copyright 1997; Update and Reissue 2011)
A remote corner of
England, c. 1216
Flames ripped through the night as
another timber fell from the ceiling to the dungeon floor, casting an
eerie phantasm of light over the clanging swords and thrusting, twisting
bodies of men in combat.
The rebels surged forward, sheer number
giving them their only strength against their oppressors. The soldiers
should have been easily taken, their cruel devices easily destroyed, but
darker forces aided them. And the rebels had no such powers for
Simple peasants, the rebels knew
nothing of war. Nothing of magic spells. Nothing of combating tyranny
and oppression. They fought against the minions of a former counselor to
the crown, a high priest of mysterious power bent on securing the
loyalty and tribute of the remote villagers.
They faced an enemy, not of flesh and
blood, but of shadows and evil. Soldiers could be gutted with a dagger
or run through with a sword. But a sorcerer .. .
It seemed no weapon could defeat him.
Still, the peasants had a champion, an
aging knight who had long stood against King John. He thought he had
retired that day at
Runnymede when he and other
barons forced the king to sign the Magna Carta, putting into law the
ideals of justice and honor he believed in.
But when he had passed through the
peasant villages and seen how their spirits were abused, how their backs
were broken, and how their hopes were shattered, the mighty warrior took
up his sword once more. Weary of battle, but never of the cause of
justice, he rallied the peasants and urged them onward through the
He swung his heavy sword in a mighty
arc, striking a guard in the neck and shoulder, felling him with the
blow. Another uniformed opponent stepped out of the smoke. The warrior
spun around, splitting the man in two with his knife.
He surged forward, his pale eyes
cutting through the haze of smoke to spot the sorcerer. The evil man's
silvery-white robe, with an odd arrangement of stars and half-moons
embroidered with iridescent gold threads, glowed like a beacon in the
dimness of the burning castle above them.
“Sorcerer!” he bellowed. The graying
visage turned toward the challenge and the warrior strode onward. “These
people are not yours to command and defile. Be gone from this place.
Take your evil and suffering with you!”
He tucked his dagger beneath his tunic
and clasped the sword in both hands. All the while, the sorcerer fixed
his eyes on him. Those eyes burned into the warrior's memory. He would
never forget them. Dark and mocking. Devoid of humanity.
“You threaten me?” The sorcerer
laughed, not once flinching from the advancing warrior with his sword
raised to kill. “Even now, your cowardly comrades flee. They run from
what they cannot understand. They leave you to fight alone.”
“I would die before I'd run from an
evil being like you.”
“If you wish.” The sorcerer flicked his
hand into the air and the warrior's sword crashed to the stones at his
feet. “Your puny rebellion does not amuse me. You shall pay the price.”
“I swear I'll kill you with my bare
hands.” He reached out but felt himself pushing against an invisible
wall. Rage swelled within him. “Damn you!”
“Father!” A third voice severed their
duel. “Please, no more!”
The warrior stumbled forward as the
unseen wall crumbled with the sorcerer's distraction. A torch flared to
life, illuminating the aura of dust and smoke engulfing him. Instead of
closing his hands about the sorcerer's throat, he, too, turned.
The maiden stood between two peasants,
a captured prisoner. Her tearstained face trembled as one man clutched
her tightly and held the point of his sword to her throat. A second
“Release our village and farms from
your spells. Take away your soldiers and return to the place from whence
you came. Or else we'll slit your daughter's throat.”
“No, she is an innocent!” The warrior's
protest surprised them all.
“Do you not stand with us?” the peasant
demanded. “Do you not see this is the only power we have over him? Look
how his spells are broken when he fears for her safety.”
A shadow passed across the sorcerer's
black eyes. “If you harm her, I will bring a wrath of destruction upon
you that your descendants shall never forget.”
“Father, no. Please. No more.”
The girl's plea touched a chord in the
warrior's heart. He'd seen too much killing in his time to stand by and
watch the slaughter of an innocent, no matter where her allegiance lay.
