The Syrian Chapter 1

The confrontation hung before Natasha Kelly like a guillotine. Her parents waited at the table, the meal long over, though the appetizing aroma of cashew chicken hung in the air.

Natasha glanced around her kitchen as if the pale blue walls and smooth granite countertop could bring inspiration. English Ivy twisted across the top of the window beside the yellow stenciled tulips her mother had helped her paint.

Behind Natasha, the bay window provided a view of the cedar deck Katir had built last summer. Her brother was quite the handyman. The landscaping around the deck dazzled the eye with just the right blue, purple and pink flowers.

Her home offered tranquility and rest, yet she was leaving to face terrorists. Again.

The coffeepot sizzled as a last drop hit the hotplate.

She grimaced. Even coffee with the Bedouin sheik hadn’t changed her views on the foul-tasting brew, but she kept her mother’s liquid life for gatherings such as this.

Now that she’d placed the last plate in the dishwasher, she could delay no longer. With a cup of steaming coffee in hand, she returned to the table.

“Here ya go, Mom.”

“Mmm, thanks, sweetie.”

Her father smiled, reaching a hand toward her. “You’re going back, aren’t you?”

“I have to.”

Her mother stiffened. “Why?”

What a combination. Tall, athletic father, salt and pepper hair and a bold faith that moved mountains. And her petite mother who quelled African chiefs with a glance, but mothered hurting multitudes on the mission field. Natasha had received her father’s height and her mother’s blond hair.

Temperament? She was still working on that one.

“It’s a long story. I know you wondered about what happened in Israel…”

“Natasha, I understand you couldn’t talk about it when you returned home. And I wouldn’t ask now, if you weren’t saying you want to go back.”

“I know, Mom. When Abram first asked me to find out what happened to his diamond shipments, I had no idea how truly despicable terrorists could be. I mean…things like that happen to other people, not me. The terrorists followed me to Africa, along with MI6, the British secret service.” She tucked her hair behind her ear. “I knew nothing of either until my hotel room got ransacked. Then someone chased me down a dark alley and shot at my car. Tennia helped me sneak out of the country by trading identities. I took her place as a flight attendant.”

“Another disguise.” Warren Kelly grinned. “How in the world did you make your skin dark?”

“Tennia’s skin is more chocolate. We used brown make-up on my face and hands, and I wore a wig. It worked, because she’d been wearing the same wig ever since we met up. Everyone saw the wig and dark skin and thought they were looking at Tennia.”

“Ingenious.”

“Not really, Mom. MI6 tracked me from Africa to Israel with a chip hidden in my compact.”

Her father nodded.

“When I reached the Diamond Institute, Abram wasn’t around, but his nephew, Yuri, tried to take the diamonds from me. Abram showed up so Yuri shot him.” She closed her eyes and saw the scene of Abram’s death, the hearty gray-haired man struck down in an instant and the sticky red path coursing down the front of his chest. “There was nothing I could do.”

She felt her father’s hand grip her arm. “We don’t blame you, sweetheart. There was no way you could stop Yuri.”

Her eyes popped open. “No, there wasn’t. The Mossad agent with Abram couldn’t even stop Yuri. David Benjamin took me to a camp in the desert full of agents posing as filmmakers.” She shook her head. “Not really posing, they make real movies. You’ve seen them.”

Warren Kelly shot his wife a glance. “Dirk Sloan is British intelligence.”

A nervous laugh escaped Natasha’s throat. They’d seen the tabloid photos. If only they hadn’t read the headlines about her supposed engagement. “Right. That’s what brought about all those silly pictures. It was part of his cover.”

“You mean you’re not going to marry Dirk Sloan?”

“Mom…of course not. Anyway, the CIA, MI6, and the Mossad are part of a joint organization, Trinity Pictures. The Mossad have asked me to work with them…they’ll train me in Israel.”

Her mother gasped. “You’re going to be a spy? Are you giving up your shipping business? What will your brother have to say about all that?”

“No, I’ve talked to Katir. He said he could handle things indefinitely.”

Their faces remained blank. They didn’t really understand yet. She’d have to tell the whole story.

