He grinned, but Tracy didn’t find it funny.
“Let me get this straight. So the plan was for me to do all the legwork. Find Althea, and Hunter Drexel. Figure out the connections. And then you would swoop in and take all the glory?”
“Something like that,” Jeff beamed. “After all, it worked in Madrid. When you helpfully stole the Puerto for me. Remember?”
“How could I forget?”
It still stung. Jeff had roundly outsmarted Tracy on that occasion, presenting Gunther Hartog with the famous Goya masterpiece that Tracy had painstakingly procured in a brilliant con that had been months in the making. Back then the rivalry between them had been fun and exciting, a foreplay of sorts, although neither of them recognized it at the time. Now, everything was very different. This wasn’t a game. This was real. And Group 99 wasn’t a gallery or a rich collector. It was a terrorist organization. Innocent people were being kidnapped and tortured and murdered. Government systems were being hacked. Children were being shot to death, all in the name of a group that had once stood for justice and equality, for righting the world’s wrongs.
The violence had started with Bob Daley’s brains being splattered across a screen. And it was still going on. Althea was still out there, Hunter Drexel was still missing. There was no end in sight.
The waiter cleared their salads and returned promptly with the entrees. Jeff took a bite of mouthwateringly tender steak before turning back to Tracy.
“You do realize I’m not doing this just because MI6 asked me to,” he said, refilling Tracy’s glass. “I had my own agenda.”
“Which was?” Tracy looked up at him questioningly. “Let me guess. There’s a Renoir in a château somewhere you need to liberate? Or a Fabergé egg collection desperate for a new home?”
“No,” said Jeff. “I came here to protect you.”
Tracy frowned. “I don’t need protection. I can take care of myself.”
“I disagree.” Jeff sipped his wine. “From what I’ve seen you’ve made some dangerous friends recently.”
Tracy’s eyes narrowed. “Meaning?”
“Oh, I think you know. Do you realize how many of Group 99’s actions in the last six months have ended up benefiting Crewe Oil? Directly or indirectly?”
“Not you as well . . .” Tracy muttered darkly.
“I mean it,” said Jeff. “Think about it. How well do you know this guy? I mean really know him.”
“Well enough to know that he’s a good man,” Tracy shot back angrily. “This is Frank Dorrien talking, Jeff, not you.”
“That’s not true.”
“No? Well let me ask you a question. Has it ever occurred to you to ask why the General’s so keen to prove a link between Group 99 and Cameron Crewe? Could it be to take the heat off himself?”
Now it was Jeff’s turn to frown. “The heat? What heat?”
“Frank Dorrien’s using you, Jeff! He’s in this up to his neck. Starting with Prince Achileas’s suicide. That was a cover-up if ever I saw one.”
“Maybe it was,” admitted Jeff. “But you’re wrong about Frank. He’s a decent man.”
“Decent?” Tracy’s eyes widened. “He ransacked the kid’s room after he died. Stole his computer. That much I know for a fact. He’s a liar, a sexist and a homophobe, not to mention anti-American. And I think he’s a killer.”
“That’s ridiculous, Tracy.”
“Yes! I know Frank Dorrien. You don’t.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I know Cameron Crewe. And you don’t. Cameron’s a decent man, Jeff. More than decent. He’s one of the best.”
“I know you want to believe that, Tracy,” Jeff said, trying and failing to block the images of Tracy and Cameron together in Hawaii out of his mind.
“I don’t want to believe it. I do believe it. And if you don’t it’s either because Frank Dorrien’s poisoned you against him, or because you’re jealous!”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Tracy regretted them. The last thing she wanted to do was to make things personal between her and Jeff. To open up a door to the past, their shared past. But that was exactly what she’d just done.
Reaching across the table, Jeff took her hand.
“I came to look for you, you know. After Nick died. When you called me in London. I got the next plane out.”
“I know,” Tracy croaked.
“Then why did you run?”
She shook her head silently. Tears welled in her eyes.
“You owe me an answer, Tracy.”
She looked up at him. “I told you not to come.”
“He was my son too, you know.”
To Jeff’s surprise, she reacted angrily to this.
“No! It’s not the same,” she insisted. “It’s nowhere close to the same. I raised him, Jeff. I raised him alone.”
“Only because I never knew he existed!” Jeff protested.
But Tracy wasn’t listening. “Nick was my world. My whole world. You don’t know what it’s like, to lose that, to have it taken from you.”
“You’re right,” Jeff said quietly. “I don’t. But I did love him. And I wanted to be there. Not just for him but for you.”
They sat silently for a moment, suspended in a fragile bubble of grief.
Then Jeff burst it. “I love you, Tracy.”
Tracy fell painfully back to earth.
“Don’t what? Don’t love you? Or don’t say it out loud?”
Tracy tried to pull her hand away but Jeff tightened his grip.
“Why not? It’s the truth. I love you and you love me. You can’t run from that forever, Tracy.”
“Oh yes I can! Don’t you see?” She looked at him in utter exasperation. “You are the one person, the one person, who I absolutely cannot be with. Ever.”
“Why not?” Jeff’s voice wavered. He felt close to tears himself.
“Because everything about you, your face, your voice, your walk, everything brings him back to me. When I look at you, I see Nick.”
“But you love me, Tracy. We love each other,” Jeff pleaded.
“It isn’t enough,” Tracy said sadly. “ Seeing you drags me back to the darkness.”
“And I suppose Cameron Crewe pulls you into the light, does he?” Jeff said bitterly. He knew he was being unfair but he couldn’t help himself.
Tracy didn’t answer. A gloomy silence fell as the waiter cleared their plates and returned with a dessert menu.
Jeff broke it first. “I have a proposal.”
As he leaned forward across the table, his eyes were sparkling again. It was the old Jeff. Irrepressible. Tracy thought, He’s still alive inside. And I’m not. That’s the real difference between us. The chasm that can never be bridged.
“Let’s find Hunter together. As a team,” said Jeff. “Cabot and Havers may not trust each other. And the CIA and MI6 certainly don’t. But we do. You and I can achieve far more than the lot of them put together.”
It was an interesting proposal, the same proposal that Tracy had made to Cameron not so long ago. Although even she had to admit that Cameron hadn’t been much practical help so far, other than as a sounding board. At least she and Jeff knew how to get things done.
“What would we do when we found him?” Tracy asked. “Hand him over to the British? Or the Americans?”
“That depends,” said Jeff.
“On what he has to say for himself. On what he’s hiding. By the way, I do love the way that you said ‘when.’ ”
Tracy thought for a moment. It would be helpful to pick Jeff’s brains, not just on finding Hunter but on getting him to tell them the truth. Having a partner to work with would make things a lot easier. But if Jeff was prepared to risk everything to help her, to play a double game with his British paymasters, she owed it to him to be honest about her own involvement.
Taking a deep breath, she said, “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Slowly, and without once making eye contact, she told him the story he’d already heard from Jamie MacIntosh. About Althea requesting that Tracy be brought onto the CIA team, mentioning her by name. About a woman fitting Althea’s description tampering with Blake’s truck before it ran off the road, and later showing up at the hospital where the doctors had battled to save Nick.
“If it’s true,” Tracy finished, twisting her napkin round and round in her hands, “if she really did murder Nicholas, then it happened because of me. It’s my fault he died.”
Jeff gripped Tracy by the shoulders. “No it is not. It is not your fault, Tracy. Look at me. You can’t think like that.”
“But she knew me! She knows me! She wanted me to be a part of this, and when I refused to do it, Nick died.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Not on its own. You’re putting two and two together and making twenty.”