Nadine Jarvis pushed away from her desk, shaking her head at the email she’d just read from Merrill Tabor, one of the Storm Troopers who lived on the Earth’s surface collecting data from the unpredictable and violent storms. She’d known him all her life because he and her father, Dixon Jarvis, had been best friends since second grade.
“It can’t be true,” she whispered, her heart racing. She moved toward the desk again, her fingers now damp, and refreshed the screen as if doing so would erase or alter the email she’d just read, but nothing changed. It still said her father had gone missing two days ago during a tornado in what used to be Seattle, Washington.
The email said the other Storm Troopers who had been with him were searching, but Nadine’s father had been doing this for almost seven years now. She knew what it meant when one of them was missing. It meant they had likely been swept away and there was little chance they’d be found alive.
Anyone over ten years old would remember living above the surface, and they knew what was going on now, including what usually happened to anyone who ventured up there. The Storm Troopers did what no one else wanted to do, and in the years since everyone had been forced underground, they had collected some useful data. But the work was slow because they were constantly seeking shelter from storms, and often couldn’t place their equipment where it needed to be in time.
Nadine knew it had always been a possibility her father would go missing or be killed, but that didn’t stop the panic or the heartbreak from creeping over her now, dark and sinister. She should call her mother, but Nadine didn’t think she could handle the inevitable questions, or the annoyance in Wendy’s voice.
Her mother had left the family when Nadine was fourteen, and had kept in touch sparingly over the years. She lived in SouthCentral and had gone back to her maiden name of Harris years ago. Nadine had no idea of the last time her mother had spoken to her father. They’d been divorced since Nadine was fifteen. Would Wendy even care that her ex-husband, and the father of her only child, was missing?
She rose from the desk and paced the room in her apartment that served as a home office, workout room, and her “I have no idea what to do with this so I’ll put it here for now” room. Moving in front of the window, she looked out over the fake sunrise on a Saturday morning, listening to the sound of fake birds.
Her view was mostly fir trees, but in the distance she had a glimpse of one of the many manmade lakes they’d incorporated into this underground city. Nadine had been out on a rowboat on that lake only once with her father, two years earlier, when he’d taken a break from storm chasing on the surface. That was the last time she’d seen him in person, though he kept in touch via email as often as possible.
Until three days ago. That was the last time she’d received an email from him.
When she’d heard through the grapevine that Damien Rivera of Rivera Construction, based two cities south in SouthWest, had fought for and obtained the rights from BrentCait Enterprises to build new and improved shelters for the Storm Troopers, she’d been thrilled because she knew it meant her father would be safer on the surface. He’d mentioned the new shelters in their last email, when he’d told her the construction would take a long time since working conditions on the surface weren’t exactly ideal or predictable.
Nadine returned to her desk and read the email from Merrill one more time, now noting that he had CC’d Ace Easton and Addison Carlyle. Nadine had never met Ace, but she knew who he was. She’d known Addison all her life because he and her father were good friends.
Ace, whose real name was Arturo Charles Easton, owned ACE Communications, lived in NorthCentral, and his parents were Brent and Cait Easton of BrentCait Enterprises. They had designed the underground cities beneath the USA during the nuclear war scare of 2072. Ace was the principal backer for the Storm Troopers, although Nadine knew that all twelve men who collectively called themselves the “Weathermen” contributed toward the teams.
Addison Carlyle lived here in NorthWest, and owned Carlyle Imports. His company acted as a distributor for the items that procurement teams, most of which Addison owned, retrieved from the surface. Unlike the Storm Troopers, who were up there to chase storms and collect data, the procurement teams went topside to find things for people with enough money or a great deal of desire.
They used the same shelters as the Storm Troopers, which was one of the reasons Damien had fought for new ones. He and some of the other Weathermen felt the Storm Troopers and procurement teams shouldn’t have to compete for them, and that any shelter either team was able to get to before being overtaken by a storm should be better equipped, and a lot larger.
In addition to her father telling her that building them was slow work because the workers themselves needed shelter during construction, he also said several dozen Storm Troopers had been assigned to stay with the construction teams to make sure they were safe, and knew what to do when a storm approached.
That was part of what had Nadine so rattled by this email from Merrill. Her father had been protecting one of those teams, and now he was missing. The email said the rest of the team had made it to a shelter but Dixon had not. It didn’t say why he had not made it inside.
Nadine wiped her tears away and emailed Merrill back, copying Ace and Addison on the email as well since she assumed Merrill wanted them in the loop. She thanked him for letting her know, and included her Internet phone number so she could be reached for updates at any time. He and Addison already had it, but this way she ensured that Ace would, too, just in case.