“You would betray our cause?” The
peasant drew his knife and pointed it at the girl's stomach. In a
brashness born of years of despair, he plunged the knife into the folds
of her cloak.
But the warrior knew more of fighting
than did the peasant. He lunged forward and twisted the peasant's arm,
sending the knife skittering into the darkness. He shoved the peasant
with the sword aside, and positioned himself beside the girl.
“Betrayer!” The first peasant rushed at
the warrior. “He'll kill us all!”
The warrior pushed the girl toward her
father and braced to face the angry peasant. In that same instant, the
sorcerer flattened his palm and shoved it skyward, muttering a foreign
incantation that sent the attacker flying through the air. The man
landed in a heap, dead as though struck with a blow to the head.
The peasant with the sword ran, but the
sorcerer touched his ring. The man stumbled and fell, his neck broken.
“No!” screamed the warrior. “She lives!
Stop the killing!”
Enraged by the senseless deaths, and
knowing there would be countless others if the madman wasn't stopped,
the warrior picked up the sword of the fallen peasant. He raised it
above his head.
The sorcerer didn't sense the attack
until it was too late. He reached for his ring. But before he could
utter one word, his daughter jumped into the path.
The mighty blade sailed through the
air. The warrior cried out, powerless to stop its flight as it sliced
through the only shield the sorcerer possessed.
The girl toppled to the floor,
instantly dead. The sorcerer wailed unintelligibly and dropped beside
her, cradling her spiritless body in his arms.
Horrified by his deed, the warrior fell
to his knees. He bowed his head and prayed for a forgiveness he could
not give himself. “I didn't mean . . . Forgive me. . . .”
He lifted his gaze to the sorcerer.
There were no words he could say. He had slaughtered the very innocent
he meant to protect.
The sorcerer rose, removed his cloak,
and draped the silver and gold shroud over the girl's body. “For this,
they will all die.”
“No!” The warrior shot his head up.
“Take me instead! Punish me!”
“I intend to.” The sorcerer's voice
echoed with a hollowness that extended to another time. He turned,
extending his hand toward the warrior. But it was not a gesture of
conciliation. His eyes blazed with an eerie force before he spoke again.
“You have taken the one thing that mattered to me in this world. My
child. My future. You shall know the same anguish I know.”
A chilling numbness crept into the
warrior's limbs. He grew weaker, powerless to fight off the dizzying
“My wife is long dead, and my daughter
was all that remained of her. You, too, shall never know a woman's love.
Nor shall you ever sire a child.”
The warrior collapsed to the floor
beside the dead girl. The smoke thickened. His lungs struggled to fill
with air. The sorcerer was killing him. Through some evil power of the
mind, he was killing him. Slowly, by degrees.
The warrior's mouth went dry. “Spare
the villagers. Punish me alone, I beg you.”
“Punish you, I shall. I swear eternal
vengeance upon your soul.”
Smoke clouded the warrior's vision. He
lay paralyzed on the cold stone floor.
“Not until the one you love is
willingly sacrificed in exchange for your life will you ever know
Mist filled the warrior's head. The
sorcerer's incantations made no sense. The sorcerer touched the
warrior's chest, scorching his skin. “I mark you now. You are a visible
tribute to this day's battle. You will bear witness to every battle you
“You wish to fight for a noble cause.
You wish to give your life defending those weaker than you.” The
sorcerer looked down on the warrior, laughing with a sound that haunted
the warrior's soul. “I promise you will spend eternity doing just that.”
The warrior's eyes shut and the last
mortal gasp left his body.
A monster of a man.
Brodie Maxwell read the teenage boy's
opinion of him as easily as he might read a road sign. He ignored the
curious gawking. Other heads turned but quickly looked away. He knew
what they were thinking. He banished mirrors in his house so he,
himself, couldn't see the monster.
