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Meet Agent Elle Paquet: Covert Cover Cracked Sneak Peek

Covert Cover Cracked EbookI am about 99.99999% sure this is how the opening will go, but keep in mind that until I hit “publish,” things could change. A little. But this won’t ;). Meet Agent Elle Paquet in this sneak peek at Covert Cover Cracked!

The cell phone vibrated in Elle’s pocket. Dammit, she’d forgotten to turn it off. Elle checked the text.

Whatever’s in the stacks 2nite will still b there 2morrow. Come play with me.

Lyle. There was no way that was gonna happen. Elle was a little over six hundred miles away from Norfolk in Bermuda. She didn’t have time to send any kind of reply, so she just powered off her phone. She’d have to tell him she hadn’t gotten his message: no reception in the stacks or something like that. For a fleeting moment she felt badly about the lie but didn’t have time to dwell on it. It was part of the job. Right now, she had to focus.

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Elle leaned into the heavy cleaning cart and pushed it out. The waiting hotel guests were forced to step back to accommodate the cart, but not one of them looked at her. She was careful not to look them in the eye, either, instead focusing straight ahead. As Mason had told her, “The help doesn’t look guests in the eye.”

Elle tried not to twitch. The starched uniform was itchy. Surely this resort could afford fabric softener? Not for the staff, apparently. She tightened her grip on the cart, determined not to scratch. Being a housekeeper truly was the idea cover, even if it didn’t fit in with her fantasies of herself in a sleek black leather outfit, sprinting through hallways.

Fourteen-oh-one on the right.
Fourteen-oh-two on the left.

“Suite fourteen-fourteen will be on your left, Bookworm. Stay focused.”

The blast of Mason’s voice in her ear caused Elle to jump, despite her training, as she gritted her teeth. Like he needed to rupture her eardrum with that intel. She should’ve checked the volume on her earpiece while assembling her gear. It was one more thing she’d have to remember for the next op.
It was the codename “Bookworm” that had her gritting her teeth, however. Mason was still pissed about her becoming field rated. He’d spent her entire year of field training predicting her imminent failure.

Elle stopped at fourteen-fourteen. She took out her programmed key card and slid it into the lock, pushing the handle down when the light flashed green and the lock clicked. The door was unlocked. She remembered to push down with her wrist, rather than her hand, to avoid leaving fingerprints before pushing the door open.

“Housekeeping,” she murmured as she pushed the door open wider and pulled the cart in behind her. Like anyone was going to hear that. “Housekeeping!” Her voice was louder this time. Even someone in the bedroom would hear that.

“Target is still having drinks in the first floor lounge,” Mason said, “as noted thirteen minutes ago.”

Elle rolled her eyes. Yeah, he was pissed. She couldn’t come back with a retort because she had to stay in the habit of not responding verbally unless absolutely necessary. There was always a possibility someone was still in the hotel suite. The lights were on, but the TV wasn’t. The sound of the door shutting seemed unnaturally loud. She walked through the sitting room; the plush carpet swallowed her footsteps.

The door to the bedroom was partway open. Elle reached to open it further, again being careful not to touch anything, only to find a messy- but empty- bed and an open suitcase.

Noiseless steps through the bedroom to check out the bathroom.

Empty.

Time to get to work. Elle got out her latex gloves and pulled them on, snapping the latex against her skin to make sure the fit was snug.

“Remember your gloves, Bookworm. No prints.”

Elle again jumped at the unexpected direction but bit back a response. She couldn’t resist holding up her gloved hands, however, waving her fingers, making sure the tiny cameras in her stud earrings could pick them up for him to see.

“Keep moving, Bookworm. Get to the suitcase.”

Like she was just going to stand there wiggling her fingers. Elle slid open the door to the closet and moved another suitcase. Below that, on the floor, was a third suitcase. She crouched down, unzipped it and lifted the top, revealing neatly folded clothes. She lifted the clothes out, taking care to keep them folded, and set them down on the floor. Underneath the clothes were two stacks of folders. She lifted those out, careful to keep them in their stacks, and set those down on the floor besides the clothes.

“There’s the false bottom,” Mason said.

