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We pull up to a quaint little coffee shop on the outskirts of London. The weather is nice enough for Brianna and me to sit outside under a heat lamp. I order tea and she orders coffee. I’ve come here many times to decompress. The atmosphere is cozy and quiet. The perfect place to either be alone, or in my case, pretend you want to get to know someone better. Conversations always start off the same, with small talk. I don’t understand why people feel the need to waste time with it. Most times what they say is a lie, or at the very least an embellishment of the truth. We all want to make ourselves look better in hopes the other person will want to connect on some superficial level. Let’s be honest, lust is always the motivation. As an operative, I’ve perfected the art of small talk. The fact that we’re both operatives, we do what we were trained to do, knowing we’re both full of shit. We talk about how she’s enjoying her time in London, and how different things are here than in Brazil. She then proceeds to talk about her childhood. How happy she was as a child, which is complete bullshit. I make up some similar bullshit story about how wonderful my childhood was, because to speak about what really happened would open wounds I will never share with anyone. We eye each other, knowing we’re both lying. No one in the Collective has a happy shiny childhood, except for Shy, of course. But then again, she wasn’t supposed to be here. Brianna takes a deep breath before speaking as if she’s trying to build up the nerve.

“Michael, can I ask you a question?” Her voice sounds uncertain.

“You can always ask.”

Brianna smirks before continuing. “I’ve heard some rumors about you and Shyira.”

I guess she’s finally ready to cut the crap and have a real conversation. Brianna doesn’t look at me when she makes the statement only after she gets it out. I, of course, am watching her the entire time. The minute we lock eyes, I lift a brow and Brianna continues.

“I know it’s none of my business, but they make it sound so serious between the two of you. I heard the story on how she became a member of our elite little club.”

I take an audible deep breath, leaning back in my chair. It prompts her to stop speaking. There’s something in the way her eyes roam over me as I cross my arms. She’s all of a sudden very distracted. Brianna’s expression shifts as she catches herself staring.

“Is there a question in there somewhere, Brianna?” I ask, amused by the way she reacts to me.

“I guess my question is: are the rumors true? Do you have feelings for her?”

I sit up straighter before leaning forward in my chair, getting closer to her. Honestly, I’m surprised at her bluntness. I know what she’s getting at. I just didn’t expect her to have the balls to come right out and ask.

“You’re right. It isn’t any of your business, but I’ll answer your question anyway because I like you. And if we should continue this, I don’t want these rumors to hang over our heads.” I lean back again, while Brianna sips her coffee.

“Shyira is my material, and I’m exceptionally protective of what’s mine.”

The warning is clear in my voice. “I want my team to succeed in all missions. She’s new, and needs closer supervision. So, at the moment it may seem I favor her a bit, but I assure you, it’s strictly professional.”

“I don’t think she sees it that way. I mean, she’s obviously fallen for you with her little outburst at the briefing then her reaction in Comm,” Brianna states.

“Well, with that being said, I can’t help how an operative responds to me in the course of our training,” I explain with a smile. “But, as I said before, I’m exceptionally protective of every one of my operatives. To put their lives in danger because I can’t keep it in my pants is a failure, and I don’t fail. Does that answer your question?”

I’m very careful on how I answer her. It has to be politically correct, but at the same time the truth. I would never put Shy’s life at risk because I may, or may not have feelings for her. Now, whether Shy has feelings for me, well . . . Brianna is the last person I would discuss that with. I’ve lasted thirty years without having love in my life. I can survive the rest of my life never knowing it.

“It answers part of it, but I’m still interested in how she came to be here,” Brianna presses.

“McDaniel was deemed Non-Essential Personnel. He was never meant to return from the mission. I brought Shyira in because she saw too much. It was either kill her, or bring her in. It would’ve been a waste to kill her. I knew with her FBI training she would be an asset to us.”

Everything I’m saying makes perfect sense and seems to satisfy her. Brianna stands and my eyes follow her.

“I’m ready to go now, Michael,” she says, grabbing her coat off the back of her chair. “I’ve suddenly become very hungry.”

“I thought you said I couldn’t talk you into dinner.”

“Let’s not play these games. You know it is not food that I crave. I want you as much as you want me,” she states, plainly.

A wicked smile plays across my lips as I stand, buttoning the top button of my sport coat. I walk over to her whispering in her ear, “I like a woman who takes what she wants.”

Placing my hand at the small of her back, I gesture toward the parking lot. Brianna turns her head so her lips are mere inches from mine. I can feel her breath on my mouth as she speaks. “At this moment all want is to know how you feel inside of me.”

I snicker. “That, I can definitely help with,” I say, giving her faint kiss.

