Savage Bytes by Sarah Mäkelä

Savage Bytes by Sarah Mäkelä

Savage Bytes
Hacked Investigations, Book 2
by Sarah Mäkelä

Changeling Press

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60521-669-0

Private investigator Hannah Franklin has a new partner, her sizzling hot lover and technomage, Ian Bradley. But they may be in over their heads when brought in by their friend from the hospital to quietly solve a case that baffles even the police. The victims are being drained of blood and having their organs removed in a ritualistic fashion.

When Ian’s attention narrows to solely encompass their work, he’ll need to keep their relationship strong, or he could find himself repeating a painful past.

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Chapter One

Hannah Franklin froze in the doorway of Ian Bradley’s weight room. Ian lay shirtless on the bench as he pressed the bar into the air over his muscular chest. With each rep he did, the muscles in his chest rippled deliciously. She licked her suddenly dry lips and cleared her throat.
His gaze caught hers, and he smiled. He rested the weight on the stand. “Hey, is everything okay?” He sat up and wiped his palms on his khaki cargo shorts.
“Yeah, we just received a call about a new case.” She still found it hard to believe how many people had wanted to hire them after going against MAX Home Security. Sometimes, they actually had to turn people away. What a feeling.
Ian raised an eyebrow at her. “Tell me more. What is it about?”
“It’s Leon. He wants to meet with us at St. Gregory’s hospital in a little over an hour. He seemed pretty stressed.” She leaned her shoulder against the doorframe, and a frown tugged at the corners of her lips.
Ian stood and then crossed the room to her. His hands cradled her neck, and he pulled her in for a warm kiss. His lips brushed hers, and she opened her mouth to him, allowing his tongue to stroke hers and fan the burning flames within her body.
Hannah gently pushed away after a moment. “I said we would be on our way.” She raked her gaze over his firm, sweat-slick torso. “Besides, I think you need a break from working out.”
Ian grinned and reached for his white towel. “I’ll go hop in the shower real quick.” He wiped off his face and hung the towel around his shoulders as he sauntered away.
Hannah’s life had been a roller coaster after reuniting with Ian, her once ex-boyfriend. Now he was her partner in their private investigation company, Hacked Investigations, which specialized in technology-related crimes. The clientele so far had kept them busy, with common requests that involved backtracking various network intrusions to their point of origin and leaving the rest to the customers. Others required mundane tasks such as verifying the authenticity of gray-market implants and other upgrades not sold in broad daylight.
Up until recently, they’d been financially stable. The last two weeks had been slower, and their bills this month were a lot higher than expected. It didn’t help that the silly gnome was as ravenous as ever.
She sighed and returned to Ian’s small home office to retrieve her jacket. The weather outside was fine, but it could change so quickly, especially this time of year.
“Hey, if you’re going out anyway, bring me back a bag of those chocolates I like! We can’t all live on coffee, pasta, and CONDOMS, you know?” An obnoxious voice came from the kitchen before she had an opportunity to see the loud-mouthed gnome it belonged to.
“Nice to see you too, Bernard. Finished with the garden so soon?” Hannah forced a smile. “We’re heading out to interview a client. Leon called, and we’re going to see if we can help him,” she said.
Bernard wore classic lederhosen and had a maniacal grin on his face. “Well, the garden can take care of itself for a while. So, why are you heading out to see that flamboyant rainbow-licking nurse? Unless, of course, he wants to trade make-up tips,” Bernard said. A devious glint lit his eyes.
Hannah sighed. She could only take so much from the gnome today. Ignoring the other foul comments, she shrugged into her jacket and walked by him. Water sounded from the shower behind the bathroom door. She’d love to join Ian, but they’d be going nowhere fast if she did.
Instead, she sat in Ian’s favorite recliner. A quick glance proved the gnome had vanished, giving her a moment’s peace.
During their struggle against MAX Home Security, Leon had played a crucial role in getting past security guards and helping them talk with Senator Kendall, who cleared their names after the police had suspected them of attacking the senator. Leon lost his boyfriend, Rich Granger, due to MAX’s overeager employee termination program, and he’d been more than willing to help them take MAX Home Security down.
