The fake, polite smile Annabelle had previously plastered on her face quickly died.
"You spent eight months trying to nurse your father back to the land of the living, or should I say, out of the bottom of the bottle-to no avail. On an average, for those eight months, he drank twenty-five ounces of whiskey every single day. Now, it's closer to thirty-five. But you wouldn't know that since the last time you spoke to your father was the day you left for college, almost three years ago, the day he told you for the hundredth time how much he hated the sight of you. Only that time he called you by your mother's name and you smacked him across the face."
Annabelle's blood had long since run cold as she stood there listening to a complete stranger tick off intimate facts about her life. She stood a few feet away from him, unable to move, clutching the strap of her backpack hanging from her shoulder so tight her knuckles turned white.
He sat calmly on the bench with his ankle propped up on the opposite knee, studying his cuticles.
"You have acquaintances, not friends. No one knows that your father is an alcoholic and you look so much like your mother you could have been twins. You have affairs, not love. There isn't a man out there who could make you believe in happily ever after considering what you've witnessed with your father. You've slept with a total of four men and none of them know your middle name or the name of the town you grew up in which was Manchester Township, Michigan, by the way. Population: four-thousand-one-hundred-and-two."
The rage and the embarrassment Annabelle felt made her want to lash out at this man.
"Who in the hell do you think you are? I'm calling the police, you psychotic fuck."
She turned, about to make a run for it, knowing a blue campus security phone was exactly one block away.
"You just filled out an application for a student loan totaling twenty-three thousand dollars, which is currently in the process of being denied by the Financial Aid department. You have exactly two thousand and thirty six dollars in your bank account, the sum total of all that is left of your mother's life insurance policy. The bottom line, Annabelle Parker, you can't afford to finish college."
The man watched her stop in her tracks and knew he had her...hook, line, and sinker. He hoped he would get a raise for this one.
She stood with her back to the man, fighting back tears. She'd looked at her bank account every day for the past six months, hoping it would magically quadruple in size. She knew she wouldn't have enough money for her last year, room and board, and food. She did everything she could to stretch out the money, but photography supplies were expensive. Annabelle filled out the financial aid forms a few weeks ago, praying that something good would finally come her way. She briefly wondered if this guy was from the Financial Aid department and that was why he knew so much about her. But Annabelle was pretty certain it wasn't a job requirement to know the sexual history of all the applicants.
Annabelle was lost in thought, something she shouldn't have been with a stranger that knew entirely too many personal details about her sitting just a few feet away. His arm suddenly came around her from behind, causing her to jump in fear. She was amazed by the way he was able to sneak up on her so quietly.
He held a large manila envelope in front of her and spoke quietly into her ear.
"There's some interesting information in here, Miss Parker. Look it over. I'll be in touch."
Since she refused to take the envelope or anything else he might have offered; it dropped down to the ground in front of her as he walked away. She lost track of time as she stood there in the middle of campus shaking with fear. She didn't understand how someone could know so much information about her. He had known how many men she slept with and about that awful day in her father's kitchen when she left for college. No one should know that information, and it scared the hell out of her that this man had so casually walked up to her in a public place and listed these things off the top of his head like it was no big deal.
Annabelle quickly looked around to see if anyone was near before dropping to the ground, picking up the envelope, and shoving it in her backpack. She had run the whole way back to her dorm, shaking with apprehension at what could possibly be in the envelope and knowing that if that man already knew so much about her, and could locate her in the middle of a huge campus, he would easily be able to find her again.
Annabelle had unlocked her door with trembling hands, sat down on the bed in her dorm, and tore open the flap of the envelope, dumping the contents on top of her bedspread. At least fifty pictures slipped out and flopped down to the bed in a scattered pile. She threw the envelope to the floor and picked up one of the pictures. It was a black and white photo of her father. A man twice his size stood behind him, holding his arms behind his back while another man stood in front of him, his fist frozen in time against her father's cheek.
She threw that one down on the bed and picked up another, this one in color. It showed her father walking down the steps of her old home, his face badly beaten. One eye was black and blue, he had a split lip, a cut above his eyebrow, and a bandage over his nose that most likely signified it was broken.
Annabelle tossed that one aside and picked up yet another, and another, and another until she had looked through each and every picture. They were all more or less the same. Her father with his face beat to hell or her father looking scared to death while he talked with some man in a suit. Each photo was dated, not one was a duplicate. The earliest photo was one of her father exchanging money with the same man in a suit. It was dated six months before her mother died.
Annabelle had no idea what any of this was supposed to mean. She didn't understand what her father had gotten himself into or why she cared. She shoved the pictures aside and grabbed the small note card that had fallen out with them. Written in the middle of the card in block letters was a name: Anthony Capuano.
Annabelle had flipped the card over, hoping for something else, but the back was blank. She scrambled off of the bed and over to her desk, powering on her laptop. She did a Google search for Anthony Capuano. There were six-thousand-four-hundred-and-nineteen results.
The first link had provided took her to the New York Times and told her all she needed to know.
Parker let herself into the villa, grabbing a sock to stick between the door jam and the lock so Garrett could get back in. She peeled off her sweaty clothes as she made her way to the bathroom for a quick shower. As she stood under the warm spray and let the tension wash away, Parker thought back over everything that happened that day in college. She would never allow herself to second guess her decision. It had been the right one for her to make at the time. The job had taught her so many things-things she'd never forget and things she wished she could forget. Most of all, she wished she could forget the items in the envelope. Garrett could blame her for lying about the job all he wanted, but no matter what, she was still the same person inside, the same person who would do anything for those she loved
Garrett still wasn't back to the villa by the time Parker got out of the shower. She wasn't going to worry about him or go looking for him. She had said her piece and he was a big boy. He could forgive her and they could move on, or he could continue to ignore her and be pissed. The choice was up to him.
