Authors: R.W. Shannon
“It’s the only thing I’ve thought about since I met her.”
“I believe you. I’ll see you on Saturday.”
“Wait. Brook, can you do me a favor?”
“I’ve got a new neighbor. Jesse Allen. Can you check her out?”
“Of course. I’ll get on it right now.”
When Brooklyn disconnected the call, he did the same. He sat his phone on the dresser, then ran his hands through his hair. What was Ian doing? If he was in the area, Blake was almost certain the former agent knew where he was. While it was good because it meant a showdown was eminent, the timing sucked. What was he going to do about Analeigh while he chased down the man who had killed his fiancée? Blake moved to the bed and sat down.
“Are you okay?”
Blake looked up. He had been so lost in thought he hadn’t heard Analeigh enter the room. She was standing in front of him dressed in a tank top and shorts. Her concern for him was evident in her eyes and he tried to mask his true feelings with a smile.
“I’m fine,” he said.
“You don’t look like it. Do you have to go away?”
She touched his shoulder. “You mean I have you all to myself?”
He smirked. “Think you can handle it?”
She bent down and kissed his forehead. “I can handle anything you throw at me. I’ll go warm up the food.”
“Okay.” Blake watched her turn form him and moved toward the bedroom door. He stopped her by calling her name. When she turned around, he said the words he’d been feeling but never dared say out loud. “I love you.”
A look of surprise flashed in her eyes. Her bottom lip quivered. “I love you too.”
Analeigh left the room. Blake lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. His heart, his thoughts raced a million miles a minute. Was there a way to have some type of resolution where he could go after Ian and make it out alive? Or one where Analeigh wouldn’t be harmed? He didn’t think so.
On Saturday night, Analeigh studied her reflection in the bathroom mirror of Blake’s condo. Blake had convinced her to have the dinner party at his place instead of hers. While that was fine with her, she was amazed that he had still wanted to go through with it. For the last few days, he’d been sullen and withdrawn. Her attempts to get him to open up were met with silence and him changing the subject by making love to her. And saying no to that was impossible. Analeigh’s smoothed her black maxi dress over her hips, then slid her feet into a pair of low-heeled sandals. His friends should be here at any minute.
Although this was her idea, she was nervous about meeting them. What if they didn’t like her? Blake told her that they had known his fiancée, Sarah. While her death happened years ago, Analeigh worried that Blake was some time still in mourning, and that could explain some of his strange behavior. As she brushed her dark hair, Blake circled his arms around her waist and kissed the back of her neck. He had wanted to wear sweats, but she convinced him to wear a green polo shirt that matched his eyes and a pair of khaki pants.
“It smells amazing in here,” he said.
“I love the smell of fresh bread,” she said with a deep inhale. Analeigh had decided to bake a loaf of crusty bread to go along with the paella. The scent of it baking filled the condo.
“I wasn’t talking about dinner.”
Analeigh laughed and swatted his arm. “Tell me about your friends.”
“Nothing to tell. I’ve known them for years now. They’re not bad people.”
“What does Duncan do? You said he’s your business partner?”
“That’s right. He does the same thing as me.”
“Pretend to be a lawyer?”
Blake chuckled but didn’t comment. Analeigh fell silent for a few moments then said, “We never finished our conversation from the other day.”
“Yes. I got distracted.”
“What were you going to tell me?”
He lifted his head. In the mirror, she watched his face. She could see that he was trying to decide what to tell her, if anything. But before he could answer, the doorbell rang. Blake didn’t move. Instead, he pulled her closer to him.
“Shouldn’t you let them in?” Analeigh asked, though she didn’t want him to take the warmth of his body away.
“Do I have to?”
With a sigh, he left to answer the door. Analeigh gave her appearance a final once-over, then went to the living room. The man she guessed to be Duncan stood in the center of the room. He was about Blake’s height and build, with tanned skin and shoulder-length brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. Duncan was dressed in a black button-down shirt and jeans. The woman next to him had smooth chocolate skin and long black hair. She was considerably shorter than Duncan and Blake, and dressed in a green strapless dress. She watched the woman give Blake a tan envelope and frowned. What was that? Hearing her approach, the trio looked in her direction.
