Bella was tall, with the kind of self-confidence that commanded respect. She didn’t wear the typical tailored suit one would expect of a CEO, but rather preferred jeans, combat boots, several weapons, and an air of capability that warned others not to cross her. With her glossy black hair pulled back in a no-nonsense ponytail, she almost seemed like a normal woman. Adam knew that in her case, looks were definitely deceiving.
“I need to speak to you.”
“Sounds serious. Come on in.”
Adam followed his new boss into her office and shut the door behind him.
Light filled the space, highlighting a massive glass desk and minimalistic, modern chairs gleaming with chrome. There was no clutter here, only a laptop, phone, notepad, pair of pens, and neat stack of folders.
“Hit me,” said Bella as she settled in her chair. Adam was uncertain how to start—a feeling so unusual he wasn’t sure quite how to handle it.
Walking away from Mira last night had been harder than he would have thought possible. All he’d wanted to do was beg her for forgiveness, but that would have been its own kind of selfishness, and he’d already caused her enough pain for one lifetime.
He shouldn’t have cared—not that his presence upset her or that he’d once felt something for her. Still felt something. It lay hot and vibrant in his chest, urging him to act. But feelings didn’t matter in his world. Only results.
Which was why he was following through on his promise to give Mira the space she needed.
Bella glanced up at him, her eyebrows raised in impatience and expectation.
Adam cleared his throat. “I think my usefulness here has come to an end.”
“Mira’s idea?” asked Bella. “You’ve talked to her, I see.”
Bella shrugged. “She talked to me. Loudly. Told me what you did. All of it. If not for the part where you saved her life, I would have shot you myself.”
“One more reason among many for me to leave.”
“I thought you wanted this job. I was told I didn’t even have a choice in the matter of hiring you if I wanted the new contract. My ability to help all those people that Mira’s father and the other scientists fucked up was tied to you.”
“I can imagine how well that ultimatum must have gone over with you.”
She set her coffee down on her glass desk with a precise, controlled movement. “I seriously doubt you can. But there are bigger things in this world than what I want. And you know more than most people what we’re up against. I may think you’re a disgusting waste of human skin, but what Gage has reported after partnering with you is that you kick ass and you seem to be on our side. These days, that’s a pretty short list.” She opened her laptop and started typing.
“So I can count on a glowing recommendation from you, can I?” asked Adam, sarcasm scalding his tongue.
“Nope. Not letting you go. I want you where I can keep an eye on you. Besides, we got a lead on one of the folks on the List to track down, and I’m shorthanded as it is. Whether or not I like you, you proved that you can get the job done. The people out there hurting deserve the best we can give, and sadly, that includes you.”
He wasn’t sure if she lumped him in the category of people who were hurting or as part of the best she had to give. Either way it made him uncomfortable. He didn’t like that anyone knew he’d been part of the Threshold Project experiments. Then again, he didn’t like people knowing anything about him. And yet he’d just handed Mira unrestricted access to his most personal medical information.
Being with the people here at the Edge—working side by side with them—had changed him. He wasn’t yet sure whether or not he liked it.
“I’m making Mira miserable. I should go.” He gave Bella a hard stare—one that would make most men cower. Instead, she just grinned.
Bella stared pointedly at her laptop. “She’ll get over it. Besides, she needs to toughen up a little.”
“You’ve had her in the sparring ring and at the range nearly every night since she recovered from her wounds. I think she’s tough enough.”
“Hardly. Which is why I’m sending her into the field.” The thought of Mira in danger made some dark, violent force lunge from somewhere deep inside him. He tamped it down, but only barely. Even his best effort to control himself couldn’t keep the heat from his tone.
“You can’t. She’s not ready for that.”
“She’s as ready as she’s going to get until she has some experience under her belt.”
“A woman with her intellect must be of more use to you here, behind a desk, where she’ll be safe.”
Bella didn’t even glance his way. Her focus was on her laptop. “Her tech is mobile enough. She can still do her job from the road.”
“Have you even talked to her about this?”
Bella turned her laptop around, showing Mira’s enraged expression. She was saying something, but the sound had been muted. With the click of a button, Bella turned up the volume.
“What’s he doing there?” raged Mira. A second later she disappeared from the screen, leaving her desk chair empty. “She knows,” said Bella.“We’ve been discussing it for a while. Like you, she’s been . . . hesitant.” “Surely she’s smart enough to stay here.”
“It’s not her call,” said Bella. “It’s mine. The decision is made.”
Accusation filled his voice, making it boom out into the space. “You’re going to get her killed.”
“Like you almost did?” asked Mira from the doorway.
She must have run all the way here from her office.
He couldn’t tell if the pretty pink flush covering her cheeks was due to exertion or anger. Either way, her pull on him was too strong for his peace of mind. Every time he got near her, all he wanted to do was get closer. That wasn’t fair to her or to him. He’d destroyed his one and only chance with Mira when he’d abducted her and taken her to her father. It didn’t matter that he’d done so only to find his baby brother, who’d been lost to him for more than twenty years—a brother who was suffering and in need of help for all Adam knew at the time.
