Brighter Than the Sun Page 6

Very real pain shone in Rusty’s eyes, mixed with shadows from the past, and Zoe immediately felt a surge of guilt for what she was making her friend do. They were both lying to Rusty’s adoptive parents and it made her feel like complete scum.

“Hey, don’t look like that,” Rusty said. “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t agree with or like, and in this case, I’m okay with that. Besides, they’d never be angry with me in a situation like this. I’m not lying to them out of malice or to get out of something I’ve done or a failure to take responsibility. I’m doing this to save my friend’s life, and quite frankly, they’d be completely disappointed in me if I turned my back on you and refused to help you or just looked the other way. That’s not who they are. Any of my family. Frank and Marlene have always taught their children and everyone they’ve adopted into the fold to step up, do the right thing and be selfless. It’s safe to say that they managed to successfully instill those values into every single one of their children, whether blood-related or not. It may have just taken me a little longer to grasp the concept than the others,” she added ruefully.

“Knock knock,” Frank called out from the hall. “I’ve got your bags. If you’ll tell me where you want them, I’ll get you all squared away.”

Rusty hurried to the door and swung it open and Zoe noticed already that any time Rusty so much as looked at her parents, her expression immediately softened into one of love and warmth.

“Thanks, Pop. You can just set them down here,” she said, gesturing to the wall just inside the door. “We’ll unpack later after we face-plant onto the bed for an hour to rest up. I swear the drive from Knoxville gets longer and longer each time I make it.”

Frank kissed Rusty’s forehead. “That’s why you need to establish your career closer to home. It’s not the same without you here, and your mother and I miss you. Would be nice to be able to see you more often and even better if when you marry and have children, you’re right here with all our other grandchildren so we can spoil them rotten.”

Zoe stifled her laughter at Rusty’s immediate deer-in-the-headlights look at Frank’s mention of marriage and children.

Frank turned to go. “I’ll let you girls get unpacked. Again, it’s nice to have you, Zoe, and if you need anything at all, you just let me or Marlene know and we’ll fix you right up.”

He had nearly disappeared from view when he suddenly turned back.

“Oh, I forgot to mention. Your mother wanted me to tell you that dinner will be ready shortly, so I’d put a rush on it.”

CHAPTER 3

JOE leaned back against one of the desks in the war room and surveyed the loosely scattered teams, including the two new recruits, Ryker Sinclair and Allie Jacobs. Ryker had joined Joe and Nathan’s team, a fact that made the twin brothers extremely happy. Ryker had served in the army with them, and Joe and Nathan both trusted him with their lives—and those of their other teammates, Swanny, Edge and Skylar.

Allie had been a surprise to say the least. She was an explosive fireball in a very small package. The look on Rio’s face alone when he’d been introduced to his potential new team member had been worth the price of admission. Less than an hour later, after she had put not only Rio but Terrence—Rio’s right-hand man and a giant of a bear—on their asses, Rio’s skepticism had turned to respect in a nanosecond. And after her prowess at the shooting range and a demonstration of her ability to quickly and efficiently defuse explosive devices, everyone in KGI had been convinced that she was a superior recruit and grateful they’d snatched her up before another agency had.

All the elements of an awesome find were there, but there was some question as to whether she would be a match personality wise. Allie was stiff and seemed uncomfortable around the easy camaraderie of the KGI team members, but everyone was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. It could be that she was simply nervous and ill at ease in her new surroundings.

Sam, his oldest brother and founder of KGI, looked at his watch with clear confusion.

“Anyone hear from Steele? Not like him to be late for a meeting.”

The others appeared as surprised as Sam. Members of Steele’s team shifted but remained silent, but concern clearly shone in Dolphin’s eyes.

“What if something happened to him?” He asked the question most prevalent in all their minds.

In response, Sam picked up his cell and punched a button just as the door to the war room slid open and everyone turned to see Steele standing there, eyes glazed, appearing as though he didn’t have one clue where he was or who he was.

“I was about to inform you worrywarts that Steele passed the security gate sixty-two seconds ago,” Donovan, the resident tech guru, said dryly.

Joe’s eyes narrowed when Steele continued to stand there, eyes fixed, seemingly unaware of anyone else’s presence.

“Hey, man, are you okay?” Joe asked.

P.J. Coletrane stepped forward and put her hand on Steele’s arm. “Hey, what’s up, Steele?”

Cole moved behind his wife, P.J., also holding out a hand toward Steele as if afraid his team leader was going to face-plant right then and there.

“Maren’s pregnant again,” he said in a dazed tone.

The room erupted into hoots and congratulations, and a round of back slapping knocked Steele back and forth between the many members of KGI as he drunkenly attempted to maintain his balance.

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