Read Bare Nerve Online

Authors: Katherine Garbera

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction

Bare Nerve



This book is dedicated to my sisters,
Donna Sutermeister and Linda Beardsley-Harris,
who when we were growing up always made me feel
like we were the superheroes, superspies,
and really whatever else we put our minds to.
This book is just like the adventures
we used to dream of while
we played in our backyard.


I’d like to thank Mary Louise Wells, who is not only a good friend but is also a great critique partner.

I also have to give a shout-out to my Romex friends who are always supportive at every stage of the writing process and who always give me a safe place to call home.

Lastly to my family, Rob, Courtney, and Lucas, who are always happy to discuss plots at the dinner table and make emergency runs to the bookstore to buy more research books.

Chapter One

ake me up inside” blared from the speakers of her MacBook Pro as Anna Sterling traced back to the source the money that had been embezzled from AlberTron. The embezzler was a sophisticated criminal and a bit wilier than others she’d encountered while working for Liberty Investigations.

But she was the best at what she did, and there wasn’t a computer system created that she couldn’t find her way into.

She liked computers so much better than people. It was easier to deal with a logical computer program than to try to figure out people and their random decisions.

The client Liberty Investigations was working for was AlberTron, which designed and manufactured computer-processing chips and was the foremost leader in that technology. They were in high demand and making an insane amount of money each year.

Which was why Anna was sure the embezzler figured the company wouldn’t miss a few million out of the till.

“Did you find anything yet?”

Anna glanced up at the doorway. Even though she loved computers and working with them, she really was trained to be an operative. That’s what her partner Charity Keone expected. Charity hovered in the doorway, an expectant look on her face.

“Not yet,” Anna said. “But I feel like it’s going to break soon.”

“Thank God. I told Daniel last night if I had to spend one more day in the office I’d go nuts.”

“I think we all got that impression when you beat the stuffing out of that punching bag this morning.”

“Well…Daniel’s not scheduled to be back in DC for another two weeks, and I’m not used to all this inactivity.”

“You used to be,” Anna said before she could stop herself. Damn, had she sounded bitter or resentful?

Charity grinned, her eyes sparkling with secrets she shared only with Daniel. “That’s right. But I’ve changed. I can’t explain it too fully, because I’m still me, but it’s like a part of myself I didn’t know about is suddenly alive.”

Anna was happy for her friend. Charity had lived alone a long time…since the death of her parents when she was in her late teens. “I’ve heard love can do that.”

“Have you ever been in love?” Charity asked.

Anna glanced at her computer screen, but it was still searching and tracking the routes the embezzler had used to cover his tracks. She really didn’t want to have a conversation about love.

“Is that too personal?” Charity asked.

Anna shrugged. “I guess not. I’m not sure how to answer it without sounding really cynical.”

Charity laughed, and Anna had to smile. “I get where you’re coming from…so it’s a no?”

“Big-time. I’m not sure I can trust any man enough to love him.”

“I know what you mean. Daniel is honestly the last man I thought I’d ever fall for.”

“He is perfect for you,” Anna admitted. He was perfect for Charity because he was strong in the areas Charity wasn’t. And because he was devoted to her. Charity had been a top-shelf model as a teenager. She was tall, stacked, and incredibly beautiful, from the tip of her blond head to the bottom of her polished designer heels.

“Yes, he is. Should I leave you to this?”

“Yes, you better. The sooner we know who’s behind the missing millions, the sooner we can go to Seattle and apprehend him.”

Charity nodded and left the office. Anna sat back in her chair. She smiled to herself at the advanced program she’d written to track the various routes the money took back to the man who’d taken it…Ivan Kirch.

“Got him!” she yelled, jumping out of her chair and running into the desk.

“So, who is he?” Justine O’Neill asked as she came out of her office. Justine was tiny, maybe five feet tall, and wore her jet-black hair cut shorter in the back than in the front. She looked like a pixie but fought like a warrior. She had a criminal past and was one of Anna’s best friends.

“Ivan Kirch.”

“No way. The CFO?”

“Yes. I knew there was something about him that wasn’t right,” Charity said as she joined them.

A former martial-arts expert, Charity was the least lethal looking of the three of them. Because Charity looked like arm candy, she pulled bodyguard duty for heads of state and other dignitaries more often than Anna or Justine.

“I agree. I didn’t really like the way he acted when we talked to his staff. He should have been more cooperative,” Anna said.

“I thought he was just being a prick because he’s a guy,” Justine said.

“What’s a prick?” Piper asked.

All three women glanced over at the doorway. They weren’t used to having a child in their midst. The ten-year-old girl was the daughter of Justine’s fiancé, Nigel Carter. And very precocious.

“A not-nice man,” Anna said as she watched Justine flounder for a definition that would suit a ten-year-old.

Justine mouthed the word
. It was funny to Anna to see her normally so self-assured friend struggle with the young girl.

“What do you all do, now that you’ve found him?” Piper asked.

“We’ll each have something to do. We need to talk to Sam and get everything in place. Can you entertain yourself for a little while, Pip?”

“Sure! I’ll be fine on my own until Daddy comes to pick me up.”

Justine nodded, and the girl went back to Justine’s office.

Anna couldn’t help staring at Justine, wondering at the changes in her friend. Charity was engaged now, too. And Anna couldn’t help feeling like things were changing in their little group. Once the others got married, what would she do?

Sam wouldn’t keep a one-person team, and marriage changed operatives. She’d seen it happen before with her own brother. Once he was an MI-5 field operative, but now he worked behind a desk directing a highly effective team. Anna didn’t understand how being in the office suited her brother, but he’d said having a wife and child made him vulnerable in the field—he had too much to lose.

