Once in a Lifetime
Once in a Lifetime
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Samantha Jones works at Fletcher Security. She develops state-of-the-art surveillance drones, hacks computer networks, and makes life difficult for anyone on the wrong side of the law.
When she's asked to help Caleb Andrews complete a top-secret project, her IT skills aren't the only thing that will be tested to the limit. Someone wants the program Caleb has created—and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.
Chapter One Look Inside
Chapter One Look Inside
Sam looked up from her desk and smiled. “That’s me.”
The man standing in her doorway didn’t seem impressed by her friendly welcome. She’d met FBI Special Agent William Parker a couple of times, and at each meeting he was just as formal.
Stepping into her office, he handed her a brown folder. “I have the data you requested on Operation Zeus. The information’s confidential and can’t leave this office.”
“I understand.” Sometimes she felt like banging her head against a brick wall. As Technical Development Manager at Fletcher Security, she saw top-secret government reports and military schematics of state-of-the-art weapons all the time. A report describing the security system at a US embassy in Moscow wouldn’t turn her into a Russian spy.
“Did you enjoy the brownies I sent to your office?”
Maybe not. “I sent a box of chocolate brownies to your field office on Monday. They were to thank your staff for their help with the Munroe case.”
“That wasn’t necessary, but I’m sure my agents appreciated the gesture. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No. I’m happy with the file. I’ll call once I’m ready to share my recommendations.”
Special Agent Parker nodded. “You know where to find me.”
Sam sent him a warm smile. What she got in return was a suspicious stare.
Before she managed to open the folder, her cell phone rang. She half-expected to see her mom’s number on the caller display. She’d already missed her dad’s birthday because of a project she was working on. If Sam couldn’t go to her sister’s wedding, she’d be disowned.
Thankfully, the call was from her boss, John Fletcher.
“Can you come and see me?” he asked.
“Sure. I’m on my way.” Sam was used to his off-the-cuff meetings. John managed one of the largest high-profile security companies in America. As well as personal protection, they developed and sold some of the most advanced security options on the planet. And she was in charge of the team of technicians, physicists, mathematicians, and computer specialists who re-imagined the impossible-to-create products no one had seen before.
Before closing the door, she grabbed a couple of files she wanted to discuss with her boss.
Her personal assistant handed her a piece of paper. “Your mom called. I told her you were in a meeting.”
Sam sighed. “Thanks. I owe you.”
Hailey smiled. “My thoughtfulness can be repaid with a double-strength cappuccino.”
“Done. If Mom calls again, tell her I’ll see her tonight. I’m going to see John.”
“Okay. Do you want me to reschedule your two o’clock appointment?”
Sam glanced at her watch. Living in Bozeman had definite advantages—especially when it came to the almost non-existent rush hour traffic. “I should be all right. I’ll text you if it looks as though I’ll be late.”
After checking she had everything she needed, she headed toward the stairs. As long as John didn’t have another project for her team, she would be happy.
* * *
Sam knocked on John’s office door. “Is it okay if I come in?”
He looked up from behind his huge mahogany desk. “Of course, it is. Thanks for coming to see me on such short notice. Have a seat.”
If Sam had to describe her boss in one word, it would be “kind”. He genuinely cared about the people he employed and did his best to make sure everyone enjoyed their work.
She sat in one of the chairs opposite his desk. “How can I help you?”
“I have a new project I think you’ll be interested in.”
Sam’s heart sank. Her team was already working at full capacity. If John wanted them to take on another project, something else would have to be put on hold.
“Have you heard of Caleb Andrews?”
She shook her head. “His name isn’t familiar. What does he do?”
“He’s an IT consultant. Until a year ago he was working in Washington, D.C. When his contract finished, he returned to Montana. He has an issue with a program he’s developing.”
“And you want my team to look at what he’s done?”
“I want you to look at what he’s done. Do you have the time?”
The main project she was working on was at a critical stage. If she left it to help a new client, she wouldn’t meet her tight time frame. “Could another person in my team help him?”
“Caleb’s working on a project that involves electromagnetic disturbance. You’ve worked with the Department of Defense on the Alton satellite project.”
This time, Sam’s response was more cautious. No one except high-ranking military and government officials knew about her involvement. “That was before I started working here. The Alton project was classified.”
“I don’t know exactly what you were doing, but it sounds similar to Caleb’s project. No one else in your team has the technical or practical experience to help him.”
John didn’t often ask her to drop everything to assist another client. And when he did, you could guarantee there was a good reason.
Even so, she was still concerned. “EMP is a highly specialized field. Most IT consultants are more focused on general network and program issues.”
“Caleb isn’t your run-of-the-mill IT consultant.”
John’s steady gaze told her more about his client than words could have.
Sam worked in an industry that was full of specialists who never talked about their work. Their area of expertise could be so focused it was hard to find anyone who could help them.
“I could ask someone in my team to work on Operation Zeus. Will Mr. Andrews come here or will I meet him somewhere else?”
“At this stage, it’s better if you go to him. He’s living close to a town called Sapphire Bay. It’s on the shore of Flathead Lake. I’ll email you his contact information.”
“When do you want me to start?”
That left two-and-a-half days to bring someone on her team up to speed with her other projects. It wasn’t impossible, but both of them would be working through the weekend.
Sam looked at the folders. “I’m assuming Mr. Andrews’ project takes precedence over the other work I’m involved with?”
John nodded. “If there’s anything that can’t wait a week or two, let me know.”
