Home > Kiss Me While I Sleep (CIA Spies #3)(13)

Kiss Me While I Sleep (CIA Spies #3)(13)
Author: Linda Howard

Probably Dr. Giordano would find it odd in the extreme if she called him and asked for the return of any leftover blood. If she were in California, now, she could claim she was a member of a weird religious cult and needed the blood, or even that she was a vampire, and probably get any remnants returned.

The ghoulish thought made her mouth curve into a wan smile, and she wished she could share that thought with Zia, who’d had a rich sense of the absurd. With Averill and Tina, and especially with Zia, she’d been able to relax and act silly occasionally, like a normal person. For someone in her line of work, relaxation was a luxury, and done only with others of her kind.

The faint smile faded. Their absence left such a huge void in her life that she didn’t think she’d ever be able to fill it. Over the years her affection had been given to an ever-shrinking circle, until finally there had been just five people in it: her mother and sister-and she no longer dared visit them for fear of bringing the danger of her job to their doorsteps-and three friends.

Averill had once been her lover; for a very brief time they had staved off the loneliness together. Then they had drifted apart, and she met Tina during a job that required two agents. She had never bonded instantly with anyone before the way she had with Tina, as if they had been twins meeting for the first time. They had only to look at each other to know they were thinking the same things at the same times. They had the same sense of humor, the same silly dreams that someday, when they weren’t in this line of work any longer, they’d get married and own their own businesses-not necessarily in that order-and maybe even have a kid or two.

Someday had come for Tina when, like helium balloons floating around in a closed room, Averill eventually floated across her path. Lily and Tina might have had tons in common, but chemistry was one thing that was different; Averill took one look at slim, brunette Tina and fell in love, and the feeling was mutual. For a while, between jobs, they had bummed around together and generally had a blast They were young and healthy and good at their jobs; admittedly, being assassins made them feel tough and invincible. They were professional enough not to swagger, but young enough to feel the rush.

Then Tina was shot, and reality crashed down on them. The job was deadly. The rush was no longer there. Their own mortality stared them in the face.

Averill and Tina reacted to it by getting married, as soon as Tina was well enough to walk down the aisle. They set up housekeeping together, first in a flat here in Paris, then they bought a small house on the outskirts. They began taking fewer and fewer jobs.

Lily usually came back to visit whenever she could, and one day she brought Zia with her. She’d found the baby, abandoned and starving to death, in Croatia, just after Croatia had declared its independence from Yugoslavia, when the Serb army was already decimating pockets of the new country in the beginning of the bitter war. No one Lily had asked seemed to have any knowledge of the baby’s mother, or none they’d admit to, and they had even less interest. It was either take the baby with her or know she was leaving it to die a miserable death.

Within two days she loved the infant as fiercely as if she’d given birth to it herself. Getting out of Croatia hadn’t been exactly easy, especially since she was lugging a baby. She’d had to find milk, and diapers, and blankets. She hadn’t worried about clothes at that point, just some means, any means, of keeping the baby fed and dry and warm. She named her Zia, just because she liked the name.

Then there was the problem of getting paperwork for Zia, finding a forger good enough, and getting her into Italy. Once out of Croatia, caring for her was less difficult, the supplies Lily needed more readily available. The task of caring for her was never easy, though. The baby jerked and went rigid whenever Lily touched her, and often spat up almost as much milk as she swallowed. Rather than subject the infant to even more travel, when she’d had so few constants in her very short life, Lily decided to stay in Italy for a while.

She thought Zia had been only a few weeks old when she’d found her, though it was possible lack of food and care had made her smaller than average. After staying in Italy for three months, though, Zia had gained enough weight to have dimples on her plump little hands and legs, she was drooling incessantly as she began to cut teeth, and she looked at Lily with the openmouthed, wide-eyed expression of sheer joy that only the very young could achieve and not look like total idiots.

Finally she took Zia to France to meet Uncle Averill and Aunt Tina.

The changeover in custody happened very gradually. Whenever Lily had a job, she would leave Zia with them; they loved the baby and she was content with them, though it still broke Lily’s heart every time she had to leave her, and she lived for the moment when she returned and Zia saw her for the first time. That little face would light up and she’d squeal in delight, and Lily thought she’d never heard a sound so beautiful.

But then the inevitable happened: Zia was growing up. She needed to attend school. Lily was sometimes gone for weeks at a time. It was only logical that Zia spend more and more time with Averill and Tina, until finally they all realized they had to get some more papers forged, showing the couple as Zia’s parents. By the time Zia was four, Averill and Tina were Daddy and Mom to her, and Lily was Aunt Lil.

For thirteen years Zia had been the emotional center of Lily’s life, and now she was gone.

What on earth had caused Averill and Tina to get back into a game they were well out of? Had they needed money? Surely they had known all they had to do was ask Lily, and she’d have given them every euro and dollar she had-and after nineteen years of the very lucrative work she did, she’d had a hefty balance in a Swiss bank. But something had lured them out of retirement, and they’d paid with their lives. And so had Zia.

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