Authors: CJ Lyons
They finished out the remaining training for the day, and she returned to her office
in Jefferson Hall to grab her laptop and car keys. She was surprised when the female
agent in training from the earlier scenario appeared at her doorway, now wearing clean
regulation khakis and a blue polo shirt.
“What would you have done?” the NAT blurted out, ignoring the strict protocol that
usually guided NATs’ interactions with their instructors. Belatedly she added, “Ma’am.”
“What’s your name?” Caitlyn took the seat behind her desk, but left the NAT standing
at attention. This group was new, hadn’t taken any of her classes yet, so she didn’t
know them personally; she’d merely been playing a bad guy in today’s scenarios to
help with evaluations.
“Garman, ma’am. Mary Agnes Garman.”
Mary Agnes? Sounded like a nun’s name. She was only a year or two younger than Caitlyn,
in good shape but not as fit as the recruits coming from the military or law enforcement,
with an hourglass figure that did not fit her name. Although who knew what nuns looked
like under those habits?
Caitlyn filled her mind with an image of a mother superior holding a compass—a mnemonic
technique she’d cultivated after her brain trauma made remembering things like names
a struggle. Not that she’d ever share that secret with anyone.
“What did you see as your options, Garman?”
Mary Agnes hesitated, not in indecision as she had earlier, but in thought. “You didn’t
give me any.”
“Exactly. What’s wrong with that statement?”
Her rigid posture sagged. Caitlyn nodded to the chair across from her, and Mary Agnes
slumped into it. “I gave you the power. But—” She scowled in thought, her gaze drifting
past Caitlyn to the window, already dark with the early-January sunset. “But I still
had no options.”
“Tunnel vision. The adrenaline makes you focus on what’s in front of you, the direct
threat. It does that to your mind as well. But there are always possibilities. Don’t
ever forget that.”
“I could have lowered my weapon, but regulations—”
“Do the bad guys play by the rules?”
“In here”—Caitlyn gestured to the cement-block walls surrounding them—“you have to
know the rules, live by them. And that’s not a bad thing. Nine times out of ten they’ll
save your butt.”
“And the tenth time?”
“Look for options. You never considered any other options today. Instead you hesitated,
couldn’t commit to a course.”
“I froze. I got my partner killed.” The remorse and fear in Mary Agnes’s voice was
real. Good. Better she learn the hard lessons now before the gun pointed at her shot
something more lethal than a paintball.
“You did. Next time you won’t.”
“What would you have done?”
“You still controlled the exit.”
“It was too far away.”
Caitlyn shook her head. “No. It was only three steps to your right. Adrenaline. It
distorts everything. Good thing is, the bad guys are affected as well, have the same
“I could never abandon my partner.” Her voice made it sound like sacrilege, reinforcing
the mother superior image in Caitlyn’s mind. As if what Caitlyn suggested was as bad
as betraying a family member. Which, in a sense, it was. Unless you imagined past
the knee-jerk blind obedience to ethics and codes of conduct.
“Yes. You could. Three steps and you would have been behind cover, able to observe,
negotiate, call for backup, or shoot if the hostage taker took further action.”
“Further action. You mean kill my partner.”
Caitlyn stood. Stretched her arms wide. “Look at me, Garman. I’m all of five-six,
can bench one thirty, maybe one fifty on a good day. What good would a six-foot, two-hundred-pound
deadweight do me?”
“You wouldn’t have shot him?”
“Not unless he was no longer useful. And that would only happen if—” She arched an
eyebrow, waiting for Mary Agnes to put the pieces together.
It took a moment, but the frown faded as the answers fell into place for the agent
in training. “I blocked your escape. If I was out of the picture, dead, you could
make a run for it. By standing there, I gave you
reason to kill us both.”
“Exactly. You were thinking about what you wanted, but you should have been focused
on what the hostage taker wanted. Embrace the possibilities, decide how you can control
Mary Agnes took a deep breath, chin bobbing in agreement. She stood with renewed energy.
“Thank you, Supervisory Special Agent Tierney. You gave me a lot to think about.”
Caitlyn smiled, remembered why she enjoyed teaching so much. “No problem, Garman.
Have a good night.”