He stood a shade over six-feet six and
weighed in at 250 pounds, with impossibly broad shoulders, brawny arms,
and legs like tree trunks. But the brutish appellation didn't stop with
his size and dimension. Strands of silver sliced through his
coffee-colored hair, which he wore cropped to a short length that
emphasized the harsh angles of his face.
That face, an unforgiving landscape,
reflected the horrors of his existence. His once-aquiline nose bent at
two separate spots, reminders of a couple of lucky punches. Mottled
ridges of a grayish-white scar filled the hollow beneath his left
cheekbone and zigzagged into the corner of his mouth. The inflexible
tissue pulled his face into a grotesque grimace whenever he smiled.
Long ago he had learned not to smile.
Not even with his eyes. His steel gray gaze scanned his surroundings at
the LadyTech headquarters building in
He routinely memorized the number of people, their positions, the
accessible exits. The icy eyes missed nothing of the chaotic, cluttered
environment around him, just as they revealed nothing about the man
Another old habit.
No one had ever called him handsome.
His driver's license said he was forty, but life- experience beyond his
years had taken his ugliness and shaped it into something more than
physical. It shrouded him like a tangible thing, a shield he wore to
keep all but the bravest and most foolish at a distance.
Brodie liked it that way.
Once he was familiar with the layout of
the first floor, Brodie strode from the entryway. Judging by the bustle
of activity and torn-up work stations, some major redecorating was going
on. He crossed to a makeshift table with a sign marked Reception.
But the chair behind it sat vacant.
The high school-aged boy, carrying a
stack of boxes, stopped several feet away. Brodie felt his stare,
curious, fascinated, repelled. Brodie turned his head and nailed the boy
with a piercing look. Startled and ashamed of being caught, the boy
lowered his gaze to a point about equal with Brodie's collar. He cleared
his throat awkwardly, “We're getting ready for our open house, sir. The
receptionist is . . . I'll see if I can find someone to help you.”
The boy tucked in his chin and scooted
past Brodie. Most people did that to him. Too lazy to strain their neck
muscles, or too afraid of what they might see—strangers rarely made eye
contact with him. Brodie didn't mind their rudeness. That way he didn't
have to see their shock and revulsion when they got a good look at his
“Hey, you, punch up the con panel and
see if the screen lights up.”
Brodie's gaze shot around the foyer
again, scanning for the source of the disembodied female voice. It made
him edgy to think he had missed accounting for everyone in the area. It
wasn't like him to make that kind of mistake.
“Hit any button on the keyboard.” The
voice drizzled into his eardrums a second time. From the vicinity of his
A woman's hand popped out from under
the table and groped at the toe of Brodie's snakeskin boot.
“Yoo-hoo, out there, can you help me?”
Brodie stared at the hand, an ordinary
left hand, without a fancy manicure or jewels to adorn it.
“Yes,” he finally replied when the hand
refused to let go of his foot. The woman couldn't see the whole package,
he thought, or else she wouldn't be so relentless in asking for his
help. Her voice sounded warm, like honey and laughter. Not at all the
sort of tone one used with a stranger.
Or a monster.
“It's okay if you don't understand
computers. Just hand me one of the remotes. I can get it online from
Brodie bit back the cutting remark that
would have straightened out the woman's misconception. He was a creature
of duty and chivalry. If a woman requested a favor, he felt honor bound
to help. That was the only reason he'd agreed to this meeting in the
first place. Because the widow of an old friend had asked for his help
in finding out who was pirating creative designs from the LadyTech
Software Communications Corporation.
Dutifully, Brodie searched the tabletop
and picked up a small black box with a series of buttons on one side. He
bent over and placed the remote in the palm of her outstretched hand. He
lowered the bulk of his body, casting his shadow across the hand and
darkening the opening beneath the table.
“Hey, who turned out the lights?”
Once, he would have bristled at the
remark. Now he accepted it without comment.
