Breaking Point (Troubleshooters Series #9)by Suzanne Brockmann
"As commander of the nation's most elite FBI counterterrorism unit, agent Max Bhagat leads by hard-driving example: pushing himself to the limit and beyond, taking no excuses, and putting absolutely nothing ahead of his work. That includes his deep feelings for Gina Vitagliano, the woman who won his admiration and his heart with her courage under fire. But when the… See more details below
"As commander of the nation's most elite FBI counterterrorism unit, agent Max Bhagat leads by hard-driving example: pushing himself to the limit and beyond, taking no excuses, and putting absolutely nothing ahead of his work. That includes his deep feelings for Gina Vitagliano, the woman who won his admiration and his heart with her courage under fire. But when the shocking news reaches him that Gina has been killed in a terrorist bombing, nothing can keep Max from making a full investigation - and retribution - his top priority." "At the scene of the attack, however, Max gets an even bigger shock. Gina is still very much alive - but facing a fate even worse than death. Along with Molly Anderson, a fellow overseas relief worker, Gina has fallen into the hands of a killer who is bent on using both women to bait a deadly trap. His quarry? Grady Morant, a.k.a. "Jones," a notorious ex-Special Forces operative turned smuggler who made some very deadly enemies in the jungles of Southeast Asia ... and has been running ever since. But with Molly's life on the line, Jones is willing to forfeit his own to save the woman he loves." Together with Max's top agent, Jules Cassidy, as their only backup, the unlikely allies plunge into a global hot zone of violence and corruption to make a deal with the devil. Not even Jones knows which ghosts from his past want him dead. But there's one thing he's sure of - there's very little that his blood-thirsty enemies aren't willing to do.
Gone Too Far
“Sizzling with military intrigue and sexual tension, with characters so vivid they leap right off the page, Gone Too Far is a bold, brassy read with a momentum that just doesn’t quit.”
Into the Night
“She skillfully builds suspense. . . . With its complicated, complex characters and a sexy romance seasoned with humor and danger, Brockmann’s [novel] is absolutely irresistible.”
–Booklist (boxed and starred review)
Out of Control
“Brockmann consistently turns out first-rate novels that tug on the reader’s heartstrings, and her latest is no exception.”
Over the Edge
“A taut, edgy thriller.”
Read an Excerpt
FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
June 20, 2005
It was a fabulous day. Blue sky. Low humidity. Not a lot of traffic this time of morning. Green lights at every intersection. A parking spot within javelin-throwing distance of the office building.
The elevator opened at the touch of the button and he rode it, express, all the way up to his floor. The doors opened again, and he got a good look at himself in the foyer mirror.
Dressed to shine in his favorite black suit, with a new shirt he’d bought himself as a present, Jules Cassidy was not your average, run-of-the-mill FBI agent, that was for sure. He pocketed his sunglasses and adjusted his tie, then headed down the hallway with a spring in his step.
When you look good, you feel good. No doubt about them apples.
Laronda’s reception desk sat empty, but Max Bhagat’s office door was tightly closed.
As early as Jules had come in today, his boss, the legendary FBI team leader known as “the Max” to his younger, more irreverent, and slightly less original junior subordinates–but never, ever called that to his face–had come in even earlier.
Although, to be honest, it was equally likely that Max had merely stayed extremely late.
Not that anyone would ever be able to tell the difference. Max didn’t do rumpled, even when staying up for seventy-two hours straight. In fact, he could be sat on by a hippopotamus in a bizarre zookeeping accident and the first thing he would say after regaining consciousness would be, “Somebody get me a clean shirt.”
The man kept at least two complete changes of clothing in his office, not to mention a series of electric razors in his desk drawer, his briefcase, his car’s glove compartment, and probably one or two places Jules didn’t know about.
Hey now, ho now! Max wasn’t the only one in early today. That was definitely gourmet coffee that Jules smelled brewing. Max may have been a brilliant negotiator, but the man was severely coffee-making challenged.
