Authors: R.W. Shannon
“I get it. I just don’t like the fact that you lied to me.”
“I had to. The people I deal with would stop at nothing to get to me. And that includes harming you.”
She looked at him. “Is that what happened to Sarah?”
“Yes. Her killer, Ian Halliday, has been reported as being seen in the area.” He picked up the envelope. “This is the report I had run on my new neighbor, Jesse Allen.”
“You think she’s working with him?”
“There are no coincidences in my world.”
Analeigh fell silent. She stared at Blake, her mind working to process everything he’d told her. It was too much to think about. To deal with. But she wanted the truth and here it was. So, what was she going to do about? Right now, she could barely breathe, let alone think. Slowly, she stood and walked past Blake. Her momentum carried her out of the room and into the kitchen where she finished cleaning up. If she didn’t do something to take her mind off Blake being a hired killer, she would start screaming and never stop.
“Tell me what’s going on in your head,” he said when he appeared at the edge of the kitchen.
“I can’t right now.”
“What do you need?”
Blake pounded his fist on the countertop but answered, “Okay.”
As Analeigh wiped down the counter, she heard his footsteps move toward the front door. It opened and closed behind him. Suddenly, the tears she’d been holding back slid down her cheeks and splashed on the dark granite counter.
What was she going to do? How could she live with a man who killed people for a living? But her heart ached at the prospect of living without Blake. The first thing she needed was clarity and that she wasn’t going to find here. So after she turned on the dishwasher, she went to the master bedroom and packed her overnight bag. On the notepad he kept on his nightstand, she left a brief note that she was going home.
In a daze, she left the condo. She hailed a taxi and when it stopped in front of her, she got in and never once looked back.
Shanghai…Three months later
Blake looked up at the midnight black sky above the skyscraper’s roof that he was standing on. He could barely make out the stars due to the city’s bright lights. As a little boy, he loved to lie out in the fields and look up at the stars, imagining Orion was galloping across the sky to save the fair Andromeda. Every once in a while, he got lucky and saw a shooting star. If he saw one now, what would he wish for? That he was home in bed with Analeigh beside him, not on the roof of a skyscraper in Shanghai, waiting for the fourth member of their team to take out an international cyberterrorist who was trying to incite a war between Russia and the US.
“Look alive, Callahan,” Jinx grumbled. “We’ll be on the move soon.”
He looked at Jinx Huang. Jinx was their newest agent and Sarah’s brother. He’d joined the agency right after his sister’s death to help them hunt for, and take out, the man who had killed her. The tall, lanky Asian was a spitting image of her, though he was two years her junior. Jinx smiled at Blake while he ran his hands through his long black hair. Duncan stood a few feet away, peering into the bedroom of the target through high-powered binoculars. They were all dressed in black T-shirts, jeans, and boots.
Blake glanced away from Jinx and stared into the darkness. His thoughts turned to Analeigh. What was she doing now? Was she with someone new? She’d asked him for space and he gave it to her. But, his heart and soul felt empty without her. If only there was some way to make amends with her. At the same time, he understood her reservations about continuing their relationship. Sensing his shift in mood, Jinx tapped him on the top of his head.
“She’ll come back,” Jinx said in an effort to reassure him.
Blake shook his head. “I’ve lost her.”
“You know how it goes,” Duncan commented. “You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That’s why I’m single.”
Blake chuckled. “Really? Does Brooklyn know this?”
Jinx snickered. Duncan removed the binoculars from his eyes and scowled at them. “Fuck both of you. What Brooklyn and I have going on is…complicated. Your mistake, Blake, was telling her about this shit to begin with.”
Blake shrugged. “Maybe. But I couldn’t keep lying to her.”
“It wasn’t a lie,” Jinx said. “It was an omission of the facts.”
“A key fact.”
Duncan raised the binoculars to his eyes. “He’s done. Damn, that motherfucker can’t even last five minutes. One and done. Aziri’s opening the window. And there’s the signal. Let’s hit it!”
