Of all my projects and universes, this is the one I get the most requests on (after, of course, Duke and Viola's universe). I adore the characters and the storyline and everything about this, so I made it my goal to expand on it in as many words as I could write in one day. There may be more for Callie and Micah and Jenna later, but for now, this is where their story ends and begins again.
There was something going on between her brother and Micah Harkness. Nothing romantic, of course, but they were keeping secrets. Not that secrets were anything new to Callie Quinn. One didn't get very far in the intelligence community without being intimately acquainted with secrets.
Callie busied herself with setting up a coffee tray and kept one eye on the closed study door. She and Jonas were exceptionally close, had been since their parents were murdered when she was thirteen. Her brother was as easygoing as the head of a well-respected mercenary agency could be, but he had two firm rules: he never brought work home, and there were no secrets between the Quinn siblings when they were out of the office. So why, then, was he having a closed-door meeting with one of his best agents on a Saturday afternoon?
Her hand drifted to her left temple. The swelling had gone down and the bruises had faded away, but a lingering pain remained. She couldn't remember the car chase she'd been in or the assignment she'd been on when she'd been injured. That alone wouldn't have been worrisome, but she couldn't remember the preceding fourteen years either. There were bits and flashes that came, but each one sent a wave of fiery pain spiking through her head and the neurologist warned against pushing herself to remember.
She rotated her shoulder and reached into the cabinet for the coffee mugs. The gunshot wound to her shoulder had healed long before the head trauma. She'd been on Jonas-enforced bed rest for weeks after a month-long stint in the hospital. Even her PT had been done in the basement gym. She was ready to get out of the house.
The study door opened. Callie set the mugs on the counter and stuffed her hands in her pockets so that Jonas's keen eyes wouldn't catch their fine tremble. He'd misinterpret the reason and send her right back to bed. It wasn't pain or muscle weakness that made her tremble. It was Micah Harkness. Had been since she'd first laid eyes on the gruff, broad-shouldered but soft-spoken former Special Forces.
"I made coffee," she said as soon as Jonas stepped out into the hallway. His honey blond hair, the same shade she'd inherited from their mother, was liberally laced with silver and there were lines on his face. She felt a pang of regret at not remembering the years of laugh lines, and her heart ached at the evidence of too much stress. How much of that stress was her fault?
Over Jonas's shoulder, she saw Micah's lips quirk up in a small smile. "Thanks, Cal. You make the best coffee."
Her stupid, silly heart tripped. Heat flooded her cheeks at the way the nickname sounded coming from his lips. As far as her memory was concerned, they were friends, sort of, but nowhere near the comfortable familiarity Micah displayed. Yet another piece of the puzzle she was missing.
The three of them sat around the small, round table in the breakfast nook. Flanked by her brother and Micah, Callie sipped the hot, bitter coffee and basked in the late March sunshine. The large window offered a view of the garden she'd started when she'd moved into Jonas's house. Weeds choked the Shasta daisies and the cilantro was encroaching on the bluebonnets. She couldn't imagine letting the garden fall into such a state. Just how long had her last assignment lasted?
Tendrils of pain fanned out in her head. She took a long sip from her mug and let her eyes fall closed. She let the rumble of male voices wash over her like white noise and started composing her to-do list. There was a load of jeans in the dryer she needed to fold, a box of old newspapers she needed to read, a laptop she needed to pry from her stubborn brother's grasp, and… "Jenna has kickboxing this afternoon."
Silence, awkward and thick, filled the breakfast nook. She slowly opened her eyes. Micah and Jonas were staring at her as if she'd just stripped down to her underwear and announced she was joining the circus. "What?"
"What did you say, Callie?" Jonas's voice was hesitant, probing. She could almost taste the undercurrent of fear.
She frowned. What had she said? She'd been thinking about the list of things she needed to get done, and… The mild headache flared into a pounding migraine. She fought to keep her BLT from making a reappearance. "I don't know."
The room spun. Two sets of hands clamped down on her shoulders to keep her anchored in place. She squeezed her eyes shut as their faces blurred together.
"What was that about Jenn, Cal?" The hope in Micah's voice was a stark contrast to the grimness in her brother's.
The reverberation of gunshots rang in her ears. She could smell gunpowder and asphalt and motor oil. She caught a glimpse of fear-widened blue eyes framed by wavy mahogany hair. Her mouth went dry and her shaking hands thumped against the table. Coffee sloshed across her fingers.
"M-M-Micah?" Her teeth were chattering. Her brain was four sizes too large for her skull. Fire raced across her healed shoulder and down her back. "Micah? Joe?"
One pair of hands disappeared. Strong arms slid under her knees and curled around her back to scoop her off the bench. She tried to relax against the warm, solid chest, but something kept her tense. Something about the glint of sunlight on metal… "There's a guy on the roof with a gun! You have to get her out of here. You have to keep Jenn safe."
Something sharp pricked her arm. She bit back a scream and struggled to get free. The arms that had been so comforting a moment earlier felt like restraints.
"Shh," Micah soothed. Callused fingers swept across her forehead. "It's okay, Cal. She's fine. Jenn's safe."
"Okay," she murmured drowsily. Blackness blurred the images flickering through her mind. Her head lolled against the chest. "G'night."
