Maybe Milo knew all along she'd let Garrett barrel right through that gap from day one.
Brick by brick, her walls started coming down the first day Garrett sat next to her in the coffee shop. She always thought they had been intact this whole time, that she'd decide when and if they ever came down. But looking at him now as he stared at her with concern and worry in his eyes, she knew she'd never had a choice in the matter.
The wall crumbled to dust when she wasn't even looking.
Parker thought she needed to see the place where Milo had betrayed them both to try and come to grips with what was happening, but as she stood there in the restaurant looking down at Garrett, she knew it wasn't necessary. The knowledge that he did it was enough.
They needed to put all of their concentration into finding out all of the answers to their questions and end this once and for all. Things still didn't add up, and Parker knew they were missing large pieces of the puzzle. Something in her gut told her Fernandez was behind all of this. Parker had to believe that someone or something had pulled Milo into this life. Something happened a year ago that changed him, affected him in such a way he was never able to be the same man again. A man didn't just go from being a strong, trust-worthy Navy SEAL one day to a secretive, immoral human being the next. Something had to have happened to influence him.
Parker wanted to get to the bottom of this mess and finally move on with her life.
Move on with Garrett.
She knew without a doubt that was where she belonged now.
For the next several days the team holed up in Parker and Garrett's villa and went to work pulling as much information as they could find. The days were spent on the computer and making phone calls. The nights were spent discussing the information that was found and what they would be doing the following day.
When Brady, Austin, and Cole finally left to go back to their own villas each night, Parker and Garrett should have fallen into bed and passed out from exhaustion. But once they were finally alone, the clothes came off, and they fell into bed with thoughts other than sleep on their minds.
Some nights it was hurried and intense, others it was slow and sensual. No matter how they loved with their bodies, it was always perfect. Garrett instinctively knew every spot to touch on Parker that would cause her to sigh his name with need, and Parker unconsciously knew where to kiss and slide her tongue along Garrett's skin that would cause his body to shudder with desire.
There was a lot they should have talked about during those nights, many things they should have admitted, but neither one was ready to put into words what they felt, and they both knew they needed to put all of their concentration into the mission. Once or twice, one of them would mention the need for them to talk and the other would remind them there would be plenty of time for that when the mission was over.
The first relevant piece of information the team came across was ten days after Garrett and Brady found out Milo had been a patron of Occidental El Embajador.
Parker informed the team about the Vice President's use of the words girls, money, and boat, during their dinner at the palace. So far they knew a large percentage of the missing girls from the past several years were listed as employees for The Target Agency, so that took care of the girls aspect. Brady was able to find out that all of those girls had roughly the same home life as Catalina Olvera – parents who didn't care enough to keep their children safe.
They knew from all the details they'd gathered that these girls were more than likely involved in some sort of prostitution ring. If Fernandez had anything to do with it, they were having a hard time proving anything. The matchbook from the Occidental El Embajador that Parker saw on his desk seemed to just be a coincidence. Garrett and Brady went back there to question the maid that helped them previously, and she stated that the President had never been a guest there as far as she knew.
The team was unable to find any information on the missing girls once they found out they were all runaways and listed as Target employees. There were no phone numbers or any way of contacting the girls after they left home.
The next clue they were able to uncover had to do with the boat. While Brady hacked away at his computer during the day with the rest of the team, at night he did as Garrett asked and spent the time looking into Milo's background. Brady dug up everything he could find on the man up until he left for the Dominican on his last mission.
Brady was able to uncover that Milo's mother put in a request for a passport three months before she left Milo and his father. On the same day, she applied for a Residence Visa to none other than the Dominican Republic. Records here in this country didn't exist for her, however. There was no Visa application approval, court or bank records in her name, or any other piece of evidence that Milo's mother ever made the trip she had obviously planned for.
While Brady continued his search into Milo's mother, he found out Milo had been the proud owner of a fifty-seven foot Bayliner. That left Parker speechless for an hour and Garrett equally as stunned. If Brady hadn't been so adept at computers, he might never have found the information. The boat was purchased several years ago under Milo's father's name. The only reason it came up as a red flag was because Brady ran a list of all boat registrations and bumped them up against court records. The registration for the boat had initially been filed years after Milo's father had died. In the state of Maryland, you didn't need to be present to register a boat; it could be done via mail, which was why the state registered a boat to a dead man. There was no record of the boat again until four years after Milo had moved to California. The boat was then re-registered in his name where he had to provide the state with the hull identification number, which worked similarly to the vehicle identification number for cars.
With the hull identification number, Brady was able to pull up all of the maintenance records for the boat. Twice a year, without fail, the boat was docked in a marina in Santo Domingo, roughly three hours from where they were currently staying, for routine maintenance. With a quick call to the marina, Brady found out the boat was currently docked. Not wanting to raise any suspicions, he hung up without asking more questions.
Parker and Garrett took the rental car and immediately began the long drive to the marina. They didn't speak much in the car. Garrett concentrated on driving and Parker typed away on the laptop resting on her legs. They were both nervous about what they might find once they got to the boat.
Before long, Garrett was pulling the car into the marina parking lot. With a description of the boat in hand, they decided to walk along the dock to see if they could find it before asking any questions.
They walked hand-in-hand, just another couple out for a stroll to look at boats. After several minutes, Parker stopped when she came to the third Bayliner. She didn't need to make sure it was the same length or if the hull identification number matched
. She knew all she needed to by the name of the boat painted in black elegant script.
"La Meta Anna Bello," Garrett read aloud.
