Chapter One


 

    The blackened piece of metal twisted up from the desert floor like a dying man reaching for water. Shelby pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay, what went wrong this time?”

    Lucas pounded away on the ipad in his hand. “Data still coming in. Looks like maybe a miscalculation with the velocity vectors.”

    Shelby spun on her heels, her blonde braid swinging in the air. “The velocity vectors? We checked those at least a dozen times!”

    “I don’t know what to tell you.” Lucas pushed the ipad into the canvas bag hanging on his hip. “Something’s messing with the stabilization. Maybe we hit a dust devil?”

    Shelby’s apple watch buzzed, a calendar alert appearing on the screen. “I’ve gotta go. Get the guys in the lab working on it, and we’ll discuss it tomorrow.” She headed off across the packed sand toward her electric blue Ford Mustang. 

    Lucas hurried to catch up. He skirted the spines of a fallen saguaro cactus lying on its side. “Are you sure you should be taking off? Deadline is fast approaching.”

    Shelby reached her car and pushed her sunglasses up on her head. Her emerald green eyes sparkled. “All work and no play makes Shelby a dull boy.”

    “But . . . What? . . . A boy?”

    Shelby laughed as she climbed into the car and rolled her window down. “You know what I mean. I’ll be back at the lab in the morning, and I want answers to why we can’t keep this thing in the air. The government isn’t going to settle for we can keep your stealth drone flying seventy percent of the time.

    Lucas nodded, scraping his black hair out of his eyes. “Got it, boss.”

    Shelby started to roll her window up, but paused. “Lucas, what have I told you? You don’t have to call me boss.”

    “Yes, boss.”

    There was no use arguing with him. Lucas lived to follow a chain of command. It was part of what made him a good government contractor. Build me an “X” was always followed by What are the specs? Not why, just how would you like it. It made him an invaluable part of her team at Lockheed Martin. She gunned the engine and peeled out of the makeshift parking lot. She had no doubt Lucas would have answers for her by morning. 

    Shelby pulled the hair tie from the end of her braid and shook out her hair. It fell into a mass of waves around her shoulders. She pulled onto the two lane highway that would take her back to Phoenix and picked up speed. She had just under an hour to make it to the restaurant for her date. 

Detective Ryan Cooper had been taking her breath away for months. Meeting at a crime scene wasn’t a typical meet-cute, but her cousin and best friend, Alex, worked as a profiler for the FBI, so Shelby had found herself in more than one strange situation over the years.

     Stolen moments had comprised the bulk of her and Ryan’s relationship since that first meeting in early December. They both had demanding jobs they loved, but the stolen moments no longer felt like enough.

     Shelby took the turn onto I-10 heading west into the gridlock of Phoenix traffic. Ryan had taken the week off and was spending it with her at her condo in Scottsdale. Actually, he was spending it applying for a job with the Scottsdale Police force, something his superiors up in Flagstaff were unaware of. 

Anticipation butterflied her stomach. This week was stacking up to be a doozie—Ryan in town applying for a job that would move their relationship from long distance into a new unknown, dress shopping with her cousin, Alex, for her upcoming wedding to Special Agent Henry Collins, and a deadline at work on a project that continued to crash itself into the desert floor.

     “It’s like the project is jinxed or something,” she muttered as she changed lanes to move around a slow moving semi. Every time they fixed a piece of code, or tweaked the design, something else would go wrong. 

     Shelby pulled in a deep breath, using every trick she’d learned from Saturday yoga to center herself. Despite the stress at work, she’d promised herself tonight would be fun. She’d never failed to deliver a project to the US Army on time, no matter how complicated the specs. This time would be no different.

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