When a routine reconnaissance mission turns into a hunt for a vicious serial killer, Dada Parish goes against Guild rules and join forces with her informant, Sean Bradford. Danger mounts when Sean disappears and the Guild, discovering her violation, orders her home. With time running out, Dada must choose between loyalty and love. Or risk losing it all.
Ten minutes after walking into the Benedictine abbey serving as my cover, I find myself standing behind the counter of a soup kitchen, doling out arroz con pollo y frijoles to a line of hungry people. Ah, the glamorous life of a spy.
Clouds of heat waft up from the steel food well. Moisture slides from under my habit and along my face. I can’t imagine what it’s like working here with long hair. Even with my shorn hair, I’m still sweating.
Despite any discomfort, I offer smiles and greetings to the numerous refugees filing along the open-air cafeteria. As well I should. These people have it a lot worse than me. I have few problems communicating with the mostly Spanish speakers. I can even change my accent to mirror that of Mexico. It’s part of what makes me a good undercover agent, languages. I speak five.
If only being a nun came as easily. My siblings were right. This is my hardest cover ever.
Of course, I’ve done my research, but there’s still a lot of social cues I’m picking up from the other nuns. Like none of them are dancing. I have to physically stop myself from swaying hips to the worn guitar a man plays outside the soup kitchen, especially when people take up singing the familiar Mexican lullaby.
The music stops, and like a wave around a sports arena, tension rolls down the line of sisters. They pause serving the food, and their heads swing left.
I scan for what caused the unease. Not what. Who.
The man I’m here to cultivate as my local informant. Six-feet-something, and that something is fine with a capital F. Wavy auburn hair, sexy trimmed beard, and summer brown eyes. The kind of toned body that a man can’t hide, even under the long-sleeved over-shirt. Hmm…A long sleeve shirt in this weather suggests a conceal carry.
Despite his limp, he walks with a confident swagger. A very un-nun like thought to have but yum, he is glorious. I wonder if there was another reason Momma put me undercover as a nun. She said it was so I could work the area without attraction suspicion, so that I could go into seedy places as someone working to help others, not as someone seeking information, so that the respect so many have for nuns would be transferred to me, so that Sean, a Christian himself, would see me more as a confidant, but could it also be to keep me focused on the mission and not this man?
That’s a very Momma thing to do. Many of the siblings in my unit, take offense at Momma’s manipulation. Not me. I understand her. I watch how she manages our large group, diverse backgrounds, and dangerous missions. I believe she has the family’s best interest at heart. Still, this disguise feels heavy and restricting.
My heart ratches up its pace as Sean gets closer. Each heartbeat, like a cart ascending on a roller coaster, clicks higher and higher into my throat.
I need to focus. First and foremost, why did everyone go so still when he appeared. Do people here know his history? Delicately, I brush the shoulder of the sister next to me and pretend ignorance. “Who is he?”
The sister’s expression sours. “Juan The Forger. Works for traffickers—men aligned with the cartel that own this area. He donates every week—” she nods toward the donation boxes dotting the room—“then takes a tray for an older woman in town who can’t leave her home.”
“You don’t approve of him doing kind things?”
Scooping rice for the next-in-line, the sister shakes her head. “He does bad, allows bad, because he benefits from it, and then, to assuage his guilt, donates. I don’t approve.”
With her words, comes genuine pain for this man. He is in an impossible situation, trying desperately to stay on the fringes of what the slavers are doing, but also trying to find the child stolen from his art studio, Sophia. His guilt over what he has had to do to find her is obvious. He’s not playing at remorse, not like another from my past, a man who imprisoned me as a child, brought me many gifts over my four years of captivity. He taught me, spoke kindly to me, and promised me one day I’d be free. He was the worst kind of liar.
Momma rescued me. It is thanks to her that I stand here today. Thanks to her that I have the skills to defend myself. Not just myself, other women who need me. I do for those, what Momma did for me. I rescue.
And, so, as Sean nears, I focus on what I must now do. I reject my sympathy for him, my attraction to him for the larger mission, the greater good. I need to get him to do a very dangerous thing, in order to save the girl he’s looking for and destroy the slaver’s operation. I don’t need to develop feelings for him. I slap down my empathy and put it in chains.
Chains as heavy as the loss symbolized by the woven leather bracelet that I grasp in my right hand.
After accepting a scoop of yellow rice, the remorseful Devil stops in front of me. Much to my shock, his eyes widen and then his gaze skims down my body. Heat spikes.
I’m so thrown off by his indulgent brown eyes, framed in a bounty of lashes, I forget to move or breathe.
Beside me, the sister says, “Do you want beans or are you filling your belly looking at Sister Dee?”
His pale skin flushes. “Disculpe, Hermana. Frijoles, por favor.”
His Spanish is good as he apologizes and asks for beans but I’m good at languages and can definitely hear his, Welsh.
Heart still in my throat, I scoop the beans into a small paper cup then hand them to him.
Our fingers brush. A strong, certain flash of awareness shoots up my arm and down my spine. A visceral response. A longing. A knowing. A wanting. A big complication.
The attraction is impossible to deny as our gazes lock and I see the same longing reflected in him. Beside me, Sister Emile clears her throat.
Sean’s face reddens, he springs back, nearly spilling his beans. He moves off with a gruffly mumbled, “Sorry, Sister. Sorry.”
No need to ask what he’s apologizing for. It’s obvious. One does not make lust-eyes at a nun.