Authors: Nikki Duncan
Flashes of primary-colored lights strobed like a psychedelic disco in his mind. Connections.
His body to her body.
His mind to her mind.
His heart to her heart.
They were connected.
The roots of his hair tingled and stabbed as if each strand were a jaggedly frozen ice pick slicing into the fire-hot intensity in his head. Pounding and growing and swelling.
He focused on the lightness he’d felt in the water while swimming with her. It was light that shored up his strength and offered more endurance. Endurance that may abandon him before this ended.
He carefully lowered the next shield. And then the next. One by one by one he opened himself again to her suffering.
Each pulsing beat of his heart slammed through his head and echoed through his body to the pit of his stomach.
With each layer lowered, he pulled some of her pain into himself and suppressed the damage from her body into a ball within himself before shoving it into his gut to be eaten away by the acids.
Little by little, he opened himself more and more to the gravest of her injuries and their tearing anguish.
Pulsing in time with their matched heartbeats, her memories surged and swirled. He tried to grant her the privacy she deserved. He tried to slip unnoticed into the pain center of her brain. He tried not to absorb her memories.
Snippets flashed in bleeps of sound and light. In no order or context. Most he discounted, some seemed to lodge themselves into his brain.
Super-spy eye contacts.
No! Please don’t. Not again.
Ava moaned and curled into herself protectively as her unspoken plea cried out. He couldn’t stop now.
He was hypnotized. Now he’s dead.
Her mind pushed against him. Against his intrusion.
He hadn’t meant to shoplift her memories, but he couldn’t dodge the flying snippets.
Years of practice, of honing his perceptions to razor-sharp points, had him zeroing in, slipping her memories to the side in his pursuit of her injuries. She knew about the contacts. Considering the recent visits from the FBI and his experiences, the lenses were likely why she’d shown up, but he needed to think about that later. Later he would determine precisely how she was deceiving him.
At the moment, her injuries took priority. He’d already gone too far with his unforgiveable trespass, and he’d get a better idea of her as a person if he waited to see what she would do next. In the meantime, he would stay close, very close, to this enemy.
If she rejected him now…
Hoping to ease her suffering, he dropped the final barrier between them. Vulnerable and exposed, he signaled her body to release serotonin in a few small bursts.
She gasped and arched off the bed. Her eyes rolled behind her closed lids as she angled closer to him.
H pulled himself back from Ava’s memories and used mental suggestion to subdue her. He worked as quickly as he safely could given the intimacy of their bond. Sifting through the bruising in her brain, he carefully pulled her injuries into himself.
His own serotonin levels boosted. His skin hummed. His vision blurred and then sharpened. The red haze was pushed back by the blue, similar to waves washing away lines in the sand.
The muscles in his back seized, squeezing his spine in a crippling vice.
Her agony had knocked him back. Mini-bursts of emotions and impressions rocketing through their bodies ripped through him with a stranglehold of fears and regrets.
His gut clenched and roiled with nausea.
Stars exploded across his vision.
Ava pushed through the unnatural salve-like web of suffusing her brain and jolted upright. Silvery mist danced along the edges of her vision. Her head pounded. Instinct kicked in and carried her past the cobwebs of confusion.
She reached for her gun. It wasn’t there. A heartbeat later she was dismayed to find herself back in H’s lab. In the room where she’d changed.
Unarmed was bad. Worse was the loss of time.
Her temple throbbed. She reached up to rub it but winced and yanked her hand away. What in the hell had happened? How had she gotten back into the lab and onto the futon? Where was H?
Having more questions than answers in dangerous situations helped no one. Intent on retrieving her weapon, Ava swung her feet off the bed. Her bare toes collided with solid and slightly hairy warmth. She leaned forward. H lay at her feet, unconscious and looking more like a green Martian than the man she’d gone swimming with.
“Shit.” She dropped to his side. Dizziness swarmed—either from the injury or the odd feeling she was coming off a sex high that left her weak. She shoved the thoughts and dizziness back and checked his vitals.
His body temperature scalded her hands. She needed a thermometer, but he was likely well beyond the safety range. “H?”
Blood stained his hands and shirt. Smears marred his shorts and legs. None of it seemed to be his, which indicated he’d doctored her. Talk about role reversal. She was supposed to protect him.
His pulse was erratic, but strong. Lifting an eyelid, she found his pupils to be hugely dilated. She needed her phone to call the team for backup. To call for an ambulance.
How had she gotten inside and what happened to him? Why was her skin tingling with awareness?
Struggling against a rising queasiness and pointless questions, she positioned herself behind his head to lift his torso off the floor. She slid her arms under his and bent over to lift him up. She could hold her own in the gym, but he had to weigh two hundred plus, of complete, lean muscle.
And her grip was slippery against his sweaty body, making it tough to hold on.
A triangle of the swimsuit top shifted and showed off half a nipple—a stiff and tender nipple.
What the hell had they done?
“You start to wake up and I’m gonna knock you out again.”
Ignoring her near nudity—wishing she could dodge the feeling of an after-sex glow shrouding her—she stood behind him and bent at the waist to maneuver him up to a sitting position. She looked from him to the futon, unsure she could lift him up enough to get him on the bed. She had to try.
“What did you do to him?”
Ava looked over her shoulder to see Dana blocking the doorway. Rage and fury like that of a momma lioness protecting her cub rumbled through the air. But she didn’t come closer.
“I did nothing. I found him on the floor unconscious.” Ava adjusted her feet to keep from dropping him.
