A Beautiful Lie


Page 35






He connected all of the dots for her. The day Lacie died was the same date Milo flew home from the Dominican, and within a few short months, they were running into Parker in a coffee shop. Milo, who had never been the kind of guy to settle down, immediately jumped at the chance to do so with Parker, almost to the point of obsession.


"I think we need to talk about Lacie again," Garrett said softly.


Ever since Parker told him about her death, he had suspicions. He knew the CIA could be sketchy at times and did a lot of things off the books, but they would never kill an innocent college student just for being friends with a new recruit. At most, Parker would have been reprimanded for divulging the secret of her job. Garrett had figured once this mess was over and they were home, he could get to the bottom of what really happened to Parker's one and only girlfriend. He never imagined it could have something to do with Milo. If Milo was connected in some way to Lacie's death, it could also be conceivable that he had something to do with Parker's father getting involved with the Capuano family. At this point Garrett just didn't know what to believe anymore. He didn't know who to trust or who the real enemy was, and it began to mess with his mind.


"You always assumed the CIA was responsible for Lacie's death as a way to keep you in their pocket or show you what they were capable of, right?" Garrett asked.


Parker nodded her head, trying to focus on what Garrett was saying to her instead of dwelling on all of the secrets he'd just spilled about Milo's timeline in her life.


"Every once in a while, when I was feeling particularly melancholy, I'd wonder if I misinterpreted things or let the fear I had for my father's life cloud my judgment of what happened over the course of the week she was killed. But I never had any reason to act on those suspicions or to think what I believed wasn't true. There was never any reason to doubt that the CIA would do whatever it took to get what they wanted. I mean, let's face it, they aren't exactly known as a touchy-feely, friendly organization," Parker admitted as she pulled one of her legs up under her in the seat. "They dangled my father's life over my head and basically told me to join them or his debts would eventually get him killed. And who knows what would have happened to me if they hadn't paid for me to finish school? I got swept up into the romance of it all. I could save my father's life and have all my money worries put to rest. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line," Parker said softly with a shrug of her shoulders. "Anytime I got stuck in memories of the past and got pissed off about what happened to Lacie, all I had to do was wonder what would have happened to my father, or even myself if I said no to the CIA. It was better if I just didn't think about it at all. Pretend like it never happened. There's only so much anger a person can hold inside before they explode."


Parker didn't want to think about it, and she certainly didn't want to go down memory lane and recall every detail of that dark time, but she knew it was necessary. If it was true, and she really did let her anger blur reality, she would need to amend every thought and belief she ever had about her employer.


"I think you know better than anyone that you can't pretend like it didn't happen. Something awful happened to one of your friends. Something that I know, deep in my gut, the CIA wouldn't have done. And I think some small part of you knows that's true, has always known that's true," Garrett told her, reaching across the console to brush Parker's bangs out of her eyes and cup her cheek while they waited at a red light. "But it's easier to blame something you can see and something you know, than to think there's some faceless, nameless entity out there that wanted to do you harm. If you accepted it was the CIA, you had something to be angry at, someone to blame, a reason to work your ass off and make sure her death wasn't in vain. If you let yourself go down the path of wondering who or what could be out there, trying to hurt you, it would've driven you crazy."


Garrett slid his fingertips softly down the side of her face as the light turned green. Parker turned away from him and stared out her window, opening her memories for the first time without the fog of anger.


Numb.


That had been the only way to describe how Annabelle felt. Every time she turned the corner, she saw a student or two crying over the loss of Lacie. No one knew her, not really. With a campus this size it was impossible to know everyone. Just the idea that one of their own had died right there on campus, in her own dorm room, was enough to send people into a tailspin. There were brightly colored flyers handed out about grief counseling sessions: Join us! Share your grief with those who understand! The exclamation marks lured you in and made you think it sounded like a good time. Candlelight vigils and piles of flowers, pictures and stuffed animals were left outside of Lacie's door. Students who had never spoken to one another before but shared a table in Art History class for three semesters were hugging and talking about all of the memories they had of a girl they never knew.


It had been two days since Annabelle had found Lacie lying in a pool of her own blood in the middle of her bed. Two days and she had yet to cry. Lacie had been her friend, her only friend, and she was incapable of mourning her loss. Strangers were gathering after dark to sing and say prayers, and Annabelle couldn't even scrape up one tear for the girl who kicked through her defenses and made her feel normal.


Annabelle walked along the sidewalk in between the Arts and Humanities building and the cafeteria. She was busy counting the cracks in the sidewalk and avoiding the stares of people who knew she was the girl that found Lacie, so she didn't notice the black sedan with tinted windows following her at a crawling pace on the street to her left.


Her head jerked up at the sound of a car door opening and the voice of Brad Richmond, the CIA agent who had recruited her. She hadn't spoken to him since the day she signed on with them. He left messages on her cell phone every couple of days with a time and place to go for training, which was the extent of their communication.


Seeing him now, standing beside the open car door, the man who may have had a hand in ending the life of her one and only friend made her blood boil.


"Get in the car , Miss Parker."


She stood there staring at him with her hands clenched at her sides. She didn't want to make a scene. It was early afternoon and hundreds of students were out on campus, but it took everything in her not to scream at the man standing with the car door open and a casual look on his face like it was just another day.


Several minutes passed where neither one said a word. Agent Richmond finally gave in when he realized Annabelle wasn't budging and people were starting to notice the unmarked car with windows so dark you couldn't see inside.


"Please, Agent Parker."


The use of her title, even though she hadn't earned it yet, made Annabelle bristle. It was like he was trying to tell her she had importance, that she had control over what would happen if she stepped into that car or that she mattered and her being an agent would guarantee she would be okay .


