Excerpt - Chapter One
February 2006 (reprint)
Killian Moore was getting screwed.
He could feel it, like that split second moment before a car
crash when time slows to a breath before impact. You know it's coming and there
isn't a damn thing you can do to about the rank smell of shit about to hit the
He should have never answered the door, and kept right on with
his plan to grill a steak, drink beer, and clean a weapon. Except he didn't,
and found the deputy director of the CIA on his doorstep.
Looking like a soccer mom.
Not that the carefully styled image wasn't cute in a weekend
at Martha's Vineyard sorta way. Neat, preppy clothes, pricey sneakers, a noisy
charm bracelet. Even those ridiculous footie things with the pom-poms on the
back. He almost wondered if she'd power walked her spry little ass over here
to deliver whatever couldn't be said in her office. That is, if he hadn't seen
the bodyguard and staff car parked in his driveway.
The last woman to show up at his door unannounced was an AWACS
pilot on her way to Iraq . They both knew why she'd hunted him out and he'd let
her vent her fear on him with mind-blowing sex before she walked off to war.
Needful sex. He'd done the same himself once or twice.
That didn't explain the woman sitting across the table from
him now, taking in the sun like it was a drug. She sipped a beer, talking about
careless things like flowers and the Zen of backyard fountains. But the deputy
director of covert operations coming to him instead of demanding his appearance
at Langley was enough to send up an artillery barrage of warnings.
And Killian wondered just how much dancing she was going to
do before she dipped. He gave her healthy nudge.
"The point of this visit?"
She turned her attention on him, smiling softly. If it had
been anyone else, he'd have thought it was genuine. But she wasn't anyone else.
"Yes, I suppose it's time I told you why I'm here."
"I didn't think it was for my steaks." He gestured to the leavings
of their meal spread around them.
"No, but thank you, it was very good." She gave him a smile
you saved for a kid who'd drawn you an exceptionally bad picture when you were
hoping for another Michelangelo.
Killian laced his fingers over his stomach. He had all the
time in the world, this week. "Just what do you want from me?"
"We need to hire your team."
Need, Killian thought. Not want.
She slid her straw tote bag forward, lifting out a file. Like
every woman he'd known, her handbag was never out of her sight. She'd arrived
with it tucked under her arm just as he'd thrown a two-inch Porterhouse on the
grill. Seeing as she wasn't going to leave, and he liked his steak rare, he'd
invited her to join him. Killian was a wash-out in the kitchen, not a good thing
considering his age, but other than turning an MRE into a feast, the man-pit
of grilling was where he excelled. His ego'd like to stand up and growl that
he excelled with women, but then, he hadn't had anyone in his bed except his
neighbor's cat in a long time.
Depressing as hell. But then, Killian's line of work didn't
invite sharing .
When she looked to be waiting for an answer, he said, "I don't
agree to a thing till I hear the details." And confirm them himself.
"Don't you have to consult with your men?"
"No." He didn't explain further. Killian didn't lead his team,
he steered. His buddies were the best the military had to offer. Retrieval experts.
An assortment of talented men that, at one time, were obligated to follow direct
command orders. Now, working in the private sector, they took jobs when it felt
right. Good causes paid well. His men trusted him to select the jobs and he trusted
them with his life. Dragon One had earned the right to pick and choose the contracts.
Unless the chopper payment was due.
She offered the file.
Killian wiped his hands, and pushed aside his plate before
taking it. She sipped beer, bouncing her crossed leg as she waited for his reaction.
He didn't give her one, keeping his breathing even, his face expressionless.
There was so much black-out in the files, it took Killian three minutes to read
most of it. And what he couldn't decipher had a distinct odor.
She wanted him to find a NOC? Jesus. Might as well be Bin Laden. "Not
exactly your average retrieval, Madame Director."
"If I thought this mission was average, I'd send our people."
He looked up. "You already did." He could tell by the Intel.
She didn't even try to appear shocked. "Yes we have," she admitted
after some stalling. "And obviously failed."
Deputy Director Lania Price stood, gathering plates and flatware,
and Killian was about to tell her he'd take care of it, but something was making
her nervous enough to play Dolly Domestic. He looked back at the file, flipping
through pages that were too vague to make it worth reading. His gaze caught on
the agent's photo. Auburn haired, big eyes, a definite ooh-rah on the sexy scale,
but other than that, there was only a thumbprint and retinal scan. No background,
nothing but a couple identify- the-body scars and marks. He glanced at her name.
