A WITCH’S PROTOCOL – Chapter Three

Dressed in light blue jeans and a dark blue button down shirt, Braiden sauntered to his truck and started the engine. He wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans before he took the wheel and guided the vehicle into traffic.
At quarter to seven he walked into the Riverwalk Cafe. Over a year ago, an explosion killed the men in his unit and a woman acquaintance he’d been dating. This was the first time he’d set foot inside a restaurant since, the walls started to close in, his head pounded and his heart raced. He turned to the waitress and requested a table on the veranda. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face, he wiped it away and blew out a breath as he settled into a chair, listening to the river rush past.

At nearly seven thirty, Megan rushed in, her face flushed and glanced around. Braiden got to his feet, waved to get her attention, and smiled when she spotted him. She wove through the tables to the veranda.
“This is nice.” Taking a moment to watch the river flow down the canyon, she relaxed into the chair Braiden held out. “I’m so sorry I’m late. The strangest thing happened this afternoon…well not really strange… but… I thought the bid went — oh, I’m babbling. Sorry. A contract I thought I’d lost got dumped in my lap this afternoon. The email said the top bidder was disqualified, and the contract awarded to me as second in line.”

“That’s great. Isn’t it?” Braiden asked.

Megan shrugged. “Yes and no, oh hell, I’m not sure. The kicker is it took them two weeks to notify me, and now I’m two weeks behind, before even starting the job. I was scrambling to try to find someone to help me out and I lost track of time.”

“Not a problem. What do you do?”

“Cyber Security. I’m a private government contractor. Hackers breaching high security systems have opened up a plethora of opportunities in the private sector.”

“If you have a security clearance.” Braiden leaned back in his chair.

“I’m good there.” She took a deep breath, blew it out. “That’s enough about me, let’s talk about you.”

“Nothing much to tell. I served my country, until an explosion took out my unit. I spent the last year adjusting to life as a civilian. End of story.”

“Gee, must be tough.” Megan paused for a moment. “You don’t happen to know computers or have a security clearance do you? Oh, never mind, I’m just in panic mode.”

He leveled his gaze at her. “Yes and yes.”

She narrowed her eyes still meeting his gaze. “You’re kidding me. Right?”

“Nope.”

Raising a brow. “Any objections to a background check?” She asked gauging his reaction. “What is your security clearance?”

He paused for a beat. How much did he want her to know? They’d just met. This was moving way to fast. Braiden looked around the room and went with his gut. “High enough,” he said in a tone that indicated the discussion’s over.

“Ok.” She picked up the menu and perused the nightly specials.

Braiden did the same. “Any suggestions?”

“Yes, pizza and beer. What do you think?”

With a cocky smile, he lowered his menu. “I think you want to loosen my lips and take advantage of me.” He paused, cocked a eyebrow. “What do you take on your pizza?”

“Meat, no peppironi, or fungus, extra cheese.”

Braiden chuckled. “By fungus I take it to mean mushrooms?”

She wrinkled up her nose and made a face. “Exactly.”

When the waiter returned, Braiden repeated Megan’s preferences and added two brews.

The pizza was excellent and the conversation pleasant. At the end of the evening, he walked Megan to her car, leaned over and brushed his lips lightly over hers, lingered only a moment. Her lips were soft and sweet, his nostrils flared as he took in her subtle citrus scent. Not what he was used to in a woman — she intrigued him. He’d been given a second chance and he wasn’t going to waste it. “Would you like to attend the open air concert Friday night?”

“Who’s playing?”

“I’m not sure. Does it matter? All the bands I’ve heard at the weekly concerts were good.”

Megan grimaced. “I’d like to, but it depends on the new contract. I’ve gotta get someone to help me. When I bid the project, I had a guy lined up. Since I didn’t get it, he took another job.”

“Let’s play it by ear. I’ll check back with you towards the end of the week. Any chance I could get your phone number?”

She paused for a second before she took a business card from her purse and handed it to him. “My business and cell are listed. If I’m unavailable, just leave a message, I’ll get back to you.”

He took the card and slid it into his shirt pocket. “Good enough.” He brushed a finger across her cheek before he closed her car door and walked to his truck.


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