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1635760836 (ISBN13: 9781635760835)
Keaton Bridge is exactly the kind of guy a straight-arrow like Cassie doesn’t need.
For one thing, he’s a criminal—and she fights crime for a living. And being criminally handsome isn’t helping her say no, either. Everything about him screams trouble, from his British accent to his mysterious past.
And Cassie doesn’t do trouble.
Keaton’s got his own trouble. He’s trying to go legit, and an FBI agent hanging around is the last thing that will help his credibility. All it took was one night of passion to sear her into his skin. Now he can’t imagine living happily ever after without her.
All they have to do is walk away.
But neither of them ever walks away from danger.
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I trust men I’m attracted to about as far as I can throw them, which is surprisingly far if I have good leverage and mobility in my lower body, but not far enough to give them the time of day or half a chicken sandwich.
You don’t have to like it, but I’m not going to argue with at least four generations of family history. Once I feel that little buzz in the sexual part of my brain, it’s a four-alarm fire in there. Klaxons. Red flags. Lines in the sand. The guy can be a crown prince anointed by the good Lord himself and there’s nothing he can do to get more than a few months out of me. It’s not his fault. It’s mine, and I’m all right with that. It’s gotten me pretty far.
Then this morning happened.
We intercepted Keaton Bridge at a factory he’s opening in the next town over and took him in for questioning. When he looked me in the eye, I went to DEFCON One. Code Red. My body began staging a bloodless coup while my mind lost its flank support.
He has the body and the eyes of a predator, silken movements and a churning, twisting mind that calculates ten steps ahead. I can feel it working, and it turns me on.
I don’t know him. Nobody does. Trust isn’t on the table, but I’m drawn in his direction as if the earth suddenly tilted and all the water of my attention is flowing downhill, toward him.
He’s seen things, but no one’s ever proven he’s done anything.
He knows things, but we don’t know exactly what.
He’s immune to bluffing apparently. We’ve had him in interrogation for two hours and he hasn’t even asked for a lawyer.
Most black hat hackers have confidence deficits they cover in layers of bling and swagger. They compensate for social awkwardness with tough-sounding names and facility with numbers. Some have a talent for the long con until they have to look someone in the eye. Some are straight up sociopaths.
When we picked up Keaton Bridge—a.k.a. Alpha Wolf, though no one’s proven it—I’d profiled him as the latter. He and his partner, Taylor Harden, are opening the first quantum-chip manufacturer in the world. The risk is enormous. Either his guts are made of stainless steel or he doesn’t have a sliver of human emotion.
Then I met him. My name had barely passed my lips before I knew he wasn’t a sociopath. He had emotions, tons of them, and they were complex, real, and intense.
I watch Ken interview him through the mirror. Both men are in profile.
Bridge waits two full seconds before answering any question. His hands rest flat on the table in front of him, and he’s perfectly still. It’s as if he knows any movement can be a tell, so he makes none at all.
Those emotions I sensed? He has control over them. His self-awareness is frightening and exhilarating. His voice has a British lilt that’s masculine, confident, educated without being snotty.
The dimples in his cheeks are a trick. The smile lines are a hoax. His voice, his looks, the leathery scent that filled the car on the way in; all of it is a long con game.
“I haven’t a clue,” he says over the speakers in the dark observation room.
“But you are Alpha Wolf?” Ken replies, referring to one of the three most powerful figures on the dark web.
Google can’t find the dark web. The only browser that will take you there hides your activity in so many layers of encryption, you can peel them like an onion and never find the center.
Criminals trade credit card data, guns, drugs, people.
The FBI has a presence there. We use it to speak to informants and assets. Journalists use it to contact anonymous whistleblowers.
“It’s quite funny, that.”
“That what?” Ken asks.
There’s no official or provable connection between Keaton Bridge and Alpha Wolf. But that’s the thing about covered tracks. Cleanliness has its own stink.
“That stupid fucking assumption.”
Between Ken and Keaton Bridge, one of them is a federal agent. One of them has the power in the relationship. And one of them is making stupid fucking assumptions.
“Are you the same Alpha Wolf who maintains a relationship with Keyser Kaos?”
“You’re a very insistent chap.”
Ken opens a folder. It looks like a complete dossier, but in fact, it contains cherry-picked items from a two-terabyte hard drive on Alpha Wolf and Kaos. “Is this you?”
Bridge glances over the paper Ken hands him. It’s not a photo of a person. It’s a screenshot of a post on a dark web onion thread.
The screenshot Bridge looks over is a normal Keyser Kaos /Alpha Wolf chat about how much they’d charge to dox a female gamer. This is the least of their infractions, and he knows it.
It’s proof of nothing, and he knows it.