Mary Agnes headed back to the dormitory while Caitlyn took the steps down to the lobby,
waved to the guard there, and jogged through the cold, her coat flapping open, to
her Subaru Impreza WRX parked in front of Jefferson Hall. A thin coating of frost
crackled across the Subaru’s windshield, but she didn’t waste time scraping it clear.
She still had thirty-six miles to drive to Paul’s place in DC.
She took back roads, avoiding 95 and the constant snarl of traffic on the interstate.
Usually she enjoyed the hour-long drive. It provided needed breathing space.
As extroverted as she was introverted, Paul often joked that if it weren’t for him,
she’d be living the life of a hermit. She never let him know how close to the truth
that was. She’d yet to invite him to her place in Manassas for a night, was more than
willing to let him think it was because as a neuroradiologist he had to stay close
In reality, she simply didn’t do entertaining. Or strangers in her space. So much
easier to make the drive, enjoy Paul’s company, and leave when she wanted. She liked
the freedom, needed the control—another thing Paul teased her about.
Only lately he wasn’t teasing. He was hinting. Emptying a dresser drawer and shelf
in the bathroom for her. Talking about how much her drive took away from the time
they had together.
He was ready to settle down. With her. For the long term. And it scared the shit out
of her. Caitlyn didn’t do relationships, never had. She did longer-than-average flings
that ended in shouting matches, bruised egos, guys storming away, and her sighing
in relief at another bullet dodged.
Paul didn’t shout. He wasn’t an alpha male, not like her usual guys, and his ego didn’t
bruise. He cuddled. Comforted. And actually enjoyed it.
Worse, so did she. Being taken care of was a foreign experience to Caitlyn. Paul wrapping
his arms around her, sharing his strength, putting her first—it was sweet and sexy
and so very addictive. Another thing that scared her. Ever since she was nine and
lost her dad, Caitlyn had lived her life and guarded her heart with one rule: Trust
Paul had snuck past that barbed-wire rule and now she was at a loss how to handle
things. Part of her wanted to embrace the life he offered: a normal, stable, caring,
The child in her screamed to run, run, run before she exposed herself too much.
She’d loved every moment of their six months together. Paul had reminded her that
there was more to life than just her work. After almost dying, she’d needed that,
needed a little of what everyone else seemed to have: someone to come home to, a connection
with the world outside the FBI.
Despite the fact that Paul had given her more than any other man she’d ever been with,
she knew she didn’t have the feelings for him that she should have. It worried her.
What was wrong with her that a normal relationship with a terrific guy terrified her
more than facing an armed felon? Paul had saved her life six months ago when he diagnosed
her brain aneurysm. If she couldn’t bring herself to trust him, would she ever be
able to trust anyone?
Caitlyn hesitated before pulling into the underground garage at his building. She
could call, make an excuse about the training going late, drive back to Manassas and
the peaceful solitude of her apartment. He’d never know she was lying—she was pretty
good at it. Her chest tightened. Mouth went dry. She didn’t want to lie. Not to Paul.
But she was afraid of what she might be facing when she went inside. Afraid of what
she’d do when he forced her to make the choice. She didn’t want to lose him, wasn’t
ready to return to her solitary ways.
Not a ring, please not a ring,
she thought as she left the Impreza and waited for the elevator. Her cell rang and
she grabbed it like a drowning woman lunging for a lifeline.
“Excuse me, Supervisory Special Agent, this is the operator at the Washington Field
Office. I have an urgent call for you from the prison chaplain at Butner Federal Correctional
Institution. Will you accept the call?”
The elevator came and she entered, hit the button for Paul’s floor. Who the hell did
she have behind bars at Butner? Maybe one of the convictions from her time in Boston
had turned and they moved him to the facility in North Carolina? After all, Bernie
Madoff and Jonathan Pollard were doing time there, as well as a smattering of mobsters
turned witnesses for the prosecution.
As always, her curiosity got the better of her. Not to mention an excuse to delay
seeing Paul—the thought felt strange, as if she were betraying Paul, but it also gave
her a weird sense of relief. Why did relationships have to be so damn confusing? Give
her a felon to take down any day of the week. “Sure, put him through.”
