Stories from the War-First Meeting: Part 2
Welcome to week 2 of Monday Reads and Part 2 of First Meeting, the first short story from my new WIP Friends of my Enemy – Stories from the War. The storyline is a little dark and gets blacker as we go. But why jump ahead? 😉 If you missed the beginning last week, you can read it here. Otherwise if you’ve been here before, you probably just want to get to the story…
Friends of my Enemy
Stories from the War
First Meeting: Part 2
“You had tea with Count le Marc and his heir… what is his name?”
“Jacque,” Arinna answered, pulling off her boots. She eyed the worn scuffs on the toes. Polished silver and fine porcelain cups sprang to mind. “Damn him,” she swore under her breath. To Michael, she added, “He is an actual baron. The family is political. He grew up with most of the elite sons and daughters of Europe.”
“Yes, I know,” Michael said, bending to kiss her forehead.
“You researched him,” Arinna replied with a laugh.
“You are not the only tactician in the family,” he teased.
“So you see how useful he can be? One day, and I’m on first names with the best political dynasty of France!”
“Yes, well, I think he was trying to impress you.”
Arinna waved her hand. “So what? I can use Byran. If he wants to introduce me to everyone of importance in Europe, why not let him?”
“Are you certain you’re fine with this? With spending time with him? You seemed… unnerved last week,” Michael asked, his light hazel eyes concerned.
“I misread him. I thought,” Arinna shook her head, dismissing old ideas. “Well, I still don’t entirely trust him. But if our assignment is to build connections, then he can be useful.”
“Useful, yes. But that doesn’t mean he is worth the risk. I heard the rumors,” Michael said.
“He tries to tumble every woman on staff at every embassy in town. Do you really think he’d interest me?” Arinna asked, snorting at the idea. Michael chuckled as well, sliding his arms against her waist when she turned to check the contents of the fridge. The dinner choices continued to overwhelm her nightly. Most of the produce was beyond their budget in the States. Here in Madrid, fresh fruits, meat, and cheese was ordinary.
“I think if he touched you, you’d most likely drop him to his knees before he blinked,” Michael said, voice husky as he whispered into her ear.
“Oh, like our first meeting?” Arinna said, leaning back to swipe his lips with a kiss.
Michael’s smile brightened the grey flecks in his eyes. “What is it?” He said, as Arinna’s gaze remained on him.
“Old memories,” Arinna said, shaking her head before pulling out a packet of cheese. “Remember when we used to camp in the outlands and explored those empty towns back before I finished college?”
“Of course. Other girls wanted to go to nice restaurants and loved hearing about flying jets. You wanted to explore places emptied of people by disease and tempests, tempting fate to see ruins. Not that I ever minded spending a weekend in a tent with you.”
“Hah. We were both immune to even HALO, why would I worry about old contagions? I barely remember when the world was so full, before the diseases.”
Michael looked over at her as he put a pot on the stove. “It’s not like you to think about the past,” he said. “Are you sure you are alright here?”
“Really, I’m fine. The EU is an adjustment. I’d barely been off the east coast but for our little explorations inland. Maybe I’m a little homesick, but it hasn’t been a month yet. I’ll adjust.”
Michael let it go, turning on the stove. To herself, Arinna admitted how much easier the States had been despite the problems of the last decade with its devastating storms, droughts, and fires. The only thing she hated about the new military government had been when they’d locked down the outlands. She’d loved those wild and empty places, witnessing a world unlike any before with a world population not seen since the 1970’s.
She’d enlisted, just like Michael, because of the riots that erupted after hurricane Lempert drowned Florida when she was fifteen. Because if she didn’t fight the chaos, she would become part of it. The riots after hurricane Dexter devastated New York in 2048 proved she’d made the right choice. They’d needed the military and its martial law to control the fighting and organize relief aid. That was also the year she met Michael. It had been her first as a student in West Point and his first as a new officer in the Air Force, fresh from his two years of training.
She’d never dreamed of going so far from home. Here in Spain, they were with a handful of embassy staff, most pseudo-military rather than having actually served in the forces. The military government was only three years old and still adapting to be more than a defensive force. She and Michael had left their country and traditional military careers behind for this assignment. Their altered government needed allies, food, and new industry to rebuild from the chaos of the decade before. Her country had changed, but it was growing strong again. She wanted to help.
That was why they were here. Why she had to adapt to Europe and its ambiguous rules of conduct of who was entitled to what rank and privilege. It made no sense. Byran was the first person who had bothered to explain any of it to her. She never would have imagined she’d be grateful to him.
“What about you? How are you doing? We could be here at least a year, assuming we last that long,” she asked her husband, realizing that she at least had Byran showing her around.
“I miss flying, of course. But it’s hard to start a family if my feet are never on the ground. Besides,” he added, more serious, “I’m DSS and dealing with the intelligence and orders coming through. Most of my day isn’t much different from home. I just don’t get into a plane right now. It’ll be worth it when we go back. My rank will be high enough that I can train or command and still come home to you.”
“That would be nice,” Arinna replied, imagining a life returned to normal after this ordeal was over. For that possible life, she could struggle through her time in Europe. “Byran already has another visit set up for the day after tomorrow, but he won’t tell me where.”
“You really are going to spend time with Byran and let him take you around?” Michael asked after a pause. His tone and sudden stillness made Arinna glance up from the tomato she was slicing.
“I… yes. For now at least. He really has been useful despite having to fight him off and remind him constantly that I’m happily married.”
Michael snorted, crossing his arms as he leaned against the kitchen counter. He didn’t laugh.
“If you don’t mind? I think he can give us an advantage. All the previous incumbents of this post didn’t last six months. I checked into it.”
Michael frowned. “He might be useful. Just, Arinna, be careful around him.”
“You really don’t like him, do you?” Arinna asked, walking over to slip her arms under Michael’s. The tension left Michael as he pulled her against his chest, enfolding her instead of doubts and strategy.
“No. I don’t like the interest he has in my wife.”