Hidden Agenda

Hidden Agenda

3.8 6
by Rochelle Alers
     
 

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Powerful, predatory and irresistibly macho, Matt Sterling has been called a soldier of fortune—and worse. But for Eve Blackwell, he's the perfect man for a dangerous job: tracking down her wealthy ex-husband, Alejandro Delgado, in Mexico. There he must rescue Eve's young son, Chris, who has been abducted by his vengeful father.

For Eve, this gambit is

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Overview

Powerful, predatory and irresistibly macho, Matt Sterling has been called a soldier of fortune—and worse. But for Eve Blackwell, he's the perfect man for a dangerous job: tracking down her wealthy ex-husband, Alejandro Delgado, in Mexico. There he must rescue Eve's young son, Chris, who has been abducted by his vengeful father.

For Eve, this gambit is her only chance to get her child back alive—even if it means placing her trust in a man who is obviously dangerous. For Matt, it's the last job before he trades in a career of intrigue and peril for a well-earned future as a rancher. But for their scheme to succeed, Matt and Eve must enter into a sham marriage. And the only thing that threatens their plan is the risk—which grows with each stray glance and heated caress—of falling recklessly and passionately in love….

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Eve Blackwell will do anything to get her son back from her corrupt and powerful ex-husband, even marry the enigmatic stranger Matthew Sterling (Mateo Sterling de Arroyo), a man who lives on danger and is now playing a deadly game of double deception. The attractive, well-matched protagonists; good sexual tension; sexy love scenes; and a rather exotic Mexican setting will maintain reader interest. Although some of the historical background could have been introduced more subtly, and obscure intrigue elements and too many characters confuse and slow the pace, this story is a nice blend of romance and intrigue. Enhanced by the dual cultural overtones, it should appeal to Alers's (Hideaway, Arabesque: Pinnacle, 1995) fans. Alers plans more romances using her Hideaway characters; she lives on Long Island.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780373831753
Publisher:
Harlequin
Publication date:
11/01/2009
Series:
Hideaway Series, #2
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

"I'm a fool," Matthew Sterling whispered under his breath. He could not understand what had made him agree to operate in his own backyard. He refused to think of it as a challenge, because it wasn't. Try as he could, he couldn't come up with aplausible explanation.

Maybe it had something to do with the woman sitting by herself at a small, round table in the dimly-lit supper club. He had spent the past two days watching her, and she had spent the past two days waiting for him.

Rising smoke from the thin, fragrant cigar in a marble ashtray lingered in his nostrils, but he made no attempt to pick it up. Watching the dark, slender woman was much more pleasurable.

He knew why Eve Blackwell had flown to Mexico City and checked into his hotel, but he wondered if she knew that she was to become an actress in a much more complicated plot than the one which involved her abducted son and ex-husband.

It began with Harry Blackwell's unexpected visit to Lubbock, Texas. Matt had escorted Harry out of his parents' home, his face a glowering mask of rage. He could hardly wait to confront him as to why he had left his shadowy, gray world in Virginia for West Texas.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, coming to my folks' place?" he'd questioned Harry. "I came here to become godfather of my sister's daughter, and, whatever your reason for invading my privacy, I don't intend to engage in any dialogue about undercover intelligence operations."

Harry Blackwell's impassive expression did not change as he endured Matt's tongue-lashing. An eerie silence surrounded them as he took a deep breath of dry Texas air. Thrusting both hands into the pockets of his trousers, he said quietly, "I need you."

"Forget it, Blackwell," Matt retorted. He bit the tip off of a thin cigar and leaned back against the side of a barn. The sound of a match against the wood was angry, mirroring his mood. As he cupped his hands around the flaring flame the tobacco caught, and the fragrant smell mingled with the sweet aroma of freshly cut hay.

"Dammit, Sterling," Harry countered. "I wouldn't have come here if I didn't need you, and you know it," he continued in a pleading tone Matt had never heard before.

Matt shook his head. "I'm out of it. Finished." The cigar was clamped tightly between straight white teeth. The sun setting behind the flat landscape fired a pair of golden eyes in a sun-browned face that stared out at land that had belonged to Sterlings for more than one hundred years.

"I've bought some land," he continued in a soft tone. "I've decided to set up a horse farm."

Harry took several steps, then waited for Matt to follow him. Turning, he glanced over his shoulder. "This one is for me."

Matt stared at the tall, gray-haired man who had provided him with the means for amassing a small fortune. The money he had earned bought him a luxury hotel in Mexico City and the six-hundred acre ranch in New Mexico. He wanted to be known as Matthew Sterling, horse breeder, not as an independent operative for individuals who paid generously for his special skills.

Harry's dark gaze held his. "This one is different. It involves my niece and…"

Matt flicked an ash off the cigar and placed a booted foot over the dying ember. "Your niece and who else?" he questioned when Harry did not complete his statement.

