Written by Scooplet
Concept by Cheryl and Scooplet
Scarecrow and Mrs. King characters are the property of Shoot the Moon Productions and Warner Bros. Television. No copyright infringement intended. Not for commercial use. Sarah Stetson and Matt Granger are my creation, however, so please respect my right to claim ownership of them—I do not authorize permission to use them in stories not authored by me.
In Everything Give Thanks
Svetlana Chernikova knocked on her superior's door. Steeling herself for what might possibly be a negative reaction, or worse, a diatribe over her efforts, she walked into the office when her knock was answered with a brief, "Come in."
After exchanging perfunctory greetings with the former KGB operative who occupied the workspace, Svetlana placed the envelope on the desk. "I trust you will find everything to your satisfaction, ma'am."
"We'll see about that." The older woman glanced over at the younger FSB employee. While the new Russian president had been closely connected to the KGB and was calling for the FSB to reinstitute some of the KGB's old policies, the former operative had her doubts that the younger employees could fulfill that mandate. This one seems so timid behind her officious airs. She mused. Yes, she's only an artist, and not a field agent, but she's weak. Hopefully the agents under me will have more backbone. And class. What an awful dress.
Picking up her glasses, the veteran agent opened the envelope, pulled out its contents, and began to examine them closely. Svetlana noted that while her hair was streaked with gray now, her superior must have been strikingly beautiful in her younger years. Her clothes were remarkably out of place in Moscow; clearly she had purchased them while traveling to Paris or another city in Western Europe. Her features and bone structure were elegant and refined, but now her face was hardened, no doubt by her years spent in the gulag. While she had been pardoned and her sentence cut short, the damage had been done.
She was surprised. "These are actually quite good, Chernikova."
"The first is only a reproduction, ma'am. The other took some doing. The lighting must be the same on both faces or it will be spotted as a fake."
"I can see that you adjusted the lighting to match. Well done. You may send copies of these to the address I gave you in my requisition. And I require the digital file. Send it to me and destroy the original. I will check your files and make sure that you have done so."
"If I may, ma'am. Why destroy the original file? What if you need it again?"
"You do not want to be linked to this. Wash your hands of it. Submit your paperwork and destroy the requisition as well. Say it was lost. We both know that happens all the time."
Svetlana opened her mouth to say something, but she was cut off by her superior's abrupt words. "I will check to see that you have followed my orders to the letter. Do as I say, or I will do it for you and have you working in Siberia before the month is out. This is for your own protection. The FSB does not need fools. If you take my advice and cover your tracks, I will see that you are rewarded in the future."
The Chernikova family did not raise fools, so Svetlana nodded her obeisance and followed her orders within the hour.
As the veteran operative boarded the flight from Moscow to London later that evening, she had a renewed hope in the future of the FSB. And on the computer in her carry-on was the digital file that would bring revenge on the man who had dishonored her family twenty-five years earlier.
Matt Granger carefully folded the last of his shirts and laid them neatly in the suitcase. Flipping the piece of luggage closed, he went over to the bed. It was king-sized, to fit his long frame, and as neatly made as his shirts were folded. He pulled back the comforter. Like the rest of his apartment's decor, the colors Matt had chosen for his bedding were muted and masculine earth tones. While a large flag and a Texas star hung on the walls of the living room, only a few photos of his family adorned the bedroom walls. His favorite pose of his family outside their Texas Hill Country home offered a glimpse of the area where he had grown up. A commemorative plate from his alma mater, Texas A&M, sat on the dresser, where it held his keys, a spent casing from his first hunting trip, and a few other small items. Remembering his Aggie ring, he walked over to the dresser and grabbed it off the dish, placing it on his right ring finger as he went back to the bed.
He looked around the room, remembering his conversation with Sarah about the bedroom décor. He could tell she did not want to offend him, but he knew she favored a bright color here and there. He had insisted they purchase a few things for the living room and new bedding to use after their wedding, so the rooms would be theirs, not just his.
"But I like that you picked it out. Married men need to show their personalities in their homes. I don't want it to be all about me."
