When I first decided to write a paranormal story, I skipped the ever-popular vampires and shapeshifters. I just couldn’t think of anything to do with them that interested me.

If I’m going to spend time writing a book, the very least I can do is have fun with the story. So I pondered what kind of paranormal element I would have fun writing.

Ghosts, of course. I do have a full Ghosthunter manuscript. Yet that didn’t feel quite right, partially because I got distracted by the mad-scientist Gil Grissom- inspired vampire. He is not supposed to be the hero or take so large a role. Poor Albert went back in the box.

But my perfect paranormal genre was right there in front of me all along.



I love superheroes. I can write about superheroes.  I could happily entertain myself with superheroes for months.


In Summary:

ALEC FARLEY is a fire starter and telekinetic trained since birth to be a
living weapon by the Resource, a shadowy anti-terrorist organization. He
doesn’t realize that the Resource is only interested in collecting power for

BETH NAKAMORA  is a psychologist with a latent telepathic
talent.  She’s hired by the Resource to help Alec learn to work well with
outsiders. Beth soon realizes that Alec needs rescuing, not counseling, and
she kidnaps him to show him the normal world.

Unfortunately, her telepathy flares during the kidnapping and she turns his
powers off, leaving Beth terrified of her power, Alec incensed with his
would-be rescuer, and the Resource after them both. They must learn to trust each other and meld their powers together not only to escape the Resource but to defeat a deadly nuclear plot against Manhattan.

The first chapter is below the cut.


Beth Nakamora settled back into the cushions of the chair and put her note pad on her lap. She debated sliding forward to perch on the edge of the chair but decided that would make her appear too eager. She suspected that her new client would come in literally breathing fire. Better to settle in and let whatever storm was brewing wash over her before trying to get through to him.

Because his life depended on getting him to trust her, though he was unaware of it.

The door flew open and Alec Farley strode into the room.

He didn’t make eye contact or acknowledge her existence. Instead, he paced the temporary office, scowling, sizing up her in silence.

Beth doodled on her pad and watched him watch her. Alec was taller, stronger and well, far more grown-up than she’d imagined. Somehow, she’d mentally slotted him in with all the adolescent teens that she counseled. No doubt because she thought of Alec as needing her help.

But this was no boy. Alec was a full-grown man, every inch a soldier, and a very attractive one, or would be once he stopped scowling. If God reached down to create a superhero, he would look much like this. Alec moved like a dancer, in perfect balance. He wavy dark hair half-hid an unnerving gaze that seemed to notice everything all at once.

She wondered if Alec was using his telekinesis to explore the room. From what she knew, he was capable of using TK to poke into corners, check under objects like the two chairs, or under the carpeting. Something beyond his pacing seemed to be going on. She could practically feel the power emanating from him.

If he’s like this now, what does he look like when he’s calling fire?

“Hello, Alec,” she said.

“You don’t belong to the Resource,” he said. “You don’t belong here.”

Belong. An interesting word choice. “What makes you say that?”

“You’re not armed. You’re not adhering to dress code for the lab techs,” he said. “And you look young. How old are you?”

“Old enough to have a masters degree in psychology,” she said. Old enough to sit still until he settled.

And not so young that he could intimidate her.

“Why did you take the desk out of here?” he asked.

“It was big and ugly. The chairs are more comfortable.”

“So we’re supposed to sit down and have a nice little chat?”

“If you like. You don’t have to sit.”

There was fury in his question but also fear, if her years of experience of dealing with defensive patients were any indication. The fury she understood and was typical of many people forced into counseling.

But Alec’s fear didn’t make sense. She was here (as far as he knew) to help him learn how to work better with outsiders. She didn’t see why he perceived danger. Had he or someone else seen through her cover story?

“Are you from outside?” he asked.

He said “outside” like being from there made her an exotic. An interesting change from being considered exotic because of her Japanese ancestry. She put the pad down on the table, pencil neatly on top, and stood.

“I’m Beth Nakamora.” She held out her hand. “What do you mean by ‘outside?’”

