|UNHACKABLE HEART: Glenn -- Do Only What She Must |
"Do the bare minimum and dump it on some buyer wanting to move to the country. If they want to renovate?" Tessa shrugged. "There's nowhere on the home disclosure, no little checkbox, for haunted. You can believe the previous owners didn't whisper a warning to me."
Glenn drove out of the circular driveway and turned right on the gravel road. "You can do that now? Without feeling guilty for wrecking innocent people's lives? What if the new owners have kids? It's a big house. What then, Tessa?"
"I won't sell to anyone with kids."
"Okay, so how about selling it to a happy couple? How long do you think they'll stay happy there?"
She glanced at him, caught in bright silver eyes that seemed to pick up stray moonbeams. "No happy couples either."
His crooked little grin grew a bit wider, dazzling her.
She looked away before he could finish casting a spell over her.
"Hmm," he said even if he no longer held her eyes with his. "No kids, no couples . . . how about a single woman?"
"No way would I do this to another chick."
"Ah, a single man then."
She huffed out her cheeks with her exasperation. "Not even to a single man. I like guys. I'm not a man-hater."
"Who are you going to sell the house to then? Someone's grandparents?"
"Glenn," she slid her hand over his on the seat between them. "Why are you making this so difficult?"
"Because it's simply not in you, Tessa, to leave such a mess for someone else to drown in." His rough knuckles stroked over her cheek. "You want to save the world, to protect the innocents."
"Don't be so sure. I left because surviving is the strong thing to do."
She pulled her head out of his reach and stared into the night at passing green cornfields. "You don't know me, Glenn. You don't! The stuff you have, saved without my permission from the sacrificial fires . . . I'm not that person anymore."
He turned onto another gravel road, taking the back way to town. He pulled to a stop, put his truck in park, and then he slid open the moon-roof.
She tilted her head back and stared at the perfect view of blue-black inky sky while thousands of points of light winked at her.
Glenn too was staring at the ceiling of heaven before he stated, "You must not be the same woman. The woman I knew would never have traded this for bright city lights."
"One of the tradeoffs, one of the price tags for living there." She sighed. "I do so miss the view." Tessa laughed. "The city gives me bolts of speed to cruise cyberspace. Get in. Get it done. Get out as fast as I can." She laughed again. "Oh yes, the city has its perks. It's so easy to be invisible there."
When she glanced his way, Glenn was close! So close, Tessa reacted like she was chatting with him, sending her first real answer before debating the wisdom of it. She leaned in toward him and Glenn lowered his mouth to hers.
His lips scorched a path down her neck. "Mmm. You walked away from here, Tessa. What could I have said that would change how you feel? That I hacked you? That I loved you? Those two words in a sentence back then and you would never learn to forgive me."
His mouth moved over her ear. "Can you forgive me now? Can you love me now?"
Tessa closed her teeth over his earlobe. "Mmm."
"That's close," he agreed and shivered.
"Let's go so I can get a hotel room."
She wasn't sure if his groan was in agreement or disappointment, but he drove them into town without uttering a single sound.
Although he pulled on a cowboy hat, dark gray, and slid it low as if hiding his features, she rented a room and invited him in. He attempted to lift three of the six laptops bags from her shoulder, but she swatted his hand away like an irksome fly. She had no sooner dropped the laptops on one bed before he growled near her ear.
"No. I'm not gonna be your little boink buddy."
"That's rude, Glenn, also very cocky."
"True just the same. It runs deeper than that and you know it. No. You will not taint it with hot sex in a hotel room before you move on! Nope, you are not poisoning this honeypot."
"I forgive you, Glenn, I told you that at the house. I've known about you for a long long time. Maybe poisoning the honeypot is my specialty?"
He blew out a deep exhale and grinned at her. "Maybe it is." He grabbed her black hat out of one of the six laptop bags and pulled it down over her face. "Let's go to Haven then and I'll show you a landscaped yard that shouts happy-happy joy-joy, not haunted as hell."
Tessa slid her arm through his. "If you could really do that, I might fall in love with you. Your landscapes are lovely. Think you can really banish those ghosts, Glenn?"
"I know I can, Tessa. Now, at this precise time in my life, yes I can do it. If you would have asked me five years ago, I'm not sure I would have been able to. I'll show you my arsenal, babe, at Haven."
Out they proceeded from her hotel room, to his truck, to Haven.
Glenn placed a call from the truck. All she heard was one side of the conversation, reduced by a dead car and circumstances to the low level hack. "Hey, Cole. Meet us at Haven." Glenn hung up and swung his handsome face toward her. "He's there now, waiting on us." He laughed. "It's good for him, to work on his patience."
"How do you know him, Glenn? To be buddy buddy with . . .? We're hundreds of miles from a metropolis. My black hat recognizes his when I didn't even know the radar was turned on. Hack a heart? Like an assassin with no trace, no trail? That's not one of my career goals, not listed in my objective."
She shook her head. "Wow. I don't know what you might have saved from the fire, and I know I have a wee bit of a rebel side, but do you think me truly the cracker with the code to kill?"
Glenn pulled the truck behind Haven and parked. "I think you have the code all ready, darlin'. Who better than a thief to show someone security?"
He hopped out and so did she before he could charm her by opening her door. "Are you calling me a thief?"
"A man would never be that stupid. You're a penetration tester. Talk to Cole," Glenn urged her and opened the backdoor of Haven for her.
