|UNHACKABLE HEART: Cole -- Ghosts from her Past|
Tessa pulled Cole with one hand and Glenn with the other out the front door. "Don't run," she reminded herself, but the darkness knew when it crossed her mind and she could feel its evil power throb. "I'd like to get a handle on my privacy issues," she admitted to Cole. "Choose to wish them well, burying them with kindness, to roast for all time on their conscience."
Cole opened the door to Glenn's truck for her. When Glenn glanced at Cole in question, it sounded like Cole was giving Glenn an order, "Go on. I want to meet her husband's ghost first."
He slammed the door on her stunned disbelief!
"Get her out of here, Glenn."
"I'm the ghost hunter," Glenn claimed loudly over the racket of light and sound coming from the house.
"Ghost hunter," she echoed like she surely didn't hear her friend, the landscaper, right.
"Yep," Glenn confirmed. "And he's the once fed that was chasing you down, to shut you down, but you shot him down," Glenn added while pointing his finger at his own heart and pretending to fire. "Now he only hunts cyber ghosts."
"You are crazy," she muttered in the midst of an insane episode of haunting.
Cole glanced back over his shoulder and frowned at her. "I thought you thought I was the crazy one?"
Glenn nudged her. "He's got it bad. Jealous like coming from you . . . calling him crazy is an endearment."
At the front door, Cole straightened and looked as unmovable as a wall of granite. "She's not your wife anymore," he announced into the darkness. Then he stepped into the house.
She flung the truck door open and hopped out. "Get him, Glenn, before he gets hurt!"
Glenn didn't move toward the front door though. "No, Tessa. It can't hurt you."
She pointed toward her forehead. "Oh yes it can. It can fill up your head, swirl around your thoughts. It's evil. You must retreat when it's haunting your head."
She stomped one sneakered foot. "Cole! Don't make me come in after you!" She counted to ten, like she was counting down to allie allie in free, and then ran for the front door. "Cole!"
But as if it had never turned loose of her all together, only lurking quietly in the background of her brain like a wise hacker, a low crackle of laughter growled like rumbling thunder in her head. "Cole?"
He came back through the doorway, slammed the door shut, and slapped the padlock over the front door. "He still wants you. Or wants you dead."
He hurried her down the steps and into the road. "Take her in town, Reston, to the hotel. I'll see you there, Tessa."
She grabbed his hand. "I thought I was riding with you?"
He shook his head, stirring his black hair to sway with the motion. "No. I'm feeling meaner than any outlaw I pretended to be online. I don't want to be around you while he's got questions, doubts, circling in my head like anything I say to you right now will be the wrong thing and I'll lose you for good."
He spun toward her and pointed at her chest, pointed right to the word hacker on her t-shirt. "That's not going to happen, Tessa! You are on the same path as me for a reason. Get it?"
"Yikes!" she shuddered. "You sure you want to walk through that foggy forsaken cemetery by yourself tonight? Quite a spooky hike if you don't have someone along to show you how to be invisible."
"You ran from me last time. Can you really be running toward me now?"
She pointed back toward the house. "He insisted, Cole. With his fists. That the computer be run with no firewall, no virus protection, no nothing. Sammy wanted me slaughtered by enemies and he didn't count on me having a powerful ally."
Nearly as worked up as the clashing inside her old home, she tapped one manicured nail against his chest. "I know who all the players are. Each and every one. But I didn't fire away at them once I knew. It was enough to know and make the choice not to shoot them dead in their digital footsteps. Why do you think I got so good at security?"
"I know why, darlin'." He looked her up and down pointedly. "I know you. You found out the faces, the names, the aliases attached to each person and then it's like you shut down your brain and stepped off the horizon."
He tapped her forehead. "And the one that should have peaked that damned curiosity the most . . . well you never wanted to find me, to see me. And damn you to hell, you jumped off my radar every single time you so much as dared to go anywhere and chat. You recognized me every time and bailed out, logged off, dropped off at the merest blip of radar suggesting it was me."
Glenn walked into the road too. "I'll bring out all the equipment tomorrow. It knows we're coming to bury it back in hell where it belongs. Mark your calendars, kids. Tomorrow night we hunt ghosts."
"Not her," Cole stated to Glenn like she wasn't standing next to them both. "You told me, Glenn, the cave in the woods on her property has quartz, limestone, water, iron . . . and a few other physical properties like it's a natural-made battery, recording horror, making its own terror."
Tessa did not want to come back to this house. She never had and she probably never would. "It has to be done," she whispered. "Heroes don't accept the world as it is; they try to change it."
Glenn hopped back in his truck and started the engine. "Come on, I'll give you a ride to your motorcycle."
Cole slid in next to Tessa and they bumped along the gravel road in silence.
When Glenn pulled off the road near a deserted railroad track, near where the bike was parked, he asked, "See you later at Haven?"
"Sure thing," Cole replied before shutting the truck door and turning toward her. "Tessa? Do you need to stop for your laptops, some clothes, anything out of your car?"
She glanced at her watch. That was hours ago, but she recalled how slowly things worked in the rural flatlands. Her dead car was probably still on the side of the road. "Yes please."
After they both straddled his bike, and the gravel road disappeared behind them, Cole kicked up the speed. She sighed and settled her head against his shoulder. Her hands around his waist could feel a tight coil of roiling emotions that still had him in dangerous clutches. He reeked of frustration; it curled off him like smoke.
When he stopped at her dead car, she collected all six of her laptops and stuffed some clothes into each bag. Then she waddled from the weight of three computers hanging from each of her sides. She started to climb on behind him, but his sneer had the look of a mad dog about to bite.
She sighed and cupped his stubbly cheek. "I don't know anyone anymore, or I would do something to mellow you out."