“Caitlyn Tierney?” The man’s voice was unfamiliar. “I’m Pastor Vince Whitford, one
of the chaplains at Butner.”
She left the elevator and stopped outside Paul’s door. No sense knocking if this was
something that was going to take her back to work. “Yes. Why are you calling, Pastor?”
He cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable. “I’ve been counseling a prisoner here
at Butner Medium who tried to kill himself a few days ago. Eli Hale.”
Hale, she’d never arrested anyone—oh, hell. She did know that name. Hadn’t heard it
in twenty-six years. The image of a man, taller and broader than her father, as black
as Sean Tierney was pale, his voice low and husky and shaking with laughter as he
chased after his daughter and Caitlyn, playing the scary monster to their damsels
in distress, a game that always ended with Caitlyn and Vonnie gathered under Eli’s
massive arms, giggling as he twirled them around until they were dizzy with delight.
“Eli Hale?” It was her turn to clear her throat as childhood memories flooded through
her. Vonnie, her best friend in the whole world—until they’d been yanked apart after
Caitlyn’s dad was forced to arrest his own best friend, Eli Hale. For murder. “Is
“He is now. The doctors are releasing him from the medical unit tomorrow, but I convinced
him to agree to meet with you. I think you’re the only person who can help him.”
Anger and confusion twisted through her, tossing her childhood memories aside. Except
the one that never left her: the image of her father lying dead, killed with his own
gun, by his own hand. Unable to stand the guilt of seeing his best friend convicted
She swallowed bile. “I think you have the wrong person. There’s no reason on earth
why I’d want to talk to Eli Hale. Or him to me.”
“Please, Agent Tierney. Don’t hang up. A girl’s life is at stake.”
Caitlyn’s fingers closed around the cell phone, almost but not quite touching the
end-call icon. She wanted to hang up, to end this painful trip down memory lane. But …
“Eli’s youngest, Lena.”
Lena. She’d barely begun to walk the last Caitlyn had seen her almost twenty-six years
ago. Vonnie adored her baby sister, loved playing and taking care of her. She and
Caitlyn had dressed Baby Lena up in swaddling clothing her first Christmas, and took
turns playing the Virgin Mary and the angel bringing glad tidings, to the thunderous
applause of their beaming parents, their performances rewarded with large helpings
of Mrs. Hale’s pecan pie.
Caitlyn was an only child, so knowing little Lena was like having a baby sister of
her own without having to sacrifice any of her parents’ attention. Not that Caitlyn’s
mom had time for another child. Jessalyn Tierney had worked two jobs: three days a
week keeping the accounts for her brother’s development company and another three
as a receptionist at a Realtor’s office in Bryson City while studying for her license.
She wanted their family to have a better life than living in a drafty old farmhouse
in a drafty old nowhere village in the western Carolina mountains.
That was Jessalyn—even now, decades later, she was constantly striving for something
better for herself; constantly disappointed in the life Caitlyn, her only child, had
chosen. One more disappointment in a long line of disappointments. Sometimes Caitlyn
got the feeling that her mom didn’t always think the sacrifices she’d made for her
daughter had been worth it.
Not that she and her mother could ever actually talk about it.
Caitlyn’s dad had worked six days a week as well. Four twelve-hour shifts for the
sheriff—which usually turned into fourteen- or sixteen-hour shifts—and then two days
helping Mr. Hale build houses. Sometimes Vonnie and Caitlyn would tag along to job
sites, fetch and carry and even hammer a few nails under their dads’ watchful gazes.
When the work was done for the day, their dads would take them fishing down on the
Oconaluftee, or they’d climb up the mountain and visit the trout farm or just go sit
on the Hales’ porch, the men in rockers talking sports while drinking beer, the girls
dangling their feet over the edge, Mrs. Hale serving them pie or cookies or red velvet
cake before curling up on her husband’s lap.
Caitlyn’s mom never did that. Said it’d wrinkle her dress or slacks or blouse. She
didn’t bake, either. No time. Instead all she did was work and save money so they
could move to a nicer house. Which had made no sense to Caitlyn. Why’d they need more
money? They had plenty, it seemed to her. And she loved her house, old and creaky,
just the way it was.