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The necklace was beautiful—a round disc in gold, a “K” etched into the metal. My finger traced the letter, my brain scrambling to catch up.

He’d never given me a gift like this. His gifts were always quirky and fun, things that spoke to my personality. Friend gifts. This felt like something else entirely.

I looked up from the necklace, searching his gaze, wondering if I’d find the answers I needed there.

“Do you like it?” Matt asked, his expression uncharacteristically unsure.

I nodded, not quite trusting my voice.

“Do you want me to put it on you?”

I opened my mouth, about to say that there was no need and I could put the necklace on without help, when suddenly I realized that if he put the necklace on me, he’d be touching me.

Right.

“Sure.”

My voice shook a bit as I forced the word out, but if Matt noticed he was cool enough not to say anything.

He took the necklace from the box, shifting behind me. I lifted my hair off of my neck, a line of goose bumps rising over my skin as the breeze hit my bared flesh.

And then his fingers grazed me—holy crap—his touch warm, gentle, followed by the press of the cool metal against my neck. He fumbled with the clasp for a moment, his breath tickling my ear, his lips inches away from being on me.

I’d never wanted anything as much as I wanted him to kiss me. As much as I wanted him.

He fastened the clasp, but instead of moving away, he leaned me back against his legs, our bodies touching, the scent of his cologne once again surrounding me.

“Is this okay?” he whispered, his lips grazing my lobe.

It was a good thing we were sitting, because I was fairly certain that my legs were wet noodles.

Okay? It was amazing, and at the same time, I was climbing out of my skin. My heart pounded like I’d just run a marathon; my palms way past clammy. One refrain played through my mind on repeat:

Kiss me kiss me kiss me.

If there hadn’t been two years between us, if he hadn’t been so hot, if the hot dog in my stomach wasn’t starting to feel like deadweight, and I hadn’t been so completely clueless when it came to guys, maybe I would have just kissed him then and there. But he was eighteen, and he was gorgeous, and likely could get any girl he wanted. He’d been my best friend since I was four; he’d accidentally broken my nose with an errant baseball when I was eight. He’d seen me at my best and worst, and always been there for me. And I definitely felt like I was going to throw up.

I was young, but I wasn’t stupid, and I could tell we stood on the edge of something new, but the thought of doing anything to alter our relationship when he was the one person in my life I’d always counted on scared the shit out of me.

Matt’s arm wrapped around me, settling me against his body. He leaned forward, resting his head against my shoulder, his mouth once again inches away from my face.

Kiss me kiss me kiss me.

He sighed against my back, and for the first time it hit me that he might be just as nervous as I was, wondering what the hell had changed in our relationship, and where we could go from here. Nothing had happened, but everything was different, the change flickering between us like the fireflies off in the distance.

Matt reached out, turning me to face him, holding my chin in his hand, tipping my face toward his.

Ohmigod.

Everything stilled as I froze this moment, clutching this memory to my chest; whatever happened next, I’d always have this—the possibility of us—to savor.

Our gazes locked onto each other, mine dipping for a second to look at his mouth at precisely the same time he said, “I love you, Kate.”

With those four words, the hot dog settled in my stomach. The two-year age difference fell away in the face of a lifetime of friendship. And I found my voice.

“I love you, too.”

His body shuddered against mine as though I’d just given him the answer to a question that had been eating him inside. And with those four words, I tied a string around my heart and connected it to his.

The nerves disappeared. Everything disappeared. Maybe on paper we’d gone from friends to more in an instant, but I’d always loved him, and that love had changed until now it was this—Matt cupping my face in his palms, his thumbs stroking back and forth across my cheekbones, and then his lips descended on mine and he gave me my first kiss.

Since Blair was two years older than me and had been dating Thom for years, I’d asked her about kissing. She’d shrugged and said it was nice.

She was wrong.

It wasn’t nice. It was indescribable. It was lips, tongue, teeth moving in a dance I didn’t know the moves to yet picked up as naturally as breathing. It was hungry and desperate and soothing. And right then, I knew—I was the luckiest girl in the world to have fallen in love with my best friend and to have him love me back.

We kissed for hours, my back on the blanket, the necklace he’d slipped on my neck warm against my skin, Matt’s body on top of me, showered by fireworks as America and I turned one year older.

Best birthday ever.

Chapter One

D.C.’s political elite is expected to attend this year’s concert at the U.S. Capitol to celebrate the Fourth of July. We can’t wait to see what scandals we uncover …

Capital Confessions blog

Kate

Six years later

“Why are you still here?”

I looked up from the project I’d been working on—analyzing newspaper articles from Syria to assist with a leadership profile my boss wanted on a Syrian general—my elbow nearly connecting with one of several cups of coffee strewn about my desk. Sometimes intelligence work could be really fucking tedious. When it was completed, the profile would serve as a reference document providing background information on the general. The goal was to use this information to not only get a better sketch of him, but also as a predictive and descriptive tool to understand his motivations and attempt to guess at what he might do next.

My boss, Richard Standler, stood in front of me, staring down at my cluttered desk.

“Just trying to finish up this report,” I answered, hoping I looked like the dutiful employee.

I’d only been working at the Central Intelligence Agency for a couple of weeks. I’d graduated from Georgetown in May with a political science degree, and gotten an entry-level job working as a political analyst in the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence. My job involved country risk analysis—looking at raw data, both classified and open source—things like media, Internet sites, public data, and professional and academic publications—to make assessments on how U.S. interests would be affected by a particular country’s goals and behavior. In my case, I was assigned to the Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis. I’d taken Arabic in college and was pretty much fluent, so that definitely helped.

It wasn’t the glamorous, car chase “spy” job everyone envisioned when they thought of working at the CIA—my greatest health hazard was probably getting carpal tunnel—but for someone who geeked out on international relations and security policy, it was pretty much my dream job.

“You do realize it’s a holiday, right? You didn’t actually need to come in today.”

Ugh. It was. It was also my twenty-second birthday.

I nodded. “Yeah, I’m about to head out. I just wanted to get this finished.”

It was important to me that I made a good impression. I wasn’t great at office politics, but I was a hard worker and I hoped that would take me far.

“Do you have plans to go see some fireworks later?”

“No, I’m just going to head home after this.”

He shifted from side to side as though he was looking for something else to say, but finally he just nodded and gave me an uncomfortable smile.