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The Wife Assignment: Chapter 33

Kelly

Gunfire abated, and the world became quiet.

The team and Luca’s men were securing the area when the door to the guest house opened and people walked through.

Children. Boys and girls. My stomach churned. None of them could have been more than fifteen. I got down from the RV so I could help them get situated, my eyes searching for Alana.

She emerged with the sixth child. I started for her. “Alana!”

“Kelly,” Kelso growled behind me.

A boom, a flash of light, and an invisible force threw me to the ground.

The roar of an explosion echoed around me, before muffled screams reached my ears. Dazed, I tried to make sense of what happened. Heat singed my skin. The house before me was a wash of orange. Bright and blinding.

“Jesus Christ!”

“Is everyone all right?”

I pushed up on my elbows, spat out dirt, and blurry images came into focus.

Greedy flames licked wood and turned it into falling embers.

“No,” I whispered, my mind refusing to accept what I was seeing behind them. “No.”

I struggled to my feet, my vision tunneling, and my ears plugged. Still unsteady, I staggered to the burning structure. “Levi!” Oh my god, Callum!

A steel band wrapped around my torso. “Don’t.” Kelso rasped in my ear. “There could be secondary blasts.”

“Let me go!” I screamed.

“Think of Ash and Whit,” he growled. “Get it together and help these kids. Let us do our jobs.”

The crushing feeling in my chest overwhelmed me, and I sank to my knees and sobbed with the realization I couldn’t be a burden to these men right now. I stared up at Kelso. “Go.”

An argument called my attention.

“What the hell is this?” Alana shouted at Bristow.

His disguise had ripped.

Shit. I forced myself to get up again, fighting through my shock, and made my way to them, comforting the kids who were crying even while my heart was cracking in two.

“You okay?” A voice said behind me.

I turned to see Luca.

My mouth couldn’t form words.

“Levi?” he asked.

I couldn’t say anything and just looked at the decimated house.

“Kelly?” Alana shouted.

I ran the few steps toward my sister and hugged her. Over her shoulder, I saw Bristow and Kelso rush around the burning house.

“What are you doing here?” Alana asked. “Oh my God.” She looked behind her. “You shouldn’t be here.”

I still couldn’t speak and, instead, sucked in a ragged breath.

“They were in the back close to the exit,” Alana said. “Levi and the other guy should be fine.”

It’s our brother, Alana, but I couldn’t say.

“I hope so.”

“Your husband is a tank. It’s a one-story structure. He’ll be fine.” She had no idea how I clung to those optimistic words.

“Alana, can we stay here?” one of the rescued girls asked. She seemed to be the oldest in the group. Dmitry had already herded a few of the kids into the RV, but apparently more than half of them didn’t trust him.

Alana hugged her. “Sure, Ceci.” When my sister’s attention returned to me, a relieved expression transformed her face. “See, what did I tell you?”

I spun in the direction of her gaze.

Four men appeared.

I ran toward them.

Bristow was helping a limping Callum while Kelso was Levi’s crutch.

“You’re both okay,” I cried, while my eyes did a full body scan. Their faces were covered in soot, and their clothes were ripped in places but they didn’t appear to have sustained grave injuries.

Levi broke away from the group and swept me into his arms. His mouth covered mine and devoured me in a quick fierce kiss.

He leaned away and reluctantly released me to my brother.

“I thought I lost you again,” I sobbed.

Callum embraced me tightly. “Not this time, sis.”

“So, if that’s not Tom …” Alana said from behind me. I stepped away from Callum, my lungs filling with apprehension as my siblings came face to face for the first time.

Like Bristow, my brother’s prosthetics were toast. The forehead piece was gone, and the ones along his cheeks were out of place.

Bristow and Kelso hurried away from the group to help the rest of the guys secure the area. I wasn’t sure if they wanted to give us a moment for our reunion or were just too chicken to be around the unpredictable outcome.

“Hi, Ally Cat,” Callum rasped his nickname for Alana. He was the only one who called her that.

“What is this?” Alana’s eyes filled with tears, and my own couldn’t help flooding with emotions.

“It’s Cal,” I croaked.

Her face scrunched in disbelief. Three feet away from our brother, she glared at me. “This joke is in poor taste, Kelly.”

I threw up my hands in frustration and glared at Cal. “What the hell are you waiting for?”

