Orders – Part 3
Friends of my Enemy:
Stories from the War
Part 3: Orders
Read Part 2 here
She couldn’t believe she promised him that. But she did. And she meant it. Which left her in shock as she walked away, rejoining the crowd that gathered around Eldridge. She wanted to find Michael, but also didn’t desire to find out what he would read in her eyes and stiff motions. Instead, the crowd carried her along until she found herself in front of Ambassador Eldridge. Her place and role pushed aside the cloud blocking her thoughts.
“Congratulations, Ambassador. We will miss you here in Madrid.”
“That is very kind of you, Ms. Prescot. No, I haven’t forgotten your name,” he said in recognition of her surprise. “Actually, I’d hoped to speak to you before I left, if you have a moment?”
He led her to the quiet of a doorway leading into the inner halls of the embassy. “I’ve been impressed with how well you’ve… established sources, shall we say, since your arrival. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone create such a solid network so quickly.”
“I’m not sure what you are referring to,” Arinna hedged. Eldridge waved it away.
“We are both aware what I’m referring to. I think you’ve found better information on your home country than I. Which is saying something. Look, I could use someone with your skills in Brussels. A post with NATO is something I’ve been seeking for a long time, and I know what assets I’ll need to succeed. One of them is people like you.”
“Are you offering me a job?”
“Yes. I’m certain you might need to ponder this, which is fine. The offer is open anytime. Call me. I’ll make the arrangements.”
Eldridge handed her a card fished from his pockets, squeezed her arm, and walked off. Arinna leaned against the doorjamb until Michael found her.
“Eldridge,” she answered, happy to have one thing she could tell him. “He offered me a job.”
“You can’t take it,” Michael said, quickly. He watched her closely.
“Yes. I know. I’m not even sure if he was serious.”
“With NATO?” he asked after a moment.
“Yes. I think so. We didn’t really get into details.”
Michael frowned. “We’ll talk about it later. What happened to Byran?”
“He is being… Byran. Are you ready to go?”
“No. I told you I wanted a dance.”
For all the pretensions of embassy life, Michael had rarely danced with her. But for the remainder of the night, he gave Byran a run for attention and chivalry. The year in Spain had changed him, both of them, more than she had imagined. When Michael was called in for some surely manufactured emergency at dawn, Arinna got up too, woozy on three hours of sleep. And she didn’t head to the embassy.
She told herself it was to ask Byran about Eldridge’s offer. It had nothing to do with the fact that no matter how much Michael had changed into someone far more carefree than she had conceived he could be, there were underlying traits in him that would never be altered. His patriotism was as deep as his bones. She’d once loved him for it. Now, she was afraid of where it would lead her.
It had nothing to do with the kiss she’d stopped out of instinct more than lack of desire. Her mind was a chaos of scattered thoughts, roiling in time to the fluttering of her heart. She couldn’t ignore what she was doing when she turned the corner and faced Byran’s townhouse across the street. But it wasn’t the realization of her intentions that stopped her.
Byran stood at the door of his townhouse with a dainty brunette who wore a wrinkled evening gown. Reality took all the giddiness from her in one breath. Arinna leaned against the building, grateful for the morning shadows as Byran kissed the woman slowly. She laughed against his mouth before walking away. Arinna waited until Byran walked inside before heading home.
It took some pacing, a shower, and pulling out clothes Arinna hadn’t worn since her first weeks in Spain before she felt in control of herself. Organizing her information sources to discover what event had called Michael in at dawn, she found Eldridge’s card on her desk. She didn’t need Byran’s offer to stay. And it hadn’t been the alluring image of a life enhanced with his wealth and privilege that had driven her to his apartment that morning. Arinna put the card aside not certain she wanted Eldridge’s offer either. Pushing away the flood of anger, she reached for the phone.
Michael’s gaze flashed back to her when he got home late that morning. “I’d think it was much worse than a data breach looking at you. You look more military than me.”
“No, data breach is what I heard as well.” His questioning glance stayed on her attire. “I… wanted to wear something that made me feel like me,” she explained, looking away when tears stung her eyes. She’d been dreading this conversation all day.
He sat next to her, taking her hand. “What’s wrong?”
“Byran… last night,” Arinna faltered.
“Did you fight? I wondered why I found you alone. You know, I should have forbidden you from seeing him from the first,” he said, laughing as he brushed away her tears.
“Yes, you should have. It would have solved a lot of problems.”
Michael’s teasing sobered. His gaze shifted from piercing to anger. “If you expect me to sit here while you cry over another man…”
“No. I got my feelings hurt, that is all. It is silly. I promise,” she added.
Michael hesitated before leaning forward and kissing her forehead. “Alright, I trust you. I always have. I’ll hit him if you like or challenge him to a duel, whatever it is they do over here.”
Arinna laughed. “I get to hit him first.”
Arinna managed to avoid Byran for two days. It was time used to find perspective and a sense of balance. But she knew eventually Byran would track her down.
“You are avoiding me,” Byran said, catching her by waiting outside the embassy in the morning. “I wouldn’t have thought telling you that you had a place with me, asking if you would… that it would drive you away.”
For his part, Byran looked unkempt, more than she had ever seen him. Dark scruff shadowed his cheeks and his eyes held hurt rather than self-assurance.
“It wasn’t that. Actually, it was because of that. I came to see you the next morning, early — very early.”
Not a flicker of realization stirred in his gaze. Which took away the kindness seeing Byran so out of sorts had caused. It was that easy to get lost again.
“You were saying goodbye to a young woman… who looked to have stayed over?” Arinna said, coldly.
“Genevieve?” Byran said, catching on at last.
“You remembered her name. That is nice.”
“Yes. I took her home. We slept together. What of it?” His ready admission and lack of guilt made the conversation feel that much more unreal.
“Apparently nothing. I thought your offer meant something else. I guess I was wrong.”
“You weren’t wrong. Do you think I care less for you because of that girl? That isn’t true, Arinna.”
“Perhaps it means you don’t care as much for me as I hoped.”
That sunk in. “Arinna, let’s go—”
“No. Not today. I have work to do and I really don’t want to see you right now. In a few days,” she said as an argument formed on his lips.
The look in her eyes stopped him. Byran swallowed before asking, “You promise? You will meet with me in a few days?”
“Yes,” she said, leaving before he could reach for her.