Seconds later, a company logo flashed
to life on the computer screen. “It's on,” he rumbled, reporting
“Piece of cake.”
A body materialized at Brodie's feet.
BJ Kincaid scooted out on her backside,
the remote clutched in one hand, a tray of tools in the other. She
paused a moment, leaning back on her elbows to look up at her unwilling
“Whoa.” Land of the Giants, she
thought to herself.
BJ's gaze started at the booted ankles
and travelled up a pair of jeans that fitted over the longest, sturdiest
legs she had ever seen, past a black suede bomber's jacket, beyond an
outdated necktie, over a vicious network of scars, all the way up to the
stark gray eyes of the man who towered above her. It was a long trip.
From her perspective, his spiky, military-short hair seemed to brush the
A living mountain. A dark, battered,
An image from a Frankenstein movie
leapt to mind. Immediately, she shook off the comparison, ashamed of
even thinking it. BJ knew better than most what it was like to be
different from mainstream society. She should be the last person to
judge someone else by a first impression.
Hoping she hadn't revealed her
uncharitable thoughts, she scrambled to her feet. She dropped her tools
on the table and brushed at the untucked hem of her Kansas City Royals
baseball jersey. Standing eliminated only part of the distance between
them. He still stood chest, shoulders, and head above her five-feet,
She stuck out her hand and looked him
squarely in the eye. “Thanks for your help. I'm BJ Kincaid.”
Ironically, he seemed the one unwilling
to touch her. A silent moment passed before his hand, nearly double the
size of hers and scored with a dozen scars around tanned knuckles,
wrapped around her fingers and swallowed them in his handshake.
“One of the partners.” BJ could see him
sizing her up, checking his internal data on her. “Along with Emma
Ramsey and Jasmine Sinclair. You're the creative one. You design
“Most of them,” she amended, pulling
her hand away. This man knew more about her than a regular customer
would. The observation put her on guard. “Can I help you?”
“I'm here to see Emma. I'm Brodie
Maxwell.” He flipped out an ID that labeled him a security consultant.
Before BJ could question exactly what that meant, he returned his
billfold to his back pocket. “She hired me to investigate a security
leak. I worked with her husband in the Corps.”
Emma's dead husband had led a team of
crack Marine intelligence operatives. That meant this man possessed
certain skills at which she could only guess. All of Jonathan Ramsey's
men had been specialists. BJ wondered what this guy's specialty was.
Stopping tanks with his fists, perhaps?
BJ shivered. Emma had mentioned
bringing in outside help. She knew Emma had only the best interests of
the company at heart. But Brodie Maxwell's presence confirmed that she
was a traitor to both LadyTech and the partners who were her two best
BJ had developed the missing designs.
They had been her responsibility. Hell, the only way an industrial spy
could get past her self-designed failsafe systems would be for her to
give out the access codes. Which she hadn't. She would never betray her
partners. She would never betray herself. LadyTech was her baby, after
all. Most of its concepts and products originated inside her head.
Therein lay the problem.
BJ had mapped out preliminary designs
for languages, games, and programs that could mean millions of dollars
to the company. Yet no trace of them existed. Not on printouts, not on
disks or memory sticks, not on the server or any hard drive at LadyTech
or her home office. Her own shadowy memories provided the only evidence
that those ideas had ever existed.
But could her memory be trusted? Where
was the proof? Brodie Maxwell looked like a man who wouldn’t quit until
he found answers. BJ dreaded what those answers might be.
She averted her eyes and busied
her hands with rearranging her tools. “I guess you’re really here to
investigate me, then.”
She swiveled her face up to his,
unable to retrieve a welcoming smile. “You want to solve the mystery,
right? I’m giving you your most likely suspect. Me. I’ll show you to
Emma’s office. She’ll be expecting you.”
