Authors: Kimberley Troutte
“I don’t understand.”
“Today I found out the bookkeeper is a single-mom with a small house, no yard. Why would she steal from anyone? She needed that job to support her family. During the day she took care of her babies and did bookkeeping at night. The computer was on, my software running, around the clock at a tiny desk in her bedroom. Rich guy used
to spy on her. He took naked pictures of her without her knowledge and got off on his sicko fantasies while her babies slept.”
doesn’t begin to describe him.” She growled. “The Feds caught him on a child pornography sting and he spilled his guts. The authorities paid me a little visit today.”
That didn’t sound good. “Are you in trouble? Anything I can do to help?”
“I’m not worried about me, but that poor lady. She must feel so violated. Imagine the Feds showing up at her door with the pictures…” Her voice hitched and he longed to touch her, pull her into his arms. “…Crapcrapcrap. This is so bad. Give me another grenade, please. I need to destroy something.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Every time I trust people to do the right thing, this happens.”
He heard the soft sound of her blowing her nose. Was she crying? “Shit, my mom was a single mother too. She took all sorts of crap jobs to raise my brother and me. If I found out someone did that to her? There’d be no place the bastard could hide.”
They both tossed grenades—his hit the store bringing his kill rate up, hers missed by a mile.
“That’s it,” she said softly, as if she was speaking to herself. “No more hacking. You’d think I would’ve learned after what happened to my best friend in high school. You can’t trust people, Pirate. They’ll screw you every time.”
She blew up the trash bin with his last virtual grenade. Luckily, the newbies had already moved on.
God, he felt for her. Someone had hurt her before and apparently her best friend. Who? He wanted names, addresses. “You can trust me. Tell me how I can help you and it’s done.”
She was silent for a long beat. He wasn’t sure she heard him.
“Trust me,” he said louder.
“I do,” she said softly. “You’re one of a kind, Black Pirate.”
His heart beat picked up a notch. “Let’s get out of here. Go somewhere quiet. I’ll hold you close and we can dance the ugly day away.”
“Online dancing? That’s a new one.”
“Real dancing. Cheek-to-cheek. You can wear those thigh high boots you told me about. I’d love to see those on you.”
“Wait a minute. Are you trying to distract me so you get the best shot? You almost beat me yesterday.”
Deflecting. That wasn’t a good sign, but he pressed on. “I don’t give a shit about the shot.” He wanted to play a different thrilling game with the real girl, not an online persona. “Let’s get out of here, Hot Girl. We don’t have to dance. Meet me for drinks.”
“Belgian beer and pretzels?”
She remembered? He’d mentioned his favorite beer about six months ago. Her avatar looked at him, but her expression didn’t change. It couldn’t. He wanted to see her real face.
“For you, pale ale and large bag of Cheetos.” His real heart pounded harder, but the Black Pirate continued his steely-eyed stare. “A real date. Face-to-face. Up close and personal.”
“You don’t know where I am. What if you’re on the other side of the planet?”
“I’ll find you.”
“Really? Just like that?” Her avatar went back to watching the store front in Bagdad. “I don’t really look like this, you know. I could be ugly.”
“You’re not ugly. I can tell.”
She chuckled. “By my voice? I suppose you think all those sex-call women are gorgeous too. Okay, let’s say I’m every pirate’s wet dream but I’m not attracted to you in person.”
Was she attracted to him online? “Hell, I could look
than my avatar. You’ll just have to wait and see.”
She took aim and eliminated one of the hostiles escaping out the backdoor. Damn, she was faster than he was.
“It’s just a drink in a public place. You pick the spot. Come on, give a guy a chance,” he said.
Because he’d been dying to meet her in person for months. “You intrigue me, Hot Girl. I love the way your mind works. Smart women are sexy.”
“Good answer.” Her voice electrified his senses. She was smiling.
He was winning her over. “I won’t let you down. Give me a chance to prove myself.”
“At first. Until you get to know how great I am.”
modest.” She took another shot, eliminating the hostile behind the tree.
“They say I’m handsome too.”
“My mama, grandma, Aunt Lu, pretty much all the women in my family. You should listen to my mama. She wouldn’t lie to you.”
She paused. “I’ll think about it.”
“Good. I’ll give you until Thursday.”
Take-down in Tangi Valley
releases then. Join me in the ‘virtual battle of the century.’ And after I beat you soundly, we’ll make plans for our date.” He knew she’d love this game. He had her in mind when he helped the designer create it. She’d beat the hell out of him.
She paused, thinking. “Okay.”
“Duck,” she said and shot over his head, taking out the enemy.
Oh yeah, in his excitement he’d forgot about that guy sneaking up the embankment.
Together they took out the last two hostiles inside the store. The Battle in Bagdad ended and the Black Pirate and Hot Girl had tied.
He couldn’t show up to play
Take-down in Tangi Valley
on Thursday as planned. Lieutenant Commander Mack Riley called him for a job off-book in Colombia. A billionaire and his family had been taken hostage by guerrillas in Colombia. This was a private gig, hired by the eXtreme Adventures travel agency who lost the family. Since Charlie’s C.O. still wasn’t putting them back in the field for the Navy, Charlie jumped at the chance to do what he loved. SEAL work.
He felt bad about standing up Hot Girl, but his team needed him. The SEALs were more than a job. They were his brothers. He had their backs, they had his. He hoped she’d understand, even if he couldn’t tell her about it.
