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I refuse to let them spoil this moment for me. They’ve taken so much from me already. The phone continues to ring, interfering with my last moments with Griffin. Michael, I’m sure is furious as the phone starts its second round of annoying vibrations. I’ve had enough, no more. I lean forward, reaching for the phone on the table. I hold it tightly in my hand before flinging it against the wall, causing Griffin to give me a wicked smile. We finish saying goodbye to each other as we lie breathlessly, facing one another. Griffin reaches up, stroking my face.

“I’m going to miss this,” he speaks, softly.

“Me too,” I confirm. “I need some water. Do you want anything?”

Griffin offers to get up and get it for me, but I need an excuse to get out of the bed. The Collective will be here any minute. I knew that when I didn’t answer my phone. Griffin can’t be here when they arrive. Reaching the kitchen, I open the drawer where I keep my burner phone. I dial the number to my primary phone, hurrying back upstairs to answer it. I slip the burner into my robe.

“Hello,” I answer. “Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can. No, don’t even worry about it,” I say, speaking to a dead line.

“Is everything okay?” Griffin asks, sitting up concerned.

I sit on the bed next to him. “It’s my cousin-”


“Yes. He’s not doing well with the news of our grandma. I’m sorry, but I gotta go,” I say, gathering my clothes to dress. Griffin stands starting to do the same as I hoped he would.

Five minutes pass from the time Griffin leaves to the time I hear the keys in my door. They’re right on cue. I quickly grab my Bersa from the kitchen cabinet, aiming it directly at the front door. Michael comes in first with his Browning .9mm aimed right at my forehead. The disapproval is clear in his eyes as I aim my gun between his eyes. Delaney comes up the rear, aiming his Browning High Powered GP35. He curls around Michael slowly, coming up on the side of me with his gun aimed at my temple. It’s very impressive. I won’t lie. I’m scared shitless.

“Drop your gun, Chandler,” Delaney warns.

As scared as I am I keep my eyes, and gun trained on Michael. They will not rattle me. I bet Delaney isn’t expecting the six-inch Bayonet, I quickly grab from my thigh holster. I hold it flush against his carotid artery. I do it with such speed and accuracy, I’d be surprised if Michael could have countered me.

“You’re not dead, I see,” Michael speaks low and dangerous.

“What are you doing in my house, Michael?” I counter.

“You didn’t answer your phone. Why?”

“I was asleep. I didn’t hear it,” I answer, clipped.

“I told you what would happen if you didn’t answer,” he reminds me. “And you standing here, like that, is telling me you were expecting a confrontation.”

“I’m not running, Michael. I’m right here. Come and get me,” I say as I raise both my hands, letting my gun fall loosely in my finger. I release Delaney’s throat, surrendering. Michael lowers his weapon, holstering it, giving Delaney permission to do the same.

“What the fuck, you two,” Delaney says, taking a much-needed breath.

Michael continues to glare at me. I take it, never backing down. No one challenges Michael and lives, but I did. Michael betrayed me on several occasions, and I’m sick of being his whipping girl. I want him to know I’m not going to take it lying down.

“We have a briefing. Let’s go,” he demands before heading out the door.

Once Michael’s out of sight, I look at Delaney for the first time.

“Do you have a death wish, Chandler? Come on, we gotta go,” he says, grabbing me by my elbow.

The car ride to the cave is a quiet one as Michael speeds like he’s in the Indie 500. He’s so angry with me. I think he’s actually looking forward to the mission, so he can shoot something. I know I am.

“Are you going to turn me in, Michael?” I ask, callously.

“Is that what you want?” He eyes me in the rearview mirror.

“Michael. Chandler,” Delaney says our names sharply, eyeing both of us. “Maybe you guys should just bang and get it over with. I’m just saying, there’s a lot of tension in this car and there need not be. She’s fine, Michael.”

Michael whips into the parking stall with an abrupt stop. He wastes no time getting out of the car, slamming the door with force. He walks into the Collective without waiting for either of us.

“All of this because I didn’t answer my phone? I wasn’t running. What’s his problem, Coop?”