"That's sweet, Sarah, but I want to know it's my wife's home, too."
So they had gone shopping together and picked out a few brightly colored pillows and afghans that Sarah said "accented" the bedroom and living room furniture—colors that would work in either in this apartment or in another one. For now the new things were stowed in his closet until Sarah was ready to move in—except for one of the afghans. Matt kept it on the couch in the living room for Sarah to use, since she like to snuggle up in it while they watched DVDs together.
Before they married, Matt hoped that he could secure a larger apartment in his complex, but he was still waiting to hear back from the manager. He had given up finding another place to live within easy commuting distance of the Agency. There were no apartments to be had until well after the first of the year. And then it would be too stressful to move, since that was the time Sarah would begin Agency training in earnest.
After brushing his teeth, Matt peeled off his t-shirt and threw it in the hamper. He folded his jeans and laid them on top of the suitcase before going to the dresser and retrieving a clean t-shirt and pajama bottoms, pulling them on quickly. Picking up his iPhone, he sat down on the bed, and listened as the call went through. He grinned to himself when it only rang once.
"Hi. You all packed?"
"Yes. I got in bed a little bit ago. What about you?"
"Just finished. I'm going to call it a night. Got an early date with my fiancée tomorrow. Taking her to meet the family."
"Really? Who is she?"
Matt grinned mischievously, continuing the repartee. "Just some chick I met on the side of the freeway. But she was hot, so I kept following her around."
"Oh. Does your mother know how you met her?"
"Heh. Not exactly. But from what she has seen during our video calls, she likes her anyway."
Sarah Stetson laughed softly, then tried to stifle a yawn. "You know, we might get some questions—people wanting more details. What did you tell your parents again?"
Matt's brow furrowed a little. Since Sarah's second concussion several weeks ago, he had been watching her carefully. While she was alert and back to thinking quickly most of the time, occasionally she had her fuzzy moments. He tried to push his concerns to the back of his mind. She's only forgetful like this when she's tired. Quit worrying so much. "I was trying not to lie. I said we met by chance here in D.C. on the Georgetown University campus when I had to go there for work. It just so happened that you were my bosses' daughter. They had me over for dinner and I asked you out to lunch. The rest is history." And we haven't missed a Tuesday lunch date since. Not even in the hospital.
Sarah conceded, "Well, there is a lot of truth there."
"But I did lie some. You know, I never lied to my parents until I went into the intelligence business." Matt sighed. He swung his legs onto the bed and scooted back so he could lean against the pillows.
"We will do our best to be as honest about as many things as we can, then."
"Except for what we do for a living."
"Yes." Sarah was quiet a moment. "You've never talked about this before, Matt. It must be bothering you quite a bit."
"I guess so, now that I'll be seeing my folks in person. Last time I saw them, I had only been at the Agency a few months. That was last spring."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. Just thinking about it."
"I love you." Sarah covered her mouth, but she could not stop herself from yawning.
"Thanks, sweetie. I love you, too. You're tired. I had better let you get to sleep."
"Sorry. I know it's early, but I was running all day long. It was good to spend some time on my couch hanging out tonight after dinner. I'm sorry we haven't done that more often lately."
Matt was sorry, too, but he tried to be understanding. "It's okay. Tonight was really nice."
"It was nice." Sarah breathed out a little sigh. Saved for their affectionate moments, it was a sound that Matt had come to love. "You know, I'm pretty excited that you may have been able to get us that two-bedroom apartment with the fireplace. We could have a workout room and it's in your complex, so it would be an easy move. When will you find out?"
"Sometime in the next week or so. It should open up after Christmas, so we'll have a couple of weeks to move in. Let's pray it works out. At this point, it's either that place or we just share my smaller apartment. It would be hard to move once you start working."
"I've already prayed about it. But don't worry. We'll be happy no matter where we live. I guess we figured that out under strange circumstances."
"Yeah. This will be much nicer. No cameras. We can kiss wherever or whenever we want." Or make love in the living room.
