SIX

LAUREN GLASS WAS ENJOYING TEDDY Blaine’s lovemaking, powerful and persistent from this sweet, rough guy. As a fellow Air Force officer, he was carefully disinterested in Lauren’s classified work, and that made this particular affair very fun and very easy. As long as she was involved in heavily classified work, Lauren’s plan was to keep the lovers moving through her life. Nobody deep, because it made it too hard to keep her secrets.

When Colonel Wilkes called her, she tried to ignore it. She pushed the chiming out of her mind, concentrated on the warmth under the covers, and the fabulous young man who was loving her.

The warble became a whine.

“Oh, Lauren,” Teddy whispered, sinking down onto her, burying his face in her neck, kissing her now gently, pressing his prickled cheek against her soft one.

“My love,” she said, and thought that she really did kind of mean it. Which meant—should she ditch him on the never-get-too-close theory?

The whine became a wail.

He jerked like he’d been stuck with a pin. “I don’t believe this.”

“My cert’s up,” she said, referring to the security certification system on her computer, which started automatically when she began receiving a classified message.

But why was he after her now, at—what—jeez, it was 3 A.M. She’d been in the cage for six hours yesterday waiting without result for Adam to at least take a breath, and she was most certainly not ready to return to his dark, claustrophobic hole.

Throwing off the covers, she went over and typed her password. Code came up, four lines, which she sight read. “They’ve got a virus,” she muttered, striving not to reveal to him her true horror. The message communicated extreme urgency. Something was wrong. Real wrong.

“Let somebody else fix it.”

“I have to go,” she said, going to her closet and starting to dress.

“Miss Indispensable.”

“Unfortunately.” Zipping her jeans, she went over and kissed him. “I’ll be back, love,” she said.

He drew her toward the bed. Briefly, she sat down. They kissed. She looked into his eyes. She sighed. “You know the rules.” And she realized how much she hated what she did—how deeply, profoundly twisted it felt… but she loved the perks, and, quite frankly, she was also sort of okay with Adam. The facility was a hole, but at the bottom of that hole was a most extraordinary being.

The thought that Adam might not be well crossed her mind. That made her hurry even more. She threw on a sky-blue cashmere sweater and her black jacket. After a perfunctory brush of her hair, she strode across her large living room and out the door.

She did not look back toward Ted. When she returned, he might well be gone. Fine, she’d rustle up another roll in the hay, maybe a civilian this time.

She had a lot for a girl of twenty-six. But she did a lot. As far as anybody knew, there was only one person on this earth who could do what she did. No doubt there were others, but how to find them? The Air Force had never been able to succeed at that, which was fine by her, since it meant that she could name her price, which had been promotion to full colonel. So now Mike’s orders were requests… but this was one she would certainly meet.

In the elevator, she turned her mind to her work. What could be wrong? She wished the elevator would go faster. She arrived in the condo’s garage, strode to her car, and sped off to the facility. It wasn’t far. She couldn’t live far from Adam.

She turned two corners onto Hamilton, and made her way down the tree-shaded street to the old house.

Wilkes met her at the door, which was unusual in the extreme. “A glow-boy kiped a newbie in the forbidden zone and there were civilian witnesses,” he said all in one breath. “I want you to query Adam on it.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s so extremely unusual, obviously.”

“You understand, they don’t have the concept of treaty. They don’t know what that is. And they futz with newbies all the time. You just don’t see them do it, because they stay in the approved zones.”

“You know this?”

“What if I told you that they’re a rambunctious, fun-loving bunch of extremely brilliant but weird people? How would that sit?”

“First, they are not people. Second, they are not only extremely brilliant, they are extremely sinister and they have no emotions.”

“Adam showed grief when Dad got killed.”

“He was faking it.”

“Plus, he—I don’t know how to put it, it’s not human emotion, not at all, but he does care about me.”

“You’re projecting. End of story. Now, let’s go down. We have work to do.” As they waited for the elevator, he added, “We have a scramble running on the glowboy, incidentally.”

“Oh, great, how do I explain that?”

“Communicate that it’s a friendly warning. The civilians are liable to have cameras. There could be a security breach that’s beyond our control.”

Wunderbar.” She was annoyed when Wilkes got into the elevator with her. She did not like him around when she and Adam were together.

A few moments later, the doors opened onto the control room and, beyond it, the huge door that sealed Adam’s space.

As Lauren stripped, Andy began opening a fresh prep kit. She dropped her sweater to the floor and rubbed her temples. “So I need to find out why this triad is off-station?”

Lauren threw off her clothes in front of both men. Let them see. She was proud of what she was.

“Lauren, I need concrete information from you on this.”

She let Andy cover her body with the emollients that would protect every inch of her skin. Over the years, she’d gotten drier and drier from the zero-humidity conditions in the cage. At twenty-six she had the skin of a forty-year-old. She caked her face in Vaseline.

Andy’s hands felt only clinical to her, but she was aware that she did not feel clinical to him. She knew because of the way he would turn away when he was finished, his cheeks burning, poor guy.

She pulled on her orange coverall, zipped it, and wrapped the neck shield tightly. Andy fitted her cap. Then she rolled her heavy latex gloves onto her hands.

She faced the steel door.

Andy pushed up the sleeve of her coverall and injected her. “Sorry,” he said, as always. He kissed her then, very quickly, on the place he’d just pricked.

She opened the door, stepped into the airlock, and waited. The inner door hissed and slid aside.

She entered her secret heaven and hell, the world of love and terror that she shared with Adam.

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