Chaos reigned in the smoky building as workers ran around the halls amid the blaring of both the fire alarm and the radioactivity alert. Jess sat in the safe room and attempted to access the CCTV once more to try and see what was happening to Becker and to track Vasily's progress in rescuing him. The smoke made it difficult but she was finally able to get some footage of the room Becker was in. She saw Vasily at the door but it seemed the soldiers' had evacuated and left Becker in the room, locking the door behind them. She saw Vasily try to break the glass but he was having little luck. Jess quickly called up the building schematics and was able to find a link to the security program. Within thirty seconds, she had hacked into the program and released the lock on the door. Vasily looked up at the camera and smiled in thanks as he went to Becker and cut off the zip ties restraining him. Both men exited the room quickly and Jess began the long wait for them to arrive at the safe room.
The minutes seemed to be hours as she sat waiting. On her few missions before this one, she'd never had to think about losing anyone but this one was different. It wasn't just another coworker….it was Becker. He could have been killed trying to protect her and she really hadn't told him anything…..anything important…..such as she was madly in love with him and had been from the first time she'd met him…..how she'd come to look forward to any day at the ARC that he would be spending time in the Hub…..how she thought he was amazing and brilliant at his job: keeping them all safe.
Her thoughts were rudely interrupted when Vasily came running into the room. Jess turned with a smile but immediately noticed that only one man had entered instead of two.
"Where's Becker?...Vasily?..." Jess whispered as her eyes grew wide and began to fill with unshed tears. "No….please…..please tell me he's OK…." Jess' voice broke as she looked up at him praying Becker was following just a little behind.
"Jessica…do not worry…..We were separated when some soldiers came down the hall and were checking identification so he and I split up and we have a plan to meet back in town," Vasily assured her.
Jess immediately sat down and began checking cameras which were systematically being turned off by the building supervisor, which meant they were now on to the fact that someone outside their security force was accessing them. Jess immediately logged out knowing that staying in the system now would only alert them to her presence.
Vasily grabbed her arm. "Jessica" his voice was serious, "we need to leave NOW….Becker and I have placed a vehicle about half a kilometer away and he will go there and drive back to town. For now, you and I must leave while we still can and there is enough distraction from the alarms."
Jess nodded and quickly gathered her laptop and began to stride quickly out of the building with Vasily. The parking lot was a mass of people, all in various stages of leaving the area since there was a radioactivity warning blaring through the entire parking lot area. She saw several guards shutting down the access doors of the building itself and knew Vasily had been right about leaving immediately. She prayed that Becker had already left the area. The steady stream of cars leaving the parking area meant little attention was paid to the small Lada as it darted out of the parking lot and joined the parade of vehicles heading to the highway. Within minutes, they were on the away from the compound and on their way to the meeting point.
Jess sat numbly in the front seat looking out the window at the forested area behind the building, vainly hoping to catch a glimpse of Becker running toward the cover of the forest. Tears spilled out of her eyes but she made no move to wipe them away as Vasily drove them silently back toward the outskirts of Astana.
He reached across the front seat and patted Jess' shoulder in a comforting manner. "This is new to you, yes?" he said as he looked at her with an understanding smile. "You have not been on a mission where something went wrong with someone you are close to?"
Jess looked at him quizzically. "I don't know what you mean?"
Vasily smiled, "I am meaning, young Jess, that you have not been on such a mission with someone you love, like Becker."
Jess sat up straighter. "Becker and I….no …..well, you have the wrong idea. Becker and I work together but we aren't ….together…He feels very protective of all the people he works with…that's his job," she said as she shifted on the seat.
Vasily laughed knowingly. "Da, I think you know exactly that which I am speaking of. I will tell you that I have never seen him as he is with you…I am thinking that he is in love with you also but as I know him, he is unable to tell you this as he is keeps feelings inside, yes? Perhaps when he comes back you shall encourage him to speak of this to you, " he said as he pulled onto the street of the small town outside Astana.
"Where are we going to meet him?" Jess asked curiously, trying to change the subject.
"We felt it was good idea to meet in very public place so we come again to the Dancing Bear," said Vasily as he pulled up in front of the little bar they had met the contact in.
Vasily and Jess got out of the car and walked inside. "I do not see Becker's car parked here yet, so we will wait, yes? I think it is good idea if we get a drink and sit at a table like the rest of the bar patrons."
