|UNHACKABLE HEART: Glenn Steps Up|
When Glenn stepped up and closer to her, he lifted his t-shirt to gently wipe the holy water from her eyes. “See, shadowman? She doesn’t need you. She doesn’t want you. You scare her.”
Tessa groaned when his arms wrapped around her, pulling her body flush with his, Glenn immediately provoking Shadow. Not a good idea!
But Glenn taunted the shadowman again. “You can never have her like this. Move on and do not follow her. She’s with me now. I’m not hunting you for fun, not for knowledge, not for a rush. I want you out of her life. Get out of this house, use the cave before we seal the portal; go back to the shadowland dimension. Make me hunt you out and you’d best believe it’s to cause you harm.”
The walkie-talkie at Glenn’s hip bleeped before a male voice sounded excited. “Keep reasoning with him. Woohoo! We’re getting all this! I’m gonna rewind in real-time to see if he is answering you.”
In direct opposition to the male comment over the radio, she whispered “Stop,” to Glenn. “Shadow can be very dangerous if you rile him up.”
As if other forces joined together, dark energy pulsated so strong a heavy weight in the room pressed on her chest, making it hard to breathe, making her head pound as hair on the back of her neck stayed pointed straight out. A creepy gurgling inhuman voice zipped past them in whispers. “Join us,” flung past her again like an invisible bat flying by, able to hear it but not for it to dive into her head. “Tessa,” it hissed. “Sammy’s waiting.”
When she had lived here, forced to spend every night in one of the most haunted houses on the prairie, this demon had gotten a kick out of giving her unimaginable terror. Locks on the outside to keep the spirits from getting out and following her; locks on the inside to keep the attackers at bay during her siege of this house and waging war. She pulled at Glenn. “I wanna go now.”
Glenn grabbed her hand. “Wait with me. I won’t let anything happen to you.” He lowered his mouth near her ear. “Never seen this; seen poltergeists attached to females like this shadowman is to you. I’m gonna get rid of him or he will follow you. Then you go back to the van and hack the house to find where the demon is hiding.”
As if Shadow did not like Glenn whispering in her ear, he zoomed into focus in front of them like a gamer’s speed hack. Shadow did not touch Tessa, but he shoved Glenn back hard!
Glenn let go of her hand and widened his stance. “He’s strong.”
Tessa tried to send the silly man a vibe. Don’t be stupid! “No, Shadow,” she said like the shadowman might be her pet. “Don’t touch Glenn.”
Yet as if Glenn wanted Shadow to focus in on him instead of her, Glenn countered. “Can you push me again?”
It happened so fast, a dark hand on Glenn’s chest shoved Glenn back a couple steps and then pushed him back again. It looked like Shadow couldn’t wait to show Glenn, bad vibes of anger pulsating from the six foot shadowman. Shadow shoved Glenn once more until Glenn was backed up to the basement brick wall. One big inky black silhouette of a shadowman’s hand thumped twice against an iron door on the chimney where ashes from the upstairs fireplace collected.
A gurgle of creepy laughter flew past them in hissing whisperers, growing louder.
“That’s not Shadow,” she confirmed.
Glenn blew out a shaky exhale and a cloud of white frozen breath formed in front of his lips. “He’s showing you, Tessa. Pay attention. He’s communicating with you. He’s showing you that it was me and this is where I hid the sonar.”
Tessa cocked her hands on her hips and walked over to Shadow. “I know it was Glenn. I built a fire, remember? I destroyed it. He kept coming back, trying to get me to leave here. But that’s ancient history, Shadow. He’s a different man now.”
Shadow thumped the iron grate once more, right beside Glenn’s head, before another flash of dark speed and Shadow stood in front of Cole.
“Call off your pet,” Cole growled at her, but widened his stance too. “I’ll tell you, before he starts shoving me. I was the one with tiny web cams planted all over this house, broadcasting to my elite site. Tell this thing it’s ancient history too. I changed as much as my little brother did.”
“He did, Tessa,” Glenn confirmed. “We’re sorrier than you could imagine.”
Tessa lifted one hand in front of her face, stop-sign fashion. With her other hand, she pointed at Glenn before pointing at Cole. “A bet between brothers!”
