Fatal Truth: Shadow Force International (8 page)

“I’m sorry. Are you a vegetarian?” she asked. “I can open a can of refried beans and you can pick out the beef tips.”

The eyes under the edge of the baseball cap rose to stare at the tablecloth. Coldplay picked up the knife and then the fork. “The meat is fine.”

“You’re just not comfortable eating with me.”

He began to cut his fajita into pieces. “It’s against protocol.”

“And you never break the rules?”

Head down, he ate slowly, meticulously, ignoring her jab. Satisfied that he was at least eating the food she’d prepared, she went back to eating her own fajita, now nearly cold.

The silence was edgy. Coldplay wasn’t nervous or antsy but definitely…controlled. He didn’t like his assignment, didn’t like bending the protocol rules to eat with her, but he wasn’t dramatic about it or overtly obvious.

Military, she thought. She’d met a few military men and women through her show and seen many amongst the citizens of DC. She’d even had a Marine or two hit on her. Some were certainly friendly and outgoing, but behind their eyes they always seemed to be hiding some secret. As if they were better than you or at least more dangerous.

Juice dripped from the end of her tortilla, running down her fingers. She set down the food and licked her pinky. “What’s wrong with my security system?”

Coldplay’s gaze locked on her mouth as she licked another finger, his fork stopping in midair. Maybe it was that damn baseball cap throwing weird shadows, but his pupils seemed to widen.

“Coldplay?”

His gaze snapped to hers. He sat up taller. “What?”

She almost grinned, a new thought dawning. He wasn’t trying to avoid her because he hated her. He was avoiding her because…

He was attracted to her?

No. That couldn’t be. His initial reaction when she’d opened the door had
not
been attraction. And here she sat now with no makeup, her hair in a ponytail, and dressed in spandex that had seen better days.

“My security system?” Maybe the food had wooed him over, and she hadn’t even made anything impressive. “You said I needed an upgrade?”

The knife and fork crisscrossed on top of his plate. He’d downed the fajita in four bites. “The system is old and the code is easy to override with a simple smart phone app. I’ll call the office tonight and get a new one installed first thing tomorrow.”

Efficient. She liked that. The producers of her show should take notes. “Anything else I need to upgrade?”

Standing, he shook his head and reached for his plate. “No, ma’am.”

As she watched him take his plate to the kitchen, she finished off her fajita, mind spinning. One minute he was cool and aloof, the next, he was looking at her like she was on the dinner menu. Now, he was back to justifying his code name.

What she wouldn’t give to dig under that layer of ice and find out what made him tick.

He rinsed his plate in the sink and stuck it in the dishwasher, then came back for hers.

“Thank you,” she said as he whisked the plate away.

Efficient
and
well-mannered. She took a sip of wine trying to remember Brady ever clearing the table after a meal.

Nope, not once
.

Good manners were never outdated, her mother always said. Brady had owned the shiniest set of manners this side of the Mason-Dixon line, but he’d never washed off his dinner plate and stuck it in the dishwasher. Of course, he never visited Savanna’s place or let her cook for him either. He ate out or had his personal chef prepare dinners for him.

Coldplay seemed to like keeping his hands busy. He fussed with a towel, wiping down the sink. Taking her wine with her, Savanna went to her desk and found the file she wanted, then returned and tossed the file on the breakfast bar. “Can we talk about Parker now?”

Coldplay folded the towel and set it on the countertop. He glanced at the folder and his face went totally neutral. She almost heard his mental sigh.

But in the next instant, and without a word, he took a seat at the bar and opened the red cover.

Afraid she might spook him, Savanna carefully slid onto the bar stool next to him and held her breath.

SEALS
LIVED BY
the motto “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”

Savanna Jeffries had done a lot of sweating.

Trace read through the file she had compiled on her sister, one Parker Emery Annabelle Jeffries. In the photo headshot clipped to the front, Parker was a dead ringer for Savanna, except for the eyes. The sisters both wore their hair long, shared the same petite nose and striking bone structure.

But where Savanna’s eyes were the deep blue of a peacock feather, Parker’s were green. In the picture she was smiling, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.

Savanna still hadn’t recognized him. He’d been sure that the moment he sat across from her for dinner, she’d figure out why he seemed familiar.

She hadn’t. Maybe because she’d been waiting to get to this part.

Physical description and a curriculum vitae of Parker followed, tracking her from Vassar to a private R&D group to the National Intelligence division, then a log of sorts. Dates, times, snippets of conversations Savanna had noted and highlighted. The day Savanna last heard from her; a list of possible reasons Parker had ceased communication. Previous times when Parker had been on assignment or out of town and the history of their texts, emails, and phone calls. Parker was an analyst, not an operative. She’d left her cubicle on occasion to accompany her boss on a few overseas trips, but had never done time as an operative.

At least not on paper.

She didn’t seem like the typical counterterrorism expert with her background in science and cognitive brain therapy, but apparently her skills were spot on when evaluating what made people commit acts of terror.

Another page detailed phone calls Savanna had made to Parker’s friends and coworkers and the responses she’d gotten. No one knew anything.

Which meant someone was lying.

Most likely, Parker.

An analyst with no field experience was the president’s pick to bring him his daily briefing? It didn’t make sense.

Except that Linc Norman had a thing for pretty women, especially those willing to serve him in more ways than one.

One thing for sure was that Savanna Jeffries was good at investigative reporting. She’d explored every option, spoken to everyone she could, including people high up in National Intelligence. According to her notes, she’d met a dead end at every turn.

