Web of Shadows

Web of Shadows

Susan Sleeman

February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61194-674-1

Agents Under Fire, Book 2

 
Our PriceUS$17.95
Code978-1-61194-674-1
 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt


Back Cover Copy

A killer is lurking in the shadows . . .

FBI agent Nina Brandt loves her job. Sure, she’s made some enemies, but she knows she’s making the world a better place. It’s lonely at times, but she has good friends to get her through. It’s a good life.

Little does she guess that her past is about to come back and haunt her . . . in more ways than one.

When Navy SEAL Quinn Stone learns that his geeky younger brother, Ty, hacked into the TSA’s No Fly List, he would rather take a bullet than go to his former fiancée, Nina Brandt, for help. Five years ago, she resented his commitment to his SEAL team and gave him an ultimatum—her or the team. He chose the team. But now, he and his brother have no other choice . . . not if he doesn’t want to see the kid behind bars.

Nina has finally moved on, but she can’t resist Ty’s plea for help . . . especially when he drops a bomb that could rock national security. The laptop he’d used to hack the TSA has been stolen. Fearing terrorists would do just about anything to get their hands on this list, Nina agrees to take the case to her team. After all, this will become an FBI matter and Quinn’s help won’t be needed . . . as much as she’s starting to want it.

But the thief has more on his mind than just the list. He’s been waiting for a chance to get back at the woman who sent him to prison two years ago. And he intends to make her pay—in the most painful way possible . . .

Susan Sleeman is a bestselling 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. 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.

Website http://www.susansleeman.com

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SusanSleemanBooks

Twitter http://www.twitter.com/SusanSleeman


Reviews



"<i>Web of Deceit</i> is a must read for any fan of suspense."—<i>Seattle Examiner</i> <br><br>"Don’t bother bringing a beverage to drink while you read because you will forget it is there the story is that intense. Ms. Sleeman batted a thousand on this one. I highly recommend it."—<i>TheSuspenseZone.com</i><br>


Excerpt


Chapter One

WILEY LIKED THE dark—liked the way the cool, silky night settled over Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. Clinging to the rocks. Cloaking him. Hiding him. Letting him slide through the fading light without detection and evade those who would harm him.

But tonight was different.

He wasn’t in control. The elements were. The sinking sun all but ensured he’d take a nosedive from the winding path into the yawning crevice. Didn’t matter. He’d take the risk.

Breathing deep from the climb, he turned to check on his buddy Kip. Great, the guy was peeved. Huffing and puffing up the trail. Scowling as he planted his hiking pole on the packed dirt.

"Dude,” he said, trying to get a full breath. "This’s crazy. Even if we get to the cache before dark, we’ll never make it down again. We need to turn back before we both break our necks.”

Wiley shook his head. "Not an option. Not when we’re this close.”

"Close?” Kip’s voice shot up. "It’s still a mile up to Triple Falls. More than that to get back down. It’ll take us ninety minutes at least. That’s if we find the cache right away.” Kip looked at his watch. "The sun sets in forty-five minutes.”

Figures Kip would wimp out. He was just like the others. Making Wiley’s life difficult. "You can turn back, but I’m going on.”

"Man, come on, Fagan. Don’t make me feel like a jerk for bailing on you.”

"Don’t sweat it. I’m good to go alone. You can go back to the car.”

"Yeah, right.” Kip rolled his eyes behind large glasses. "You can’t go alone. That’s what all the stranded hikers say after they’re rescued and interviewed on TV. Don’t become one of them, man.”

Wiley ignored Kip’s warning. As avid geocachers, they used GPS coordinates to find hidden caches and often hiked over rugged terrain like this. Kip might be a coward, but after a stint in prison, Wiley could handle this or anything else by himself.

"I’m going.” He turned to head up the narrow trail flanked with trees on one side, the deep gorge on the other.

"Go ahead, risk our lives for a stupid geocache,” Kip muttered from behind.

Seeking to keep his temper in check, Wiley fisted his hands. Didn’t work. He’d had enough drama for a lifetime. Not only with Kip’s whining and complaining. That was bad enough. But his life in general sucked. Big time. Wasn’t his fault if he let off some steam now, was it?