The lack of background noise alerted her to the fact Ian was done in the shower and would be ready to go soon. She glanced in the mirror to reassure herself that she looked professional enough, and then she crossed the room to her safety box for her gun and a clip of ammo. The streets were more dangerous than ever now that MAX Home Security had restrictions placed on them by the legal system. Despite their corruption, MAX held low-level criminals under better control than what the police were capable of.
Ian entered the doorway, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt that revealed enough of his build to make her gaze linger over his toned body.
“Shall we?” He retrieved his keys from a basket near the door.
* * *
When Ian and Hannah finally reached St. Gregory’s hospital, they sat in the waiting room for Leon. Ian read the newspaper, focusing on the technical and weather sections. The paper didn’t tell him much he hadn’t already learned online.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Hannah, beautiful as ever, drinking from a water bottle and trying not to fidget too much in her seat.
“Leon should be here any moment,” Ian said and returned his gaze to the paper.
“I just don’t like waiting, especially in these uncomfortable plastic chairs.” Hannah started to say something else, but a pair of double doors opened to reveal Leon heading their way.
Ian set the paper aside and rose to meet their friend. He held out his hand to Leon as the other man came closer. They shook, and then Hannah shook hands with Leon.
“I’m glad you two could come on such short notice. The hospital needs your help.” Leon ran his hands through his short, dark hair. A few other people seated in the waiting room turned toward them at the sound of their voices. The conversation was probably more interesting than the old magazines they held in their hands.
“Is there somewhere more private we can discuss this?” Ian asked, glancing back at Leon.
“Sure, sure…” Leon eyed the nosy people sitting in the waiting room pointedly. They averted their gazes, but he waved to Ian and Hannah. “Follow me. There’s a break room around the corner that’s rarely used. They keep the place as cold as a freezer.” He grimaced and shook his head.
They walked into the break room, and Leon shut the door behind them. They sat at one of the round tables. He hadn’t been kidding. It was downright frigid in here. Leon rubbed his hands up and down his arms.
“They probably do this so no one will want to take a break,” Hannah chimed in and looked around as if taking in her surroundings.
“So what’s the problem?” Ian laced his fingers together over his stomach and leaned back in the plastic chair.
“St. Gregory’s received a mutilated body recently that was supposed to have a bio-organ. Due to sensitivity issues, the public shouldn’t know about this, so the hospital needs someone to look over it unofficially and find out who took it.” Leon let out a breath before continuing. “This isn’t the only body to have that kind of issue, either. The hospital is losing money, and the higher-ups know my connection with you guys. I guess they thought you’d be more receptive to me asking.”
Ian grimaced. Something about this case screamed at him to walk away, but he didn’t want to leave Leon hanging since he’d helped them previously. It’d feel like letting him down if they walked without even checking into it. Besides, Leon wasn’t asking them to find the actual organ. They were just snooping around a little to see what they could figure out. That was all.
He glanced at Hannah to see her scribbling notes on her e-ink pad. She always came prepared when they interviewed clients.
“When did this start happening?” she asked, her voice focused and professional as usual. She glanced up at Leon and made eye contact before looking Ian’s way.
Leon rested his chin on his fists, his elbows propped on the table. “I’m not exactly sure. My best guess? About three weeks ago.” He shrugged his broad shoulders.
“And they’re only now working to get this solved?” Ian asked.
“Hey, I’m not part of that. I just got told today.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I’m stunned they’re involving me at all, to be honest.”
Ian nodded. It surprised him a little as well. Something seemed a little fishy with this, but he wouldn’t let that cloud his thoughts when it came down to a potential case. He needed to stay the consummate professional, especially if they were to work for the hospital. “We need to think about this, but we’ll give you our rates to pass on to your superiors.”