“You see, I met someone. An old monk. He had this copy of a Dead Sea Scroll. Not one from the museums, something never published. And it says the Garden of Eden is in Israel.”

Her father’s eyes lit up. “That makes sense. Israel has to be God’s Promised Land for some reason. But why can’t we see it?”

“I know this sounds crazy, but it’s in another dimension, like the heavenly realms, or angels, or God…everything we can’t see.”

She forced herself to meet their eyes, drawing reassurance from their intent fascination.

“Whether we believe it or not doesn’t matter. There’s a Syrian who calls himself Yaakov. He convinced the Arabs and some of the Jews that he can bring Eden to life in Israel. Think of it. All the food problems of the world…over. Israel would have prosperity and respect from the rest of the world.

“But Yaakov really wants the Tree of Life…immortality. He thinks he’s the anti-christ or something close to it.”

Warren put his arm around his wife as if she needed support. “You’re dealing with some powerful evil spirits, Natasha. But you know God is all-powerful. He’ll protect you. Your mother and I will pray.”

The parental blessing. Relief flooded Natasha’s spirit. “I appreciate it. That’s why I wanted you to know what was going on. It’s a little more serious than Abram’s missing diamonds. The terrorists wanted the diamonds for Eden, to pay for their endeavors or stir things up. I’m not sure. Now they’ve taken that monk, John, as a captive. They need him to translate the manuscript about the scroll.”

Her mother leaned forward. “When are you leaving for Israel?”

“As soon as I get a flight.”

 

Natasha set her carry-on in a chair and rested a fond gaze on her parents. “Now, one last time. You’ve got that number for the agent in the CIA?”

Her mother patted her purse. “Got it.”

Warren Kelly smiled and took Natasha’s hand. “I’m not worried. You shouldn’t be either. God is your ever-present help in time of trouble. Your mother and I will pray every day.”

Natasha nodded. She knew those prayers had kept her alive the past few weeks.

The airport speaker called Natasha’s flight.

“Let’s pray once more before you leave.”

Natasha listened as her father spoke a blessing over her life…her future. Excitement welled in her spirit. God was leading her along a new path.

They waved goodbye again as she handed her ticket to the stewardess. Natasha tried to ignore the concern apparent from her mother’s furrowed brow. But she understood.

Two weeks ago, Natasha had arrived in Houston, looking like she belonged in a hospital. Her face and body had been covered in cuts and bruises from a fall off the side of a mountain and other mishaps. She’d played down the dangers from that investigation, but her parents weren’t completely naïve.

Once onboard the plane, she stowed her carry-on in the compartment overhead and took her seat. She half expected a tall, blond, and bronzed Dirk Sloan to walk through the airplane door at the last minute. Four weeks ago, he’d done just that.

She shook her head, causing her long, blond hair to cascade over her shoulder. She didn’t want to dwell on the last few weeks. Thinking about Dirk reminded her of Abram…and his nephew, Yuri…whom she’d killed.

No, I didn’t kill him. Ok, so I shot him with a tranquilized dart. But he fell off the mountain while trying to kill me.

She really had to deal with these issues, but now was not the time.

Keep your focus on John.

Had Yaakov hurt him in any way? The monk was a very old man. Lord, please keep him safe.

The plane taxied down the runway. Natasha realized she’d watched the hatch, hoping Dirk would miraculously step on the plane. With a deep sigh, she turned toward the window for another pep talk.

I’ve got to help John. I’m going to Israel, and I’m going to learn how to be an agent for the Mossad.

As the flight attendant began her safety demonstration, Natasha closed her eyes to pray.

Lord, I know we’ve been over all this, but I need Your peace right now. I can’t do this on my own. I don’t even want to try. Help me, Lord.

She thought of John. About now, he’d probably be quoting some wonderful scripture to make her feel better. Where was he? He’d risked his life to help her rescue Dirk. Now she hoped to rescue him.

The attendant came by with an evening meal, and Natasha peeled back the lid. A wave of warmth hit her nose with the unappealing aroma of plastic.

