I take a deep breath, attempting to calm my nerves. I shouldn’t be this nervous. But I’ve never knocked on this door before and frankly, this isn’t the way I imagined it happening.
The woman on the other side hates me.
Bracing myself, I rap my knuckles against the door. I hear someone moving inside the condo, a shuffling of feet, a shadow appears under the door as they peek through the peep hole and release the locks. The door swings open.
And there she is.
“Garrison.” Her flat tone is not encouraging.
“Evening.” Suspecting it is futile, I still attempt my most charming smile. I work my dimple to my fullest advantage.
“What are you doing here?”
My dimple did not work on this one.
I’m always a little taken by surprise at how hostile she is toward me. The first night we met, three years ago, she had seemed just as curious and aware of me as I was of her. I still don’t know what had changed on her end.
Giving up my attempt to charm her, one of many failed attempts over the last three years, I confess the reason for my surprise visit.
“I’m looking for Ethan. Erik thought you might know where he was.”
She looks up at me, her face inscrutable, and I’m an expert on reading expressions. Literally. It’s my job. I study micro expressions and interrogation techniques for the FBI. Part of Sloane’s fascination for me is the fact that for whatever reason she is incredibly hard to read.
“Why?” she demands.
“Why do I want to see him or why did Erik think you would know where he is?”
“Why do you want to see him? I know the other.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose, feeling a headache coming on. “Nothing that concerns you. Do you know where he is? I’m in kind of a hurry.”
Sloane hesitates, I see a brief flash of indecision in her eyes before she pulls the veil back down.
“Can’t you just tap in to one of your spy satellites and find him?”
I smirk at her dig. “That’s the CIA,” I inform her.
“How sad for you.”
I can’t help but laugh. Her lips twitch as she fights her own grin.
“He’s here,” she admits reluctantly. She glances over her shoulder into her home. “He’s in the shower.” She hesitates another heartbeat, then moves aside so I can enter. “He should be out in a second. I’ll tell him you’re here.”
I follow her into the living room, taking in the details of her space. It feels like Sloane. It’s colorful but tasteful, obsessively organized, allowing only small glimpses into her personality. I hear lowered voices down the hall she’d disappeared but I can’t make out any of the words. Without thinking about it I pick up a framed photo of Sloane and her little sister.
“Where is Quinn?” I ask as she reappears, returning the frame to it’s place.
“She’s a counselor at her summer camp this year. She’ll be in the Boundary Waters until the middle of August.” Her chilly reception thaws a bit as she speaks about her younger sibling.
Conversation exhausted, we stand awkwardly across the room from each other.
She is so beautiful.
I take full advantage of this rare opportunity to study her up close. I sense I’m making her uncomfortable, although she’s doing her best to hide the fact. I have slowly discovered that her ability to guard her reactions diminishes the longer she’s in my presence. This rare ability only adds to her appeal for me. I have to work to figure out what she’s thinking, which is scarce in my life. I’ve obviously caught her relaxing at home, maybe even getting ready for bed. She’s wearing a pair of snug black yoga pants and an over-sized white t-shirt. Her wavy blond hair is in a loose braid, wisps falling around her face. And her feet are bare with dark polish on the toes. She has cute feet.
This is bad.
When I start to notice little details of a woman’s anatomy like cute feet, well…. My gaze travels back up to meet her eyes. She blushes under my scrutiny, turning away abruptly and pouring herself a glass of wine. She doesn’t bother to offer me any.
Perversely, I’m kind of glad I can see any reaction. Three years ago, the night we met, she had been attracted to me too, I was sure of it. Before she started to hide herself from me, I saw the interest in her eyes.
Mercifully, Ethan enters the room, his hair still wet and shirt still unbuttoned. He pauses to kiss Sloane’s cheek on his way to the bar she had set up in the corner. “Garrison. You’re lucky you caught me, I’m leaving again in the morning.” Glass in hand ,he finally turns to acknowledge me. “I get the impression you’re here in an official capacity?”
When I talked to Erik earlier, trying to track down Ethan, he’d seemed confident that Sloane and Ethan weren’t a couple but seeing how comfortable he is in her space I wonder. It bothers me more than I care to admit.
“I am. Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”
Sloane crosses her arms stubbornly. “My place, Garrison. I’m not going anywhere.”
“It’s fine with me if she stays.” Ethan leans his hip against the bar, crossing his legs at the ankle. Utterly at ease. At least on the surface. I see the tension he’s trying to disguise. “What’s up?”
I study Ethan carefully. Despite the fact I consider his twin brother a good friend, Ethan has always rubbed me the wrong way.
He’s a master at deception, I even suspect he’s had training beyond what a partner in a security firm normally would. I sense he knows far more about the FBI and intelligence community than he lets on. And he always seems to be testing me somehow, like I’m in a perpetual audition for some unknown assignment.
It doesn’t help he’s showering in Sloane Reed’s bathroom.
I’ve never had reason to look into my suspicions. They just exist. I wonder if this will be what triggers an end to our unspoken and unstable truce.
We first meet Josh here.