“Water service is fully restored,” Henderson told John outside the examination room where Nadia was waiting for the test results of her bloodwork and further diagnostics. “Powell’s suggestions helped.”
“Good. They’ve got sufficient power and water,” he said. “We warned all the cities in the metro area of a possible cyberattack after the traffic light incident. SGC management should learn from this. They’ll need to figure out the rest or wait until I say Nadia is ready. Clear?”
The tac team lead sighed. “I agree.”
He gave the man a nod and went back into the room.
John had Nadia barricaded from her team. All communication went through him. His woman was scared and in the wrong headspace right now to be messing around with a freaking city’s advanced urban living infrastructure. It should be their wakeup-call that everything could go to shit. Technology failure could send everyone careening back into the Dark Ages.
“Is everything okay?” Nadia asked. She was in a hospital gown. The body makeup on one arm was cleaned for them to draw blood. On the way to the hospital, John called Dr. Stahl who was already there to meet them when they arrived and had called ahead to have a room ready. John wasn’t egotistical enough to think that the special treatment had anything to do with his relationship to the agency or the DNI. This was all about Nadia. The doctor had been briefed that her patient stopped a rogue state from stealing highly classified research that could derail the U.S. military’s advanced weapons program.
“It’s fine. They have that handled,” John told her, settling into the stool beside her and taking hold of her hands, giving them a squeeze. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m scared, but the pain in my stomach has subsided. I wondered if I overreacted and—”
“Stopping you right there, babe,” he growled. “No such thing as overreacting when it comes to our baby. You feel something, every little twitch or pain, you tell me. You do not hide anything from me. Got it?”
“Got it.” Then she gave him another pained smile that almost sent him into another round of panic until she said, “Right now, I really have to pee.” They made her drink copious amounts of water for the ultrasound.
John’s exhale of relief ended on a brief chuckle. “I’ll get the Doc.”
As if on cue, Dr. Stahl walked in. She smiled at both of them. “Your HCG levels are on the high end of normal, so that’s good. When we do this ultrasound, at six weeks, we may not hear the fetal heartbeat, so don’t be alarmed. You’ve been through a lot today, Nadia. Anything could have caused the pelvic pain. Stress being one of them and all the other chemical reactions that come from it. You didn’t even have any spotting, which I’m sure is a relief.”
“It sure as hell was,” John said, giving Nadia’s hands another squeeze. His woman had gone through hell today, and he was certain after all the makeup came off there would be some bruising that would make John want to bend a crowbar. He abhorred killing women in his line of work. He’d only do it when backed into a corner and only if they tried to kill him first. But at that moment, he wanted very much to bury Sally Davis aka Yelena Ivanova alive. A quick death was too good for her.
Dr. Stahl positioned Nadia’s legs in the stirrups and picked-up the ultrasound wand.
“Ready?” the doctor asked.
Nadia glanced at John and he gave her an encouraging nod.
“Ready,” she breathed.
Nadia emitted a tiny gasp, before she tensed up and gripped his hand tighter.
Their eyes went to the monitor, and a lump began to fill the back of his throat.
“There it is.”
John leaned forward. Where? And then his gaze was drawn to the tiny arrow pointing at a spot on the screen. The lump in his throat grew into a boulder.
Nadia exhaled a laugh. “It’s the size of a pea.”
“That’s the yolk sac,” Dr. Stahl smiled. “Do you want to see if we can hear your baby’s heartbeat?”
“Oh my God, yes!” Nadia said in a scratchy voice, glancing at John. “There’s a heartbeat.”
The doctor changed the screen and adjusted the volume. She adjusted the grids. John’s breathing grew ragged when the volume increased, and the rapid patter of their baby’s heart filled the room.
“One-hundred-fifteen beats per minute,” Dr. Stahl said. “You’ve got a fighter in there.” She smiled at them both. “Your baby is fine.”
