"How about this Saturday?" Dara consulted her Palm Pilot. "I won't be free again for another three weeks."
Dawn went through the motions of squeezing a lemon wedge into her iced tea. For months, she and her sister had been planning a surprise visit to their parents' summer home in Connecticut. Scheduling conflicts prevented them from ever finalizing a date. The same would happen again.
"I can't," she said.
Dara frowned. "Why not? Don't tell me you're working."
"I'm not. Fox is moving back in. I should probably kinda be there when that happens, don't you think?"
She released a loud sigh. Whew! It felt weird saying it out loud. She and he had discussed the particulars. They promised not to let sex cloud the issues so he was moving into the guest bedroom.
Her sister's eyebrows rose. "So, you're serious about reconciling?"
"We both are."
Dara shrugged. "I'm not sure if it's the right decision, but it's not my business. I hope it works out."
"Thanks." She took a sip of tea and nestled more comfortably on her sister's sofa. "Will you go without me? I really want to see the folks. I don't know how to break the news to them about Fox and me. Dad can really hold a grudge."
"He doesn't like to see either of us hurt," Dara said. "You shouldn't let their reaction interfere with really trying to work things out."
"I don't plan to, but it's not only our parents I'm thinking about. His mom will not be happy about this either," Dawn confided. "Maybe we should get them all together and tell them at the same time. Will you represent us in that kangaroo court session?"
Dara reached out and patted her hand. "It won't be that bad."
"I'm holding you to that. Now, enough about me." Dawn squeezed her sister's hand. "What's going on with you? I stopped by last night and you were nowhere to be found. I almost put out an APB."
A secretive smile played at the corners of Dara's mouth. "Well… I went out to listen to some music and have a drink. I needed a change in scenery."
"And then what happened?"
"I danced with a guy. Tall, dark and handsome," she said with a dreamy smile, "and before you ask, we didn't exchange names. We just enjoyed the moment. That's all I wanted. It was good."
Dawn raised her glass of tea. "To new beginnings for both of us."
"To better beginnings."
"What the fuck am I doing here?" Alex muttered the words under his breath, but he was tempted to say the words aloud. Just what the fuck was he doing? Making contact with a degenerate asshole whose main purpose in life was to screw up someone else's. And now, once again, Alex played lap dog, obeying his master's bidding. He should seriously turn his back on this bullshit and finally grab life by the balls. Take what he'd been longing for. Hell, he came close enough last night with Dara Jensen in his arms. Pretending not to know anything about her was one of the hardest games he ever played. But, like he'd been assigned to do, he played the role of the perfect stranger. When in actually, he was the perfect asshole about to interrupt her life in the worst way--by getting in deep.
What the fuck was he doing?
"Alex, pay attention," cigar chomping SOB cut into Alex's thoughts. "There can be no mistakes."
"I never make mistakes," Alex bit out. "Never."
"You made contact with her," Carrington Spence said with an unholy gleam in his eyes.
Alex bristled. The old bastard had eyes on him! His jaw clenched. "What do you need me for?"
Spence chortled. "Relax, Alex. They're watching her. Not you. Tell me about it. Will she be easy to break?"
"It will take some time."
The older man nodded. He rose from behind his mahogany desk and strode to the window. With his back to Alex, he said, "Romancing her is a good choice. Her barriers will disappear. She'll trust you. It'll be easier for you to do what's required. Good job, Alex. We'll talk again."
Alex knew a dismissal when he got one. He held his tongue and calmly left the smoke-filled office.
Good job, Alex.
Shit! He should have lowered his head to be petted and waited for his bone. Nothing but a damn dog. That's what he'd sunk to. In the beginning, he believed in the cause. Now, he wasn't so sure. What was the point of all his sacrifices if they no longer had meaning?
And he'd almost found a purpose for everything on the dance floor with the attorney.
The dossier on her was detailed. She came from a middle class black family. The second of three children, she didn't suffer the usual misplacement of the middle child. From an early age, she knew exactly what she wanted and worked to achieve it. Hard work and determination left little time for romance except for a few indiscretions here and there. But nothing lasting. Nothing real.
Alex sighed. She and he had a lot in common. And not for the first time, he wished--
Hell, why waste his time on wishes? He had a job to do.
"That should be everything." Jerry finished double checking the security system on Keesha's new home and place of business. Bringing her to Connecticut had been his decision. By agreement, Justus wasn't informed of her and Jacob's whereabouts. Just in case anything happened, it was safer this way. And no one not even Jason Morgan could tie her to Jerry Jacks.
"If anything goes wrong with the security system, don't call the company. Call me." He handed her a business card with only a telephone number on it. "Don't be shy. Use this."
She slowly took the card. Her expression remained unreadable as she turned the small slip of paper over in her hands. "You're my connection to the real world. I can never go back."
This was the moment he dreaded. The desolation in her voice reminded him why he left the spy business. Lives overturned on a daily basis. Starting over again was never easy and pretending to be dead to her entire family… The Wards' strong close-knit background was well-known. This change wouldn't be easy for her.
"It's the way it is," he said in a low voice.
"Go ahead and say it, Jerry," she said. "This is what happens when you sleep with the mob. Your life gets turned upside down. People die. Your life doesn't belong to you."
"From what I can understand, you didn't sleep with the mob. You're not that kind of woman." He turned at the sound of footsteps.
Four-year-old Jacob Quartermaine had awakened from his nap. He went straight to his mother who eagerly scooped him into her arms. "Hi, Jake," she said, wiping the sleep from his eyes. "Did you have a good nap?"
"I dreamed about Daddy."
As Jacob burrowed his head in the curve of her neck and shoulder, the similarities and the differences between mother and child struck Jerry. The boy's skin tone was several shades lighter than his mother's caramel flesh. His eyes were the color of a cloudless sky, but were just as expressive as his mother's chocolate-brown orbs. His serious expression matched hers, too.
"When can we go back home?"
Sadness and self-recrimination streaked across her face. Jerry noted the emotions and felt like he'd been sucker punched. Correction. This was the moment he dreaded.
Keesha seemed to allow herself only a moment to wallow in self-pity. A bright smile graced her classic features. "This is our home. Remember? We have our very own store with our home upstairs. There's a yard where you can play in the back and we may even get a rabbit."
"I don't wanna a rabbit!" He struggled from her arms and made a sound landing to the floor. "I don't want a store! I want my Daddy!"
He raced to the front door.
Both Jerry and Keesha ran to stop him. Just as the little boy grabbed the doorknob, the door swung open. A tall man of Asian descent stood there. He quickly appraised the situation and blocked the child's exit.
"Slow down, little man." He squatted to the boy's level. "Where's the fire?"
Jacob stopped and looked over his shoulder at his mother. Jerry looked at her, too. She stood still as a statue. Unmoving. Her mouth slightly opened and her gaze locked on the stranger.
The man stood. Recognition was obvious. He continued to block the child as he returned her stare. "Keesha."
She swallowed and gave Jerry a quick, nervous glance. This place was supposed to be her starting over point where she was a new woman, transformed. But that was not to be. She was not unknown here.
She expelled a low breath. "Jian-Wa."