Agent Bride

By: Beverly Long

Chapter One

Cal Hollister rarely let anything stop him. And that included the weather. But when the freezing rain in the upper plains had turned to snow, then more snow, making the I-70 corridor a real mess, even he’d had to admit it was time to take a break.

Now, an hour east of Kansas City, Missouri, he’d filled up both his gas tank and his belly. He sat back in the tattered booth of Dawson’s Diner and watched the television that was mounted in the corner of the truck stop. It was on mute and the words flashed across the screen. Early winter storm paralyzes Midwest.

Cal stopped reading, just as he’d turned off the radio in his rental car earlier. It was all they were talking about. The storm, the storm, the storm.

Missouri rarely got heavy snow and to get it in November was real news. He didn’t care. He wasn’t going to let a little ice and snow stop him.

He was going home. Back to Ravesville. The idea had taken root after Cal had talked to his brother last month and learned that Chase was getting the old house they’d inherited from their mother ready to sell.

Chase hadn’t asked for help. He never did. Especially not from Cal. But it was time for that to change. Cal had finished his assignment and put plans in motion to get back to the States. It had taken a month but finally, he was a mere hundred miles northwest of his destination, more than three weeks early for Thanksgiving dinner.

“All finished?” the waitress asked as she passed the booth.

“That was amazing,” Cal said. The woman had encouraged him to get the daily special, the roast pork, especially if he was pressed for time. He didn’t have a schedule but he’d gone along with the suggestion.

She smiled. “I know. People are always surprised. They don’t expect a place like this to have a chef. Pietro worked for years at Moldaire College in a high-end restaurant in their student union   . He’s always talking about how he used to cater all the important events at the college, even the private parties that the president of the college hosted.” She picked up the dirty dishes. “Can I get you anything else? Maybe a piece of apple pie?”

“I’m stuffed but because I suspect it will be every bit as good as that roast pork, I’ll take it to go.”

“Good choice,” she said. She walked over to the pie case, opened the door, slid a piece into a cardboard box, and brought it and a plastic fork back to the table.

Cal pulled out a twenty. “Keep the change, Lena,” he said, looking at her name tag. She looked tired. Hell of a job slinging hash.

But at least she had a job.

Which was more than Cal had at the moment.

No job. No expectations to live up to. No one else’s timetable to adhere to. It was a heady feeling for a man who’d spent eight years in Uncle Sam’s employ as a Navy SEAL and the past six months as a contractor doing much the same kind of work at a considerably higher rate of pay.

“What are they saying about the roads?” he asked. He’d seen Lena chatting with two state police officers at the counter.

“It’s bad and supposed to get a whole lot worse. Interstate is still open but there’s lots of spinouts and cars in the ditch.”

About what he’d expected. First bad storm always resulted in a bunch of fender benders as people relearned their winter math—that speed plus following too close equaled crap-on-a-stick.

He scooted to the end of the booth, stood up and stretched. “Well, wish me luck,” he said.

She shook her head. “You’re like all the other crazies around here today. There was a heck of a commotion in the parking lot right before you came in. People running around, slamming doors and carrying on. They cleared out fast when my friends at the counter, who never miss an opportunity for apple pie, pulled their squad cars into the lot. Probably couldn’t wait to get out on the road and kill themselves.”

That was a happy thought. He was grateful he’d missed the excitement. He’d had plenty recently. It had been less than two weeks ago that he’d barely missed getting up close and personal with enemy fire.

“Anyway, for what it’s worth,” she added, “there’s a hotel about five miles east. They might still have a room.”

He winked at her and smiled. Then he pulled his coat collar up and walked out the door. The cold wind hit him hard.

Crazy. Maybe. But Lena had no idea the number of truly outrageous things he’d done. And usually in the name of protecting national security or preserving American interests.

The hotel might have been a good option if he was continuing on the Interstate. He would be turning off before that, for the final leg of his journey. The two-lane highway that would take him into Ravesville would likely be in worse shape than the Interstate but he had another hour of daylight left and he intended to make good use of that.

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