Parker had made the decision to go over Garrett's head and call Captain Risner last night, but he was already planning on giving her a call, much to her surprise. He knew what she did for a living, purely by accident, when they ran into one another last year at a meeting with her boss. He told her over the phone last night that her name immediately came to mind when he found out about the injured photographer, but he was worried she might be too close to the mission considering her relationship with Milo. After a call to her boss and her boss' boss, each of them raving about her capabilities to compartmentalize and focus to get any job done, Captain Risner made his decision.
The three men said hello and welcomed her to the team, not trying to hide their confusion as to why she was there while Garrett just sat in his seat and fumed. His arms rested on top of the conference room table and shook with unconcealed fury as he clenched his fists and gritted his teeth.
"Permission to speak freely, sir?" Garrett asked, his eyes still boring holes into Parker's face.
"Of course, McCarthy."
Garrett finally looked away, stood up, and slammed his hands down on the table in front of him, papers flying and pens scattering with the force of his anger. His nostrils flared like a bull preparing to charge as he took deep, rapid breaths through his nose and his usually bright blue eyes darkened and narrowed with rage.
"What the fuck is she doing here? There is no way in hell she is going anywhere near the Dominican with us. She's going to get herself, and us, killed with her stupid ass need to be included."
"Garrett, man, chill out," Brady quietly warned him.
Garrett ignored the warning, too pissed off to listen to anyone at this point.
"I don't give a fuck what kind of bullshit she fed you, but there is no way she is qualified to do something like this without putting us all in danger. The only reason she's doing this is to piss me off because I didn't gossip with her like a girl at a slumber party."
Parker was just about ready to tell Garrett where he could shove his opinion of her when Captain Risner spoke up.
"Sit your ass down, McCarthy," he told Garrett with a stern glare.
Risneralways had a soft spot for Garrett ever since the day he first met him as a recruit in BUD/S, a six month SEAL training course held at the Naval Special Warfare Training Center in Coronado, CA. The boy was fiercely loyal, a damn fine soldier, and he knew that first day Garrett would prove to be an amazing leader. Garrett had yet to let him down. Until now. He had never seen Garrett like this, and he didn't like it one bit. The look of horror on Ms. Parker's face as she witnessed his outburst was enough to tell him Garrett was letting his personal life interfere with a mission. He wouldn't stand for it. Not when so many lives were at stake.
"Now, I am well aware this comes as a shock to you, but I will not have you questioning my decisions regarding this matter. There is information regarding the nature of Ms. Parker's background that no one in her personal life was permitted to know for security reasons."
Parker closed her eyes and hung her head at Risner's words. The fear of what Garrett would think of her when he finally learned about all of the lies she'd kept from him tore her heart in two.
"Unfortunately, her business and personal life are crashing together like a freight train with this mission. Annabelle is more qualified to handle this job than all of you assholes put together. I have complete confidence in her abilities and would trust her with my own life. If you so much as think about undermining my decision on this, I will throw your ass off of this mission so fast your head will spin."
Captain Risner stood up, not giving Garrett the chance to speak another word.
"Your flight leaves in one hour. You are dismissed."
Parker finally let out the breath she'd been holding while Garrett got his ass handed to him. She wanted to feel bad for him, but she couldn't. He pissed her off last night and insulted her yet again. Just the idea she would do something like this to get back at him made her want to punch his beautiful face for being so dense.
Parker stood off to the side so she could say hello to each of the men she hadn't seen since Milo's funeral and would now be her teammates. She also wanted to have a few minutes alone with Garrett so she could give him a piece of her mind before they got on the plane.
Garrett had other ideas though.
As soon as the Captain dismissed everyone, he bolted out of his chair and breezed right by Parker, not even turning his head in her direction. He wanted to know what the hell she had been thinking, but he didn't even want to look at her he was so pissed. Garrett had spent the last eight years making sure Parker was safe, well cared for, and happy. Having her on this mission was going to ruin all of that. She would be putting herself right in the middle of the danger zone, and unless he wanted to be forcibly removed from this assignment, he had to let her. How was he supposed to choose between finding out how his best friend died and keeping Parker alive? Somehow, he needed to figure out a way to do both without losing his mind, and he desperately wanted to know what the Captain was going on about how she was more qualified than everyone in that room. Parker couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without tripping, and she sure as hell couldn't hold her own on a SEAL assignment.
Garrett shoved open the door to go outside so hard it slammed against the side of the building. Maybe some fresh air would clear his head.
Parker pushed her hurt feelings from Garrett's abrupt departure aside as each of the men gave her a hug and welcomed her to the team. She knew they were curious about the partial information their CO had given them but they didn't pry. Risner told her when they met this morning that it was up to her regarding how much information she wanted to give them.
They all made their way out of the building to where a car was waiting to take them to the military airfield, chatting amicably about what was going on in each other's lives. Garrett was noticeably absent, and Parker had a brief moment of panic that maybe Garrett was so pissed he decided to find another ride to the plane.
As soon as they all got settled in the SUV, Garrett showed up out of nowhere and slid into the only available seat left-the one right next to Parker.
He slammed the door closed, and with his arm hanging out of the open window, smacked the side of the car twice to signal to the driver everyone was ready to go.
Cole sat in the front seat and chatted with the driver while Austin and Brady joked about a bar they went to the previous night in the seat behind Parker and Garrett.
Garrett stared straight ahead and didn't even glance in Parker's direction. She knew because she had been glaring right at him ever since he got into the car. Parker wasn't going to be some shrinking violet and pretend like everything was fine. They were going to talk, and he was going to have to come to terms with everything quickly. Parker was about to do the most important thing she had ever done in her short life, and she wouldn't be able to concentrate if she had to also deal with Garrett's attitude at the same time
"Are you just going to ignore me the entire time we're working or is this a temporary thing? I'd kind of like some advance notice so I can make note of it on my calendar," Parker said sarcastically in a low voice that only Garrett could hear.
