With your looks, it’s a good thing God gave you brains.
Teague Hamilton willed away Mrs. Burnett’s words, the winds lashing at her upswept hair like her former guardian’s razor-sharp tongue. As the boat drew closer to the private island off of Oahu, even she questioned her intelligence. What was sold to her as an island paradise looked more like World War II France after the Germans trampled through it. One corner of a grand, Modernist mansion was gone, the grounds surrounding it covered in rubble.
This was Cyrus Matheson’s idea of paradise? Sure, she’d wanted to escape the doldrums of Dr. Capri’s lab, but this looked more like a war zone than a tropical utopia.
Shading her eyes over glasses sprinkled with saltwater, Teague braced her high heels against the ridged floor of the boat. Her stomach turned like a pig on an open fire. Stickiness covered her face and bare legs, the smell of tobacco wafting back to her from the driver’s spit can on the dash.
“You need to turn around, T.”
Her former co-worker and best friend, Amy Garland, could make a living as a professional worrier. She’d worked at the lab almost as long as Teague, and never waivered from her routine.
“Forget about that job offer.”
Sniffing, Amy adopted a brittle tone. “I thought we had fun.”
They did – until now. Learning she had multiple sclerosis had changed her perspective on life.
“You know why I’m doing this. Dr. Capri will never get research funding for anything more than our current program. I need something more.”
Teague lowered her hand as the Samoan driver edged the boat close to the shore lined with people. Yellow tape stamped with the words “Do Not Cross” stretched from a retaining wall, across a bent wrought-iron gate, to a brick wall on the opposite side. A dark-haired man wearing sunglasses and shorts signaled the driver to turn around and leave.
No, no, no, no, no. I can’t go back.
She held two fingers to her Bluetooth. “I have to go. I’ll call you later.”
“Don’t call during Nova. Tonight is the show on nanotechnology.”
Right. Don’t want to miss a show on scientific advancements that will never see their potential because of political bureaucracy.
Teague said to the driver, “Stay. I need to find out what happened.”
He gave her a brief nod. “As you wish.”
Cutting the engine, he scanned the beach. Small waves lapped against the boat hull as it settled to a stop parallel to shore.
Lifting the hem of her ivory pencil skirt, Teague took the driver’s hand and stretched a leg over the side. She tugged down her coral, button-up blouse and marched toward the man, her heels sinking into the soft sand.
He held out his hands to block her. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You’re not allowed on the island.”
She did not come all this way to be turned away. Her future depended on this job.
Digging inside the large tote on her shoulder, she pulled out the employment contract signed by Cyrus Matheson, Esquire. She handed it to him.
“This contract says not only am I allowed on the island, I live here.”
The decision to leave Sacramento and live off the coast of Hawaii was a no-brainer. Add the opportunity to work with fully funded, genetic-enhancement research and she’d had her bags packed before the ink dried on the contract.
“One moment.” Tapping a finger to his ear, the man turned and spoke in a low voice.
The eight men lining the beach at regular intervals held themselves at military ease, their eyes scanning the open water and partly cloudy skies. Two standing near the boat studied her with keen interest.
A whir of helicopters sounded in the distance. In unison, they looked up at the sky. The man that greeted them looked over his shoulder.
His low voice carried in rushed tones. “We have incoming. Two bogies, ten o’clock.”
Her heart pounded against her ribs wild beats. Excitement and danger were things she only read about in books or saw in the movies. They did not happen to dull, laboratory hermits.
Two, dark helicopters approached. The hum of their rotors grew louder by the second, disrupting the early morning quiet.
The man clutched her arm from behind. “Come with me.” His urgent tone betrayed his calm demeanor.
Pulling her toward the gates, he rushed up the incline.
“What about my suitcases?” She glanced back at the boat.
A sharp ping pounded against the boat’s hull, then another. Her driver jolted, then fell overboard into the shallow water. A bullet hole pierced the side of his bald head.
“Oh, my god…”
“Run,” the man said in a raised voice, as he dragged her toward the entrance. “Stay low.”
Losing her shoes, she crouched and ran up the beach. Helicopter blades droned in the overhead sky, rousing the sand into tornado-like fury. Gunfire peppered the beach behind them, groans and return fire piercing the air like a violent hailstorm.
Her escort arched his back, before dropping to the sand.
Oh, my god. Oh, my god…
She ran for a hole in the fence bars, near the retaining wall. Her lungs heaved for breath, her legs shaking.
God help me. What have I found?
She’d wanted to escape the lab, but this was more than she bargained for.
A blond man dropped from the sky in front of her, gun pointed at her chest. She stopped short, her heart continuing on in staccato beats. His handsome face held no evil or warmth, just matter-of-fact business.
