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His eyes bore into mine. The blue of his eyes are all too consuming. I stop breathing. His voice is so quiet, yet strong when he makes his statement.

“You don’t love me.”

There’s no question in there. Shouldn’t that have been more of a question? Except, how he phrases it isn’t a question at all. The words are almost . . . accusatory. He knows I’m lying as soon as the words fly out of my mouth. It catches me off guard, deflating any comeback I thought I might’ve had. I could’ve sworn I’d been more careful. Hadn’t I guarded my feelings better?

Michael’s in my face staring at me, unwavering. Almost daring me to deny what we both know to be true: I’m very much in love with him. I see something in the way he’s staring at me. In this moment he wants me, and all my anger becomes noise in the backdrop. The thought has me parting my lips, desperately wanting to taste him. It’s an invitation, Michael. Please take it. My inner companion pleads. It’s a subtle movement, but it isn’t wasted on him. He’s a master manipulator and seducer of women. He wants it, too. I see it as he balls his hands into fists to keep from touching me. Why won’t he just give in? The longer I stare into his eyes, I can see them start to soften. If he closes the millimeter of distance between us, taking me in his arms, kissing me, I’ll concede. He takes a deep breath, turning from me before exhaling. My inner companion whimpers.

“Just end it, please.”

I take a tentative step forward. “Michael, what is it?”

I can tell by the tone of his voice that something is wrong. Michael’s not a man who asks anyone for anything, let alone pleads. But that’s exactly what it sounds like he’s doing.

“I’m trying to save his life. You think I enjoy this, summoning you here? Telling you to break up with someone you obviously care about? If you don’t end it, they’ll make me kill him.” Michael turns to face me. “Do you understand?”

“Don’t you ever get tired of doing what you’re told, of being their errand boy?” I ask, shaken.

Michael looks at me as if I hadn’t said a word.

“I trust you’ll do the right thing,” Michael states before walking back around to the other side of his desk. “That’ll be all.”

I give him what he wants, and leave without a word. Godfrey is the only friend I have in this God forsaken place. And a friend is exactly what I need right now. Someone who will talk me off the ledge. He’s tinkering with a new gadget when I approach. He looks up seeing my face, and immediately knows something’s wrong.

“What’s up, sugar plum?”

“Why is the mission always first with him, Godfrey?”

“By him I’m assuming you mean, Michael?”

“Yes,” I answer. “I mean, I’m one of you, aren’t I? We lie to them, not each other,” I huff.

“No one is safe from the mission, beautiful. Not me, not you. The world is collateral if it gets the job done,” he explains.

“I see that now,” I murmur. “Thanks, Godfrey.”

“Anytime, luv, anytime,” he replies.

The drive back to my apartment will afford me a little time to figure out how to accomplish the inevitable. Griffin and I just got started. I’d gone to a place with this man I haven’t been in many years or with anyone, except my ex-fiancé. The Collective is a curse, and I hate Michael for making me do this. The sun is coming up as I leave the Collective. Hoping Griffin’s still asleep, I decide to stop off and get donuts and coffee just in case he isn’t, and is wondering where I’ve gone. Closing the door behind me, I find him awake, dressed, and talking to someone on the phone. I sit the donuts and coffee on the counter before heading over to the veranda to see what’s going on. Griffin’s on the phone, pacing back and forth.

“But I just got here. Why the hell would I want to go to Germany?” he asks in an elevated voice.

I close my eyes. “Michael,” I breathe.

“So, you’re telling me if I want to keep my job I don’t have a choice?”

“Yes, I understand. Thank you, sir. Okay, bye.”

Griffin hangs up the phone, turning towards me. I look at him with a knowing look in my eyes. Even though he has no idea why things are changing so drastically, I know all too well what’s happening. Michael and the Collective are happening. Griffin walks up to me, resting his hands on my shoulders. Caressing me gently he speaks, “I have a new prospect in Germany my boss wants me to look into,” he explains.

I drop my eyes. I can’t stand to look at him knowing this is all my fault. I speak softly, “When do you have to leave?” The disappointment in my voice is real, and we both hear it.


“Wow, that’s so soon,” I pause, finding the courage to look at him. “But, I understand. This is your career. You have to go.”

I’m very reasonable because what else can I do? I’m grateful I don’t have to find a reason to end things. Of course, now, I find myself quietly thanking Michael for doing it for me. Sneaky bastard. If he thinks this is going to smooth things over between us, he’s sadly mistaken.

“I’m so sorry, Shyira. I wish things could be different. I really think there could’ve been something great between us.”

“I agree, but I guess now we’ll never know,” I say, backing away from him. Griffin grabs my arm to stop me from getting away.

“We still have the rest of the day. I propose we spend it together.”

I nod once and Griffin pulls me close, kissing me fiercely.

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