“Fuck this,” Callum muttered and closed the distance between them and dragged Alana in a hug. “You were always a feisty one, Ally Cat.”

Alana stood there without returning our brother’s hug, arms outstretched as if she wasn’t sure what to do with them, but his words and mine seemed to sink in.

Her arms finally wrapped around our brother, and she started bawling.

One thing about that sister of mine. She rarely bawled.

She was the toughest nut among us.

After a while, without looking at me, both of them stretched out their arms and gestured me toward them. I didn’t hesitate and walked into their huddle, and my tears flowed. This time because of pure joy. My sister was safe. I had my brother back.

“Oh my God, oh my God.” Alana cried.

A helicopter roared above us, and, for a second. Anxiety swept through me along with not knowing if they were friends or enemies.

Callum set us from him, with each hand gripping our shoulders as he split a look between us. “That’s my ride.”

“What?” Both Alana and I exclaimed.

“You can’t leave!” I said.

“Only for a while,” Callum said. “There are things I need to wrap up. Don’t tell anyone in the family.” He glanced at our sister. “You weren’t supposed to know I am alive yet.” Then he looked at me. “I need to clean up my cover before I come home.”

“Cal …”

“Gotta go.” He hugged both of us and then stepped into Levi to give him a tight hug and walked away without looking back.

Alana and I clung to each other, still in shock and reeling.


Levi

Porter came through, thank fuck.

The helicopter airlifted Callum, Dmitry, Stepanov, and Roth from the site. Bristow, Kelso, and I stayed behind and were conscripted into the federal task force looking into the Russian Mafia and its numerous illegal businesses, specifically the flow of Moscow White into Chicago and California.

Blaze Ulrich was dead. His remains were found under the roof wreckage. He had the house rigged to blow in some kind of last stand rather than go to prison. Callum and I were lucky we were thrown into the corner where the door and part of the roof fell on the bed to create an air pocket. We belly-crawled out of there just as Bristow and Kelso dragged us clear of the burning structure.

Walter Ford was killed as were two of his oligarch friends. A Russian mafia boss and his oligarch cohort locked themselves in a panic room. Roth stood guard until Kelso took over from him. From what I had learned from Bristow, it was a bloodbath inside.

Moretti and his men came prepared. They left before the Feds arrived.

“You guys off?” Kelso asked from the bottom of the RV steps.

“As soon as Alana and Kelly are ready.” I tipped my chin to where they were saying goodbye to the kids. Child Protective Services was called in. The dozen kids were ages twelve to fifteen. Death was too kind for Ford and the people behind the despicable trade. The Feds weren’t too happy that they didn’t get the kingpin they were after, but before we launched this operation, we’d all agreed that no life was worth collateral damage. And seeing the smiles on those children’s faces, knowing they were going to be returned to their parents gave our mission more meaning. It made me think of Ash and Whit, and how their future would be better without men like Ford.

Kelly and Alana appeared beside Kelso.

“You’re not coming back with us, detective?” my wife asked.

“Nope. Need to clean up the mess here.” Kelso sighed.

“Sure you don’t need me?” Bristow asked from behind me. He was packing up the equipment for Dmitry. We were surprised the Ukrainian left the technology for our safekeeping, but we had a feeling it wasn’t the last time we’d see him.

“Nah, go on home,” Kelso said, then he stilled. “Shit. Can one of you call Garrison and check on Nadia?”

Apparently, before Dmitry fired the rocket launcher, Nadia had groaned in pain, and Garrison immediately cut their feed. The excitement was probably too much for a woman on the verge of giving birth. Knowing G, it wasn’t his idea, and he was probably gnashing his teeth at having his very pregnant wife under so much stress.

We were all married to stubborn women. Must be the requirement to be with men like us.

Bristow took over driving since I almost got blown to pieces. My eyes tracked the sisters sitting despondently in the couch seats of the RV with their hands clasped and staring into space.

I made a quick call to Garrison, not expecting him to pick up, and left a voicemail that we were all good and heading back. I noticed a missed call from Declan. I didn’t even bother checking his message and called him.

He picked up on the second ring.

“You guys good?” he said.

“A little battered.”

“Yeah, my wife just got off the phone with Kelso. Jesus, man, you and McGrath were lucky to escape in one piece.”

“Yeah.” It was sheer luck I picked the right room to take cover.

“Garrison?”

“Nadia is in labor.”