He grabbed Kip’s plaid wool jacket that likely came from a thrift-store grab bag and slammed him against a pine tree. "I’ve told you like a million times, dude. My life sucks. No one will give an ex-con like me a job. People see my scars and cringe. Lila dumped me, and if that’s not enough for you, I still have nightmares from prison. So I need something—anything—to get my mind off it. At least until I’m able to pay that loser FBI agent back for getting me the max sentence.”

Kip shrugged free. "I get it man, but—”

"Get it?” Wiley’s voice screeched through the immense divide, echoing off the steep-walled river canyon and sending birds flapping into the descending darkness. "How could you? Not until you spend two years in prison. Two years of nothing to do. Hearing sounds in the night that you wished to God you hadn’t heard. Sights you hadn’t seen. Knowing they were coming for you. Always coming.”

"I can imagine.”

"Oh yeah?” Wiley ran his fingers over the scars crisscrossing and running down his face into the heavy beard he wore to hide some of them. "Do you get how it felt to have a homemade shiv slice through my skin? Slash after slash splitting open my face. Almost bleeding out on the shower floor. Then feeling nearly every inch of my face jerked tight with stitches. Or maybe you get how it felt to see Lila take one look at me and bolt like she’d seen Freddy Krueger.” A spray of spit followed his words, but he didn’t care. He was on a roll. "You’ve got a charmed life, man. A good programming job. Money to burn. An apartment. So don’t tell me again that you get it.” He poked Kip in the chest. "Understand? Never again.”

Kip nodded, his long pointy nose resembling a bird’s beak as he took a lurching step back.

He was afraid. Good.It was a long time coming. Wiley had to pay them back. All of them. He’d wanted to blow up at the dude for weeks. Felt amazing to let it go.

He ran the back of his hand over his mouth. "I don’t care if you come with me or not. I’m going on.”

He took off at a clip fueled by anger, keeping an ear out for Kip should he decide to stop him from reaching his goal. The steep incline would soon force Wiley to slow down, but he’d do his best to power through it. He heard Kip’s footsteps pounding on the packed trail behind him. Fine. He’d decided to come along. Honestly, Wiley didn’t care anymore. Didn’t care about anything except making people pay. Big time. Especially that freakin’ FBI agent, Nina Brandt. He would get her when the timing was right. Just like the prison psychiatrist. Fool. Claiming Wiley was paranoid. Putting him on medicine he didn’t need, dulling his senses.

They weren’t dull now. He ached to do Brandt in, but first he needed to come up with a sound plan that didn’t put him back behind bars. Until then, he’d settle for beating everyone else to this prize.

He forced his aching muscles to work harder and picked up speed, passing moss-covered trees and ferns that made the place look like a rain forest. They’d summit at Triple Falls in another mile, then cross a fallen log to the cache.

To the prize.

Motivated, he pressed on hard until he rounded a bend and heard the first sounds of water surging over the basalt rock. He stopped to catch his breath and prepare for the next challenge. He’d often hiked this trail with Lila. Hiked many of the gorge trails with her in their three years together. But he’d seen the last of her three months ago when she’d picked him up from prison on his release day, then dumped him on Kip’s doorstep like trash. Maybe Lila needed to pay, too.

Maybe. She deserved it. Like all of them did. Always watching. Waiting to pounce. To do him in.

Huffing loudly, Kip caught up and pointed across the steep ravine. "There’re the falls. Now let’s find the stinkin’ cache and get out of here. It better have been worth it.”

Geocaches didn’t usually offer anything of value. It wasn’t about the prize at the end. Cachers liked the hunt and the challenge of the search. But this one was different. Someone posted it on Hacktivists, a Portland geocache group he and Kip belonged to. The listing promised a prize every computer nerd would love.

Kip held a hand over his eyes to peer into the distance. "I don’t like the looks of the log we have to cross. It’s wet. That means slippery. I don’t recommend doing this, man.”

Wiley didn’t care. He wanted this cache. Wanted it bad enough to ignore their safety and head into the gorge minutes after he’d seen the post. He hoped others in the group were big babies like Kip and had waited until sunrise before setting out. Wiley would score the cache before they rolled out of bed.