French vanilla. Lordy, lordy, Jules loved the French vanilla. Even though he hadn’t gotten into the office before Max or the mysterious coffee brewer, it remained, indeed, a glorious, promise-filled day.
Jules stopped at the kitchen cubby and–thank you, baby Jesus!–found his favorite mug already squeaky clean in the drying rack. The container that held the ground coffee beans was empty, but there was enough for one more generous cup in the pot on the warmer.
The TV was set to CNN Headline News, but the volume was muted. As Jules filled his Mighty Mouse mug with the last of the coffee, the too-handsome anchor smiled sunnily at him, as if to say, “Good morning, sweetie-cakes! Something very good is coming your way today!”
At which point the station cut to a commercial break.
An olive-drab and sepia-tinted World War II battle scene–no doubt an ad for the History Channel–filled the screen. But then the fighting dissolved into a full color close-up of a helmeted young man, his perfect cheekbones streaked with dirt.
Holy GI! Those were Robin Chadwick’s perfect cheekbones. This was no History Channel ad, Batman, it was a movie trailer. Shit, it was the movie trailer.
In his haste to reach the remote control, Jules damn near scalded his hand, and the mug slipped with a crash into the sink. The coffee splashed–no!–right up onto his new shirt.
He ran his burned fingers under the cool water as he used his other hand to turn up the volume on the TV. He knew he shouldn’t. He absolutely should’ve turned the damn thing off but he couldn’t help himself.
Thundering choral music played while the picture dissolved again, this time to a close-up of another young actor as darkly handsome as Robin was fair.
It was Adam Wyndham.
Jules’s lying, cheating, son-of-a-bitch ex.
God, he looked good.
As an actor.
He looked good on film, with the flattering lights and makeup. That’s what Jules had meant. That was not some kind of masochistic, longing-for-reconciliation, he-looked-good thought that had popped into his head.
No, no, no, he was securely in the been-there-done-that phase as far as Adam was concerned.
But as Jules continued to cool his fingers, the picture dissolved again, this time to both actors as they sat shoulder to shoulder, dressed in World War II battle gear, gorgeous and giddy with silent laughter as the thunderous music played on–movie trailer code signaling that this was a meaningful epic drama.
Then a cut to another scene as, still side by side, the two men ran, weapons locked and loaded, up a beach into battle.
The picture froze with them both midstride, and faded back to that same earlier sepia tone as the voiceover announced, “American Hero. The war is within . . . Starts Friday in select theaters.”
Jules’s expensive new shirt was stained, his favorite mug had cracked, the French vanilla coffee was gone, and the movie starring his cheating ex—significant other, the movie he’d stayed out of theaters for the past two months to avoid seeing, the movie that had made him toss his subscription copies of Entertainment Weekly to avoid reading about, didn’t even open until this Friday.
Fuck a duck.
But okay. That sky outside the window was still blue. And Deb Erlanger, one of his fellow FBI teammates, appeared like an angel of mercy bringing tidings of hope and caffeine. “Hey, Jules. We’re going to Starbucks. Want something?”
Her partner, Joe Hirabayashi, was right behind her. What was this? National Come-In-Early day?
Jules muted the TV’s volume again. “Any chance they’ve started selling business attire?” Like Max, he kept an extra shirt in his office. But unlike Max, he’d used his two days ago and had forgotten to replace it.
Yashi surveyed the damage and summed it up concisely, as was his zenlike way. “Shit, man. That shirt’s ruined.”
“Aren’t you having some kind of review today?” Deb asked. “With Peggy Ryan?”
Yes, Deb. Yes, he was. In fact, his review today wasn’t merely “some kind of.” Instead, it fell into the subcategory of “review, comma, extremely important.”
Jules was up for a promotion. So far he’d sat down with all of the team leaders–except for Peggy Ryan, to whom he was going to talk today.