She concentrated on the passengers around her instead of the food, though she didn’t expect anyone to follow her this time. She didn’t interest Yaakov anymore. He had John. But she needed the practice of observing those around her. Her past record at recognizing friend or foe was abysmal. She’d suspected Dirk of being a terrorist then discovered he was British intelligence.

Natasha rose and walked to the restroom to freshen up. The mirror reflected a clear complexion, with no trace of the bruises or contusions hidden under thick make-up. Although her wrenched shoulders and cracked ribs still ached, she moved and walked with no sign of injury.

The Mossad doctor in Israel, and her own doctor at home, said she needed to heal for at least six weeks before attempting any strenuous exercise.

Of course, that was before David called to say Yaakov had abducted John. Natasha would be expected to negotiate rigorous training. Was she up to it?

The seat belt sign flashed, and she returned to her seat. They were landing in London, and she had a connecting flight.

She rushed through the airport, lugging her carry-on, and arrived at her boarding gate as they were closing the entrance. She flung her boarding pass at the attendant and ran down the tunnel to the plane.

An attendant showed her to the correct seat while Natasha scanned the passengers around her. She knew who she wanted to see, but Dirk wasn’t there. No reason he should be, either.

While she recuperated at home, he’d written, called, and left messages on her machine. He sent telegrams and flowers. Each message asked her to talk. He was ready to talk. They had something to talk about. But Natasha disregarded them all, not sure she felt capable of having that conversation. She’d already told him everything he needed to know to find the Lord, and she continued praying for him. She couldn’t handle close proximity.

In the monastery, when she saw Dirk bleeding and near death, she realized she’d fallen in love with an unbeliever. Even if he became a believer, she didn’t see a way they could have a relationship. Too many obstacles separated them. He flew all over the world from one day to the next. He traveled undercover, unable to communicate for long periods of time. He killed people. As a movie star, he spent months at a time with beautiful women at exotic film locations.

That might bother her most. Appalling thought.

Nothing about his life was normal. Celebrity status made him instantly recognizable as evidenced by their one stop at a tourist spot during their mission. People mobbed Dirk, taking pictures, asking for autographs. It hadn’t helped when he egged them on with comments about Natasha, destined to drive the public wild. The next day their pictures were splashed across every major newspaper with headlines suggesting they were dating, engaged, or already married.

His last note said he was coming to the States to see her. Obviously, David Benjamin hadn’t informed Dirk that Natasha was returning to Israel to be trained by the Mossad. Apparently, the two men didn’t tell each other everything. But David could have mixed motives. He’d asked Natasha to consider a relationship with him.

The ding of the pilot’s bell alerted travelers to return their seats to the upright position. Natasha straightened and prepared for landing. David had promised to meet her at the airport, so she’d probably get through customs quickly.

She felt a flutter in her stomach at the thought of seeing him. Surprising. Better to ignore the ramifications of that.

She followed other passengers across the hot tarmac toward the terminal. As she reached the building, a man with Jewish kippa and black haredim clothing rounded the side.

In a matter of seconds, Natasha found her head shoved against the building and a large smooth hand pressed tight over her mouth. The intruder held his face so close to hers that other passengers would glance away, assuming them to be reunited lovers.

He effectively hid his actions by placing his body between Natasha and the passing pedestrians. She stared into calm dark eyes though it did nothing to reassure her.

She collapsed in an effort to throw him off. He backed, thrusting a note in her hand.

Gay avek!” said a rough voice. Then he disappeared around the corner.

Natasha dashed after him, but several planes had disembarked. Passengers meandered everywhere, and no one resembled her attacker.

She looked behind her. The other passengers had entered the terminal, and the flight crew stared after her in confusion. Before they could ask questions, she slipped past them and ran inside.

Near the door, she found a waiting area and gratefully dropped into a chair. When she opened her hand, she saw a small piece of folded white paper. She dropped her travel bag on the floor beside her.

Two dark leather shoes stopped before her. “Natasha, where have you been? I saw your name on the manifest, so I knew you were here. The flight crew has already come through.” David Benjamin fired off questions in Hebrew almost faster than Natasha could comprehend. He leaned over for a quick hug then stood. “It’s good to see you. What’s wrong?”

Natasha tipped her head to peer at his six foot, three-inch frame. “Can’t I walk through this airport once without being mauled?”