"Alejandro Delgado."

He whistled softly under his breath. He knew there would be a catch. Delgado he knew about. Blackwell's niece was another matter. "What's the connection?"

This time when Harry began walking, Matt fell in step beside him. "Delgado is her ex-husband. They were divorced early last year. Five months ago he snatched their son and took him back to Mexico."

Matt arched an eyebrow. "It should be easy for you to get the child back."

"I want the child and Delgado. We have to stop him—now."

"Have you uncovered his contact on this end?" Harry shook his head. "For starters, we've only identified someone at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York who may have been in on the theft of the tapestries; but he's only a small fish in this pond. What we want is Delgado's contact with the Costa Rican rebels. Stolen artifacts are one thing. Using the proceeds from the thefts to purchase weapons stolen from U.S. military installations in order to finance a private army is another matter. I want you to get to Delgado, interrogate him about the art thefts and the gun smuggling, and get Eve's son back to the States." "How did your niece get involved with Delgado?" Harry kept his gaze on the ground. Lack of rain had burned the grass, leaving a layer of dust which seemed to settle onto everything. "She married him before we fingered him as the mastermind, and the money behind the rebels."

"Did she know about his double life?" Again, Harry shook his head. "I doubt it. The man's too wily to trust a woman, even his wife. It was infidelity that destroyed their marriage."

"His or hers?" Elegant, controlled Harry Blackwell muttered a savage expletive. "All right," Matt conceded. "Delgado wasn't content to just sleep in his own bed, so he tried a few others," he offered as an apology. "How old is the boy?" "Three."

The two men continued walking in silence, both lost in their private thoughts. Harry was an even six feet in height, but he still had to look up at Matthew Sterling. The man was tall and muscular and possessed uncanny strength, yet moved with the stealth of a large cat. He smiled. He could hear him thinking. Matt was not only good; he was the best man Harry had ever utilized in the twenty-five years he had worked for the bureau.

"How would I pull this off?" Matt asked.

"As Mateo Arroyo, you have no problem establishing a cover in Mexico. The only problem you may encounter is convincing Eve to marry you."

Matt stared at the other man, complete surprise freezing his features. His luminous eyes widened in astonishment seconds before he flung his half-smoked cigar to the ground. Walking over to the burning ember, he ground the heel of his boot on the cigar and into the rain-starved soil. One spark could send a raging inferno across the dry Texas plains, destroying everything in its path.

"Stuff it, Blackwell!"

"You don't have to remain married," Harry said to Matt's broad back. "After you snare Delgado and get my grandnephew back you can annul the marriage."

Matt spun around on his heel. "What do I get? Your niece gets her kid back, and you get a smart-ass who has been thumbing his nose at the United States for years. Do you actually think waving your niece in front of me as a perk will get me to change my mind?"

Harry closed the distance between them. "Touch my niece and I'll blow your cover." The threat was cold and deadly.

Reaching out, Matt grabbed the front of Harry's shirt and lifted him off his feet. "Don't ever threaten me, Blackwell," he warned from between his teeth. He shook him like a small child before releasing him. "Now get off my folks' land, and forget who I am."

*
• *

You can annul the marriage.

The statement haunted Matt. Harry gave him time to cool off and, rather than pay him another visit, he called. The call had come through his private line at the hotel, and he knew Harry had had him under surveillance. He hadn't been at El Moro for more than thirty minutes before the call came in, and Matt found himself agreeing before he reconsidered the consequences.

The black and white photograph of Eve Blackwell had been delivered to the hotel three days before his arrival, and the large, serene eyes of the woman appeared to leap off the paper and torment him with something he was unable to identify.

Motioning to a waiter standing near his table, Matt whispered instructions to the man, handing him a bill. The waiter surreptitiously pocketed the money, nodding.

He glanced over at Eve Blackwell, then stood up and left the room.

Eve was certain the waiter could hear her sigh of relief as she followed him to an elevator. She was to have met Matthew Sterling two days before, and her patience had worn thin, along with the short fuse on her temper. She had been ready to give him one more day before calling her uncle and reading him the riot act for her futile trip to Mexico City.

Stepping into the elevator, she retreated to a far wall. There was a slight fluttering in the pit of her stomach at the swift ascent to the top of the towering structure. The feeling was the same one she felt whenever a jet picked up speed before it was airborne. She hadn't conquered her fear of flying, but she had taken a giant step when boarding the plane in New Orleans for her connecting flight to Mexico. Only Harry Blackwell knew why she was taking the trip. She couldn't afford to trust anyone else.

The elevator doors opened and Eve stepped out into a room enclosed by walls made entirely of glass and allowing for a panoramic view of the beautiful city. This suite was nothing like the one she had checked into.