The irony was that while his brother had no clue who Adam really was, he worked at the Edge and knew what Adam had done to Mira. Whatever connection he’d hoped to have with Eli was now lost to him because of what he’d done to find Eli. Lost, just like that instant attachment Adam had formed to Mira during a few shared moments. He’d traded Mira to reach Eli, and because he’d done so, Eli would never trust him.
“That’s enough,” said Bella. “Adam is an asshole, but he’s a skilled asshole. And he’s proven he’s willing to take a bullet for you, which is why I’m partnering the two of you.”
“No way, Bella,” said Mira, her tone final. Adam agreed. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“I don’t care what you think. Either of you. I’m headed out of town to track down one of the victims of the Threshold Project who’s just been located. Riley will be back in the office in a day or two, but until then, there’s no one else around to take on this assignment.”
“I’m not working with Adam,” said Mira.
“You’re not ready to work alone yet, sugar,” said Bella, “and I still don’t trust Adam enough to send him out on his own.”
Adam spoke up, hoping to defuse the situation. “I thought Gage was my keeper. You’ve had me paired up with him for weeks now. I’d rather work with him.”
“He has more important things to do.”
“He didn’t mention anything to me,” said Adam. “Because I ordered him not to. I might be forced to
have you on my team, but no one can force me to trust you, and what Gage is doing is way too sensitive for you to know about.”
“I see,” said Adam, trying not to let her mistrust of him chafe enough to show.
“I don’t,” said Mira.“Either this assignment is too important to let Adam touch, or it’s unimportant enough that it can wait until I have someone else to go with me.” “Not your call, sweetie. This is happening. Your only choice is whether or not you enjoy it.” “I could quit.”
“You could. But then you wouldn’t get a chance to help all those people your father fucked up. I know you better than that, so please don’t waste my time bluffing.” Bella pulled a file from the stack and tossed it on the corner of her desk nearest Mira. “This is information on one of the men on the List. All I have is a name and address. Research him today. Make contact only after you’re sure of what you’ll face. If he shows any signs of cracking, bring him in.”
“Whatever,” said Mira.
Bella rose, making full use of her impressive height. She gave Mira a stare cold enough to freeze her in place, warning clear in her tone. “If you leave this office to make contact or do surveillance, Adam goes with you. Clear?”
Adam nodded. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Mira scowled harder, aiming it in his direction. “I know the drill.”
“Perhaps, but you haven’t executed it yet,” said Adam. “I have. Several times, now.”
Bella pulled a pistol from her shoulder holster and checked the weapon with fluid, practiced movements. “And so far, it’s gone well. See that the trend continues. And if Mira comes back to me with so much as a hangnail, we’re going to have words.”
“Your warning is overdramatic but clear. I won’t let her get hurt,” promised Adam.
Mira’s nostrils flared and the file folder crumpled in her fist. “I won’t let me get hurt. I don’t need him.”
“Your opinion is noted and ignored,” said Bella as she holstered her weapon.“Play nice, kids. I’ve got lots to do before I hit the road.” She swept out of her office with her coffee, leaving a fuming Mira in her wake.
“I can’t believe she would do that to me,” said Mira. “She knows how I feel about you.”
“Everyone who works here knows how you feel about me. The question is, are you adult enough to put your feelings for me aside and do your job?”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Of course it is. Compartmentalization was merely one small part of my training. Was it part of yours, Mira?” She flinched and tucked her brown hair behind her ear with shaking fingers. “What my father did to me is none of your business. You gave up the right to care when you sold me out.”
“I am responsible for everything stemming from my actions last year. There’s plenty of blame to go around, certainly, and I willingly accept my fair share for what was done to you. The question now is do you really think that your hatred of me is going to help anyone in need now?”
She closed her eyes and let out a weary sigh. “Probably not. My father left one hell of a mess, and there aren’t nearly enough of us left to clean it up.”
“We’re making progress. Today, you and I will make more.”
Her green eyes lifted, meeting his. That connection rocketed through him, startling him down to his bones. He didn’t know what it was about her that pulled him in and held on, but whatever it was, its grip was tight enough to drive the breath from his chest.
“I won’t trust you,” she promised.
“I know. I won’t waste time asking you to. But we do have to find a way to work together.”
Her gaze slipped away and her voice rose slightly, giving away her tension. “Give me some time to accept the situation and do the research. Tomorrow I’ll find a way to get past my feelings for you and do what’s right.”
She was lying. Hiding something. The list of reasons why she would do that was short.
Adam nodded, struggling to keep his disappointment hidden. “Tomorrow, then.”
Before he could destroy her willingness to put herself within his reach, he turned and left. Mistrust was a two-way street, and while she didn’t trust him not to betray her, he didn’t trust her not to do something foolish and go out on this assignment alone, just to prove she could. Adam had promised Bella he’d keep Mira safe. If that meant checking on her every hour to make sure she didn’t do anything foolish, then so be it. It wouldn’t be the first sleepless night she’d caused him. And likely not the last, either.