More about Tomorrow We Spy,
Book Three of the Spy Another Day series
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I don’t spy. Even the CIA doesn’t expect its operatives to work on their honeymoons. So every morning for the last week and a half, I’ve woken up reminding myself of three things:
- I’m married to Danny (so it’s okay to find him in bed next to me).
- I’m in Paris (so it’s okay to be in this strange apartment).
- I’m currently on vacation (so it’s okay to not be my usual paranoid self, though my station in Canada isn’t exactly an espionage hotbed).
After a dozen repetitions, it’s finally setting in. This morning I don’t even remember my “affirmations” until after I finish making breakfast for my husband with our adorable octogenarian hostess, Sylvie. She arranges the hot chocolate carafe, pain au chocolat, and fresh fruit on her tray while I load the rest of the food on mine.
“Es-tu prête, Talia?” she asks.
I smile to mask the anticipation flittering in my middle. Of course I’m ready. “Allons-y.” I lead us to the back hallway and the tornado stairs from her apartment to the one we’re renting. But my eager feet carry me up the metal steps too quickly, so I have to wait on the top landing for her. Maybe I’m not really hiding the giddy nerves over this admittedly silly breakfast-in-bed surprise.
“Je viens,” Sylvie calls. She’s coming. I glance out the lace curtains and for a second, despite all my affirmations, I forget who and where I am. A silver BMW rolls down the street, a click slower than casual. A steel cord laces around my stomach.
Watching my back every waking moment has tuned my instincts tighter than a twelve-string. The rational side of my brain can’t put the reasons into words, but something isn’t right.
No. I shake off the worry and the imaginary wire. Even if something isn’t right, it’s not my business. Not like I’m their target. Today I’m not Talia Reynolds, operations officer. I’m Talia the newlywed, and I won’t preempt someone else’s problem.
Sylvie reaches the landing and huffs, murmuring something about her knees and the November chill. She sets her tray on the finely carved table by the door, then urges me to go on. “Je vais au marché. As-tu besoin de quelque chose?” I’m going to the market. Do you need anything?
“Non, merci.” I thank her again for her help and watch her down a couple stairs to make sure she won’t fall. Once I’m sure she’s okay, I switch my heavier tray for the lighter one Sylvie carried and open the ornate paneled back door to our cozy studio apartment.
At my entrance, my husband rolls over in bed, and I take a second to soak him in, his dark brown hair just long enough to flip out behind his ears, his loving brown eyes, his amazing smile still fuzzy around the edges from sleep. Danny shoves aside the handmade coverlet and swings his feet over the side of the bed. “There you are. I was beginning to wonder if you’d been abducted.”
“Not today — don’t get up,” I rush to say. “You’ll ruin it.”
Danny pauses at the bed’s edge, one eyebrow sneaking up half an inch. “Ruin what?”
He presses his lips together to hide his amusement, eyeing the food I’m carrying. Okay, yes, it’s not much of a surprise anymore. I cross the few feet to the bed, planting one knee on the off-white bedspread for stability. I’m balancing a carafe of hot chocolate, and I really don’t want to ruin anything in this adorably dainty flat.
Danny takes the food, beaming. “You made this? For me?”
“Me and Sylvie. And her freezer.”
“My compliments to the Kenmore. And the cooks.” He sets the breakfast on his lap and leans forward for a kiss.
I oblige, but tap his tray before he gets any ideas about putting off breakfast. “Come on; we’ve been working for an hour. It’s your favorite, and it’s getting cold.”
“Okay.” A laugh lurks in his eyes, but he obeys. I can’t help practically bouncing while I wait for him to take the first bite.
He crunches into the flaky pastry and takes a second to appreciate the warm, buttery layers. “Amazing.”
“But I thought pain au chocolat was your favorite.”
“Oh yeah.” I take the plate and the pastry and settle in to enjoy the gooey chocolate inside the croissant. “Tough luck.”
Danny shakes his head, still smiling, and pours himself a mug of hot chocolate. Yeah, he knows I’m only teasing. I return the pain au chocolat to the plate and get his breakfast from the table outside the back door. One glance out the landing window shows the silver BMW still down the block.
Still not my problem. I return with the loaded tray: scrambled eggs with bacon and potatoes, lightly toasted fresh bread with melty Rocamadour cheese, and a croissant like mine, only stuffed with shaved ham and two more kinds of cheese, Emmental and chèvre.