He refused the handshake. “I meant will you be living here?”

At this complex, like he did? “I have my own home.” She took a step back. “So, yes, I guess I am from outside. Does that surprise you?”

He paced the room again, putting his back to her. She matched his silence. It certainly was no hardship to watch him move.

He finally turned and pointed a finger at the coffee table. Her note pad rose from the table into the air. The pencil rolled to the floor while the pad flew into his hand.

She gasped. Dammit, focus. You know what he is. But seeing him in action was somehow different. And, again, power seemed to crackle in the room. Did he know why she was really here?

He narrowed his eyes and focused. “What are these? Some sort of Japanese language symbols?”

“Why not just ask me what I was writing?” she said, arms crossed over her chest. Was her voice shaky?

Taking a deep breath, Alec pointed a finger again. He frowned, concentrating harder. The knot in her red patterned scarf unraveled. She tried to grab it but his telekinesis was faster and the scarf flew to his hand.

She could feel the flush to her cheek. She let her hand rest on the spot where the scarf had been. She wanted to rush forward and grab it out of his hand. Calm. Focus. He wanted her to get angry.

Alec looked down at the silk and fingered it. “It’s still warm from being around your neck,” he said.

“This is not a good way to prove that you don’t need help working with people outside the Resource.” She rubbed her neck.

He clenched the scarf tighter and dropped his head. So that accusation had hit home.

“Look, I don’t need you.”

“Why not?” she said.

“I’ve heard all about psychologists from Daz, about how they spin your head around, find ways to twist words and declare people unfit for duty.”

She breathed an inward sigh of relief. Her cover had held. “Who’s Daz?”

“F-Team’s leader, my commander,” Alec said, stepping closer, tapping the notebook against his hip.

She backpedaled automatically, then wished she hadn’t given ground. Still, maybe avoiding confrontation was right until she had the full story behind his hostility. No surprise that Alec’s assault team commander didn’t like psychologists. Few in the military did.

“Ah. And does Daz approve of trying to bully people who are shorter and obviously less gifted than you?”

Alec backed up, giving her space again.

“You don’t look too concerned,” he said.

“Why would you want to intimidate me? Obviously, I can’t hurt you.” She rubbed her neck again.

“Yeah, you can. You write a bad report and recommend I’m out of F-Team, then I’m out.”

He thought she had the power to do that? No wonder he was hostile. “Who told you that would happen?”

“I was ordered here. I can read between the lines.” He covered her scarf with the notebook in his other hand. “Besides, you’re a shrink.”

“So I’m going to make your head smaller?”

He smiled, despite himself. “No, I just-”

“Have an aversion to psychologists? Or to small women?” She pointed at his hand. “Or to silk scarves?”

“How about people who manipulate me? Like you’re doing with all these questions. Like—never mind.”

Like Richard Lansing, the head of the Resource? She guessed he was behind this. Lansing had been furious that the CIA used its leverage with the Resource to order Alec into counseling. What would be the best way to sabotage that counseling? Exactly this, by making Alec too angry to listen to her.

No wonder Alec had a thing against people who manipulated him. How much more would he have said if the cameras weren’t recording them? He might be more aware of what was going on around him than he let on.

Alec tossed the notebook back onto the coffee table. It hit with a clunk and slid several inches. He kept the scarf wrapped around his hand. She kept her chair between them.

“You’re operating under a false impression,” she said. “I can’t force you to work with me. You don’t have to do this.”

“Of course I have to do this.” He leaned over the back of the other chair.


“Lansing thinks it’s necessary.”

She’d guessed right. Lansing had set her up. “Your foster father? He can force you into things?”

“Yes. No. I mean, sorta.”

“What things can he force you into?” she asked. Yes, Alec did know more than he would say. Or at least resented his situation.

“Look, he’s got my best interests at heart.”

Beth was sure that Lansing had Lansing’s best interests at heart. But Alec needed to find that out for himself. “What makes you believe that?”

