Chapter Twenty Seven
A lull had fallen over Libby in the last few hours. She had just woken up from the best nights sleep she had had in the last few weeks, thanks to some hospital drugs, and was now slowly rolling over the past events of yesterday in her mind. It was hard to believe that it all happened, now that she was safe and sound.
After being found by Brant, she had been scooped up and immediately rushed to the hospital. There they had pronounced that she was relatively unharmed. The most concern came from the fact that she was dehydrated and starving. They had treated the bruises on her body from her encounter with Jake and the recent cut on the back of her head.
Once she had been checked out by the doctors, Gemmel and another agent, whose name she had learnt was Roland Cahill, had personally taken her statement on the events. Brant had sat silently in the corner; out of the way but always in the side of her view. It had been comforting and it also relieved her of the pain of having to go through it all again for his benefit.
It only took her an hour to retell everything that had happened to her. There was not that much to tell after being kidnapped. She had not seen anything and there was only the constant bustle to mention. The big surprise to her had been where she had been found. Trapped and held captive in her own workplace – it sickened her.
Gemmel had left not long after a quick word to Brant and then they were alone. He had sat down on the side of her bed and for several long minutes they had just held each other. It was the best medicine that Libby had ever received.
Now, when Libby thought about it, she realised just how open he had been with her. There had been no holding back on his part. Brant had unselfishly told her exactly how he felt about her. He told her passionately how much he loved her and how much it had killed him to think that she was lost from him. Libby's heart pounded erratically as she thought of his words. They filled her to the brim. However, she had held back last night.
Libby, unlike Brant, did not profess her love. She had felt too overwhelmed after everything that had happened and had not wanted to tell Brant something that was not true. Libby had felt the need to make sure that she fully understood her feelings before she went about professing them. To her, there would be nothing worse than telling Brant one thing and then finding out later that it was just the heightened emotions talking. She did not want to cheat Brant.
After he had left, Libby had thought long and hard about her feelings, and, now, refreshed from a good nights sleep, she knew how she felt. She had known it all along. Elizabeth Banning was madly in love with Brant Mackay.
Now all she had to do was wait for Brant to visit so she could finally reveal how she felt.
As the thought entered her head, the door to her hospital room opened. Libby quickly straightened her hair and smoothed out the blanket across her lap. She looked up expectantly and her eyes fell onto her family. For a second her heart dropped, but it climbed immediately as she looked at the two people she loved.
Her mother's brown eyes; a trait she had passed down to her children; were a little red-rimmed from crying. Her once long, brown hair was lightened by grey tones and cut shorter. It hung just below her ears. Ronda Banning looked a little worse for the wear but the brilliant smile on her face brightened her whole persona. Quickly, the tiny woman rushed to her daughter and enveloped her in a bone-crushing hug. For an aging woman she was incredibly strong.
"I'm so relieved," she whispered into Libby's hair. "You did the right thing by not coming to me but I wish I could have been spared the torture."
Libby pulled back from her mother and stared nonplussed at her.
"Your brother told me earlier, when news reached me that you were found, about your visit to him," she said in answer to Libby's unasked question.
"I'm so sorry, Mum. I so wanted to tell you," Libby rushed, tears springing to her eyes.
Ronda clicked her tongue in reprisal. "Don't be silly, honey. I would have blown it. I know that."
"I know, but-"
"Enough," she cut in. "All that matters is that you're fine. I couldn't be happier."
Matt moved towards the bed this time and Ronda moved aside to let her son hug Libby. "You, however, are in big trouble in my books," he said sternly.
Her brown-haired, big brother pulled back and cast a grave look. "You promised to call me everyday to let me know that you were ok. You didn't call me once! I worried like crazy knowing that you were doing something dangerous."
Libby scoffed. "I hate to break it to you, Matt, but I got kidnapped!"
Matt rolled his eyes as they slipped into their roles as siblings. "There were five days before that when you were free to call me."
"Wrong again," Libby replied, happy to be arguing with him again. "For at least three of those days I was being held captive by a man named Jake Culver."
"And the other two days?"
Libby sighed exasperatedly. "I forgot, ok? You can't blame me though, can you? I had a good reason!"
A smile cracked Matt's stern image. "It's good to have you back, sis." He pulled her into another hug.
Libby could hear her mother laughing quietly in the background. She wrapped her arms around her children lovingly.
"It's good to have the family together again."
She agreed with those sentiments. It was incredibly good. They were a close family, brought even closer with the death of her father. Libby revelled in their embrace.
As they all sat together on the bed, Libby told them everything that they did not know. She answered all their questions and even asked a few of her own. For several long minutes they sat in companionable silence.
Ronda looked deep into her daughter's eyes. "So, when are we going to meet this Brant Mackay that has caused all this trouble?"