“Are you in trouble already?”

She briefly described the incident, because she knew he would ask questions over and over.

“All he said was go away…get out of here. Something like that.”

“It will be impossible to find him now, but I’ll have security perform a sweep for unauthorized persons outside the terminals. Natasha, if you looked him in the eye, would you say he was your height?”

“Sounds right.”

“What color were his eyes?”

“Brown.”

“Why did you think he was a Jew?”

“He dressed like one. He had a beard, those payot sidelocks…a little kippa.”

“He was haredim?”

“Exactly.”

“Perhaps it was a disguise.”

She leaned back and closed her eyes. Do men always have to think they know everything?

“Well, David, he spoke Yiddish. He looked Jewish. He sounded Jewish. Obviously, someone who knows I understand Hebrew sent me a message. Why don’t we read it?”

“I suppose it’s too late to hope for fingerprints?”

“I haven’t touched the inside. Why don’t you open it?”

Natasha held up her palm, and David removed the slip of paper. With tender care, he opened the folds to reveal the message.

Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Proverbs 4:14

But it was the signature at the bottom that brought the most consternation.

John

Their heads jerked up and eyes locked. “Natasha, I want you to make a detailed description of that man.”

“But, don’t you think…”

“We need to get out of here. Have you got any luggage?”

David grasped Natasha’s elbow and pulled her along with him.

“Yes. Wait, why are we in such a hurry?” She jumped to maintain his long stride.

“Later. Isn’t that your case?” He hefted two matching tapestry bags off the conveyor belt. “All right, anything else?”

Hands on her hips, she shook her head. His boyish expression seemed mischievous, in direct opposition to his earlier concern. She chuckled out loud.

With feigned innocence, he directed a sideways glance at her. “What?”

He carried both cases outside, waving away the customs and airport security. Natasha followed along in amused silence. He was up to something.

When they reached the car, he placed the bags in the trunk and turned to open the door for her. “Surprise!”

Her mouth dropped as she bent to look at the cascade of fragrant flowers filling her seat. “But…how?”

He pulled Natasha into his arms just as a brilliant sunset burst through the clouds. In an emotionally charged moment, she kissed him with enthusiasm.

When she finally looked at David’s flushed face, he murmured, “Was that for me?”

“Yes. Shall we go?”

He handed her into the car and helped her arrange the flowers then walked around the car. Her lap was full. How did he manage so many different blooms? She’d never thought about florists in Israel. As she breathed in deeply, the different scents titillated her nose.

That kiss. Her face flamed. A little too much gusto had gone into that. It had to be fatigue…or adrenaline from her attack. She’d leave it at that. Thankfully, the flowers somewhat hid her from David’s view.

Not that he was easily put off. He slid into the driver’s seat then ran a light finger along her jaw line. “You’re blushing.”

“That kiss…I don’t want you to…”

“It’s all right. I caught you by surprise.” He grinned. “We’ll call it even. Besides, I need all the encouragement I can get. You never know when some movie star will come around and steal the girl in the last scene.”

She turned away to look through the window as David pulled into traffic. “Let’s not talk about him. Shouldn’t we discuss that note?”

“Eventually. But first, have you heard from Dirk? I could find out where he is through official channels, but I don’t want to draw attention to such a request.”

“I haven’t talked with him, but he did leave several messages I didn’t answer. His last note said he was going to the States.”

“Why haven’t you answered, Natasha? Surely you aren’t afraid.”

“I really don’t know why you care if I speak with Dirk or not. I don’t see a reason to continue the liaison. We finished the job, and there’s nothing else to discuss.”

“All business and no play? I don’t want to butt into your business-”

“Then don’t.”

“However…when Dirk was in hospital, he said…some things. I very much dislike being trapped in the middle, and I would refuse, if my own feelings weren’t involved.”

How unfair she’d been to David. Relationships with men were certainly a lot of trouble.

“I’ve asked you to consider a more lasting relationship between us. Before you left Israel, you were confused about your feelings for Dirk. That often happens to an agent, especially someone untrained who doesn’t know what to expect.”

She stiffened. “So you think I’m imagining the way I feel.”

