"You can't feel sorry for me, Garrett. I made the choices I did, and I'm responsible for the consequences. I just need you to understand that none of this-none of the lies, the pretenses, the sneaking around-it had nothing to do with our friendship or my trust in you and everything to do with keeping you safe. Keeping both of you safe."
Garrett closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Parker's. He should feel like the biggest asshole for being happy she hadn't kept all of this from just him. It seemed like Milo had been as much in the dark as he was. Garrett knew the one thing that angered him the most in all of this was that maybe she just hadn't trusted him enough to tell him the truth. Garrett should have known better, and he admonished himself for thinking something like that about his friend. Everything she'd done had been to protect them, and he threw it in her face the first time she'd been honest.
Garrett eased his head away from hers and stared at her face. He took in the light dusting of freckles on her nose, her full lips, and her long, dark lashes that framed the most beautiful green eyes he had ever seen as she opened them up and looked at him. This was his friend, for better or worse. She'd lost so much in her short life, and he wasn't about to do anything to mess up the bond they shared. He promised himself that if it was the last thing he did, he would find out who the hell had been messing with her life when she joined the CIA. When this mission was over, he'd make sure they paid.
But right now, Parker needed him as a friend more than anything else. A friend that wouldn't let her down, a friend that would keep her secrets and understand the decisions she made.
But most of all, a friend that wasn't mesmerized by the way her tongue darted out to wet her lips or the way she seemed to lean into him. Parker's hand rested on his chest, and Garrett wished she would take that hand and push him away. But like a magnet, he felt himself being pulled towards her, so close their noses grazed against each other.
Garrett shouldn't have wanted to kiss her right then. He shouldn't have wanted to know if her lips tasted like sugar or her tongue felt like silk inside his mouth. He felt like he had no control of himself when he was near her, and he didn't understand why she was letting him in, allowing him to get this close.
Parker swallowed and tried to slow her breathing, tried to force her chest to stop moving up and down so quickly with each drawn breath. She felt the excitement in her stomach and welcomed it. The way Garrett looked at her right then made her think he had his own secrets. He stared into her eyes and down at her lips like he wanted to kiss her, like he wanted to devour her.
She wouldn't make the first move, of that she was certain. Parker wouldn't be able to take getting shot down by the one man that could unravel her entire existence just by telling her no. All she had to do was tilt her chin forward and her lips would be on his, but she couldn't. Garrett had never made any indication that he felt anything for her other than friendship, and she refused to make a fool of herself no matter how much she ached to taste his lips and slide her tongue against his.
"Anna," Garrett whispered as he looked back and forth between her eyes.
He rarely, if ever, called her by her first name unless it was in jest. The way he said it now, like he was aching inside, made it impossible for Parker to move away from him.
They both knew there was something different about this moment, maybe it was the fact that Parker had opened up to Garrett and shared something that she never told another living soul and it brought them closer together. Whatever it was charged the air with electricity and made everything around them disappear.
Except for the ringing of the phone on the bedside table.
Saved by the Bell had never been a more apt description for a moment than the one Garrett and Parker currently found themselves in. When the phone rang, the spell had been broken. They jumped apart and Garrett answered the phone before it rang a second time.
Five minutes later Brady was knocking on their door. Garrett let him in and Brady took a moment to look back and forth between the two roommates.
"Is everything okay? Did I interrupt something?" he asked with a smile.
"No!" Garrett and Parker both shouted at the same time.
"I mean, no, you didn't interrupt anything. We were just…" Parker paused, her brain flashing to images of her and Garrett kissing and rolling around on the bed, hands touching, clothing dropping, and mouths connecting.
She hastily bent over and started grabbing the papers that had been shoved aside when Garrett first sat down earlier.
"We were just going over some of the things Parker found while I was gone today," Garrett finished for her.
He tried as hard as he could not to look at Parker's toned ass as she bent over the bed to scoop up the reports, but it was right there, and the movements she made as she leaned over the mattress reminded Garrett of what she would look like if he had her bent over that same bed, chair, couch, or kitchen table, and pounded into her from behind.
Parker stood up and turned around, forcing Garrett to breathe a sigh of relief and groan in frustration at the same time.
"So, Marshall, what did you find?" Parker asked, getting down to business, fantasies of her friend pushed aside for the moment.
Garrett looked between the two in confusion, and Brady jumped in to explain.
"Parker gave me a list of the shell corporations she uncovered that lead back to Fernandez. She wanted me to look into them further and see if I could come up with anything that didn't look right."
Garrett nodded in understanding and motioned for him to go on.
Brady walked up to each of them, handing them a few pages he printed out.
"At first, everything on that list seemed on the up-and-up, even questionable businesses that you would normally think of as being perfect front companies. Massage parlors, tattoo shops, saunas, insurance sales-things like that. Every single one had spotless books and records. Every penny is accounted for, complaints that had been filed were disputed and proven false, and employee records were comprehensive and organized."
Parker and Garrett scanned the pages while Brady spoke. He was good at what he did, that was certain. He dug as deep as he could and got the information they needed, taking copious amounts of notes on the pages he printed.
"What's Agencia de Destino?" Parker asked, looking up from the page.
"I believe that means The Target Agency," Garrett said with a smirk.
It made Garrett feel good to actually know something Parker didn't. The big, bad CIA agent obviously didn't speak Spanish.
Parker narrowed her eyes at him and responded rapidly.
