WHAT? Skip the Prologue? Yes. Because, while it does kick off the book, for those who don't know the characters or the setting it may just confuse you more.
INSTEAD, read Chapter 1. I had always intended that chapter to be almost a flashback chapter, or, as is said, telling the backstory. All the stuff that came before. A 'Who's Who' of The Kildaran, as it were. Plus, since this story is set about a year-and-a-half after the last book that was completed - what happened In The Meantime (kind of like 'Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch...')?
So, you could, legitimately, read Chapter 1 BEFORE the Prologue.
So why isn't the PROLOGUE ,Chapter 1, and Chapter 1 the Prologue? Couple reasons. First, Chapter 1 is where you first meet and get into the heroes, the 'good guys', the folks who I'm actually writing about. And second, chronologically, the Prologue takes place a few weeks BEFORE Chapter 1. It's the event that kicks everything off, and therefore ought to go first.
I hope that this helps. The basic message? It's OKAY to skip the Prologue and go to Chapter 1. Really. But you do want to read the Prologue before you go too far.
A car and driver was waiting for them at Dulles when they arrived, courtesy of OSOL. “Mr. Jenkins?” asked the driver, an athletically-built man with close cropped hair. To Mike, he screamed, “Marine!” but he was cautious, nonetheless.
“ID?” he asked in reply. Wordlessly, the maybe-Marine reached into a pocket and pulled out a Pentagon ID card. “Major Hughes, then?” Mike was pleased to see that he was Corps.
“Yes, sir. May I see your passport?” Mike had anticipated the request and already had it in hand. A cursory glance satisfied the major. “Very good. Colonel Pierson sends his regrets, but he said you would understand. I am assigned to you for the duration of your stay here.”
“It’ll be nice to have a guide in DC,” Mike said.
“No, sir,” explained Hughes. “Your stay in the States.” He elaborated, “It was felt that you should have a secure, personal conduit to OSOL during your visit. Besides,” he added, smiling, “I could use some time out of the rabbit warren.”
“I think we’ll get along. I’m Mike,” reaching out to shake hands.
“Jack,” came the reply, with a firm grip. “And the ladies are Miss Rakovich and Miss Devlich?”
“Anastasia and Katrina, yes,” Mike answered, gesturing. “Captain Hardesty?” he called, turning.
“We should be here for at least a day, probably two. You and the crew all set?”
“Yes, sir, we have reservations at the Hilton. One crew will be on call at all times.”
“That shouldn’t be necessary -” Mike began.
“Sir.” The quiet note in Hardesty’s voice was clear, and Mike chuckled.
“- But it’s appreciated,” he finished. “We’ll call before we’re ready to go.”
“We’ll have her ready for departure.” With that, Hardesty returned to the plane, and Mike back to Hughes.
“Well, Jack, we’re set here when you are.”
“Luggage?” Mike was carrying two medium-sized bags, while Katrina and Stasia only had shoulder bags.
“This is it for now.”
“Is the rest arriving later?” Hughes asked, confused.
“You could say that,” Mike said. “They’re going shopping.”
He’d have sworn that the Marine’s eyes had shown a flash of compassionate pain.
“You should be the perfect escort.”
They were staying at the Hay-Adams Hotel, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Mike would have preferred a more anonymous location if traveling alone, but he was determined to make this trip as pleasant, and memorable, for his ladies as possible. Hence, the Hay-Adams.
Built on the site of the former homes of John Hay and Henry Adams, two well-known nineteenth-century Washington residents, the hotel bragged that it had the “second-best address in Washington.” A classic Italian Renaissance-style building, the building was nearly as iconic as the House across the street. Stasia appreciated the details as they passed through the lobby to their suite, pointing out Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns, and elaborate Tudor, Elizabethan and Italian ceiling motifs. Katrina, for her part, was simply speechless.
Their room overlooked Lafayette Square and the White House. Katrina rushed over to the windows, asking, “That is where the President lives, yes?”
“Yes, it is. And don’t get any ideas,” growled Mike. Katrina muttered something inaudible under he breath as he continued. “Haven’t met this one. Doubt I will; don’t think we exactly see eye-to-eye. But you never know.” He looked around the well-appointed - no, positively sybaritic - room. “I think this will do while we’re here,” he joked, “Though it is a little plain.”
Anastasia’s throw pillow lived up to its name.
Mike ducked the follow-up, and dashed across the suite. “I’ve got to make some phone calls,” he called, standing in a bedroom door. “Let me know when you’re done.” He shut the door quickly.
“Office of Strategic Operations Liaison, Colonel Pierson speaking, how may I help you sir or ma’am?”
“Bob, Mike Jenkins. Unsecure.”
“Met with Jack. Wondering if there’s anything I can shake loose tomorrow or the next day?”
“Probably next day, I think. Lots of commitments, lots of research to do.”
“Gotcha. We’ll run by in the afternoon?”
“Works. Any plans tomorrow?”
“O-kay. Later then.”
“Tomorrow, around town. Day after, back to the rabbit warren.”
“Good morning, sleepyhead.” Katrina’s weight rested comfortably on him, her smiling face inches away.
“Not actually. It is five in the afternoon.”
“You’re done with the dress, I’m guessing?”
If anything, her smile grew wider. “It will be so beautiful! I can’t wait for you to see it!”
“I can’t wait to see you in it.”
She blushed. “But now it is time for supper,” she said, rolling off. “Come. You must shower.” She pulled his arm until he followed her, standing slowly as his joints had started to lock up again.
