A Beautiful Lie


Page 11






Garrett had kept his mouth shut that night while Parker stood there with her hands on her hips looking defiant and hurt. He had sent her to his room to get dressed so they could talk and found her passed out on his bed a few minutes later. The next morning brought on a fierce hangover for Parker and no further talk of the previous night's events.


Parker had sensed Garrett's presence as soon as he first arrived at the gym, choosing to ignore him and waiting to see if he would finally say something to her. Parker realized after five minutes that he obviously still had a stick up his ass. It hurt her deeply that he wasn't talking to her. With Milo gone, Garrett was her only friend, her only family. He was all she had left in life and not being on speaking terms with this him made her feel so alone. It made her feel like she was back in college, confused and scared and with no one to turn to when life altering events occurred.


"Are you going to stand there all night staring at my ass or are you going to speak at some point?" Parker asked with her back to him, the anger and disappointment in his behavior ringing loud and clear in her voice.


Garrett and Parker often traded smart-ass comments like that over the years. They were friends that liked to joke around, and they were comfortable with each other.


For some reason the comment left a feeling of awkwardness in the air this time. It was like all of a sudden there had been a shift in the atmosphere and nothing felt right.


Something that had made them laugh before suddenly seemed serious. Maybe it was the tension between them or the secrets still hovering in the air. Whatever it was practically hummed around them and made the hair on Parker's arms raise.


She turned around, catching Garrett's eyes guiltily flash up from where her ass had been moments ago.


"It is a really nice ass," Garrett said with a shrug.


The joke fell flat.


Garrett stood there with his hands in his pockets wondering why he felt so fucking awkward with his friend. He was pissed and he was hurt but everything suddenly felt off, like he didn't know how to talk to her or what to say. Every fight they'd ever had, every awkward moment, they were always able to immediately resolve things and move on.


Parker stalked over to Garrett and stood right in front of him for a few minutes, giving him the opportunity to say something, ask her something, or to just stop being a dick.


When he continued to stand there with nothing to say, she pulled her arm back and punched him in the shoulder.


"Son of a bitch!" Garrett yelled, rubbing the spot where her fist connected. "What the fuck was that for?"


Parker roughly shoved his chest, forcing Garrett to stumble backwards a few steps.


"Come on, McCarthy. You want to fight, so let's fight," Parker said, shaking her hands out, stretching her neck and bringing her fists up in front of her face in a boxer's stance.


Garrett laughed at how absurd she was acting.


"Come on, Parker. I'm not going to fight you," Garrett said with another laugh as she began to circle him.


She threw a jab to his other shoulder, quickly moving away to continue circling him.


"Cut this shit out, Parker," Garrett threatened, starting to get pissed.


Parker's fist shot out towards his face and Garrett's reflexes kicked in at the last minute as he jerked his head out of the way.


"What's wrong, McCarthy?" Parker taunted, swinging with the opposite fist and narrowly missing Garrett's cheek. "Afraid I might kick your ass?"


Garrett was too pissed off to laugh at her. She'd tried to punch him in the face.


Twice.


As Parker stood in place, bouncing from foot to foot, Garrett charged her and grabbed both of her wrists, yanking her towards him and holding her arms against his chest.


They stood close, chest and thighs pressed together, breathing heavily and staring each other down for several long, tense minutes.


"You lied to me," Garrett finally growled through clenched teeth. He shook her arms once, forcing her body to jerk as he punctuated his hurt. "Everything about you is a lie."


Parker's body suddenly twisted to the side as she maneuvered behind him and Garrett felt a sharp kick to the back of his knees. Before he knew what was happening, he was upside down and then his back was slammed to the mat. The wind was instantly knocked out of him and Parker straddled him, holding his arms above his head.


Garrett lay there stunned, trying not to pass out and wondering how a five foot seven little wisp of nothing that weighed all of a buck-twenty just knocked a Navy SEAL flat on his ass.


Parker shifted her hips and tightened her hold on his arms, forcing Garrett's mind to focus on her chest that was pushed up against his and the heat between her thighs that warmed his stomach.


"I didn't lie to you. I protected you. There's a difference," Parker said softly, her mouth inches from his.


Garrett stared into her eyes and saw the pain and guilt and sadness swirling around.


"You don't think it killed me every single time I couldn't really tell you where I was going or what I was doing? Do you think I enjoyed pretending to be someone else when every single moment I spent with you made me finally feel whole and alive and like maybe I didn't need to pretend anymore?"


Parker's hold relaxed on Garrett's arms, but he didn't move.


"Every single day for eight years you were the only one I ever wanted to be completely honest with."


Parker was tired of the lies. If Garrett wanted the truth, she'd give it to him. She would give him anything he wanted.


All he had to do was ask.


Garrett watched as Parker slid her hands down the underside of his arms and pushed against his chest so she could sit up. He stared as she swung her leg off of him and stood. He didn't move as she looked down at him.


"I signed my life away two months before I even met you and Milo. No matter how much I wanted to tell you, I couldn't."


Parker turned and started to walk away, only to stop and look back at him.


"I failed at keeping Milo happy. I am not about to fail at finding out the truth about what happened to him. I don't want to fight with you, Garrett. I need you for this. I need my friend."


Garrett stayed on the floor and watched her walk out of the gym. He replayed every single word she'd said to him, wondering if he had just imagined it considering he wanted to hear something like that from her for so long. Maybe the fire in her eyes was just due to the fact that her secret was finally out. Maybe the words she spoke came out in the heat of the moment and she hadn't given them much thought.


He could still feel the warmth from Parker's body when she was spread out over him, and he could still feel the clench of her thighs on either side of his hips and the whisper of her breath against his lips. He forced himself off of the floor and shook the thoughts from his head.


