the ghost hunters seal the doorway to your dimension. Go away and stay away, Shadow!”
The shadowman tackled the demonlike monkey-shadow, before both disappeared through the house wall, the back kitchen window flashing a white blast from the direction of the cave.
“They’re gone, Tessa,” Glenn announced as hunters hooted over the radio, sending each other congratulations for chasing out the ghosts, for banishing the demon back to hell, and for closing off the portal.
A sweet clean blast of fragrance, stronger and sweeter than roses, filled the house. The sign Glenn had told him would indicate a successful exorcism, a sign of God smiling and raining down blessings.
Cole turned her around in his arms, turning her from the prone Russian on the dining room floor. He smoothed one hand up and down her back, punching knuckles with Glenn with the other.
One of the men from his team, another outlaw turned angel, checked the pulse on the medical cyber-terrorist on the ground. He announced, “She turned off the frequency. A spook spooked to death? And to think it would have been classified even without recorded proof of the paranormal. Hope you have the paperwork on this one, Stone, before you leave us.”
“I’ll file it remotely.”
Glenn grinned. “We have our evidence too. Can you say not the property of Homeland Security, brother?”
“Hurry and throw it on the Internet, Glenn. It’ll be viral in fifteen minutes.”
Cole scooped Tessa in his arms, holding her against his chest, ignoring her little squeak of surprise, and marched toward his motorcycle. “So, Tessa Kendall, still want to be my partner?”
“You’re crazy,” she muttered against his lips.
“Is that a yes?”
“Mmm,” she murmured around the outside his ear.
He shivered. “Can you now believe God might not do bad things to people, but He can turn it around for something good?”
“He gave me you, Cole, how could I not believe it? What’s on the outside isn’t important, but I’ll admit yours is pretty sweet and does something funky to my estrogen levels. You’re dependable, contagious . . . you hack.” She sighed. “I trust you.”
She slid her mouth over his ear again, her whisper delving warm breath into his ear. “Marry me, Cole Stone, because I’m ready for you to bring it, partner.”
“Oh yeah,” he laughed, kissing her. “I’ll marry you, heart hacker.”
Happily Ever After!