He never put a foot wrong, though, never did anything that would bring their discord into the open. His relationship with all three of the other men was both easy and professional. With her, he was unfailingly polite and impersonal, and even that was a measure of his professionalism. Tucker respected Dallas and certainly wasn't going to disrupt the team or endanger the job by openly antagonizing his wife. That should have reassured Niema on a couple of levels -- but it didn't.
Until he put the blanket around her shoulders, there hadn't been a word spoken between them since the others left. She wished it had remained that way; keeping Tucker at a distance, she thought, was the safest place for him.
He sat down, as relaxed and graceful as a cat. He seemed impervious to the cold, comfortable in a black T-shirt and fatigue pants. Dallas had the same sort of internal furnace, because he seldom felt the cold either. What was it about men like them that made them burn so much hotter than the rest of the human race? Maybe it was their physical conditioning, but she herself was in very good shape and she had been cold the entire time they had been in Iran. She didn't wish they were cold, too, just that the damn anthrax facility had been built in the warm desert, instead of these chilly mountains.
"You're afraid of me."
The comment, coming out of the blue, startled her more than it had when he put the blanket around her, but not enough that she lost her composure. His voice had been calm, as if he were discussing the weather. She gave him a cool look. "Wary," she corrected. If he thought she would hasten to deny her uneasiness, the way most people would do when cornered, he was mistaken. As Dallas had learned, to his amusement more often than not, there wasn't much that could make Niema back down.
Tucker leaned his dark head back against the cold stone wall and drew one leg up, draping his arm loosely over his knee. Unreadable brown eyes studied her. "Wary, then," he conceded. "Why?"
She shrugged. "Feminine intuition?"
He began to laugh. Laughter wasn't something she had associated with Tucker, but he did it easily, his dark head tilted back against the wall. The sound was genuinely amused, as if he couldn't help himself.
Niema watched him, one eyebrow tilted as she waited for him to stop. She didn't feel the least impulse to join in his laughter, or even to smile. Nothing about this situation was funny. They were deep in Iran on a job that could get them all killed, and oh, by the way, she didn't trust the team leader one inch, ha ha ha. Yeah, right.
"Jesus," he groaned, wiping his eyes. "All this because of feminine intuition?" A shade of incredulousness colored his tone.
Niema gave him a stony look. "You make it sound as if I've been attacking you left and right."
"Not overtly, at least." He paused, a smile still curving his mouth. "Dallas and I have worked together before, you know. What does he say about your suspicions?"
He was utterly relaxed as he waited for her answer, as if he already knew what Dallas would have said -- if she had mentioned her feelings to him, that is. She hadn't uttered a word of misgiving to him, though. For one thing, she had nothing concrete to offer, and she wasn't about to stir up trouble without proof other than her feminine intuition. She didn't discount her uneasiness, but Dallas was a man who dealt in hard realities, who had learned to disconnect his emotions so he could function in the dangerous field he had chosen. Moreover, he obviously liked, trusted, and respected Tucker.
"I haven't talked to him about it."
"No? Why not?"
She shrugged. Other than not having proof, her main reason for not talking to Dallas about Tucker was that her husband hadn't been wild about her coming on this job anyway, and she didn't want to give him an opportunity to say I told you so. She was good at what she did, but she didn't have the field experience the others had, so she was reluctant to cause trouble. And, she admitted, even had she known she wouldn't be comfortable with Tucker, she would have come anyway. Something primitive in her thrilled to the tension, the danger, the utter importance of what she did. She had never wanted a nine-to-five; she wanted adventure, she wanted to work on the front line. She wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize a job she had worked hard to attain.
Copyright © 1999 by Linda Howington. Published by permission of the publisher, Pocket Books.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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