“Whoa.” Danny sits up straighter to take the heavy tray. “You have been cooking.”
I take the other tray from his lap and scoot next to him again to enjoy my breakfast of warm semi-solid chocolate and warm liquid chocolate.
Paris in November might not be heaven, but you can’t get closer than being here with Danny. (My husband — have I mentioned that once or twice? I’ll never get tired of saying it.) Once he’s sampled and praised everything, he wraps an arm around me, pulling me closer. I lean into him, automatically settling into the spot where I just fit.
“Remind me how you say it in Finnish?” he asks. Either he likes that I speak four languages (almost five, with his help), or he likes that I finally told him the truth about them all. Either way, we’ve been through this enough he doesn’t have to explain what “it” he means.
“Rakastan sinua,” I tell him. I love you.
“Rakastan sinua,” he repeats.
I sit up to look into his eyes. “Ja minä sinuakin, ikuisesti.”
His eyebrows furrow in a tiny wince. “Did I say it—?”
“It means ‘And I you, forever.’”
The worry he’s messed up evaporates with his eye-crinkling, Talia-melting smile. My husband tilts forward to rest his forehead on mine. “Which part is ‘forever’?”
“Rakastan sinua ikuisesti,” he says.
“Good.” I give him a quick kiss then a quick tip. “Trill your tongue on the ‘r’ a little more. Three or four taps and you’ll sound like a native.”
“I’ll keep that in mind next time we’re in Finland.” He takes a bite of the ham and cheese croissant, chews, swallows, and sighs. “I think you should make breakfast every day.”
“And I think we should quit our jobs and never go home.” I punctuate my proclamation with a bite of my own buttery, flaky, chocolaty goodness.
“Eventually, we’d get tired of doing nothing—” Danny glances at me and does a double take. His gaze locks on mine and no amount of food could distract us. He moves in for a long, slow kiss, and for a few moments, he and I are the only things in my universe.
I’ve never been a giddy, giggly girl — can’t stand them — but I don’t care how silly it is to lose myself so completely in his kiss I can’t tell which way’s right. I’m on my honeymoon; I’ve earned some time to let my guard down, especially with all the stuff Danny and I have endured for my job lately. A spy may not be able to take classified documents out of the office, but sometimes work tails you home.
We needed this trip for more than a honeymoon.
Danny finally pulls back with a final peck. “You had chocolate on your lip.”
“How embarrassing.” I scoop a fingerful of chocolate from the middle of my croissant and smear it on my bottom lip. Danny’s laughing and leaning in, and I’m doing the same — until a knock sounds at our front door. I freeze and bite the chocolate off my lip, like we’ve been caught.
“It’s Sylvie,” I whisper. But even without my full voice, the doubt comes through as loud and clear as if I’d said the “right?” at the end.
“Wouldn’t she use the back way?”
“She was going to the market. Maybe she’s stopping by on the way out.”
My husband hasn’t even turned away. “Nah. Must be the wrong apartment. They’ll go away.” His lips touch mine and I’m ready to forget that knock.
Until it comes again. In the suddenly tense stillness, we lock gazes and exchange a silent conversation. Not going away. We both look, neither of us willing to let go of one another yet.
He lifts his chin and his voice to address the caller in French. “We don’t need anything today, thanks, Sylvie!”
Silence follows. With every passing second, my grip on Danny’s T-shirt grows tighter, but neither of us move, not even to breathe.
No. Nobody should be able to track me down. I’ve done my best to curb all my extra paranoid little habits on vacation — no small feat — I’m safe. But someone. Is. Here.
Could be anyone. Could be nothing.
“Monsieur Fluker?” calls a man in the hall. So much for the wrong apartment theory. And this dude’s French accent is bad. Almost as bad as this situation feels.
Danny releases me and I’m the first to ditch my tray and hit my feet. I peek out the window.
That silver BMW’s parked across the street. I squint at the windshield. I swear I can see a man with binoculars. Pointed at our building.
My stomach drops and rebounds like I took a speed bump too fast. Now it’s my problem.
Danny’s out of bed, and before I can dash across the apartment, he reaches the door. He twists the knob, angling the door to shield me from whoever’s in the hallway.
