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International smuggling made for strange bedfellows, and on this hot July night, in a tiny Hamburg restaurant, the promise of large sums of money changing hands had brought together a cultural melting pot of thieves, liars, and killers.
Gathered around a small table were two elegant Iraqi men with a large briefcase that never left their sight; a long-legged, big-busted, blond, blue-eyed Finn acting as a liaison for the German who should've shown up fifteen minutes ago; and himself.
Tonight, Griffith Laughton was playing the part of the arrogant American with all the money; his dark hair perfectly styled, his black suit immaculate, his little round glasses making him appear every inch the ambitious young businessman.
Griffith held back a small smile. He loved being in the thick of it again and operating on his own script. There'd be bitching about it at headquarters later, but as long as he got the job done and got his team out in one piece, Ben Sheridan would go easy on him.
Especially if he managed to reel in von Lahr.
Seated between the tense Finn and the equally tense Iraqi smugglers, Griffith didn't miss how their gazes kept straying to the leather briefcase tucked firmly between his ankles. Nor could he miss the fact that somebody was going to explode if von Lahr didn't make his appearance soon or his lover, Annamari Hakkinen, didn't get the show rolling.
The little restaurant was dark and mostly empty, except for a couple cooing at each other behind him; the cheerful, redheaded waitress folding napkins at the next table; and the bald-headed bartender polishing his bar. The bartender's massive shoulders eliminated his neck, which, along with his curling handlebar mustache, gave him the look of a turn-of-the-century circus strongman.
Catching Griffith's gaze, the bartender nodded politely -- but didn't look away. And he was sweating.
That wasn't good.
Holding back a frown, Griffith turned to the blonde and said, in German, "Your associate is late. How much longer do you expect me to wait? I have other appointments this evening."
Although Annamari gave him a dazzling smile, it didn't reach her cool blue eyes. "I fear Rainert must have been unavoidably delayed. Perhaps we should continue without him."
With no signal as yet from his lookouts, Griffith already anticipated von Lahr would be a no-show. He hadn't assumed it would be this simple to run to ground one of the most notorious art and antiquities thieves in all of Europe, but he wouldn't have minded catching a bit of blind luck for a change.
"But that was not part of our deal," he said, pretending not to notice the growing agitation of the two Iraqi men, al-Shadri Senior and al-Shadri Junior, as he thought of them. "Our deal was that von Lahr would be here to handle the final details."
Annamari's annoyance leaked through her encore smile, but Griffith had to admit von Lahr's excellent taste in arm candy. Then again, the man was an art thief; he had an eye for the exquisite.
"I believe we shall have to alter the plans, and I will act in Rainert's place." Annamari, her expression flat, looked directly at al-Shadri Senior. "I realize it is not your habit to do business with a woman, but unless you wish to leave this place tonight without what you came for, you have no choice."
The Iraqi men hadn't bothered hiding the fact that they disliked having to conduct their business in the presence of a woman -- even worse, a European woman. Yet despite the palpable disdain, the younger Iraqi had been eyeing Annamari with an insulting sexual interest.
Al-Shadri Senior, however, hadn't taken his attention off Griffith since he'd walked into the restaurant -- which he could play to his advantage, if necessary.
"You must give me an answer now or this meeting is terminated," Annamari said after a short silence.
Her ultimatum didn't sit well with al-Shadri Junior, who turned, thin-lipped, to his companion and spoke in a low voice.
Ibrahim al-Shadri and his nephew Yousef were members of the notorious al-Shadri clan. The tribe was in the thick of looting and smuggling ancient artifacts, which the current upheaval in Iraq made frustratingly easy. Griffith knew they were extremely dangerous, even before Yousef spelled it out in a few concise, quiet words.
Unfortunately for Junior, Griffith understood and spoke a number of Middle Eastern dialects. "Shooting us and taking the money just isn't a good idea," he said pleasantly, enjoying their startled expressions. "Bad for business. Seriously."
