The Pendragon Legacy #3
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
Pub. Date: March 2010 (02-23-10)
"Damn it, Jordon. You lied to me."
Vivianne Blackstone, CEO of the Vesta Corporation tapped the incriminating report against her leg and restrained her urge to fling it at Jordon McArthur, her chief engineer. Reining in her temper and her suspicions, she reminded herself that just because the rest of the world was in a total meltdown after learning an ancient enemy had infiltrated Earth's governments and major industries, she didn't operate that way.
She preferred to rely on facts and instincts. While she obviously didn't have all the details, her intuition had served her well up to now. And at this moment, her gut told her that Jordon had been too creative, innovative and helpful for him not to be on their side. Besides, there had been no sabotage.
But that didn't mean Jordon wasn't a spy for the enemy. Vivianne had asked security to wait outside the spaceship's hatch. She had to consider every possibility.
There was no denying the man could think outside the box, so it was also possible he could be a brilliant mole. If so, God help them because to date, he had proved himself an unstoppable force.
Since she didn't know of a better way to weaken Earth than to sabotage such an important project as the Draco, she had to be especially vigilant. Head throbbing, she stared at the complex wiring. This new interstellar spaceship had to fly as planned. It had to work out. So much was riding on this venture to find the lost and legendary Holy Grail, which thanks to a mission she'd funded almost a decade ago, she knew actually did exist. Vesta's future. Earth's future. Her future. Everything she'd ever wanted, everyone she'd ever loved, might be lost if this project didn't succeed.
And Jordon's position as chief engineer gave him complete access to her ship. He could sabotage any one of many critical systems and no one would be the wiser until they blew up.
When he didn't respond, she nudged his foot with her shoe. "I'm talking to you."
Lying on the deck with his head halfway through a hatch, Jordon shifted until she could just see his intense, golden brown eyes.
"I heard. How did I lie to you?"
She dropped the papers, but she'd already lost his attention to the ship. He'd wriggled back inside the compartment, pulling another wire to hook into the circuits, no doubt following an electrical schematic that existed only inside his head. Yet, she was just as certain, his work would be a vast improvement over the systems she'd already approved. Unless she decided he really was an enemy spy, she'd bend over backward to overlook his past—whatever it was. She needed his expertise. But first she needed the truth. And Vivianne didn't appreciate him answering her question with a question. Was he stalling? Wondering exactly which lie she'd caught him in? Or simply distracted with his work?
He threaded a wire into a panel box of delicately networked circuits. "Hand me a screwdriver."
Scowling at his back, she slapped the tool into his hand.
"Tell me these findings are wrong," Vivianne demanded.
"What findings?" Still focused on his work, he didn't so much as spare the folder she'd dropped a glance. His profile, rugged and somber, remained utterly still, except for a tiny tick in his jaw that told her he was unhappy she'd interrupted his work. He wouldn't even have a job if not for her—and he would lose it, if he didn't come up with a satisfactory explanation for why his entire resume had been one big, fat lie.
"You've never attended Harvard. Never got your PhD at MIT. Never taught at Cambridge."
"The Phillip's head." He held out his hand again, this time for another screwdriver. Impatience laced his voice. "It's the screwdriver with an X on the tip."
Like she didn't know a Phillip's head when she saw one? While her specialty was communications technology, she'd designed and built her first hydrogen rocket by age twelve. However, when it came to spaceship design, Jordon was the go-to guy.
Despite his doctored resume, the man knew his aeronautical engineering. From hull design to antigrav wiring, no detail on the Draco was too small for Jordon to re-engineer and make more efficient. Without cutting corners, last week's total rehaul of the steering system had been completed in record time. And when the gyros had melted down, he'd invented a new stabilizer to fix the problem.
Fuming, she handed him the tool. Three months ago when she'd learned that the Tribes, Earth's ancient enemy, might try to infiltrate her company, she'd set up elaborate countermeasures. Every employee had undergone a thorough background check. Initially, Jordon's impressive credentials had all been verified. But then, on a hunch, Vivianne had dug deeper. And the crap she'd found buried there stank to high heaven.