When she awoke, the streetlight outside her window glowed like a beacon against the night sky and crickets chirped merrily in the front yard. She kicked off the oppressive weight of her quilt and stretched drug-lethargic limbs. The shadow in the corner of the room stirred.
"Did I do it again?" she asked, licking lips that felt drier than the Sahara.
"Yes." Jonas unfolded himself from the wingback chair and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
She propped herself against the headboard. "How bad was it?"
"Compared to a few of the first episodes, this was rather mild." Jonas ran a hand through his short hair. "You did remember more than you have before."
Her head snapped up. "Oh? What did I remember?"
"And risk another episode so soon? I think not." He shoved her legs aside and stretched out on the bed beside her. He lifted an arm; she wriggled until her head was pillowed on his chest and she was curled against his side. "You have to stop worrying me like that, honey."
"I'm sorry. Was Micah freaked out by my freak out?"
The arm around her shoulders tightened. "Screw what Harkness thinks."
"Does this mean I can't go back to work?"
Jonas's sigh was heavy with resignation. "I suppose it's best to have you where I can keep an eye on you. Lord above knows what sort of trouble you'll find here." He pressed his lips to the side of her head. "You have to promise not to press when I tell you to back off, Callie. That's the only way this will work."
"Good girl. I've tried to keep your condition as quiet as possible. I've reassigned a few of your projects. We'll work together on whatever's left."
They chatted about the office and a few key personnel changes that had occurred during the gap in her memory. The low rumble of her brother's voice lulled her to sleep. Her dreams were, as usual, of running from an unknown foe and trying to protect a faceless screaming girl.
When she woke for the second time, she was still curled around a snoring Jonas. Her blunt fingernails had left deep depressions in his forearms, but he hadn't said a word or roused her from her nightmare. She quietly slipped out of bed and into her bathroom. A long, hot shower cleared out the cobwebs in her head.
Jonas was gone by the time she emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a luxuriously soft pink robe. The robe was gorgeous, but not one she would have considered buying for herself. She had tried to thank Jonas for it, but he'd denied responsibility. He'd shut down when she'd pushed for the name of the giver.
She stood in front of her open closet. Butterflies swirled in her stomach. What did one wear to the office on their first day back after a long "illness"? Something professional but approachable. Comfortable but not too casual. After thoroughly inspecting every pair of pants and every shirt hanging, she selected a pair of lightweight chocolate brown trousers and a pale blue short-sleeved sweater. To soften the sweater's severe v-neckline, she wrapped a pastel, multi-colored airy scarf around her neck. She skipped over the rows of killer heels and slipped on a pair of brown leather flats. Her equilibrium was off at times and it wouldn't do to trip all over herself like a fool.
The kitchen was empty, but the aroma of fresh coffee filled the air. She filled a travel mug and added a packet of artificial sweetener and a dash of milk. She was contemplating popping a bagel in the toaster when Jonas appeared in the doorway.
"We'll pick up kolaches on the way in."
"Ooh, what are we celebrating?"
"Your return, of course." Jonas tugged on the end of her braid as he passed on his way to the coffee pot. "You haven't been cleared to drive, so we'll ride together."
Even with the stop for breakfast, they were the first ones in the underground Q-Inc parking garage. Once the car was scanned and both she and Jonas had passed the biometric scans, Jonas parked his armored SUV in his designated spot. The security at the door was worse than she remembered. She passed the fingerprint scan, retinal scan, and tapped in her four-digit passcode. Before she could step through the full-body scanner, the authoritative voice of Q-Inc's security system asked for her password.
"Voice recognition accepted. Password incorrect."
She scowled up at the ceiling. 'Aqua' had been her password since she'd first been set up in the system. "Aqua," she repeated, a touch impatiently.
"Password override. Authorization D-M-49, Protocol A-7," Jonas said. He wrapped his fingers around Callie's wrist. "I'll have Garza take a look at it later."
They rode the elevator down to the lowest level of the building. Jonas's office and the armory took up most of the subterranean space. "You'll be working in the office next to mine until your memory returns."
"You mean the closet in your office?"
"I've had a few renovations made. You'll find it's more of a cozy cubicle than a closet, now."
The rest of the morning passed in a blur of paperwork, reintroductions, and catching up on fourteen years worth of world events. It wasn't until Jonas was called into a meeting with a newly returned group of field operatives that Callie had a moment to catch her breath. Tired of staring at the mint green walls of her "new" office, she closed the top of her laptop and dashed to the elevator while Jonas's secretary Bess was in the washroom.
She rode the elevator to the fourth floor. The analysts and technicians milling about the hallway stared at her as if she were a ghost. She kept her head high. Something was calling her to the end of the hallway. She was tired of ignoring those niggling feelings out of fear of inducing another panic attack.
The lights were on in 407. She tapped her code on the keypad lock and waited for the telltale click. The door lock disengaged. She turned the knob and opened the door. A teenage girl with mahogany hair and wide blue eyes was seated at the desk typing on a sleek platinum laptop.
"What are you doing here?" Callie demanded. The girl was too young to be an intern and guests were required to be escorted at all times.
The girl yelped. Her hands fell away from the computer and her mouth gaped open. Tears shimmered in her eyes.