Senior recovered quickly, smiled, and said in heavily accented German, "Forgive my nephew. He is young and rash -- and justifiably angry. We have come here tonight at a great risk and were assured there would be no problems. Yet our contact is not here, and now you, Mr. Laughton, speak of leaving as well. I am not pleased with how the transaction is progressing. And I do not feel comfortable in this open place. We should return to my hotel room, where we will have more privacy."
Annamari frowned, and Griffith decided enough was enough.
"You don't trust me?" he asked al-Shadri Senior, his tone pitched low, friendly. "You think I'm armed? Wired?"
Senior shrugged elegantly. "It is a dangerous business we are in, this is true. Who can afford to trust blindly?"
"So how about you see for yourself that I'm clean?" Griffith stood, slipping off his suit coat and tossing it casually on his chair -- and over the briefcase that held no money at all.
Annamari muttered, "Goddamn American cowboy!" then snapped, "What are you doing? Sit down! I am the one in charge here!"
"Everyone wants the money, right?" Griffith tugged his tie loose, then tossed it on his coat. "And since I'm the one with the money, that makes me the one in charge."
As al-Shadri Junior made a hiss of annoyance, Griffith started unbuttoning his shirt -- and he saw the moment Annamari understood his intentions. Her beautiful, cold eyes widened.
"You cannot do this, not here," she said from between clenched teeth as the shirt joined the suit coat and tie.
He was unfastening his belt as she added more urgently, "Mr. Laughton, please stop this at once!"
"I don't think so." He gave her the act she expected, an arrogant wink and an equally arrogant smile. "We're just getting to the fun part. C'mon, honey, have a little fun. You people are way too serious."
Al-Shadri Senior gave a low and appreciative chuckle that echoed loudly in the silence of shock that had fallen over the small restaurant.
Got you, you miserable bastard.
His impromptu act garnered Griffith a rapt audience. The red-haired server was frozen in mid-napkin fold, staring. The couple at the next table, a boyish blond and a cute brunette, stopped their annoying giggles and love talk long enough to exchange startled glances, and the girl squeaked in stilted German, "What are you doing?"
"Isn't it obvious, sweetheart?" Griffith asked, his grin widening as the brunette's mouth dropped open.
Annamari had had enough. She stood, grabbing his arm, the talons of her nails sinking into the muscle of his bare biceps with a pain that was sharp and pleasant. "Idiot! You're going to ruin everything! You -- "
"Be quiet and sit down," Griffith said, keeping his tone friendly but with enough edge that her mouth opened, then shut, and she sat back down.
He hopped onto the table, and every gaze in the place was focused on him.
"See? No wires."
Turning around slowly, Griffith kept his teasing grin trained on al-Shadri Senior, who looked torn between lust and embarrassment. His dark eyes kept straying to where Griffith played his fingers along the zipper of his pants.
"Take it all off!" called the tiny brunette from the next table. "Don't be shy now -- Let it all hang out."
Annamari looked ready to have a meltdown, and there was a glint of fear in her eyes. Probably fear of him as much as fear of what von Lahr would do to her if she botched the transaction.
He almost felt sorry for her. Almost.
Griffith kept al-Shadri Senior's attention on him and slipped his hand down the front of his pants. The younger Iraqi stood, swearing in a rapid string of words, and beside him Annamari gasped and said weakly in English, "Oh, my God . . ."
Whether that was because of the gun she felt at the back of her head, held there by the redheaded waitress, or because of what he'd hauled out from inside his pants, Griffith didn't know or care.
"You look disappointed." He smiled as he aimed his Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum at Ibrahim al-Shadri's astonished face. "Expecting something else, were you? And here I thought I was being so clever. I'm hurt you don't appreciate my humor."
"Goddammit," snarled the tiny brunette, who had her gun pressed against Yousef's back. "That was not the fuckin' plan, you asshole!"
"I improvised," Griffith said, smiling at Diva's show of temper before turning to her "boyfriend." "Hey, you -- rookie. Tie up Senior here. And do it carefully. Both he and Junior are armed to the teeth."
"The name's Perry," the new kid grumbled, even as he efficiently disarmed al-Shadri, tied his wrists together, then pushed him onto the floor beside his bound nephew and Annamari Hakkinen.