I might be rubbing off on him. Apparently I’m a bad influence.
“Quoi?” Danny asks.
“Votre femme, est-elle ici?” Is your wife here?
The skin on the back of my neck turns cold.
If I peek at the man in the hall, he’ll see me, so I watch Danny, willing him not to check my reaction. He leans a shoulder against the door, releasing the knob to wave me away.
Whoever’s on the other side of this door is bad news. I don’t abandon Danny to bad news. Ever.
“She went to the market.” Danny switches to English. “Maybe I can help you.”
“Let’s just see what she thinks about that,” the man replies, like he knows I’m here.
“Okay,” Danny says. “Leave a message, and I’ll give it to her.”
The man barks out a cynical laugh. I wish I could get a better read on him with any visual, but again if I can see him, he can see me. Danny waves me away again, more insistent.
He’s a grown man. He’s my husband. He wants to protect me. But I’m his wife — I’m a spy. I should do the protecting. I touch Danny’s hand to let him know I’ll take it from here, but he lets go of the doorknob again and plants his palm in my stomach. Stopping me.
“I need to talk to her,” Mystery Man says.
“Like I said, she isn’t here. If you don’t want to leave a message, you’ll have to come back later.” Danny gives an apologetic shrug and closes the door. Yeah, that isn’t suspicious.
“I can handle this,” I insist. (Quietly. If Mystery Man gives up and goes away, I’m not about to cry.)
Danny takes my elbow and guides me across the room to the back door. He leans close. “Go.”
“It’s probably nothing.” But my reply would probably be more convincing if I could raise my voice above a whisper.
He glances back to frown at the front door. I’m not fooling him. He opens the back door to the stairs. “If it’s nothing, then let me find out for you.”
Mystery Man knocks at the other door again. “Mr. Fluker, you’re not fooling anyone. We know she’s there.”
We? My pulse accelerates. While I’m distracted, Danny picks the precise moment to push me onto the landing. But I’m not leaving him. I turn back. “Seriously.” I pitch my tone and my eyebrows to convey stern insistence. “Let me do this, Danny.”
He cuts off my protest with a quick kiss. “I can take care of him. He’s old. And fat. I’ve made it through worse.”
Before I can argue again, he closes the stairwell door — and locks it. I try the knob, but yeah. Locked.
Fine. I can go around. On the wrought-iron spiral staircase, I roll my feet to hide my hurried escape, barely pausing to knock before heading into Sylvie’s perfectly appointed apartment. “Sylvie? J’ai oublié . . .”
My lie bounces off the creamy paneled walls and the parquet floor. No Sylvie. Wonderful. I start for the door out of her apartment, but I’m not even past the elegant dining table when Sylvie trots out from the bedroom, perching her perfect little hat on her perfectly coiffed, perfectly white hair. She’s wearing gloves. Gloves. This apartment’s still in 1964.
“Oui, ma chérie?”
Sylvie doesn’t speak a word of English, and I’ve only been focusing on French for a few weeks, so communication between us is comical. I’m not in a joking mood. I need to go, but adrenaline isn’t helping my language processing. How do I say I locked myself out? I send my brain through the paces and spit out a question to bide time. “Allez-vous au marché?” Are you going to the market?
“Mais oui. Veux-tu venir avec moi?” Sylvie invites me along but doesn’t wait for an answer. She bustles off for the bedroom while launching into a lecture, probably about my disregard for my health by wearing nothing warmer than long sleeves in the fall. (It’s cold, but we live in Canada. This is practically Indian summer.)
The minute she’s gone, I’m ready to race out the door and up the main stairs to get this guy away from Danny. But before I turn, footsteps carry through the ceiling above me. I look up, like I can see through the embossed ceiling tiles. A second elephantine set of footsteps tracks after the first. No way that’s Danny. A third set patters — no, that’s my heartbeat racing in my ears.
The plodding steps track across the ceiling toward the back stairs. He’s coming. I stare at Sylvie’s door to the stairwell, not daring to move.
“Y a-t-il un problème?” Sylvie’s voice comes from behind me. Is there a problem?
I pivot back with a smile. “Bien sûr que non.” Of course not. Little conversational phrases go a long way in a foreign language. I can fall back on them 90% of the time.
