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is accusation, delivered as ‘What’s wrong? Thinking about Dave when you hummed it this time?’ stung her. Deborah’s eyes moved up and then down Mark’s physique. Of all people to throw shade on someone else for cheating…

She stood until her silence caused him to turn and fully face her. Her voice was even, but low, like the warning growl of a predator. “I didn’t know you cared. But never you mind. Whatever. We won’t discuss it right now.”

His hand wiped across his tired eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap.” The tension showed in the pinched expression of his face. And perhaps a little bit of hurt was there, too.

She felt a tender ache constrain her heart. She’d seen that exact expression on their son Danny’s face when he had been being corrected. She thought to herself ‘accept it graciously, he’s apologizing.’

His hair was still wet but not from being caught out in the rain. He had taken her advice and showered. Amazingly for all they had been through he looked superb in his black robe. His chest had just enough light on it that it appeared to have its own golden glow. They were both under a lot of strain, but that was no excuse for either of them to give in to pettiness. She was glad she’d laid out his robe along with his body lotion.

And while he was in the bathroom she had made good use of the time by putting the groceries away, warming up the food, and setting a place for them at the table.

Although he wasn’t privy to know it yet, he had already stirred the embers of her heart’s emotions. She had opened one of her birthday gifts while he was in the shower. It had clinked a little when she was setting the gifts aside for later and she hadn’t been able to resist temptation. “Oops’, she had mumbled while setting it down. “This one must be breakable.” She had fingered it noting the weight and size and then . . .

“I- wonder- if-?” It delighted her to peel back the paper. It was what she was hoping for: a beautiful vintage crystal table lamp with hand-cut lead and crystal teardrops. Old fashioned, but suitable for modern decor, too. A very elegant and romantic-looking piece. The waterfall inspired metal shade capped an interior that was wired for electric lighting, but also had a platform inside that would hold candle lighting. To the side of the lamp was a honeysuckle scented candle. She had heard bursting from her lips a squeal ~ “ooh, I love it. How lovely!”

Suddenly, for a moment, she found herself spinning back in time to a memory of herself with Mark. It was just like being with him again. You’re kissing me goodnight on our second–, no, I think it’s our third date. You move from my lips down to my neck. Nuzzling me. I smile now remembering how you pulled back for just a second and moaned softly. Then continued moving up to my

ear with soft tender kisses. “I love your scent.” Your voice is husky. Then you laid the best kiss I had ever had on me. I was wearing some of my mom’s Avon honeysuckle fragrance. Mom loaned it to me for the night, to impress the young man she knew her daughter had already fallen for.

Now standing here in a plush hotel she whispered ‘that was so long ago’.

So bittersweetly long. ‘Did you too, remember that night on the porch Mark?’ She placed the candle holder and the bouquet of roses on the table for the centerpiece just as she’d imagined it when she opened it.

She turned the tv on low for some background noise. She scanned the channels and picked an older movie showing on AMC. It had some pretty music and couples dancing. You’ll do fine she thought and left it playing.

Orange juice and a glass of milk now joined the to go breakfast he had brought in by his plate. As she took her seat she spoke gently “Thank you for remembering these touches.” She caught a heady scent from the roses. lt reminded her and leaning over she carefully lit the candle with a long fireplace match. The sweet unique scent of honeysuckle began to fill the room. It smelled wonderful. No wonder aromatherapy experts used it’s essential oil to stabilize moods and relieve stress. She had always tried her best to keep flowers and candlelight around throughout their years together. He smiled as he observed her. It genuinely pleased him to know that he had pleased her. She complimented him on how good the food was and he agreed. “Yeah, that restaurant looked nice too. We’ll go out to eat there sometime soon.” The phone rang and he groaned as he pushed back his chair, irritated at the inconvenience of it.

“I thought I’d turned this stupid thing off!”

“Mine or yours?” she asked as he reached the kitchen counter.

“It’s mine”, he sighed. From that attitude, she thought he’d just ignore the call but he surprised her and answered.

And surprised her again when his voice became friendly in an instant. “Hey, what’s up?” He leaned against the kitchen counter and glancing her way winked. “Yeah. Yeah, I know. Son? Calm down! Your mom’s fine. She’s right here with me. Well, I don’t know she may have been sleeping or something then.” He listened a minute and then said, “I told you, Danny, what I need you to do. So… did you?” He paused and then said, “Okay.” More listening. “No. No, right now that’s all we need. Do you or Sissy need anything?”