"Don’t be such a wuss.” Wiley dug out a battery-powered headlamp, turned it on, and snapped the elastic around his head.

"Yeah, why worry, right?” Kip’s sarcasm accompanied the curl of his lip. "We’ll only fall into the river and take a nosedive into the falls.”

Wiley was ready to push the guy over the edge himself, but he shoved his hands in his pockets instead. Kip was the only person who hadn’t abandoned Wiley during his prison stay. Plus Kip let Wiley sleep on his couch while Wiley got his life together. He would cut the guy some slack. For now.

"Maybe it’s best if you wait on this side,” Wiley suggested. "Just in case something doeshappen.”

Relief flashed on Kip’s face. "You don’t have to tell me twice.”

Coward.

Wiley marched up to the log and shrugged out of his backpack. His boots felt solid on the fallen log at first, but as he moved out over the water, the tree vibrated with the fury of the raging water below. One false move and he was a goner. He’d plunge sixty-plus feet to his death. He doubled his concentration, tuning out other sounds and watching his feet.

Step. Slide. Step. Slide. Rinse and repeat. Over and over until he reached the far side. He jumped down, his feet firmly planted on the water-soaked ground.

At the weatherworn intersection of two logs, a dark object caught his eye. He hurried over, his heart kicking up higher when he located the waterproof case.

Ooh, ooh, ooh. He found it. The prize. Before anyone else. Oh, yeah.

"Got it,” he yelled above the gushing water, and dropped to his knees. The frigid spray instantly soaked his jeans. So what? He was pumped. He was the first to open the container. He had to be.

With cold hands made clumsier by gloves, he pried the lid open.

"It’s a laptop,” he shouted as his heart sank. "I thought it’d be some state-of-the-art hardware, but it’s a laptop. I risked my life for a stinkin’ laptop.” He stood. "It’s an ultrabook, but I don’t know if I even want it. It’s probably broken.”

"Hey, bring it anyway,” Kip yelled. "You need money. Parts for an ultrabook could fetch a few dollars.”

Kip had a point. Ultrathin computers were expensive. Not that Wiley actually needed cash. Anytime he did, he could find a hacking job without trouble. But he could dismantle this one and easily score a few bucks from the parts on eBay.

Okay, so he’d take it.

Rules said he should record the find on the cache log and leave something else behind, but he ignored the log and zipped the computer into his jacket, leaving his arms free to balance on the return trip. Adrenaline fading, he moved with more caution and eyed the river, expecting it to rise up and wash him off. With the way his life had been going lately, it wouldn’t surprise him if he did fall. Maybe it wouldn’t even be a bad thing.

It would end all of his problems.

But then Agent Brandt would get away with ruining his life. That was unacceptable. She couldn’t destroy him, then go on as if she’d simply smashed an irritating mosquito.

Revenge first. Then maybe a dive into the waterfall to end it all. Who knows?

He neared the log’s end and took a leap to the spongy moss. He’d beat the odds. Made it. Beat nature. Beat the universe that kept pushing him down. Maybe it was a sign things were starting to look up and he shouldn’t be so quick to consider ending it all. Especially when he could still look forward to paying Agent Brandt back in the most heinous way he could think of.

 

Chapter Two

NINA BRANDT’S cell chimed a text from her nightstand, pulling her from a restless sleep. She fought through hazy brain fog and glanced at the clock. 11:45. Still Sunday night.

Three hours, really? She’d only gotten three hours of sleep. Not quality rest either. Visions of terrorists had her tossing and turning. Not surprising. A local terrorist threat against Bonneville Dam had her and her fellow agents at the Portland FBI on high alert status for two solid days, and she was plum worn out.

She turned over and snuggled deep into sheets soft from many washings. Grandmother Hale’s reproving face came to mind. Nina groaned.

Ugh! Drat her Southern roots. She’d never disrespect her grandmother’s teachings. She was thirty-two. Self-sufficient. Successful. And one thought of her grandmother repeatedly warning her never to shirk her duties had her swinging her legs over the edge of the bed.

