British Agent Safe House, Scottish Highlands—1887
Tristan stared at the stains covering his hands. He couldn’t tell where the dirt ended and the blood began. From across the room, he watched as Devon took his turn at the washstand. Charles sat on a stool nearby, his blood-stained shirt partially unbuttoned, revealing his bandaged chest.
Devon Clayton and Charles Blackwood had been with him on every mission since they joined the agency after they had all finished their studies at Oxford. For three years, they worked side by side, mission after mission, with the highest success rate in the agency. The youngest, brightest, and best trained, they were called on by Britain because they succeeded where others had failed. However, they had not expected this.
Tristan had killed men before—it came with the work—but he had always believed those killings had been justified. At the tavern they had done everything possible with their combined knowledge to save the woman and child who had unknowingly fallen victim to their hunt. Their target—the woman’s husband—had used her as a shield. Another man had used the child. They had never fired on a woman or child and had momentarily backed down—a mistake which cost too many lives, including two of their own.
Tristan replayed everything from the moment they had reached the tavern, attempting, in vain, to see any other way for a different outcome. There had been five agents and six men expected to be at the location. Their source had been mistaken or had betrayed them. There were eight men and the woman and child, sitting down to supper. Tristan and his agents did all they could to make the arrests without injury, but the men had refused to go peacefully.
He saw again the woman’s husband throw her into the middle of the ruckus as he attempted to escape out the back door. Charles shot the man. The other, who had used the child as a shield, had held a knife to the boy’s throat. As he tried to make his exit, the knife slipped.
Tristan remembered every man and every move. He had seen two of his agents go down, each taking a culprit with him. One had escaped, but he couldn’t recall how. They might be the best at what they did, but they had made a deadly mistake. Tristan once again studied his partners and friends. Neither would forget what happened either. The woman and child’s screams promised to haunt them all for years to come.
Tristan cleaned his hands, watching the blood darken the water. Some of it left a temporary stain on his hands, but a more permanent one stained his mind.
He nodded to his friends and they all left the room. They were due to return to England, and there were bodies to collect before they left.
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