Authors: Connie Suttle
SubtleDemon Publishing, Oklahoma City, OK
Copyright (c) 2014 Connie Suttle All rights reserved.
SubtleDemon Publishing, Oklahoma City, OK
P.O. Box 95696
Oklahoma City, OK 73143
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, incidents, and characters are the product of the author's imagination and are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Cover Art by: Renee Barratt at The Cover Counts
All Rights Reserved
I have to thank many people for their help in making this book possible: Richard Kenney, who gave me a professional tour of Seattle, Allie, our Underground Seattle tour guide who kept us entertained, Amy Shaw in Anchorage, who arranged the most awesome float plane adventure ever, and all those folks on board our cruise ship who made our lives infinitely more pleasant. I also wish to thank my cover artist, Renee Barratt, who consistently reads my mind and designs the best covers for my books.
This book, whole or in part, may not be copied or reproduced by mechanical means (including photocopying or the implementation of any type of storage or retrieval system), without the express written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
The author wishes to thank you for purchasing this e-book. Purchasing this book through legitimate channels supports the author and makes it possible for her to keep writing. If you did not purchase this book through legitimate channels, or have downloaded it from a website that pirates authors' works, the author kindly asks that you purchase a copy for yourself, as sales of her books are her only source of income.
Other books by Connie Suttle
Blood Destiny Series
Legend of the Ir'Indicti Series
High Demon Series
The God Wars Series
The Saa Thalarr Series
Hope and Vengeance
Wyvern and Company
First Ordinance Series
Latter Day Demon Series
Hot Demon in the City*
"What the hell is that?" I stared at the exposed spine of the clone pretending to be the President's Chief of Staff, Hal Prentice. Richard Farrell asked me to look at what he'd found in the course of the autopsy.
"That's the reason Corinne couldn't bring him down. Rafe destroyed the device when he broke his neck."
The device, made of metal and electronics, was fused to the clone's spine at the base of the neck. "I imagine it kept the clone's brain and heart working when Corinne attempted to shut them down," Dr. Farrell explained. "The X-rays revealed sensors in both organs. When the device and the victim's neck were broken, everything stopped functioning. There's something else, too."
"What? Tell me it's less terrifying than this," I pointed at the device.
"I believe it was transmitting a signal somewhere-both audio and video. Whoever was on the receiving end has been watching the President for a while."
"And has seen all of us in meetings with the President, no doubt," I said. "Whenever this clone was present, he knew who the President met with and probably what they were discussing."
At that moment, I wanted to hit something. Or someone. This could be the ultimate spying weapon-capture or kill anyone, replace them with a clone who could see and hear everything around them, then transmit that data to a waiting master and the world could be had for the price of a bit of gadgetry.
"Has the President been informed?" I asked.
"I have a meeting this afternoon. She'll see a slideshow and not the body. It's anybody's guess whether the real Hal Prentice is alive or not."
"How's Corinne?" I asked the next question on my list. I'd been in meetings all morning and hadn't gotten an update.
"I left her with Shaw and Rafe. I believe she's waking, but I can't guarantee it, yet."
"We need her," I muttered. I felt bad about that, too. The minute she was capable of walking, she'd be put to work again and that wasn't fair in any sense.
We'd been terrified she'd die after Prentice's clone shot her, but the drug had been administered quickly. So far, her body remained alive and responsive, and the scans Farrell ran showed brain activity.
"We need her help with this," I nodded toward the device clinging to the clone's spine like a creature from a horror movie.
"I wouldn't mind it, either, but we have to take things slowly," Farrell replied. "We've never given the drug to the same person twice, and the physical change we've seen already was somewhat unexpected."
"It's only her hair color, as far as I can tell," I huffed.
"I've checked her eyes. They're a brighter blue," Farrell said.
"If those are the only changes, then we should consider ourselves fortunate."
"I'm concerned about her talents."
"You had to scare me worse than I already was, didn't you?"
* * *
The rest of us woke after a few days, when it became apparent we'd survived the drug. Even Corinne woke faster the first time. This time, three weeks had passed. I was grateful for the scans and other tests Dr. Farrell ran, indicating she was alive.
Still, I was terrified for her. And for me. I spoke to her often and lately, I begged her to open her eyes.
