Parker let her hand fall from away from her mouth and finally found her voice.
The air was thick with humidity and rife with shock. Parker couldn't tell if the sweat dripping down her back was from the temperature or her nerves. The man standing a few feet in front of her looked exactly like the man who had been her best friend during a time in her life when she desperately needed friends. He was the same man she had been prepared to love and cherish for the rest of her life. He was the same man who made her laugh, took care of her, and let her be her own person.
He looked the same, aside from the facial hair, but he was vastly different from the man she used to know. You couldn't tell by looking at him, but Parker had first-hand knowledge of all the things that were different. She had proof he was a liar and so far removed from the man she thought she knew, she could almost pretend like they were two different people.
But they weren't.
Her best friend and the disgusting man she discovered as they delved deeper and deeper into the mission were one in the same.
Frozen, just like she had been when she stood in the casket room of the funeral home and spent three hours trying to decide between solid mahogany wood with jewel-tone accessories and sienna bronze with European-style hardware until she finally curled up in the corner of the room and told Garrett she couldn't do it because she wasn't ready to say goodbye. She remembered the sickly sweet smell of the flowers surrounding the closed casket. Garrett had chosen the twenty-four by thirty-six black and white photograph of Milo propped up on an easel in the corner. The military report she was given showed, with ninety-nine point nine percent accuracy, the man sent home in a box was her fiancé.
But then she remembered the photographs of Catalina Olivera lying in a dirty, dark alley after being beaten and raped. She remembered the testimony of a woman who saw Milo with Catalina, and many other girls over the years, coming out of hotel rooms while he was supposed to be home building a life with her.
At some point Milo listened to Garrett's warnings to not come any closer and had stopped where he was, his hands still in the air and a flash of fear in his eyes.
The past and the present swirled through Parker's mind, conversations and memories, lies and facts, all merged together until she finally understood that she wasn't dreaming; Milo was alive and well and standing close enough for her to touch.
And the fear she caught a glimpse of in his eyes moments ago was because of her, since presently she held her weapon with shaking hands and aimed it directly at his chest.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't pull the trigger, you miserable piece of shit," Parker growled.
"Parker, put the gun down," Garrett told her softly as he shuffled himself slowly in her direction.
Garrett watched Parker struggle with what to do and wished he could just turn back the clock. He didn't even know where he wished the hands of time could take them; he just knew anywhere was better than where they were right then.
Garrett made it quietly to Parker's side and reached out with his hand, wrapping it around hers.
"It's okay," Garrett whispered in her ear as he gently pushed her hands down until the gun pointed at the ground instead of the man in front of them. Neither one noticed the same man clench his hands as he watched the tender exchange unfold in front of him.
Garrett didn't have any clue if they could trust Milo or what he was trying to prove by showing up, but he was certain that if Brady was aware of his presence and didn't take him out immediately, there must be a good explanation for it. His team would never let a dangerous man anywhere near them if they could help it. Brady knew Milo had been there waiting for them, and instead of shooting him point blank or taking him into custody, Brady let him wait by their villa and tried to warn them that he was there.
"I'm going to brief the new team that just landed, do you think everything will be okay now?" Brady asked Garrett.
Garrett gave him a questioning glance, wondering the same thing himself. Brady gave Garrett a slight nod of his head in answer to his non-verbal question. Garrett dismissed him and pried the gun from Parker's hands after he walked away.
"Thanks," Milo said to him.
"I didn't do that for you, asshole. Parker's not thinking too clearly right now, and she might be a little irritated with herself if she killed you and wasn't alert enough to watch while you suffered," Garrett said with enough bite in his words, making Milo look away from him sheepishly.
"Look, I know you guys have a lot of questions, and you have every right to be pissed off. Please, just give me a chance to explain everything," Milo begged.
"We planned your funeral. We mourned you. There is nothing you can say right now that could make up for that," Parker said with scorn as she took a step towards him. "We know about the girls, about all of your sick trips here to the Dominican. Catalina Olivera was a child. Just barely sixteen years old. She had her whole life ahead of her."
Parker took another step in Milo's direction until she stood toe-to-toe with him. Garrett stuck close to her side, still not one hundred percent certain of Milo's intentions.
"Everything about you is a lie and it makes me sick to stand here and look at you, alive and well, when you've left a trail of young girls in your wake. They'd still be here today if it weren't for you," Parker fumed, narrowing her eyes and clenching her jaw.
Milo let out a sigh and looked at Parker sadly.
"There is an explanation for all of that, I swear. I'm not the bad guy you think I am. And if we're going to discuss lies, I think you had quite a big one yourself, Agent Parker," Milo said softly.
Parker's hand flew out before he barely finished the sentence. Instead of the smack across the face she had given Garrett not that long ago, her fingers curled into a fist and her knuckles connected with his nose. The sound of cartilage shattering with the force of her blow made Garrett wince.
"Son of a bitch!" Milo yelled as his hands flew to his nose and blood poured down the front of his face, dripping off of his chin.
Parker stepped back and shook out her hand.
"Jesus, Parker!" Milo said in a nasally voice as he tipped his head back and put pressure on his nose with one hand and tried to wipe the blood off of his lips with the other. "Garrett, can you please calm her down?"
Garrett laughed and crossed his arms in front of him.
"Obviously, in the time that you've been away, pretending to be dead, you've lost what little brain cells you still had left," Garrett said with a sneer. "You're lucky I'm not pummeling your face myself."
