Sophia Kell Hagin, writer

 

 

 

Shadows of Something Real by Sophia Kell Hagin

Shadows of Something Real
is available in print and ebook
from Bold Strokes Books
or any bookseller.

Shadows of Something Real
copyright © 2013 by Sophia Kell Hagin
all rights reserved

excerpt from
Shadows of Something Real
by Sophia Kell Hagin

All around the house is the jet-black night;
It stares through the window-pane;
It crawls in the corners, hiding from the light,
And it moves with the moving flame.

Now my little heart goes a-beating like a drum,
With the breath of the Bogies in my hair;
And all around the candle the crooked shadows come,
And go marching along up the stair.

The shadow of the balusters, the shadow of the lamp,
The shadow of the child that goes to bed—
All the wicked shadows coming tramp, tramp, tramp,
With the black night overhead.

—Robert Louis Stevenson, Shadow March, from Penny Whistles (A Child’s Garden of Verses), 1885

 

Chapter One

Where and When


"Zero three hundred, Lieutenant. Wake up and smell the sulfur.”

Jamie Gwynmorgan roused to a hand jostling her shoulder, the insistent pungence of mangrove swamp, and a bead of sweat teasing her temple as it trickled toward her ear. Even before she could open her eyes, the jagged electric dread sparked again in her gut and ripped lower, deeper, until it jolted her clit and incited another frenzied urge to thrash, howl, claw her way to escape.

But there would be no escape. And no bitching and squirming about it either. She might forever think of herself as Corporal Gwynmorgan, but she’d forsaken that and agreed to it all—the stuff about true faith and allegiance, about how “this Officer is to observe and follow such orders and directives, from time to time, as may be given…”

Long ago, such orders and directives had consigned her to the sweltering island, the unending mission, the life she’d be risking yet again. She clenched her jaw, and the clench quickly spread to every muscle in her body, claiming her arms, her shoulders, her abs and legs and glutes, especially her glutes, until the ache of it squelched her compulsion to run or scream or sob. And then…One more breath, Corporal.

Just one more breath of this muggy, buggy, foul air, and then she’d open her eyes, swing herself out of her hammock, and—

Wait! The hand on her shoulder, the swamp-stench, the cloying humidity had all vanished. Her stomach tumbled, left behind while the rest of her levitated into dizzy realization: That’s wrong. I’m not there anymore.

Where, then? When?

Trapped behind eyelids that refused to open, an acidic bubble of nausea rising to her throat, she bent low, curling toward the green of ferns and sagging palms. All around her, bullets shredded the blameless fronds, pop-crack-whining nearer, nearer—but it wouldn’t hurt for long, right? Wrong, that’s wrong

“Just a target,” whispered a voice too much like her own. Stretched flat on her belly, she heard only the scant rustle of her body worming into position as she squinted through a rifle scope, unable to prevent its reticled crosshairs from slipping down, down from the man’s head to his torso, unable to keep time from slowing, dilating the span between exhale and inhale into a stillness that impelled but one infinitesimal motion: Her finger’s tiny tug on the rifle’s trigger. “Just a target,” the voice repeated. No, that’s wrong

Now silence. She saw a small child—yes, a girl child—and the silence gave way to the sounds of her own frantic, bleated remorse as the child scampered away from her into a devouring darkness.

She wanted to follow, but the live wire terror in her gut, her clit, immobilized her in the bright, cruel cone of a spotlight. Helpless, she watched her own hunched shadow tremble while she struggled to stand, naked and filthy and cringing, bloody wrists and ankles hobbled by heavy manacles. “I don’t know,” she rasped, “I can’t remember…”

That’s when she heard it: The Bastard’s laugh—shrill, corrosive, contemptuous. And close by, too close by. “My turn now,” he grated in his strange accent.

No, please, not again.

