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Byte Me

Lonesome Lawmen 2

Author(s): Pauline Baird Jones

“Ms. Jones makes a large splash with each new book and Byte Me is no exception. The intricate plot and compelling characters make this a nail-biting read.” Romantic Times Magazine (now RT Book Reviews)

A lawmen meets his perfect match. Too bad she’s a high tech thief.
Deputy US Marshal Jake Kirby is a top tracker, who always get his fugitive. Now he’s hot on the trail of a gang of cyber thieves with an unusual agenda. That trail takes him to Colorado and a country and western bar managed by the sexy, mysterious Phoebe Mentel. Instant attraction quickly complicates this high tech chess game between two people who don’t know how to lose and are afraid to fall in love.

More praise for Byte Me:

“Pauline Jones is an accomplished writer able to engage superbly crafted characters with plot-line surprises that play fair with both her story, her characters, and her readers. Also highly recommended is her earlier novels, The Last Enemy and The Spy Who Kissed Me." Midwest Book Review

Excerpt


Overhead tiny pinpoints of light gave depth to the moonless night sky, while thirty stories down, miniature streetlights made a path for the occasional car to follow. The silence was so deep, Phoebe Mentel heard her own breath whispering in and out of her lungs. She leaned on the parapet and studied the tower across from her and her companion, taking the moment to find her focus and quiet her mind.
“You ready?” he asked. She turned as he dropped his bundle of equipment at her feet and knelt to extract the rocket launcher. He was dressed to steal in deepest black. Only his eyes gleamed out of the dark, eyes far too blue to be true.
Lucky for her, she didn’t need true. She needed there.
“I was born ready.” She pitched her voice low, but her voice, laced with her mother’s Southern charm, sounded loud in her ears. Also dressed to blend with the night, she’d covered her chin length hair with a black stocking cap and smeared her face with blacking until only her brown eyes were visible.
His smile came fast and white, cutting into his dark silhouette like a lost Cheshire cat before fading back into the night. He readied the launcher, then used the parapet to steady his arms as he sighted in on the shadowy outline of the tower opposite.
A pop. A hiss. A double strand of rope snaked across the gap between the two buildings in a gleaming, silver arc. A muffled clunk found its way back to their ears.
He tugged on the rope until the grappling hook resisted, tested it for give. There was none. He leaned back, using his full weight. It still held. He secured their end with brisk, practiced economy, then bent to check his climbing harness. When he’d shouldered his pack and was anchored to the rope, he looked at her.
Phoebe adjusted her earpiece. “You receiving?”
He nodded. “You?”
“Soft and clear.”
“Catch you on the flip side.” He gave her a cheeky salute and vaulted over the parapet into space. The double rope sagged but held as he disappeared into the night. After a time the tension on the rope eased.
“It’s a go.” His voice in her ear confirmed what her eyes saw. Her turn to step up and do or die.
In a perfect mimicry of his actions, Phoebe took her place at the parapet. A confident vault, her body kept angled against a gravity more imagined than felt, then the slide into darkness. Slow at first, she quickly picked up speed. The side of the building formed out of shadow. She curled her legs and thrust out with her feet, using the resulting bounce to swing up and hook the edge of the roof. Her partner, programmed to be gallant, reached down and pulled her up beside him.
Phoebe shed her pack and knelt by the grill over the building’s airshaft and removed it, while he got out their equipment, all of it the latest in high-tech gadgetry. When she’d exposed the alarm wires bypassed them, they roped up again and started down the shaft, following a route laid out in her head. It was a gift, a talent, an instinct that was as much a part of her physiology as her eyes and hair and what she’d heard was her father’s nose. If there was a way to get to something, a path to follow, she could find it.
Deep in the building’s bowels, cutting-edge technology opened the wall they needed to access as easy as a whore spread her legs, giving them the prize they sought. They lost two minutes when a guard broke routine, but made up the time on the trip back to their starting point. Phoebe released the rope and drew it in with a sigh of relief.
“I think that was our best time yet,” her companion said, the English accent giving the words more importance than they deserved.
Phoebe frowned. “If we could shave off another sixty seconds—”
The muffled shrill of her telephone, followed by the harsh whine of two computers attempting communication, cut across her words with a warning that her virtual reality game was about to be invaded.