The different hair and eye colors? They meant nothing to me as long as she woke.
"Ilya?" she croaked.
Yes, I'd been far away in my thoughts and failed to see her eyes open.
"Cabbage?" I was up and gripping her hand quickly.
"You okay?" she asked.
"I am more than okay," I responded. "You, however, sound much like a frog in a dry pond."
"Water?" Bright blue eyes blinked hopefully at me.
"Immediately," I said, and shouted for the nurse.
* * *
Rafe sat on one side of my bed, James on the other, while James spoke with Auggie on his cell phone.
"Yes, she's talking. I don't think she's ready for a marathon," James said. "Rafe says her grip is weak."
Yes, the Ukrainian mountain had tested my grip with his hands. I hope he took that as a sign that I wasn't up to lifting weights, running or being smeared across a mat during Krav Maga lessons.
"Colonel Hunter has photographs," James said after covering the cell phone with his free hand.
"Of course he does. Tell him he's a slave driver."
"I think he already knows that. He said sorry at least three times," James blinked at me before going back to his conversation with Auggie.
"Honey, how is Laci?" I asked.
"Colonel Hunter, she's asking about Laci."
"Laci's fine," James relayed the answer.
"Cool. Awesome. Tons of other adjectives," I leaned my head against the pillow.
"Colonel Hunter says we can move, now that you're awake."
"Great. Where are we moving?"
"He says he'll tell you himself when he gets here."
* * *
"I was afraid to let you see this earlier," Rafe said, handing a mirror to me. I already knew my hair color was different-the white-blonde lengths hung about my shoulders and I couldn't miss
"Your eyes are brighter, but that's all I can see-for now," he grinned. "Want me to brush your hair or do you feel strong enough to do it?"
"I'll try," I said, accepting the hairbrush from his hand.
"Look who's awake," Leo Shaw strode into the room.
"Why Dr. Shaw," I muttered, attempting to pull the brush through long, tangled hair, "Whatever brings you here?"
"You should know the answer to that," he grinned. "I'm just glad you're still with us."
"I'm glad you're glad," I shrugged. "Can I have vegetable soup?"
"I'll order it now," he pulled his cell from a pocket and dialed a number.
"You don't want chicken?" Rafe asked.
"Honey, the thought of eating meat sort of makes me feel sick," I sighed. "I'm not sure I can eat it anymore."
"Is this another change?" he sat on the side of my bed and trailed fingers down my face.
"I think so. This is just-so weird," I muttered.
"Then we'll make a menu that will ensure you get plenty of protein. Will it bother you that I continue to be a carnivore?"
"No. Not at all. I just don't think it's for me, now." I looked past Rafe and stared out the window of my room-I was up on a second story somewhere and eventually realized it was the ugly building in Arlington.
"Why here?" I asked.
It took a moment for Rafe and Leo Shaw to understand what I meant.
"Because that thing posing as the Chief of Staff knew about the other building," Leo explained. "We moved out of there the next day. Maye and Nick are elsewhere; we brought you here because it was easier to set up a hospital room for you and get necessary supplies in. Rafe refused to go with Nick and Maye, so you're both here with us under heavy guard."
I took a moment to digest what he'd told me. "Any idea where we'll be moving?" I asked.
"Not yet. The President and Colonel Hunter had a private meeting. I believe they came to a decision, but because of the instability of the situation, they haven't shared with anyone else." I could tell Leo wasn't exactly pleased about being excluded, but I figured he'd know soon enough.
"We have to get you moving," Rafe said, lifting my hand to his lips and kissing it. "We missed you, cabbage. Too much."
* * *
"Push harder." I had a new slave driver. His name was Marcus and he was a sadist posing as a physical therapist. He'd shown up shortly after lunch and started working with me right away.
I was pushing my hands against his as hard as I could, but that much force and energy wouldn't have given a fly a mild concussion.
"Colonel Hunter wants you able to walk out of here in three days," Marcus grunted, forcing my hands against my chest.
"Then why are we working with my hands?" I asked.
I should have stayed quiet. He started on my legs and that was agony. I resolved never to argue with Navy Lieutenant Marcus Cargill again. By the time he was finished with me, I wanted to ask whether he was bucking for brownie points with Auggie or just looking for a promotion.
