Web of Deceit

Web of Deceit

Susan Sleeman

March 2015 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-4-686

Agents Under Fire, Book 1

 
Our PriceUS$14.95
Code978-1-61194-4-686
 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

When FBI Agent Kaitlyn Knight discovers her brother-in-law is Vyper—the notorious cyber-criminal and murderer wanted by the FBI—Kait doesn’t question her duty to arrest him. But when he murders her sister in front of her, leaving her infant niece motherless, Kait vows to hunt him down and bring him to justice while raising the baby.

As the body count rises, Sam discovers the killing spree is really about striking back at Kait. He must put everything on the line—including the relationship he’s developed with Kait—to ensure her safety. The killer is waiting, watching her every move, and he won’t stop until he’s exacted his revenge and reclaims his rights to raise his daughter.Three years later, and not even a whisper of a lead in her search, Kait is about to give up hope of ever finding Vyper. All of that changes when he goes on a murderous spree taunting Kait with clues that she and homicide detective Sam Murdock must solve before her devious brother-in-law takes another life.

Susan Sleeman is a best-selling author of clean read and inspirational romantic suspense books. Awards include Thread of Suspicion, 2013 Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Best Book Award, and No Way Out and The Christmas Witness, Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence finalists. In addition to writing, Susan also hosts the popular website TheSuspenseZone.com. She currently lives in Oregon with her husband, but has lived in nine states. They have two daughters, a son-in-law, and an adorable grandson.

To learn more about Susan stop by any of these locations on the web.
susansleeman.com
facebook.com/SusanSleemanBooks
twitter.com/SusanSleeman


Reviews

"A very enjoyable romantic suspense novel. I really liked it and recommend it!”
Melanie D, Netgalley

"Susan Sleeman has done it again!! She has got to be one of my top three suspense writers and Web of Deceit just goes to show how well she can write.”
Charity Lyman, Giveaway Gal

"Sleeman does an excellent job of creating tension and believable characters in this fast-paced book of romantic suspense.”
Carol Gehringer, ‎ Worthy2Read



Excerpt

 

Chapter One

Portland, Oregon

KAIT KNIGHT MET her brother-in-law’s piercing black eyes. The façade he’d lived for the last two years peeled away, revealing the cold, harsh eyes of a murderer.

"Why are you doing this, Fenton?” She tried to take a deep breath in a room that felt as if it was closing in on her.

"Why are you doing this, Fenton?” he mimicked, his voice going high and shrill as he pointed his 9mm Sig in her direction.

"No, seriously.” She eased closer, one inch at a time, her hands raised so he could see her every move. The last thing she needed was for him to panic and pull the trigger. "What are you hoping to accomplish here?”

"You know exactly why I’m doing this. I’m not letting you or anyone else at your prized FBI office arrest me.” He came around the desk, his hand trembling as a nervous finger flicked off the gun’s safety. "Now go over there and lock the door before your family hears us and someone comes running.”

Kait thought to ignore him, but she heard her twin sister Abby and their parents in the other room cooing over Abby and Fenton’s infant daughter. Kait could still smell Lily’s sweet, powdery scent clinging to her shirt from their cuddle, and she’d do anything to protect this precious child from her deviant father. She had to follow his directions.

For now.

She twisted the deadbolt, setting the tumblers in place with a firm click before turning to face the traitor. He was sweating now, soaking his tailored shirt though her father’s study hovered at a cool seventy degrees. He couldn’t seem to focus on one thing, his gaze darting around like a pinball.

"Now get over here,” he insisted. "Slowly. No false moves. You got that?”

She started across the room, her footfalls soft on the thick carpet. She’d spent countless hours playing at her father’s feet, and Lily deserved the chance to play here, too. To know the joy of family. The love of her grandfather. And Kait deserved the chance to watch her. That meant smil­ing, pretending, promising. Working the process until she negotiated Fenton off the mental ledge of insanity he teetered on.

