Her Spy to Hold Chapter One
Her Spy to Hold, Book 2 Spy Games Series
Two can play this particular game.
When software engineer Dr. Irina Glasov’s top secret project is compromised, Irina has no one she can trust and only one place to turn.
Intelligence officer Kale Martin is ready to step up to the plate. Finished with his latest assignment, he’s all-in to help the reserved but very sexy Dr. Glasov find her man. Getting the brilliant doctor to let down her guard long enough for things to heat up between them quickly becomes a game Kale plays to win.
Irina’s not foolish enough to trust her heart to a man who lies for a living, and she knows he’s been lying to her. That doesn’t mean she’s not willing to play along.
Unfortunately, a cyberstalker is playing with her, too. Irina soon has no choice but to put all her faith in Kale, because with a higher priority case unfolding elsewhere, he’s left on his own to investigate. Can they work together to figure out who’s hacking into her computer before her reputation is ruined?
Or is Kale the one who will ruin her?
Excerpt © 2016 Paula Altenburg All Rights Reserved
“I’ve had a breach in security at work. I need to speak with someone from CSIS.”
The indifference of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer lounging in the chair across the table from Irina Glasov was frustrating. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service handled espionage. She was working on a top secret project she wasn’t at liberty to discuss with a police detective who didn’t have the proper clearances. In order to speak to CSIS anonymously, however, the RCMP would have to contact them for her and arrange a meeting.
Those were the facts.
She laced her fingers together in her lap. She was a thirty-two-year old computer applications software engineer who held two masters degrees and a doctorate in computer science. She designed weapons systems placement for military aircraft. When she spoke in her field, people listened. Surely she could make this one police officer take her seriously. But she’d never been in this type of situation before. She didn’t know what else to do. How she could explain it any better when she found it so puzzling herself.
“I don’t understand why you can’t report it through your workplace. They must have their own security management measures in place,” the detective replied.
Irina tried to explain it again. “The company’s security management measures are inadequate for a breach of this nature. The project I’m working on is top secret. I report directly to the client. No one else in the company has my level of government clearance.”
Detective Buchanan glanced at the clock on the wall. “Miss Glasov. Let—”
“Doctor,” Irina interrupted.
A gray-speckled eyebrow went up. Calloused fingertips stroked the laminate tabletop. “Dr. Glasov. Let your client know they have a problem, then. Let them contact CSIS. We don’t report every little thing we hear. There are also privacy issues to be taken into consideration. CSIS gathers intelligence and they distribute it to worldwide organizations. That’s why we screen the leads we hand them. If this is someone at work having a bit of fun with you, you don’t want to bring CSIS down on them.”
Having personal photos pop up on her computer monitor—through a secure intranet system—wasn’t a “little thing” or someone having a “bit of fun,” and she doubted that CSIS would want to share this particular piece of intelligence with other organizations. The end customer for her work was most likely a foreign government, using a third party broker to buy work from her employer.
But she couldn’t tell him any of that. While she had no idea how many similar requests Detective Buchanan handled in the course of a year, it was safe to assume very few. Enfield, Nova Scotia wasn’t exactly a hotbed of international terrorist activity.
He wasn’t going to do anything for her. Coming here had been a waste of her lunch hour. She stood, smoothing the wrinkles from her navy pencil skirt, and extended her hand. She’d already given him her contact information, although she didn’t expect him to use it.
“Thank you for your time,” she said.
She had no idea where she should turn now.
* * *
Kale Martin rarely got tired of tailing stupid people. It was an endless source of entertainment.
Two men in expensive suits walked into Durty Nelly’s, an Irish pub on the corner of Argyle and Sackville streets in downtown Halifax, for the third time in a week. By Kale’s count, this was meeting number seven. It was as if they were daring CSIS to tag them.
The investment banker liked to play extreme sports. He got his kicks off the thrill of danger. He probably thought this was some kind of game. But his companion…
The second man wore a suit well. He was polished. An excellent spin doctor. No doubt about that. He and his entourage also had terrorist links all the way from ISIL to an up-and-coming little sect currently stockpiling an arsenal in a small, North African nation. Even the local Hell’s Angels chapter steered clear of these bad boys. Extreme Sports Investment Banker was in way over his head.
Kale didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy. It was the money trail that interested him most, and he’d found the connection. Now he was intent on figuring out what would make the guy squirm. What would scare the shit out of him enough to make him squeal like a little girl who’d had her hair pulled on a playground. And he’d already decided it wouldn’t take much more than an unannounced, but no less official, visit from CSIS to the banker’s place of business. Rule number one of organized crime—don’t shit where you eat.
“Are you ready to order?”