One of his engineers spoke over the ship's intercom. "These voltage converter equations can't be right."
"They are," Jordon answered evenly.
"They're frying the circuits." The man's frustration was evident in his tone.
"Sean, you'll find a way to keep them humming. You always do."
"I'll give you a hand as soon as I can."
"But I'm sure you'll figure it out before them."
Sean chuckled. "I'll do my best."
While this was a side of Jordon she hadn't seen, his encouragement didn't surprise her. But it wasn't his leadership skills that she questioned. Vivianne's gut churned. "Jordon, we really need to talk."
Vivianne paused and considered precisely what to say. She'd already made one mistake by hiring Jordon before he'd been properly vetted. She couldn't afford to make another—like accusing him outright of being a spy. Jordon was working almost round the clock, practically killing himself to finish the Draco. If she offended him by implying he was working with the Tribes, he could walk off the job. In all likelihood his team might go with him. He knew she couldn't deliver this project on time without him. Starting over with a new engineering team would set Earth back months. Truth be told, without his expertise, she might not deliver the Draco this century. On the other hand, she couldn't afford not to confront him.
"As the first hyperspace ship to carry a full crew, the Draco has caught the imagination and attention of the masses. Everything we do is headline news, and when the press finds out that my chief engineer falsified his employment application—"
"Damn it, Vivianne, I know what I'm doing."
"To the public, a liar is a liar. And if you lied to get a job, they'll think you've lied about the Draco during our press conferences."
"So we don't tell anyone. Problem solved."
Vivianne pinched the bridge of her nose to ease her headache. "But if your lies come to light, you don't just lose your job, you ruin my credibility. My company's reputation. It could crash Vesta's stock."
Jordon threaded one of a myriad of wires into a nexus of circuitry. "As long as this ship doesn't crash, your stock will be fine."
Must be nice to be so confident, she thought. But he was right about one thing—he did know what he was doing. His credentials might be bogus, but his on-the-job skills were unsurpassed. She couldn't lose him, but she had to prepare for an attack from Vesta's shareholders, the press—or both.
She could handle the business end. Hell, if she put his picture on the news, the female half of the planet would fall in love at first sight and forgive him anything. Mr. Dark, Tough and Brilliant's gorgeous face might just sway the general population and perhaps, her stockholders as well.
At a press conference, he'd tower a good six inches over her five foot eight. A photographer's dream, Jordon was lean and sinewy. His profile was rugged and somber, his darkly handsome face reserved, except for his jaw that looked like it had been carved from granite. She would handle the fallout from his lies, because beyond his intense golden eyes and stubborn nature was sheer genius.
What she couldn't handle was a traitor.
"What other lies have you told me?" she asked.
"Whatever would get me this job."
"Real inspiring. Why didn't you respond to the memo I sent last week?"
"If I spent all my time reading your memos, how would I get anything done?"
"You've installed miles of wiring that aren't in the specs."
"We're ahead of schedule, so why are you concerned?"
"I suppose you'll say the same about the cancellation of the prototype cosmic energy converter?"
He merely arched a brow.
She frowned. Before she'd known about his lies, she'd shrugged off his changes to necessary modifications. But could it be more?
In a desperate attempt to suppress her frustration, Vivianne reminded herself how far she'd come. Peering at the Draco's shiny metal, she had difficulty believing they'd built this ship in just over three months. Almost every system was a new design, and while the number of things that could go wrong was literally infinite, she had high hopes for success.
"If the story of your doctored credentials leaks, our client may get cold feet," she explained.
"Chen won't back out." Jordon sounded completely certain.
She didn't bother to keep the exasperation from her voice. "Billionaires willing to buy a spaceship in order to search the galaxy for the Holy Grail aren't a dime a dozen."
"If Chen does back out, I'd have to refund his investment. And with the way you've been spending, not even I have that much credit."
"Down to your last few billion, are you?" Jordon teased without glancing in her direction.