Peggy was one of those people who dealt with her homophobia by pretending Jules simply didn’t exist. In the past, Jules had cooperated by staying out of Peggy’s way as much as possible.
But this was one meeting neither of them could avoid. It was going to make for an interesting afternoon, that was for durn sure.
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Yashi said, gesturing with his chin toward the dark blotch that Jules was now half-heartedly blotting with a paper towel. “Coffee stain on your shirt. Kinda makes you look straight.” He scrunched up his face. “If, you know, you squint . . .”
“You definitely need a gingerbread latte, extra whipped cream,” Deb decided for Jules. “We’ll be right back.”
But it was then that George Faulkner appeared, blocking their route. He was out of breath, which was somewhat novel. Jules hadn’t been aware that George even knew how to run.
“Where’s Laronda?” George asked, his tone broadcasting all kinds of grim.
“She’s not coming in,” Deb told him.
“What? Why not?” Jules hadn’t known it was a Laronda-less day.
Laronda was Max’s administrative assistant. A day without Laronda was about as productive and as much fun as a day spent hitting one’s thumb with a hammer. Over and over and over. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
“Her son’s debate club made it to the national finals,” Deb explained. “Just out of the blue–total long shot. The Max told her to take a few days and go to Boston with the kid. She won’t be back until Friday.”
“Max needs to see this.” George was ultrafocused and one-track this morning, holding up some sort of e-mail that he’d printed out.
“Temp should be here in an hour,” Yashi said. “Put it on Laronda’s desk, let her deal.”
“No,” Jules said. “Nuh-uh.” Last time a temp came in to replace Laronda, it was twice as awful. “We want to get anything done today, we need to take shifts.”
Deb and Yashi both started making noise, but Jules stopped them.
“An hour at a time at Laronda’s desk,” he said, in his take-no-arguments voice. “We can all survive being Max’s AA for one hour at a time. You know we can.” But, shit, shit, shit. So much for running out to get a new shirt before his meeting with Peggy Ryan. “I’ll go first, then Yashi, then George, then you, Deb . . .”
“I’ll get lots of extra coffee,” Deb decided.
“Good. Yash, call Fran and Manny, give them a heads up,” Jules ordered. “Tell them to get in, ASAP.”
“George, what do you want from Starbucks?” Deb asked.
“Max really needs to see this,” George persisted, talking directly to Jules now. “Right away.”
Shit. Jules took the e-mail and skimmed it, while Deb leaned in and read over his shoulder. It was a list of names under the morbid heading Civilians Killed in Hamburg Cafe Blast. This latest terrorist attack had occurred in Germany just yesterday morning, and the focus of most of the media’s reporting had been on the fact that the casualties had been low–that the car bombing could have been much more devastating.
Seeing these names in a list, however, brought home the fact that quite a few people had died.
“We aren’t handling this,” Jules reminded George. “Frisk’s team is.
I know Max wants to keep in the loop, but there’s no urgency to this particular–”
“Oh, yes, there is,” George interrupted.
“Aw shit,” Deb breathed, pointing at the very bottom of the list. Yashi leaned closer to look, too, and . . .
Jules followed her finger, and saw two words that made his heart stop.
He double-checked the heading. Civilians Killed . . .
“Oh, God, no,” he said. Not Gina Vitagliano.
The only woman who had ever truly captured Max Bhagat’s teflon-coated heart. A woman Max had not only let get away, but a woman he had pushed and shoved until she’d finally up and left.
Which didn’t mean he hadn’t loved her; that he didn’t love her still.
Dear sweet Jesus . . .
“Someone’s got to tell him,” Deb whispered.
Jules looked up to find them all watching him. As if he were their team leader or something. No fair–he hadn’t been promoted yet.
“Yeah, I’ll do it,” he said, in a voice that he couldn’t quite make sound like his own. “Gina was my friend, too.” Jesus–Gina was. He hated having to say that. God, how could this have happened?
