Authors: Heather Huffman
Tags: #Romance, #free ebook, #Marriage, #Espionage, #International, #Spy, #wedding, #Human trafficking, #heather huffman
“Brutus, Sissy, come,” she whistled as she
grabbed their leashes off the hook by the door. The dogs were
instantly there, lured by the promise of an adventure.
“Ronnie, don’t just barge out of here like
“You told me to go; I’m going,” she
concentrated on fastening Sissy’s leash.
“Not like this. And not to one of the first
places they’ll look for you.”
“You don’t get a say in where I go anymore,
Dick. If we aren’t partners, then what’s the point in calling it a
“So you’re blackmailing me now?”
“This isn’t an ultimatum; it’s a fact. I will
not live like this.”
He stopped short. The look in his eyes nearly
broke her heart. With her jaw set in determination, she
straightened herself, collected her bags and turned to go.
She tried to pretend he wasn’t standing on
the front porch watching her with wounded puppy-dog eyes. As she
waited for Brutus to cram his giant body into the little back seat
of her Volkswagen CC, she tried very hard not to think of the look
they’d exchanged before she’d walked out the door.
Veronica managed to refrain from crying on
the drive to her friend’s house. She attempted to take his advice,
to clear her mind as she drove, but it didn’t work. Her thoughts
were every bit as jumbled when she pulled into Courtney’s driveway
as they had been when she’d pulled out of her own.
“I think maybe it’s time we had a talk,”
Courtney greeted her at the door, the confusion evident on her
Ronnie opened her mouth to speak and burst
into tears. Ten full minutes after being ushered inside, she
finally had enough control over her emotions to semi-coherently
fill Courtney in on the events since her wedding.
“Oh, well, being fired today makes so much
more sense now. I will no longer fork your lawn.”
“I appreciate that. You know what the most
disturbing part is?”
“I can’t even imagine what that would
“I’m more attracted to him now than I was two
weeks ago. I’m furious at him. I’m confused by him. But I also want
to eat him up. Is that really sick of me? How can I even think
about that right now?”
“I’m not the person to ask that,” Courtney
“What do you think I should do?”
“I’m not the person to ask that, either.”
“You’re no help.”
“Want to order a pizza and watch movies that
require no thought whatsoever?”
“You’re back in my good graces.”
“That’s a relief.”
“Oh, before I forget, you know who’s been
amazing through all of this? Jeff. He’s been a real
“He put you up to that, didn’t he?” Courtney
rolled her eyes.
“Yes, but he really has been a doll.
Otherwise I would have blown off his request.”
“What do you want on your pizza?”
“Surprise me,” Veronica leaned back on the
couch, tossing her arm over her eyes.
“Why don’t you get a hot bath while I
Veronica stood and stretched; Courtney’s
offer had appeal. As she walked by the back door, she paused to
watch the herd of dogs in the postage stamp backyard. In addition
to her two, Courtney’s golden retriever, Sadie, was racing in
circles around two visiting bulldogs named Bert and Ernie.
“Sometimes I’m jealous of your job,” Ronnie
couldn’t help smiling at the dogs’ antics. “Dogs are more fun than
Courtney merely grinned in acknowledgement as
she dialed the number to the nearest pizza place. Veronica grabbed
her bag from the foyer and carried it with her to the guest
bathroom. Once there was a sufficient mountain of bubbles, Ronnie
piled her hair atop her head and sank her weary body into the hot
water. She leaned back, closed her eyes and allowed images of Rick
to lap at her mind.
She wasn’t sure how long she’d been there or
even if she’d dozed off when Courtney called to the dogs. “Quiet.
You’re not going to bark the squirrel out of the tree.”
Ronnie sat up a little straighter, straining
to hear over the cacophony of canines. It almost sounded like a
scratching sound out front. Courtney’s scream jarred her into
action as the door splintered and gave way.
Veronica grabbed her handgun from the bag,
tucking a towel around her body as she prayed her own stupidity had
not cost a friend her life.