Callie blinked, frowned. The teenager looked so familiar. "Do I know you?"
The girl nodded, stopped, and shook her head furiously. She scrambled out of the chair and pressed her back against the wall. She wrapped long arms around her waist.
Callie didn't consider herself good with kids, but something in her wanted to give the girl a hug. She wanted to wrap the kid up in her arms and assure her that everything would be all right. "Hey, it's okay. I'm not going to shoot you or anything."
The girl jerked as if Callie had actually shot her. A pink tongue darted out to lick her lips. "I know."
A shadow loomed over Callie's shoulder. She turned around, came nose-to-chest with Micah Harkness. The teenager flew out of the office and launched herself at Micah. Callie's hand fell to where her gun normally rested at her hip. No gun. She hadn't been cleared for firearms.
"Daddy!" The girl twined her arms around Micah's neck. She clung to him like a scared child.
Micah's large hand stroked the back of the girl's dark head. Callie caught the pale strip of skin on his ring finger. Her heart sank like a stone. Of course. Of course.
"It's okay, sweetheart. It's okay."
Feeling awkward and stupid, Callie shifted her weight onto the balls of her feet. If she was quick enough, she could be back at the elevator before either of them remembered her. She took one step. A long-fingered hand clamped onto her elbow.
"Cal," Micah said, voice husky. Longing skittered down her spine. "This is my daughter, JB."
The girl wiped her wet eyes with the back of her hand and stepped away from Micah. She offered Callie an embarrassed smile. "Hey."
"Hey, kiddo." The girl flinched. Callie did her best to ignore it. "Sorry if I scared you before."
JB shook her head. "It's okay. I'm sorry. It's just been… it's been a rough couple of months and I… I'm sorry."
Callie reached forward and tucked a lock of loose hair behind JB's ear. "No problem. I understand rough months." She glanced up at a stony-faced Micah. "I'd better get back before Jonas sends out a search team."
She was nearly to the elevator when she heard JB cry out, "Oh, Daddy!"
"So…," Callie twirled her fork in the pasta, eyes downcast and stomach churning. It had been four days since the incident on the fourth floor and she'd finally worked up the nerve to ask her brother about Micah's daughter. "I met Micah's kiddo."
"Harkness said something about that."
Jonas' fork hit the plate with a clatter. Callie raised her eyebrows questioningly. Her brother was choking on a mouthful of something. He held out a hand to keep her from jumping out of her chair. He gulped ice water from his glass and dabbed at his mouth with his napkin. "Must have swallowed wrong."
"Okay." Callie nibbled on her forkful of pasta. "JB, the girl, looked sad. She said something about a rough couple of months."
"She lost her mother a while back."
"Poor thing. This was Micah's wife?"
Jonas's tone of voice made it clear that was all he wanted to say on the subject, but Callie was sick of half-answers. "Did it have something to do with Q-Inc? Did she work for the company?"
"Did she go missing or is she dead?"
"Unsure at this point. Micah is grounded until we close the matter one way or the other. His daughter needs the stability of at least one parent."
"Is there anything we can do to help?"
"No!" Jonas tossed his napkin on the table and shoved his chair back. "No more, Callie."
Stunned, she watched him carry his plate to the sink. It was unlike him to shut her down so rudely. To expect her to follow without question. To neglect to help a friend. "Joe, Micah is your friend. If there's something you or I can do, we owe it to him."
Joe's fists were balled on top of the counter. His knuckles were white, his face was red, and his eyes were cold, obsidian chips. "There are a lot of things you don't know, Callie. A lot of things happened that you don't remember. Harkness and I aren't best buddies. We haven't been for a long time."
She gingerly rose to her feet and rounded the table. Jonas eyed her like a caged animal. Her heart twisted. Her brother was fiercely loyal to those he considered friends. There was only one explanation for her brother's behavior. "Oh, Joe." She cupped his jaw. "You loved her, didn't you?"
His smile was a bitter, broken thing. She threw her arms around his waist and hugged him as tight as her arms would allow. She kissed his jaw, breathed in the tang of his expensive aftershave. "Oh, Joe."
"He hurt her, Callie. Not with his fists or words, but he took advantage of her. Neglected her. Took everything she offered him and threw it away. She's better off without him. Wherever she is, she's happier. She has to be."
After a long moment, she disentangled herself from him and hopped onto the counter. She met his steely gaze with equally serious eyes. "If you know something, Jonas, you have to tell Micah. There's a little girl missing her momma and hurting so, so much. You have no right to put her through that."
"I feel for JB, really I do, but she's not my priority." Jonas spun on his heel and strode towards the hallway. "We won't have this conversation again, Callie."
She rolled her eyes at his retreating back. Her brother was the biggest drama queen she'd ever met. "That's what you think."
The Q-Inc computer records on Harkness, Mr. and Mrs., were sealed. Not even her clearance, second-highest in the company, could unlock them. She tried searching for a wedding certificate. There was none. There was a birth certificate for a Jennifer Beatrice Harkness. M. Harkness was listed as the father and Tracey Lyndon was listed as the mother. The date seemed right for the girl she'd met. Further digging unveiled a death certificate for Tracey Lyndon dated three weeks after Jennifer Beatrice's birth. That didn't seem right. Why would JB grieve over a parent she'd never met?
