Barnes & Noble
Published by: Berkley
Release Date: July 4, 2017
Allison Trent doesn't look like a hacker. In fact, when she's not working on her degree, she models on the side. But behind her gorgeous face is a brilliant mind for computers, and her real love is writing code. Her dream is to create a new security program that would revolutionize the tech industry.
Hotshot FBI agent Liam Scott has a problem: a leak deep within his department. He needs the skill of a topnotch hacker to work on the highly sensitive project: to secretly break into the FBI servers and find out who the traitor is. But he can't use one of his own. He finds the perfect candidate in Allison. Only, there's one problem—she wants nothing to do with his job.
What Liam doesn't know is that Allison is hiding secrets she doesn't want the FBI to uncover.
Allison looked at the wall of agents behind her. She had had enough of Phillips’s patronizing attitude and wanted to get out of there, but it was apparent she wasn’t being given a choice in the matter, so she reluctantly followed. They proceeded down a hallway where the walls were clear glass. There was so much activity she didn’t know where to look first. They passed a huge room filled with computers and techs, all men dressed in suits and ties, but with their jackets off. Allison stopped to watch. They were typing furiously and watching their screens. Against the far wall facing her was a giant world map. Dots of light appeared with lines curving from relay station to relay station, bouncing off satellites around the globe. It was obvious to Allison that they were trying to pinpoint the exact location where a cyberattack originated, but the person or persons at the source had put up barricades. The screen was filling up with more dots, indicating the techs weren’t getting anywhere.
When Phillips noticed Allison wasn’t behind him, he came back for her. “What are you doing?”
She didn’t answer for a couple of minutes. As she watched the lights jump across the screen, she began to recognize the pattern. It was one she had seen before. “Is that a training session?”
“No, of course not. This isn’t a training facility. These are all professionals.”
“Then why is it taking them so long to…” She paused. Trying to be more diplomatic, she revised her question so that it wouldn’t sound antagonistic. “How long do you think it will take before one of them pinpoints the location?”
“It could take a day or two, sometimes longer, and sometimes the location disappears before we can locate the point of origin.” He stared at her while she continued to study the map, then offered a challenge. “You think you can do better?”
There it was again, that smartass attitude in his tone and expression. She decided she wouldn’t let him irritate her, but then he said, “I didn’t think so.”
Oh, it was so on. She brushed past him, opened the door, and walked into the room. The air smelled clean but with a hint of aftershave. Every male in the room looked up at her and froze. She smiled, hoping to put them at ease as she walked over to a tech in the back row and said, “Would you mind if I have a try?”
All heads turned in the direction of Phillips, who was still outside the glass. He nodded.
Another tech nearly knocked his chair over when he stood. “Here,” he said, “You can use the station next to Stan.” He rushed to the back row, inserted his card into a slot, then pulled out the chair. “Here you go. All set.”
He introduced himself. Then eleven others followed suit. They wanted to know why she was there, but she didn’t explain. She sat, adjusted the chair, stared at the screen for several seconds, and started typing. Her mind was so focused on the task at hand, she no longer was aware of her surroundings.
Phillips stayed outside feeling annoyed. He had a lot of work to get done, and this exercise with Allison seemed a waste of time to him, but orders were orders, and he would, of course, acquiesce. His instructions were to show her the unit before the evaluation; however, her sudden focus on this cyber problem might just produce the results he expected. If that happened, he could bid Ms. Trent good-bye sooner than later.
“Sir, how long do you think it will take before she gives up?” one of the agents asked.
Phillips didn’t answer him.
Another agent said, “She doesn’t need to know her way around a computer. Not with looks like that.”
“Do you realize how sexist you sound, Pierce?” the first agent chided.
Phillips kept checking the time. Fifteen minutes passed before Allison stopped typing. She reached for a small Post-it, picked up a pen, and wrote something. Then she stood and thanked the techs for letting her join them.
“Give up?” Phillips asked what he thought was the obvious question when she came through the door.
Smiling, she slapped the Post-it on the lapel of his jacket, turned, and walked down the hall to find Jordan.
He pulled the piece of paper from his lapel to see what she had written. It was an address in San Francisco, California. “What the…”
“Sir?” Agent Pierce standing next to him motioned to the map on the wall. Every tech had stood and was watching as dot after dot and the connecting lines disappeared. In less than a minute only one dot remained. Above it was an address, the same address Allison had written on the Post-it.
“Did she do that?” the agent asked.
Phillips was frowning as he handed him the Post-it and answered. “Yes.”
“How…how did she do it?” Pierce wondered.
“I don’t know,” Phillips admitted.
“Do you think it’s the right address?”
“I do. Roberts, call the San Francisco office. Tell them to get a SWAT team out there.”
“Yes, sir,” Roberts replied, rushing into the nearest office.
The three remaining agents glanced at each other. “What if we’re wrong?” Pierce asked.
“Then we’re wrong.” Phillips was looking up at the empty screen when he said, “Healy, you better go get him. He’ll want to see this.” And gloat, he silently added.
“He was right, wasn’t he?” Healy asked.
Phillips sighed. “Apparently so. Go get him,” he ordered again. “And, Norton, you bring Miss Trent to my office. Where did she go?”
“She’s in the encryption room with Mrs. Clayborne. I’ll get her.”
Pierce spoke up. “I’ll get her.”
“No, I’ve got this,” Norton insisted, hurrying away.
He found Jordan and Allison surrounded by men who were all trying to explain what their job was. When Norton told Allison that Phillips wanted to see her, Jordan offered to go with her, but Allison told her to stay.
Phillips was on the phone when she entered his office. He motioned for her to sit, but she continued to stand in front of his desk. The second he disconnected the call, she blurted, “Aren’t there any women working here?”
Detecting annoyance in her question, he retorted, “As a matter of fact, there are women working here.”
“I haven’t seen any,” she replied.
“We’re just filling positions for this new office, but we already have many women on our support staff. And if you’d gone into other departments you would have seen a couple of women who are analysts and…”
Allison didn’t hear the rest of his answer. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man walking toward the office. There was something familiar about him. She lost her train of thought, and, although it was rude, she turned her back on Phillips and watched as the man came closer. The gun told her he was an agent. A tall, attractive agent, she corrected, with sandy blond hair and the physique of a Roman gladiator.
He came into the office, his expression serious. He looked at Phillips for a brief second before turning his gaze to her.
“You were on the mark,” Phillips told him with a hint of reluctance.
“Yes, I heard,” he replied.
Allison looked up at him in amazement and recognition. “It’s you,” she said. “You were at the seminar when Jordan spoke. You were watching.”
“Yes, I was there. That was a while ago.” He seemed surprised that she would remember.
“What is this all about? What’s going on?” She didn’t give him time to answer before adding, “Who are you?”
The agent just smiled and held out his hand. “My name is Liam Scott. And I am very
happy to finally meet you, Allison.”