The Baby Contract(9)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 “Don’t you dare lower the standards,” Mila’s voice interrupted from the doorway.

 Both men turned to the sound of her voice.

 “This is a private conversation,” Troy said, coming to his feet.

 “Then you should have closed the door.” Her green eyes were hard as emeralds. “I don’t need to start at the ladies’ tee.”

 “You’re a woman,” said Troy. “And you’re a temp. Testing you would be a waste of time.”

 “Then I’ll do the tests on my own time.” She paced briskly into the office. “It’ll be hard enough getting the other security agents’ respect without skipping the entry tests.”

 “You’re not going to get their respect,” said Troy. It was the truth, and there was no point pretending otherwise.

 “Not like this, I’m not.”

 “And you don’t need it. You’ll be working on your own with Kassidy.”

 His concern that hiring her had been a mistake was back in force. He should reverse the decision. He should do that right now.

 “Maybe.” She rested both her butt and the heels of her hands against the work table. “But it doesn’t matter. I’ll still be around them.”

 Not if he fired her, she wouldn’t.

 He sized up the determination in her eyes and was reminded of the admiration he’d felt last night. She definitely had tenacity going for her. Too bad it wouldn’t be enough. Even if she could shoot straight, she was too small and weak to make it through the fitness course. And there was no way to picture her in hand-to-hand knife combat. No way in the world.

 “Let her do it,” said Vegas.

 Troy turned to stare, astonished that Vegas had contradicted him. Vegas was normally reserved and more than circumspect.

 “She’ll fail,” Troy told him in an unyielding tone.

 “I won’t,” she said, straightening to square her shoulders and cross her arms over her chest.

 It was obvious she was trying to be tough, but she was too attractive to pull it off.

 “You’re going to carry a two-hundred-pound dummy?” said Troy, naming only one of more than twenty obstacles.

 “I know how to lift.”

 “A forty-foot rope climb? A twenty-kilometer road course?”

 “I can run. I can climb. I can swim. And I can shoot. Don’t make assumptions of what I can’t do, Troy.”

 He wasn’t assuming. If he let her skip the tests, the guys might not like it, but that was on him. If she took the tests and failed, then it was on her. She was either too dumb or too stubborn to understand the risks.

 She walked toward him, lips pursing.

 The closer she got, the more vivid his memory. He could see her in his apartment office, her cheeks flushed, her chest rising and falling, the awareness in her green eyes and that final moment when she’d realized he was going to kiss her.

 He wanted to kiss those pursed lips right here and now. He didn’t want her struggling through the obstacle course, stumbling with exhaustion, crawling through mud. He’d seen tough men reduced to tears over it. How would that help her gain the respect of her fellow security agents?

 “No,” he told her in a resolute tone.

 “Yes,” she said, stopping only inches from him, looking up into his eyes, hers glittering with icy determination.

 “Can’t you see I’m trying to help you?”

 “Can’t you see I don’t want your help?” She looked to Vegas, addressing her next question to him. “He’s your partner. How do I change his mind?”

 Vegas shrugged his broad shoulders. “Personally, I use thirty-year-old single malt.”

 “Done,” Mila said without hesitation.

 She made a crisp turn and left the office.

 Troy glared at Vegas. “Really? You advised her to bribe me?”

 Vegas gave an amused smile. “You should thank me. I was going to suggest she use sex.”

 “What?”

 “I can see the way you look at her.”

 “That is not where this is going.”

 Sure, Mila was attractive. And maybe he wanted to kiss her. Maybe he wanted to do more. But that was simple hormones.

 There was no denying she was sexy. But there wasn’t a chance in the world he’d take a bad situation and make it even worse.

 Besides, he assured himself, he liked his women soft and malleable, someone with a pretty hairdo, makeup and a silk dress. There were differences between men and women. As far as Troy was concerned, the more acute those differences, the better.

 Sleep with Mila—yeah, right.

 Sleep with an employee, not a chance.

 And the idea that she could vamp him into changing his mind was laughable.

 “We’ll see,” said Vegas.

 “No, we won’t see. I’ve made a decision.”

 “It’s the wrong decision.” Vegas looked completely serious. “You just parachute her in, without having her take the tests, and the guys will eat her for lunch.”

 “They’re going to eat her for lunch anyway. That’s why we don’t hire women.”

 “Maybe we should,” said Vegas. “If we’d hired one before now, this wouldn’t be such a problem.”

 Troy clamped his jaw. He didn’t have to say the words out loud.

 Vegas’s expression took on a shade of sympathy. “We’ve lost men before, too.”

 “But not through our own stupidity.”

 “We weren’t stupid to hire Gabriela.”

 “We were stupid to get her killed on day five.”

 “Ops go bad sometimes,” said Vegas.

 “She never should have been in that house.”

 “It wasn’t because she was a woman.”

 “Yeah, it was.”

 Vegas heaved a sigh. “It was a bad deal all around.”

 Troy dropped back down into his chair. “It was. And I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.”

 “Nobody’s asking you to do that.”

 Troy stared at Vegas, but all he saw were Gabriela’s big brown eyes. She’d been laughing as she left the office that day. She’d had a date coming up on the weekend, some guy she’d met at the gym. Troy remembered feeling sorry for him, knowing Gabriela was as tough as they came.

 “The obstacle course isn’t dangerous.” Vegas interrupted his thoughts.

 Troy switched his focus to the present. “Yes, it is.”

 “Okay, it is dangerous, but it’s not deadly. And you are hiring Mila to protect your sister.”

 “I’m hiring her to read social media and find a nanny.”

 “She’s not working in a bubble. And she’s trained. She’s got some experience. Give her a chance with the company tests. You know she’ll get more respect for trying and failing than she will for not stepping up at all.”

 Troy opened his mouth to rebut, but a new argument didn’t form. He realized that stopping Mila from taking the tests wasn’t his best move. His best move would have been not have hired her in the first place.

 He hated it when he screwed up.





                       Four

 “Time,” Troy shouted, and the lights came up in Pinion’s basement shooting range.

 Mila set the completely reassembled AK-47 down on the table and stepped back, mentally crossing her fingers that she’d gotten it all right. Target shooting was one thing, and she’d aced that part of the exam. She was also confident her reflexes had been fast and her aim accurate in the tactical house.

 Troy approached the table and lifted the weapon.

 “You should have warned me,” she said.

 “I did warn you.”

 “I meant that I’d be disassembling an automatic weapon under combat conditions.”

 He gave a ghost of a smirk. “It was recorded gunfire and flashing lights.”

 “I wasn’t expecting combat field weapons. Who uses an AK-47 on the streets of DC?”

 “Hopefully, no one.”

 “Then why test me on it?”

 Had she known he was testing her as a combat mercenary, she’d have refreshed her memory on a whole bunch of topics.

 “You wanted the standard tests. Pinion has offices in Europe, South America and the Middle East.”

 She couldn’t help but move forward for a closer look. She wanted to ask him if she’d passed, but she also wanted to look confident by pretending not to be worried.

 “Will you send me to South America?” she asked instead.

 “You don’t want to sleep on the floor of the jungle.”

 “I’m not a princess.”

 He barked out a laugh. “You don’t have to be a princess to hate leeches and poisonous snakes.”

 “Do you hate them?”

 “Yes.”

 “Do you put up with them?”

 “Only when I have to.” After an initial inspection, he worked the action of the gun.

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