“Lee, I don’t like it. I just don’t think it is safe enough for Natasha to be doing this. She is supposed to be on bed rest for the rest of the week. She shouldn’t be worrying about this right now.”
“Look, Amanda, Dr. Mahone agreed to release her to our care. Billy agreed to release her to our custody. She’s home, safe and sound. Tonight, when everybody leaves we’ll all sit down and discuss this. Phillip will know by then and we can decide if this is the right step to take to catch Rominav. If I know my stepson, he is going to have a few words to say about this whole situation. Maybe he can talk Natasha out of this crazy plan.”
“Yeah, but who’s going to talk Dr. Smyth out of it. He won’t even consider dropping the charges against her unless she helps us lure him in. I can’t believe he spoke to her before we did. I could just… oh, I don’t know. That man is a horrible, cold hearted creature.”
Lee stared at his wife in amazement. She was always the one to say that you shouldn’t say anything if you can’t say something nice. She always tried to see the best in everyone, even Dr. Smyth. But here she was, condemning the man for doing his job.
Not that Lee didn’t agree with her. He was just amazed that she was saying it out loud. He had been angry himself when he found out that Smyth had already spoken to Natasha when they got there. He was the one who planted the idea in her head. He told her that she could escape the worst of the punishment if she would help them lure Piotre into a trap.
She had agreed. Not to escape punishment, for she knew she would face whatever consequences awaited her. She had said as much to them before revealing her plan to them. She had put it quite simply and even Lee had to agree that it would work. He just hoped they could pull it off without anyone getting hurt, anymore than they already had.
Natasha sat on the bed in the guest room. She had come home with the Stetson’s a few hours ago. They had told Phillip and the others that she fell on a patch of ice and had gone to the hospital to be checked out at Amanda’s insistence. Thankfully, no one questioned why she had been shopping with Amanda and they got by with a minimum of explanations. The entire family had gathered for a holiday dinner prepared by Dotty, Lillian and Jamie, as was tradition. Natasha had felt very awkward and guilty and had retired to bed rather early. She knew Phillip was worried and would be down shortly to check on her. What was to come would be the hardest conversation she ever had. She must tell Phillip the whole story. Who she was and why she was here. She must break the heart of a young man she had grown to love and respect. Hopefully, he could understand and forgive her. She needed his support for the next few weeks of her life. She was about to undertake the most dangerous thing she had ever contemplated doing. She prayed for strength and the ability to do what she must.
Tonight, after she explained everything to Phillip, she planned to call Piotre and tell him that she was alive and wanted vengeance on the Agency. She was going to tell him that they refused to believe her and that she was being held in the hospital in custody of the Agency security. They were going to prosecute her to the fullest extent of the law for helping Piotre. She hoped to convince him that she was angry enough to do anything to get back at the Stetsons.
She really felt he would fall for her ploy. His last, best attempt to destroy the Russian ambassadors had failed and she knew he would leap at the chance to finish his horrible plan. When the doctor said she was strong enough to do so, she would go back to the hospital, where she would wait on Piotre to show up and take her away with him. She didn’t doubt he could do it. He had more connections than even she knew.
But first she must get through this night. She must own up to what she had done. She must reap what she had sown, as her beloved aunt had been fond of saying. A soft knock sounded on the door and she knew that the time had come. “Come in.”
The door opened and Phillip stood in the doorway. He leaned against the frame with his hands shoved in his pockets. He was uncomfortable, that much was obvious. He had known from the minute his Mom and Lee had come in with her that something was wrong. They were tense and quiet. Most people wouldn’t notice it but they were a close family. Especially Lee and Phillip. Phillip considered him his best friend and he knew when he was hiding something. And something was definitely being hidden from him tonight.
He prayed that Natasha and the baby were all right and had come down to ensure that she was just resting. “So, are you okay?”
“Yes, physically, I’m fine. I do need to talk to you though.” She patted the bed beside her and waited for him to join her. When he had done so, she reached for his hand and began to speak. “Phillip, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Please say you will hear me out. Then you can say or do anything you want and I won’t say a word. Can you do that for me?”
“Of course I can, Tash. What’s going on? Something’s been wrong since you got home tonight. I can tell by the way Mom and Lee are acting. Is something wrong with the baby? Or you? Just tell me. We’ll work it out. Mom and Lee taught me that.”
“Your mother and Lee are wonderful people, that is why it is so hard for me to say this to you. I’m not what you think. I’m a terrible person and I’ve done a terrible thing.”
“Don’t say things like that. It’s not true.”
She drew in a deep breath and released it slowly. She stood up, with her hands over her distended abdomen, in front of Phillip and said, “Phillip, this isn’t your baby. I was using you to get to your Mom and Lee. For the information they had that my brother needed. I’ve been lying to you since I met you.”
Upstairs, Lee and Amanda had seen Jamie and Joe out the door. Lillian had gone to bed with Dotty a few minutes before and now they waited for Phillip to come back up from the guest room. He had been down there for about 30 minutes and they knew that Natasha was telling him the truth. How would he take it? Amanda longed to be there with him but knew she was not needed in this particular discussion. Phillip was grown and deserved the chance to hear this out by himself. She knew that they would come to them when it was over. She made Natasha promise to come to them when it was over. She only hoped that both young people could overcome this obstacle and be the mature young adults she knew they were. She glanced at her watch and wondered when they would rejoin them.