“Oh, your knees! And Kurosawa’s not here to give you your treatment! Stasia told me about them. Maybe he can teach me his tricks with the needles!” she said excitedly. “I’ll go ahead and start the water, get it good and hot for you. You put your clothes over there.” Katrina walked off before he could protest. Sometimes you just have to roll with it, he thought, and shucked off his travel-worn clothing, tossing them to the side.
“Avert your eyes,” he said, opening the bathroom and releasing a cloud of steam.
Again, he felt her body against his, but for the first time, it was only her. “Katrina!” he snapped. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Taking care of you!” she retorted. “How am I to wash you in my clothes?” she added, with impeccable logic. “Now. Into the shower!”
Mike allowed her to wash him; in truth, he didn’t take much convincing. It was all he could do not to stare at the girl - no, woman, he corrected himself - who would soon be his bride. As she lathered the soap onto his body, he asked, “So why the fuss? I didn’t plan anything formal for dinner.”
“Stasia did,” was all she would answer. After he was towel dried, Katrina left to dress. He found his favorite Harrowgate suit laid out on the bed, so… Obviously, Stasia had something special in mind.
“Okay, Stasia, where are we -” He cut off mid-sentence when he caught sight of Katrina. “Where - when - how -”
The form-fitting green dress Katrina was wearing was NEVER a product of the valley. In fact, unless Mike was much mistaken, it wasn’t even a product of a store. This dress had to have been hand-made by a very, very skilled seamstress. A single strap looped around her left shoulder, swooping down across her chest, dropping lower around her side and back, defining and highlighting every supple curve. Her hips were encased in the same shimmering green, a floor-length skirt dropping down, a slit rising along her right leg all the way up her thigh. Plainly, the work of an expert.
“Noemi provided the dress,” spoke Stasia. “I had called her from home with Katrina’s figure. I hoped she would have it ready in time.”
Katrina was being surprisingly demure, looking to the floor, nothing like her usual brazen self. “Do you like it?” she asked softly.
“You are more beautiful than usual,” he replied, stepping toward her and holding her. He cupped her chin and raised her head to look into her eyes. “And never look down; you have nothing, nothing to be ashamed of!” he insisted, kissing her.
“Now. Stasia, since you’ve organized this - what’s for dinner?”
“Michael, you often complain that nobody in Georgia can cook a steak properly. So, we have reservations at the Capital Grille.” She smiled. “I have heard they cook steak well.”
Dinner was simply amazing. Wagyu beef carpaccio, seasoned perfectly, the beef so thin it was nearly translucent; a creamy lobster bisque; Katrina and Stasia each had a petite filet mignon, while Mike dove into a porcini-rubbed Delmonico that was so tender he put aside his knife; fresh seasonal vegetables; and a chocolate espresso cake, which Mike and Katrina took turns feeding each other. All accompanied by an ever-changing variety of wines, complementing each course.
Amelia Weston had joined them briefly.
“Katrina! Congratulations! Stasia told me the wonderful news!”
“Thank you, Mrs. Weston.”
“Ah, I told you, call me Amelia.”
“I forgot, Amelia.”
“Is that one of Noemi’s creations?”
“Yes, it is, and thank you for referring us to her,” smoothly interjected Stasia.
“Isn’t she simply amazing? And yet so few people know about her!”
They chatted for a few moments, Mike able to eat in peace, until Amelia turned to him and said, “Have you had a chance to talk with our new President again?”
“No, not directly,” he answered. “Although I think that he’s been well-informed of my supposed abilities.”
“Ah,” she said, dimpling. “So dinner didn‘t scare him away. Good for him!” A few more words, and she announced she would go. “Mustn’t keep the General waiting too long!” And she swept away.
As they were preparing to leave, the maitre’d came over. “Mr. Jenkins, there is a phone call for you. If you’ll follow me?” Instantly, Mike was alert. Nodding, he said in Keldaran Georgian, “Stasia, you have your phone?”
“Give me three minutes. If I’m not back, call Bob Pierson at OSOL, grab Katrina, and get the hell out of here.”
“I understand, Kildar.” Katrina’s eyes had gone wide with concern, but now flashed anger. “Michael!”
“Don’t worry,” he replied, still in Georgian. “Trust Stasia.” He followed the waiting maitre’d to the front desk, where he indicated a phone in a quiet alcove. Mike thanked him and picked up the handset.
“Sorry to bother you at dinner,” came Pierson’s familiar voice. “I tried the hotel first. Hughes said you were at the Grille. Good steak?”
“Great, Bob, what the fuck is going on? I’ve got two women who are about to bolt if I don’t get back pretty damned quick.”
Pierson had the decency to sound contrite. “Sorry. DIA, NSA, CIA - basically the big five - will all have reps at the meet. Four o’clock. Anyone else you want there?”
“SecDef and SecState should have reps, too.”
“Will do. See you.”
Mike hung up and walked back to the table.
“Trouble?” asked Katrina.
“Just business,” answered Mike, the mood broken. “It’s late. Let’s head back.”
Goodnights had been said, the women retiring to the other bedroom - “It is the only way I can properly chaperone you,” explained Stasia with a laugh - and Mike was stretched out on his bed. The door to his bedroom quietly opened, and a figure crept in.
A giggle. “Wrong answer, Michael,” laughed Katrina, abandoning her attempt at stealth. “I know it is wrong, but I wished to be with you tonight.”
“Katrina -” he said, warningly.
“Not that way,” she clarified. “Your damned promise! No, I only wish to stay with you,” climbing into the bed. She wasn’t wearing anything. “May I stay here tonight?”
“Of course.” She cuddled into his arm, laid her head on his shoulder, and draped her arm across his chest.
I can get used to this, he thought as he fell asleep faster than he thought possible.