BJ cleared the screen of the
computer she had just installed before pivoting on her heel and crossing
to the grand staircase leading to the executive offices on the second
floor. Brodie’s long shadow overtook her, chilling her with the
impression of a beast closing in on his prey.
ascended the staircase three steps at a time. He debated the woman’s
sudden mood swing. She had been smiling, unguarded, almost—accepting—of
him when she first crawled from beneath the table. But when he
mentioned the purpose of his visit, she closed up. Grew defensive. A
fire lit in her eyes, shouting anger
and distrust. And something else. Fear perhaps?
But of him? Or his mission?
Her bottom swayed on the steps ahead of
him. The loose shirt and baggy jeans camouflaged her figure, but they
couldn't mask the rigid set of her spine. What was she hiding?
Brodie knew the first step in drawing
information out of a suspect was to engage her in innocent, neutral
“BJ stands for Bridget Jacoba, doesn't
“You've done the research—you should
know.” The sharp bite of her words bounced off Brodie's tough exterior,
but the visible sagging of BJ's shoulders told him she regretted saying
She softened her voice and flashed an
apologetic smile over her shoulder. “My mom was Bridget. My dad was
Jake.” She topped the stairs and pointed down an empty corridor. “Emma's
office is at the end. You'll probably . . .”
BJ froze mid-stride. Her voice faded.
“No. Not now.”
Brodie collided with her back, and
would have sent her flying if he hadn't snatched her shoulders,
steadying her. “Miss Kincaid?”
“Get out of my head!”
Her hands flew to her temples, her
fingers dug into the short curls there. “Get out!” Alarmed, Brodie
turned her, keeping the shelter of one arm around her shoulders. He
gripped her chin and tilted it upward. Her eyes squeezed shut. Was she
having some kind of seizure? He couldn't recall any mention of a
physical disorder in her profile. He searched her twisted features for
“Stop it!” Her voice sounded like
cracked, brittle pottery smashing to bits on concrete. Thinking his
touch frightened her, Brodie immediately released her.
Wildly, she clutched at his arm,
clenching it with both hands until her knuckles turned white. Then she
began to shake all over.
Her fingernails bit through leather and
cotton into his forearm, but he ignored the bruising pain. If she needed
something to cling to, he presented the most solid object at hand. He
hardly qualified as an adequate nursemaid, but at that moment, he
appeared to be the only one available. “What's happening? Do I need to
“Not this time. I won't let you.”
Brodie realized she wasn't answering
him. He wasn't sure she even knew he was there with her.
“BJ!” He shook her, roughly. “Bridget!”
The demon that possessed her
disappeared as swiftly as it had come. Her body went limp. Her knees
buckled and he scooped her up in his arms. Her head lolled against his
chest, the crown snuggling just beneath his chin.
Damn. The woman was a cuddler. Even
semiconscious, she turned and pressed her soft cheek into his neck.
Every protective instinct that had ever gotten him into trouble
surfaced, unbidden. Briefly, Brodie tried to remember the last time a
woman had nestled against him so needfully without hesitation or fear or
an ulterior motive.
Nothing came to mind. He muttered an
angry epithet and refocused on the situation at hand.
He carried her to the first door on his
right and kicked it open. He allowed himself a moment of stunned
surprise when he entered the room. Other than the antique oak desk with
its two computers in the center, it looked like a child's playroom. A
truckload of toys lay scattered about the floor and on the furniture.
Dolls, models, a train set, games. Floor to ceiling bookshelves, filled
with collections of several kinds, lined one wall. Baseball cards.
Heart- shaped pillows. DVDs.
Without a conscious thought as to why,
he knew this was her office. BJ Kincaid, former child prodigy with a
Mensa-level IQ, multimillionaire partner in one of the hottest companies
on the market, worked in an office overflowing with toys.
He determinedly thrust away a flood of
unwanted emotions, and moved to a sofa behind the desk. Brushing aside a
slew of quilted teddy bears, Brodie laid BJ on the cushions, propping
her head on a stuffed plaid heart.