"Breathtaking, isn't it, Miss Blackwell?"

Eve turned and stared up at the tall man who had spoken. She nodded rather than trusting herself to speak because she was totally unprepared to interact with this flesh and blood man she assumed was Matthew Sterling.

Looking at him reminded her of black and brown velvet with warm, sparkling citrines. The blackness of his long, wavy hair and mustache, the sun-browned darkness of his skin, and the strange golden eyes, all stirred a ripple of uneasiness.

He's a cheetah, she mused, recalling the story her uncle had related to her of Matthew Sterling. There was no doubt Uncle Harry had told her the truth. This man was a large, powerful, dangerous, male predator.

"Eve Blackwell," she said in a remarkably calm voice, extending her hand and smiling.

Matt decided he liked her. She was direct and breathtakingly beautiful. She claimed the slimness and the grace of the cats the Egyptians worshipped and immortalized in their hieroglyphics.

"Matthew Sterling, Miss Blackwell," he said, introducing himself as he took her small hand, his thumb caressing the soft flesh over her knuckles. As he lowered his head, his lips replaced his thumb, and he tightened his grip the instant he felt her attempting to extract her fingers.

His head came up slowly. "Have you had dinner, Miss Blackwell?" Gold-green eyes met and captured apair so dark, so black, that he couldn't see into their depths.

"I'm not hungry." Eve's reply was soft, calm.

Matt released her hand. "The lady and I will dine here tonight, Esteban," he informed the waiter lingering in the elevator. Esteban pushed a button and the doors closed.

"I said I wasn't hungry," Eve insisted between her teeth.

"Make yourself comfortable, Miss Blackwell. You and I have a great deal to talk about, and I make it a rule never to discuss business before I dine."

Eve's black eyes narrowed and she swallowed back an angry retort. She had come to Mexico to talk to this man about getting her son back, not socialize. As it was, she had wasted two days waiting for him to contact her.

"You've been in Mexico for more than forty-eight hours. Another hour won't change things, Eve," Matt remarked glibly, reading her mind.

Her delicate jaw dropped. "You've kept me waiting!"

Matt's fingers grasped her elbow firmly as he led her over to a sofa and eased her down to sit beside him. "Don't act so put out. You'd wait until hell freezes over if it meant getting your son back."

Eve went rigid, her gaze sweeping over his face. Thick black eyebrows curved dramatically over his large eyes. How oddly beautiful they were. Matthew Sterling's eyes were a dark jade green ringed in amber-brown, and glowed with a wild intensity that reminded her of a jungle cat's.

Pressing her back to the plump cushion, she nodded. "You're right," she admitted. "I'd wait forever to get my son back."

It was Matt's turn to nod. He hadn't realized he had been holding his breath as he examined the narrow, delicate face of Eve Blackwell. Her luminous eyes, the color of black velvet, tilted upward in an exotic slant; her hair, equally black, was cut short and worn in a curly natural. Soft, glossy curls hugged her small, round head like a cap. Her nose was short and straight, and her mouth was full and lush in a face the color of golden oak dusted with a fine sprinkling of soot. He wondered what bloodlines she claimed, other than her obvious African heritage, that made her the most exquisitely exotic woman he had ever met.

The soft chiming of a telephone shattered the pregnant silence, and Matt excused himself as he rose to answer it. The doors to the elevator opened again and Esteban reappeared, pushing a serving cart.

Matt picked up the telephone on a table behind the sofa, listening intently to the voice coming through the receiver while watching Eve. She left the sofa and walked over to look through the glass, where millions of lights sparkled over the city.

He stared openly at her with a naked hunger she would have no trouble interpreting as lust. Her face was as perfect as her body. Having given birth to a child hadn't caused her breasts or buttocks to sag, as with some women. The fabric of the black, silk, wrap dress caressing her slender body confirmed his assumption.

Eve turned, her attention directed at the tall figure dressed in a raw silk, tan jacket over a white shirt, open at the throat, and a pair of black, tailored slacks and imported slip-ons. This costume of modern elegance did not camouflage the primitive, savage ruthlessness which followed Matthew Sterling's reputation as a modern-day soldier of fortune.

Her uncle insisted that was what Matthew Sterling liked to call himself, while others labeled him a mercenary or bounty hunter. It didn't matter to her what he was; she wanted him to find the son her ex-husband had kidnapped and hidden away somewhere in Mexico.

She felt some of her tension easing as she walked around the large room. The sofa and armchairs of twisted, natural rattan were covered with plump cushions in beige cotton. The tables were a matching rattan with beveled glass tops. Each piece in the expansive suite had been selected to conform with the country's tropical climate; the area resembled a rain forest, with leafy green palm and banana trees in large straw planters.

The man Matt had addressed as Esteban completed setting a table in an alcove with silver, china, stemware, and several covered serving dishes.

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