Woo Hoo! TGIF! How about five pages of Retreat? It’s a dirty one…hee hee…go menage!
“I know that, Jon, and believe me, I wouldn’t be here if there was any other way.”
Jon Walker sighed, turning his back on his former boss, Reilly—his mentor, his conscience and the bane of his existence the last fifteen years.
Walking around his desk, he glanced out the window of his classroom at the beautiful autumn afternoon. The students had gone home for the day, yet reminders of their presence could be still be seen as he stood amidst the skewed rows of desks, forgotten books and scattered love notes left behind. He tried to rekindle the feeling of contentment he’d felt an hour earlier, before Reilly crash-landed back into his life. Since being hired a year ago as a senior English teacher, he’d never stopped relishing the idea that he had finally found his niche in life.
And now, five years after his retirement from the Undercover Intelligence Agency, he was being dragged back into the hell he’d barely escaped with his life and sanity intact. Jon had given ten years of his life to the UIA, a government-sanctioned organization known only to those inWashingtonwith the highest level of security clearance. The UIA—unlike its sister agencies—operated on both home and foreign soil, gathering information and diffusing difficult situations by any means necessary. By any means.
“No.” He could already feel the invisible bonds he thought he’d severed, tightening around his chest like a vise.
“Jon,” Reilly said softly, “just hear me out.”
“Dammit Reilly!” He turned quickly, striding back to his ex-boss to point an angry finger in his face. “There is nothing you can say that would change my mind. I’m done with that life. Done! Do you hear me? This is where I belong now. This is where I want to be.”
“The cult is back,” Reilly whispered.
And with those four words, he felt his blood run cold. “That’s impossible. Rex is dead. He’s been dead for three years and he was rotting in a prison cell a dozen years prior to that. There’s no one left who would—”
“No one?” Reilly posed his statement as a question, though he knew it was merely rhetorical. They both knew there was another.
“Cassandra?” Jon read Reilly’s chagrined expression and shook his head in denial. “My mother? You’re crazy. Cassandra barely escaped with her freedom last time. She would never, I mean… Christ Reilly, what could she possibly hope to gain?”
“What did Cassie ever hope to gain? Money, power, sex.”
He felt a cold laugh pass his lips. “You better hope she never hears you calling her ‘Cassie’. Sort of like uttering Voldemort in Hogwarts.”
Reilly didn’t share his laughter, but Jon continued anyway. “Only thing she hates worse than being called ‘Cassie’ is ‘Mother’.” Jon shook his head and walked back to the windows. “Find someone else.”
“I have,” Reilly answered coolly. “Unfortunately, this mission calls for a team.”
“Night? You’ve signed Night up for this?”
His mentor smirked. “Actually, he signed himself up.”
“Fuck that!” Jon exploded with a pent-up anger he’d spent years struggling to keep under control. “Un-sign him, Reilly. He’s my best friend. You can’t send him back to that.”
“Night was no fan of Cassie. You know that, Jon.”
He knew the man’s words were true and he was hard-pressed not to admit to the same disdain. If a more egocentric and cold-hearted woman than Cassandra Walker existed, he hoped to hell he never met her. Simply knowing Cassandra still lived as a free woman, rather than locked up behind bars, was enough to drive him insane. God help her if they ever met on the street because he wasn’t sure he would be able to keep himself from committing matricide.
Reilly remained quiet for a few moments, obviously attempting to give him a chance to digest the unsavory news he’d just delivered. He studied his mentor’s face and discovered the stress of Reilly’s job was finally catching up to him, noting the deep-set lines around his mouth and eyes that had not been so pronounced when he left the agency. A deep crease between his worried eyes told Jon his former boss spoke the truth. Reilly felt no pleasure in dragging him back into the cesspool of his younger life.
“It doesn’t make any sense.” He crossed the room and sat in one of the student desks, resting his head in his hands.