Milo managed to stop the bleeding and wiped his hands on the front of his shirt
. "I told you, there are genuine reasons why I did the things I did. If you would just give me a chance―"
Garrett wasn't in the mood to give Milo anything and had reached the end of his patience with him. He lunged forward and wrapped his fists around the material of Milo's shirt, shoving him backwards until he slammed into the wall of the villa.
"You have one minute to explain yourself, or I'm going to hold you down and let Parker finish you off," Garrett growled into Milo's face.
"I've been undercover for the government, pretending to be Fernandez's ally for six years," Milo said in a rush. "It was a top secret mission only a small handful of people knew about, spearheaded by the FBI. Fernandez thinks I'm on his side, working against the U.S. to keep his actions from being discovered. Everything you think I've done, every fact you think you've uncovered about me has all been a lie or a well-placed pretense to keep Fernandez in the dark while I get what I need to nail him."
The shock on both Garrett and Parker's faces was evident. Out of all of the things they expected him to say, the excuses they thought would come pouring out of him, this was never something they anticipated he would say.
"You were seen coming out of a hotel room with teenage girls. For years," Parker accused, still not certain she believed him.
Milo looked around Garrett at her and gave a small shrug.
"All part of the act. Nothing ever happened behind those doors aside from talking. I had to convince them I worked for Fernandez and make them think they were being interviewed to work for him."
Garrett squeezed tighter onto the front of Milo's shirt as he tried to twist and turn to free himself. Strengthening his hold and punctuating his anger and reluctance to believe anything Milo said, Garrett pushed him harder into the wood siding.
"Why now? Why did you suddenly decide to come out of hiding now and tell us the truth? We've been here for weeks," Garrett asked angrily.
"You guys were getting too close. Fernandez doesn't like it and wants something done about it, immediately, before everything he's accomplished falls apart. This business of his, selling young girls to the highest bidders, it's how he's made all of his money and met all of his contacts. His entire life revolves around this business. If this ever gets discovered by the authorities and his client lists are leaked, he'll be dead within the hour. If Fernandez goes down, hundreds of figure heads around the world go down with him. Those men will put a bullet through his head before the authorities can arrest him. He will do everything in his power to make sure that doesn't happen. He's ordered a hit on both of you."
Parker's blood went cold and Garrett's grip on Milo faltered, giving him the opportunity he needed to break free from his grasp and take a few steps away.
"If he wants us dead so badly, why in the hell did he shoot my father instead of one of us?" Parker argued angrily as she crossed her shaking arms across her chest.
"I heard about your dad, and I'm so sorry for your loss, Parker," Milo told her, his brown eyes softening in sympathy as he ran his hand through the dark blonde spikes on top of his head.
"The bullet didn't kill him. It missed all his major organs. He's in ICU under observation now," Garrett explained while he slowly inched closer to Milo, putting himself between Parker and him. He didn't trust Milo one bit and wasn't a hundred percent sold on everything Milo told them. His explanation of what he'd been doing all this time was plausible, but right now there was no way to know if he was telling the truth. Garrett hoped Parker's gut instinct was screaming in protest the same way his was.
"H-h-h-he isn't dead?" Milo stuttered with a look of confusion on his face. "I'm sorry. The intel I received must have been inaccurate."
Garrett didn't like the look on Milo's face. He looked utterly bewildered and not just because he received wrong information.
"I want to know everything. Right now," Parker ordered, placing her hands on her hips. "Every single thing you've kept from us, everything you know about Fernandez's life and business. We're done with all of this bullshit. We came here to find out why you died and since that was obviously a waste of resources, it's time to finish this once and for all," Parker said, her professional mask back in place. "We need proof, and we need it now. The only way the team can take Fernandez out is with substantial evidence that links him to the deaths and disappearances of all those girls. We'll call Captain Risner and explain everything to him about your undercover work. There's a new SEAL team here now for back-up, but I have a feeling we're going to need more bodies for this."
Garrett looked back and forth between Parker and Milo, unable to believe what he was hearing. He could feel the anger bubbling up inside of him and had trouble tamping it back down.
"You seriously believe the shit coming out of his mouth right now? Tell me you aren't that gullible," Garrett asked Parker.
"I'm not being gullible; I'm being smart. I can't let my personal feelings affect what we're doing. The truth is he risked his life to come here and warn us about what Fernandez plans to do with us. He could have just as easily stayed undercover and let whatever happens, happen. But he didn't. He chose to come clean," Parker told him.
"He could have come clean a year ago, but instead he faked his own death and let us grieve for him!" Garrett argued.
"I didn't have a choice!" Milo shouted angrily.
"Shut the fuck up!" Garrett yelled at him.
"Garrett, I know that you're pissed. So am I. Just because I'm willing to listen to what he says doesn't mean I forgive him. But right now he is our only option and the only person with inside information on Fernandez. He's the only one that can help us bring him down," Parker told him.
"Parker, don't do this. Can you honestly tell me that you trust him and everything he's told us? We need to let Austin restrain him immediately and keep him in our custody until we can get him back to the states and he can be questioned properly," Garrett argued.
"If you keep me here, Fernandez will know. He'll pull together every single resource he has to get to you. As it stands, I'm the only one he'll listen to. I can keep him at bay long enough for you guys to get what you need. If I don't get back to that palace and head him off, there's no telling what he might do to you or the girls who he still has control of," Milo warned.
"So what you're saying is if we don't believe this bullshit story about how you're trying to protect us and let you go scurrying back to Fernandez, people will die, including us," Garrett said sarcastically. "Well isn't that convenient for you."