The Bastard’s metal-on-metal laugh scraped along the seams of a language she didn’t recognize. Uh dee yapizz dahmah terayno. She tried anyway to make sense of the sounds—uh dee yapizz dahmah… But his excoriating sneer had receded into the blackness enclosing her prison of light, the blackness that always hid him.

Jamie held her breath and listened.

Where is he?

She listened and heard…nothing.

Where am I?

It had been so easy once to wake up already knowing where and when. But not anymore. How many times had she opened her eyes to scam upon hoax upon hoodwink, layer after layer of delusion about having left the Palawan, about Alby sober and sensible, about the little girl who wanted to hold her hand?

What if the child could never reach for her? What if Alby had been too shit-faced to bail from that burning car? What if what if what if getting out of the Palawan had been just another pathetic, desperate dream?

This could be Saint Eh Mo’s. And Shoo Juh’s interrogators could be standing centimeters away with their electrified batons, avid for her first waking flutter.

Listen…for the spitting buzz of the current dancing between the baton’s electrodes—that nanosecond of warning before her body would explode into a havoc of excruciating spasms. She must tamp down the fever-red horror always simmering low in her belly, threatening panic. She must lay utterly motionless and…listen listen—

Thump. Thump-thump.

Her eyes snapped wide and she bucked half-upright, legs scrabbling to get beneath her as she registered the white-yellow light and gray-yellow shadows splayed across a ceiling above her. Confounded, she let her feet slip out from under her and thudded flat on her back breathless, her frenzied heartbeat thundering in her ears.

“My god, Jamie, are you all right?”

A woman appeared above Jamie’s feet, trim and graceful in the smoothly draped contours of cream-colored trousers and jacket, her sandy, white-streaked hair gleaming in sunlight.

Dawn’s early light. Around here this time of year, that’d be zero six hundred hours, give or take.

Ah. Jamie gulped air. Here.

At Great Hill. Tuesday, August somethingAugust twenty-seven, right? Almost four years since Alby died, ten thousand miles and twelve time zones from the Palawan. And still five whole months to go. Right?

“Sorry. Guess I lost my balance.” Jamie gazed up at Lynn Hillinger’s worried frown and, heart rate daring to calm a bit, attempted a smile; Lynn hadn’t yet morphed into the glacial, menacingly elegant Shoo Juh, who was uncontestably the scariest woman Jamie had ever encountered. If she smiles back, she’s real and I’ve got it right.

“Jamie,” said Lynn, bending forward, shaking her head, her short, bobbed hair whiter now as it cast toward her cheekbones. “Why are you sleeping on the floor?”

“Uh—” The floor…In the room of Lynn’s house that everyone called “Jamie’s room” as if it had belonged to her for all her nineteen years, not just sheltered her like a rescued puppy for twenty-seven going on twenty-eight days. Jamie sucked in more air. How the hell did she end up on the floor? Assuming the floor was real, assuming Lynn was real.

Pleeease smile at me.

Lynn bent closer. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah.” Jamie hiked herself up on one elbow, then the other, and wiggled her toes. “All the parts still seem to be attached.”

A bemused version of Lynn’s famous grin creased her handsome face, lit her clear gray eyes, and for a second, as she straightened up, she looked twenty-five years old instead of forty-five.

Oh, thank god.

Jamie hummed with a high-frequency wave of gratitude while Lynn’s head shifted back and forth again. But Lynn’s smile stuck around, like maybe it knew how important it was. Every time Jamie saw that smile, a nourishing melt of comfort and something almost like optimism flowed through her.

Even so, she wondered: Why would Lynn be dressed for a power lunch at 0600? Why would Lynn be dressed at all at 0600 during this last week of what was supposed to be a vacation? Keeping her eyes on Lynn’s smile, Jamie started to lift herself off the floor.

“What’s up? Why’re you—”

Jamie froze; she tried not to groan aloud, but she couldn’t stop the wince. A stupid mistake, forgetting like that and trying to stand as if nothing had happened. She let her backside retreat to the cotton throw rug where she’d been sleeping in the narrow space between bed and wall. This would need thinking about.

