Private Maneuvers / Page 20

Page 20


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Her father jerked open the door and called into the corridor, "Keagan, could you step in here? It's time for that talk."


She tensed. All the memories of their encounter on the beach and their fight afterward marched over her. What would they say to each other once her father left?


Max stepped into the open doorway. Backlit, he filled the frame with his broad shoulders and magnetism. Darcy's mouth dried. Man, she could use that cup of crushed ice perched on the sink corner right about now.


Then Max stepped into the light.


Her tongue turned to pure cotton.


He stood in the harsh glow of the fluorescent hospital lights, familiar and so very different at the same time. She recognized the outward man in his Tevas, flowered dive shorts and raspberry-red T-shirt. Hacked-off sleeves showcased his diver-down tattoo with that hint of a scar tracing from his shoulder.


The set of his face, the glint in his eyes, however, was completely new. All the events of the past weeks gelled together...his undeclared Glock, his odd dive pattern, why his dolphins still hadn't been released even with so many trips out...


Why they'd been attacked.


Darcy reevaluated that new glint in this man she suddenly realized she didn't know at all. The mindset, however, she recognized well since she'd seen it stamped on so many before him—her father, her crew, every one of those countless faces populating her world since childhood.


She'd wanted Max because he represented something so very different from her father, her co-workers and yes, even herself—government protectors by training, trade and blood.


Looking into his eyes, she knew. He wasn't so different at all.


Max Keagan was one of them.


Chapter 11


Max schooled his features to stay blank, tough as hell to do even after eight years of CIA undercover work. Darcy's look of comprehension—disillusionment—stabbed clean through him.


She was a smart woman. No doubt, she'd put enough pieces together to realize he wasn't simply Dr. Max Keagan. Now necessity, not to mention safety, dictated she learn the rest.


Or at least enough to keep her safe.


He stepped farther into the room, resisting the urge to wince at the ache to his joints from the rapid rise. He'd suffered worse. Luckily the fight had ended quickly. Too much dive time would have added a trip to the decompression chamber.


One small thing to be grateful for in a helluva day.


Okay, two things. Seeing Darcy awake and ready to spit nails shot a bolt of relief through him that threatened to down him faster than their underwater attackers.


The General's eyes landed square on him. Quietly measuring. The old guy still hadn't decided what to think of him. He'd expressed gratitude for the phone call.


Protectiveness had come later, seconds after his military transport plane landed. Why the hell was his daughter tangled up in some covert flight with dolphins, for God's sake?


What the hell was she doing with Max?


He hadn't missed the General's assessing frown. No doubt Darcy's dad hoped the flowered dive shorts were only a part of the cover.


Sorry, old guy. Can't help ya there.


Daniel Baker followed into the room, sweeping around to the side to lounge against the wall and finish off a candy bar. His third since they'd staked out Darcy's door two hours ago.


Darcy's gaze flickered from Max over to Crusty. Shock rippled from her for a split second before her face blanked. Yeah, damned smart woman. Keep quiet until her suspicions were confirmed. She looked away and concentrated on raising the head of her bed.


When she looked back, her composure was solidly in place. "Apparently there's something more going on here than I thought."


Too composed. Max studied the bandage on her arm and reminded himself of his vow to do anything to keep her safe. Her ego would heal a lot faster than another stab from their attackers.


The General stood sentinel by his daughter's bed. "Keagan is a CIA Officer."


The bald statement hung in the air like a toxic cloud.


Max waited for the fallout. Silence echoed, cut only by the rattle of passing carts and the hum from the nurses' station.


Finally a smile tugged at the corner of Darcy's full lips but never made it to her eyes. "That's one damn good cover act you've got going there, Doc.


Accepting the jab as the least he deserved, Max strode deeper into the room. He took up residence by the window so he could monitor the parking lot while talking. "My superiors have sent the okay to tell you some of the background, given what happened. But even with your level of military clearance, understand we can't tell you everything."


Her lips pinched. "Of course I understand. It's my job to understand."


Max winced. Score two for Renshaw. "I'm here to locate enemy surveillance equipment in the harbor."


That much he could tell her since a Navy dive team had already isolated the tap deep in the wreckage. He'd alerted them to the coordinates the minute he'd loaded Darcy into the ambulance. Covert was no longer an option.


Walking away from that ambulance and leaving her in the care of Doc Clark was the hardest damned thing he'd ever done. But finding answers and finishing the investigation offered the best way of keeping her safe.


She'd been attacked because of him. He would never forget that. He was through discounting coincidences. Someone had targeted her because she'd been close to him. He knew it. Accepted it. And wouldn't rest until the bastard responsible was in a cold grave.


A very cold, very deep grave.


While the General explained in more detail, Max let himself study Darcy, reassure himself. Force his heartbeat to stop slugging against his chest for the first time since the divers had advanced toward her.


She was alive, needing only a few stitches in her arm and another night of observation in the base hospital. The day hadn't ended with more blood on his soul.


Her blood.


He damned well intended to keep her alive until he could get her off the island. Security police stood watch outside her door. DeMassi lurked the halls. Kat Lowry and her crew were monitoring every call going in and out of the base.


