Reply To: Vicki Briner Submissions

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#51552
Connie Bretes
Keymaster

Hi Vicki, just a couple of things I noticed. You are a terrific writer. I’m sorry I can’t get this to format with color, etc. One word should be removed, and a few comments in other areas.

CHAPTER 6

Angie stared at the endless ocean. They’d been in the air for about thirty minutes. She hadn’t said much. What was there to say?
She stole several long glances at her travel companion. Dark stubble had begun to color his jaw and chin, accentuating the hard angles of his face. His straight nose hooked slightly, and the thin temple of his glasses allowed her to see the crinkles at the corner of his eye.
Still heartbreakingly handsome. Still off limits.
He’d called last night to ask how much cash she had, said they’d need it when they landed. The conversation was short and terse. This morning, when she arrived at the airport, he’d been nothing but business. Her Captain America in cargo pants was nowhere to be seen.
“So, what’s your deal?”
She jumped, startled by the words blasting through her earphones. They both wore giant headsets with mics. Somehow, the gear only enhanced Nate’s appeal. His rugged good looks, those aviator glasses and the commercial earphones made him look official. Sexy.
She, on the other hand, probably looked like a bobblehead.
“My deal?” Surely, he didn’t want to rehash the fiasco in his hotel room.
“Yeah. What do you do? At the CIA?”
She relaxed. “I’m an analyst. Organized crime.”
“You’re not a spy?”
“No.” She shook her head. “Spooks are in the field. I work in an office.”
“You were my dad’s handler?”
“No. I’m a deputy task force commander. Your dad was recruited by the DEA. Someone over there managed his case.”
He nodded his head. The roar of the engine would make it easy to slip back into silence, but now that he’d started talking, she didn’t want it to end. “Do you like being a pilot?”
He flashed her a dazzling smile she hadn’t seen since he discovered her real identity. “Flying is great. It’s all I ever wanted to do.”
His infectious energy made it impossible not to grin. It must be nice to have a passion, to have always known who you wanted to be. Sure, she was passionate about catching criminals, but that was more about atonement than natural inclination. Everyone in law enforcement had a “one who got away.” Never mind that hers happened when she was twelve.
She shook her head. No point dwelling on the past. “You’re lucky. There aren’t many people who actually get to do what they love.”
He shrugged. “I wanted to go into the military. Maybe fly fighters, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Looking at his rigid posture and close-cropped hair, she could almost picture him in a jumpsuit and helmet, his name stitched across his chest. An unexpected warmth rushed to her cheeks. She cleared her throat. “You know, the first time I saw you I thought you were military.”
“Really? Why?”
“The way you carry yourself. The way you speak.” She licked her lips. “Your hair.”
A throaty chuckle rumbled in her earpiece. “My hair?”
“Yeah.” She waved her hand over her head. “It’s a little buzz-cutty.”
“Buzz-cutty?” He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. “Is that a word?”
“I assure you it is. I work for the government. You can trust me.”
Those endearing laugh lines appeared at the corners of his eyes. She could stare at him all day. “So why didn’t you enlist?”
He exhaled. His tone took on the monotone inflection of someone reciting an answer. “I had to watch out for my brother and sister. Make sure no one figured out who we really were.”
Right. The big family secret.
Rick had seemed a good guy, but the burden he’d saddled his eldest son with wasn’t fair.
But it explained a lot. The need to be in control. An inability to form deep attachments.
She gritted her teeth. What difference did it make? Before long, she’d be on the ground in Jamaica and he’d be heading back to South Florida.
Nate cleared his throat. “Tell me about this Bear Golding guy.”
“He moves thousands of kilos of cocaine and marijuana through Jamaica and the U.S. every day. But he also invests a lot of time and money into his community. He’s a bit of a local legend.”
“So, he fancies himself a hero.”
She nodded. “He lives in the neighborhood where he grew up. It’s the poorest part of Kingston. He’s built schools, housing, rec facilities. In his business affairs, however, he’s ruthless and doesn’t hesitate to retaliate if he feels he’s been disrespected.” (I have a problem reconciling the fact that it’s a poor part of Kingston, yet he built schools, housing, rec facilities.)
“Retaliate?”
“Extreme violence. Drive by shootings, executions, disfigurement, mutilation.”
Nate’s face paled. “Sounds vicious.”
“He’s extremely protective of what’s his and is driven to expand his organization and his power across the Caribbean.”
“My dad worked for this guy?”
Angie pursed her lips. “Your dad was involved in the organization, but nowhere near the boss. I doubt he was ever in the same room with Golding.”
“Is Bear a common name in Jamaica?”
Angie chuckled. “No. His real name is Teddy.”
Nate groaned. “Are you serious? That’s a little on the nose, don’t you think?”
She laughed. “I think that’s the point. Well, that and the irony.”
“So, he’s not a teddy bear?”
“Not even close.” She hadn’t had a lot of serious relationships and had never met a man easier to talk to than Nate. It was hard not to think of what might have been if they’d met under different circumstances.
His Adam’s apple bobbed. She braced herself.
“How’d Dad get involved?”
Her turn to swallow hard. The truth was, she’d manipulated the man knowing he wanted to quit. The DEA had already pushed him hard for intel. He’d thought he was almost done, but they were close to figuring out Golding’s operation, and she pressed him to keep going. Her stomach burned. If she only she’d done something different, maybe he’d still be alive.
“I’m not sure exactly. Someone in the DEA recruited him.”
Nate rubbed his hand against his chin. “What I don’t get is why he agreed to it. He severed ties with my mother’s family and relocated to Florida. After that, protecting us was his only goal. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
What was she going to say? That his father’s DEA handler told her the easiest way to get Rick’s cooperation was to threaten to expose his children’s identities?
He caught her gaze. After a long silence, his words reverberated in her headpiece. “Unless they had something on him.”
She forced herself to look him in the eye. She owed him that. “They—” She cleared her throat. Tell him. “We knew who he was. Used it as leverage.”
His nostrils flared. “How? It’s been so long. Who figured it out?”
“I don’t know.” At least that was the truth.
Nate rubbed his brow. “I thought the feds were supposed to be the good guys.” (Can he rub his brow with a helmet on?)
Angie leaned away. “Compared to the alternative—” What was she thinking? She had zero right to tell this man how to feel. When would she learn to think before she spoke?
He looked at her again, and she sensed the question he wanted to ask. What was your involvement? His lips parted, then closed.
Not knowing what else to do, she lay her hand on his forearm, noting the soft hair and warm skin. “I’m so sorry about what happened to your dad.”

