From WIP Undivided, a little intimate conversation – and not the heartwarming kind, either:
“I was good at what I did.” His voice was low, his tone almost dead. “Good at picking out the details. Good at working under cover. I made an attractive operative to the DEA because I have a . . . um . . . unique heritage that allows me to infiltrate groups in a lot of different countries without standing out. I learned to play on that. So we spent more time in the Middle East, four years in Afghanistan trying to stop the hemorrhage at the source by getting the opium. Our job was more along the lines of gathering intel, infiltrating and getting the information back to the units that would go in and do the damage. But things don’t always go according to the blueprint and sometimes you find you have to just get out—no matter what. And if someone gets in the way, you go through them. Eliminate the threat. It was all under cover, all very covert.”
He stopped, turned from the window and took a drink of cocoa.
“All very dangerous,” Anna added for him.
“And it was ugly, Anna,” Garrett lifted his eyes, in their depths a plea for her to understand. “The things I did, had to do, thought I had to do. . . it was. . .”
Her eyes left his face briefly as she began to take in what he wasn’t saying outright, then she drew a deep breath. “You’re telling me you’ve killed people.”
His sigh was heavy before he responded quietly, “Yes. A lot of people.”
She gently laid her hand on his arm. Garrett’s muscles tensed beneath her touch.
“You were a soldier,” she said calmly.
“Killing is killing,” he responded, his voice still carrying no emotion. “The possibility of killing someone is something you learn to live with. You accept it, and you do it.” He shrugged. “Or you die. It’s almost always them or you.”
He returned to looking out the window. The whining wind flung little pellets of ice at the glass, the sound harmonizing with the crackle of the fire to lighten the weight of the silence between them.
“Something went wrong,” she guessed, sensing his reluctance to continue.
He nodded. “You could say… At first it was little things going wrong on missions. Nothing so noticeable. But things that made it more difficult to mop up. People we expected to bring in weren’t where they were supposed to be. You chalk it up to bad luck, poor timing. And you don’t really pay attention to the misses at first.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “So it was nothing I noticed until the past few days when I started thinking about what happened, putting things together. We were on a mission. We had bad intel, walked my whole team into a trap. People who weren’t supposed to get killed are dead. John was killed. And someone made it back who was supposed to be dead.”
Anna’s jaw slackened and her eyes filled with tears as the horror of his story and the ramifications of it all sunk in. “You,” she whispered. “You weren’t supposed to make it back alive.”
He nodded solemnly. “What I don’t know, is why. I figured it out while I was in the hospital. I walked out and went home. When I saw someone had been in my apartment, I left. That was the day after Thanksgiving.”
“Isn’t there someone you can go to for help?”
“Anna, a handful of people at my level knew the specifics of that mission. We took orders but only a couple of us actually on the mission knew everything. Me and John. Someone else knew enough to turn the whole thing wrong.”
“This isn’t making sense. How did—” Then it dawned on her what he was saying. “Someone inside?”
Slowly, he nodded without saying a word.
“Are they looking for you?”
Again he nodded, his lips twisting into a bitter smile. “They’ll have to. I’m the loose end that needs to be tied up. If I hadn’t left, I would probably have suffered an accident, something unrelated to the job. But I did leave, so they know I’ve figured at least some of it out. Now, if they want me in, the best way to do it is put out an alert for me.”
“Make you the bad guy?”
Another nod. “Either the traitor or the sole survivor who lost it and went crazy when he got back,” Garrett mused out loud. He sipped his cocoa again, glanced at the cup in distaste and set it aside. “Either way, not much chance they’ll bring me in alive. It’s easy to stage an arrest resist. The plan—” He met her eyes directly. “My plan was to keep moving, stay one step ahead until I could heal up, figure things out, buy a little time.”
“But you stopped here instead,” she finished for him. “Why?”
She blinked twice, shook her head slowly, and silently mouthed the word, “Me. . .?”