She clenched her fists in irritation. "That's not the point. Maybe we can break the news, spin it in our favor." She pictured an advantageous story. Something like, "Genius engineer discovered. Then the article could go on to praise you and some little known college. I'll have my PR department put together a package."
"Not a good idea."
His golden eyes glittered dangerously and his response made her uneasy. Something wasn't right. He should be grateful that she was willing to fix the publicity nightmare he'd created. Instead he was acting like a man with something else that he wanted to hide. But what?
"Do you always make contingencies for contingencies?" he asked.
She snorted. Orphaned at age ten, Vivianne had become a ward of the state. Control became her lifeline. She planned her day from start to finish. She arranged her appointments, both business and personal, to the minute and any disruption was cause to work twice as hard to get back on schedule. She'd used her obsession to earn herself a first-class education and to build a successful small business into a world-wide conglomerate.
The down side of running a huge company, however, was that she had to rely on others. Brilliant engineers like Jordon didn't give a damn about her minute-to-minute expectations. He got the job done—but he certainly didn't do things her way.
"In your case, I haven't planned enough."
Jordon rubbed his ear and stood, reminding her just how tall and broad he was. But if he was attempting to use his size to intimidate her, he'd learn she didn't back down. He was, after all, her employee.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked. "You have someone else who can build the Draco on budget and under deadline?" He didn't wait for her reply. Why would he? They both knew the answer was no. Jordon placed the screwdriver in his mouth and spoke while he soldered wires to the circuits.
"Where did you go to school?"
Jordon shrugged. "Here and there."
Her blood pressure shot up ten points, but she did her best to keep her temper under control. "Could you be a little more specific?"
He rubbed his jaw and smudged dirt on his skin. She ignored the urge to wipe it off or touch him in any way. Folding her arms across her ribs, she waited.
Finally, he shot her a non-apologetic smile that was way too charming. "I'm pretty much self-taught."
Hell. She needed more that a damn charming smile to convince her he hadn't been educated on another planet. That he wasn't a spy. Yet if he was born on Earth, he could have valid reasons for hiding his past. For all she knew he'd gone to Harvard, committed a crime and changed his name. She could deal with that.
Or she could deal with him having attended a less impressive institution than he'd claimed. But if he couldn't prove he'd attended any school . . . that was cause for real suspicion.
"You don't have a PhD?"
He didn't answer.
The longer he remained silent, the more she feared she should never have hired him and the hotter her temper flared. "No college degree?" To prevent herself from sounding as betrayed as she felt, she spoke softly. "High school?"
She envisioned the headlines, Draco built by Earth's worst enemy. Not even his dangerous good looks would help him then. And he'd drag her and her company down with him, no one would finish the Draco or find the Holy Grail. Earth might fall to the Tribes.
That kind of betrayal was unacceptable. Vivianne reminded herself that she'd dealt with many difficult situations in the last few years. She'd funded archeologist Lucan Roarke's risky mission to a moon named Pendragon to find the Holy Grail. While he hadn't brought back the Grail, he had found a cure for Earth's infertility problem. Thanks to Lucan, the Vesta Corporation's pharmaceutical division was manufacturing the infertility vaccine—a vaccine that turned anyone distantly related to King Arthur or his Knights into dragonshapers.
Vivianne stared at the scales on the inside of her wrists. Like one tenth of the population, she could now shapeshift into a dragon and fly, breathe fire and eat platinum. With two hearts, she was stronger and would heal faster than the average human female, and she'd live 300 years.
Too bad her new genes hadn't upped her intelligence. How could Jordon have fooled her so easily? More importantly what was he hiding? What else hadn't he told her?
Think. He could have been home schooled. To prove his innocence, she needed people who knew him and could vouch for him.
"What about job experience?"
"I suppose you fudged the glowing recommendations, too?" Her pulse pounded and she massaged her aching temple. "Who the hell are you?"
"You might want to take an aspirin—"
"Thank you, doctor." Her sarcasm escaped unchecked. "Oh, excuse me, you aren't a doctor of anything, are you?"
