Darkest Flame Part 1
By Donna Grant
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2014 Donna Grant
All rights reserved.
The night was dark and tranquil as Denae slid against an oak and waited for her partner, Matt, to catch up. They had jumped from a slow-moving van under the cover of darkness two nights earlier
While she had only her knife—and two more no one knew about—Matt had been given a Glock. He had tried to keep it hidden, but Denae had seen it just the same.
An owl hooted nearby and crickets sang loudly in the stillness. Wind rustled the leaves as it swept through the branches of the trees. The moon played peekaboo with dense clouds that moved like dark giants swiftly across the sky.
A perfect night for spying.
"What are you waiting for?" Matt whispered irritably as he moved around her and took the lead.
Denae adjusted the pack on her back and watched Matt through her night-vision goggles. He was such a prick. Not once in all her time at MI5 had she questioned orders. But she found herself doing so now.
MI5 protected the UK, its citizens, and its interests on its own soil as well as overseas, against threats to national security. Denae had done her research on Dreagan Industries, as she did with any target she was given. Dreagan had been making whisky for as long as there were records, and besides the fact that the file was anorexic, there was nothing about Dreagan that would prompt MI5 to take a closer look.
Yet here she was.
It made sense with her photographic memory that they would send her with Matt, but ... there was more going on. Spies rarely trusted anyone—especially other spies.
There were factions within divisions of MI5 that were kept secret, or as secret as it could be in a building full of spooks. That wasn't what was disturbing. It was the fact that there was a deeper Black Ops level section she had only caught whispers of after being put on this mission that sent her mind into overdrive.
Denae had become paranoid and suspicious once she learned it was that secret division that gave the order to infiltrate Dreagan. She became even more suspicious after she found two bugs in her flat as well as a tracking device on her car.
Even so, opting out of the mission wasn't a possibility. So here she was, in the dead of night with a partner she couldn't stand.
Denae kept low and followed Matt through the thick underbrush of ferns. Ever since she had crossed the border onto Dreagan land she'd had an odd feeling prickling the back of her neck. Almost as if they had broken more than just the law by trespassing.
And it left her on edge and tense.
Not a good mix with her suspicions—and her dislike of Matt the Prick.
There were consequences for breaking rules. What would be the price if they were caught? Then again, they were MI5 agents. They wouldn't get caught.
She and Matt had a few hours to reach the spot designated on the GPS she carried. In two days they had crossed just over twenty thousand acres. They moved quickly and quietly, resting sparingly.
"How close, Lacroix?" Matt asked once she reached him.
He didn't wait for her to answer before he rushed to the next tree. Denae ran by him without stopping. Matt had never particularly warmed to her, and though she had worked with him before without incident, he hadn't been happy when she was assigned to this mission.
Matt had voiced his displeasure loud and clear for the entire department to hear. Denae hadn't cared—at least outwardly she had portrayed that sentiment. What she did care about was that it was just the two of them. More teams should have been sent to different parts of Dreagan's border to make sure nothing was missed. There were so many mistakes being made that she couldn't help but wonder why Dreagan was a target.
Her apprehension kicked up a notch. Vague statements of "You'll know what it is we're searching for when you see it," combined with the clandestine faction giving the order, mingled with nonexistent proof that anyone at Dreagan was doing anything wrong made her anxious and tense.
Denae bit back a grunt when Matt spitefully slammed into her shoulder. She cut him a look. "Three clicks," she bit out.
Matt was the golden boy of MI5. She had earned her position after years of hard work, but Matt had climbed the ranks easily—too easily. Her annoyance was also due to the fact Matt had been given private orders beyond the ones they had been given together. And it left her with a weight in her stomach.
When MI5 became secretive with their agents, people died. Was that what this was about? Had Matt been dispatched to assassinate someone? Denae hadn't gotten that order, and though she loved her work, the only time she had taken a life was in self-defense.
She paused at the threshold of the thick forest, which protected them as the trees turned to a sea of grass that stretched endlessly from one end of the valley to another and majestic mountains rose up on either side.
Denae took the lead since she had the GPS device. She kept as close to the mountain as she could, her eyes darting around, waiting for an attack she felt was imminent.
Frank, her superior, stated the people of Dreagan were dangerous, but she had been given no specifics on how they could be. Nor had her look into Dreagan shown anything.
Frank had said Dreagan and its people were private because they were hiding something. What exactly that was she hadn't been told either. She was just supposed to know it when she saw it.
Denae glanced over her shoulder as she ran. Had Matt been told? Did he know what made the people of Dreagan—all of them—so important that MI5 was sent?
Her musing was cut short when they approached the designated spot. Denae slowed to a walk and pointed to the pool of water that rippled as a gust of wind blew past. "That's it."
