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Sonja re-enters the magnificent closet while I’m doing some finishing touches. The blush I choose is soft. I’m reaching for a clear lip gloss when Sonja puts her hand on top of mine, stopping me.

“May I make a suggestion?” She asks.

“Of course.”

Sonja reaches for a lip gloss that has a hint of brown in it.

“Try this one,” she hands it to me.

Once applied, I notice she’s right. It’s perfect. It gives the right amount of pop to tie in the brown sugar color of my hair and skin tone.

Sonja offers her hand to me. “Come.”

I take her hand, following her to the full-length mirror in the corner of the room. Sonja places me in front of the mirror, stepping aside.

“Look how beautiful you are, Shyira. Remember, the greatest weapon a woman has is her sexuality. Use it right and you can bring down empires.” Sonja stares at me through the mirror. “You have made very good use of your time.”

“Thank you. Do you think Michael will like it?” I ask, forgetting who I’m talking to.

She’s been so nice, and I miss my own mother so much, I forget she’s anything but motherly. Sonja cuts her eyes at me before she answers.

“You’re here to perform a job, and relationships between handler and material are strongly frowned upon by the Collective.”

I nod. “Of course, I understand.”

To be honest the woman scares the hell out of me. Sonja takes my hand again, and I let her. She leads me away from the mirror toward the door.

“Go now. Michael is waiting for you.”

I continue to the door when I hear Sonja speak again, “But, to answer your question,” I stop, turning around to look at her. “He would be a complete idiot not to love it, and we don’t recruit idiots.”

Sonja winks at me. I smile, mostly because her words surprise me, before turning and leaving.

Michael’s leaning against the wall with his legs crossed at the ankles as I round the corner. His hands are tucked firmly in his pant pockets. His black Armani suit looks amazing on him, fitting him perfectly. With some men it’s the clothes that make the man, but not this man. It’s definitely the man that makes the suit look good. He has his head down, so he hasn’t noticed me standing at the end of the corridor, staring at him. The shirt is cerulean blue, and I know how it will make those Caribbean blue eyes of his pop. I don’t want to approach him yet. I want to watch him for a little while longer.

Michael lifts his head and his hair falls perfectly to each side of his brow. I like the length of it, and secretly find myself hoping he doesn’t cut it. Michael looks at me before pushing himself off of the wall, taking his hands from his pockets. He doesn’t move forward, only clasps his hand to his wrist in the traditional bodyguard stance as he waits for me walk down the corridor. Michael’s gaze rakes me from head to toe, and I swear neither of us breathes. As I approach him, he releases his wrist, gently placing his hands back into his pant pockets. I can tell his hands are balled into fists. Is he angry?

In order to keep my composure, I can’t look him in the eyes right away. He’s breathtaking, and I refuse to be a puddle on the floor. I feel his eyes on me and knowing Michael, I suspect he knows my apprehension.

“Shy,” he speaks softly.

At the sound of my name on his lips, I look up and I drown just as I knew I would. Staring into his eyes, I swear I can see the perfection of the blue and green swirling in his eyes, like a living entity.

“Wow,” I say in awe.

I really need to increase my vocabulary.

Michael stifles his laugh. “I could say the same about you, but I’ll settle for, you look exceedingly beautiful.”

He lifts his arm to me, and I take it. A complete gentleman. My suspicions that the Collective is underground are confirmed as we step out from the other side of the door. All the operational vans they use when going out on missions, along with operative’s vehicles that live off-site, are lined up against the wall. Damn, how I wish I were one of them.

Scanning the rows of cars, I try to pick which one might belong to Michael. Is he an SUV, or a sports car kind of guy? I don’t know, so I ask, “Which one is yours?”

He points to the corner. “The black Aston.”

I laugh. “Figures.”

He looks at me, but says nothing. The elevator opens and we step in. I have no idea how far underground we are, but the elevator ride takes only seconds to reach the top. The doors open to the inside of a barn. As the elevator closes and heads back down, the floor folds back together, looking seamless. Walking out of the barn, the cold winter air slams into me. Closing my black pea coat, I hold it a little closer to my chest, guarding against the cold. A limo awaits us in a big open field. The night is so clear, not a cloud in sight. God, I’ve missed this. The fresh air is so exhilarating. It’s always the smallest things in life we take for granted. I imagine this is what prisoners feel when they finally get released, only I believe mine to be slightly more euphoric because at least they get yard time.

I stand there staring up at the stars. I forgot how beautiful the night sky can be. I haven’t taken a step toward the limousine. I’m motionless. In a sort of trance. Michael looks back at me once he reaches the driver, who’s holding the limo door open for us. The clear night sky brings back a memory, I haven’t thought of in years. The feeling prompts me to speak.

“When I was a little girl my dad would take me out to the mountains, just the two of us. Growing up in the city you would never know how many stars there really are. With all the lights and smog the sky just looks vast and empty, like a giant black hole. So, once a month, my dad would pick me up from school on a Friday and we would go to this camp ground he liked. We would sit on the hood of the car and just talk for hours. He was my best friend. I can’t imagine how devastated he must have been at the news of my death.”

Michael doesn’t move. He just listens to me talk. He allows me time to reminisce, never interrupting. After a while his voice comes softly.

“Shy, please, we have to go. We have reservations.”

He tries to be gentle, seeing the sorrow in my eyes. I appreciate it, and give him a faint smile for his effort before entering the limo. The limo is sleek, metallic in color, like a silver bullet. How fitting. The inside is plush black leather, with crystal glasses and high-end liquor. Its entertainment center is state of the art.

“The Collective spares no expense, I see,” I say, enamored.

“You’ll come to see there are many perks here.”

Our ride in the limo is a quiet one. Like I said, this is my first time out in eighteen months, so all I want to do is look out my window. Michael understands that I guess because he never distracts me from my view. The best fifteen minutes I’ve had in a while comes to an end as we reach our destination. The sign: ‘Light Bar’ is big and bold, lit up in bright blue lighting, hovering over the entrance. The line is long, wrapping around the corner. This is obviously the place to be on a Saturday night in downtown London. I’m thankful we’re in a limo, and don’t have to deal with parking. Michael helps me out and we walk right up to the front door. The bouncer steps aside, allowing us to enter.

“Must be good to be you,” I say, glancing at him.

“It doesn’t hurt.”

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