Ice monkeys drunk monkey.., p.15
Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 15
“You can’t tell them about what we’re doing.”
“Duh. Keeping a secret and telling a lie are two different things.” She took a deep breath. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m on edge. I don’t mean to be a bitch. See? This is why I prefer burying my nose in a book, or watching happy news over current events.”
He finally gave her a smile. “Guess we didn’t make this easy on you. Sorry again about the mix up.” His smile faded. “But seriously, it is better we were the ones who found you first and not someone else. Whoever planted that e-mail was looking for the person who piggybacked through your computer. Had they found you first…”
She hoped he didn’t finish because those thoughts left her feeling ill. “Yeah. I get it.” She swallowed back the bile wanting to rise in her throat. “Thank you for going easy on me and trying to be nice. I promise, I’ll do what I can to help you.”
“All we need is for you to sit in the coffee shop with your computer.”
“But if you want help going through the banking records and stuff, or their bookkeeping, I can do that. That’s sort of my area of expertise. I do want to help, if I can. I’m great at spotting patterns. I’ve got an application in with the auditing department at the bank, but they have very little turnover there. It pays more, though, and I tested well when the bank first hired me. I’m on the waiting list if they ever have an opening.”
“That wasn’t our deal,” Victor said. “We don’t expect you to do that.”
“I know. But…I want to.” She looked through the window at the Atlanta suburbs passing by outside. “This is all I have. My job, my friends, my apartment. It’s not much, but I’ve worked hard for it. We all have. If I can help preserve it and play a little role in helping…I’m okay with that.”
The men exchanged a glance. “We’ll try to help you get out of Atlanta, if it comes to that,” Victor said. “We’ll be establishing a safe house nearby. Another one. Larger, so the scientists can work out of there, too. If shit gets bad we’ll do our best to get to you guys and get you out in enough time to get you moved to safety. Try,” he emphasized. “But we can’t promise more than that.”
“That’s all I ask,” she said. “Lisa said they haven’t heard anything through the city, and neither has Ginny. She’s a claims processor at a health insurance company.”
The men exchanged another glance, this one decidedly more grim. “They might not,” Uni said. “There are top-level orders keeping the lid clamped tight on domestic reports of Kite infections.”
That chilled her to the core. “What?”
“There’s no reports that we know of in Atlanta, now, either,” Victor added. “But it doesn’t mean your friends will have a first-alert kind of warning about it.”
That disturbed her. “Oh.”
Uni turned around again, his dark blue gaze intense on hers. “If nothing else, I promise we will contact you and alert you if we can’t come get you. That much I can promise. That we’ll get hold of you to warn you so you have enough time to get out.”
“Thank you.” She weakly nodded before staring out the window again.
Great, but then where would we go and how would we get there?
Donna was relieved to see her friends weren’t home when the three of them arrived. Fortunately, their neighbors were at work, too, so no one to explain the two strange men to. Their apartment was on the second floor, one apartment down from the end stairwell.
With the front door closed and locked behind them, she noticed Victor and Uni immediately swept through the small apartment.
“What are you looking for?” she asked, with more than a hint of annoyance. Especially when they opened the door to Ginny and Lisa’s room.
“Anything,” they said together, exchanging a glance before closing the door again.
“Can’t be too careful,” Victor said.
“You two sound like a bad spy movie.” She headed into her bedroom. “What does one pack for running away and lying to your friends to bait some kind of computer hacker?”
“You’re not running away,” Uni said. “You’re helping.”
“Sure, if that’s what you want to call it.” She knelt and fished her suitcase from under her bed, plopping it onto the covers. Used to growing up in very cramped spaces, when they’d first moved into the apartment, all her clothes had fit into the suitcase with lots of room to spare. That had been one good thing about going to college, she’d already mastered the art of living in a small space and making do with the bare minimum. Having half of a room to herself then had felt like owning a mansion.
Now she had a whole room, and a closet and dresser full of clothes. Mostly work clothes…
Which, she guessed if she was supposed to be working, was what she should take with her.
She had spotted a pool and a hot tub out the back windows at that house.
Wouldn’t hurt to take her swimsuit. It was old, but it still fit her. Their apartment complex had drained their pool and hot tub once the word of Kite got around last year and public gatherings were…frowned upon.
Personally, she thought the apartment complex just wanted to save some money every month. She hadn’t used her swimsuit since then. Before, the three of them would sometimes go down to the hot tub on Saturday nights and chill out, talk with anyone who might be there. Never picked up any guys, but it’d been a free Saturday evening diversion.
She packed a couple of days’ worth of work clothes, and some casual clothes.
Just in case.
Won’t be at the coffee shop all the time.
And she grabbed her phone to check the weather. On the heels of their current cool snap was supposed to be a wicked cold front. Maybe even a dusting of snow. Taking that into account, she grabbed some warm clothes, too, and shoes, as well as a coat.
