This holiday, give the gift of surprise, laughter, danger, and passion.
Give yourself the joy of MISTLETOE.
This holiday novella will take you on a roller coaster of emotions as you glimpse the season through the eyes of your fiercest K19 Security Intelligence Agents. How do these protective alpha men view the holidays surrounded by their friends and lovers? Find out in this gift Slade gives to her readers. Stick around, there may be something special for everyone under the MISTLETOE this year…
Compared to some of the places I’d been forced to sleep during my career, the hospital recliner was damn comfortable.
I shifted to my left side, hoping it would relieve some of the pressure on the right, where a bullet had struck my hip, requiring pelvic reconstruction surgery. The good news was, it hadn’t been life threatening and none of my organs had been compromised. The arthritic pain, however, was unrelenting.
I looked over at the woman lying in the hospital bed, hoping her injuries wouldn’t result in a similar life of pain. No one deserved to live with the kind I had to, but Alegria deserved it less than anyone I’d ever known.
We’d met at the United States Air Force Academy when I was a senior and she was an international student one year behind me. I remembered the day our Air Officer Commanding, AOC, introduced Manon “Alegria” Mondreau to the squadron. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Still was.
Her ebony-black hair was pulled back into the tight bun required by Air Force regulations, highlighting her mesmerizing, almond-shaped, gray-blue eyes.
How many times had I kissed her pouty, cherry-colored lips and ran my hands over her seductively sculpted nubile body? Hundreds.
“Any change?” asked Dutch, who’d known both Manon and me since those early days when we were all cadets, anxious to begin pilot training and get on with our careers.
I shook my head. “Nothing.”
“Why don’t you take a break? I can sit with her for the next couple of hours.”
“Thanks, but I’ll stick around.”
I raised my hand. “I have to be here, Dutch. Don’t fight me on this.”
My friend nodded and sat in one of the other recliners the hospital staff had agreed to bring into the room.
“She’s out of intensive care. That’s a good sign, right?” Dutch asked.
It was, but they still had no idea whether the damage to Manon’s spinal cord would have lasting effects.
“What happened between you two? Last I heard, you were thinking about proposing.”
As Dutch well knew, I’d taken an assignment. One she didn’t want me to.
* * *
“You volunteer more than anyone else. Why?”
“It’s my duty, Manon. It’s what I signed up for.”
“It’s no longer a duty. You retired. We agreed—”
“No. Stop right there. We didn’t agree to anything. You demanded I quit, and I refused. That’s the way it went down.”
She shook her head and stormed off. There’d been a time I would’ve gone after her, but no more. She’d spent just as much time stateside as she had in France, yet she still lived by her native country’s work ethic. Or lack of it.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like to work; Manon was just able to compartmentalize better than I was. She could say no to assignments without thinking twice. I couldn’t remember ever turning one down.
A few minutes later, she was back. “If you go, we’re finished.”
“I won’t choose you over my country, Manon.”
* * *
What had made matters worse, the assignment required me to go deep undercover, and during that time, no one knew whether I was dead or alive, and if I was still breathing, when I might resurface.
I had come back, finally, but Manon was steadfast in her refusal to forgive me for what she considered a betrayal.
I tried to get in touch with her when I first returned, but she’d refused to answer my calls. I knew from Doc that she was still on the K19 team, but the boss hadn’t encouraged me to continue pursuing her.
“Hold back for now,” he’d advised. “She knows you’re back. Let her come to you.”
I’d questioned Doc’s advice, but in the end, abided by it. What choice did I have? She refused to respond to my calls, texts, or emails.
“Is she with someone else?” I’d asked.
“Not that I’m aware of. However, Mantis, the personal lives of K19 team members are none of my business.”
I almost laughed at Doc’s proclamation, given the man had his nose in everyone else’s business about as much as my best friend, Dutch, did.
I stood and walked over to the bed when Manon groaned. I stroked her forehead, willing her to open her eyes and look at me.
“Mon coeur,” I whispered when she did.
“L’hôpital.” I was reaching the limit of words I knew in French, besides the obvious ones everyone knew. “You were shot.”
She turned her head and looked away from me, noticing for the first time that Dutch was in the room. She reached out her hand for him in the way I would’ve expected her to reach for me.
I met Dutch’s eyes when he stood, and in them, I saw sadness and guilt.
The man who’d been my best friend for twenty years took his time walking the three or four steps it would take him to get to the opposite side of the bed.
I felt my throat close up as my precious Manon clung to Dutch’s hand. I realized then that I was the interloper in the room, not Dutch. Not the man who, only minutes before, had asked what happened between she and I.
I turned and walked out of the room, cursing myself for being such a fool.
“That wasn’t fair, Alegria,” Dutch scolded me. “You made him think—”
“That I’d moved on.”
I caressed the back of his hand with my thumb. “Haven’t I?”
“If I believed it’s what you really want…”
“It is what I want.”
“Listen.” Dutch scrubbed his face with his hand. “I know you still love him. You always will.”
There was no point in lying; I would always love Mantis, but that didn’t mean we could ever be together again. Both of us had said too many things that could never be taken back. I’d given him an ultimatum, and he’d chosen the mission over me.
That’s just who Mantis was. From the day I met him, he’d never wavered in his commitment to the Air Force, and then to the CIA. I’d never been first with him, and I’d made it clear that if he wanted me in his life, he had to change his priorities. When he refused, I knew if I didn’t end the relationship then, I never would. And I’d be miserable.
“I’m with you now. What I had with him is…over.”
“I wish I could believe it was that simple.” Dutch shook his head.
“Why are you angry with me?”
He ran one hand through his hair while he grasped my fingers with the other. “Because I saw what just happened. Worse, I felt it.”
“You let him leave believing we were together. If you don’t want to be with me, why didn’t you tell him so?”
Dutch shook his head. “I didn’t say I don’t want to be with you, Alegria. As to why I didn’t try to stop Mantis from leaving, I can’t answer that. I guess it’s because as much as I care about him, I care about you too, and right now, you need me more.”
“I don’t want your pity.”
Dutch looked away from me “What do you want?”
I bit my lip. “I…I don’t know how to answer that.”
He turned back and met my gaze. “Ask me.”
“Ask me what I want.”
“What do you want, Dutch?” I whispered, my eyes filling with tears.
“I want to believe that someday you’ll love me half as much as you love Mantis. Just half as much.”
He got up and walked out. I knew he’d come back, and when he did, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say anything that would convince him I could love him the way he wanted me to.