From the energy vibrating off her body seated next to him, and the hope shining in her eyes, she was hoping he would find a way to bust through those dead ends.

Too bad all he could do was tell her the truth. The one thing she’d ignored.

“Well?” she said a few minutes later.

One word, but it held the same desperate hope he saw reflected in her eyes.

For a second, she wasn’t the reporter who’d splashed his bearded SEAL face all over TV and caused his downfall. She was just a woman worried about her sister.

Worried? She was scared to death.

He tore his gaze away from hers. The intensity of those blue eyes was too much. He couldn’t tell her what he suspected without crushing her hopes. Without hope, what did a person have?

Another lesson he was intimately familiar with.

Reviewing Parker’s resume once more, he pointed to her start date with the CIA. “Are you sure this is when she started with the Agency?”

“Yes, why?”

“The president relies heavily on the Director of National Intelligence to present an accurate threat matrix to him every morning. The director relies on his top analyst to pull that threat matrix together from each of the intelligence agencies. But I’ve never heard of the NI’s top analyst being someone without field experience. An analyst can be crafty and outthink most terrorists, but a superior analyst is one who’s had boots on the ground experience with those terrorists.”

A thread of uncertainty crept into her voice. “What are you saying?”

Trace didn’t answer. Savanna could figure it out on her own.

“My sister is a spy?”


Was
a spy is my guess.”

“I don’t understand. How is that possible?”

“Most CIA employees never even tell you where they work, much less what they actually do, especially if they’re operatives.”

“I’m her sister. We share everything.” She held up a hand. “Well, you know what I mean. She never shared details of her work, but she would have told me if she was an undercover operative. I would have known. She would have been out of the country on missions, gone for long periods of time.”

Trace wasn’t there to argue. “Was she sleeping with Linc Norman?”

The hand Savanna had been holding up fell, knocking into her wine glass. As the glass tipped, Trace snatched it up before it hit the granite counter.

Wine still went everywhere.

“Oh, jeez.” Savanna jumped up and ran for a towel. She handed it to him across the bar, exchanging it for the glass, and went back for a second towel to mop up the wine running down the other side.

“You don’t pull any punches, do you?” she said bending down behind the backside of the breakfast bar. “Ms. Reese didn’t either.”

He wiped off his hand and dabbed up the droplets that had landed on the file folder. “From all evidence, she either was a field-experienced intelligence operative or she and the president had a relationship.”

Savanna stood and huffed out a breath. “Those are my only two options?”

Trace handed back the towel. “The only two I can logically see.”

Her body trembled as if revolted. “There’s no way Parker would sleep with Linc Norman.” But her voice was soft, hesitant, for the first time since he’d met her. “Is it possible she was doing some type of work for him—something top secret—that he didn’t want anyone to know about? Not even the National Intelligence director, the CIA, Homeland, or anyone?”

Command & Control. They’d been dismantled. Or so he was told. Was Parker Jeffries one of them? Had she—like Trace—been under the president’s command and went against his orders?

The loud ringing of a phone made both of them turn their heads. Savanna nearly hurdled the breakfast bar in a dash to retrieve the cell phone from her desk. Trace noticed that she didn’t even bother looking at the readout as she tapped the screen and put the phone to her ear.

“Hello?”

As the person on the other end spoke, her tense shoulders deflated. “Zeb, how are you?…I’m sorry, I can’t really talk right now. I have company.”

She was hoping it was her sister
.

How many phone calls had Savanna received in the past few weeks since Parker had gone missing? Every one of them a let down because it wasn’t her?

A long pause ensued, but brought a sad smile to her lips. “I appreciate the offer, just like the last dozen times you’ve made it, but I don’t plan on returning to public access television any time soon…no, no, I’m fine.” Another pause. “No, I haven’t heard from her…okay, I’ll talk to you soon. We should do lunch at Geezy’s.”

She’d no sooner disconnected when the phone rang again. “Sorry,” she said. “This one is important.”

He returned his attention to the file, pretending not to eavesdrop.

“Hello, Dr. Hopland. Yes, I’m still interested in the interview… No, it’s not too late. Let me get to my computer.”

Savanna stuck the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she shuffled files off her laptop on the desk. “You received my email with the outline of the documentary I’m planning concerning your research?”

Trace sent a text to Beatrice, requesting some background on the entire Jeffries family. Was Parker actually missing or simply undercover and unable to make her usual contact? It took a skilled operative to lead a double life so efficiently that even her sister—a woman she had daily contact with—didn’t realize she was a spy.

But if Parker was indeed part of Command & Control, why had she told Savanna she reported to the president with his daily briefing? Wouldn’t she have kept that secret too?

Those working for C&C were the best of the best. Like Beatrice Reese who’d hidden her real name and identity so well Trace wasn’t sure he’d ever figure out the truth, and he probably didn’t want to. From what he’d seen in the couple days he’d been at the training facility, she had a photographic memory and the IQ of Einstein. Maybe higher. He’d worked with a lot of operatives over the years and each had their tics. If he had to guess, he’d say she was former NSA. He, on the other hand, had been the best of assassins. So while he’d trained and went on missions as a SEAL, some days, he was called on to work alone.

Savanna turned to him and covered the phone’s speaker. “This might take a while,” she whispered. “Help yourself to more wine.”

She whirled back around and sat at her desk, putting the doctor on speaker as she opened her laptop.

Trace closed the folder. There were people he and Beatrice could contact, see if they could pick up a trail on Parker, but being this close to Savanna 24/7 would only come back on him. Eventually, her keen eyes and memory would connect the dots. Something would click and she’d figure out who he was.

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