“Don’t get in an uproar. I much prefer you feel nothing at all for Dirk Sloan. I have a better chance that way.” His tone teased, but she could tell he spoke in earnest.

“David, I also prefer not to feel anything for Dirk Sloan. So I’m taking time off from his distracting personality to see if the ‘feelings’ last. Besides, as I told you before, there’s something more important to me in a relationship. Your personal commitment to Jesus as your Messiah.”

“You’ll be happy to know…I am searching. But what you’re asking me to believe is professional suicide. It would probably destroy my personal life as well. Jesus Christ is a passionate subject for a Jew. I must tread lightly, until I’m sure.”

“That is the most thrilling thing you’ve ever said to me!”

“Well…your life encourages me to care passionately about something. But I’ve seen the orthodox Jews. They are passionate. Yet they don’t seem to have your joy or peace.”

“As long as you’re thinking and noticing things.” She scanned the scenery once more. “Where do we go from here? It looks to me like we’re in Tel Aviv, not Henzelia.”

He slowed to enter the recreational district of Tel Aviv. “We have reservations. Are you hungry? Would you like to see some night life before you settle into work?”

She remembered the plastic food of the plane. Hungry? Yes, but what did he mean by nightlife?

“All right.”

“Your enthusiasm is overwhelming.”

“It’s just that a club at home usually means a lifestyle of which I don’t approve. Does that make me sound stuffy?”

“Perhaps, but it’s further evidence you live out what you believe. Don’t you think I know where you’d feel comfortable? Trust me a little.”

He parked the car and turned toward her. Dark eyes studied her with appreciation, and she thought again how handsome he was. Slender face, thin, long nose, high cheekbones, wavy brown hair, olive skin. Very much like she imagined Jesus. If she didn’t move soon, he’d lean over and kiss her. She shifted a flower pot to reach for her bag.

David laughed as he got out of the car and walked around to open her door.

The hostess seated them before a large glass window at a round table draped in white linen. Outside, a lighted fountain sprayed first green, then blue, then orange water into the air. A lavish display for a country in the midst of a drought.

In the center of the dining room, a graceful young woman played the piano and sang in Hebrew. A great place to pop the question. Natasha’s stomach lurched. He’d better not.

“Relax, I won’t bite,” said David, reaching for his menu. “Are you very tired?”

How could she let him continue to hope, when she was convinced her heart had already found a home, even if it was the wrong home?

“I am tired, but this is a welcome surprise. Thank you for going to so much trouble. I think you’ve got a romantic streak.”

“My sisters always said, ‘With the right girl’…Would you allow me to order for you? They have a traditional Jewish menu I thought you’d enjoy. I’d like to make amends, somewhat, for your previous trip.”

A wonderful suggestion. She sat back, allowing David to manage their arrangements. Everything about this atmosphere relaxed her. She almost hated to remember why she was in Israel. She shut her mind to a picture of John wasting away in some forgotten cell.

David reached for her hand, covering it with his own. “Let’s not speak of work yet. However, before I can press my advantage, there are some things of which we should discuss.”

She pulled her hand away. He reached for her again, and she rolled her eyes. “I think we covered that.”

“Not entirely. You refused to see Dirk before you left Israel. He asked after you several times. I gave him the earrings you returned from your mission. He was annoyed you refused to keep them. His actual words were something like, ‘Bloody stubborn wench. Can’t she accept a gift? What do you do with a woman like that?’ He wanted to know why you wouldn’t come to the hospital. I didn’t know what to say.”

David gave her hand a little squeeze. “This is where you really need to pay attention. He said, ‘I guess she knows how I feel about her, but…Listen old man, if you get an opportunity to speak with her before I do, there’s something I’d like very much for you to tell her.'” He mimicked Dirk’s proper British accent perfectly.

Natasha had to smile as she listened.

“I agreed to relay his comment when next we spoke. He said, ‘Tell her I believe what she said, and I’ve taken care of it.’ So, there you are.”

Amazing. David gave Dirk every advantage. He really intended to remove any reservations she had about Dirk so he could pursue her with a clear conscience. She’d never met a man so chivalrous. His tight grip on her hand revealed his anxiety even if his carefree expression didn’t.