Kale looked up from his glass of soda to find the pretty blonde barmaid who’d been eyeballing him all week standing beside his table. Most of the other women in the pub weren’t above staring at him, but it seemed clothes really did make the man. The courier uniform and short pants he wore kept their interest from progressing beyond the eyeballing stage.
They didn’t appear to be a turnoff in this case, however. He smiled at the girl as he passed her the menu. She had the fresh-faced look of a college girl, young and sweet. He was a sucker for sweet.
Young, not so much.
“I’ll have the salmon with sweet potato fries,” he said.
She smiled back, clutching the menu he’d handed her to her chest, in no hurry to leave. “You must be new on your route. You’re turning into a regular here.”
Kale had a fondness for women in general. They liked him too, although he rarely acted on it. He moved from city to city, and country to country, with a frequency that wasn’t exactly conducive to long-term relationships. He wasn’t a big fan of the associated break-up drama either.
Still, a little flirting never hurt anyone. He broadened his grin, showing off the thousands of dollars his parents had invested in orthodontics when he was a kid. “If all the girls here are as pretty as you, I’ll be a regular for sure.”
She blushed. “If you need anything, ask for Mandy.”
“I will, indeed.”
Kale ate his lunch when it arrived. The two men he was watching had ordered drinks to go with their steaks, then another round for desert. They looked like they were settling in for the afternoon.
He couldn’t sit here that long. Even the extreme sports banker guy would get wise to that. He glanced at his watch. He’d hired on with the courier company so he’d have a reason to be in the downtown area every day, but his immediate supervisor knew nothing about his job with CSIS. He didn’t mind being fired—this particular assignment was over anyway—but it didn’t sit well to know that people were waiting for business deliveries that might be important. They had their work to do, too.
He left the money for his meal, along with a generous tip, on the table. He’d parked the delivery van in a loading zone out front, its four-way flashers blinking. One of the perks of being an intelligence officer for CSIS. No parking violation tickets in the city would stick as long as he wasn’t blatantly blocking traffic.
As he got in the van, he saw the second man—the scary one—come out of the pub, look up and down the street, and spot him. He jogged over.
Kale cranked down the window, resigned. This was going to be ugly.
“Can I help you with something?” he asked. “Got a delivery you’d like me to make?” It never hurt to try.
He saw the fist coming at him but didn’t have time to dodge it completely. He shifted his face to the left so it missed his nose, connecting with his cheekbone and eye socket instead. His forehead slammed into the edge of the van’s open window frame. Pain, white-hot and blinding, exploded through his whole head.
Turned out it did hurt to try, after all.
When Kale’s vision cleared, the guy was still standing there, shaking his fingers.
“I don’t know who you’re working for,” the other man said in a low, pleasant voice, “but I’ll take a guess. The next time you bastards want to follow me, try remembering that I’ve got rights to privacy in this country and a whole team of lawyers. Asshole.”
Once he’d delivered his message and that last parting shot, he walked back to the pub as if nothing had happened.
That had gone better than expected.
Kale touched his fingertips to his tender, swelling cheek and winced. It was mid-August on a sunny afternoon in downtown Halifax. There was no way the incident had gone unobserved. A small crowd had already begun to gather on the sidewalk.
A man rushed up to the van. “Are you okay? Want me to call the cops?”
Kale waved him off, signaling that he was fine. This wasn’t the first time he’d been punched and it wouldn’t be the last. It beat getting shot. “Thanks, but no worries. The guy’s upset because I slept with his wife. I had it coming.”
That last part was true. He really did have it coming. He’d been as careless and stupid as the investment banker he’d been tailing. It wasn’t a complete loss, however. CSIS already had the information it needed.
His cell phone rang. He reached in his pocket to retrieve it. “Hello?”
“Kale Martin? This is Detective Dave Buchanan from the RCMP detachment in Enfield. Your office gave me your number. I was wondering if you could maybe make a stop out here sometime this afternoon.”
* * *
Irina was cooking dinner when the knock came on her kitchen door.
She froze with the steel knife she’d been using to chop green onions for an omelet suspended in midair. She wasn’t expecting visitors.
She laid the knife on the wooden cutting block, then crossed the kitchen to the two-panel steel side door of her bungalow, the one that led to her carport, and peered through the curtain. Thor stood on her doorstep, hulking and blond, and scary.
He wore his hair in a man bun. The wide smile on his lips and the ridiculous courier uniform did nothing to offset the alarming effect of the shiny black eye and the darkening bruise on his forehead.
There was no need to overreact. All of her doors and windows were locked. The air conditioning took care of the summer heat and humidity.
