Five years ago, Maya Jain kissed her best friend only to have him run out of her dorm room and leave the state. When he shows up in Washington, D.C., a wanted fugitive sought after by every branch of the US government, she can’t bring herself to ignore his plight. As their physical relationship picks up where it left off, she decides it’s time to make him see her as more than the bespectacled, bookish girl he once called “Owl.” After being accused of espionage and treason, Zack Strong needs a forensic accountant to help clear his name. Not knowing who he can trust, this white-hat hacker has no choice but to ask his former best friend and math tutor for help. Together they unravel a cyber conspiracy at the Barn, an NSA facility tasked to intercept electronic communications. But as they traverse the nation’s capital to avoid capture, Maya insists on letting their simmering sexual tension take its natural course. Even though he’s never been able to shake the memory of their one kiss, he refuses to let her give up her life for a man with no future.
Hesitating at the threshold of stalker-like activity, the logical part of his brain made one last-ditch attempt to stall his fingers. This wasn’t acceptable behavior, not by any stretch of the imagination. He should wait and see what happened. If push came to shove, he could always abandon his post and knock on her door.
But he’d been sitting there for ages, an abnormal amount of time for anyone to spend in the bathroom. She could have passed out in there, and then where would they be? His brain’s paranoid frontal lobe ended up winning the battle. He needed a quick peek, a brief glance to confirm her location. If the trick gave him a glimpse of her in the shower, the curtain would obscure his view. If he saw even a hint of skin, he’d shut the damn feed off. No harm could come of this.
He accessed her webcam and turned it on. As luck would have it, the computer was angled at the open bathroom door, the only part of her apartment he couldn’t see into from the street. With the wall-to-wall mirror completely visible on screen, it wouldn’t be hard to ascertain her presence. A few keystrokes allowed him to enhance the high definition feed and zoom in. A light coating of condensation blurred the reflection by a fraction, but the open doors allowed most of it to dissipate. The reflected image was clear enough to make out shapes and colors.
The footage presented a profile view of Maya lying in a bathtub. Since he could only make out her face, neck, and left arm, he didn’t see an immediate need to cease and desist. Her head rested against the tub’s lip, cushioned by her long, dark hair. With her eyes closed and lips parted, he couldn’t tell if she was conscious. What if she had slipped in the shower and hit her head?
He cranked up the microphone’s sensitivity. The great thing about modern-day computers was their much-improved capability to process audio and video. As soon as she made a sound or moved, he’d stop watching.
A soft, throaty moan crackled over the speakers. Her left hand lifted in the air before clenching over the side of the tub. Her back and neck arched.
Slapping down his laptop screen, Zack leaned back against the leather headrest and massaged his temples. Struggling not to draw any conclusions, he muttered, “Don’t go there, man. Just don’t go there.”