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By Natalie Dunbar
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSquinting against the March afternoon sun, Reese Whittaker crossed the cream-colored carpeting and took a seat on the flowered sofa. Relax. Now. She pressed her ramrod-straight back against the stuffed pillows and tried to smooth the grimace of her lips into something less alarming. It didn't help to see the picture on the wall of herself at twelve, with a ten-year-old Riley sporting a short marine haircut. Her throat closed. It wasn't right that everything should look so normal, as if her beloved baby brother might come home from work any minute.
Forcing her gaze away from the picture, she allowed herself a few moments of self-pity. The past year of her life had been pure hell and it wasn't over yet. She'd married Nick and gotten pregnant. She, who had never even played with dolls, had discovered a maternal streak a mile wide. She'd even talked the legendary Nick Whittaker into quitting the CIA with her to make sure the baby would have a real, storybook family, something neither of them had had. Then everything fell apart.
Catching sight of her fists, Reese opened them slowly and flexed her fingers, staring at the clever hands that went with the body and brains she'd used to build her own legend with the marines and the CIA. This body that had also won her track and field and martial arts awards, had failed to hold on to one precious little baby. And in the midst of the most personal battle of her life, Nick Whittaker had proven that he didn't love her enough when he accepted a dangerous assignment. Alone she had fought to keep their child growing inside her.
In the background, she heard Riley's wife Carol calling little Candace. By the time the child reached the living room, Reese had a smile pasted on.
"Aunty Ree!" Six-year-old Candace climbed onto Reese's lap to kiss her cheek. "I missed you, Aunty Ree."
"I missed you too, sugar." She hugged the child's small body close to hers.
Her niece regarded her with large, golden-brown eyes full of innocence. "Aunty Ree, have you seen my daddy?"
"No, Candy." Forcing the words from a throat so tight she could barely breathe, Reese almost shook with the effort it took to keep the knowl-edge out of her expression. Somehow she managed to swallow.
Riley had been providing his antiterrorism and security expertise to the embassy in Rwanda. It had been bombed two days ago. His body had not been among the charred remains, so she'd been holding on to hope while the investigation continued. That hope waned as time went on. Soon, someone from the U.S. government would be telling Carol her husband was missing in action and presumed dead.
Reese smoothed one of Candy's chocolate-colored braids. Today she'd heard a rumor that the CIA knew who was responsible for the bombing, but was holding back on an arrest for other reasons. She meant to get to the bottom of that rumor and shake things up, even if it meant going back to work for the CIA.
In the name of justice, someone was going to pay for what had happened to her brother.
In a deep funk after completing her "team" requalifications, Reese sat at her CIA desk trying to plan her next move. She'd suffered from gestational hypertension and preeclampsia during her six-month pregnancy, which caused her precious daughter Nicole to be stillborn and left her forty pounds heavier. With her crash diet and training program, she'd narrowly met the agency weight requirement, but in typical fashion she'd aced the physical test. Flaherty, her section chief, had been glad to get one of his best agents back.
Both feet rested on the gray desk as she stared at her monitor and tapped a finger on the keyboard. One week in the office after eight months away and, except for Nick's absence, it was like she'd never left. She'd set up her new office and gotten reacquainted with the team. She'd also checked open agency and source files for information on the Rwandan embassy bombing, piecing together the evidence and confirming some rumors. Riley's body was still missing, but presumed burned to ash.
Excerpted from Private Agenda by Natalie Dunbar Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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