“Monster in my head. . .” she murmured,
stirring as he elevated her feet.
Brodie knew all about the monsters that
haunted a person's dreams. He got a reminder of his own tortured demons
each time he caught his reflection in a storefront window or rearview
mirror. For him, it was natural, as much a part of him as breathing. But
for BJ, this couldn't be right.
He squatted on the floor beside her.
With one hand, he took both of hers and began rubbing them, kneading
warmth into her limp fingers. He smoothed her bangs from her forehead.
Her skin was cool to the touch.
She had short, soft curly hair, in a
nondescript brownish-blond color. He saw nothing striking about her even
features. She wasn't pretty. She wasn't plain. She was just—average.
Brodie thought it strange that he’d
noticed her looks. And even stranger that he wasn't disappointed. Maybe
it had something to do with the friendly, open smile with which she had
first greeted him. Or the way her eyes boldly met and held his gaze,
despite the way she had to crane her neck to do so.
Or maybe it just had to do with the
fact he was a male animal who had been too long without a mate, and the
sensation of holding a living, breathing female in his arms was all it
took to send his hormones into overdrive. It wasn't a comforting
“Wake up, BJ,” he whispered, his voice
dark and bass deep. “C'mon. Wake up.”
Footsteps on the carpet alerted him to
company. “BJ!” Emma knelt beside him, frowning with fear. “Is she hurt?”
“Don't know. She hit the top of the
stairs and had an attack of some kind. When it stopped, she collapsed.”
“This isn't the first time. Sometimes
she loses track of hours. I have no idea how to help her. That's why I
went through Jonathan's journal to track you down.” Emma went to a
built-in bar and brought back some wet paper towels to dab on BJ's face.
“I wasn't sure you'd come.”
“We all made a pact to look out for
whoever was left behind.”
Emma flashed him an apologetic look. “I
led you to believe that I needed help, that the company was in trouble.
But it's really BJ I'm concerned about.”
He shrugged off the misinformation that
had gotten him here and jerked his chin toward BJ. “Looks like she needs
a physician or a psychiatrist more than she needs my services.”
“There's a slight problem with that. BJ
has some real hang-ups about men in lab coats, especially shrinks. I
can't get her near one. Jas and I have both tried.”
Brodie wondered what someone as smart
mouthed yet ingenuous as BJ had to fear from a psychiatrist.
Emma continued, “Besides, tomorrow at
the stockholders' party, we're announcing the opening of our new
Tokyo office. BJ doesn't want any bad publicity concerning her mental
condition to scare off potential backers.”
BJ moaned, shifted on the pillow, and
groaned again. “Tell him all of it, Emma. If he's the savior you say he
is, you'd better tell him everything.”
Her eyes fluttered open. For the first
time, Brodie noticed their unusual color. Not just green, but dark and
blue-flecked, like a shadowy spruce forest. Earlier they had sparkled
with humor, gleamed with intelligence. Now, a haze of uncertainty and
fatigue clouded her eyes.
Her gaze wavered over Emma, then
settled on Brodie. “It's not just my ideas that are being stolen.
They're taking my sanity. Somebody's playing with my head. It's as if
they're tapped into my brain, pulling out ideas before I can even get
them on paper.”
“Enough.” Emma chastised BJ with a
worried frown. “Nobody believes you're going insane.”
“So what just happened was normal
behavior?” BJ's caustic remark echoed in the quiet.
“What did just happen?” Brodie asked.
He rose and walked around the room, looking for hidden surveillance
devices, getting a feel for BJ Kincaid.
Emma helped BJ sit up. BJ waved aside
any further help and focused on Brodie. “You won't find any bugs—audio,
visual, or tapped into the computer lines—I've checked.”
Brodie admired her astuteness.
Nonetheless, he remained quiet. A long silence passed before BJ
“These episodes happen two, three times
a week. For about three months now. It's like . . .”