She grabbed her phone, then thumbed to the text from FBI analyst Jae Starling. Nina had left Jae monitoring the internet for terrorist chatter about Bonneville.

Chat room buzzing with activity. Need your approval to continue. Good stuff. I’d hate to let it go.

Activity related to Bonneville?Nina typed, then trudged to the adjoining bathroom for a glass of water before Jae’s reply came in.

Could be. We have someone looking to sell data. Info too vague to link to BD, but seller says it’s hot. Needs your review.

That meant going into the office. Now.

Nina caught her reflection in the mirror and sighed. She had bags under her eyes as big as Granddad’s old steamer trunk back home in Mobile.

A yawn slipped out, and her brain struggled for clarity behind layers of fog. She needed sleep. Needed it badly. She could have Jae call in fellow Cyber Action Team members Becca and Kait, but they were lead agents on the investigation and needed sleep more than Nina did.

Besides, Kait and Becca were good friends. If they found themselves in the same situation, they’d let Nina sleep. They had each other’s backs in everything.

Nina poked one of the puffy dark circles and frowned. Tired or not, she was going in.

Keep monitoring. Be there ASAP, she typed, then slogged to the kitchen to start a travel cup of her favorite dark-roasted chicory coffee brewing. She doubted she’d be coming home before her workday started, so she showered and selected a navy suit and long-sleeved white blouse from the perfectly bland agent attire lining one side of her closet. As she dressed, she looked longingly at the other half, filled with bright, bold-colored clothing she saved for her free time.

"Right,” she mumbled as she settled her holster on her belt and her FBI shield on the other side. "What’s free time?”

Grabbing her purse and keys, she stepped outside. The air was chilly and humid as usual for February in Portland. Hazy fog hung at ground level, and a fine mist dampened the air in her pin-drop quiet neighborhood.

As she locked the door, the skin on her neck crawled, sending goosebumps rising up to meet the softness of her collar.

Something was wrong. Someone was watching her.

At least it felt that way. Nothing concrete. Just a gut feeling she’d had for days. After five years in law enforcement, she’d learned to pay attention to it. Even when it made sense only to her. Might be something. Might not. But she wouldn’t ignore it.

Swallowing hard, she settled a hand on her sidearm and turned to watch and listen, staying fully alert for anything, anyone that didn’t belong. Streetlights filtered through the haze, mixing with fingers of fog creeping along the road, obscuring tires on the many cars parked on her street. An eerie sight, but she found nothing amiss

She turned to search houses that had been built so close together in the twenties that she could almost reach across the driveway without leaving home to borrow a cup of sugar from one of her neighbors for one of her famous Southern desserts.

Nina made one last sweep. The whole street was dark, even Mrs. Johnson’s house next door. Her husband of forty years died a few months ago. She’d walked the floors all hours of the night, bless her heart. But lately, she’d finally managed to sleep again.

She blew out a breath. This was ridiculous. She was ridiculous.

What an idiot. Just head to your car.

All the talk of terrorists the last few days had her jumping out of her skin. Reacting like a scared little girl instead of an agent. Her emotions were exacerbated by the fatigue, she supposed.

"Well, get a hold of them, Nina,” she warned herself as she unlocked her car door with a beep of her remote.

Too bad Becca and Kait weren’t at the office. They’d both help shut down her emotions. Becca in her straightforward way, encouraging Nina to be more disciplined and work toward a goal. Characteristics that made Becca a great team leader. Kait would be direct and decisive, maybe pushy, as she was the team perfectionist and she handled team details. Nina liked to think that she brought empathy to the team, remembering the human side. That, though important to their friendship, often didn’t advance the FBI’s agenda.

There was nothing worse than an agent thinking with her heart. At least, that’s what her supervisor had told her so many times that she’d rather wrestle an Alabama swamp gator than go into the office wearing her emotions on her sleeve. Even if the sleeve was part of a nicely tailored Hugo Boss jacket she’d picked up for a song at Nordstrom Rack.