Alexa Gavlin. Deep covert operative meant a difficult snatch and grab. The whole
"There's not enough information here." But then, that's the
way it was with a non-official covert officer. NOC's did what they had to, and
rarely reported details other than completion of an assignment.
She looked back at him. "That's all I can give you."
"No, it's not, but we'll get back to that." He put up a finger
to stop her from interrupting. "Why is it so necessary to bring this one in now,
Lania?" He liked calling her by her first name. It reminded her that she was
in his home begging for his help on something that the CIA attack dogs couldn't
handle. Killian and his team had a 100% success record, yet he knew when it was
time to stack the cards in his favor. This was one of them.
"Several reasons. My superiors believe this agent is a viable
threat to national security."
Her superiors were the director, the National Security Advisor,
and the president. "And you don't?"
"No, I agree completely." She moved from the patio table through
to the kitchen as she spoke. "She's failed to make scheduled contacts for two
"That's not all that unusual." Another reason Killian didn't
want the job. Spooks were a pain in the ass. The hitch was-you couldn't trust
them. They were trained liars. Just like the woman doing chores in his house. "Or
she's dead and your problem is solved."
"We're aware of that possibility. We've tried tapping her assets,
but no one is talking. She's ours because she talented." Price came back for
more dishes. "She assumes appearances, any accent, and speaks several languages
well enough to get by."
"And you let her go NOC?" Killian scoffed. "Then come crying
to me when your ghost goes off the reservation. What she'd do?"
Lania's soft 'June Cleaver' expression took on a feral gleam.
Score one for Dragon One, he thought as she went to the kitchen again.
"All I want is for you to bring her in."
No questions. He got it. It wasn't happening, but he got it. "Say
I do find her, then what?"
"She'll get a fair hearing."
Killian doubted that and shut the file. NOC's didn't get anything
but shafted. "And if she's crossed and I can't bring her in?"
She stilled and through the patio doors, he saw her hesitate
as she set the last of the dishes on the counter. Her head fell forward, sandy
brown hair neatly restrained in a barrette decorated with a gecko that matched
the print of her skirt. "We want you to retire her from the active list."
She had to be kidding. "No."
Her anger was quick and sharp as she faced him. "You don't
get it do you, Marine, we--"
"I'm not a Marine anymore," he cut in viciously and shoved
the file back at her. "No deal."
She bulldozed ahead without taking a breath, and he half expected
her to lean down and poke his chest. "She's a danger to active operations, and
"Christ, if you think I'll jump on this 'bring the spy in from
the cold for God and country' shit, you pegged the wrong man."
Price's cheeks pinkened, the only sign she was furious. "It's
Killian leaned forward, his tone soft and deadly. "Don't think
for a minute you can tell me what my duty is, Lania. I owe you nothing. I'm a
private citizen now." He glanced at the file as he sat back. They had too much
history, ugly history, yet Price was just a bit too eager to drag him into this,
and he wondered what the truth was behind this agent, then thought, they probably
didn't even know it. Kinda hard to keep up a web of lies, even when you did it
for a living.
"This Alexa Gavlin means nothing to me. And neither do the
needs of the CIA. But you knew that before knocking on my door." He paused for
a heartbeat. "Don't let it hit you in the ass on your way out."
"I'll double your usual fee."
"You can't afford me." But that told him they were desperate.
"I'm authorized to give you half right now, and I don't want
your team, I want only you."
He arched a brow. "Come again?"
Price stared him down. "We don't want any outside influences
to limit our options. We need someone on the inside right now, and since you
left Colombia under a suspicious cloud, you have a certain respect in the cartel
that's essential for this."
Killian felt the noose tightening, yet said nothing, slipping
his favorite Cuban cigar from the case on the table as he waited patiently for
her to scramble.
"It would take weeks to set up covert ops and get someone on
the inside. You have the advantage. You were a part of the cartel." His eyes
narrowed. "Undercover of course, but as far as they're concerned, you're still
one of them. Haven't they contacted you in the last couple years?"
She knew the answer already or she wouldn't have asked. "Careful
honey, you're not putting yourself in my good graces." Casually, he nipped the
cigar tip and wet it. "I risked my life to get that deep for the DEA, and then
some mole in your house fucked it up." And I lost everything , he thought, lighting
up and taking along calming drag.