Sarah's wry chuckle was interrupted when she yawned again. "I hope we never have to go to a safe house again—unless we are the agents in charge."
"I agree. Listen, I was going to let you get some sleep."
"I guess I had better—I won't be able to keep my eyes open tomorrow if I don't. I want to give your parents a good first impression."
"You always give a good first impression."
"Well, as far as I'm concerned, it's true. I was hooked the moment I met you."
Sarah laughed. "In the rain, while you were on the run from those thugs."
He loved the sound of her laugh. It encouraged him to continue the banter. "Well, I was under duress, but I didn't forget your beautiful face or your amazing eyes." He looked over at the bedside table, where he kept a photo of the two of them. They were cheek-to-cheek, with their arms around one another.
Taken on their first real date, Matt was dressed in a finely woven midnight blue wool suit, while Sarah wore an elegant black cocktail dress with a ruffled collar. Sarah's chestnut hair hung in waves over her shoulders, a contrast to Matt's dark blonde, military-style cut. Her hazel eyes were shining—that expression never failed to mesmerize him. Although they had only known each other a couple of months, Matt could read the expression in his own eyes; he was in love even then.
"I think you also like to flatter a girl—although you scared me to death more than once."
"Hey, I saved you from those thugs who followed you to the campus housing. And, I broke into your apartment because I was worried about my bosses' daughter. I didn't know who you were—you could have been there to harm the girl."
Sarah laughed. "When you realized I was the daughter, you were feeling pretty sick."
"Yeah, yeah. Don't remind me. That first night I really caught it from your dad for using an unknown civilian as a mule, but I got the package back from you. The information it contained helped save your mom's life—and a lot of other peoples' lives. And at the apartment, you were nice to me after you figured out I was an agent."
"Stockholm Syndrome. You were still in my apartment."
"Hey! It wasn't like that."
"No. However, it was a risk trusting you. But my instincts were right."
"Why did you take the package, anyway? It's not like you at all."
"You looked so desperately sincere." She laughed quietly. "And you have those gorgeous gray-blue eyes. Now I'm really saying good night."
He smiled to himself. Normally embarrassed by praise, Matt had learned to enjoy Sarah's compliments. "Sleep well. I'll see you at six-thirty. And don't worry about my family. Love you."
"Thanks, Matt. Good night! Love you, too."
Matt set the alarm on his phone before placing it in the dock on the bedside table. He turned off the light and lay down under the covers, crooking his arm under his head. Staring up at the ceiling, his mind went back to his parents. While he had given his mother the normal challenges as a boy, they had always shared a close relationship. The emails and phone calls he received in college changed to much-coveted letters when he served in Afghanistan. Matt had saved each one; the bundle of envelopes was stowed carefully in the bottom drawer of his dresser.
In many ways, Sarah reminded Matt of his mother. Sharon Granger was outgoing and lively, while Sarah was often quiet and reserved. But they both were thoughtful of and gentle with others, had an easy laugh, and could be coaxed into playfulness. Despite meeting under unlikely circumstances, Sarah and Matt had quickly formed a close friendship. It had not taken long for her to become his confidante. Having grown up as the daughter of intelligence operatives, Sarah understood things about Matt's job that no other woman could. And she's a great listener. It makes up for not being able to confide in my mother anymore. Matt felt that twinge of guilt again.
While Sharon Granger was a vivacious person, David Granger was more introverted. Matt's mother always liked to say that they found each other because opposites attract. Although he was quiet in public, Matt's father was not afraid to speak his mind at home with his family. As a result, lively debates were common in the Granger home. That same trait had led to a few conflicts between father and son. Dad never understood why I didn't follow him into engineering. And he really doesn't understand why I work for a film company. Not that I blame him. He hoped that if I didn't take a liking to engineering, I'd at least stay in the intelligence business or work in law enforcement. Matt knew it was unlikely he would have pursued a career in the film industry, even as a military advisor. It was a sore point for Matt that he did not have a cover job that his father could easily accept. More than once he had wished he could tell his father he was fulfilling his lifelong dream.