THE DARKNESS WAS Wiley’s friend now. The shadows hid him from Brandt as she walked to her car. He slumped as far down as he could in Kip’s junky Honda. He probably shouldn’t have come over, but after the disappointment in the geocache, he needed to be within spitting distance of her as he planned how to take her down.

Her car suddenly revved, the roar of her engine exploding through the quiet neighborhood. He heard the car thump out of the driveway. Saw a plume of white smoke drift up. He felt the car move past him. His heart pounded hard, sounding in his ears as he held his breath.

She was only a few feet away.

He wanted to jerk open the door and confront her. Taunt her. Shout out little snippets of what he had in store for her. See her fear.

That would be a mistake. A freaking big one. She would be armed. She’d draw her gun and arrest him.

No! He wasn’t going to let her arrest him. Ever!

He needed to be more careful. Expect the unexpected. Like her stepping onto the wide porch of her house in the middle of the night when he thought she’d be sleeping. With the powder-blue color and white trim, the place looked like the home of a nice person. A normal person who didn’t arbitrarily target people to make themselves feel better. She’d likely heard he’d been released from prison and was hell bent on arresting him again. Meant he had to be even more careful. First thing in the morning, he’d pick up a GPS tracker for her vehicle. That way he’d know her whereabouts at all times.

He waited for the sound of her engine to disappear into the night. He slid up. Slowly. Inch by inch until he could see out the windows.

All clear. The witch was gone, and now Wiley could begin to set his plan.

THE SEA HAWK skimmed the ocean, winging Lieutenant Quinn Stone and his squad of sixteen men home. The familiar whump, whump, whump of rotors sounded overhead as murky sea water rolled below, dark and ominous with the moon hiding under thick clouds.

It was a perfect night. Perfect end to another intense special warfare training. One of hundreds, maybe thousands, of training exercises in Quinn’s seven-year career as a SEAL.

Man, he loved this job. Loved the missions and training. Learning new skills and perfecting old ones. Fast-roping. Diving. Tactical ambushes. Raids. You name it. He loved it all.

"We debrief in five,” Lieutenant JG Cooper’s no-nonsense tone cut through the comms loud and clear. "No messing around. Straight to the vans.”

The men didn’t listen. They were hyped up on adrenaline. Getting rowdier by the minute.

"I mean it, guys,” Coop barked. "Stow it. The longer you ignore my orders, the longer it will take to debrief and get you started on your leave.”

The promise of leave was enough to make the guys take it down a notch and gather their equipment. When the helo touched down on a Naval Amphibious Base helipad, they jumped down and made a beeline for the vans waiting to take them to a meeting room.

They dumped their packs in the back and climbed in a van that had seen better days. Quinn hung back, slowly shouldering his pack. He had no plans. No family waiting for him. Just three days of nothing. On his own. And that was the way he wanted it right now.

He dropped to the concrete, his boots landing with a thud. When he cleared the swirling winds under the rotors, heat radiated off the concrete. It was usually cooled by a fresh breeze over the naval base jutting into San Diego Bay, but not today.

The van was hotter still. The air was thick with sweltering heat mixed with body odor from a three-day exercise. Quinn lowered his window and breathed in salt air as they followed the first van down Trident Way. His teammates were still laughing. Some arguing. Nearly brawling. Typical behavior.

Quinn shook his head. Give a bunch of SEALs downtime and they had no problem finding a way to get into trouble. For some reason, he couldn’t manage to join in. He wanted to. These were the guys, the men, he lived with—worked with—day after day, in dangerous situations where you learned who to trust, who to count on. But something had changed. He was off-kilter. Had been since recovering from the explosion in Afghanistan and coming back to active duty.

Could be because he hadn’t gotten his command back. Coop continued to direct ECHO platoon. It made Quinn mad. Not that Coop wasn’t a top-notch commander. He was. As a junior-grade lieutenant, he’d served as Quinn’s number two for years, but Quinn had expected to resume his status when he’d returned from medical leave. Two months had passed since then and all Quinn had gotten from his CO were excuses. Lame ones at that.

At their low-slung building, he was first out and headed inside for the debrief before downstaging their equipment. Then he’d take a long ride along the ocean on his Harley and grab a beer and Texas-sized steak before tumbling into bed dog tired.