She stared in his eyes. “What are you saying? You believe Dirk is now a Christian?”

“I do. How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t…know. My little heart didn’t go pit-a-pat if that’s what you mean. And I’m not sure he knows what he’s talking about, so I’ll reserve judgment until I see a change.”

David frowned. “You can’t put him on trial, Natasha. Most of the things you see him do in public are arranged to complete his cover. If you really want to know what’s inside the man, you should give him the dignity of explaining himself.”

“I once said the same thing to him about listening to me.”

“Obviously, he did.” David waved his glass at the waiter. “Enough touchy-feely talk. I’ve done my share for the next year or so.”

Natasha nodded. David was indeed different from the reserved agent she’d first met. They spent the remainder of the meal on light topics chosen simply to amuse. She felt thoroughly at ease by the time they exited the restaurant…until David performed his usual once-around-the-car for signs of sabotage.

Was that what she wanted for the rest of her life?

“David, how did you become so completely a part of this job?”

Any care-free attitude disappeared as his eyes took on a powerful light, and his body tensed. The consummate agent.

“That’s how you stay alive. There’s not a high life expectancy among spies. You’ll have to learn also.”

He started the car, and they left the restaurant parking lot. David’s solemn expression appeared every bit the professional, and she regretted the change. “What are you thinking about Agent Benjamin?”

“Is it that obvious?”

She nodded.

“I think we’ll leave the note for analysis. The wording sounds like your friend, the monk. Always quoting Bible verses. But everyone knows this of him. It could easily be a fake. How could he send a message to you? The Syrian wouldn’t reveal to John what the Mossad are doing with you or allow John to have access to persons sympathetic to his cause.”

“Have you been able to verify the name, Yaakov, or where they took John?”

“Neither. But don’t despair. There are agents who believe they have a firm lead. A terrorist of this magnitude is a prime target for all of Israel’s resources. We’ve enlisted the aid of Shin Bet.”

“That reminds me. Why were the Mossad involved in a diamond investigation? I thought the Shin Bet handled all of Israel’s homeland espionage.”

“A tricky situation. The sabotage of our country’s international trade is undoubtedly an investigation for the Mossad. We’re the only Israeli organization involved with the Trinity. Your involvement began outside the boundaries of Israel, so the investigation remained with Mossad. But there’s much to be learned from Shin Bet. They have different sources. We must retain cordial relations like your CIA and FBI.”

“Do you think Yaakov is in Israel?”

“No. The lead I mentioned is in Syria, but it takes months to set up a successful cover for an agent. Even if Yaakov’s base operates out of Syria, he may not have the monk there. It will take time to have someone close enough to find out.”

“John will be wherever Yaakov is hiding. He’ll want John to decipher that manuscript so he can find the exact location of the Garden of Eden. But how much time could that take?”

David slowed the car and looked at Natasha over the cluster of flowers she held. “Do you believe the source for Eden is in Israel, in another dimension like the monk said?”

If she said yes, he’d think her a nut and discount what she had to say about salvation.

“I don’t know. But I’ll tell you how I think about God, and maybe that will explain it. The Talmud says that God knows our past, our present, and our future. I’ve always had this picture in my mind of God holding our entire universe in His hand. He sees every part of it, all the time. The future is before Him, just as our present is before Him. He sees all dimensions because as much as He’s part of our lives, He also stands outside His creation. Thus, allowing us the autonomy of free choice, even though He knows where those choices will take us.

“The Jews rejected Jesus because they thought Messiah was supposed to free them and set up His kingdom on earth. Jesus came meekly preaching forgiveness and righteousness, and He was crucified. And yet, everything He said about how He would suffer and die here…His resurrection, and His explanation of coming here again to set up His kingdom…It all fulfills the Jewish prophecies. But I’m getting away from the point. I think if God knows everything, then He certainly exists in some dimension of which I’m not aware. I can’t know everything, so I’m open to suggestions.”

They entered the Mossad base of operations, and David remained quiet as he drove through security. Natasha glanced around their surroundings, but the night sky offered little illumination beyond the light posts. She saw anonymous concrete and brick buildings, much the same as her previous visit.

