Read Suddenly a Spy Online

Authors: Heather Huffman

Tags: #Romance, #free ebook, #Marriage, #Espionage, #International, #Spy, #wedding, #Human trafficking, #heather huffman

Suddenly a Spy (10 page)

She would have gone for the kill with the
third shot, but pain reverberated through her shoulder, and she was
knocked backwards. She didn’t have to look to know she’d been hit.
Flames of pain were now lapping at her arm like a fire.

With an outraged cry, she fired again, but
the men were climbing in their SUVs and out of her range. Knowing
she could easily become the hunted, she melted back into the
shadows. The pain from her shoulder was now rolling across her in
great waves.

Sirens wailed in the distance and the sky
glowed orange. She was bathed in a cold sweat. The scenery around
her seemed distorted, and she knew she was in danger of passing
out. She’d never live it down if that happened.

Veronica gritted her teeth and made her way
back towards the warehouse once the coast was clear. A whimper from
an alleyway caught her attention.

“Hello?” she called out softly. A young woman
with perfect ebony skin stepped tentatively into the light at the
sound of a warm female voice. Her eyes said she recognized Veronica
as the one who had freed her earlier. Ronnie motioned for the girl
to join her.

After a wary glance at the gun in Veronica’s
hand, the woman scurried to her side. The two moved together in
silence through the night. They weren’t far from the rendezvous
point, but it felt insurmountable.

Emergency crews had arrived to put the fire
out. Ronnie hesitated at the intersection of light and shadow. She
was covered in blood, was accompanied by a woman smuggled into the
country, and she spoke little Italian. It seemed prudent to stay
out of sight.

Strong arms grabbed her from behind. Panic
flared until she recognized the one who held her. She relaxed and
allowed herself to be pulled away from the growing crowd. Vance was
reassuring the other woman in a hushed language she didn’t
recognize.

Rick led her to a dark van, holding the
passenger door open for her to climb in.

“You’re hurt,” he gaped at the blood now on
both of their shirts.

“A little, maybe.”

“How much blood were you going to leak before
you admitted it?”

“Can we fight about this later?” she licked
her lips; her mouth felt so very dry. As she leaned back in her
seat, the adrenaline that had been propping her up seeped away. She
gave him what was supposed to be a reassuring smile and closed her
eyes. She just needed to rest for one minute.

“Ron? Veronica?” the fear in his voice made
her want to open her eyes, but it was so very difficult.

A deep blackness gripped her. By the time she
was close enough to the surface to fight it again, the air was
different. It was cool and artificial… sterilized. A white world
slowly came into focus through heavy-lidded eyes.

Her shoulder pounded dully against a binding.
Confusion prickled at her brain. She was heavy with exhaustion; it
seemed to pin her to the bed.

“Rick,” her voice sounded harsh and raspy to
her own ears.

“Yes, love?” he was instantly at her side,
taking her hand in his.

“There’s something on my shoulder.” She tried
to move and winced. The dull pounding was replaced by a flash of
searing pain.

“It’s a bandage. You were shot.”

“That’s right,” the memories crashed into
place. “How is the girl?”

“She’s going to be fine, thanks to you.”

“Good. Then it was worth the trip.”

“Marko got away.” Rick picked up a Styrofoam
cup and offered her an ice chip.

“Thanks,” she was grateful for the drop of
moisture in her parched mouth. “I didn’t get a good look, but I
think I at least gave him a few souvenirs to take with him.”

“Are you trying to say I should have seen the
other guy?” Rick’s lip twitched.

“Something like that.”

“They weren’t all supposed to come out that
side door.”

“I thought I did okay.”

“Right up until you got shot.”

“Besides that part.”

“Good Lord, you scared me, Ron.”

“I’m sorry,” the original sassy retort died
on her lips. He seemed so upset; she hadn’t meant to cause him
worry. Veronica reached up with her good arm to cup his face. He
seemed incredibly vulnerable in that moment as he leaned into her
touch.