She packed a couple of other things she’d need for a few days away, like chargers and stuff. Not that she normally went anywhere. It wasn’t in her budget. Not really. Sure, she could waste her money on going somewhere, and it wouldn’t be there when she’d need it when she was older.
If she got older.
If any of them got older.
That’s a depressing thought.
She grabbed her shower bag and shoved that into the suitcase, too. And her bathrobe. Shoes.
Still some room.
Scooter. She picked up the little stuffed dog that she’d had since she was a kid and put him into the suitcase. If she didn’t take Scooter with her, it would look weird. She slept with him every night. Her boon companion. He’d been the one item she’d never been forced to give up or share by her parents while growing up because there wasn’t enough room in the cramped house. Throughout the years, Scooter was her reminder why she wanted her own space and needed to work so hard.
So she could choose what to keep and what to give up, and not have it forcibly taken from her.
She grabbed a few other things and tossed them in, filling up the rest of the space in the suitcase. Zipping it closed, she sat it on its end on the floor and rolled it out into the living room. The men stood there, one looking out the window in the living room, the other the window in the small kitchen.
“Anything interesting?” she asked.
“No,” they said together without looking away from the windows.
“Great,” she muttered as she rolled the suitcase over to the front door. “Stereo.” She turned. “Why do I have to stay with you guys? Can’t you just meet me at the coffee shop every day?”
Wait, what am I saying?
That made the men look away from the windows and turn toward her. “We have to protect you.”
“I’d be safe here, wouldn’t I? You didn’t know who I was until you tracked my computer.” A sick feeling filled her. “Ginny and Lisa will be safe, right?”
Victor raised his hands. “No, we didn’t know who you were, and yes, your friends will be safe, but we need to plan and can’t do that around your friends. If someone
“Yeah. That’s the truth.” She understood the need for secrecy even as much as she wished she was still blissfully ignorant.
* * * *
Uni felt badly for Donna and completely understood her concern.
The same kind of concern he’d mulled over their first night at the safe house as he floated in the pool.
How do you protect your loved ones and do your job when your job is so dangerous that it’s off the books?
“We should probably get moving,” she said without taking any steps toward the door. “I don’t want to be here when they get home. I don’t want to have to lie more than I already will to them.”
“I’m sorry we’ve put you in this position,” Uni said. “We do our best not to pull civvies into things.”
“I know.” She offered a smile, but it looked sad and he hated that he was an intrinsic part of the reason she looked like that. “I get it. I’m starting to adjust a little. I think. Like I said, sorry I was a bitch earlier.”
“No, we get it,” Victor said. “We understand. No apologies needed.”
If nothing else, at least that tension had eased somewhat.
Back in the SUV, they headed away from the apartment complex.
“That’s not the right way, is it?” she asked from the backseat.
“We need to be careful,” Uni said. “Nobody followed us there, but we have to make absolutely sure no one follows us from here to the safe house.”
“But you said my friends are safe, right?”
“It’s just a precaution,” Victor assured her. “We always do this. Procedures.”
She stared out the windows for most of the ride, not speaking.
She was pretty. The more time Uni spent around her, the more attracted he was to her.
You’re going to get your heart broken—or worse, break hers—if you think like that.
This was a short-term assignment. Yes, he’d do his damnedest to stick to their promise to her to help them get out, or at least give them warning. But a few days, a week, at the most, and then they were on the move again.
It wouldn’t be fair to her to emotionally suck her in just for them to have to cut her loose.
He damn sure wouldn’t like it.
A one-night stand where everyone was on board and okay with that arrangement was fine. That was different.
Donna didn’t strike him as a devil-may-care, hell, let’s fuck, kind of woman. She was cautious, methodical, which was great. Hell, she’d already helped them with the tip about the money.
Fucking and leaving her left a bad taste in his mouth. Maybe they could quickly get this damn apocalypse solved and then come back to Atlanta to visit her. Spend time getting to know her.
Take her out for dinner and show her a nice time and let her get to know them and not just…kidnapping her.
Wow, we have a habit of that with our women.
Okay, to be fair, only Pandora had technically been kidnapped. Annie had nearly kidnapped their guys in that LA parking lot when the mob was approaching. Panda had been cut orders to join their unit, but she’d willingly fallen in with Foxtrot and Kilo. The rest were volunteers, by fate or by choice, all of them bringing valuable skills to the team. Clara the nurse, Ak and Annie both mechanics, Annie also a kick-ass sniper. Pandora’s research skills. Chief the cop and former MP. And Panda the pilot.
All strong, able women in their own ways.
Donna was a bank teller. If she’d ever even touched a gun, much less shot one, he’d eat his damn gun, grip first. She couldn’t fight. She wasn’t a mechanic. She had no medical or scientific skills, as far as he knew.
