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It wasn't easy being green. Green being the colour of envy. Envy being the emotion Lena owned when she saw others walking around effortlessly and without pain. She tried to keep her resentments in check, but envy had powerful friends like self-pity and unfocused anger and when they came to play, Lena's bright-side surrendered with barely a murmur. Being gut shot nineteen months ago had brought out the worst in her rather than the best.
Focus on the positives, the overworked physio had told her briskly at the start of her rehabilitation.
You can walk.
The physio had tapped the side of Lena's skull next. You're really strong. Up here.
Lena had taken that last comment as a compliment. Right up until the physio had started telling her to back off on the exercises and let her body heal. Lena had ignored her, at which point the physio had started comparing Lena to someone's pet ox.
As in overly stubborn and none too bright.
It didn't help that the other woman might possibly have been right.
Still, stubbornness had got her to the airport this morning, and through the airport, and if she sank down into the row of seats next to the boarding gate with a muffled curse and a certain amount of relief, so what?
She'd made it.
Another half an hour and she'd be on a plane bound for Istanbul and when she got there she was going to find Jared, her wayward brother, and haul him home in time for Christmas. She could do this. Was doing this.
Didn't matter that she was doing it one step at a time.
Lena closed her eyes and rubbed at her face, putting the heels of her hands to her eye sockets and rolling them in slow circles, and it was hell on mascara but she didn't wear any anywayher lashes were black enough and thick enough to go without. Her hair was thick and black too, and straight these days, on account of a good cut and a run-in with a hair straightener this morning. The wave would come back next time she washed it, but for now she looked reasonably put together. Less like an invalid and more like a woman on a mission.
Someone took a seat beside her and Lena lowered her hands, cracked a glance and groaned at the sight of her nemesis, Adrian Sinclair, glaring back at her.
Trig was big. As in six feet five and perfectly proportioned. He'd grown into his hands. Grown into the coat-hanger shoulders he'd had at sixteen. Good for him.
Lena had stopped growing at a respectable five-eight. Nothing wrong with medium height. Nothing wrong with medium anything.
'Go away,' she said by way of greeting.
'No,' he said by way of hello. 'I heard you failed your physical.'
Way to rub it in. 'I'll take it again. I've put in for special consideration.'
'You won't get it.'
'You're blocking it?'
'You overestimate my influence,' rumbled Trig.
'No,' she said, cutting him off fast. 'Whatever you're going to say about my current state of well-being, don't. I don't want to hear it.'
'I know you don't, but I am done talking around it.' Trig's jaw tightened. He had a nice jaw. Strong. Square. It provided a much-needed counterpoint to his meltingly pretty brown eyes. 'When are you going to get it through your thick head that you are never going to get your old job back?'
Lena said nothing. Not what she wanted to hear.
'Doesn't mean you can't be equally effective elsewhere,' continued Trig doggedly.
'Behind a desk?'
'Operations control. Halls of power. Could be fun.'
'If it's that much fun, why don't you do it?'
'What do you think I've been doing these past nineteen months? Besides dropping everything on a regular basis to come babysit you? Why do you think I took myself off rotation in the first place?'
Lena had the grace to flush. Like her and Jared, Trig had been part of an elite intelligence reconnaissance team once, and, just like her, Trig had loved his job. The extreme physicality of it. The danger and the excitement. The close calls and the adrenaline. Trig had to be missing all that. 'Why did you take yourself off rotation? They'd have assigned you to another team. No one asked you to sit at a desk. And I don't need a babysitter.'
'Yeah, I wish you'd prove it.' Trig eased his legs out in front of him and tried to make himself comfortable in the too-small airport seat. Big man, with a body honed for combat. The pretty face and the easy smile those were just for disarmament purposes.
'Adrian, what are you doing here?' Adrian was his real name. Lena only ever used it when talk turned serious. 'How'd you even know I was here?'
'Damon called me. He had you flagged the minute you passed through Customs.'
'Man, I hate that.' Who'd have a computer hacker for a brother? 'No respect for privacy whatsoever.'
'Handy, though. Exactly what is it you plan to do in Istanbul, Lena?'
'What makes you think he's still there?'
'I don't. But it's the only lead we've got. Nineteen months and not one word on his whereabouts until now. What if he needs our help?'
'If he needs our help he'll ask for it.'
'What if he can't? Jared's in over his head. I can feel it. He wouldn't go this long without finding a way to contact us. He just wouldn't.'
'He would if he thought the risk of blowing his cover was too great.'
'If it's that dangerous, maybe he shouldn't be there at all.'
Trig shrugged. 'Jared wants answers. He needs answers. Get in his way and he's not going to be happy.'
'I won't get in his way. You give me too little credit.'
'I have never given you too little credit. That's not a mistake I'm likely to make. Too much leeway, on the other hand.'
'Not even close.'
'So you don't plan to sling me over your shoulder and forcibly remove me from the boarding area?'
'Too showy,' said Trig, pulling out his mobile phone and tapping the screen. A nerve twisted low in Lena's belly and she shifted restlessly in her seat and looked away. She'd always had a thing for Trig's hands. A little part of her had long wondered what they might wring from her if Trig ever put his mind to it.
Not that he ever did.
'We took a vote; me, Damon and Poppy,' Trig continued. 'In the event that I can't persuade you to stay here and be sensible, I get to go with you and be stupid. Damon's already got me a ticket. You can thank him later.'
'Thanking him isn't exactly what I have in mind.'
'Damon cares for you, Lena. He already has one sibling missing. He doesn't want another gone and I don't want to have to explain to Jared why the hell I let you go looking for him alone. It'll be bad enough trying to explain why I let you look for him at all.'