Plenty of fear and fury to feed off of, Shadow got stronger and shoved Cole, lifting the poor man from his feet and tossing him against the washer and dryer. Cole had no sooner banged back against the appliances than Shadow reappeared in front of Glenn.
Even as mad as she was, Tessa stepped over to wrap her arm around Glenn. She growled at the shadowman. “I said, don’t touch Glenn! Stop scaring Cole before you give him cardiac arrest! Go, Shadow, while you still can. I’m with Glenn and he hunts shadowfolk like you. I’m gonna stay with Glenn, understand? Go find happiness in the shadowland.”
The shadowy face lifted up and as if the shadowman roared, the basement walls rumbled. A lone brick in a corner of the room lifted like by an invisible hand and crashed into the connecting room. Poof! The rumbling stopped as Shadow vanished like he must have gone through the portal.
Tessa jerked her arm back from around Glenn, before shoving his arm from where it held her waist. Disconnect proximity. She spun on her toes and headed for the open basement door. “I’ll be in the van, hacking the house.” She stopped her escape from the house, pausing on the steps. “You have different last names. Which one of your fathers played too?”
“Mine, Keith Reston,” Glenn replied.
Tessa growled once before marching away from the house and the men. Back in the day, Keith Reston had been the flipping administrator for the newly formed ISP. She growled again. Didn’t he run off to Langley for a new job? She blew out a furious exhale, trying to remind herself she had a piece of paper certifying her as an ethical hacker. Just knowing was enough; she didn’t need to wreak destruction upon his digital world.
Maybe David would? He was the best digital musician of the cyber airwaves she’d ever met. He was a wizard, wickedly sharp, a rush to hack in tandem with. She grinned. Her grin flipped upside down as another creepy gurgle growled like a rabid dog and then hissed like a wet cat in the house, before it laughed long and hard like it might still be able to read her thoughts.
Yet once she reached the van, she realized Glenn had rushed her out the hotel room before she grabbed anything useful like her cell! She fuzzed the house, trying to ignore one of the camera angle monitors where six men stood around the mouth of the cave. The demonologist swung the decanter of incense burning hotter now, smoke curling up to fill the cave. Orange and then red lights flashed from the back of the cave. Closing the portal?
Her fuzzying hit twice. She picked up the walkie-talkie and told Glenn. “It flew from the attic to a little room behind the furnace in the basement near you now.” She lifted it back to her mouth and pushed to talk again. “Be careful.”
A hand grabbed the mounted night-vision camera in the basement. Glenn’s big calloused hand; she’d recognize that hand anywhere. It practically declared this man carved out the American dream with hard work and a handshake. Three days ago, that hand was doing wonderful things to her before his brother busted in the door and brought up the bet. Between brothers! She growled again. Thinking they were best buds when they did it was bad enough. Shaking her head, she stepped out of the van when Glenn and Cole squeezed into a room behind the furnace.
No more truth or scare! She didn’t want to see anything more terrifying than she had. Hadn’t Cole said he didn’t want anything to do with confronting the paranormal realm? Hadn’t Glenn protected her by chasing Shadow out of her life? Her brain ached as she couldn’t escape a loud scream of electronic interference, a demon playing with technology. She glanced back in the van to make sure nothing was truly squealing, screeching without mercy.
Between the camera angles and wireless audio, she might as well have been back in the house.
On a screen in front of her, the brothers and the demonologist held hands, a low murmur of prayer in the room with the squealing. The force that Glenn had called a demon, changed shapes, shifting from person to person in different period clothing from an Indian, to a Soldier, to an old woman, before flashing again to appear like Sammy with a gun to his head. The gun fired, Tessa screamed, but the image changed again into the unworldly dark face of the dark force. The praying magnified and the demon from hell screamed a screeching howl before the dark creepy shape exploded into a bright flash of white light.
Despite her temporary blindness and a ringing in her ears, she heard the radio bleep from man to man as they cheered the victory.
Although men charged out of the house, hyped and riding high on a wave of adrenaline, Tessa opened the truck door and crawled in the backseat where Glenn found her.
