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Code Name: Grace (E-Book)

Code Name: Grace (E-Book)

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As the resident psychiatrist at Jameson Force Security, I make it my business to know all about our team—the good, the bad, and everything in between. But for every secret of theirs I hold close, I have secrets of my own I hold closer. I’m not trying to hide my history, but…it’s complicated. And that’s putting it mildly. It’s easier to keep my past firmly in the past, until the day a familiar face walks through my office door.

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Clay Brandeis is the only one who knows my whole story. Through the darkest period of my life, he was by my side. A friend and confidant. I once thought he was something more, but he walked away and left me wondering how I got it so wrong.

After all these years, one look at him and I know I wasn’t wrong at all. His handsome face, his strong and steady demeanor, despite the icy glare he’s throwing my way. My heart wasn’t wrong about Clay Brandeis, and this Christmas, I’m determined to make sure he knows it too.

NOTE: Code Name: Grace originally appeared in the ‘Tis the Season for Romance Anthology in December 2020.

Read Chapter One

Corinne

My life has been a mixture of highs and lows.

Great joys intertwined with profound sadness.

Good interwoven with evil.

When I notice Clay Brandeis standing at my office door, a wave of pure happiness washes through me. It’s been nine long years since I’d last seen him, and I had long ago given up any hope we’d cross paths again.

And now to find him here—in my place of employment—it’s just too surreal to understand. His expression says he’s as shocked as I am.

“Corinne?” he says, more like a question than a statement. As if he just can’t believe the fates have deposited us in each other’s presence.

And I also hear a hint of regret.

Not regret that it’s been so long since we fell out of touch, but that he’s stumbled upon me. I think Clay is the type of man who could have gone the rest of his life without seeing me again, and that hurts.

Still, no matter our history together, my joy in seeing him surpasses all else. I rise from my chair. “Clay?” I also say his name like a question, a bit fearful that perhaps I’m imagining this.

“It really is you.” He punches his hands into the pockets of his pants in a nervous reflex. I try to dismiss that thought. Try to stop myself from automatically shrinking him.

Even though that’s my job… to shrink people. I’ve been working for Jameson Force Security for about nine months as their resident psychiatrist. My job is to evaluate potential new agents as well as provide counseling to others who come off harrowing and sometimes soul-breaking missions. I also help profile bad guys, a certain talent I’ve honed over the years, and much of that is due to the man standing inside my office door. Let’s just say he helped develop that particular interest.

Keeping my tone light, I say, “Been a long time.”

“Nine years,” he murmurs, staring at me with a neutral expression. But I know he’s hiding his emotions from me.

And I don’t like that, so I decide to press. I move past my desk, straight into his personal space, and slide my arms around his waist to hug him. I have no choice but to do it that way, as he’s far too tall for me to go above his shoulders and pull him down to my level. Besides that, I’m pretty sure he’d resist.

But he can’t when I turn my cheek, laying it against his chest. “I’m so glad to see you again.”

And that is no lie. This man, who has been so influential to my entire adult life, means the absolute world to me, and he probably has no idea.

Clay’s hands come out of his pockets, going to my waist, and he gives me a slight squeeze before stepping back. He runs his fingers through his thick blond hair, which he’s always worn a little too longish for FBI standards. “Yeah… good to see you, too.”

Smiling, I sweep my hand toward the interior of my office. “Want to come in? Have a cup of coffee and catch up?”

I notice Cage Murdock—one of Jameson’s best agents—watching us. I assume Clay must have been here to see him, although I have no clue why. I have no idea why Clay is even in Pittsburgh.

Clay shakes his head. Without an ounce of true regret in his tone, he glances at his watch and says, “Actually… I’ve got a meeting I need to get to.”

It’s a lie.

An absolute one. I know this because, for a time in my life, this man fed me nothing but the hard truth about things. It’s one of the reasons I respected him so much.

“Oh.” My heart drops, my gaze lowering to the carpet. But I rally, paste on another smile, and lift my eyes up. “Maybe some other time?”