“Analeigh,” Blake said, tucking the envelope under his arm. “This is Duncan Archer and Brooklyn Stewart.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you both,” Analeigh said.
Duncan extended his hand for her to shake. “The pleasure is all mine,” he said. “I must say, you’re just as beautiful as he’d described.”
His accent was rhythmic. Analeigh smiled but noticed that both Blake and Brooklyn shot him a look.
“Blake didn’t tell me that you’re an Aussie,” Analeigh commented. “But then, he hasn’t told me anything about you.”
“I’m not surprised,” Duncan said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Blake is a mystery wrapped in a secret.”
Blake smirked. “And your ass is about to be wrapped around my foot.”
“Gentlemen,” Brooklyn scolded. She turned to Analeigh and pulled her in for a hug. “Forgive their lack of home training. I am so thrilled to meet you.”
Analeigh’s eyes widened. That voice! It was the same one that was on the voice mail for Blake’s business. Was Brooklyn mixed up in all of this too? If so, how? She leaned away and took a step back from Brooklyn. There was something about Brooklyn that was familiar to her, but she couldn’t place where she’d seen her.
“I almost forgot,” Brooklyn said while reaching into her tote bag. She yanked out a bottle of white wine and handed it to Analeigh.
She took the offering and glanced at the label, but her mind was still in a state of shock from recognizing Brooklyn’s voice. “Thank you.”
“No. Thank you,” Brooklyn said. “I don’t get to do this very often. You don’t know how grateful I am.”
Duncan bristled. He crossed his arms over his chest and sent a steely glance in her direction. “Wow. You act like you don’t get out much.”
She turned to him. “I don’t. I’m usually busy with work.”
“Then maybe you should make room in your schedule so that I—I mean, someone can date you.”
Brooklyn was visibly taken aback by his comment. She parted her lips to speak but nothing came out. Analeigh watched the exchange and wondered what was going on between them. She looked at Blake, who appeared very amused.
“Should we leave?” Blake asked.
“No,” Brooklyn replied while swiping at a loose hair that had fallen across her forehead. “Everything is fine.”
“So you say,” Duncan muttered.
Analeigh cleared her throat. “Please make yourself at home. Blake, can you open this while I get everything ready?”
“Sure,” he said, taking the bottle from her.
Blake started to set the envelope on the coffee table, but seemed to change his mind. Instead, he excused himself and took it to his office. Analeigh studied his back as he left the room. What was in that envelope that was so important that no one, or rather she, couldn’t see?
“Let me help you, Analeigh,” Brooklyn said.
The women went into the kitchen. Analeigh put on a pair of oven mitts to pull the bread out of the oven. She was glad to be temporarily alone with Brooklyn. It would allow her to question Brooklyn about Blake. And why it was her voice on his phone greeting. Brooklyn took a pile of plates that were stacked on the kitchen island and carried them to the small dining area to the right of the kitchen. Analeigh quickly slid the bread into a basket and followed her.
“How long have you known Blake?”
“Too long,” Brooklyn said with a laugh. “I’m kidding. We met more than ten years ago. Been working together for nine.”
“So, you’re a lawyer?”
“Paralegal. I interned with Blake’s firm before I was hired on.”
Analeigh moved away to get the bowl of salad from the counter. Brooklyn’s explanation seemed possible, but Analeigh couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t being truthful. She looked at Brooklyn. The woman seemed lost in thought, had been folding the same napkin for a while. Analeigh set the bowl on the table, then covered one of Brooklyn’s hands with hers.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Startled, Brooklyn jumped but quickly recovered. “I’m fine,” she said. “What happened to the wine?”
Analeigh twisted around to peer into the living room. The men were huddled on the sofa in deep conversation. With a sigh, she moved to the coffee table where the bottle sat unopened, picked it up, and carried it into the kitchen.
“Sorry about that,” she said while opening it and pouring two glasses.
Brooklyn waved her off. “Not your fault. What’s that expression? A good man is hard to find?”
