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"Your target is at three o'clock, Sam. Coming down the stairs. Can you confirm visual?"
Shifting amid the throng of celebrants gathered around the nearest open wet bar, Samantha St. John turned to her right and looked up the long winding stone staircase that connected the elegant ballroom to the castle's second floor. Considering the ceiling was almost forty feet high, the staircase had plenty of meandering room. Other heads started to turn in the direction of the staircase as her target descended. Konrad Steiner loved to make an entrance.
Riley McLane's warm voice echoed in Sam's ear as if he was standing right beside her. He'd caught her off guard even though she'd been expecting the audio contact through the micro ear transceiver she wore. She'd been standing idle, making the party scene with small talk for almost two hours without seeing her target or hearing much from Riley. She was good at waiting, but she didn't like it.
Sam's partner on-site had met with the target briefly outside and had managed to tag Steiner with an ultraviolet mist that showed up on the thermal-imaging surveillance systems the support team was using through a geosynchronous weather satellite the Central IntelligenceAgency had gotten access to. Riley and the support team in Langley, Virginia, back in the United States had followed the man through the castle, once the tag had been made.
Only five feet, three inches tall, Sam had to peer over the crowd of guests around her. The spiked heels she wore gave her a boost. Of course, if she got into a footrace, she was in trouble.
The plan is not to get into trouble, Sam reminded herself. Get in, install the computer program on the target's computer and get out. Simple and trouble free. Stick with that. No trouble.
Steiner, the party's host and an international crime figure, although most of the attendees didn't know that, descended the stairs with a svelte redhead on his arm. She trailed a hand down the wrought-iron banister, the movement as suggestive as her rolling hips. Her proximity staked her claim on the man at her side for every other woman in the ballroom. And perhaps that message was intended for some of the men, as well.
Steiner was in his early fifties, but only the mission background Sam had read on the man gave that away. He took care of himself, and obviously considered his image one of his best attributes. His black hair was expertly groomed and his short-cropped goatee stood out proudly. A cruel smile curved his generous mouth. The dark blue tuxedo he wore fit him like a glove, delineating the broad shoulders and narrow waist.
The man looks like a medieval lord, Sam thought as she watched Steiner. The castle suits him well. But then, he knows that, doesn't he?
Balloons and festive party decorations covered the walls. The chandelier in the ballroom glittered with a thousand points of light.
The castle outside Munich, Germany, along with the landscaped grounds inside the walls and the forest beyond, was a recent acquisition that Steiner was showing off. He was also showing off the woman at his side, another recent - although more temporary, judging from past behavior - acquisition. His relationships with women tended to be perishable in all senses of the word. Tonight the castle and the woman both were intended to intimidate those Steiner planned to do business with.
His slender companion was less than half his age. She wore a shimmering dark green evening gown that left little to the imagination. She clung to Steiner's arm, dwarfed by his height. She laughed and talked freely, patting Steiner on the arm.
Steiner paid polite interest to the young woman, but his sharp hazel eyes roved over his guests like those of a hawk swooping toward a nest of field mice. He was a predator going to work, sorting out the strongest and the weakest of his victims in a glance.
Seven men in evening black met Steiner at the bottom of the stairs. All of the men started talking at once, in three different languages. Each of them had a deal he wanted to present. Asia, Africa, Australia and North America were represented in the delegation.
Steiner was, Sam knew, fluent in those languages and a dozen others. Patiently and with diplomacy, Steiner shelved the topics for discussion, saying there would be plenty of time for business after the party. Sam barely heard the exchanges over the noise of the crowd and the roar of the speed metal rock band playing live in the next room.
"Sam, do you copy?" Riley prodded. There was an unusual edge to his voice.
"I've got him," Sam whispered.The miniature sending and receiving unit tucked in her ear picked up her voice easily and filtered out the extraneous noise. The device broadcast on a satellite phone frequency. The signal made the trip to the limousine Sam had arrived in, was encrypted there on hidden Agency hardware, and sent on to her mission controller.
Several of the partygoers used satellite phones to conduct business and keep in touch with their offices while at the castle. Steiner's security allowed for those signals to come and go and didn't jam them. That was a weak spot the intelligence division at the Agency had ferreted out to use for their own on-site sat-link communications.
The true trick in penetrating Steiner's stronghold had been in wangling an invitation to the party. Even the paparazzi hadn't been able to break into the castle. Steiner's estate security was top- notch. However, the man did like publicity that he could control. Sam had chosen that as her route into the castle party.
"Bret?" Riley asked.
"Affirmative." Bret Horn, Sam's partner on the mission, stood a few feet away. Blond and good-looking, Horn had immediately drawn the attention of several females attending the party. He masked his response with the glass of beer he held while pretending to listen to the two dark-haired women vying for his attention.
"Sam, we've identified the target's room and the computer he uses for his drops," Riley said. Until Bret had marked Steiner with the ultraviolet spray, they hadn't been able to ascertain that. "I'll direct you there when you're ready."
Excerpted from Double-Cross by Meredith Fletcher Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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.
Posted December 9, 2008
CIA linguist Samantha St. John is recruited for her first undercover field operation partnering with veteran operative Riley McLane. Sam performs reasonably well as she thinks that she has come a long way from the child foster system shuffle and even her six years at The Athena Academy for the Advancement of Women. However, something goes wrong as Sam is accused of treason.................. Sam knows she is innocent although the evidence is overwhelming starting with someone who looks like her as the culprit. She turns to Riley to help prove her loyalty; though he is attracted to her and wants to believe her; he leans towards her being guilty. Still he cannot help but to assist Sam who insists she is the victim of a fiendish DOUBLE CROSS........................ The latest Athena Academy tale is a solid conspiratorial intrigue that stars two delightful lead protagonists and a strong support cast. Riley is an intriguing protagonist as the lobes of his brain battle over whether the woman he loves committed seditious acts as seems to be the case. Sam is a terrific target, whose only hope lies in the doubting Riley. Though the DOUBLE CROSS has been done before, fans will appreciate this Bombshell and look forward to more graduates starring in their romantic suspense tales............................ Harriet Klausner
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