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Their single-engine Cessna had been sabotaged. Both fuel tanks were empty. They were going down.
Through the cockpit window, John Pinto stared down at the turquoise expanse of the Caribbean Sea. His Navajo forefathers would be amazed to find their son facing death in this place so far from home.
The Cessna bucked and the water came closer, welcoming them into a cold, lethal embrace. He never should have deviated from the original plan….
LESS THAN AN HOUR AGO, JOHN HAD passed through
customs in the Kingston, Jamaica, airport. Pulling their several suitcases on a dolly, he'd followed Lily Clark, his coworker at Prescott Personal Securities, through the glass doors to the curb.
Though John had never visited the Caribbean before, he'd been in subtropical climates and was prepared for the humidity. Some people called it sultry. To him, the moist air felt like a wet washcloth being slapped against his face. His research into the area told him that median temperatures in July were in the mid-eighties.
He checked his wristwatch, already readjusted to the new time zone. Five twenty-seven in the afternoon. Not bad timing. They'd left Denver at dawn and made all their connections.
Lily spread her arms wide as if she intended to fly without a plane, soaring off into these milky blue skies on an errant breeze. "Glorious," she said. "Absolutely glorious."
Yes, she was. Lily was a tiny, blond package of pure energy. Only five feet, two inches tall, she looked like a pixie with her short hair and wide, whiskey-brown eyes. He'd been attracted to her since the first day she started work at Prescott Personal Securities, the pre John found it hard to believethat Lily had once been a Denver cop.
She twirled once on her toes. Her sleeveless, tangerine-colored T-shirt outlined high breasts. Her knee-length khaki shorts revealed the tanned, wellshaped legs of an athlete. "Can you smell it?" she asked.
He sniffed. The airport stank of exhaust fumes from cars and taxis that hadn't been properly serviced. "What am I supposed to be smelling?"
"The sea. The fabulous Caribbean Sea."
Yeah, sure. Smell the orchids. Listen to the breezes though the silver thatch palms. Taste the rum. He wasn't in the mood. "We should check in with InterIsland Transport. Our flight for Cuerva leaves in fifty two minutes."
"Is there enough time to grab a cab, race to the beach and stick my feet in the water?"
She bounced toward him. During this assignment, she was playing the undercover role of his girlfriend. They were supposed to be going to Cuerva for a romantic weekend. In her guise as his lover, she adjusted the collar on his black knit shirt and winked. Her fake flirtation was adorable and maddening at the same time. "Come on, John. Let's have some fun."
"I don't want to miss our flight."
She went up on tiptoe to whisper in his ear. "No touch me."
Undercover identities weren't his favorite thing. Pretending to be someone else always felt like lying, which was probably why he and Lily had been paired for this assignment. John would handle the technical aspects. Lily would guard their identities and deflect suspicion.
She pointed to the dimple in her cheek with a shell pink fingernail. "Give me a little peck right here."
"Fine." He wrapped an arm around her slender waist and leaned down, intending to kiss her cheek. Instead, his mouth found hers. A sizzling electricity shot through him, stirring passions he shouldn't be feeling for a coworker. The scent of her perfume tantalized him. How could she still smell like roses after a full day of travel? The taste of her soft lips surprised him. She was delicious. And this kiss was a big mistake.
She quickly pulled back. Her eyes narrowed as she whispered, "A little too enthusiastic, John."
He hadn't meant to kiss her. What the hell had he been thinking? "Sorry."
The corner of her mouth quirked up in a smile. "Are you really sorry?"
On a professional level, he regretted the kiss. But on a personal level? Being close to Lily was a constant temptation. She seemed to sparkle. Holding her in his arms was like catching a sunbeam.
"Hey, mon." A Rastafarian shuffled toward them in floppy sandals, moving to a musical beat that no shoulders. A necklace of white shells contrasted with his ebony skin. "Are you John Pinto?"
"Well now, Mister John. I hear you and this pretty lady are looking for a ride to Cuerva."
"You heard wrong," John said. "We've already booked our flight."
The Rasta raised both hands and shrugged. His baggy Hawaiian shirt flapped around his narrow chest like the wings of an exotic bird. "I can give you the grand tour on my Cessna. She's named Martina after a fine lady with red hair like the sunset. Martina the Cessna. I can show you where the sea turtles go to mate."
"Wonderful," Lily said. "Let's go with him. It'll be much more interesting than a commercial flight."