When he found her in his truck instead of the van, Glenn leaned over the backseat, sitting on one knee, grabbed her face between his hands and slanted his mouth over hers. Her hands came up to his chest, but instead of pushing him back, soft hands slid up around his neck. She leaned forward, trying to pull closer to him than the seat between them allowed, moaning into his mouth as she started really kissing him back with steam.
Glenn pulled his mouth off hers, panting, ready to pull off her clothes.
His brother slid in the other side in front. Cole rested his head back against a cushion, oblivious to anyone. “I once thought ghosts were imaginary, but that’s no more science fiction than hacking a heart.”
Tessa blinked at Glenn, trying to reboot her brain, trying to even her breathing. What had she wanted to say to him?
When silence greeted Cole’s announcement, he glanced from Glenn to Tessa in the back. “Still mad?”
“Don’t remind her,” Glenn suggested as he turned in the seat and started the truck. He pressed on the tunes, keeping his adrenaline high with the pounding playlist. Tessa had once admitted to him in chat, this song was on her playlist too when she hacked. She may be the expert on hacking a heart, but Glenn decided he’d hack hers if that was what it took.
She leaned forward in the backseat once Glenn turned off the last gravel road and onto the highway into town. “Thank you so very kindly for everything you’ve done for me, Glenn.”
He tried not to growl. She was telling him goodbye. Glenn drove right past the hotel.
She leaned forward again, reaching to turn down the tunes. “Hey! I need my phone now.”
Glenn kept driving, but turned the music off. “Who are you in such an all-fired hurry to call?”
“That’s not any of your business.” Summertime green eyes glared at him in the rearview mirror.
“It might be if it has anything to do with the man you mentioned whose sheets were growing cold.”
Cole turned around to study her face. The glare in the rearview mirror shifted to his brother as Cole tossed his hands up in the air. “I’m not invisible, people. I can also hear what you’re saying.” Cole hitched his thumb back at her, but spoke to Glenn. “I know she dated a cop for a while in the city. I don’t know about anyone new.”
When Tessa growled, Glenn glared at Cole. “Stop helping.” Glenn pulled into the driveway of his house.
Although he opened the driver’s door and unlatched the back door, Tessa did not move from his truck. He folded forward the front seat to give her more room, but she shook her head once, red-gold curls shaking hard. “I have a car. Take me to it please.”
Cole turned to look at her again. “Why are you driving that old heap instead of your flashy sports car?”
Glenn groaned and handed Cole the keys to his house. He didn’t speak to Cole though when he said, “God, please send my brother into the house and give him sweet dreams before I punch him in the mouth like we were five again.”
Tessa leaned up to place one hand on Cole’s shoulder. “How do you know that?”
“Cole,” Glenn growled. “Go in the house.”
Cole sighed. “I don’t think my little brother wants me to light another fuse under you, Trouble, or he’ll thump me for real. I’ll talk to you after we all get some sleep.” He swung out of the truck and headed toward the house.
Her lovely mouth gaping at Cole’s retreat without explaining, she turned her eyes back to Glenn. “Hey. Take me back to the hotel, Glenn. I’m ready to leave for the city right now!”
Glenn crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not ready to hand you over to my brother just yet.”
“Pardon me?” she bellowed impolitely.
Time to sweep her off her feet, Glenn decided while reaching into the truck and scooping her into his arms. He ignored her wiggling and walked toward a waterfall on the backside of his house. He made sure his tone was low even though he wanted to shout at her. “Shut me out for three days? Ghosts are gone, you’re free from them. Thinking you are gonna ride off to the city right away? Oh hell no. I’m coming in first to shutdown that firewall around your heart.”
She squeaked when he reached into her shirt before coming back with the USB necklace. He tossed it to dry safety on a boulder next to the waterfall. He stepped under cascading water, as fully dressed as the woman in his arms, before jumping with her into a warm pool below.
After balmy water submerged them, Glenn kicked off his shoes and treaded water in front of Tessa. Her elbows rested on a ledge behind the waterfall, long legs still kicking like she kicked off her shoes and treaded too. Glenn laughed. “Cooled down yet?”
