Nevada’s AREA 51 was not only the subject of government conspiracy theories; it was now, officially, her new home. A good hour before sunrise, Cassandra Powell pulled into the military parking lot outside the launch pad leading to the top-secret underground facilities where the launch of the Project Zodius GTECH Super Soldier Program was a year under way. The ride from her new on-base housing had been a whopping three minutes, which considering the inhuman hours the military favored, she could deal with. The simplicity of a standard green army skirt and jacket—required despite her contract status—seemed to be working for her as well. The cardboard bed, not so much. It had, however, made a great desk for her laptop and all-night reading.
And considering she was only three days on the job—taking over for the former head of clinical psychology who’d transferred to another department—she had plenty of work to do. The prior department head hadn’t done one fourth of the studies that Cassandra deemed critical to properly evaluate these soldiers. And while the counseling aspect fell outside her clinical role, she wasn’t pleased with what was being offered. She’d certainly be nudging her way into that territory.
Files in hand, she exited her red Volkswagen Beetle, and pushed the door shut with a flick of her hip. She walked all of two steps when the wind whipped into high gear, fluttering her suit jacket at her hips and tearing to pieces the blonde knot tied at her nape.
She shoved at the loose locks of hair and drew to a shocked halt, blinking in disbelief as four men dressed in black fatigues materialized in a rush of hot August wind at the other side of the long parking lot next to the elevator. She drew a breath and forced it out, trying to calm the thunder of her heart pounding her chest. Apparently she wasn’t quite as prepared for the phenomenon of GTECH Super Soldiers as she’d thought she was. Or at least not this thing her piles of paperwork referred to as “wind-walking.” It was one thing to be inhumanly strong and fast, even to be immune to human disease, but to be able to travel with the wind was downright spooky—and suddenly, so was the dark parking lot as the four men disappeared into the elevator.
Eager to get inside, Cassandra started walking, but made it all of two steps before another man appeared beside the elevator, this time with no wind as warning. Good grief, she hadn’t read about that stealthy little trick yet. Special Forces soldiers were already called lethal weapons, but these men, this one in particular, were taking it to a whole new level.
Still a good distance away from the building, Cassandra slowed her pace, hoping to go unnoticed, but she wasn’t so lucky. The soldier punched the elevator button and then turned and waved her forward. Oh no. No. No. Not ready to meet anyone yet. Not until she had a few of her ducks in a row. Cassandra quickly juggled her files and snagged her cell from her purse as an excuse to decline joining him, holding it up, and waving him off. He hesitated a few moments as the doors opened before he finally stepped inside and disappeared.
Cassandra started walking instantly, determined to get to the darned elevator before another soldier appeared. By the time she was inside, she had her file on wind-walking open—a good distraction from the entire underground, bomb-shelter-style workplace that made her more than a little uneasy.
Absorbed in her reading, head down, Cassandra darted out of the elevator the instant it opened, only to run smack into a rock-hard chest. She gasped, paperwork flew everywhere, and strong hands slid around her arms, steadying her from a fall. It was then that she looked up to find herself staring into the most gorgeous pair of crystal blue eyes she’d ever seen in her life.
She swallowed hard and noticed his long raven hair tied at the back of his neck, rather than the standard buzz cut—a sure indicator he was Special Ops. He could be one of the two hundred GTECH soldiers stationed at the base. A Wind-walker, she thought, still in awe of what she’d seen above ground.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was…” She lost the final word, her mouth dry as she suddenly realized her legs were pressed intimately to his desert fatigues, and her conservative, military-issue skirt had managed to work its way halfway up her thigh. “Oh!”
She quickly took a step backwards, righting her skirt in a flurry of panicked movement. Three days on the job, and already she was putting on a show. She pressed her hand to her forehead. “I know better than to read while walking. I hope I didn’t hurt you.” He arched a dark brow as her gaze swept all six-foot-plus of incredibly hot man, all lethal muscle and mayhem, and knew that was unlikely. She laughed at the ridiculous statement, feeling uncharacteristically nervous. She was five four in her bare feet—well, on her tip toes—and she bet this man towered over her by nearly a foot. “Okay. I didn’t hurt you. But, well, I’m still sorry.”
He stared down at her, his gaze steady, unblinking, the chiseled lines of high cheekbones and a square jaw, expressionless. Except deep in those strikingly blue eyes, she saw a tiny flicker of what she thought was amusement. “I’m not sorry,” he said, bending down to pick up her files.
She blinked at the odd response, tilting her head and then bending down to face him. “What do you mean?” she asked, a lock of her blonde hair falling haphazardly across her brow, free from the clip that was supposed to be holding it in place. “You’re not sorry?”
He gathered the last of her files, then said, “I’m not sorry you ran into me. Have coffee with me.”
It wasn’t a question. In fact, it almost bordered on an order. And damn, if she didn’t like the way he gave that near order. Her heart fluttered at the unexpected invitation. “I don’t know if that is appropriate,” she said, thinking of her new position. She stalled. “I don’t even know your name.”
The elevator behind them dinged open, and Kelly Peterson, assistant director of science and medicine for Project Zodius, appeared. “You’re early, Cassandra,” she said, amusement lifting her tone. “Morning, Michael.” She continued on her way, as if she found nothing significant, or abnormal, about Cassandra being sprawled across the hallway floor with a hot soldier by her side.
Cassandra popped to her feet, appalled she’d made such a spectacle of herself. Her sexy Special Ops soldier followed. “Now you know my name,” he said, and this time, his firm, way-too-tempting mouth hinted at a lift. Not a smile, a lift. God… it was sexy. “Michael Taylor.”
“Cassandra,” she said, unable to say the last name, dreading it more with this man than with the many others she’d been introduced to in the past few days. What was she supposed to say? Hi. I’m the daughter of the man who changed your life forever by injecting you with alien DNA without telling you first, and then claimed it was to save you from an enemy biological threat? Now you’re a GTECH Super Soldier for what we think is the rest of your life, but who knows what that really means long-term for you. But hey, I promise I’m one of the good guys, here to ensure you aren’t used and abused just because you’re a macho, kickass, secret government weapon? And did I mention I’m nothing like my father?
“Cassandra Powell,” he said, handing her the files, leaning close, the warmth of his body blanketing her in sizzling awareness. “I know who you are. And no, that doesn’t scare me away. I never run away from anything I want.” He leaned back, fixing her in another one of those dreamy blue stares. “So how about that coffee?”
She nearly swallowed her tongue at his directness, but, a true general’s daughter, she managed to recover quickly, remembering her duty in a painfully responsible fashion. “I… don’t think that’s a good idea.”
He studied her a moment before stepping into the now open elevator doors. “I’ll ask again,” he said as he turned to face her. She found herself lost in those addictive crystal blue eyes—eyes that had promised nothing, but somehow, promised everything—until the steel doors shut between them.
Cassandra inhaled, the scent of him still lingering in the air, and she bit her bottom lip. Too bad she’d sworn off soldiers years ago, because he was one heck of a man. Oh yeah, he was. But she’d seen her mother fret and worry over a man who was gone too often and might never return, right up to the day she’d died two years before, and Cassandra already had her father to worry about. So why was she wondering when he would “ask again”?