Excerpt: Edge of Betrayal, Chapter 1

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Edge of BetrayalDallas, Texas, February 18

There were only two men in the world Mira Sage had ever hated enough to consider killing with her bare hands, and only one of them was still breathing.

She watched the man on her tablet, ignoring the fact that she was breaking about seven laws by doing so.

Adam Brink was up to something, and no matter how many bugs she had to plant, no matter how many traffic cameras or surveillance systems she had to hack into, she wasn’t letting the man out of her sight.

His tall, lean body glided swiftly over the cracked pavement in the alley behind a vacant distribution facility. His arms were filled with more boxes of who knew what—just like the boxes he’d been carrying in for the last hour. He glanced over his shoulder occasionally, checking to make sure he wasn’t being followed.

Even from this extreme distance, with the poor camera angle and night descending on the area, Mira swore she could see guilt riding his angular features.

Whatever he was doing, she was going to catch him in the act. Maybe then her coworkers at the Edge would believe her when she said Adam Brink was still the enemy.

Mira started her car’s engine and moved in on his location. Still out of sight, she slipped from her car and did her best to slink closer to the building where he was up to his nefarious deeds.

Without any windows in the building to peer through, she had no choice but to slip inside and follow him. There was no way to know what greeted her in there—dead bodies, illegal human experimentation, a meeting of twisted scientific minds—but she was ready for anything.

The gun holstered under her arm still felt awkward. She was a much better shot now, thanks to her boss’s insistent training, but skill and resolve were two different things. As much as she wanted to believe she could shoot someone if she had to, she wasn’t sure she had it in her.

She knew intimately just how much being shot sucked. Bella had promised that the will to survive would shine through if Mira got into trouble, and that she’d be able to pull the trigger. She wished she had even half of her boss’s confidence.

The employee entrance, at the back of the brick building, was unlocked. There was no light spilling out from under the door. No sign that anyone was inside.

With a deep breath for courage, she drew her gun, turned the doorknob, and slipped inside.

There was little light to see by—just the glow from another room ahead beckoning her forward, and even with that, all she could see was dust and open spaces. She heard nothing but the frantic drum of her own heartbeat. Beneath her clinging black layers, sweat collected along her spine. The revolver in her hand trembled.

You can do this, she told herself. Bella has trained you well.

A deep, melodic sound rose from the glowing opening ahead.

Singing? The sound seemed so out of place here, she was sure she had to be imagining things.

As the sound continued, she realized that she knew that voice. It was filled with quiet strength and, like everything about Adam, skill.

Hearing him do something so normal gave her pause. There was no evil in the simple act of singing. It was all too human, shaking her resolve.

And that pissed her off.

Adam Brink had tricked her, lied to her, drugged her, abducted her, and delivered her to her father, who had been more than willing to kill her to get what he wanted. A sweet, crooning tune didn’t change any of that.

Mira steadied her weapon and moved forward, being careful to follow in the footprints left behind in the dust. For all she knew, this place had been filled with explosive traps to keep out unwanted visitors.

As she moved forward, the singing grew louder. There were no other voices, but she could hear low strains of music filling the lighted space that was blocked from sight by the wall on her left. She vaguely recognized the tune as one from the 1940s. Dramatic, romantic, and filled with the hope of new love.

The way Adam sang it almost made her forget he was a monster.

She steadied her weapon and eased around the corner just enough to get an idea of what faced her on the other side of the wall.

Adam sat at a table covered with a pristine white cloth. Atop it was a glass bowl filled with water topped with floating candles. She could smell something savory, sinfully rich, and loaded with garlic coming from the room. Two dome-covered plates were laid out, along with sparkling stemware filled with deep red wine. Candlelight glinted off the flatware and made Adam’s pale gray eyes sparkle with warmth as they met her gaze.

“I was hoping you’d come,” he said.

Mira jerked her head back around the corner and stood on the other side of the wall in shock. He was alone. There were no instruments of torture, no screaming human subjects, no evil scientists. Just Adam and a candlelit dinner for two.

She was so confused by the sight, she looked again. Sure enough, nothing had changed. He hadn’t even shifted in his seat.

“Will you join me, Mira?” he asked.

He’d seen her. There was no sense in pretending he hadn’t.

She stepped around the corner, revolver raised and aimed at his chest.

“Your hand is shaking. I’d really prefer not to be the victim of an accidental shooting.”

“Wouldn’t be an accident. Bella told me never to point a gun at anything I didn’t want to kill.”

A sad flicker of disappointment wrinkled his brow. “I see.”

“Who else is here?” she demanded.

“No one. You’ve doubtlessly been watching me all day.” How had he known? She’d been so careful in her surveillance.