Libby paused and took the time to study her mother's expression. It was serious but slightly playful. Had Matt put in a good word for Brant or had a CIA agent mentioned Brant's actions to find her? Maybe she had picked up on Libby's feelings to Brant by the way she spoke of him? Whatever the reason for her mother's relaxed nature towards Brant, Libby was relieved. It would not do at all to tell her mum that she was in love with a man that was on her mother's hit list.
"He's supposed to be here soon," Libby replied; her heartbeat quickening at just the thought of him.
At that moment came a light knock on the door. Libby straightened up again on the bed and went through her previous process of fixing her appearance. She knew that it would not go unnoticed by her mother but she did not care.
The door opened soundlessly and Brant stepped into the room. He paused within the doorway at the sight of her visitors and Libby took the chance to survey at him. Brant looked marvellous. He had shaved the two-day growth off his face, brushed his hair straight and, after living with him for several weeks, Libby could tell that he had picked out his clothing painstakingly.
She flashed him a huge smile. "Come in, Brant. I'd like you to meet my mum, Ronda Banning, and my brother, Matt."
Brant closed the door behind him and stepped up to shake the hands of her family. Quietly, they exchanged pleasantries; Brant slightly nervous, her family inquisitive. Finally he turned to her.
His passionate look stole her breath and she found herself at a loss for words. She could see that her brother was staring at her strangely and that her mother was quickly assessing the situation, but she did not care. Libby only wanted to stay lost in the passion in those clear, blue eyes.
Ronda cleared her throat. "Well, we had better get going, dear. Have some errands to run." She kissed Libby on the cheek and turned to Brant. "It was nice to meet you. I hope that we see you again soon."
And with that she ushered a befuddled Matt out of the room.
Libby continued to gaze at Brant. He was such a wonderful man and she felt all of her feelings hit her strongly as he smiled nervously. Slowly, he opened his mouth to speak. She did not give him the chance.
"I love you, Brant," she whispered, overcome with emotion.
Brant stood, shocked, for several minutes before he rushed to her side and collected her lips with his. Libby wrapped her hands around with his neck as the kiss deepened and she felt her stomach do back flips. She had never felt this happy and yet, nervous at the same time – a happy nervous.
Slowly, Brant broke apart the kiss and they both gasped for breath. His hands still rested entangled in her hair. Libby smiled at the deliriously happy look on his face.
"I was afraid that you would never say those words," he murmured. "I'm so glad you did."
His mouth fell on hers again in another passionate kiss. Libby felt his hands leave her hair and travel down to her chest. She arched her body appreciatively as he cupped her breast. As things threatened to get out of control, the ring of a mobile phone erupted annoyingly.
Brant broke contact and smiled at her apologetically. He pulled out the small, compact phone and placed it to his ear.
"Hello? Oh, hi Gemmel… U-huh… Oh, ok… Yeah, I'll be there. Not a problem… Ok, bye."
Libby immediately took in his dejected manner. "What's wrong?"
"That was Gemmel. He was just calling to let me know when my trial is going to be."
"Oh." She had forgotten about that cloud that still hung over their heads. "When?"
He sighed. "In two days. They want to get it done quickly to appease the press and the Government."
Libby felt her heart constrict. She did not want Brant to go to prison. He had done everything for a good cause – aside from kidnapping her and she did not want to press charges. Immediately, she sent up a quick prayer.
Tucked up at the back of the courtroom, Libby watched as Gemmel took the Oath. She was sitting on Brant's side of the courtroom but she did not sit near him because she was avoiding the press. They were constantly trying to capture the two of them in a photo. The next day, that photo would be published under a headline like: Traumatised Victim and her Kidnapper.
Libby did not feel like a traumatised victim nor did she truly see Brant as her kidnapper. For that reason she tried not to give the press any good shots for their lies. In reality, she found she blamed both Jake Culver and Craig Anderson for her scars. Anderson was going to pay.
Gemmel was dressed in his black suit. The prosecutor, a tall, slightly balding man, walked before him. He began to speak and Libby listened attentively.
"Agent Johnson, you're an agent with the CIA, are you not?"
Gemmel nodded. "That is correct."
"Can you tell me how you came into contact with the accused?"
The prosecutor stopped walking to watch Gemmel. In turn, the jury did the same. Libby was surprised at how well he could control them.
"I was assigned to an undercover operation to gather evidence on the actions of a suspected, rogue agent in the army named Jake Culver. After five months undercover work, Culver received a job that required him to work alone for a while. Nearing the beginning of the sixth month, the rest of his team was called in to capture and eliminate targets."
"So, this was when you first met Mr. Mackay?" the prosecutor interjected.