“How did you get in?” Dana surveyed her with an untrusting gaze. Her raised brow and pursed lips as she took in the sight of Ava in the malfunctioning suit indicated more clearly than words what she thought.
Funny, Ava would’ve expected similar opinions during her last assignment as a call girl. Then again, instead of a caught-with-your-pants-down moment this was a caught-with-your-boob-flopping-around-the-unconcsious-and-clearly-aroused-man’s-head moment.
I need to remember how I wound up here.
“He let me in.”
“Then you couldn’t have found him that way.”
“Look. Dana.” She shifted a leg to ease the strain on her back. “I didn’t do this to him. Could you help me get him on the bed? Grill me later.”
“You did it.” Dana moved over and positioned herself between his feet. “Though judging from your own injury I’m not sure how much help you’re going to be.”
“Guess we’ll have to find out.” She wasn’t sure what Dana meant by insisting Ava had injured him, but now wasn’t the time for debates. Her muscles were screaming and the pounding in her head was ramping up in volume and intensity.
Too much more of this and she’d be the one needing to be picked up from the floor. Again, if her suspicions were correct.
“Yeah.” Dana lifted his legs and together, with much grunting on both their parts, they moved him onto the futon. The instant he was settled, Dana shoved Ava away.
“You wanna help? There’s a freezer with ice in the next room to the right. Get some towels, fill them with ice and dampen them. The colder the water the better.” Dana bustled around H’s prone form muttering and shaking her head. “We have to get him cooled off.”
Adjusting her swimsuit top, Ava floundered in a moment of uncertainty. “I’ll call an ambulance.”
“No!” Dana’s hand flew. She grabbed Ava’s arm, digging her short nails into her sand-covered skin. “No ambulance.”
Ava’s head screamed. The added pain, while not tremendous on normal circumstances, nearly floored her. She stumbled back, breaking the contact. Her mind settled.
Dana’s eyes widened while her brows furrowed in apologetic concern. Then again, maybe it had been Ava’s imagination.
“Fine. But if he doesn’t improve and wake up very soon I’m making the call.” Whatever had happened outside, he had taken care of her. She would see to it he was taken care of in return.
For now, that meant humoring the sister she wasn’t supposed to know about, so she hustled to the kitchen and grabbed three towels from the nearest counter on her way to the freezer. She laid the cloths flat on the small table, yanked the tray of ice out and emptied the tray into the towels.
Folding the edges up, she knotted the towels into loose ice packs she then ran under cold water.
They would cool him off and wake him up. She would get rid of Dana and ask him what the hell had happened. Then she would make her exit and report to her team. She needed someone out there checking the area. And she needed to do it all without Dana or H finding her gun—or catching on to who she really was.
Ava pushed back into the dressing room in time to see Dana pull her hands away from H’s head and heart. Sweat still coated his forehead and dampened his short-cut hair, but a little of his color had returned while some of Dana’s had bled away. What was going on with these two?
“Here.” She rushed to Dana with the ice packs.
“Thank you.” Dana sounded suddenly tired, where before she’d been snappish and strong. “Put one under each of his armpits, pressed against his sides, and one below his neck.”
Ava did as she was told while noting the changes in Dana. She’d missed something big. Dana’s background was as empty as H’s on paper. In fact, if paper trails were to be believed, they hadn’t existed until a few years ago. Like they’d just appeared, complete with degrees.
Ava needed to know what she was missing.
While Dana went through her ministrations, Ava went to the other side of the wall to get a towel to wipe away his sweat. On the floor, dropped hurriedly from appearances, was a heap of bloody towels. She caught her reflection over the mirror.
A lump the size of Texas was just over her temples with a long gash slicing through it. A gash that should have needed stitches judging from the bloody towels. Surprisingly, it was mostly closed up. Though now she understood why she had a massive headache and was fighting dizziness.
And damn it, her eyes looked blurry like she’d just had crazy sex. Several times.
She adjusted the suit, which had slipped off her boob, and rinsed out the bloody towels. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be helping H. She did, but she got the distinct impression Dana preferred being alone with him. She would maintain a little distance since the other woman saw her as an unwelcome intruder.
Ava wrung out the last towel and draped it over the side of a nearby hamper where she’d placed the others. Turning back, she moved too quickly. Dizziness swept over her and silvery splinters serrated her vision.
Images and memories flashed through her mind like jumbled clips of an unedited movie.
Images and memories alien to her.
Images and memories innately H.
Her knees buckled and slammed into the tile floor with jarring force echoing through her skull.
Channing handed him the contacts.
His hair had been shaved and electrodes were stuck to his head. Dana curled against his side.
Him putting the contacts in a safe.
“What did you do, Dana?” H’s usually steady, now shaky voice pulled Ava from the images. He sounded exhausted. “Where’s Ava?”
do?” The dominant snap was back in Dana’s tone coated with a healthy dose of abhorrence. “I didn’t do anything to your hussy girlfriend. What did she do to you?”
“Stop it.” He sounded a little stronger as the bed creaked beneath his weight. “She didn’t do anything. Where is she?”
“Are you kidding? You didn’t see you.”
“It had to be done.”
What had to be done? What had he done? Why did it feel like he was more in her head than before?
“Not alone. Never alone.”
“This was different, Dana.” He sounded stronger by the second. The controlled man from the day before was back. “Where is she?”
“Over there. What’s she doing here and why is she in my suit?”