“You’re right. He isn’t a martyr.” Checking the safety, he set the gun on the table and turned to stare at her. “But he is a loyal friend who deserves better than getting dumped with an aspect of the job that he has no interest in.”
“How do you know he’s not interested?” she said.
“You’ve met him,” he pointed out. “He isn’t what you’d call a people person.”
“Hiding behind his computer doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t want to branch out. Maybe he just needs a little encouragement. And if his interaction with Abby is anything to go by,” she said, a wry grin forming, “he might not need much encouragement at all.”
Unconvinced, he didn’t respond, hoping if he said nothing they’d move on to the task at hand.
Instead, she said, “Look, Hunter. I know how loyal you are to Pete. And I know you feel some sort of obligation. But you need to be honest with him. You can’t let a ridiculous sense of duty rule the rest of your life.” She lowered her voice, but not its intensity. “Are you happy?”
He swore under his breath and turned to stare at Carly’s electronic score. As was fitting for a first attempt, her aim was way off. In her assessment of him, unfortunately, she was unerringly accurate. “No,” he said, blowing out a breath. “I’m not happy. I’m bored.”
He’d never admitted to the feeling out loud—though he’d thought it, felt it acutely, every day.
“Talk to him,” she said. “Tell him how you feel. Work something out. Establish a new set of rules for your band-of-brothers, bro-code mentality.” She laid a hand on his arm. “A real friend will be able to handle the truth.”
Torn, he nodded down at the gun on the table and lifted a brow. “Do you want to shoot another clip or not?”
She paused, pursing her lips and studying him for a moment. “Are you going to distract me again?”
His grin returned. “I’ll do my best.”
She smiled back. “Then count me in.”
* * *
“In retrospect, the Star Trek convention tickets I sent you as a bribe weren’t so wrong,” Carly said with a teasing smile.
“This is where sci-fi meets reality.” Hunter gazed around the crowded Las Vegas convention hall at the attendees of the Defcon conference—the annual pilgrimage destination for hackers. At a table in front of them participants with laptops were competing to see who could hack into the most servers in under an hour. So far Booker was in the lead, Abby cheering him on from behind.
Hunter nodded his head in the direction of his friend. “I never did tell you that Booker enjoyed the Star Trek convention in my place.”
Carly shifted closer to Hunter’s side, setting his body humming. “Which reminds me of something I wanted to discuss with you,” she said. Her citrusy scent enveloped him, bringing back sensual memories of the past two days, and he hoped she was thinking what he was thinking. Carly said, “Have you talked to him yet?”
He sighed. Apparently her mind wasn’t in sync with his. “I don’t want to talk to my partner. He isn’t nearly as pretty as you.”
She narrowed her eyes in amused suspicion. “You’re using delaying tactics.”
“No.” A grin hijacked his mouth, and he leaned closer. “I’m enjoying my weekend.”
Which was true. He hadn’t enjoyed himself this much since... He paused, trying to remember. Intellectually it should have been when he was with Mandy. But he was quite sure that he had never felt as alive in Mandy’s presence as he did in Carly’s. It wasn’t just her smart, sassy ways, or that the sex was better—though that was a definite plus. Carly made the funny funnier and the interesting more interesting.
He would certainly never look at Hamlet the same way again.
“And, by the way, the next time you plan on sending a gift as a bribe,” he went on, “I do have a list of preferences.” He had several—and all of them involved a beautiful woman who had taken his life by storm. The timbre of his voice gave away the under-the-sheets direction of his thoughts. “Do you want me to share my favorites with you?”
Carly’s quasi-serious expression melted into a welcoming one, and Hunter’s body registered its approval. He loved her infectious enthusiasm. He loved how she’d embraced the playful side of the conference, cheering on the participants that succeeded at the annual “Spot the Fed” game.
As a teen, for him the conference had been about fun. As an FBI agent and then a security specialist Hunter had focused entirely on the business aspect. But Carly had convinced him to enter the “Crack the Code” competition. She’d even lured him away from a lecture for a lunchtime rendezvous in their room yesterday. And he hadn’t been getting much sleep at night, either...