Mike flicks a disdainful glance at my hand before meeting my eyes, and I think he’s going to snub me. But then he huffs in annoyance, takes my hand, and gives it a hard shake. “Apology accepted. And, I’ll admit, that was pretty fucking cool of you to get Darius Fables to visit Sam. Sorry I made light of it. I’ve just been feeling pissy about this entire situation with Sam.”
I finally understand what’s at the heart of his fears. “You know, Mike… I believe you’re safe in Vegas. I don’t believe you’re bringing any untoward danger on Sam and Leighton. All indications are nobody is coming after you. At least not actively. And I have sources in the government who will alert me if that changes.”
Mike chuckles, but it doesn’t sound like it’s in pure amusement. There’s a darkness to it. “Listen, August… I appreciate you attempting to make me feel better here. But when you have a death sentence hanging over your head, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you that you’re safe or your kid and grandson are safe. You never believe it. Not really.”
I’m starting to get that. God knows Leighton has made enough mention about how deeply the fear was instilled within her family so they always stayed on their toes. Always operated with caution and distrust. It’s easy for me to be mad about it, because it drove their decisions and ultimately cut me out of Sam’s life. But I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing if in their shoes and with only the information they were given.
My phone rings, and I reach into my pocket to pull it out. Cage Murdock’s name flashes. He’s one of my Jameson teammates, but he works from the Pittsburgh office now.
In apology, I tell Mike, “I need to take this really quick.”
Mike lifts his chin in acknowledgment, his eyes returning to the TV screen and his hands curling around the beer mug.
“What’s up?” I say as soon as I connect the call.
“They’ve found Malik. He’s alive,” Cage says. A ripple of disbelief and adrenaline shoots up my spine, causing me to sit ramrod straight on my barstool.
Malik Fournier has been missing since a mission in Syria gone bad over four months ago. We’ve been searching for him on a few follow-up missions, but we haven’t been able to glean any reliable data as to whether he’s dead or alive.
“Come again?” I order.
Because, surely, he’s mistaken. This seems too good to be true, so my inclination is to distrust it.
“He’s being held prisoner. I’m putting together a team to go in,” Cage says, his voice hard and brusque. I can tell he’s one hundred percent in black-ops mode. “You’re one of the first I’ve called. I want you on the rescue op.”
I take in Mike next to me. He’s a reminder of how drastically my life has changed in the last several weeks. There was a time when Cage would have called, told me the exact news he just laid out to me, and I would have said, “Count me in,” without a second thought.
But my life is different now.
“I’m sorry,” I murmur, my voice laced with regret and self-recrimination. I can’t believe I’m declining this opportunity. “But I can’t leave.”
Cage doesn’t hesitate. “I know. I mean, I knew you would say that. But I needed to make the offer, so you knew you were one of my first choices. But honestly, dude… with what you’ve got going on? You’re right where you need to be.”
Admittedly, that helps a little. Assuages the guilt over not being a team player right now. I never thought anything in the world could ever stop me from going on a rescue mission to find and save our fallen teammate. But I have a little boy battling for his life in the hospital, and Sam’s more important than anything else.
Cage fills me in on what their intelligence has revealed. They’re putting together a rescue mission, hoping to leave within a few days. He assures me I’ll be kept updated along with everybody else at Jameson.
“Good luck, brother,” I say solemnly just before we disconnect. “Bring him back to us.”
“I will,” Cage says with determination, then he’s gone.
I gently place my phone on top of the bar before picking up my beer and taking a sip. I’m going to have a lot of friends getting ready to put themselves in serious danger, and I can’t do a damn thing to help them because I’m needed here more.
“Everything okay?” Mike asks.
Slowly, I swivel his way, leaning my elbow on the bar. “No, it’s not.”
“Anything I can help with?” he offers.
I stare at this man, who, at one point in my life, was like a father to me. I thought I would marry Leighton—that Mike would always be there to impart advice.