He heard her breath catch. The
recollection obviously pained her. But he said nothing to ease her
discomfort. It wasn't his place to do so. He’d agreed to help Emma
because he owed her husband a favor. But when the job was finished, he
intended to get back to his own life, solitary hell that it was. He
didn't need to worry about anybody else's pain.
“It's like a shadow creeping into my
brain. I feel it coming, pushing out everything else. Suffocating my
ability to reason. Sometimes I beat it back, like today. Other times . .
. I don't know when I lose it. Next thing I know, I wake up. I have a
memory of the time passing, but nothing tangible to show for it. I'd
write them off as dreams except they're too real. And afterward, I have
the most awful headache you can imagine.”
Brodie paused at the DVD collection on
the shelves. The movies consisted mostly of science fiction, including a
vast assortment of old monster movies. Frankenstein. The Thing.
Godzilla. She must think him a real-life extension of those video
“See anyone you know? You're not even
listening to me.”
Decades of training in steely
self-control kept him from starting at the sound of BJ's voice near his
“I heard every word.” He angled his
face toward hers. She had incredibly expressive eyes. And the pissed-off
message she broadcast to him now was unmistakable. He had to admire her
courage. People rarely stood up to him. A savage look or sharp word
usually deterred any challengers.
He'd enjoy going a few verbal rounds
with BJ. She didn't intimidate easily. She spoke her mind and teased him
more than most people ever dared try. But while the idea sounded
provocative, he was in no position to indulge himself. Personal
involvement meant risk. It meant the possibility of caring. And caring
He would never take that risk again.
Brodie hooked his thumbs into the front
pockets of his jeans, hunched his shoulders and scowled at BJ. “You talk
about monsters in your head. Ghosts taking over your thoughts.” He
nodded toward the shelves of movies. “You're sure you're not imagining
Color flooded her cheeks. Then she
caught him completely off guard and shoved at his chest, knocking him
back a step. “You . . . You . . . Get the hell out of here!”
After the emotional release of the
first blow, BJ attacked him in earnest. Brodie shifted his weight to
balance himself, and stood immovable while BJ punctuated each word with
a furious, desperate shove.
“I'm . . . not . . . crazy . . . !”
“BJ, stop.” Emma gently reprimanded her
friend and hurried over to help. But Brodie shook his head and warned
BJ couldn't damage him, so Brodie took
the brunt of her outburst, lifting some of the burden of coping from the
two women. That much he could do for them.
“I am not crazy,” BJ repeated through
sobbing breaths, clasping his hands and clinging to him like a lifeline.
“Somebody's doing this to me. I'm not crazy.”
He absorbed the last of her fury and
frustration into his calloused palms. When she was spent, she leaned
forward and rested her forehead against him, seeking comfort.
The trusting gesture surprised him even
more than the first blow of her attack.
She must have finally realized he had
nothing to offer her, because she pulled away. She took a step back and
hugged herself tightly, giving herself the solace he could not. She
lifted her face to his.
BJ's eyes were dark, desperate,
“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that.
I promise to keep it all together if you stay and help me. Please.”
This wasn't right. Expecting him to be
anybody's rescuer. Missing data or industrial espionage he could handle.
But asking him to help a damsel in
distress? In the cobwebby recesses of his mind, he tried to remember
what laughter sounded like. He should be laughing at their ludicrous
expectations of him.
Emma stepped behind BJ, squeezing her
shoulders in support.
“Jonathan said you handled unusual
cases for him.” Emma's concerned focus was on her friend, while BJ still
concentrated her pleading eyes on him. “But more than that, he said you
never quit until everyone was safe. Until everyone was accounted for.
You weren't on his last mission, were you?”
Brodie shook his head. Jonathan Ramsey
never returned from that last mission. The team had searched for over a
year but found no body. Brodie still followed up any remote lead that
presented itself. But his friend seemed to have vanished from the face
of the earth.
