I can see myself.
Like the narrator of my own story. I’m standing in the parking lot of Starbucks, like an out of body experience. I can see the conversation Michael and I are having as if it’s a movie playing out in front of me. He’s looking at me through his long black eyelashes, and aquamarine eyes. Eyes so aqua there is no way they should belong to a human, only the deep blue of the Caribbean. My heart speeds up slightly as I look at him. The contrast of his ink black hair, dark lashes, brows, and those ocean eyes is truly heart stopping. The way his hair falls on each side, stopping just at his brow. It reminds me of Johnny Depp’s hair when he played the role of John Dillinger in Public Enemy. Not even the people walking by, nor the noisy L.A. traffic can steal my attention from this gorgeous man.
“I’m sorry, Michael. I have plans tonight,” I hear myself say.
He nods then shrugs his shoulders. “Can’t say I didn’t try.”
He’s so confident. I don’t know how much longer I can keep playing hard to get. Michael opens my door for me before turning to walk away, leaving me to stand alone between my car door and its interior. I watch him, hating the fact that he’s leaving. A few seconds later, I get into the car, starting the engine.
“Michael,” I call out from the car window. Screw it. I’m not letting this one get away from me.
My eyes are heavy as I try to open them. Was that a dream, or did that happen?
Everything is so foggy. It’s too bright in here. The light hurts my eyes even through the haze clouding my vision. Turning my head slowly, I can see I’m in a circular shaped room. It’s all white, with a very sterile feel to it. It’s freezing in here. How did I get here? The bed I find myself in is strategically placed in the center of the room. I look down at my arm to find an IV securely taped in place. My leg, wrapped in white gauze, is suspended in front of me. Looking around again, I spot a metal door, which holds no handle. To the right of the door is a window, but it’s dark with no signs of life on the other side.
Think, Shy, think.
I hit myself on the side of my head, trying to jog loose the memory of what happened. The last thing I remember is being at The Three Clubs with Michael, and my unit. There was a shooting, and something about John. I close my eyes against the haze and try to remember. The memory washes over me in a flash, and I’m right back in the exact moment.
My head is spinning, and I can’t be entirely certain it isn’t the three glasses of Riesling I’ve already consumed. It very well could be the fact that Michael’s breathtaking. The way he watches me makes me feel as if I’m the only one in the room. His walk alone has me weak in the knees. There’s something so commanding about him. I’ve been around a lot of strong men in my life, but none give off the danger that exudes from him.
He’s in my face now, and I find my courage--liquid or not--to look him in the eyes. There’s something in his eyes that hasn’t been there before. A knowing of sorts, but for the life of me I can’t begin to guess what that is. He caresses my arms, and his touch is sobering. This is not the alcohol. It’s the fact that I have this incredibly handsome man standing in front of me. He’s obviously into me, so why not go for it? Or maybe, I need to stop drinking.
An unfamiliar feeling washes over me, a sudden gravitational pull to this man . . . this stranger. I’ve never felt anything like it before. I don’t know how or when it happened, but I feel myself leaning forward. I want to kiss him more than I want to breathe in this moment, until a loud familiar voice comes from behind me, bringing me back to reality.
That voice was John’s voice. Oh God, John! It did happen. None of this was a dream. Someone took John, and shot me. My adrenaline kicks in and the haze lessens. I try moving for the first time, and realize I’m restrained. I’ve been kidnapped, but by who, and why?
“Hello,” I try yelling, but my voice squeaks.
No one answers. A few short seconds later the door in front of me opens, and a tall woman walks in. She’s all grace. I watch her as she strolls toward me. The edge of her ash-colored skirt ends at a blunt angle. A few razor-cut ruffles precariously cling to the sharp collar of her burgundy blouse. I’d say she has very pretty face if her stern expression wasn’t set in stone. Her dark brown hair, the color of a coconut shell, is cut very short with tight curls. There isn’t enough hair to style, but it compliments her well. My first thought is she spends all her time indoors. Her skin is so pale, making her blood-red lipstick stand out. Her eyes, I notice more than anything. They’re as dark and empty as the room on the other side of that window. That scares me.
The door closes automatically behind her, and the woman never breaks stride as she makes her way to the front of my bed. I scoot up the bed as much as my leg and arm restraints will allow. An autonomic reaction, I think. Instinctively, I know she’s dangerous. I feel like a fly caught in a spider’s web. My head is still a little foggy. I have no clue of where I am, or how I got here.