At this point, Deb was putting two and two together. “Sissy” was Mark’s pet name for their daughter. Evidently, he’d contacted Danny to let them know something about them, the house, and the situation. She put her hands up covering her face, feeling guilty that she hadn’t thought to do so. Mark was wrapping the call up. “Your Mom sends her love to both of you, as do I. And when I know something more I’ll be in touch, alright?” Pause. “Alright then, talk to you later.”

He picked her phone up and checked it. Then he shook his head, smacked his lips, and murmured, “Kids. Spoiled brats! Both of them. Danny phoned you earlier and you didn’t answer. Sinful woman. You know that’s a crime!”

So it was Daniel that had called. To Mark she smiled, “What’d you tell them about this mess we’re in?”

“I didn’t let Daniel know anything but that we’d had a break-in and that they’d vandalized the place. I told him to tell Sissy and for them both to stay away. You know, not to go by the house. I said that the police and insurance people had told us we couldn’t. But Danny got himself all worked up thinking about if you had been home alone when something like that happened. He fancies himself some kind of a James Bond figure when it comes to you and his baby sis, you know?”

She nodded with a sly smile back at him, “Oh yeah, I know. I think he gets that from his Dad.” He had moved back to the table and was wolfing down his last bite. “Can I get you anything else?”

“No, not now, I’m fine”, he grinned. “Let’s go to bed!”


Mark looked at her stark face not comprehending. Yawning he said casually, “What “what”? I’m exhausted, Deb. Let’s get some sleep!”

She caught his yawn and recovered quickly. He wasn’t asking for what she’d thought. At least not yet. “Uh, you go ahead. I want to straighten up in here and then I think I’d enjoy a hot soak”

He nodded. “Okay, sounds good, but don’t fall asleep in the tub. I’ll be dead to the world.”

Too tired to realize even now she’d thought making love to her may be on his agenda tonight. Or maybe he really wasn’t interested in her that way anymore. At that, Dave’s voice shot back into her mind. “He wants you back.” You may be wrong Dave’, she thought as she began clearing the table. “Dave”, she whispered, ‘I wonder what you’d look like in a robe like that?’ A smile crept across her lips as she imagined Dave looking just as handsome and even a little sexier.

She noticed the sun was shining brightly now and went back to the bedroom and pulled the drapes completely closed. Mark was already asleep. Walking back through the kitchen she stopped at the counter to pick up her own phone. No other calls were listed besides Danny’s. “Oh, Dave”, she whispered again. ‘What must you think now? You think he wants me back. But Mark doesn’t care about me. Not in that way. I’m the mother of his children, and he’s married to another woman. Do you think I want him back?’

She began clearing the table. Often that was an activity that left her mind free to sort things out. And her mind began to speak to her. ‘He’s trapped you. Do you understand? This madman has trapped you. Let’s check the boxes: 1) If you try and call Dave to let him know anything, Mark and whoever else is listening in is going to know it. 2) If Dave tries to call you, they’ll know. 3) Our home’s gone. 4) Susan, Tessa, Mark, Dave, me, and the kids could all be on his hit list. Another thought hit her. She walked over and picked up Mark’s phone to check it. There was Danny’s call. A couple of numbers she didn’t recognize. Then one from Alex earlier. One from a Washington number before Alex’s. That must have been Tessa, I guess. Oh, I don’t know anymore. She laid the phone back on the counter. She felt hemmed in and tired. I don’t think I even want to know anything anymore. I feel like I’m being pulled apart. She sighed. I could just scream. I’m watched! My every move is going to be watched from now on until — something. Her mind didn’t want to go down that road, Dear Lord, help us please! she prayed. He’s got us all trapped, doesn’t he? We’re pawns just waiting for the dark king’s next conquest. His next victim. There has to be a way, Lord. A way to outthink him. Him with his songs threatening us all. She had worked up her anger. “I’LL SHOW YOU TEMPTATION MISTER, WITH A CAPITAL T.” it erupted out of her, with a surge of strength and determination. “You want to play mind games, don’t you?” That’s it, isn’t it, Lord? A killer like this one always tries to put his victims at a disadvantage first. She checked the time. 4:15. She decided to skip the bath and instead chose to rest on the sofa. Yes, rest. I need to rest. In only a few minutes she had drifted into sleep.

She woke herself later while turning over. She looked around trying to focus but the room was dark. The tv was off. But she could hear a man’s voice. Mark? She rubbed her eyes and sat up. Then she heard that beautiful French accent that belonged to Mark’s friend and partner Alex.

