Authors: Kristi Avalon
In a darkened room
twenty feet beneath his office building, Logan Stone stood before an elite panel of observers. Anticipation coursed through him. The time had come to unveil his masterpiece.
“For security reasons, I ask you to remain behind the crimson ropes,” Logan instructed.
shone on the faces of the guests crowding the edges of the display room. Their breathless pause shot electricity through his veins.
“Allison, if you will.” Logan gestured to the woman who’d been the object of his fascination for almost two years. As a contractor for the military and other high-level government operations, Allison Dupree was the whole package, brains and beauty, with the connections he needed to obtain a coveted military contract. They’d worked in the same circles and run into each other at conventions for a while, so he knew she was the woman for the job—though, he was interested in more than her training and demonstration abilities.
So he’d made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. And she’d accepted. She’d learned the technical aspects of his system quickly, proving herself invaluable over the past six weeks. Preorders and projected sales had topped his goal, edging toward the billion-dollar mark. The prestige he strove for, obtaining a top-intel government contract, was finally in his sights.
“My pleasure, Mr. Stone.” Allison’s lips curved with her signature smile. An alluring combination of buttoned-up formality and subtle sexuality that made his mouth go dry. She
took her place at the center of the room. She tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulders, awaiting his cue to start the show.
Dim light caressed her face. His pulse thrummed. His fingers twitched with the need to run his fingertips along the soft skin of her bare shoulder, press his lips against her neck—
. Would this hyper-awareness of her ever fade?
Logan cleared his throat. “In real-time, my new security technology requires a fraction of a second to perform the functions you’re about to see. I’ve slowed the system’s response time to give you a clearer idea of this state-of-the-art integration can do.”
Sliding the remote control device from his suit pocket, he pressed the blue button. A flat-screen TV lowered from the ceiling.
“The latest Stone Security Elite Edition combines the most advanced security technologies available, in the most powerful singular protection device on the market. Let’s start with facial recognition.”
A green laser beam shot from the wall, fanning over Allison. All heads turned to the overhead TV as a high-def computer sketched her portrait in 3D like a topography map. But he couldn’t take his eyes off Allison. He tapped his finger against the remote, annoyed by a spike of jealousy that this computer had more intimate contact with her body than he did.
Reigning in his focus, he pressed another button and a second flat-screen lowered beside the first. “Next, we have thermal imaging.”
The security software read Allison’s body temperature. He wondered how the thermal imaging would register if he slid his hand down the arch of her back and whispered exactly what he wished they were doing right now.
The practice runs they’d performed earlier today had proven an excruciating test of his self-control. He still ached to explore her red-hot zones, the way he had during their one-night affair two months ago. Right before he’d made her the job offer. A sizzling night he was dying to repeat. Except she neatly avoided any discussion of the topic, no matter how subtly he mentioned it. She skirted his advances, ignored his hints, acting as if their night of phenomenal sex never happened. He couldn’t forget so easily. They were amazing together. He just needed her to admit it. And give in to him. He’d fantasized about dozens of
ways he’d like to
He blew out a controlled breath and continued. “We’ve also incorporated retinal scans, fingerprint analysis, voice recognition software, and security password clearance.”
Allison modeled each component like a pro. Each demonstration was displayed on a different flat-screen.
He turned to find his audience rapt. “Now I want to show how the sequences work together to create the most advanced security programming to date.” Scanning the crowd, he chose the scientist from CERN to open a dialogue.
“Dr. Carier, thank you for coming all the way from Switzerland for this demonstration. As a member of the top scientific communities in the world, I imagine you understand the value of impenetrable security.”
The scientist nodded. “We worry about the details of any project leaking out prematurely. There have been three occurrences recently with the security we have now.”
“That’s three too many. How would like a system guaranteeing zero thefts?”
Dr. Cartier’s gaze sharpened. “I’m listening, Mr. Stone.”
On a flat tabletop near Allison’s hip, the edges of a large vertical rectangle began to glow, the shape resembling an elongated computer screen. A 3D puzzle shimmered into existence. Allison’s graceful hands touched the 3D images, moving them sequentially until they locked into place. The technology displayed the shapes so viewers on all sides could watch her movements.
The puzzle pieces clicked, and a mechanized female voice intoned, “Good morning. Please state your name.”
The disembodied voice responded, “I am authorizing access to files on this terminal…”
Ellipses flashed as the system processed Allison’s information on multiple levels. Guests watched in silence until the computer spoke to her again in surround sound.
Dupree. Would you like to retrieve
your files, or do you wish to begin a new project?”
“Upload the most current file.”
The files loaded onto the see-through screen before the audience could blink. An icon flashed signaling completion. “Your files are ready for viewing.”
Whispers flew amongst the guests. A representative from the CIA spoke up. “What happens when someone other than Allison tries to access the files?”
Logan was ready with the answer. “Think of my security measures as an elaborate sign-in platform linked to your existing IT system.” He paced as he explained. “Instead of the typical ‘user name and password,’ you connect each piece of the puzzle in a certain order you specify. Now, even if someone else discovers the sequence to unlock your data, the
scans and reads your unique bio-imprint as you move the objects. If I press the image after Allison…”
Logan tapped the 3D image. The viewer went black then reverted to the original puzzle pieces floating independently. “As we speak, the system has closed access to her files. The signal sends an alert notifying the program of an abnormality.”
