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Chapter 9

Audrey waited in the parking lot, surrounded by the black SUVs of CTU. Paul was lying down in the back seat of the one they'd arrived in. He needed a few minutes to recover, and Audrey couldn't blame him. The agents assigned to protect her and Paul were clustered at the back of one of the vehicles, listening intently on their ear pieces to what was happening inside the office building that Jack had just entered. Curtis was in there somewhere, not answering his phone. So was Habib Marwan.

Audrey leaned against the side of a vehicle and put her face in her hands. The events of the day were overwhelming, and she was grateful for a few minutes to process, even if it was only a distraction from her worry.

When they'd been in Washington, Audrey had been intrigued and stimulated by the idea that a dangerous secret agent lurked beneath Jack's suave exterior. She had even incorporated it into their lovemaking, doing things she'd never thought herself capable of. Just last night she'd been pleased when Jack had snuck up on her in the darkened hotel room. After years of bread-and-butter sex with Paul, Jack's willingness to do the unexpected was thrilling.

It wasn't so sexy now.

Of course, she had seen the evidence of what had been done to him and it had torn at her heart. But it hadn't really sunk in that he was capable of perpetrating such violence on others.

"Off-book behaviour" his file had said. She didn't know, now, what she'd thought that meant. Bending the rules a little, taking unnecessary risks to fight the bad guys.

Not torturing her husband.

Watching him interrogate Paul, she saw what a fool she had been to ever think that any of this was a joke. Jack's dangerous side was very, very real, and it terrified and sickened her. He wasn't just violent, he was inventive and virtuosic in his brutality.

She turned suddenly and retched as it came to her that his knowledge of how to inflict pain on the human body was the dark and horrible parallel to his ability as a lover.

The way he could turn an ordinary lamp into an instrument of torture in just a few seconds told her that his ruthlessness ran much closer to the surface than she had imagined.

She slid down the side of the SUV and crouched, leaning against a tire as she hugged herself.

All day, she'd been watching him change before her eyes.

In the morning, he'd been her lover. She had taken a risk and told him how she was feeling. She had lied a little – she wasn't just falling in love with him, she was already head over heals and was already daydreaming about the life they could have together once she was free from Paul. She'd decided to have the lawyer draw up the papers so she could be with Jack. Wonderful, funny, smart and gentle Jack.

In just a few hours he had turned into her hero, her knight in shining Kevlar, coming to rescue her and her father against almost insurmountable odds. Watching him in action had taken her breath away. He was good, very good, at what he did, and seeing him in full protector mode had awoken something primal in her. She felt safe with him, knowing that whatever happened, he would be there for her.

But as soon as he left Tony's apartment, he'd become a machine.

It was as if a switch had been pulled, triggering some latent programming. He was abrupt, authoritarian on the phone with her, had yelled at her in Paul's hotel room. He had never spoken to her like that. She didn't know he was capable of speaking to her like that. He didn't stop hurting Paul, even when she begged him to. She couldn't restrain him, and that scared her.

The ties between them had unravelled, leaving both of them frayed.

As the clock ticked down on the reactors, he became increasingly frenetic. A few moments ago, she had watched him prepare for battle, pulling handguns and ammunition out of the back of the CTU vehicle as if he had done it only yesterday. She'd never seen him so confident, assured of his ability. It was suddenly clear to her why he'd been so good at his old job. She wondered what it must have been like for him to sit behind a desk in Washington.

He'd caught her looking, and the bewilderment she felt must have shown in her face because he took a second – just a second, to try to connect.

"I'll be right back," he'd said, as casually as if he'd just forgotten some files and needed to go back for them. The look he'd given her told her he didn't want her to worry. Whether for his own sake or hers wasn't clear.

So Audrey waited, watching the building for signs of struggle, wondering what was going on inside. Wondering if Jack would come back. Knowing that the Jack she knew was never coming back.