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“Yeah,” she echoed, and watched as he rolled up off the mattress and began stripping off layers. The hat went on the dresser next to hers. The battered leather jacket went next, thumped on the armchair with a click of buckles; he unbuttoned the jeans, slid them off, and sat on the bed to dispose of shirt, socks and underwear.

As he stood up, she lost her breath at the sight of him . . . not for the gorgeous planes of his body, which were objectively great, but for the bruises. They were days old and fading, but he’d taken a hell of a beating in that wreck.

He’d been lucky. No, she’d been lucky not to lose him.

He didn’t look at her, although she knew he was acutely aware of her stare; he crossed the small distance to the bathroom, closed the door, and a few seconds later she heard the hiss of the water start.

It felt like a dream, getting up and stripping off her sweaty clothes, all the way to the skin; the chill motel air made her shiver, and made her nipples stiffen and ache as she hesitated in front of the door. Then she opened it, breathed in the warm steam, and as she shut it behind her, Patrick slid back the shower door. He was shrouded in the mist and spray, slick and gleaming, and the slow warmth of his smile made her shiver.

“I was hoping you’d come.”

“Haven’t yet,” she said, “but what the hell, we can start slow.”

She stepped into the stinging hot downpour and sealed the two of them in. His mouth found hers in a hungry rush, damp flesh and a dark, smoky taste that made her whimper a little against his lips. The water hardly had room to run between their pressed bodies, and it felt good, so good, to be with him, with him, in ways that had nothing to do with all the nightmares they’d been living.

This . . . this was a dream, a sweetly seductive one, and for a long time they just held on, kissing, stroking, lazy with desire and sated by touch. He was already fully aroused, but one thing Patrick was a master at was restraint, and right now, he was in the mood to play slow, which suited her. His strong hands shampooed her hair, soaped her body, slipped into soft, dark places that made her catch her breath and arch against him.

Somehow, she expected it to end in a hot, hard pounding against the tile, but it didn’t; he shut off the water and toweled her dry, head to toe, and she wiped him down slowly, pausing along the way to get him wet again, tracing her tongue along the hot velvet length of his erection. That wasn’t enough, not for her, and from the groan she drew from him when her lips parted and slid down, he liked the extra attention.

He let it go on for a long few moments, leaning against the bathroom door and taking in slow, deep, raw breaths; his eyes were half-shut, watching, and his hands caressed her damp hair, moved it back from her face as they moved together, silent and one. Then he gently pushed her back and lifted her up and kissed her again, slowly and deep and drunk on pleasure.

Then they went to bed.

It was a solid hour of lovemaking that kept the world outside the walls—Jane, the past, the future, even the nanites busily crawling inside her veins and the looming threats coming at them, somewhere. Bryn didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything outside of the sensations he woke in her body—tension, friction, release, pain, pleasure, sweat, tears, a thousand more exploding and mixing as he made her feel, for the first time in a long time, free.

Just . . . free.

“Easy,” he said, as she arched against him, begging for him to go faster. “We have time.” It was all he said, other than whispers hot in her ear and against her skin, but even he couldn’t hold time back forever.

When he finally collapsed on her, sweaty and trembling and spent, she rolled him over and rested her head on his chest. He had a thick growth of hair over hard muscle, and she stroked her fingers through it. The silken tug of it felt good. Soothing.

“God,” Patrick finally said, in a voice that was more than a little religious, “that felt good. Thank you.”

She laughed a little, and turned her face toward him. He moved the still-damp hair out of her eyes with a gentle brush of his fingers. “Thank me?” she said. “I like that you’re so polite, but . . .”

“Thank you for letting go,” he said, and he was very serious. “Thank you for not letting my past with Jane stand between us.”

Jane. Some of the warmth went out of the room with the mention of her name, but Bryn tried not to let it show. She put her hand on his cheek—prickly with stubble, he needed a shave, and she’d have friction burns all over her to prove it—and said, “Jane’s not here. Let’s not bring her into the bed with us.”

He took in a breath, closed his eyes, and let it out. Then he nodded. “Sorry. I just—Bryn, I don’t know if we’re still—”

“We are,” she said. “We’re okay. I promise you, we’re okay. It hurt, a lot, but I understand.” She gave him a small, crooked smile. “I almost wish I didn’t.”

“I did warn you I was complicated.”