A step-mother then. One who'd raised her. Who'd taken on the role of both parents, because there was no way in hell the Micah Harkness Callie knew would give up field work for anyone or anything. It was in his blood, in his very marrow.
Six hours later, she had an entire binder full of dead leads and a massive headache. She hadn't heard a peep out of Jonas since he'd walked out. She shut down her laptop and slid it under the bed. Despite the lack of any measurable progress, her resolve remained strong. There was a grieving, motherless child who needed her help. She'd be damned if she didn't do everything in her power to help. Even if she had to do it the hard way.
The lights were on again in 407. This time, Callie knocked once before tapping in her passcode. JB was at the desk. She smiled welcomingly, but her eyes were still guarded. Callie pushed aside the ache in her head and stepped inside the room.
It was larger than most offices on the fourth floor. The walls were painted a cool, pastel blue and the furniture was a rich cherry. The desk and bookcase had flowing curves and gleaming silver hardware. It was the sort of office that was feminine but not overly so.
Callie settled in the upholstered visitor's chair in front of the desk. "Hey, kiddo."
Callie drummed her fingers on her thigh. She was terrible with children. Why had she pushed herself into seeing JB again? "I heard about your mother."
JB slumped in her chair. Her eyes were wet, she refused to meet Callie's gaze. "And?"
"I know what it's like. My parents were killed when I was thirteen. If you ever need to…"
"She's not dead." JB's voice was flinty. "She's not dead."
"Okay," Callie agreed easily. "It's not exactly the same, I agree."
"She's not dead. You can't sit there and say that my mother's dead because she's not."
At the hint of hysteria in JB's tone, Callie slipped out of her chair and perched on the desk beside the teen. She stroked the back of the girl's head the say way Micah had days earlier. The pain in the back of her head spread. Metallic bitterness coated her tongue.
"My mom is not dead!" JB howled. She slapped at Callie's arm, but the blows were weak. "My mommy… I want my mom."
"I know, precious. I'll help you." Callie gathered the sobbing teen into her arms. She rocked back and forth with JB's head cradled on her shoulder. Her head throbbed in time with the pounding of her pulse. "I know, Jenna B. It's okay, presh. It's going to be okay."
"Mommy." JB's fingers dug into Callie's waist. Her grip was tight, desperate. "Mommy, I miss you."
"Oh, precious. I'm sure she misses you, too." Tear dripped down Callie's cheeks onto the top of JB's head. The pain intensified. Darkness encroached on her vision. She wanted to give in, to escape the pain, but she couldn't. JB needed her, and she'd die before she let the girl down. "Your mom loves you."
The door flew open. Warm fingers covered hers. The comforting scent of pine and oak mixed with sweat tickled her nose. Micah's face was blurred but she could make out his blue eyes and crooked nose. "Mike?"
"Yeah, sweet girl?"
"My head is killing me."
"It's okay to let go. I'll take care of you."
"Of course. I've got you, Cal. I've got both of you."
"Mmmkay." Certain she'd left JB protected, she let the terrible, all-consuming blackness take over just before the pain reached a crescendo.
There was something digging into the small of her back. She rolled onto her side to get away from it and slammed her knee into something hard and angular. Her knee ached. "Owie," she grumbled, rolling onto her other side.
She was on the floor. That much was obvious from the feel of the carpet on her arms and the flow of air across her face. The sharp sting of pain was gone but the echo of it was enough to make her want to vomit. This wasn't like the other incidents she'd had. Her head was clearer, even with the fog of pain. Her arms and legs lacked that weighted, leaden feeling.
The door, on her left about six feet away, swung open and bounced off the wall. Shoes marched across the carpet, heavy booted feet rushed to meet them. She tried to open her eyes, but her eyelids wouldn't cooperate.
"What the hell happened here?" Jonas. That was Jonas. He sounded as angry as he had the night she'd… she'd what? Eloped. No. That didn't sound quite right, but there was something about a wedding and ruining her life and…
"She came in and offered to help find JB's mom." Micah. He sounded tired and heartbroken. She'd loved him since she was an intern during summer break, but if finding his missing wife meant he lost that cloak of desperation, she'd gladly help find the woman.
Jonas swore. As always, she was impressed by his creativity. "She can't."
Micah's laughter was tinged with misery. "Don't you think I know that?" Someone banged their fist on the desk before Micah continued. "She's remembering more. She knew Jenna's name. Called her precious."
"And that's just what you want, isn't it? For her to remember your daughter just enough so everything can go back to the way it used to be. Regardless of what it costs."
"Jonas, I never wanted to hurt-"'
"Yet you did." Callie had never heard her brother sound so cold. She shivered, prayed it was all a terrible nightmare. "You should leave before she wakes up. Stay away from her. Keep Jenna away."
"And if she seeks us out?"
The door opened and closed. The shoes approached. Callie managed to pry one eyelid open when she felt someone brush against her arm. Jonas's face was grim, his eyes were sad. "Callie, I wish you'd just leave things alone."
There was a sharp prick in her arm. Her eyes widened with horror as that awful blackness came creeping back in. She tried to speak but it was as if her mouth was filled with cotton. Jonas pocketed the used syringe. She had time for one last emotion before the darkness took over.