Outside the window, the cloudless sky now seemed mockingly blue. Jules wished he could jump back in time to earlier this morning, when his clock radio had first burst into song. This time around he’d shut it off, turn over, and go back to sleep.
But really, that would’ve just put off the inevitable.
Somehow, someway, they were all going to make it through this awful, terrible day.
Jules cleared his aching throat. “Yashi, find out what Gina was doing in Germany. Last I knew, she was still in Kenya with . . .” Damn it, what was it? He pulled it out of his ass. “AAI–AIDS Awareness International. Get in touch with them–find out what you can. George, contact Walter Frisk. We’ll want to know everything he knows about the blast, and we’ll want to know it now.” He turned to Deb. “Get that coffee, then assist George. Go.”
When Max saw this e-mail, he was going to have a crapload of questions, none of which Jules could answer.
At least not yet.
Jules wiped his eyes, straightened his tie, and with a heavy heart beneath a ruined shirt that so didn’t matter anymore, he began the long walk to Max’s office.
January 12, 2004
Seventeen Months Ago
Max forced himself to relax. He kept his shoulders from tightening, his fists from clenching, and–hardest of all–the muscles in his jaw from jumping as he made certain he didn’t grind his teeth.
He managed to cross his legs and slightly raise one eyebrow. He knew that this, in combination with the half-smile that he let flicker about the edges of his lips, made him look friendly and open to any and all conversation.
He’d been an FBI negotiator–no, he’d been the FBI negotiator–for more years than he could count on all his fingers and the toes of one foot. He’d worked his magic on hardened criminals and desperate terrorists–men and women who far too often were ready and willing to die.
This should be a cakewalk, this civil discussion between three rational, clear-thinking adults. Max. Gina. And Rita Hennimen, the couples counselor Gina had found in the Yellow Pages.
No doubt under the heading, “Max’s Worst Nightmare.”
Max had never been so terrified in his entire life.
Gina was watching him from the other side of the sofa. She’d purposely dressed like a teenager today in a snug-fitting T-shirt that didn’t meet the low-cut waistband of her jeans. It was impossible to look at her and not think about sex, about her wrapping her legs around him and sending him into outer space.
Max cleared his throat, shifting in his seat–which made him lift his left arm just a little too high–zinging himself in the process.
Christ, would the pain in his shoulder ever go away? He’d been shot in the chest. There’d been a freaking hole in his lung, but it was the end result of that bullet ricocheting up and smashing his collarbone that continued to bother him the most.
As Rita finished reading through the forms they’d both filled out in the waiting room, Gina leaned closer. “You okay?” she asked Max.
“I’m fine,” he lied.
She gazed at him for a moment before she spoke again. “One of the important rules of therapy is that you have to be honest. When we come into this room, we absolutely have to tell the truth. Otherwise, it’s all just more bullshit.”
When he’d first sat down, he’d hooked his cane on the arm of the sofa, and it now fell onto the floor with a clatter. Thank God. He bent to pick it up. After he straightened up, Rita was smiling at them, ready to begin.
“So,” the counselor said. “Where shall we start?”
Gina was still watching him. “Good question. What do you want to talk about, Max?”
“Basketball?” he answered, and she laughed as he’d hoped she would.
“I suppose that’s my fault for telling you to be honest.” She turned to Rita. “Here’s the deal. According to Max’s definition, we shouldn’t really be here, because we’re not a couple. We’re not together–we’re friends. Only there’s this thing between us. History. Chemistry. Oh, yeah, and the fact that I’m in love with him probably plays a part in there somewhere. Although Max will tell you that I don’t really love him, that after years and years and years, what I feel is still partly ‘transference.’ As I told you on the phone, I was on this plane that got hijacked, and Max saved my life–”
“You saved your own life,” Max interrupted.
“Apparently that part’s subject to interpretation, too,” Gina told the therapist. “I know he saved my life. He, no doubt, can argue that he didn’t. Factor in the age difference thing–which frankly, I don’t have a problem with . . .”
