Computer programmer Jessica Kilmer's life changed the moment she realized classified documents had been stolen from her safe. She knew contacting the FBI would turn her life upside down, but she never expected what would happen when she met special agent Arlen Coulter. For even as Arlen assured her that he would keep her safe, his quiet intensity awakened her heart to another danger altogether....
It seemed to Arlen that the greatest risk in this case was the effect Jessica had on him. She aroused feelings he'd long believed dead--and preferred to keep buried. But the danger that Jessica faced was real--could Arlen get her out before it was too late?
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April 01, 2010
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Excerpt from Serious Risks by Rachel Lee
"Somebody stole a classified document from my safe last night."
The breathless, nervous claim over the telephone brought Special Agent Arlen Coulter upright in his chair and banished every other thought from his head. A perfectly routine afternoon of reviewing case reports from his agents lost the last vestige of ordinariness. Swiftly reaching across his desk, he pulled over a legal pad and a pen.
"What's your name?" he asked the woman. "And where are you calling from?"
"My name is Jessica Kilmer, and I'm calling from a pay phone on the interstate."
"Give me the number in case we get disconnected." He made her recite it twice to be sure he got it right. In the background he could hear the whiz and roar of the late-afternoon traffic. "Okay, Ms. Kilmer," he said. "Tell me about it."
There was a shuddery breath from the other end of the phone. "I work for MTI--Military Technologies, Inc. We do a lot of defense work."
"I'm familiar with MTI," Arlen said. Indeed he was. MTI ranked as the area's second-largest defense contractor. "Go on, ma'am."
"Someone took a classified document from my safe during the night," she repeated unsteadily, as if she couldn't quite believe her own words. "I'm the only one who has the combination, except for the copy that security keeps in their vault."
Arlen leaned forward tensely. Possibilities were already flitting through his head, not the least of them that this was a crank call. In the past he had worked in counterintelligence in the Washington, D.C., area, so he knew just how common espionage was. Nevertheless, this was the first hint of it that he had gotten during his entire six years in Austin, Texas. Still, the woman knew things that only someone engaged in classified work would know, such as the fact that security would have the only other combination to a classified safe. "You're sure the document is missing?"
"Oh, yes." She expelled the words on another unsteady breath. "I went through every folder in the safe, in case it was misfiled."
"It couldn't have been left out by accident?" Arlen kept his voice calm, nonaccusatory. Once a witness was put on the defensive, you could forget any hope of getting a straight story.
"No. I haven't had it out of the safe in several weeks. It was there last night when I filed the document that comes just before it. I know it was there!"
The rising tone of her voice conveyed her frustration and concern as no words could have. Arlen felt a small twinge of sympathy for her, but he put it firmly aside. He couldn't afford to allow his mind or his judgment to be clouded by sympathy.
"I believe you, Ms. Kilmer," he said soothingly. "Have you told anyone else about the theft?"
"I reported it to security," she answered, and now her tone was indignant. "They're insisting I must have mislaid it or misfiled it or loaned it to someone, because I'm the only one with the combination to the safe. That's the whole point, and they're missing it. That's why I'm calling you! The point is, someone opened that safe last night. Someone else has the combination!"
Arlen didn't need to have the ramifications of that statement spelled out. If someone else had the combination, there was no telling how often that person had gained access to Jessica Kilmer's safe. There was no way to know how many other safes at MTI this supposed spy might have combinations for, or how often he might have invaded them. Or how many classified documents he might have stolen, photographed, copied--the list of potential abuses was catastrophic.
Arlen addressed Jessica Kilmer. "Are you going back to work?"
She gave a shaky, mirthless laugh. "Hardly. By the time they got through grilling me and insinuating that I have the IQ of an insect, I had a splitting headache. I'm going home."
"Just a few more questions, Ms. Kilmer, if you're up to it."
"Yes, of course."
"Does anyone know you're calling the FBI? The security people at your company, perhaps?"
"No, no one knows." Jessica Kilmer sighed heavily. Even over the phone, her weariness and frustration were apparent to Arlen. "The security people aren't planning to tell anyone about this just yet. They're evidently convinced that the report will show up and that they'll be able to explain the whole thing in some fashion that won't reflect badly on them or the company."
"And you don't believe that."