Ch. 1

A cell phone let out a shrill ring in the quiet apartment. Dana and Jordan nearly cringed from the familiarity of the sound. It usually meant trouble. If it was trouble, it was safe to say Dana was going to get another earful, and Jordan got to watch. Sometimes it was hard to tell who was being held against their will between the two of them. Jordan's tie was off and two of the Oxford buttons were undone at the top. She'd resorted to jeans and a white undershirt, massively underdressed in front of her caretaker. She was tired, though. And thankfully she didn't give a damn.

The thought of another case this week to their already overloaded tension made nothing easier to bear. Thankfully Colin Merriam was there to answer his own damn phone. "Merriam speaking." Dana sent a look to Jordan, waiting for the bad news to rear its ugly head, but her caretaker Jordan was already angry at his superior for reasons he would not disclose, which meant that it concerned her on a new level. The man wasn't too hard to figure out, despite his psychological defenses and cloaking devices. What did Colin say that had him on edge? "Sorry, you must have the wrong number." The A.D., Alfred Young standing quietly in the corner, was even upset. Be was busy pouring himself a brandy from his flask. It was a nasty habit to break as he usually did it around Dana when she was exceptionally difficult. This was their bimonthly meeting with the three of them. Young was not angry at her otherwise he'd been discussing whatever behavior she'd displayed with her by now. No. He was angry at Colin but for different reasons than usual.

Colin was outright spiteful towards the young woman. He reasoned that she wasn't trained for the work he was ordered to give her, so instead of adapting to the arrangement between himself and the other three who were in on this setup, he piled her with enough work that both she and Jordan suffered from sleep deprivation and borderline cabin fever. The two often had to call in delivery regularly in order to get a meal in while they looked over paperwork that Colin had dropped off. The week prior to this one, Dana had gotten a total of twelve hours of sleep; Jordan had gotten ten, but that's only because he fell asleep on his file and she decided to let him lie there for two hours. When he woke up with a start, he nearly scared Dana as she poured herself more hot tea.

But now Colin was paying for something he did. Dana just wished she knew what it was so she could hate him as much as Young did. "There's no Jones here." Jordan let his fa├žade drop. There it was, Dana thought. Someone was looking for her. That's why no one was looking at her, why everyone was keeping her in the dark. They didn't want her to know they screwed up, that someone was looking for her. Who was it? She still didn't know if she wanted to be found. She was lost. The A.D., who had once glared at Colin, was now content to look away from the trio in order to contemplate the possibilities of the caller.

"Put Jones on the line," the man repeated on the other end of the line.

"There is no one here by that name."

"Of course there is." Colin was shaken out of his confusion by Dana's hand, which came up to take the phone. "She's right there beside you." Colin's face paled at her blank stare. She had been confused for a moment until she'd looked around. Everyone was trying not to think about what was happening on the phone, trying to deny that someone had leaked information about her whereabouts. She wasn't one to deny the facts, but Jordan should've known better. At least the A.D. was trying to discover a way out of this, either that or he was too upset about the fact that someone opened their fat mouth.

"I'm Jones."

"No you aren't," he said, unbelieving.

"Did you even read my file? It was there."

"I'm not giving you the phone." Colin looked at Jordan, who was giving him a stern look of disdain. "I'm not giving her the phone."

"Give her the damn phone, Merriam, or it's your job." A.D. Young said. The taller man's shoulders sagged from reluctance. He surrendered and dropped the phone into Dana's hand. His revulsion towards her was childlike and frowned upon among his colleagues, but he continued to let her bother him. At first she debated even answering it but she saw Young's blank stare. "Answer it." She brought the phone to her ear, turned away from the three stares, and held her breath.

"I knew you'd be there. That Colin has a big mouth." Well, she reasoned, she couldn't argue with fact.

"Who is this?"

"Joseph Ridge." Dana blinked. Was she supposed to recognize this name? No one she knew had that name or alias. "You don't know me, Jones, but I've heard about you."

"How do you know about me?"

"It doesn't matter. What matters is time. You are running out of it." Dana scoffed at the message. Running out of time? About time. "I have placed a rather powerful explosive in a very crowded place, and I'm going to give you the chance to find it."