His dark eyes glittered with a short burst of merriment. “I was intrigued by you when you walked into the deli. And when you arranged to run into me by the dock.”
Heat flooded her face and his lips pulled into a knowing smile.
“I began to think…since you knew the area, the people obviously knew you and liked you, being around you gave me an excuse to be here. People around here wouldn’t see just another drifter if we spent time together. The people looking for me won’t be looking for someone who’s part of a couple. It made a . . . good cover.”
Anna’s heart thumped against her lungs.She drank her cocoa for something to do but it had chilled. She raised her gaze to find Garrett watching her closely.
Okay. As emotional pain went, it was pretty sharp. But at least the Band-Aid was ripped off quickly. Before she got in too deeply. Except, she realized, she had been in too deeply with her heart from the minute she had recognized him in the parking lot and offered him a ride. Don’t ask, she ordered herself. He’s already given you the answer. If you ask, you’ll only look pathetic.
But she found she had to know. Setting her cup next to his, she straightened her back and met his even stare. “So . . . I’m just part of another cover?”
He averted his gaze, shook his head once, slowly, and seemed to be choosing his words with care. “At first, yeah.” His voice was low, raw with restrained emotion. He glanced up and met her eyes. “But somewhere in all of this, I stopped thinking in terms of a cover. I started seeing . . . started thinking about . . .you.”
With conscious effort, she stilled the quick little flutter in her heart as she sensed a bigger “but” in that statement, which, she decided, would be best if met head-on. “I think you should know that I like you. I like you a lot. And nothing you’ve told me here as changed the way I feel. I’ll do anything I can to help you.” She leaned back and tilted her head, waiting a beat as she watched for any sign of emotion in his guarded features. “Is that a problem for you?” she challenged.
Garrett sighed and once again seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “It . . . is a problem for me,” he admitted, speaking slowly.
She merely raised an eyebrow.
“I noticed you were well-known and well-liked. It was okay to think of you in terms of part of the cover because I didn’t know you. Back then, you were just another . . .” He shrugged, a pained expression crossing his face as he finished the statement, “. . .asset.”
Anna had seen enough spy movies and TV shows to know what that meant, and being referred to as an “asset” in an operation gave her a perverse flicker of amusement. Her lips curved and a chuckle escaped. Leaning forward, she asked, “Do I want to know what I am now?”
He didn’t flinch—quite. But he did say in a very blunt tone, “That’s where it gets complicated.”
Anna sat back, pretending to be reeling from his words. “Ouch!” When she realized her joking wasn’t going to lighten the tense mood, she considered his words more thoroughly and experienced a moment of enlightenment. This time she was staggered for real. “You think I’ll be a liability now.”
Garrett seemed relieved that the thought had been voiced. “I was going to say ‘distraction,'” he offered, and though he gave her one of his crooked smiles, his eyes remained filled with sadness and worry. In a slow, almost reluctant move, he reached out and clasped one of her slender hands in his larger one. Absently, his thumb moved back and forth over her knuckles in a gesture that had her mesmerized, watching it and feeling it as though the hand belonged to someone else. “Anna,” he began, hesitated for a heartbeat, then continued. “The ugliness, the danger. It’s glamorized, romanticized in the movies, even on the nightly news. But it’s real. It’s not fake blood, it’s not a director in the wings yelling ‘cut’ when the scene is over. You don’t get to do it all over if something’s not going right.”
Anna snatched her hand back and jabbed a finger into his chest. Hard. Her words came fast and hot. “You think I don’t know that? I’ve seen teenagers gunned down on the street by other teenagers. I’ve held he hands of the mothers whose children were hit by stray bullets. Tomorrow I’ll be attending the funeral of a girl who got high and jumped off the Severn River Bridge! We’re not that different, you and I! You’re just more well-traveled!” She blew out an angry breath. “And I don’t carry a gun,” she added softly, wondering now if that wasn’t something she’d have to change.
B’dee, b’dee, b’dee b’dat’s all folks! Happy Valentine’s Day and back to Tuesday’s Tales!
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