“Easy does it, kiddo.” Leaning quickly forward, hand extended, Lynn examined Jamie, her smile abandoned as her eyes searched out the scars unhidden by Jamie’s boxers-and-tanktop sleepwear—as if inspecting those surface slices and dices might tell her how fared the innards’ regenerative stem cell treatments.

The docs had said that First Lieutenant Gwynmorgan had good  odds for a full recovery, eventually, minus only a uterus and a centimeter or two of intestine. Even so, the scars rankled Lynn. Her eyes gave it away by narrowing for a nanosecond at each one she spotted, just like they had every time they’d looked for the last—

How long had it been?

Sixty-five days—or has it been sixty-six, maybe sixty-seven?

Jamie didn’t remember squat about a bunch of those days. For a long while, she floundered for where and when and, later, how: How the hell could she still be alive?

Yet what she did recall included Lynn. And kept including Lynn—because Lynn didn’t leave. Then came the part Jamie remembered with a kind of hushed reverence: How after the hospital with its interminable surgeries and injections and scans and more surgeries, Lynn had insisted she come to Great Hill to heal instead of shipping out to the nearest Marine Corps lame-and-halt battalion to perfect her pushups and supervise the emptying of garbage cans.

Why Lynn did all that—why truly—and how she got her spirited tribe to go along with it was a mystery Jamie pondered more and more now that the daze of debilitation had begun to lift a little and it was possible to take a dump without almost passing out from the cramps.

“Ready?” asked Lynn, positioning herself on Jamie’s right side, one hand steady at Jamie’s shoulder, the other clasping Jamie’s forearm. While Jamie pushed, Lynn pulled, emitting a small grunt as Jamie rose to stand half a foot over her.

“Thank you.” Jamie smiled; maybe it was a good sign that her body had simply forgotten how injured it was.

But as Lynn reached up to ruffle Jamie’s hair, a new tension tightened her face—a tip-off that sent a phalanx of tiny icicles blitzing along Jamie’s spine. Something’s happened.

“I didn’t realize your hair’s so dark,” Lynn said, and Jamie heard her procrastination. “Or that it curls when it’s given a chance. Nice effect with those baby blues of yours.” Lynn allowed the moment, and her hand, to linger before she spoke again. “I have to go to DC today.”

Jamie studied Lynn’s face. “Washington? I thought the Senate was in recess ’til next week.” What else had Lynn embedded in this beginning of the Great Hill good-bye ritual, that oh-so-conscientious protocol that intimated the household had barely withstood some never-mentioned
past travail?

“Our people in Paris—”

“At the truce negotiations.” The imperishable dread smoldering deep in Jamie’s gut flared into her chest, down her legs.

“Yes. They’ve hammered out an agreement. Finally. I’m due at a briefing in a few hours.”

Clumsily, Jamie sat on the bed. “Does this mean it’s over?”

“God, I hope so.”

Ever since she grasped that the fight for Palawan hadn’t finished her, Jamie tried to leave behind what she’d seen on those little Philippine islands, what she’d done there. What had been done to her.

Of course, she failed. No one had yet invented a stem cell treatment to fix the way combat fucked up your head—so the Palawan had become a hyper-real monster of recursion that cornered her into exhausted sleep every night and besieged her awake every morning, haunting guiltless sounds and smells, taunting from the vague edges of her peripheral vision. Haunts within haunts, taunts within taunts, her very own fractal pattern of fear and revulsion, ever more malignant and unpredictable.

And now the fight was actually over?

It had taken almost a year of one endless Palawan day after another to scour away the last of that rah-rah shit about “winning” and those pipe dreams about when the conflict might cease. Only a single raw realization remained: The struggle to live and keep her people alive would take all she had until it killed her. And kill her it did. Sixty-five days ago—or was it sixty-six days ago, sixty-seven days ago, forever ago?