Green eyes grew steamy and heavy, appearing nowhere close to cool but far from anger now. Her clothes were as wet and probably as heavy as his. No change of clothes. Guess she’d have to take them off. Like maybe she’d heard his thoughts, she lifted onto the ledge behind the waterfall and unsnapped her jeans. He pulled them off her and tossed them to the far side of the pool. She dipped down in the deep water beside him when his finger caught the black lace still on.
“You’re crazy,” she assured him.
“Maybe a little bit for you.” No way he was handing her the knowledge of the power she really had over him. If he mentioned love she might think he was cussing her and jump out of the pool with firewall protecting her heart still intact.
She dove down and unfastened his jeans, trying not to drown them both before pulling them off. When she surfaced, she grinned like she’d found buried treasure. She tossed his jeans to the side. Her hands came up around his neck as he settled his hands on the ledge on either side of her. Behind the wall of cascading water, her pink tongue slicked over her lips. “Mmm, Glenn. Well well, my little boink buddy,” she taunted with his bold but rude boast of a few days ago. “This is much better than a hotel bed though, I agree.”
“I’m not that dude, Tessa.”
“Feels pretty steamy to me. You could have asked Glenn; I want a chance to tell you goodbye too.”
As her hands slid under his shirt, pushing it up, Glenn leaned his mouth right to her ear and practically quoted a couple pages of what Tessa liked in the water, from her written hand in another lifetime. That tipped the scales back to him, when she moaned and moved closer to surrender.
“Oh, you’re that dude.” She laughed a bit wickedly. “Why didn’t you just say so? And to think of all the time wasted. You never talked about sex in chat, Glenn. You must have realized you had a lethal weapon with that diary.”
He pressed her back against the ledge to still the wonderful squirming against him as her legs wrapped around him. “Cause I’m serious about you, Tessa. I wasn’t about to ruin it when your fast fingers will tell a man who tries that with you to go screw himself in less time than it takes to say it.”
Cough. Cough. Cough.
Glenn turned his head to see Cole’s image, a blur on the other side of a falling curtain of water. “When I get out of this pool, I’m coming up there to kick your ass,” Glenn promised him.
Cole held out a portable phone from inside the house. “Some dude calls himself David, asking, no—way too polite . . . demanding to speak with Tessa right now. He seemed to think I was you, brother, and said to put her on the phone or he’ll crack open Haven.”
“Oh crap! Something is wrong.” She looked around for a towel, but saw none. “Set it down, Cole. Go back to sleep,” she growled. To Glenn, she said, “Get out of the pool. I’m gonna need a ride back to the hotel for sure now.”
Glenn jumped up and out of the water, snagging the phone before she could. “Tessa’s a little bit busy right now. As in otherwise occupied.”
A male voice on the other end of the line grunted. “You Reston?”
“Who the hell are you?”
Tessa held her hand out for the phone.
The guy laughed. “She’s unplugged. You think I would call her on your landline when she’s so hot for you if it wasn’t urgent? You sound hot to me too. Feel better now?”
“Not at all,” Glenn said and handed the phone to her, no longer concerned the man would come on to her or that Tessa might have ever warmed his sheets.
After she’d said, ”Hello,” and was listening to what was so flipping important, Glenn raked wet curls from his face. He growled at how this was going down between them, far from what he had planned. He blew out a deep exhale. Maybe he should stop pushing his plan so hard before he pulled them both off the path of what he really wanted from this woman. Not just her body, but he needed to capture her heart.
Tessa paled. “Thanks. Call me back on Glenn’s cell.”
“Did you give this man all my unlisted numbers?”
She snorted. “Not at all. This is David we’re talking about; he can get hold of anything without even waving his wizard wand.”
She stared at him, both of them dripping water, both pairs of sodden jeans in a wadded puddle at their feet. “Get your cell, please.” She laughed. “And get on some clothes, Reston, so I can concentrate on working.”
Glenn retrieved his cell from his truck, discovering three messages from David in the last hour. When he caught up to Tessa, she’d pulled her wet jeans on and held the USB necklace in her fist.
“Do you have a gun, Glenn?”
