Heavy Artillery Husband (7 page)

BOOK: Heavy Artillery Husband
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The sooner the better
, she thought. Eddie had suggested a reporter for Sophia to contact if they wanted the media to start prodding Halloran's operation. It was time to get aggressive. Frank had been going at this quietly and under the radar for a while, but he had backup now, whether he wanted it or not. What she had in mind would keep Halloran's mind off Frankie.

Thinking of her daughter reminded her about the bridal links. She clicked on them, did a fast cruise through the pictures and sent Frankie a reply.

“Did you think of something else?” Frank asked.

“Not yet. I was responding to Frankie's links.”

Her husband paled visibly.

“Do you need to pull over? I can drive if you can't handle the idea of your baby getting married,” she offered.

“I trust you.” Frank seemed to have trouble swallowing. “I just—” He shook his head and clutched the wheel as a car cut him off.

Sophia stiffened, braced for another attack. None came, though she couldn't quite relax. Part of the problem was the tautness in every line of Frank's posture. “What is it?” She glanced around, twisting in her seat as she tried to identify the threat.

“Nothing.” He wasn't convincing. “It's the idea of Halloran getting a hold of Frankie. I believe you,” he said quickly. “I
.” He scrubbed at his jaw. “I just can't shake that image.”

“Aidan won't let anything happen to her. I believe he'd be enough even if she wasn't surrounded by bodyguards.”

“Yeah.” Frank followed the signs for the airport.

“I think our daughter has skills we could use here, but I won't involve her in this unless we agree. I promise we're only trading wedding ideas by text message. It's what we do now.” It still gave her a happy maternal thrill, but she was dealing with a dad who felt left out. Changing the subject, she asked, “What else did you learn from the guy who tailed you?”

Frank sighed. “He said Halloran hadn't intended to leave me in prison to serve out the treason charge.”

“You're kidding.”

“Not a bit. I guess Hellfire would've broken me out. Or that could've been the nice way of saying they would've killed me before I cracked.”

He shifted restlessly in the seat until he had his jacket off. The dark T-shirt emphasized his toned chest and arms, making her want to sigh.

“I made a lame offer to help him break free of Hellfire and he basically laughed in my face. Said if I was against Hellfire I was dead and he didn't want an outsider's help.”

“Do you think they've brainwashed him?” That would put a new spin on the situation.

“No. I think he's a dark ops wannabe hungry for a bigger slice of the pie.”

She didn't want to accept that Frank might be right about Hellfire being impossible to break. Every suit of armor had a weak spot. She just needed a bit of time to really take a look at Halloran's. She wouldn't accept failure here if for no other reason than to make sure Frankie and her father were reunited. “Where are we going?” she asked when he bypassed the airport and headed south.

“Alexandria. I changed my mind. I'd rather make the damned spies work for it if they want to retaliate. It's one of two rooms I booked earlier, just in case.”

She recognized that tone. He'd dug in his heels and would be nearly impossible to budge. “Lowry has a meeting at the Pentagon tomorrow.”

“How do you know that? Oh, never mind.” Frank rubbed his forehead. “You and Eddie planning to crash the meeting?”

She ignored that jab. “Alexandria is close enough.”

“For what?”

“Well, if I can find something strong enough to use against him in the next few hours, I thought we might enjoy ringside seats for the media circus.” She was thinking in particular of what Aidan could dig up. “His travel records for the past two years shouldn't be too hard to find and could give us some insight if we match them with dates and deposits. It's unlikely to be conclusive, but who knows what will break this case open?”

He didn't respond for a time and she chalked up his silence to traffic congestion and was lost in her own thoughts as they continued on to Alexandria.

“You and Eddie
planning something.” His voice sounded weary with emotion.

“Yes.” No sense denying it. She laced her fingers in her lap, determined to remain calm. “We're planning to clear your name and see the right people brought to justice.”

He dropped the argument, though the resistance was evident in the muscle twitching in his jaw.

“Halloran and his cronies owe you and all the people his crimes have affected,” she continued. “I want bad publicity and disgrace to be part of his restitution.”

“Because you were disgraced by me.”

“The treason verdict and subsequent suicide weren't career highlights,” she replied carefully. “It required a cautious walk over a bed of eggshells and nails to get Leo Solutions up and running. The company was the key to my future and Frankie's, too.”

