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No One Lives Forever
Hotel Palma Dourada
Gripping his nine-millimeter Beretta, Nicholas Charboneau peered through the peephole of the penthouse suite, responding to a soft knock. The red and black uniforms of hotel personnel should not have given him any cause for alarm. And yet, the hair at the nape of his neck reacted to a rush of adrenaline. Two men stood by a rolling cart of white linen, covered with food platters and a bottle of Brazilian merlot with a distinctive label.
Compliments of the house . . . or a Trojan horse? The bottle of wine told the tale.
A lazy smile curved his lips. At his age, he relied more on wit and cunning, leaving the chest thumping to younger men. He had no intention of answering the door, making himself vulnerable.
"No way," he scoffed, muttering under his breath. "Nice try, but never would've happened."
"Who is at the door?" The voice of his young bodyguard, Jasmine Lee, drew his attention. Drying her black hair with a towel, she stood near the wet bar dressed only in the white robe of the hotel. "Did you order room service, Nicky?"
He raised his hand and shook his head, silently mouthing the word No.
Her body tensed, dark eyes flared in alert.
The sound of shattered glass from across the room broke his concentration. Jasmine darted from his sight, heading toward the noise.
As he rounded the foyer corner, three men dressed in black paramilitary uniforms burst into the room from the balcony, guns raised. Without hesitation, Jasmine tossed her towel toward the nearest man, a distraction. She punched a fistto his solar plexus, doubling him over. To finish her attacker, she elbowed the back of his head, toppling him to the carpet. Now she faced another, chin down and fists raised in defiance.
One down. White queen takes black knight's pawn, threatening the rook.
Nicholas's body reacted on pure instinct as chess maneuvers ran through his head, a practice in discipline and control. Adrenaline fueled his anger. He raced across the room, Beretta leveled. Unarmed, she wouldn't stand a chance if they started to shoot. He chose a spot to her far right, forcing the men to split their attack. A tactical maneuver.
Nicholas squared off with the man he'd coerced into turning his back on Jasmine. His assailant flinched, fear in his eyes as he faced the Beretta. Not wanting to start any gunplay, Nicholas backhanded him across the jaw, knocking him down.
"Arrgh." Wincing in pain, the man writhed on the floor, holding his jaw. Blood dripped through his fingers.
Two down. White knight to king four, checkmate in two moves.
He smelled victory. With Jasmine at his side, he tilted his head and glared at the final man, his gun aimed dead center between the stranger's eyes. "Who sent you? And you better pray I believe you."
"Mãos ao alto." The stern voice came from behind him.
Clenching his jaw, Nicholas wavered for an instant. He gripped the Beretta, maintaining what little tactical leverage remained. But he had a feeling all that was about to change. Unwilling to lower his weapon until he knew for certain, he shifted his gaze to catch a reflection in the mirror behind the wet bar.
The seductive country of Brazil had beckoned Nicholas to its borders, the fertile ground of corruption awaiting his influence. Now, the reality of that summons had a face. The room service attendant narrowed his eyes in challenge, matching his stare in the mirror.
Despite the night air coming from the open doors to the balcony, he noticed the man had a bead of sweat at his temple. The droplet lingered on the brink of a sun-weathered crease, one of many lines marking his face.
Nicholas did not speak Portuguese, but since the uniformed man held a Kalasnikov assault rifle aimed at his head, understanding the native tongue became a moot point. The universal language of the AK47 made his meaning perfectly clear. He lowered his weapon, allowing one of the men to take it, then raised his hands in compliance.
He had no option. Given the odds against a semiauto rifle in tight quarters, they were severely outnumbered. And one of the men held a gun on Jasmine. Check. The black bishop had taken his queen out of play. As in the game of chess, he would voluntarily topple his king to concede, not wanting to risk Jasmine's life.
Checkmate. Game over. In an instant everything changed.
Glancing toward Jasmine, Nicholas noticed her dark eyes communicating a clear message. He knew from experience she would fight if he gave her the slightest encouragement. The beautiful woman's unspoken connection to him made words unnecessary. With a subtle shake of his head, he gave his order.
You and I shall live to fight another day, my love. He would not challenge the inevitable. Whatever the purpose of these intruders, he would soon find out.
"I'm sure there's been some kind of mistake." He glared at the menacing faces of the five men. The two who entered through the front door via passkey had wheeled in a large portable table. Aroma from the food wafted in the air, making his stomach grind. "The hotel knows never to send me wine made in Brazil."
Insulting the local wine was his calculated attempt to determine whether these men spoke English. The leader's expression remained deadly focused on him. The man held the rifle tight to his shoulder, clenching the weapon in a taut grip. With no reaction to his first offense, he ventured a second for good measure.
"I hope you realize . . ." Nicholas raised an eyebrow. ". . . there will be no gratuity."
The head honcho had no sense of humor, nor did he apparently speak any English. Nicholas would not be dissuading him with his keen negotiating skills. Without the use of his quick wit, his best weapon would be gone from his arsenal, along with his gun. He churned his brain, considering his limited options.No One Lives Forever. Copyright © by Jordan Dane. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.