“He took me in as a baby. He taught me to use my fire as a child, when it was out of control. I owe everything to him.”

She nodded, hoping to encourage more conversation.

But Alec broke eye contact and stared at the bowl of M&Ms on the coffee table between the two chairs.

“So you’re saying that I can just ask and you’ll leave and I’ll never see you again?” he asked.

She nodded again. “You’re my client. I can’t treat you without your consent, no matter what Director Lansing wants. If you decide that you don’t want my help, this will be our only session, as much as that would disappoint me.”

“Disappoint” didn’t begin got cover it. She needed to help Alec get out of his lifelong prison. But she couldn’t force this on him.

“We’ll see.” He flopped into the chair and tore a piece of paper from her note pad. “I was just fooling with the scarf.” He held up his hand and displayed it to her. “Watch.”

He crumpled the paper in his hand and concentrated. It erupted in flames. Power seemed to burst outward from him. Her face flushed. A second later, the fire went out. He opened his palm and let the paper’s ashes fall on the table.

My God. Beth was reminded of the original meaning of “awesome.” The inspiration of awe.

“The power you have is frightening to a lot of people, I imagine. I can see why their reactions would bother you.” Did everyone sense that burst of power when Alec used his fire? Philip hadn’t mentioned it and he would have, if he’d known. He wouldn’t let her walk in blind. So why did she feel it?

“The idiot CIA liaison on the last mission freaked about my fire,” Alec said.

“And you didn’t handle that well, which is why I’m here.”

“You didn’t freak just now,” he said.

“Your fire seemed perfectly under control.”

“It was.” He frowned. “You’re not being straight with me. You have orders from Lansing to treat me, no matter what. So you have to do that, no matter what.”

She shrugged. “Orders or no, Lansing already knows that I can’t treat you without your consent. I only wish-”

“Wish what?”

She glanced away from him, just for a second, to the camera hidden near the window, cursing again that this couldn’t be a real session. But there had been no choice. No cameras, no getting to Alec at all.

“Um, I’m a little out of my element,” she said. “As you said, I’m from outside. I’m used to working in my own office.”

“No, sorry, we have to meet here,” Alec said. “I need security around me. For my own protection.”

“So I understand. The security procedures to get inside the complex are impressive.” They’d done everything but body search  her.

“Where’s your office?” he asked.

“Not far. About forty minutes away, in Montclair.”

“That’s a little south of here? Closer to New York?”

“Yes,” she said. “Alec?”


“Have you decided if you want to work with me?”

He tapped his fingertips on the armrest. “Assuming I agree to be your client, what exactly would we be doing?”

She came around from the back of the chair, sat down, and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her thighs. Now, they were getting somewhere.

“My plan is practical application. Role playing, anticipating future situations, like how to defuse personal issues without violence.” Like a better way to show annoyance than burning paper to intimidate a psychologist.

“For a start, we can go over the situations where you’ve had trouble in the past and sort out where you could have made different choices.” She crossed her legs, relaxing back in the chair, trying to appear more in control than she felt. “But before that, you need to give me back my scarf.” She put out her hand.

“Don’t you want to probe my confused psyche? Ask me a bunch of ‘how do I feel questions?’”

“Would you like me to do that, Alec?”

He narrowed his eyes, then smiled as he realized she was kidding.

“Role playing sounds like simulated training. That’s okay. But I want to know more about you,” he said.

“I’m close to my doctorate in psychology and I mostly work with gifted teens and young adults.” And I’m here to help you, even if you wouldn’t think of it as help yet.

“You don’t look old enough to have a doctorate,” he said.

She smiled. “I’m two years older than you are.”

“I’d have pegged you as twenty, not twenty-five.”

“I get that a lot,” she said.

“Can I call you ‘Beth?’”

“Beth seems too informal,” she said.

“You’ve been calling me ‘Alec.’”

He noticed everything. “You have a point. All right, try ‘counselor.’ It’s close enough.”

“Okay, then, counselor.”

He unwrapped the scarf from his hand and held it out to her. Their fingertips brushed as the silk slid from his hand into hers.