She holds out a black wool coat. Great — a disguise. I accept it without complaint, too distracted by the footsteps to protest anyway. Even Sylvie, who must’ve tuned out noise from her guests upstairs, stares at the ceiling to follow the heavier steps to the door. He’s leaving.
Where do I go? Back to Danny, to make sure he’s all right? (Not that there’s been a single sound to indicate otherwise — no time to freak out.) Or tail the footsteps out of the building, and make sure this guy isn’t a threat?
Either way, I need to leave this apartment. “Allez-y,” I say to Sylvie, gesturing for her to go ahead in case my French is failing me.
Her lips pinch and her gaze tracks to the coat she loaned me. What’s the problem?
Sylvie tells me: “Ce manteau ne suffit pas.”
The coat’s not enough? I’m in a hurry, woman. But arguing with her will chew through more time. My French falls into place faster — and we live in Canada, so I know the word for scarf. “Un foulard?”
She smiles indulgently at my efforts, then pulls a scrap of fabric from a side table. Oh. Right — Danny warned me about that Quebecism. At home, foulard means a knit scarf. Here in France, it’s the other kind of scarf, and the black and white polka-dotted one Sylvie hands me is fashionable and lightweight. (And somehow enough for this weather?)
Whatever. Let’s go. “Merci.” I pocket it and walk her to the front door of her apartment.
Am I hurrying to check on Danny or chase Mystery Man? I urge Sylvie to go ahead, pointing upstairs to imply I’m checking on Danny. Sylvie heads out, but before I decide which way to go, I hear the back staircase vibrating under someone’s footsteps. Got to be Danny. I crane my neck around the door to verify that.
Sure enough, his plaid flannel pajama pants appear on the staircase. I glance back at Sylvie down the hall — and the heavyset, middle-aged dude jogging to catch up to her.
No, no, no. Dragging an innocent civilian into whatever this is?
“Bonjour,” Mystery Man greets Sylvie. He points at the ceiling. “Vos voisins?”
The neighbors. He’s asking about us. I don’t dare breathe.
Sylvie looks at him askance. “Pardon?”
Yes, his accent is indecipherable, but I can’t have her engage with him. Sylvie has no idea this guy might be a threat or that he might have backup waiting outside. I’ve got to help her.
“Talia?” Danny calls quietly.
I make eye contact with him. “I have to go. Start packing.”
“He’s after Sylvie.” And it’s my fault. Danny is safe. Now I can’t let Sylvie go out defenseless, unawares, alone, to face this guy and his crew. I have to protect her. I grab a pair of big round sunglasses from the table by the door. “If they come back, ditch our stuff.”
“Wait—” Danny tries, but I’m already jogging down the hall. Danny will only go so far in his PJs. I slide on the sunglasses and tie the polka dot scarf over my long, dark ponytail. Bobby pins from my pocket tuck my bangs underneath the scarf.
Sylvie and Mystery Man took the elevator, so I dash down the stairs. They’re already at the front doors when I reach street level.
I slide into my cover and the saunter I’ve seen on Parisian streets for over a week. By the time I reach the sidewalk, Mystery Man has peeled off, leaving Sylvie alone. She must not have said anything to keep him interested. I release a breath. Maybe she’s fine. Maybe I can go back to Danny. Maybe we can figure out what’s going on. But first, I have to be sure Sylvie’s safe.
I scan the street, doubly grateful for the sunglasses. Paris isn’t blinding in November, but as long as I’m facing the right direction, you can’t tell where I’m actually spying. I’m free to search the area for anything or anybody out of place.
Nobody catches my eye, no actions screaming “surveillance,” but you never know. I note the cars on the street, the BMW and the same little European numbers we’ve seen every morning, all stationary. Sylvie’s halfway down the block before I hear the engine rattling behind us.
I toss my ponytail, turning enough to check my six o’clock. That silver BMW pulls out, coming my way. My heart freezes, but I purposefully don’t look at the driver — or at least don’t look like I’m looking at the driver. I can’t tell much as he cruises past, other than he’s wearing a suit. He heads the same direction as Sylvie, toward the market.
So much for getting back to Danny.
Yeah, all that stuff I said about not being a spy? I take it back.
More about Tomorrow We Spy,
Book Three of the Spy Another Day series
Join my mailing list and be the first to hear when my next book is out!