Emma blinked moisture from her smoky
blue eyes. “I believe if you had been on that mission, Jonathan would
have come home to me. He believed in you that much. Because of that, so
“Emma, I don't deserve that kind of
Brodie's attention quickly attuned to
BJ's husky, honeyed whisper. “Beowulf?”
He thought he had left fear far behind,
but the innocent hope in her deep green eyes frightened him.
“You're comparing me to one of the
monsters in the story?”
“No.” She reached for one of his hands
and gently spread it open, palm up. With her thumb she traced the
expanse of his long, blunt-tipped fingers, touching each scar and callus
as if his hand were a rare, precious thing. “You're the slayer of
Even more than her words, BJ's
guileless, gentle touches rocked him to the core. She didn't even know
him. The damn fool didn't have sense enough to understand that he could
break her neck with that hand. Yet she held on to him, fearful only of
the monster inside her head, not of the one standing before her.
Brodie swore violently to himself. This
job was going to get personal, he could tell. Yet, despite his
misgivings, he accepted that he had already signed on for the duration.
Delaying the inevitable, he thrust BJ
and her soulful eyes away from him and stalked across the room. He
swiped a hand over his stubbly hair before turning to speak.
“I don't think you're crazy.” He wasted
no time in getting down to work. “I suspect you're under the influence
of mind control.”
“Mind control?” BJ and Emma echoed
Brainwashing. I can't be certain, but that's my guess. The attacks come
on suddenly, then vanish, leaving a vague memory, but no tangible
proof.” He saw the wheels turning in BJ’s head, first evaluating, then
accepting his hypothesis.
“You think someone has programmed
me? How? Who?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Figuring out how it’s being done, and who’s responsible, is harder to
solve. It will be pretty damn difficult, in fact.”
“But not impossible.”
“No.” He paced the room, needing
an outlet for the sudden wellspring of energy coursing through him. He
always experienced this rush when he geared up for battle. And this
could only be described as a battle. A battle with an unseen enemy
haunting an innocent woman’s mind. And an ongoing battle within
himself. He couldn’t afford to lose either one.
“I’ll become your shadow,” he
explained. “Learn your habits, your friends At home and at work.
I’ll need to observe these episodes firsthand, plus see who has a motive
and the opportunity to trigger them. You’ll feel like a lab rat with
the scrutiny I’ll put you through.”
He paused when he saw that his
words made her look uncomfortable. “Lab rat? Just what does that mean,
“It means I’m
going to move in with you. I’m going to drive you wherever you need to
go. I’m going to be at every meeting you attend. I need
to know everything in
order to figure this out. I'll be closer to you than your own shadow.”
“Is that really
He could see some backbone returning,
and he felt encouraged rather than put off by her accusing look. “It is
if you want me to find out the truth,” he said.
“Can't you just ask me some questions?”
“Do you have the answers?”
sparkled in her eyes. Then she looked over at Emma and sighed with quiet
He wondered what concession she had
just made. “Everywhere, BJ. I mean it.”
After a tense moment, she smiled. It
was like the sun breaking through the clouds. Bright and beautiful. The
kind of smile you couldn't resist returning. Unless you never had any
reason to smile. Like Brodie.
“I'll get used to it. I'm warning you,
though. Folks will talk. I don't usually keep company with tall, dark
She was teasing again. Where the hell
did she get her misplaced faith in him? Slayer of monsters? Ha! Couldn't
she see the truth right before her eyes?
Still, her innocent trust touched
something in him. His intrinsic code of honor, no doubt.
“I'll help you,” he heard himself
promise. “I'll find out who's playing with your head, and how it's being
done. I'll put a stop to it.”
Or else he’d always be haunted by BJ’s
frank green eyes, wide open and trusting. Looking to the big, ugly
monster of a man for answers. And asking for—of all things to expect
from a man who held none for himself—hope.
Back To Top