She dressed for bed in a pink Victoria's Secret tank top and matching draw-string pajama bottoms and crawled into the king-sized haven, scooting as far over to one side as she could without falling on the floor. Parker wondered if Garrett would climb in with her when he got to the room or if he'd sleep on the floor. She wondered if he would even come back to the room at all. She turned off the lamp on the nightstand and shut her eyes, trying to shut down her mind and not think about that day in college, but it was useless.
Annabelle had wished she could blame her father for everything. It would be so easy to just give in to the hurt and the anger and finally admit that if it wasn't for his bad choices, she wouldn't have needed to clean up his mess. In a sense it was true, but Annabelle wasn't the type of person to do that. No matter the circumstances, he was still her family.
Annabelle had found out that Anthony Capuano was the head of the New Jersey criminal syndicate. In layman's terms, he was in the mob. He ran everything and everyone on the entire East Coast. A few months into Annabelle's mother's illness, Joe Parker realized the medical bills were piling up. Through a few back door connections at work, he was put in touch with a man who could give him an immediate loan, no questions asked, no references needed, no copies of ten years' worth of pay stubs and tax returns required. Joe was able to pay Anthony back with interest in the time allotted, and that should have been the end of it. But then there were more bills, along with funeral costs, and it snowballed from there. After Annabelle left for college, Joe borrowed well beyond his means and started gambling to pay back those debts, only to incur more on top of it. Week after week he was punished for not coming up with the money, and week after week he continued to fall further into the hole. By the time Annabelle was contacted, her father was in so deep with the mob there was no way out.
A call to Annabelle's cell phone three days later by an "unavailable number" provided her with the name of a restaurant, a date, and time before disconnecting without another word. Annabelle almost skipped the appointment, but curiosity got the better of her. The man that had spoken to her on campus a few days earlier was the one to show up and sit down across from her. She would later find out that his name was Agent Brad Richmond, with the CIA, and they had been keeping her under surveillance for three years due to her father's dealings with Anthony Capuano. When they realized how intelligent she was, that as a cop's daughter she had a wealth of knowledge about law enforcement, and that before her mother got sick she was a member of the junior rifle league, and by the time she was thirteen could handle a weapon better than adult men three times her age, they knew they wanted her as one of their own. It was an added bonus that she was a self-imposed loner thanks to her father and that she was desperate to finish college.
Annabelle had been given all of the money she needed to finish school, her father's debts were completely paid off, and the contract currently out on his head was forgotten. All she had to do was keep up her end of the deal: tell no one or her life or theirs would be at risk.
Garrett flopped back down on the gym mat after Parker had left and remained there for at least an hour, staring up at the ceiling. He wanted to feel bad that his and Parker's first conversation hadn't gone exactly as planned, but he could still feel her body pinning his to the ground and every other thought disappeared into the recesses of his mind. His hands ground into the mat next to him as he thought about how easily it would have been to grasp her hips and slide her down his stomach and over the hardness between his legs that he was surprised she hadn't felt.
Garrett's chest grew tight when he remembered the look in her eyes when he told her everything about her was a lie. He should have never said that to her. Regardless of the fact that she could kick his ass, and probably knew who killed JFK, she was still his Parker. And when Garrett had these thoughts, he didn't need to remind himself that by his Parker, he meant his friend Parker.
His best friend Milo's fiancée, Parker. She told him she needed her friend, and that was just what he'd give her.
When Garrett got back to the villa, he was surprised to find a sock wedged in the door. He figured Parker was just pissed off enough to throw all of his stuff on the front walk and make him sleep on the wooden chair by the door.
He crept into the dark room and saw Parker's sleeping form on the far side of the bed in the middle of the room. It didn't escape his notice that she had left plenty of room for him to sleep there as well, which hopefully meant she wasn't too mad anymore.
Garrett stood there at the edge of the bed, his brain at war with his libido. The logical part of his head told him it wouldn't be a good idea to sleep in the same bed with her. But the little head down below, that made most of his decisions, didn't see what the big deal was. Garrett and Parker had shared a bed numerous times.
"Why are you in my bed?"
Garrett had squinted at Parker out of one eye, watching her yawn and stretch her arms above her head.
"Milo left in the middle of the night for a mission. I thought I heard a noise and got scared. And you have better pillows," she explained as she rolled to face him and burrowed her face into said pillows.
Garrett had stared at the pillows beneath her and knew it would take exactly four days until her smell was gone from them.
"You talked in your sleep last night. And you have a serious boundary issue with your legs," she had complained.
"I'm pretty sure I know how to fix that, Parker. Stop sleeping in my bed."
Remembering that time Parker had shown up in his bed unannounced made Garrett smile. But then he remembered that Parker was CIA and the smile fell from his face as he wondered if she had really been scared by a noise that night or all the other times she "thought she heard something" and crawled into his bed when Milo was away. Garrett figured Parker knew at least twenty-seven different ways to kill anything that went bump in the night.
Garrett never felt an ounce of guilt that his best friend's girl crawled into bed with him almost every time he was away for work. Nothing ever happened aside from sleep; Garrett would have never crossed that line no matter what. And Milo knew all about Parker's sleep habits and regularly teased her for being such a girl. Milo had always trusted Garrett explicitly while he was alive. He'd trusted him with his friendship, with his life, and with the woman he loved.
Garrett wished he had been worthy of that trust back then. All of the thoughts he'd harbored about Parker over the years made him feel undeserving of it.