He needed it, because if ever he considered hurting a woman,
this was it.
Price didn't confirm or deny it.
But that Op got his friends killed. Killian nearly bit through
the cigar just thinking about the ambush that wiped out half a joint task force
operation with CIA, military, and DEA. Two bodies had never been found, but since
he was the only one on the inside, he was the fall guy. That day took lives and
his reputation. And his Marine commission. He couldn't bring back the dead, but
he'd do just about anything to get his rep back. Just about.
"Let's be clear on this." Killian patiently steepled his fingers,
the cigar smoke wreathing his head. "You want me to hunt her down and bring her
back. If we can't get to her, I sight down a high-powered rifle and put a bullet
in her head." He met her gaze. "Have I forgotten anything?"
She tucked a loose strand at her nape as she said, "No. That's
He shook his head, lowering his hands. "You people are not
putting any more blood on my hands."
"Yes, well there is enough of that there already, isn't there?"
His eyes went flat. "Get out."
"If you want that file to remain smothered, Moore , you'll
So, that was the real heart of this gig. "You forgot 'or else'?'"
She looked him over. "I didn't forget. I just didn't have to
Hell, he'd walked right into that one. "Why should I give a
damn." Smoking, he propped his feet on a nearby chair, patient for the trump
She met his gaze, all pretense vanishing, and the magic card
flipped out and sparkled. "I have it on good authority that Gavlin was the Intel
Every muscle in him locked instantly, hard and pumping his
blood, yet his gaze never left her as she handed him another file. This one was
marked Eyes Only . Hers. He didn't take it and she dropped it on the table in
front of him.
"That's some carrot you're dangling, deputy director," he said,
his look as cutting as he could muster without leaving her bloody on the ground.
If she lied, there was no place she could hide. "I know this is a real stretch,
but you're backing this up with real proof?" His gaze slipped pointedly to the
Eyes Only file. "And before you answer, remember I will extract everything in
need from her."
Price sent him a snide look, the gloves off. "She was on the
ground and in position at the time, privy to a great deal of information from
both camps. She had the opportunity."
"So did I. Motive?"
"Money. Playing both sides, saving her own neck, who knows?
When you find her, ask her."
There wasn't any question about that, he thought.
She didn't expand, then said, "At present, Gavlin was last
in the company of a very dangerous man, Lucien Zarek."
Killian's eyes flared. Polish, rich, and a deadly arms dealer
with international ties and body count whenever he was spotted. They couldn't
have thrown this woman into a darker den.
"I see you understand our dilemma. Zarek isn't known for his
Neither are you, Killian thought, and saw others saw, what
the news media saw; the deputy director of operations, a soft-spoken wholesome
version of Rumsfeld. Iron under all that preppy and perfume. It wasn't all that
"She'd infiltrated Zarek's life deep enough to be a frequent
guest of his compound. Her disappearance, and that Zarek's been out of sight
just as long, speaks well for it."
They've gone underground. "Enough that you come here to blackmail
She looked offended. Killian knew that just wasn't possible. "I'm
paying you and giving you the opportunity to capture the leak."
Killian inspected the glowing tip of his cigar and heard only
one phrase; Opportunity . Find Gavlin and he'd find the truth. "Does the other
side know about her?" If Gavlin's cover were blown, death would be merciful.
"We can't say with any certainty."
Hell, that was a pat for-the-press answer. "You suspect treason." It
wouldn't be the first time.
Her eyes narrowed, filled with a strange spark that left Killian
wondering over her relationship with the spy. Yet she admitted to nothing. "Gavlin
is a definite liability. If she's alive, she knows that and she will expect you.
She's been out there for a very long time. Alone. Granted, it's how she works
best, but given the circumstances . . . she's so far out that the only way to
deal with her is to retire her, quickly."
"Jesus, you people say that with such God damn ease."
She shrugged, smacking a bug off her bare arm. "This is national
"This is murder ."
"Some problems are best dealt with the swiftest solution," she
said coldly. "The good of the whole, Moore , remember that? And since when did
you care so much?"
"If I didn't care, I wouldn't be doing what I do. I'd be fishing
in Bali right now with a sarong clad hottie giving me one hellova blow job."
Price didn't bat a lash. "Give me Gavlin in under twenty eight
days and I'll hand over your files. Wipe the slate clean and I'm make certain
those who should know it, do."
Like with his father, he thought bitterly. His old Commanding
Officer? "Why twenty eight days?"
