Surveillance. Special Agent Zach Saint shifted against the gray upholstery. He’d already done time in surveillance squads, but thanks to court dates for their regular surveillance, here he was again. Two hours and thirty-seven minutes of sitting in downtown Chicago, trying to seem inconspicuous in their car, staring at nothing, waiting for Irish terrorists.
Today, they weren’t so much terrorists as regular people running errands.
Zach rubbed his hands together, though staying warm was a lost cause. Next to Zach, Supervisory Special Agent Xavier Mason sipped his coffee without taking his eyes off the street. “See the Bulls game?”
“Nah.” College ball was more his thing. “They win?”
Xavier snorted. “Fourth loss in a row.”
Zach suppressed a wince. That record took him back to his own college team. He scanned the sidewalk down the block. The Canavans were still in the brick tailor shop. Even terrorists had to shop. And eat. And bank.
For two hours and — he checked the dash clock — forty minutes.
Sometimes the hardest part of surveillance was staying awake.
Zach rubbed his eyes, refocused on the street, and continued the world’s slowest conversation. “Think they’ll make the playoffs?”
“Not at this rate.”
Down the block, the tailor shop’s wrought iron security gate swung open. Zach grabbed the binoculars from the console between the seats. A stout woman with dark auburn hair and a taller, craggy-faced man stepped out of the building. The target couple. Zach reached for the keys in the ignition. “Eyes on.”
Xavier raised his camera and peered through the viewfinder, sweeping the lens across the scene. “Wait. I’ve only seen pictures, but isn’t that your . . . Molly?”
What? No. Last he’d heard, the FBI assigned Molly to Arizona. Zach swung the binoculars to follow Xavier’s line of sight.
He spotted her in front of the bright yellow burger shack at the corner: tall, beautiful, dark curls that bounced with her springing step. Yep, definitely Molly, but she hadn’t been “his” for a long time. Seeing her hit him like a no-look pass straight to the gut.
Molly rounded the corner, heading toward their target. What was she doing here?
Maybe visiting her parents. Zach held his breath. If she passed the Canavans, he could imagine this hadn’t happened. He wouldn’t have to see or talk to her, and he could keep doing his job and pretending to forget her.
But could it be a coincidence his Irish ex-girlfriend was walking right toward Irish terrorists? Zach slid the binoculars toward the target couple. Still headed Molly’s direction.
Every step brought them closer together — and pulled Zach’s ribs tighter. Ten steps apart. She passed the nail shop. Five. They passed Subway. Molly came even with the Canavans, and time seemed to stop.
Molly kept going. The Canavans didn’t acknowledge her. Nothing. Finally they passed one another.
She was safe.
Before Zach could release a breath, Grace Canavan stopped short and turned back. And Molly did the same, turning to the target couple.
So much for the day going well. With the way things worked in the Bureau — and his life — Zach figured he might see Molly again. But he didn’t think it’d be while she was talking to suspected terrorists.
Much as he wanted to act like he’d never seen her, no way would he leave her out there, alone and unprotected. Urgency pushed him into action. Zach reached for the door handle. “You drive.”
Xavier caught Zach’s sleeve without taking his eyes from his camera. “Do not approach, Z.”
“She’s got no idea who she’s dealing with.” He knocked X’s hand away and stepped out of the car into the sharp cold. He needed a heavier jacket. He needed a cover.
He paused at the street vendor on the corner to buy two pretzels — and buy himself one more minute to pick an identity, someone with a right to jump into their conversation, or at least something to tip Molly off that this was bad. She might’ve done an Irish step dance on his heart, but he couldn’t leave her alone with terrorists.
The target couple was too busy chatting to notice him until he slung an arm around Molly like she’d never left. He finally settled on a cover: deep South. “Here ya go, darlin’,” he drawled.
Molly looked up at him with a spark of surprise in her deep blue eyes. Did she have to be even more beautiful than he remembered? She hesitated a moment before smiling and accepting one of his pretzels. Good recovery.
Zach let go of Molly only long enough to offer the target couple his hand. “Jason Tolliver.”