Interesting? Taking off in a plane named after a redhead? With a pilot in dreadlocks who looked like he was having trouble standing up? Stiffly, John said, "Our arrangements are already made."
"My name is Edgar." The Rasta stuck out his hand. When John shook the long fingers, he felt a firmness and strength that caused him to take a second look. The Rasta's black eyes showed a seriousness that didn't fit with the costume. Quietly, Edgar said, "Miss Evangeline recommends my services, mon."
Evangeline Prescott was in charge at Prescott Personal Securities. She'd sent John and Lily on this trip to make contact with her husband, Robert, a former MI6 agent who was presumed dead and had been missing for two years.
Robert Prescott had founded PPS, and he was more than a boss. John had been one of the first agents hired, and he considered Robert to be his mentor and his friend.
"All right, Edgar," John said. "Do you mind if I make a phone call first?"
"Sure thing, mon."
They went back inside the air-conditioned terminal. While Lily chatted with Edgar, John opened the suitcase that held his computer and electronic equipment, including a satellite phone with a secure line.All communication with their office needed to be untraceable and indecipherable. Over the past several months, PPS had been investigating a series of murders back in Denver that might have roots on Cuerva.
With the three-hour time difference, he figured Evangeline would still be at the office. He got through on her private line. "Who's Edgar? And why does he want to show us where the sea turtles mate?"
"You can trust Edgar MacAllister. He's a friend." Evangeline's breathy tone betrayed her excitement at the prospect of being reunited with her husband. "Have you heard from Robert yet? Have you seen him?"
"We're still in Jamaica."
"Right. Of course, you are."
It was unlike Evangeline—a former FBI agent—to be so rattled. He asked, "Is there some reason why you kept Edgar a secret?"
"He contacted me this morning. The threat level on this assignment has gone from amber to bright red. Someone on Cuerva is after Robert."
"I don't have a name for you, John."
He'd expected complications. Otherwise, Robert Prescott could have hopped on a commercial flight and come directly to Denver.
"There's more bad news," she continued. "We've uncovered information that a Denver businessman with mob connections is involved in our murder investigations. His name is Drew Kirshner, and he arrived on Cuerva yesterday."
John put two and two together. Someone on Cuerva was after Robert. Drew Kirshner came here. "Is Kirshner the person who's after Robert?"
"I don't know." She exhaled a nervous sigh. "Be careful, John. Bring my husband back to me." "Count on it," he said.
After he disconnected the call, he sat for a moment, assessing this new information. There were too many unknowns on this assignment, and the potential for lethal danger. It might be wise to pick up a couple of guns on Jamaica before heading to Cuerva.
As soon as he joined Edgar and Lily, he mentioned the need for additional weaponry.
"All taken care of, mon." Edgar pointed them toward the exit to the runways.
"Hold on," John said. "I need to cancel our other flight and see if I can get a refund."
The Inter-Island Transport representative was an intense brunette with a bun so tight that it lifted her eyebrows. She responded to John's request in icy tones. Their policy was to never issue refunds.
For a moment, he considered convincing her otherwise. John was an expert negotiator who learned to haggle when he was a skinny kid on the Navajo reservation selling crafts to tourists. But that was a long time ago, and he had more pressing concerns.
Lily popped up beside him. "What's wrong?" "Wasting money goes against my grain." "But this isn't really your money. The unused tickets can go on your company expense account."
"It's still a waste."
Her eyes were wide and curious, searching for answers. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
As if he would ever discuss what it was like to grow up dirt-poor, squeezing every nickel, going without dinner so his brothers and sisters could eat.
He'd never been a man who readily shared his life secrets. The less people knew about him, the better. Besides, he'd overcome his past. He was thirty-seven years old, respected in his field and financially successful. His family would never go hungry again. "We can talk later."
Her eyebrows pinched in a scowl. "That's the third time you've said that to me."
"And you still haven't taken the hint."
"Figuring you out is a challenge. And I'm very persistent."
"Like a migraine?"
"Like a thousand stinging wasps." Her innocent expression turned shrewd. "I already know a few things about you. You were in the Marines. You majored in physics in college, which led to your training and expertise in security systems."
"That's my résumé."
"I'll figure you out," she teased. "You didn't fool me at all when you pretended to be napping on the plane."
"I was sleeping. And so were you."
Edgar shuffled up beside them. "Let's go, mon." Hoisting their luggage, he followed Lily and Edgar through the small terminal to the tarmac, where Edgar commandeered a modified golf cart and drove them to nearby hangars.