She burst from the bathroom, drawing the
intruder’s attention away from Courtney, who took the opportunity
to drop to the ground. He took aim without hesitation; Ronnie
ducked back into the bathroom just as the bullet exploded from the
barrel of his gun.
Acting purely on instinct, she swung back
out, aiming as she did. She barely verified Courtney wasn’t in the
line of fire before pulling the trigger. He moved with catlike
reflexes and the bullet caught his shoulder instead of the
He swore but still got off another shot. She
returned with another of her own, blinking in shock when it found
She would have expected to feel fear or
revulsion or even remorse over having killed a man. Instead, she
was strangely calm as she approached the body. Although he was most
assuredly dead, she’d seen enough horror flicks to take the gun out
of his hand and set in on the kitchen counter, well out of
“You okay, Courtney?”
“Yeah. We don’t have much time, though. Grab
the dogs while I put my clothes on.”
“Should we call the cops?”
“I’m sure your neighbors have already, and
I’d love to be gone by the time they get here.”
“I know I’m not the one that works for the
FBI, but isn’t leaving the scene of a crime bad?”
“We’re sitting ducks in jail—and whoever sent
this guy will find someone to finish the job. If you want to live,
you’ll get those dogs loaded in my car.”
Courtney nodded, springing into action.
Ronnie dressed faster than she ever had in her life.
Under any other circumstance, the scene in
her backseat would have been comical. Brutus had a very
long-suffering expression on his face and four dogs of varying
sizes shoved under him like Russian nesting dolls.
As it was, the sound of sirens drawing nearer
caused her to slam the car into gear and peel out. She forced
herself to slow down to the speed limit, knowing it would be just
her luck to get a ticket.
“I am so sorry for bringing this to you,
“You had to go to someone,” she answered
without hesitation. “I’m glad it was me.”
It took Veronica a second to swallow the lump
that had formed in her throat, when she did, she instructed the car
to call her brother.
“Jeff, thank God you answered.”
“Miss me already?”
“I’m on my way over. I need your help.”
“Twice in one weekend? You’re really going to
“This is serious.”
“When will you be here?”
“Two minutes? I need to park in your garage;
I don’t want anyone seeing my car from the street.”
“I’ll be right down.”
She hung up and stopped on the street in
front of his house, waiting for him to move his car out of the
garage. Once the cars had been shuffled, she opened the back door
and began untangling canines.
“How many dogs do you have in there?” he
asked, pulling his attention away from Courtney. “It’s like a
freaking clown car.”
The light from the computer screen flickered
in the dark room. Veronica studied the monitor with pursed lips.
With Courtney under Jeff’s protection, she had borrowed his car and
gone to the office. The FBI Headquarters seemed as safe a place to
be as any, even if it was late on a Sunday evening.
As happy as Jeff had been to have Courtney
staying in his home, he’d been a little reluctant to part with his
beloved Camaro. Not that Ronnie could blame him. She loved her
Volkswagen and the way its sleek engine purred. But there was
something rather delicious about the way his Camaro’s powerhouse
engine growled. She felt like she could take on Marko Kulenović
himself when driving Jeff’s car.
But now, staring at a computer screen and
running dangerously low on coffee, she felt like she could barely
put a coherent thought together. The phone on her desk rang and she
jumped, quickly steadying her coffee cup before it spilled on her
keyboard. She recognized the number on her display screen and
hesitated briefly before answering it.
“So, I’m standing here—in the morgue—looking
at what I can only assume is your handiwork,” the frustration was
thick in her husband’s voice.
“I told you I could take care of myself.”
“Taking care of it would have been somewhere
along the lines of quietly disposing of the assassin with one shot.
Preferably not in our dog-walker’s living room.”
“Ex-dog-walker. You fired her, remember?”
“To protect her. Fat lot of good that did
with you running straight to her house.”
“I’ve already apologized to Courtney,
“Well I’m sure that made it all better.”