“What good country boy doesn’t have a few?” He escorted her into his house, down a hallway, toward his bedroom. “Why am I gonna need it, Tessa?”
He slid open a drawer near his bed and pulled out his gun. “What kind of trouble are you in now? You’re back in the backdoor of Podunk, woman! It’s not like you’re in DC where your Russian headhunter is waiting to snuff you when you show for CT tryouts!”
“How do know about Yori?”
He tossed dry clothes at her, no doubt too big but he’d be damned if she’d catch pneumonia running around wet and he’d have to chase her ghost! “Cole has connections. Change clothes.”
He leaned into the hallway when she disappeared into a bathroom off his bedroom. He barked, “Cole!”
Cole came down the hall, slurping coffee and handing a steaming mug to Glenn. Cole sniffed. “You’re not drunk, right?” Cole looked at Glenn dripping on the bedroom floor, puddles forming on the tiles, his shirt hanging, no jeans on but soaked socks in place. When Tessa came out of the bathroom with a t-shirt swallowing her and sweats, Cole growled at her. “What have you done to my little brother?”
She grinned at Glenn, green eyes bold and touching him. “A whole lot less than I want to.”
Cole held one finger in front of Glenn in warning. “Focus, Glenn. Why are you holding your gun? Why did you bellow at me? She’s in trouble again, just tell me and I’ll fix it. In a day, she’ll be in DC and I’ll get her safely to tryouts.”
Glenn stepped into the bathroom to change as his brother and the woman he was crazy for squared off.
She demanded, “Who. Are. You.”
At the same time, Cole interrogated, “Who’s this David? Another man besides Korschovf to protect Haven from?”
She opened her mouth, but Cole stepped in closer to her. “Big Brother over your shoulder is DHS now.”
Her hand came up in a sign to stop him. Glenn stepped around Cole. Her other hand came out palm up. “Give me your gun please, Glenn.”
“So you can point one at my brother’s heart too? He’s trying to help you too!”
“I don’t have time to deal with your privacy thieving brother right now.” Her small soft hand waited, palm up, while she counted to ten and then backward from ten like she was doing everything she knew how to show him how patient she was trying to be.
Tessa patient? Glenn snorted.
He’d liked it when she said it earlier but not for his gun.
“I need a gun, your cell, and the keys to your motorcycle. You said you still had a dirt bike, right?” She took the cell phone from his hand. “Hurry, please, before David calls back. I have to go to the hotel. I’ll be back, Glenn.”
When Glenn handed her the magnum, Cole groaned, “What have you done to my brother?”
“I’ve got more guns, Cole. In the garage and in the computer room. Go get them and come back while Tessa tells me what is happening.” Glenn enclosed his hands over her shoulders. “I’ll drive you to the hotel then, if I deem it a safe thing to do.”
He paused for a second as green eyes narrowed. “Don’t you even look at me like I’m Sam and holding you back. I’m not Sam, Tessa. I intend to protect you. You don’t need to battle on your own. I’m not him, darlin’.”
“I know, Glenn. Your truck has GPS. I have your cell and need to remove it from your house before Yori hones in on it like David did. I don’t want to turn it off; I don’t want to wait until he comes to your house! Yori Korscofv is at the hotel in town. David captured images off security there. Yori went into my room there and hasn’t come out.”
“Oh hell no,” Glenn barked. “You’re not going straight into his hands!”
She held up the USB necklace. “He has an insulin pump. My code patched the vulnerability and it will be my code that exploits it. I have the perfect weapon.”
Glenn yanked the shotgun from his brother’s hand when Cole walked into the room. He jerked it, pumping it, cocked and loaded.
“Korschovf,” Cole said, not sounding like a question.
The cell phone rang in her hand. She snatched it to her ear and barked, “I’m still in his flipping bedroom!” She listened quietly for a full minute before closing her eyes. She listened some more. She grunted before boldly raking her eyes over Glenn again. “No, even hotter than that. Not now, David, he’s listening.”
She lifted the phone from her ear and said to Glenn. “Are you happy now? It’s too flipping late. Yori left the hotel. He’ll be coming here, Glenn, I guarantee it. His GPS is bleeping on my best friend’s map. David says we may as well chitchat since my chance to assassinate Korschovf is lost and I’m waiting to die!”
