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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Married to Mr. X

Angela fingered the revolver and hoped it didn’t show under her wedding gown. It really would be too bad if she had to use it before she was ready. The extra time and trouble she had taken to find a special holster had been worth it though; no one could possibly guess that the jacketed dress concealed a weapon. Well, maybe the groom had a suspicion, but then she would expect him to.

The sun was shining as she mounted the church steps; a lovely day for a lovely deception. If only everything went off the way it was supposed to. She had practiced until she knew exactly how many seconds it took to walk down the aisle, turn and face the man she was going to marry.

The music started; in front of her, the bridesmaids swirled one by one in measured rhythm. Now it was her turn. Angela took a breath, let it out and started walking. Faces turned toward her, some smiles, some bored, but no one crying. Ah, yes, but this wasn’t a traditional wedding anyway.  

She reached the front, turned slightly toward the straight figure waiting for her and looked at – a perfect stranger.  

She felt her guard slip for a moment. He met her eyes, shook his head almost imperceptibly. Angela held the bouquet with one hand; raised trembling fingers to tuck a feathery wisp behind her ear. He wasn’t the one! Should she go through with this? What other chance did she have? 

She wildly sorted her options as the minister’s voice droned on. She played the part, smiled, said the words, and even clasped the masculine hand offered her as the vows were said.  

But she knew the kiss was coming. It was the pivotal point of the wedding, especially this one. Just like Judas, she’d said to herself in the days of preparation. The ancient signal had seemed a natural choice. She was prepared to endure it for the sake of victory. What should she do now? What. . .  

“. . . may kiss the bride.”  

It was time. The man beside her turned, lifted the veil and smoothed it back. She forced herself to look into his eyes, eyes that were . . . amused? 

He put his arms around her, bent his head and whispered against her lips, “When I say 'now,' follow me.” 

It wasn’t really a kiss, but it must have looked like it to the crowd. There were a few oohs and aahs and gentle laughs. But Angela was reaching for her composure as the minister presented them and the organ trilled out the recessional.  

She had not counted on this. Where was George Crowder, entrepreneur, debonair ladies’ man and Angela’s bridegroom? And who was the man she had just married? The agency was going to get an earful as soon as she could make contact.  

While she wondered how she would explain all this to the well bred group of well-wishers, she quick-walked with him toward the back of the church, followed by a flutter of bridesmaids. In the foyer, he turned suddenly and said in her ear, “Now!” 

Down the basement steps he pulled her, through a narrow hall and into a dark room in the back. She felt a tug as her dress caught on something. Yanking at it, she stumbled, gripping his hand to keep from plunging headfirst into a sprawl.  

“Hurry!” He said and pointed toward a shaft of light coming from a corner where there were more steps. 
Angela was feeling frightened. She stopped and tried to glare at him, one foot on the step downward.  

“Look, would you mind telling me who you are and what is going on here?” 

“We don’t have time for that.”  

“Yes, we do. For goodness sake, I just married you, Mr. . . .” 

“Just consider me the guy who saved you from Crowder.” 

“And how do you know about him?” 

“He happens to be my stepfather.” 

 “You mean you’re the George I married?” 


“But I don’t understand. What about the people, the papers, the pl. . . ?” Angela stopped. 

“The plan? Yes, I know about it. I’ll explain everything as soon as we’re safe. Now, let’s go, and please watch that thing.” He nudged her shoulder gently. And she froze. He knew she had a gun. 

“Would you really have shot him?” 

“You said you know everything. What do you think?” 

“I think the agency asked too much of you.” 

“I carry my own weight; when I have a job, I do it.” 

“But this time you don’t have to.” 

Angela didn’t know where this was going. They had emerged into a narrow alley, hemmed in by towering brick buildings and not in the greatest part of town. Suddenly, a black car careened to a stop in front of them. The man snatched the door open and shoved her in, jumping in after her as the driver sped off. 

“It’s over, Angela.” The man beside her took her hand and held it. 

“Please tell me what is going on.” She wasn’t sure if she should slap him or hug him. 

“Let me first assure you that your country is grateful. The assignment wasn’t easy; you toughed it out.” 

“So, I am to assume that you have both the knowledge and the clearance to discuss this topic with me?” 

“You may. And you should also know that you haven’t been alone.” He winked.  

“You mean you’ve been tailing me?” 

“I guess you could call it that. The fact is, I never intended for it to go this far; I didn’t want you to be in any danger. But, of course, things never go as we plan, do they?” 

“Tell me about it.”  Angela stared out the window as the limousine turned off the freeway and headed toward the distant peaks, cloaked in gold and crimson. “By the way, where in the world are we going? And what is next in the plan?” 

“George” smiled and spoke softly. “I thought you’d never ask.” He took her hand. “Let me lay it out for you. First, we go to the agency’s mountain retreat for debriefing. Not the most fun, but necessary, as you know so well. Then, we change into casual clothes and have dinner at a great little place where there’s a fireplace and they serve hot cocoa in mugs as fat as pumpkins.” 

“And then?” 

“Then, Angela, I ask you to marry me as me, and not as an assignment.” 

“But you don’t even know me!” 

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. A man learns an awful lot about a girl when he’s been her shadow for eight months. Besides, I’m an agent, remember? I specialize in reading the character of others.” 

“So you’ve been ‘reading’ me, I guess.” Angela felt her face getting pink. 

“Just in the primer level, honey. But I’ve got a lifetime to get my graduate degree. And, now, how about handing over that gun? The Lord and I will keep you safe from now on.”  -- VQ 

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