The nerves at the base of her skull exploded, sending what felt like an electric current through her spine and down to her  toes. It enveloped her like a living thing, a concentrated stream of the power that she’d sensed from him the entire session.

Save that this power aroused her. Every nerve seemed blown wide open, raw with longing.

Alec jerked back abruptly into his chair, his shoes scraping against the carpet, and rubbed his palm.

She froze and wasn’t entirely sure she could have moved if she wanted. She tried to take a long breath. What the hell had he done? Judging by his reaction, Alec didn’t know either.

“Is something wrong?” she asked. The scarf still dangled from her hand. Surprising that she could speak, especially since the rest of her felt completely stunned.

He darted a glance at the camera. “No, nothing’s wrong, other than that I didn’t expect you to have such soft hands.” He grinned. “And you’re very pretty.”

She got the message. Play this down for Lansing and his watchers. “Thank you.” She sat back in the chair, the energy from their touch fading. Which was a good thing because being aroused by a client was right up there on the list of things that shouldn’t happen.

But she’d never felt that alive before.

“I bet you compliment all the girls,” she said.

He shrugged.

She tied the scarf back around her neck with trembling fingers, her flush fading.

“So, are you ready to start now?” she asked.

“Sure.” He clapped his hands. “Let’s go.”

“Good.” She picked up her notebook.

He popped a few of the dark chocolate M&Ms in his mouth, maybe to cover his own discomfort. She’d brought them here to make herself feel less nervous. They’d been her mother’s favorite candy.

He wiped his palm on his jeans. Some of the candy coating must have melted in his hands.

“What’s first, counselor?”

She outlined the problem that he’d had with the CIA liaison on his last mission with F-Team. Throwing someone across the street was not a good response to verbal insults.

He listened intently, as if he was memorizing every word. He soaked up everything. Which made it more of a tragedy that he was locked here, only let out to use his gifts as a weapon.

Alec, I’ll help you see the bars of the prison, help you see what is possible. Trust me.


The video on her laptop started, the camera angle canted to the right. Beth tilted her head to see better and tightened her hand on her father’s shoulder.

She took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the peppermint tea that she’d brewed, comforted by the familiar surroundings of her home, especially the Buddha cabinet in the corner. She’d tried to add some warmth to that lifeless Resource office for Alec but that had been almost impossible. At least he’d liked the M&Ms.

Most of all, she was grateful for Philip’s presence. Nothing could ever harm her while her father was around.

He reached up, patted her fingers, then made some adjustments to the video controls with the mouse. “This is about five years old,” Philip said. “Your firestarter would be about seventeen, then.”

At first, there was only a fuzzy impression of a clearing in some rural area, with a stand of evergreens surrounding it. There was no sound. The blurriness cleared, the film focused, and soldiers appeared, rushing across a field to an entrenched position. Though she knew it was a training exercise, it looked real.

In the middle and just back from the main group was a soldier without a rifle. She recognized Alec, though he was a few years younger and not yet at his full height. The regular soldiers raised their weapons, aiming at where their enemy was hiding. Alec raised a hand and dirt exploded in front of the trenches, showering whoever was in them with dust. None of the dust fell toward the oncoming soldiers.

Her eyes widened. She’d no idea his telekinesis was that powerful. Picking up her legal pad or grabbing her scarf was one thing. Controlling thousands of dust molecules like that, entirely another. She bent down to look closer, practically breathing in Philip’s ear. How had Alec learned such control when her telepathy had been so wild and unpredictable, even before it went latent?

After a few seconds, the dust cleared, and Alec appeared at the top of the embankment, his hands outstretched. The camera zeroed in on his face for the first time. Even with his helmet on, she could see his intent stare, so unlike his confused expression during their session. His mouth was frozen in a near smile, as if he was having the time of his life.

How spectacular you are.

Clearly, this was his world. No wonder he’d been uncomfortable when confronted with her, so outside the rules of his very controlled life. No wonder that he’d wanted the upper hand.