"That won't fly, Ridge. I've got no power to do that."

"Then how come you're the one I keep hearing about? The hacker turned FBI commodity? Everyone wants one now that you've come along." Dana took a seat on Jordan's overstuffed couch and leaned back into the cushioning. She had a feeling that this wouldn't be quick or simple.

"And everyone wants me, I suppose?"

"You suppose correct. How could you have done what you did?" Dana, without missing a beat, changed the subject. She'd try to not become too curious. Jordan was too anxious to leave in the dark at this point.

"Why would I give a damn about a bomb?" Jordan and Young stared at her in shock as the words left her mouth. They couldn't believe, with her self-sacrificing attitude, that she would say such a thing. Was she bluffing? Jordan knew that she'd been suffering mental strain these past few days. He just didn't think it was as serious as she was acting. She had to be bluffing.

Then Ridge followed suit to keep her on the line. Dana wondered if she would have to wait for the answer to that question. Why would he not pursue her lack of response to his apparent play on her position?

"Because you don't want to be responsible for the one thousand casualties when this device goes off. You're not ready to risk more lives in order to fulfill your own need to rebel." Her eyes seemed to steel over, and she knew Jordan saw it. She wanted to meet the challenge and he knew it now. Thankfully neither the A.D. nor Colin knew this look. She was ready for a fight because she'd been giving in to so many demands. Her fault lied in challenge with the man on the line. He was making little progress in developing his reason but his intent was clear.

"I could disconnect this call right now and would not lose--"

"Don't you dare." the A.D. barked. She rolled her eyes, sighed from frustration, and threw her arm over the back of the couch. Her patience had been waning for three days, and now she seemed to be lashing out against a threat to national security. She could do this and no one would be able to force her to do anything else--they'd have to send her to prison. She wanted that from the beginning. But, with a raised eyebrow and look of pure apathy on her face, she could hardly resist. Dana took a look at the phone display and sighed, irritated. She saw she had battery left.

"Sure, why not? Tell me about your bomb, Mr. Ridge, I have all the time in the world. It's not my phone." There was laughter on the other line. Colin shifted uncomfortably at the thought of her racking up his phone bill. Someone of his caliber should've really invested in a proper plan. The notion almost made her smile. Jordan wasn't sure whether she was still serious about her reluctance to help them by staying on the line. He was starting to wonder whether this was a good idea. In her moods like this it was well known to keep her away from people she'd once been associated with. She was on no one's side when she reverted to this attitude.

A.D. Young said nothing but stared at Dana, trying to read her expressions.

"I'm not impressed."

"Of course you're not. Are they still in the room?" Dana looked up to see the three staring at her. The air was quickly becoming thick.

"They are. Do you wish to speak with one of them?"

"Your voice is infinitely more arousing than any of theirs."

"Not flattered."

"Not disgusted. I'll bet Svela had some real chivalry and class you could compare men to in the future." Her mouth went numb. How did he know about Alan? "I don't stand a chance." Jordan didn't even know about Alan until she told him and even then he had to fight her for the information. Her caretaker was staring oddly at her, or was it she who was uncomfortable enough to interpret his looks differently? She took a second to gather her reserves, her breath hasty and draining as she realized her state. Her hands were clammy and her face obviously pale and jaw tight. There was good reason for her to be this way, and she meant to stop it now. She stood up and made her way to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, moving the phone to her other ear so she could wipe the moisture from her hands.

"Leave him out of this." She passed between Jordan and Young and aimed straight for the hallway that led to the bathroom. His voice stopped her.

"You're nervous. Stop moving around."

"I wouldn't be if you'd stop beating around the bush."

"I'm not the one running from my past. Don't move another muscle until I'm done speaking." She looked down, feeling anxious for moving and allowing him control.

"Just get it over with. We can talk about me some other time."

"I'll speak with you in person. Meet me outside in an hour, and wear something nicer. I don't want your fan club to follow, make sure they stay behind."

"He goes where I go. End of disc--" Before she could finish, there was a click and she was disconnected. Looking up quickly, the realization that she was once again tricked soaked into her mind. She wouldn't go through this again. Numb, she suddenly jerked her arm away from her, the cell phone went flying onto the coffee table. She didn't move for the long moment following.