The Impossible Alliance by Candace Irvin released on Nov 15, 2010 is available now for purchase.
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The Impossible Alliance
By Candace Irvin
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe thunder of an incoming chopper shattered the early-morning calm. Jared Sullivan eased up on his punishing stride and stared out over the rolling hills, instinctively searching the swath of red just beginning to bleed up into the distant sky. As he caught site of the chopper, apprehension locked in. Despite the fact that private aircraft occasionally drifted out of the designated flight lanes to and from Austin, he knew damned well this was no accidental flyby.
That bird was headed straight for the ranch.
Straight for him.
Not only was the growing silhouette a dead ringer for a UH-60, official U.S. military-black-ops paint job still intact, but today was Sunday. There was only one type of Company that came calling at the crack of dawn on the Lord's day-and only one man who'd dare to set foot on his ranch without an engraved invitation. And only one reason.
Resigned, Jared resumed his morning run, sprinting the final quarter mile of pasture separating the barbed-wire fence line from the granite steps of the three-story mausoleum he'd inherited by default. By the time the Black Hawk landed, eight miles of exhaustion had almost dissipated.
Jared tugged off his T-shirt and used the ratty gray fabric to soak up the sweat dripping from his face. He hooked the shirt behind his neck, clamping onto the ends, as the chopper's side doors slid open. Sure enough, he recognized five out of six members of the subdued but hypervigilant security detail that bailed out to fan out around the bird as the engine powered down. He exchanged a brief nod with two as he waited for the ARIES director's stocky frame to lumber forth. Seconds later it did, the trademark rumples of Samuel Hatch's suit already creased firmly in place despite the hour.
Due to the gravity of the situation, Jared suppressed his welcoming grin. Hatch had no such compunction as he clapped his palm into Jared's outstretched hand and hauled him close for a brief, bone-jarring hug that belied the man's years. "Great, son, you're home."
As if the man would have traveled all the way to Texas from his office at Langley without making damn sure he was. Jared's grin broke though. "Good to see you, sir."
"Damned good, son. Damned good. But I thought I told you to call me Sam last month."
He had. But then, they'd forged several agreements that day, hadn't they? The most significant of which was about to dissolve almost before the ink on his resignation had a chance to dry. Hoping to delay the inevitable, Jared gestured toward the main house. "Breakfast? The cook makes a mean skillet of huevos rancheros."
The first rays of day glinted off Hatch's balding pate as he shook his head. "Wish I could, but I'm on a tight schedule. I'll just cut to the chase. I'm sure you know why I'm here."
Jared sighed. "At least come inside."
He'd be damned if he'd send Sam Hatch away with his hat in his hand in front of his own men. He had too much respect for his old mentor, as well as the men standing by, discreetly marking time. To his surprise, Hatch nodded.
This was bad.
Jared led the way to the house. He shoved the double doors wide and stepped inside the marble foyer, wincing as his former boss openly cased the place as they crossed the room. Damn, but he had to get a decorator in quick-before someone knocked over the succession of vases and transformed the precious Sullivan heirlooms into a pile of ceramic shards.
He shrugged. "See something you like, take it with you." It would save him the trouble of hosting one hell of a garage sale.
Hatch shook his head. "I'll pass. Rita left me enough dust collectors as it is."
Jared reached the end of the hall and pushed open the door to the one room he'd decided not to change. He headed for the hand-carved walnut desk that dominated the center of the dimly lit room. His esteemed grandfather's desk and now his. But never his father's. He tossed his saturated T-shirt onto the leather blotter and nodded toward the matching armchairs.
Evidently conversation was out, too, because an uncharacteristically uncomfortable silence locked in. Out of respect, Jared waited.
The old man finally sighed. "Something's come up."
Jared hooked his thigh onto the corner of the desk, bringing his gaze down to his mentor's. "Figured as much." He drew a deep breath. "Sir, while I appreciate the courtesy-"
"Then at least hear me out."
Jared straightened instinctively. It wasn't the edge to the man's voice that gave him pause. He'd heard that plenty of times. It was something else. Something he'd never heard before. Desperation. He studied Hatch's carefully schooled gaze and nodded.
Hatch sighed. "Look, son, I don't want to be here, either. But I need you. This job's right up your alley." Hatch glanced at the armchairs, obviously reconsidering his initial refusal. He skimmed his hands over the cropped silver hair ringing his head as he sat, then dropped them into his lap. "An American geologist by the name of Alex Morrow disappeared while attending an environmental conference in Europe."
Jared stiffened slightly as the name registered, then forced himself to relax before Hatch picked up on it.
Distracted or not, the man would. Rumpled suits and normally laid-back manner notwithstanding, Sam Hatch hadn't made it to the position of director of ARIES without surpassing damned near all the agency's operatives in cold, clear and calculating intellect.
After all, if someone the agency had flagged was missing, why waste time tracking down a former agent like him when there were any number of active and capable search-and-rescue operatives at the CIA's disposal-SAR operatives he'd helped Hatch train?
"Because this isn't your standard rescue op. Morrow's one of us. Disappeared while on assignment."
Regret seared through him. Hatch was right. That did change things. Unfortunately it didn't change enough.
Still, the irony of it.
That his mentor would show up on behalf of Alex Morrow, of all men. He wasn't surprised to discover Morrow was ARIES. The CIA often used scientists and businessmen to keep tabs on their respective communities. What better way to head off the transfer of potentially deadly information and valuable technology to the world's more heinous regimes? Hell, he should have made the connection when he crossed paths with Morrow three months before in Hatch's home-with Hatch out of town, no less. He would have, too, had he not been so rattled by that damned phone call.
For a split second, he wondered if Hatch knew.
He discarded the suspicion just as quickly. If Hatch knew he and Morrow had connected, however briefly, he'd have used it as leverage. As it was, Jared didn't need to hear more. He couldn't afford to. Not with the guilt already kicking in.
"Sir ... I can't."
To his surprise, Hatch lurched to his feet. "The hell you can't. I'm here asking. You can. Dammit, I need a oneman insertion on this job and you're the best singleton I've got-or had." Before Jared had a chance to react, much less open his trap, Hatch spun on his heel and stalked across the study in a steady, clipped line to the still-shuttered eight-foot windows on the far wall. He stopped short at the first and twisted the wooden slats. The now full-blown sunrise flooded in, chasing the dank shadows, as well as his grandfather's ghost, from the room. The stark light revealed the determination in Hatch's eyes as he turned. "Have you kept up since you left?"
"With General DeBruzkya?"
Excerpted from The Impossible Alliance by Candace Irvin Copyright © 2003 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.
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