"Target Annabelle?" Parker murmured questioningly as she stared at the boat.
"Or Anna, Beautiful Target," Garrett stated.
To see her own name on the back of a boat, regardless of the translation, left a cold feeling of dread in the pit of Parker's stomach. This was Milo's boat― a boat Parker knew nothing about that Milo had owned for years―and at some point in time he'd put her name on it whether it had anything to do with her literally or not. It could have something to do with The Target Agency, it could have something to do with Parker personally, or it could be a combination of both. The double meaning of the name he gave the boat left Parker feeling very uneasy. She glanced nervously around the boat dock, searching for eyes that she assumed were on them, watching their every move.
Either way they looked at it, neither Parker nor Garrett could deny all signs now pointed to the fact that Milo had been in the thick of everything in regards to this mess.
Garrett looked around to see if anyone was watching them. Confident that the other individuals in the marina were otherwise occupied, he started to take a step towards the wooden ramp allowing them to board the boat.
Before he could move, he felt Parker's hand on his arm. He stopped and turned to look at her. She slid her hand up his arm and placed it on his cheek. Garrett reached up and placed his hand over hers and held it in place, wanting to feel her touch against his skin for as long as possible. Parker needed to touch Garrett to keep her grounded. Feeling his warm skin against her hand always soothed her, and right then it helped her process what was going on.
"He owned a boat," Parker stated.
"He did," Garrett answered softly.
"He probably put girls on that boat. Young girls who could have had bright futures if someone would have just believed in them," Parker said sadly. "Put them on that boat and did God knows what to them."
"Probably," Garrett agreed with a frown as he rubbed his thumb back and forth over the top of Parker's hand.
"He did vile, illegal things on that boat and then came home to me and pretended he wanted to build a life together," Parker said as she took a step closer to Garrett so she could feel his warmth.
"I'm sorry," Garrett stated, reaching out to brush a piece of hair out of Parker's eyes.
"Don't," Parker stopped him, placing her fingers to his lips. "It's not your fault. I'm just angry. All that time I wasted feeling guilty, feeling like I was a bad person for wanting…"
Garrett held his breath, waiting for her to finish the sentence, hoping that she'd wanted him, wishing that everything he felt all those years wasn't just one sided. He knew she cared about him. There was no mistaking that every single time they were alone at night. Every kiss, every touch, every moment they shared showed Garrett how much she cared. He just wanted to know it all didn't just happen because of their circumstances. He needed to believe that maybe this would have happened even if they hadn't been on the mission together.
With a small shake of her head, Parker cleared the thought from her mind and removed her hand from his lips.
"Would it be okay if I go in there alone for a minute?" Parker asked as she nodded in the direction of the boat. "I just…I need a second to process this. And I kind of don't want to freak you out when I start screaming profanities," she said with a smile to ease the sting of her request.
Parker didn't want Garrett to think she didn't want or need him there with her. She just needed a few minutes alone to let everything sink in. She'd seen the proof on Brady's computer; Milo owned a boat. But standing a few feet away from the actual evidence, and knowing that Milo had plastered her name all over it, was a tough pill to swallow.
Garrett leaned forward and placed a soft kiss to Parker's forehead. He didn't like the idea of leaving her alone to deal with her demons, but he would do whatever she asked.
Garrett's lips lingered against Parker's skin, and she closed her eyes for a moment and let his touch, his smell, and his warmth surround her like a cocoon. He pulled back and looked into her eyes.
"You have your gun?" he asked quietly.
Parker nodded and smiled at his question. Garrett had toned down his constant fear for her safety and trusted she knew what she was doing but not before making sure she was protected.
"I'm going to head over to the office and ask a couple of questions. I'll meet you back here at the boat in a few minutes," Garrett said before they dropped their hands from his cheek and stepped in opposite directions.
Parker walked up the ramp and took three steps down onto the deck of the boat. Before heading into the cabin, she paused and looked back over her shoulder at Garrett's retreating form as he headed to the office. She smiled to herself, knowing she and Garrett would definitely have a lot to talk about once they were home.
Garrett realized after five minutes that talking to someone in the office wasn't the best idea with his limited knowledge of Spanish. He muddled through it and was able to find out that the La Meta Anna Bello was always dropped off at night after the marina was closed for the day, and the keys were placed in a locked drop-box next to the building. By the following day, once the work was completed, the boat would be gone until its next scheduled maintenance.
The appointment was always scheduled by text message from a blocked number.
Garrett thanked the man for his time and walked out of the office. The information he got from the office manager hadn't yielded any solid information that could help them, but it had provided Parker with the time she needed.
Garrett understood her need to be on the boat alone and looking down at his watch, he realized that seven minutes with her out of his sight was all he was willing to give.
He walked out of the office and took two steps toward the ramp that lead to Milo's boat when a deafening explosion roared through his ears and shook the ground beneath his feet, forcing Garrett to take a few extra steps so he wouldn't fall.
A cloud of smoke and fire filled the sky down towards the end of the dock, right where Milo's boat was.
In the recesses of Garrett's mind he heard shouts, screams, and the pounding of feet as people ran away from the explosion. He couldn't process anything but the thundering of his heart in his chest. He couldn't pay attention to anything except for the orange glow in the sky. Once his brain caught up to the reality of the situation, he took off running as fast as his feet would allow, shoving people out of the way as he went. As he ran in the direction of the fire, suddenly it felt like everything was happening in slow motion. He couldn't get to Parker fast enough; each step he took was like being in a dream where you were running away from someone but not going anywhere. He was panicking, the fear coursing through his body threatening to overcome him.