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"You're not an accountant, are you?"
He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Her face was still pale and she'd wrapped her arms around her middle while she continued to stare straight ahead.
"Forensic accountant," he said.
"No, I'm not."
"I didn't think so."
A stretch of silence followed while Luke tried to think what to say next, torn between telling her everything and keeping his secrets to himself. She deserved to know, yet he'd sworn an oath of confidentiality. Caught between a rock and a hard place. Not a feeling he particularly enjoyed.
"So what are you?" she asked, still refusing to look at him.
He sighed, checked his mirrors, changed lanes, all while trying to find the right answer and dealing with the fact that the government he'd very nearly given his life for had apparently just turned on him.
"I have a right to know," she said, finally turning toward him. The bleak look in her eyes nearly killed him, but it also cemented his decision. She did deserve to know.
Once again he checked his rearview mirrors but no one followed them. "I'm an operative for the International Anti-Terrorist Task Force, or IATT, for short."
"And that means?"
Luke clutched the steering wheel with his left hand and the gearshift with his right. What he was about to tell her was top secret. There were ramifications for divulging this information. Information that only the highest military brass knew. However, apparently he and Kate were running for their lives from that same agency so maybe that made his oath null and void.
"The IATT was formed just after 9/11. The President instituted Homeland Security but quicklyrealized he needed something with a wider reach, something other than the CIA, Al Qaeda and the Taliban knew about." Luke paused but Kate didn't seem inclined to fill the silence, so he went on. "I, um. I go undercover into territories with known terrorist activity, gather intelligence ... Do what needs to be done."
Still staring out the window, her fingers picked at the purple polish on her nails and he gave her the time she needed to understand what "do what needs to be done" meant.
"So what happened back there? At my house."
Either she didn't want to think about the things he'd done, or her shocked mind hadn't processed that information yet. He wasn't about to force her, accepting the reprieve for what it was. "Look, Kate. I'm sorry. I really believed you were safe. No one knew of our connection except my boss." He had to get his apology out of the way first, before they could move on. From his calculations, and from what he remembered of the Northern Kentucky area, he had about twenty minutes to convince her to go on the run with him.
"Your boss," she repeated with that dead inflection. "So that means your boss sent a man to kill you?"
Even in her shocked state, she was sharp. "Apparently."
Traffic was starting to get heavy, rush hour just beginning. It would make it harder for him to spot a tail but easier to blend in and lose one as well. He glanced at his watch and wondered how much time they had before someone discovered Stuben's body. It all depended on if the neighbors heard the gunshots.
"Why would your boss want you dead?" Kate asked. This time he heard a bit of inflection in her voice and when he glanced over, noted the color was returning to her cheeks. She sat up straighter and pushed her hair out of her eyes.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "But I intend to find out."
She nodded, and another silence fell, this one thick with tension. Luke flipped on his turn signal and merged onto the entrance ramp.
Kate leaned forward and looked around. "We're going to the airport?" A hint of panic tinged her voice and he reversed his earlier thought. He'd rather have the bland tone rather than panic. He didn't need a panicked woman right now.
"Not exactly." He turned right when the light changed to green, pulled into a liquor store and parked under a sign shaped like a beer bottle. Off to their left, a jet seemed to hang suspended in the air, its nose pointed upward. Luke yearned to be on that jet, flying away from here with Kate beside him. No worries. No past that kept them apart.
He turned off the engine and cranked the window down to let the humid August air blow in. From here, he had a perfect view of long-term parking. A glance at his watch told him they had a bit of time so he settled in.
Kate watched the jet for a moment, then turned to him. Her eyes were still a bit glazed, but he could tell the shock was wearing off. "What now?" she asked.
"Now we wait. And talk."
She didn't settle back in her seat like he had, but sat poised at the edge, ready to run. Her gaze bounced around the parking lot and the long-term parking across the street. She paused when she saw the stand of trees to her right.
She jumped and looked at him. "Don't what?"
"And don't lie."
She bit her lip and looked away. The heavy air stirred but did nothing to cool them off. Before prowling her house, Luke had found his jeans, washed and folded, on her dresser. His shirt had been ruined so he'd rummaged in her closet, coming out with a man's white dress shirt. Now, for something to do and to give himself time to think, he rolled up the sleeves. He hadn't wanted to think why she had a man's shirt in her closet. He told himself it was none of his business.
"Are you married?"
The question startled him and he swung around to stare at her. "Hell, no!" he blurted out. "Why would you ask that?"
She shrugged. "It's just ... After you left, I wondered. You hear about that. Men who have a wife and a girlfriend and manage to keep them apart."
He looked down at the sleeve he was rolling. "I'm not married," he said again. He'd wondered what she'd thought all these months, agonized over the pain and grief he'd caused her. But his need to know hadn't been enough to return. He'd had his reasons but now he began to wonder if they'd been selfish or for her own good as he'd tried to convince himself.
He dropped his arm and stared through the windshield. "I owe you an explanation."
"Yeah. You do."
He swallowed. He could do this. He could tell her what happened. He didn't have to go into detail. Just tell her enough so she'd understand and convince her she needed to throw her lot in with him. But still, it took him a minute to gather the courage and to find the words he'd never really spoken out loud before.
"I was sent to Peru." He paused. "I was sent to Peru because there'd been some terrorist activity down there. A group called People of Light. La Gente de la Luz." He whispered that last to himself though he knew Kate could hear him. The memories he kept locked away pushed at his mind but he wouldn't let them free.
"H-how long were you there?" she asked.
"Three months." He couldn't tell her the rest. Not yet, maybe not ever.
Movement in the long-term parking had him glancing at his watch. They were out of time. He turned to Kate, draping his arm over the back of her seat and hiding a wince when his ribs protested. "Look, Kate, I know I ruined whatever chance we had together. I know I have no right to ask you this, but I'd like you to trust me."
Her eyes narrowed but he kept going, hoping if he talked enough, the right words would come. "I don't deserve your trust. I know that. I accept that. But what happened at your house, it's not good. My boss is after me for reasons I can't even begin to figure out. She's..." How to describe Suzanne? "She's powerful. I'd feel better if you came with me. So I can protect you."
An incredulous look crossed her face and he held up his hand, needing to say his piece. "I know I haven't done a good job of that so far, but I can do it. It's what I'm trained for. Come with me, please." His voice cracked on the please. He didn't want to leave her behind, and if she didn't voluntarily decide to come with him, he honestly had no idea what he would do.
"Why don't you call the police?" she asked.
"Because this is beyond the police."
"No one's that powerful, except maybe the president of the United States."
He kept his mouth shut and Kate's eyes went a little wider. "Are you saying the president of the United States is after you?"
"No." But close.
She glanced uncertainly at the parking lot attendants, biting her bottom lip once again. "If I don't go with you, what will you do? Where will you go?"
"It's probably best you don't know that."
"What will happen to me?"
He didn't know how to answer that question without scaring her, then decided maybe a little bit of fear would help his situation. "I don't know, Kate. Someone tried to kill me back there and he wouldn't have left you alive as a witness. The only thing I can guarantee is that you'll be safer with me than without me." He paused. "I need to know. Are you coming or not?"