Inside, large fans hummed in the background, making the hallway cooler. Quinn’s CO, Commander Hall, stood beside the door. Tension lingered on his face, and he was engaged in a serious discussion with Coop.

Hall eyed Quinn for a moment. He knew his CO was on campus for the debrief, but the fact that he kept staring at Quinn didn’t bode well.

Already on the move, Hall called out, "Stone, a minute.”

Quinn had no patience for a conversation with his CO right now. Unless, of course, he was planning to tell Quinn he’d be stepping back into his rightful slot.

A few inches shorter than Quinn’s six-foot-two, the steely-eyed officer joined Quinn. "I’m gonna cut right to the chase, Stone. You’re a good soldier. One of the best. I’ve tried to be patient, but this isn’t working out. It’s time to clue me in on what’s going on with you.”

Quinn had no idea what Hall was talking about. It wasn’t the training exercise. That had gone perfectly. "Not sure I follow, sir.”

"You’re here, but you’re not here.” Hall held up a hand. "Don’t bother to deny it. I see it. The platoon sees it. You do everything with precision as usual—like a machine—but your heart’s not in the game anymore.”

"If you mean the injury, sir.” Quinn looked at his hand, the pink puckered skin a reminder of the explosion. The fire. The searing burns. "I’m carrying my weight. The exercise came off without a hitch, and I’m ready to take charge the minute Coop is reassigned.”

"That’s not what I said.” Hall paused to lock gazes with Quinn. "You haven’t been yourself since you came back. The men deserve better from you.”

Ah-ha, the real reason Quinn had been sidelined. They thought he was losing his edge. A bogus reason if you asked him. Which, of course, no one did. He might be a bit out of sorts, but he wasn’t a liability.

"The men don’t need to worry about their backs,” he said firmly. "I got ’em covered.”

"Again. Not the point.” Hall lifted his cap and ran a hand over thinning hair. "Look. You have a few days of leave coming up. Take the time to think about what I said. Maybe you need to talk to someone. Work it out. There’s no shame in that.”

Right, like Quinn would sit with a shrink and cry about his boo-boos. The only way he’d do that was if they ordered him to. Which they might well do if he didn’t shake this thing off, whatever it was. They could force him to choose between the shrink and leaving the team.

Hah! Talk about a foolish idea. He’d never leave the one thing that made sense in his life.

"You hear me, Stone?” Hall asked.

"Roger that, sir,” Quinn said, trying to sound enthusiastic.

After Hall stepped off, Quinn joined the other guys in the conference room. They were hanging around the table, staring at him, waiting for him to recount Hall’s conversation as they always did after little powwows with the CO. Maybe to tell them he was okay and things could go back to normal. He couldn’t do that. Not when he wasn’t sure it would.

He dug his cell phone from his pack for a distraction and turned it on. In case of an emergency, Quinn brought his phone when training exercises allowed it, but he didn’t like to be distracted, so he always turned it off. After it powered up, he found four missed calls and messages. All from his mother. That was out of character for her.

A hint of apprehension settled in his gut as he played the messages. She urged him to call ASAP. Her tone rose higher with each message, heading quickly out of control. His dad was an Air Force general, so she was used to dealing with life on her own. If she was sounding this freaked out, something major had gone down.

Ty. It has to be Ty.

Quinn’s kid brother had recently turned seventeen, and he was doing his best to put himself in the running for the "rebellious kid of the year” award.

Quinn stepped out of the room and dialed. "Mom.”

"Thank goodness you called.” She sighed out a relieved breath. "It’s Ty.”

Of course it is.

"What’s he done now?” Quinn gritted his teeth as he waited to hear.

"I’d rather not talk about it on the phone.” She was always uneasy when discussing Ty’s latest screw-up, but there was an extra edge to her voice tonight. "Can you come home? To help figure this out.”

"When?”

"As soon as you can get on a plane.”

"I take it Dad’s not available.” Quinn’s voice came out all surly, but he didn’t care. He no longer tried to hide his disrespect for his father. He might be a top-notch general but he blew it as a family man.