“What happens to the files now?” Cardinal Montague from the Vatican asked, his voice raspy with age. “Will important data be lost…how do you say, in cyberspace?”
“I’ll let Allison show you.”
Allison’s green eyes sparkled with excitement. It sent a tingle up his spine that she appreciated the complexities of the system as much as he did. Her admiration meant a lot, on a personal level. It went both ways. She’d taken it upon herself to use her gift with languages to translate the voice-activated components into French, Italian, Spanish and German, which might’ve taken his company months to create. This international coalition of observers was only possible at this point because of her.
“The system recognizes and responds to my voice,” Allison explained. “It will bring up the puzzle for me to reconstruct.” She went through the motions as she spoke. “After the bio-scans reanalyze my fingerprints and the vein pattern in my palm, my files reappear intact.”
A chairman from the International Monetary Fund scoffed. “Suppose someone’s holding a gun to her head?”
Logan held back a grin. This capability he’d personally engineered, drawing from his experiences in espionage as a former commander of a U.S. Special Forces team.
“Remember the retinal scans, facial recognition and thermal imaging software? My system goes on to pinpoint signs of distress within those parameters, like pupil dilation, heart rate elevation, changes in core body temperature…watch.”
had looked forward to this part of the demonstration most. Coming up behind Allison, he slid his arm around her waist and drew her back against his chest. His body went on high sexual alert.
What he would give to have Allison to himself in the dark room with nothing but clothes separating them. His hand flared across her hipbone. One fingertip found the line of her panties. He was tempted to trace the seam downward. He forced himself to ignore his pounding lust. He drew his hand up to cup her waist instead.
With his free hand he mimicked the shape of a gun and held it under her jaw. “Get into the system,” he demanded, simulating a hostage situation.
She pressed the screen.
“We’re sorry,” the computerized voice stated. “Access denied.” A wide green laser swept the room floor to ceiling. “Detecting an unauthorized entity. Image recording to defense database…” Ellipses flashed. A red icon popped up on the
. “Match: Logan Stone. Occupation: Owner, Stone Security. Known address: Seventeen Wellspring Drive, Denver, Colorado. No weapon detected. Description dispatched to security personnel.”
In the far corner a printer spit out a piece of paper. Releasing Allison, he retrieved the print-out and held it up to the guests. The page displayed the picture on his diver license, along with the data the system collected with a single laser scan.
“With terabytes dedicated to identity search engines and linked to your company’s computerized profiles, an intruder doesn’t stand a chance.”
The panel stared unblinking. The head of Homeland Security pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Is this system available
Logan resisted the urge to punch the air in a gesture of victory. “We’ve started taking orders. The system rolls out
Questions flooded him. He took the abundant attention in stride.
Allison singled out the Louvre Museum assistant-curator, who instantly warmed to her presence. Logan heard her speak to him in fluid French. She was one of the best investments he’d ever made. They worked the room likes pros, independently and together.
Now if only he could get their connection to extend beyond the demonstration room and back into the bedroom. During the six weeks he’d worked beside her, he hadn’t figured her out. Most women wore their hearts on their sleeves. They spilled their life story after one martini at the bar, but Allison wore a shell impossible to crack.
It drove him crazy.
drove him crazy.
He noticed a quizzical frown form between her eyebrows, and he came to her side should she need technical information about the system.
“Can I help answer any questions?” he offered. Allison took a few steps back. Frustration tensed
his muscles. She seemed to avoid his presence unless absolutely necessary to their work. To stop her retreat, he placed his hand on her lower back and drew her close.
“Excuse me, Mr. Stone.”
She darted away, leaving him to stare after her at a loss. This dance they did around the obvious irritated him. He was determined to get her alone and get some answers. “Allison—”
“Be right back,” she said over her shoulder before disappearing into the elevator at the end of the hall.
He gritted his teeth.
Why does she keep doing that?
Allison pulled in a deep breath, then let it out slowly.
Only six more weeks
That’s all she had to endure before she took the eye-popping amount of money Logan had offered for this contract job and created the life of her dreams in Paris. Leaving the U.S. and her painful experiences behind.
She’d worked so hard for this, making personal sacrifices along the way. The notion of starting over completely on her own terms, with no one but her controlling her fate, shimmered like a mirage on the horizon. Freedom was so close she could almost taste it.
Unfortunately, at the moment she couldn’t think about tasting anything.
Leaning against the bathroom stall, she held her stomach until her sudden bout of queasiness passed. This wasn’t the first time she’d felt ill out of nowhere.
popped into her head. Cold chills streamed down her arms. Dizziness overwhelmed her, as did an avalanche of fears about what would happen if she became pregnant at this uncertain stage of her life.
Immediately, she shut out the thought. That was impossible. She and Logan had used protection.
Discounting that theory, she hoped the sinus infection that had plagued her a few weeks ago wasn’t returning. She rarely got sick, and she didn’t need this right now. Not with back-to-back presentations for Logan’s Elite System looming. The next six weeks would be grueling but well worth the prize at the end. She’d leave with no strings attached and enough money to start the life she’d been steadily aiming for the past four years.