“I know. Now you and the company are tied to this mess. I should've insisted you go home to Frankie, surround yourself with bodyguards and sit this out.”

“Once I knew you were alive, that was never going to happen. I'm not proud of the admission, but no one believed in you more than your daughter. I lost faith in you.”

“You were right to lose faith in me. I don't want to hurt her any more than I already have. If something happens to you...” His voice trailed off.

She understood everything he couldn't quite articulate. “Although it might not be easy, we have to stick this out—together—for Frankie.”

“She'll hate me for the lies and all the rest of it.”

“I think you're underestimating her.” Had he forgotten they'd raised their little girl to be a tough and determined woman who knew how to think for herself? “She'll forgive you in an instant.”

His mouth twisted into a frown. “Next you'll want me to get on a video call and apologize to her.”

“That's your business.” She'd intended to say more but went mute as he pulled into a hotel where they'd stayed after a holiday party when they were newlyweds. “Frank, you didn't?”

“I didn't use my real name. Though it's tough to see the point in hiding. Halloran's spies will pick us up soon enough.”

“Then why invite trouble to a place where we have such fond memories?” If this was an attempt to rekindle something, she didn't know how to feel about that. She thought of the kiss earlier. That had been her fault. Clearly the sizzling attraction between them hadn't completely faded. Still, after everything he'd had to do to survive and the choices she'd made as a widow, there was a new awkwardness she couldn't quite navigate.

“It's a hotel, Sophia. They had an opening and I booked it.”

She didn't believe that for a minute.

Chapter Six

Frank watched Sophia carefully, searching for any insight to what was going on behind those stunning eyes. Maybe this had been a bad idea, indulging in an opportunity to revisit the fond memories of a holiday nearly thirty years past, but he was only human.

Once they were in the room, Sophia was all business. She wasted no time setting up her computer and starting in on her research. Frank didn't much care how they got Lowry, as long as they did something to show Halloran they weren't going to stop.

While Sophia picked apart Lowry's life, Frank went back through his notes, trying to connect the Engle name to the Hellfire puzzle. The more he thought about it, the more he felt he should know that name. He just couldn't place it.

Taking a break, he stood up and stretched his legs, gazing around the luxurious room, wondering how his wife could be so unaffected by the memories assaulting him. She'd kissed him senseless earlier. Had it been for show, or was he a fool to think he'd felt a remnant of their old passion in her kiss? He understood the concept of her relegating him to the past in order to move forward. Broad concepts be damned, they were back together. They were in the same room for another night. Did she feel anything at all for him?

“Yes!” she cried, giving him a start. “Come take a look.” She waved him over. “I've got the travel records.” She gave him a sly look. “And I found some rather suggestive exchanges on his contractor email account.”

He skimmed the highlighted passages long enough to realize the woman being propositioned wasn't amused by the idea. “What an idiot.”

“For which we shall be grateful,” she said. “He doesn't need or care about the job. It's little more than a cover.”

Frank whistled at the implications. “Show me.” He followed along as she explained the business travel records. “Whoa.” Frank flipped open his notebook and they compared dates. “That lines up almost perfectly with the shipments I've tracked.”

Her smile brightened the whole room. Her laptop keys clicked in rapid-fire succession. “I'm drafting an email to the CID now.”

“Anonymous source?”

“Yes. It won't take much work to verify the facts we're providing. I'll copy Eddie, too.”

She was so proud of herself. Hell, he was proud right along with her. He'd been working for months to find an angle and hadn't made this much progress. Striding to the window, he peeked through the edge of the curtain. They'd been here for over two hours and he was sure Halloran had to have someone on them by now.

Frank systematically picked apart everything within his view from the window. He'd chosen this hotel and asked for a room on this side for the view of the Potomac, the memories of better days and the stronger defense options. The way this end of the block was laid out, the hotel was hemmed in by the river and a park. It gave Frank a modified box-canyon trap that would allow him to escape safely with Sophia should they need to get away quickly.

“Did you hear me?”

Her question cut through his search for any menace lurking outside. Trying to relax, he smiled as he turned back to her. “I was thinking about other details.”

Her dark brown gaze zeroed in on him. “You're expecting company?”