He was saying, “Well, look, if he called Dave threatening him to stay away from Deborah then there has got to be a reason for that.”

Now she recognized Mark’s voice. “Oh, he’s got his reasons. pal. Anything to get at me and the people I love. Especially, he wants Deborah! She’s my wife!”

“Yes, but it’s more than that, Mark”, Alex shot back. “He’s been after Tessa, too, and her sister Susan. Nothing you did deterred him. And … don’t forget there are others you didn’t even know. Why would he — or your Father — have targeted them? And now possibly Dave too?”

Deborah stepped into the doorway. Mark’s face fell. “I thought you were asleep.” He was holding a cigarette and although Deb hadn’t smoked in years she walked over and took it from his hand. She stared him eye to eye as she blew out the smoke slowly into his face. “You heard.”

Looking now at Alex she simply said, “He likes red.”

Neither man responded. She turned back to Mark. “Where’s this half-brother of yours from?”

Alex interrupted. “Wait. What did you say? How do you know he likes red?”

Deb drew another puff and sat down signaling she was joining their analysis and theory development meeting. Uninvited. “His truck. Think about it. He used it clearly not caring you know it’s his. And he’s kept it, even though it’s easy to spot. I’d have chosen another color, if not make and model, after my first hit. Wouldn’t you? It’s important to him, even if it doesn’t seem to be to us.”

Mark stepped to her and took his cigarette back. He was irritated. “Give me that. Don’t pick up my bad habits. You quit years ago. I was proud of you. Let’s leave it at that!”

She shook her head no. ” I can’t.”

“Deborah? What are you thinking?” Mark asked warily?

She smiled coyly at him now and cut her eyes back to Alex. “Thinking? Nothing in particular. What time is it, Alex?”

Alex checked his Rolex. “10 o’clock.” He thought to himself, ‘this is about to get real interesting.’

Mark hadn’t taken his eyes off of her. “Debbie, whatever it is whirling in your heart ~ DON’T! You have no idea what is entangled here, but even if you did, I don’t want you involved trying to do anything. You understand?”

Alex knew he was risking Mark’s fury further but he interrupted again. “Alright, ange. Say you’re right and he likes the red truck. The operative word being ‘red’. What does that mean? “

She pondered for a few seconds, The words stop, heart, blood, Russia ran through her mind! That last one she felt was the right one. “Russia.”

“What gave you that, ange?”

“Do you know about Spirit, Alex? Are you Christian? Do you understand revelation?”

Alex looked at Mark. “Brilliant! She’s brilliant.”

Mark responded, “Yes, I know Alex. She’s brilliant, beautiful, and yet still innocent to some of the evil in this world. And she’s alive. I want her to stay that way.”

When neither Alex nor Deb said anything back … “This meeting is over!” Mark concluded tersely.

He was surprised to see Alex stand. “Not before I say what I came to say.” His eyes now closely examined Alex’s face. Deb felt sure his temper would take over but he held it in check. “Alright. But between you and I.” He looked over at her and said with authority, “Deb you’re excused. This is private. Okay?”

She read that spark that was now in his eyes and didn’t want to agitate the situation; so she nodded yes. She rose and acknowledged Alex. “Bonne nuit.” And another nod to Mark. “Good night.”

She returned to the bathroom turning on the water as if prepping for the hot bath she had missed earlier. Did she dare do what she was about to do? Her mind urged her. “You’ve got to know what’s going on.” She quickly selected a nightgown and grabbed a towel as she heard Mark telling Alex to wait a minute. Sure enough, he came through claiming he needed to use the restroom before she got in.

The tub was filling. She said, “I won’t take long. Mark, I’m hungry. Get rid of him and I’ll fix us something, okay?”

He still looked tired but his face relaxed. “Okay, baby.”

She closed the door and gave him time to get back to Alex before tiptoeing barefoot back to where she could hear without getting close enough to be detected. She had to strain at first. But then Mark’s voice was getting louder and distinct.

“The message you received? IT SAID WHAT?!’

Alex answered seriously. “I have it here. I’ll read it to you:

URGENT! We have discovered a back door channel to Russia with Operation 34.

You know that’s our code for him. He’s not just your half-brother on a vendetta against you and on a Mark’s women killing spree. He’s a Russian asset. An ‘International Spy’ my friend. And maybe a few other choice names you’d like to call him. We have a bigger problem on our hands than a domestic clan squabble.

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