Jess walked to a table near the door as Vasily went to the bar to order them drinks. Jess sat quietly, trying not to let worry increase her panic. Vasily joined her at the table and set a glass of Vodka in front of her. She pretended to sip it casually as the minutes ticked by and turned into an hour. Her companion continued to sip his vodka as if he was just enjoying an afternoon drink with a friend while Jess' anxiety increased with each passing minute.
"We need to go look for him!" she whispered. "What if he wasn't able to make it to the vehicle?"
Vasily put his hand over hers in a fatherly gesture of comfort. "Be patient. I am knowing that for you waiting is the hardest part."
Suddenly one of the men at the bar walked up to their table and sat his drink there as he sat down, addressing her in Russian. "Hello, Katje, I see you are here without your boyfriend tonight. Perhaps you have finally gotten rid of him for good? Allow me to buy you a drink, " he muttered while swaying slightly as he gestured to the barkeep.
Jess had no patience for him at that moment and swiftly knocked her drink directly onto his lap. "I wish to be left alone. Go back to your friends before you embarrass yourself…." she said as she sat back in her chair glaring at the offending drunk before he haughtily stood up to brush the vodka off his suit and swayed back to the bar to join his friends. Vasily smiled at her and patted her shoulder as he looked over at the door, laughed, and went to the bar to order another drink. Jess looked down at the table hoping not to make eye contact with some of the other men in the bar who'd witnessed her little scenario and taken her glances around the room as an invitation to join her.
Suddenly a large hand rudely clamped on her shoulder. "Katje" said an obviously drunken man's voice from behind her. "I knew I would find you here."
Jess put her hand on her shoulder angrily to remove the offending hand and its owner from her table when she felt herself spun around. As she pulled back her hand to deliver a stinging slap to the owner of the hand she found herself looking up into a pair of beautiful hazel eyes and the crooked smile of Hilary Becker. At that moment in time she felt as if only two people existed in the room and she immediately jumped into his arms and wrapped both arms around his neck as she hugged him tightly. When she pulled back from the embrace, she looked across the bar at Vasily who had obviously noticed Becker when he stood up to get the drink. He took hold of the drink he had just ordered and raised it toward Jess and Becker with a smile.
Jess looked back toward Becker and looking into his eyes, leaned forward and began kissing him with everything she had. While Becker stood startled at first, he quickly took control of the kiss and began kissing her back as he pulled her against him more tightly and ran his tongue against the seam of her mouth. She relaxed against him as she opened her mouth to him and pulled him toward her. Loud whistles in the bar brought them back to reality, and they broke apart staring at each other.
"Ummmm…Becker…that wasn't from Katje…..that was from me. I love you. I know I should have told you before but if you'd have dinner with me back in London when we get back, maybe we can figure this out back home?" She looked at him hesitantly. Becker laughed and leaned down to kiss her again.
"Jess Parker, I'd love to have dinner with you and, yes, I can guarantee that the feeling is mutual but if we can have dinner without dinosaurs or terrorists chasing us that would probably be a step in the right direction, yeah? First though we have to make sure that bastard who turned us in isn't able to trace you back to the UK." She smirked. "Well let's just say that when they find a large portion of their bank account has been transferred in his name to a private account in Moscow, I'm sure they will have more than a few reasons to question his trustworthiness, don't you think," Jess asked him as she looked up at him through her long lashes. Becker first gaped at her then leaned down to kiss her again. "You were quite busy today, weren't you Jess Parker," he said with a sideways smile. They stood smiling at each other, not letting go, as Vasily looked on from the bar. Another patron leaned over to him. "This couple….they seem to have many problems, yes?...always fighting, then making up?"
Vasily laughed. "I am thinking that this time, they have worked things out for good." He clinked glasses with the patron and ordered another drink.
EPILOGUE: TWO MONTHS LATER
David Fisher walked through downtown London trying to find the dress shop his sister had instructed him to stop at to pick up an item she had had altered. Visiting with family after spending the last year on assignment in Kazakhstan had been a wonderful respite. He'd meant to call some of his military friends to meet up at the local pub but had gotten so busy with his new assignment in London that he hadn't had time. Looking down again at the card she had given him with the name of the shop, he looked up at the seemingly similar names on all the shops in this area. He needed to tell her no more shopping errands for him. She could pick her dress up herself!
He saw a young woman exiting one of the shops and decided to break down and ask for help. "Excuse me," he began "could you…..?" He stopped suddenly and grinned as he realized he was looking down into the smiling face of Jess Parker."
"David!" she squeaked. "How are you? Back in London now, are you?"
