Authors: Jordan McCollum
Tags: #Romance, #Spy, #Espionage
In fact, I’ll go the preemptive route. I send the audio message to her email, hoping the attachment works this time.
Without the facial recognition, and waiting on the voiceprint, we need Angela’s translation to be sure A.) who this guy is and B.) that he’s definitely passing along confidential diplomatic information.
“We need everything we can find on Marcus and Kelvin — addresses, profiles, the works,” Talia says. “We need to be ready for all the eventualities.”
“We’ll figure that out when we get there, princess of paranoia.”
She scowls at me. “Excuse me for being prepared. Why are you always thinking one move ahead? You can do better than that, or you wouldn’t have survived this long.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I mutter. “You know we’re winging this out of necessity. We need flexibility.”
“We need to plan ahead.”
case, isn’t it?” Like Talia hasn’t been roped into every step of the way.
“And I’m tired of scrambling. Step up.”
The last time I heard those words flashes through my mind. I turn away, ignoring the burning welts in my chest from her words. Her words — and Shanna’s.
Talia won’t let the conversation end, but at least she stays focused on the case. “Are we going to convince him to turn himself in? Quit?”
“We could threaten to go to the ambassador.”
I offer an I-don’t-know palm. “We’re counterintel. That alone should fill any lower-level pencil pusher with fear.”
“If we tell him.” She sighs. “Profiles, at least?”
“Fine. I’ll take Kelvin. Sounds like my kind of guy.”
“An absolute zero?”
I force an obviously fake pity laugh. I don’t get her joke, but I’m clearly the butt of it — in more ways than one. I plug my phone into a charger and get to work on the best profiling methods we have without resorting to actual CIA resources.
This could take a while.
Of course, Kelvin and Marcus couldn’t possibly live in the same part of town. No, no, why would they want to make things simple? We try to split the difference between Kelvin’s boonies address and Marcus’s across the river — and end up uncomfortably close to our office. But nobody will notice a cable company van in a residential neighborhood, right?
Who am I kidding? It’s a Saturday in Ottawa. Who’s around to notice?
The dark creeps in until Talia and I can’t see our latest hands of five-card bluff. I check my watch. Ninety minutes until Shanna’s flight. I don’t think showing up with Talia would send quite the right message.
“So,” I start, “who’s this guy?”
She shrugs, like downplaying it now is going to work. “A guy.”
“A guy that’s got you blushing after one conversation.”
On cue, Talia blushes. “Two.”
Nailed it. “Come on, give me something to work with.”
“Yeah, that’s a big no.” Normally, she’d say something like that with an undercurrent of humor, and I’d be able to tease and cajole some little factoid out of her. But this time that’s a shutdown. The conversation dies, and a palpable quiet falls over us, thick and heavy and tense.
I watch the clock, the street, the sky, anything but Talia.
“Why?” Her question finally slices through the silence.
“Why what?” I ask, though I know exactly what she means.
“Why’d you do it? The truth.”
I look into those hazel eyes, though all I can see in the dark is the reflection from the streetlamp. I’ve had a thing for Talia pretty much always, but clearly that feeling isn’t mutual.
Spies have to be good at figuring out what someone wants and using that to get what
want. This time I know exactly what Talia wants. Despite what she says, she doesn’t want the truth.
I tell her what she needs to hear. “It was nothing. Part of the cover.”
She stares at me — stares me down — but this isn’t a challenge. Even in the streetlight, I can see her eyes are a lot closer to pleading.
I’ll play the lie to the hilt if it’s what she needs. “Don’t tell me you’re developing a crush on me.”
Talia groans. “When are you going to get over yourself?”
“But there’s so much to love.” Despite the bravado, something in my brain clicks into place and I know. Her smile’s almost real, and I’d have to be blind not to see the relief there.
She must know it’s a lie, but she wants it to be true. And I can do that for her. I can be that for her. I can make that lie true for her.
The tension level in the van doesn’t change — for me, at least. Now we can either chat more about that — uh, no — or sit in the thick silence.
I can’t leave it like this between us, but I don’t dare broach that subject. I go for my favorite distraction: humor. Right before I crack a joke about how this is like that one night in Spain, I realize Talia would have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s Shanna’s joke.
Something else, then. “Seriously.” I lean across the front seat, grinning. “What’s his name?”
Talia half-groans, half-sighs. “Danny, okay?”
“Told you you’d have to tell me. Sounds like a geek.”
“Shut up.” But there’s no hint of harshness in her voice.
So I press on. “How’d you meet him? Work?”
“And you’re sure he’s not a geek?”
She shoves me back into the driver’s seat. “Shut up.”
“Come on, throw me a bone here. Your eyes locked across the crowded chapel? Your hands brushed when he passed you the plate?”
“We don’t have collection plates.”
I wait, but she doesn’t add anything. “Seriously? That’s all you’re going to tell me?”
“I was sitting in the foyer during church, and he came out and talked to me.”
“Coincidence? I think not.” I waggle my eyebrows, like a conversation in a church “foyer” is racy stuff.
. He couldn’t have seen me from the chapel.”
Something about that little tidbit triggers a memory — the first time I met Shanna back in law school. I nearly cracked her head open with a door. I apologized every day for two weeks until finally she pointed out that I couldn’t have seen her from inside the cinderblock classroom.
And then it took me another two solid weeks of hard work to convince her to go on a date.
How did I ever let Shanna go so easily?
I glance over at Talia, who’s retreated behind that secret smile, staring out the windshield. She’s got her little boy toy, and somehow that seems right. And I can only hope I still have Shanna.
Hope? Seriously? I can do a lot more than just hope. A fire lights in my chest. I need that last chance with Shanna more than air.