"I didn’t call him. Not this time. He’d...” She stopped. Not that it mattered if she finished her sentence. Quinn knew what she would have said.

His dad only made things worse. He’d shout orders at Ty as if he was one of his airmen, and Ty’s back would go up. Then the kid would escalate his pranks and find another way to make the old man mad. As the older brother, Quinn would step in to repair the damage. At least with their dad out of the loop, Quinn only had to deal with the problem, not with their father’s exacerbation of it.

"I’ll see what I can do,” Quinn offered.

"No, Quinn. This isn’t a see-what-you-can-do kind of situation. If you don’t come home and fix this, Ty will go... he’ll...” Her voice caught. "He’ll go to jail.”

"Jail?” Quinn yelled, drawing the attention of the last teammates filing into the room. Stepping down the hall, he lowered his voice. "If you want me to drop everything and come back to Portland, then at least tell me what he’s done so I can spend my time on the plane thinking of a solution.”

"Can anyone overhear us?”

"No.”

Dead silence came through the line for a moment. "He’s hacked into the No-Fly List.”

"He what?” Quinn shouted before controlling his voice. "The No-Fly List, as in the one that keeps terrorists off airplanes?”

"Yes.”

"Why in the world did the little punk do that?” he spat out.

"For a girl.”

A girl. "Of all the lame—”

"Think back to your first girlfriends,” she interrupted. "You did some pretty lame things, too. You just didn’t have the computer skills Ty has.”

"No, I actually lived my life instead of hiding behind a computer.”

She didn’t respond.

"I’m sorry, Mom. I try to understand Ty, but I don’t get him. Not that it matters.” He blew out a breath. "Tell me about the girl.”

"It was an online relationship. She lives in Phoenix and wanted him to fly out to take her to prom.”

"Let me guess. Dad said no,” Quinn said, knowing his father was against all fun.

"Yes.” She sighed. "So this other kid from school stepped in as her date, and she dumped Ty. He was mad. He didn’t want the other kid to be able to go to the prom, so he put him on the No-Fly list.”

One part of Quinn was amazed at his brother’s skills. The other part was disgusted at the way he chose to use them. "Where does he come up with these ideas?”

"Doesn’t matter now. On top of the hack, his computer’s missing. He thinks the kid he put on the No-Fly List took it so he could turn Ty in. If the authorities find out about the hack, he’ll likely do time.” She lowered her voice. "They could accuse him of being a terrorist.” A sob followed her words.

"C’mon, Mom, don’t go off the deep end,” Quinn soothed. "Ty’s not a terrorist, and they won’t think he is.”

"You don’t know that. It’s serious business.” He heard the tears behind her words.

His heart broke for her. She was a wonderful mother. The best. Tough, strong, independent. Loving. Kind. She didn’t deserve this. He’d do whatever he could to fix this situation. But what could he do to keep the kid from being prosecuted for potential federal charges?

He had no clout. "I don’t see how I can help, Mom.”

"Don’t say that,” she cried. "You’re the only one I know with a federal law enforcement contact who can make this go away.”

Law enforcement? He only knew one person who fit the bill—his ex, FBI agent Nina Brandt, and she wouldn’t be happy to hear from him."If you mean Nina, that won’t work.”

His mom sniffed. "Just come home, Quinn, where we can talk about this face to face and figure something out.”

Thankful for his upcoming leave, Quinn glanced at his watch. "I have a debrief. Then I’ll hop on the first plane. Might not be until the morning though.”

"Thank you, Son. You know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t believe it was the best course of action.”

"I know, Mom. See you soon.” He hung up and headed into the meeting room, already pondering the steps needed to enlist Nina’s help.

He couldn’t call her. She’d ignore it. Ignore him. When they’d broken up a little over a year ago, it had been messy. Shoot, it was worse than messy. He’d screwed things up big time. And he knew he was the last person she wanted to see. She’d told him as much when he’d helped on a case with her FBI cyber team a few months ago.

So what? He couldn’t let that stop him. He’d make sure Nina agreed to see him and let him plead Ty’s case. He wouldn’t let his kid brother go to jail without doing his best to stop it. And as a SEAL, his best was better than most.



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