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16:57 Romeo. Manhattan.
Tuesday, October 7.
He stood across the street from United Nations headquarters, watching--a scarred man hidden in the shadows of bare-fingered trees. A wanted man. He didn't like being back on U.S. soil--illegally, no less. But he was here because he had to be. He was the only one who could stop an inordinately powerful man from bringing the entire nation to its knees in just six days.
And he needed a particular woman to help him do it. She worked inside that building. She was the key to that man's inner sanctum, his Achilles' heel.
Jacques Sauvage thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his coat and narrowed his eyes into the brooding gray mist that was cloaking the city with premature darkness and chill. The trouble was, Olivia Killinger was also his own Achilles' heel. Her father had already destroyed him once because of it.
Six days--that's all he had to find out whether she was complicit in her father's scheme. If she was somehow oblivious to what Samuel Killinger was doing, he would have to turn her, force her to betray her own flesh and blood, the father she adored.
But if he found her guilty, he'd have no choice but to use her life as leverage against Killinger. Either way he could not afford to fail. If he did, millions upon millions of innocent people in the country's three largest cities--New York, Chicago and Los Angeles-- would start dying by midnight, October 13. Just six days away.
And that would be only the beginning.
He hadn't seen Olivia in sixteen years. How in hell did one begin to bridge a gap like that? Especially when the woman you werewaiting for had once been your fiancée--and you were supposed to be dead.
He checked his watch. She should have come out by now. The row of flags--almost two hundred of them-- that had clapped bravely in the fall wind had long been wrestled to the ground by security staff, their poles now naked as the scraggy boughs above his head.
Only the blue-and-white UN flag with its olive branches of peace was left snapping against the front sweeping down from the Arctic, dragging the premature chill of the Canadian prairies behind it.
The irony of that lone UN flag flying in the face of the coming storm wasn't lost on him. Global peace wouldn't stand a chance in hell if Samuel Killinger's plan succeeded. War would be his tool, the weapon that would feed his massive corporate coffers. Samuel Killinger and his Cabal were about to launch the U.S. into an era of violently aggressive imperialism that would kill democracy and forever change the shape of the globe's future.
Unless Jacques got to Olivia in time.
He checked his watch again. The temperature was dropping. Leaves skittered across the road, clattered and churned in the wake of a cab. It was fully dark now, the streetlights just fuzzy halos in mist. Still she didn't come.
He felt the first spits of rain against his face. Perhaps he'd missed her. Perhaps he hadn't recognized her profile among the huddled shapes that had scurried from the building into the streets, bent against the cold, making for home. Or perhaps she'd used a different gate. He shifted his feet against the growing numbness in his toes.
Then, suddenly, she was there.
Primal recognition slammed through him. His body snapped tight, and his nostrils flared, as if he'd somehow detected her scent on the chill wind. The muscles of his face grew taut, twisting at his scar as his world tunneled into just this moment. Just her.
The headlights of a car panned round and silhouetted her figure as she ran across the road, the wind playing with her coat like a malevolent spirit, opening it so that it fanned out behind her, pressing her skirt firmly against the outline of long, lean legs. She moved in his direction, her boot heels clicking on the pavement as she neared. His heart beat faster.
A sharp gust whipped hair over her face. She tried to hold it back with a leather-gloved hand, and he noticed she'd had it cut shorter. It looked more chic, but it was just as thick, just as lustrous. The sensation of his fingers combing through those soft waves of chestnut brown clawed through his memory. Jacques inhaled sharply.
Olivia Killinger could still do it to him.
One look was all it took to make him hard in places where memory had plagued him for well over a decade. But this time it was different. Now a ferocity swirled through the heat of his lust, and it fed a wild viciousness inside that scared him. Every molecule in his body screamed for him to storm into the road, grab her by the shoulders, yank her round, shake her, demand answers. Why, Olivia? Why did you betray me?
But he couldn't do that.
If he made one wrong step with her, if Samuel Killinger found out he was in town, the bombs would blow.
While he had to move fast, he also had to go in carefully. This operation was as delicate as it was time sensitive.And this was not supposed to be about the past, not now. This was about saving the future. This was about protecting democracy and innocent lives. To do it, he was going to have to walk a dangerous and delicate line.
Jacques drew in a steadying breath, and he took a step forward, the word Olivia forming in his mouth, a name that had lived indelibly in his brain for all these years but had never left his lips. Until now. Until this mission.
But as he stepped out of the shadows toward her, his hand rising involuntarily as if to reach out and close the distance of the years between them, a black SUV veered sharply out from the curb and screeched to a stop in front of her. She jerked to a stop. Her head whipped back, as if searching for escape.
Jacques instantly pressed back into shadow, the urge to rush forward and defend threatening to totally override his control. But he had to assess the scene. The vehicle was unmarked with an extra-long wheelbase and a battery of communications antennae mounted on top. When the door swung open, a man in a dark suit un-curled himself from the vehicle, stepped onto the curb, his eyes scanning the street as he moved. Secret Service.