Bubba had, in between following up his new lead, run a quick background check on her and sent it to their tablets. Same address for six years following college, living with her two friends, the same job for that same time.
And…that was it.
Donna didn’t deserve to have her life upended like this. She was the kind of everyman they were trying to save from a death by Kite. Hers was the kind of lower middle-class lifestyle they were trying to preserve, or at least give people a chance to aspire to. No, few people would ever be wealthy anymore. But more people should have the chance, at least, to climb a couple of rungs to be comfortable, not having to sweat blood while eking out every cent that they earned and squeezing it till it screamed to make it last.
In fact, she reminded him a little of what Panda had told them about her brother, who’d been killed by Kite the drug after going to one of Silo’s medical clinics in the New York area. He’d been of that rare breed, too. Working hard and trying to make a decent life for himself. He’d gone to Silo’s church clinic in an attempt to get some needed health care, and ended up a guinea pig without his consent, dead from Kite the drug, an overdose.
Uni vowed to try to make Donna’s temporary time with them as pleasant as he could. To make every effort to be nice to her. To protect her at all costs.
And if he ever had a second chance with her…well, then he and Victor could discuss it.
* * * *
Victor actually welcomed the silence inside the SUV as he negotiated Atlanta’s roads and highways on their circuitous route back to the safe house. No, no one on their tail. No sign of anyone watching their departure at the apartment complex.
No one knew who Donna was, yet, except them and Bubba.
He also knew that she had a limited shelf-life with them. She wasn’t like any of the other women who’d joined their unit by choice or necessity.
She neither asked to be there, nor belonged there.
Their job was to protect her and then return her safely to her life and hope that they could keep her living by defeating Kite.
He sensed Uni liked her, too. He’d been partners with the man for over four years and could read him like a book.
He also suspected Uni’s thoughts were riding the same rails as his train of thought—Donna was temporary.
Just their dumb luck, to meet someone and realistically not be able to strike up a relationship with her.
When they reached the safe house they drove into the garage and waited for the door to go down before letting her out. Better safe than sorry.
The fewer people who saw Donna there, even though the neighbors didn’t appear nosy, the better.
Facial recognition software was easy to get hold of, as were security cameras. No need adding Donna’s face to some unknown network of hackable video feeds for someone to stumble across.
No way to use her to hurt them.
They’d keep her safe, try to make her comfortable, and then hopefully quickly deposit her back into her life none the worse for wear for her quirky little side trip into an apocalyptic showdown.
If luck smiled on them, maybe they could one day take her out for a picnic, go hiking, enjoy some time together, the three of them, without worrying if or who was watching.
Call him a romantic, but Victor did want to settle down eventually, once they got through this mess.
If they got through it.
For now, Victor and Uni stowed Donna’s things in the bedroom they’d been occupying and said she could sleep there and that they’d sleep in the living room. She didn’t feel right evicting the couple, but they insisted and instead focused on looking over the records Lima had pulled for Donna’s inspection.
It also vaguely disappointed her to know the men were sharing a bed. Yes, two guys at once was a naughty fantasy of the kind reserved only for the dirtiest romance novels on her Kindle. But the thought of two guys together, who might want to include her in the middle…
She wouldn’t deny it had a certain kind of escapist appeal. Especially since it’d been so long since she’d been with anyone.
Doubly especially c
It’d been dropped into her lap. Wasn’t like she could stick her fingers in her ears and scream lalalalala at the top of her lungs.
Well, she could, but she’d look like a total idiot if she did.
Time could be shorter than she ever imagined, and she’d regret dying and not taking a few fun risks here and there if the opportunity presented itself.
Apparently one of their unit, Pandora, was a reporter working with their military intelligence guy, Bubba, to go through the data he’d hacked from the church’s computer network. While Chief and Omega cooked dinner, Lima got Donna set up with a laptop and a tablet, the tablet set to a secure video Skype session with Pandora at their main safe house.
Pandora walked Donna through what they knew about the church’s computer systems so far. “It’s a total maze of information,” Pandora said. “They’ve used the IRS non-profit church and charity laws to their advantage, shuffling stuff around in a complex web, so it’s hard to follow the trails. It doesn’t help that they’ve got money coming in over the Internet from all over the world, some of it dumping into US bank accounts and some of it dumping into offshore accounts.”
Donna started perusing the files. “Did your guy find the transfer info yet on that transaction from the wife?”
“Not yet. He’s working with a contact he’s got in the NSA to get it.”
“I know court orders can be tricky to obtain.”
Lima snorted. “Yeah, no. That’s not the problem.”
“Then how’s he—oh. Never mind. I don’t need to know.” She studied the files. Even with her business degree and special ability to spot patterns, it was a tangled mess to decipher. She sat there for over an hour, even eating dinner while she talked with Pandora and went through data, until she stumbled over something.
by Tymber Dalton / Romance / Mystery & Thrillers / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes