Home > Unforgiven (Deep Ops #5)

Unforgiven (Deep Ops #5)
Author: Rebecca Zanetti


Chapter One

   The desk light barely kept the darkness from pushing inside the windows, its shadows slinking to the edges of the office. Gemma Falls finished neatly filling in her calendar while chills skittered down her back. The chills were a part of her. She’d learned to accept them instead of fighting each cold finger. They always won.

   Sitting at her maple desk, her gaze lifted from the computer screen to the closed office door, which was locked. Just one lock, though. Would it seem odd to her new colleagues if she added three more locks as well as a security chain? Probably.

   She hunched closer to the screen and prevented herself from turning on the main light in the office. Her screen was good enough for now.

   The winter storm grew stronger outside, scattering ice against the windows. She looked out, noting the icicles barely visible around her second-story window. Tree branches scraped the brick building, their tendrils making an eerie noise against the window. Rising, she stepped around the box of discarded holiday decorations her friend hadn’t had time to put away and walked to the window, looking outside.

   Her office faced an interior courtyard surrounded by brick buildings. Snow and ice covered the picnic tables and benches, and no footsteps were visible, because the university had been closed for the holiday season. The new semester started the next day, and the cold of January wasn’t letting up any.

   The darkness of night failed to offer any comfort, so she studied the small office. Serena had left her books and supplies on the shelves, although she’d taken her personal belongings. Gemma’s things would take less than ten minutes to unpack. All stuff she’d picked up the last few years that looked personal but didn’t give a clue as to her life. Souvenirs from places she’d only passed through, as well as a couple of photographs of her with people she didn’t know. Pictures she’d snapped at public places that looked as if she was in a group having a great time.

   She didn’t even know the names of the people in those pictures.

   It was all right. She was smart and she was careful. A mantra she’d learned to repeat to herself nearly every day, hoping the words dug deep and took root. There was too much to lose, and it was her job, her duty, to make sure she stayed smart and careful. Her stomach growled from missing dinner and probably lunch. For now, she had to get ready for this life. Her new one. She returned to the desk to finish the syllabi she’d need to hand out during her two Monday classes the next day.

   She’d never taught before.

   What if she failed at teaching a subject she barely remembered? She sat back and forced her shoulders to relax. This was just another persona, and she could do it. It helped to pretend she was somebody else, so she imagined she’d been teaching college for years and this was merely another semester. By the time she became accustomed to the schedule, she’d be gone. At least she’d have some money in her pocket when she left. Times had been tough the last six months, and the odd jobs she’d managed to pick up hadn’t given her much comfort.

   A sharp rap on the door had her biting back a scream. Her heart thundered into motion and her breath seized.

   The tree branches scraped an ominous warning against the window as the wind increased in strength.

   Slowly, she drew a snub-nosed .35 from the top drawer to set at the back of her waist beneath her blue cardigan. She’d obtained the gun illegally, so there was no record of her owning it. Swallowing, glancing uneasily beneath the desk, she rose and walked around it, past two student chairs and boxes she had yet to unpack. She reached the door. Asking who was there would seem weird because she wasn’t at home.

   So she unlocked the door and opened it, her body on full alert and ready to go for the gun.

   “Hi. Saw your light.” A man stood in the darkened hallway, only the night lights illuminating the long spans of faculty offices. He stood slightly back as if giving her room, his voice soft in the evening and his British accent unmistakable. “I’m Jethro.” He held out a large hand.

   She swallowed and accepted it, shaking quickly and releasing him. Good. He was a person who was supposed to be in the building, and that fact lowered her blood pressure immediately. He wore casual jeans and a T-shirt beneath a battered, brown leather jacket. “Gemma. Gemma Falls.” The name rolled easily from her tongue after a month of practice. “Jethro Hanson?” He was even better-looking than her friend had said.

   “Yes.” His smile would appear charming to most. He stood well over six feet tall, with dark blond hair, deep blue eyes, and a bone structure sharp enough to have been cut with a chisel. His accent was full-on British, his backpack professoresque, and his body muscled, no doubt from too much time in a gym. His shoulders were too wide for a professor’s, and his torso tapered down to muscular legs in jeans. As he took her in, from head to toe, a lock of his thick hair fell over his brow to add a hint of boyish charm that almost softened the utterly male sexuality he wore so naturally.

   “I see,” she whispered, caught up in his scent for the briefest of moments.

   If he noticed her confusion or reaction to him, he didn’t let it show. The guy was probably accustomed to it. Instead, his smile deepened, showing a dimple in his left cheek. As if the rest of him wasn’t enough, he had a freaking dimple. “Serena asked me to show you around DC University, but I didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow morning. Not many people work Sunday nights around here.”

   She locked her knees in place and looked up, way up, to meet his gaze. So this was the guy who’d stolen Serena’s office last year. They’d buried the hatchet and had become friends, according to her. Only friends, though. Perhaps he didn’t steal the breath of every woman in his vicinity. Just Gemma’s. Maybe her blood sugar was too low. “I wanted to get organized before class tomorrow.”

   One of his eyebrows rose. “This substitution is very last minute. Do you know where Serena is? Her email said she took a temporary research job and had already found somebody to take her classes. It’s not like her to be rushed about things.”

   Gemma straightened her shoulders. Rushed? Not likely. She and Serena had arranged this a month ago, but to make their plan work, Serena had waited until the last second to tell DC University, so there was no choice but to hire Gemma. “It seemed like a good opportunity for her, and I’ll only be here a semester, so everything will work out. Serena will be back in June, I believe.” Gemma needed the money, but she could only afford to stay in one place for a few months. She barely kept from tugging on her blondish-white wig to make sure it remained in place.

   “Serena isn’t the impulsive type, so I’m concerned about her.” Jethro took another step back, his gaze piercing. “Her email came from her university account, and I don’t know how to reach her at the new place of employment. Do you have her contact information?”

   “No,” Gemma lied. “I’m sorry. She said she accepted a government contract with some sort of top-level clearance, and that’s all the information she could divulge.” It was close to the truth, and the explanation made sense, considering Serena was a genius in about every quantum field there was. “I’m sure she’ll be in touch when she can be.”

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