That she once more breathed Massachusetts air was a perverse coincidence of ordnance trajectory and advanced casevac technology. Caprice again, that masturbating goddess of vagaries, coin flips, and flukes.

Goddamn. It’s over.

Two years of the Palawan’s blood and blackness and fear-stink. Over. Those seven months at the prurient mercy of Shoo Juh and The Bastard in the POW camp where Lynn found her—the place its prisoners called Saint Eh Mo’s, foreigner-garbled Mandarin for “evil demon.” Over. What had defined her so much more than growing up with a junkie mother like Alby ever could. Over.

Without the Palawan, site of her aberrant journey from almost-virgin baby dyke to accomplished shooter of many enemies and at least one innocent, from lance corporal to first lieutenant to flailed hong mao, what was she? Over. As in over a cliff, as in death warmed over. As in turn over a new leaf.

Why doesn’t it feel over?

“You’re going down there in person? Not telebriefing?” This wasn’t what Jamie wanted to say, but she could find no words for what she wanted to say.

“It’s foregone, really,” said Lynn. “All except the blustering. But it’s been decided by people other than me that we can’t have a record of any kind. No lenses, no sensors, no comlinks. No chance of eavesdropping or somebody’s chat texts getting leaked to the media. So we’re meeting at the SCIF in the Hart Building.”

“The skiff?”

“Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. Four-factor secure access, level-eight surveillance resistance—the whole schutengeschmeer, as my grandmother used to say.”

Jamie nodded. She’d heard of SCIFs, certainly. All the very important people who decided on the fate of fodder had SCIFs. She waited for the rest of Lynn’s good-bye.

Instead, Lynn sat, too. “Before I go, I’d like to show you something.” No. Don’t. But, once decided, Lynn wasn’t easy to dissuade; Jamie didn’t bother trying, but she wanted to keep her shoulders—and her voice—from slumping. Endurance in body can distract the mind.

“Okay.”

Lynn tapped her wristcom, which woke up the room’s videoscreen. She tapped again and the videoscreen displayed a satellite view of the South China Sea. At the top left of the screen, the bulge of Shoo Juh’s China loomed ominously. At the bottom right dribbled a skimpy, bumpy forward-slash of an island accompanied by tiny splotches of land at its top and bottom. The Palawan.

Jamie preferred to keep her eyes on Lynn rather than the screen. She hadn’t seen any Palawan imagery for more than nine months; the sight of it sent another harsh tremor nipping along her vertebrae. “I thought you said level-eight surveillance resistance.”

“Not to worry. We’re level-eight-plus here.”

“In the house.” Jamie gave the room a swift, skeptical scan. “This house.”

“House. Garages. Offices. Because of Callithump. It’s one of five outfits authorized by the government to do level-eight technical surveillance countermeasure consulting and development. All Callithump’s senior people have level-eight-plus at home.”

“Callithump” meant Lynn’s company, of course. Never taken public, closely held, worth billions thanks to its breakout security and telepresence technologies. Several years ago, shortly before her eleventh-hour leap into a run for the Senate, Lynn had turned over the reins to Dana, the hard-driving daughter of her partner Rebecca; as far as Jamie could glean, what wealth Lynn hadn’t given away she’d stashed in treasury bonds and she didn’t have anything to do with Callithump anymore. But Great Hill certainly did.

Four generations resided under its capacious, smart-solar-tiled roofs. Lynn and Rebecca shared the place with not only Lynn’s teenage daughter, Robin, and Rebecca’s mother, Mary, but also with Dana and Dana’s partner, Lily, who had recently become both Callithump’s chief technology officer and the mother of Evelyn, a four-month-old baby girl endowed with a police-siren wail. After twenty-eight days among them, Jamie hadn’t yet figured out what made them choose to live together. Definitely not financial necessity. Nor was it one of those twisty, emo-neurotic loops that snare some families into sticking close so they can spend their lives chomping on each other. No, this crew got along pretty well, and Jamie liked how they watched one anothers’ backs—and how she was never sure who was boss.

