Deadly Secrets, Loving Lies
Genie Marsters is in trouble. Big trouble. As a former counter-terrorism agent – and with the guns to prove it – she knows how to take care of herself. But when masked men invade her desert hideaway, Genie knows she’s outnumbered. The last thing she expects is a rescue… especially from Kyle Montgomery. Her ex-partner. Her ex-lover. Her betrayer.
Kyle hasn’t seen Genie for eight months. Not since the explosion that killed her sister and left him in the hospital. Not since she betrayed him and their unit. And she still makes his blood burn in all the right ways. But a calculating terrorist has targeted Genie and her family, and the only way anyone is getting to Genie is over Kyle’s dead body…
But the game of lies and deception is just beginning. Genie is still hiding the biggest secret yet… and this secret could be the most deadly weapon of all!
© 2012 Cynthia Cooke
Genie Marsters perched in the bulletproof glass-encased crow’s nest at the top of her desert home and watched the UPS truck barrel toward her down the long dirt road. A plume of dust kicked up behind it. This wasn’t good. Only one person knew where she lived, and he wouldn’t send her a delivery without warning her first.
The driver pulled to a stop amidst a cloud of sand and hopped out of the truck. He stared up at her circular retreat built high on stilts. No one could get in without her knowing it. Other than the trap door above her, the steep flight of stairs leading to her front door was the only way in or out of her sanctuary—her tree house without the tree.
She descended the ladder out of the crow’s nest and stepped into the loft that doubled for her bedroom, then continued down the stairs to the main floor. She rested one hand lightly on the front door, glanced through the peephole and waited for him to approach. She cleared her mind, opening herself to any impressions she could read from him once she opened the door. She’d spent most of her life trying to ignore the empathic abilities she’d been born with, to fit in with normal people. To be normal. Now, she knew better. The three Marsters girls would never be normal. Some advantages you just had to embrace.
The UPS guy—male, approximately thirty-years-old, six-foot, blue eyes, blond hair, lean and mean with massive, muscular thighs—climbed the stairs to her front door. Could be he liked to take care of himself. Could be he wasn’t a UPS driver.
Genie pulled her Glock out of a sconce on the wall next to the door and checked the magazine. She slipped it into the waistband of her favorite black pants at the small of her back, fluffed her hair then opened the door. She faked a wide, flirtatious smile. “Good morning,” she greeted, a touch too loud, a touch too cheery, while her gaze dropped to the small box clutched in his grasp.
Small. Printed address. Too much of his hand covered the type for her to be able to read who’d sent it.
The man smiled back, showing a mouthful of perfectly straight, obviously whitened teeth. “Morning ma’am. You have quite a place out here.”He shifted, trying to peek around her.
Genuine curiosity or something more? She reached with her thoughts, trying to read him, but couldn’t. His mind was shut tight. He gestured down the steep staircase that led to his truck below. “Don’t believe I’ve ever seen a house on stilts in the desert before.” He took a step forward into her personal space while once again trying to peer into the octagonal room behind her. Only this time he wasn’t so subtle about it.
She didn’t move an inch, letting him hover close enough that she could smell his cologne. Something cheap. “Cool, isn’t it?” she said, raising her voice an octave and tipping her head flirtatiously to the side. She flipped her hair over her shoulder. With her blond bombshell looks, she’d learned early on that if she threw in a touch of ditz, men tended to be easily distracted and to seriously underestimate her.
Most men that is. But not Kyle.
The UPS driver grinned, 100-watts of dazzling brightness, and suddenly he was more interested in her than in her house, which was exactly what she’d wanted.
“You all alone out here?” he asked, his light blue eyes twinkling. Eyes that almost looked like Kyle’s, but they weren’t quite as vibrant or as dark.
“Why? You offering to keep me company?” she asked, shaking off the image of deep blue that instantly filled her mind and soured her heart.