"I thought you gave that shit up?"
She didn't bother to play dumb. She also didn't answer before hopping on behind him.
He twisted around for a second, anger still pounding off him. "Don't forget, I've seen you barefoot, stoned, and desperate."
That was a very long time ago indeed. That niggled around in her brain until she had checked into her hotel room.
Although he had a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead and his mirrored shades on in the lobby at night, she invited him into her room. He took the electronic key from her fingers, slid it through the lock, and swung open the door for her.
She dropped back on one of the mattresses, pulling off all six straps for her laptop bags. "You had no right," she stated simply. "I wasn't selling smoke, so what right did you have to intrude like that?"
Warming to the subject, she jumped to her feet and hissed, "How dare you plant tiny web cams all over my house! Was it your idea to broadcast my life over your elite site?"
Perhaps she should not have brought up the subject while his mood was as foul as the evil spirit in her old country house. Perhaps she should not have invited him to her room. Perhaps she should have tried to rush past him into the hall.
Cole pushed off from where he was leaning back against her closed hotel door. "Yeah, I did all that."
"I won't forgive you for it! Why? Why me?"
"I thought you had all the answers, Tessa? Each and every one, I think you stated. Are you back to lying again?"
"I thought you were the one who told me to lie about everything, to just shovel it out and spread it thick, to tell no one anything of real value . . . to tell no one what was truly happening in real-time in my life?"
Navy blue eyes shuttered as he stepped toward her. "I did. You were playing with players and you were unarmed." He tapped one finger against her forehead.
Fast becoming as angry as he, she barked, "Are you calling me stupid again?"
He blew out a long exhale before throwing her words back in her face. "Heroes don't accept the world as it is; they try to change it."
She snorted her disbelief. "So you're a hero now?"
"I changed, Tessa. I changed because of what happened to you. In fact, I changed everything about my life because of you. You haunted me and there was no closure when you simply yanked out the cameras and disconnected all your computers. I could find no peace."
Tessa held her tongue, biting back bitter words that choked in the back of her throat. She had changed too, changed everything about herself. She pursued furthering her education, which her husband totally disapproved of. "Look at me," she said much too quietly for the echo of fury pounding in her heart. "I'm a security freak. That only happened because of what happened."
"Can you believe that although God doesn't do bad things to people, that He could turn it around and use it for His good purposes?"
"Everyone, everyone, thought I'd gone crazy. There was closure, you big dumb jerk! I distinctly recall you saying ‘Goodbye Angel" and executing the last of the code to turn my hard drive into cement."
He blew out another deep breath and walked closer to her. "Do you remember your mental state at the time? Your favorite two words when anyone sent you a private message were your first two words. They weren't winning you any friends; even the folks that liked you were getting pretty steamed. Do you remember what those words were?"
She grimaced. Oh yeah, how could she forget? She had changed from Suzy Sunshine to Evil Eve. If anyone sent her a private message, she typed f*ck off and hit F1 to start malicious code of her own on their computer. No way was she admitting that to him! She'd even started snapping pictures with an old film camera of anyone coming or going on that deserted gravel road where she had lived.
As if he could hear the thoughts rumbling in her head, or maybe it was the emotions tumbling over her face, he nodded. "I thought so."
He tossed his baseball cap onto the dresser. "And the negatives from your pictures? Snapping their license plate was good thinking, but the ones you didn't get anything but a picture of their face? Well it took several years before technology caught up, but anyone that you don't have figured out who they were . . . that's where facial recognition software has given me the answers."
She gasped. "Why are you here? I understood what had set folks off, believe me. I was as much rebel as angel to people. Why did you play so many parts, so many different aliases? Didn't you think I could recognize you . . . the way you talk, the person you are in private?"
When he closed large hands over her shoulders, smoothing up and down her arms, she hammered him with questions again. "Why did you hate me so much? Why did you push me and push me until I had no other recourse but to fight back?"
"I didn't hate you, Tessa. You were supposed to leave that house, not settle in for the siege and wage war on everyone. There were way too many people playing, some hired guns, some having fun. When people started following you around, started breaking into your house, there were too many people doing their own thing."
"You don't have to tell me, dude. I won't be forgetting it in this lifetime."
"You have great intelligence. You had the aptitude. You were meant to go into security, to be a security freak as you say. You were meant to streak so far ahead of the pack, that someday you would save lives."
"Trying to save the world is useless and tiring. Way too big of a job for one person."
"But you will save lives, Tessa. That's why you are all fired up about the ability to hack the heart. You stir people to unite and fight to regain privacy."
"I hate it when you talk to me like you know me."
"I do know you. For years now. I've been in your head, learned how your mind whirls, and watched you excel in technology."
His cell rang and he answered it. After a few grunts, he stated, "We're heading to Haven now. Give us five minutes to get there."
Grateful to leave, Tessa opened the door. "Don't come into my room again."
"You invited me in! Listen, the trip out to your old house has us both stirred up with strife. I was, for a time, not your protector but your head cyber-ghost. When you cool down, I'll answer any question you ask me. Anything at all with all honesty."
So Cole was her head ghost, the one she could feel for the next several years when he would try to interact with her. But she knew him, somehow she knew him, and would pull a ghost herself and vanish. Could she leave it in the past where it had been buried, long dead, or did she need to push and probe, to understand why Cole Stone had been the main ghost haunting her since he cracked her life and computer open?
Or maybe, just maybe, the remembrances rubbed her the wrong way like the rough edge of sandpaper grinding away at an anger she thought she'd left behind years ago. She was that person no longer. Now she was Pixie. Maybe it was time to start slamming her good wand of bad wishes on her enemies?
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