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Fox in plain Sight (Code Name Stargate #2)

Fox in plain Sight (Code Name Stargate #2)

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Nicholas “Fox” Young, brilliant computer programmer and now-defunct Stargate Program operative in hiding, is close to his goal of accessing information, which could bring him one step closer to finding his fellow Stargate agents and shedding light on the recurring nightmarish premonition that haunts his dreams. But the online cat-and-mouse game he’s been playing with ex-hacker and now CIA-contractor, Michelle Andrews, gets elevated to a new level when circumstances thrust them together.

Suddenly, passion ignites the blood of the cool computer genius, and he has to balance the risk of letting the fiery woman close enough to catch him with the need of feeling her shudder in his arms. But no matter his decision, they might already be doomed, because Nick’s real enemies are lurking in the shadows.

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About the Book

Excerpt

1

“Gotcha!”

Nick Young pumped his fist in the air and let out a triumphant growl while continuing to stare into the computer screen. A red dot was blinking on a map of Washington, D.C. Next to it, an IP address flashed.

“You bastard! Did you really think you could outwit me? Looks like I’m smarter than you after all.”

The guy had made a tiny mistake, whether out of stupidity or laziness, Nick didn’t know, nor did he care. What counted was that now Nick knew where to find him.

He felt a genuine smile curve his lips, the first in a long time. For over a month now, he’d been playing cat-and-mouse with an online adversary who was trying to keep him out of the servers that held crucial data Nick had been looking for ever since the secret CIA program he’d been part of had been compromised three years earlier.

Nick memorized the address the dot was pointing to and logged off. He flipped the lid of his laptop shut and stashed it in his backpack. Then he pulled an old keyboard out of the drawer, hooked it up to the dinosaur PC that he kept as a decoy and connected a mouse to it.

Should anybody find him and try to trace what he’d been doing, the files he’d planted on the hard drive of the old desktop he’d bought second-hand would lead any pursuer on a wild goose chase. With a little luck, nobody would be looking for a second computer, and he’d be long gone before they were on his tail and could kill him like they’d killed Henry Sheppard, his mentor and the leader of the Stargate program.

The same fate was waiting for him and his fellow operatives—CIA agents selected not for their physical abilities but their unique mental skills. Each of the Stargate agents, including Henry Sheppard, possessed the gift of premonition. Three years ago, somebody had decided that the Stargate agents presented a danger and killed the leader of the program.

When Nick had received Sheppard’s mental call, his world had collapsed.

“Stargate down.”

He could still hear the alert echoing in his mind. He’d left everything behind and gone into hiding. But the need to know what had happened to Sheppard and the other agents had driven him back to Washington D.C. Back into the lion’s den.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” Nick murmured to himself now. It had become his mantra since Sheppard’s death.

It had been easy to create a new identity. His skills as a hacker had proven to be invaluable. His new identity was ordinary. No family, no special skills, a low profile all around. He kept himself afloat by creating websites for small businesses around the world.

He lived in an apartment in a run-down house that the absentee landlord was renting to him for cash so he wouldn’t have to tax the proceeds. Every month, Nick deposited the money in a mailbox. Fine with him. He wasn’t exactly keen on the government right now.

He’d served his country as a CIA agent for many years, and they’d failed to protect him and his colleagues. He was on his own now, responsible for his own life, and out for revenge. One day, he’d make sure the men who’d killed Sheppard would pay for what they’d done.

And the person at the other end of the IP address he’d traced would help him find the responsible party. Whether he wanted to or not.

Nick knew of many ways to persuade another person to do whatever he wanted him to do. His favorite toy to elicit such cooperation was his Glock. The cold metal never failed to convince the other party that loyalty was overrated and life was a fleeting thing.

At first sight, people always assumed that Nick was merely a computer geek and not to be feared. Maybe his boy-next-door looks and his quiet demeanor were responsible for that misperception. But those people who cared to give him a more thorough look would discover what he really was: a man who knew how to handle himself and the weapons at his disposal. Sheppard had made sure of that. All the men he’d selected for his Stargate program had to undergo rigorous training at The Farm, just like all other CIA agents, though it wasn’t necessary for their ultimate work. But maybe Sheppard had known all along that one day his protégés would have to rely on those very skills to survive.

