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The Second Betrayal
By Cheyenne McCray
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Cheyenne McCray
All rights reserved.
Little Red Riding Hood
It had been a mistake having totally wild, raunchy sex with Nick Donovan during our first assignment together.
Including the hundred or so times we ended up in bed — or up against a wall, on the kitchen table, on the floor, in my office — when we weren't working on Operation Cinderella.
The breath I sucked in burned my throat as I tried to control my lust while I watched Donovan. His jeans tightened against his muscular ass as he bent over the shoulder of Agent Chandra Kerrison to look closer at the wide-screen monitor in front of her.
Donovan had become like a drug to me. An addiction. I couldn't get enough of him.
I pushed my hair out of my face in frustration. Lexi Steele had never allowed distractions like Nick Donovan. I had to get a grip.
I'd been telling myself that for a good six months now, since June, a couple of weeks after we finished our first op together. Here it was, the end of November, and I still couldn't get enough of Donovan.
"Damnit," I said under my breath. This infatuation had to stop. It was like being a freaking teenager.
Another thought crossed my mind as I watched Donovan, a thought that was always there and wouldn't let go of me. The big man held so many secrets tight to his chest and had never let me in far enough to know what any of them were. I had spilled my guts about what had happened when I was in Army Special Forces, and how I'd been forced into being an assassin. Why was Donovan keeping a big part of his past from me?
I shook off the thoughts. This wasn't the time for lust or secrets. It was time to get back to work. I turned my attention to the current op and headed toward David Takamoto.
Takamoto stood at the opposite side of the banks of monitors and screens of our Team Center, TC. A blue glow encompassed the whole of the Command Center, the glow given off from walls of screens in the CC where various teams tracked activity on their assignments.
Agents had put up holiday decorations here and there, some for sheer amusement, like a small Santa who dropped his pants every time someone walked by.
There were also decorations on agents' desks reflecting their own holiday beliefs. A silver-and-blue-depiction of a Jewish menorah with its white candles. A picture of a Kwanzaa kinara with its colorful candles — three red, one black, and three green.
Some wiseass had put up a Mexican donkey piñata in a corner of the CC — a picture of Special Agent in Charge Morris Carter on its ass. Our SAC would be entirely oblivious considering he spent his time in his first-floor office playing computer card games as he waited out the last year until his retirement.
Of course our Assistant Special Agent in Charge might not find it amusing. Our ASAC, Karen Oxford, was tough, fair, and had no obvious sense of humor. Then again, the picture was still up, and the donkey had been there since two weeks before Thanksgiving. Maybe she had a sense of humor after all.
A soft buzz and hum filled the CC as agents spoke into headphones and kept track of their assignments on the enormous high-tech screens. I smelled pine from a small Christmas tree that overpowered the familiar scent of climate-controlled air as I passed the tree.
"Steele." Takamoto caught sight of me, and I tilted my head to meet his brown eyes when I reached him. "I was just about to find you and give you the news. It's about Wolf."
A petite five-four, I had to look up at most of the guys at the Recovery Enforcement Division. Seemed that Oxford liked to hire male agents six feet and over. Or maybe it was a coincidence.
Most of the guys on RED task forces made me feel like I was in the land of the giants — just like my four older brothers did. Even my twelve-year-old brother towered over me. Little shit. Make that big shit.
"I'd give anything for news on Hagstedt." I put my palms on my hips as I met his Takamoto's gaze. "Tell me you have something on that bastard."
Takamoto was excellent at schooling his expressions, and right now I wanted to shake him for looking so calm. He slipped his hands into the pockets of his slacks, causing his shirt to pull against his athletic runner's physique. He pressed his shirts and slacks so stiffly I don't think a wrinkle would dare sneak in. I managed not to look down at my T-shirt and Levi's that I'd snatched out of the laundry basket this morning and felt the material almost crawl with wrinkles.
"Operation Big Bad Wolf looks like it could be hot in Manhattan just like we expected." Takamoto glanced in the direction the group of agents on his intel team. "Rublev just reported in after she sent us the coded message. She said the Elite Gentleman's Club is definitely Hagstedt's. She overheard a conversation that verifies what info Johnny gave us. And if we can crack that coded message she intercepted earlier, that may give us all we need to get in there and get to Hagstedt."
I wanted to grip my fist and jerk my elbow back in a yes! motion. We'd known the key men were involved in kidnapping and prostituting young women in their club, but we hadn't known for sure if that operation was part of Hagstedt's enormous human trafficking ring. "Thank God. We've been working that club for how long once Rublev was in?"
Takamoto shook his head. "At least two months."
"About friggin' time." I breathed a sigh of relief. "I can't believe it's been over six months since we brought down his man Cabot in Cinderella."
