The First of Many

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Chapter 54

“You know, you are horribly predictable,” Hannah said when she woke up in a vaguely familiar room.

The man who had just entered didn’t so much as blink. “So are you, girl,” he answered in a thick Australian accent. “I knew you’d come here eventually. Learn to take care of yourself, I’m not your nanny.”

“How long was I out?”

“Few weeks. Bad scarring. Try not to move too much.”

"Maybe I should change up my style," she answered.

"So, why did you come?"

“If you knew I was coming, you know why.”

The man chuckled. “So the old Boss finally split off from the others?” he asked. “I wondered how long it would take him.”

"I'm tracking him and his crew, and I need a location."

“I’m afraid I haven’t got one,” he answered. “And I suggest you don’t go looking. Wouldn’t want you to mess up that pretty face of yours.”

“Red, you know what they want. I won’t give it to them. I need to stop them, but to do that, I need intel. And I know you have some.”

“I know it’s Aleski that’s after you,” he said, “But that’ll just make your life harder, if you have to kill him. Which you will, of course.”

Hannah pretended to not react to the news of Aleski as best she could, but the man could tell that she was shaken.

He sighed, raising a sardonic eyebrow at her. “You are not allowed to start crying,” he said flatly. “I won’t hold with your nonsense, girl. Sit down, let me get you a coffee. You need it.”

"How do you know it's Aleski?" she asked, holding back tears and all but collapsing into the offered chair.

“It’s common sense. You would rather die than kill him, everyone knows that. Besides, he came to me asking where you were.”

“Did you tell him?”

“Of course not. What kind of a person do you think I am?”

“Do you want the answer to that, Red?” she asked wryly as he handed her a mug of coffee.

“Don’t think I won’t take a belt to that pretty skin of yours just because you’re all grown up, girl.”

Hannah chuckled. “Sure, Red,” she answered, taking a sip. “You still drink this shit?”

“It’s cheap.”

“It tastes like mud.”

“Mud is very good for you.”

“Sure it is,” she answered, putting the mug down.

"So, what's this I hear about you dating a Navy SEAL? You working him over for information?" Red asked curiously, eyeing Hannah with a raised brow.

“You think he has any information I don’t already know?” she answered.

"That doesn't answer my question. Why are you dating a SEAL?"

She paused for a moment, frowning. “I don’t know,” she said. “It was just a game. He took me dancing. We kissed. That’s it.”

“That had better be it, I don’t want to see you get compromised.”

Hannah hummed noncommittally, looking away.

Red let out a heavy sigh. “You’re already compromised, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” she said honestly.

"Explain," he ordered.

“It’s like I said. We went dancing. We kissed. We went home.”


“His apartment.”

“You call that home, now?”

Hannah frowned. “I guess so,” she said.

“After that. What happened?”

“I went running, next morning. The usual recording, of course-”

“-Glad to know you carry my voice with you-”

“-And I came home in pretty bad shape. He made me eat and shower and go to sleep, and I woke up with him.”

“With him as in what?”

“As in curled up in his bed, like the targets prefer me to be when they’re protective and want to take care of me.”

“What does this have to do with you being compromised?”

Hannah looked away again. “I liked it,” she admitted. “I wanted it. And him.”

“Do you understand how dangerous it will be if you form a romantic attachment?”

“I think it’s too late for that, Red,” she said quietly. “It’s… I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“They never do.”

“I don’t know if it’s love,” she said. “It’s not what I had with Aleski, but that isn’t saying much.”

"Do you think he loves you?"

“I think he’s stupid enough to trust me, if that’s what you mean.”

"That's not what I mean, and I didn't ask if he trusted you."

“Red, you don’t know what love is any better than I do. Cut it out with the riddles.”

"Well, I only ask because Aleski captured an American Special Ops team recently. I had to hack into their security cameras to get this image from a nearby compound," he said as he handed her a picture.

The picture was a mess of pixels and black-and white, but she could still make out the shape of Aedan, far too thin, and the rest of the team, slumped against the walls of a room. Hannah’s heart sank down to her stomach.

"That's why I had to ask," he said.

“How long has it been?” she croaked.

"Since they were captured? Three weeks. Since this was taken, twenty-four hours."

“Why do they want them?”

“I don’t know. Could be bait for you, if they know that you’re attached. But it’s equally likely he wants information on your location. After all, they’re your team. They would know.”

"I need to save them," she said decisively. "They would do the same for me, especially Aedan."

"There's something else. I managed to piece together some audio. He referred to you as 'the woman I love,'" Red said.

Hannah froze. “He said that?” she breathed.

“He did.”

She slumped. “Fuck, he’s really that stupid.”

"Point is, they will kill him, soon. I want to know how you're going to handle this," he said. "You have my support either way if you decide to save him."

“You don’t have to,” she murmured. “You have a chance to stay out of this for good.”

“People like us don’t retire, they die. I’m with you and you know it. You want to save him or no?”

“I have to. That’s my team in there.”

"Then give 'em hell," he said. "And Mirage, take care of yourself. Don't let your feelings be your downfall."

“Do you have anything for me?”

“They’re in Moscow. Secondary base, you know the one. Got bombed out a few years back, nice and quiet. They’re in the gas chamber. Lots of guards.”

"What gear do you have for me?" she asked.

"Stun grenades, a crossbow, and assorted knives.”

She grinned. “Oh, I knew there was a reason I loved you,” she teased.

“Close your mouth, girl,” he answered. “You gonna finish that coffee?”

"Nah. I hate that stuff. I need to get ready," she said as she rose.

He grinned, waving cheerily after her. “Happy hunting, daughter mine!” he called.

“Go fuck yourself!” she hollered back as she left.

Chuckling quietly, he drained Hannah’s coffee. “Good luck, Coppelia,” he said to the empty air.
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