Code of Conduct

Series:  
Genre:  
  • Romantic Suspense

  • Release Date: January 16, 2024

    Can a computer wizard write a code that apprehends criminals and attracts the woman who captured his heart?

     Tech genius Ted Byrnes spends his days assisting a lethal black ops squad. Their missions are usually global, but Ted uncovers a national identity theft ring has infiltrated the small town he calls home. Instead of remaining behind the scenes, he takes the lead.

     Doreen McKenna is a struggling widow attempting to raise her ten-year-old genius-IQ son. For four years, she’s pushed aside her own needs to focus on her son. Working long days as the office manager in a doctor’s office, the highlights of her week revolve around grocery shopping and taking her son to the bookstore…until she’s approached by a man in the fiction section whose intellect and looks have her suppressed desires rising to the surface.

     Ted has narrowed the source of the identity theft’s ring and needs Doreen’s help. Working together, they devise a plan to expose the criminals, but what’s written on paper doesn’t always happen in real life. Their attraction escalates alongside the danger. Apprehending the ring may break all the codes of conduct . . .

    Read the first chapter now!

    Chapter 1

     

    “Christ, Ted, someone’s going to see us if you don’t hurry up.”

    Ted Byrnes cringed and the lock pick slipped in his sweaty fingers. Talon, a veteran black ops operative and one of five mentors Ted had to survive, hovered closer.

    A dog barked in the distance and a breeze made the branches on the perfectly pruned trees lining the parking lot clack together, ratcheting up Ted’s nerves. He’d never been in the field before. As an MIT graduate and self-professed computer egghead, his contribution usually came from writing programs, hacking into systems, creating aliases, or fiddling with tech gadgets, but yesterday he received authorization to run his very first mission. He really didn’t want to screw it up. Especially with Delta Squad, the fiercest, most successful black ops squad in SweetBriar Group’s history, offering assistance.

    The yellow-white lights mounted to the brick above each office’s door in the business park created more shadows than they illuminated, doing nothing to help Ted with the deadbolt securing the doctor/physical therapist’s office. Pushing his glasses back up his nose for the umpteenth time, Ted re-gripped the pick and—

    “Move.” Talon bumped Ted to the side. With his own set of well-used tools in his gloved hands, Talon made quick work of both locks, then swept the door open.

    Beep. Beep. Beep. The tell-tale warning of the alarm counting down reverberated in the otherwise silent night, spiking Ted’s adrenaline. Dammit. Could the neighborhood behind the complex hear that?

    With a Vanna White gesture, Talon’s emerald eyes flattened—the only part Ted could see beneath the ski mask—motioning for Ted to head inside first.

    Bright light flared behind them, sweeping steadily closer as the throaty growl of an engine turned into the lot.

    Shit!

    Talon grabbed Ted’s jacket at the shoulder and pushed him inside. Ted stumbled and grabbed onto the closest object. The long, tall object wobbled and swayed, making everything worse. Talon pulled the door shut just as the lights flared across the glass.

    Ted tried to wrap the object tighter to stop it from moving, but his grip kept slipping. Stubbing his tennis shoes against the base, the weight of it tipping yanked him off-balance.

    “Wha—”

    Ted’s cheek smacked the heavy plastic bottle of the water cooler as it crashed to the floor. Sploooooooosh!

    “What the hell are you doing?” Talon hissed.

    Beep. Beep. Beep.

    “The alarm,” Ted wheezed, rolling off the cooler system into a pool of cold water. He wiped at the deluge making the ski mask stick to his face.

    “You are the worst,” Talon rasped, peering out the glass door with one eye. “Shit. Police are patrolling. Are your gloves on?”

    Beep. Beep. Beep.

    “No,” Ted sullenly answered.

    “Do you want to get caught?”

    The bright light outside disappeared and the noise of the engine faded into the distance.

    Splick. Water droplets coated Ted’s hand and wrist after he plunked his palm on the industrial carpeting to push himself up.

    The office didn’t offer much in the way of lighting. Just a faint tinge of a single overhead fluorescent inside the reception office and whatever weak beams traveled in from the slat-blinded window beside the door.

    Beep. Beep. Beep.

    Talon gracefully leaped toward the alarm panel on the wall between the front door and the reception desk. “Code?”

    “7309.” Ted snapped on a pair of latex gloves, grimacing at how they locked the moisture in his hands. He felt the area around him until he found the brand-new set of lock picks the leader of Delta Squad had gifted him right before Ted headed out for tonight’s adventure, and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.

    The alarm went silent. “Move it, Ted. We can’t stick around long.”

    Out of all the team members, he had to draw Talon. The most impatient, anti-social, and lethal member of Delta Squad. But, also the most skilled at infiltration and acquisition (i.e., breaking in and stealing stuff).