"Good," Matt said and jerked off his night-vision goggles before shrugging out of his pack.
Denae did the same and stepped out of her black utility pants and removed her black jacket. Beneath, she wore a solid black wetsuit. She had just taken out the small tank, mask, and fins when Matt stared at her with an unreadable look.
She felt his censoring gaze and slowly counted to ten. "I know you don't like me, but get over it. And remember the feeling is more than mutual."
"I understood your use when you were undercover at the universities, but I can't believe they sent you on this important mission."
"Why? Am I not good enough?" she asked as she put on her fins.
He was silent for several seconds. "You do well enough, I suppose."
Denae frowned and looked at him. "Wow. I guess that's as close to a compliment as I'll get from you."
"You should've stayed in America and joined the CIA or FBI instead of being lured to MI5. There are others with photographic memories."
"So, it's because I'm American."
"You'll regret ever joining MI5," he said cryptically and jumped into the water.
It wasn't the first time a colleague had made mention of her being American, but none had ever come close to threatening her as Matt just had. She would prove that she was put on this mission because she deserved it.
Denae slipped the tank onto her back, fit the mask over her face, and put the regulator into her mouth before she plunged into the deep pool. Thanks to the weights on her belt, she sank quickly.
Swimming had always come easy, and she used her skill and speed to cut through the water. Small lights on either side of their masks lit the way through the pitch-black water.
Huge rocks jutted from the floor beneath. The closer they got to the mountain, the thicker the boulders became until they were weaving through them.
Denae effortlessly caught up to Matt. She was swimming past him when he reached out and pulled her regulator out of her mouth. With a twist of her body, she turned to see what he was about when she spotted the knife in his hand.
In an instant, he cut the straps to her tank. It fell out of sight into the water below before she could grab it. Denae immediately went on the defensive. She kicked out her foot and hit him squarely in the chin.
Matt jerked backward, giving her enough time to turn and slip through the narrow slit where water gushed from the mountain to fill the pool.
Her lungs burned. She focused on cutting through the water as fluidly as a fish, just as her father had taught her. The retort of the gun was loud in the water. Denae turned her head and saw Matt firing his Glock, the bullets narrowly missing her. She had to get on land and gain the upper hand.
Twice she nearly bumped into rocks. She spent the precious few seconds and bent her leg to her chest, where she pulled out a glow stick stashed in a pocket on her leg and cracked it.
Bright green light flared. Denae let out a few bubbles of air and started swimming. There was no doubt Matt had tried to kill her. Since she didn't know how long the tunnel was before it opened up inside the mountain, he could very well get his wish.
Death by drowning. She should've expected as much since it was how her sister died.
Denae refused to think about Renee and that life-altering day as she kicked harder with her legs. Matt was still behind her, and if she was going to come out of this with any chance at living, she had to reach the surface before he did.
With the water so dark, she wouldn't know when the tunnel opened up without feeling it. Denae moved as close to the top of the tunnel as she could. The water rushing the other way made her progression slower—and her body shake from the need for air.
Denae squeezed her eyes closed for a second to focus. When she opened them, she powered forward even as she caught a glimpse of Matt's mask lights cutting through the water.
She let out another few bubbles of air and wondered if this was how Renee had felt when she drowned. It had been years since Denae had thought of that fateful day that changed her family's life forever—and guilt remained her constant companion.
With her thoughts churning, it took her a moment to realize the roof of the tunnel was no longer above her. Denae pointed the glow stick upward and saw only water.
She kicked hard and propelled herself up. When she broke the surface, she gasped in air before she sank beneath the water again. Denae wasted no time swimming to the edge. She tossed the glow stick onto the floor of the cave and quickly jumped out of the water.
Matt was right behind her before she had time to kick off both her fins. His, she noticed as he stood glaring, had been removed in the water. They circled each other around the glow stick while she managed to kick off the last fin.
Matt's smile was sinister as he shrugged off his tank. "I should've known you'd be a fast swimmer."
"Was it always your plan to kill me in the water?"
"Not kill you, Denae, just wound you."
She frowned. "Wound me. Why? So you get all the glory of this mission?"
"You are a stupid one."
"Enlighten me then, or get on with the fight."
Matt lunged, the knife in his hand aimed for her leg. Denae blocked his thrust with the side of her arm and punched him in the jaw with her other fist.
He spun and thrust his foot out, trying to trip her, but she jumped and kicked, landing a foot directly in his chest.
"You're bait," he said with a sneer as he stumbled a few steps back.
A fission of dread made her heart skip a beat. Bait. There was only one reason for bait, and it never ended well. "Since I'm such an idiot, explain it to me."