His eyelids lowered to half-mast, eyes darkening as his gaze dragged slowly down her body. Heat and desire rolled off him—she felt it like a ten-ton truck barreling down on her, moving through her and making her tingle. Everywhere.
For an insane moment she was sorely tempted. It had been a long time since she’d had large, strong hands on her skin. Not since before the explosion.
Not since Kyle.
She shook off the impression and closed her mind. She no longer wanted to absorb his feelings, or accept a psychic reading of his emotions. “Do you have something for me?” she asked coolly.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, hitching up his pants.
She looked pointedly at the box he held in his hands and raised her brows.
He followed her gaze. “Yeah. Right.”He handed her the small package and the electronic ‘DIAD’ clipboard.
She spied her father’s name and address printed on the shipping form. More than anyone else, her father would never send anyone to her house without warning her first. She frowned, scrawled her name across the DIAD device and handed it back to him, then quickly shut and locked the door.
She peered out the peephole, waiting impatiently until she heard his retreat down the stairs, then with two fingers pushed aside the blinds and peered out the front window. He eased his muscular self into his truck and drove down the road. She replaced the Glock in its sconce.
She picked up her satellite phone and hit the speed dial number for her father’s island estate in the Puget Sound, knowing it was a risk to call his home, but taking the chance anyway. If someone was monitoring his phone lines, they could pinpoint her location within minutes. She was crazy to be taking this chance after everything she’d done to ‘disappear.’ But something was not right.
The phone continued to ring on the other end. Three times. Four. Five. After the sixth ring, she stared down at the number in the display, making sure she’d dialed correctly. Her father had a staff. Someone was always there to answer the phone. His housekeeper, Mary, or even the gardener. Dread tightened Genie’s grip on the receiver. She disconnected the line.
Something was wrong at the estate.
She stared at the box.
Something was wrong with her dad. Carefully, she placed the package on the table, and then hurried to the closet and took down a black plastic carrying case. She flipped the latches, opened the case, hooked up the portable RTR-4 x-ray device it held, and scanned the package. No power source. No bomb.
She went to the nearest drawer, pulled out her Ka-bar and gingerly sliced through the packaging tape and opened the box carefully with the tip of her blade. A large diamond-shaped crystal necklace sat nestled within burlap. Her eyes widened as she stared at the crystal. The last time she’d seen it, she’d been twelve. When she and her sisters, Cat and Becca, had been told their mother had been in a car accident. That she was dead, and she wasn’t coming home.
As they’d held one another and wept, their father had held up the necklace by its delicate gold chain and assured them that, like the crystal in their mother’s necklace, he would always be there to watch after and guide them. They could be certain of that, and certain of him and each other.
She’d believed him. So had Becca and Cat. And yet, somehow they’d all gotten lost.
Genie now held the crystal up to the light. Prisms of color bounced off the walls. For a second she let her finger graze the cold hard surface of the stone. An image of Becca immediately popped into her mind, laughing, her long blond hair flying in the breeze. Pressure pushed on the back of Genie’s eyes and she pinched the bridge of her nose to stop it. This was no time for sentimental reminiscing. She stuffed the necklace into her pocket and dug through the box. Nothing else was in it. No note or explanation for why her father would suddenly send her the necklace.
Except the obvious. He was no longer around to watch out for her. She was on her own.
She paced back and forth. What should she do? She knew what she wanted to do, but it was dangerous. Foolish. But since he hadn’t answered the phone, it was the only way she could be sure her father wasn’t in trouble. She couldn’t hide out here in the desert if he needed her.
She climbed the stairs into the loft and pulled a backpack off the top shelf of her closet and threw a couple changes of clothes into it. She had to go to her father’s estate and see for herself. It would take her at least twelve hours to get to the island. If she could even get on a flight.
“Damn,” she muttered. She couldn’t wait that long.
She sat on the bed and picked up the phone again. Her dad had assured her it was untraceable, but suddenly she wasn’t so sure. If Dad was in trouble, what else might be wrong?