    “Go. I’ll clean this mess up.” Talon thrust out his gloved hand and Ted took it.

    With squishy footsteps, Ted scurried from the waiting room to the office behind the reception area. The subtle lighting allowed him to read the P-Touch labels on the lower cabinet doors, and he found the one helpfully marked, “Server.” Fishing the flash drive out of his other jacket pocket, he searched for a dry spot of clothing. Finding one beneath his coat, he wiped the wet flash drive dry, then jabbed it into a USB port and woke up the monitor.

    Soft noises drifted in from the waiting room and a shadow flitted by the back of the office. Talon hoisted a new bottle of water into the cooler system, dragging everything back into place.

    Ted’s conscience should twinge at the extensive list of illegal activities he’d racked up the entire day, including fraudulently obtaining the alarm codes for all the doctor’s offices in Ridge Creek, North Carolina, but it didn’t. Ted oversaw all the IT projects for SweetBriar Group, an environmental company that was really a front for a large, private black ops agency. He handled both the public (supporting causes such as lobbying for law changes, preserving habitats for endangered species, cleaning the air and oceans, etc.) and black ops (battling against sex/human trafficking, drug cartels, weapons trading, terrorists, and more) sides of the corporation. He committed a number of illegal offenses every day all in the name of justice (and with the blessing of numerous governments through contracts).

    “I checked out the other side of the setup.” Talon sauntered into the room with his favorite, black-bladed knife absently swirling in his hand. “The physical therapy section shares this reception desk with the doctor’s office, so these are the only computers.”

    “Thank you.” Ted continued breaking through the password prompt on the server.

    Talon moseyed closer. “Ted, we’ve got nine more of these offices to go on the list. Do you honestly think you can continue your first mission with a demonstration like that and not wind up in handcuffs?”

    Ted ignored the well-deserved barb.

    “You thought I drilled you hard before?” Talon taunted, his knife almost hypnotizing from the corner of Ted’s eye. “After this display, I’m recommending to Cappy you hit the obstacle course twice as much, and wait until you see the lock wall I’m setting up for your ass. I think I’ll rig it so you’re electrocuted if you don’t have a lock open in a set time.”

    Jerk probably would too.

    At Ted’s request, Cappy—the leader of Delta Squad, a hulking badass and former Green Beret—had been making Ted’s life miserable with a strict daily regimen. Once the secret leaked about the lessons, the other five Delta members began putting him through their own drills to train him in their areas of expertise. Ted knew Cappy hoped he’d give up and concentrate on being the resident computer wizard, but Ted no longer had that luxury. He needed to know how to survive and defend himself for real. SweetBriar Group, or “SBG” as they referred to the secret side of the company, used to be run by Ted’s uncle. But a few weeks ago, his uncle’s paranoia and machinations had landed the man in jail. Now Ted was in hiding and officially under Delta Squad’s protection. Uncle Victor would figure out—if he hadn’t already—it had been Ted’s skills and information that had gotten him thrown behind bars. Once that happened, it would only be a matter of time before one or more of his uncle’s personal assassins sought to end Ted’s life. He had to be ready.

    Most days, he felt like a pet; Delta’s adopted computer wizard and gadget guy. Then yesterday, he’d uncovered evidence that The Institution, a nasty national identity theft ring, had a tentacle in Ridge Creek. He didn’t know exactly who or how many people were involved, but he had determined the source was a doctor’s office. It didn’t take much convincing to receive the all-clear to run his very own op.

    Bing. “I’m in.” They’d hit the offices of three doctors so far, and this was the third that used bargain-priced protection on their computers. Shameful. Did they want their patients’ confidential information stolen?

    “Any sign of The Institution?” Talon’s knife paused.

    “Too early to tell.” Ted clicked on his flash drive’s folder and downloaded the program he’d written from scratch yesterday. The software sought spyware embedded deep or anomalies that flagged this office as being The Institution’s source.

    “Let’s hope that carpet dries before the first person arrives tomorrow.” Talon jammed his knife back into its sheath.

    Ted pulled up the drive containing the security cameras. “Score. The office doesn’t use an online site to backup the footage.”

    “Goody.” Talon leaned against the doorframe. “We done?”

    Ted’s fingers flew over the keyboard. “Almost.” He built a backdoor into the server, allowing him to access it whenever he needed, then did the same for the security feeds. “Done.”

    Talon disappeared.

    Ted erased his keystrokes and tucked the server away. “Once we’re outside, I’ll delete our presence from the cameras and replace it with previously recorded footage. They’ll never know we were here.”

    Ted met the operative by the door. Fingers crossed, breaking into the doctor’s offices yielded results.

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