Hannah glanced at him and cocked her head to the side subtly. Confusion hid just behind her eyes. “Yes, Ian’s right.” She drew a business card from her pocket and wrote their rate on the back. She slid it across the table to him.
Leon’s gaze flicked down to it, and he didn’t even flinch, like most of their new clients. Although, with the kind of house Leon lived in, Ian wasn’t surprised. “Thanks. I’ll pass them on and tell them if they have more questions, they should get in touch with you two personally. I hate feeling like a middleman. Not that I’d mind that sort of thing.” A grin split his face, and he winked at Ian.
Okay, a little more than Ian wanted to know. He smiled back and rested his hand on Hannah’s shoulder, feeling a little better at the physical contact with her. Leon didn’t bother him though. He could tell the man was lonely after his lover’s death a month ago.
Leon rubbed his hands up and down his arms again. “Okay, thanks for coming by. I appreciate it. I’m sure they’ll get in contact with you soon.” He stood and pushed in his chair.
“It’s no problem. Thanks for bringing us in on this.” Hannah patted Leon on the shoulder.
“By the way, the bodies belonged to the same group of trial patients. They weren’t here long after their surgeries, but long enough to recover. The bodies were mutilated from what I could see. When they first brought them over, I took them to the examination rooms, but it was hush-hush. I didn’t see much,” Leon said and lingered near the door before glancing back at them.
“What is it, Leon?” Hannah asked.
“You know, I’ve been trying to move on from the whole MAX Home Security situation, but they’ve been on my mind lately. How is the case against them going? I know I could watch the news, but it’s painful. You know?” Leon crossed his arms over his chest and lowered his gaze.
“Their defense is good. So far, they’ve brought doubt to most of the critical accusations. The best trump card they’ve used has been the plausible deniability,” Hannah said.
Leon raised his face. He wore a blank expression.
“Basically,” she continued, “the upper management and the executives have said they weren’t aware of the bad apples working for them, and they are as horrified as the rest of us.”
Leon grimaced. “Typical. Drop a few nice words here and there, and they’ll probably get away with a slap on the wrist.” His shoulders slumped forward, and he pushed the door open.
They all headed back to the waiting room, which was a much more manageable temperature even if the growing amount of people made the room almost too warm. A tall man in the corner stood suddenly and started coughing, and Ian noticed blood trailing along the guy’s chin.
Leon’s attention shifted to the man too. “Ah crap. I need to deal with this. ‘Bye, guys.” He reached into his pockets for gloves and a mask as his stride ate the distance between them and the patient. He’d put them on before he reached the coughing man.
Ian nudged Hannah toward the main entrance of St. Gregory’s. “Missing organs,” Ian said. “What do you think? I’m a little hesitant, especially with the strangeness of Leon’s upper management. Why wouldn’t they come to us directly? Why have him be the go-between?”
“Maybe they’re nervous about this getting out to the press.”
“More like bringing in people who have little or no connections. Sounds like they suspect one of their own might be involved. You’d need good medical knowledge to handle this new breed of artificial organs. They not only need care and attention like normal organs, but they also must hook up to specialized small computers for maintenance. Besides, you’d need a surgeon to connect or remove the proper nerve pathways to keep the organ from becoming ruined.” Ian ran his hand over his head and glanced around the hospital’s lobby. “Sure, black market doctors and butchers can be pretty good, but unless they want product that will eventually fail, they need someone with a really steady hand and a proper lab.”
Hannah grinned. “Suspect everyone, huh? Would you like a lunch with a side of paranoia while we wait for their decision?”
Nodding, he slid his hand into hers and walked toward the exit. A surprised sound from Leon made them turn. The man he’d been helping dropped to the floor and began convulsing.
Gripping Hannah’s hand tighter, Ian strode toward the exit and the fresh air outside.

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