Jacques swore softly to himself. This had just gotten a whole lot more complicated.What the hell should he have expected? The woman was dating the vice president. The woman who was once going to be his was now sleeping with the enemy--the very man Samuel Killinger was going to put into the most powerful office in the world in just six days. Acid filled Jacques's mouth as he watched.
The agent said something to her and gestured to the open door. She shook her head and stepped back from the car. The agent put his hand on her arm, his body language turning insistent. But she stood her ground, her posture defiant.
Intrigue whispered through Jacques. Why was she resisting?
The agent leaned closer, said something else to her. She hesitated and glanced in Jacques's direction. His heart stilled. Had she seen him? Could she sense him?
Then she turned back to the agent, and his heart dipped inexplicably. Of course she hadn't sensed him. Who was he to think she ever even thought of him? He no longer existed to her. He lived in the shadows. The damp chill from the nearby East River nosed into his coat. He flipped up his collar, watched her climb into the SUV.
He'd known she was seeing Vice President Grayson Forbes. He'd studied the tabloid photos of their outings. He'd been obsessed by one particular image where the vice president was touching her bare arm, their heads tilted together in intimate conversation. But Jacques hadn't quite anticipated how actually seeing the living evidence of her association would make him feel.
A cesspool of dark and conflicting emotions swirled up from somewhere deep inside him. He'd totally underestimated the depth of Olivia's hold over him, even after all these years. He'd misjudged the rawness of his latent passion, his buried anger, his violent resentment. He'd refused to acknowledge his deep and primal need for revenge. Until this very moment.
He knew in this instant, as the door of that SUV slammed shut, that this mission was going to challenge him in ways he hadn't even dreamed possible.
The SUV swerved out and pulled swiftly into the traffic. Jacques stepped into the street, raised his arm, hailed a cab, the wind snapping his wool coat around his calves.
"I'm with that black SUV up ahead," he told the driver as he climbed in. "Go where it goes."
"Follow that car?" The driver snorted. "Haven't heard that one in a while."
Jacques said nothing.
The SUV wove deftly, aggressively, through the evening traffic of the pulsing metropolis. His cab driver kept pace. The rain came down harder, flecking the windows, smearing light across the streets. Tires crackled over the wet surface, wipers clacked, and the traffic began to grow thick.
Then suddenly the congested stream came to a complete halt. Jacques wound down his window, tried to see what was going on. He could make out cops up ahead, stopping traffic. They allowed the SUV to pass, and hastily erected barricades behind it, barring all other access. Several police bikes with flashing lights and sirens swerved out of a side street, and joined the Secret Service vehicle in escort down the now-empty street. Jacques cursed.
Olivia had clearly been expected.
The traffic around them was now a stationary snarling mess, engines choking into the misty rain, dense cloud dropping even lower. His driver laid on the horn. So did everyone else, it seemed. Police were now trying to divert the bottleneck through narrow side streets. A chopper hovered somewhere in the cloud above, the sound bouncing heavily between buildings. The cab radio crackled, but the dispatcher's voice was drowned to Jacques's ears by the throb of the traffic and helo.
The cabby twisted his head over his shoulder. "Hey, buddy, you're out of luck. Dispatch says the entire block up ahead has been cordoned off--vice president has made an unscheduled stop in town." His eyes narrowed. "You sure you with that SUV?"
Jacques paid the driver and got out. He threaded his way through groups of reporters and photographers gathering along the barricades. A television news van honked as it mounted the curb, dispersing curious pedestrians. The rain was coming down even harder now, releasing the sharp smell of the city streets--a mix of gas, concrete and people layered over cool air. He'd forgotten the scent of NewYork. He didn't like it. He preferred the air of deserts and jungles, the feeling of open skies. He asked one of the photographers what was going on.
She told him the veep had slipped into town unannounced to the press, apparently for a private and impromptu dinner with an unnamed female guest. "Like we don't know who that is," she said, lifting her camera. "The entire street in front of La Bocca della Verita has been blocked off, and he's commandeered the hotel above the restaurant." She peered through her massive telephoto lens, focused. "Police are scrambling with the sudden security detail." She clicked. "Typical Forbes. Has to do everything with a high sense of drama. No wonder the president is running without this guy."
Jacques said nothing. He'd heard of La Bocca. It was a famous high-end Italian restaurant. He also knew Italian had always been Olivia's favorite. He stood against the barricade, stared down the empty wet street, his heart growing colder by the moment.
She glanced sideways at him. "Not a fan, are you?"
She smiled. "He does have fans. He's one of the most eligible bachelors in the free world." She pointed her camera at the phalanx of metropolitan police behind the barricade, readjusted the lens. "So much for privacy," she said as she clicked rapid-fire.
She repositioned her camera, trying to get a better angle down the empty street. "And so much for secrecy." She clicked, then glanced sideways at Jacques. "He's going to propose, I'm sure of it. Want to make a bet?"