Aziri Zuniah was another agent on their team. It was her assignment to get close to the target and, when the time was right, take him out. Jinx hoisted a rope launcher to his shoulder. He pulled the trigger, sending the heavy cord with a suction cup end toward the building across from them. After pulling it taut, Jinx tied the end to a hook he’d already pounded into the ground. They were fifty stories in the air. There was fifteen feet between the building they stood on and the one opposite. Below them was a busy street full of Thursday night traffic. Blake rigged a harness to the line and strapped himself in. Slowly, he rappelled along the line to the other building.
The dark-skinned, five foot seven inch beauty waited impatiently on the other side. Aziri was dressed in a gold cocktail dress that gave her skin a slight shimmer. Her high-heeled shoes were in her hands. Behind her, the target was facedown on the bed. The pillow that Aziri used to kill him was placed over his head. There was no visible movement from the target. Still, being the control freak that he was, Blake unhooked his harness and climbed through the window. He moved to the bed to check the target for a pulse. There was none.
“No offense,” he said.
“None taken. I know you have to be sure.”
“Your chariot awaits, ma’am,” Blake quipped as he bowed slightly.
Aziri rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Just get me the hell out of here.”
“The worst. I didn’t have to fuck him, but I can still feel his hands on me,” she said with a shiver.
Blake heard voices on the other side of the door. No doubt they were the target’s guards. Upon hearing them too, Aziri strapped herself into Blake’s harness. Quickly, they moved in tandem through the open window, pausing to close it behind them, and rappelled back across to the first building. Once their feet were safely planted on the roof of the building, they unhooked themselves from the line. Jinx and Duncan pulled the rope free from the building walls and began to break it down to pack up in backpacks.
“Has she called?” Aziri asked him while she slid a pair of sweatpants over her legs.
“No,” Blake said with a shake of his head.
“She will,” Jinx said.
With a sigh, Blake ran his hand through his short hair. He missed Analeigh so much his heart ached when he thought about her. What could he do but abide by her wishes? Blake squared his shoulders. No. He’d given her enough time. Now it was on him to claim what was his.
A helicopter appeared over them. A chain-and-rope ladder was lowered from the opening. Starting with Aziri, they each climbed up the structure and into their getaway vehicle. Once everyone was on board, Dominion, a beefy Croatian and the last member of their team, reeled in the ladder while Brooklyn steered the copter out of the area. From here, it would be a ride to an out of the way airport where a plane was waiting to take them back to Washington.
Blake closed his eyes. As soon as he made it home, he was going to call Analeigh. His prayer was that she’d talk to him because he wasn’t prepared to live without her.
* * * * *
Washington D.C…. One week later
As the last of her students filed out of her classroom, Analeigh gathered her notes from the podium to pack into her briefcase. The phone in the pocket of her gray slacks buzzed but she didn’t bother to look at the screen. She knew instinctively that it was Blake. Her heart lurched. Maybe she should answer it. Though she would never admit it out loud, she missed hearing his voice and feeling his body against hers. Analeigh dismissed those thoughts as she gathered her items to exit the classroom. That twinge of loneliness she was feeling was because the holidays were around the corner, not because of Blake.
He’s a murderer, she reminded herself as she turned off the lights to the room and stepped into the hallway. So, why couldn’t she completely let go of him? She had to move on. What kind of life could they have together? How could she sleep next to a man who had blood on his hands? And what if he went out on an assignment and never returned? Her sister offered to set her up with a bishop from her church, but Analeigh had declined. Even though Blake wasn’t in the picture, she couldn’t imagine herself with anyone else.
“Analeigh,” a woman called.
She looked up to see Brooklyn walking toward her. Dressed in a white tank top, long floral skirt, and sandals, Brooklyn looked more fashion model than trained killer. Her long black hair was pulled back into a ponytail and swished with each step. Analeigh smiled while she shifted the items in her hands.
“Brooklyn,” Analeigh said, pausing to hug her. “What are you doing here?”
“I was hoping we could talk.”
