This is a free standalone read featuring Nikki Everly (we saw her very, very briefly in Battle Scars when she was rescued) and Sol (from Jesse’s team).It is unnecessary to read The Arsenal series to enjoy this work, but familiarity with the series will enhance the reading experience.
If you are reading this series you may remember Nikki from Battle Scars, this is her story.
The book opens with the scene in Cuba, the Arsenal team was surprised to discover more than just the weapons they were expecting. A group of graduate students were working under duress there. Jesse is leading Nikki out then turns her over to Sol. They need to exfil this group safely and take care of the mission. There’s a bit of chaos when Nikki and Sol reach the others but Nikki takes control of the situation.
Once home there’s a lot more going on, Nikki has a lot of knowledge that is classified and everyone wants a piece of it. The work she was doing stemmed from the stolen work of Rhee and Brea as such she needs protection. Surprising even himself, Sol volunteers for the assignment.
There’s also the problem of Nikki’s doctorate and how to smooth over all the classified things.
This is a favorite scene.
Nikki glanced at the closed door behind her as she sat. Professor Chanz had demanded Sol remain outside while they spoke. Unease pricked her skin. As much as she hated admitting it, having the man around had made her first day back at the university so much simpler. A glare here and scowl there and anyone being too nosy scampered off. He’d been a much-needed wall between her and nosy “friends.”
“I’m disappointed it’s taken you so long to come in and speak with me,” Chanz said. “I thought you were serious about your doctorate.”
Nikki tightened. Her stomach clenched. “I am. Very. I’ve only been back five days, Professor.”
The older man’s wrinkled face shifted into a displeased look she recognized well. He opened a notepad and grabbed a pen. “So, tell me what you managed to do during your internship. I’ll need details, the more the better off you’ll be since you didn’t complete it as expected.”
Nikki clutched the documents she’d printed out, just in case the hard-assed professor went this direction. “I forwarded a briefing to you summarizing what I’m allowed to share. I have a printout if you didn’t get a chance to see it.”
“That wasn’t a briefing. It was an insult.” He slammed a meaty fist on the desk. “You think you can get by with a few vague sentences and make a mockery of me and this institution. This is a place of learning, Ms. Everly. I expect you to prove you have learned anything of value while you were away.”
“Then we’re respectfully at an impasse because you lack the security clearance for details, or so I was told.” She cleared her throat. “Fail me for that if you must, but my GPA is sufficient to carry me forward, which means only my dissertation remains.”
“And you think you can get it published and get recommendation letters without me, based solely on the merit of your work.” He leaned back in his chair. “Cockiness doesn’t suit you. You need me and we both know it. I’m a professional. You’d like to be one day.”
What a jerk. Nikki bit back the angered retort and smoothed the lines on her gray skirt. He’d never been a great adviser. Even on good days he was barely tolerable. She’d spoken with the dean on more than one occasion about switching advisers, but that kind of thing wasn’t done often at an institution like this, which meant she’d been stuck with Chanz. Whatever.
The dissertation she’d written was good. Damned good. But it could be better. She’d already started rewriting portions of it, trusting her instincts to maneuver around the complexities of classified data. Rhea and Bree had both assured her that whatever she wrote would be safe. Nikki didn’t understand the how, but she trusted the two brilliant women far more than she did Chanz.
“Nothing to say?” he prodded, amusement in his voice.
A knock sounded at the door. Nikki turned that direction as Dean Nichols entered. “Apologies for being late. I had an unexpected phone call to handle.” The dean sat beside Nikki.
Chanz cleared his throat. “I wasn’t aware you were sitting in on this. It’s hardly worth your time.”
“I couldn’t disagree strongly enough,” the dean said. “I’ve received numerous phone calls from quite a few very important individuals, all of whom are very invested in Ms. Everly’s dissertation and its security.”
“We were just discussing the need for her to provide details,” Chanz said, a triumphant grin on his face.
“Well, she can hardly do that and abide by the NDAs she signed for quite a few government entities.” The dean touched Nikki’s arm. “It’ll no doubt be enough of a challenge to thread in what she can from her recent work without violating any classified protocols.”
“The dissertation can stand on its own without the work I did at Carlisle,” Nikki said. “I can and will defend my work.”
“Of course, but I’d hate to limit you.” The dean regarded the professor a moment. “I’ve decided to take over as Ms. Everly’s official adviser, which shouldn’t be a problem since I’m listed as co-adviser on everyone’s work. I’m sure you understand, Doctor Chanz.”