Callie folded a pair of black dress pants and set them on top of the pile of folded clothes in the suitcase. She reached for a matte silver tie draped across the end of the bed and started rolling it up. "Stop pacing, Joe. You're going to make me dizzy."
Jonas stopped. He shoved his hands in his pockets and let out a heavy sigh. "I'm not going."
"Yes, you are. You've had this conference on your schedule for six months, according to Bess. You're a key speaker. You have to go."
"Then come with me."
"No." She tucked the tie-ball in to a pocket of the suitcase, shuffled to her brother's side. She looped her arms around his waist and gave him a small shake. "It's been seventeen days since I had an incident. I've been cleared to drive and shoot a gun. You've stopped looking over my shoulder when it comes to the paperwork. I'll be fine."
Four hours later, Jonas was gone. Callie breathed a sigh of relief. She adored her brother, but his smothering was driving her up the wall. She hurriedly dressed for work and reveled in the joy of finally being able to drive. The luxury sports coupe handled beautifully, but it didn't feel right. Had it been her car before the accident?
Every hour, an operative stopped by her tiny office in the basement with a question or a form that needed signed. They were mundane requests that could have waited. They were checking on her. Of course. Her brother wouldn't have left without assigning a passel of bodyguards.
At ten minutes to noon, Micah Harkness appeared in the doorway. Her pulse quickened. She hadn't seen him in weeks. Though he was still in the country, he hadn't been at any of the strategy meetings. Jonas had all but banned his name in their house.
"I find it hard to believe Jonas put you on the schedule," she said, praying she sounded more nonchalant than she felt.
"No. Renner got called to the Pentagon for a meeting."
"Okay." She tried to ignore the pang of disappointment. He'd probably only taken the duty because he was the only operative left in the building or not in a meeting.
"I volunteered as soon as I heard." He flashed a boyish smile, complete with dimples and twinkling eyes. Callie's disappointment melted like wax in the hot summer sun.
She was grinning like an idiot but couldn't gather enough pride to care. "I was just going to grab something for lunch. Do you, I don't know, want to come with?"
"I'd be honored. We could hit that Thai place around the corner you love."
He's married and he misses his wife. Callie had to keep reminding herself of those two facts. It was too easy to fall for his charm when he did things like remember her favorite places and escort her down the hallway with a warm hand on the small of her back.
At the restaurant, she kept the conversation light and solely on work-related topics. She wasn't masochistic enough to want to hear about how heartbroken he was without his wife. It made her a terrible friend, she knew, but she did have a few self-preservation instincts.
Micah was as funny and quick-witted as she remembered. He also did an amazing Jonas impression that nearly had her snorting tea out of her nose. He shared a story about JB's first choir concert and laughed at her recap of the previous morning's briefing.
For the next three days, lunch with Micah was a regular occurrence. She enjoyed sharing her thoughts on projects and having him affirm or contradict her theories. He offered a few short stories about his daughter. During a lull in the conversation on their fourth outing, she saw an opening to ask a question she was too chicken to ask Jonas.
"I didn't live with Joe, did I? Before the accident, I mean."
If she hadn't gone through Q-Inc's field operative training, she would have missed the slight flare of his nostrils and the way he stilled for a moment. He finished swallowing his noodles and set his fork on the table. "Cal, I don't know if it's a good idea for me to answer that."
"It's my room. I know that, but it doesn't feel like it's… aged any, I guess. There's all this stuff from fourteen years ago that feels so familiar, but then there's all this new stuff. It's like there's a gap. Like I moved out and then got shoved back in."
He shook his head ruefully. "You always were too smart for your own good. No, Cal, you didn't live there."
"Don't suppose you'd be willing to drive me by my old place, would you?"
"I can't do that."
"Figured." She shrugged, sipped her iced tea. "I feel like my room sometimes. Like there's a gap in me. It's annoying as hell"
"You do seem happier now. Happier than I've seen you in a long time." Micah's smile faded. His eyes grew pensive and he dropped his hands to his lap.
"That's what happens when you forget fourteen years of bad memories, at least according to Jonas."
"Never thought I'd say this, but your brother is right."
"Of course, I also lost fourteen years of good memories, of my memories, and I'm not so sure that's an even trade." She scooted to the edge of her chair and reached under the table for Micah's hand. She gave his fingers a gentle squeeze. "What is so terrible about remembering? Why do I remember more when I'm with you or JB?"
Micah slipped his hand out of her grasp. "JB and I are moving to Florida at the end of the school year."
"Because we need to move on. Everyone needs to move on."
"But I was looking forward to getting to know JB. She's seems like a bright kid."
"She takes after her step-mom." Micah rose from his seat and tossed a few bills on the table. "I'll walk back to the office." He paused behind her and kissed the top of her head. His fingers lingered on her shoulder. "Take care, sweet girl."
If he was moving out at the end of the school year, why did that feel so much like a goodbye?
Callie didn't go back to the office. She returned to the house she shared with Jonas that felt, at times, like a prison. There had to be something there from the period she couldn't remember. A book or a letter or a misplaced file. Her room was clean. She'd already searched every inch of it.