"Any classified information she knows will be altered by then." She
tipped her head. "Take the Op, Killian. You know you want it." Prim, like a teacher
dictating homework assignments.
"How you figure?"
"Aside the files I'm keeping handy. . ." He practically snarled
at her and she waved the beer bottle as if he hadn't. "You're a patriot. You
understand the threat and know which side plays well with others. And the price
of keeping the scales tipped in our favor." Tossing back the dregs of her Michelob,
she grabbed her bag and stood. "I'm giving you the chance to get the person who
destroyed your life and got those men killed." She slipped out a check and let
it sail across the glass table to him. "Do we have a deal?"
Killian didn't touch it. "I won't put a bullet in her head
"Fine then." She adjusted the tote on her shoulder and met
his gaze. "Break her neck. It's cleaner."
She turned away, walking through his back yard to the gate
in the rear where a driver waited patiently for the past two hours. Killian watched
the cold-blooded bitch go, and pitied any kids she might have. Probably will
grow up with major issues in the touchy-feely department. He looked down at the
file, and the photo, hating the woman for dragging him back into the kind of
work he'd avoided. Dirty work. A Sweeper. He preferred his uniform, an MP5 with
the established enemy in the cross hairs. Not all this cloak and dagger shit.
Killian rubbed his face, wishing to God he'd never answered
the door, then without a choice, he drained his beer, slid the check into the
file, and stood. He went for the phone, connected the scramble line and hit auto
dial. Max Renfield picked up on the first ring.
"And you say you have a life," Killian said.
"Yeah I do, and you're interrupting it."
"We have a problem. Round 'em up."
"Jesus, now ?"
Killian heard the definite erotic coos of a woman in the near
background and sighed, disgusted.
This just topped his day.
Max was getting laid while Killian was accepting orders to
capture a rogue spy and kill her.
Alexa stirred and knew two things.
The sun was cooking her skin.
And she was compromised, her cover blown all to hell.
Oh yeah, and she was naked too. With bugs crawling over her.
This is so not going to be a good day, she thought, letting
the creatures wiggle across her breasts. Mostly because she didn't have the energy
to flick them off. Breathing was an effort.
Cautiously, she opened her eyes, the lids fried by the sun
and stinging. Tall canes surrounded her, blocking some of the sun. But not enough.
She blinked several times, then tried moving her toes, then her fingers. Her
back and rear were numb so she knew she'd been here a while. Wherever here was.
She took her time moving, first her arm, then her knee. Bugs
crawled in spots even a man hadn't been in a while. Mentally she was screaming 'eww'
but it was forgotten when it took her several minutes to roll to her side, even
longer before she could sit up. Her brain sloshed in her head, her tiny world
tilting. She was still for a while, her head down, arms on her bare knees.
My life sucks.
She looked up. Naked in a cane field. With no clue how she
got here. Was she still in Colombia ? The southern hemisphere?
Waiting till her brain stopped dancing in her skull, she ripped
a cane stalk from the ground, peeling back the papery hide and sucking on the
raw sugar. She groaned at the sudden damp feel of it on her lips and tongue,
gnawing like an animal. After a few seconds, she was raking her teeth across
it, craving food and water. Pitching her third, she knew it was time to split.
Snakes loved the cane fields and she was damn lucky she wasn't on the snack menu
She rose to her knees, parting the canes. Then it hit her.
The rank odor. About a second before she saw a bare foot. Ashen and still.
Instantly she scrambled back, pain and a cane fronds tearing
across her skin. She breathed through her mouth, willing her heart to slow down.
Then she moved forward, anticipating the horror as she parted the stalks again.
Dead black eyes stared up at her. Jesus . Santiago . Her relay
Her gaze moved over his naked body. It wasn't hard to find
the mortal wound. A knife protruded from his chest. Her knife.
Alexa fell back, holding her head, her eyes burning. I didn't
do that, I didn't!
But, my knife, my knife , kept echoing in her brain. She looked
at the body again. Blood had settled along his back. He'd been here for a day
at least, by the smell, a lot longer. She didn't recall seeing him recently.
She hadn't made contact since-her thoughts stopped abruptly. When? Did it matter?
Her cover was trashed and Santiago paid the price.
Someone's going to pay, she thought, and pulled the knife from
his chest, dragging it across the ground to clean it. Her options for concealing
it were nil, but she needed some defense.