“I certainly do not. There is nothing she could have done or worked on that I shouldn’t be privy to as her adviser. She’s worked with me since the beginning.”
“And she’s worked with me as well.” The dean lifted her chin. “Or should we delve into why she needed to consult with me instead of you?”
Red rose in the man’s face. Nikki’s attention shifted from him to the dean, then back again. Talk about an awkward situation. How had the dean even known she was coming in today?
“I’ll need to be on the dissertation committee,” Chanz said.
“We will reconvene to discuss that once Nikki’s had the chance to finalize the dissertation. It’ll depend on the contents.” The dean looked at Nikki. “Do not feel hindered or restricted to its contents in any way. I understand some of your work is very cutting edge and would prove to be a tremendous asset to the right people.”
Nikki gulped. What the heck was going on? Sure, she’d toyed around with modifying the contents of her dissertation to include more of what she’d discovered while working at Carlisle. How could she not? She’d done and created more there in a few days than she had the entire year before.
Then again, most of what she’d done had been used for ill means. But still. The positive implications for some of it were staggering. She may have been forced to create compounds to increase rapid cellular degeneration and other vile effects, but she’d also reverse-engineered revolutionary cures to combat the process— a fact that she’d only shared with Rhea and Bree because she’d wanted them to know in case her work would help them.
“Thank you, Dean Nichols. I appreciate that.” She took a deep breath. “How will the committee work if some of the information is somewhat classified or questionably in the gray area of that need?”
“I’ll admit this is all beyond what our institution has faced in the past, but I’ve had numerous calls from deans around the country who have all faced this situation at some point. Dean Hall from MIT was particularly forthcoming on our options. He’s offered to sit in for your committee. He, along with myself, and an outside scholar would have the necessary clearance to listen to whatever you include.” She smiled. “I’ve already spoken with the board and they all agree this is the best option so that we can accommodate your needs.”
Holy mackerel. Dean Hall from MIT? That was totally a Rhea power move. Nikki would probably faint if she was in the same room with that man.
“How is this even acceptable?” Chanz asked. “That’s not how we’ve conducted our committees.”
“No, but as Dean Hall pointed out, we will on occasion have brilliant students who require something beyond what we typically do.” The dean patted Nikki’s hand. “This is a vital step for this institution. Ms. Everly is to be commended for her innovative genius. She may have only been in Cuba for a few weeks, but we both know her work with Carlisle before that was a large portion of her research work.”
Nikki tried not to think about how many months she’d worked at the main facility before they’d freaking kidnapped her and taken her to Cuba. She’d never suspected them of having nefarious intent or she would’ve turned them in immediately.
“Now, I believe Ms. Everly has a lot of work to do.” The dean stood. “I’ll email you specifics, but your dissertation will be heard in one month.”
Nikki nodded. A month sounded like a long time, but it so wasn’t.
The dean opened the door, then paused. “Oh, and Doctor Chanz?”
“There’s a gentleman outside who’ll be reviewing your computer, files, and anything else he feels is needed to ensure you have none of Ms. Everly’s work prior to her unfortunate incident on hand. He will also be searching your home.”
“He most certainly will not,” Chanz declared.
“He has a federal warrant. Do not embarrass yourself or this university by refusing.” The dean exited the room and headed toward the exit.
Nikki watched her departure. A man approached. She blinked. He looked so much like Jesse Mason he had to be somehow related.
“Hi, I’m Cord Mason.” He held out his hand. She shook it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nikki. Leave the blowhard to me. I’ll take care of him for you.”
Sol put a hand on her upper back and guided her toward the exit. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m just really confused. I think Rhea’s been busy.”
He chuckled. “I’m sure she has. Come on, you’re bound to be hungry, and I’ve been told you’re clear for all the greasy hamburgers and fries you want.”
Her stomach rumbled its delight. “That is the best news I’ve had all day.”
Cara Carnes. Bulletproof: An Arsenal Series Free Read (Kindle Locations 360-430).
There’s so much in this short story and I love the relationship between Sol and Nikki. Rhea and Bree are a big part of this as is Nikki’s sister Tamsyn. Crossover after crossover as this also relates to the Counterstrike series.
I truly can’t wait for Lethal Echo and the next Counterstrike books.
5 Contented Purrs for Cara!
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Born in small-town Texas, Cara Carnes was a princess, a pirate, fashion model, actress, rock star and Jon Bon Jovi’s wife all before the age of 13. In reality, her fascination for enthralling worlds took seed somewhere amidst a somewhat dull day job and a wonderful life filled with family and friends. When she’s not cemented to her chair, Cara loves traveling, photography and reading.