“He was worried about you, Chandler. That right there: is Michael on fear,” he says, half joking. He nods his head in the direction of the tunnel, and I comply. We enter Tactical seconds after Michael, and the General notices.

“Are we on your time schedule now, Michael? Was there a shift in power I didn’t know about? Do I suddenly work for you?” The General’s tone is angry.

“No, sir, my apologies. Delaney and Shyira were giving Godfrey the changes I made in our artillery, while I finished up with the new intel I received,” Michael explains, taking his seat.

Wow, he didn’t even blink. Michael spins his lie as easily as a spider spins its web. Everyone took their seats and the General began the briefing, not thinking twice about what Michael said.

“I just received new intel. One of ours is being held in Moscow. In a Russian stronghold; Vivian, pull up the profile,” the General instructs.

A picture of a gorgeous woman pops up. The picture has Michael sitting up a little straighter in his chair. He looks up at the General.

“Sir,” he questions.

“Yes, Michael. She’s alive.” The General speaks only to him when answering.

“For those of you who are new, this is Echo. She trained here with Michael. She was regarded as an excellent operative. She is being held in a heavily-armed stronghold. We will have two teams on this one. Michael’s team will be running point. Chavez, you’ll be running Bravo team.” The General looks to Chavez before speaking again. “You back him up with whatever he needs. Do you understand?” the General asks, harshly.

“Sir,” Chavez nods.

“Michael, you and your team will enter under the cover of darkness, here,” the General points to a weaker-guarded spot of the building. “Chavez and his team will pick off the tops of the building keeping your perimeter clear. You’ll enter in a leap frog formation through this door. You will have to assess the inside of the building once on site. We haven’t been able to get eyes inside. This is not a capture mission. This is an extraction and execution. Everything else you need to know will be on your phones. Wheels up in twenty, ladies and gentlemen,” the General instructs as he shuts down the image on the screen. The teams head to the Ready Room to change for the mission. The look on Michael’s face, and the surprise tone in his voice has me very interested in who Echo is. What does she mean to Michael? If anyone knows, Godfrey does, so he’s my first stop.

“Hey, pixie stix, you ready for your weapons?” Godfrey asks with a smile.

“Godfrey, who is Echo?” I ask nonchalantly as I grab my bag from him.

“Echo,” he says, surprised. “How do you know that name?”

“She’s our mission. We’re to extract her from a Russian black site. Apparently, she trained with Michael,” I state, setting my bag on the table.

“Sounds like you’ve already been briefed, so what are you asking me . . . really?”

Sometimes Godfrey surprises even me with his ability to see through my pretense.

“Michael seemed very interested once he found out who we were extracting. Not to mention, the General looked right at him when he said she’s still alive. Was she thought dead?”

“He would be very interested. They were thick as thieves during their training.” Godfrey leans in. “Some say they were doing more than training on their down days,” he says, wagging his eyebrows. He’s so crass.

He stands up straight again. “No one really knew because they both kept things close to the vest. After training was over she was sent to the Collective in Greece, where the need for a female valentine operative was greater,” Godfrey explains.

I don’t understand. “A valentine operative?”

“She’s like the female version of Michael. She’s very beautiful, and very good at handling the opposite sex. Come to think of it, you would make a fantastic valentine operative.”

I frown at him, not seeing the compliment I know he means it to be. He blanches, but continues. “They were both trained by the same handler, Christopher Jessup. She and Michael were the last operatives he trained before he disappeared while on a mission. The same mission Echo was presumed dead. Michael was the only member from his team to survive. He took Jessup’s spot after we couldn’t locate him.”

“You mean she has to seduce and sleep with men, like Michael does with women?” I ask straight up. Yes, he said all that and I’m still stuck on the whole valentine operative thing.

Godfrey only winks at me. “Get out of here, beautiful. You have a mission to prepare for. Don’t forget your bag,” Godfrey says, handing me the duffle bag of goodies.

Heading toward the Ready Room, I pass Michael. It’s like he has tunnel vision. I hear him speak never breaking stride as he walks by me.

“Five minutes, Shy.”

Is he still pissed I didn’t answer my phone, or is he that concerned about this Echo girl?

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