Bridget Callahan was not really the dating type. The couple of relationships she had been in, had not lasted very long. That didn’t mean she was unattractive or unsocial though. Rather, she had always been that staple member of the ‘popular’ group, in high school, college and now in her work place. The problem with men interested in her was that, there were too many of them. And none of them, thus far, had been able to grab her fancy for more than a month.

Alec Jacobs, however, had been different. He had suddenly appeared in Clemensville one day, and immediately captured Bridget’s attention. He looked like a perfectly normal young man, looking for a fresh start after his old life didn’t work out, but there was a mysterious aura about him. She could see it in his constant awareness of his surroundings.

Intrigued, Bridget had pursued the man, slowly inserting herself into his life, getting to know him better, and in the process, experiencing the thrill of entering a serious relationship for the first time. She now knew that his too mundane story of a fresh start wasn’t exactly true. He had some secrets in his past. But he had promised to open up to her about it when he was ready, and that was good enough for her.

“I love your hair”, he said to her now, running his fingers through her long auburn tresses.

“Yeah? You should see me on a bad hair day. It looks slightly worse than a rat’s nest”, she said, opening her vanity drawer and selecting a blue butterfly hair-clip from her collection.

“Wow, that’s quite a collection of hair-clips you’ve got there”, Alec marveled. “You’ve even ordered them into rows from smallest to biggest!”

Bridget laughed. “What can I say, I just can’t resist a good hair-clip. And they’re arranged in the order of most used. The bigger ones back there I rarely need. Like this one,” she said, taking out a huge black clip. “This was a gag gift from my old roommate. This only comes out on the worst hair days, when I can barely contain the frizz; otherwise it just sits there collecting dust.”

“I see. What can I say, I just can’t resist a lady with interesting quirks!” Alec said, smiling down at her indulgently.

“And yet, you are leaving her alone all day to go do some ‘super important confidential work’”, Bridget said, eyes dancing with mirth.

“Yes, about that”, Alec rubbed the back of his neck. “I have to track down this elusive fashion blogger and get this book signed, otherwise my sister will skin me alive. I have been putting it off for a few too many years now!”

“Aww that’s so sweet!”

“I promise to make it up to you later.”

“I’ll hold you to that”, Bridget said, heading towards her bathroom. “I’m going to take a shower. Might as well drop by the firm today and tie up a few ends. You, mister, can get working on breakfast.”

“Aye, aye Captain”, Alec saluted, a smirk on his lips.

It was almost eight in the evening when Bridget returned to her apartment. Things had been hectic today at the office. She was looking forward to a relaxing evening. She hoped Alec was back.

She had only just pressed the elevator button when a hand covered her eyes from behind.

“Guess what?” a voice whispered in her ear.

“You brought me a peace offering?” she deadpanned.

Alec removed his hand with a pout. “You were supposed to play along! But yes, here”, he said, handing her a bottle of her favourite wine.

“That’s all?” Bridget raised an eyebrow.

“What? You wanted more?”

The other eyebrow was raised.

“Alright, alright”, Alec caved. “We’re going on the cruise this weekend.”

Bridget beamed.

She fit her key into the keyhole, but it wouldn’t turn.

“That’s odd”, she frowned. “I could have sworn I locked the door this morning.”

Alec, who had been lounging against the wall next to her, stiffened suddenly.

“Bridget, get away from that door!” he ordered briskly, voice gone hard. He pushed a baffled Bridget out of the way and very carefully twisted the doorknob, one hand falling to the waistband of his jeans. “Whatever you hear, don’t come in until I tell you to.”

“Alec, what…”

“Shh… stay out of sight”, Alec whispered, then silently pushed open the door. Just before he entered, Bridget caught a glimpse of the object he now held in his right hand. She shivered. There was no mistaking a gun!

Standing by her own penthouse door, beads of sweat on her brow, Bridget jumped when Alec’s voice called out to her that it was safe to come in. Heart thumping, she gingerly stepped into the living room, and gasped. Her entire flat had been turned inside out! Papers and trinkets littered the floor, cupboards had been emptied, the china vase on the mantelpiece lay shattered.

Bridget jumped violently for the second time when Alec cursed loudly from the bedroom. She ran towards him. Her bedroom hadn’t fared any better than the outer rooms. Alec was rummaging frantically in her vanity drawer, muttering to himself.