Phoebe looked around, wondering where, from which direction, the invasion would come, but when Phagan spoke, his voice, disembodied and synthesized, came at her from the star-studded night “sky.”
“Playing with Steele again, Pathphinder?”
“Phagan.” Phoebe touched a button on her headset, deleting the virtual Remington Steele she’d used as her partner-in-crime. She crossed virtual arms. “Coming down? Or are we playing God tonight?”
It was his favorite role, in virtual or real reality.
The darkness to her right rippled, and a figure stepped out from behind a ventilation stack. On Phagan’s cue, not Phoebe’s, the moon rose to light his entrance as Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard from “The Fugitive.”
She grinned inside her headset. Trust him to crash her B&E game with a lawman. The boy had always had a dark sense of humor.
“Some say my best role is Lucifer,” he drawled, his voice less disembodied now that he was “earthbound.”
“I’ll pretend to disagree if you’ve cast me decently this time.” Phoebe trusted Phagan with her life but not her dignity. Never with her dignity.
He walked a circle around her, his purloined visage showing a wicked appreciation for the female form. “I’m feeling benign tonight, with a taste for Meg Ryan.”
“I look like Meg Ryan?”
He arched “Sam’s” brows. “Do you mind?”
“Why should I? She’s cute and her thighs are smaller than mine.”
Phagan laughed, throwing “Sam’s” head back. The faint, artificial light was kind to the craggy face and dark tumble of stolen hair. Sam seemed amazingly real—as long as Phagan kept his mouth shut. When he didn’t, he sounded like the android from hell. Phagan never used his own voice. Like God, he preferred a mouthpiece.
She’d been playing his games for seven years and still couldn’t put an actual face or a voice to him. Sometimes, in her real world, she’d study the faces around her, wondering if one of them belonged to him. There were things he’d said, things he did that told her he’d seen her more than once.
“You do it?” he asked, nodding in the direction of the building across the way.
“Despite you wanting the timing tighter than Meg Ryan’s thighs.”
“You needed a challenge. The last one was too easy.”
“Not my fault,” Phoebe said. “You’re the wizard of virtual world.”
He straddled a ventilation pipe, sat and flashed his stolen grin.
She smiled back, but it was perfunctory. She had to tell him, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to keep the past at bay, but she couldn’t. It nicked her present like paper cutting skin, welling scarlet from the breach, burning like acid.
“What?”
Instead of speaking, Phoebe produced a couple of virtual cigars, handing one to him and “lighting” hers. Virtual smoke was no threat to her lungs and it gave her something to do with her hands. A wise precaution, since even in virtual world Phagan could read them like a Gypsy.
With a purloined brow cocked, he took his and lit up, blowing smoke out in a stream before asking, “We celebrating something?”
Phoebe looked at Phagan, but “Sam’s” cool dark stare deflected her ability to read him, even as she felt his X-ray scrutiny rake her from top to toe. She blew a series of perfect smoke circles, with a little help from the computer program, before saying as flatly as she could, “I found him.”
Phagan stood up, took a drag of the cigar, then rolled the brown cylinder between his fingers as he considered her words. “You sure?”
Phoebe lowered her cigar, her hands a work of rock-steady art. “I’m sure.”
Phagan turned his virtual high beams on her, waiting for more. With a frustrated sigh, she gave it to him. “He’s had some work done on his face. But I’d know his eyes if he’d turned himself into a woman.”
“Sam” looked thoughtful. He sent some smoke rings out to ambush hers, before asking as if it didn’t matter, “Where?”
She looked at him, feeling a brief moment of real amusement take the edge off her angst. “Denver.”
Phagan had Sam do surprise. “How’d we miss him?”
“He’s been playing Howard Hughes recluse.”
Phagan crushed out the cigar. “So how’d you spot him?”
“Apparently he’s decided to come out. Caught his mug in the newspaper. It seems—” Phoebe couldn’t stop the quiver in her hands from playing out in front of Phagan, “he’s almost engaged to a prominent widow.”
“Sam’s” gaze got sharper. “Kids?”
“Two.” Phoebe licked her dry lips inside the VR helmet. “Girls.”
He nodded slowly. “Right. I’ll contact Ollie. Make sure he’s ready to move when you are.”
“I’m ready.” Inside the headset where he couldn’t see, Phoebe’s mouth curved in a smile seared by her acid past. “He made me ready.”

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Genre: Romantic Suspense
Date Published: 07/13/2013
Publisher: Pauline B Jones

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