She left the chain in place on the inner door, opening it only far enough so she could speak through the crack. The locked exterior screen door added another layer of protection. It wouldn’t stop him if he tried to force his way in, but it would slow him down enough for her to slam the inner door shut and shoot the deadbolt.
“You must have the wrong address,” she said. “I’m not expecting a delivery.”
“Dr. Irina Glasov? My name is Kale Martin. Detective Buchanan suggested I pay you a visit. He said you’d asked for a meeting.” He fumbled in his shirt pocket for a piece of ID. He flipped it open and held it up.
She couldn’t get a close enough look at it through the screen, not that it mattered. She’d never be able to confirm the legitimacy of it even if she did. Hope warred with suspicion. “Do you mind waiting a few minutes while I give Detective Buchanan a call to confirm it with him?”
The giant didn’t take offense to her caution. “Not at all.”
She left him on the doorstep while she dug her cell phone and the business card Detective Buchanan had given her out of her purse. She punched in the number.
As it turned out, the detective had, indeed, asked Mr. Martin to stop by. The description he gave her matched the man at the door, right down to the black eye, courier uniform, and running shoes, but Irina continued to hesitate even after she disconnected the call. While this seemed a little elaborate for a hoax, whoever had managed to hack into her computer wasn’t trying to be subtle. The pop-ups had been unnerving and she was cautious by nature.
She wished she were taller and more assertive. A self-defense course wouldn’t have been remiss, either. She was a woman living alone who’d had a bad day. She’d let Mr. Martin in, but she’d stand at the counter so she’d have the knife close at hand. She’d never be able to use it on anyone, but he didn’t need to know that.
She slid back the chain and unlocked the screen door. She didn’t open it but retreated to the counter, leaving him to let himself in.
The Norse god stepped over the threshold, his sheer size swallowing what she’d considered a spacious kitchen. If he lifted his hand above his head he could plant his palm on the ceiling. Fine gold hairs sprinkled tanned calves and forearms. Bulging biceps and broad pectoral muscles strained the seams of the gray cotton, short-sleeved shirt. Faint blond scruff, caught in the light from the bay window, stubbled his jaw.
The guy was beautiful. She had a difficult time believing he was an intelligence officer. Weren’t they supposed to blend in?
The only place he’d go unnoticed was Asgard.
His blue eyes, sparkling with geniality despite the bruise and the swelling, took in the knife on the counter, but if he had an opinion about it, he kept it to himself. Instead, with a discreet deference for her nervousness, he moved to the table in front of the window, putting some distance between them.
“Do you mind if I sit?” he asked, pulling out one of the round-backed pine chairs.
She’d prefer it if he did. He had to be close to a foot and a half taller than her underwhelming five feet, two inches. Factor in her boring brown hair and he made her feel like a Hobbit. “Help yourself. Do you mind if I ask how you got the black eye?”
He touched his cheekbone and made a wry face. “Funny story. True story. Turns out not everyone likes couriers. Who’d have guessed we could be so offensive?”
The bruise looked painful. And fresh. She couldn’t begin to imagine who would have the arrogant confidence to punch a man his size in the face. Nor did she wish to.
Her sympathy was hard to suppress, however, especially since she was the reason he was sitting here, rather than at home, where he’d no doubt prefer to be at the end of a rough day. “Would you like ice for the swelling?”
“I would love some.”
The refrigerator stood to Irina’s left, closer to her than to him, but if she moved, it meant being out of reach of the knife. He might be gorgeous, but she wasn’t stupid.
He saw her split second of indecision and gave her an out. “I can get it myself.” He pried himself from the chair. As he opened the freezer door, she took note that his glutes weren’t bad, either. He got additional points for his polite consideration. He pulled out a small bag of frozen peas and held them up, shooting her an inquiring glance over his shoulder. “Can I use these instead?”
Irina found her tongue. “Go ahead.”
He reclaimed his chair, propping an elbow on the table and pressing the bag to his face with a sigh of pure bliss. “Thanks. That feels a lot better.” He fixed her with his good eye. “Detective Buchanan tells me you work for a defense contractor doing something with computers.”
His tone was unreadable. Still, she could imagine what he must be thinking. What he saw. She hadn’t been expecting this visit, not after her meeting with the detective, so she wasn’t at all prepared. She’d ditched her office attire for denim shorts and a clingy pink tank top that made her look young. Her lipstick was long gone. At least she’d left her hair up, secured in a semi-professional, loose knot on top of her head, even though it was likely a mess. It was where she kept pencils for scribbling down notes and equations.
“Yes and no.” She wasn’t yet comfortable in giving up too much information. “I work through the defense contractor, not for them. They won a contract to build a specialized unmanned aerial patrol vehicle. A drone. I was hired to work with them to enhance it.”
“What do you mean by ‘enhance?’”