Lee, seeing her nervous watch checking, sat beside her on the couch and manuvered their bodies until she was leaning against his chest. She sighed and relaxed against the comfort of his body. “What could be taking so long?”
“They had a lot to talk about. I’m going to take it as a good sign, a good sign that they are listening and talking to each other. Maybe even healing the hurt before it grows to big.” He toyed with her fingers as he spoke. The wedding band and engagement ring spun loosely on her ring finger. She had lost weight. Soon, this whole thing would be over and they could all start to heal.
“Who taught you to be so insightful about matters of the heart?”
“Oh, I had the best teacher. She taught me everything I know about real love. In fact, I married her.”
“Oh, aren’t you the sweetest thing? She twisted around and kissed him softly. “I love you.”
From the door came the sound of a throat clearing and then, “Mom, Lee.”
They came up off the couch in record time and stood before the younger couple. “I guess you have some questions, huh?” Lee motioned for them to come and sit down. They had already decided to be up front about the entire situation, including their roles as Agency operatives. “Natasha sit down and put your feet up. Dr. Mahone said you had to rest for a week at least.”
Phillip helped her to sit and looked at his parents a bit uncertainly. He nodded once then said, “First of all I want you to know that we’ve known, me and Jamie, for some time now that you don’t work for a film company. We weren’t sure what you did but we were sure it was more than producing government films. I know about Natasha’s brother and about why she was sent here. I also know what she wants to do to help you catch him.”
Amanda spoke up, “Are you okay with that plan?”
“Yes. On one condition.”
Lee stood and said, “Wait a minute, Phillip, I know that look. You can’t….”
“Yes, I can. The only way Natasha is going through with this plan is if I stay with her. I won’t let her do it alone. And that’s final.” He stood and gently touched Natasha’s face then strode from the room, out of the house and into the night.
“Natasha, did you tell him about the baby?”
“Of course I did Amanda. He said it didn’t matter. He still loves me. I’m sorry. I was too weak to tell him that he couldn’t help me. I’ll try again tomorrow.” She began to cry. The events of the day had taken their toll on everyone and she fell forward to bury her head in her hands.
“Oh sweetheart, don’t cry. We’ll make it work out.” Amanda looked up beseechingly to Lee over Natasha’s shoulder. She had moved to embrace her when she started to cry.
“I’ll go after Phillip. I’ll try to talk him out of this.” Lee stood and left the room the same way Phillip had. He didn’t have to look far. Phillip was in the back yard shooting hoops. Lee watched him briefly then intercepted the ball and joined the game. “We’ve worked out lots of problems out here on this old court. Want to try it again?” He bounced the ball to the young man.
“Why? You just want to talk me out of helping her.” Phillip caught the ball and aimed it at the wire-rimmed basket.
“No, not necessarily,” Lee captured the ball on the rebound and returned it to the other player.
Phillip looked at him disbelievingly. “So what do you want to talk about then? I don’t believe in Santa Claus any more. And I obviously know about the birds and the bees.”
Lee took the ball away from the younger man and stood face to face with him. “Fine, you want to go straight to the heart of the matter, let’s go. You don’t seem real surprised that baby isn’t yours. Want to tell me why?”
Phillip looked up and sat on the ground to talk. Lee joined him and waited for him to start talking. “Like I said. I know about the birds and the bees. And I know how to be responsible about it. You taught me that. I only slept with her once and we used precautions. She said that it must have been faulty or something. I didn’t really believe her but she seemed so convinced, so desperate that I couldn’t just turn my back on her. On the chance that it was my baby. That would make me just like Dad. He turned his back on his responsibility and Mom paid the price. Mom and me and Jamie. Even grandma had to give up a lot to help Mom with us until you came along. You never considered us, any of us, as a burden. You loved us because you loved Mom. You’re the example I’ve been following for years. Not Dad. You would never have run out on your responsibilities like that. I did what I had to do, just in case, you know?”
Lee thought about how proud this young man made him. He was grown and responsible and he did know just where he was coming from. “Yeah, I know what you mean. But I still don’t think you need to be in on this operation. It is going to be dangerous and besides I’m not sure that I could convince my boss to agree with it.”
“Uncle Billy? He’ll go with it. He’s a lot like you or maybe you’re a lot like him.”
“How did you know he was the boss I was referring to?”
“I told you, me and Jamie have known for a while now that you are not what you seem. It wasn’t a hard conclusion to get to. He calls in the middle of the night and you both go off for days at a time. When you come back, the news is full of plots gone wrong or bad guys busted by secret agents. You try to look uninterested but we know. Besides, you get hurt an awful lot for film producers! Duh, Lee!”
“Okay, fine smart guy. So you know more than we thought. But…”
“No buts, Lee.” Serious eyes studied serious eyes. “Either I go with Natasha or she doesn’t go at all. I still love her regardless. Love is love, no matter what it does to you. You taught me that too.”
A huge sigh indicated Lee’s surrender. “Okay, but you have to
convince your mother. And help me up off the ground. I’m too
old for this. It’s cold out here.”