The intensity, her ability to see through any smoke screen was nearly more than he could bear. He shouldn't burden her with these overwhelming feelings right now. Survival first, and the rest would fall into place if it was meant to be or, rather, if she'd have him.

“No,” he replied. “We're fine. What were you saying?” He caught the smirk on Sophia's face. He knew that look. “What did you do?”

That smirk turned into a wide, lovely smile. “At Eddie's office today, I took advantage of a computer that couldn't be traced and put a few things in motion while we did our research.”

It made him wonder if the beatific smile was for him or her old friend. Didn't matter. Survival came first right now. “Not entrapment?”

“No. We agreed
of us would break the law.” Her emphasis served as a reminder to him, as well. He got the message loud and clear. “Although it's not entrapment, since we're not actually representing any branch of law enforcement.”

“You know what I mean.”

She grinned, unrepentant. “I sent copies of the sexual harassment article we found last night to the CEO of the defense contractor, a reporter Eddie recommended, as well as to a well-known feminist group. One of them is bound to follow up and make life difficult for him. Add in the travel records to places a little off the contractor's itinerary and I think we can call it a good day's work.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head. Assuming she was right, that would stir the pot for sure.

“What? It's public record. I thought you'd be happy. If we're lucky, he'll be under some kind of investigation by tomorrow morning.”

“Investigation is a lofty goal,” Frank said, amused by her high hopes. He wouldn't be unhappy if it happened that fast.

She flicked her fingers, dismissing his cynicism. “He'll be in the news, that's the point.”

“Halloran will be mad as hell.” He turned back to the window, thankful one of them was making progress. It wasn't a bad system, him guarding her while she systematically dismantled the people he identified. It wasn't a real life, but it felt good to be working as a team again.

He heard the desk chair squeak as she stood. Although the carpet muffled the sound of her footsteps, he felt her crossing the room to stand at his shoulder. Lilies and spices teased his nose.

“Were we followed?”

“I can't be sure yet. With his assets, it's more than likely Halloran will track us down by nightfall.” He felt the heat of her body all along his side as she leaned close to peer over his shoulder while dusk fell outside.

“Because we were together when you rented the car?”

“In his shoes, I'd track airport security cameras for your arrival, then follow along until you met up with me. It's the easiest way to catch us,” he said, deciding it was better to be honest about everything.

“If he has the access, that's the right approach.”

He glanced down at her, struck as he always was by how beautiful she was. In his opinion the crinkles of laugh lines at her eyes and the deeper lines in her forehead only made her lovelier. The face he'd fallen in love with, with more experience. Everything about her called to him, body, mind and soul. How had he screwed up their lives so badly?

Dropping the curtain, he turned fully, leaning against the windowsill to be closer to eye level. How many things he needed to say and couldn't. Not until he had a right to say them again. How badly he wanted to claim every benefit as her husband. Making a move right now would be disastrous. In the long run, moving too soon would be more disastrous than being framed for treason and forced to leave his family behind. If he confessed everything, asked forgiveness, and she walked away, he'd be broken beyond repair.

She cocked her head, studying him. “Should we go out on the town and party or hit the road and put hundreds of miles between where he thinks we are and where we're going?”

“No. We'll spend the night right here, within the safety of these walls.” He wasn't sure he was talking about the case anymore.

“Frank.” She folded her arms and rocked back on her heels.

“We'll keep at the research,” he said, defending his decision. “We need to figure out who Engle is.”

“Okay.” She continued to stare him down.

“Would it make you feel better if I said it was too soon to be bait?” When her lips quirked to the side in amusement, he was tempted to steal a kiss as he'd done so often in the past.

“That helps a little.” She sighed as she reached for the clip holding her hair up off her neck. “Research, it is. We're giving Lowry something to chew on, but it would be nice to take a swipe at the head honcho himself.”

He was mesmerized with the way the sable locks spilled to her shoulders as she massaged her scalp, then piled it all back up again. He cleared his throat. “If Halloran's not playing golf in Arizona, he's doing something with the product or the profit. It's definitely too soon to go after him directly.”

She rocked her head gently from side to side, stretching her neck, then frowned as a new thought hit her. “When was the last time you saw him in person?”

“Three months ago,” he replied. “I watched him play a round of golf on an ocean-view course in Norfolk, Virginia.”