David drove to the living quarters. Continued study of his impassive face brought Natasha increasing anxiety. “David?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you think I’m crazy?” His opinion mattered. Maybe too much.

He put the car in park then leaned back in the seat. “What you say makes sense…but to accept the existence of Eden, I’d have to believe everything else. I’ve never practiced the Jewish faith. You probably know more about Jewish scripture and prophecy than I do.”

Natasha opened her mouth to speak, but he waved her off. “No, listen. I don’t examine often what I believe or think. I believe in the sovereign right of Israel to exist as a free nation, and I will do most anything to protect those rights. I haven’t weighed the moral issues very often when our enemy has no scruples about destroying us.

“You and I haven’t spent much time together. But you remain consistent in what you say, and you act out what you believe. I read the reports from your mission, but I don’t…You walked into a barrage of bullets. Why? You weren’t shot, but no one could have missed you at that distance. Why?”

Natasha really wanted to interrupt him, but he wasn’t finished yet.

“You say God has done this for you, and everything I’ve seen about you would lead me to believe you. But that means I would have to believe God. And it would change my life. That I’m not ready for.”

He sat in silence, but Natasha could feel the tension in his body. She didn’t know whether to push for an advantage or wait and let God continue to work on his heart. He was asking the right questions. She’d wait.

“As long as you don’t think I’m crazy.”

“I’m probably crazy for not believing!” He opened his door. “Here we are again. No one will invade your room this time.”

“So when I go to bed tonight, I don’t need to barricade the door?”

He crossed his hand over his heart. “You have my word. Let’s go in. I know you’re tired.”

He brought in her cases then helped her with the flowers. They covered the surface of the small round table and the night stand, filling the sterile room with a hothouse scent.

He walked to a chair and pulled it out. “Come, sit. Before I go, there are some things you must know. Your base of operations will be at this facility. A normal training period for a Mossad officer is four to six months. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of time. After your assessment, you’ll get through what your trainer feels is most necessary. From now on, we speak only Hebrew. You must learn to respond and think in Hebrew. Most of our population can speak some English, but you mustn’t rely on it. Your trainers won’t take it easy on you or wait for you to understand.” He paused for a moment. “This isn’t easy. Not even for someone in perfect physical condition, and you still suffer from your accident. I won’t be allowed to help you. I may not even be allowed to speak with you.

“The hardest part for you, I think, won’t be the physical. The mental exercises are designed to make you capable of functioning on your own, without back-up, without encouragement. When you go through training, they won’t tell you if you do it right. They won’t tell you if you do it fast enough. They’ll make you do assignments over and over, but you’ll never know if they’re satisfied. Do you understand, Natasha? There is no positive reinforcement in the Mossad.”

A sinking feeling grew in the pit of her stomach. “Is that what this whole night was about…the flowers, the romantic music, the restaurant, the feigned jealousy of Dirk? To bind me with this romantic link to the Mossad so I would do anything they say?”

“No!”

Natasha jumped up. Weeks of pent-up emotions and conflicting loyalties rose to the surface. “Were you setting up the naïve, little American, Bible girl, so she could take a fall for the big, bad Mossad?” She jabbed a finger in his chest. “Let me tell you something, David, I’ve read those exposés from past agents, and they don’t make the Mossad look like the knight in shining armor you think you are. And if you think you can get me to betray my country for the benefit of God’s chosen people, you’d better think again. I won’t ever let you or anyone else use me, my family, and especially not my shipping business, to further the political interests of Israel.”

David Benjamin stood glaring at Natasha, and she wondered if she’d gone too far.

“Are you quite finished, Natasha? My respect for you prevents me from uttering a few words that right now seem appropriate. Dirk was correct. You’re a bloody, stubborn wench. You don’t want a man to care about you. When someone shows honest emotion, you’d rather believe they’ve got some ulterior motive and master plan to use you or take advantage of you. I admit…the Mossad considered all those things for you. That’s the way we operate. That’s the way every spy organization operates! But not now. For one thing, you’re too bright to fall for the ‘Protect the Holy Land at all costs’ bit. For another, you seemed a perfect choice to add to the Trinity organization, and that’s not the way they treat their operatives. I tried to boost your confidence tonight, but not because I wanted something from you.