Easy now. She made sure her voice was gentle and reassuring as she ap­proached. "Think about Abby. How would she feel if she saw this?”

"Don’t try to pin this on me. This’s all your fault for taking your part­ner’s call when you should be enjoying your niece. Always working. Living for that stupid job.” He pressed his gun against her forehead and leaned closer, his minty breath fanning over her face as his lips parted in a hideous smile.

"And now you’ll pay for it.” He jerked her gun from her holster and dropped it on the desk behind him. The solid thunk of the Glock 17 reverber­ated through the space as he ground the barrel of his weapon into her forehead.

Dread coiled in her stomach, churning her lunch, and burning up her throat. In her four years as an FBI agent, she’d never been this close to death. She swallowed hard.

Don’t panic. Keep working the plan. One step at a time. Work the plan.

She fixed her gaze on him, willing him to listen. "Don’t make Abby and Lily go through this.” Uncertainty flickered in his dark eyes. Good. She was finally on the right track. "Abby loves you, Fenton. This will destroy her.”

"I don’t want to hurt her.” He raised his eyes for a fraction of a second, not long enough for Kait to disarm him.

"I know you don’t. You love her. And Lily, too. So give me the gun, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”

His hand relaxed a bit, a whisper of air sliding between the barrel and her skin. "But not the rest, right? You’ll still turn me in.”

"I don’t want to,” she lied as the bitterness over what he was doing to her family expanded in her chest, making it hard to breathe. "Put the gun down, and I won’t tell anyone you drew on me. That way it won’t be added to your charges.”

"Hah! The minute I give this up—” He pressed the cool steel deeper into her flesh. "—is the minute I run out of negotiating power.”

"There’s really no one to negotiate with. Just me having a conversation with you. So let’s sit down and work through this. I’m sure we can reach a compromise.”

He watched her, indecision playing on the sharp features of his face as he stroked a thin white scar on his chin.

Good. She had a chance here. Just a few more minutes of talking softly and reminding him of the people he loved, and she’d get him to surrender.

The doorknob rattled.

"Fenton,” Abby called from the hallway. "Fenton, is everything okay?”

His gaze shot to the door, then back to Kait. Panic wedged in his eyes, and they darted about before settling on her again. Now, mean and ugly, they darkened, and a slow, sick smile spread across his lips.

Oh, no.

He’d given in. Let evil prevail, taking him to the same deranged place he’d inhabited when he’d murdered his partner.

Kait had lost.

A terrorizing coldness iced her heart. "Tell Abby to go away, Fenton. That you have work to do. I won’t move, and we’ll keep this just between us.”

"Fenton?” Abby knocked this time, her fists rattling the door. "Fenton, why is the door locked?”

"Sorry, honey,” he yelled back, the smile spreading wider. "I’m coming to open it.”

"Please, Fenton, don’t involve Abby in this,” Kait said, losing her profes­sional tone and imploring him with every bit of love she felt for her twin. "She doesn’t need to be a part of this.”

Kait watched, waited for him to react. He backed away from her, his steps sure and strong as if on a mission. She wanted to jump him and take her chances, but if they scuffled and he killed her, there’d be no one left to protect her family.

"Don’t move, or I’ll kill Abby.” Gun barrel still pointed in Kait’s direc­tion, he pulled the door open and stepped aside.

Abby entered the room, large brown eyes just like Kait’s landing on Fenton, on his weapon, then going wide before settling on Kait. "Kait, what are...” She cut her eyes back to Fenton. "What’s going on here?”

Fenton jerked the gun. "Get over there, Abby. By your sister.”

"Fenton?”

"Do as I say.” He gave her a little shove, and she stumbled.

Kait took a few steps toward her twin who now looked lost and pale with shock.

"Come any closer, Kait, and I’ll kill her.” Fenton’s glassy eyes locked on Kait, and she knew with certainty this man—this monster masquerading as her brother-in-law—wouldn’t hesitate to fire.