"Since you seem to have all of the answers, Ms. Parker, how about you decide when I should forgive you for being a sneaky bitch and get back to me on that."
Garrett clenched his jaw and continued to stare straight ahead. He was definitely not having this discussion with her right now in a car filled with their team. It was none of their fucking business.
Of course Parker wasn't one to take any of Garrett's crap lying down, and he should have known that before he even opened his mouth. They'd always had a volatile relationship, knowing exactly how to get under each other's skin and what buttons to push.
"Wow, a sneaky bitch, huh? You don't beat around the bush do you? For your information, McCarthy, not everything I do revolves around my desire to piss you off. My life has been complete and utter shit lately, and I finally have a chance to do something good. I have the opportunity to find out why Milo was lying to me and hiding things and fighting with me every opportunity he could. I can finally know why a week after he left I called the caterers and the church and they told me that Milo had canceled the wedding the day he left without saying a word to me. You have your guilt about all of this, Garrett, but so do I. So ease the fuck up on the silent treatment and give me a God damned break."
Parker folded her arms across the front of her and scooted away from Garrett, turning her head to stare out of the window at the landscape rushing by.
Garrett still didn't speak but it wasn't because he had nothing to say to Parker. He was just in too much shock. Milo canceled their wedding the day he left? Garrett couldn't wrap his head around that information. Milo told him everything, and granted they hadn't spoken much in the weeks prior to Milo's departure to the Dominican, but Garrett assumed he was just busy with wedding preparations. He was having a hard time believing that Milo would do something like that. He knew Parker wasn't lying about this, but it just didn't make any sense. Milo couldn't wait to marry Parker. The day he had told Garrett his plans was still clear as day in his mind.
There hadn't been any available seats at the bar so Garrett grabbed a table when he got to Shooters. Milo had called him earlier in the day and said he had some news that he needed to tell Garrett about. He was hoping Milo finally got that promotion to Lieutenant that he had been gunning for. Garrett knew the Navy was everything to his friend, and he wanted to see him succeed.
Milo, Garrett, and Parker always went to Shooters when they had good news or needed to celebrate. They went there when they signed the lease to the first house the three of them bought together, they went there when Garrett graduated from Seal training and again when he had been given a promotion, and they went there when Parker's first photo had been published in a national magazine. It was definitely time for them to be there for some good news from Milo. Parker was currently in New York for a few days doing a photo shoot, so it looked like it would just be a two-person celebration today.
While Garrett waited for Milo, he ordered them each a beer. He was almost done with his by the time Milo showed up.
"Dude, sorry I'm late. I had to stop by the store and pick something up, and it wasn't quite ready yet," Milo explained as he slid into his seat and took a big gulp of his beer.
"So what's going on man? What's the good news?" Garrett asked when Milo put his glass back down on the table.
Milo reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small, black velvet box and slid it across the table to Garrett.
Garrett couldn't miss the huge smile plastered all over Milo's face. He looked happy and excited, and Garrett was glad, but he looked quizzically down at the small box.
"What's this?" Garrett asked, scooping the box up in his hand.
"Just open it," Milo said, practically bouncing up and down with excitement.
Garrett laughed at Milo's exuberance and flipped open the box. Nestled inside was a platinum solitaire engagement ring. Before Garrett could control it, his face immediately fell. He always knew that this moment would come. He knew it after Milo arrived home from their first date, and he had to listen to his best friend rattle on and on about how perfect she was.
He knew it every time he watched the two of them together holding hands, laughing, and kissing.
Garrett knew it and prepared for it, but he thought he'd have more time. More time to get used to the idea that his best friend was marrying the girl of Garrett's dreams.
Before Milo got suspicious of Garrett's behavior, he put on a brave front and made a joke.
"Milo, did you ask my dad's permission for my hand in marriage first? Because I can't say yes if you didn't follow the proper protocol."
Milo laughed and snatched the box out of Garrett's hand. "You're such a dick, McCarthy! So, what do you think? Parker will say yes, right? I mean…fuck, she wouldn't say no, would she? I want to marry her so badly it freaks me out a little."
The sad fact was Garrett knew without a doubt that Parker would say yes.
"Quit being such a pansy. You know Parker will say yes," Garrett said with a roll of his eyes.
"I can't believe I'm going to ask her to marry me. I mean I can believe it considering I just dropped 5k on a ring for her, but I just can't believe this is really it. Did you ever think getting coffee that day in college seven years ago would lead us here?"
If you had asked that question to Garrett the day they met Parker, he would have absolutely believed this was where they'd be. However, he had pictured his role in that particular fantasy a little differently than Milo did.
Garrett hadn't said a word the entire car ride to the airfield. Parker gave up trying to figure out Garrett and his moods a long time ago, so as soon as the SUV parked, she jumped out of the vehicle without a word to him. She said her piece and since they'd be stuck with each other indefinitely, he knew where to find her if he wanted to say anything else to her.
Garrett watched Parker exit the car and walk with the other men toward the plane parked on the tarmac waiting for them to board.
He knew they needed to hash this out, but it could wait. He grabbed his bags from the back and followed everyone else to the steps of the plane.
The most important thing right now was the mission, and Garrett needed to remember that. It was going to be hard enough putting on the show they would need to once they got to the Dominican. They needed to talk things out before then or this whole thing would blow up in their face if Garrett and Parker couldn't act the part. Garrett had a feeling Parker was going to lose her shit when he explained to her exactly what role she would be playing once they touched down.