“You didn’t warn me you were a ball of razor wire, but that’s cool, I have this special healing thing—you might have heard about it. . . .”

He put his arms around her and held her, and she knew from the slowing of his breath that he was sliding toward sleep.

She knew that one of them should stay alert, ready for trouble, but in the end, the safety and warmth overwhelmed her, and she fell with him, into the dark.

Chapter 9

What woke her was Patrick’s hand touching her bare shoulder—not a caress, a deliberate tap, followed by a firm pressure. Wake up, stay still. Bryn came instantly and fully aware, heart racing. They were still in almost the same positions in which they’d fallen asleep, but she could see the digital clock over Patrick’s shoulder, and long, much-needed hours had passed. It was almost midnight.

There was someone at the door. She heard it clearly—shuffling feet on the carpet, followed by a scraping, as if someone was inserting a key card in the door. Patrick let her go, and she rolled quietly one direction, while he went the other; they both landed near-silently on their feet and, still naked, took up posts out of the clear field of fire in case whoever was on the other side came in shooting. Bryn got closest, in the bathroom doorway; she was only an arm’s length from the door, and now she heard that scrape-click again as the card was inserted.

And then, a loud bump against the wall, and a drunken voice saying, “Shit, that’s not the right room. What’s the room? Yo, man, what’s the number?”

There were several of them in the hall, and Bryn didn’t take the whole thing on first impressions; she grabbed a towel, draped it around herself, and eased the door open enough to peer outside.

Frat boys, wearing matching T-shirts, two of them still clutching open bottles of cheap liquor. God, they really did still drink schnapps.

They didn’t see her. Bryn eased the door shut as they wandered off in the other direction, still arguing and bouncing shoulders off the wall as they weaved along. She let out a held breath and turned on the hall light switch. “Clear,” she said, probably unnecessarily, and ran a hand over her face to hold back laughter. Patrick wasn’t bothering. He sat down on the bed, head in his hands to muffle the chuckles. She took a spot beside him, and they leaned together a moment. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m awake,” she said. “And we need to talk, don’t we?”

“Do we?” The laughter faded fast, and when he looked up, he was tense and ready for some kind of blow.

“Not about us.” She sent him a warm smile, and his tension eased. “Work. We need to talk about what we’re going to do next. If everything worked, Joe and Riley should be making their way back to the bunker with a sample of Thorpe’s formula—the stuff that kills the nanites. The advanced models. Best case—we’re a distraction, until they can mass-produce the equalizer.”

“Worst case, they don’t make it,” he said. “And we’re all there is.”

“I didn’t like splitting us up, but we had a better shot that way. If Jane has to divide her attention and second-guess two groups . . .”

“Three. Manny will have a completely separate plan in motion, guaranteed. And she’d better be worried. She might be able to guess what I will do, but she’s a hell of a lot less conversant with you, Joe, or Manny. Joe will make it. He’s made it through—” An odd look crossed Patrick’s face, and then he shook his head. “I was about to say he’s made it through worse, but I’m actually not sure that’s true anymore. We’re into whole new levels of worse.”

“Then I hate to lay this on top, but we’re going to have to risk being spotted,” Bryn said. “Because we need to do some research. I have a name from Thorpe of someone on the Fountain Group board, but I don’t know how to get to him.”

“If you think we’re going to get anywhere using a Google search, I think you’re wrong,” Patrick said. “But you’re right, anyone we reach out to is an exposure, and it locks down a point of data against us. But we can’t just sit here, nice as that would be.” He thought for a few seconds, and then nodded again. “I think I’ve got a guy. Get dressed.”

“Are we leaving?”

“Didn’t you say you wanted a drink?”

Chapter 10

The bar he took her to was not in the hotel. In fact, it was nowhere nearby, and from the gradual scuffing-up of the scenery as they drove, it also wasn’t in what she’d term a better part of town. Just one of those places you’d ignore driving by, in fact, a black-painted concrete building without windows, a flickering neon sign, and sparse parking.

Inside, the place was something out of a bad movie, Bryn thought, as they walked through the swinging doors and into a dim interior. The smell of old booze and sweat hit her first, followed almost immediately by the sound of music. The place had an old west saloon vibe, so the music seemed oddly off; no tinkly piano or western honky-tonk, but a smoky torch song better suited to a wine bar.