“Is this your man?” the stout woman gushed in a thick Ulster accent, clapping her hands over one of Zach’s.
“That’s me.” Zach grinned and hoped he covered the flinch at “your man,” although he couldn’t be sure whether Molly had mentioned a boyfriend. Either that, or Grace was guessing, or maybe using the Irish equivalent of “that guy.”
“Brilliant.” Grace beamed at him. “You’re a lucky one, are you not?”
“I know it. Now, who’re y’all?”
The woman shook his hand again, even more emphatically, her dark auburn bob bouncing from the effort. “Grace Canavan.”
“Ed.” The man gave a curt head shake, a standard Irish greeting, his weathered face impassive.
“We’re friends of Molly’s parents.” Grace turned to her husband. “When did we last see the Ryans?”
Ryans? Molly’s last name was Malone. Zach kept his expression unchanged, and his mind on his mission: get Molly out safe. “Great to meet y’all, but we really gotta run.” He slipped his arm from Molly’s shoulders to take her hand.
“Actually, Jason, we were just catchin’ up,” Molly said. He’d forgotten how much he loved her Dublin lilt — but not so much her talking with terrorists. “It’s been — what, twenty years?”
“We did see you only a few years ago, in Dublin.”
Despite her gloves muffling the sound, Molly snapped like you’ve got me there. “How could I forget?”
Zach picked up on a tiny undertone of tension in her voice and shifted closer. If she insisted on staying, the least he could do was protect her.
Down the street, the church bells of Holy Name Cathedral pealed. The place Zach had begun his FBI career in Chicago was giving him the perfect excuse. “Molly, darlin’, we’re gonna be late for Mass.” He met her gaze, trying to urge her along without attracting the Canavans’ suspicions.
“Jason.” Each syllable was a prelude of practiced patience. “Surely five minutes won’t hurt.”
His stomach dropped an inch. If she was this set on talking to them, could she know who they were? And if so, what was going on here?
He wasn’t about to be the last to know. “Hey,” he said, “why don’t you get their number and we all can catch up later?”
A heartbeat of silence, and mettle flashed in Molly’s eyes. He’d been on the receiving end of her determination more than once — when she was the one trying to keep him safe.
Wait. That wasn’t happening here. Right?
Then Molly smiled. “Sure now.” She released his hand and got her phone to trade numbers with Grace. “I’ll be seein’ you soon, I hope?”
“Aw, sure look it,” Grace said. Which didn’t mean yes or no, but probably meant no if she wasn’t saying yes.
“We’ll give y’all a call,” Zach said, like Molly hadn’t tried to cut him out. “See ya.” As soon as her phone slid into her purse, Zach took her hand and tugged her away. They walked to the end of the block, eating their quickly cooling, over-salted pretzels in silence.
He had to say something about what he’d done. Using a cover had to be a huge red flag. Her insistence on talking to them certainly sent him the same warning.
Of course, the things they hadn’t said today were only the tip of a much bigger iceberg.
They rounded a corner, and Molly withdrew her hand from his. She shook a few wind-whipped snowflakes from her dark curls, like that was the reason she’d pulled away.
What did he expect? She didn’t want to hold hands with the guy who’d dumped her six months ago. Zach stuffed his hand into his pocket.
Molly finally spoke. “Watchin’ the Canavans, are we, ‘Jason’?”
“Yes, we are. They could have your badge for consorting with suspected terrorists.”
She raised an eyebrow, but didn’t look at him. “Think this is all a coincidence?”
Zach had sensed something else was going on but — “You’re here on assignment.”
Why hadn’t anyone warned him?
“Naturally. Headin’ back to the office?”
“Yep.” He led her across the street and tossed the wrapper from his pretzel in a trash can.
She fished in her purse for her phone. “I’ll have my parents meet us there.”
Could her parents be the Ryans? Though he’d known Molly for over a year, he still had a lot to learn.
But he’d already figured that out the hard way.
He walked on, pretending it made no difference that he was once again inches from the one that got away — no, the one he’d had to let go.