Authors: Gabby Grant
Mastiff’s color reverted from peachy to
white, but he held his place in his chair without speaking.
“My wife is
crazy. She saw it and so did I.
the proof in your hands. Now do some
goddamn thing with it!”
Mark slammed into his office and shut the door behind him.
It wasn’t just Mastiff that bothered him, but the whole stinking scenario.
Sure, Ana’s computer scare could just have been a fluke, a sick joke, as
Mastiff maintained, played by some computer nut with too much time on his
hands. But Mark didn’t think so. Something about the whole thing cut just a
little too close for comfort. The fact that the pervert had known Ana’s name
and hinted at her occupation-or at least her previous one-was a red flag too
flagrant to ignore. In addition, the freak had personality problems. It didn’t
take Sigmund Freud to recognize that no caps and no punctuation meant delusions
of grandeur. This creep thought he was better than the rest of them, some
self-appointed marquis who didn’t have to play by the rules.
rules, except for his own.
It was funny how Mark and Ana both had
immediately come to think of their cyber-creep as a man. An easy assumption,
perhaps, as “he’d” assumed Mark’s screen name. Mark supposed this wacko could
just as easily
a woman and knew it was against
analytical common sense to rule that out. But his gut told him that this bastard’s
MO was way too predatory to reflect the more subtle feminine wiles of even the
most heartless woman terrorist. At least that’s what he thought his gut was
Mark sat heavily in his chair and lifted the silver-framed
photo from his desk. Ana, in all her exotic dark-haired splendor, lay sprawled,
belly-down, on a picnic blanket at Washington, DC’s Haines Point. They’d gone
to watch the airplanes gliding above the water in graceful descent toward
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and to discuss a thing or two about
their futures. Mark was being reassigned to Virginia and he’d asked Ana to come
along- as his wife. Her deep brown eyes, reflecting the shimmer of the diamond
on her left hand, had immortalized the magic of the moment when she’d said yes.
She’d leaned forward across the blanket, propping her porcelain chin in her
hands and dared her new husband-to-be to make it a Kodak moment. Then, after
he’d taken the picture, she’d dared him to kiss her and take her home.
From the minute he’d first laid eyes on the hypnotic woman
in a passport photo when her missing person file had landed on his desk more
than three years ago, Mark had never been able to refuse Ana anything. Without
even having met her, he’d been immediately compelled to help her, to surmount
all obstacles- at any cost- to ensure her safety. Once her horrific ordeal with
the Basque terrorists who’d kidnapped her was over, Mark’s official role in her
case had ended. But, in his heart, he’d known that whatever was to be between
them had only begun.
Upon returning from her last assignment in the Latin
American country of Costa Negra, Ana, then an international project manager for
the US State
had admitted to Mark at the
inception of their relationship that her professional ambitions were changing.
She’d been dealt a double-blow, both in her kidnapping and the wrath of
revelations accompanying her freedom. Plus, she’d learned first-hand what sort
of scum existed in the world. And the lengths it would slither to in order to
ensure destruction. Well, Ana had endured enough belly-scrapers to last a
lifetime. Now she was ready to put such vermin out of its misery.
take a proactive
. It was too much a part of her, too much who she was to deny any
Intelligence was in her blood. And so it was with great
force and determination that Ana had announced, shortly after she and Mark had
begun dating, that she wanted
the family business. Nothing could have
surprised her father more. Or, Mark knew, secretly pleased him.
Though her State Department experience was somewhat
applicable, by and large
had to start from
scratch. After a seven-month wait for her top-secret security clearance
approval, she’d been able to join Mark in Virginia as a junior analyst in the
Latin America Division at DIPAC. The timing had coincided perfectly with the
impending date of their wedding, which was scheduled for two weeks after her
She’d been doing great, was a real
with big promise to move up the ladder. And, despite sniggers of nepotism
within the tiny organization, Mark knew- and Ana was proud of the fact- she was
doing it on her own. Her regional language skills had been a boon but her keen
ability to rapidly dissect situations for what they were was what had caught
the Commander’s eye. If it hadn’t been for her decision to take indefinite
leave after Isa was born, she’d have made senior analyst by now. Yet, she’d
been adamant about staying home with the baby and working out a consulting
arrangement involving unclassified technical writing for DIPAC.
It had been her choice, her desire, to pursue the change and
make raising Isa her priority. Even once the press of only part-time work
revealed the need for a regular baby sitter, Ana’d maintained she was happy
compromise. So why then did Mark
still have the feeling Ana resented him mightily for his supposedly pushing her
Albert Kane removed his glasses and rose from his desk.
“Ana!” he said, walking over to embrace his youngest daughter in a bear hug.
“To what do I owe the honor of this visit?”
Ana pulled him in, inhaling the scent of cologne mixed with
cigar tobacco that flung her back over the years, and buried her head in her
father’s frail shoulder. She couldn’t help but notice how thin he’d become, how
worn and fragile like a pale reflection of the strong young Army officer she’d
known as a child. It seemed only yesterday that they’d finally reconciled, that
she in her own way had found heart to forgive him. It had been a murky time
but, somewhere between her mother’s funeral and the birth of her child, Ana and
her father had established an uneasy peace.
“Ana?” her father questioned, bringing a hand to her head.
And the moment she felt his touch, Ana knew that, despite his wane appearance,
her father hadn’t weakened.
Ana pulled back and steadied her gaze on her father’s. With
Ana in heels, they stood almost eye-to-eye. “It’s Mark.”
Her father shifted his hands to her shoulders in surprise.