Geez, really? Elle gripped the sides of the suitcase and lifted, revealing a hidden compartment. She felt around the back side of the suitcase until her fingers pressed on something that clicked. She pushed what looked like a button, and it came out with a dime-sized disc attached. She held it up to ensure the cameras caught it.

“Bookworm has acquired the disc.”

Elle reached into the pocket of her apron and pulled out a palm-sized disc scanner. She fit the disc into the circular indented space: perfect fit. The tech guys at Langley were good. A tiny green dot lit up, indicating the scanning was occurring successfully.

“Data transmitting,” Mason said.

Despite its size, this disc contained a lot of information. Elle knew she would be there for a few minutes.

“Target has wrapped up his drinks and is leaving the lounge. Stay in position, Bookworm.”

What? He had only just gone down there. Elle forced herself to inhale and then exhale, forcing her shoulders down. No panicking with Mason listening in. She would be damned if she gave him any justification to pull her out of the field now.

“Target is at the elevators. Forty percent of the data has transmitted.” He was in a truck across the street and had “eyes” (which meant cameras) set up throughout the hotel, so he could watch their target pretty much anywhere in the building. He didn’t have eyes in the suite due to a last-minute room switch.

Forty percent.

He was right downstairs, and they didn’t have half of what they needed yet. Shit, shit, shit. Elle resisted the urge to stand up and pace. She realized she had left her cleaning cart in the living room of the suite. If they got in here, how would she explain being in here with her cart in the other room? She should’ve brought the cart back into the bedroom with her. Quadruple shit.

“Target is getting into the elevator. He’s going to floor fourteen.”

Elle could feel a trickle of sweat drip down her lower back.

“Sixty-five percent of the data is transmitted.”

This disc scanner needed to start scanning faster than the blink of an eye, dammit.

Covert Assignment Excerpt: The Importance Of A Good Match

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Sorry for my radio-silence: I’ve been deep in the writing cave! Here’s another excerpt from Covert Assignment. Next week, I’ll have some exciting news about Covert Interview, the sequel!

Elle never thought about what he did in the evenings. He didn’t live there, so he wasn’t going home. “This must be a dull place to be on assignment.”

Preston shrugged. “I keep myself entertained.”

She couldn’t help but smile. She bet he did. “Something tells me you’re good at keeping yourself entertained.”

He smiled back. “I’ve had a lot of practice, but if you want to assist me in that regard, you have an open invitation.”

Just like that, he had her blushing like a silly schoolgirl. “How do you do that to me?” she asked, laughing.

Preston’s innocent look was classic. “Do what?”

She focused on the menu to give her heart rate time to drop back into a normal range. After they placed their orders, Preston asked, “So have you made a decision about grad school?”

Elle sighed. She hadn’t spoken to her father again- nothing unusual about that- but the news of her acceptance forced her to realize she had some choices to make. “My father called in some favors with a contact there,” she said. “He’s an alum.”

Preston shrugged. “Happens all the time.”

Elle nodded. “It kind of limits my options,” she said.

He gave her a questioning look, so she tried to explain. “He’s called in favors. If I don’t go, it’ll make him look bad.”

“Did you ask your father to call in favors?” Preston asked.

“No! That’s what’s so frustrating. I have the grades and the test scores. I didn’t need any strings pulled.” Elle didn’t bother to mask her annoyance.

The server brought around a basket of bread and olive oil, which both of them reached for at the same time, causing their fingers to touch. Elle wondered if Preston really was magnetic: his touch certainly caused sparks.

“Options that are of no interest to you,” Preston said as he dipped his bread in some olive oil, “aren’t really options. They’re just distractions.”

Elle felt almost transfixed as she watched his gleaming teeth tear into the soaked bread slice. She needed to focus on the conversation at hand. “True,” she admitted, letting the olive oil soak into her bread before taking a bite. “But I might want the option to start a business.”

“You don’t need a law degree or MBA to start a business,” he pointed out. Did he have to raise his eyes to meet her gaze? Had he been focused on her mouth? She didn’t think she was seeing things…“You can learn what you need to know,” he finished.