“Yeah… sure.” Another lie that makes my happiness melt away. Right then, I consider stuffing Clay back into that little part of my heart where I’ve kept him all these years. Lock him up and throw away the key before I get bitter feelings.

Clay turns his back on me to address Cage. “I’m sorry, Cage. Maybe I’ll take that tour another day.”

“Anytime, man,” Cage replies easily, and they shake hands.

My eyes follow Clay to the elevator. When he disappears, I start to turn back into my office.

“You two know each other, huh?” Cage asks genially.

“Yeah,” I murmur, offering no other explanation. I close my office door behind me, making it clear I don’t want to discuss Agent Clay Brandeis of the Federal Bureau of Investigations any further.

By the time I take my seat at my desk again, my shoulders are heavily weighed down with disappointment and regret. I almost wish I hadn’t seen him because my life would be inherently easier if I kept his memory locked away in that corner of my heart.

The only problem is now that lock has been busted wide open. He’s been set free. Now that I know he’s here in Pittsburgh, I can’t ignore the fact.

I simply can’t forget that the most important figure in my entire life has, for some reason, crossed my path again.

Nine long years since we parted in a downtown Atlanta bar. We’d gone there to celebrate the conviction of Richard Katz. While as witnesses, we had been sequestered until we testified, after we had both taken the stand, Clay sat by my side the remainder of the trial.

I thought it was in solidarity.

Later, I found out that was not the case.

Even today when I embraced him and his return hug was lukewarm at best, I knew deep in my heart Clay regrets this run-in. Too many bad memories for him to overcome, and it’s clear he doesn’t want anything to do with me.

An ordinary person wouldn’t push the issue. A reasonable one would get the hint. I had nine years ago when he’d walked away from me. But perhaps I had hoped time would have lessened his bitterness.

But I’m no ordinary person. I’m a psychiatrist. It’s in my nature to figure out what makes a person tick. Why they do the things they do, say the things they say, and avoid discussing their hard and painful feelings.

It’s what I’m meant to do, but, more than that, I care too much about Clay to let this continue. I’ve got enough of a mystic heart to believe he’s here for a reason. Perhaps it’s so I can return his conscience to a pure state.

A thought causes me to rise from my chair again. I have to know exactly why Clay is here. He could just be passing through town, which means any opportunities to speak to him could be limited.

I rush as fast as my four-inch heels allow, deciding to risk them on the stairs going upward rather than the slow elevator. I had seen Cage heading that way through my glass office walls after I’d returned to my desk.

When I reach the fourth floor, he’s not in the communal area, so I head straight to his apartment, which is down a hall off the kitchen. Kynan had five apartments built up here for his agents as a job perk on a first-come, first-serve basis. Cage was one of the first to move in.

I rap hard on his door, too impatient to be polite. He quickly opens the door since I was hot on his heels. “What’s up?” he asks, motioning me inside.

I shake my head since I don’t have time for an extended visit. “How do you know Clay? Is he helping on a case of ours or something?”

“He was,” Cage says.

“So he’s leaving Pittsburgh?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Cage replies. Relief floods me. “He’s stationed here as Griff’s new partner. He stepped in to help me with a kidnapping issue with my wife since Griff was out of state.”

My eyes about bug out of my head. “You’re married? And your wife was kidnapped?”

Where in the hell have I been?

Cage chuckles. “It’s a long story, and you don’t appear to have the time to hear it. I’ll fill you in later, but if you’re looking for Clay, he’s probably heading back to his office.”

I try to map out where the FBI building is in my head, and I figure it’s a twenty-minute drive. My gut says the trip is going to be wasted, though. Clay had been too good at putting my attempts to contact him off those first years after we parted ways. I doubt he’d see me, and I can’t just sneak into the FBI building to hunt him down.

I’ll need to catch up with him another way.

“Thanks, Cage,” I say, then pivot away from his door.

“Good luck,” he calls.

Glancing over my shoulder, I shoot him a smile. I’ll need it.

And I’ll need something else as well, and only one person can help me get it.

***

The Research and Development portion of Jameson is housed in a sub-basement level and requires the highest security to get in. Only two people have such access—Bebe Grimshaw and Dozer Burney. Not even our esteemed owner, Kynan McGrath, can get in without one in attendance.