Analeigh laughed. “Maybe it should be ‘a hard man is good to find.’“
Brooklyn clinked her glass to Analeigh’s. “I’ll drink to that.”
“You two are having too much fun over here,” Blake commented as he walked toward them with Duncan behind him.
“We’re just having some girl talk,” Analeigh told him. She moved to get the pot of paella from the stove. “And, dinner is served.”
Once they sat at the table, Analeigh grilled Duncan on his business partnership with Blake. He told her that he had known Blake for over fifteen years. Duncan ran a security firm that used Blake’s services often. When she didn’t understand why that would be the case, Blake tried to explain it to her. It was, he said, because of the clientele that hired Duncan. Analeigh listened, but it sounded like a load of bullshit to her. However, she decided to wait until she’d collected more evidence of his mistruths before she busted him on it.
Two hours easily passed. Analeigh genuinely liked the couple. She could see herself becoming friends with Brooklyn. At the end of the night, Blake walked them to the elevator. While he was gone, Analeigh began to clean up the dishes, then stopped. What was in that envelope Brooklyn gave Blake? Curiosity got the better of her, and Analeigh found herself in Blake’s office. The envelope sat on top of a stack of papers. Her hands shook when she picked it up. There was no writing on the outside of the sealed plain, white, eight by eleven envelope.
Analeigh held it up to the light. She saw pages inside, but couldn’t make out the writing on them. With a sigh, she glanced down at the desk to put the envelope back in place. Her own name in a pile of papers caught her eye. After dropping the envelope, she picked up the pages. It was a background check. Complete with her name, contact information, and a list of her family members. It was run a few days after they had met in Dublin. Why would he do that?
“Find what you’re looking for?” Blake asked.
Analeigh jumped. She looked toward the doorway. Blake leaned against the frame with his arms crossed over his chest. He seemed angry. Whatever. By all rights, she was the one who should be angry with him.
“You did a background check on me?” It was more of a statement than a question.
He exhaled. “I’ve explained that I have to be careful of who I let get next to me.”
She held up the papers. “But to go
far is a little extreme, don’t you think?”
Blake pushed away from the door frame and stepped into the room. He moved toward her, took the papers from her hand, and tossed them in the trash. When he finally looked at her, his gaze was full of tenderness.
“I had to be sure about you,” he stated. “That you wouldn’t have been trying to get close to me in order to kill me.”
Analeigh frowned. “I would think that you’re joking, but you sound serious.”
Her knees began to weaken. It felt like her world was about to crash around her. She moved to his desk chair and sat down. He twisted around to watch her. Suddenly, she realized she didn’t know this man walking towards her. Had she really fallen in love with a stranger? Who exactly was Blake Callahan? If that was his real name.
Blake perched on the edge of the desk. When he reached for her hand, she jerked it out of his grasp.
“Is your name really Blake Callahan?”
“Talk to me,” she said. “Are you a drug dealer?”
He chuckled. “No. I’m the one that goes after the ones that have gotten too dangerous to live.”
She stiffened. “You’re not a lawyer.”
“No. I’m not even close to being one.”
“That’s why Brooklyn’s voice is on your business greeting. It’s a cover.”
Analeigh shifted to sit on the edge of the chair. “What are you?”
Blake took in a long, deep breath. He released it, then answered her. “I work for an agency of international assassins. Brooklyn’s my boss, Duncan my partner.”
“They kill people too?”
With a wince, he paused, then said, “Yes.”
Her whole body trembled. All this time, she’d been sleeping next to a murderer and never knew it. Suddenly, his trips abroad made sense. As was his cryptic statement the other day that her life would be in danger. She lifted her hands to run them through her hair. The memory of the man dying on the plane popped into her thoughts. Oh God. That’s where she’d seen Brooklyn. The plane! She had been one of the flight attendants. Had Blake killed that man? Analeigh couldn’t stop the sense of panic that swelled within her. Blake moved away from the desk and knelt in front of her. He waited until her gaze locked with his before he spoke.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “You’ve got to understand why I couldn’t tell you any of this in the beginning. I was trying to protect you.”