'You approve of what he's doing,' she said sourly. 'You don't want him safe. You want him to find out who sabotaged the East Timor run.'
'Damn right I do.'
'What'd you and Jared do? Toss a coin to see who went and who stayed to look after the invalid?'
'Didn't have to. He went. I stayed.' Trig eyed her flatly and Lena was the first to look away. She hadn't been the best of company these past nineteen monthstoo jacked up on painkillers and self-pity to take it easy on anyone. Too focused on getting through the day upright to worry about hurting anyone else's feelings along the way. Trig deserved better from her. Her family deserved better from her.
'Sorry,' she said and got a knee nudge from those long lanky legs in reply. 'I am sorry.'
But unless she actually did something about changing her mindset and her ways, sorry was just another empty word.
'You sitting next to me on this flight?' she asked.
Trig nodded, his eyes scanning the other passengers.
'Don't suppose Damon upgraded us to Business while he was deep in the bowels of the airline's supposedly secure system?'
'He did. Said we'd need the leg room. You need to check in with the boarding staff.'
Call it fate, intervention or the joys of having a computer-hacking genius for a brother, but the overhead speaker system chose that moment to request her presence at the boarding desk.
'You want me to get that?' Trig asked.
'No.' Lena made it to her feet. 'I can do it.'
It was to Trig's credit that he merely watched as she walked carefully to the service desk and exchanged her economy ticket for a business class one.
No credit to him at all when he sauntered over, face tight as he wrapped one arm around her waist and another beneath her knees and carried her silently back to her seat.
She wasn't grateful for his silence or his strength.
They'd travelled together before. Eaten together, slept beside each other on beaches and in ditches. Lena knew Trig's scent, the long lines of his back and the breadth of his shoulders. Shoulders built to cry on, though she rarely had. Strength enough to carry others, though he'd never had to carry her. Until she'd been shot.
A part of her hated that she couldn't match him any more. Couldn't pit her speed and agility against his brute force and make a proper competition out of it. The rest of her just wanted to curl up against his strength and take shelter from the pain.
The boarding call for their flight came over the speaker system.
'Lena' began Trig, and she knew what he was going to say before he said it. She stopped him because she didn't want to hear yet another round of how she was too frail for this and how she should leave well enough alone.
'Don't tell me to reconsider,' she said and knew the threadiness of her voice for desperation. 'Please. I have to find him. I have to see for myself that he's okay. As soon as I know that, I'll leave. I promise. But I have to know that he's okay. I need him to see that I'm okay.'
Trig said nothing, just reached for Lena's little travel backpack sitting on the seat beside her. Reached for it at the same time she did.
'I can' she began.
'Lena, if you don't let me carry your bag, I'm probably going to shoot you myself,' he said with exaggerated mildness. 'I want to help. You might even say I need to help same way you need to see your brother and fix things with him. So let go of the goddamn bag.'
She let go of the bag. Trig didn't really have a hair trigger. Not all of the time.
'I don't think you'd shoot me,' she murmured finally. 'Even if you did have your gun. I think you're all bluff.'
'Am not.' Trig fell into step beside herno small feat for a man whose stride was a good foot longer than hers. 'I'm ruthless and menacing and perfectly capable of following through on my threats. I wish you'd remember that.'
Maybe if she didn't know him so well, she'd think him more menacing. Trouble was she knew how gentle those big hands could be when it came to wounded things. Knew that he'd cut his hands off before hurting her.
Enough with the fixation on his hands.
They boarded the plane and found their seats. Trig stowed their bags and watched her settle tentatively into the wide and comfy seat. Ten seconds later he dangled a little pillow in front of her nose. Lena took it and set it at the small of her back.
'You got a plan for when we get to Istanbul?' Trig gave her another pillow and she contemplated swatting him with it, but tucked it down the side of the seat instead. She could always smother him with it later.
'I have a plan,' she said. 'And a meeting with Amos Carter in two days' time.'
'Please tell me you're not basing this entire journey on Carter being able to tell you where Jared is,' said Trig. 'Because I've already shaken that tree. He thought he saw him in Bodrum but he didn't get close enough for a positive ID. That was six weeks ago.'
'I know that. And if Amos has nothing more to add I'm heading for Bodrum to play tourist and see what I can see. My eyes are better than his. I know Jared's habits. If he's there I'll find him. If he's been there, I'll find out where he's gone.'
She eyed Trig speculatively, trying to figure the best way to fit him into her plan. 'We could pretend to be holidaying together. We could be on our honeymoon. Good cover.'
Trig looked startled. And then he looked wary. 'Not necessarily. Bodrum's a tourist mecca. Boats. Parties. Outdoor nightclubs. Vice. We're probably going to be exploring that vice. I don't think pretending to be married would help at all.'
'You're absolutely right,' said Lena, perfectly willing to improve on her current plan. 'I could be your pimp instead. You could be Igor The Masterful. There could be leather involved.'
'Yeah, let's not go there either.'
Lena smiled at the flight hostess standing right behind him. To the hostie's credit she didn't bat an eyelash at the wayward conversation, just took her tongs and handed Trig a steaming flannel. She handed one to Lena too. Lena thanked her sweetly and shook it out and wiped hands and arms all the way to the elbows.
Trig sat down and draped his over his face.
'I'm still here,' said Lena. 'Don't remind me.'
'At least it's not the belly of a Hercules,' she said. 'And your legs actually fit in the space they've been given. It's all win.'
'I'm over winning.' She could still make out the words, muffled as they were beneath the face cloth. 'These days I'm all about risk analysis and minimising collateral damage.'
Well, hell. 'When did you grow up?'
'Twenty-second of April, twenty eleven.'
The day she'd been shot.