Matt rolled onto his side and looked at the picture frame on his bedside table. The photo was now obscured in the dark, but he could envision it in his head. His mind drifted to thoughts of Sarah.
Only seven more weeks. In the two weeks since they had become engaged, Sarah had been working furiously with her mother to make as many arrangements as possible before leaving for Texas. Besides the apartment hunting, Matt had made an effort to help with wedding plans by ensuring that their pastor was available to perform the ceremony, which was set to take place the first Saturday of January in the little church that he and Sarah attended each week. It would not be a very large wedding, as most of the extended family or family friends were on Matt's side. Sarah's two brothers had families of their own, but she had no aunts or uncles and all of her grandparents were no longer living. They had a few local friends on the guest list, a number of them being Agency employees.
Although they both wanted to have a short engagement, the initial planning had been so intense that he was glad that he could take Sarah away for a break from the busyness that had overtaken her life. Amanda was going to finalize the arrangements with the caterer and the florist tomorrow, and the dress had been ordered. Matt remembered the conversation at dinner just that evening. Sarah had been going over her list at the table when her mother placed her hand on top of Sarah's.
"It's time to let it go, Sweetheart. Start thinking about your trip to Texas. You've done everything on your list—or I've got it covered. Thankfully Matt already had found that wonderful florist. And we really had good luck with the caterer and the club. Cheryl was a big help finding a place to hold the reception. I will make the phone calls to finalize everything tomorrow."
"But then you're going out of town. What if…"
"Let it go, Sarah. You're wound up like a top." Lee's voice was firm, but kind.
Sarah sighed and glanced over at Matt, who smiled at her, but did n ot argue with her parents.
"Like father, like daughter." Amanda raised her eyebrows as she looked over at Lee.
"Yeah." Lee's sheepish expression disappeared as he turned to Matt. "Got any big plans while you're at home? You told me you and your dad hunt."
"As a matter of fact, my dad said he had pulled out my old Winchester and cleaned it up for me. I guess he has too many deer on the property again."
"Ah. A little venison sausage, then?"
"Yeah. We have a butcher that makes it for us. But unfortunately, it's not much of a sport to cull the deer. I prefer to go after boar. Once in a while we'll get one in the scrub at the edge of the property."
"Now, that sounds like some nice hunting."
"Well, it's exciting. They are a hazard in my parents' neighborhood. Too many kids, horses, etc. I have a friend who was playing around with his brother a few years ago, messing with some swords they had just bought, when he actually had to use his sword on a wild pig that surprised them."
Lee's eyebrows shot up, Sarah's eyes went wide, and Amanda's jaw dropped for a moment before she spoke. "Really?"
"Yeah. I think I prefer to use the rifle from a distance, myself." Matt purposefully did not mention that he had used his knives for hunting, too.
"Me, too. I mean, I think that's smart. I don't know much about wild boars, but I hear they are vicious." Sarah's face had held that look.
Matt knew that she was trying not to think about the attack in the park. Since that day the cartel members had forced him into a knife fight in front of Sarah, he had been careful to avoid reminding her about it, fearing she would have a flashback. They had both been through counseling—on their own and together—to work through the trauma of the Mexican drug cartel's three attempts to abduct Sarah.
He tried to change the subject. "Amanda, how about I clear the dishes for you?" He stood up as he spoke and reached for her plate.
Amanda seemed to read Matt's mind. "Thanks, Matt. I'll get dessert if you could bring those to the counter for me."
Matt's eyes opened briefly to look back over at the picture frame, then drifted closed again as he remembered his time with Sarah on the couch in her apartment afterwards. It seemed that since the day of their proposal two weeks earlier, there had been little opportunity for temptation. Perhaps the conversation at dinner had influenced Sarah. Or maybe she realized we might not be alone much at my folks'. Matt could still feel the smoothness of Sarah's hand on his back where it had slipped under his shirt as he had kissed her. He had found himself wanting to do the same to Sarah, but he was afraid of where that might lead. Instead, he had caressed her hair.