Operation Cinderella had been a huge coup for the Human Trafficking and Sex Crimes Unit, which was part of the Recovery Enforcement Division. RED was a clandestine offshoot of the NSA, and we had clearance to do any damned thing we wanted to.
Yeah, Cinderella had been a success, but Wolf had not been going so well. Beyond six months of fruitless searching over the summer for Anders Hagstedt grated at me more and more every single day. The so-called mastermind of countless human trafficking rings in China, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States needed to be brought down. Now. We doubted Hagstedt was his real last name, but we'd still run all the leads we could on anyone with that surname with no luck.
Takamoto inclined his head in the direction of the "dungeon," as we liked to call our geek squad's domain. "Now if the geeks can decipher the coded message, we might get some more detailed info. It's been six hours and the geeks are still working on it."
"The new agent, Kerrison, thinks she can crack it," I said. "She's only had it fifteen or twenty minutes, though." My chin-length hair brushed my cheeks as I looked over my shoulder and saw her talking with Donovan just a few feet away.
I swiveled my gaze back to Takamoto. "I think we're real close to putting Little Red into play."
Before Takamoto could respond, I sensed Donovan behind me and caught his musky, spicy scent. My body immediately responded to his presence with an aching desire that made me want to moan in frustration.
Oxford had paired Donovan and me up as Team Supervisors during Cinderella, and she'd decided to keep us working together instead of giving Donovan his own team. Karen Oxford was one incredibly savvy, observant woman, but I don't think she knew about my sexual relationship with Donovan, or she would have separated us. Or canned one of our asses. Hell, probably both of us.
Donovan's blue eyes didn't show any emotion that might tell me how he felt about the two of us. No, his gaze was entirely professional. Good. That's how it should be — I hoped I looked just as professional.
Donovan glanced from me to Takamoto and back. "Kerrison deciphered the communication."
It took some effort, but I managed to keep my jaw from dropping. "She decoded the message in twenty minutes?"
"Fifteen." Donovan's expression bordered on grim as he continued. "Hagstedt's operation isn't relegated to one or even a few clubs. It looks like he's doing exactly what we've been able to gather from intel," Donovan continued. "He imports girls from Switzerland, China, and Russia, and forces them into prostitution in clubs in all of New York City's boroughs. The club we've been watching on East Sixtieth Street is more or less the headquarters for his New York op."
Rick Smithe gave a low whistle behind me, and I cut my gaze to my left to see that he and George Perry had joined Takamoto. "What do you know? We finally got something," Smithe said.
Women being lured into the wrong hands with promises of jobs in America, then being prostituted once they arrived was nothing new — other teams on our task force were working on various ops related to all types of human trafficking, including that.
But to finally find a ring firmly tied to Hagstedt was like raking in the dough from a billion-dollar lottery. No — giving the slimeball a bullet in the brain would be the winning ticket. This was more like watching each Powerball number start to fall into place.
A shiver of excitement tickled my skin from anticipation of getting my teeth into the Wolf op that was finally going somewhere. Hagstedt was a big fish. Probably the biggest mastermind of human trafficking in the world from the intel we'd gathered.
I gave Donovan word on the latest Takamoto had just relayed. Adrenaline started rushing through me from the excitement of an oncoming hunt. "What do you have that Kerrison came up with?" Donovan was holding two pieces of paper, and he raised his hand. For a moment I couldn't take my eyes off his thick wrist and the black hair on his forearm, and I could almost feel myself tracing my fingertips over the back of his hand. I swallowed and met his gaze. Damn.
He handed me the pages. I skimmed the gibberish on the first piece. "The code's so complicated that Taylor and his geek squad couldn't make sense of it in six hours. And Kerrison did it in fifteen minutes?" I repeated more to myself than any of the men standing around me.
Oxford had told me that Kerrison had one of the highest IQs in the world and had also sailed through Quantico's intense physical tests — supposedly she could kick major ass. A Harvard graduate at twenty with an IQ as high as Stephen Hawking or Marilyn vos Savant, Kerrison made an incredible addition to my and Donovan's team. On top of that she was model-beautiful, which could work to her advantage in some undercover ops.
My skin prickled as I read the decoded message on the second page. "Hagstedt is supposed to arrive in Manhattan within the next couple of weeks weeks," I said.
I glanced from the paper to Takamoto, Perry, and Smithe as I continued. "It actually names the Elite Gentleman's Club and names the asshole who oversees Hagstedt's entire New York City human trafficking ring. His name is something we've never been able to get. He doesn't talk with anyone but a couple of his men and the madame, from what Rublev has managed to see. And they call him Mr. G."
"Holy shit." Smithe's grin was almost dangerous. "We're going to put that bastard's ass in a grinder."
