Orders – Part 2
Friends of my Enemy:
Stories from the War
Part 2: Orders
Read Part 1 here
The unease growing in her felt like it had taken permanent root. To fight it, she found herself spending more time with Byran. He became her refuge. She didn’t want him to be. But he was so good at making her fears disappear. Instead of luring her with information, he became her balm from too much. They’d grown accustomed to lunches together by the time Ambassador Eldridge’s farewell gala finally unfurled.
When she entered the ballroom of the UK’s embassy, Arinna swept her eyes over the assemblage of ladies in sleek gowns and tuxedoed men, seeking a head of dark curls and a suit that would be a cut above of most present.
“Looking for Byran?” Michael asked.
Arinna blushed. “Yes, I… promised him a dance. We’ve been having lunches,” Arinna said in a rush.
“Yes. I know,” Michael scanned the crowd before focusing again on her. “When your wife spends time with a person everyone firmly believes she had an affair with, the word gets back to you. Quickly.”
“I should have said something.”
“Yes. You should have. But… I know the truth. I do trust you. We’re both aware we won’t be here much longer. Have fun… not too much fun! And save me a few dances,” Michael instructed.
“And what will you be up to?” she asked.
“The RAF boys like to brag. Once you get them going, it is amazing what they’ll say.” He winked at her before heading away.
Planes were Michael’s way to unwind. Especially fast planes. The transfer to the embassy had taken aircraft from his duty but not his life, not when he snuck in every chance to make friends with other airmen.
“Abandoned?” Byran whispered in her ear.
“No. Left to a sad fate of a night spent in your company,” she answered, taking his arm.
“Tsk. He should be more careful to whom he leaves you unattended. I would certainly never leave you to a night spent in the arms of another man.” Byran swept her onto the dance floor, his dark eyes serious in their teasing.
“Oh, especially someone like you?”
He gave her his wolf’s grin. “Most definitely.”
It was a night of polite charade. Arinna moved through the ball and toasts with Byran, fellow diplomats kindly offering snide sympathies for the difficulties Arinna’s home country faced: famine, fighting, rumors of a new disease, riots, storms, and drought. Away from the insulation of her embassy, Arinna found the conversation overwhelming. She was relieved when Eldridge stood for his farewell speech, Byran pulling them to the side of the throng.
Eldridge droned on, laughter falling at perfectly timed intervals as he paused. Not listening, she rubbed her temple, glancing up to find Byran’s attention on her and not the speech.
“I hadn’t realized things had gotten so bad. I haven’t looked for information… we haven’t talked about your home in months.”
His hand was warm on her arm. Standing a fraction too close, Byran’s presence blocked out the rest of the room.
“It is worse than what they’ve said here tonight. Everyone knows it, Byran. Well, everyone but you apparently. A little more fighting and they’ll call it civil war. They’ll call us home.”
Anger flickered in his eyes, tensing the lines of his jaw. It was not a reaction she expected. “You don’t need to go.”
“Yes. I do,” she said with a laugh, surprised he didn’t understand.
Laughter and clapping interrupted Byran from speaking. He glared at the surrounding crowd, before tugging her the few paces to a doorway and out into the gardens. It was a warm night for February, which really wasn’t that unusual. She just still thought it was. Byran pulled her to the quiet in the shade between the lights softly illuminating the paths.
“Do you want to go back there? You said before you did not,” he asked while standing close enough that she took a step back. His gaze caught her.
“No,” Arinna answered after a moment. “No. They’ve made too many bad decisions, lied to us. No. I don’t really want to go back. But it is my duty, which is more than a job. I am military. There is no real choice.”
“Yes there is. There is always a choice. Arinna, I care about you. I don’t want to see you go back there. You are too good for them. Too good for Michael. Stay here. There is a place for you. I have a place for you. Stay with me.”
He stepped closer again. His hands sliding up her arms left trails of warmth behind. For all of their teasing and flirting, this was the most intimate embrace he had ever dared. Her only thought was that it didn’t feel as wrong as she imagined it should.
She caught herself just before their lips touched. She could barely hear the applause over the sound of her pulse thudding in her ears. She had leaned in to kiss him. She knew it. He did to. But he let her step back, her hands held loosely in his once again.
“Thank you. I just… not tonight.”
“You’ll think about it?” he asked, swiping her cheek with a small caress.
“Yes. I will.”