Chapter 1: Holly
HOLLY COULDN’T take her eyes off the ground below. Even though the helicopter rose to a height where she could no longer see the chaos they had caused, she couldn’t stop looking, couldn’t stop praying that her eyes had been wrong about what they had seen. Jared couldn’t be dead. “You—you killed him.” She stuttered accusingly, still in shock.
Moments earlier Griffon’s men had flown in and grabbed her from her own home, killing her friend and her husband in the process. They had forced her onto the helicopter as she tried to fight them off. She watched helplessly as they made the fatal shots that felt like a bullet went straight through her own chest.
“He can’t be dead! He can’t be dead!” she kept repeating to herself, willing it to be true and fighting back hysterics as the shock of what was happening slowly faded.
Griffon couldn’t stand to see her like this. Couldn’t stand to watch her suffer by his men’s actions, and anger flared within him. He grabbed for a headset, and slammed it down on his head, motioning for everyone else to do the same.
“I told you, no casualties!” he accused the four men who had attacked her home. “How do you expect her cooperation now? We needed this. You knew that!” He was yelling now, easily overheard above the noise of the helicopter through the headsets.
The man sitting to his right started to speak, “But sir, we weren’t prepared for a counter attack. It was supposed to be an easy grab and go. We had to shoot back...”
“I said no casualties!” Holly shuddered at the cold steel voice coming from a man she had once cared deeply for. She didn’t even recognize him in that moment. And she watched as he brought his leg up and kicked out hard against the man to his right. He grabbed thin air, looking for something to grasp. But he found nothing as he flew out the side of the open door of the helicopter, flailing as he quickly descended towards the ground. His screams were drowned out by the helicopter’s blades, but Holly’s imagination heard them loud and clear, and she couldn’t keep herself from watching until her eyes squeezed closed as he hit the ground.
As if completely unaffected, Griffon continued. “No excuses,” he told the remaining three men. “When I say no casualties, I mean no casualties. Am I understood?”
“Yes sir!” they all readily exclaimed.
Holly’s hands covered her face. She was unable to open her eyes again. She fought against the vivid images of Bubba and Jared lying on the ground as red blood stained the snow around them, and that of the AMAN flailing in desperation before splattering against the cold hard ground below. She knew they were sights she would always remember. They would haunt her, causing new, very real nightmares.
They weren’t in the air all that long, or at least, it hadn’t seemed long to Holly. But then, it also felt like an eternity had passed, so she wasn’t sure her internal clock was functioning right. The helicopter landed in a small clearing. Where? She wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but an AMAN jeep was waiting for them. Her three armed captors jumped out to quickly sweep the area, before giving an all clear for them to move.
Griffon jumped down first, then turned to offer his hand to Holly. She was so angry and disgusted with him that she couldn’t even look him in the eyes, much less take the hand that he offered. She jumped down on her own, twisting her ankle in the process.
Griffon sighed. With the helicopter shut off and the noise from it gone, he could speak in a normal tone again.
“I’m so sorry, Holly. I never meant for anyone to get hurt today. I just had to get you away from them so that we could get through everything without them constantly filling your head against me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“They were protecting you so much. They wouldn’t even let us talk alone. And I have so much to share with you.”
“You killed Bubba, Griffon. Maybe it wasn’t you who pulled the trigger, but his blood is on your hands just the same. And Jared.” She all but whispered his name. “He can’t be dead, he just can’t be. Please take me back, Griffon. I’ll do whatever you want, just let me go back and make sure he’s okay.”
“I’m sorry, Holly. I’d do anything for you, anything, but you can’t ask me this. There’s too much at stake, and they’d never let me near you again.”
“Yeah, you kind of blew any chance of that. How could you be so stupid?”
She was starting to yell as they stood in the field next to the helicopter with her captors watching from a safe distance.
“Look,” Griffon ran a hand across his hair despite it being pulled back in a ponytail, “I’m sorry about Ja—”
“Don’t you dare! He was my husband! Don’t you dare speak his name to me after what you’ve done!”
Holly had never been so angry in all her life. And she was so grief-stricken in the moment, she wasn’t sure how she was even still upright. Sheer stubbornness in the face of her enemy was the only thing keeping her from completely falling apart.
Griffon reached for her, and she pulled away.
“Fine. I said I was sorry, Holly. I can give you today to be angry with me, then you’re just going to have to get over it and suck it up. We have work to do.”
* * * * *
He grabbed her by the arm and dragged her to the waiting truck. He was furious over how everything had gone down. He knew she’d be upset with the blindsided capture, but it wasn’t supposed to be an all out attack. Why did they have to shoot back? Why did they have to kill Jared Hastings of all people? He knew they weren’t really married. Jacob Marsh had confided in him the real story behind their fake marriage. It had given him hope that Holly would not only help him, but come to see how much he still cared for her. And maybe she could love him again someday.
He had been so stunned to find her waiting for him back at AMAN headquarters, in a freaking LOP house of all places, that he didn’t really handled things well. When he came to find her after the shock wore off, he was thrown into a fight for her life. One kiss had told him she was pulling away from him. He went after her anyway, only to discover she was married to the loser and town joke, Jared Hastings. Nothing had ever shocked him more.
She had asked him to get Jacob home safely and although it cost him dearly, he did just that for her. When Jacob told him the truth about her fake marriage, it was all he could do not to run to her, but he waited and tried to be patient.