Perry tilted his head to look at the paper as he rubbed the back of his neck. "What kind of name is Beeff Giger?" Perry touched the sides of his dark GQ haircut. "Sounds almost cliché, like Rocko or Shorty."
A metrosexual, Perry was always primping. He was supposed to have been my submissive in the last op — I'd ended up being the submissive, but to Nick Donovan, who'd been my "Master" in a private BDSM circle. Not something I wanted to repeat. I'd been whipped enough in my former life as an assassin, and even though things had gotten pretty erotic with Donovan, I'd skip floggings any day. Especially bamboo. That hurts like a sonofabitch.
Takamoto shrugged in response to Perry's question. "Beeff, is actually a Swiss variant, like Giger, his last name." Takamoto pronounced the names perfectly as he looked over my shoulder at the page, too.
"We think our inside cooperative, Jenika Rublev, has been doing her job in finding ways to make the handlers suspect that the club's madame is catching on to their real operation — that it's not a strip club with willing prostitutes." Donovan glanced at the three men beside me. "These boys are probably starting to feel a little uncomfortable with the madame."
"We need to pull her out or she'll end up permanently visiting the fishes in the Hudson," Takamoto said.
I nodded. "We'll be able to roll Little Red into gear in no time. But we've got to hurry." I glanced at the huge atomic clock on one wall with its glowing blue numbers. Almost two in the afternoon. I looked back at the guys. "Smithe, grab Weiss, Fairbanks, and Jensen and meet me and Donovan in Conference Room Four. Three sharp. Takamoto and Perry, I want you there, too."
"Can't wait to see what you're cooking up in that ruthless head of yours, Steele," Perry said with a grin.
Same here. "Three," I repeated before I turned to head up the steps to the catwalk that led to the Team Supervisor offices.
Damn, a hot lead. But we had to hurry and get "in" before Hagstedt arrived. We needed to make our case solid to tear down his entire house of cards.
Donovan fell into step beside me, and as always he made a point of shortening his normally long strides so that I wouldn't have to jog to keep up with him. As my partner he'd be going in on any op we put together, and the thought sent something indefinable curling in my belly. Or at least something I didn't want to define.
My new running shoes squeaked on the metal stairs that led out of the Command Center. I glanced up at Donovan as we stepped on the black-and-white-tiled catwalk at the same time. He was looking at me with such intense scrutiny that hair pricked at my nape.
"Hold a second," Donovan said. We came to a stop in front of the glass-walled offices of four other Team Supervisors. Donovan was already walking back to Kerrison, who now stood at the top of the stairs we'd just taken from the CC to the catwalk.
I didn't follow him. I figured he'd relay whatever message the junior agent had.
I couldn't resist admiring Donovan's biceps, which bulged as he braced his hand on one of the rails that ran along the catwalk as he spoke with Kerrison. The powerful muscles of his shoulders flexed beneath his black T-shirt when he moved, and his short, dark hair needed to be ruffled.
My mouth watered as I trailed my gaze down his athletic physique — all six feet, four inches of him — to the Levi's that were snug against his tight ass and muscular legs. When I moved my gaze up again, I studied his almost harsh but incredibly sexy profile. I couldn't see his vivid blue eyes, but the stubble on his strong jaw made me itch to caress his cheeks, to see my fair Irish skin against his darker flesh.
Donovan headed back toward me while Kerrison returned downstairs to the hub of our RED unit. I went into my office, Donovan right behind. He closed the door.
My gaze fell on the red heavy-duty Everlast punching bag that I kept in my office. I could sure use it now to work off the sexual tension.
I plopped onto the padded leather seat behind my desk. Besides the punching bag, my large-screen monitor, and my desk, my office was almost bare. The exception being a framed photograph of my entire family taken two years ago. All five brothers, my sister, Mama, Daddy, and me.
"If we hurry and make our move," I said as I swiveled slightly in my chair, "I think we can put Operation Little Red Riding Hood into action."
Donovan folded his arms across his broad chest and hitched one shoulder against the frame of the door he'd just closed behind him. The floor-to-ceiling windows were currently covered by my office's sleek black vertical blinds. "Agreed."
Enthusiasm for our plan took over. I rested my forearms on my modern, sleek black desktop and leaned forward. "Smithe's team just needs to put the finishing touches on the fictitious history for me." I almost rolled my eyes at the thought of Smithe, who was always up to something.
With a very unladylike snort, I continued. "Of course Smithe embellished the rap sheet, but it is good. Still comes down to me having run a successful cathouse for nine years here in Boston. Smithe even managed to create fake articles in the Boston Globe and several other rags about me being busted for my girls having sex with clientele willing to cough up the money."
Excerpted from The Second Betrayal by Cheyenne McCray. Copyright © 2009 Cheyenne McCray. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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