Her eyes were still glazed with shock, but she was beginning to understand what had just happened.
"You don't look like cops," she said in English, and her full, pink mouth curled in disgust.
"Really?" Griffith reached for his belt.
"Cops have a look to them." Annamari leaned back, affecting an air of unconcern that Griffith didn't buy. "In the way they move, the way they watch people. You don't look like that."
Griffith smiled. "Nope, not a cop."
"You're Avalon, aren't you?" She was watching him carefully. "Rainert told me about you."
"Right. And speaking of von Lahr, where is he?" Griffith hopped off the table and crouched down beside her. Even in a situation like this, it did his masculine ego good to see that she was checking out his chest.
"He knows you are after him. He told me he has been playing games with you for a long time. So don't be so arrogant: you failed."
Griffith leaned close; so close that her attempt at bravado withered and her smile faltered. "I'm not the one going to prison, Annamari," he said softly. "Or taking the fall for somebody else."
"True." She was trying to tough it out, but not very convincingly. "But he made a fool out of you. If nothing else, that makes me feel a little better."
"So all along he was playing us. Again." Diva, tying back her dark hair, scowled as she stared down at the two Iraqi men sitting trussed up at her feet. "That won't go over well with HQ. I sure as hell hope what we came for is in that briefcase."
"Let's find out." Griffith had pulled on his shirt but left it open. He retrieved the briefcase the two Iraqi smugglers had brought and carefully opened it.
A rich gleam of old, beaten gold lay within, fragile and thin, amid beads of lapis lazuli and carnelian and amber. The princess's headdress was shaped like a flower and etched with lifelike details, and her necklaces, earrings, and bracelets were there as well.
"The Ur-Nammu treasure." Griffith turned to the two men stewing in impotent rage on the floor. "These little trinkets are over four thousand years old and rightfully belong to the people of Iraq. Shame on you for fuckin' over your country. But if I couldn't count on greed as surely as on the sun rising and setting, I wouldn't have a job now, would I?"
Leibowitz, the redhead, leaned over for a look and gave a low whistle. "Bingo. Good job, Grif. Even if you didn't follow the plan. And even if von Lahr got away again."
"That bastard," Annamari whispered. "He set me up from the start."
"And you're only now figuring this out?" Diva let out a derisive snort. "Let me tell you something about your boyfriend. His M.O. is to find a pretty girl with big tits and tiny brains to do his dirty work for him. Then when the law arrives, as it always does, he disappears and leaves her to take the fall. You're bimbo number nine -- that we know of, anyway."
Leaning back, she added, "And not all of them survive. Of course, no one can prove he was responsible for killing any of them. You still feeling all smug and clever?"
Annamari said nothing.
Griffith shut the briefcase. "Okay. We got what we came for. Time to move out."
"Answer me a question first." The rookie, Perry, stepped in front of him. "We have a few seconds before the police get here. Right?" He glanced at the "bartender," Kurt, who was actually one of the local cops and their inside edge with the Hamburg police.
"They are on the way," said Kurt.
"Okay, I'll make it quick. Tell me why you did . . . that." Perry motioned at Griffith's open shirt and unbuckled belt. "I mean, shit! You wouldn't have stripped bare-ass naked, right? And you wouldn't have . . . you know, gone and done anything with that little bastard over there. Right?"
God save him from naïve rookies. He'd never been that clueless, had he? "I do whatever it takes to get the job done," Griffith answered flatly.
The kid frowned. "That's not really an answer. I -- "
"Sure it is."
"No, it's not. Look, I hear these stories about you, and I figure they can't be real. There -- " Perry froze, his face paling and eyes widening as he looked down at the knife Griffith had against his belly. "Jesus! Where the hell did you pull that from? Your ass?"
Griffith laughed; he couldn't help it. "No, it's yours. Next time, pay more attention." He tossed Perry's knife back at him, and the kid nearly fumbled it. "Even if you're with someone you trust."
"So that's your answer?"
"It's all the answer you'll ever need," Griffith said, although he could tell the kid still didn't get it. "Think about it some more and it'll make sense. If it doesn't, you might consider another line of work."