Rita glanced down at her clipboard, obviously checking their dates of birth. It wouldn’t take long for her to figure out that Gina was twenty-five, and Max was nearly twenty years older. But the woman was a highly trained professional, so she didn’t so much as blink. She did smile when she looked up and met his gaze.
“Love doesn’t always stop to do the math,” she pointed out.
Yeah, but everybody else did and most of them passed judgment, too. Debra, one of the nurses in the physical rehab facility, for example, sure as hell disapproved. If she could have, she would’ve turned Max into a smoldering pile of ashes weeks ago. But right now he just kept his mouth shut and let Gina go on talking.
“I can’t get him to talk to me,” Gina told the therapist. “Every time I try, we end up . . .”
Oh no, she couldn’t–
“. . . having sex instead.”
Oh yes, she did.
“I figured if we came here . . .” Gina continued. “Well, with you in the room, I thought we might actually be able to have a conversation, instead of, you know.”
As far as nightmares went, this could have been worse. He could have been transported back into his scrawny, undersized sixteen-year-old body, forced to wander the halls of his high school, naked, while searching for his locker.
No doubt about it, it was time for him to wake up. He grabbed for his cane. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”
He pushed himself up off the couch, even as he realized how ridiculous it was to run away. He could leave the room, sure, but he’d never outrun the chaos that clamored inside his head.
Gina stood, too, and blocked his route to the door. “Max. Please. There’s so much that we just never talk about, that we just pretend never happened.” She took a deep breath. “Like Alyssa.”
Oh, Christ. Max laughed because laughing saved him the hundreds of dollars in dental work he’d surely need after damaging his teeth from excessive grinding. And even he, the teeth-grinding master–couldn’t manage to grind his teeth while laughing. He turned to Rita. “Will you excuse us for a minute?”
But Gina crossed her arms. She clearly wasn’t going anywhere. “This is the point of therapy, Max. To talk about things we can’t otherwise seem to talk about. Right here, in front of Rita.”
So okay. Now he was actually longing for the naked locker scenario. Or that doozy of a recurring nightmare he’d had as a child. Giant forks from outer space. He’d slept on his side for years, so as to slip between the tines and avoid death by impalement.
“Why don’t we come back to this a little later?” Rita suggested. “This seems like a particularly sensitive topic.”
“Okay, no,” Max said. “You’re wrong. It’s not.” He turned to Gina. “Alyssa Locke doesn’t work for me anymore. You know that. I haven’t spoken to her in . . .” Weeks, he was going to say, but that wasn’t quite true.
“I know she came to see you at the physical rehab center,” Gina said. “Don’t you think it’s odd that you didn’t so much as mention that to me?”
What was odd was talking about this in front of an audience, like participants in some horrible reality TV show. True, Rita was only one person, but it still felt as if she were somehow keeping score on that notepad. At the end of their fifty minutes, she was going to lean toward Max with a sympathetic smile and tell him, “Your journey ends here. You’re going home.”
God, he wanted to go home.
Not to the rehab center. Not to his pathetic excuse of an apartment. Certainly not to his parents’ homes–one on each coast.
So where did that leave him?
Gina was waiting for his answer. Didn’t he think it was odd . . .?
“There was nothing to mention,” he told her. “Alyssa’s visit was work related. I didn’t want to . . .” He exhaled hard. “She’s a non-topic. I suppose we could make her one if you really want to turn this into a soap opera–” Gina flinched at that, and he cut himself off, hating himself even more than usual. “Gina, please,” he said quietly, “I can’t do this.”
“What, talk?” she countered, not trying to hide the hurt in her eyes. Hurt she usually was so careful not to let him see. It broke his heart.
“We talk,” he said.
“You know, I pick up your mail from your apartment every other day. You don’t think I could tell that the fancy envelope from Alyssa and what’s-his-name was a wedding invitation?”
Alyssa again. “Sam,” Max said. Alyssa’s fiancé’s name was Sam.
