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Her Covert Protector: Chapter 34


With the help of DHS’s Cybersecurity division, partial power was restored to SGC, but its central command was down, and blackouts continued to roll. There was a provision to borrow from the LA power grid, but the immediate supply wasn’t enough. Only essential facilities had power, and they kept on blinking. Patrols were brought in from other parts of the county because all the traffic lights were down.

StreamCon was shut down.

No one was sure what Sally’s endgame was, but John was going to get to the bottom of it. He sat across from the Gray Wolf of Odessa in the LAPD trailer. The crime boss had already admitted that Sally Davis was, in fact, Yelena Ivanova. She was thirty-three, not twenty-four. She was planted as a student at Caltech a year before she was hired by Huxley.

“I found that information in Maxim’s files,” Dmitry said. “What you found in the house where you were held was simply misdirection. I’m sure you already know.”

“What does she want from Nadia?” John asked through gritted teeth. Bristow was hitting a dead end locating her because her phone stopped pinging.

“The source code.”

“Nadia doesn’t have the source code,” John said.

Dmitry raised a brow. “Don’t bullshit me, Mr. Garrison. She may not have direct access to it, but she can get it through you.”

“Is Sally doing the sale herself?”

“Maxim stated in his emails that Sally was becoming hard to control. She helped Huxley figure out the problem in the device, but Huxley took all the credit. Maxim told her not to argue or call attention to herself.”

“That’s some shitty treatment,” Garrison derided.

“My brother told her to wait for the bigger payout.”

“This event.”

“Yes, but she hasn’t reached out to any of the crime bosses yet.”

John mocked, “So she made you all dress up for nothing.”

“I do not find this amusing. And you’re one to talk.”

He leaned forward, his lips curling into a snarl. “Oh, I assure you, I am far from amused.”

There was a knock on the back of the trailer. The door cracked open, and Bristow slid in. His face grim. John’s gut tightened. “Nadia?”

“Negative. Levi was able to get something out of the man he knocked out.” Bristow glared at the Gray Wolf.

“If he said he’s one of mine, he’s lying.”

“He didn’t, but he has a record in our agency database. He’s a North Korean agent.”

“What the fuck?” John muttered, and his gaze sliced to Dmitry who didn’t seem surprised.

“You knew?” He spat. His chair scraped back, lunging over the table to grab Dmitry by the collar and hauling him up. “What are you not telling me?”

John slammed him up against the wall. “You better start talking.”

“The Crown-Key was just a means to an end.”

“The end of what?”

“CalTech has been developing a guidance system for the U.S. military’s newest HellRaiser missiles.”

John turned to Bristow. “Did the power outage hit CalTech?” The research university was on the outskirts of SGC.

“Yes.”

“Dammit. Check if there’s been a breach.” As Bristow hurried out, John turned back to Dmitry. “This power outage was just a distraction.”

“Maxim didn’t plan the attack on infrastructure to be this elaborate. He only meant to embarrass Revenant Films for refusing to cooperate and to use it to demo the power of the Crown-Key.”

“And sell it to the highest bidder.”

“Correct.”

“Except he didn’t realize Sally Davis had loftier goals.”

Dmitry’s grim expression told him the Ukrainian crime boss was not pleased with how his own people had turned on him.

John released Dmitry and stepped back, raking fingers through his hair, feeling like the bald cap he wore earlier was still compressing his skull. Nadia had been gone for forty-five minutes. That was forty-five minutes too long.

“You care for this Nadia Powell.”

“Don’t you dare fucking say her name.”

The man’s lips flattened, but there was something in his silvery-gray eyes that seemed to penetrate into John’s soul. An understanding. A reflected pain.

Bristow burst through the door. “I think we have something. We have several drones in the air. I directed one to CalTech and I’m getting an SOS from a building across from the university.”

“The Crown-Key needs to be close to its target,” John said.

“And the distress call is in Nadia’s signature encryption.”

“You found her.” A glimmer of hope sparked through the bleakness hanging around him. Ever since his woman was taken, John fought with the panic and fury he’d contained in his ragged compartments. To find the woman he loved, he needed to be in control.

He loved Nadia.

“Kelso and Gabby are already on their way.”

The door to the trailer opened again, and Roarke poked his head in. “What’s the hold up? Let’s go.”