Nick inspected his gun, pulled the magazine from it, and made sure it was fully loaded, before reinserting it. Then he stashed it in the secret, padded compartment in his backpack. Lifting his foot onto the chair, he pulled up one pant leg and slid a knife into the hidden pocket in his boot. Sometimes a little knife was all he needed to come to an agreement with an adversary. It was less conspicuous than a gun, and much less noisy should he need to use it.

There wasn’t much else to do. Nick let his gaze wander around the room. The shredder bin was empty. The few pieces of mail he received were solicitations addressed to current resident. Any mail related to his website business went to a P.O. box, anything related to any bank accounts he received in electronic form. Only the utility bills came to the house, and those he paid promptly and then shredded. For all intents and purposes, Nick Young didn’t exist. But Fox was still alive. It had been his code name while in the Stargate program. And the few other Stargate members he’d met—since Sheppard had always insisted on keeping them apart as much as possible—only knew him by that name.

He’d been proud when his mentor had given him the name. It showed that Sheppard understood him. Because Nick was like a fox, cunning and clever. And he would need these skills now to ferret out the computer genius who’d been fighting him online. Now Fox would bring the fight to his doorstep and up the stakes.
Showtime.

2

A parking garage? Really? How Deep Throat could this guy get?

Michelle Andrews shivered despite the sweltering heat in D.C. Her tank top and short skirt had been just fine at the coffee shop where she’d spent the morning, but the massive concrete walls, floors, and ceilings of the dark underground garage kept the air surprisingly cold.

She hadn’t expected this meeting. When she’d received the text message on her burner phone, she’d panicked. It was the reason she’d spilled coffee on the table and rushed to the barista to ask for a rag to clean it up. Unfortunately, those few seconds of inattentiveness had caused her to disconnect much later than planned from the online trace she’d been running.

She replayed the incident in her mind once more. Was there any chance that the hacker she’d been trying to get a lock on had instead gotten the drop on her? Michelle shook her head. No. Nobody was better than her. Since she hadn’t been able to catch him, he wouldn’t have had enough time to catch her either. She’d taken ample precautions to remain hidden. Still, with all that had happened in her life lately, she was on edge and had started doubting herself and her abilities.
Nervously, she twisted her pendant between her fingers, an old habit that died hard. The little memento from her time as a member of Anonymous, the worldwide hacker cooperative, always lent her strength—and reminded her of what had gotten her into this mess in the first place.

Nevertheless, she would get through this, no matter what the shady Deep Throat character who’d requested this meeting threw at her now. Whether he was FBI, CIA, or NSA, she didn’t know. Nor did it really matter. Any of those government agencies had sufficient powers to lock her up for the rest of her life if she didn’t do their bidding. They held all the cards. She held none. She’d become a pawn in whatever game they were playing and would have to play along until she found a way out.
When she heard footsteps echo against the bare concrete walls, she made a motion to turn.

“You know the drill,” her handler said.

Michelle froze, facing away from him. “Mr. Smith.” It wasn’t his real name. When he’d first contacted her and she’d asked him who he was, he’d paused for a long while before saying, “How about Smith? Does that sound good to you?”

She’d never seen his face, though from his accent and speech pattern she assumed he was well-educated and middle-aged. There was a nasal quality to his voice that made her picture him as a short, balding guy with a beer belly and pale skin. Of course, she could be completely wrong, but didn’t everybody like to picture their enemies as ugly and unattractive?

“I’m very disappointed in you, Miss Andrews.”

Instinctively, she pulled up her shoulders, tensing.

“You’ve had a month now, and what have you got to show for yourself? Nothing. My employers are not very happy with you.” He sighed. “And neither am I.”

She contemplated his words and chose her own with care. “I’ve done what you’ve asked me to.” Asked was not exactly the right word. Coerced was more like it.

“Really, Miss Andrews? I have the feeling you haven’t given it your all yet. Or do I need to remind you of what will happen if you don’t comply?”

She needed no reminder. “Mr. Smith, I’ve used my skills—”

“When we caught you,” he interrupted, his voice sharp and cold, “your skills seemed to be much more refined. I find it odd that you can’t get a trace on a hacker when you yourself were immersed in that community for so long.”