Adam continued. “Have you seen anyone else enter the building?”

Mira hadn’t, but she wasn’t about to say so. “I’m the one asking questions here.”

He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. His shirt pulled tight across his shoulders, and for a second, the memory of him covered in blood sprung back into her mind. She wanted to feel some kind of satisfaction in his pain, but all she felt was a queasy swell of nausea.

“Ask away, then,” he said.

She swallowed hard, shoving the bloody image from her mind. “Why are you here?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

She steadied the weapon, forcing her shaking to even out. “I don’t assume anything you do is what it seems.”

“In this case it is. All that’s going on here is dinner.”

“Who’s coming?”

“You.”

That news rattled her, but she tried to hide her surprise. “You didn’t know I was coming.”

“Of course I did. You’ve been watching me for weeks. All I had to do was give you an enticing enough reason to investigate.”

“All this trouble so I’d come to dinner with you? Even you aren’t that desperate.”

“I’ve tried to talk to you at work. Repeatedly. You walk away and lock me out of your office every time. I went by your house. Twice. You refused to answer the door even though I knew you were home. You’ve left me no choice but to resort to extreme measures to gain your attention.”

“I don’t have anything to say to you.”

He glanced pointedly at the barrel of her revolver. “I beg to differ. You’re speaking eloquently right now.”

“Are you mocking me?”

“Never. All I want is a few minutes of your time. After that, I’ll leave you alone.”

Mira didn’t see how that was possible, considering they worked at the same office. She had made it clear to her boss that she couldn’t stand the man, but Bella had made sure that Mira knew that hiring decisions were none of her business. She would work with Adam, or she’d find a new job.

No way was Mira going to let Adam scare her away from the job and friends she loved.

“The weapon isn’t necessary,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Again, you mean.”

Adam winced but didn’t break eye contact with her. Nor did he try to pretend that he hadn’t done to her what he’d done. “Yes, Mira. Never again.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I understand why you wouldn’t, but I’m trying to do the right thing by you. Please, just have a seat.”

“If you think I’m going to let you drug me again by eating your food, you’re insane.”

“Fine. Don’t eat. Just listen.”

“Why would I listen to you? I know how well you lie.” Adam stared at her for a moment, regret plain in the lines on his angular face. Somehow, the emotion made him even more handsome than he was naturally. She knew it was an act—everything he did was a carefully planned series of lies meant to fool her into trusting him—but that didn’t mean she didn’t notice his appeal. Being honest about her feelings was the only way to combat them.

There had been a moment not too long ago that she’d actually believed she could fall for this man.

How wrong she’d been.

Mira had always been gullible like that—willing to trust any kindness offered her, no matter how fake, no matter the ulterior motives.

His posture shifted, moving from relaxed to alert. She could almost feel him coiling to strike. Even so, his voice remained quiet and gentle. “You’ve been ignoring me since I started working at the Edge. I gave you time to heal from your wounds. I gave you weeks to accept that we are now coworkers, but it seems that you’re as immovable as your father.”

A violent surge of fury consumed her, clenching her jaw around her words. “Don’t ever compare me to him. Do you understand?”

“Finally, a reaction. You’ve been so cold I wasn’t sure there was any fire left in you.”

Her fingers tightened around the butt of her revolver and she lifted her aim. She wasn’t sure if she was brave enough to pull the trigger, but after what Adam had done to her, scaring him was the least he deserved.

Not that anything she did could scare a man like Adam Brink.

He ignored the weapon aimed at his head and stood. As he glided closer, she swore she could feel the heat of his body shimmering out of him. There had been a time—a few insane moments last December—when she would have done anything to get closer to him. He’d fooled her into thinking he was a decent man. Right before he’d drugged and abducted her for reasons she still didn’t fully understand.

“Be as angry with me as you like,” he said. “It’s no less than I deserve. But it’s a wasted effort. All it’s going to do is wear you out. There are other things that demand our attention.”

“Like you care. You don’t get to pretend like you give a shit about me now. I know better.”

His mouth shifted slightly, his lips pressing together. A flicker of pain wrinkled the skin between his pale gray eyes. Regret hung around his shoulders, making them droop more than she remembered.

It had been a mistake to come here. He was too handsome, too intriguing. Once her gaze was on him, she started to forget that inside that lean, masculine package was a monster. A cold, calculating beast willing to use whoever crossed his path.

“I’m not pretending,” said Adam. “Not anymore.” “And you just expect me to believe it? How the hell did you get Bella to agree to hire you, anyway? Is she so blown away by your good looks that she lost every bit of good judgment she ever had?”

“Bella doesn’t find me attractive.”

“How do you know?”

