Fear lanced through Bryce as he watched her fingers glide over the keys and was struck speechless as he recognized equipment that was not on the market, not offered to the average citizen. He watched the screen, the red line hopping over the U.S. across the sea and bouncing over three continents, then back across the ocean. She's routing a phone line, he thought and considered where she'd learn that. And why. The red marker stopped somewhere in Virginia.
Instantly he knew she was calling government headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
An icy foreboding crawled up his spine and it could mean only one thing. One option he'd never have suspected.
She wouldn't look at him as she spoke into the phone.
"Patterson," her boss said on the line. "Indigo Alpha 4-0-8. Scramble the line." Ciara was shaking, panic like she'd never experienced battering her as she waited for the appropriate clicks, counting them in her mind.
"Is he in?" she demanded when the scramble was in place.
"Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to reach you. Where are you?"
"Never mind where I am, is he in?" she nearly shouted into the phone, coming to her feet and pacing.
"Yes, he's locked up tight, but you have to come in, too."
Ciara shoulders sagged and she shoved the keyboard aside and rubbed her face. Thank God. "I will."
"Now. That was very clever to send the tape to the senator and the letter to me. Didn't trust me, Caldwell? That hurts."
"Too bad. My life was on the line. I had reason not to trust a single soul."
Without the willpower to stop herself, she lifted her gaze to Bryce. Her heart broke. He was glaring at her as if he wanted to grab her by the throat.
"You have to come in and be debriefed and…"
"I'm well aware of the routine, sir," she snapped. "But no, not now."
"That was an order, Caldwell."
"Then I will have to disobey it, sir."
Patterson grumbled on the other end of the line, then conceded. "All right then, when?"
"I don't know when, dammit, just give me some time." She hung up, disengaging the phone line that connected across the world. She closed the laptop and tossed the phone aside.
Silence stung the air between them and Ciara breathed deeply, trying to calm herself when her nerves were raw. She turned her gaze to Bryce. "I can't believe you had me investigated."
"Why not?" He glared. "Your entire life is nothing but damn secrets!"
"Yes, it is. It was."
Ignoring her response he said, "Just what agency are you with? FBI, CIA, NIS?"
Ciara went to her suitcase, flipped it open, and pulled the bottom liner free. Then with a knife bidden there, she cut open the next layer and pulled out a black leather envelope. She opened it, handing him a familiar looking single-fold leather wallet like the one he'd carried in the Secret Service.
He flipped it open and scanned it. CIA.
She winced and felt the precious world she'd bidden in begin to crumble.
"Caldwell. That explains why I couldn't find anything on you." He tossed her the wallet. "You even lied to me about your name!"
"I had to. I was protecting myself as much as anyone around me."
"We were nothing but your cover," he said, appalled.
"No," she said firmly. "No. I didn't expect you to be here. You know that."
A spot in him agreed, but he was too furious to acknowledge it.
"You could trust me with your body, Ciara. With your heart, but not with your life? I could have helped you."
"No, you couldn't." His gaze hardened like sharp blue glass. "Bryce, listen." She made to touch him, but the dark look in his eyes stopped her. "My partner was working a deal with the wrong side. I saw him do it and got it on film. After covering my back, I turned it in and had to hide 'til they could catch him. Or he would have come after me."
"Or Carolina, or me?"
"No. You weren't in danger."
"And if this plan of yours went bad and your partner got close to you, he would have gotten close to my baby!"
"I would have died to protect her," she said fiercely.
"I can protect her, dammit, and if not for you and your lies, I wouldn't have to!"
"I was trying to stay alive. I couldn't trust anyone."
"Not even me? Why not me, Ciara?"
There was a plea hidden beneath his anger, hurt and wounded and wanting so badly to be soothed. "Oh honey, I wanted to, but I knew you would react like this. That day at the store proved it. You asked me to trust you, and now that I am you're screaming at me, cutting me out."
His expression turned frosty and Ciara felt the distance between them grow. "Was Katherine Davenport in on this?"
"She gave me the job. She doesn't know why I wanted it."
"Does she know what you are?"
What you are, reverberated in her mind. Like a creature, a thing, she thought, and could see his love for her dying before her eyes.
"Yes. But not even my own family knows."
"So you left them to be a spy," he said, disgusted. "To use people, to use me."
"Yes, I did. But I wasn't using you. And you know it. It was my life I was trying to protect. Mark Faraday has seven years experience on me. He could have found me if he knew I'd turned him in. And if he had, he'd have killed me," she said, looking away.