He missed their togetherness. While she was hardly cold towards him, Sarah's preoccupation with wedding plans kept her distracted. He hoped things might be a little different once they were in Texas. He deliberately planned some time for just the two of them, knowing the stress would only get worse once she started working at the Agency in December.
Finally sleepy, Matt said a quick prayer, and rolling on his side, pulled the covers over his shoulder and settled himself more comfortably in the bed.
"Coming to bed pretty soon, Amanda?" Lee stood in the doorway to the den, having just taken out the trash and set the alarm. He ran a hand idly through his silver hair and yawned.
Amanda turned around, surprised. She pulled off her reading glasses and looked over at the clock. "I'll turn off the computer now. I lost all track of time."
Lee walked up to Amanda and lightly stroked her dark hair. Although she had worn it a few different ways over the years, he had found himself preferring her hair long, in this simple style. Even from a distance, he could still tell his wife and daughter apart, but the likeness was striking because of their hair and similar height and build. Both women were tall and slender, and moved with an athletic, easy grace, although Sarah's build was not quite as slight as her mother's. In her day, Amanda could run as fast as Lee could. Sa rah can still outrun just about anyone.
He shuddered involuntarily, remembering that cold, rainy day the month before when Sarah had fled from the men holding her hostage. He had been horrified to hear that she had been forced to endure not one, but two flash bang explosions at close range. While the grenades only temporarily blinded her, she had been nearly deaf and badly disoriented when she had been dragged from the safe house and forced into a car. This was the precious daughter whom he had worked so hard to protect from the ugly side of the intelligence world. He had succeeded for over twenty-three years. Don't forget Stetson, it was the self-defense moves you taught her that helped her get out of that car. He shuddered at the thought of his terrified daughter running for her life in the icy rain, her hearing still not fully restored. The fall she had taken down the slope could have killed her.
As if his mind were torturing him, another vision came unbidden to his mind. He would never forget the look of trust on Sarah's face as she had been held hostage the first time, when he had been forced to kill the man who wanted to take her from them. A few inches to the left, and he would have shot his own daughter.
Amanda finished shutting down the computer and stood to look up at Lee. Noting his expression, her eyes were grave with concern. "A penny for your thoughts." She placed a hand on his cheek.
He sighed as he spoke. "Oh, I figured you were working on wedding plans. It made me think of Sarah."
"I'm guessing you weren't thinking about the wedding, though."
"Uh, no. I suppose I'm always going to be pretty grateful that she wasn't hurt worse than she was, and that Matt got to her when he did." Lee found he could not voice the words about his other thoughts. Stetson, you know you need to spend some quality time with Kirby. But, oh, how I hate going to the shrink.
Amanda slipped her arms around her husband's waist. "Me, too. You know, I'm glad Matt is taking her away for a week. She's been so wound up lately with the wedding plans. She never relaxes. I saw him watching her tonight. I wouldn't blame him for wishing they had eloped, sometimes. He seems a little lonely or something."
Finally distracted from his morose mood, Lee smirked. "Like he isn't getting enough attention?"
Amanda played with Lee's collar. "I don't mean to be meddlesome. I just think Sarah can forget to have a little balance when something big is going on in her life."
When Lee started to speak, Amanda placed her finger lightly on his lips. "And before you say anything, I know she gets it from me. She'll start the training class with the Agency just a week after the wedding. You remember how the stress of our secret marriage was so hard on us when we were first married. I would hate to see Matt and Sarah go through a rough patch right at the beginning, too."
"I see your point, but let's not borrow trouble, Amanda. See how things are going when they get back. If Sarah is still 'neglecting' Matt, or whatever you want to call it, you can talk with her. For now, we need to get to bed. We said we'd drive them to the airport in the morning. And we have to get ready to leave on our own trip."
"Now, you know I'm mostly packed for England. You're just trying to find ways to get me to bed."
