Baring Mia

By: Kallista Dane

He used the tattered remnants of the black skirt still clinging to her waist as a bandage, tying it around her injured leg. Cradling her in his arms, he sank down onto the lowest step of the pool. The water felt so good – so cool. Only then did he look down at his blistered skin and realize he’d suffered burns battling his way through the destruction. You’ll feel the pain later, he told himself with the detachment of someone who was merely a bystander, once the adrenaline rush wears off.

Mia stirred in his arms. “What happened?” she whispered.

“Bomb. Probably more than one, all set to go off at once, late in the evening when they figured most of the staff and employees would be gone. Obviously I was their target – along with everything in my lab.”

She stared at him in horror. “Sam, Marcus – your men were here, too. Are they all right?”

“I don’t know.” Harmon couldn’t meet her eyes. “This is my fault. Sam warned me months ago, said there had been threats by some whacko religious cult saying my tech devices were the work of the devil. I should have evacuated the building right then, sent everyone away for a while. And I never should have let you set foot in the lab. No tech creation is worth risking people’s lives.”

“You couldn’t have foreseen this,” Mia said softly. “No one could.”

She sounded coherent. Relief poured through him. The longer she was in the pool, the more she was returning to full consciousness. Maybe her concussion was a mild one.

Mia reached up to push a lock of hair back from his smoke-stained forehead. “Are you sure it was a religious group? You don’t think…”

“Don’t think what? That it was some rogue cell inside the FBI?”

Mia gasped. “Why would you say that?”

“Sam has been monitoring your meetings with Patterson. I know he tried to get you to plant evidence against me, threatened to prosecute you for Cabrera’s theft if you didn’t. It’s okay, baby. I understand. You were afraid you’d go to prison. I don’t blame you for taking the flash drive.”

“But I didn’t! Well, I did, but I destroyed it right away. I could never do anything to hurt you, Jake. I love you.”

He took her hand, his eyes welling with tears. How could she say that, after he’d been so harsh with her tonight? His scenario, complete with a room full of virtual leering strangers, had been designed to turn her into a thing. He’d wanted to remember her as just another sex toy he played with for a while then discarded.

Harmon realized he’d been trying to protect himself. If he pushed her away first, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much when he had to face the fact she was going to betray him then walk out.

But she said she’d destroyed the flash drive. That she never intended to use it. He hadn’t trusted her and because of that, he’d hurt her. The bomb wasn’t his fault, but the vicious virtual scenario was. He remembered her tear-filled eyes, her pleas to stop the cruel fantasy.

“I am a total shit,” he muttered under his breath. “I need to schedule a session with Matthews so he can kick some sense into me again.”

Mia was talking a mile a minute, probably from the adrenaline rush that finally hit her.

“Jake, I realized a long time ago you couldn’t have had anything to do with stealing that money and framing me for it. I’ve been trying to find some clue to who was behind it all. But I was getting nowhere. Believe it or not, tonight I decided I’d tell you everything and ask for your help. I even thought maybe I could wear some device of yours to my next meeting with Patterson, see if I could get him to admit you were innocent and he’s been pressuring me to plant false evidence against you.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth a long time ago. At first, Patterson had me convinced you were the one who masterminded the theft from my old company. He told me you’d been having financial problems and needed a big influx of cash. He said the Feds were sure it was your idea to frame me for it. I came here determined to prove you were a criminal.”

Her face twisted in pain. She took a deep breath and went on. “Once I got to know you, Jake, know the real you, I was sure you could never do anything like that, no matter what circumstances you were in.” Tears welled up in her eyes, and her voice broke. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been deceiving you all this time. I hope you can forgive me.”

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