Five Years Ago…
The armed agent parted the living room window blinds then peeked out to check the street. Dark. Still. Calm. Normal street traffic. No kids outside; too late for that.
Grateful for it, he remained on edge. Hyper-alert. Nerves sizzling. Even in the dead of night, moving her was dangerous. To her, and to him.
He called back over his shoulder. “You need to hurry.”
Fear had her eyes stretched wide, her weary face pale, and her hands shaking. “I’m going as fast as I can.”
“Go faster.” Only a fool would believe word hadn’t gotten out that she’d reported the strong-arm attempt. Her enemies likely knew exactly what she’d said and done before she’d left headquarters. They’d probably ordered her contract hit before she’d gotten to the waiting car. “This is the last place in the world you’re safe.”
He shouldn’t have brought her here. His chest tightened even more. He knew better, and he should have refused. It’s just that she’d had a life; an everyday, average life and it had been snatched from her. She’d pleaded with him to let her come and get a few things. Seeing how much it meant to her had gotten to him; he was only human.
She had grabbed photos, important papers, an old doll, and a little memorabilia—the kind of things that define a life and can’t be replaced. Surely, she was entitled to that much. She’d forfeited everything else: her home, family, and career—even her identity.
He checked the street again. An old man with stooped shoulders and dark hair wearing glasses walked into view, led down the sidewalk by a frisky, leashed dog. The man didn't so much as glance at the house, which allowed the agent to release a staggered hitched breath.
The dog paused to do its business on a patch of grass near the mailbox, leaving the man mostly hidden by her car. It stood parked in the driveway and unmoved, just as it had been for the past two weeks.
Not daring to trust his eyes and ignore his senses, the agent remained alert, half-holding his breath again, straining to see clearly through the cracks between the blind slats. He held his gaze firmly on the man’s head and shoulders. Why was he bent over? Likely only hurrying the dog.
Something tingled deep in his gut. He’d been an agent too long to not recognize the feeling, and stilled. Everything seemed normal, calm, yet his nerves strung tighter until they crackled like livewires. Why?
Having no answer, he watched and waited not daring to so much as blink. Finally, the man with the dog walked on, shuffling down the sidewalk as if on a leisurely stroll. In due time, he made the corner, then disappeared from sight.
Slowly, the tension inside began to uncoil and the agent released the finger-parted blinds. They snapped shut. Startled by the silence-splitting sound, the woman gasped. “Sorry.” He turned from the window to look at her. “Who owns a chocolate lab?”
“The Parkers. Three doors down.”
Good. Good. Legit. “He’s out walking the dog.”
She stopped in her tracks, a smiley-faced beach bag dangling from her wrist. “He? There is no he. Linda Parker is a widow. It’s just her and her daughter.” The gravity of her own words hit the woman hard. She nearly stumbled. “Oh, God. It’s them. They took Bruiser. It has to be them—“
Her car in the driveway exploded.
The force of the blast popped his ears, blew out the living room windows. He dove, slamming into her, knocking her off her feet. Sprawled on the floor, he covered her with his body, cupping her head in his hands, shielding her from flying debris.
Glass rained down on them. Slivers and jagged spears stabbed into his back, his legs, his arms and hands. If combustibles were in the garage…
A secondary explosion rocked the house, nearly lifting him off her. She screamed.
“Stop it!” He whispered a swift warning. “They need to think we’re dead or they’ll be back.”
Low and throaty, she mewled and pressed her dusty hand over her mouth to muffle the sound.
When the remains settled to fine dust sparkling in the air, he scrambled to his feet and pulled her up with him. “You okay?”
“Yes—no.” She darted her gaze, dazed and confused. “They bombed my house.”
“Yes, but you’re okay.” He checked her over, saw no blood. “You hear me? You’re okay.” He spoke slowly, distinctly. “We have to go now.” Crackling filtered through the wall. Something in the garage had caught fire.
“But—but I dropped my bag—“
He spotted it in the debris. The air still thick with sheetrock dust, insulation, and smoke, he snagged her bag from the rubble and tugged at her arm, urged her down the hall, through the kitchen, and toward the back door. His shoulder clipped the wall. Pain shot through his arm. His sleeve and hand were speckled with blood. “If you want to live, we have to get out of here—now. Do you want to live?”
“Yes.” Tears slid down her face, streaking her dusty cheeks. “Yes, I want to live.”
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