She started with Jonas's home office. Nothing, aside from the safe. She saved the safe for last. In his bedroom, she checked the storage box under his bed and the two lined up in the closet. Nothing but old sweaters and high school yearbooks. She perched on the edge of his bed and pondered the walls.
The painting of horses. She hated it. Jonas hated it, too, but it was the only one he'd found that was large enough to hide the panel in the wall. She leapt off the bed. Her fingers unerringly found the latch to the secret compartment. It was large enough for a wall-mounted safe and a plastic storage bin. She ignored the safe and dragged the storage bin onto the floor.
Seated in front of the bin, she popped open the lid. The faint odor of blood and gunpowder wafted up. She extracted a zip-top bag. Clothes. Bloody clothes. A pink hooded sweatshirt, gray t-shirt, and jeans. In her size.
Pain flared in the base of her skull. She set the bag aside and stuck her hand in the bin. Files. She flipped through them. Pictures fell onto the floor. Pictures of the mall. Of a blood pool. Spent rounds. A bloodstained purse. A compact handgun. Clumps of bloody blonde hair. The back of a teenage girl, hunched over a trash can with a wad of tissues in her hand. A body lying near a pool of blood, face up and waxy and so pale.
Suddenly, the scent of gunpowder and asphalt and blood were overwhelming. The bitter tang of adrenaline coated her tongue, tensed her muscles. She heard gunshots and screaming. The pain in her head tripled.
The pictures slid from nerveless fingers. She knew the face on the body. She saw it every day in the mirror. That was her near the blood pool. Jonas had said she'd lost her memory in a car chase. Where was the wreckage? Why was she at the mall six miles from the house?
She stuck a shaking hand back in the bin. Her fingers struck a small, velvet box. It took her three tries to open it. Diamonds and platinum twinkled up at her from a set of rings. Tiny flecks of blood dotted the small diamonds that framed the larger stone. She gently closed the ring box and set it by her knee.
Further digging in the bin unearthed a set of keys on a platinum key chain monogrammed with her initials and a charm that said "Happy Mother's Day." There were pictures of her and Jonas with a laughing JB. Pictures of just her and a much, much younger JB. Most of the pictures were of her and JB, but there was one picture of her holding JB as a toddler in front of a Christmas tree with a smiling Micah by her side.
Her head hurt. It felt like she had on a helmet that was ten sizes too small. The pictures fell from her fingers and scattered across the carpet. There was another file. A medical file filled with details on her injuries and her head trauma. A neon yellow note stuck to one of the reports in the file caught her attention. "Project X-2434." It was her brother's blocky handwriting, but she wasn't aware of any Project X-2434.
She crawled to the bathroom, leaned her head against the cool porcelain toilet. Her poor head pounded and her eyes were too big for their sockets. Bile burned the back of her throat. She stayed on the floor until she was sure she wasn't going to throw up. Her knees trembled when she stood, but they held her. She opened the medicine cabinet, hoping to find a bottle of mouthwash.
A vial of clear liquid was on the bottom shelf. A packet of disposable syringes was beside it. The same syringes her brother used whenever she had a panic attack. Typed in black letters on a white label was the name of the drug. X-2434. She leaned over the sink and retched.
Callie wanted to call Jonas, but her fingers dialed Micah's number. "What is Project X-2434?" she demanded as soon as he finished his greeting.
"I don't know."
"Don't lie to me." She sucked in a raggedy breath. "It's what Joe's been drugging me with, and the two of you disappear and you have secrets and you're not friends anymore, and I think you know exactly what Project X-2434 is!"
"Breathe, Cal. Breathe. Nice and steady."
She did as instructed and inhaled slowly. She counted to ten as she exhaled. Her thundering heart slowed, though the pain in her head still raged. She curled into a tight ball on the corner of the couch, tried to sink into the cushions.
"Why aren't you friends with Jonas anymore?"
"It's a long story, Cal."
"He's in love with your wife." At Micah's sharp inhale, she cursed herself. He hadn't known. She was such an idiot. "He says you were cruel to her. That you ignored her and you used her."
"I did. For a long time I did."
"That's not the Micah Harkness I know."
He chuckled dryly. "The Micah Harkness you know now is the one who recognizes what a bastard he was. I was ready to apologize, to throw myself on her mercy and start over, but it was too late. She was gone."
Her heart broke for Micah, who sounded like a man who'd lost everything he held dear and was doing all he could to keep his head above water. It broke for poor JB who'd lost two mothers and was slowly losing her father. It broke for Jonas who loved a woman who loved someone else. It broke for herself because it would hurt worse than the ache in her skull, but it was time to let Micah Harkness go.
"Joe knows where she is." It was the first time she'd ever willingly betrayed her brother. She prayed it was the last, that he eventually forgave her. "He won't tell you because he insists that she's better off now, but he knows."
Micah was quiet for a long time. When he finally spoke, there was such sorrow in his voice that she wanted to cry. "Your brother is right. She's better off now. I promised myself I was going to do right by her, and if that means setting her free, then that's what I have to do. Let your brother keep his secrets. Good night, Callie."
She was still curled on the couch when Jonas returned. She blinked furiously at the sudden influx of lights and sounds. She didn't move when he dropped to his knees beside her. Her head and heart ached so badly she was surprised there was no physical wound.