"C’mon, Abby.” Kait held out her hand. "Over here.”

Abby crossed the room in a daze, stepping cautiously as if she couldn’t decide who to trust. "What’s going on, Kait?”

Kait wrapped her arm around Abby’s shoulders and pulled her into the protective circle that felt like a lie. A big, bold lie. She couldn’t control Fenton or protect Abby. He was holding on by the barest of threads and could snap at any moment.

"Kait?” Abby asked again.

"Fenton isn’t who he claimed,” Kait replied. "He’s involved in a huge Internet scam. Nina just called to tell me about it, and he overheard the call.” Kait decided to withhold the part about him being a murderer... for now, anyway.

"Tell her it’s not true, Fenton.” Abby’s eyes pleaded with her husband. "Tell her.”

He didn’t move. Not a flinch. Not a twitch, but a hint of sadness deep­ened eyes that only moments ago had flirted with madness. Maybe he really did care about Abby.

Too bad.

When he’d bilked thousands of people out of their money and killed a fellow hacker, he’d lost the right to care about her sister. As much as Abby loved her husband, she needed to know the truth.

"It’s true, Abby, and he’s decided to make a run for it.” Kait peered at Fenton, hoping he would find her suggestion of running more palatable than opening fire. "You are planning on running, Fenton, aren’t you?”

"You’ll just come after me.”

"I’ll stay here with Abby.”

A guttural laugh rumbled from his chest, his true colors revealed in a sin­gle burst. "I know you. Remember, Kait. You like nothing more than the chase, and when it ends, you get sullen. So, no... you won’t stay put.” He raised the gun and sighted it on Kait. "You may let me get out of the room, but then you’ll hunt me down.” His finger slowly squeezed.

"No, Fenton, don’t!” Abby pushed in front of Kait, knocking her to the floor.

The gun exploded, a deafening sound ripping through her parents’ quiet suburban home. Abby jerked back as her chest flooded with crimson, the circle growing and saturating her white blouse.

"No!” Kait screamed.

Surprise etched Fenton’s face. He stared for a moment before turning away. Kait pushed to her knees and lunged for the desk. She grabbed her weapon and fired. Two kill shots, aiming for center mass, then holding her fire in the event her parents or Abby came running.

Had she hit him? She could only hope, but her awkward position meant the odds weren’t in her favor. She holstered her weapon and scram­bled to Abby who lay on her back. There was blood. So much blood. Covering her chest and staining the thick wool carpet. Kait ripped off her blazer and pressed it against the wound. Sticky, warm, it oozed through her fingers.

Bile crawled up the back of her throat. She looked away to stave it off and dialed 911, the operator promising a swift EMT response.

Kait dropped her phone and turned to Abby, whose face was ashen and drawn. Her mouth opened and closed as if she needed to speak. Terror for Abby threatened to take Kait down.

Hold on. Stay in control. She needs you.

Abby moaned, the sound cutting to Kait’s core.

"Hang in there, Abs.” Kait bent low to look into her twin’s eyes. "I love you. Don’t leave me.”

"I... Lily. Take care of her. Promise me.”

"You’ll be fine.”

"No, promise me, Kaitie. Promise,” Abby said then her eyes lost their luster.

"No.” Kait pressed harder on the jacket, her sister’s lifeblood slipping through her fingers. "Hang in there. Please, Abby, hang on. For me. For you. For Lily. She’s just a baby, Abs. She needs you.”

Abby’s throat gurgled, and she shuddered. Kait was losing her sister. Her best friend. Her life.

"No,” Kait cried to the empty room, forgetting all of her FBI training and searching for her next step. How could she help her sister? Her family. Her niece. Lily. Oh, God, Lily!

"Mom! Dad!” Kait screamed. "Help!”

She listened. Heard only her heart pounding. Abby’s labored gasps for air.