And I will fight to get it.
Talia’s phone chimes, and I have to switch back to action mode in an instant. I watch Talia for any tiny reaction as she reads the text. The tension ticks higher each second.
A corner of her mouth quirks. “Voiceprint match. Marcus Lee.”
One point for us. I start the van and we head out for his address. At least, we hope it’s the right Marcus Lee. With an address in Quebec, I have my doubts. Especially when we reach a small brick rambler in the Gatineau suburbs — until I see the little red sedan in the drive.
I park down the street, setting myself up so we have a good view of his house while staying well out of his way — and his sight.
But a few minutes after we’ve parked, the flourish of victory begins to grow cold. What will we do, confront him with a tape of him returning a phone to Mrs. Deputy Ambassador and a bunch of Arabic? Yes, with that sort of overwhelming evidence, who wouldn’t confess, fall on his knees and beg for forgiveness?
We need Angela.
I pull out my cell. Nothing — no texts, no calls, no emails.
“Got something?” Talia’s question hammers home the defeat weighing on my chest.
“What are we supposed to do when we see him, then?”
I check the time. If he’s home at nine thirty and already has a girlfriend, then is the guy going to go out at all tonight?
I don’t have another choice. I have to give Angela another call. Because she has no life, either, I’m sure.
She answers on the third ring, wary. “Hello?”
“Angela, it’s Elliott. Did you get my email?”
“Look, I don’t think now is a good—”
“We don’t have much time. Short conversation, and one question.”
“Like three minutes of Arabic. Tops.” I might be rounding down, but not much. “We just need to know if she says we’ll call or not.”
“Fine,” she sighs, the resignation flattening her tone. “But I didn’t get your email.”
I cover my phone’s mic and turn to Talia. “Cue up the recording, quick.”
She clambers over to the laptop and gets to work. I switch back to Angela. “’Kay, we’ll play it for you.” Over our nonsecure line. Sure. That’s not asking for trouble.
“One sec,” Angela says. The background noise on her end dies.
Talia gives me a thumbs up and points to the play button on the laptop monitor. She moves out of the way, casting a quick glance out the windshield at our target.
And then she does a double take.
I barely hear Angela’s “Okay, go ahead.”
I don’t have time to start the recording before Talia backhands my shoulder and nods at the windshield. After her reaction a second ago, I’m already looking.
Marcus’s exterior lights are on. He’s walking out his front door.
Every hair on my head stands on end. I turn to Talia. We didn’t finish that plan. We can let him go; we can always come back and catch him. Maybe. But how long until we do? And until then, how much damage will he do?
There’s no time like the present, especially to a spy.
Talia’s reading my mind. She snags an earpiece, a red wig from the stash — princess of paranoia
preparation — and her leather jacket, then bolts out the back doors of the van.
“Elliott?” Angela asks. “You still there?”
“Yeah, yeah. One more second.” I hurry to the recording, one eye on the screen and the other on the windshield. Now a redhead, Talia appears in my view, crosses the street, heads straight for Marcus.
He hasn’t seen her yet, focused on organizing his keys.
Things might not be 100% simpatico between me and Talia, but that’s my fault. And if she’s out there taking this risk —
“Elliott?” Angela breaks in.
I need to be there — for Angela and for Talia. But if we can confirm Marcus is the mole, we can tie this whole mess up — and I can get Talia out safe. “Here you go,” I tell Angela. I set the phone next to the speaker and hit play. The Arabic voice fills the van at the same time Talia reaches the sidewalk in front of Marcus’s house.
I have to know what they’re saying. All of them.
The Arabic ends and I grab my phone. “Got that?”
“Run it by me one more time.”
I tear my gaze away from Talia approaching trouble long enough to start the recording over.
Talia slows to a stop, turning to Marcus. He pauses in the middle of opening his car door and smiles at her.
Please tell me she’s not going to confront him. With what? She was the one who insisted on a preponderance of evidence to persuade the dude to confess.
Just as the recording finishes the second time, it hits me — of course I can hear what Talia and Marcus are saying. I scramble for the parabolic.
Talia points down the street and around the corner. “About three blocks,” she finishes.
“Huh?” Angela asks.
“Sorry, two different tapes.” I jam a headphone plug into the computer’s jack. “Did you need to hear it again?”
“No, I think I’ve got it. Give me a minute to look it over.”
Great. A minute. Not sure we have that long. “Kind of in a time crunch.”
Angela doesn’t say anything back. I instinctively hit the record button, then follow the headphone cord until I find the earpieces. I don’t have time to shove one in; I just cup them in front of one ear. Talia and Marcus on one side, Angela on the other. As soon as she speaks up.
“All the time,” Talia says. I can
her smile. At least she’s starting off well. I’m always in favor of flirting as distraction.
But how am I going to get in there to rescue her? Play overprotective big brother? I’m much better at jealous boyfriend.
“So what do you do for a living?” Talia asks.
“I work for the American Embassy.” Marcus makes it sound like he’s the Undersecretary of Importitude, not a part-time pencil pusher. He casually leans one elbow on his car roof.
Talia picks up on the self-importance and hums a little I’m-impressed tune, edging up his driveway toward him. “That sounds major league.”
Classic CIA head games. Work an Asset 101. Reel. Him. In.
is it working. Marcus shrugs on one side, like he’s downplaying his promotion to the Majordomo of Majorosity, but from here I can see his smug little smirk.
“Do you know the ambassador?”
I have to force myself not to mock gag at the maple syrup–coated awe in her voice.
“I do, actually. Would you like to meet him?”
Setting the ambassador’s social schedule to get ahead with a girl? I’m sure Rhodes is totally okay with that. Especially with Lee’s married Emirati girlfriend. Uh huh.