I press a button that buzzes inside the room, and Dozer’s voice comes over the intercom. “What can we do for you, Dr. Ellery?”

He knows it’s me because there’s a camera above the door that lets the two tech geeks check out who has come to visit.

“Is Bebe there? I need to talk to her.”

Dozer’s answer is nothing but the sound of the lock on the door sliding back. I pull it open to enter the weird world of computer science.

Dozer greets me with a wide smile. He’s the smartest man in this building, and Kynan pulled a coup when he stole him right out from under NASA’s nose. Dozer is probably the highest-paid employee here because of his abilities and off-the-charts IQ. Along with Bebe, he helps develop all of our technology as well as an artificial intelligence system that allows our agents to “predict” the outcomes of missions based on different scenario factors. It’s quite impressive.

He nods toward Bebe’s office, a small space barely bigger than a closet. Both Bebe and Dozer prefer to work collaboratively in the main area, but they do each have their own private hole-in-the-wall offices.

Bebe’s staring at me, having heard the exchange, and she waves me in.

Admittedly, it’s taken a bit of time to get to know this woman. She started at Jameson right after I did. In fact, after Kynan hired me, one of the first things he did was use me to evaluate Bebe’s mental health before he hired her.

Or rather, sprung her from a lengthy prison sentence decades early so he could utilize her special skillset. Bebe’s one of the best hackers in the world.

But over the last several months, Bebe and I have grown increasingly closer. She’s shared some horrors with me—mainly because it’s my job to listen, but also because she’s developed trust in me as a friend.

“What’s up, Doc?” she goofs, mimicking Bugs Bunny holding a carrot up to his mouth like a cigar.

“Funny,” I reply dryly, plopping my butt on the corner of her desk. She doesn’t have another chair in here for me to sit on. “I need your help.”

“Of course,” she replies, sitting up a bit straighter in her chair, head tipped back to regard me. I take a moment to admire the softness in her gaze and her easy smile. I could say that’s due to a lot of different things, but mainly it’s due to her falling in love with Griff Moore. She’s an absolutely different woman.

I hesitate on just what to say, nibbling on my thumbnail a moment, which is a nervous habit I had broken in my teens.

Finally, I drop my hand down to my lap. “What do you know about Griff’s new partner?”

Bebe’s eyes blink hard, surprised by this question. Still, I can also see within her expression that she’s already figured out I must know him personally.

She shrugs. “Seems like a nice guy, but I only met him once. Griff and I were going to invite him over to dinner on Christmas since he doesn’t have any family in the area.”

“He doesn’t have any family at all,” I mutter, mulling over this information, my gaze drifting off to stare at Bebe’s wall, which is devoid of any pictures or artwork. That means Clay has no plans to travel, which is good. It’s an opening.

“How do you know that?” Bebe asks curiously. “That he has no family, I mean?”

My eyes snap to hers, and I make a quick decision to trust her. “I need something from Griff. I need Clay’s home address, and I figure he’s more likely to give it to you than me.”

Bebe’s shaking her head before I can even finish my request. “He won’t give it to me either. You know… all that cruddy privacy shit. Griff’s too upstanding.”

She’s hinting at something. Bebe’s never abided by rules. She’ll push boundaries, even to the point of illegality, if she believes in the cause.

“I need to tell you a story,” I say, rising from her desk and closing the door to give us privacy from Dozer.

I lean back against it, crossing my arms over my chest. Bebe stares at me, head tilted with curiosity.

I take a deep breath, and I tell her exactly how I know Clay and why I want his address.

By the time I’m done, she’s tapping away on her computer to get the information I need. It takes her fifteen minutes of hacking for me to have Clay’s address in hand.

“Thank you,” I say softly, clutching the paper to my heart.

“My pleasure,” she replies, and I know it is. She derives pleasure in taking things that don’t belong to her if the end goal is to help someone else. “And good luck.”

That’s the second time someone has said that to me in the last half hour. And I’ll need all the luck in the world to reach Clay.

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Product Release Date: December 31, 2020

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