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By Amy J. Fetzer
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Amy J. Fetzer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVirginia Day 1 1900 hours, Zulu
Killian Moore was getting screwed.
He could feel it, like that split second moment before a car crash when time slows to a breath before impact. You know it's coming and there isn't a damn thing you can do about the rank smell of shit about to hit the fan.
He should have never answered the door, and kept right on with his plan to grill a steak, drink beer, and clean a weapon. Except he didn't, and found the deputy director of the CIA on his doorstep.
Looking like a soccer mom.
Not that the carefully styled image wasn't cute in a weekend at Martha's Vineyard sorta way. Neat, preppy clothes, pricey sneakers, a noisy charm bracelet. Even those ridiculous footie things with the pom-poms on the back. He almost wondered if she'd power-walked her spry little ass over here to deliver whatever couldn't be said in her office. That is, if he hadn't seen the bodyguard and staff car parked in his driveway.
The last woman to show up at his door unannounced was an AWACS pilot on her way to Iraq. They both knew why she'd hunted him out and he'd let her vent her fear on him with mind-blowing sex before she walked off to war.
Needful sex. He'd done the same himself once or twice.
That didn't explain the woman sitting across the table from him now, taking in the sun like it was a drug. She sipped a beer, talking about careless things like flowers and the Zen of backyard fountains. But the deputy director of covert operations coming to him instead of demanding his appearance at Langley was enough to send up an artillery barrage of warnings.
And Killian wondered just how much dancing she was going to do before she dipped. He gave her a healthy nudge.
"The point of this visit?"
She turned her attention on him, smiling softly. If it had been anyone else, he'd have thought it was genuine. But she wasn't anyone else.
"Yes, I suppose it's time I told you why I'm here."
"I didn't think it was for my steaks." He gestured to the leavings of their meal spread around them.
"No, but thank you, it was very good." She gave him a smile you saved for a kid who'd drawn you an exceptionally bad picture when you were hoping for another Michelangelo.
Killian laced his fingers over his stomach. He had all the time in the world, this week. "Just what do you want from me?"
"We need to hire your team."
Need, Killian thought. Not want.
She slid her straw tote bag forward, lifting out a file. Like every woman he'd known, her handbag was never out of her sight. She'd arrived with it tucked under her arm just as he'd thrown a two-inch porterhouse on the grill. Seeing as she wasn't going to leave, and he liked his steak rare, he'd invited her to join him. Killian was a washout in the kitchen, not a good thing considering his age, but other than turning an MRE into a feast, the man-pit of grilling was where he excelled. His ego'd like to stand up and growl that he excelled with women, but then, he hadn't had anyone in his bed except his neighbor's cat in a long time.
Depressing as hell. But then, Killian's line of work didn't invite sharing.
When she looked to be waiting for an answer, he said, "I don't agree to a thing till I hear the details." And confirm them himself.
"Don't you have to consult with your men?"
"No." He didn't explain further. Killian didn't lead his team, he steered. His buddies were the best the military had to offer. Retrieval experts. An assortment of talented men who, at one time, were obligated to follow direct command orders. Now, working in the private sector, they took jobs when it felt right. Good causes paid well. His men trusted him to select the jobs and he trusted them with his life. Dragon One had earned the right to pick and choose the contracts.
Unless the chopper payment was due.
She offered the file.
Killian wiped his hands, and pushed aside his plate before taking it. She sipped beer, bouncing her crossed leg as she waited for his reaction. He didn't give her one, keeping his breathing even, his face expressionless. There was so much blackout in the files, it took Killian three minutes to read most of it. And what he couldn't decipher had a distinct odor.
She wanted him to find an NOC? Jesus. Might as well be bin Laden. "Not exactly your average retrieval, Madame Director."
"If I thought this mission was average, I'd send our people."
He looked up. "You already did." He could tell by the Intel.
She didn't even try to appear shocked. "Yes we have," she admitted after some stalling. "And obviously failed."
Deputy Director Lania Price stood, gathering plates and flatware, and Killian was about to tell her he'd take care of it, but something was making her nervous enough to play Dolly Domestic. He looked back at the file, flipping through pages that were too vague to make it worth reading. His gaze caught on the agent's photo. Auburn-haired, big eyes, a definite ooh-rah on the sexy scale, but other than that, there was only a thumbprint and retinal scan. No background, nothing but a couple of scars and marks to identify the body. He glanced at her name. Alexa Gavlin. Deep covert operative meant a difficult snatch and grab. The whole thing stank.
"There's not enough information here." But then, that's the way it was with a nonofficial covert officer. NOCs did what they had to, and rarely reported details other than completion of an assignment.