Gina turned to Rita. “It was really only a few months ago that Max asked Alyssa to marry him. She worked for him, and he fell in love with her, only he had this rule about getting involved with his subordinates, so he made sure they were just friends–at least that’s what Jules told me. Just friends–right up until the day he asked her to marry him.” She laughed, but he suspected she was laughing for reasons similar to his own, pertaining to dental care. “Here’s something I’ve never dared to ask you, Max. Were you just friends with Alyssa the way you and I are just friends?”
“No,” Max told her. “Alyssa and I never . . .” He shook his head. “She worked for me . . .”
“That wouldn’t have stopped some men,” Rita pointed out.
“It stopped me,” he told her flatly.
“So acting honorably is important to you.” Rita made a note on her notepad, which pissed him off even more.
Max turned to Gina. “Look, I’m sorry, but this is too personal. Let’s go somewhere private where we can–”
“Have sex?” she asked.
Max briefly closed his eyes. “Talk.”
“Like the way we talked after you got Alyssa’s wedding invitation?” she asked him.
God. “What did you want me to say to you? ‘Hey, guess what I got in the mail today’?”
“Considering we hadn’t so much as spoken her name since before you were shot and nearly died,” she retorted hotly, “it seemed to merit at least a mention, yes. But you said nothing. I came in and I gave you every opportunity to talk to me, and you remember what we did instead?”
Yes, Max most certainly did remember. Gina, naked and in his bed, was damn hard to forget. He glanced at Rita, who was smart enough not to need it spelled out for her.
Except, that night, Gina had seduced him. As she so often did. It was usually always Gina who made the first move. Although, to be fair, he never stopped her. Yeah, he tried, but it was never heartfelt. And he never succeeded.
Because if she was willing to give so freely of herself, who was he to turn her down?
And wasn’t he the biggest freaking liar in the world? The real truth was that he burned for this girl. Day and night. Their relationship was all kinds of wrong for all kinds of reasons, and he knew he had to stay away from her, but he goddamn couldn’t. So whatever she offered, he took. Greedily. Like an addict who knew that, sooner or later, he’d be cut off cold.
“Let’s back up a bit,” the counselor said. “This history you mentioned.” She looked at Gina. “May I recap for Max some of what you told me over the phone?”
“Correct me if I got it wrong,” Rita said, “but you met four years ago, when Gina was a passenger on a hijacked airliner. This was pre-9/11–the plane was on the ground in . . .” She searched her notes.
“Kazbekistan,” Max said.
“You were the . . . FBI negotiator? I thought the United States didn’t negotiate with terrorists.”
“We don’t,” he explained. “But we do talk to them. Try to convince them to surrender. Worst case, we stall. We listen to their complaints, pretend to negotiate, while rescuers–in this case a SEAL team–prepared to take down–take control of–the plane using force.”
Rita nodded. “I see.”
“The actual takedown happens in, like, thirty seconds,” Gina told the therapist. “But it’s intricately choreographed. They have to blow open the doors and kill the hijackers, while trying not to injure any of the passengers. It takes time to prepare for that.”
Rita focused on Gina. “And you were on that plane for all that time. All those . . . hours?”
“Days,” Max corrected her grimly. He sat back down. This was something that Gina needed to talk about, to work through–her harrowing experience of being held hostage. As much as he hated therapy, he would have stuck needles under his fingernails if it would help her find closure. “The terrorists who hijacked the plane got hold of a passenger list that said Senator Crawford’s daughter, Karen, was on that flight.”
“Except her ticket was stolen,” Gina interjected.
“The hijackers demanded she step forward. Of course, she didn’t, she wasn’t there. The gunmen threatened to start killing everyone on board so Gina stood up and pretended to be this girl.” Max had to stop and clear his throat. Her incredible, selfless bravery still impressed the crap out of him. “They brought her up into the cockpit of the plane, away from the other passengers.”