He was subtly reminding her that she belonged to them.


Annabelle walked over to the curb and got inside the car without another glance in his direction. Agent Richmond got in after her, and as soon as he closed the door, the car took off and he closed the divider between the driver and them. Annabelle stared out of the side window, refusing to face the man next to her.


"I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for your loss, Annabelle."


She clenched her teeth together to keep the screams from spilling out. She opened her mouth loud enough to whisper the one question she had.


"Why?"


She heard Agent Richmond shift in his seat beside her, obviously frustrated that she refused to meet his gaze.


"We thought it was best to clean up the mess. To avoid anything tainting your career or getting back to those who only recently released your father from his debts. You have no idea what people like that would do with this kind of information."


Annabelle closed her eyes and tried to calm her racing heart. She'd only had a few weeks of training, but she'd learned on the first day how to cut off a man's air supply by hitting a certain spot on his windpipe with the heel of her hand.


Lacie's death had officially been ruled a suicide. Her family, even though they had been nonexistent in her life, now believed their daughter had taken her own life. They were wallowing in grief and shame all because of these people.


"If the Capuano family found out that someone wanted to prove a point to you by killing one of your friends, they wouldn't hesitate to partner up with them and make your life a living hell," Agent Richmond told her. "That's something you need to always remember, Annabelle. For right now, it's safer for all involved that everyone thinks she died from suicide."


Annabelle's head whipped around at his words, which sounded strangely threatening. Was he telling her that the CIA would work with the Capuano's? That they'd keep the secret of Lacie's death from the mob, but at any moment that could change and she could be targeted by them? He was telling her that she should always remember the control the CIA had over her.


"We know this is a bit shocking for you right now, and we are using all of our resources to make sure that from now on we know absolutely everything. The cover-up used in her death is so airtight, it's almost unbelievable," Agent Richmond had said with a shake of his head and a raise of his eyebrows, like he almost couldn't believe how good his precious CIA was.


"I didn't say one more word to him after that. I just got out of the car and went back to my dorm. I was so fueled by rage, I just shut down. Until I met you and Milo," Parker told Garrett, a smile turning up the corners of her mouth and softening the look in her eyes.


Garrett processed every single word Parker had told him about Agent Richmond with the perspective of an outsider. He could take what Agent Richmond said several different ways. He knew Parker had been in no position to think objectively about it.


"You know, he never came right out and said the CIA were the ones responsible for her death," Garrett said.


"I know. Every single time I've gone over that conversation in my head I always remember that. He was careful not to implicate anyone in her murder. I thought he was doing it just to be a dick. Now I'm wondering if he just assumed that we were on the same page. That he didn't need to spell it out because I already knew I had other enemies. At the time, the only enemy I had was the CIA―the people who knew everything about me and coerced me into joining them by holding my father's life over my head. It never occurred to me that there could have been someone else out there," Parker explained.


"When he said they cleaned up the mess, maybe he really meant just that. They were protecting you by making her death a suicide. Now that we know more of the facts, it is completely possible someone else killed Lacie."


"It couldn't have been Milo, could it?" Parker asked.


Garrett didn't answer her. When he found out Milo had flown back to Maryland from the Dominican the day Lacie was killed, he knew it was more than just a coincidence. As much as he hated to think about it, he wondered if Parker had been on Milo's radar before they'd even met that day in the coffee shop. Garrett was scared to death to think about what that implicated. Maybe the Capuano's used him to spy on Parker as a way to threaten her father. Maybe there never was a Capuano threat and it had been Fernandez the entire time. Or maybe Fernandez was working with the mob, completely under the CIA's radar. Garrett's mind conjured up all sorts of scenarios, each one more extravagant than the last, and all that did was add more questions to their ever-growing list.


Garrett and Parker drove the rest of the way back to the resort in silence, lost in their own thoughts. They walked hand-in-hand through the lobby, and as they passed the front desk, the receptionist called out to them. They paused as the man hurried around the counter towards them with a slip of paper in his hand.


"There was a message left for you early this morning," the man said as he handed Garrett and envelope with his name on it and then hurried back to the desk to answer an incoming call.


They continued walking as Garrett tore into the envelope and pulled out a note written in neat, block letters.


"Urgent. Need to speak with you. Will come to your villa at ten this evening," Garrett read to Parker out loud.


"It's not signed?" Parker asked as she reached for the note and looked it over.


"Nope," Garrett replied as he pulled out the key card for their villa and swiped it through the slot.


Parker studied the note while she waited for Garrett to get the door open. Something about the handwriting was familiar to her. Her heart thumped erratically in her chest when she saw the date in the top right-hand corner The way it was written―day, then month, then year―such a little thing, but something she'd seen enough times over the years.


Garrett held the door open for Parker as she walked through, stopping in her tracks and forcing Garrett to bump into the back of her.


"Holy shit," Parker muttered.


"What? Do you recognize the handwriting or something?" Garrett asked as he dropped their bags at the foot of the bed.


"Kind of, but there's something else. The flag that was on that fax cover sheet I saw on the boat? This is it," Parker said, holding the note up so Garrett could see and pointing to the flag in the top right-hand corner. "And I remember where I saw it before. The day Milo left to come here, I was in his office doing some cleaning and there was a fax on the machine. I picked it up and turned to take it out to him in the living room, but he was already there in the doorway. He saw the fax in my hands and blew his top. He started yelling at me to stay out of his things, snatched the fax out of my hand, and shoved me up against the bookshelf," Parker explained.





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