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By Lindsay McKenna
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2005 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"With all due respect, I refuse to be saddled with a woman on this mission." CIA Agent Mace Phillips sat in a chair stubbornly facing Morgan Trayhern, who oversaw Perseus, a supersecret CIA-funded organization, and Trayhern's second-in-command, retired U.S. Army Major Mike Houston. Mace saw Morgan Trayhern's gray eyes narrow speculatively, while amusement glimmered in Houston's eyes.
Tapping his fingers on the bird's-eye maple desk where he was seated, Morgan nodded and said, "I see...." then glanced up at Houston, who stood beside him. "Mike, would you care to tell Agent Phillips that he's on special assignment from the CIA and, technically, works for us now?"
"Be glad to," Mike replied. "Agent Phillips, we realize that the CIA does things differently than we do at Perseus and Medusa. However, the reason behind our success is simple. We team up a man and a woman on all undercover missions. We know the CIA and FBI don't have this policy. But when we do interface with these agencies, it is understood that the individual working for us plays by our rules." Mike saw Phillips's face become slightly tinged with a flush, his large, wide-set green eyes growing dark and sullen looking as he sat at attention, his hands on his thighs.
"They aren't idle rules, Agent Phillips," Morgan added, his voice smooth and even. He sensed that Phillips, who was dressed in a typical CIA uniform of a dark suit, white shirt and conservative light blue tie, was getting increasingly upset.
"Men have their unique skills, and so do women. Male and female agents, therefore, see and do things a little differently."
"Correct," Houston said, grinning at Morgan before turning his attention back to Mace. "Women perceive things that we men are blind, deaf and dumb to most of the time. That ability to detect the nuances of a case can mean the difference between life and death. Women are our secret weapon at Perseus and Medusa, Agent Phillips, and we think enough of you to team you up with one."
Mace slid his index finger between his damp neck and the tight collar of his white cotton shirt. He didn't want to be here. In fact, he wanted to run away from this hidden enclave in the small town of Phillipsburg, Montana. Why oh why had he volunteered for this mission?
He knew why. He was bored out of his skull as a Chinese translator these last three months at Langley, Virginia, CIA headquarters. Shoved away in a room to review Chinese satellite transmissions and phone conversations. Typing up unending reports. He hated it. He was a field agent, not some office grunt.
When he'd joined the CIA after being discharged from the Marine Corps as a recon - or reconnaissance - he received training as an undercover operative before serving in the field for five years. Recently, his proficiency with the Mandarin and Cantonese languages had secured him placement in Southeast Asia before being ordered to Langley. When Mace learned that the agency needed an undercover field agent to travel to Hong Kong to locate a stolen artifact, he'd leaped at the assignment to escape the drudgery of his endless translation duties.
Now, he was sorry. "I have nothing against women," he said brusquely. "I've always operated alone in the field."
Morgan opened a file. "From what I can see here, Agent Phillips, you work in intel back in Langley."
"That's correct, sir. But ..." He snapped his mouth shut. These men didn't care about his unhappiness at being confined to a sealed room invulnerable to enemy surveillance or eavesdropping. The lead-lined room, which couldn't be bugged, had a dead energy; he felt as if he was walking into a vacuum every morning at work.
Houston cocked his head. "But what, Agent Phillips?"
Squirming inwardly, Mace said through thinned lips, "I can't talk about it."
"There are no secrets, Agent Phillips," Morgan said. "We have Q clearance."
Mace knew that Q clearance was reserved for those at the highest levels of government, the president of the United States being one of them. Feeling a prickle of heat begin at his neck and sweep upward, Mace wished that this adolescent response would end. He was twenty-nine years old, a former marine and a CIA agent, and he was blushing! Grimacing, he muttered, "All right, sir. The 'but' is that I've been stuck in intel for the last three months. I was supposed to be assigned as a field agent in Southeast Asia because of my capabilities in the two main Chinese languages. Instead, I was told to stay at Langley because of my expertise in Chinese translation. I don't care for the job. I need to be out in the field."
Morgan chuckled. "Sticking you in a building to translate is a certifiable waste of your talents, Agent Phillips. You were a recon marine. You're used to action. You know how to think outside the box in a dangerous situation. And you're used to relying on the other members of your team."
Feeling a wave of relief, Mace nodded. He knew Morgan had been a captain in the Marine Corps. The man was a living legend among the U.S. military services. In the closing days of the Vietnam War Morgan's company had been overrun and only he and another man survived. Mace respected Morgan Trayhern. When he'd found out the assignment would mean working with Morgan, he thought he'd died and gone to heaven. Until he learned he had to have a female partner. That part sucked.
"We had twenty-five applications for this mission," Houston added. "We chose you because Morgan here knows that marine recons are specially trained for teamwork."
Morgan leaned forward on his elbows to hold Mace's gaze. "Now, Agent Phillips," he said, softening his deep voice slightly, "if you're going to sit there and tell me you positively can't work as a team member, then we will have to release you back to Langley."
Excerpted from Wild Woman by Lindsay McKenna Copyright © 2005 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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