“This is the part where I have to ask how high your security clearance is,” she said.
He removed the bag of peas and stared at her, slack-jawed. “Specialized patrol drone…My God. You’re designing weapons. For a Canadian contract?”
Irina understood his reaction. Canada prided itself on being a nation of peacekeepers, not peacemakers. Officially, its military patrol aircraft weren’t armed. Instead, they were designed with the capabilities for armament. It was a technicality, but a significant one. While Canadian contractors weren’t under any obligation to work only with Canada, there were laws restricting what countries they could supply weapons systems to. Stringent ones.
“So you see why I need to know what your security level is,” she pressed him.
“It’s high enough for the basics. For now, you can keep the details and any names to yourself.”
His honesty impressed her. He didn’t try to pretend that his clearance was better than hers. And he was willing to hear her out. Relief left her shaking. She had to lean against the counter behind her for support. For the first time all day, she felt safe.
He rubbed a finger along his upper lip as he pieced the details together, thinking out loud. “So your company is building the drones but the customer is arming them.”
“I don’t know who’s arming them. I handle the weapons designs—their placement—nothing more. The contractor builds the drones, which are then delivered to the customer. My designs are a separate delivery. For all I know, the customer could be a distributor. A middleman for someone else.”
He sprawled in the chair, the sheer size of him making it creak, and settled the bag of peas against his face again. “You can correct me if you like, but I’m going to make a few assumptions based on what you are—and aren’t—telling me. One of them is that these are nuclear weapons we’re talking about, and the final customer could be a foreign country Canada doesn’t do business with because they haven’t signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.” He paused. When she said nothing to contradict him, he continued. “Explain to me why you believe you have security issues?”
“This morning, I started getting pop-ups on my computer at work. They were photos of me.” She cleared her throat. “Private photos.”
He dragged a slow glance from her bare feet to the top of her head. She felt herself blush. So she wasn’t porn star material. Thanks for noticing.
“Not that kind of private. Just…private.” She waved her hand to encompass the kitchen. “Taken of me here. In my home. Through the windows.”
His expression cleared. “That explains why you’ve drawn all the curtains.”
“The photos aren’t the real issue.” They were bad enough to unsettle her, however. Nobody liked having their personal space invaded. “The problem is with the pop-ups themselves.”
“Pop-ups… Aren’t they the annoying little ad things that get in the way when you’re trying to read articles on the internet?”
“Yes. They’re also a type of spyware that gathers information on the site’s users. Some of it’s for marketing purposes, like how many click-throughs a user makes on a site. Some pop-ups are more invasive than others.”
“I was told you have a PhD in computer science. Can’t you clear them off your computer yourself?”
“I did already, but the computer’s not mine, it belongs to the company. I work within specific parameters and resolving intranet security issues isn’t part of my job. I’m supposed to go to tech support for issues like that. In turn, they’re to investigate and report any security breaches to the company. But if I go to tech support, I run the risk of making the problem public and therefore more complicated. The contractor has a secure intranet system. How did these pop-ups get there? Who else knows about them? And why are they aimed specifically at me? Is anyone else getting them, too?” She hated all the unanswered and inexplicable questions. She liked for things to make sense and this made none at all.
He frowned as he parsed her dilemma. “So if pop-ups are a form of spyware, these could be gathering information on your designs from your computer.”
“In theory, yes. But in this particular case, no. Not the designs themselves. All classified work is done on an isolated computer in a locked room. Everything’s password-protected. Not even tech support can get into it. There’s no intranet or internet on that computer. That one’s secure. External hard drives used for backups are stored in a separate locked storage room that can only be accessed by two people. Everything has to be signed in and out.”
“Then if the designs are protected, I’m afraid I really don’t see how this is a matter for CSIS.”
She shouldn’t have to connect the dots for him. Her chest tightened. “Not to toot my own horn, Mr. Martin, but I’m something of a world authority on weapons placement design and my brain’s not locked in any classified storage area. Since someone is targeting me specifically, I’d think that would be a serious concern.”
Thor gave her a slow, heated smile that brought a blush to her toes. “You’re also an attractive woman. Maybe you have an admirer.” The smile slid from his lips. “A creepy one, granted. Call Detective Buchanan back and tell him about the photos. He can do more for you than I can in terms of personal protection.”
Her fingers bit into the edge of the smooth, granite counter. If she were a man he’d never make such a ridiculous assumption. The people she worked with all had high-level security clearances. While that didn’t preclude them from stalking, it did mean they weren’t stupid enough to jeopardize those clearances for a little titillation. And the average stalker, even with better-than-average computer skills, wouldn’t be able to break into an intranet system of this caliber.
She was back to square one.