“You guys heading out there?”

“Soon.” He gave me the hospital info and ended the call.

I tossed my phone on the dashboard.

Bristow shot me a brief glance. “Well?”

“G’s about to become a dad.”

“Straight to LA then?”

“Yeah. He could use moral support.”

We both exchanged hearty chuckles, the type we hadn’t shared since the attack on the McGraths. It was liberating as well as a promise of a future. Bristow cocked his head toward the women.

I sighed and got up. I didn’t know what to tell Kelly and Alana. Especially Alana. She had her brother for all of two minutes before he disappeared in a chopper.

I sat across from them and addressed Kelly. “Nadia’s in labor.”

A smile broke through the melancholy of her face. “Trust her to hang on until the last minute.”

“Yeah, keeps a badass like Garrison on his toes.” I nodded at Alana. “How are you holding up?”

“Physically, I’m fine,” Alana said shortly.

“Maybe we should have a doctor—” Kelly started.

“I’m fine,” she snapped. “I gave them so much hell the first day they left me alone. It’s not the first time I had to deal with lowlifes. It was a walk in the park compared to the scum I have to deal with in New York.” She was breathing heavily and I wondered if I should’ve just kept my mouth shut rather than have Alana go on another tear. “What I want to know is when I’ll see Callum again.” She directed the question at me.

“I have no say in that.”

“What do you mean you have no say? You’re CIA.”

“Alana,” Kelly said. “That doesn’t mean he knows. I already told you. Information is compartmentalized to prevent leaks. Callum will come to us when he’s ready, and he’s counting on us to keep this a secret until he is.”

Alana’s eyes filled with tears, her cheeks flushed, and her nose flared. “And when is that? Another five years?”

“Isn’t it enough to know he’s alive?” Kelly said.

“Easy for you to say! You spent days with him.”

I shouldn’t interfere, but it pissed me off that Alana pushed this guilt on Kelly, but before I could say anything, Kelly whipped an admonishing stare in my direction as if she knew I was going to defend her. My mouth tightened. I understood where Alana was coming from because I was just as pissed when I found out Roth knew McG was alive first and I didn’t.

“I’m sorry,” Kelly told her sister. I had a feeling she’d been repeating that for a while.

“How can we face Nana and Gramps?” Alana’s voice cracked. “And what about Mom and Dad? They’re going to call the second they hear I’m back.”

“Garrison’s our best bet to know what’s going on,” I said. “But Nadia is his priority right now. We’ve already asked too much from him.”

“Kelly told me how he helped you when they attacked the house,” Alana said, then she let out another ragged exhale. “I’m not a good actress, but I’ll keep it in as much as I can.”

“Thanks, Alana.” I got up before she could interrogate me some more.


It was two a.m. when we hit LA. Declan called to tell us Nadia had delivered the baby. A unanimous decision was made in the RV that we wouldn’t miss that moment when our intrepid leader’s life changed forever. Alana was able to talk to her family, and we were able to hold off going back to the safe house for another few hours.

Giving Garrison a hard time and poking fun at his expense might snap us out of our funk.

I didn’t blame Alana for feeling angsty and unsettled. I felt the same myself. It was undoubtedly worse for her. The exhilaration of finding Callum alive was cut short with an anxiety that he would disappear again. In between heaven and hell was always worse—this limbo.

McG better not take his sweet-ass time sorting this shit out.

I wouldn’t be responsible for my wife or Alana spilling the beans to their family. The news was huge. Now that I thought about it, I was pissed at Callum that he put such a burden on his sisters.

When we arrived at the hospital, Declan and Gabby were in the waiting room talking to Migs and Ariana.

“So?” Our group strode up to them.

“Fiona, Stephen, and the rest of the MoMoS are with them now,” Declan said. The Merry Old Men of SkyeLark apartments, as they were fondly called, consisted of Nadia’s dad Stephen, and his friends, Clyde, Arthur, and Dugal.

“I just got off the phone with Kelso,” Gabby said. “He’s bummed he couldn’t be here.” She glanced at Alana who had hung back from our huddle. “Glad you’re okay.”

Alana forced a smile. “Me too.”

“When can we see the baby?” Bristow asked.

“Not sure I’m sharing her with you motherfuckers.” A voice said from the hallway.

Garrison appeared. It was disconcerting to see him in scrubs. His face was lined with exhaustion, but peace and contentment settled into those indentations too. And his eyes gleamed with unmistakable joy.