"Yo sé lo que significa que culo
. Deja de mirarme como un pomposo gilipollas. Tenemos trabajo que hacer, imbecile."
Brady laughed and Garrett's jaw dropped.
"I believe she just called you an ass, McCarthy. And maybe a jerk."
"Don't forget dickhead," Parker retorted. "What I meant, before I was so rudely interrupted, was what kind of a business is The Target Agency?"
Brady flipped through some more of the papers in his hand until he found the one he wanted and handed it to Parker. Garrett, finally recovering the ability to function, stepped over towards her and looked over her shoulder.
"According to tax records, The Target Agency doesn't exist. Not on paper at least. The phone number goes directly to voicemail and instructs the caller to leave a message if they are interested in working for The Target Agency. Very vague, no other information provided. According to the Dominican Chamber of Commerce, The Target Agency is listed as a temporary staffing agency," Brady explained.
"Why wouldn't a temp agency have tax records? Is it a new company?" Garrett asked.
Brady shook his head.
"Nope. According to the Chamber, it was established eight years ago."
Parker looked up at Brady suddenly. Something didn't feel right about this.
"Eight years ago was when I was first brought in to keep tabs on Fernandez. It was my first job and his first term as President. His years as a senator preceding his presidential term left a lot of unanswered questions. Many government heads here and in the U.S. were shocked when he won that first election. There were rumors floating all over the place for years that he was involved in shady dealings. He covered his tracks well though; we never found anything that tied him to the rumors."
Garrett looked down at Parker's face.
"Your first assignment was looking into Fernandez?" he asked in astonishment.
Parker turned her head to look at Garrett over her shoulder.
"It's one of the main reasons your CO wanted me for this job. He knew I was one of the lead investigators on this guy. Risner knew I had a lot of inside information I could contribute. Unfortunately, nothing we did for eight years ever turned up any pertinent information, like The Target Agency. That business never showed up on any of our reports in the past."
Brady chuckled lightly, breaking the stare between Garrett and Parker.
"Well, maybe that's because you didn't have me helping you out," he said to Parker. "For the record, I may have done a few illegal things to get this information. Including charming a very beautiful, very young government official to obtain a list of non-profit organizations that are on the waiting list to be turned into for-profit once a thorough investigation has been done. It turns out our little Target Company has been pushed back down to the bottom of the pile every couple of months."
"So once it becomes for-profit…" Garrett paused.
"They have to start reporting tax information," Parker finished. "Son of a bitch! No wonder we couldn't find anything. Who knows how many people Fernandez has under his thumb doing his bidding?"
Parker shook her head in disgust.
"What else?" she asked Brady.
"Well, from what I could find, The Target Agency states they have a minimum of forty-seven new employees that apply to become 'temps' every month. On average, in the Dominican, staffing agencies get maybe fifteen new candidates each month. So either they are a kick ass firm that finds people great jobs or-"
"Or they're full of shit," Garrett finished.
"What about payroll information or a list of businesses that hire them to find temps?" Parker asked.
Brady shook his head.
Garrett started pacing behind Parker.
"So a company that hires an obscenely high number of people each and every month has no record of paying these individuals or a list of companies that they provided services to?" Garrett asked.
Parker turned away from Garrett's pacing to address Brady.
"See if you can get an address for this Target Company. Also, run the phone records and try to get a list of all incoming calls. Maybe we can track down some of the employees and find out how their new jobs are going," Parker told him.
The three talked a little while longer, finally saying goodnight to Brady as he let himself out of the room. Parker and Garrett stood on opposite sides of the room staring at each other.
"You had no idea Milo was sent here for the same reason you were."
It was a statement, not a question, and it let Parker breathe a little easier knowing Garrett didn't suspect her of keeping something else from him.
"I had no idea until the night before we left and I talked to Risner. He didn't even know the full extent of why Milo was sent over here until a few weeks before that. My superiors had no idea either, which is why they were so on-board with sending me here. They wanted me to make sure nothing had been compromised."
Parker ran her hand through her hair.
"Do you think he found out something about Target and they killed him for it?" she asked.
Garrett crossed the room to Parker and placed his hands on her shoulders. He'd spent so many years comforting his friend, he didn't even think twice about what he was doing.
"It's a possibility," he told her honestly. "We'll get to the bottom of it, I promise."
Garrett ran his hands up and down Parker's arms like he always did. He wished he could tell her that he suspected she had been used as a pawn and was somehow connected to this whole thing, but he needed to be sure. He wouldn't unnecessarily worry her.
"I'm glad you're here," Parker told him.
Garrett felt a tightening in his chest that always warned him when he was getting too close to crossing the line.
Garrett dropped his hands from Parker's arms and took a step back.
Parker watched the wall fall back into place and took her own step away from him since Garrett seemed to suddenly need the distance.
"So, I'm going to just finish up some more research," Parker said, pointing in the general vicinity of her laptop.
"Great. That's good," Garrett replied quickly. "I'm going to take one more pass by the palace and see about the night security situation."
Garrett was out the door before Parker could respond.
Parker woke the next morning to an empty bed, no Garrett pressed up against her, warming her skin and touching her body like the previous morning.
She rolled over and found a note on his pillow that stated he left early to do a teleconference with Risner on the status of events so far. Parker sighed, wondering if he woke up before she did and bolted from the room, or if he even bothered getting into bed with her last night.
A knock on the door got Parker up and moving. She pulled the door open with a yawn.
"Rise and shine, sleepyhead," Austin said with a smile as he pushed past her into the room like he owned the place.