Her body shook with mild tremors.
“Dr. Hamilton, come with me.” He held out a hand.
“I don’t think so…”
Two shots rang out. A red-haired man hurried past, the smell of suntan lotion splashing over her.
The blond dropped to the sand, blood at his temple.
“Stay here, against the wall.” His face a blur, the man shoved her through the hole in the gate.
Ducking between the retaining wall and the fence, Teague peeked through the bars. The red-haired man wore nothing more than athletic shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, yet he charged into the gunfire as if he wore a suit of armor.
He fired to his left, hitting a man between the eyes. Whipping to his right, he grabbed the barrel of an assailant’s gun and dismantled it in one, quick sweep, the pieces falling to the sand. He slammed the butt of his gun against another’s temple. Dropping to the ground, the man shook his head as if to clear it. The redhead launched two rounds against his forehead.
Okay, Teague, you have to get out of here.
Somehow, she had to get to the boat. She had no idea who these men were, or what was going on. She didn’t know if any of them worked for Cyrus, or if they were the authorities. The only thing she did know was that they used real bullets.
Picking up the gun pieces, the redhead assembled it and jumped onto the boat’s bow, a gun in each hand. He shot down at the men on beach, picking off attackers with deft precision, gunshots zinging past him without notice.
Emptying both chambers, he threw down the guns and leaped off the boat. He rushed toward a fistfight and jumped on an assailant’s back, twisting his neck. The man fell to the sand.
He grabbed the dead man’s sidearm and fired at the main rotor on one of the helicopters. The chopper went into a wild tailspin, reeling and whirling, before diving sideways into the ocean. Water gushed high in the air, sprinkling the beach, fire mushrooming in its wake. Flames danced on the water’s surface amongst the wreckage.
Something cold and hard butted against the back of her head. She stiffened, straightening her back.
Hands in the air, she rose to her feet with slow movements, her face toward the beach. She didn’t want to see her attacker, didn’t want to give death a face other than the one in her mind’s eye since childhood.
“What do you want from me?” she said.
He nudged her head. “Mr. Matheson wants me to take you in.”
“Mr. Matheson?” Her new boss? “I thought he lived here.”
“He’s been evicted.” Like a cheetah after its prey, the redhead sprang from the top of the retaining wall, stretching over her head like an athlete over a hurdle.
Sailing through the air, he landed on top of the man and dragged him to the ground. They struggled amongst the grass and rubble, fists flying, before her champion clamped a hand around the attacker’s gun. With stiff, shaking hands, they wrestled with the weapon. The redhead snapped back his arm and dismantled it in two, giving the attacker a shot at his profile. The redhead’s face whipped to the side, but didn’t slow him. With continual fists to his jaw, he rendered the attacker unconscious, his head falling limp in the grass.
Breathing hard, he turned to her, his blue-green eyes glittering with adrenalin. They dominated his face, swirling in shades of teal and aqua, reminding her of the mood ring her mother gave her as a child. Red stubble dotted his upper lip and square, cleft chin, subtle cheekbones complementing his small, angular nose. His nearness sent a shock of awareness through her heated body, kicking her already-pounding heart into overdrive.
Gorgeous seemed too clichéd for this man’s appeal. Too inadequate. From a geneticist’s perspective, Teague decided God had perfected the genetic code with this one.
He gave her huddled form a quick once-over. “Agent Dylan McCall. Can you stand?”
Pushing up her foggy glasses, she gave him an uncertain nod, her eyes straying to the unconscious man lying a foot away. “Yes.”
Girl? She hadn’t been called anything but doctor or Teague in a long time. She hadn’t really felt like a girl since she lost her parents as a child.
Then again, she’d never been held at gunpoint.
Still, something in his deep voice spoke of command, of a confidence she sorely lacked at the moment. It rang of the unspoken knowledge that he had everything under control and would take care of her.
She knew better.
Holding out a hand, Dylan helped her to her feet, his big, rough palm unyielding around hers. Heat sizzled up her arm and rushed through her body, awakening every hibernating erogenous zone in her DNA.
Steering her away from the unconscious man, he escorted her through the rock-filled foliage. A concrete sidewalk led to blue doors at the mansion’s face.
He spoke into an armband strapped to his left forearm. “Mitchell…”
“McCall. What’s going on?”
His tall, lean frame exuded energy as he rushed her up the walk. “Two agents down. We have a person of interest.”
She snatched away her hand. He made her sound like some kind of suspect. Of what, she wasn’t sure.
Mitchell’s voice carried over the band. “Who is he?”
Dylan gave her another perusal, this one slower, more… pronounced. She refrained from fanning herself.
“He is a she, Mitchell.” His direct gaze sent a shiver down her spine. “Who are you?”
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