Elle had thought about that. She’d heard of plenty of entrepreneurs who didn’t have advanced- or even college- degrees. Her Careers class made it abundantly clear that her skills were in high demand, whether she wanted to work for someone or open her own consulting firm. She genuinely enjoyed working on her thesis, while neither practicing law nor working in corporate America held any appeal. Could her father accept that?

“It’s just…” she finally sighed. “I’ve been committed to this plan for so long, and now my father’s gone and called in favors…”

Preston studied her for a moment as the server brought their dishes. “Remember how I told you I planned to join the Agency when I was a kid, watching my father?”

Elle nodded, cutting into her eggplant parmigiana.

“In high school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do what my old man did. Maybe it was time to do my own thing, you know.” Preston sipped some of his drink. “So I enlisted in the Navy.”

Elle stared at him in shock.

Preston shrugged. “I’d always liked the water, but being on a ship got old pretty fast. Luckily you can take college courses on ships,” he laughed. “Then I decided to really challenge myself, so I went to BUD/S.”

All that earned was a quizzical look from Elle.

“Basic Underwater Demolition training,” Preston elaborated. “To become a Navy SEAL.”

Elle’s mouth literally dropped open. Could this guy get any hotter?

“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, earning my trident,” Preston said, “but it was something my Dad had never done. Did a few tours and then joined the agency, like I planned. I had to do my own thing, my own way.”

Elle considered this. “But ultimately you stayed committed to your plan.”

“Because,” he said, holding her eyes with one of his intense gazes, “I realized it was what I wanted to do. Not because it was the plan.”

Elle focused on her breathing to avoid choking or doing something else to embarrass herself in front of him. When he got intense it could be hard to think. But she bet Preston always had a room at his parents’ house, no matter what happened. If she tried something and it didn’t work out, she had nothing to fall back on. Except her informatics skills, a tiny voice reminded her.

“I like doing informatics,” she told Preston. “And working for the- the agency would be pretty… different.”

“Actually, it would be a lot like what you’re doing now,” He said. “You’ll just be doing more of it on different projects.” They both ate in silence for a few minutes. “It’s all about finding a good match: with the understanding that nothing is perfect, of course.”

Elle had to remind herself he was talking about career options.

Can This Relationship Be Saved?

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Before I started dating, I always thought that if a guy cheated on me, that was IT. I’d kick him to the curb without a second thought.

And when it did, eventually, happen to me, I did just that.

What surprised me, though, were the reactions of my friends. My guy friends cheered me on. My girl friends kept staying that, just maybe, I’d been a little harsh. Perhaps I should’ve talked to him about it (the only talking I did was to confirm that he did, indeed, cheat). How could I date a guy one day and kick him to the curb the next? I felt we had dated long enough that I knew I wasn’t in love with him (we were in college), and he obviously felt the same way: he just skipped the “breaking things off part.”

Well, in Covert Assignment, Elle is faced with a similar situation. She returns to her final year of college to find out her boyfriend of several years, Adam, has cheated on her with a classmate. For her, the seriousness of their relationship made it a tougher decision.

Adam looked like he was about to jump out of his seat or fidget his way out of it. “It wasn’t anything serious! She doesn’t mean anything to me. We have plans, a future. I still want that.”

They did have a plan. A good plan. Elle knew, however, that just like a mathematical model, plans were not infallible. Adam was no stranger to mathematical models, so she decided to approach things from that angle.

“Think of a mathematical model,” Elle said. Adam’s eyebrows raised, but he didn’t say anything, so she continued. “All models rest on certain assumptions, right?”

Adam nodded and swallowed more beer. He looked wary about where this conversation was headed.

“And when you find out the assumptions you based your model on are violated, then the whole model comes into question, right?”

Adam was beginning to look rather queasy as he nodded.

“And then there are the variables in the model.” Elle heard her voice become stronger, steadier. She was on terra firma now. “If you don’t have the right variables or you don’t have them weighted correctly, then the results are inaccurate. The model is flawed.”

Adam was still nodding as Elle looked at him expectantly. After some silence, he asked, “So where are you going with this?”