Alec yelled something to his ostensible enemy. A simple warning or something with more flourish, to match his mood? Fire erupted around him, circling him. The close-up remained on his face. He grinned. He actually grinned as he was encircled in flames. But maybe it was the destruction, not his gift, that brought Alec such fierce joy.

She hoped not.

In the video, men scrambled from the trench, throwing down their weapons in defeat. Alec waved his hands, as if holding a wand, and the fire disappeared. He jumped from his place on the top of the embankment to the defeated ‘enemy,’ and raised a hand in victory. The rest of the assault team arrived, crowding around him, all smiles, giving him claps on the back.

They must be his F-Team. Elite private assault squad.

Alec pointed and they parted for him, responding to something he’d said, all of them staring into the clearing. The camera panned away from the soldiers and focused on the grass in the clearing.

The grass burst into flames, racing in perfect straight lines, making specific shapes, as natural fire never did. Her jaw dropped open as she realized the flames were spelling out words. The fire vanished, leaving charred grass that spelled “Ready to Roll.”

My God. He could have easily killed her with only a quick gesture in that office. She backed up and smacked her calves on her table, spilling her tea from the cup to the saucer.

The video cut back to Alec. He high-fived a few of the soldiers but they backed off when an officer approached. The officer glared at the others with unspoken authority. Alec immediately stopped grinning and saluted him. The officer saluted back, then flashed a smile, making his face come alive. This had to be Daz—Commander Daz Montoya of F-Team.

An older man walked in from the shadows, a tall, thin man wearing a sport coat and bow-tie. Richard Lansing. The director of the Resource. Alec’s father in all but name, the man who’d turned Alec into an obedient weapon.

Lansing gruffly nodded to Alec, signaling approval. Alec dropped his head, obviously yielding to his foster father. Though, whatever else Lansing had done to Alec, he hadn’t made him afraid of his gift. Which put Alec one step ahead of her.

“How did you get this?” she said.
“With great difficulty.” Philip stood up from her desk chair and disconnected his portable drive. “I can tell you over and over how dangerous he is but it has more impact if you see it.”

Philip was as grim and tightly-wrapped tonight as she’d ever seen. The lines on his face were deeper than last month, when she’d first insisted on helping Alec, and Philip’s hair seemed to have gone gray overnight.

“The video doesn’t completely mesh with the person I met,” she said. Alec had been more carefree in the video, less tightly wound. Less wary.

“Of course not,” Philip said. “Farley’s fully grown now, much more of a seasoned soldier.” With exaggerated care, Philip pulled down the roll top of her desk, covering the laptop. “Remember, his first instinct was to intimidate and attack you.”

“Intimidate, yes, attack, no. He was careful,” she said. “He didn’t want to hurt me.”

“This time. What if you push harder?”

“He won’t hurt me.” There’d been no malice in Alec, only fear of the unknown. And frustration at having no control. Given the situation, he’d responded with a lot of maturity. He’d listened.

Philip grunted and walked to the window, staring out at her balcony and the paper lantern that she’d lit for the Obon Festival. The odds on her ancestors traveling from Japan to Montclair were slim but the effort made her feel less alone. At least she had Philip. Who did Alec have?

Philip began pacing, shedding some of his coiled energy. “How long do you think it will take to get Farley to walk out of that damned place willingly?”

“I’m not sure.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “He’s well overdue for some rebellion. He senses his cage and I suspect he’s becoming less tolerant of Lansing’s reasons for keeping him so under wraps. He definitely resented Lansing’s orders to see me and that’s why he came in literally breathing fire. Classic displacement. He couldn’t go after Lansing, so he went after me.”

“So Alec is under the impression that you work for Lansing and not the CIA?”

“Yes. Alec thinks Lansing is my employer. Or, at least, he did. Now, I think he’s willing to believe that I might be a free agent.”

“Typical of Lansing. Instead of admitting that he was strong-armed by the CIA to get Alec counseling, he lies to make it seem like his decision,” Philip said.