Frank returned to his study of the area outside the hotel. Watching for Halloran's spies was far easier than watching her for signs that she might want to renew their relationship. She probably didn't want to waste any more romantic energy on him after what he'd put her through.

At least he'd booked a room with two beds tonight. No need for a debate as to who would sleep where this time around.

* * *

Sophia said quietly, not wanting to interfere with the quiet Frank seemed to need.

At the table, she toed off her shoes and drew up her legs, sitting cross-legged on the chair, the skirt of her dress pulled over her knees. She was suddenly cold and weary from one adrenaline rush after another for the better part of the past twenty-four hours. It didn't help that sleep had been sketchy at best last night.

It was difficult to focus on her search for Kelly Halloran when she kept staring at her husband as if she were sixteen again and hopelessly daydreaming about the hunky quarterback of the high school football team. She closed her laptop and picked up her phone, finishing that text she'd started for Aidan. Odds were low Hellfire specifically was on the radar in Europe even though drug trafficking and money laundering were global problems.

Restless, she checked her email, finally pinpointing the real trouble when her stomach rumbled. “We need to eat.” She trusted Frank's instincts about lying low tonight. “Why don't I order room service?”

“Go ahead.” He walked away from the window and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I'm not hungry.”

She'd heard that before and learned the hard way. Frank would forget about food while his mind worked on a problem; then he'd be famished at the first whiff of a savory scent. Regardless of his appetite, he needed to fuel up. She ordered with great care, being sure to bring in enough food and avoiding anything reminiscent of their stay here nearly thirty years ago. That had been champagne and a decadent snack after a fun night of holiday schmoozing with friends. It felt as though all those years flashed by in a blink. One minute they'd exchanged vows as newlyweds and the next they were moving their only child out of college.

She'd realized months ago that part of her would always love Frank. No matter how their marriage had ended, the lies before and after, it was clear her heart had never stopped loving him. While it would be nice to revisit the good times with her best friend, she kept her thoughts to herself. She wouldn't risk the heartache for either of them by cruising down memory lane only to wind up at the abrupt, unexpected ending when he faked his death.

Room service knocked on the door just as she started to ask Frank where he'd spent those first nights out of prison. With Torres, probably. What about after that? She wanted to know if he'd been grieving the loss as much as she and Frankie had.

She yanked her thoughts away from that crumbling edge of insanity. It wasn't her business. It didn't even matter. He was alive and they would all deal with the effects of that in good time. Frankie should know her dad was alive and well, but Sophia couldn't begin to explain it all by text. As confident as she was about their daughter's reaction to the news, she had to respect Frank's reluctance.

Truly, they both had too much to deal with already.

When Frank was out of sight, she opened the door. After the food was set up and the waiter gone, Frank emerged and they sat down to thick, hot roast beef and turkey sandwiches, a bowl of mixed salad greens and crispy homemade potato chips served with a tangy barbecue sauce for dipping.

He devoured the food as if he hadn't eaten in a week. Sophia managed to hide her smile behind her sandwich. Watching him demolish bite after bite, pausing occasionally for a long drink of iced tea, seemed to make the years and stress fall away. She felt warm all over remembering some of their more memorable meals. Cooking had always been a fun adventure for both of them.

“You know what surprised me the most about playing dead?” Frank twirled a chip in the bowl of tangy sauce between them.

Sophia set aside her fork, still loaded with a bite of salad, as a wave of uncertainty rolled through her belly. She wasn't sure she wanted to do this. Not when the food had been so comforting a moment earlier. “What's that?”

“How much I missed that little iron table set.”

Her jaw dropped. He couldn't be serious. Did he know she had it on her front porch now? “You gave me all kinds of grief when I bought it.”

“It was clunky and heavy.” He popped another chip into his mouth. “I was thinking of the freight when we had to relocate.”

“You were thinking of your back,” she said, teasing him as he teased her. “I never made you move it once we decided where it would be in each place.”

“And I'm thankful for that,” he said with a wistful smile.

Her breath caught and her heart twisted a little in her chest, as if it was possible to dodge the sharp blades of pain for what they'd both lost. “We shared a lot over that table.” They'd picked it up when Frankie was about three and it had served them well in every home after.

“Even when I was deployed or traveling, I missed that table.”

“You never said a word about it.”

BOOK: Heavy Artillery Husband
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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