He wrapped his hands around hers and set the phone on the coffee table. She stared at him as if he were a stranger. Perhaps he was. A man with her brother's face and voice but someone else's heart. Someone who wanted to keep her memory suppressed. Who wanted to keep her a prisoner within her own mind.
"What's wrong, Callie?"
"Project X-2434," she said.
"It wasn't a car chase gone bad, was it? There was a shooting. At the mall. I was protecting someone. Someone who meant the world to me, and I got hurt, and you're keeping me from them. From the people I love. Why, Jonas? Why?"
Jonas sat back on his heels. He kept both of her hands sandwiched between hers. His eyes were dark and the lines on his face seemed deeper. "All I have ever wanted is for you to be happy. To be content. To have everything in life you deserve." The corner of his mouth quirked up in a half-smile. "I watched you grow steadily unhappier for years. Sure there were moments of bliss, but there was always that undercurrent of sadness. Fourteen years of missed anniversaries and a husband who was never home. That's not what I wanted for you. When the opportunity came to erase that, to get my happy sister back, I couldn't pass it up."
"Do I even get a choice?"
"They said that remembering too soon would kill you. It was putting stress on your healing brain. I had to do something to fix it. Project X-2434 was the perfect solution."
"But I'm getting better."
"You're happier this way, Callie. You're you again." He released her hands. From the side pocket of his briefcase, he extracted a vial of clear liquid and a syringe. "Even Harkness agrees that this is for the best."
"No!" She scrambled to get away from him, but he clamped a hand on her arm. The needle slid into her skin. "I don't want to forget."
"This is for the best, Callie. You'll see." He pressed down on the plumber. "Well, actually, no you won't."
One morning in mid-May, Callie Quinn slipped on the wet tile floor in her shower. She banged the side of her head against the slick wall, laughed at the brightly colored stars that danced in her vision. She gagged a little, grateful that she hadn't eaten breakfast yet, and went on with her shower. Her head ached, but she was no stranger to headaches. She popped a dose of over-the-counter pain medication with her morning coffee and rode in to work with her brother.
The headache persisted throughout the morning. There was a niggling feeling that she was forgetting something. That she wasn't in the right place. She brushed aside Jonas's probing questions and took two more pain pills after her ten o'clock meeting.
She begged off lunch with Jonas. She needed a nap. Something to take the edge of the pain in her skull. She turned off the lights in their shared office and used her cardigan as a pillow. She set the alarm on her phone to wake her in an hour.
An hour later, Callie slapped at the insistent buzz near her head. Eyes blurry and head heavy, she shut off the cell phone's alarm and stumbled to her feet. She glanced around the darkened office and frowned. After tucking the phone in her pocket, she ventured up the elevator to the fourth floor.
The lights were off in office 407. She tapped in her passcode. A robotic voice asked for her a verbal password. That was new. Office doors never required voice recognition. "Jenna Benna," she said. The lock disengaged.
There was a thin layer of dust on her cherry desk and matching book case. The wall calendar was months off. Her laptop was missing. There were no pens in the "Super Mom" mug on the corner of the desk. She flicked on the lights. Two bulbs were out. Making a mental note to contact maintenance, she crossed the room to fix the calendar. After a quick glance at her phone to confirm the date, she let out a soft gasp.
Her purse wasn't in the desk drawers. Palms damp and heart racing, she dashed down five flights of stairs to Jonas's subterranean office. She brushed past a bewildered Bess and grabbed the blue leather purse on the corner of the small desk she'd woken up at.
"Gotta run, Bess. Tell Joe I'll catch up with him after the concert."
She couldn't find her mid-size SUV in the parking garage, but there was a small gold sports coupe in her spot. She pressed the button on the key ring attached to her purse. The lights on the coupe flashed. There wasn't time to worry about possibly committing auto theft. She got in the car, took a moment to reacquaint herself with driving a standard transmission, and tore out of the garage.
The lights in the main auditorium were dimmed. On her toes, she stood near the back and stared until she spotted a familiar head of dark, shaggy hair. Smiling politely at the teenaged usher, she crept down the aisle and slid into the seat beside Micah.
The girls in fancy red dresses on stage weren't in Jenna's choir. Red dresses were reserved for freshmen. Callie's shoulders relaxed. She wasn't late. Underclassmen went first and upperclassmen went afterwards. As a junior, Jenna would be next-to-last.
She nudged Micah's arm with her elbow. "Let me see your program. I forgot to grab one."
He didn't move. She nudged his arm again. "Seriously, Mike. Give it over. I want to save it for Jenn's scrapbook."
"Cal?" he rasped. His fingers laced with hers, the grip so tight her fingers went numb. "What are you doing here?"
Her eyebrows shot up. "Umm… I'm not the one who misses things like choir concerts and one-act plays. I'm the good parent."
"Cal," he repeated. He looked as if he'd seen a ghost.
She frowned at him. "Seriously, Mike, did you bump your head or something?"
He shook his head. The opening notes of the song kept her from asking any further questions. Micah didn't let go of her hand until the concert was over.
The mild twinge she'd had all day long ramped up to a major headache. While they waited for Jenna in the wings of the auditorium with all the other parents, she dug into her purse for a bottle of aspirin. She found, instead, a bottle of pain killers prescribed to a Callie Quinn. They were two months old, and there were six pills left in the bottle.