She called the direct line of Josh Cameron, her old team leader and an associate of her father’s in the National Counter-Terrorism Agency—known to everyone as the CTA—her teeth gnawing away her patience as she waited for him to answer.
“Cameron, here.”His tone was tight, which meant he had a stranglehold on his nerves. Something was going down.
“Cameron, what do you know about my father?” she demanded, not bothering to identify herself or waste time on pleasantries.
He paused. Another thing he’d always done whenever he needed a moment to choose his words carefully. Damn.
She stood, pacing back and forth, quickly covering the length of the small room. “Tell me,” she said through gritted teeth.
“I’m not sure yet, Genie. We haven’t been able to get hold of him.”
Her stomach flip-flopped like a flapjack on a hot griddle. She was used to being alone, she liked being alone, because she knew her dad was always there—her back-up, her protector, her confidant. Nothing could happen to him. It just couldn’t.
But it had.
She took a deep breath to squelch the panic rising within her. She couldn’t lose him, too. Not after her mother, and Kyle, and—
“Trust me,” Cameron said. “We’re looking into it.”
Trust me. She almost laughed out loud.
She was the daughter of the ex-director of the most secretive agency in the U.S. Government. Lies and deception were the name of the game. She’d learned a long time ago that trust was not a word to bat around easily. Trust was something to be earned, to be valued.
To be lost.
Embrace who you are, but never reveal. Never trust. Her father’s words whispered through her mind, reminding her that by calling Cameron she’d made a rash decision based on emotion, and rash decisions could get her killed.
She didn’t trust Cameron. She didn’t trust anyone. Not after what had happened to her sister, Becca.
Kyle’s face flashed through her mind along with her sister’s, squeezing her insides painfully.
“You need to come in, Genie. Let us protect you,” Cameron said. “At least until we can get a handle on what’s happening.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I can protect myself.”
“That’s what your father thought, and where has that gotten him?”
But how could her father have just disappeared? “What aren’t you saying, Cameron?”
“Genie, don’t be stubborn.”
“I’ve heard that one before. And it doesn’t sound like an answer.”
Silence filled the line.
She wasn’t going to get anywhere with him. She never had. “Just let me know if you hear something, okay?”
“Genie.” His voice hardened.
Out of the corner of her eye, out her bedroom window, she saw another dust cloud rising in the distance. She stopped dead in her tracks, spun to the window, and grabbed the high-powered binoculars off the wall. “Cameron, someone’s coming,” she said softly. “And this time it’s not the UPS man.”
“What do you see?” he snapped.
“A convoy. Three black SUVs. Yours?”
“No. Hang tight. I’ll get you out of there.”
She stilled, her grip tightening on the binoculars. “How do you know where I am?”
“Kiddo, I’ve always known. We’re coming to get you. Kyle is already on his way. But, trust me, he’s not in a black SUV.”
There was that word again. Should she trust him?
“Something bad has happened to my dad,” she said as the vehicles sped closer and closer to her home. The home no one but her father was supposed to know about. The place she thought she was secure. Hidden. Safe. She’d been wrong. “But you already know that, don’t you?”
“We don’t know anything yet. Don’t jump to conclusions.”
“How else could they have found me?”
She hung up the phone, grabbed the Glock she kept in her nightstand, her ankle holster, an extra magazine and the Ka-bar Bowie hidden in the railing of the staircase. She climbed the ladder up into the crow’s nest two rungs at a time.
Pulling out her .50 caliber long-range rifle, she stuck the barrel through the slot in the bulletproof bubble that doubled for a roof and pointed it at the ground.
Time to welcome company.
“Kyle, what’s your ETA to Genie’s?” Josh Cameron’s voice blared through Kyle’s headset.
Kyle Montgomery glanced down at his flight instrument panel, then out the copter’s large window at the barren Nevada desert. “Ten minutes.”
“Make it quicker, she’s got company. Three black SUVs.”
