Authors: Cynthia Justlin
Tags: #science, #Romance, #Suspense, #adventure, #action, #Military, #security, #technology, #special forces, #thriller
by Cynthia Justlin
Copyright © 2011 by Cynthia Justlin
Published by Cynthia Justlin
Digital Edition 2.0
Cover by Razzle Dazzle Design
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events of persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without permission of the author is illegal. The author requests that you purchase only authorized electronic editions, and that you do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Thank you for your support of authors’ rights.
Cameron Scott hated the F word.
The word rippled through him with a shudder as he swung from the wrought iron fire escape and onto the roof of Nanodyne’s main laboratory. His left knee popped with an audible crack, an uneasy reminder of why he was freezing his ass out here in the first place.
To prove he could.
His breath crystallized in the air and hung in front of his face for a moment before dissipating into the inky January night. Unpredictable low temperatures were sweeping through Phoenix, giving residents a wake up call. Thirty degrees? In Phoenix?
Yeah, that sucked.
The thick tread of his shoes masked the echo of his footsteps. The only sound was the steady ticking of his Aviator watch—a gift from his XO on his medical discharge from the Special Forces.
Had the chief understood how it pained Cam to listen to the seconds pass by—the seconds he’d never again get back, the minutes of his life that seemed ever more pointless—the XO probably would have rethought the choice of going away present.
Still, Cam supposed he was the foolish one. He couldn’t bear to hide the small remaining connection to his A-team away in his sock drawer.
His days with the Special Forces were done. Kaput. Over. But that didn’t mean he had to roll over and play dead. He depressed the pin on the side of his watch and read the time from the blue glow. Midnight. The witching hour. Cam suppressed a snort and dug his lock pick kit out of the pouch on his belt as he squeezed himself between two large turbines that hid access to the heavy steel door.
Once he successfully completed this job, the government would realize he was more than capable of handling large security contracts. Like the last one they’d turned him down for solely based on his disability. His knee cramped in protest as he stuck the tension wrench between his teeth and bent to the deadbolt. Disability, his ass.
His shattered knee did
Of course Nanodyne was expecting dry reports itemizing their facility’s vulnerabilities, not a little bit of show and tell. But easy equaled boring. Since he couldn’t be in the thick of action with his A-team, he might as well amuse himself in other ways.
He ground his molars together and shoved the pick in the lock. With a few well-aimed jabs and a twist, the steel door clicked open. Cam shimmied inside, wiping a bead of sweat off his brow. He held his breath as his eyes adjusted.
No movement on the third floor. Just as he suspected. The security guards on the ground floor had no idea what went on right above their heads.
He moved down a set of metal stairs before his feet met the plush carpet of the third floor corporate offices. Nothing much to see here. Unless he was after confidential files and accounting documents. Why go for guppies when he could dine on Barracuda?
Cam hurried past the cubicles outfitted with recent computers, past the state of the art sound system. Oh, yeah, this place was definitely a petty burglar’s wet dream. But if he wanted the serious payoff housed on Nanodyne’s second floor, that required additional finesse.
He slunk over to the bank of elevators. One surveillance camera rotated back and forth on its axis in a limited range of motion, providing him with the perfect blind spot. He paused and studied the rhythm of the camera for a moment. Then he slipped past it and disappeared into the musty stairwell.
Descending the stairs to the second floor, he removed a cardkey from its pouch. He ran the thin piece of metal through the reader adjacent to the second floor access door and waited. Both red and green lights blinked on and held; the magnetized card jammed the mechanism. He kicked the door near the electronic lock, dislodging the polarized charge on the striker plates, and yanked on the handle.
Emergency lighting dispelled some of the shadows that hindered his movement down the hall. He detected motion sensors mounted to the wall in three-foot intervals. He dropped to his belly then slithered across the ground in slow mo keeping his target—the large lab at the end of the hall—in his sights.
He mustered a sorry ass excuse for a crouch once he reached the large glass panes that sandwiched the plain white door of the company’s nanotechnology division.
Here, access was a little bit trickier, a card reader with a keypad attached. But breaking into a place like this wasn’t something one did on a whim, and Cam had taken care of the necessary recon by planting a mini wireless camera near the pad.
Yesterday, he’d had the pleasure of watching a very feminine hand, simply adorned with blunt, French manicured fingernails, spoon-feed him the passcode.
Merci beaucoup, mysterious sexy fingers.
Okay, when a lady’s hand alone had the power to turn him on it was time to break down and admit he’d been without a woman for far too long.
His back skimmed the smooth wall as he broke his crouch and peered into the laboratory. Dim fluorescent lights hummed and their bluish beam flickered in an erratic dance overhead.
Coast clear. He shot a glance at the nameplate on the door. Dr. Audra McCain.
The good doctor wouldn’t even know he’d been here. He slid his magnetic card through the reader, punching in the passcode on the keypad. The lock disengaged and Cam slipped inside.
His eyes adjusted to the dim lighting and he took stock of the room. An oversized desk sat in the middle, surrounded by sensitive equipment. Notebooks were stacked on one end of the table next to a new computer. A mug rested at one corner, the only personal item of note in the entire lab. So Dr. McCain was a neat freak, not the sentimental sort to crowd her space with photos of loved ones. But she cared about her equipment; that much was obvious from the way they gleamed even in the thin beam of emergency lighting.
His gazed snagged on a vault along the lab’s back wall. Cam walked closer to his goal, his mind already thinking of ways to circumvent the mechanism.
