Footsteps slapped wet ground. Stella turned. Grant and Hannah were running toward her.
It’s a good thing you’re wearing a niqab, Joseph said quietly. You don’t want to be seen by anyone now that the hunters are after you… Let’s keep moving.I tore my eyes away from the poster as Joseph ushered me into the building. We found ourselves in a small bare-walled reception room that reeked of detergent. There was a desk in the center of it, but nobody was sitting behind it. I rang the brass bell four times.
A man with a unibrow and a thick bushy mustache emerged from one of the back rooms.Joseph’s grip around my waist was almost painful.Yes? the man said in English, looking from me to Joseph.
We would like a room, I replied in Arabic as I clutched Joseph’s hands around my waist and loosened them slightly. Just until this evening.He eyed Joseph more closely. Are you married?
No, I replied, already realizing where this was heading.
We don’t allow cohabiting between unmarried men and women. You will need to book separate—It’s not in here. He needed to get out of this room. Let’s go look somewhere else.
Ellie looked up at him, her expression puzzled. Tears shone in the corners of her eyes as she met his gaze. Without speaking, she crossed the room, took his hand, and tugged him into the hall. The sounds of water splashing, muted conversation, and the baby’s babbling echoed from the bathroom. She led him through the door at the end of the hall and up the stairs to the open attic. Dust motes danced in the light of three bare bulbs suspended from the rafters.I doubt Lee would have hidden the file up here, Grant said.
Shh. Ellie wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him.Shocked, he pulled back, but she tightened her hold. Grant, ignoring the warning signals from his conscience, returned the embrace. He rested his forehead on her hair and accepted the comfort she offered. His heart stirred in an uncomfortable and dangerous spiral. He liked this. Too much. This was the sort of thing his married friends missed while they were deployed: human contact, shared emotions. For a second, he thought maybe it was worth missing. But no, that would be selfish. This wasn’t just about him. It wouldn’t be fair to Ellie to start something he couldn’t finish. He moved every year or so, and if he really wanted to be a general, he didn’t need emotional ties tempting him to turn down assignments that could further his career. It was much easier to remain emotionally detached, because until this week, that’s what he’d been. He thought he’d had a relationship with his brother, but it was all an illusion. He’d barely known Lee. Grant had spent most of his adult life alone and aloof, avoiding personal connections and complications.