Max scoured the events of the past weeks for ways he could have done anything differently. The way he saw it, the downslide had started the minute he'd laid eyes on her. The attraction had crackled so visibly any fool could have noticed. And those working the other side weren't fools.


He forced his attention back on General Renshaw's words detailing Daniel Baker's Air Force involvement.


Darcy frowned. "Crusty, too?"


The pilot pitched his candy wrapper in the trash. "Why is everyone always so surprised to find out I have a few connections? Man, sure could give a guy a complex. Yeah, I'm what I guess you could call a consultant on this one. I'm not an OSI Officer, but I run dark-ops testing programs with the OSI, mostly with surveillance equipment. Which made me a logical go-to guy to act as the Air Force liaison on diver dude's mission."


Darcy's gaze gravitated to Max's tattoo. A fire raced below the surface at her fascination with the marking. Did she burn to touch it as much as he burned to be touched by her?


Baker cleared his throat.


Darcy's eyes snapped up, only a hint of pink on her pale face. "Why are you telling me this much now, Crusty?"


"Because we have our man. Thanks to Keagan's direction and coordinates, we've secured the surveillance leak. Once Keagan reached his boat, he deployed forces to track your attackers. They located a body. The security police are running ID checks and have another person in custody now."


"Who?" she pushed.


"Vinnie, the dive shop guy, helped out with O'Club catering. He was found diving in the area."


"But why would he... Oh."


"Yes, that wasn't his real job," Crusty confirmed. "He's a civilian employee working in Army CID— apparently also a mole in military intelligence."


"Civilian?"


"Don't forget nearly half the military counterintelligence workers are civilians—Government Service employees. Our Vinnie is a GS 9."


Max watched her absorb the information of Vinnie's government service status. His arrest. Would she buy the story? Sure the guy had been picked up, but Max wasn't so certain the CID civilian employee was guilty of anything more than a bad hair day. Something didn't sit right, and Vinnie was sure as hell denying involvement.


But Max didn't intend to fire up Darcy with his doubts.


Her eyes lit with battlefield anticipation. "So when do I start looking at mug shots to ID the others?"


The General's hand clamped around the bedrail as if to bar her escape. "You don't."


She sat straighter. "Pardon me?"


"You don't," her father clipped orders. "Keagan here can do that. You're going home."


Darcy's rigid spine kept her upright without any help from the mechanical bed, even while tucked into a standard-issue thermal blanket. A twinge of guilt stabbed Max over calling her father.


He sure as hell understood her struggle to step out of her dad's overlarge shadow. Max scratched his forearm, still burning from just the caress of Darcy's eyes. He'd marked himself with tattoos more than once to claim his life as his own and rile his old man.


Personally, he didn't care anymore or let others' opinions shape his decisions. Running life solo worked better in his job as he'd learned well with Eva. He'd found his place in the world outside his father's influence. He hoped Darcy could find the same.


He expected she would. The General might be overbearing, but Max doubted the old guy had ever leaped from behind corners to knock her on her butt. Reflexes boy. Don't ever let the enemy catch you unaware.


Max dumped thoughts of his father out of his head. Must just be seeing Darcy and her dad together that was screwing with his mind.


She pulled herself into a stance that couldn't be mistaken as anything other than military attention. "With all due respect, sir, unless I miss my guess, this one's outside your scope of command. There's a bigger picture here and if there's something I can contribute, then by God, I'm not budging off this island." She met her father's gaze dead-on. "Sir."


The two wills, father and daughter, battled so strongly Max wasn't sure who would win. He had to tip the odds for the General, no matter what Darcy wanted, no matter that it chewed his conscience.


Max stepped forward. "Damn it, Darcy, that bigger picture is about your flying world, too. Leaks like this can affect every flight plan for the Cantou conflict coming out of planners on this island."


He pulled out the stops and voiced what needed to be said to make her leave. "You wanted to be a part of the war effort. Well you were a part by getting me here whether you knew it or not. Time to see the big picture then and now. You're a military pilot. You look out for your wingmen and do what's best for your country. And right now, your country needs you to get the hell off this island. You're hampering my investigation."


Darcy's lips may have stayed closed, but her eyes shouted across the room. You bastard.


The General turned, gratitude stamped on his craggy face. Apparently, flowered dive shorts no longer mattered. "Thank you, Keagan. Well put."


Max stayed as silent as Darcy. Who would have thought he'd ever side with the starched shirts he'd so long disavowed? But weighing the options for keeping Darcy safe, Max accepted he would have to stand in the old man's shoes.


For a guy more accustomed to Teva sandals, those polished leathers made for a damned tight fit.


Darcy yanked herself from nightmares full of blood and sea snakes. She refused to allow herself to scream.


She gasped in drags of antiseptic air, grappling for the chain on the hospital light. Her hand finally swacked it, grabbed, jerked. Light illuminated the room. And the man sitting in the corner chair.


It was him.


One leg hooked over the arm of the chair, Max watched her through narrowed eyes. His revelations from earlier rolled over her. The damned irony of it that she'd been a part of the war effort all along.


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