Washington, DC – Thursday, Feb. 27, 10:00 a.m. EST
When Anna woke up, Viktor’s side of the bed was empty. She put on her robe and walked into the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter, drinking espresso. The toaster oven was humming, and its power button glowed orange.
“Good morning,” he said. “You look amazing. Oh, wait, you are amazing,” he said, sidling up to her and putting his hands on her waist. “And brilliant.”
She wrapped her hands around his neck. They kissed, interrupted by the ding of the toaster oven.
“I wish you were still in Moscow,” he said, holding her around the waist, pushing his body against hers and staring into her eyes. “Or I didn’t have to go back so soon.”
Anna smiled at him, as a thousand thoughts charged through her mind.
“Your eyes are sparkling,” he said.
She put her hands through the hair behind his ears, careful not to disturb the wound on the back of his head. “I’m just glad you are OK. I can’t believe you nearly got killed again.”
“I didn’t, Anna. It was not such a big deal this time. I can’t believe I was stuck in the hospital, while you were in danger. That’s what was killing me. You were out here alone.”
“Thanks, Viktor,” she said. “But I can take care of myself.”
“That’s not the point. I like to take care of you,” he said, gently letting her go, then handing her the latte he had just prepared. “I almost forgot.”
She took a sip. “Thanks. It’s perfect.”
“Are you sure you aren’t still upset about Raven?” he asked, as he turned to fetch the bagels he had placed in the toaster.
“I’m not,” Anna said, shaking her head. “Really. The whole thing with Raven doesn’t matter anymore. You should have handled it better, though,” she said with a theatrical side glance, as if she were squinting in the bright sun.
“I know,” he said, nodding as he spread cream cheese on the bagels. “I should have told you about her, before you heard it from someone else. I get that.”
“True,” she said, nodding playfully. “Anyway, now I consider Raven a real friend—it’s too bad she’s leaving.”
“You two together! If she stayed, I’m not sure I could handle it,” he said, taking capers, dill and lox out of the fridge.
“You better get ready,” Anna said, widening her eyes. “We’re planning on keeping in touch.”
“I’ll watch my step, then,” Viktor replied, eyebrows raised. “You two are a force to reckon with.”
“Maybe I was being rash by throwing you out.”
“No,” he sighed, returning to her side. “You had every right to get rid of me. You were in a tough spot—you sensed something was wrong, and you were right—I was avoiding telling you everything, and meanwhile, Raven had lied to you, even if it was on Tanner’s orders. You can be proud you sensed something was off. A great skill for anyone—especially a journalist.”
“I wish I’d had that sense about Sasha.”
“Everyone gets fooled sometimes. It’s inevitable. And he was a master manipulator. The point is, you figured it out.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence,” she said. “But the truth is that even one person bent on twisting the truth can inflict a lot of damage, not to mention several simultaneously, and I could never have seen what was really going on without help—a lot of help—you, me and Raven, plus all our sources, the ones we tracked down and the ones who found us. We had to team up to get it right. That’s why you and I have to be honest with each other—always, always. We have to be able to trust at least one other person.”
Viktor approached Anna again, grasped both her hands and looked her straight in the eye. “I won’t lie to you. I never have. But I also promise that I won’t keep you in the dark—ever again. I am really sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” she said.
“I’m really glad you took me back in last night,” he said softly.
“Who else would prepare me such great midnight snacks?”
“Oh, so you just keep me around for my culinary skills?”
“Definitely, just for your great culinary skills,” she said, laughing.
“Well, come on, then. Brunch is ready,” he said, placing down the plates with the bagels, lox and toppings.
“This looks gorgeous, Viktor. When did you even have time to get this stuff?”
“Maybe there are some secrets I’ll have to keep after all.”
The room brightened as the sun came out from behind the clouds.
“It’s a sign,” she said.
“To keep secrets?”
Anna laughed. “No. Maybe just that we should go outside today—not waste our rare day off together.”
“Absolutely. Bike ride or a hike?”
“But first, I’ve got another idea.”
“Not that. Not right now, anyway! What I meant was, I wanted to ask you something. I’ll be covering that European-American security conference in Dublin next month. Why don’t you come? It’s a short flight from Moscow. What do you say?”
“You’d have me lounge around in your hotel room, pining away until you finish filing long stories at the end of your grueling days?”
“You could use the hotel gym, and the sauna. Sample all the local stout, whiskey, whatever you like. Bike along the Liffey? Meet me for dinner? You can get some great venison. After the conference, we could take a few days.”
“How could I resist that?” he said, holding up his espresso cup. “To Dublin!”
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