“What… what are you doing?” she swallowed. “What’s going on Alec? What happened here?”

Alec looked up at her, a wild, half defeated half furious look on his face. “What happened, Bridget, is that I’ve been very stupid. I never thought they’d come looking here. I should have known they knew more than they let on. I suspected that they had cottoned on to my identity, and I didn’t act on it! That’s a mistake even a rookie wouldn’t make. I got too carried away thinking this time I would finally get everything to put them away, and look where that got me!”

“Alec?” Bridget whispered, voice trembling. “I don’t get it. What are you talking about? Who are ‘they’? What do you mean found your identity?”

Alec sighed. “Bridget, you had better sit down. I guess I owe some explanations. And an apology. I haven’t been entirely truthful about who I am. I haven’t come here looking for a fresh start. I work for the FBI. We came to know of a specialized chip, having sensitive information, being stolen from a research and development facility in Moscow. We traced the organization that had it, and I was sent to infiltrate it. I managed to acquire the chip, but the organization got wind of a spy among them. I was forced to go into hiding until I could safely return the chip to the headquarters. But I had another personal agenda. You see, this organization is an international terrorist gang, and for years the FBI has been trying to get a hold of them, but they always manage to slip away. While I’ve been travelling from town to town changing identities every few weeks, I’ve managed to collect almost enough evidence against them. This would have been the last bit of information I needed. But, as you can see, I botched it. And now even the chip I’d been guarding is gone.”

“How do you know it’s gone?” Bridget gulped.

Alec pursed his lips. “When you went to shower this morning, I put it in your big black hairclip. I figured it would be safe as I was out all day visiting the shadier parts of town, trying to glean information, and didn’t want to carry it on me. But it’s gone now. They took it.”

“Did this organization you are after do come here to search my flat?”

“It has to be. Darn it… I wish I had had at least the foresight to install a micro-camera in this room. At least then I could have proven it was them. Coupled with the intelligence I have gathered, it’d have been the last thing we needed as proof.”

“A camera would have helped prove it was them?”

“Yes, because all members of this gang have a mark tattooed on their wrists. It’s a…”

“Snake head with the fangs forming a cross.”

Alec whirled around, staring incredulously at Bridget. She no longer looked pale and terrified. An enigmatic smile was playing on her lips.

“H-how did you know that?” Alec stammered.

“What? You didn’t think you were the only one with secrets did you, Mr. Alec Jacobs?” Bridget said, sashaying toward her open vanity drawer. “Or should I call you Agent Stephen Crosby?”

Alec, or rather Stephen, stood rooted to the spot, gaping, as Bridget picked up another one of her hideous hair clips and fiddled with it. “Let’s start over, shall we?” she said, extending her hand. “Special Agent Bridget Callahan, US Secret Service.”

Stephen shook her hand automatically, still trying to get his bearings.

“Now let’s see”, Bridget said, opening a hidden compartment in the clip, exposing a tiny LCD screen. She scrolled though the images. “Too dark… too blurry… ugh someone needs a manicure… seriously, those are some of the ugliest nails I’ve ever seen… AHA! Here it is!”

She turned the screen towards Alec, a high resolution image clearly showing the snake’s head on the perpetrator’s wrist. “Think you can work with that, Agent?”

“Uh… yes ma’am”, Stephen said, taking the clip/camera. “This should do just fine, actually.”

He swiped his hand across his forehead. “I can’t believe I didn’t even suspect you were not a civilian. I’m supposed to be one of the best in the FBI!”

“No, it’s okay!” Bridget said, flippantly. “It’s an international terrorist organization. The Secret Service had to send their best too!”

Stephen laughed nervously. “Now all we need to do is find that chip again. Wonder which country it’s in by now.”

“Oh right, that reminds me”, Bridget reached up to free her thick hair from its complicated up-do, exposing a very familiar black clip underneath.

Stephen leaped forward, eyes wide. “That’s… but how did you…?”

Bridget giggled. “Well you wanted to keep the chip safe. As your girlfriend – and we are going to talk about that later, I hope that aspect of our relationship doesn’t change – it’s my duty to help you do it!”

Stephen laughed, open and relieved, wrapping his arms around her waist. “You really are something, you know that?” he said. “But I thought you only wore that clip on your bad hair days?”

Bridget grimaced, winding her arms around his neck. “It honestly was, believe it or not. A very bad hair day.”

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