Cole was already pushing in a number on his cell, walking down the hall away from them.
Glenn grabbed the phone from her hand. “How many men does he have?”
“Five, plus Korschovf. Six guns to what, three? Take her and see if he comes after the cell’s triangulated position.”
“I’m not taking her from here where there’s a better chance to protect her on my land.”
David spoke slowly, low and threatening. “Korschovf wants her code. Give Tessa a laptop; she saved the senator. It’s the best defense and it’s a wicked offense, but I need eye in the sky to hack in tandem with her. This isn’t a regular Joe Blow hack; it’s cybersurgery.”
“I have a security system with cameras.” Glenn grabbed her hand with his other free one, leading her down the hall, across the kitchen, and into his computer room.
Tessa glanced at the three laptops, a notebook, one desktop computer and three LCD screens. She cupped her hands around his face. “You hacker! I love you.” She tipped on her toes, kissing him hard and fast, before spinning away to power up a laptop.
“We’re leaving,” Cole announced. “Take one last look at your nice house, little brother. He’ll be frosted when he finds neither her, nor her code to kill, and he’ll trash it.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Tessa announced this time, holding her necklace of hard drives. “I can protect Glenn’s home; I still have battle scars from the last siege inside a house. I’m ready for him.”
“Not here, Tessa,” Cole countered. “Wait until tryouts. You know he’ll come for you if you enter that building! There, I can get you immunity and invisibility.” Cole thumped one finger on Glenn’s chest. “I’m counting on you to get her outside and into the helicopter.”
When Cole opened the backdoor of the garage, a whoosh whoosh whoosh of helicopter blades sounded close to the ground. Glen lifted his cell and told David, “Change of plans. She’ll call you later.”
Glenn held out his hand toward her. “Bring the laptop if you want, but it’s time to go now.”
She plugged in an antennae to the wireless card, tucked the laptop under one arm and grabbed the little notebook computer in her hand with the gun. “You’re right. I don’t want people being killed here so you’ll have ghosts haunting your home.”
Glenn let out the breath he’d been unaware he was holding until she placed her palm in his. He took the notebook from her and tucked it under his arm as they ran hand in hand toward the helicopter. Tessa complying? Unbelievable. He sent a quick thanks to God.
However as soon as the door slid shut behind them, she hammered on Cole. “Listen, you Homeland Security control freak, David and I had this! He kept an eye out for the security cameras to pick up Yori while I waited for him to come for my code, to assassinate him. When Yori attacked the senator’s heart, he crossed us. He’s capable of committing any vile act.”
She turned in the seat and pointed at Glenn this time. “And you shanghaied me out of that room without—”
Glenn shut off her stream of righteous anger by wrapping his arms around her and kissing her for a long wonderful while. When he lifted his mouth from her swollen wet lips, he grinned as she blinked at him like her brain was offline again.
Cole leaned toward them and raised his voice over the noise of rotating blades. “I need to talk with her, brother. Stop turning off her logic.” He pointed at her. “Focus, Tessa. Give me the USB so I can see what you have there, how you would take Korskovf down.”
“Touch it and die, Stone!”
“Wrap your head around this; the CT counterhacks for medical security are to be in a department within Homeland Security. At DefCon, you about walked away at the possibility of working for Big Brother. Open your mind so you can see that DHS could turn this country into a fully policed state without the right people in there. Do you believe your right to privacy, to any freedom, would be in better hands if people like you and me quit? If we don’t stay in the fight?”
Glenn glanced out a window and down at the close ground as they flew low and the rising sun touched the ground with golden light.
Cole held up his hand to stop her. “I’ve seen you counterhack a hacked heart. I know you can do it. Now I’m going to ask you again, Tessa, give me the cocky confident answer of what your code will do. Bring it.”
“One keystroke within 500 meters and he’ll be dead in under a minute.” She glanced at Glenn with a sad little smile like she’d really rather him not know.
