Chapter 1 • Bucky | June 26, 7:47 p.m.
I love D.C. in the winter. I love that there’s barely any snow. We do get a couple storms every season — four inches at the most. But coming from a place where snow would dump on us over and over, I’ll take it.
Summers, however, are a different story.
It’s usually always 80-85 degrees and humid, even when the sun goes down. And when there’s not a breeze, it’s suffocating. Case in point, right now.
I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve wiped sweat off my forehead. But it’s not all due to the humidity. Part of it is stress — I just received a phone call from Wanda, one of Avenger Security’s newest agents, about a possible situation.
Maybe I should back up, to a couple of months ago.
It was a two-week whirlwind. I was hired to protect and figure out who was harassing Piper Stewart, but we ended up uncovering much more than a lovestruck stalker. Hydra — an underground society hell bent on total anarchy — was trying to take her out, effectively keeping her father from running for President. Somewhere between solving the case and protecting Piper, I fell in love. We fell in love.
But then I ended it — with a hand grenade, for good measure.
Given the nature of my career and the enemies I’ve made over the years, there can never be a future with Piper. For her safety, I had to end it. Of course, I could have done a better job than just leaving, without so much as a goodbye.
Almost a month after I left the hospital, Piper graduated from Georgetown, Summa Cum Laude. She began working for her Dad full-time, helping with the marketing of his campaign. At the beginning of June, Mr. Stewart was nominated by his party as its presidential candidate, which meant more work and travel for Piper. But as of now, she was still in D.C.
I know all of this because she still wears her bracelet, which for some reason, gives me hope. And, also, because of Wanda. Just before Piper graduated, I got word that she was interviewing for a female secret service agent. I had Wanda go to the interview, prepping her on some of Piper’s hobbies and interests. It worked, because she was hired on the spot.
I know I shouldn’t have. But ever since the bombing and the information we found out after the fact, I’ve had a gut feeling Hydra is planning something else. I just want to make sure Piper isn’t involved.
Of course, that action put me in hot water at Avenger Security. Steve was furious when he found out I had Wanda infiltrate the Secret Service. In fact, he’s barely spoken to me, apart from some case updates. But I don’t care. I just want to make sure Piper is safe, until I know Hydra is done for good. Then I’ll be done.
But that day isn’t today.
After parking my SUV, I hopped out, running up to the restaurant in the heart of downtown D.C. Wanda was there to greet me.
“They’re in a private table to the left of the bar,” she briefed me.
I thanked her, adjusting my light weight jacket — and making sure I had all the equipment I may or may not need. I walked into the restaurant — a jazz song playing loud enough that I could easily slip in, break up the party, and get Piper out, without causing a scene. I spotted her in the far corner, my heartbeat slightly picking up. She looked beautiful. She had cut her hair — shoulder length, instead of it stopping in the middle of her back — and had on a navy colored dress. I watched as she politely smiled, nodding her head to the guy that was sitting opposite her. But knowing what Piper looks like when she’s happy, I knew it wasn’t a true smile. She was tolerating this guy at best.
Her date was wasted. Beyond wasted, actually. He was laughing loudly, waving his hands all around and swaying from side to side. Then, he was getting up, making his way to the crowded bar. Or rather, stumbling to the bar. That was my opportunity to get Piper out. I was just about to the booth when she looked up, noticing me. Her demeanor totally changed. Her smile left her face, which killed me. She then began looking around the restaurant, either for her date or a way out, I’m not sure.
I stopped in front of her booth, suddenly at a loss for words. Seriously, you walk all that way and didn’t think of a thing? I yelled at myself. Say something! “Your date is drunk.”
Piper’s eyes widened. “That’s what you came here to say?”
I didn’t justify myself, I only extended my hand to her. “Let’s go.”
She began to laugh. “No, you’re not my bodyguard.”
“Wanda called me, so I kind of am at the moment.”
“Wanda called you?” she snapped, her voice getting a bit louder, causing some looks from the closest tables. Why did I think this was going to be easy?
“Yes, now let’s go.”
“Oh, now I’m really not going anywhere with you — you’re crazy!”
“Hey, was going on?” the guy slurred, beer in hand.
I straightened myself before turning to him. He was the same height as me, but had a slender build. One punch would send him to the ground, no problem. “Miss Stewart is leaving.”
“We’re not finished with our date.” God, he reeked of alcohol. Something tells me he was knocking them back, probably even before the date started.
I was about to open my mouth when Piper cut me off again. “Actually Nolan, I have to be leaving. It is getting late.”
“It’s not even eight.”
Piper gracefully slid out of the booth, quickly thanking Nolan for the evening out. I put my hand on her back, between her shoulder blades, escorting her out. I probably didn’t even need to do so, but I got a thrill touching her, even if the fabric of her dress separated my hand from her smooth skin.
When we were outside, Piper whirled on me, her eyes angry slits. “Are you kidding me?”
I pulled out my phone and opened my file of Nolan, showing Piper. She snatched the phone from me and began to read. Nolan had arrests for two previous DUIs, a DWI and misdemeanor for assaulting a cop (related to one of the DUIs). But the real kicker was his arrest for battery on an ex-girlfriend.
Piper was silent as she read, handing me back my phone before speaking. “You ran a background check on my date?”
“Are you insane? Now who’s the stalker!”
“Listen, Wanda had some doubts about this guy. I was just following up.”
“Let’s talk about that — how do you know Wanda?” I barely opened my mouth before Piper had it figured out. “She works for you.” I nodded. “What the fuck is wrong with you!”
Piper took off walking down the block. I quickly caught up with her and tried to pull her to me. “Piper, listen to me.”
“No! No!” she was shouting now. “You don’t get to touch me.”
“Get in the car, I’ll take you home.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you! You ghost me and then show back up, demanding me to go with you? Are you crazy?” She she shoved her hands against my chest, hard enough to make my breath hitch. “Get away from me.”
This was getting out of hand. People were starting to stare. There was the risk of someone recognizing her.
“Get in the car,” I repeated between clenched teeth. “Or I’ll put you in the car. Don’t make this any worse than it already is.”
She stared at me for a couple minutes, before taking in the scene around us. A handful of people were stopped, watching the exchange. Give it a few more seconds and someone would have their cellphone out to record the whole interaction.
Piper finally relented, but not before huffing a breath, walking to my SUV. I opened the passenger door for her, but she walked past it, opening the back door and hopping in. She then promptly shut it with a slam, because of course she did.
Fuck, she really knew how to test me. All I could do was calmly breathe in and breathe out, hoping that would keep my anger from getting the best of me. As soon as I got in the driver’s seat, Piper was chewing me out.
“I don’t hear a word from you and now you’re concerned who I date? What I’m doing?”
“As I told you, Wanda was concerned.”
“Then why didn’t Wanda tell me about him, instead of calling you.”
The way she said “you” was a punch to the gut. But I deserved it. I turned down a couple streets before I could find the right answer. An answer that wouldn’t make her hopeful. “Because I told Wanda to keep me informed.”
“How great. You still have your thumb on me. Well, it goes the other way, too. How about keeping me informed, hm?” She paused from her rant, looking out the window. She was shaking her head. She didn’t speak until we got to her apartment’s garage. “I thought you were dead.”
I looked at her through the review mirror, expecting to see Piper’s heartbroken face. Instead, I just saw the back of her head, exiting the vehicle. I quickly undid my seatbelt and exited the vehicle, following her to the service elevator. I had to tell her the truth; she deserved that much.
“Save it,” she replied, her eyes piercing into me just before the elevator doors closed.