***

Shit. If there was ever a woman he should avoid, it was this one. And still he shuddered at her touch. The Geneva Convention had nothing on Angie Liu. Sitting next to her in the cramped cockpit of his Piper Cheyenne was pure torture.
He needed to divert blood flow back to his brain. He cleared his throat, steering the conversation to neutral territory. “Did you know we flew through the Bermuda Triangle?”
“We did?” Her eyes lit with amusement. Maybe he wasn’t the only one eager to change the conversation. “Go back. I want to see a UFO.” (They don’t have UFOs there, just unexplained ship and airline crashes)
Her smile warmed him like the sun on a winter day. “Sorry. We’ve got a schedule to keep. Maybe next time.”
Her lips parted into a sensual little pout. “Next time?”
He clenched his jaw. What was wrong with him? There wouldn’t be a next time. He knew that. He opened his mouth to clarify, but she interrupted and saved him the effort.
“Seriously, I didn’t think the Bermuda Triangle was a real thing.”
His muscles relaxed. “It’s really just a heavily trafficked shipping lane. More boats and planes means more wrecks.”
“Ah well, it’s fun to pretend there are forces at work we don’t understand.”
He glanced at the navigation display. “We’ll start our descent in about twenty minutes. What’s your plan for the airport?”
“Plan? What do you mean?”
Nate faltered. Surely, she wasn’t going to wander into Kingston and start asking questions about a drug lord.
“God you’re easy.”(What does she mean by this?) She snickered and gave a dismissive wave. “I’m going to ask around to see if anyone remembers the day your dad took off. After that, I’ll get a taxi to the resort.”
“Don’t you think a random American asking questions might attract unwanted attention?”
She hesitated. “I’ve been thinking about that.” Whatever she was about to say, Nate suspected he wasn’t going to like it. “Have you been to Jamaica since your dad died?”
He didn’t even try to hold in his growl.
“I’ll take that as a no.” She wiped invisible dust off the co-pilot control wheel and gave him a sideways glance. “Since this is your first time back, it’s only natural you’d want to ask around, talk to people who knew him.”
A sharp pain hit him just above his right eyebrow. Jack had warned him she couldn’t be trusted. “What didn’t you understand when I said I would take you to Jamaica and that was it?”
She shrugged. “You were perfectly clear, but I also know you aren’t going to head back to Florida immediately. You’ll get out, stretch your legs. It only makes sense you’d chat up a few of the locals.” She gave him a goading smile. “This is the only thing I’ll ask of you. I promise.”
Fuck. How could someone so small be such a huge pain in the ass? “I can’t decide if you’re annoying or manipulative.”
She batted her lashes. “Can’t I be both?”
He didn’t know which way was up where this woman was concerned.
Her eyebrows drew together. “Keep in mind that any of these people could have sabotaged your dad’s plane.”
Reality seeped into him. This wasn’t some half-cocked adventure, and while Angie gave off an I’ve-got-it-covered vibe, what she planned to do was dangerous. She could get hurt. Or killed.
Like his dad.
They were getting close to their destination. Time to start thinking about getting the plane on the ground. He checked the artificial horizon and leveled off before pulling back on the throttle and lowering the nose.
“Thank you by the way.” She gave a crisp nod. “For everything.”
He felt like a tether ball the way she wound him up and banged him around. One minute she drove him crazy. The next he wanted to scoop her into his arms and kiss her senseless.
The way she’d bolted from his hotel room finally made sense. This wasn’t the kind of thing she could screw up or approach haphazardly. It could be life and death. Literally.
He’d acted like an ass.
“There’s a foreign agent at the airport. I don’t want him to see me.”
He frowned. “Really?”
“Yeah. He was a contact for your dad. Bald guy, goes by the name Doc.”
“Doc works for the CIA? You’re fucking with me.” The man was a regular fixture at the airport.
“I’m not. I swear. He’ll recognize me and we can’t have that. He’s already been debriefed on the day your dad crashed, but I wonder if he’ll tell you any more than he told the task force.”
He groaned. This was starting to feel less and less like a quick favor, but he saw no point in arguing. He’d do it. How else was he going to find out what happened to his dad?
“We’ll be on the ground in a few minutes.” He set the approach flaps and geared down. “Get the cash and your passport ready.”
“Cash?”
“You said you had a thousand dollars in cash. Fold it up and put it in the passport.”
“All of it?”
“You wanted to get into Jamaica unnoticed, didn’t you?”
“Yes.”
“This is how we do it.”
She hoisted her bag to her lap. “I don’t think it’s going to fit.”
“It’s fine. Fold it in half and stick it in the middle. No one will care how it looks.”
She muttered a curse, dug through her bag and crammed a wad of bills into the little blue book.

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