This excerpt is from my Work in Progress, the next book in my YA SF Violet Eyes series. Enjoy!
Chapter One: Message Skipped
I hurdled the bike stand and cut off the corner, racing for the apartment building entrance. On the sidewalk, Mike cursed and put on a burst of speed, but my hand still slapped the glass door a second before his.
“I win.” I grinned at my fiancé, panting unashamedly.
“Only because you cheated,” Mike said lightly. He mock- frowned. “You know, while we were running, I felt this strange buzzing vibration…” He took my palmtop out of the pocket of his denim jacket and held it over his head. “Well, well, lookee what I have here.”
“Oooh. When did you lift that?” I was impressed. As part of our training for Angel Security, Mike and I had not only been running obstacle courses, but also practicing a number of skills that, on the surface, might be mistaken as criminal. Things like picking locks, picking pockets and security hacking.
I wanted my business to specialize in hostage rescue, which would mean first breaking in in order to break out the hostage.
“Trade secret.” Mike handed me back the palmtop and inserted his key in the lock. He frowned when it wouldn’t turn, took it out and studied it, tried again. Still didn’t work. Only then did he turn to me. “Angel?”
I grinned and held up the real key ring I’d filched from him earlier. I twirled it around my finger. “Well, lookee at what I have here.”
Mike raised his eyebrows. “You made a duplicate set? Where did you find an identical key chain? I picked that thing up as a freebie months ago.” The leather tag had an embossed M for Mike.
“Trade secret,” I told him. In fact, I’d noticed that my friend Wendy’s key chain looked the same—she must have picked it up from the same freebie table—and traded her for it. Her embossed W looked enough like an upside-down M to fool a quick glance.
“You know, Angel,” Mike said in a dulcet tone that instantly made me suspicious. “Your palmtop did buzz a couple times while we were out running. Maybe you should check your messages.”
I groaned and shot him a look of disbelief. “You picked my pocket and found time to reset my password?”
Hacking a good password of random characters required time and an excellent password cracking program, but our instructor had emphasized that many people used ‘stupid’ passwords. Which could be guessed. So Mike and I had made a game out of cracking each other’s ‘good’ password and replacing it with a ‘stupid’ one.
Last week I’d cracked Mike’s palmtop and replaced his password with MIKELOVESANGEL. No doubt he’d replaced mine with something equally syrupy.
Mike used the real key to let us in to the apartment foyer. We tramped down the hall to our apartment. Once inside the door, he quickly punched in his security code, then we both lifted our faces for the camera to scan and ‘recognize’ us.
“Welcome home, Mistress Eastland and Master Vallant,” an upper-class British voice said.
Mike glared at me. “Master Vallant? Really?”
I snorted. When we’d moved in together, we’d upgraded the security on our new apartment. Included in the upgrade had been a House Manager. Although not a true A.I., the House computer was programmed with several different personalities.
“His name is Alfred, and he’s better than your last pick,” I told him.
Mike widened his eyes in exaggerated shock. “Are you saying you didn’t like Sheila?”
“She had the worst Australian accent I’ve ever heard. All those ‘G’day, mates’ were driving me up the wall.” I toed off my shoes, went past the half wall dividing the kitchen from the living room and flopped on the soft blue couch. I opened up my palmtop and tried ANGELLOVESMIKE.
“Alfred, your days are numbered.” Mike shook his fist at the speaker mounted on the wall.
“Today’s date is April third,” Alfred told him.
I laughed as Mike gnashed his teeth. Incorrect password. angellovesmike didn’t work either.
I kept trying while Mike rummaged around in the fridge. I typed in ANGELHEARTSMIKE. Incorrect.
“Master Vallant, you have three messages,” Alfred announced during the lull in conversation. His program must be reacting to our use of the keyword ‘messages’. The House computer system came with an answering service among other things. I had routed Residence, Business and Personal numbers to my palmtop, but Mike preferred to keep his palmtop clean of all but Personal messages—and he gave his Personal number out to almost no one. “Would you like to view them at this time?”
“Sure, Alfred. Knock yourself out.” Mike crunched into an apple.
What could be sappier than AngelheartsMike? Something to do with the wedding? But we hadn’t set a date yet.
I had it. I typed in MrsMikeVallant. As if. Mike knew perfectly well I was planning to keep my last name.
Yes! “I’m in!” I held up the palmtop to share my triumph with Mike.
He peered at the small screen. “You only have two messages. I guess I’m more popular than you,” he teased.
I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Please restate your last command,” Albert said stiffly. “Do you wish to view your messages at this time?”
Mike sighed. “Yes. Go ahead and play the messages.”
“Message one is voice only, no hologram,” Alfred announced.
“Mike?” A woman’s breathy, tear-clogged voice came over the speakers.
Mike spit out a bite of apple. “Skip!”
Bzzzpp. “Message skipped,” Alfred said, sounding prim. “Should I play message two?”
Instincts on alert, I paused my own messages and stared at Mike. Why the overreaction? His dimpled smile had firmed into a rock-hard jaw. His shoulders were so tense I expected them to twang like a guitar string any minute. “Who was that?” I asked.
“Nobody,” Mike said. He didn’t meet my eyes.
Frowning, I tried to place the voice. Female, but not girlish. Not Catherine. Not Wendy, Maryanne or Devon, both of whom were much more likely to call me anyhow. So who was it?
Whoever it was, she’d clearly upset him.