Something was wrong. Rafe could feel it. He’d opened the door to the building that housed his family’s business, but hesitated before going in. The hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up. With a cursory glance into the lobby of the building, he couldn’t see anything wrong. Chalking it up to being in Afghanistan too long, where he relied on his senses to stay alive, Rafe went in, tugging on his collar. Maybe that was it. He was reacting to the civilian uniform of a shirt and tie when he’d rather be in his Navy SEAL gear. It’s not like I could have shown up in desert cammies and boots, he thought. But it might have been worth it to see the look on his brother’s face if he’d walked into the meeting dressed like that. Vince was always a little obsessive about appearances.
Glancing up at the second floor landing where people could enjoy the atrium, Rafe swept the area for anything out of the ordinary and saw a man intently watching him. Stepping forward to get a closer look, the man noticed his interest and turned, disappearing. Rafe went to the elevators, all of his senses on alert now. Should I go to the second floor? Am I over-reacting?
With a grimace, he tried to loosen his tie, just a little. It felt harder to think when he was buttoned down with a tie, but as he quickly mulled it over, he decided it was an over-reaction. Some guy watching him didn’t mean anything was wrong. It could simply be his subconscious urging him not to go in because he'd been battling himself all morning about coming. Ever since Vince had been made acting-president, he’d been making demands on everyone and Rafe planned to say no to anything Vince asked him. Their father would be on his feet soon and Rafe would be back in the field as soon as his knee healed. There was no point in starting anything with Dad’s business. Rafe wasn’t planning on being here longer than he had to be. He pulled on his tie again, definitely regretting the choice of attire.
He took a deep breath and ran an impatient hand through his longer-than-normal hair. The air was humid, and from the looks of the pewter gray sky on his way in, Rafe knew they’d have rain before the afternoon was out. And rain will make my knee ache, he thought with an inward groan.
Realizing how much his injury had taken over his thoughts, his actions¾his life¾he made a promise not to dwell on it any more today. Men wearing shirts and ties just like him strode through the lobby, getting to their jobs where they belonged. Will that ever be me? Could I be happy working inside all day? With how ugly the last mission in Afghanistan had been and how slow his knee was healing, he knew he might have to think about that in the near future. But not today.
He got into the elevator, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling again. Stop it. Nothing is wrong. He looked around the elevator, just to reassure himself. Two men in suits and a woman in the corner, watching him. Nothing dangerous. Rafe gave her a smile and turned back around. Everything is fine. I’m going to meet my baby brother and get the you-could-help-me-around-here routine. I’m going to say no. Then I’m going to visit Gary. There’s nothing to worry about.
The elevator dinged as they reached his floor and Rafe put a smile on his face. At least he could look forward to seeing his old friend Gary Holman. Gary had gone through SEAL training with Rafe from start to finish and they’d served together in Afghanistan. When Gary was wounded in combat and sent home, Rafe had recommended him to his father because of his computer skills. The rest was history. From what Rafe could see Gary was happier than he’d ever been. He couldn’t wait to kick back and relax with him like old times.
Rafe got off the elevator and headed toward his dad’s office. Axis, Inc., had grown a lot. It had started out as a corner office and small reception area, and had now expanded to fill the entire eighth floor. Computer forensics was a booming business these days, apparently. Rafe stopped mid-stride to look at the receptionist desk, trying to hide his surprise. Instead of the familiar receptionist his father had employed for years, there was a young woman with curly blonde hair down her back. She looked up at him with a large smile on her face, her long, obviously fake lashes nearly touching her eyebrows. Rafe couldn’t turn away, but knew it was rude to stare. “Can I help you?” she finally asked.
“Uh, no.” He watched her give him the once-over. Her lashes seemed to have a life of their own as she blinked rapidly. “I have an appointment.” He walked toward the door that led to the offices, but found that it was locked. “New security?” he asked, turning back to the mini-me of Tammy Faye Baker who was now standing at her desk. Why didn’t I take my father’s private elevator from the parking garage?