It was true that he did need her help, and time was running out for it. But a part of him had pushed forward with less thought than he should have, simply to get her away from Jared and those who would try to keep her from him. Now he was in a hot mess, and he knew it. She obviously did care about Hastings. She was clearly upset over his death, and Bubba’s, too. Henever wanted to hurt her in any way. In time, he still thought things could be okay, but he was distraught over what his mendid and the pain it was causing her.
He knew they couldn’t stay at headquarters for long. Too much danger to her there, just in the men alone. Some of them were sick bastards, and he knew it. Though the majority, he had been surprised to find, were truly good men trying to make a difference with the shitty hand they were dealt.
Holly stood there with hollow eyes staring at the ground. She refused to look at him. Sighing, he put an arm around her, expecting her to flinch away again, but when she didn’t, he gently led her to the waiting vehicle, and she went along quietly. It seemed there was no fight left in her.
Chastising himself once more for screwing things up so royally, he signaled his man in the driver’s seat to roll out. He’d take her back to his home, keep her safe, and allow her to grieve for a day, maybe two,. Then it would be time for them both to put emotions aside and get down to work.
* * * * *
Holly felt hollow inside. She hadn’t really cried yet. Her anger dissipated and she just felt completely numb. She knew a part of her would never recover from this. Griffon had taken her back to the old Virginia Tech campus. They were holed up in a small building with several rooms. It wasn’t nearly as big as the LOP house she was in before and it acutally looked more like a house. There were a few others nearby that looked similar, as well. She could see them out the window of the bedroom she knew was Griffon’s.
There was a kitchen and a couple of common area rooms in the house that she noted when they first arrived, and she suspected several bedrooms, too, given the men that came and went. Griffon had explained that only his most trusted men lived there, and that she was safe. But it didn’t matter what he said, she wasn’t coming out of that room until he forcibly removed her again or she figured out how and when to run.
Staring out the window, trying hard not to relive the sights that continued to haunt her, she jolted when the door opened.
“Holly, you have to eat,” Griffon said, coming into the room and frowning at the untouched plate he had left that morning. “Tell me what I need to do to get you to eat. It’s been two days already. This isn’t healthy. I’m worried about you.”
A lone tear rolled down her cheek, surprising her. I haven’t cried, she thought. She still couldn’t accept what her eyes had seen. In her heart, she felt that he was still alive. Wouldn’t she know it if he were dead?
She wiped away the tear and turned to Griffon. He knew she felt things deeply and tended to shut down during highly emotional times. He heard the stories of the walking-dead Holly that laid by his side after he was shot and fighting for his life. But he wasn’t prepared to actually see it firsthand. And he definitely wasn’t prepared to be the cause of it. He was genuinely worried about her.
She sighed. “I’m not really hungry.”
“You haven’t eaten anything since we arrived. It’s been almost two days. You have to eat, Holly.”
She nodded and like a robot moved over to the tray, picked up a piece of dry toast, and ate. It felt like chalk dust going down her dry throat, and she knew it was stupid to go without for so long. She vowed not to let it happen again. She asked for water, and Griffon quickly obliged.
The fog was slowly lifting, and her resolve was strengthening. She needed a plan, first and foremost. In the meantime, she would walk through the motions of doing what Griffon requested of her, biding her time for a clean escape. Death sounded like an easier and better alternative at the height of her shock, but she knew she had others back home that she was responsible for. She needed to do everything she could for them.
She sipped the water he gave her. It felt like a lump going down her parched throat. Chastising herself for being stupid, she began to formulate her plan. Once the glass was drained, she turned to Griffon.
They stared at each other awkwardly.
He broke the silence. “How are you feeling?”
“I’ll live,” she answered honestly as determination to do so slowly settled in her heart.
He smiled. “Well, I’m certainly glad to hear that.”
“What am I doing here, Griffon? It’s time you at least tell me that.”
He nodded. “There’s a lot riding on this, Holly. I’ll tell you as much as I can, but a lot of it’s confidential, and you’ll be on a need-to-know basis. Right now, I need you to get your strength up. Now that we’re communicating again, I’ll prepare for us to leave. We’ll move out tomorrow. Some things are easier to see than explain.”
She sighed. “I don’t deal well with riddles.”
“I’ll send up your lunch. Eat. Drink. Take a shower. You look like hell. Then we’ll talk.” He didn’t wait for a response before turning to leave.
His little riddles and talking without saying anything were going to drive Holly nuts, and she knew it. He did that the last time he came to her house, with the AMAN he sent to coordinate things with her. She understood the AMAN were at battle on several fronts. She understood that they believed her actions were causing internal rebellions within AMAN territory, and she understood that Griffon believed she could somehow help. But what she didn’t understand was why, or what he expected of her. Just riddles and talking in circles anytime she asked for an explanation. She needed answers. And she needed them now.
When lunch arrived, she picked at it and ate as much as she could. Her stomach growled and rumbled in both protest and thanks. In her resolve to live, she forced down every bite and fought with sheer stubbornness to not immediately throw it all back up.
Two days wasn’t nearly enough time to grieve the loss of the love of her life or even accept that he was, in fact, dead. But she’d never know for sure either way if she didn’t fight to get back to him. That would be her sole focus in life. She would do whatever it took, however long it took, to get back to Jared.
* * * * *