“Held at gunpoint, all that time.” Rita exhaled hard. “All alone?”
But Gina shook her head. “I wasn’t alone. Max was with me.”
Damn it, she always said this. “I was in the airport terminal,” he told the therapist. “I used a radio to maintain contact with the plane. Gina acted as the go-between, because the terrorists didn’t want to talk directly to me. So I talked to her, knowing they were listening in.”
“That’s not the only reason you talked to me,” Gina said.
She was right. He had been inappropriately attracted to her right from the start.
“Did she give you a list of the injuries she received while I was with her on that plane?” Max asked the therapist. He ticked them off on his fingers. “Broken wrist, broken ribs, black eye, a variety of cuts and contusions–”
“She mentioned the attack,” Rita said. “Of course.”
“No, no, we don’t use that word,” Max said. “We prefer brutal honesty. We call it what it was–rape.”
The word seemed to ring in the silence that followed, and he felt his throat tightened, his stomach knot. Ah, God . . .
“That must have been terrible, Max,” Rita said quietly. “To be able to listen in, to witness that violence as it happened. Gina said there were surveillance cameras. It must have been devastating to watch that.”
Why was she talking to him? “More so to Gina, don’t you think?”
“I’ve finally started to forgive myself for it, Max,” Gina said. “God, you were the one who told me it wasn’t my fault, that I didn’t provoke them. Why can’t you do the same?”
The therapist turned to him. “Let’s explore this. Do you remember what you felt, what you–”
“What, are you kidding?” Of course she wasn’t kidding. Therapists didn’t kid. In fact, kidding with clients was in the therapist rule book’s Giant List of Don’ts, along with excessive use of whoopee cushions and plastic vomit, and wearing white coats after Labor Day.
But Max finally understood. They weren’t here today for Gina, they were here for him.
As if this would help. As if digging and poking at his anger and guilt would do anything other than make him howl in frustration and pain.
He used his cane to pull himself back to his feet. “I’m done. I’m sorry. I can’t . . .”
“Then what are we doing?” Gina asked softly. “Is our relationship really just temporary? You know, I keep making deals with myself. I’ll only stay another week, until you’re out of the hospital. I’ll only stay until you get settled into the physical rehab center. I’ll only stay until you can walk without your cane. But really, I’m lying to myself. I just keep waiting, hoping that, I don’t know . . .” She laughed, a pain-filled exhale of air. “Maybe, I think if we keep making love you’ll wake up one morning and say ‘I can’t live without you . . .’ ”
Jesus. “What I can’t do is give you what you want,” Max whispered.
“Even when all I want is for you to talk to me?” Her eyes filled with tears. “There was a time when. . . . You used to tell me everything.”
Max couldn’t answer that. What could he possibly say? Actually, no, I left out quite a bit . . .
Silence seemed to surround them both, stretching on and on.
Rita interrupted it. “Gina, if you could say anything to Max right now, anything at all, what would you say?”
“Stop treating me as if I might break. Even when we make love, you’re so . . . careful. Like you bring that entire 747 into bed with us every single time. . . . Aren’t you ever going to just . . . let it all go?”
Max couldn’t begin to put it into speech–his anger, his rage over what she’d lived through. Let it go? Let it go? How could he let go of something that had him by the balls? There were no words, and if he so much as tried, he’d just howl and howl and howl. Instead, he cleared his throat. “I can’t do this,” he said again.
He started for the door.
But Gina beat him over there. “I can’t believe I was stupid enough to think this would help. I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she told the therapist.
“Gina, wait,” Rita got to her feet. Now they were all standing. Wasn’t this fun?
But Gina closed the door behind her. Quietly. Firmly. In Max’s face.
Well, that went about as well as could be expected. Max reached for the doorknob. And wasn’t this going to be one grim, silence-filled ride back to the physical rehab center?
“Have you ever told her how much you love her?” Rita asked him.
