Until her work for Metal Tech International led her to the discovery of nanites, Dr. Nia Song had spent the bulk of her thirty-five years apologizing for being the smartest person in a room. Or worse, pretending not to be.
Today, she would demonstrate the nanites’ proficiency in repairing compromised body armor. The repairs would happen within minutes and to a degree that allowed the armor to withstand another hit. Once this life-saving invention went to market, her days of apologizing and pretending were finished.
The downside? Wrapping up the classified project meant the end of her association with Major Dews, who fell into step beside her now. His familiar spicy aftershave evoked a release of pressure from her shoulders.
“This is incredible.” His gravelly voice electrified her nervous system in ways her scientific mind didn’t comprehend.
“But will Secretary Lange authorize a field test?” She knew the nanites offered superior protection to soldiers in the line of fire, but would the military agree?
“The general has seen the most recent lab-conducted tests.” He referred casually to one of the Joint Chiefs, also his commanding officer.
A sideways peek showed his fit form in dress blues—the uniform he’d been wearing when they’d met six months ago. While working together, he had never belittled her the way other men on the team did. Nor did the major infer that he found her intellect unattractive. Instead, his sky-blue eyes flashed with admiration, and his compliments rang true.
“It will be a relief to close the deal,” she said as they boarded the only elevator that descended to the underground bunker.
“Ready to get rid of me?” He arched a well-formed eyebrow, and his full lips curled at the corners.
Her pulse launched her heart into her throat. She cleared it and said, “Ready to ban executives from my lab.”
During the past two months, three different vice presidents made weekly intrusions into her professional solitude. In the past week, the CIO and CEO had paid her a visit.
He chuckled. “They have been underfoot.”
The major had been there every day for the past three weeks, offering insight on specific upgrades to benefit field operatives. While he might work a desk now, he’d started his military career leading a special ops platoon.
Below ground, they secured the nanite-infused body armor to three different robots and checked the munitions on the military-grade rifle, machine gun, and landmine. The Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs arrived with three Metal Tech VPs. Nia, tension tightening her gut, stood in the overcrowded safety booth with the suits while the major donned protective gear and wielded the weapons.
The floor shuddered, and the firing sounded distant. Afterward, Nia explained the nanites’ work while the major brought the compromised body armor in for inspection. The armor was pockmarked or nearly shredded, but the robots beneath remained unharmed.
Fifteen minutes later, she repeated the test. Major Dews deployed the weapons, and the cement sheltering them trembled. Upon investigating the results, they discovered the reinforced armor survived a second round of fire from all but the landmine.
“No one steps on a landmine a second time,” the admiral said, arms crossed over his chest but eyes wide with interest.
Demonstration complete, the officials returned to the upper levels. Nia and the major cleaned up the test site, which meant he removed the debris and secured the weapons while Nia documented the results.
Before the pair returned to the fourth floor, Nia’s phone chimed with an incoming message. Seeing the committee chief’s email address, she read it.
“They’ve ordered a dozen sets of armor for field testing.” Energy coursed through her veins, and she smiled.
“I guess this means we won’t be working together any longer.” His words sent her heart nosediving into her stomach.
They reached her lab door, and she searched his stoic features, cataloging the narrow nose, sharp cheekbones, and square chin. His dark hair, mussed from the helmet worn downstairs, begged her fingers for smoothing.
“That’s true.” She drew her badge toward the locked door. A warm grip on her elbow paused her mid-reach.
“Which means I can finally ask you out.”
She blinked and heat flooded her chest.
“Nia, how about dinner Friday evening? I know a great wood-fired pizza place.” His tone rang confidently but he clutched the bill of his hat in a white-knuckled grip.
“Are you nervous?” She slapped a palm over her mouth after the question slipped free.
His sharp gaze fixed on hers. Anticipation shadowed the deep blue pools. “Only if you say no.”
Her lips curled into a smile. “You’re only nervous if I say no.”
His stare bored into her and jumbled her thoughts and emotions. Had her lifelong search for a man who appreciated her intelligence ended?
“The pizza is worth it.” He swallowed hard. “Even if the company is bad.”
“Pizza. I could eat that every week.” They had ordered it delivered on late work nights.
His kissable lips twitched into an almost-smile. “They call that reconnaissance, ma’am.”
The formal address released an explosion of butterflies in her stomach.
“I couldn’t let that hard work be for naught.”
He shook his head slowly.
“What time will you pick me up?” Her fingers trembled so she shoved them into the pockets of her lab coat.
“Will seven give you time to change? Or I could pick you up here.”
Her hand snaked out to squeeze his, warm and calloused. “You most certainly will not pick me up here, Major.”
His grin lit the hallway. “Maybe you can call me Ethan now.”
“Since we aren’t working together?”
“Since we’re dating.”
Her heart filled with helium and floated away. Lab-created nanites could do miraculous things, but only Major Ethan Dews could make her soul sing.
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