She looked back at him. "That's all I can give you."
"No, it's not, but we'll get back to that." He put up a finger to stop her from interrupting. "Why is it so necessary to bring this one in now, Lania?" He liked calling her by her first name. It reminded her that she was in his home begging for his help on something that the CIA attack dogs couldn't handle. Killian and his team had a one hundred percent success record, yet he knew when it was time to stack the cards in his favor. This was one of them.
"Several reasons. My superiors believe this agent is a viable threat to national security."
Her superiors were the director, the National Security Advisor, and the president. "And you don't?"
"No, I agree completely." She moved from the patio table through to the kitchen as she spoke. "She's failed to make scheduled contacts for two weeks."
"That's not all that unusual." Another reason Killian didn't want the job. Spooks were a pain in the ass. The hitch was-you couldn't trust them. They were trained liars. Just like the woman doing chores in his house. "Or she's dead and your problem is solved."
"We're aware of that possibility. We've tried tapping her assets, but no one is talking. She's ours because she's talented." Price came back for more dishes. "She assumes appearances, any accent, and speaks several languages well enough to get by."
"And you let her go NOC?" Killian scoffed. "Then come crying to me when your ghost goes off the reservation. What'd she do?"
Lania's soft "June Cleaver" expression took on a feral gleam. Score one for Dragon One, he thought as she went to the kitchen again.
"All I want is for you to bring her in."
No questions. He got it. It wasn't happening, but he got it. "Say I do find her, then what?"
"She'll get a fair hearing."
Killian doubted that and shut the file. NOCs didn't get anything but shafted. "And if she's crossed and I can't bring her in?"
She stilled, and through the patio doors he saw her hesitate as she set the last of the dishes on the counter. Her head fell forward, sandy brown hair neatly restrained in a barrette decorated with a gecko that matched the print of her skirt. "We want you to retire her from the active list."
She had to be kidding. "No."
Her anger was quick and sharp as she faced him. "You don't get it, do you, Marine, we-"
"I'm not a Marine anymore," he cut in viciously and shoved the file back at her. "No deal."
She bulldozed ahead without taking a breath, and he half expected her to lean down and poke his chest. "She's a danger to active operations, and national security."
"Christ, if you think I'll jump on this 'bring the spy in from the cold for God and country' shit, you pegged the wrong man."
Price's cheeks pinkened, the only sign she was furious. "It's your duty."
Killian leaned forward, his tone soft and deadly. "Don't think for a minute you can tell me what my duty is, Lania. I owe you nothing. I'm a private citizen now." He glanced at the file as he sat back. They had too much history, ugly history, yet Price was just a bit too eager to drag him into this, and he wondered what the truth was behind this agent, then thought, they probably didn't even know. Kinda hard to keep up a web of lies, even when you did it for a living.
"This Alexa Gavlin means nothing to me. And neither do the needs of the CIA. But you knew that before knocking on my door." He paused for a heartbeat. "Don't let it hit you in the ass on your way out."
"I'll double your usual fee."
"You can't afford me." But that told him they were desperate. And scared.
"I'm authorized to give you half right now, and I don't want your team, I want only you."
He arched a brow. "Come again?"
Price stared him down. "We don't want any outside influences to limit our options. We need someone on the inside right now, and since you left Colombia under a suspicious cloud, you have a certain respect in the cartel that's essential for this."
Killian felt the noose tightening, yet said nothing, slipping his favorite Cuban cigar from the case on the table as he waited patiently for her to scramble.
"It would take weeks to set up covert ops and get someone on the inside. You have the advantage. You were a part of the cartel." His eyes narrowed. "Undercover of course, but as far as they're concerned, you're still one of them. Haven't they contacted you in the last couple years?"
She knew the answer already or she wouldn't have asked. "Careful, honey, you're not putting yourself in my good graces." Casually, he nipped the cigar tip and wet it. "I risked my life to get that deep for the DEA, and then some mole in your house fucked it up." And I lost everything, he thought, lighting up and taking a long calming drag.
He needed it, because if ever he considered hurting a woman, this was it.
Price didn't confirm or deny it.
But that Op got his friends killed. Killian nearly bit through the cigar just thinking about the ambush that wiped out half a joint task force operation with the CIA, military, and DEA. Two bodies had never been found, but since he was the only one on the inside, he was the fall guy. That day took lives and his reputation. And his Marine commission. He couldn't bring back the dead, but he'd do just about anything to get his rep back. Just about.
"Let's be clear on this." Killian patiently steepled his fingers, the cigar smoke wreathing his head. "You want me to hunt her down and bring her back. If we can't get to her, I sight down a high-powered rifle and put a bullet in her head." He met her gaze. "Have I forgotten anything?"