Receiving the official word that their baby was okay was like escaping a firing squad. Instinctively, they turned to each other. John stood and hugged Nadia as she sobbed, repeating over and over that their baby was fine. He stroked her back and soothed her, even when his legs threatened to buckle from under him.
Sometime during their emotional episode, Dr. Stahl said she was giving them a moment and left the room.
Finally, John leaned away only to capture Nadia’s face to kiss her deeply, tasting her tears. Knowing they were happy ones filled his heart with so much emotion he could hardly contain them in his chest.
“I love you,” he said quietly.
“John?” Nadia said in wonder. Her fingers touched his cheeks. “You’re crying.”
Hell, so he was.
There was no other reason. He was a damned happy man with a woman he loved desperately and a baby on the way. He’d never felt more complete.
“I fucking love you,” he repeated with more emphasis.
She grinned her genuine Nadia smile. “I love you too.”
John Garrison was a stalker. If watching Nadia sleep qualified as one, he’d gladly wear the title as a badge of honor. The past twenty-eight hours had been a rollercoaster, and he wanted to snarl at everyone to leave her alone. But since she was the only one who could get SGC back online and neutralize the malware that paralyzed the city’s infrastructure, Nadia did what her genius always did best.
She used her skills to get a system back online after a cyberattack.
So, John did what his cutthroat personality did best.
He used everything in his arsenal to clear the bureaucracy that stood in the way of getting things done. He had no problem using his influence with the DNI to make sure every federal agency left Nadia alone to do her job. At the end of the day, the Crown-Key device was secured by the DHS with close scrutiny under the NSA.
Her job was done. His job was done.
Because it was turning out that the endgame of his crazy life was having the woman he loved sleeping peacefully in his arms. John didn’t know how much this meant to him until this moment. Her forehead was smooth, her eyebrows weren’t cinched, and her chest was rising and falling in the rhythm of a restful sleep. He would even say there was a slight tilt in her lips that hinted of a smile. She felt safe. She felt free to be who she was, and he damned well was making sure it stayed that way.
The possessive man in him wanted her in his bed as well, but they were still in the safe house, so that claim wouldn’t be true. He was thinking of remodeling his home-base in Assassin’s Hill, but maybe finding a house closer to the MoMoS was better. Between him and Nadia, they’d have it wired for security in no time. A house with a yard where their kids could play safely.
Something in his chest turned over. It could be the organ called his heart.
His phone on the nightstand flashed. “Grandpa Earp.”
Two in the morning wasn’t unusual. Porter knew John wanted some time off to spend with Nadia and wouldn’t be calling him if it weren’t important. He kissed her on the brow, snatched the phone, and slipped out of the bed. She didn’t rouse one bit, so he exited the room and answered the phone.
“I’m outside,” Porter answered. “Black SUV. I’ve already informed Bristow to keep an eye on the house.”
“Thought I made it clear. My men report to me.”
“In the interest of efficiency and assurance that the people you care about are being watched over, I knew you wouldn’t mind. But your point is noted.”
When John made it to the first floor, the SEAL was already in the kitchen.
“Sorry about that,” John mumbled.
“No problem,” Bristow shot him a wry smile. “Curious to see what Porter wants.”
“As long as it’s not my first born, I’m curious too,” he said under his breath.
Sure enough, the SUV was idling in front of the safe house. It was one of those stretched SUVs that had face-to-face seating, though not quite a limo. When he yanked open the door, a growl rose up his throat.
Dmitry Vovk was sitting across from Porter.
“For fuck’s sake,” the admiral said. “Get in. Close the door. I’ll explain.”
John wasn’t prepared to deal with the Gray Wolf of Odessa. He’d hoped the LAPD would hold him until the agency could spirit him away to a black ops site to interrogate him and probably lock him away forever for what happened to the special ops team that was wiped out because of him. He wasn’t expecting to face this man now, just when John thought he could let that go because he was blissfully content with what he had with Nadia.
“This is a buzz kill.” John got in beside the admiral.
