Read an Excerpt
"You don't have to do this, brother. Our cousins Ben and Karim are available and prepared. It would be best to let one of them attend the conference."
Darin Kadir listened over his shoulder to his brother but concentrated on readying himself for his first mission for the family. While Shakir argued his point from the other side of the room, Darin checked the cylinder on his Ruger SP101 .357 magnum. Hefting the small double-action weapon, he felt the weight of it like ten tons of responsibility.
Sighting down the satin-finished barrel but making sure to keep his finger off the trigger, Darin answered, "My job makes me the best one for this mission. After everything that's happened, I'm still considered the vice president of Kadir Shipping. It would've been my duty to attend the annual World Industry and Shipping conference before Uncle Sunnar was killed, and it might start rumors throughout the industry if someone else went in my place."
Shakir moved around the hotel suite, stopping to stand with his back to the balcony's glass doors, still not ready to concede. "If Uncle Sunnar hadn't died in that explosion in America, you would be preparing to take over as president of the shipping division upon his retirement. But things have changed—drastically. You're not ready for a field mission for the family, Darin. We need you at headquarters, strategizing and planning."
Darin finally glanced over at his younger brother, dressed in camo fatigues and silhouetted against the stunning views of Lake Geneva and beyond to the Swiss Alps. "And let my brothers and cousins have all the fun?"
The look of sober dismay on Shakir's face was a reflection of Darin's own feelings. He pocketed the Ruger and put a steadying hand on his brother's shoulder.
"We don't know for sure if the Taj Zabbar family will send a representative to the conference." He locked his gaze with Shakir's and forced him to pay attention. "If they don't, then I'm the best one to seek out information about them from our competitors in the industry. Re-mem ber, I've been working in the shipping world for the past ten years. I know the people who come to these conferences. No one else would have their confidence the way I do."
Shakir dropped his gaze to stare at the floor, but Darin did not release the firm grip he held on his younger brother's shoulder. He remembered a time when Shakir wouldn't have questioned his big brother's decisions, though Darin had only beena couple years older. In fact for much of his life, Darin had been the father figure for his two younger brothers. At the time of their mother's death, Shakir, a ten-year-old stutterer and in particular need of help, had depended on his brother for lessons on how to develop the intense loyalty of the Kadir clan.
"I'm proud of you and Tarik," Darin told Shakir gently. "Proud of the way you both have stepped up to the challenges our family must face. I'm aware you two have far more experience in the field than I do. But that doesn't mean I can't be of service to the family by obtaining covert information."
Tarik and Shakir had both spent their adult lives in military training, Shakir for the English paratroopers and Tarik for the American Special Forces. Neither had been interested in entering the family businesses after college. Unlike Darin, who'd been eager to climb the ranks of the family's shipping company after re-ceiv ing his master's degree in business at Columbia University.
But despite his business ambitions, Darin had spent the six months since the explosion secretly mastering the darker arts of weaponry and self-defense. Their father had not yet called upon him to take the lead in forming the family's new offensive line against their ancient enemy, but Darin wanted to be ready.
He thought back to right after the explosion. Ignoring their grief over losing one of their own, his father and the other elders of the Kadir clan spent considerable time debating whether the incident could have been a first volley in an undeclared war. No one had taken responsibility for the explosion, but the centuries-old legends of the Kadir–Taj Zabbar family feud were recalled and retold by the Kadirs. Recent changes in the status of the Taj Zabbar family's financial and political positions were studied in detail. Internet gossip was combed through. Then, and only then, had the Kadirs slowly conceded the possibility of the worst.
Shakir slipped out from under Darin's hand. "You take our old legends too seriously, brother. Yes, the elders have decided not to promote you to president of the shipping line yet—for fear of repercussions or another attack. But this is the twenty-first century…not the sixteenth. You can't seriously believe the Taj Zabbar might want to destroy our entire clan for something that happened between the two families centuries ago?"