The excitement in Matt's eyes said it all. "Your mission in all of this was to die so we could reveal just who those at Dreagan really are."
Just as she expected. "You'll wound me because you suspect those at Dreagan will kill me once they discover me."
"Something like that," Matt said with a snort of laughter. "We need to catch those at Dreagan. Your death will ensure that. Those here at Dreagan will never know they killed an MI5 agent."
"But my death will give MI5 the reason to investigate Dreagan," she finished.
Denae was appalled. Not just because they wanted to kill her—and "they" meaning everyone in her division had planned this—but because those at Dreagan were being set up.
There was no need for her to reply. Matt had his mission, but Denae wasn't going to go down easily. She feinted with a left jab and kicked Matt against the side of his head with her right foot.
He hissed and lunged for her again. This time she wasn't able to block him and felt the sting of pain as the blade slid through her wetsuit and into her skin on her left side.
Denae hit Matt's arm, which held the blade, so it pulled the weapon out of her. She then elbowed him in the throat as she was turning. He landed a foot at the back of her knee sending her to the ground.
She tucked and rolled, and when she came to her feet, she had her knife in her hand. No one liked to spar with her when it came to knives because she was so good. Now that she had her weapon, she had a chance.
"Know your death will free the world," Matt said as he attacked once more.
Kellan kept utterly still in his corner. The sound of water sloshing against stone woke him instantly. He opened one eye to see the normally glass-like surface rippling violently as he caught sight of a human emerging from the water.
He barely had time to register it was a heavily breathing woman before a second joined her—this one male.
Kellan shifted his head to get a better look. It had been many centuries since he'd seen a human, and quite frankly, he could go through eternity without seeing another. How he despised them.
He didn't like his sleep being disturbed either. Yet, he knew Constantine wouldn't be happy if he made himself known in his dragon form and ate the two intruders ... as tempting as that might be.
His only other option would be to shift into human form and confront them. And that was too distasteful to even consider.
Kellan stayed in his spot and watched as the two circled each other. Nothing's changed. Humans are always fighting.
No matter how many centuries passed, no matter what country he visited, they were all the same. Selfish, belligerent, arrogant, greedy bastards.
Not that he cared how many humans killed each other. The more dead meant they were that much closer to the dragons returning home. It was because of the humans that dragons no longer ruled the realm.
It was humans who had begun the war.
But it had been dragons who ended it.
The humans were talking. Kellan listened to their exchange with interest. He thought back to the many times Con had visited him while he slept, and realized it had been many, many, many centuries since he last woke.
Con's visits every few decades kept those dragons who wished to sleep away centuries—or millennia—up to date on the world so when they awoke they were more or less knowledgeable about the times. So it wasn't difficult for Kellan to make out what the humans were saying.
The male disliked the female according to the way disdain dripped from his voice. Surprisingly, the female didn't cower. She fought back, moving quickly—for a mortal—and striking the male deftly and accurately. None of her punches or kicks went astray.
Kellan smelled blood. It had been a long time since that scent assaulted him. It made him think of the last time he had walked among humans—and why he had chosen to sleep.
There was a grunt from the pair. The male had a broken nose and a cut lip, but the scent Kellan held was strong, too strong for such paltry wounds.
His dragon eyes locked on the female, and he caught sight of her left arm held protectively against her side. Blood ran thick and fast down her leg to drip upon the stones.
In a whirl, the female came up with a weapon of her own.
Kellan's interest sharpened when the male said he wanted to wound the female. It wasn't hard to guess she was to lure the dragons.
He inwardly snorted. Stupid humans. They all thought dragons base creatures who wanted to eat everything in sight or char it. How could he and the other Dragon Kings have fallen so far?
They used to rule the skies, the seas, and the earth. Every dragon of every color had called earth home. They had reigned supreme.
And for Kellan and the other Dragon Kings, it had been their right to rule their dragons, keeping everyone in line. That's not to say there weren't battles, but with one word from a Dragon King, all fighting would cease.
How Kellan longed for the days of old. He missed his dragons, and he missed being able to take to the skies whenever he wanted. It's one of the many reasons he decided to sleep away the time. He couldn't look upon the earth and humans without wanting to kill them all.
Kellan was impressed with the female, even though he hated to admit it. She was a valiant fighter, and though she was wounded, she was winning.
She moved in a lightning-quick spin before she kicked her opponent to the ground. Then she landed on top of him and sunk her blade into his heart.
Just like that, the battle was over.
The female had lost too much blood, however. She couldn't swim back out, and she didn't know her way through the caves of the mountain to seek help. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Darkest Flame Part 1 by Donna Grant. Copyright © 2014 Donna Grant. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.