Beth sat down on her couch, needing the comfort of the oversized cushions. “I think Lansing is a manipulative bastard, yes, but you’ve dealt with many dangerous men over the years, Philip. What’s so different about this one? You talk about Lansing as if he’s the devil.”

“That’s close enough,” Philip said. “Lansing doesn’t give a damn about Alec, just Alec’s power. You’ll notice he was careful to demand submission from Alec in the video, rather than showing any approval.” Philip stopped pacing and knelt in front of her. “Beth.” He took her hand. “Now that you’ve met Alec Farley, are you sure you’re not risking your life for a junior version of Lansing? Is Alec worth the danger?”

She squeezed his hand back. “Yes, he’s worth it.” I like his face. A good strong face. A hero’s face.

“And when did you decide that?”

She stared at her statue of Buddha and the offering bowl of M&Ms, in memory of her mother. Good question. When had her worry for Alec finally overcome her fear of her own danger?

The change had started the moment he’d smiled at her joke about making his head smaller. And it had sparked into something stronger at that moment when they’d touched hands and she’d gotten the shock of her life.

She couldn’t admit the intense physical desire, so strong it had seemed nearly a compulsion, to her father. And she had to find out why it happened, so she could squash it. Her attraction to Alec violated every professional ethic in the book.

“You know, if Alec accepts the truth, he could do a lot of real good with that fire,” she said. “He doesn’t need to run around playing soldier all the time.”

“Oh, I’d say he’d doing more than just playing.” Philip stood and began pacing again.

“You’re practically jumping out of your skin tonight, Philip. What’s changed since you let me go in? Is something else wrong?”

“Yes.” He stopped and faced her. “My superiors in the CIA gave me a time limit to get Alec out or eliminate him.”

“They’d kill him?” She clenched her hand into a fist.

“Yes, they’d kill him. They’d rather use him but they’d eliminate him, if they had to.” Philip picked up her teacup from the table. His big hands engulfed the delicate porcelain. He raised an eyebrow for permission. She nodded and he drank the last dregs of her tea.

“And now we have to walk the tightrope,” he said. “When can Alec stand on his own? And if he can’t, I have to decide if he’s better off at the Resource or with the CIA.”

“Both choices are still slavery for Alec.”

“Both are better than dead,” he said.

“You said you could save him.” She hugged a pillow with gold fringes to her chest. The fringe tickled the back of her hand.

“I said I’d do what I could. I can’t guarantee anything.”

“Slavery or death are not good options.”

“Exactly. That’s why I came to you in the first place.” He started ticking points off on his fingers. “One, I needed somebody outside the CIA that I could trust. Two, I needed a psychologist who would understand Alec. And three, I needed someone who would have his best interests at heart. But-”

“But nothing. I’m glad you came to me,” she said.

“I’m not. I regret it. You didn’t need to be involved in this mess.” Philip sank into her armchair and closed his eyes, hiding from the light of her corner lamp, covered by shadows. “Death has a way of spilling over onto anyone in its path. I don’t want you in the way. This was a mistake.”

His quiet worry scared her, far more than Alec had. She pulled the pillow tighter to her chest.

“How much time do you need, Beth?” Philip said.

“Maybe three months. If I see Alec once a week, I can get him to demand more privileges from Lansing, more time in the outside world instead of being locked up in that place. But I have to build up some trust with Alec first. That’s key.”

“Push too hard with Alec and Lansing will eliminate you and cover it up. The CIA has leverage on the Resource because of their contracts with them but that protection only goes so far. And if Lansing found out who you really are, well, he’d love to get his hands on a telepath.” Philip punched the armrest.

She swallowed hard, sick to her stomach at the idea. No, she didn’t want to be a prisoner again. Ever.

“And you can’t stop Lansing, if needed?” She flexed her fingers, waiting, hoping for reassurance. Her father could protect her from anything.

“I can’t stop Lansing on my own or I would have long before this,” he finally said.