“None of the sick shit Cassie ever pulled made sense, Jon.” Reilly stood behind the podium at the front of the room. If Jon hadn’t been so angry, he would have been amused by how easily they reverted back to their natural states. For nearly half his life, the man standing before him had been his teacher. Whether the lessons involved how to fire an AK-47, how to break into an impenetrable fortress or even how to control his hot-blooded temper, Reilly never stopped instructing him.
“Why now?” He was genuinely perplexed by Reilly’s news. “Rex has been dead for years. Cassandra made a clean break from the Commitment Church and if your sources are correct, she managed to abscond with more than a lion’s share of the money. She’s an incredibly wealthy woman. Besides which, you and I both know she never bought into Rex’s religious mumbo jumbo.”
“I can’t tell you why, Jon. Only that she has moved back up on the mountain and she’s reorganizing. Night’s doing a bit of reconnaissance up there already. He could probably tell you more about the specifics of what’s happening.”
“Take him off the case.”
“No. And he wouldn’t thank you for asking me to. He’s still one of my top operatives and this case is priority one. No one at the bureau wants a repeat of the last time.”
“Dammit. I know Night. He may seem cool as a cucumber on the outside, but I know what this case will do to him. He can’t go back there.”
“Are you sure it’s Night who can’t go back, Jon? It sounds to me like it’s you who can’t face it all again.”
“I didn’t drag him out of that godforsaken place only to have you drag him back in!”
“You dragged him out?” Reilly’s usually calm voice rose slightly. “That’s funny. I remember it a slightly different way. I seem to recall Night dragging you out.”
Any response he could have given to Reilly’s astute comment seemed to become lodged in the ever-growing lump in his throat. He was saved from having to acknowledge Reilly’s comment when his mentor spoke again.
“Why did you come back here?” Reilly asked, shocking him with the abrupt change in topic.
“I’ve never understood why you returned here. You could have settled anywhere in the world. Why here? You never considered this place your home and after all that happened on that mountain, I would think this would be the last place on earth you’d set up housekeeping.”
Jon sighed. He had asked himself the same question every day since returning to this sleepy southern town. He wasn’t sure there was an answer. When he’d retired from the agency and returned to college to get his degree in English education—always in the back of his mind—he knew this was where he would settle down to teach.
Penance, perhaps? For a decade, he and Night had dedicated themselves to the agency, to ridding the world of villains like Rex Thomas. When he’d felt too tired to continue to do that job to the best of his ability, he’d turned to teaching. But the cult of his childhood had played a role in every decision of his adult life and coming back here was no different.
Apparently deciding he wasn’t going to answer his question, Reilly changed the subject again. “Regardless of your feelings on the matter, the fact remains your mother is operating some sort of underground organization again. Back up on that mountain.” Reilly pointed out the window of the classroom and Jon’s eyes followed the line to the colorful mountain range that served as the backdrop to his lessons every school day.
“Christ.” Jon ran his hands through his shaggy black hair. He needed to get it trimmed but hadn’t found the time. His nights were spent planning lessons and grading writing assignments—a pastime others would consider dull in the extreme, but which appealed to him greatly. He was tired of a life lived on the razor-sharp edge of a blade, every minute spent in the struggle to kill or be killed. He couldn’t go back to that—regardless of the fact this case wasn’t simply a case, but his past coming back to haunt him once again. “I can’t help you.”
Jon’s temper got the best of him again and he felt his grip on calmness slip away. “No, don’t. Don’t say another damn word. I’ve said no and I won’t change my mind.”
“Do you think I wanted to come back here? To disturb this life you’ve created? I’ve never wanted you to have anything else, but how can you close your eyes to what’s happening? What will happen? The seventeen-year-old boy I pulled out of that rubble would never turn his back—”
“Enough! I’m not him! Not anymore.” He rose, stalked to his teacher’s desk and pounded his hand on the hard surface in frustration as the door to his classroom opened.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” a soft voice said from the hallway. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Carly.” Jon crossed the room to where she hovered just outside the door.