He crouched for a closer look. Nanodyne had spared no expense on the high-tech model. Made of bulletproof steel, access to the unit could only be obtained via a biometric thumbprint scan along with an authorized cardkey. The technology wasn’t foolproof, but it would deter most intruders unwilling to take on the greater risk.
A sudden click exploded into the silence.
Cam sucked in a breath and froze, trying to place the sound.
The door creaked.
He dropped from view, his heart jackknifing into his throat. Footsteps echoed across the floor like gunshots.
You’re royally screwed, buddy.
He scrambled across the slippery vinyl tile. Which way to go? Couldn’t head for the exit. Couldn’t stay here, either. Perspiration crawled across his neck. He made a quick, desperate search around the lab.
Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.
His knee chose that very crappy, inopportune moment to crumple. It struck the floor and skated out from under him. He clenched his teeth to stifle his grunt of pain then scrambled into a crouch, his knee stiff and uncooperative.
Sweat dripped into his eyes. He blinked the sting away and went stomach to floor. Pushing himself along on his belly, like a friggin’ penguin sliding against the ice, he coasted into a tiny alcove beneath Dr. McCain’s chemical fume hood.
His breath wanted to rush from his chest, but he forced it back, releasing it in a slow and steady rhythm despite the burning in his lungs.
He craned his neck and snuck a peek. His narrowed focus immediately snagged on the man who sat at a large metal desk. Unless Dr. McCain had recently decided on a sex change, that was definitely not her.
The man swiveled in the chair and gave Cam an unobstructed view of the emblem sewn on the shoulder of his gray uniform.
A security guard. Perfect.
Damn it! None of the tricks Cam used to bypass Nanodyne’s security should have been detected. So why did the guard pick this lab to investigate?
The guard shook his shaggy black hair out of his eyes and held a thin strip of plastic up to the light with latex-gloved fingertips. Wait a minute. Why would a security guard have to wear gloves?
He watched as the man proceeded to strip the backing away from the film and pressed the transparent band to Dr. McCain’s ceramic coffee mug. He peeled the film off the mug, replaced the backing and shoved it into his breast pocket.
With nothing else to do but wait, Cam watched the guard root around in one of the desk drawers and pull out...a hairbrush? He brought it close to his nose and inhaled before plucking several strands from the bristles.
Cam’s brows shot up.
You’ve gotta be shittin’ me.
Was the guard nothing more than an obsessed admirer of Dr. McCain’s? Possibly some crazed stalker with a hairbrush fetish? Human resources had to screen their applicants better than this.
The man extracted a Ziploc bag from his pocket, shoved the hair inside and added it to the cache in his pocket. He turned from his perusal of the desk drawers and bent over the computer. His hunched shoulders blocked Cam’s view of the monitor, but he saw the man insert a small drive into the USB hub.
Taking information or leaving it?
He ducked beneath the hood; his foot slipped from its perch along the side, the toe of his boot thumped against metal. The man stiffened and suddenly swiveled around in his seat.
Cam’s eyes slid closed. His breath stagnated in his throat. The vein in his right temple throbbed, sending a shaft of pain through his eyeball. He pressed his back further into the alcove. Maybe if he shrunk himself enough he’d disappear altogether.
To get caught by a security guard who could blow the whistle on his entire objective would suck; to get caught by a man who was clearly up to no good—and could cause him all manner of bodily harm—would suck a hell of a lot worse.
Heavy footsteps echoed on linoleum and his eyes sprang open. The clop of the guard’s shoes slowed as he drew closer. And closer. And then closer still until a pair of gray slacks filled Cam’s line of vision. Near enough that he could have sworn the polyester brushed across his arm when the man stopped in front of the fume hood.
A bead of sweat trickled under the collar of Cam’s shirt and slid slowly down his spine. His watch counted down his demise with the explosive tick from its second hand. He held his breath. Pressure built in his lungs and screamed for release.
The squawk of a walkie-talkie cracked the silence. “Movement on the first floor. Can you check it out?”
A ragged sigh plundered into the static. “Ten-four. I’m on my way.”
The man moved away from the hood, his footsteps punctuating his brisk walk to the door.
Cam peered around the corner and watched the man duck out of the lab. He sagged against the wall. Relief flushed his veins and air flooded his deprived lungs. He waited several tense minutes to make sure the guard wouldn’t return then tumbled out of the alcove and onto the floor. He had never been able to resist a puzzle and couldn’t help being intrigued by the one he’d just stumbled upon.
He’d stake his Aviator—the only thing in his possession worth a damn—that something sinister was afoot in Nanodyne’s hallowed halls.
Audra McCain rapped her knuckles on the glass and waved at the security guard. He rose from his station at the desk and strode over to unlock the door.
“It’s a little early for work, Dr. McCain,” he remarked as he let her inside.
She glanced at the bronze clock hanging in Nanodyne’s foyer. Twelve-thirty a.m. God, he must think her completely loony, coming in at this time of night.
She sent the guard a small smile. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Weariness crawled up her spine, but it seemed she and her good buddy, insomnia, were destined to keep each other company a little while longer.
With her assistant on an extended leave, her workload doubled. But she’d gladly pick up the slack if it meant Margaret could spend twenty-four hours a day at her daughter’s bedside. A pang pierced Audra’s heart as she rooted in her tote bag for her identification card. She hoped the young girl would pull through.