She tucked a loose strand at her nape as she said, "No. That's correct."
He shook his head, lowering his hands. "You people are not putting any more blood on my hands."
"Yes, well, there is enough of that there already, isn't there?"
His eyes went flat. "Get out."
"If you want that file to remain smothered, Moore, you'll do it."
So, that was the real heart of this gig. "You forgot 'or else'?"
She looked him over. "I didn't forget. I just didn't have to say it."
Hell, he'd walked right into that one. "Why should I give a damn?" Smoking, he propped his feet on a nearby chair, patient for the trump card.
She met his gaze, all pretense vanishing, and the magic card flipped out and sparkled. "I have it on good authority that Gavlin was the Intel leak."
Every muscle in him locked instantly, hard and pumping his blood, yet his gaze never left her as she handed him another file. This one was marked Eyes Only. Hers. He didn't take it and she dropped it on the table in front of him.
"That's some carrot you're dangling, Deputy Director," he said, his look as cutting as he could muster without leaving her bloody on the ground. If she lied, there was no place she could hide. "I know this is a real stretch, but you're backing this up with real proof?" His gaze slipped pointedly to the Eyes Only file. "And before you answer, remember I will extract everything I need from her."
Price sent him a snide look, the gloves off. "She was on the ground and in position at the time, privy to a great deal of information from both camps. She had the opportunity."
"So did I. Motive?"
"Money. Playing both sides, saving her own neck, who knows? When you find her, ask her."
There wasn't any question about that, he thought.
She didn't expand, then said, "At present, Gavlin was last in the company of a very dangerous man, Lucien Zarek."
Killian's eyes flared. Polish, rich, and a deadly arms dealer with international ties and body count whenever he was spotted. They couldn't have thrown this woman into a darker den.
"I see you understand our dilemma. Zarek isn't known for his humanity."
Neither are you, Killian thought, and saw what others saw, what the news media saw: the deputy director of operations, a soft-spoken wholesome version of Rumsfeld. Iron under all that preppy and perfume. It wasn't all that attractive.
"She'd infiltrated Zarek's life deep enough to be a frequent guest of his compound. Her disappearance, and that Zarek's been out of sight just as long, speaks well for it."
They've gone underground. "Enough that you come here to blackmail me."
She looked offended. Killian knew that just wasn't possible. "I'm paying you and giving you the opportunity to capture the leak."
Killian inspected the glowing tip of his cigar and heard only one word: Opportunity. Find Gavlin and he'd find the truth. "Does the other side know about her?" If Gavlin's cover were blown, death would not be merciful.
"We can't say with any certainty."
Hell, that was a pat for-the-press answer. "You suspect treason." It wouldn't be the first time.
Her eyes narrowed, filled with a strange spark that left Killian wondering over her relationship with the spy. Yet she admitted to nothing. "Gavlin is a definite liability. If she's alive, she knows that and she will expect you. She's been out there for a very long time. Alone. Granted, it's how she works best, but given the circumstances ... she's so far out that the only way to deal with her is to retire her, quickly."
"Jesus, you people say that with such goddamn ease."
She shrugged, smacking a bug off her bare arm. "This is national security."
"This is murder."
"Some problems are best dealt with the swiftest solution," she said coldly. "The good of the whole, Moore, remember that? And since when did you care so much?"
"If I didn't care, I wouldn't be doing what I do. I'd be fishing in Bali right now with a sarong clad hottie giving me one helluva blow job."
Price didn't bat a lash. "Give me Gavlin in under twenty-eight days and I'll hand over your files. Wipe the slate clean and I'll make certain those who should know it, do."
Like his father, he thought bitterly. His old Commanding Officer? "Why twenty-eight days?"
"Any classified information she knows will be altered by then." She tipped her head. "Take the Op, Killian. You know you want it." Prim, like a teacher dictating homework assignments.
"How do you figure?"
"Besides the files I'm keeping handy ..." He practically snarled at her and she waved the beer bottle as if he hadn't. "You're a patriot. You understand the threat and know which side plays well with others. And the price of keeping the scales tipped in our favor." Tossing back the dregs of her Michelob, she grabbed her bag and stood. "I'm giving you the chance to get the person who destroyed your life and got those men killed." She slipped out a check and let it sail across the glass table to him. "Do we have a deal?"
Killian didn't touch it. "I won't put a bullet in her head for you."
"Fine, then." She adjusted the tote on her shoulder and met his gaze. "Break her neck. It's cleaner."
Excerpted from NAKED TRUTH by Amy J. Fetzer Copyright © 2005 by Amy J. Fetzer. Excerpted by permission.
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