FEATURE: Aislinn Kearns

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Aislinn is an Australian Expat living in Qatar. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in English and History, which she loved, and then went on to do a Masters in an unrelated field. She now largely pretends that last degree never happened.

She is the author of the ‘Soldiering On’ books, a Romantic Suspense series. She enjoys reading, writing, travelling, watching action movies (particularly if they have a romance!) and fantasising about her future cottage in a forest. Now that she’s published, her next life dream is to own a dog.

Excerpt from Station Alpha

station-alpha

Paul switched the security feeds to those inside the apartment, wanting to make sure that Christine was safe and not too disheartened.

Seeing her standing in the middle of the room, staring at what looked like nothing, broke his heart. He dialled the landline in the room. She snapped out of her stupor and hurried to pick it up.

“Paul?” she asked, her voice small.

“Yeah,” he said gruffly. Christ, his protective instincts were flaring like crazy with her.

He heard her breathy sound of relief, and his yearning for her grew stronger. He knew that she was attached to him because he’d just saved her life. There was no way that he wanted to take advantage of that.

“What do I do now?” she asked, sounding a little stronger. She sat on the bed, facing the phone and giving him her back.

“You need to destroy your cellphone. If these guys are even a little bit competent, which I think they are, then they’ll trace the signal. If they haven’t already. I enabled a remote encryption when I called you, but it won’t stand up to thorough scrutiny by a good system.”

She nodded. She ripped off the back of her phone, pulled out the battery, and dropped both on the floor. Standing, the landline still at her ear, she stomped on both again and again with a surprising amount of force. The tiny remains of the device littered the floor.

“Done,” she said, and he realised that she didn’t know – couldn’t know – that he was watching her. He debated whether he should tell her; whether it would make her feel more violated or safer to know that he was monitoring her. But before he could decide, she spoke again.

“What do I do now?”

“You should try to get some sleep,” he told her.

She laughed, sounding surprised. “You think I could sleep after all that?”

“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. You need to rest. In case.”

There were so many ‘in case’ scenarios that immediately crowded his mind that he didn’t bother listing them. He just hoped that she’d get some sleep so he could call his boss and confess what he’d done. But he wanted her to feel safe and comfortable before he cut the line with her.

“I’m far too wired,” she told him.

“Maybe just get into bed, and you’ll relax.”

“Will you keep talking to me?”

He cleared his throat. “Yeah.” Jesus. She was going to give him some kind of hero complex.

She toed off her shoes and lay back in the bed, pulling the covers up to her chest. Paul was thankful most of that tempting skin was now covered.

“So, who were those guys?” she asked after a moment of silence. “You said that they wanted to take me, but why? I can’t stop thinking about it.”

He sighed. It wasn’t a topic that was likely to soothe her to sleep. But he knew that her mind would be unable to relax if she kept going over the problem.

“There are two reasons they might want you. One would be if you had some information they want to get out of you. The other would be for leverage.”

“Leverage?”

He kept his voice gentle. “If someone else had something they wanted. Someone that would do whatever these guys asked them to just to protect you. Someone that loves you.”

She was silent, pondering this, and his heart beat faster in his chest. Did she have someone? A boyfriend that he didn’t know about? Someone that would do anything to protect her?

After a long moment, she replied. “It’s not that option.”

“What makes you say that?” he asked, intrigued by the flatness in her voice.

“I don’t have any family. I was an only child and my parents died a long time ago. I have friends, but they all have far more important people in their lives than me. Spouses and children and families.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I’m not important to anyone.”

Paul’s heart ached. He knew exactly how that felt. He, too, had no family. He’d been in the military his entire adult life. His friends were all his military buddies, but after the last mission, he’d pushed most of them away. Couldn’t bear for them to see him.

Even his co-workers at Soldering On didn’t know much about him on a personal level. It was entirely of his own design, but some days he had regrets.

“I know what that’s like,” he murmured, surprising himself. The intimacy of the dark room and her voice in his ear were making him confess things he normally wouldn’t.

“You don’t have anyone, either?” she asked, voice soft.

“No,” he said shortly. “I spend all my days looking at these screens. Not really the best way to build relationships.”

“Maybe you should think about getting out more.” He could hear the slight smile in her voice.

“Maybe,” he said, smiling in turn. They both knew he was lying.

“So, if I’m not being used as leverage, it means they think I know something.”

“Yeah,” Paul said, getting back on track. “Something that they want or need to know.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, if it was simply that you had information that they didn’t want you to know, they’d just kill you. The only reason to take you would be to get that information out of you.”

She clutched the bedspread to her chest and cursed himself for his insensitivity. He hurried on. “It’s a good sign that they want to kidnap you. It gives you leverage in return. If you think about it, the power is in your hands.” That wasn’t strictly true, but he thought it might make her feel better. Apparently it did, because she loosened her hold on the covers.

“So, I guess the question is, what information do they think I have?”

Paul grunted his frustration. “That I don’t know. But it would be good to find out.”

She made a sound of agreement. “If we knew who they were, we’d have a better idea of what they want. And if we knew what they wanted, we’d have a better idea of who they are.” She was a smart one. Admiration surged within him.

“Yeah. As it is, we’re a little in the dark. Hopefully not for long.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Once you go to sleep, I’ll do some research. There must be some clue as to their identity.”

“Like what?” She sounded excited now.

“I’ll trace the license plates on the cars they were using. It might not lead anywhere, but you never know. If my boss is still talking to me once I tell him what I did, I should be able to get him to send a team down to your house to comb the area. They might have left something behind. But the biggest clue will be your new job.”

“What do you mean?”

“It seems a little coincidental that you started a new job, then we were hired to watch you, and then this happened, all in the space of two weeks.”

“You’re right,” she replied. “It must all be connected.”

“Yeah. We’ve just gotta figure out how.”

She sighed, a slight smile gracing her face. Paul thought that he could see her eyes drifting closed. “I trust you to figure it out,” she murmured, punctuated by a yawn.

His chest constricted. “I promise, I will. Even if I can’t understand why you’d trust me. I was surveilling you.”

“You’re like my guardian angel. Watching over me. Intervening when you needed to. I like that thought.”

When she put it like that, Paul felt slightly less creepy. But he realised that she still didn’t know he was watching her right then, tucked up in bed.

“In the interest of full disclosure, there’s a security camera in your room.”

“You’re watching me right now?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” She sighed. “That makes me feel a lot safer.”

Paul swallowed, the sound of her soft voice saying such things went straight to his groin. And his heart.

“I’ll protect you,” he whispered in return.

“I know,” she replied. The phone drooped, and he knew that she’d fallen asleep.

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