Diva laughed, and Griffith exchanged grins with her before turning back to the red-faced Perry. "In the meantime, remember rule number one: Get the job done, no matter what. It's the only rule people like us live by."
"It is time, as you say, to ride into the mist," Kurt interrupted in his rumbling voice. "My people are on the way. You must go now."
Griffith had already picked up the sound of distant sirens.
"Yup," said Leibowitz cheerfully. "Time for our disappearing act, boys and girls, and we get to take -- "
The sound of windows shattering cut across her voice, followed by rounds chambering, feet running, soft curses from his team, and the panicked shouts of the prisoners.
Diva had pushed the Iraqi men down, and Perry, closest to the woman, shielded her with his own body.
"Sniper fire!" yelled Kurt, ducking behind the bar.
Sonofabitch. It had to be von Lahr.
"Leibowitz, help Diva and Kurt get the Iraqis behind the bar," Griffith ordered. He grabbed the briefcase with the fragile, priceless treasure. "And stay away from the windows. I'll help Perry move the girl and -- "
Perry slumped forward, silent and still, when Griffith grabbed his shoulder.
"Goddammit," Griffith whispered.
The kid was dead. A bullet had pierced his heart, killing him instantly. Beneath him, Annamari was dead as well, a neat hole through the center of her forehead.
"Oh, Jesus," Leibowitz whispered. "Is he . . . is Perry dead?"
Griffith nodded, and when she turned to run outside, he grabbed her arm. "Forget it. He's long gone."
"How did this happen?" Her voice shook with anger. "We should've known, we should've been prepared -- "
"We were, and I had safeguards in place." Griffith caught Diva's grim expression, and suddenly, deep inside him, something snapped. Cold flooded him from head to toe. "It seems . . . they're no longer in place."
He stood, and before he even reached the door Diva was yelling, "Griffith, don't! You can't go out there, either and . . . Ah, shit!"
The restaurant door shut behind him. Moving fast, not caring that his open shirt didn't hide the gun shoved into his back waistband, Griffith dodged between cars, ignoring the irate honking, and slammed open the hotel door across from the restaurant.
People stared as he ran past them. Not bothering with the elevator, he took the stairs two at a time until he reached the floor where his lookouts had been stationed to keep watch on the front of the restaurant.
Banging on the door, he shouted their names, even though he knew they were beyond answering. Then he kicked the door in, gun drawn and ready.
It was dark, but he could smell the blood.
Carefully, he switched on the light.
Both his lookouts were lying on the floor, dead. Ramirez was sprawled on his back, staring lifelessly up at the ceiling, but Bouchet was positioned at the window as if still on watch, his rifle propped against the wall.
In his back, hilt-deep through a sheet of bloodstained paper, was a hunting knife.
Rage ripping through him like a white-hot fire, Griffith yanked the paper loose. Written in English in bold, aggressive black ink was:
Tag! You're it.
R. von Lahr.
For a split second, his mind blanked under the force of his fury, and when the haze had slowly cleared, he became aware of a burning pain in his left hand.
Looking down, he saw that he'd punched a hole through the dresser mirror. Blood and tiny shards of glass covered his knuckles.
At a sound from the doorway, he whipped around, gun drawn.
Diva raised her hands, her face pale. "It's just me! Just me."
Griffith lowered the gun, not really seeing her as she ran in, not really hearing her gasps of shock and grief, her questions, increasingly louder and sharper.
Tag! You're it. Copyright ©2006 by Michele Albert
Posted May 8, 2013
Overall Rating: 4.15 // Action: 3.5 / Emotion: 3.5 / Romance: 4.25 / Sensuous: 2.75 / Suspense: 3.0 // Laughter: 1 / Teary: ½
A truly gifted writer. There is just something about Albert's writing style that holds a strong appeal to me.
Hide In Plain Sight: 4.15
Albert draws her readers into this book and holds them spellbound as she weaves a fascinating story about a hunky, alpha hero and a seemingly ordinary, yet apparently brave-hearted heroine. If one were to write a headline that prefaced this book, it would be: "Legendary Super Agent is Felled by Bookworm During His Mid-Life Crisis."