“She doesn’t look at me like that.”

“Like what? With drool running down her chin?” “No, like you look at me.”

Mira hated it that he could see through her so easily. She wanted to deny it, but what was the point? It was better to send him away than to be lured into conversation with him. That’s what he wanted.

“I’m leaving.” She lowered her revolver and started to turn.

Before she could, he reached out, offering her an envelope. Only then did she realize exactly how long his arms were and that she had been within his grasp the whole time. He could have touched her if he liked, just as he had the night they’d gone on their one and only date.

A shiver of something raced through her, gone before she could tell if it was nervousness or excitement.

“What is that?” she asked, diverting her gaze to the envelope.

“Open it. It’s important.”

“If I do, will you leave me alone?”

“Yes, as much as our work will allow.” He seemed sincere.

It was probably another of his lies, but that was a chance she was willing to take. She holstered her weapon and did as he asked. Inside the envelope was a lab report listing test results for a series of diseases. HIV, hepatitis B and C, and a whole list of things she’d never heard of. All test results were negative.

“I’m sorry it took so long to get the results. I didn’t think clearly enough to have myself tested until I’d recovered from my injuries. And then, of course, there was the issue of your unwillingness to speak to me.”

He’d been in the hospital for three weeks after that horrible night last December. Her father, Dr. Richard Sage, had shot him. Shot her, too. But her father was dead now, unable to hurt anyone else.

For that Mira rejoiced. Most of the time.

Confused, she looked up at Adam. Way up. She’d almost forgotten how tall he was, towering over even most men. “What’s this for?”

“The bullet that struck you went through me first. I thought it might bring you some peace of mind to know that I’m healthy, that you couldn’t contract any diseases from my blood.”

That whole horrible night flooded back to her in a heartbeat. The horror of seeing that gun aimed at her. The panic of watching Adam move to block her body just as the shot was fired.

She absently rubbed her chest where the scar puckered the skin along her ribs. The surgeon had told her that if Adam’s body hadn’t slowed the bullet, it would have killed her. He’d saved her life and he’d never mentioned it until now.

“You didn’t need to do this,” she said. “My doctors knew I’d been exposed to another person’s blood. They took precautions.”

“And how many more tests must you endure before they’re sure you’re safe?”

“It’s none of your concern.”

“I’ve done you enough harm for one lifetime. All I want is for you to find some peace.”

“Who says I haven’t?”

“I’ve seen you around the office. In the gym. At the range.” His pale gray eyes caught her gaze and his voice quieted further. “You’re afraid.”

Mira stepped forward. At well over six feet, Adam was easily a foot taller than her. She didn’t care. She got right up in his face as close as she could and growled, “I’m not afraid of you.”

“I would say that’s good—I don’t want you to be afraid of me—but I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t care what you believe. Just keep your distance and no one has to get shot. Again.”

He winced, pain flashing in his eyes for a split second. “I never wanted you to get hurt.”

“Yeah? Well you should have thought of that before you agreed to trade my life for whatever was in that precious envelope my father gave you.”

“I never agreed to trade your life. That exchange wasn’t about you.”

“No, it was about my best friend and using me as bait to lure him in.” She smacked his chest with the lab report, wishing she had the nerve to hit him with her fists instead. “Did you ever stop to think what my father was going to do with me once he had what he wanted? Did you ever think about what he’d do to Clay once he had him?”

“He was your father. I believed him when he said he wasn’t going to hurt you.”

“Shows how much you know. I meant no more to him than a lab rat. He would have used me and dissected me with as much concern, too. If Leigh hadn’t come in to save me, I’d probably be dead by now and no more than a brief note in the margins of his lab reports.”

“I never would have let him hurt you. It’s why I stayed. Why I refused to let you out of my sight after I realized the true nature of the situation.”

“Which would have been all heroic if not for the fact that I was only there because of you.”

His eyes closed briefly with regret. “I’m sorry for the pain I caused you, Mira. I always will be.”

“Be sorry all you want. It doesn’t change anything.”

He took the report and tucked it into her jacket pocket. “I’m sure you’ll want to verify that the information is true. If you have any questions, I gave Dr. Vaughn permission to speak to you about my medical records. Anything you want to know.”

“All I want is for you to leave. Preferably out of state. Thanks to my father, there are all kinds of people in those files we found who are in need of help. Go find one of them, do your job, and leave me the hell alone.”

He stared at her for a long moment. The heat of his body flooded over her skin, bringing with it his scent— one that brought back memories of another candlelit dinner when there had been no fear between them, only a shivering kind of excitement she could barely believe was real. “I’ll respect your wishes and stay away. Whatever you need, Mira. It’s yours.”