“Wow, you look like you had a rough night,” Anne said as Jason flopped down at his desk. The normally meticulous agent’s suit was rumpled. In fact, Anne was pretty sure it was the same suit he’d worn the previous day. Jason looked up at her with dulled eyes and heavy five o’clock shadow.
“Someone attacked the task force’s offices last night,” Jason replied, with a hint of hostility. “We think it was Arem and a couple of unknown actors. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it?”
“Why would I?” Anne asked, her own anger rising.
“Well, the team decides to work with Arem, and suddenly he’s attacking us,” Jason answered, “Plus, I know that Lady Maritza asked to see the task force’s intelligence and was told it was an internal matter. So, I’m wondering if our two unknowns were Erik and Kurt.”
“Well, I can tell you that Kurt wasn’t involved last night,” Anne shot back. Jason gave her a knowing look, and she felt her cheeks heat. “Well, he wasn’t.”
“Fine, but what about Erik?” Jason asked.
“Honestly couldn’t tell you,” Anne said, “He’s in and out at all hours anyway.”
“Was he out last night?” Jason pressed.
“Like I said, I honestly couldn’t tell you,” Anne answered, “I was kind of occupied all night.”
“Listen Anne, there are good reasons for the task force to do things the way that they do, so if you know anything, I need you to let me know,” Jason said, and then held up his hand, “Sorry, I’m not saying you’re holding anything back from me right now, but if you find something out, you need to let me know. The Avalonians are generally nice people, but they aren’t Americans. Their allegiance is to a foreign power whose interests don’t always mesh with ours.”
“Fine, Jason, I’ll let you know,” Anne said, letting her anger cover the conflict brewing inside her. She intellectually understood what Jason was trying to tell her, but it was hard to believe that any of the Avalonians – even Erik – would do anything to harm her or her country.
“So why did Arem attack the task force?” Anne asked, “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Leading theories are to get us out of the way, or to steal something from us,” Jason answered.
“Was something stolen?” Anne asked.
“I can’t tell you that,” Jason answered, “Sorry, but that’s classified.” He did look contrite, so Anne didn’t push it. “So what do we have on the docket for today?”
“Besides getting you some coffee?” Anne asked, “I figured we’d swing by the Korean market again and ask around. I’m still not satisfied that the uniforms did a sufficient canvass. Then, maybe go talk to Mrs. Reynolds about those odd transactions.”
“Let’s get moving before the captain sees me,” Jason said. “You said there was coffee involved, right?”
“That wonderful smell had better be dinner, because I’m famished,” Anne announced to the group as she stepped through the door. Anne and the Avalonians lived in a converted hotel that was owned by Lady Maritza. Although everyone’s rooms had a small kitchenette, the group tried to eat at least one meal together. It helped that Lady Maritza sent some of her staff out to the apartments to “look after” the group.
“Let me guess, you missed lunch again,” Kurt twitted her as he held out her chair. She was getting used to all those small gestures, and wondered why they didn’t bother her when Kurt did them.
“We were busy,” Anne said, “Just before we went to lunch, we caught another case. We were there for less than an hour before some damned rookie came up with our suspect in cuffs. Seems the kid saw our suspect dump the gun and still had the victim’s wallet on him. Then it was just type everything up and send it over to the DA’s.”
“It’s a shame all of your cases don’t go that well,” Samantha said, handing Anne a plate of roast chicken. “I bet Jason was happy.”
“Yeah, about Jason,” Anne said, “Did you know that the task force was attacked last night?” She watched Erik as she asked the question. Anne wasn’t sure what she was hoping to see on Erik’s face, but the man’s blank expression never wavered.
“By the outsiders?” Erik asked.
“No, they think it was Arem and two others,” Anne answered.
“Why would Arem attack the task force?” Veronica asked.
“Maybe to steal something,” Anne said, still watching Erik. God, sometimes the man was worse than Kristen Stewart when it came to facial expression. They locked eyes for the briefest moment before Anne looked down at her plate.
“You think I was with Arem during this attack,” Erik said flatly, almost as if he could read her mind. No, he was just probably guessing based on her emotions. He was scary good at that.
“Let’s say the possibility has been broached,” Anne said. She was expecting an uproar of outrage from the Avalonians, but they all acted as if she’d accused him of buying the wrong kind of pop instead of committing an act of espionage against a government agency.
“Lady Maritza would never countenance such action,” Erik answered, “Such an act could have the American government telling us all to leave.”
“So, where were you?” Anne asked.
“I was meeting with an asset to see if I could find out more about the outsiders,” Erik said. “Hopefully, we’ll have something in a day or so.”
“Jason told us that we’re supposed to stay out of it,” Anne said.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop our investigation,” Erik answered, “It just means we’re going to have to use more subtle means. The Americans may be satisfied that this has nothing to do with you, but my responsibilities are to make sure.”
“We know this puts you in a bad spot,” Samantha said, shooting a harsh look at Erik, “I promise, if we find anything that can help the task force, we’ll turn it over to them.”
“What about Arem? Are you going to turn him over?” Anne asked.
“We have a truce for moment, so no,” Erik said, “Of course, if they catch him on their own, we’re not obligated to help him.”
They ate the rest of the meal discussing minor things. Anne barely paid attention. She knew Erik wasn’t telling her everything, but to be fair, he never told her everything. Still, there was something nagging her instincts about the way he answered her questions. Part of her wanted to press him, but she was scared of the answers he’d give. What would she have done if Erik admitted to being with Arem on the attack? Could she turn any of these people at the table over to Jason and the task force?
Erik watched Anne during dinner. He could feel the tumultuous mix of emotions roiling around inside her. Erik knew this time would come when Anne would be put between his team and her birth nation. He’d hoped it wouldn’t happen for a bit longer, but he was professional enough to know that fecal matter sometimes impacted the turbine.
Erik worked very hard never to lie to Anne. If he and his team were going to protect her, they needed her to trust them. He was going to have to walk the tightrope until the outsiders were dealt with. He was hoping that then the Americans would go find some other shiny toy to occupy them, and he could go back to dealing with the immediate threats to Anne. Maybe Lady Maritza could talk with her. Anne trusted the woman and Lady Maritza was a gifted politician.
His phone buzzed at his side. The package is ready for your inspection. Joseph. There had better be something useful from the Americans’ files. Erik hated to think he’d risked so much for nothing.