David Fisher felt a rush of gratitude that his sister's errand and sent him in general direction of the lovely Jess Parker. She was wearing a sky blue mini dress with a pair of matching heels and looked positively ravishing. He glanced quickly around the busy street to see if her bad tempered boyfriend was lurking around nearby.
Looking down at her watch, Jess grinned up at him. "Well I'm going to pop around the corner to get a cup of tea….care to join me? Tell me all about what you've been doing here lately."
David Fisher felt that suddenly the heavens had opened up and opportunity was knocking at his door. Jess, obviously, would not be inviting him to have a cup of tea with her hulking boyfriend hanging about. He smiled at her gratefully and picked up her package for her as he followed her into the tea shop.
"I was just at the market picking up a few things for dinner tonight," she said as she sipped her tea.
David was happy for the opening in the conversation. "Well I was hoping maybe you could join me for dinner tonight?" he said hoping for a confirmation on the date.
Jess grinned. "Well, I'm making a special dinner tonight. Why don't you come to dinner at my flat and we can catch up?"
Well, David Fisher was not a man to turn down a beautiful woman's invitation to dinner and quickly said yes as Jess stood up and shook his hand before she walked out of the shop. David got out his mobile and began to search for flower shops in the area. Yes, today was turning out to be a lucky day after all.
Three hours later David parked his car on the street in front of the flat at the address Jess had given him. He picked up the bouquet of flowers he picked up at the flower market and straightened the new tie he'd picked up at the same time. Walking to the front door, he rang the bell confidently.
Jess Parker answered the door in casual slacks and a soft blue sweater that made her eyes seem impossibly large. She hugged him in greeting as he presented the flowers he brought and she went in search of a vase after inviting him into the kitchen. While she was searching in the cupboard, David thought it might be a good time to casually ask her about when she and her boyfriend had ended things. The problem was to do it tactfully. After all, he didn't want to pry. If it was over, that was it and he was definitely interested in taking that foolish man's place.
"So" he began tactfully, "is your boyfriend, I forget his name, been gone very long?" he asked in a disinterested manner.
Jess laughed as she stood up with the vase. "Oh, he just popped back into work to pick up some paperwork he forgot but he should be here any minute. I didn't tell him you were coming. I thought it would be a nice surprise!" she said with a conspiratorial smile.
David froze. What the hell? She INVITED him to dinner with her jealous boyfriend? He began to run though a scenario in his mind where he could extricate himself from the situation as quickly as possible as he remembered Becker's description of him as a "nasty bloke." A bit of sweat beaded on his brow. He had no time to think before the buzzer buzzed and Jess walked quickly to the door. "David saw the door open in the dark entryway as he heard a man murmur a soft "Hello, love" before kissing Jess lovingly and reluctantly letting her go and stepping into the room. David straightened himself up as he stuck out his hand and hoped for the best as the man stepped into the light in the kitchen.
"Surprise!" shouted Jess happily. "I was at the dress shop this morning and ran into David. He invited me to dinner but I told him I was fixing a special meal here and I knew you two would want to catch up!"
Becker strode forward to shake David's hand before he stopped at the confused look on Fisher's face and saw the flowers and suddenly remembered his conversation at the base in Kazakhstan.
"So, David," Becker began nervously, "we haven't talked in a while have we. I have a few updates in my life recently that I might have forgotten to share with you."
David looked at Becker bewildered until the missing piece of the puzzle fell into place. "So, Jess, you and Becker been together very long?" He asked Jess with a quizzical smile.
Jess grinned as she kissed Becker on the cheek. "Oh, actually that's rather recent. Since you asked about my boyfriend, I thought you already knew." She looked at Becker with a puzzled expression.
David Fisher leaned on the counter and began to laugh uproariously as he looked at the sheepish expression on Becker's face until both of them joined together in laughter as Jess looked on smiling but confused.
"Did I miss something?" she asked.
Fisher clapped Becker on the back . "Ms. Parker, you didn't. I'm afraid I've been the recipient of a rather sly bit of subterfuge that I was completely taken in by….courtesy of your boyfriend. I brought a lovely bottle of wine and I'd love to tell you about it over dinner…..along with some other rather embarrassing stories about Becker here."
He picked up the wine as he escorted Jess to the table and Becker picked up the dinner plates. He smiled as he stared over the table at his lovely girlfriend smiling happily at him and went to the table to join them. Subterfuge indeed. All was fair in love and war and with the lovely Jess Parker as the prize he had no regrets at all that his mission had been a complete and utter success.
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