TWENTY-FIVE

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The growl of the motorcycle intensified on approach, then slowed to a throaty rumble as it turned into the driveway.

"Here we go," Bruce muttered when it came to a stop in front of him.

The rider's visor was yanked open to reveal blue eyes with a killing look in their depths. "Come up to the house," was said in a tone matching the rage in those eyes. The visor was slammed shut and the bike stomped into gear before Bruce could even respond. He watched it tear the rest of the way up the driveway.

Mark was pacing in the living room like a caged animal when Bruce got there. "Tell me again."

Bruce gave his version of the story, trying to avoid being too vivid when it came to describing Virginia's terror. Mark plowed into his bedroom when the briefing came to an end, and Bruce followed. They both stared down at the blood stain.

"Goddamn it! Why wasn't I here! I should have killed that fucker!"

Probably just as well, Bruce thought. Otherwise we'd be picking pieces of Walt off the wall right now.

"Why did she leave? Was she upset?"

"No . . . no, not really. She had calmed down quite a bit while I was here. Then Captain Beal came over and I left her with him." He shrugged. "She was"—he paused, looking for the right word—"incredible."

Mark's head whipped around and Bruce turned away, worried his expression would reveal too much. There was an awkward, drawn-out silence before Mark went back to pounding a trench in the carpet.

Bruce spotted the papers scattered across the dresser. "Maybe she left a note?"

They rushed over. Picking up the two halves of the torn picture, Mark cursed under his breath while Bruce read the card and ran his finger along the Rolex.

It came out of nowhere, an overpowering anger that tightened his gut but loosened his mouth, and before Bruce could stop the words, he had blurted, "You had better not screw this up. There are plenty of men out there who would love to take your place."

Mark turned on him, his tone accusing. "You wouldn't happen to be one of those men, would you, Bruce?"

Bruce glared back, feeling the tension oscillate between them.

After doing a reality check—questioning this sudden need to stand up for a woman that wasn't even his—he backed off. "If that's all, I'd better get back to my post."

He had made it to the bedroom door before Mark called out, "Bruce!"

He froze, steeling himself for a confrontation. As Mark crossed the distance between them, Bruce turned to meet the aggression head on.

A hand came up to grip his shoulder. "I want to thank you for what you did today. I don't know how I can repay you, but I want you to know that you saved two people here in this room."

He knows! Bruce thought.

Mark paused, and the sentiment in his eyes reflected his next words. "I love her. I would die without her." He dropped his hand and backed away, looking to the ground as emotion seemed to threaten his stability.

Bruce watched his boss struggle for composure, envious of the ability to feel such devotion for another. He stayed silent, wanting to share in the sensation, even if only for a brief moment. And although his chest felt hollow inside, he held no resentment toward the man in front of him. His longtime friend deserved a chance at happiness, a chance to prove that a person's past does not define their future. He will make a great father, popped into his head with an indescribable mixture of both joy and sadness.

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