He inserted a robot avatar to stand at the gate of
Take-down in Tangi Valley
. No one could go in without seeing the robot with a big “For Hot Girl” sign around its neck, virtual flowers in one hand and a card in the other.
When the card opened his voice played, “Hey, beautiful. I’m sorry I can’t be here to enjoy the virtual battle of the century with you today. I’ve been called out of town on emergency business. I owe you both drinks and dancing now. Call me at the number on the bottom of this card. Give me the time and place to meet next week. Thinking about you. Your Pirate. P.S. Watch your back in
. Hostiles behind the burning truck.”
The robot was programmed to ping him if someone took the message. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to check his pings or texts until after Colombia. When he got home, he saw that she had texted him to say, “No worries. We’ll talk when you get back. Hey, I have a job interview today! Legit. No more hacking.”
The job sounded promising, the lack of directions to a bar did not.
“I’m home. Where am I meeting you?” he typed.
He waited all day for her answer. Nothing. He popped in to play
Take-down in Tangi Valley
next day, hoping that she’d return. No dice. A full week later he was monitoring the system when saw Hot Girl’s avatar lined up to enter the gates of
She didn’t go in. Why? It was against all company policy, but he tracked down her IP address to locate her. He was dismayed that the IP address chase had him bouncing all over the globe—China, Qatar, Mongolia. Damn, she really didn’t want to be found.
He knew her. No way would she miss playing the game of the century. There were no pings. After searching the registry, he saw that she never went in.
Charlie sat in his beach house and stared at the blue screen, wishing he could hear her voice again. Had he scared her away? Doubtful. He ran his fingers through his hair.
Where are you, Hot Girl?
He missed her.
Hell that sounded weird
. He didn’t know her, and yet, he did. They’d developed a close bond while playing video games. The anonymity had allowed him to share personal stories with her, like how he dreamed of being a real pirate when he was a kid so that he could sail away from home. His dad was a jerk and the kids at school bullied him until Willy taught him how to defend himself.
He shared one story with her that he hadn’t told anyone. Not even Willy.
He’d stood up to a sadistic supervisor, refusing to take orders from the bastard. Charlie knew bullying for what it was and being a supervisor didn’t make it okay to screw with innocent lives. Charlie wouldn’t do it. Instead, he blew the whistle, and got a bright red target painted on his back. In his field, no one ratted on teammates. Of course, he left out the fact the supervisor was the C.O. of a bad-ass elite group of sadistic SEALs who’d take him out with one shot given the chance. He also didn’t say how ashamed he was that he’d respected those guys, at first. Trusted them.
In a strange way, Hot Girl had become his closest friend. Lately, she was his only friend outside of the SEALs. So yeah, he missed her. A hell of a lot. He had a bag of Cheetos in his cabinet now because of her, even though he didn’t eat junk food.
He turned the computer off. Computer games weren’t any fun without her. Tightening his cellular watch, he grabbed his surf board. With his toes in the sand on Ehukai Beach, he assessed the wind and water conditions. Sweet. The Banzai Pipeline was breaking nicely over the reef. He might just get to surf a big Kahuna yet. He was dying to ride a thirty-footer at one of the most dangerous surf spots in the world before going back to duty.
“Excuse me,” a woman tapped his shoulder. “Are you really going out there?”
He turned around to see two bikinied babes ogling him—one in red, the other blue.
The one in blue tossed her long brown hair over her shoulder. “Those waves look dangerous.” By the hunger in her eye, he knew that the Kahuna wasn’t the only dangerous thing on the North Shore.
“They are,” he said. “Unless you know what you’re doing.”
Red sized him up. Her gaze traveled from his chest, down his abs, and stayed a beat too long at his swim trunks before she looked him in the face. She had short dark hair and a killer figure that was almost as stunning as Blue’s. “Are you a pro?”
He grinned. “Not at surfing.”
Red dragged a long fingernail down his bicep, drawing a heart on his skin. “Stay and party with us?”
“Please?” Blue waved a half-empty bottle at him. Wouldn’t you know it? Belgian beer.
“We’re lonely.” Red pouted. “We’ve been in Hawaii for a whole day and haven’t met anyone as good-looking as you are.”
“You won’t be sorry.” Blue lifted her shoulders which had the desired effect of lifting her boobs higher. She might as well have put them on a plate and handed them to him.
These two were hot, even if the breasts were fake and their tummies had been tuned-up by a plastic surgeon or two. His hard-on was lifting his shorts, but his head wasn’t in the game.
“Sorry ladies. I’ve got to go. Enjoy your vacation.”
Tucking his board under his arm, he took off at a jog down the sand. Willy would smack him for letting two sex kittens go. But Charlie wasn’t his brother. Those fun, no-strings attached sex-capades were losing their spark for him. He paddled on his board toward the rising swell. The longer he was on leave from the SEALs, the less he desired one-night stands. Was being out of combat screwing with his need to get it on with a stranger, or two?
At this point in his life he was thinking about long-term things—relationships, love, marriage. He wanted someone who loved him all the time, not just in bed.
Shit, was he finally growing up? Handlys didn’t mature, did they?
He needed combat. Or a real woman. Hot Girl’s avatar pop into his head, which was beyond nuts. An avatar wasn’t real. Maybe he needed serious counseling, or a good right cross to his jaw before he lost his mind completely and went totally celibate.
He stood on the board, tossed the blond hair out of his eyes, and rode the wave.