They had to have heard the gunshots, so where were they? Had Fenton taken one of them hostage?

"Don’t let him take them. Please, no. Please.” The whispered plea joined Abby’s last breath.

Kait sagged to the floor.

"I’ll get Fenton, Abby. Don’t worry. I’ll get him,” she whispered as Abby’s eyes glazed over and fixed in a lifeless stare. "No matter how long or what it takes, I’ll get him, and he will pay.”


 

 

Chapter Two

Beaverton, Oregon, Three Years Later

Monday, August 10, 1:00 a.m.

THE FRANTIC SCREAM startled Kait from her sleep. She shot up and swung her legs toward the floor.

"Nantie Kait.” Lily’s terrified cry came from her bedroom on the other side of the house.

Kait clawed at tangled sheets entwining her legs. "Calm down,” she told herself. "She’s fine. It’s just another bad dream.”

So what? Her sweet little niece really believed the man came into her room. She was afraid and needed Kait. She finally ripped free of the fabric and ran through the family room, flipping on the light as she went. The hazy beam drifted through the open doorway and settled over Lily’s soft blond curls. Huddled in her bed, her little bottom pointed in the air, she cried softly, her tiny body shuddering under the Dora quilt. Mr. Bear was snuggled tightly under her trembling chin, her eyes scrunched closed.

"I’m here, pumpkin.” Kait quickly swept the room, looking for the man she knew Lily would say had lurked in the doorway. Empty as sus­pected. She scooped her three-year-old niece into her arms.

"I saw him.” Lily’s voice shook.

Kait pressed the terrified child’s head against her chest and stroked her baby-fine hair. The sweet fragrance of her strawberry shampoo enveloped Kait, reminding her of her niece’s bath time giggles just a few hours ago. What a difference a few hours could make.

Kait dragged in a deep breath to still her racing heart. "Remember, pumpkin. There’s no man. It’s just a bad dream.”

"Nuh-uh. He was here. I saw him.”

"Shh. No one else is here, pumpkin. Just you and me.” Kait’s gaze drifted around the room the two of them had such fun decorating together. Dora, Swiper, and Boots smiled from walls painted in bright primary colors. Now the space held terror for Lily, and Kait didn’t know what to do about these recent bad dreams.

She believed the nightmares were related to an incident at Lily’s pre­school when a non-custodial father tried to abduct his daughter a month ago. At least, that was the only incident in Lily’s protected life that could have incited such dreams.

At first, Kait had retrieved her weapon from her gun safe and checked the house. She found the security system set and no sign of forced entry. Still, to be safe, each time she’d changed her security code.

Better safe than sorry, right?

Now, beyond the initial panic and terror, Kait accepted the incidents as a normal part of parenting she hadn’t been prepared to handle.

Parenting. Right.

How could Abby have named Kait as her daughter’s guardian? True, Kait was thirty when Abby had died and Kait should have been ready for motherhood, but she didn’t have a motherly bone in her body. Put a gun in her hands and give her a lowlife breaking the law. That she could handle. That she did well. This mommy stuff...

Lily’s sobbing stilled, and her little body shuddered a final time. She drew away, plopped her thumb into her mouth, and fixed sleepy eyes on Kait.

"All better?” Kait asked as her heart melted into a river of love.

Lily nodded.

"Okay, then let’s get some sleep.”

"Stay here.”

"Of course I’ll stay, pumpkin.” Kait settled her niece under the covers and slid down next to her.

"Love you, Nantie Kait.”

The sweetness of Lily’s voice split Kait’s heart. "I love you too, pump­kin.”

Her poor, poor baby girl. This couldn’t continue. It was time to find a way to end these nightmares. Kait needed to talk to an expert. Tomorrow she’d make a few phone calls.

She yawned and moved into a more comfortable position, why, she didn’t know. After the terror of waking up to her little sweetheart scream­ing, it’d be a few nights before Kait would sleep soundly again.