“Lynn,” she said, “I don’t have that sort of security clearance, remember?”

“Oh, I expect you can be trusted. I’ll be home by Thursday night, I think, which gives us plenty of time to plan for Sunday. So—”

“Sunday?”

“The cookout. We may have to deal with some additional media interest.”

“Oh. Yeah.” So far, Jamie had managed to dodge several dinner parties and hoped to evade the annual Great Hill Labor Day weekend cookout, too; she wanted nothing to do with the 200 people who’d spend the afternoon snarfing hamburgers and swilling beer on the south meadow. “I thought I could just stay in here. There’s this online course I’ve been wanting to start.”

Lynn’s face had clouded so completely that Jamie suspected her words hadn’t registered at all. “Tough to tell what the media will pounce on,” Lynn said absently. “Mmm…they do love coincidence. If they get wind of the truce agreement this afternoon, they just might focus on the dates rather than you.”

“Me? Why me?”

“Every war has its icons, at least until it fades into obscurity. You’ve become one of this war’s icons, I’m afraid. That video of you—” Lynn’s eyebrows hiked when Jamie shook her head. “You haven’t looked at any of the coverage?”

“Once, last week—a GNN piece from early July. Couldn’t bring myself to actually read it. And the video—saw the first frame and didn’t stick around. Only reason I got that far was because a guy at the Corps’s Public Affairs office passed on some interview requests—along with
links to earlier stories and a list of stuff I’m not supposed to talk about.” Jamie stretched and rotated her suddenly taut shoulders. “Got me wondering whether the face apps can recognize me from what’s out there.”

“Not easily, I’d say, especially if you wear shaded eyewraps and maybe a full-brimmed hat. And avoid closeup photo ops, of course. The media glow fades pretty quickly—a few days or a week after the headlines move on. It’s the chasers you have to worry about. The obsessives who’ve decided to make you their hobby. Of course, they have to know where to look. The longer you’re out of sight, the quicker they move on, too.”

“Whole thing creeps me out. How the hell do you do it?”

“Oh, it’s not so bad. But it does take some practice. Security helps, too.”

“Uh-uh. Not going there. I’m ignoring those interview requests.”

“Chances are there’ll be others.”

“I’ll damn well ignore them, too.”

“At least you’re beyond their reach here on the property. But whoever you might talk to out there, I’d appreciate you pretending we didn’t have this conversation.”

“Sure. I’m wicked good at playing dumb.”

A pensive smile on her face, Lynn tousled Jamie’s hair again. “I just didn’t like the idea of you finding out about the truce agreement from over-hyped headlines. I wanted you to hear about it from me—” She halted, thrown off-balance, Jamie suspected, by the pitch and roll of her own Palawan memories and the toll her decision to venture there took on Robin and Rebecca, on everyone at Great Hill. Lynn cleared her throat and tilted her head toward the videoscreen. “See the red shading?”

“Let me guess. It’s what The Powers That Be want to hand over to the Zhong.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘want to,’ but, yes, this shows the gist of the agreement.”

“So the enemy gets Half Moon Shoal.”

“Sadly, yes again. And we’re not calling them ‘the enemy’ anymore. Or ‘Zhong’, for that matter.”

“Half Moon Shoal is eighty klicks from the Palawan.” Jamie wished none of it mattered to her, but she couldn’t keep the shadow from her voice. “That’s only fifty miles, Lynn.”

“The Chinese have already been there for decades.”

“But this’ll make it legal, won’t it? The precedent they want.”

Jamie turned away from the screen and stared out an open window at the vertical-axis wind turbines visible through the trees rising behind the house. “Our three pirouetting minarets,” Mary liked to joke whenever the wind topped ten miles an hour. Most mornings, Jamie found herself gazing at the turbines; from the pair of north-facing windows in her room she could just make out the movement of their sinuous blades, which usually mesmerized her—but not this time.