Kyle swore under his breath as he scanned the horizon, searching for any sign of the vehicles. “We should have given her a heads up as soon as we found out about Marsters’ disappearance.”
“And try to explain it to her over the phone? She would have bolted before we got anywhere near her, running headlong into this mess and causing even more trouble.”
“Maybe. But at least she’d already be gone.”
“And in a lot more trouble because she’d do it solo, refusing help from anyone. You know that. The foolish woman thinks she doesn’t need us anymore. That she’s better off alone.”
“Believe me, I know how much trouble Genie can be.”The words tasted bitter in Kyle’s throat. There was a time when he’d thought he knew Genie better than anyone, that he’d known about her deepest secrets, and understood her hidden fears. A large, ill-timed explosion had taught him how wrong he’d been. And he still had the scars to prove it.
“I suppose you do.”Cameron sighed.
“Any idea how long she’ll be able to keep them at bay?” Kyle asked, determined to move the conversation out of the past and into right-the-hell now.
“Wish I knew. She disconnected the line and isn’t answering.”
“No surprise there.” Any way to make his job more difficult and that headstrong hellcat would find it.
“If anyone can hold her own and get herself out of this, it’s Genie,” Cameron insisted.
Kyle couldn’t help wondering if Cameron was saying the words more to appease himself or Kyle. All he knew for sure was that ridding herself of messy complications was Genie’s specialty. The fact that Kyle had ended up being one of those complications didn’t sit well with him. Not then. Not now. The familiar angerand frustration clenched his gut, and his fist tightened on the controls.
“Just extract her and bring her into headquarters STAT,” Cameron ordered. “Whatever Marsters is up to now, chances are it has something to do with whatever went down at the warehouse eight months ago, and Genie is the only one who can help us.”
“If Marsters is in on whatever is going on,” Kyle said. “Because if he’s not—”
“Then we’re dealing with Sean Emerich.”
“And if that’s the case, she won’t want to come in,” Kyle said as he raced across the sky.
“You think I don’t know that?” Cameron returned. “I’m still waiting to talk to her about the explosion. Just get her in here. I don’t care what it takes. The quicker I have her in my office and debriefed, the quicker we can get a handle on what’s happened before the shit hits the fan.”
“You got it.” Genie wouldn’t like it, but that wasn’t Kyle’s problem. He was following orders. Pick up and deliver the package, no questions asked. As far as he was concerned, the less time he spent with Genie Marsters, the better.
He had no desire to put himself through that particular wringer again. She’d said all she needed to say when she’d disappeared without a word, never checking in, leaving him broken and alone in the hospital after the explosion. For all he knew, she was the reason that warehouse blew up. The reason he’d almost blown up with it.
Hell, yeah. The quicker he finished this assignment the better.
Crouched in the crow’s nest, Genie bolted the metal door beneath her and took position. She’d designed this fortress herself. She could handle this incursion. Her phone rang again. She ignored it. She didn’t need Cameron. She didn’t need rescuing, and she sure as hell didn’t need to see Kyle again.
The three SUVs pulled to a stop outside her house, forming a tight circle on the desert sand. Men dressed in black filed out the doors and into the center of the circle, using the vehicles as cover.
She nibbled on her bottom lip. Smart. Even from up here, the angle was such that she couldn’t get to them. These guys were pros. And they’d done their homework.
Kiddo, I’ve always known.
Was it Cameron? Had he sent this team to take her out, or to be assured she’d leave with Kyle?
Kyle. Oh, God.
Dark brown hair. Deep blue eyes. Wide generous smile. Strong, warm embrace. Wanted to love her forever. She pushed thoughts of him from her mind and focused on the men hiding within the circle of vehicles. She counted nine. Nine big men to come after little ol’ her?
One of the men inched forward. She waited, counting under her breath as he moved steadily into the center of the crosshairs on her scope. She pulled the trigger aiming below his vest. He collapsed to the ground, blood spreading across his thigh.