Through a haze of pain, she marveled at this
man who brought such sparkle to her life. What had caused love to
blossom there? What magic tie bound them together?

“I love you, Richard Reid Sinclair,” she
breathed the words as much as spoke them.

“How much morphine did they give you?” he
rested his forehead against hers.

“I don’t know, but I think it was a lot,” her
quiet laugh mingled with his. It tapered off with a sigh. “I’m
sorry; I’m not a very good spy.”

“Are you kidding me? To hear Anuli’s version
of things, you’re a regular wonder woman.”

Veronica couldn’t help feeling just a little
proud. It felt good to have helped someone.

“There were other women. We’re working with
the Italian government to process them.”

“What will happen next?”

“They’ll be given six-month residency permits
while they undergo job training. Vance works with a slew of
non-profits to be sure the women are placed in safe homes while
they learn a trade. That’s an important step—sometimes victims are
deported before they’re identified as victims. Then they’ll just be
sold again.”

“They were sold by their families?”

“Some of them. Some were tricked into leaving
their homes with the promise of a job. Then their papers were taken
away and they were stuck.”

They both fell silent; Rick was giving her
the time she needed to process what he was telling her. Veronica
tore her eyes away from him, needing a moment to collect her
thoughts.

“This isn’t a hospital,” she truly took in
her surroundings for the first time.

“It’s the hospital wing of a private
villa.”

“Who has their own hospital wing?”

“Really rich people who often take in rescued
slaves.”

“Makes sense, I guess,” Veronica mulled it
over. “So, is this some sort of top secret government thing?”

“Nah. The government is too busy pork
barreling legislation for crap nobody wants or needs to put
something like this together. This is an international network of
private citizens put together by Vance. He had to do something with
the girls once he saved them. Most either don’t have a home to go
back to or have a family that’s completely dependent on them for
support. Actually, the prostitute he told you about earlier runs a
safe house in Missouri.”

That statement hit Veronica like a splash of
cold water. It was an ugly realization; whether she’d wanted to
admit it or not, she’d been offended to be compared to a hooker.
Perhaps she’d gotten it backwards.

“You look tired,” he misread her quiet
demeanor. “I’m going to make arrangements for us to head back to
D.C. You get some rest; I’ll check on you in a bit.”

“Back to D.C.?”

“Just until your shoulder heals. Then we’ll
figure out what’s next.”

“But what about the people trying to kill
us?”

“Like I said, I’m working out the details.
Now get some sleep.”

Veronica nodded, accepting his kiss on the
forehead before turning to look out the small window in her
room.

A dark cloud settled over her mood. She
managed to be polite to the nurse that checked in on her—especially
since the blessed woman came bearing morphine. When she was alone
again, Ronnie was unable to fight off the drug’s pull to sleep.
Still, a heavy discontent followed her into a restless slumber.

When Veronica opened her eyes again, she
wasn’t alone. Sunlight snuck through the cracks of curtains that
had been pulled tight. On the other side of the sun, the woman she
now knew as Anuli stood in the shadow watching her. When she
realized Veronica’s eyes were open, she turned to scurry out of the
room.

“Wait,” Ronnie called out, unsure if the girl
would even understand her.

The young woman paused, turning
partially.

“I would be grateful for the company,”
Veronica extended a hand.

Anuli took a hesitant step towards her.
Ronnie gave her an encouraging smile and the woman sat in the chair
beside the bed. She remained poised on the edge of the seat, her
entire body tense.

“You’re safe here. These are good
people.”

A look flashed through Anuli’s eyes that said
she understood at least the intent of Veronica’s words. Ronnie
tried to think of what to say that wouldn’t be trite or hollow. The
truth was, she had no point of reference. Her own life was so far
removed from that of this broken, beautiful woman before her.

“I had a baby once,” Anuli began in somewhat
deliberate English. “The maman steal the baby from me. She force me
on the street a few days after childbirth.”