"No, of course I don't." Darin straightened his tie and practically stood at attention. "But we can't overlook the possibility that when the Kadir family sided with the country of Kasht fifty years ago at the time of the first Taj Zabbar uprising, we cemented our position as their sworn enemies."
"But Kasht gave us the shipping rights and port facilities in Taj Zabbar territory that allowed our family business to rise to global dominance in three short decades." Shakir held his hands out, palms up. "The Taj Zabbar would never have let us in."
All true statements—as far as they went.
Darin rubbed the back of his neck while he thought of what he wanted to say. "Right. And our father was the leader who brought the Kadir family to prominence after his father made the original deal with Kasht. Out of duty and loyalty to him and to the other elders, I feel my obligation is to gather as much information as possible.
"The Taj Zabbar have sworn to get even with us." Darin kept talking, wanting to impress hard truth on his brother. "We must make intelligent—and safe— decisions. We must be prepared before we act."
Using the power of his voice to make Shakir understand, Darin swallowed when his words sounded as rusty as an old scuttled ship. "You and Tarik have sacrificed for the family's sake. Just look at what you've done to date. You've put a hold on the security firm you and your buddies were trying to get off the ground. And Tarik. Tarik has resigned his commission from the U.S. Army."
Shakir shrugged, not looking directly at him but shifting his gaze to the windows. "We were both in good positions to lend our specialized knowledge to the family's efforts. You…" He let his words die as he waved a hand in Darin's direction.
"I am an expert in gaining information," Darin reiterated. "It's what I do for Kadir Shipping. I'm the one who investigates other firms for financial stability prior to takeover. I search through both public and private documents for authenticity. It's only fair that I share my expertise with the family as have my brothers."
Shakir threw up his hands. "Information retrieval is not fieldwork. Don't you see? You can help us the most by remaining at headquarters and leading the efforts at planning."
Darin knew Shakir was only worried for his safety, but he was done arguing. "Enough. I want to be reasonable, but my mind is made up. I'm the best person for this job and as the older brother, I am finished discussing it. And I'm late."
Darin pulled the conservative gray suit coat on over his long-sleeved blue shirt and shot the cuffs. "Stick around if you want and back me up. But don't be too obvious about it."
He headed for the hotel-suite door but threw one last bit of sarcasm over his shoulder, the way he would have done during their teenage years. "Do you need me to remind you of covert protocols, little bro? If you do decide to stay and want to show up at the conference, play it smarter than most of your hoorah paratrooper buddies, will you? And…at the very least change your shirt."
Grinning to himself, Darin never turned around when he heard the crash of glass hitting the back of the door—at the exact moment as he'd stepped through and closed it. He picked up his pace and walked in haste to the elevator.
Rylie felt both tired and jet-lagged. The jet lag was new. The exhaustion was not.
She stepped off the public tram at a corner and took a few steps onto the wide boulevard known as Quai du Mont Blanc at the edge of Lake Geneva. Turning, she looked up the hill toward the city center twinkling at dusk with festive lights. Her old friend Marie Claire had given her directions for reaching the Presidents Hotel, where tonight's reception for the World Industry and Shipping conference was being held. But Marie Claire had also said it would be a lot easier to take a taxi. Rylie no longer had the cab fare to throw around.
Once again in her relatively short lifetime, Rylie Ann Hunt was reduced to taking public transportation. Coach airfare and buses. The sides of her mouth automatically turned up with the heartbroken memory as she thought about the delighted look on her mother's face the first time they'd taken a New York City shopping trip together after her daddy had hit it big. Rylie had suggested a cab.
"The Hunts no longer travel second-class, Rylie Ann," her mother said with a giddy laugh as she'd dragged her daughter into a limo. "It's first-class or nothing for these Texas gals from now on."
Remembering her mother in happier times, a more current picture formed in Rylie's mind. She knew exactly where her mama was today. Back in Midland in her tiny rental condo, sitting in an old borrowed rocker behind closed curtains, afraid to venture outside. Not a single smile had graced her mother's lips for six inconsolable months.