He managed to hide his surprise. The answer to that question was none of her goddamn business. He also didn’t ask why in God’s name would he tell Gina that, when what he really wanted, really needed was for her to find happiness and peace? Which she’d never do until she’d succeeded in leaving him behind.
“Although, to be honest,” Rita added, “she certainly seems to know, doesn’t she?”
“Sometimes all the love in the world just isn’t enough,” Max said.
She made a face. “Oh, dear. If you’ve allowed that to be one of your defining beliefs, that world of yours must be a terribly dark place.”
Christ. Spare him from psychoanalysis by people who didn’t even know him.
She didn’t let up. “What are you so afraid of, Max?”
Leaning heavily on his cane, Max just shook his head and followed Gina more slowly out the door.
FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
June 20, 2005
Peggy Ryan was in talking to Max. Jules could hear her, laughing at something their boss had said, even as Max shouted, “Come in.”
They both looked up as Jules opened the office door, as he stepped halfway inside. “Excuse me, sir.”
And just like that, Max knew.
It was a little freaky, but Jules saw it happen. Max looked at him, glanced down at the document Jules was carrying, then looked back, hard, into Jules’s eyes, and he somehow knew.
He’d been leaning back in his chair, but now he sat up, holding out his hand for the news that he already knew was coming, his face oddly expressionless. “Gina?” he asked, and Jules nodded.
There was no way Max could have known that Gina was in Germany, let alone anywhere near that car-bombed cafe.
And although Jules admired the hell out of his boss and thought the man brilliant, highly skilled, and capable of outrageous acts of bravery as he employed his frontline method of leadership, Jules was firmly grounded in reality. Despite popular belief, he knew that Max was not capable of mind reading.
Which meant that Max had been waiting for this.
It meant that every single day since Gina had left, he’d been waiting for–fearing and dreading–this very news.
What a hell of a way to live.
Peggy Ryan was oblivious. In fact, she was rattling on about some case she was working on, even as Jules handed Max the dreaded list of civilians killed.
Jules turned to her and cut her off mid-utterance. “Ma’am. You need to leave.”
She blinked up at him in shock, her expression rapidly morphing to outrage. “Excuse me–”
“Now.” Jules grabbed her and lifted her out of her seat.
“What are you doing? Get your hands off me, you . . . you freak,” she squawked as he pushed her out the door.
George was out there, by Laronda’s desk, waiting to flag him down, cell phone to his ear. “Her body’s in Hamburg,” he told Jules.
“Thanks. Fill Peggy in,” Jules tossed the order past the woman and shut the door in her angry face.
But then he wondered if he himself weren’t on the wrong side of that door. God, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn around and look at Max.
Who was stone-cold dead silent.
It would have been better if he were shouting and breaking things. Punching a hole in the wall. Max rarely lost his temper, rarely lost control, but when he did, it was an earthshaking event.
“Can I help you, sir?” Jules whispered, still facing the door.
“Has her family been contacted yet?” Max asked, sounding remarkably normal, as if he were inquiring about nothing more troublesome than the usual morning traffic on the Capital Beltway.
“I don’t know, sir.” He slowly turned around.
Max was sitting behind his desk. Just sitting. Jules could read nothing on his face, nothing in his eyes. It was as if Max had shut himself down, made his heart stop beating.
“But I’ll find out,” Jules continued. “We’re also making inquiries as to why Gina was in Hamburg, why she left Kenya, what she was doing, where she was staying . . . I’ll get you that information as soon as I have it. George just told me that her body is . . .”
His voice broke. He couldn’t help it. Her body. Gina’s body. God.
“Still in Hamburg,” Jules forced the words out.
“Have Laronda get me a seat on the next flight to Germany,” Max said, still so evenly, so calmly. But then he realized what he’d said, and for a moment, Jules caught the briefest flash of the emotion the man was hiding. “Fuck!” But Max just as quickly caught himself and was back to calm. Smooth. “Laronda’s not coming in today.”
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