The statement shocked Ronnie; it took her a
moment to blink back the moisture in her eyes. Anuli continued,
telling Veronica the story of how she’d been taken from her village
and shipped to a small island off the coast of Italy. From there,
she’d been sent to work in Bari before being taken to the warehouse
on the marina, bound for America along with a boat full of antiques
and women fresh from Bulgaria.

She’d found herself in hell, daily tormented
and daily subjected to violence. Her family took their share of the
money and did not cry out for her return, not that anyone would
have heard them if they had.

“I’m so very sorry,” the words fell short,
but they were all she had to offer.

“When that man wanted to kill me, you stopped
him. You did something,” Anuli took Veronica’s hand and gave her a
look of adoration Ronnie didn’t feel she deserved.

Rick found the women holding hands and
smiling at each other. Veronica tried to read the look in his
clouded eyes. She couldn’t be sure, but she might have seen a tear
meandering down his cheek before he disappeared from the
doorway.

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

Veronica should have been happy to be home.
Lord knows the clean cotton sheets and familiar mattress felt like
heaven to her weary body their first night back. Rick had retrieved
the dogs from Jeff’s, and they now flanked her protectively at all
times.

Maybe it was surreal being back in her sedate
world after such a whirlwind adventure. Maybe sitting on a couch
editing Web text didn’t hold much appeal after the rush of putting
your life on the line for that of another. It all just seemed so
hollow now.

“I know that expression,” Rick sat down on
the couch next to her, careful not to jar her shoulder.

“What expression?” she closed her laptop with
a little more force than intended. “It’s nothing. I’m just sick of
looking at this text.”

“What are you working on?”

“Editing the breaking news from our Chicago
bureau. There’s always something. New terror threat. New
kidnapping. More breaking news from some bureau or another.”

“That’s how it goes.”

“I tell the stories so often; I guess I’d
forgotten there were people behind them.”

“What’s going on, love?”

“I don’t want to write the stories
anymore.”

“Okay,” he answered slowly. “We’ll get Marko
off our backs and then the world’s our oyster. Whatever direction
you want to head, we’ll go.”

“I want to be a part of them.”

“Them?”

“The stories. I want to live them, not write
them.”

“You want to be on the most wanted list?”

“I want to do what Vance does. I want my life
to be about helping others—making things better.”

“Not everyone has to be in the thick of it,
you know. There’s other ways to help.”

“But someone has to be in the thick of it.
Sometimes sending a check isn’t enough.”

“There’s no room for 2.7 children in Vance’s
world. Having two dogs is even a stretch.”

“You’re such a party pooper,” Veronica
frowned. He had a point. “I don’t have all of the details worked
out. I just know I can’t frolic through my merry little life
anymore.”

“I think you’re being too hard on
yourself.”

“I think I’ve lived my life in a protective
bubble so far. Did you know there are sex slaves right down the
street from my favorite store? I was buying shoes while women were
being brutalized 100 yards away. How did I not know that? How can I
turn my back on that now that I know?”

“I’m all for a change of pace, love. I just
don’t know that you’re in the right frame of mind to be making a
life decision.”

Veronica set the laptop aside and snuggled up
against Rick’s side. He kissed the top of her head and stroked her
hair.

“I’m not sure I could handle you being in
danger all of the time. Italy nearly killed me.”

“Can we at least work together to dismantle
Marko’s organization? I mean, if we just take him out, you know his
brother will step in and fill the role.”

“True,” he agreed.

“But if we completely dismantled the
organization… from the inside out… that would be something,
right?”

“It would be nice to finish what I
started.”

“And then we’ll see where that takes us.”

He regarded her for a moment before
relenting. “We’ve got to get you healthy first. And you’ll need a
bit of training.”

“You can train me.”

“Of course. I can train you,” he laughed.
“Wait…you’re serious.”

“Very.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m afraid you’re going to kick my
ass if I start bossing you around.”

“Nah, it’ll be good for us. Bonding and all
that.”

He didn’t look convinced, but the doorbell
cut their conversation short. With a frustrated sigh, he ran his
fingers through his hair before shoving himself off the couch to
see who it was. Despite his assurances that they were well
protected, Veronica tensed.

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