“It would help if I knew what this guy is after, so I don’t have to keep wasting my time on hackers that you’re not interested in.”

A low growl came from behind her, and she realized that he’d come closer without her noticing. A cold chill raced down her spine and made her blood freeze in her veins.

“You know too much already, Miss Andrews.” He inhaled. “It’s dangerous to know too much. Haven’t you learned anything?”

She shivered, her palms beading with sweat.

“You were a very bad girl. Do you remember?”

Michelle didn’t answer, knowing he didn’t expect her to.

“Hacking into servers you had no business being in. And your friends at Anonymous, they couldn’t help you either, could they? Because now that we have you, nobody can help you. You work for us now, or you’ll go to prison. It would be a shame. A pretty girl like you. You know what they do with somebody like you in prison?”

She didn’t want to know. “I’m doing what you’ve asked me to do.”

“Do it faster. I’m getting impatient. How hard can it be to find a hacker who’s been trying to get into our servers, hmm? Aren’t you the best? Or was that a lie?”

“I am the best,” Michelle insisted, not because she was arrogant, but because admitting that she wasn’t would surely get her killed.

“Good, then prove it. Give me something I can work with. You want to keep your freedom, don’t you?”

She nodded automatically.

“The hacker in exchange for your freedom. You know I’m not bluffing. Tell me you understand.”

“I understand.”

“Good, then here’s what you do: find him, but don’t spook him. If he finds out that you’re onto him, he’s gone. Do you get that? You have ten days. If you can’t deliver him by then, our deal is off, and you’ll be prosecuted. Not as an American, but as a terrorist. You should have thought twice about what you were getting yourself into when you hacked into the Department of Defense’s servers. You committed an act of terrorism.” He clicked his tongue. “Very despicable indeed.”

“I never—”

His hand on her shoulder made her swallow her words. The urge to turn around to look into the face of her tormentor was strong, but she suppressed it, knowing it would earn her a bullet in the head.

“No more excuses.”

Her heart raced, and her pulse thundered in her ears. Rage made her clench her teeth. She wasn’t a terrorist, far from it. She and her fellow hackers at Anonymous had been trying to uncover documents about the United States’ involvement in the latest Middle East conflict and the real reasons behind their support for a regime that tortured its own citizens. She’d wanted the American public to know the truth. That wasn’t terrorism. It was freedom of speech. She hadn’t hurt anybody by hacking into government servers.

Nevertheless, she was paying for it now. They’d tried to get her to give up the other members of Anonymous who’d taken part in this project, but she’d refused. She was no snitch. Besides, Michelle hardly knew who the others were, only knew them by their screen names.
The sudden silence made her pause in her thoughts. She listened intently, but there was nothing. Not even the sound of breathing.

“Mr. Smith?”

There was no reply. Michelle spun around. She was alone in the dark underground parking garage. Alone, except for a few parked cars.

Clutching her messenger bag that held her laptop, she walked toward the elevator. Ten days was all she had left. Judging by the little she’d accomplished in the previous four weeks, she had a snowball’s chance in hell of delivering the elusive hacker Smith was looking for. Without any clue as to what the person was actually after, she couldn’t narrow down her search. Did Smith have any idea how many hackers attacked governmental servers every single day? Despite that obstacle she’d come across one particular individual who’d piqued her interest, but she hadn’t been able to get a lock on him yet.

Essentially, she was looking for a needle in a haystack. A needle she couldn’t afford to search for any longer, because if she didn’t get away before the ten days were up, she’d be as good as dead.

It was time to plan her escape while continuing to pretend that she was executing Smith’s request, so he wouldn’t catch on to her deception until it was too late.

About the Code Name Stargate series

Gifted with precognitive skills and trained by the CIA in a top-secret program that not even the top brass of the agency was aware, the Stargate agents were once the nation’s most powerful secret asset. Betrayed by unknown enemies, unable to trust anyone—not even one another—the Stargate Agents hold the key to unmasking a conspiracy steeped in greed, power and revenge. To survive, they’ll have to solve what lies behind the recurring premonitions they experience, and stop an impending disaster.

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