The most frustrating thing of all was that there was absolutely nothing she could do about this. Not one damn thing. The best people to look for him were already up there doing so. If anyone could find him, it was the Storm Troopers. This was out of her hands, and she hated that. She didn’t like feeling so damn helpless.
Nadine sat down to try to watch a movie, putting off the phone call she knew she had to make to her mother, but she couldn’t concentrate. Finally, she turned off the monitor and video system and called her mom, but it went to voice mail. Thank God!
“Hi, it’s me. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Dad has been missing for two days. I received an email from Merrill this morning. I’m going to forward it to you.” Why hadn’t she simply done that instead of making this awkward call? “I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.”
Such news wasn’t the kind one normally left in a voice mail message, but she doubted her mother would think twice about this information. Nadine expected neither a phone call nor an email from her mother in reply.
She had just finished forwarding the email to her mother when the downstairs buzzer sounded. It made her jump because she hardly ever had visitors, and it was too early for mail delivery.
This building had a security camera in the lobby, so she turned it on and was dismayed to see Addison Carlyle standing there. A horrible thought occurred to her, and she had to blink back fresh tears as she pushed the buzzer to open the door. Was her father dead? Why else would he come to see her at home instead of calling or emailing?
She took several deep breaths and had managed to hold back her tears by the time he knocked on the door. Nadine opened it, totally unprepared for the sight of Addison Carlyle again, up close and personal. She never was prepared for it. At a time when the only man on her mind should be her father, Addison still took her breath away.
She always had the impression the man hadn’t aged in all the time she’d known him. Well, except for that hint of gray at his temples, which only served to make him even more gorgeous. Dark, slightly wavy hair, big brown eyes that held her gaze with a combination of interest and sympathy, plus a face that still haunted her dreams. He also could use a shave, which only fed her imagination as she pictured rubbing her own face against that stubble. “Addison … Hi there.”
Wow. Could you sound anymore like a damn lovesick teen if you tried?
“Did you find my father?”
Addison shook his head. “No. May I come in?”
“Of course.” Nadine stepped aside, relief flooding through her that there was still hope her dad was alive. “I’m sorry. I’m a bit flustered right now. I just found the email from Merrill.”
He stepped across the threshold, and she closed the door, then faced him, completely at a loss for words. The man was so damn good-looking she could never seem to form a coherent thought when she was in his presence. “I emailed you and Ace back when I replied to Merrill.”
He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, not the suit and tie she was used to seeing him in. This outfit made him seem human as opposed to an otherworldly creature. It also helped prevent her from picturing him as merely one more insanely wealthy business owner.
Then again, every picture she’d seen of him on the Internet, usually with his latest girlfriend, featured him dressed up. Perhaps that was the real reason she found it so unnerving to see him like this.
He’d asked her out only once, but she’d barely been out of high school, and her father had put his foot down. Addison was fourteen years older than she was. At the time, the age difference had been too vast. Now, it didn’t seem large at all, but Nadine hadn’t been able to think about dating for four years. She wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to again, even with Addison.
“I read the email from Merrill early this morning, and decided I’d rather talk to you in person about my plans to find Dixon. I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t call first before coming over.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s all right. Did you say your plans to find him?”
“Yes. I’m going up to the surface.”
Nadine blinked a few times, certain she’d heard him incorrectly. “Excuse me?”
The corners of his mouth turned up. “I don’t think you completely understand the effect your father had on me when I met him. I was only fourteen.”
She nodded. She already knew they’d met when Addison was in middle school, but the tone of his voice told her he needed to talk, and affection for her dad was the one thing they shared. “Please come inside and sit down. Do you want something to eat or drink? There’s fresh coffee.”
He smiled, and the gesture made his face even more handsome. “No, thank you. Nothing to eat or drink.”
Addison followed her into the living room, where Nadine sat on the sofa and he sat right next to her. She caught a whiff of woodsy shampoo that conjured up pictures of showering with him. Stop that!
“He came to speak to our science class when I was in eighth grade and we were studying weather. He’d just made history with his project on the evolution of tropical storms.”
This time, the tears Nadine had to blink away were from nostalgia. That project had been started in graduate school, and it was one of her favorite stories from her father’s early days with NSSL. “I’ve never asked you if meeting him that way was the reason you ended up in the business you’re in.”
“In an indirect way, it is.” Addison leaned back against the cushions, crossing one ankle over the opposite knee. The gesture was familiar and comfortable, as if he spent lots of time in her apartment. In all the time she’d known him, he hadn’t been here more than half a dozen times.
“I’ve been fascinated by storms for as long as I can remember, and of course growing up in the Pac Northwest we never saw tropical storms or hurricanes this far north, so they held an air of mystery for me.”
She nodded, reaching over to lift her coffee cup from the table where she’d left it before answering the buzzer.
