“You sure you're ready for this?” Jason handed Anne the large, gaudy earrings.
Anne carefully pinned each earring and smiled. “I'm sure. I have been out of the field long enough.”
Jason sat, frowning, as he positioned his headset, adjusting the keyboard in front of him. “This is a dangerous mission for your first assignment after maternity leave. You have to stay focused every moment, Anne.”
She tossed her black velvet wrap around her shoulders. “I'm focused. Audrey is safe and sound. Trust me, I'm thinking about my assignment. I won't be distracted. Besides, you'll remind me if I miss something.”
“And you're sure Roland will buy your story?”
“The records of my supposed mental breakdown have been accessed at the hospital and double checked against my personal physician's records. He's confirmed what I told him. It should be an easy in.”
Jason frowned again. “Okay. But the minute you sense you're in trouble, give me the signal.”
“I'm not blowing this mission, Jason. I'll see it through.” Anne slipped on her tall black boots and waited for Jason to check her wireless devices. She flipped her knife open and tested the slender blade against the hairs on her arm, before tucking it inside her boot.
“The audio/visual feed in your necklace is operational. Can you hear the tapping sound through your earrings?” He tapped a device next to the keyboard which sent a faint signal to her earrings.
Grateful for her recent review of Morse code, she nodded. “Yes, I will be careful. Jason, relax. We'll be fine.”
Her reassurances rang in her ears as Anne stepped out of the limo at Roland's mansion twenty minutes later. She smiled as the host turned from greeting his other guests to face her. She restrained any emotional reaction and willed her body to remain calm. She could do this.
“Anne, my sweet. How I have missed you. You are as beautiful as ever.” Roland lifted her hand to his lips. “I'm terribly sorry to hear of your illness. Has it really been eight months?”
“I'm afraid so.” Anne clung to his hand to emphasize her cover. “I've hardly come out of the house until just two weeks ago. It took everything in me just to have the courage to attend tonight.”
Roland paused, eyeing her from her pinned-up hair to the black evening gown and boots. “Did they ever determine a cause?”
She slowly turned down her head. “Stress. Stress is all it was, I'm ashamed to say.”
“Well, I eat well and exercise and have plenty of money. How could I possibly have so much stress?”
“Money isn't everything, my dear.” Roland held her hand and led her inside.
Her head swimming with the few sips of wine she'd had to take, Anne slipped into the darkened room upstairs. Two hours of buzzing conversation among wealthy guests had worn her more than she had expected. Roland had questioned her on several occasions, and she stuck with the story, claiming a loss of knowledge of the time which had passed. Finally she saw her opportunity while he conversed with another couple and she could leave the ballroom without notice.
She paused to listen for Jason's signal. No one in room. Safe in left rear corner. She made her way to the safe and removed the painting covering it. Waited. Jason would analyze the markings and give her the combination.
Finally the tapping began again. She punched each number slowly, deliberately. No room for mistakes. The handle turned easily after the final number and she opened the safe.
Her heart rate quickened. “Did we double check the intel on this mission?” she whispered.
Jason's tapped out reply: It should be there.
“Well, it's not.” Distant footsteps in the hall caught her attention, and she replaced the safe door and covered it again with the painting. She quickly stretched out on a nearby loveseat as the door opened.
Her eyes felt heavy. She willed herself to open them. Jason stood over her, smiling. “Darling, you fell asleep feeding the baby again. I guess you're so tired you didn't even notice.”
Anne shook her head, disoriented. “What – where?”
His hands gently lifted Audrey from her arms. Their three-week old infant curled into her daddy's shoulder. “Come back to bed, dear.”
She leaned back and blinked. It seemed so real! “In a minute, love. I've got a great story idea, and I need to write it down before I forget...”
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