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Midnight Embrace
Author: Lisa Marie Rice








“Hello, ladies.”

Raul Martinez smiled smugly as he closed the door behind him. He knew he was bringing the nuclear bomb of treats to the Queens of IT. Felicity O’Brien and Hope Ellis weren’t actual, real-life queens, but you wouldn’t know that from the way the guys at his company, ASI, treated them.

He entered the large, cool room. Someone once calculated they had the computing chops of a small country, given the size of the servers, both in house and in a remote location. The big room was cooled, year-round, approximately to the temperature of Antarctica. Hope and Felicity, not being dummies, wore sweaters and fingerless gloves while working. The guys of ASI, being macho, refused to put on a jacket when entering the room and winced when they crossed the threshold.

First Hope, then Felicity, turned in their super ergonomic space-age chairs and smiled at him as he entered. His best friend, Pierce Jordan, turned and scowled. Having the Queens all to yourself was a treat and Pierce was enjoying it. Having the two super smart and beautiful women pay you attention was like basking in sunshine, even in the cold. Not to mention the fabulous tips on gaming.

It wasn’t flirtation. No, sir. Not not not. Raul and Pierce knew better than that. Felicity was married to Metal who didn’t look kindly on men flirting with his wife. Who happened to be hugely pregnant with twins.

Hope had only recently arrived, and her fiancé, Luke Reynolds, parked himself right next to her that first week to make sure everyone understood it was a hands-off situation. He all but had a big red arrow in the air pointing down at her saying FUCK OFF SHE’S MINE!

ASI guys didn’t poach. But boy, Hope and Felicity were fun to be with, and if you had any tech issues at all, they could and would help. Not to mention Hope’s lessons on surviving and thriving at Dark Souls.

“Hey, Raul,” Felicity said, nodding at the box in his hands. “Are you bearing


“Indeed I am.” Smiling slyly at Pierce, whose own greasy box of supermarket pastries sat, untouched, Raul put down the elegantly wrapped container, some sort of magic origami shaped like a swan, and carefully opened it up. “Behold.”

He waved his hand over the pastries inside, just as magical as the container. Hotcakes with tiny nerikiri cats on top. Small bitter chocolate disks with thinly sliced fruit on top. Bite-sized lemon blueberry cheesecakes. Apple roses.

Hope and Felicity oohed and ahhed as they bent over the package. Raul shot Pierce a triumphant glance. Pierce scowled as he looked down at the greasy cardboard container of four Danish and four bear claws that sat there, unloved and uneaten.

Raul had saved the best for last.

“There’s more, ladies.”

Two pretty faces looked up at him. “More?” Hope asked.

He pulled out the box he’d set aside, hoping what was inside hadn’t broken down. Setting it gently on Hope’s desk, he gingerly opened the top, then stood back so they could admire it. Felicity’s blue eyes and Hope’s green eyes widened.

Yeah. This was the pastry equivalent of shooting 100 on the range.

“What is it?” Pierce asked suspiciously.

It looked like a fist-sized drop of water, a physical impossibility. “Japanese raindrop cake.” Raul shot another triumphant smirk at Pierce. “Vegan.”

Pierce shook his head, rolling his eyes as he acknowledged defeat. “You win, bro.”

“Win what?” Felicity had just popped an apple rose in her mouth, humming with delight, when something signaled on her monitor. An angry monstrous blubbery thing, stomping in rage. The Goblin King. It appeared on Hope’s monitor, too. It was their symbol for a loathsome boss they’d had at the NSA, who had harassed them. Every single operator at ASI hated that man with a passion when they heard the stories.

The two women looked at each other, startled. “The HER room,” Hope said and Felicity nodded.

It was a place in the dark web the women had set up to be able to talk about the Boss from Hell and warn each other he was coming. The HER room was named after Hope, Emma and Riley, having been set up before Felicity joined the NSA for a brief time. It was now a place where they asked each other for help. Sort of like the bat signal, only cooler.

Raul stiffened. The HER room had four members and two were here. The other two were Emma Holland and Riley Robinson. If someone needed help, there was a 50-50 chance it could be Emma. Emma was the reason he stopped by the IT office so often. True, he liked the company of Hope and Felicity, and, true, every time he talked to them, he learned something. But the big attraction was the large photograph pinned to a corkboard on the wall.

Four beautiful women, arms around each other’s shoulders, smiling at the camera. Felicity, Hope, Emma, Riley. Two blondes, a brunette and a red-head. Each woman was a magnet for male eyes but Raul had eyes only for the red-head, Emma. She just seemed to glow in that photo and in the other photos Raul had seen of her on Hope’s phone.

She looked like a curvy porcelain doll, with creamy ivory skin, shockingly bright red hair, wide sky-blue eyes. Looks were deceiving, though. That china doll look hid a steel trap mind. Raul could think of absolutely nothing more enticing than a sharp mind encased in that uber female body that made him salivate just looking at her.

But something was wrong. Pierce felt it, too. The two women were silent as they absorbed what was on their monitors. Both their monitors had had some kind of magic spell woven around them that made the monitors legible only if you were squarely facing it. If you were to the side, like he was with Hope’s monitor and Pierce was with Felicity’s, all you saw was a blank screen.

Their body language wasn’t blank, though. Both looked pale and tense, worried.

Uh, oh. “Is something happening with Emma?” Raul asked, without thinking.

“Something wrong with Riley?” Pierce asked.

“Emma,” Hope and Felicity said at the same time. Raul went behind Hope to look at the monitor full on. All he saw were streaming numbers, rippling by so fast there was no hope of catching on to even one of them. Like the Matrix only horizontal.

“What am I looking at?” he asked the air. God knows the monitor wasn’t helping.

“Trouble,” Felicity said, looking somber. Felicity knew trouble. Her father, a Russian Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist who defected with his pregnant wife, had had his family placed in the Witness Protection Program. Felicity had been brought up knowing her story was a lie without knowing what the truth was. By the time she came of age, she’d had three names. Felicity twisted her head to look at Raul. “Bad trouble.”

Raul knew trouble, too. Something crackled at the nape of his neck, his own personal and infallible trouble detector. It had never failed him yet.

The back of his neck had nearly exploded the day the new commander had been introduced to his team. Commander Morris Buchanan had come highly recommended, with medals up his ass, but Raul had looked into those bright blue eyes and seen a stone-cold killer and that feeling of bad juju just crackled along his neck.

He kept his voice even with effort. “What kind of trouble?” he asked.

Felicity’s blonde eyebrows drew together. She dropped her hand to caress her belly where two Metal mini-mes were growing. “I … I don’t really know. Hope?”

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