Gemmel shook his head. "Not exactly. We were in fact going to secure Mr. Mackay and his hostage, at the time, Miss Banning, but he evaded us. I never saw either of them."
"When did you actually see Mr. Mackay?"
"When we kidnapped the two of them from a hotel room," Gemmel replied.
"So, Miss Banning was still being held by Mr. Mackay?"
"So it seemed." Gemmel's answer was cryptic and Libby could see that the prosecutor did not like it, but he let it slide.
"That's all," he said, sitting down.
At that time, Brant's defence lawyer stood up. She was a woman in her fifties wearing a tailored, grey suit. Her name, Libby remembered, was Christine Mayor.
"What happened to Mr. Mackay and Miss Banning after they were kidnapped?"
Gemmel chose his words carefully for this part. "They were taken to a warehouse where Mr. Mackay was handcuffed."
"And Miss Banning?" she prompted.
Libby did not want to hear this but she listened anyway. It hurt to know that this would make the front page in every newspaper tomorrow. She squared her shoulders and concentrated on Brant. He gave her strength.
"She was raped by Mr. Culver in a separate room."
There was an audible gasp from the crowd. This was new information to them. Libby could almost picture the looks on the jury. Many eyes turned to face her. She ignored them all and kept her eyes locked on Brant.
Christine Mayor nodded. "And how did Mr. Mackay react to this?"
"He fought the handcuffs in attempt to go after Culver and rescue Miss Banning."
"What do you think he was feeling?"
"Anger. He looked like he wanted to kill Culver."
The prosecutor rose quickly from his seat. "Objection. How can Agent Johnson know how the accused was feeling?"
Christine turned towards the aging judge as if she had expected this outburst. "Agent Johnson was observant at the scene and his observations are relevant towards Mr. Mackay's character."
"I'll allow it," the judge murmured. "Continue."
The prosecutor sat down in a huff while Christine continued.
"How did Mr. Mackay react when Mr. Culver returned Miss Banning to him?"
Gemmel's deep voice stated, "He lashed out at Culver and attempted to hurt him. Culver kicked him in the head twice for his actions and then left. Mr. Mackay then redressed Miss Banning and held her in his arms for the rest of the night."
Christine nodded. "What about the second time that Miss Banning was kidnapped – this time by Craig Anderson? How did he react?"
"He was obviously worried and was determined to find her. And he did, I might add. Mr. Mackay found Miss Banning before we did."
Mrs. Mayor turned to look at the jury for her next question. "Just before we finish, would you be able to tell us, when you kidnapped Miss Banning, under Mr. Culver's orders, in what situation did you find them?"
Libby's face flushed as she realised what Mrs. Mayor was asking.
"Mr. Mackay and Miss Banning were in bed – naked."
A murmur passed throughout the audience. Libby pushed down her embarrassment and continued to stare at the back of Brant's head. She was defiantly ignoring their comments.
"Thank you, Agent Johnson, that is all."
Gemmel nodded and moved out of the witness box. His eyes landed on Libby and he gave her a reassuring nod before he left the courtroom.
The trial was adjourned for the day.
Today was the big day. Today would hold both Libby and Brant's testimony. Her heart was pounding uncontrollably.
She had been prepped by Christine on the possible questions that would arise from the prosecutor and how to handle them. However, she did not feel at all prepared as she said the Oath, her hand on the bible.
The prosecutor stalked toward her. Libby felt her heart fluctuate. She looked to Brant and he gave her a grim smile. Most importantly, Libby realised, that she did not want to jeopardise his chances of getting a light sentence.
"Miss Banning, you were kidnapped by Mr. Mackay from your workplace, weren't you?"
Libby nodded. "Yes."
She wanted to jump immediately to Brant's defence but Christine had told her not to. Christine had told her that the prosecutor would not allow her to ever finish any sentence that would benefit Brant. She would get her chance to defend him later.
"Do you know why?"
"Yes," she replied, reluctantly. She knew that the prosecutor already knew the answer and that this was for the benefit of the jury.
The audience responded as the prosecutor had hoped. Another murmur penetrated the silence. Libby could practically hear the pens of the journalists scribbling down this morsel of information.
"Revenge for what?" he asked, his tone befuddled.
"Mr. Mackay blamed me, inadvertently, for his brother's suicide. I wrote an article about his brother."
The prosecutor nodded like he had just pieced together something important. "That's right! This whole thing started because Mr. Mackay's brother, Martin, was charged with rape and murder, wrongly, according to the accused."
"Objection!" Christine cried. "Does the prosecutor have a question for the witness?"
"Oh, of course," he replied. "Did Mr. Mackay ever hit you?"
"No." It was true – he had not. He had, however, near strangled her but Libby was not going to mention that.