Glenn tried not to bat an eyelash, but his cool had fled again in the face of her logic. The woman needed an entire army to protect her! Tessa, sharing her cryptogram? Would she shoot him with his own gun if he pushed her?
Glenn held his hand out, as he booted the notebook computer on his lap. “Give me the USBs. I’ll mirror your code enough places that you aren’t the only one with it and no longer Korskovf’s only target with the ability to bash and dash with no trace and no trail.”
When she only studied him, not handing over the necklace or her arsenal, he lowered his mouth near her ear. “Don’t you trust me, Tessa? Haven’t I shown you that I trust you? Can’t you return the favor?”
She handed him the necklace, so he grabbed it by her silver USB.
She settled her hand on his forearm. “I wouldn’t plug in that one if I were you. Unless you want to kill your notebook and cement your hard drive immediately upon boot?” She reached over and disconnected the purple USB. “This is it. It won’t sit on mirrored servers for long before Yori takes it down. I don’t like to share, so I wouldn’t have thought of that. I like your logic, Glenn.”
He hopped onto the closest and strongest signal of wireless communication. No time to hop to different IP addresses. When he was done on the servers and seeding P2P, when the leeches grabbed hold, he unplugged her USB.
He dropped the necklace over her neck and tucked a strand of tawny hair behind her ear. Wow. Her green gaze and dazzling smile suggested Tessa did like hackers now. She’d almost used love and hack in the same sentence earlier. She must not be aware of it, but he was past the firewall around her unhackable heart. Finally.
His cell rang and Tessa put it to her ear, her other finger plugging her other ear so she could hear. She smiled at Glenn again. “David says tell Reston I like him.” Her eyes twinkled, her knowing David was gay but not knowing that Glenn knew that too. “Your cell shows us approaching Virginia near DC; want to come with me to David’s apartment?”
“Don’t be silly, Tessa. You’ll stay with me until Cole escorts you safely into CT tryouts.”
She shot him a lopsided smile like she might wish that to be true. “We’re not in Kentucky, Glenn.” She pointed at his brother and leaned closer to Glenn. “Stay with him?” She shook her head. “I don’t think so. He’s done nothing but interrupt us.”
“Call you back,” she said into the phone before scooting over almost on his lap. “I know you didn’t want to have hot goodbye sex in a hotel before we pass ways. I promise you though, Glenn, the crack in your personal code of ethics will never have hurt so good.”
The helicopter landed and they jumped out at a private airstrip. Cole swung his arm toward an awaiting black limo with blackened windows. The back window rolled down but Glenn stopped and stared. “Isn’t that the senator you saved?”
Tessa shot the man a bright smile and hopped in the back with him. Cole slid in across from them. Glenn grunted. Guess the hotel room was no longer a valid offer.
When he hopped in on the other side of Tessa, she must have been answering something the senator had asked her. “I need something to wear, first.”
Glenn crossed his arms over his chest, looking at her in his baggy t-shirt and sweats. “You’re not going out, Tessa, unless you are disguised well from eye in the sky everywhere you go here.”
She made the introductions. When the senator stuck out his hand, he said to Glenn, “So it’s like that is it?”
News in the background from a small screen scrolled text across the bottom. Yori Korskovf reported dead in RV in rural Kentucky.
Tessa leaned forward and turned up the volume. “I should know better than to believe anything on the news.”
Glenn snorted. “I agree, Tess. I want to see his dead body with my own eyes.”
As if mainstream television had heard him, the live feed jumped to life on the screen and panned out a mile past a truck stop. Yellow police tape was around a state-of-the-art recreation vehicle pulled over to the side of the road. Two paramedics pushed a sheet-covered body past the cameras and into the back of an ambulance.
The senator nodded. “It’s really him. The way I heard it, someone got hold of a viral code on the Internet for his insulin pump and shot it into his system. The Russian mob has a lot of enemies. The approved story, however, he fell over dead, a glitch in his insulin pump.”
“Woohoo!” Glenn cheered.
At noon, the limo driver stopped in front of Cole’s home in Falls Church. Cole hopped out and turned to look at Glenn. “Coming?”
“Tessa?” Glenn held out his hand for her. She had gone pale, like at the haunted house, staring at the news footage as the story rolled again with a sheet over the body and into an ambulance.