Tessa frowned as it went from bad to worse and she nearly bumped into Cole as he stood there leaning against the back counter.
"Well well, Pixie." Cole did not look happy. He looked quite frankly like he was spinning his wheels, burning rubber, waiting to launch.
"Whoa, big dude." Tessa held up one hand stop-sign fashion. "Let me buy you a cup of coffee if you think you can handle the caffeine?"
Glenn grinned and saluted her. "See ya later with the happy house plan."
While Tessa awaited their cappuccinos, an old known enemy walked in past the security scanners and toward a computer. "Aw man," she grumbled under her breath.
His eyes were green like slimy payoff dollars, darting from one person to another, searching for his next target. When he found her, he strode straight through the crowd. His upper lip curled into a snarl before he slung verbal barbs like a fisherman cast out his line. His insults did not roll off her back, but hooked into her flesh as his word weapons dripped poison into her system. He laughed like his hateful words were humorous instead of oozing puss. Although many in the crowd whispered about the brute's behavior, they gave the unkempt barbarian a wide berth.
Glenn had moved from his office to stand beside her. "Get. Out. McCleary."
Tessa smoothed one hand down Glenn's arm. "No. It's okay. Go ahead. Go jump on a computer back there."
She handed Cole his coffee and walked to the back computer on the other side. She stuck her hand under her shirt and removed the red USB from her necklace. She slid it in a front port. Glenn returned to his office, so she turned her full attention on the computer in front of her.
Glenn though, must have had other ideas and bleeped an IM her way. She shouldn't let it auto-sign on but laughed when she read his words. What r u doing to my network woman? "Pixiedust," she said out loud in a singsong voice. That's actually my computer McCleary is using before u crack it open & drop a bomb on the hard drive. "Me?"
"An enemy of yours?" Cole dropped into the chair next to her, not even bothering to pretend like he wasn't shoulder surfing.
"Grr," she said aloud to him but continued her tests. "Excuse me? Move away from me." She swung her hand in the direction of a computer away from her. "Go over there, okay?" She removed the red USB before disconnecting a purple one from her necklace. She plugged it in the front port.
"No thanks, Tessa. Right off your shoulder is a ride I'm used to."
Tessa was on her feet before she even thought about jumping up. "Who are you?" she demanded.
"I just told you."
"I don't know you," she insisted. "I don't think I want to."
"You do. We'd make a great team. We think a lot alike."
"You are not my big brother or Big Brother."
"You're right. I'm not anymore. I don't carry a badge anymore."
Glenn stepped into the middle of them, between their chairs. He hitched his thumb at Cole. "He's too fast. Slow down, Stone, the lady looks spooked. You ready to see the happy landscaped haunted house?"
"Yes, thank you kindly." Tessa ejected the flash drive and walked with it to Glenn's office.
"I don't like your friend," she said from his desk.
"I hope not," Glenn said into her ear from behind. "It wouldn't be like to like though, right?"
Tessa turned around, leaning against his desk, facing him as he stood well within her perimeter alarms. Silver eyes circled in dark gray swept over her face down her shirt but seemed to get stuck on the word hacker over her breasts. Did Glenn have a hate going on for hackers? Did he trust her on his network?
She lifted her shirt a little bit, reconnected her purple memory stick, and disconnected the red stick.
But one of Glenn's fingers caught and held her shirt. "What do you have here? Let me see."
It didn't sound much like a request. She let him see the dangling guns and gems pierced through her bellybutton and the three remaining USBs that hung from a twine of gold and silver chains. Then Tessa smoothed her shirt back down, ignored his steamy eyes, and walked over to the adjoining room, the server room.
At the locked door, she held up the red stick. "May I?"
Glenn opened the server room door with a swipe of his badge and held the door open for her. "What are you gonna stick on my server, darlin'?"
She plugged it in. "A bandaid." She finished patching the hole. Because he had not so much as batted an eyelash of distrust, she tipped up on her toes and kissed his chin. "That's what I like about you, Glenn."
Tessa shook her head though. It was quite nice to be trusted. She rewarded him with full disclosure. "You had a door cracked open that would take no brute force just in through the back and wham! I don't know about you, but I hate it when I've got vulnerabilities showing."
"Me too," he laughed. Then he started a slideshow of landscaping, beautiful, peaceful, and so unbelievably tranquil.
"Wow, Glenn. Can you really do that . . . to my spooky house? It looks, well," she thought for a second. "It looks inviting. There is nothing inviting about the house or the land."
He looked back over his shoulder at her. "I can do that. All of it. All that you need." The intentness in his soft drawl matched the determination shining in his silver regard.
"Glenn," she closed her eyes. "What am I going to do about you?"
"Ask me now." He swiveled his chair until he was fully facing her, where she was shoulder surfing.
She swallowed. He was a great artist with land as his canvas. He was dangerously considerate. He was good looking. He could hack. She liked him. Red flag! High alert! Back away this very instant from the ghost hunting landscaper.
"Here chick chick," he taunted her. "Would it kill you to admit you are attracted to me?"
"Maybe," she muttered. Tessa pointed at the landscape slideshow still dazzling his screen. "Can you do that, Glenn, in all honesty, by landscaping like it looks?"
"Or," she leaned her face down to his. "Do think you'd have to hunt and, guess you don't kill dead shadowy things, but do whatever to get them out of the house? For it to be that pretty, that inviting, that much promise to someone new? Landscaping or will it take renovating to hunt ghosts?"
What will Glenn tell her?
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