Nikolai Nagregor knew time was running out.
He had to find out how high this conspiracy went.
Who could he trust? Who could he tell?
Elena was at the top of the list. There wasn’t anyone he trusted more. But he didn’t want to put her in that position. He didn’t want to put her in any more jeopardy than she was already in, if he could avoid it. Being his wife was hazardous enough without intentionally placing her in danger.
Cold eyes followed him wherever he went, watching. Waiting for him to screw up and make a mistake. To allow his attention to be diverted just long enough for them to strike. Whoever they were. Nowhere was safe, not even the hallways of the building he had pledged his life to. Not when traitors walked these very same corridors, plotting against the country they were supposed to love and protect to their very last breath.
Nikolai planned to bring every one of them to their knees. To make them pay dearly for their crimes.
But he was also a practical man and had taken precautions should things unexpectedly go to shit. But hoped to avoid that outcome at all costs, not just for him and his country but for his beautiful, sweet wife.
He couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Elena, to not be with her and see her every day. He especially didn’t want to leave her alone with his secret—his very dangerous secret. His unfortunate luck to stumble across the biggest plot of his career. One that had the potential to cause great harm and reached God only knew how high within his agency. But as a patriot, he wanted to make a difference in the world, and so despite the overwhelming fear and stress, he also felt somewhat appreciative. Now he only had to do something about it, which was easier said than done.
Nikolai adjusted the security pass on his navy blue suit jacket and collected the file folders he intended to work on later that night after dinner. His job was never really finished. Something always needed attending to, more so with his most current case. He locked his office door and moved down the hallway. The walls were a traditional off-white and the carpeted floors a bland beige. Sterile was the word that came to his mind as he passed through the first of several security check-points. His pass beeped as the LED light on the swipe machine turned a fluorescent green.
He nodded to the guard, easily concealing the gnawing stress and concern battling inside of him. How easily it would be to dump the knowledge inside his head into someone else’s lap. He would certainly live a longer, healthier life if he could. But the realist inside him knew that without being able to trust a colleague or even a director completely, he would have to face this burden alone—at least until he knew more.
He shifted the folders in his hands and thought about the coming night. His polished black leather shoes soundless as he moved in efficient, long strides towards the exit. He knew Elena would not be pleased when she caught sight of the folders in his hands. It had been a long time since he had come home empty handed and he wished with all his heart tonight could’ve been one of those nights. The best he could do was try to beat Elena home and surprise her with one of his delicious home cooked dinners, then draw his hard-working and patient wife a magnificent bath surrounded by vanilla scented candles—her favorite.
Elena deserved so much better. She deserved a husband who always came home at six, but instead she’d gotten stuck with him. Elena knew the importance of his work. Hers was equally as important, so she cut him a fair amount of slack and he was grateful to her. He thanked God every day to be sharing a life with such an amazing woman.
He only hoped it would be a long and happy life. He played a dangerous game, one which could have deadly and disastrous consequences. Not only to him but to their country.
He often put his life on the line for his job, all part of working for the SVR—Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki—Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.
Nikolai swiped his access card once more, the security doors automatically sliding open, and walked towards the elevator that would descend to the ground floor. He would soon be home where he could finally relax, his muscles tense and his gut churning. He glanced at his watch. It was five-fifty. If everything went according to plan, he would still beat Elena home by an hour, just enough time for a quick shower and to cook his apologetic dinner. Perfect, he thought. He couldn’t wait to see her face when she walked into their apartment.
Within minutes he was on the street, and an hour later he arrived home to the cozy little apartment he shared with Elena. The feminine décor she had assigned the room greeted him and he refrained from grimacing. He had allowed her free rein on decorating—a mistake in hindsight—where she could do whatever she wanted to every room in the place except for his study and this was what she had given him.
He had been shocked to say the least when he had first seen what Elena had done, but the décor was there to stay and while it wasn’t the sleek, working professional design he had envisioned her giving the apartment, he hadn’t bothered to voice his slight displeasure. Now, as much as it pained him to see it, everywhere he looked he saw his wife, his lovely Elena. That made it worth every Ruble.