“People died to prevent that,” she whispered. People killed. She refused to count the lives she’d obliterated during Operation Palawan Liberation. Now numbers reeled by her mind’s eye, random and reckless like in a slot machine, threatening to match up into truth revealed as they climbed higher. How many dead by her hand so that the Zhong would end up with Half Moon Shoal and unchallenged sovereignty over a third of the world’s known fossil fuel deposits?

No. Jamie twitched her head back and forth, trying to shake away the thought. Don’t.

“The Chinese will withdraw from all Philippine territory immediately, including that airbase they’ve just finished building on Bugsuk Island,” said Lynn as if she were apologizing, and then her apology buzzed on with details about withdrawal, reconciliation, monitoring, enforcing. “And after a couple of years, the tourists’ll start to come back.”

“Great,” Jamie said. “Like it never even happened.” For a nanosecond, gravity let her go; a hand seemed to press itself against the inside of her skull and lift her upward. Fuck it. It’s over. Over.

“We were lucky to—” Lynn drew in a deep breath and took hold of Jamie’s hands, which quivered just slightly most of the time these days.

To get out alive. To make any deal at all. Jamie refrained from saying it aloud, from saying anything about the now infamous attempt to sabotage the truce negotiations by kidnapping Lynn’s Zhong counterpart, which had sparked an equally infamous, game-changing chain reaction: The Zhong decision to retaliate by holding Lynn at Saint Eh Mo’s, Shoo Juh’s inexplicable aid so essential to their escape, and the daring, deadly escape itself.

Jamie didn’t like talking or even thinking about any of it because every time she did, she faced an onslaught of phantasms as mindfucking as any nightmare. Yet none of it added up—not Shoo Juh’s help, not the official story about some previously unknown anti-truce splinter group kidnapping the Zhong official, nor his liberation by a Marine special ops team the day after Lynn and the Saint Eh Mo’s POWs were rescued. She flashed on the moment nearly three months ago when she and the other prisoners first heard that the truce talks had been suspended, that Lynn would not be allowed to leave Saint Eh Mo’s. She’d known right then something huge had happened, that escape was very likely the only way they would survive. But the Why of it all? She had no clue then. None of them did, not even Lynn. Only weeks later, flat on her back in a hospital bed, did she hear the official Why, once she could stay lucid long enough to be debriefed and comprehend the answers to her questions.

Trouble was, too many of the answers made no sense, and nobody seemed to give a damn. Never mind that the whole thing had the foul stench of boomeranging bullshit that only she and Lynn seemed unable to get out of their nostrils. The message from Jamie’s debriefers was crystal clear: Forget about it.

Because fuck it, it’s over.

Sighing, Lynn gently rubbed the raggedy crater-scars on Jamie’s palms, souvenirs from Saint Eh Mo’s. “It’s their backyard, Jamie. We’ve made the best deal we could.”

“Yeah.” Jamie kept her eyes on the turbines and managed to blink away the semi-transparent image of Shoo Juh’s face hovering at the window. The morning’s humid haze had begun to give way to blue sky, and the smell of the sea occasionally wafted through the open windows of her room on a mercurial southeasterly breeze off Massachusetts Bay. Her head hurt as she waited for Lynn to finish saying good-bye.

But Lynn didn’t release her hands. “Maybe now your nightmares will begin to ease up.”

Jamie gaped. How the hell—

“You cried out. Night before last,” Lynn said, reading her thought.

“Don’t you remember? Mary heard you from across the hall, and Dana and Lily—”

“Dana and Lily, too? Oh christ. Their room’s gotta be ten meters down the hall.” Jamie scowled at the wind turbines. “I should—”

“You should not.”

“—go back to—”

“No.”

“Jeezus, Lynn, I’m waking everyone up at night—”

“Actually, you didn’t wake anyone. Dana and Lily were already up with the baby. Fact is, you have no hope of competing with Evvie. And Mary was just up.” Lynn’s eyes narrowed. “You really don’t remember?”