Struggling to her feet, she used a cane like a staff, the knife
to slash her way through the sharp fronds. In the distance, she saw a road, but
other than that, there was nothing for miles except cane fields. And blinding
heat. Her body ached, her skin screaming for lotion and water. A bath too, she
thought, when she got a whiff of herself.
She walked, thinking her ass was shaking too much, her boobs
were sore, and all those oil massage treatments Degas had lavished on her had
been a complete waste of money. Her body was sun burned, covered in bites and
cuts that had stopped bleeding a while ago and had already started to heal. I've
been here for two days, at least . Santiago 's stay was still up for debate.
Her only concern right now was putting one foot in front of
the other and hoping it led her to water. The sun beat relentlessly, sending
vapor waves up from the road as she reached it. Standing naked in the sunlight
should have felt good, but Alexa recognized she had more vulnerabilities than
just her bare skin. Without clothes, money, and her passports, she was prisoner
in this country. With someone holding onto enough hostility toward her that they'd
stripped her and left her for the snakes.
Why not just kill her?
Had to be Lucien Zarek. It was just his sort of twisted game.
She was suddenly wishing for the pool in his compound, and
last evening came with bright clarity. Arriving in a limousine, dinner, Lucien
looking too damn good in summer white. Coquille Saint Jacque--Zarek's French
chef was an artist--a good Chardonnay. Lucien's hands on her while they danced.
His mouth on hers. Strolling into his bedroom.
Then it stopped.
She pried through her memory, but her brain felt heavy in her
head, her thoughts foggy and colliding. Only fractures, like a flickering movie.
Had she completed her assignment and retrieved the information? Obviously not
or she'd have been on the first plane out of here. But when was that? Needles
of panic pushed up her spine again. Considering her present state, it wasn't
But it felt like last night.
She stared at the dry cracked road, and tried to recall the
last time she'd reported in after that night in the compound.
Oh crap. She was missing more than her clothes and the realization
set in. Hard. She was in major trouble. Did she make contact with Santiago before
he was killed? Was the Company looking for her? Had she even done her job?
She put the brakes on her confusion and assembled thoughts
in neat order.
Okay, okay. Alexa Gavlin, 337-86-9981, born in South Carolina
, orphaned at 16, recruited into NOC program at 18. She had no ties, no lost
loves. The Company liked it that way. Made you expendable. The last 30 years
filtered through her mind, the things she done that she wasn't proud of, to the
triumphs. Till she was assigned to get proof that Lucien Zarek was dealing weapons.
That was sort of a given, she thought, walking slowly. He was
an arms dealer, but gun dealing with Colombians meant little to the CIA. There
were so many guerillas and drug dealers trading and buying weapons, it was hard
to keep track of who wanted to annihilate who this week. A few crates of grenades
and stolen assault rifles wasn't a concern. ATF and Colombian regulars would
take care of it in joint operations. It was when the dealers grew conjònes
and moved out side their realm that CIA stepped in.
Her sources said Zarek had gone big league. Just how big, was
Yet one thing stuck her like a hammer. How could she remember
who and what she was, the last 30 years, but not what she'd done to get in the
cane field? And what the hell did she learn . . . exactly?
Because she really pissed someone off this time.
The sound of a motor penetrated her thoughts, and she darted
back into the field and crouched. A small aqua blue car bounced up the dirt road.
When it got close enough-- she wasn't that comfortable with her body to go parading
down the road--she stepped out.
The car slammed to a stop and the man behind the wheel stared
for a second before he got out. Alexa didn't think she could be more humiliated
when she realized he was a priest.
I'm going to hell for this.
He walked toward her, removing his jacket and when he reached
her, bless him, he kept his eyes level with hers. She slipped the jacket on,
the knife into the pocket, then climbed into the car with him. He didn't ask
questions, didn't utter a word as he drove and parked near a tin building bearing
a cross on the door. He came out moments later with pants, shirt and shoes, and
some water. After handing them over, he turned his back. Thanking him, Alexa
drank, dressed, then climbed out of the car. Behind him, she swept up a dented
gas can, closed her eyes briefly, begging forgiveness before she brought it down
on the priest's head, and took his car.
He'd want to go with her, help her, and the less he was involved
with her, the better. Zarek wasn't known for his Christian charity. The life
of a priest would be meaningless. But Zarek was the least of her problems.
She was compromised.
Break cover and game over. Those were the rules.
She had to come in.
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