“Afterward, I asked him if I could talk to him sometime about the storms, and he actually gave me his cell phone number and email address.”
She took a sip of coffee and then smiled. “That sounds like something he’d do.”
“There I was, a fourteen year old kid, and this man was only ten years older than me, but in my eyes he was a god. Pure genius, as far as I was concerned. You of all people know how much we’ve kept in touch all these years, so when Merrill emailed me that Dixon was missing, I knew I had to help. There was no question about it.”
“I didn’t realize you went to the surface that often.” She always pictured him sitting in his high rise office downtown counting his money, not joining his procurement teams.
“I go several times a year with a team, or to check up on them, but this time will be different. I’ve never gone on a rescue mission.”
She had obviously underestimated this man for years. “Who will go with you?”
“A few members from among my procurement teams whom I’d trust with my life, and several Storm Troopers.”
She placed her cup back on the table. “Thank you. I know that sounds inadequate, but I don’t know what else to say.”
He uncrossed his legs and leaned closer to her, then took her hands. His skin was warm, and his touch sent shivers up and down her spine. Get a grip, girl!
“Nadine, I can’t even imagine how frightened you are right now. I won’t make you any promises. That would be cruel and irresponsible of me, but I will give you my word that we will not stop until we find him.”
“Dead or alive, right?” she whispered. Nadine had no idea why those words popped out, but now that they had, her breath hitched in her throat and she wasn’t able to hold back the tears this time. They trickled down both cheeks as she gazed into Addison’s eyes.
“Yes. Either way, we will find him.” He gave her hands a squeeze and she started to pull her right one away so she could wipe her face, but his fingers reached her cheek before hers could. “I’m sorry this happened.”
He brushed her tears away, and his touch burned her skin, but not with pain. Nadine couldn’t stop looking at him. Every erotic thought she’d kept buried for four years tried to surface, along with the terror and pain she’d pushed down with those thoughts.
That man’s face rose in her head. She couldn’t stop it from happening this time. That man had taken her sense of safety, and her ability to do this. Her ability to feel anything but fear and mistrust for another man, even a man as familiar and charming as Addison.
Nadine jerked her face away from Addison’s hand, pulled her other hand out of his grasp, and shifted away from him so she could stand. “Thank you for coming over.”
He looked confused and hurt as he stood to face her. “You’re welcome.”
Nadine couldn’t look him in the eyes. Too many conflicting emotions competed for attention right now, and she needed to get him out of here before she spilled her guts. That would make no sense. She might have known him all her life, but he’d never been a confidant. She’d never even told her father what that man had done to her.
So why, then, did she have an overwhelming urge to tell Addison everything? It must be the strain of knowing her father was missing. That was a logical explanation, so she clung to it. “When do you plan on leaving for the surface?”
“As soon as possible. I’m trying to get everything in order today.”
“I’m not saying I doubt your abilities, but what makes you think you can find him when there are already Storm Troopers looking for him? They worked with him. It’s just as personal for them, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.” He moved his hand and the gesture caught her gaze. She watched his hand move toward her, but this time it never touched her. He pulled it back, and then she finally lifted her gaze to find him watching her with concern and uncertainty on his face. “It is personal, and you’re all he has left. I’m doing this for him and for you. I’ve known you all my life, after all.”
She let out a small sigh that was halting, uncertain. She had no idea what to say. She was both overwhelmed by his statement, and frightened of the memories that now assaulted her. She had to be alone and think through this. “Stay safe up there.”
His expression left no doubt he wished she’d say something else, but the air in her apartment was suddenly too thick. She needed to be alone right now.
“Nadine, have I done or said something to upset you?”
Shit. “No. No, not at all. I’m just … I’m worried about my dad.” Her voice didn’t sound convincing even to her own ears. He’d never buy it.
“Of course. I understand. I am, too. I’ll let you know when we leave, and I will email you as often as possible from the surface.”
She let out the breath she’d been holding. “Thank you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”
“My pleasure. You have my Internet phone number and my personal email. The phone obviously won’t work once I’m topside, but email me anytime. Even if all you want to do is talk. If I’m in a shelter we can even set up a video chat if you want to.”
“Thank you, Addison.”
He stared at her for a long time, and Nadine was certain he would say something else, but then he turned and left her apartment. She stood with her back to the door for what felt like hours while tears ran down her cheeks.
Everything she’d gone through four years ago came crashing down, along with the realization that she might never see her father again. All mixed up with those emotions was Addison’s handsome face, that stubble on his chin, and her overwhelming longing to be held in a man’s arms, and be kissed, and for those experiences to erase her memories from that horrible afternoon four years earlier.
A pipe dream. That’s all it was. It would never happen, and certainly not with Addison Carlyle.
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