She returned the bottle to her purse. Her head hurt, but not enough to justify popping a couple of Vicodin. She rubbed her throbbing temples and sagged against the concrete wall. Micah's hands kneaded the back of her neck.
"Yeah. I don't know what it is. I've had it all day." She shook her head, winced when her stomach rolled. "When did you get home?"
His fingers pushed hers aside and gently probed her skull. He found the bump on the side of her head. His fingers stilled. His voice went low, firm. "When did you hit your head, Cal?"
"I don't… this morning? In the shower. At Jonas's." She scowled. "Why would I take a shower at Jonas's? His water pressure is crap." Micah's fingers were heaven on her aching skull. She wanted to lean against him and soak up his heat. "Wait, you got back months ago. After the Bulgaria assignment. You've been working with the operational support staff on new hardware."
"Shh." He sank his fingers in her hair. His lips brushed the top of her head. "Don't push it, sweet girl. Let it come naturally."
Jenna emerged from the dressing room. Her head was down and her shoulders slumped. Her eyes were fixed on the toes of her sneakers. Callie stuck two fingers in her mouth and let out a loud whistle. "Woohoo, Jenn!"
Jenna's head snapped up. Her cheeks were stained a bright red. She spotted Callie and Micah and started running toward them. She skidded to a stop just before Callie. "Cal?"
"Oh, back to that are we?" Callie teased. She slung an arm around Jenna's shoulders and tugged her in for a tight hug. "You did great, precious. Absolutely wonderful. Soloist of the year, if you ask me."
"Stop it," Jenna laughed, shoving half-heartedly at Callie's side. "You really think so?"
"Oh yeah. You've come a long way from kindergarten, kiddo. From 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' to Puccini." Callie kissed her cheek. "I'm so proud of you, presh."
Tear sprang to Jenna's eyes. She wrapped her arms around Callie's neck and hung like a sobbing monkey. "Oh, Mom!"
Callie craned her head back to grin at Micah. "And now I'm 'Mom' again. Teenagers!"
"Callie!" At Jonas's sharp call, she spun around, still holding Jenna. Her brother's face was red. His fists were clenched at his sides.
Her vision swam. Pain spiked in her head. She tightened her grasp on Jenna. Her knees wobbled and her stomach churned. The arm Micah looped around her waist was the only thing keeping her upright. Her mouth was dry.
"J-Jonas? What's the matter?" Two sets of memories vied for dominance. Two separate schedules. One with a list of meetings and the other cleared off for Jenna's concert. She collapsed against Micah. "Mike… I think there's something wrong with my head."
Callie Harkness dried her hand on the sunny yellow dishtowel before hanging through the loop on the nearest drawer. She stood, hands on hips, and surveyed the kitchen. The dishes were stacked in the dishwasher, the counters had been wiped down, and the leftovers had been stored in the fridge. Jenna's homework had been checked and double-checked. There wasn't anything else keeping her in the house.
"I should get going," she announced, regret lingering in her voice.
"Oh, Mom," Jenna whined. She skipped across the kitchen and grabbed Callie's hands. "Stay. We can make fun of that singing reality show."
"Whichever one is on." Jenna tugged her hands. "I'll go take a shower and then we can watch it." Before Callie could protest, Jenna raced out of the kitchen.
"I really should go," Callie said, eyes briefly meeting Micah's.
"You really should stay," he countered.
It had been over two weeks since she regained her memory. She wasn't back to normal. There were times when she had a hard time reconciling dates and figures, but the doctors assured her that within months she would be at a hundred percent. She'd stayed in Jonas's house, though she couldn't stand his company for more than a handful of hours at a time. It would only take months to heal her brain, but it would take much, much longer to heal her relationship with her brother.
Most afternoons and evenings were spent with Jenna and Micah. The teenager was clinging and hated having Callie out of her sight for very long. Fortunately, Jonas had been too guilt ridden to complain about her open-ended leave of absence. Callie and Jenna had played board games, watched horrible television, and baked enough cookies to supply an entire Girl Scout troop. The teen's nightmares about the day of the shooting worried Callie, but Jenna assured her they were getting better.
With school out, Micah had brought up the possibility of a family trip. He'd made it more than clear that he had a three-person trip in mind. He'd remained at home, despite Jonas's offer of a prime assignment in Turkey. While she knew how to handle Jenna's clinginess, Callie wasn't sure what to do about the way Micah's eyes lingered on her or his newfound penchant for hugging and kissing. She remembered what he'd said about wanting to do things right, to start over, with his wife.
"Joe doesn't like me to stay out too late. I know he's a jackass who doesn't deserve a bit of consideration, but he…"
Micah placed a finger across Callie's lips. "Not just for an episode of 'Bleeding Eardrums' or whatever it is Jenn wants us to watch."
She blinked. His finger fell away from her lips. She glanced down at her bare toes, certain that her cheeks were as red as her nail polish. "I didn't really bring anything for a sleepover."
"Not just tonight, Cal." Micah slid an arm around her waist. His lips brushed against her cheekbone, drifted down to tease her earlobe.
"Well, how long do you want me to stay?"
"Forever, sweet girl. Forever."