Nadia’s head throbbed, and she was still groggy from being stunned. She sat back against the wall, the iciness of the cold, tiled floor seeping through her bodysuit. They were in an abandoned building, or maybe it was just unoccupied office space. The outline of CalTech University loomed outside Palladian windows. The lights of the university blinked as electricity fluctuated.

With the unreliability of the power grid at the moment, only her feeling for Sally was certain.

Contempt.

She hated that two-faced, triple-faced bitch with a passion. No amount of silicone masks could hide the ugliness lurking behind that innocent, seemingly helpless face she tried to project. Who the hell was she that she duped everyone?

Sally was talking to Asian commandos dressed in black fatigues. Was she selling secrets to the Chinese? To the North Koreans?

When Nadia woke up, they’d immediately put her to work, threatening her with a cocktail of drugs unless she complied with their demands. Sally had already managed to break into Homeland Security and download the source code. That was why she’d been laying low between the time of Morris’ death and the days leading up to StreamCon. However, Sally failed to break into a block of program that Nadia had inserted as an extra safeguard against events like this. Sally needed that part of the code to complete whatever nefarious goal she intended.

Making a judgement call, Nadia did as she was told because that also activated a constant stream of SOS that her drones could pick up. She only hoped her other defensive measures worked.

“We’ve initiated the cryptocurrency transfer,” one of the commandos said.

“I’ll release the missile program once I’ve confirmed payment.”

“Sally,” Nadia groaned. “What the hell did you do?”

The other woman turned to her. “That’s not my name.”

“Who’s that poor woman in the hospital?”

“Someone Maxim and I picked up off the streets to build my cover.”

“Did you betray him?”

Sally snorted. “No. I didn’t. It didn’t come to that, but I was getting tired of being dictated to.” Her eyes flashed. “Especially by men. I elevated the Crown-Key to what it could do, not Huxley.” She puffed an irritated breath. “I saved his reputation.” She thumbed at her chest. “Me.”

Nadia wasn’t sure if she understood her right. “You were part of the design?”

“The device”—her mouth sneered— “has my code. My circuitry. Huxley was a visionary. He was also a genius, but a fraud when it came to this. And don’t get me started on those morons Morris and Wagner. Maxim was tolerable, but he got himself killed and left me with those two. And then Dmitry came along.”

“He wants the Key?”

Sally shrugged. “Who knows. But I’m done being used by stupid men, including the rest of the Argonayts. I told Maxim we should go big. Rogue nations like China and North Korea instead of these greedy arms dealers.” She scowled. “All my life, I’ve been used by the mob.” Her mouth twisted. “But look at them now, all costumed up for StreamCon.” Sally giggled. “I showed them, didn’t I?”

Nadia could understand the frustration of people taking credit for another’s hard work but would never understand the extent of Sally’s retaliation. But maybe she could still reach her. “Sally,” she said quietly. “How are you sure these men won’t kill you and steal the Crown-Key?”

The other woman rolled her eyes. “I’m not an idiot. They double-cross me, and I’ll have every one of them exposed … they could never leave the country. Besides, they know I’m more useful to them working as an information broker.” Sally gave her one last look before shifting her attention back to the screen.

The woman was a megalomaniac. Nausea roiled in Nadia’s stomach. She hoped her baby was okay. Tears pricked her eyes. Bristow would know to use the drones, and they would find her. John would come for her.

“Funds received. Initiating program transfer …what the hell?” Sally whispered. “No. No. No.”

Nadia smiled grimly.

After a few minutes of hammering at her computer, one of the commandos approached the other woman. “What’s taking so long?”

Sally’s face mottled red, the expression on her face evil, poisonous. Again, Nadia asked herself how she could have been so deceived. The other woman stabbed a finger in Nadia’s direction. “She ruined it.”

“What?” the man asked.

Sally lunged at Nadia, fingers digging into her scalp and pulling her hair, making Nadia wish that she still had her wig and mask on.

“What did you do?” the traitorous bitch screamed.

The back of Nadia’s head cracked against the wall. Her eyes caught a glimpse of Sally rearing back with her right leg.

Instinctively, she curled into a ball, protecting her head with her arms and drawing her knees in to protect her belly, her baby. Sally continued her assault. Kicking her, clawing at her hair.

