"You shouldn’t be here, you know." Jean set her purse down on the breakfast bar that separated kitchen from living room as she finally broke the silence. Turning, she leaned against the bar as she regarded the man who now slumped on her sofa. He looked wistful, and miserable, and she knew what he was thinking. He confirmed it when he spoke.

 

"I saw you with her, today. Why is she here?"

 

Jean gritted her teeth and told herself she wouldn’t murder her oldest, and dearest, friend. Even if his thick skull needed a good bashing. Couldn’t he see how miserable his choice made all of them?

 

"Why are you doing this to her? To yourself?"

 

"Colbert’s still out there."

 

"And when he’s gone, there’ll be someone else, and then someone else. Hell, you know how this works. People like us make enemies more often than friends." Her gaze went down the hallway as pain washed through her. "There’s always a threat."

 

"This is different," he maintained darkly, his eyes troubled. "Colbert means what he says. He's waited years for this, and he’s hooked himself straight into the mole’s network. That makes him twice as dangerous."

 

She sighed. She knew where this particular stubborn streak of his came from -- he lost too many people in the past because he put the mission first. He was clearly determined not to let that happen again. She couldn’t be angry with him. She knew he truly believed he was doing the right thing. However... "Thanks to your choice, and years of festering pain and anger, she’s even closer to danger than before."

 

His blue eyes darkened with wary fear. "How do you mean?"

 

"Everyone can see it. She’s determined to hunt Colbert like an animal and mete out some kind of biblical justice."

 

He froze. "Why?"

 

"Because of you, you stupid ass. What did you think she would do?"

 

He winced. "Get over me."

 

"You really wanted that?" She couldn’t hide her incredulity. She knew him too well, and watching the only woman he ever loved move on wasn't in him. Not like this.

 

"This isn’t about what I want."

 

"That’s a crock." She planted her hands on her hips and glared at him. "You think she’s better off, without you? No, wait, don’t answer that. Of course you do. That’s because you can’t see how much you’re killing her."

 

He sprang to his feet and prowled to the window like a caged panther seeking escape. But his hand stopped shy of the curtain. He swung around so fast Jean jerked backward in surprise, even though the width of her living room separated them.

 

"You have to convince her to stay away from him."

 

Like hell, she would. She had enough of this game. In the past few years, through frequent phone conversations when the other woman was at the end of her rope, she’d come to see in Tamia the sister she never had. And her friends’ pain -- both hers and his -- was Jean’s, as well. She couldn’t take being in the middle of this, any longer.

 

"Why don’t you tell her? Or, better yet, quit skulking in the shadows, watching her like some depraved stalker, and unfreeze both of your lives. Tell her the truth. Tell her you’re sorry, for God’s sake, and get to know your son before his life slips by you, too." Her heart softened at the pain on his face, and she knew he struggled. "No more regrets. Remember?"

 

A visible shudder lunged through him as he turned away, his shoulders tense with anguish.

 

"It’s not that easy, Jean."

 

"It never is. But she’s worth the risk. They both are." She knew there was no way he’d argue with that. He wouldn’t even try. But the whole pity of it was, she knew her words didn’t make a damned bit of difference. Like Tom, he would stubbornly cling to his decisions -- even if they killed him for real, this time.

Contact Esther Mitchell at:

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