Lee's eyebrows went up. "You've figured me out, finally." And oh, I need you so badly right now, Amanda. Keeping the mood light, he did not want his wife to know the extent of his internal distress over Sarah. It had not been that long since she had overcome her own personal demons over the Birol case. I'll email Kirby from England on Monday and set up an appointment. He bent his head to kiss her nose, then pulled back and looked in her eyes before kissing her on the mouth. Taking Amanda's hand, he turned off the light and led her upstairs.
Sarah stood beside Matt at the airline check-in counter, her driver's license in hand and her suitcase on the scale. She listened as Matt spoke with the agent. She breathed a sigh of relief when the agent told Matt their seat assignments were in Economy.
He eyed her quizzically at the sound, but did not say anything as he took the boarding passes and handed one to her.
After they were seated at the gate, he brought up the subject again. "Were you worried about something back at the check-in counter?"
"I was, I guess." She hesitated, but Matt was watching her face, so she plunged ahead. "Sometimes Daddy will change the seat assignments. He did it for Mom and me when we went to England a few years ago. He has some kind of connection…if he even pays for it, he gets a discount."
"That was for his wife and daughter. I'm glad he didn't do anything for this trip, and I hope he won't do that for our honeymoon."
Seeing Sarah's reaction to his uncharacteristically defensive response, Matt continued, his tone more gentle. "I just don't want him to think I can't take care of you myself." Still annoyed at the thought of Lee interfering, he did not want to take it out on Sarah. Looking away, he stared out the window at the tarmac, sitting tensely, his long legs apart, with both feet planted firmly on the floor. As he slouched slightly in his seat, the collar of his leather jacket came up around his neck and the sleeves pulled tightly against his muscular arms.
Sarah thought distractedly that she was glad she had never crossed him. Although Matt's posture made him look even more attractive than usual, he was intimidating when he was irritated. She did her best to soothe him. "I'm sorry, Matt. Daddy means well, and he didn't change our seating assignments. I really wish I hadn't said anything. If anyone in the world knows you can take care of me, he does. He just likes to be helpful sometimes. I'm sure you flew first class to Kazakhstan, right?"
As Matt turned from staring out the window to face Sarah, his jaw muscles relaxed and his eyes softened. He knew he was being prideful. He felt guilty for causing her to plead on her father's behalf for something Lee had not done, at least not yet. The first class seats across all of those time zones had made the trip much more bearable. This was a shorter trip, but it might have been nice; it was difficult to fit his six-foot-two-inch frame into the economy seats. He took her hand and kissed it. "We did, and it was nice. I'm sorry I was crabby. Do you want a coffee or something before we get on the airplane? You only ordered a smoothie for breakfast, and it's almost gone."
"No thanks. I don't want to be wound up like a top—or at least any more than I am already."
"You're wound up?" Matt sat up in his seat and leaned towards her. "Are you still nervous about meeting my family, or is it the wedding plans?"
Sarah hesitated. "Well, since I've gotten so much done for the wedding, it really isn't that. I guess it's meeting your family. I know they've been kind to me on the phone, but I wonder how it will really be, you bringing home a strange girl. I would hate to disappoint them or make things difficult for you." She looked down and fiddled with the strap of her purse.
Matt leaned in more closely so he could speak quietly. "Sarah, you are the best thing on earth that's ever happened to me. My parents will see that, just as I have. And so will my sisters." He looked in her eyes to make sure his words had registered. "And even if for some impossible reason they didn't like you, it wouldn't change a thing for you and me. I wasn't kidding when I said you were my best friend and that I want to grow old with you. I love you. I want to share my life with you. I can't imagine living the rest of my life without you."
Sarah looked up and offered Matt a tentative smile. "I feel the same way about us. I'm crazy in love with you." She tried to kiss Matt on the cheek, but he turned his mouth to hers and kissed her quickly on the lips.
He glanced around and winked at her. "No one was looking."
She blushed slightly and looked down. "I'm not questioning how well you know your family, but I just hope…" Her voice trailed off.
He reached for her hand and held it tightly in his own. "They'll love you. Please don't worry."