“Miss. Chandler, you have been awarded the opportunity to do something very important for your country. You will live here, train here, and when the time comes, and if we feel you’re capable, you will be an intricate member of the Collective. You are no longer FBI, Miss. Chandler. As far as the rest of the world knows you no longer exist. Defy us, or try to escape in any way, and we will turn your cover into reality.”
Wait a minute, did she just threaten me? Who is this crazy bitch?
The woman is a perfect statue while making her threats, not even micro-expressions. When she’s done saying what she has to say she turns on her heels, walking away without as much as a glance over her shoulder. The door opens and closes in the same fashion it had when she entered. All on its own, which suggests someone else is watching. She leaves with the same grace and confidence she had upon arriving. I can’t form a single coherent thought, except that I woke up in a nightmare. The anger hits me a few seconds too late. I blame it on the lack of neurochemical synapse firing in my brain, due to the drugs they’re pumping into me through my I.V. Okay, I’ll admit I’m shaken by what the woman said. I didn’t even have enough wits to ask where I am, what her name is, or at the very least become indignant. I so want a do over!
I try to lift my leg for better leverage against my restraints, but the pain steals that idea replacing it with a quick, sharp intake of breath.
“Who the fuck are you people? What the hell do you want with me?” I curse.
I lay my head against the pillows, closing my eyes in frustration. The familiar sound of the metal door opening again has my head snapping up as my eyes fly open. This time the visitor is a more welcoming one, although I’m shocked to see him here. Michael.
The door closes behind him as he walks toward me.
“How’s your leg?” he asks.
His phrasing and tone are so nonchalant it worries me. I ignore his question. “Michael, what are you doing here? We need to get out of here. These people are crazy,” I whisper, but my gut is telling me he isn’t here to help me. He’s the same calm, cool Michael he’s been since we first met. Actually, he’s too calm.
“You can’t leave,” he replies simply as his voice drops an octave, becoming huskier.
Is he trying to intimidate me?
“The hell I can’t,” I find my voice now. My brain still isn’t running on all cylinders, but it’s working well enough to know I should be pissed. “I know my rights. I work for the government of the United States, I am F . . . B . . . I,” I yell, separating each syllable for emphasis.
Michael looks away from me before speaking. Hm, that’s interesting.
“You’ll still be working for the government, only a more covert section of the government.”
“What is happening?” I ask out of shock.
“You’ve been recruited to possibly work for the most covert anti-terrorist unit on the planet. All our missions are . . . deniable missions. We take what no one else will touch,” Michael explains.
“Possibly?” I whisper, not really catching much of what he’s pitching. I blink a few times, trying to clear my head. “So, wait, are you a bunch of mercs?”
“No, Miss Chandler. Mercenaries suggest we can be bought, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Michael states matter of fact. Whoa, did he just call me Miss. Chandler? Is this the real Michael? It damn sure isn’t the one I met on the beach.
I think I might have struck a nerve with that merc comment. I can’t help but feel elated, and a little vindicated by his reaction, which brings me to my next question.
“How much American tax dollars are you guys stealing to bankroll this little operation?” I ask, sardonically.
“That’s above your pay grade,” Michael shoots back, staring at me.
Pay grade? So, now he’s offering me a job? They have one hell of an interview process.
“So, I get paid for being your prisoner?”
“You won’t go hungry,” he admits, curtly.
I take a deep breath. I’m done playing games. “Okay, cut the crap, Michael. What the hell is this place, and why did you bring me here?”
“We’re in London, and-”
“Wait! What the hell do you mean we’re in London?” I glare at him. “You took me across international waters without my permission. You just wait till I get back to the U.S. I’m going to put your ass under the jail. You and that psycho bitch that was just in here.” I’m irate now. Who the hell do these people think they are?
“Like I said, the Collective is a global anti-terrorist agency.” Michael finishes his statement as if my rant never took place. “After your leg has healed you will begin an accelerated training program for about two years, maybe less if your FBI training proves useful.”
I laugh. He’s gotta be kidding. “Proves useful,” I repeat, completely insulted. “I graduated top of my class at Quantico. And, if I weren’t strapped to this bed I’d kick your ass right now!” My blood’s boiling.
“I’m well aware of your jacket, Miss. Chandler.”
He sounds so cold. In all my anger all I can think to say is, “That’s Special Agent Chandler to you.”
“Not anymore,” Michael replies.
My restraints clang against the bed, causing Michael to look at my hand, which is artfully giving him the bird. Michael smirks, getting to his feet.
“Who are you?” I ask, narrowing my eyes. “You’re not Michael. You’re like . . . Dante, leading me down the nine circles of hell.”
“You’re not too far from the truth.” I hear him say quietly as he walks out the door.
“Michael,” I yell after him. “You can’t keep me here!”