“What was your name?” She smoothed her skirt down, calling attention to the length of material. Or lack thereof.
“I’m Rafe Kelly. I’m meeting my brother Vince.”
“Ohh.” She came around the desk, her impossibly wide smile even wider. “Are you the Navy SEAL? Vince told me about you. I’d be happy to swipe you through.”
She wobbled a bit walking toward him and Rafe’s eyes slid to her ankles. Her heels had to be at least six-inch platforms. It was a wonder she could walk at all. As she drew near, she wobbled again and he reached out an arm to steady her.
“Thank you.” She stared up at him, her blue eyes as calculating as an accountant at tax time. “I’m so clumsy sometimes.”
She pressed herself against his arm and Rafe politely stepped back. With a wink, or maybe a long eyelash blink, she grasped the card hanging from her lanyard around her neck. Leaning over to the door’s security panel, she swiped it, practically posing for Rafe as she did so.
Rafe wanted to roll his eyes at her blatant attempt to flirt with him, but he maintained a polite smile. Maybe if I don’t react . . .
Nope. “My name’s Penny,” she said, her voice a little more breathy as she straightened and took his arm again. “You know, I always show up, just like a shiny new penny.”
Rafe raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t the phrase a bad penny always turns up?”
“Well, if you put it that way,” she practically purred, running her hand up his arm, stopping to squeeze his left bicep. “I’d be happy to turn up to show you my bad side. Or even turn up somewhere you’re going to be.”
Rafe kept his smile pasted on his face, but moved his arm back an inch to free it from her manicured grasp. He wasn’t unused to female attention¾being a SEAL got him his fair share, but he wasn’t looking for it right now. And she definitely wasn’t his type. Trying to imagine her hiking, or swimming, or doing anything he liked to do was nearly impossible. High maintenance.
He reached for the door handle that now had a flashing green light to the side of it, anxious to be out of this awkward situation. “Thanks, but . . . I don’t think so.”
She stepped toward him, cutting off his ability to escape unless he wanted to knock her off her high heels. “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
Rafe resisted the urge to be rude. Does she treat everyone this way? Is that why Vince hired her? He made a mental note to at least ask Vince what had happened to Genevieve. She was professional and had worked for Axis from the beginning. His father wouldn’t have fired her.
He opened his mouth to say ‘I have to go,’ when the elevator behind them dinged, announcing an arrival. They both turned at the sound and Penny moved away from him to head back to her desk. “Thank you,” Rafe said on a sigh of relief, glancing back to see who had saved him from that uncomfortable situation with Penny. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up again and with a start of surprise, he recognized the familiar figure that walked out of the elevator, looking around as if he were lost.
“Gary,” Rafe called, turning toward his friend. “Are you just getting back from lunch?” He stretched out his hand. Gary’s burns had faded a lot more in the last few months, the grafts making his injured face look so much better. Everything was looking up.
Rafe was about to pull him into a hug, but Gary reared back, his eyes darting to the people around them. He wiped sweat away from his brow, putting his other hand into the pocket of the very large jacket he was wearing. “Gary, what’s wrong?”
At that second, Gary drew out a gun and when he did, his jacket parted. Strapped to his chest was what looked like the weapon prototype they’d been testing in Afghanistan just ten months ago. “Rafe, I need you to come to the roof with me. Right now,” he choked out.
Rafe held out his hands, hoping he was coming across as conciliatory. Is this a PTSD episode? “Gary, let’s talk about this. Whatever this is about, I can help you.”
Gary shook his head. “I don’t have a choice.” He waved toward the bomb. “You’ve got to come with me now or the bomb will detonate.”Turning back to Penny who seemed frozen at her desk, Rafe said sharply, “Call 911. Now,” and then he headed for the stairs with Gary. Looking at his friend’s desperate face, Rafe sucked in a breath. It hadn’t been an over-reaction after all. Something was definitely very wrong.