Rylie could not imagine what would've happened to her mother during the long days while Rylie was in the hospital, floating in and out of a drug-induced haze, if not for a few of her dad's old friends. And those friends would not let circumstances dissuade them, either, as they continued their care right up until today despite her mother's objections. There'd been a time when it was her mother who cared for others. But that same woman had aged twenty years practically overnight since the day of the explosion. She'd become a recluse. A broken spirit.
A chilly wind blew across the lake and hit Riley on the back of her neck. When that life-changing day of six months ago sneaked back into her mind, guilt lifted its nasty hand and smacked Rylie right across the face.
Even while good friends tried to make a difference, her mother had lost her lovely home and preferred to be isolated and alone rather than face the whispers and the possibility of bankruptcy. Riley, too, felt she was all alone no matter where she was. Alone to think. Alone to grieve…and to deal with her sorrow.
Daddy was dead. Riley still couldn't quite come to grips with the idea. But not one day went by that she didn't relive the explosion—and both her self-reproach and her anger grew.
Wrapping her arms around her middle and ignoring the ringing in her ears that occasionally returned when she was tired, Rylie trudged up the city street away from the lake, still going over in her mind what she could've done differently. The police and the insurance companies had said the explosion was an unfortunate accident caused by someone's carelessness at Hunt Drilling. She knew that wasn't true. So far the insurance investigators hadn't been able to prove their claims, either. Not one dime had been either paid out or denied yet.
Whether their company's fault or not, Rylie and her mother refused their lawyers' advice to wait until they were sued. In an effort to take care of the families of victims affected by the explosion who didn't have the benefit of insurance proceeds, Rylie and her mother chose to sell off everything they had and to liquidate much of their company to pay for things like funerals and hospital bills. Yet many debts still remained. Worse, through all of it, all the selling of her family's beloved things and all the pain of her burns and burst eardrums, Rylie's guilt about living when many others hadn't refused to die inside her and only gained power with each passing day.
The Kadir family must be responsible for the explosion and all this pain. It had to be them. Who else?
Perhaps their motive was insurance money. For whatever reason, they'd reduced her to nothing more than a lump of regret. The only thing keeping her going, keeping her plodding up this hill, was the need to prove them responsible for the explosion.
She would, too. Rylie was no less determined than a police dog on the scent and would find a way to prove the Kadirs were somehow connected. She couldn't find any other reason why a brand-new storage facility that had recently been safety checked and rechecked would suddenly explode.
In her quest for truth, Rylie had done her homework. Kadir Shipping always sent a representative to the World Industry and Shipping conference in Geneva. If the shipping business was anything like the drilling business, and she knew it would be, gossip was easy to come by at the conferences. After a day of long, boring speeches, attendees of these things normally let their hair down and drank too much at the evening get-togethers before having to confront another gruelling day.
A few questions. A couple of come-hither looks. Riley was ready to do anything to get what she wanted. What she must have. Proof. For this first party tonight, she could accept getting her hands on only a rumor—if that rumor would take her to the next step toward obtaining enough proof to accuse the Kadirs in public.
She'd been trying to swallow down her anger, but it was slowly taking over her soul as the months went by. She wouldn't readily admit it, but deep down she knew. The carefree young girl she had once been—the one who used to love everyone and needed everyone to love her in return—had changed forever. Her heart was quickly filling with hatred and her mind turning inward toward revenge. If she had looked in a mirror right then, Rylie wouldn't even have recognized herself through the grief and rage.
"Certainly, mademoiselle," the Frenchman politely told Rylie an hour later. "I am familiar with all Kadir Shipping representatives. A member of the Kadir family has been coming to our conferences for many years."
The middle-aged man in the navy wool suit smelling of mothballs turned in a half circle. "Yes, yes, I see Darin Kadir now."
He gestured to a small group of men nearby. "There, with several other gentlemen who also attend every year."