But when Ana hung her head, Albert walked over and closed
his office door. “Come, sit,” he said, taking his daughter by the elbow. “Tell
me what he’s done.”
Ana sat on the small beige sofa opposite her father’s desk
and retrieved a balled-up tissue from her pocket. “It’s more what he hasn’t.”
Albert sat beside her and set his wire-rimmed glasses back
on his nose.
Ana looked up bleary-eyed, unsure of how to articulate her
tangled emotions. It wasn’t that she could hold Mark accountable for any
particular fault. Still, there was something missing. Something that had
slipped away just as surely as a melting snow beneath the heat of an April
afternoon. But instead of sunshine inside, Ana felt a perpetual filtering burn
- sometimes sifting so deeply she was altogether certain there was no way to
extinguish its scorching flame.
“The first couple of years in a marriage are never easy,”
her father said, with a light touch to her arm.
“Easy, no,” Ana, said with a shake of her head, “but are
they supposed to be this damn quiet?”
Albert wrinkled his brow. “Quiet?”
studying the dingy carpet. “The silence is more than I can bear.”
Albert cleared his throat and looked out the window behind
his desk that framed the DC skyline in picturesque morning hues. “Have you
Mark is like trying to interrogate the security staff of the DOS. It’s a
been under stress.”
Ana sat back against the sofa.
“That’s what he’s accused me of.”
“I’ve made a decision,” Ana said flatly.
Albert pulled off his glasses and tucked them in his suit
pocket. “I wouldn’t do anything rash, daughter.”
“Not so rash,” Ana assured him. “Just something to put
things on a more even keel for the two of us.”
Albert looked at her expectantly.
Ana took a deep breath,
out in one fast puff. “I want to go back to work.”
Albert withdrew his spectacles and placed them back on his
nose with measured caution. “I thought you
field reports. Very nice, I’ve read a few of them myself.”
It’s not the same and you know it.”
Albert stretched his knuckles and studied the gold band on
his left hand before speaking. “Yes, I do. But there’s only so much you can do
from home. We talked this over before, Ana. Before you had Isabel and you
“I know what I said, dammit.”
Ana’s voice was cracking up, and she
loathed her own weakness.
Albert cleared his throat and laid his hands on his knees.
“So tell me,” he said, looking straight ahead at the panorama of Washington
monuments separated from DOS headquarters by the gray morning waters of the
Potomac. “What’s this got to do with Mark?”
“He thinks I’m losing it, really losing it.”
“He said this?” Albert looked disapproving but still studied
Ana winced inside, knowing the painful
The man she’d met three-and-a-half years ago, the man she had
married would never have been capable of the accusations now hurled her way by
the stranger in her house. And, believing
forgetful, “scatterbrained,” was only the half of it. The worst part came in
what he didn’t say, in the haunting chill that so often settled between them.
“Doesn’t have to. I love him, I know what he’s thinking.”
“Ah yes,” Albert said, leaning back on the sofa and draping
an arm around his daughter’s shoulder. “So you, dear child, are bound and
determined to prove you’re not ‘losing it’, as you say. And where do I fit into
this pretty equation?”
“I’ve got an idea. A project.”
Albert turned to look at her.
“I want to go back to work for the DOS.”
Albert raised two snowy eyebrows and narrowed his hazel gaze
through his glasses. “Move back to DC?”
“No, stay in Virginia. Just as I am- but with a project,
like I said. Freelance.”
father removed his arm from her shoulder and sat thinking a moment. “You will,
of course, discuss this ‘project’
with your old man?”
“And with Mark?”
Ana turned from her father and looked
toward the door.
“And with Mark...?” Albert repeated, bringing a finger to
his daughter’s shoulder-length hair.
“I need to do this on my own.”
“Now, Ana. I don’t know what it is you’re thinking, but-”
“On my own,” she said flatly.
“Sweetheart, not five minutes ago you told me that you love
“And he, you suppose... You still believe he loves you?”
Ana winced inside, wishing she could say
no, he didn’t
That would make her predicament so much easier for her father to understand.
But the fact was, Mark’s love was not what Ana doubted. Nor was it his
commitment. What she questioned was the much more painful issue of what he now
thought-or possibly feared-he’d been committed to. “Without question.”
“Then why the duplicity, Ana. I can’t under-”
Albert fell silent as she shot him a look meant for his core.
Her father was the last person on earth to go casting stones about duplicity.
“Something’s happened. Something weird that I think Mark
doesn’t quite have a handle on.”
“Mark Neal is the finest-”
“I know you think he walks on water.”
Albert lowered his glasses and stared at his daughter.
“Okay, so I’ll admit,” she said feeling the unaccustomed
warmth in her cheeks, “I once thought so, too.”
It had been foolish, idealistic, but at
one time she’d looked at Mark as some sort of uncanny hero.
Ana crushed the mangled tissue in her hand and shoved it
back in her pocket, hoping that hiding it would preclude her having to use it.
Something between us.
longer sees me as an
She fought with the word, hating to hear
herself say it. “...
“I’m sure you’re wrong.”
“Give me a chance to prove it...to Mark, but mainly to
myself.” She locked on her father’s eyes and gave him her best pleading look,
the one that had never failed to elicit results since Ana was five years old.
“One chance is all I’m asking.”
Albert looked at her sternly, but somewhere behind the frost
Ana thought she saw a hint of summer. “How big a chance and what are the
“No risks, I swear. Just research.
All I need is access to the DOS-DIPAC Operations Liaison.”
“Colonel Roberts. I’d like to see her, if you don’t mind.
Ask a few questions, maybe go through the DIPAC-linked database.”