The prosecutor quirked an eyebrow at that, thinking she was lying. "I must remind you that you are in a court of law, Miss Banning, and lying is punishable by the law."
Libby held her head high. "I'm not lying. Mr. Mackay never hit me."
He sighed. "I understand from previous witnesses that you have developed a romantic relationship with Mr. Mackay. Have you ever heard of the Stockholm Syndrome, Miss Banning?"
"Yes, I have."
"Don't you think that your feelings could be the result of this Syndrome?"
"No," Libby replied defiantly.
"But he did kidnap you, did he not?"
"He did. But I was also kidnapped by two other men and I have not developed romantic feelings for them. My only feeling for those men is hatred."
Libby got the sentences out before he could cut her off. She felt a surge of triumph at his lack of comeback. Out of the corner of her eye, Libby could see that the jury had also noticed the prosecutor's sudden loss of voice.
Maybe Brant did have a big chance in a light sentence after all.
Brant's testimony went fairly smoothly and Libby got the impression that he had swayed the jury and the audience a little. He spoke of his reasons for breaking into the Department of Defence; to locate classified files on his brother's trial to clear his brother's name; and why he had kidnapped Libby; in the hope that she would know what was in those classified files and for a little bit of added revenge.
Throughout it all, Libby noticed that Brant specifically mentioned information about his brother's case as he told the jury everything. She smiled at this. Still, he was fighting to clear his brother's name. He was loyal to those he loved to the end. Libby just hoped the jury could see that.
With Brant's time in the box over, Libby could still feel the commotion he had brought about by his last words. Christine had asked how he had felt when he had found Libby alive in Craig Anderson's office. He had said:
"I was relieved and so very happy. I kept thinking that now I had the chance to make everything right for her. She's a special woman – strong and beautiful. I love her."
He had looked directly at her as he said it and Libby felt a huge smile grace her face. Her eyes had glistened with tears at his public confession. She really was a lucky woman.
It took the jury a week of deliberations before a verdict was reached. Libby clutched at her heart as Brant stood with Mrs. Mayor to receive the jury's reply. The judge read the verdict and then passed it back to the head juror.
The head juror, a squat man, read from the piece of paper. "We, the jury, find the accused, Mr. Mackay, guilty of break and enter and for the kidnapping of Miss Banning."
Libby's heart stopped beating.
"We do, however, ask the court to take into consideration Mr. Mackay's other, good actions when sentencing."
She stared at the judge as the head juror spoke the jury's personal message. He nodded like this statement was not a surprise to him.
The judge spoke, "It is the position of the court to award Mr. Mackay with a suspended sentence of twenty years. He is to attend one hundred hours of community service and is hereby dishonourably discharged from the services of the army. Let this be placed on Mr. Mackay's permanent record."
Libby felt her heart return to life and she gratefully sucked in a lung-full of air. He was not going to jail! She began moving for Brant even before the judge had called the trial to an end.
Brant turned as she approached. He too began moving towards her. They met at the barrier to the examination floor. She fell into his arms and kissed him happily on the lips.
"I love you," she whispered.
"And I love you."
Two days later had passed. In that time an investigative trial had been started to reveal the truth behind Martin's trial and to find the real murderer. Gemmel had discretely mentioned that evidence had been uncovered that Jake Culver had been the true murderer. Brant and his family expected a formal apology in the next few months.
Meanwhile, Craig Anderson's trial had just begun. In a few days Libby would have to testify and so would Brant. She was not looking forward to it, but it gave her satisfaction to know that Anderson was being prosecuted.
At the moment,Libby sat in the car at night, blindfolded and heading to an unknown destination.
"Where are we going?" Libby asked again.
Brant chuckled beside her. "You'll see. No peeking."
Libby huffed but did as he said. She felt the car slow and Brant pulled it to a halt.
"Don't move," he said as he got out of the car.
She heard him open her car door and she unbuckled her seatbelt. Brant guided her out of the car. Libby felt her feet hit paved ground and she walked unsteadily with him, a dopey smile on her face.
"Brant?" she whined. "Tell me where you're taking me!"
A door opened in front of her and Libby stepped into the room. The door closed behind her. Slowly, the blindfold was removed and Libby opened her eyes.
She looked around the room she knew she would remember forever. It was the hotel room that Brant had first taken her to when he had kidnapped her. Her eyes landed on the double bed.
"Brant?" she questioned. "What are we doing here?"
He smiled deviously. "Let me turn all your bad memories into good ones."
Libby's heart soared.
Well, that's all folks! What do you think? A good way to end it? Did I miss anything?
I want to say thank you to everyone who ever reviewed. I know some of you have not reviewed in a long time but I would like to thank those people anyway. Every one of you helped to help me finish this story. I'm so proud of it.
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Thank you everyone.