WITH LILY’S SCREAM still echoing in his head, Fenton Rhodes crouched in the underbrush outside. He watched the windows. Kait’s bed­room. Lily’s room. The family room. Waiting for the lights to go out. Then he could hightail it out of there without being seen. Out of the nasty, damp fog—the swirling vapor blanketing the area and inflaming every nerve ending in his leg. The one Kait had destroyed in her lame attempt to stop him with a bullet three years ago. Three long years while he got his financial house in order freeing him to seek revenge.

He rubbed the damaged muscles, the pain firing his anger. He fisted his hand and slammed it into moist ground. Pain, pain, and more pain. He shouldn’t have to live with it. And he shouldn’t have to sneak around just to make sure his baby girl was okay.

It was all Kait’s fault. Stupid, stupid, Kait. She would pay.

Starting tomorrow.

Oh, yeah. Tomorrow. She’d be surprised. He’d planned it to perfec­tion. Now all she had to do was play her predictable role. And she would, of that he was certain. She never veered from her schedule. Even after the sleepless night she’d have tonight, courtesy of his clumsy attempt at stealing a quick kiss from his child, Kait would be up at sunup, sitting on her deck with a cup of coffee and the newspaper before taking his darling girl to daycare.

Daycare, hah!

His daughter didn’t deserve to spend her days in the care of strangers. She deserved a mother who coddled and cherished her all day long. Abby would have done that. She wouldn’t have been like his mother, bailing on her son when a man came along who promised a lifestyle dear old dad could never provide. Money. A decent home, not a rat-infested one. Freedom from the man who belittled everyone and inflicted physical pain when they’d failed to meet his standards. Or like Kait. A workaholic. No, Abby wouldn’t have been like them. She’d have been the perfect mother, but Kait had ruined it all by meddling in his business.

The last light snapped off.

Good.One step closer to the moment he’d rescue Lily from her surro­gate mother, who didn’t have time for his precious baby. But first, Kait deserved to know his pain.

He struggled to his feet, stretching his leg and easing out the stiffness. He started to leave, then turned back to the window and saluted.

Game on, Kait. Tomorrow you will pay, and soon, very soon, my sweet little Lily will know life as she was meant to experience it.

With her father.

KAIT’S LACK OF sleep last night had taken a toll. She yawned and rolled her stiff, cramping neck. Her fault, of course. She should have been sitting at her cubicle working on her latest case. Not standing behind an FBI ana­lyst, staring down at a computer monitor and hoping to get a lead on her AWOL brother-in-law.

She watched the code scroll across the screen like a slot machine in Vegas. Rows and rows of gibberish, rolling up and disappearing like Fenton. Was his trademark code in there somewhere, or was this another false lead like so many since he’d disappeared down her parents’ hallway?

Time to find out.

She approached the analyst sitting with her legs wrapped around a back­less chair, her body hunched over the keyboard, fingers flying. "Any luck, Jae?”

"Minute,” she mumbled and held up a finger tipped in green nail polish.

Trying to be patient and not push an already overworked analyst, Kait practiced a deep breathing technique she’d seen on a TV morning show. She didn’t know how much longer she could keep this up without losing it. Keep up the pretense of being okay while her co-workers gave her pitiful looks. If they looked her in the eye at all.

But what choice did she have?

She could still feel the stickiness of Abby’s blood on her hands. Hear her sister’s last gasp and their parents’ wailing cries when they’d come into the room. She had to keep looking for Fenton. Make sure he paid. He’d gone so far underground that they’d never had a hint of his existence, but she’d continue to check in with analysts at all hours of the day and urge them to keep working the case. To work harder. Dig deeper.

Jae suddenly sat back and stretched out legs encased in skinny jeans. "Man, I thought I had something.”

"So this is another dead end, then.” Kait tried not to sound disap­pointed.