The question was moot-he wanted both those things. I'd seen it in his face. If torturing me might get those things, then he was willing to do whatever it took. Rafe was absent, so he agreed with Auggie on getting me prepped and out the door to our new hiding place.
That didn't mean I wouldn't add Marcus and Auggie to my verbal ass-kicking agenda.
"How's the patient?" Auggie walked in wearing a huge grin.
"August Hunter, I swear I'd kick your ass right now if I were able. Then Mr. Cargill's ass for following your orders too strenuously." I pushed Marcus' hands away with my foot and swung both legs over the edge of my bed.
"Are you trying to do that now?" Auggie almost giggled. For a Colonel who also happened to be Secretary of Defense and Director of the Program, that was totally inappropriate.
"Jerks. Both of you. You're banished." I lifted a hand weakly to enhance the royal command and slid off the bed. Yeah, my legs shook, but I was standing.
Marcus thought to put me back on the bed. I moved out of his way so quickly it even surprised me. Auggie just gaped for a moment before closing his mouth.
"I know where you're taking us," I shook a finger at Auggie. "I need windows. End of statement."
* * *
"James, we're moving tomorrow. Pack up all unnecessary equipment and be ready at oh-six-hundred tomorrow morning. We're flying out of here on a cargo plane." I stalked past James' desk on the way to my own to let the President know.
Marcus and I had followed Cori on her way to the kitchen. She wobbled several times on the trek down the hall, but she made it to the elevator and then to the first floor. She appeared to get stronger as she went, and managed to search through meager supplies in the pantry for coffee and a granola bar.
Marcus, my choice to bring into the Program as an assistant for Shaw, shook his head at Corinne's miraculous recovery.
"Get used to it-especially from her," I whispered while Corinne settled on a barstool with coffee in hand while crunching on the granola bar.
"Is Cori better?" James asked, pulling me away from my thoughts.
"Cori walked to the kitchen and helped herself to coffee and a granola bar," I shrugged. "Marcus is undeniably impressed."
"Then I guess we're moving. I already arranged to send all of her stuff ahead," James informed me. "It'll be set up and waiting when we get there."
"We need windows."
"I already looked into it, and the crew is ready to go if you say the word." James handed a sheaf of mechanical drawings to me.
"I want this, too," I said the minute the drawings soaked into my mind.
"I think they can arrange for all the offices to be modified."
"Then do it," I nodded. "We would be up the creek without Corinne, and if they're doing hers, it won't be such a big deal if they do the rest."
"I like the fact that they can be camouflaged," James agreed, taking the papers back. He'd had the information for two hours and already he had things ready to go. "I put Maye, Jeff and Nick on notice, so they're packing."
"What about Rafe?"
"He was ready to go in five minutes; he's just waiting for Dr. Farrell to give the okay to move Cori. You know he won't budge without her."
"I won't budge without her, either. The President doesn't want to go anywhere without Corinne's advice. We're all crippled after the Chief of Staff thing, and that's probably not the half of it."
"What about Laci?"
"She's seeing Dr. Shaw at least once a day."
"Not good," James shook his head.
"We're seeing him together once a week," I admitted. "She feels abandoned and left out, but there's not a lot I can do about it if she doesn't want to live within the confines of the Program. We're trying to compromise on a few things. At least she knows Corinne isn't a threat to us or to anybody on our side-she had a long talk with Rafe."
"She needs to get to know her. Cori wouldn't hurt anybody who didn't deserve it."
"I think she knows that, now. If that were the case, we might all be dead."
"Yeah. No wonder she wouldn't tell anybody." James shivered. "I think Becker was lucky he lived as long as he did."
"She let Nick take him down, like she knew that would help Nick get over things," I said.
"She probably did know that. This is a secret we have to keep, and I think we need to let Cori decide when and where somebody dies, if it's necessary. She's not an assassin-no way, no how," James said.
"You're right," I agreed. "The President knows to keep that information under wraps-I just worry about what the enemy may know through that fucking device attached to Hal's clone. At least he knew to stay out of Cori's way, because she'd see it in him. The rest of us, though, we saw Hal regularly. That doesn't include the President's confidential statements to him, or the messages he had from her. The equipment he carried may have delivered all of that right into waiting hands."