“What? What’d I do?”

“Lily came in, to make sure you were okay. She said you woke up before she even got to the foot of your bed. You looked right at her, mumbled ‘gé xià,’ and went back to sleep.”

“I don’t remember any of that.” But Jamie had begun to remember those words. Guh shyah, she’d pronounced them, always reluctantly, never often enough or obsequiously enough to satisfy Shoo Juh.

Lynn watched her own fingers stroke the scars on Jamie’s hands. “I get them, too.”

“You?” Jamie stared at Lynn. “You have nightmares?”

“I’d never been shot at before.” Lynn’s smile seemed fragile, almost timid. “Never had to literally run for my life before. I keep dreaming about not making it to the helicopter, about falling and…and getting shot.”

Say something. Say yeah, me too. Or try not to think about it. Something…But Jamie only nodded.

“Does it burn?” Lynn whispered.

“Sometimes,” Jamie whispered back, turning away from Lynn. And sometimes it’s like a sledgehammer whacking you in the gut, and sometimes a bomb explodes in your chest, and sometimes you can hear yourself splattering

“Oh god, Jamie, I’m sorry,” Lynn said, her voice faltering as she reached to touch Jamie’s cheek. “I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah.” Jamie’s eyes closed beneath the touch, so familiar, so soothing. “It’s okay.” And it was. As always, something deep inside her yielded and, exhaling, she went just a little limp, like a whelp picked up by the scruff of its neck by its mother. These moments beneath Lynn’s touch were the only times anymore when she could let her eyes close for longer than a few seconds without seeing flashes of something that made her recoil.

“Rebecca thinks we’re both exhibiting suppression and avoidance behaviors, that we need to talk more about what happened, how it’s affected our lives,” said Lynn quietly, her hand slipping from Jamie’s cheek.

A burst of humid red heat encircled Jamie’s head like a steaming blindfold as her eyes snapped open. What the fuck does whoop-de-doo Dr. Westbrook know, anyway? She gritted her teeth to keep the thought to herself.

“God, it’s so hard,” Lynn continued, her head drooping. “Every instinct I have tells me I got screwed over there and that everyone else at Saint Eh Mo’s got stuck on what was supposed to be my ride straight to hell. I have my theories, but I still don’t know the how of it, and I can’t prove anything. So most of the time I’m pissed past description. The rest of the time, I just want Reb to crawl into bed with me and hold me so I can start to feel safe again. And every time I start talking about it, I end up in a rant.”

“I’m supposed to talk, too.” Jamie wiped a film of sweat from her eyelids and tried to ignore the canopy of Palawan jungle her hypervigilant senses kept insisting had closed in around her. “Part of the recovery program.”

“Your behavioral therapy group.”

“Yeah, well…guess I’m not ready yet.”

“We each have to find our own way, don’t we? ‘By untaught sallies of the spirit.’”

“Sallies? As in ‘sally forth’?” Jamie grimaced—and confessed. “My ass gets sallied right back to Saint Eh Mo’s and those interrogators just about every time I close my eyes.”

“Which is exactly why you have to turn around and fight your way out.”

Sighing, Jamie rolled her shoulders. Not sure I got a whole lot of fight left anymore. “Sounds like you’re putting on your game face, Senator.”

“I suppose I am.” Lynn straightened, then stood. For an instant, just before she leaned over to place a delicate kiss on Jamie’s forehead, she looked as tired and afraid as she had when she was running for her life through Palawan’s jungle-covered mountains.

Jamie grabbed her hand, searched her eyes. “Anytime I can help—”

“I know.” Lynn smiled. A pale smile. “Thank you.”

And Jamie recognized what wasn’t in Lynn’s voice or her eyes or her hand’s reassuring squeeze. She’d already steeled herself and wouldn’t be asking anyone for anything.

 

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