“I should be able to reallocate most of my work.”
“Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your help.”
Sam stood and shook John’s hand. “You wouldn’t have asked if it wasn’t important.” As she left his office, she checked the time. She had fifteen minutes to drive across town and talk to a professor about cellular regeneration. If there was one thing she could say about her job—it was never boring.
* * *
Caleb wasn’t sure when his life had become so complicated. He’d always been an over-achiever but, even for him, this was ridiculous.
He studied his friend’s big, black German Shepherd. “What do you think, Sherlock?”
A deep-bellied sigh filled the office.
Sherlock was as impressed as he was with the progress of his latest project.
Scratch that, Caleb thought. Lack of progress would be a better way of describing it. With his fingers tapping on the desk, he tried to figure out what was wrong with the computer program. He’d already gone through each line of code, triple checking the text for errors. Everything made perfect sense, but his program still wasn’t working.
By six o’clock, he gave up. His friend, Gabe should be arriving soon. He had driven to Polson to sample wedding cake flavors and look at menu options. It wasn’t Caleb’s idea of fun, but that’s what happened when you were getting married.
A beam of light swung across his office walls.
Sherlock sat to attention.
“Your dad has arrived. Let’s go see him.” He smiled as Sherlock bolted out of the office. If he ever decided to get a dog, he’d find one like Sherlock. He was intelligent, happy, and loyal—everything Caleb needed when he lived alone in the middle of a forest.
Sherlock patted the front door with his paw.
After peering through the glass side-panel, Caleb flicked open the lock. Gabe was climbing up the veranda stairs. For a man who had been surrounded by wedding options all afternoon, he didn’t look too stressed.
Gabe smiled when he saw Sherlock. “Hey, boy. Have you been good?”
Sherlock bounded across the veranda, his tail swishing backward and forward like an out-of-control rotor blade.
“I guess that means you missed me.” Gabe gave his dog’s back a brisk rub and looked at Caleb. “Was he okay?”
“Apart from chasing a squirrel, he was the perfect canine companion. Did you organize the cake and food?”
“We’ve narrowed our options down to either vanilla cream or chocolate fudge cake. Dinner’s still a work in progress.”
Caleb held open the door. “Do you have time for coffee?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” Gabe walked through to the kitchen. “I thought deciding to get married was hard. Planning a wedding is worse.”
It didn’t seem that long ago that Gabe and his fiancée, Natalie, had stayed here. With a stalker on the loose and Natalie’s cottage broken into, Caleb’s home had been the perfect hideaway.
“You could always elope,” Caleb suggested.
“Natalie’s mom wouldn’t speak to me if we did that.” Gabe opened a cupboard and took out two cups. “It’s not so bad. Once we’ve settled on a menu, we need to find a florist. After that, all we have to do is wait for the wedding. Did you fix the problem you’re having?”
Caleb poured coffee into their cups. “Nope. But I took your advice and called Fletcher Security. The owner, John Fletcher, is sending someone from his technical team to help me.”
“Can they be trusted?”
“The person he’s sending has already worked on a lot of classified projects, so I’m not worried about him seeing what I’ve done.”
“When does he arrive?”
Gabe sipped his coffee. “What’s your time frame looking like?”
“The next phase of testing begins in eight weeks. Once I’m over this glitch, I’ll have to work fast to get everything ready.” Thinking about the million and one things that needed to happen was keeping him awake at night.
“What if you can’t make the deadline?”
Caleb sighed. “Then the whole project’s put on hold.” He took a container of cookies out of his pantry. “If that happens, we’ll miss our window in the testing facility. The next available slot is six months away.”
“Whatever you’re doing must be important.”
“It is.” Caleb couldn’t tell Gabe specific details about the project, but that didn’t mean his friend was oblivious to what was happening. He’d seen the long hours Caleb worked and knew how important it was to fix the program. What Gabe didn’t know was that the project was part of a much larger Department of Defense program.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Not unless you can change the weather. I’m hoping we don’t get the storm that’s supposed to hit. I need Sam’s help. If the main road closes, he won’t get through.”
Gabe helped himself to a cookie. “Fall in Montana can be unpredictable. If it does snow, you might have to use your snowplow again.”
In spite of his stress levels, Caleb smiled. “Don’t remind me. I must be the only person who’s had their plow towed out of a ditch.”
“You were lucky you didn’t go over the bank.”
Caleb picked up his coffee. The same thought plagued him each time he drove along the narrow, winding road. Being miles from the nearest town had its advantages, but it also meant you had to be more self-sufficient—and not do stupid things like drive off the edge of the road.
“I learned my lesson.”
“I hope so. If it does snow, you’ll be on your own for a few days.”
“Not if I can help it.” Caleb needed Sam to help find the bug in his program. If that meant hiring a helicopter and flying him here, then that’s what he’d do.
The security of the country could depend on it.
Fans of Netflix's Virgin River series will love this small-town, feel-good romance!
Samantha works at Fletcher Security. She develops state-of-the-art surveillance drones, hacks computer networks, and makes life difficult for anyone on the wrong side of the law.
When she's asked to help Caleb complete a top-secret project, her IT skills aren't the only thing that will be tested to the limit. Someone wants the program he's created—and they’ll stop at nothing to get it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “This series is outstanding! I can't wait for the next book!”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "This sweet romance melted my heart. Can't wait for more from this author!"
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "In a world full of complicated stories, this simple romance was a breath of fresh air."