Monday, November 24, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Three

Every muscle in my body tenses as I hear the sound of a car approaching, crunching along the gravel driveway leading up to the farmhouse. I quickly glance around, seeing that Connor is still snoozing on the bed in the master bedroom, and I dart over to my purse, extracting my pistol and then creeping over to the window that faces the drive.

I don't recognize the car, but I slump in relief a moment later when Shane emerges from the driver's side, his piercing eyes disguised by sunglasses, his injured abdomen covered by a leather jacket.

The relief I feel floods away a moment later as reality set in...

Shane was here.

Connor was here.

Shane and Connor are both here, right now, and Connor has no idea what's about to happen...

Oh, shit.

I fling open the front door, and then yank it shut behind me, hissing at Shane, who is walking up the step, his eyes trained on his Blackberry. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Shane looks up at me quizzically, pocketing his Blackberry. "I told you I was coming. What's the problem?"

"You didn't tell me that!" I hiss again, my voice low. "I didn't get the message!"

"I texted you about a hundred times, but figured you were - ah, distracted - with Connor. And please god, I don't ever want details about what sort of distracting you guys do with each other. Ever. Especially if we're going to be related someday," Shane says, his eyes twinkling with mischief as he removes his sunglasses.

"Shane," I bark, trying to bar his entrance in the front door to the farmhouse and to block out his comment about being related someday. "Connor is still here!"

Shane freezes in place, then turns slowly to look at me. "What the hell do you mean? You were supposed to get him away for a few hours. I've got all the intel on Stepanek, and we can roll out in just a few hours, if you're ready to go."

"Yeah, but like I said - I didn't get the message! What are we going to do?!"

"Em, I need to use the bathroom, I need a drink and something to eat, and we need to hop online to confirm a few facts before we take off from Prague to take care of this. You're going to have to get rid of him somehow. Without him seeing me."

"How?" I plead, my eyes wide.

But they widen even more when the front door swings open, and a sleepy, tousled Connor looks out at me, blinking in the dim sunshine. "Em? What's going on? Um, hi?" he says to Shane's broad back.

"Oh god," I whisper, squeezing my eyes shut. "Um, Connor, I need you to go inside. Please. Right now, honey. Please."

"What?" He asks, his voice stronger now, protective. "What's going on? Who is this?" Connor takes a step out of the door, but Shane remains frozen in place, facing me.

Shane's eyes meet mine, and we have a silent conversation for a long moment before Shane shrugs slightly, and then turns, slowly, so slowly, to meet his brother's gaze.

There is a long beat of silence.

"Shane?" Connor asks, his voice dangerously quiet. "What the..."

"Hey, little brother," Shane says, his voice sounding forced to my trained ears. "How are you?"

"What are you doing here?" Connor asks, obviously confused.

"Um.... I was in the neighborhood?" Shane tries with obvious failure, based on Connor's skeptical look. "Look, can I come in? We have some things to discuss."

Connor snorts. "Yeah. Let's discuss the fact I haven't heard from you in, like, two months. Or the fact that Dad's fallen off the radar completely. Or the fact that you have somehow found my girlfriend and I in the most deserted farmhouse in Normandy. In fact, we should discuss all of that."

"Connor..." I try, taking a step towards him, but his piercing eyes stop me in my tracks.

"I want to know what's going on. Right now."

I've never heard this Connor before - authoritative, strong, and demanding.

I kind of like it, actually.

"And I want to tell you, but..."

"Let me guess," Connor says hotly, crossing his arms across his chest. "You've promised to keep some things confidential. Even from me, right?"

"Connor," I plead softly, and Shane steps forward and puts a brotherly hand on Connor's shoulder. I breathe a small sigh when Connor doesn't shake him off immediately.

"Listen, man, I know this is a lot. But this isn't about Emme, it's about me. And it's a long story, and I swear to god we'll all sit down with a six pack of beer and tell you all about it sometime. But right now, Emme and I have to..."

"Have to?" Connor prompts.

"We have to go," Shane says evenly. "After I pee and get a drink of water."

Connor laughs, a hollow sound which bruises my heart a little. "You stopped by Normandy to pee. And to take off with my girlfriend for who knows where for who knows how long, and think I'm just going to take it like some defenseless puppy? I've got news for you, BIG brother," Connor sneers. "I don't fucking think so."

"Connor," I try again, walking towards him, resting my hand on his arm. "Look, it's like this..."

"Em, don't," Shane says, a warning in his voice, so I whirl around to face him.

"No," I say shortly. "This has gone on enough. He has to know the truth - at least a version of it, or I'm not leaving, and I don't care what the costs are. I'm done lying."

Connor's eyes are on me, and I can feel Shane's boring into my back. "Fine," he says curtly. "Tell him."

"Connor," I say softly. "Shane and I work together. It's complicated, and we can't get into details, but... we work together. We've worked together for five years. But until a few days ago, I swear by all that is holy I had no idea you were brothers. And right now, Shane and I have to work."

"Some emergency art deal that needs an accountant?" Connor barks, and I step back at the venom in his voice.

I can't blame him, though. I would have already punched someone in the face if this were happening to me, so actually, I admire Connor's restraint.

"I deal art. Shane's an accountant. But that's not all we are."

"What are you? La Femme Nikita and James Bond?" Connor asks with a wry smile, but I say nothing. His smile fades, and he looks at me, his eyes wide now. "You're a spy? You're not. You're not really a spy. And you," he whirls on Shane. "You are too?"

"Connor, we'll explain later. But right now, Emme and I have to spend a few hours finalizing a deal that's going to keep this family safe."

"Family," Connor says, inching away from the front door. "You think we're a family?" Connor walks backward, his eyes on Shane, then darting to me. "Family means trust. Family means honesty. Family means watching each other's backs. Family means not lying. Family means not being played. And I've been played, big time," Connor says, his eyes boring into mine, causing a physical pain to sear in my gut. "And I'm done. With both of you."

And with that, he spins on his heel and races off into the woods.


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