Parker said she needed her friend. No matter what was going on between them, no matter how hurt he was that she'd kept something like this from him, he could never deny her anything she asked.


Garrett would turn off his feelings just like always and give Parker what she needed.


He would be her friend.


There was too much at stake with this mission to be anything else .


Chapter Seven


Parker walked back to the villa wondering if she had just screwed everything up with this job, with her friendship to Garrett, and with her life in general. So many thoughts and emotions about Garrett and Milo and what they each meant to her were swirling around inside of her and she felt like crawling out of her own skin. She used to be so clearheaded, so in control. Parker prided herself on being professional and put together. Regardless of what Garrett accused her of, everything about her wasn't one big lie. She needed to hide her skills and her knowledge about certain things and was forced to tone down some of her confidence and turn up a bit of the "girliness" so no one would catch on to the talents she had talents that would make their heads spin. But inside she was still the same woman.


She still loved looking at life through the lens of a camera. She still stopped everything she was doing if one of the Brat Pack movies was on, especially "The Breakfast Club", and she still wondered if she had made the right decision every single day.


At the time, she thought it was her only option.


She was about to start her senior year of college in just a few months. The thought had thrilled her immensely. She was growing tired of the monotonous day-to-day activities of going to class, taking tests, writing papers, and going home to study only to get up and do it all over again the next morning. She always felt older than her peers and right now, going to class just seemed like a waste of time. While her friends were content to party every night of the week, hook-up with random guys, and joke about how they wished they could stay in college forever, Annabelle couldn't wait to get out. She wanted to travel, tell stories with her pictures, and get paid to do what she loved.


She chose the University of Maryland because it was her mother's Alma Mater. And frankly, it was the farthest away from her father. He made it clear he didn't want her around, and after eight months of putting up with his depression and anger, she gave him his wish. Luckily, she didn't have to rely on him at all to get her through college. Her mother had made her the beneficiary on one of her life insurance policies, so as soon as she turned eighteen, she had plenty of money to live and go to school as long as she budgeted wisely and didn't waste funds on anything frivolous.


For the first year she took to telling people that both of her parents were dead. It was easier than the truth. If people knew she had a father that hated her because she was still alive, it would make them talk about her more than they already did because she was quiet and kept mostly to herself, preferred books over kegs, therefor she must be weird.


She tried to go the honesty route with the first guy she dated and when he asked, "What was wrong with you to make your father hate you so much?" She realized honesty wasn't always the best policy. Being honest just made her feel like a failure-she failed at making her father love her.


All of this just helped to reinforce her views on love and happily ever after and that they were just one big messy entanglement she didn't need in her life. No man would ever want to settle down with a woman that couldn't love him back and refused to give him all of herself because she was afraid of turning out like her father. No woman would ever really want to be her friend because they could sense she kept part of herself hidden to avoid being hurt. She had acquaintances and she had dates. She had people she hung out with and men who she slept with when her hands and toys couldn't get her off. All of those things just made her an obvious choice for recruitment. And it made her decision that much easier.


She didn't have a family to depend on or turn to-she only had herself. Even though she was alone, deep down inside she was still the same person. If her father called her and told her he missed her and wanted her to come home, she would have dropped out of school to go back home. Regardless of how many miles she put between them, he was still her father. And he was still a tool that could be used against her.


In the middle of July, Annabelle found herself sitting on a bench outside of the Arts and Sciences building doing some advanced research for her senior project. She was one of a handful of students who lived in campus housing year-round. Some of the professors usually felt sorry for the students that had nowhere to go during the summer months and gave them class syllabuses and outlines a few weeks early just to give them something to do on the quiet campus during the summer.


She was busy reading a study from Stanford about the impact of new technology on still photography and didn't notice the man who sat down beside her.


He studied her for several long minutes, admiring the fact that she was so engrossed in her reading she hadn't even acknowledged his presence with a glance, a shift of her body, or a change in her breathing.


Everything he'd learned about her intrigued him. She'd be good at this job, maybe even one of the best. Now all he had to do was use his power of persuasion and she'd be his.


"Annabelle Elizabeth Parker, born April 25, 1981, daughter to Joe and Annie Parker," the man spoke after a few minutes of silence.


Annabelle's head jerked up at the first sound of his voice, and her fear at the knowledge he possessed made her skin crawl. Parker didn't think he looked like a crazy stalker; he looked like a professor. He appeared to be in his mid-forties. He had on khakis, a blue and white checkered button-down, and well-worn Oxfords on his feet. All he was missing was the tweed jacket with leather on the elbows. The thought made Parker laugh to herself. She figured maybe he was one of her new teachers this year and someone from Admissions had pointed her out. She calmed her racing heart with that thought.


"Do I know you?" she asked politely, just in case he really was one of her professors. She figured there was no sense pissing him off before the first day of class.


"No, but I know you," he said conspiratorially with a wink.


Annabelle was raised by a cop; she grew up surrounded by other cops. She was taught at a young age not to trust or talk to strangers. This man looked at her like he knew everything about her. He studied her like he was looking for the hidden meaning of life. It left her feeling uneasy and just a little bit on edge.


She started nervously gathering her books and stuffing them into her backpack that rested on the ground by her feet, keeping her head down to avoid looking the man in the eyes. Annabelle quickly stood up and flung the pack over one of her shoulders.


"If you'll excuse me, I have some friends I'm supposed to meet," she told him as she started to back away.


"Your mother died from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when you were seventeen years old," the man said, easing his arm to the back of the bench. "She was diagnosed a year earlier, and for your entire senior year of high school, you sat by her bedside and watched her die. She and your father were high school sweethearts and were married for eighteen years, three months and nineteen days the day she died."





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