We make it to Brianna’s hotel room. She’s on the ground floor. It’s smart of her, easier to escape if necessary. Brianna excuses herself to the bathroom to freshen up. I need this girl to trust me. From our conversation at the café, it’s clear she doesn’t. We haven’t known each other long enough for her to trust me with her darkest secrets. Her body, yes, but not her secrets. She’s hiding something. If I don’t find out what it is my whole team could be killed. An uncomfortable feeling starts to play at the back of my mind. I’ve never questioned an op the Collective has asked me to do. Having to seduce and sleep with countless women over the years is a part of the gig. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. As jobs go, this one can be quite rewarding at times. If I can’t have love, why not enjoy the sex? Although, this one feels different, wrong somehow. Why do I feel like I’m somehow cheating on Shy? We haven’t even kissed. What the fuck is happening to me? I feel like my mind and body have been possessed. Whatever it is, it isn’t normal. I’d hoped what I’m feeling for her would’ve faded by now, but it seems to be growing instead. I shake my head, taking my sport coat off. I lay it across the chair in front of the desk. The mirror on the wall catches my attention. I stare at myself, wondering why the women I come in contact with give me so much power. All I see staring back at me is a broken man, incapable of any real human connection. Nonetheless, they do, and I take full advantage in order to complete my mission. This is what I do. Who I am.

I sit back on the bed, slouching a little. Taking a deep breath, I bend over, taking off my black leather boots. I tuck them neatly off to the side of the bed. Being who I am, it’s in my nature to take pride in everything I do, and have. I know it stems from all the shitty treatment I got growing up. The whole nature vs. nurture argument. One of the perks of growing up in the inner-city foster care system is you find out your nature pretty damn quick. It definitely taught me how to work for what I get.

At the sound of Brianna fidgeting around in the bathroom, I start to unbutton my shirt. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what she wants from me. She admitted as much, and I fully intend to deliver. Shit. There’s that annoying feeling gnawing at me, again. Wishing it was Shy on the other side of that door. I don’t have a clue what love feels like, so I don’t know if that’s what I’m feeling for her, but what I do know is, I’ve never felt about another human being the way I feel about her. Thinking about Shy being on the other side of the door is getting me hard. You could argue that’s good and bad. Bad because, she’s my material and I know the rules all too well. I shouldn’t be having these feelings for her; which, is why I continue to treat her the way I do. Good because, if Brianna mistakes my excitement for her that’ll bring me one step closer to my goal.

The positioning of the room helps put my mind at ease. The bed faces the door, which I like. To the right are French doors, leading to a private terrace. A perfect secondary exit point. Slightly to the left of the French doors sits the fireplace. Left of the entry is the bathroom, where I’m growing impatient waiting on Brianna to emerge. I walk over to the fireplace, turning it on. I hit the lights at the entry, adding to the ambiance. Getting back on the bed, I lean back against the headboard. I position my body in such a way as to cause her feminine instincts to take over. We are animals after all, and our very nature is to gravitate toward the strong. I look down, studying my skin. The way the firelight dances across my body turns my skin from bronze to more of a Tuscan bronze. Brianna opens the door and is obviously not quite ready for what she sees. Her giveaway: she closes the door immediately after making eye contact with me. I lean my head against the headboard, and sigh. What the fuck. She opens the door, again, wider this time. She leans against the doorway wearing a black silk and lace nighty. I sit up a little straighter in bed as she walks over to me with a new-found confidence. The kind of confidence I expect to find in a Collective operative. Analyst and field agent alike. She comes to a stop, standing in front of me. I move to fit her body in between my legs. I stare at this beautiful creature in front of me. As I stroke her sides with my fingertips, I forget the crazy notion of cheating on Shy. Brianna moans as I pull her closer to me, lightly kissing her stomach. I tighten my grip on her hips, pulling her onto the bed. As I lie on top of her, she speaks in her thick Brazilian accent.

“Is that a gun in your pocket, or you just glad to see me?”

In the low-lit light, she can’t make out how hard it is to stifle my laughter. I can see she’s trying to be sexy. Still, I can’t believe she actually said that with a straight face. Answering her question, and wanting her to know exactly what she’s working with, I turn my head to the right. She follows to see what I’m looking at. It’s my gun resting on the nightstand.

“Bonito e bem dotado,” she softly whispers.

I speak Portuguese, and know that means beautiful, and well endowed. I have to smile at that. I bend down, softly kissing her neck before whispering in her ear, “You have no idea.”

I’m all business now with nothing on my mind, except giving the woman in my bed more pleasure than she has ever experienced.

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