Read an Excerpt
Cook’s Bay, Moorea, Polynesian Islands
August 4, 2013
or a man of few words Brody Baxter hated silence.
Watching the waves crash on the beach, he wished his brother were there. Sean’s chatter would make him focus.
At this point, the third hour in a four-hour shift with nothing but moonlight and dolphins in the ocean in front of the villa, Brody prayed for a three-man paramilitary attack from the water but would settle for camera-wielding paparazzi jumping out from the Tiare bush to his left.
Anything to break up the monotony.
Funny, but at one time he’d thought guarding shady politicians would be more exciting than guarding the earnest ones, but the years had taught him otherwise.
The screen door behind him slid open with a gasp and a swish. The short hair on his neck prickled in warning, but he didn’t turn around. It was the woman Senator Rawlings had brought. Gina Bassili. The smell of sweat over perfume preceded her.
“Sorry,” Gina said, her voice gaspy and rough. “I forgot you were out here.”
That’s the idea, he thought, and stepped farther into the shadows of the balcony.
Perhaps knowing he was out here, she’d have second thoughts about enjoying the view from the balcony.
But no, the woman came to lean against the railing overlooking the bay. Her robe, barely tied at her waist, looked like a dark oil spill over her body. The color blended with her hair. The night sky behind her.
Quickly, he glanced away. She’d been loud in that villa. Lots of Oh, Daddys.
“Is all this really necessary?” she asked, waving her hand around to indicate him and the other members of the team, silently guarding the senator and, by proximity, her. Her accent was nearly non-existent, but the alleys of Cairo clung to her vowels.
She’d come into the senator’s life suddenly. A friend of a friend of an aide at some political fundraiser in D.C. Brody didn’t particularly like how much they didn’t know about her.
Choosing not to answer, Brody scanned the edge of the cliff to his left. If Brody was lucky, Senator Rawlings’ wife would come rappelling over the edge with a submachine gun and he wouldn’t have to engage in this conversation.
There were days he really missed the Marine Corps.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her run her fingers over the silk edge of her robe, revealing her collarbone, the gravity-defying inside curve of her breast.
“Maybe Doug sent himself the death threats, just so he could take me someplace.”
Doubtful. Brody’s team didn’t come cheap. And Cook’s Bay was a lot of effort for a woman who probably would have put on the very same show at Four Seasons in Washington, D.C.
“Does it bother you? Listening to us?” She tipped her head, her dark hair falling down her neck. “Knowing he has a wife. A family. That he’s cheating? Lying?” Her eyes glowed with a certain avarice. Obviously, it turned her on. The dirty illicitness of it. Of her role in it. It explained why she was putting on a show for a man twice her age, three times her weight, and with the morality of a shark.
For a moment he thought about telling her she was the cleanest thing in Senator Rawlings’ life. That the death threats could have come from the full spectrum of extremist groups, the product of a lifetime of double dealing and lying in the name of politics.
But, lately, Rawlings was pissing off the Yetarzikstan Ba’ath party, with vocal support of the rebels.
All of this he didn’t bother explaining to her, because he doubted she cared. Instead, he looked back over the ocean. The dolphins, the moonlight. Bother him? As a rule, Brody didn’t get bothered.
“Gina?” The senator yelled from inside the door.
She shrugged, her lips twisted in coy regret.
“Duty calls,” she whispered and vanished back into the villa.
The world issued an open invitation to humanity to fail itself. To be selfish and small. Mean, even evil at times. And most people, in Brody’s experience, found it impossible to turn down that invitation.
The senator and his lies were just another example in a long line.
His earpiece buzzed in the split second before he heard Colin’s voice. “Brody? Roy is coming up on your six. You have a visitor at HQ.”
A visitor? Here?
Suddenly he thought of Ed, sick and alone in that house. Too stubborn to ask for help if he needed it.
He and Sean should have gotten him a nurse. They’d been talking about it, but Ed was so stubborn and, in the end, Brody didn’t know how to fight him. Or maybe he just didn’t care enough.
But Sean didn’t know where Brody was, or how to find him.
No one did.
So not Ed.
His diaphragm relaxed.
Roy, a thick squat man Brody had worked with for years and managed to know nothing about, came up through the shadows. They nodded at each other and Brody slipped down the path through the ferns and wild banana trees to the guesthouse, where the team had set up headquarters.
Tropical bugs hovered around the light of the guesthouse veranda. To the left of the light and the cloud of bugs stood a man sweating through an expensive white button-down shirt, his suit jacket tossed over the railing. Brody couldn’t get a good look at the guy’s face, because his head was bent as he rolled his sleeves.
The intricate warning system of adrenaline, his gut and the hair on the back of his neck began to buzz. Whoever this guy was, he’d gone to great lengths to find Brody.
And people didn’t work so hard to bring good news.
“You’re here for me?” Brody asked, stepping to the edge of the light, but no farther.
“Brody Baxter?” the man asked, peering into the shadows where Brody with his dark skin and dark clothes blended into the night.
Something niggled in the back of his head. A memory. This guy wasn’t a stranger. His all-American, confident-of-his-place in-the-world looks were familiar.
“Yes,” Brody answered.
“You’re not an easy man to find.”
Once again, that is sort of the idea. Brody cut through the bullshit. “Who are you?”
“It’s been a few years,” the man said with a weary smile and held out his hand. “I’m Harrison Montgomery.”