When she leaned away, Analeigh shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come on,” Brooklyn said, hooking her arms around Analeigh’s elbow. “It’ll be fun. Isn’t there a Starbucks on the corner?”
Analeigh glanced at her watch. It was three in the afternoon and normally, she’d just go to her office and work on her next paper for publication until her six o’clock lecture. However, since the semester just started last week, she had some rare free time on her hands. Plus, she liked Brooklyn and maybe talking to her would help her sort out her feelings. And Brooklyn, more than anyone, would understand what she was going through.
“Okay,” Analeigh said. “I just need to stop at my office and drop this off.”
“Excellent! Let’s go.”
Thirty minutes later, they were sitting on the outdoor patio of the coffee shop. A light breeze cooled down the warm September afternoon sun. Analeigh shrugged off her gray suit jacket to reveal her red sleeveless blouse. As she watched Brooklyn sip her iced tea, Analeigh began to wonder if Blake asked her to talk to Analeigh on his behalf. When she’d left Blake, Analeigh assumed he would just move on with another woman. And although the thought of him doing so hurt her, she was prepared to never see him again.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Brooklyn said. “Blake didn’t put me up to this.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Hoping to talk some sense into you. You’re both miserable without each other.”
Analeigh flinched. “Am I that obvious?”
“Yes. It’s in your eyes. And I’ve never seen him as happy as he was with you.” Brooklyn reached across the table and placed her hand on Analeigh’s forearm. “You have to understand why he couldn’t tell you about this. There’s the fact that he was sworn to secrecy about what we do. Plus, the inherent danger involved.”
“I get it. I just don’t know if I can live with it.”
“You have been. And who knows how much longer Blake will be with us. Once he finds Ian, he might retire.”
Analeigh looked at Brooklyn. “What can you tell me about the agency?”
“Nothing,” Brooklyn said releasing her arm and sitting back in her chair. “I will tell you that we were formed to rid the world of true evil.”
“How did you get involved?”
“I was recruited after six years in the British army, then, as a detective with the police force.”
“How can you do it?”
Brooklyn shrugged. “You have to focus on why you’re doing it. When the target is responsible for taking the lives of hundreds of innocent people, it’s not hard to justify it.”
Analeigh frowned. “Isn’t that what courts are for?”
Brooklyn laughed. “Not all countries are equipped to deal with these types of criminals. Nor do they want to tie up millions of dollars to bring them to trial. For them, it’s easier this way. And, I’ve said too much already.”
Analeigh nodded. She wanted to know more about them, but understood why Brooklyn couldn’t give her more information. As she sipped her iced mocha, she thought about Brooklyn stating that Blake was miserable without her. Since she was the one who’d left, it would be up to her to go back. If she went back to him, she was sure she’d be happy, but what if he didn’t come home one day?
Again Brooklyn leaned forward. “Talk to him,” she advised. “He needs you.”
“Maybe,” Analeigh exhaled. “I’ll think about it.”
She looked at Brooklyn. “What about you and Duncan? What’s going on there?”
Brooklyn’s bottom lip quivered. “That’s a story for another day. There’s a noodle shop over there. How about an early dinner before class? It’s on me.”
As they stood and prepared to walk across the street, Analeigh wondered what the story was between Brooklyn and Duncan and hoped that she’d hear it one day. For now, she pondered what to do about Blake and if she should return his call or just let him go.
By the time October began, Analeigh was still torn between following her heart and her head. Her head told her that she didn’t need him, but her heart told her she did. There was only one way to find out.
She called Blake from her office telephone. After three rings, it went to his voice mail. She hung up without leaving a message. With a sigh, she leaned back in her rickety office chair and stared up at the ceiling. She’d lost him and it was probably for the best. Why, then, did tears build up in her eyes? And why was her heart aching? A knock sounded at her door. When she looked up to see who it was, her heart lurched.
Blake’s athletic frame filled the doorway. Dressed in a white golf shirt and jeans, he stepped into her tiny office and closed the door behind him. When he turned to her, his green eyes were filled with tenderness.