The senator shook his head. “I’ll keep her safe, Reston, and get her to tryouts. We need more people like her working for the government.”
Glenn shook his head and opened the door. “Sorry, sir, but this handful of trouble is all mine for the next twenty-four hours until she walks into that building and takes that job. Get out of the car, Tessa.” It wasn’t a request, so he tried again. “Are you ready to tell me goodbye now or would you rather get a hotel room?”
He laughed when she took his hand and said goodbye to the senator.
Glenn escorted her into Cole’s home. How to let his brother know they were about to borrow his car and rent out a room? His brother knew Glenn knew better than to muck up Christ’s Code, no future without a foundation to roll out of bed and to stand on the next day. With one arm around Tessa, Glenn nodded at Cole. “Can I have the keys to your car?”
Cole sputtered before rubbing one hand down his face. “People do the craziest flipping things they can’t explain when they’re in love.”
After walking to the back door, Cole pulled back the blinds and pointed toward bright midday sunshine glinting off sparkling water. “Stay out of my pool, so you two can talk; I’ll try to stay out of your way until I go to sleep.”
Cole pointed from the clock to Tessa. “She needs some decent sleep at some point, little brother, and her brain fresh for an important interview tomorrow.” With that, Cole dropped car keys on the kitchen counter next to a brewing coffee pot.
Glenn exhaled again. Tessa glanced from Glenn to the keys and back at him. She was ready to go. “I’m not taking you to a hotel room, Tessa.”
She jabbed one finger against his chest. “You are such a damn tease, dude.”
He grinned at her angry face as she tucked tawny curls behind dainty ears. They’d endured way too many interruptions from his brother. “Not a hotel, darlin’, but I have a couple places where we can have some private time.”
She snorted. “Where’s that?”
“You can choose. My dad left me a house in Georgetown, Tess, but I’m warning you, you can’t see the stars there. Or, I told you I was a land developer sometimes, I have a little place in Arlington. Would you rather go there? You can’t see the stars from there either though.”
Good thing there was a barstool next to the high kitchen counter because Tessa sat down right then as if her legs had given out. She exhaled a shaky breath.
Glenn continued. “I have a great crew of men in Kentucky, busy landscaping.”
She swallowed hard.
He added, “Some good people who I trust at Haven too.”
He cupped her face. This didn’t look good for him, her green eyes glassy like she might be about ready to cry. Never when he imagined telling her that he could work remotely, had Glenn pictured her crying in response.
“What are you saying, Glenn?”
“I can chase ghosts anywhere, Tessa.”
“You’d do this for me? Not ask me to give up my career instead?” She kissed him softly on the lips. “That’s what I like about you.”
“I love you. You didn’t think I planned to drive back and forth to Virginia every weekend?” Glenn snorted. “Silly female.”
She sniffled once, and then shot him a lopsided grin. “I thought that’d be me doing the driving. I don’t want to tell you goodbye, Glenn. Maybe later, see ya after work. Not bye. I’m kinda crazy for you. I don’t like the idea of you looking for a different piece of the action with anyone else.”
“Marry me, Tessa.” He couldn’t make it any more plain for her to understand than that.
She blew out two short exhales like she was about to pull a ghost and vanish; only she wasn’t invisible like she thought and this was real-time. “I didn’t really believe God would answer me when I asked for this.”
“Knock ‘em dead tomorrow. Hack a heart. I’m giving you mine. Will you give me yours? Or will I need to find a way to put hacker and love in the same sentence now when you discover I’ll resort to about anything to accomplish my goal.”
When Cole passed through to fetch a cup of hot steaming caffeine, Glenn wanted to deck him. Gonna seriously have to kick your butt, brother. He didn’t say that. A loud thought nudged across his mind and his heart that Cole was meant to show up in the right place at the right time.
Tessa, however, growled. “Cole, you really need to stop people-watching so much. I know you like it, but it’s very annoying. I’m gonna marry your little brother. We need to get along.”
Cole tilted his head and studied them. Then he laughed. “Congratulations, Glenn.”
Happily Ever After