Brody felt deep ripples of recognition, memories of this guy and his kid sister came running from the corners where he’d shoved them years ago.
Brody shook Harrison’s hand. Last time Brody saw him Harrison was a privileged twenty-one-year-old asshole. Almost as bad as his father, though miles away from his mother’s very special brand of asshole.
But it explained how he managed to find Brody. Harrison had all the right connections. The Montgomerys were a four generation political family out of Georgia. The Kennedys without the president, the assassinations, or the sex scandals. Though there had been plenty of whispers about Ted, Harrison’s father.
If Harrison wanted to find someone he had enough money and power to see it done.
Interesting, Brody thought. But why me?
“What can I do for you, Harrison?”
Harrison sighed and braced his hands on his hips. “I . . . need a man of your talents.”
“I’m not all that special.” Brody was not in any hurry to get tangled with the Montgomerys again.
“Ashley’s been kidnapped.”
All of his internal organs recoiled at the mention of her name, and then again at the thought of her in danger.
“Or taken hostage, I’m not sure what the proper term is.”
“Who has her?”
“Somali pirates. She’d been working at a refugee camp in Kenya, had gotten sick, and a friend convinced her to take a vacation in Seychelles. They hired a boat for the day, and I don’t know if they got off course, or if the guys on the boat were connected to the pirates—”
“They’ve held her for ransom?”
“Yes.” Harrison shook his head as if he realized he’d been rambling and he was grateful to be shoved back on track. “I’ve been negotiating . . .”
Of course the Montgomerys would negotiate.
As a rule the Somali pirates didn’t hurt their hostages—it was bad for business. But three weeks was a very very long time to be scared.
The thought of Ashley held at gunpoint and mistreated rearranged him. Reduced him to some instinctual, animal level. It wasn’t right and he needed to do something about it.
It had been ten years, but in his mind she was seventeen—a protected child, stepping into womanhood. Precocious and ludicrously optimistic. Her presence in a Somali village, surrounded by armed pirates, made about as much sense as that of a unicorn.
“I’ll pay, of course. Whatever your fee—”
“What do you need?”
Harrison blinked at Brody’s implied agreement, but then Brody had to give the man credit—he sharpened. Focused. Maybe he’d outgrown that genetic asshole problem in his family.
“I’ve been working with a translator, Umar. Cell phone reception on their end has been a problem but Umar has a satellite phone. And I’ve got a pilot on the ground outside of Garoowe.”
“What do you need?” he repeated.
“I need someone to go get her at the drop-off coordinates. I’d go, but I’ve been advised that things could get ugly. And I need to keep this . . . quiet.”
Of course they did. Harrison’s father was Governor of Georgia, Harrison was making a shoe-in run for the House of Representatives.
Whatever emotional reaction thoughts of Ashley created in Brody, he managed to bury under logistics.
“What’s the timeline?”
“I’m supposed to get the coordinates in twelve hours. But the pirates haven’t exactly been reliable.”
“How has the ransom been exchanged?” He didn’t want to carry around a briefcase of money through the tribal lands of war-torn Somalia.
“My family will transfer it to an offshore account when we get the coordinates and proof that Ashley is alive and safe.”
Electronic banking. Offshore accounts. The pirates have come a long way.
Brody laughed, though none of this was funny. “You negotiated down from one and a half?”
Harrison stiffened, reading insult where there was plenty. “Brody, I need you, but you have no idea what this process has been like.”
Brody’s esteem for the man went up another notch.
He checked his watch. It was two a.m. Brody and the team were flying out of here with the senator at eight a.m. “You have a plane standing by?”
“The family jet. I can get you as far as Mogadishu, my pilot will pick you up there and fly you to Garoowe, where they’ve been keeping her. Umar will meet you and take you to Ashley.”
“I’ll need the satellite number Umar is using.”
Harrison, again proving his mettle, handed him a phone. “It’s programmed with the numbers of all the people we’ve been in contact with. As well as a timeline, as complete as I could make it with the little bit of information I have.”
Brody took the phone and slipped it in his pocket. He had to finish the Rawlings job, as repugnant as it seemed.
“Have you talked to her?” he asked.
“Once, briefly. They’d been sending photographs, but a week ago I said unless I could actually speak to her—”
“Should I have let them shoot her?”
No, he thought, you should have come and got me three weeks ago.
“She said she hasn’t been hurt,” Harrison said. “That she was well fed. Bored, mostly. Scared.”
Again, the thing with his lungs.
“We can leave in six hours,” Brody said.
Harrison sighed like he’d been holding his breath for days. “Thank you.”
Accepting Montgomery gratitude was heavily ironic and oddly difficult, like swallowing a golf ball. But he managed a nod.
“You can wait here in the guesthouse. Try to get some sleep.”
“We haven’t discussed any payment.”
Brody was about to knock on the front door to fill Clint in on some of the changes he was going to need to make to the itinerary. But he stopped at the edge of shadow and looked over his shoulder at the golden Montgomery child. A thirty-one-year-old man now. It had been ten years.
Ashley would be a woman.
He pushed the thought, errant and useless, away. “Why me?”
Harrison’s eyes were older and they told a story about the last ten years, and it wasn’t a happy one. “We know you’ll keep it quiet.”
Brody nearly laughed. Yes, he’d proven he could keep the Montgomerys’ secrets.
He pushed open the door, but Harrison’s voice stopped him. “Brody. Get her and get her home and . . . keep her safe.”
So much easier said than done with Ashley Montgomery.