“Jeff called in a few favors. The Feds are
claiming jurisdiction. There won’t be any trouble with the police
over this. I’ll replace her door. It’ll all be okay.”
“When are you going to start listening? This
isn’t a game.”
“You’re right; it is time to stop playing
around. I’m done waiting for you to come clean, to include me. I’m
going to take care of this myself.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I’ve got to go. I’ve got a flight to catch
and a lot of work to do beforehand.”
“To Denver, right? Please tell me to
“If that’ll help you sleep at night,” she
hung up the phone with a certain amount of satisfaction. She turned
back to her computer screen with a new resolve. After another hour
of rifling through countless computer and paper files, she felt
reasonably sure that Marko would be in Bari, Italy if she got their
before he wrapped up the business he’d mentioned.
A few phone calls and favors later, she was
pretty sure she could find him, too. In fact, by the time her
flight to Italy was taxiing on the runway, she was feeling pretty
darn proud of herself. She’d even managed to dismantle her handgun
to store it in a lead-lined secret compartment in the luggage she’d
snagged from Jeff’s basement.
“Sir, you really should be in your seat
already,” the flight attendant was saying. Veronica glanced up and
her heart fell.
“Sorry about that,” Rick gave the flight
attendant a charming smile as he settled into the seat beside
Ronnie. It was obvious from her flustered return smile that all was
“Well hell,” Veronica muttered.
“I’m happy to see you too, my love,” he tried
the same charming grin on her, without the same effect.
“What do you want?”
“You’re like an angry kitten, you know
“Ah, you came to patronize me. That could
have waited until I got back. It would have been cheaper.”
“Well, when I saw that you spent three grand
on a vase this afternoon, I assumed maybe you inherited some money
or something. Was there a rich uncle you didn’t tell me about?”
“Jeff spent that.”
“And the statue?”
“Yeah, that was him too.”
“I hope he realizes that’s his Christmas
present for the next twenty years. And I didn’t come to patronize
Ronnie didn’t answer, choosing to focus on
the ground dropping out from underneath them as the plane took off.
The slightly dizzy feeling that induced seemed preferable to
another fight with Rick.
“I came to tell you that you’re right.”
Veronica warily turned her head towards
“I owe you an explanation. And we should do
this together. I don’t want you getting yourself killed because I
backed you into a corner. I love you too much to lose you over
Veronica didn’t budge, unsure what to do with
He cocked his head to study her, as if trying
to somehow read the direction her thoughts were taking.
“You know I think public displays of
affection are gross.”
“Yes, my little romantic.”
“So this flight’s going to feel really long
now, because I’d like to kiss you.”
“Does that mean you accept the truce?”
“Maybe,” Veronica nodded
She didn’t like feeling awkward around Rick,
but she didn’t know what to do or say. She didn’t expect him to
tell her anything while they were on the plane but she didn’t know
quite where they stood until she’d heard the whole story. Should
she make small talk? Pretend nothing was wrong?
Rick seemed to understand her conundrum. He
took her hand in his, kissed her fingertips then rested their hands
in between them.
“So, what hotel did you book for us?”
“It’s supposedly close to the airport,
railway and most historical monuments.”
“Is that straight from their website?”
“Pretty much,” she admitted.
“You’ll like Italy. Too bad we’re going to be
busy with death and destruction. It would be nice to explore.”
And so the conversation continued until she
finally dozed off on his shoulder. When the fasten seatbelts sign
dinged, it startled her awake and she cracked Rick in the nose.
“It’s okay,” he tenderly touched his nose to
assess the damage.
“Sorry,” she said again, frowning in
“I probably deserved it. Come on, let’s go
grab some lunch before we check in.”
“Lunch? I hate time changes.”
“You get used to it.”
She had to admit she was glad to have Rick
there as they gathered their luggage. It was her first trip to
Italy, and her grasp of the language was shaky at best. He moved
with a confidence she envied.