“I take that back. When a man is courting a woman, I guess he does want something from her. I want you to succeed in life, and if you want to join the Mossad, I want you to succeed at that. Remember, you asked to join us. By the way, you look wonderful. This is how I really feel about you.” He wrapped his arms around her so tightly, she barely breathed. When his mouth covered hers in an anger-filled kiss, she recoiled.

David shifted, and the kiss became soft and coaxing. His raw emotion mingled with her own until tears slid down her cheeks.

At his sudden release, she swayed. He marched out the door, and slammed it behind him.

She leaned against the back of the chair. Should she go after him? She’d created a major rift in their relationship and had no idea what to do. She needed to apologize before this grew into something she couldn’t salvage.

She ran to the door, but his tail lights showed at the end of the street. He couldn’t get off the base without going through security. She watched to see which way he turned, then ran in the room to call the security gate.

A young man answered. Natasha marveled at her control as she turned on the charm. “This is Natasha Kelly. I’m staying on the base. David Benjamin just dropped me off, but I’ve forgotten something. Could you stop him when he comes through, please?”

“Yes, his car approaches now. Hold on, please.”

Oh, please, please, please.

What if he told the guard he’d call her later?

“Benjamin here, may I help you?”

She cringed at his brusque tone. “David, it’s Natasha. Please come back. I want to apologize.”

“Thank you, Miss Kelly. There’s no need.”

“Please, please, David, forgive me. Come back. I have to talk to you.”

David cleared his throat and replied without emotion. “Of course, I’ll do that.”

The phone line went dead.

Natasha dropped her phone and ran to the bathroom to check her face. With a few repairs, she’d do.

At the knock on the door, she flew to open it wide. Not a trace of welcome showed in his face. She grabbed him by the hand and drew him in, then shut the door behind him.

She had seconds to make up her mind. If she kissed him, it would lead him to believe he had a chance with her, which wasn’t what she wanted to convey.

She took his other hand, and holding both, looked up into his eyes. “I was wrong. You didn’t deserve that. You’ve never done anything to make me think you were using me for the Mossad. I’m asking you to forgive me, please, and start over. This is the best welcome anyone’s ever given me. I’m overwhelmed at your sensitivity and generosity. Nothing could have made this night better, except my behavior. Will you try to forgive me? I really am sorry.”

David held up their intertwined hands and kissed her fingers. “If you stop saying you’re sorry.”

“Agreed.” She took a step backward. “I meant to tell you. There was so much going on when you picked me up. I noticed you look incredibly tall, handsome, tan…the whole package is very…attractive. It’s the first time I’ve seen you out of uniform…very nice.”

Natasha bit her lip as she gazed up at him. How did he really feel?

He sighed. “If you continue to stare up at me with that woebegone expression, I’ll be tempted to kiss you again.”

“I think I’ve met my quota tonight. Why don’t you sit down and tell me what to do tomorrow.”

“That would probably be best.”

They sat around the table again, and he discussed several types of training she must complete. After Natasha yawned a few times, David convinced her it would be better for her to get some rest.

“Remember, they expect you to get through this without calling me. Ordinarily, there’s no phone in a trainee’s room. They may move you tomorrow.” He stared into space for a moment. “I don’t care what they want. If you need me, call this number and punch in this code. We’ll use your American distress signal-911. I’ll find you, no matter what they’ve done with you.”

He stood and pulled her up to him. She feared another kiss, but he bent to brush her forehead with his lips. “Be safe. Stay hydrated. The desert is dangerous. Ask your God to protect you.”

She saluted. “Yes, sir. I’ll do my best not to embarrass you or myself…and I’ll pray. There’s nothing else I can do.” She sighed. “I wish I’d done more to stay in shape, but it’s too late now.”

“I don’t know. I’ve always liked your shape…very much.” He teased her as if they’d known each other for years instead of weeks. “Are you healing quickly?”

Nice of him to notice. “Yes, thank you. Good night, David.”

“Shalom, Natasha.”