Jae’s eyes, lined in thick kohl, remained fixed on Kait. "We want to catch him, too, you know.”

"I know you do.” Kait blew out a sigh. "Not that it’s an excuse for push­ing you so hard, but I didn’t get much sleep last night.” Kait squeezed Jae’s shoulder, but the analyst’s attention had already returned to the screen.

She started pounding the keyboard again. "For everyone’s sake, go do something, Kait. You know we hate backseat drivers.”

Jae was right. Staying would only distract them.

Kait left the steady hum of computers for an eerily quiet hallway. Usu­ally, the bullpen buzzed with activity. Sure, it neared four o’clock, but agents never went home this early in the day.

Something was up.

As she passed the conference room fondly dubbed the war room, the scent of scorched coffee drifted under the door and tainted the air with its acrid smell. She spotted Rolland Sulyard, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Portland office and her immediate supervisor, standing at the head of the long table. Figured. He was famous for leaving the last dregs of coffee in the pot to burn while he held his staff captive in endless meetings.

Fellow agents and Cyber Crime Action Team members Becca Lange and Nina Brandt sat with three other agents in the dimly lit space, and Kait stopped to assess the situation. A flat screen mounted on the wall flashed through slides, the light reflecting off Sulyard’s shaved head, shadowing his face. The slides held tactical details for a raid. Not a case she recognized, but it was obvious they were getting ready to arrest someone without her. Pur­posefully without her? No page. No call or text summoning her to the room. Even good friends Nina and Becca had left her out.

She’d never been excluded before, so why was it happening now?

Sulyard clicked off the screen, and the occupants turned toward the win­dow. Most of her co-workers wore sheepish expressions as if she’d caught them with their hands in the cookie jar.

Great. Everyone knew the reason for the shutout except her.

Becca started to rise, but Nina placed a hand on Becca’s shoulder, stilling her, and headed for the door. Not surprising. Becca would march out here and blurt out the problem in her straightforward, often brash way. Not Nina. She was the essence of discretion in public.

Which meant they thought Kait needed handling and this situation re­quired kid gloves.

Nina stepped into the hallway, quietly closing the door behind her and staring at a folder she’d grabbed on the way out.

"Nina?” Kait asked, but her friend didn’t respond, keeping her gaze trained on the folder.

Not good. Nina’s grandmother had raised her in the true southern tradi­tion and taught her to make eye contact. To smile at all times. Even if Nina was as angry as a mad wasp, she didn’t show it in public. Becca and Kait were the only ones in this office who’d ever seen Nina reveal a temper to match her fiery red hair.

"What gives, Nina?” Kait asked. "Why wasn’t I included in the meet­ing?”

Nina looked up. Blue eyes usually vibrant and clear were dark with guilt. "I’m sorry. I asked to have you join us, but Sulyard forbid it.”

Kait’s unease moved toward full-blown worry. "Why? What’s hap­pen­ing?”

"A small ISP was tracking communications traffic when they noticed a huge surge in traffic.” Nina drew a report from the folder and handed it to Kait.

Kait studied the printout from ValCom, a local Internet service pro­vider, showing that an unusually large number of computers had accessed ValCom’s network at the exact same time.

"A botnet,” Kait said, referring to a network of computers controlled by an unscrupulous individual.

Nina nodded. "The good news is we’ve tracked it through a myriad of servers to the source where the attack originated. We’re about to make an arrest.”

"And the bad news?”

"The code contains Rhodes’s signature,” Nina said, using Fenton’s last name as all agents in the office did.

"Fenton? He’s finally surfaced.” Kait’s stomach fluttered with excite­ment. Finally! "Wait? How is this bad news?”

"Sulyard is making you sit this one out.”

"You’re kidding, right?”

Nina shook her head, a wayward curl springing into action. She gently tucked it behind her ear when Kait would have slapped it out of the way. "I’m sorry, Kait, but he says you’re too personally involved and might do something to jeopardize the prosecution.”