"I don't need a medical degree to see that your head hurts and you're taking it out on me." His tone was calm, low and husky and that she found it sexy irked her even more.
"So now you're a shrink."
He'd barely glanced at her before turning to work on his beloved circuits, but it was so like him to notice details, even her wincing in pain.
Anger and frustration hammered her with clawing suspicion. Vivianne willed Jordon to turn around. "How did you do it? It's as if you appeared in Barcelona six months ago. Until then, you had no credit. You attended no schools. Even your birth records are fake. I can't find anyone who knew you before you walked into my office in Spain to apply for a job."
"And you've never regretted it."
"Until now." Damn him. He wasn't answering her questions and was a master at sidetracking the conversation.
"You don't mean that." Jordon shrugged. "You don't regret letting me build you this ship."
Vivianne hadn't built up her company by allowing handsome men to sweet talk her into trusting them or by ignoring urgent government warnings. Even if Vesta hadn't branched out into manufacturing antigravs and vaccines, or training dragonshapers to control their new powers, Vesta would likely be an enemy target since her company was a major player in the space industry. Both Vivianne and the Tribes were after the same goal—both wanted the Grail. So it was very possible that her chief engineer really was a spy. After all he had total access to the entire ship and the opportunity to destroy any of Draco's critical systems.
Feeling sick to her stomach, Vivianne's tone snapped with authority. "Jordon, put down your tools. You can't work on the Draco until security clears you."
In typical Jordon fashion, he kept right on working. "Don't you want to see if the new engine's going to work?"
"We'll straighten that our later." Her temper flared because Jordon knew just how to pique her interest. From the get go, the engines had been a major issue. It almost broke her heart to know that the Draco might never fly now that she was pulling him off the project.
"I'm about ready to test a new power source."
He'd just teased her curiosity as much as it raised her suspicions anew. The Draco was supposed to convert cosmic dust particles into electromagnetic fuel. "What are you talking about? What new power source?"
"The Ancient Staff." Jordon reached to a sheath he wore on his belt and drew out an object that resembled a tree branch with symbols carved into the bark. When he flicked his wrist, the rod telescoped and expanded with a metallic click. Extended to five feet, the Ancient Staff gave off an otherworldly shimmer unlike anything Vivianne had ever seen.
The air around the Staff glittered like heat reflecting off hot pavement. It was if the Staff folded and compressed the space around it, the eerie effect and haze continuously rippling outward. Energy twisted around the Staff, the silent power of all that energy mesmerizing.
She peered at Jordon. The cords in his neck were tight, his broad shoulders tense as if he were bracing for her reaction. Damn him. He'd already fabricated a housing for the staff right next to the panel box.
She tried to tamp down a pinch of panic. "Don't move."
He opened the housing's clips so he could snap the staff into position. "The Ancient Staff will supply far more power to the Draco's engines than a cosmic converter."
That Staff wasn't in the plans. It hadn't ever been discussed. Until he'd just mentioned the Ancient Staff, she'd never heard of one. For all she knew once he attached the strange power source to the Draco, they'd all blow up. Unnerved, she reached for her handheld communicator to call security, but there was no time. It would take only a second for him to snap the Ancient Staff into the housing.
She'd have to stop him herself. "Turn it off."
"The Staff doesn't have an off switch."
Vivianne jerked back a step back. "Don't attach that thing to my ship."
"It's meant to—"
"I said no." Mouth dry with suspicion, she clamped her hand on his shoulder.
Before she could yank him back, Jordon snapped the rod into place. The anxiety she'd been holding back knotted in her stomach.
But controlling her fear was the least of her worries as the air around the rod shimmered, then spread up his arm.
"What type of energy is this?" she asked.
"The powerful kind."
"The engines can deal with that kind of power?"
"I hope so."
"Oh that's reassuring."
"I've never seen the Staff swirl like this."
The energy crawled all the way up his arm and stretched toward her hand. She tried to jerk back, but her body refused to obey her mind. Her feet wouldn't move. Her fingers might as well have been frozen.
