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The Soldier&apos;s Secret Daughter
Cindy Dees


The elevator opened, and she punched a security code into the number pad inside. He memorized the six-digit number as a matter of course. Emily Grainger was the brass ring and then some for getting the inside scoop on AbaCo. She so far surpassed his wildest expectations for this op that he could hardly believe his luck. And all he could do was imagine different ways to bed her. He was a cad. A sharp knife of guilt stabbed him.

While he admonished himself to get over it and concentrate on his job, she reached out shyly to loop her fingers in the crook of his elbow. He gazed down at her intently and the smile faded from her face. She stared back at him, her pupils dilating until her eyes went black as she correctly interpreted his expression.

The elevator dinged and the door slid open. She shook herself free of their mutual reverie first and stepped toward the exit. Rocked at the effect she had on him, he followed her outside. The wind was howling tonight, but glass panels mounted at intervals all around the edge of the terrace shielded the garden from the worst of it. Nonetheless, he took off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders.

He caught the surreptitious sniff she took, inhaling his scent. And something moved deep within him. Something protective. Possessive.

They’d only walked a dozen steps forward before he spotted the first surveillance camera. This place was a freaking fortress, all right. All the more reason to give up on a simple break-in tonight. Better to cultivate Emily as a long-term asset, to spy for him from the inside.

Distracted by thoughts of all those secret meetings they’d need to have with each other, he ducked his head away from the camera out of long habit, and immediately could’ve kicked himself for having done it. Dammit. If the camera operator was half as good as the rest of the AbaCo team, Jagger had just sent a big red flag up the pole. No innocent civilian reacted that way to a surveillance camera. But a spy most certainly would.

He sighed. Nothing to do now but brazen it out. “Are you warm enough?” He smiled down at Emily.

“It is chilly. But I enjoy the quiet.”

He wrapped an arm around her shoulder, tucking her close against his side. “Better?”

“Mmm,” she murmured. She sounded like a kitten after lapping up a bowl of warm milk. “Are you warm enough?”

He chuckled. “I love cold weather. This is bracing.”

She shook her head. “Give me a tropical beach every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”

“I gathered that from the way you were bundled up when you arrived.”

She laughed ruefully. “My mom always told me to dress like I expect my car to break down and be stranded for hours. I confess I have been known as a compulsive safety girl before. But no more, of course. I’m Danger Girl now.”

He heard the whoosh of an elevator door behind him and held himself still, not reacting. He studied a red metal abstract sculpture in front of him. “That looks like a Calder,” he commented, ignoring the guards he felt approaching in the sudden twitchiness of his shoulder blades.

“I think it is. I’m not too much into modern art, I’m afraid. I like my art old—and the subject identifiable.”

He laughed quietly as two pairs of footsteps became audible.

“You there!” a male voice called out sharply.

He and Emily turned as a single unit, which had the effect of making the maneuver look nice and casual. “Can we help you?” Jagger asked smoothly.

The two men halted, eyeing him suspiciously. “How did you two get up here?”

Emily laughed. “We crawled up the side of the building using our supersuction fingers and spider silk. We took the elevator, of course.”

“Who’s the gentleman with you, Miss Grainger?”

Emily glanced up at him in surprise. “Why, Jagger Holtz, of course.”

The men frowned. “Mind if we see a little identification, sir?”

He frowned as any innocent man would at such a request, but shrugged. “Not at all.” As he dug out his wallet and passed over his driver’s license, he asked, “May I ask what this is all about?”

“Routine security check, sir. Would you mind coming with us?”

His frown deepened as he swore mentally. He’d had such a good thing going with Emily, and now he was going to have to run again. And this time without a rope. He let his arm drop off Emily’s shoulder and he tensed to charge the two men. He’d take the smaller one on the right first and spin him into his bigger, more dangerous-looking buddy.

Emily spoke up without warning. “Actually, we would mind. Mr. Holtz and I are trying to enjoy our New Year’s Eve here. There’s no law against walking around the water garden.”

The bigger one replied, “We’ve had a security breach tonight, and we’re looking for a man dressed in all black and matching the general height and build of your … friend.”

“I see,” she replied frostily, shrugging off Jagger’s coat and handing it back to him. “Now you can see that my friend is not wearing all black. He was merely being a gentleman and loaning me his coat.”

God bless her. He couldn’t have asked for a better cover story if he’d prepped her himself.

The smaller guard opened his mouth, but Jagger interrupted him, impatiently now. The average innocent guy with a few drinks in him and a hot chick beside him would be getting all kinds of irritated, so he let a hint of testosterone-induced posturing creep into the exchange. “The lady and I arrived together. You can ask Horace down at the front desk.”

The smaller guard glowered but murmured into his coat collar. The reply was swift. A finger to his ear and the guard nodded reluctantly at his partner. Both looked more than a little disgruntled. “Horace remembers the two of you arriving. Sorry to bother you. Have a nice night.” With that, the guards turned and left.

Emily complained, “I know this place can be a police state, but good grief.”

Jagger steered her toward the elevator. “Let’s go back inside. You’re shivering.”

“It’s not the cold. It’s those thugs. They give me the creeps.”

“You’re going to have to get used to facing down thugs if you want to live a life of adventure and mayhem, Danger Girl.”

“I don’t need mayhem. Just some naughty shoes and a little adventure with a hot guy now and then.”

His lips curved upward. Hot, was he?

They rode the elevator down to the party in silence. In a single sweeping glance of the room, he spotted no less than twelve men with earpieces carrying themselves like more of Emily’s thugs. The back of his neck started to tingle. He didn’t like how they were arrayed around the room. It looked for all the world like an ambush about to be sprung. With him as the main course. Time to blow this popsicle stand.

Smiling casually for the thugs’ benefit, he murmured, “Speaking of adventure, what say we relocate this party to someplace less thug-infested?”

She looked up at him in surprise. “What did you have in mind?”

“How about my place? We can take your car and that way you can leave whenever you want.” In his experience, the safer a woman felt about her ability to leave a place, the more she was inclined to stay. He added, “I don’t need all these security guys eyeing me like I’m some criminal for the next two hours.”

She glanced around. “Good point.”

“No pressure, Em. Just a bottle of champagne and a bite to eat. I don’t expect any more than that.”

She blinked up at him, her mouth and eyes round. Was she so innocent that it actually hadn’t occurred to her that he might be propositioning her for sex when he invited her to his place?

She nodded in sudden decision. “As my first act of daring in the almost new year, I, Danger Girl, accept your invitation. Let’s go.”

He grinned, enormously relieved. He dared not let her leave his side until he was well clear of this place, lest the security team swoop in and grab him. He picked up both of their coats, and he made a humorous production of mummifying her in her scarf, hat, parka and mittens. It culminated with her sticking her tongue out at him and yanking her scarf up over her face. Ah, sweet Emily. She had no idea what a good act she was putting on for the cameras. He could kiss her.

Hell, he could kiss her and it wouldn’t have a damned thing to do with AbaCo’s uptight security team.

The two of them took the elevator down to the parking garage and walked quickly to her car. He never once glanced in the direction of the pillar where he’d stashed his gear earlier. He hadn’t spotted a camera, but there undoubtedly was one down here. And just as undoubtedly, someone was watching for his reaction to the hiding place of the suspicious backpack the security team had found earlier.
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