He removed his overcoat and hung it in the small closet by the door. He turned sharply when he sensed another person’s presence. He knew instantly it wasn’t Elena. He couldn’t smell her sweet perfume that generally clung to everything it touched. His right hand closed around the pistol resting in the leather holster attached to his belt. All agents were required to carry for events such as this. He quickly withdrew the weapon, holding the Glock in his hand steady and ready to fire.
He crept forward into the main living quarters, keeping his breathing regulated, making no sound as he advanced on the intruder. His gaze shifted back and forth across the room as he silently moved, navigating around tables and chairs that stood in his way. He had home advantage. He caught sight of the dark figure. He was well hidden and had Nikolai not been a professional, would most likely not have seen him. He crouched down, keeping low to the ground as he approached.
“Nikolai, is that you?” the intruder asked into the darkness of the apartment. Nikolai stood still. He recognized the voice, had heard it often and smiled gratefully even as he let out a deep breath, relief pouring into him. He hadn’t been expecting his visitor until tomorrow.
He straightened and returned his weapon to its place on his hip. “How did you know I was not Elena?”
The man started towards the sound of Nikolai’s voice. “I can’t smell gardenias,” he replied simply.
Nikolai smiled again, thoughts of Elena once more filling his head. Making him yearn to hold her, even for a moment, if that was all he’d be allowed. Ever since he’d first met her in his office at SVR, as her supervisor, she had smelled deliciously of gardenias, her signature scent. She had been such a wide-eyed innocent back then and he had felt like the big bad wolf about to devour Little Red Riding Hood. He had been ruthless in his pursuit of her.
He cleared his mind of his wife. There would be plenty of time for that later when this matter was settled. Now was the time he could finally let loose what had been bothering him and get some input. The man before him had several years dealing with such problems. A man he trusted. He stepped forward.
Yes, everything will be all right now.
Between the two of them, they would sort out this mess, find the conspirators before they had a chance to commit their act of terrorism and potentially save hundreds of lives in the process. Nikolai’s body relaxed, his shoulders aching as the weight lifted and he felt lighter than he had in days. He wasn’t usually one to be so rattled by an impending attack but this one was no ordinary assault. He flicked the closest lamp on, illuminating them in a soft glow. He turned his back and reached into his desk drawer and retrieved a bottle of Stolichnaya—one of Russia’s finest vodkas—and two small, sturdy glasses.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he admitted truthfully, without worrying about what the admission did to his ego. “This has been weighing heavily on me, gnawing away at me until my stomach is lined with nothing but ulcers.”
His companion raised an eyebrow. “Then you haven’t shared your concerns with Elena?”
Nikolai shook his head. “I didn’t want to worry her.”
He poured two fingers of vodka into both glasses.
“Yes, although it seems you’ve been doing enough worrying for the both of you. Are you sure she knows nothing? You know how Elena is and how attuned she is to your emotions,” the man said, reasonably.
Nikolai held out the glass to his guest, who shook his head. Nikolai took a deep swallow of his, allowing the liquid to slide down his throat and warm his belly.
“No, she knows nothing. I made sure of it. Besides, in the past few weeks we’ve seen very little of each other. I’ve been working hard just trying to understand what I stumbled upon and then there was the time spent tracking you down.”
The man shrugged. “They like to keep us busy and out of range. So you’re absolutely sure Elena has no idea—”
“I already told you she doesn’t. Why are you so interested?” Nikolai stopped when something in his overworked brain clicked and reviewed the past few sentences. His eyes widened, his movements too slow, so unexpected this turn of events.
I love you, Elena, skittered across his brain even as he drew his last breath. The man standing before him, the man who had called himself a friend, a trusted member of the intelligence community put a bullet right between his eyes, imbedding it in his brain. He was so quick, lightning fast. Nikolai hadn’t seen it coming until it was too late, betrayed by the man he thought had come to help him.