“I love you, Tracy.”
Tracy’s head whipped back as if she’d been stung. This was so out of left field, so unexpected. She looked at Jeff almost angrily.
Jeff’s eyes were locked on Tracy’s. “Why?”
“You know why. It would never work.”
“Why wouldn’t it work?”
“Because we’re completely incompatible!”
“That’s horseshit. We’re totally compatible.”
“We drive each other crazy,” said Tracy.
“I know.” Jeff grinned. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
Tracy couldn’t help but smile at that. But the light mood didn’t last long. Reaching across the table, Jeff took both Tracy’s hands in his.
“Tell me about Nicholas.”
Tracy frowned. “What do you mean? Tell you what?”
“Everything. What he looked like when he was born. What his favorite breakfast cereal was. What position he slept in.”
“STOP!” Tracy shook her head violently. She tried to snatch her hands away but Jeff tightened his grip. Other diners turned to look at them. It was painful to watch Tracy, twisting and writhing to get away from him, like an insect with its wings on fire.
“I can’t talk about him,” she pleaded. “Not with you. Not like that.”
Tracy swallowed hard. “As if he were still alive.”
She gazed down at the tablecloth, avoiding Jeff’s eyes. He gave her a few minutes, then reached for her hand again.
“You can talk about him, Tracy. You have to talk about him,” Jeff said gently. “If you don’t let the grief out, it will kill you in the end. It will poison you from the inside out like battery acid. Just like it did to Cameron Crewe.”
Tracy looked up sharply. “Maybe that’s what I want. Maybe I want it to kill me.”
Jeff said, “I don’t believe that. You know that’s not what Nick would have wanted.”
Angrily, Tracy brushed away tears. “You don’t understand, Jeff. If I let the grief out, if I let it go, I’m scared I’ll be letting him go.”
“You’ll never let him go,” Jeff said. “Neither of us will.”
“Yes, but . . .”
“This isn’t just about you, Tracy!” Jeff cut her off, not angry exactly, but exasperated. Desperate. “I need to talk about him. To learn about him, about his life. I missed it. I missed all of it, and I can never get those years back. If you don’t talk to me about him, what am I left with? How can I grieve?”
Tracy felt terrible. The pain etched on Jeff’s face was every bit as real as her own. How had she not noticed it before? In Paris, or Megève, when they’d spent time together? It must have been there. Was it because Jeff’s face had reminded her so much of Nicholas, she’d stopped seeing him as a person in his own right?
Yes. That was it.
But she saw him now. Jeff, her Jeff. Reaching up, she stroked his cheek.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Jeff kissed her hand. “Don’t be sorry. Just talk to me. Please. Talk to me about our son.”
And so, falteringly at first, Tracy talked. She talked until they’d finished their meal. She talked when Jeff paid the bill. She talked as their coffees turned cold, and the restaurant emptied, and at last the manager came over and politely informed them that they were closing now, to prepare for the evening’s dinner service.
Outside, the sun glowed low and red over the mews. Crisp, golden leaves swirled around Tracy and Jeff’s legs and crunched beneath their feet as they walked hand in hand back up towards Notting Hill Gate.
“Will you stay in London for a while?” Jeff asked.
She nodded. “For a while, yes. Maybe for good. I’m still thinking. How about you?”
“I’m still thinking too.”
The love hung in the air between them like a living thing, a ghost.
Tracy looked up into Jeff’s eyes and said what they were both thinking.
“I don’t know if we can go back. I love you, but . . .”
He stopped her with a kiss.
“We can’t go back. We can only go forward. But we don’t have to do it alone.”
For a moment, Tracy let herself hope that he might be right. “I should go.”
Jeff stuck out his hand for a cab and helped Tracy inside.
“Don’t disappear on me now.”
“I won’t.” Tracy smiled. “I promise.”
“Tomorrow’s the great adventure, Tracy,” Jeff said, tapping the door as the driver pulled away. “And it’s coming whether we want it or not.”
He watched as Tracy’s taxi eased into the London traffic and drove out of sight.
JEFF WAITED IN THE darkness.
It was very late, almost two A.M., and the parking structure was deserted.
He started to panic that he wasn’t coming. That this would be the one Saturday night when the bastard didn’t come here, to this rundown out of town mall, to meet his informant. But just as Jeff was giving up hope, he appeared, perfectly dressed as always in an expensive suit and tie. He waited until his “source” crawled in, ragged and dirty and desperate for the drug money he was about to earn for betraying some underworld figure or other. Then he glanced around briefly and made his approach.
The two men spoke for five minutes. Then the suit handed over a crisp white envelope, just as he always did, and the addict scuttled away.
He was almost at his car when he felt the cold metal of Jeff’s gun pressed against the back of his ear.
“Who are you?”
He was trying to sound calm, but Jeff could hear the fear in his voice and smell it on his skin.
“What do you want?”
“The truth,” Jeff said. Reaching into the man’s pocket, he extracted his gun. “Turn around.”
Milton Buck did as he was asked.
“Back up against the wall.”
Buck took two steps back, glaring at Jeff defiantly. The FBI agent had always loathed Jeff Stevens. The man clearly viewed himself as some sort of a Robin Hood, when in fact he was nothing more than a common thief. “What’s this about Stevens?”
“I saw you. On the hospital CCTV feed. You were there the night Nicholas died.”
Milton Buck shrugged. “So?”
“So it was you. I went to Steamboat Springs. I did my research. You were the one who sabotaged that truck. You expected Nick to die, but when he didn’t, you went to the hospital and tampered with his anesthetic. You killed a decent man and an innocent child. You murdered my son.”
Milton Buck hesitated for a moment. He contemplated denying it, but there was clearly no point.
“Does Tracy know?”
“No. She thinks it was an accident. The truth would kill her.”
Milton Buck glared at Jeff defiantly. “What do you want? An apology? Well you won’t get one. Not from me. My job is to defend America, Stevens. To protect our national interests. My mission was to neutralize the threat of Group 99, at the time a global treat to economic stability. We believed Tracy was a direct link to Althea. We needed her to do her duty. But she refused. Repeatedly. So I did my duty. Sometimes that means making tough decisions. And yes, sometimes it means people have to die.”
Jeff paused for a long time. Then he nodded, lowering his gun. “You’re right.”
Milton Buck frowned. This was not at all what he’d expected. “What?”
“I said you’re right.” Jeff smiled. “Sometimes people do have to die.”
Raising his arm, Jeff fired two bullets between Milton Buck’s eyes.
Then he turned and walked away.