“You’ll have to face it sooner or later,” Porter told him.
The vehicle started moving. There was nothing new in these rolling car meetings with the admiral.
“What? The fact that the man responsible for the Operation Bullhorn massacre is sitting in front of me?”
“As if you didn’t have a hand in the death of several Russian agents who were just doing their job,” Vovk said. “We were at war. The public just doesn’t know about it and doesn’t care as long as they keep their false sense of security.”
That was why John had slowly been stripped of his idealism, but he had found himself again thanks to Nadia. He wouldn’t get sucked down that hole again, especially with these two men who had started him on that path. His skin crawled to get out of the SUV.
“Things are not what they seem,” Porter started.
“Are you sure you want to tell him this?” Dmitry said. “I don’t care if he hates me forever.”
“I don’t hate you,” John spat. “I just want you in a brig in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and to never see the light of day.”
“Enough,” Porter sighed. “Dmitry wasn’t responsible for the Bullhorn massacre. He killed the general who was, then took ownership of his actions so he could be in the position to poison the Ukrainian president when Russia and Ukraine tried to have their peace talks.”
“Which failed,” John derided, but his brain stuttered at the switcheroo and started processing this information.
“And that was deliberate on my part,” Dmitry said. “I had to prove my loyalty to the Kremlin, and the only way to do that was go ahead with the assassination.” He continued to tell them about how his brother was running for President of Ukraine and was favored to win. That would mean a change of alliances.
“What could this guy possibly offer that we don’t already have?” John scoffed.
“Inside information about organized crime and rogue states. You want a man they still trust and that man is me. The war has gone cyber. You know this. Timely intel is more crucial than ever.”
“And the Argonayts?”
Dmitry’s nose flared. “I’m going to keep a tight leash on them. As for Yelena Ivanova, I’ll leave it to your government to prosecute her.”
John gave a derisive snort. “So you’re the one getting immunity.”
“You have no proof I had anything to do with the Crown-Key plot. Having me as an asset outweighs the trouble of trying to find evidence in my involvement in this.”
John’s phone buzzed and he glanced at the message. He tried to keep his expression neutral, but he couldn’t help the smile that pulled at his mouth.
“I think we’ve kept Mr. Garrison away from his woman long enough,” Dmitry drawled.
He stared at the Gray Wolf. “Whatever the DNI decides, I’ll go along with it. I can’t say my enmity for you will disappear overnight but knowing you didn’t cause the Bullhorn massacre frees me to concentrate on what’s important in my life right now.”
“Not sure I like this version of you, John,” Porter grumbled.
“Get used to it,” he shot back. “In fact, I need your driver to make a stop.”
Twenty minutes later, John walked through the door carrying a paper bag of burger and fries and a drink carrier of milkshakes.
Bristow and Nadia were in the kitchen.
Her text read: Since you’re out doing spooky stuff, and if it isn’t too much trouble, can you pick up a strawberry milkshake and fries from In-N-Out? Bristow wants a burger.
Her face split into a genuine Nadia smile, and John opened his arms so she could step into him and hug him. Bristow reliably rescued the food.
“You got me a milkshake!” Nadia stared up at him, eyes dancing with glee.
“And fries,” he said, finally able to hug her. “Heaven forbid I disappoint a pregnant woman’s cravings.”
“Good man.” She gave him a quick kiss.
“I’ll also have you know that you carry the distinction of putting the acting director of National Intelligence and a known crime boss through the In-N-Out drive-thru to get your snacks.”
“Oh my God.” Nadia’s eyes widened, and Bristow started chuckling.
John grinned. “And since I didn’t have my wallet …”
Her mouth fell open. “You didn’t—”
“Of course, I did. Porter called me away from my woman, he could damn well pay for your milkshake.”
Nadia shook her head, her expression one of horror and awe.
“Man, this burger is going to taste extra good,” Bristow declared.
Hell yes, it would.