Ah, fatherhood.

“Start watching that language.” I razzed him before pulling him into a hug. “Congratulations, man.”

Back slaps, hugs, and well wishes were exchanged.

When Garrison’s eyes landed on Alana, he said, “Sorry these guys dragged you here.”

Alana emitted a brief laugh. “I don’t know if I want to be left alone with Nana and Gramps. I’m not yet used to the news that my brother is alive.”

“How’s Nadia?” I asked.

“Exhausted,” he said with a wide grin and baffled shake of his head. “But she’s deliriously happy. We’re fucking thrilled the baby’s finally here.”

Then he was at a loss for words.

I knew that feeling. My eyes met Kelly’s, and she knew exactly what I was thinking at that moment.

I experienced it twice. It was the best fucking feeling in the world.

It was what followed that would test a man’s mettle, remembering my struggles with Ash, and then more recently with Whit. Children could bring the toughest man to his knees.

I had a feeling the teenage years were going to eclipse what I’d experienced of fatherhood so far, but I was looking forward to every gray hair they’d give me to be the best dad they deserved.


Kelly

“And then everything exploded,” Bristow recounted the op.

We all piled into Nadia’s room. Ciara Elizabeth Garrison was adorable as any newborn could be. She was sleeping peacefully in the crib set up beside her mother’s bed, blissfully unaware of the people in the room.

Despite John’s protests that she needed her rest, Nadia demanded to know what happened after Dmitry fired the rocket launcher.

“Damn,” she said after Bristow told her that Blaze hid a trigger in a pack of cigarettes that blew up the house. “That man was insane if not a genius.”

“Good riddance,” Levi muttered. “He got off easy. That motherfucker.”

Nadia clasped John’s hand. “I’m glad you got them on the Fed task force investigating the Russians.”

“That explosion could be seen for miles,” Gabby said. “There were bound to be questions. It’s better to have our bases covered.” She was in one corner of the room sitting on Declan’s lap. It amused me how Levi’s friend seemed to do that at every opportunity. It was like a game between husband and wife. Sometimes Gabby got annoyed in a fond, roll-your-eyes way, of course.

“Where the blast came from would be hard to identify without satellite replay,” Bristow said. “The locals took a while to get there which was a good thing. It allowed the Feds to set up.”

“What about Callum McGrath? Is he coming in?” Nadia glanced at her husband.

Everyone looked at the man expectantly.

John barked a laugh. “Don’t look at me. That’s out of my control.”

His wife gasped. “What? That’s unprecedented.”

He wrapped his arms around her. “I’ve got my hands full right here plus my little one. She’s got strong lungs. She’s gonna be kick-ass.”

I looked at Ariana. She and Migs were on the couch in the room. “You’re next.”

“Oh, yes, please,” she groaned. “I need for this boy to come out now.”

Everyone laughed.

“Are you sleeping on a recliner?” I asked.

Migs answered with a grumbled, “She is.”

“Oh, man, so many babies,” Bristow cocked his head toward John. “Maybe your Mom should open a daycare.”

“That’s a good idea,” Declan said.

There was so much meaning to his tone that everyone took notice. Gabby’s face was the color of the room’s rose-pink walls.

“Should we tell them, babe?” Declan’s eyes gleamed.

Bristow’s face split into a shit-eating-grin. “Well I’ll be damned.”

“We already told Kelso before he left for Vegas, but … baby is due in December.”

Nadia squealed and if Garrison didn’t remind her that she’d just given birth, she might have jumped down from the hospital bed. I swooped over to give Gabby a hug.

“I’m so happy for you both.” Tears formed in the back of my eyes. “You two deserved this, so, so much.”

Gabby’s own eyes glazed. “Don’t make me cry. But thanks.”

While the guys were giving Declan a back slap and their own congratulations, mutterings of rapid-fire Spanish erupted behind us. We glanced back to see Ariana struggling to get up, glaring at her husband who had left her on the couch. “Help me up.”

Migs growled, “Babe, don’t even—”

Gabby laughed and walked over to sit beside her. “No. No. Don’t get up.”

The two hugged.

Afterwards, Ariana huffed. “I need to get you some vitamin infusions.”

“Here we go,” Declan sighed.

Levi snuck up behind me and murmured in my ear. “Want another baby?”


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