Panicked, she watched the glow of energy flow over his shoulder to her hand. Every hair on the back of her neck standing on end, she braced for pain. But when the glowing energy engulfed her fingers and washed up her arm, then sluiced over her body, the tingling sensation somehow banished her headache and expelled her fear.
The effect was instantaneous and undeniable. Her breasts tingled. Her sex curled with moisture. Her skin flamed as if they'd spent the past fifteen minutes engaging in foreplay rather than arguing over his non-existent past. She'd always found Jordon attractive, but now, it was if the Staff and turned on a switch inside her. The golden glint in his eyes compelled her, his scent tantalized her. And scared the hell out of her.
She swallowed thickly. If he was feeling the same effects, he wasn't showing it.
Every centimeter of her skin now was demanding to be stroked. Unwarranted sensations exploded all over her erogenous zones. Her nipples tightened, exquisitely sensitized. The scales on the insides of her arms and legs fluttered. Sweet juice seeped between her thighs.
Drenched in pure lust, she shook her head, trying to clear it. "What the hell is going on?"
"Don't know." Jordon practically growled as if it took superhuman effort just to speak.
So he felt as totally, inexplicably aroused as she did. Obviously, he wasn't handling it well, either, but that didn't stop desire from rushing through all her senses.
She craved him like a starving dragon needs platinum, yet this could not be. Not without an emotional connection. She didn't do chemistry. She didn't do one nighters. She didn't crave a man she barely knew.
But there was no fighting or denying the potent passion slamming her. Sexual need burned into her flesh, blazed in her bones, smoldered through her blood, the sensations fiery hot.
If she didn't have sex in the next few seconds, she was certain she would spontaneously combust
Beneath her hand, Jordon's shoulder tensed. Mouth tight and grim, he grunted and faced her head on, those golden eyes seemingly searching into her soul. Tingling and breathless, she suddenly found it very hard to breathe. Heaven help her, she wanted him. It was a terrible thing to have sex with a man she didn't trust, but she could no more stop what was going to happen than she could prevent a hurricane from wreaking havoc.
Jordon was clearly caught in the same sexual fire storm. Eyes flashing with a primal golden-ringed flame, he focused on her with a fevered intensity, right before he crashed his hard mouth down on hers, his kiss so demanding he bruised her lips and her heart jolted. He was unleashing a sensual fury and she craved more. Much, much, more.
Wrapping her arms around him, she arched her back and thrust her breasts against his chest. She ground her hips into his straining sex.
Lips locking, they ripped off their clothes. His flesh was smooth, muscled, male. He smelled like oil, plastic and paint. She couldn't breathe enough of his scent into her lungs. She couldn't touch enough of his smooth bronzed flesh to satisfy her cravings.
All coiled tension, he backed her against a bulkhead and she didn't have to wonder if he felt what she was feeling. She could see desire flash in his eyes, hear the sexual rasp in his breathing.
Wrapping her arms over his powerful shoulders and around his corded neck, she clamped her legs around his sturdy hips. And she attacked him like a savage, with lips and nails and teeth while his strong hands clenched her bottom and he lifted her onto his straining sex.
She took him inside her, greeting his fullness with molten heat. She was burning, going up in flames. Nothing mattered—not her suspicions, not her inappropriate conduct, not this raging spark of need that neither of them had kindled—nothing mattered, except having him.
When she squeezed her thighs and her teeth drew blood, he groaned and pumped into her hard, deep and fast. With cold steel at her back, warm male flesh sliding over her front and his sex thrusting in and out, she couldn't get enough friction, couldn't draw in enough air, couldn't think past the mind-jarring explosion.
Powerful sensations, inexplicable pleasure swept her into a vortex of energy that swept him over the edge with her. The pleasure was too extreme. No way could she hang on to consciousness.
She'd blacked out. When she opened her eyes, she wasn't certain how much time had passed. Thoughts scattered, her body was wonderfully satiated. It took a few moments to see and comprehend that Jordon was gone.
And she was floating in the middle of the engine room. Weightless.
Damn him to hell. Jordon had launched the Draco into space.