Griffith "Grif" Laughton: 3.50
A skilled super agent who was gorgeous, charming, suave, and debonair and was dealing with his life choices. The lack of details about Grif's background made him feel like a half-developed character.
Fiona Kennedy: 3.50
The proverbial 'girl next door' who was leaving her cocoon to offer solace and compassion to a man who betrayed her. It was easy to identify with Fiona because she felt so ordinary. Fiona's sense of self-worth and her ability to stand up for herself made her an interesting heroine.
As appropriate for any book containing a special agent, Albert entertained with several action and adventure scenes in this book as Grif defends himself and Fiona as they are pursued by the bad guys.
Although there was an emotional connection to Grif and Fiona, the intensity did not reach that special level that Albert usually provides to make her books so outstanding.
The romance factor was prevalent as Grif and Fiona immediately gave in to their attraction . . . and then fought about the feelings that arose within them for the remainder of the book.
This book is peppered with hot, sensual, fiery scenes in which Albert reveals her talent as a writer who knows how to pen powerful lovemaking scenes.
Although not at a nail-biting level, a degree of suspense flowed throughout the entire story regarding Grif and Fiona and Avalon Investigations, it's operatives, it's leader, and it's number one villain.
Secondary Characters: 3.00
The secondary characters were minimally developed. Nevertheless, they were memorable enough to prompt an interest in reading the future books in this series to learn more about them.
See Wolf Bear Does Books for a more in-depth, detailed review of *Hide In Plain Sight*.
Posted April 23, 2006
Michele Albert delivers another page-turner in Hide In Plain Sight. __________ Griffith Laughton mission five years ago went seriously wrong. He is still dealing with the aftermath today. His newest assignment is to guard Fiona Kennedy. The man who caused the deaths of Griff¿s fellow agents is circling around Fiona. Griff takes to Fiona a rare manuscript knowing she will be intrigued by it. __________ Fiona Kennedy has decided to finally get on with her life. Its been over five years since her husband had disappeared and he is now officially declared dead. She wants to get away on vacation and have a wild fling. But when stunningly handsome Griff walks into her bookstore the men as well as the manuscript fascinate her. Can she forgive him when she finds out the truth behind is appearance in her life?? ____________ The chemistry between these two is instant and explosive. Barely has the steam cooled off the sheets Griff and Fiona are in mortal danger. They can barely stay one step ahead of the danger. ____________ Hide In Plain sight is a fast paced, fly by the seat of your pants suspense. The storyline is compelling in its intensity. Griff and Fiona¿s verbal repartee is funny and sexy. It was a treat to see old friends from previous books make an appearance. I would highly recommend this book. Looking forward to the next book by this talented author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Five years ago in Los Angeles her husband Richard apparently drove in to the river, but no body was found so Kennedy Antiquarian Books storeowner Fiona Kennedy was left to linger in a nowhere zone between married and single. Now her time is up in marital purgatory and she can officially have the court rule that her spouse is dead. She plans to celebrate her widow status with fun and sun in the Bahamas. --- However, before she can leave town, Griff Laughton asks her to authenticate and appraise an old manuscript. Griff hides his real agenda from her, which is to capture his enemies von Lahr while also protecting the bookworm from enemies she does not know she has that her late spouse has brought her. He also conceals his work of fifteen years destroying art, artifacts, and antiquities smuggling rings. He is a bit disturbed to find he is attracted to the charming beautiful Fiona, but detachment is his middle name until someone tries to kill the woman he willingly would die for to keep her safe. --- HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT is a fabulous fast-paced tale starring a courageous female and the male champion risking all especially his heart to keep her safe. The story line is filled with action from the moment Griff hires Fiona and never slows down as her past comes back to haunt her in spite of her innocence from Richard¿s dealings. The changing relationship between the hardened agent and the bookseller is deftly handled in a believable manner that in turn augments the prime plot of a woman in peril over something she knows nothing about. Readers will appreciate Michelle Albert¿s superb romantic suspense thriller. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.