"He’s not going to keep me here!” Kait tried to push past Nina to the door.

Nina clamped her hand on Kait’s arm; her long nails polished an outra­geous orange, looking out of place against Kait’s simple gray suit.

"Let me go, Nina,” Kait warned.

"If you go in there upset, you’ll regret it.”

"I’ll regret not being there to arrest Fenton even more.”

"You could lose your job.” Nina’s eyes flashed with determination.

"Then I’ll lose my job.” Kait glared back and shook off Nina’s hand.

"Look, honey.” Nina took a breath and came back with a softer tone. "The odds of this being Rhodes are slim to none. He knows we’re on to his trademark code so it’s doubtful he’d use it again. This is most likely some­one impersonating him.”

Not Fenton? No. Kait refused to believe that. "If it’s a copycat, Sulyard wouldn’t be so adamant about me staying here.”

"He has to cover himself just in case it is Rhodes.” Nina paused, and seemed to consider her next words carefully. "You know we all want to see him pay, don’t you?”

"Yes.”

"Then trust us to handle this.”

Oh, how Kait wanted to put this heavy burden in someone else’s hands, but it was her battle to wage. Her revenge to exact. Her mission. Her reason for getting up each morning and moving on after Abby’s death. If Kait let anyone else do it for her, she’d never forgive herself. "I can’t, Nina. I just can’t.”

"Fine. Then let me talk to Sulyard. Maybe I can convince him to let you ride along if you promise to stay in the car.”

"I can’t promise that.”

"You know Sulyard.” Nina stepped closer and lowered her voice. "No matter what you say to him, he won’t reverse his decision and let you in on the arrest. It’s either stay in the car or miss out altogether.”

Kait studied her friend, looking for any hint of dishonesty. "Was this his plan all along? To let me think I can’t go so I’ll be happy to ride along?”

"You know me better than that.” A heavy sigh slipped from Nina’s mouth, and it cut Kait to the core that she was lashing out at one of her best friends. "You’ve become so suspicious since Abby died.”

Kait winced at Nina’s comment, but she was right. Kait hardly trusted an­yone. Not since Fenton had taught her the toughest lesson of her life. She could never fully know another person. They could hide secrets and turn on her in a flash. But Nina? Not Nina. She wasn’t harboring anything. She was Kait’s friend. And if she said Kait wasn’t being played, then she wasn’t being played.

"I’m sorry.” Kait made sure her expression carried her remorse for doubting Nina’s intentions.

"No biggie.” Nina smiled, wrinkling her nose covered with freckles that had multiplied in the summer sun. "I can handle your suspicions with­out melting. So you want me to talk to him?”

Kait didn’t want to sit in the car. Worse, she didn’t want to be left be­hind and miss seeing Fenton dragged out of the house in handcuffs. This option was better than nothing. "Fine. Ask him.”

"Then give us some space to work this out. Head over to your cubicle and I’ll come find you after Sulyard makes a decision.” Nina didn’t wait for Kait’s agreement but went into the room.

Kait should do as Nina suggested. Walk away. Let them hash it out. But she couldn’t leave without seeing Sulyard’s initial reaction to the re­quest.

Kait turned to the window. The overhead lights burned brightly now, dis­playing the pitying looks of her co-workers. Not from Becca, though. She offered a tremulous smile. Kait tried to return it but failed. Instead, she watched Nina march up to the boss. Her gestures were big and animated as she made Kait’s case for her, forcing Sulyard to take a step back in defense of his personal space. He shifted his focus to Kait, his eyes burning with intensity. Assessing. Weighing. Processing. She resisted squirming and stood firm. If she let him see any hint that she wasn’t clearheaded and strong, or that she would fall apart in the field, he’d deny Nina’s request. Deny the one thing Kait desperately wanted, and after three long years of waiting for this day to come, she wouldn’t be present to witness Fenton’s takedown.


 

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