“Fix it!” she screamed.

“Can’t you just download it again?” the commando demanded. He spoke with a perfect California accent leading Nadia to believe that he was a sleeper agent who’d lived in the U.S. for a while or he’d been trained to speak like he had.

“The window of opportunity was very slim,” Sally snapped. “We had to tunnel into their network as the systems were restarting from their backup power.”

“What’s wrong with the program?”

“She scrambled it with ransomware.”

Boots stopped in front of Nadia. Strong fingers grabbed her chin forcing her face up. “Can you fix it?”

“Fuck you,” Nadia spat.

The man smirked, releasing her jaw.

Pain exploded at the side of her head.

“You can take her with you,” Sally suggested. “Force her to unscramble it.”

The man barked orders at the rest of the commandos and said, “We’re leaving. Both of you are coming with us.”

“We had an agreement,” Sally yelled.

“But you delivered a faulty product.” The man drew his weapon and pointed it at them. “We move back to home base. Both of you will work on it from there.”

“And if we can’t?” The treacherous woman continued to rant. “You’re going to kill me?”

The man stepped toward her. “Yes. Because if we don’t complete our mission, we’re also dead.”


“How much longer on those charges?” John snarled through comms. He was struggling to keep his shit together while watching what was playing out on the thermal scans.

They were hurting Nadia.

She was on the floor.

His Nadia.

The woman he loved.

The mother of his child.

The vise around his heart cranked tighter. His eyes burned with emotion that his woman was being beaten. Feeling pain. He would give anything to take that from her.

A synchronized assault was underway because any firefight lasting more than a few seconds would put Nadia at risk. That was one risk John wasn’t willing to take.

Kelso and the CTTF were behind the wall right across from the hostiles. John and his men were near the one Nadia was leaning against. A drone Bristow had flown into the room confirmed it was her. She didn’t look good and her mask was gone.

She was being very brave.

“Ready,” Levi announced.

“Same here,” Kelso replied. “On three.”

“Three.”

“Two.”

Boom!

The walls exploded inwards, and they moved in, knowing exactly where the targets were. Going in full-kill mode.

John had the man who struck Nadia in his scope.

Trigger squeezed.

The man went down.

“Clear!” John yelled.

“Clear!” Kelso responded.

Heart in his throat, John rushed to where Nadia was still curled on the tiles.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. He slid to the floor on his knees and scooped her into his arms, crushing her tight. John had a feeling it would be a while before he could let her out of his sight or even out of his arms.

“Babe, fucking Christ,” he said raggedly into her ear. “I was so fucking scared.”

“John.” Sobs wracked her frame. “You came. I knew you would.”

He pulled back, warmth stinging the back of his eyes. “I love you so much, Nadia. I hate that it had to take something like this to get my head out of my ass and say the words. But I think I’ve loved you since I got back from Ukraine.”

“I love you too,” she whispered.

He captured her lips and kissed the hell out of her, his tongue tangling deeply with hers, needing that connection to reassure himself she was alive. He ignored the jumbled voices over comms. They probably heard his declaration, but he didn’t give a fuck. At that moment, it was him and Nadia. The world could go fuck itself. She pried herself away from his embrace.

His own breathing returned to normal as did his heart rate. They stared at each other, exchanging small smiles, before he helped her to her feet.

Sally was on the floor, her wrists cuffed behind her back, being read her rights by a CTTF Tac member.

Bristow hurried over with a laptop. “Homeland Security could use some help.”

“Utilities still out in SGC?”

Kelso walked over. “It’s limping along.” He raised a boxy device. “Is this the Key? Found it in her backpack.”

Nadia accepted the innocuous looking gadget into her hands, inspecting it, twirling it around as one would study a Rubik’s cube. “How can such a device wreak so much havoc? I vote to destroy it.”

“I agree, but maybe you’d want to restore power to the city first,” Kelso said with amusement.

The smile on Nadia’s face faded, morphing into an expression of anxiety, one of pain that sent her hand flying to her belly and set John on high alert.

“What’s wrong?” he demanded. “Is it the baby?”

“I don’t know.” Tears filled her eyes. “John …”

His jaw hardened. “The rest can wait. I’m taking her to the hospital.”


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