“One down,” she whispered. “Eight more to go.”
His cohorts quickly pulled him back behind the wheel of the closest vehicle.
Almost like a military operation.
She crinkled her brow.
They quickly reformed, and then a man crouched wielding a large mirror in his hand. Before she could react, a sharp blinding light hit her. Pain stung her eyes. She squeezed them shut. Then she heard it, the pounding of footsteps on her staircase.
Shit! She opened her eyes, but for a few seconds saw only white pinpricks before her vision refocused.
Wood splintered and her house shook beneath her as someone kicked and pummeled her steel-reinforced front door.
Her cell rang again. This time, she answered.
“Genie, where are you?”
Kyle. She hated the little flutter that hit her chest when she heard his warm, gravely self-assured voice. Flutters like stupid, happy little butterflies. “I’m in the crow’s nest. They’ve breached my perimeter.”
“Don’t worry, I’m almost there.”
“Who said I was worried?” she added, faking nonchalance.
“And why would you be worried? I’m sure you can handle this. Should I just go back to Vegas, belly up to the bar and grab myself a cold one?” Irritation pricked his voice.
She hated that it had to be him coming to her rescue. Of all the people on their team, and it had to be him. “You do whatever you have to do.”
“That seems to have become a specialty of mine.” The line clicked and he was gone.
She sighed. She always pushed him away. Even when they’d been together, she’d kept him at an arm’s distance. A long arm. He’d loved her, but it hadn’t been enough. Could never be enough. Because he could never know the truth of who, of what, she really was.
Becca’s voice mocked her. “God forbid Genie should let herself find happiness and love. It would mean she had something to lose, a weak spot, an area of vulnerability.”
But for the three Marsters girls, what choice did they have? What choice did she have?
Even so, Becca’s words still burned, but this time they were tinged with sadness. Her sister had been right all along. Only now Becca was dead, and Genie knew what loving and losing really meant.
With her dad missing, she was quickly learning what it also felt like to be vulnerable, scared and completely alone. And she didn’t like it.
Something crashed. The house shook beneath her, rattling her teeth. The men, whoever they were, had gained access. She searched the horizon, looking for a cloud of dust on the road, for any sign that Kyle was coming. That no matter what she said or did, he wouldn’t abandon her.
He wouldn’t. Not Kyle.
Not this time.
Or would he? After all, hadn’t she abandoned him first?
She cringed as she felt and heard her house being torn apart below her. Who were these men? What did they want? Suddenly, they were pounding on the door beneath her, shaking her little perch until she wasn’t certain how long it would withstand the abuse.
“Who are you? What do you want?” she yelled.
The pounding continued. She heard a shot fired into the metal. They’d reach her soon. There wasn’t much that could withstand the degree of force they were dishing out. She pulled the necklace her father had sent her out of her pocket and placed it around her neck, tipping the crystal inside her shirt. Then she closed her eyes and tried to get a reading through the metal door of the men below. Were they Cameron’s men or Emerich’s? She reached out with her mind, but got only vague impressions that were absolutely no use. She couldn’t determine why these men were after her, or who had sent them.
She searched the horizon for Kyle once more but he was nowhere to be seen. She stashed the Ka-bar into the sheath at her waist and her Glock back into the holster at her ankle, and set down the rifle. She quickly scanned the yard. No one remained at the vehicles.
They were all inside. All coming for her.
Time to move. She unlatched the bulletproof bubble and pushed the top open. She had a motorcycle stashed out back. Once she got down to the ground, she’d flatten their tires and take off for Vegas. It was the best chance she had.
The acrid scent of burning metal warned her time was running short. They were torching the latch off her trap door. They’d reach her within seconds. She climbed onto the small landing on top of the roof. She was very high up. Too high to survive a fall to the desert floor. She picked up the end of a repelling cable hooked at the ready onto the roof and attached it to her belt.