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#42759
Vicki Briner
Participant

REVISED

Title: Lethal Lies

Author: Vicki Briner

Genre: Romantic Suspense

 

Agent Arthur Erickson had always been good at pretending.

Some might call it talent. Some might say innate ability. Whatever it was, he invariably knew how to mold his persona to fit the situation.

It started with his dad’s unexpected death. From that day on, whatever role his mom needed him to fill, he filled it. When she needed a warrior, he fought. When she cried, he became a comedian. When she looked like she might give up, he cheered her to the finish line.

In high school, he refined his skills. Whether bluffing his way through calculus to tutor a cute girl, portraying the fun-loving and good-natured quarterback, or performing as Danny Zuko in the school production of Grease, he was a natural actor.

But, as it turned out, trying to be everything for everyone was exhausting, and somewhere along the way, he became a poor imitation of himself.

The FBI had been his salvation. It gave him purpose, passion. Building cases. Making arrests. The perfect job.

Then, the supervisory special agent saw something. Now he was back to pretending.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The leaky faucet in the airport’s break room kitchenette was driving him crazy. He rubbed his forehead and checked his watch. Dammit. Only two minutes since he last looked. He stopped mid-stride and sucked in a breath, regretting that third cup of coffee. He needed to relax. The mission depended on it.

Two weeks ago, the department authorized the operation. Two weeks of long days and sleepless nights. Intelligence work only, they said.

Seemed easy enough. At the time.

Sweat beaded on his brow.

That was the thing about undercover work. It required composure. Awareness. Credibility.

He could do this.

Passing himself off as a charter pilot shouldn’t be difficult. Nothing beat six years in the cockpit of an F-16 to make a guy comfortable at the control wheel of a plane.

The break room window revealed the runway and the cool, clear sky. A beautiful day for flying. On a hill northwest of Denver, the small airport offered a picture-perfect view of the Rockies. Even from inside the dingy kitchen and its dirt-streaked window, the sight was breathtaking.

Sneakers squeaked on the linoleum tile. He jolted and splashed hot liquid on his thumb. Shit. Suppressing the curse, he shook it off, set his mug on the counter and turned. His copilot—the one he shouldn’t know anything about, stood in the doorway.

Wow. He’d received only cursory intel—age, family, occupation, assets, but one thing was certain. The photo hadn’t done her justice.

High cheekbones. Squarish jaw. Full, red lips and dark hair pulled into a neat ponytail. Already a knockout, with it long and loose she’d be stunning. Somehow defying logic, she managed to make the drab uniform look good—from the short-sleeved white shirt to the blue polyester slacks. Red Converse sneakers peeked out from the hem of her pants.

He suppressed a smirk. He knew the type. Liked the idea of bucking authority, but lacked the chutzpah to do anything about it.

She peered into the room, then stepped forward. Her glare swept him from head to toe. “Who are you?”

“Captain Erickson.” He extended his hand. “You must be my copilot.”

She didn’t move.

Plunk. A water droplet hit the sink, breaking the silence and setting her in motion.

She grasped his hand and shook, but judging by her clenched jaw and narrowed eyes, she wasn’t impressed. Just as well. This would be easier if they didn’t have to pretend to be friends.

He’d never flown a charter and had no experience running a crew, whereas according to the file, she’d earned her pilot’s certificate at seventeen and had been working charters for over a decade. Judging by her pinched expression, she resented the role of first officer.

The collar of his starched white uniform tightened around his neck. He gave it a pull. No question, she’d be a more qualified pilot-in-command.

“Where’s Lenny?” she asked, referring to the regular pilot.

“Sick.” He grinned. “I’m taking the Denver to Jersey run today.”

Lenny was actually in Vegas on an all-expenses paid trip for two, courtesy of the FBI. The guy didn’t even question the phony contest they said he’d won.

“I didn’t know Peter hired a new pilot.”

Plunk.

He scrolled through his mental file. Peter Carson owned the small airline.

“I’m filling in for a day or two.”

She pursed her lips, pulled a bottle of water from the fridge and closed the door with a bang. The cool air lingered, just like her icy gaze.

The muscles in her throat moved up and down as she took a gulp of water. “So, knowing nothing about you, I should accept you as my superior?”

Good grief. Was he going to have to put up with this attitude all day? He took another sip of coffee, no doubt the last thing he needed. “It all comes down to hours logged.”

“Typical,” she grunted.

What could he say? He’d expected the job to be unpredictable. He hadn’t expected her.

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