“Lansing wants to build his own empire and he’s got the patience to take years to do it. You think the Resource compound is his only facility? He has a regular mercenary operation centered in upstate New York, one that is pulling in millions from government contracts. Not to mention his business operations. With that kind of money comes influence, which Lansing will use to leverage more power, until he gets it all.” Philip’s voice became lower, more intense.

“How are you so sure about this? He sounds like an evil villain out of a comic book.”

Another long pause. “You’ll have to take my word for it.”

She punched the pillow, angry that he wouldn’t tell her everything, as usual. But she believed him. “Of course, I trust you. You know that.”

“Good.” He tapped his fingers on the armrest. “I have to ask, Beth. Is there any chance that your telepathy might reach Alec to make him see reason? If you could order him outside, you could treat him away from the Resource. If the CIA believes Alec is a free agent, they’ll back off, at least for a while.”

“I don’t think so.” Her fingers dug grooves into the pillow. She’d been grateful for years that her telepathy was gone, that she was normal. Until she saw Alec use his abilities. “It’s permanently blocked off. I’ve tried but it’s gone, ever since the kidnapping. Trauma, probably, but I can’t sort it out and there’s no one to ask for help.” She bit her tongue. “Recovering telepathy is not something any doctor specializes in.”

“Easy.” He leaned forward, bringing his face into the light. “I’m sorry to have asked. And even sorrier I couldn’t help you with it.”

“Not your fault. You saved me, remember?” She took a deep breath. Did the idea of regaining her telepathy disturb her more than not having it? Though she must retain some vestige of it if he felt Alec’s power. “I might be able to go faster with Alec, though if he’s absorbed his values from Lansing, that’s a problem. What is Daz Montoya like? Alec’s obviously bonded to him.”

“Montoya is a decorated former Navy Seal with a clean service record. He started as a non-commissioned officer, went to college, and came back into the Navy as an officer. He has outstanding personnel reports,” Philip said.

“So you’d say he has some moral values, at least compared to Lansing?”

Philip frowned. “Montoya’s taking money from Lansing and he’s intelligent enough to realize that Alec is being kept prisoner at the Resource. Those are two strikes against him. But his past record suggests a, um, honorable man.”

“That’s promising.” Beth took a deep breath. “It might make my work easier. But my worry is that Alec could switch his dependence from Lansing and Montoya to me. That’s not what Alec needs.”

“Too damn bad, if it keeps you safe.”

“But Alec needs to be safe, too, secure in his own self. That’s why I went in there. Everyone else is manipulating him. I can’t add to it.” She stood, dropping her pillow.

“It’s better than him being dead.”

“You’re trying to scare me away, Philip. Why did you let me do this in the first place? When you told me about Alec, you must have known that I’d want to help him any way I could. Why not just keep it from me, if this was so dangerous?”

Philip stood and bowed to her, a traditional Japanese bow, with more grace than she’d ever managed. “Because I swore to a little girl I rescued that I’d give her a normal life, as normal as possible after her mother’s murder.” He cleared his throat. “And that means letting you make your own choices.” He nearly choked on the last word. “If I kept things from you, things you’d want to know, or lied to you about them, I’m no better than Lansing, am I?”

She crossed to him and hugged him, tight. He had so much essential kindness hidden behind that scary exterior. Often, she wondered if he showed it to anyone but her. Likely not. “I couldn’t have found a better father, Philip Drake.”

“I should have sent you into foster care after I rescued you and faded away from your life.”

And take away her lifeline? “You didn’t because we need each other. And Alec Farley needs us, now.”

“Yes, my fondest wish has always been to expose you to mortal danger to save a brainwashed firestarter.” He kissed the top of her head and rested his chin there. His soft sigh warmed her hair. “If my instincts feel this going wrong, I’m going to pull you out, immediately, no questions asked. Understand?”

“And Alec?”

“You’re my first priority. Always.”

Meaning that he would sacrifice Alec to keep her safe, if necessary. She was tempted to let him. To be prisoner, helpless again, maybe drugged and out of her mind….

But I can’t abandon Alec.