Elle wanted to reach across the table and slap him for being dense if nothing else. “I’m saying,” she began, pausing to drink some beer, “maybe our model… is flawed in some way.”

“No.” Adam shook his head with vigor for emphasis. “Our model is not flawed. This incident is just an outlier.”

“I had certain… assumptions,” Elle replied.

“Those assumptions are valid,” Adam insisted.

Elle raised an eyebrow. Oh, really? She continued, “Those assumptions were violated.”

***

“I have to earn your trust back; I get that.” Adam said. He reached out for her balled up fist on the table, but Elle snatched her hand back without thinking. After a pause, Adam went on. “I don’t want to be with Bella. I want to be with you. I don’t need a break to tell me that.”

“Then why did you let it happen in the first place?” Elle couldn’t hide a slight tremor in her voice, but she was able to keep her vision clear as she looked at him.

Adam slumped back in his chair. “I don’t know. If I’d been sober, this never would’ve happened.”

“Being drunk doesn’t make you just screw any random chick,” Elle persisted.

“It does when they’re half naked and crawl into your lap, pushing their t**s in your face!” Adam took a swig of beer. “I’m a guy, Elle.”

“You’re a guy.” Elle took a deep swallow of beer herself, focusing on the burn as it went down. If she were tipsy, she would be less likely to physically attack him, at any rate. She fixed him with a glare. “Give me a f***ing break. You wouldn’t accept it if I f***ed some guy just because he flashed his d**k in my face.”

Adam looked astonished. Elle couldn’t blame him; she didn’t typically talk like this at all. She was practically channeling Marni. When it became clear he wasn’t going to speak, Elle spoke again. “You’re attracted to her.”

“Come on, Elle: Bella has more t**s than brains,” Adam said.

It wasn’t quite the resounding “no” he’d been offering earlier. When Elle swallowed the last of her beer, the buzz was painful in her throat and chest. “Maybe that doesn’t matter to you as much as you say it does,” she said.

“Of course it matters-“ Adam began, but Elle interrupted.

“Alcohol loosens inhibitions. When your inhibition was loosened, you slept with her.” She looked him right in the eye. “Because you wanted to.

And therein lies the rub.

FYI: there aren’t any asterisks in the book ;).

Striking Out On Your Own

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When babies start to crawl, one thing they’ll do is crawl away from their mother and then crawl back, touch her foot, crawl a little further away, then crawl back and touch her foot again, before wandering out a little further, etc. This is a process called anchoring. The baby is making sure mom is still there before exploring further because mom is a secure base.

That’s what the new adult stage of life is like. On one hand, you’re on your own (whether you’re in college, working, etc). As much as you enjoy being on your own and not being told what to do, you know that secure base (your parents’ house) is there for you if you need it (not that you could ever imagine wanting it, especially when you’re a teenager).

Well, if your parents aren’t that interested in providing a secure base because they’re doing their own things, then it makes the whole process of striking out on your own very different. That’s Elle’s situation in Covert Assignment. Here’s an excerpt of Elle calling her mother:

There was a long pause as Elle mentally fortified herself.

“Well, I’m interviewing for jobs,” she said.

Silence.

“They’re going well- the interviews,” she hastened to add. “I’m just not sure when something will actually come through.”

After another pause that almost became physically painful, her mother said, “You know Lindsay’s in your old room now.”

“Yeah, yeah- I remember.” Elle was quick to respond.

After another pause, her mother said, “Ellie, something will come up. You’re a great student coming from a well-regarded university. Something will come up.”

“I know,” Elle agreed. “It’s just when that’s the question.” Another pause. “Something had better come up, I guess.” She forced a brief laugh. Nothing about this conversation was a surprise, but somehow, that didn’t make it any easier. She knew from the time she was a kid that she was the leftovers.

“Listen, Steve was home sick from school today-” her mother started.

Elle allowed her the graceful exit. “Oh, no problem- hope he’s feeling better soon.” She hung up.

Maybe she should sell those damn graduation tickets.

Lucky for Elle, she’s up for the challenge of not having involved parents! She’s got it all planned out, until she learns that not everything goes according to plan…

Photo Courtesy of Free Digital Photos.net