Now Charity and Justine were the same way.



“I asked if you wanted me to get Sam on the line and let him call Marcus Ware of AlberTron?”

“Yes, that would be good. I’ve already got a prelim file on Kirch from when we took the job. But I want to make sure I haven’t missed anything.”

“What’s there to miss?” Justine said. “He’s a dirty bastard who’s stealing from the company, and now his number is up.”

“What I think Justine is saying is that he’s an executive for a computer company—how much more could there be to find?” Charity asked.

Anna didn’t know, but she didn’t like leaving any stone unturned. “Daniel and Nigel were both executives as well.”

“True enough,” Justine said. “When are we having a conference with Sam?”

“I’ll go call him now. I’m thinking thirty minutes. Is that long enough for you to get your background info together, Anna?”

“It is. I’ve got most of the information auto-feeding into a report right now. I’ll e-mail you both the file when it’s complete.”

Anna went back into her office. It was a nice one, with windows along one wall that overlooked the Mall area of Washington, DC. She’d always liked this city, and though as a British citizen she didn’t feel a sense of American patriotism, she had always admired Americans and their pride and attitude.

“Got a sec?” Charity asked from the doorway.

Anna glanced down at the screen she was working on. She’d just logged in to the Interpol Web site, using their databases to search for information on Ivan Kirch. She had about two minutes while the database pulled information on her search from all its associated networks. “I’ve got about two minutes.”

“That’s all I need.”

Charity closed the door behind her and sat down in one of the guest chairs, though no one ever visited their office, so guest chairs were kind of superfluous.

“Are you okay?” Charity asked after a minute. Charity’s expressive face fell into lines of concern, but not the kind Anna had ever seen when she was worried about a knotty case.

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

“You seem different lately.”

Anna shook her head, feeling the weight of her hair against her back. She needed a haircut, she thought. But she liked the length and the fact that she could put it in a braid and not worry about it when they were on an op.

She really didn’t want to talk personal stuff, but if Charity had noticed a difference, it was a good bet Justine had, too. Better to settle things now than upset the balance of the team at a crucial point in an op.

“I’m not the one who has changed,” she said quietly.

Charity nodded. “Is that the problem?”

Anna shook her head. “No, not a problem. Listen, Charity, if we’re going to meet with Sam soon, I need to be gathering information.” What could she say? She couldn’t mention the fact that with Justine and Charity settling down, she felt like the Lone Ranger. She’d sound like a whiner, and that was something she flat-out refused to do.

“Bullshit,” Charity said.

“Excuse me?”

“If I know you, and I do, you’re already done gathering information. You never need any extra time to complete anything.”

“In this case you’re wrong. I want to find out more about Ivan’s past. Did you know the man doesn’t show up in any databases until nineteen ninety-six?”


“Where was he before that? I think he must have an alias. I’m trying to track that down.”

“How can you do it?”

“Through pictures. A fingerprint would be ideal, but I don’t have one. AlberTron isn’t implementing their new biotech security system until next quarter.”

Charity smiled. “I’m glad to see you’re still the same here…on the job.”

“Of course I am. Charity, my issues are my issues. They have nothing to do with you or Justine. And I won’t let them get in the way of the job.” Even though Justine was still in her own office presumably with Piper, Anna needed Charity to pass on to Justine that she was just fine.

“Fair enough. I’ll see you in the conference room in a few minutes?”


She needed a few minutes to gather herself before the meeting. She had the feeling Sam was going to say this was the last case. Justine and Charity hadn’t said anything, but Anna’s gut told her the other women weren’t going to want to keep taking dangerous cases—not that embezzling was dangerous.

“I’m here if you want to talk about whatever is troubling you.”

“Thanks, Charity. I’ll keep that in mind.”

As the other woman left, Anna clicked on her iTunes program and found the loudest music she could. She needed something to drown out the thoughts in her head. She settled on AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” One click, and it blared from the speakers on her laptop.

She stared at the computer. Life was so much easier when you didn’t have to deal with people. Gathering information, finding bad guys, apprehending them through the ether of the Internet was what she liked.

Computers didn’t dredge you through the messy emotions that came from working with people. If she’d just sent an e-mail to Justine and Charity about capturing the embezzler, she wouldn’t have had to endure that conversation with Charity.

And honestly, how was she supposed to tell one of her best friends that her problem was jealousy? Finding Liberty Investigations had been a godsend. Like Charity and Justine, she’d felt for the first time since her childhood that she’d found her place. The one place where she fit in and wasn’t an anomaly.

But now that had changed, and once again she was the odd man out.

She needed to tune that out. No matter what happened to the team, she’d always be able to find work. She’d even had an offer from a mercenary they’d used on their last mission in Peru. The only problem with working for a man who took money to fight was her own sense of right and wrong.

Anna wasn’t one of those people who saw the gray areas of life. There was right—where people lived within the laws of society—and there was wrong—where people lived like Ivan Kirch, who thought he could get away with stealing 5.3 million dollars.

Anna felt a sense of satisfaction at having caught Kirch and looked forward to the moment when the police arrested him and took him to jail.

She shook her head. Her life had become this job, and these little moral victories were now the biggest thrills she experienced in her life.

She wished sometimes that she were more daring in person. And she knew her life was more exciting than most people’s. She was an excellent marksman, a martial-arts expert, and she traveled the world for her job. She went to truly exotic places, too, not just to conference rooms in corporate buildings.

But there were times when her life felt so…hollow.



“We’re ready for you in the conference room.”

“I’ll be right there,” she said.

This place was like home to Anna, and as much as she didn’t like the changes that had been taking place lately, she knew that she didn’t want to go anywhere else.

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