Carly James, the school secretary, was the first friend he’d made after returning to Westchester to teach atLowellHigh School. The cute brunette had caught his eye on his first day at his new job. She simply walked up to him, introduced herself and in twenty mind-boggling minutes, gave him such a thorough and accurate overview of his new place of employment he was surprised she wasn’t working for the UIA.
“I wanted to see if you were going to the football game tonight, but I can see you’re busy,” she said.
“No, I’m not busy at all,” Jon replied smoothly, despite the fact he felt as if his two worlds were colliding and he was helpless to stop it. “Carly James, this is Mr. Reilly, my, uh, my…” As far as Carly was concerned, he’d spent the first decade of his adult life working in advertising. After growing bored with that, he’d decided to become a teacher. His personnel file confirmed that lie.
“Old colleague from his advertising days,” Reilly finished as Jon watched him produce the charming grin that came easily to the old man when in the presence of beautiful women. Reilly—whose age was a mystery to Jon—could still turn the ladies’ heads. At six foot five, the man was a towering presence with salt and pepper hair and piercing blue eyes that seemed to laser straight through anyone who stood in his way. In the past, Jon had emulated that same cocky smile, but seeing it flashed for Carly’s benefit left him feeling like smashing a fist into his mentor’s face.
Shocked by his response, Jon cleared his throat. “Carly is the secretary here.”
“Secretary?” Reilly reached over to take her outstretched hand. Rather than return her intended handshake, he raised her hand and placed a light kiss on the knuckles. Jon could see his romance-reading friend was entranced by the gesture. “Any chance I could steal you away? I’m looking for a new secretary.”
“Are you really?” she asked.
“No, but I could be,” Reilly teasingly answered.
She laughed at his corny joke and again, Jon felt an irrational streak of jealousy attack. “Careful, old man, she’s young enough to be your daughter. Wouldn’t want you to have a heart attack.”
“Jon!” she chastised, clearly surprised by his sudden rudeness.
“Oh, don’t mind him, Ms. James. Or is it Mrs. James?” Reilly’s interest in Carly was now fully engaged thanks to Jon’s revealing, if foolish, comment.
“Ms. I’m divorced.”
Jon sensed the undertones in his mentor’s short response. Clearly, the only person in the room unaware of his less-than-platonic interest in Carly was Carly herself.
Her divorce became final the summer he was hired. When he had first arrived, he’d wanted a simple life devoid of complications, and she’d offered that. Over the past year, they’d filled a void in each other’s lives. He was her handyman, spending a couple Saturdays a month helping with the repairs that never seemed to run out in her old house. When he needed help typing up a test—a skill he’d never mastered—she would do it for him. However, lately he’d found his feelings for her moving beyond simple friendship, despite the fact she seemed content with their “best friends” status.
“I can see you have plans for the evening.” Reilly interrupted his thoughts. “I’ll give you time to consider my proposal and touch base with you later.”
“Proposal?” she asked.
“Property he’s selling,” Jon lied smoothly. “He has some land he thought I might be interested in buying and he invited me to drive out and take a look at it.”
Carly’s eyes widened. “I had no idea you were looking to buy property. How exciting. Where is this land?”
Before he could reply, Reilly answered for him. “Up on Olson Mountain, just past Lindsey Lane.”
Jon jerked at his response. The Commitment Church had owned and operated a fair amount of land on Olson Mountain. Because of poor roads and steep inclines, the area was nearly inaccessible to anyone the cult wished to keep out. Clearly, Reilly hadn’t given up hope that he would take the case and was dangling more information in front of him despite his refusal.
“Oh it’s beautiful out there. I think the school library has several house-plan books, Jon. You should check them out.”
“I haven’t bought the land yet and I didn’t say anything about building a house.” The idea of lying to Carly did not sit easily on Jon’s shoulders.
“I have to be going.” Reilly picked up his jacket. “I’ll be in touch with you later. Perhaps we can drive out to look at the property together—and Ms. James, it was a pleasure to meet you. I hope we run into one another again before I return home.”
“So do I.” She smiled as Reilly made his way to the door of the classroom.
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