In Jeanne Adams's electrifying thriller, a beautiful CIA agent and a security expert find themselves in a desperate race against time. . .
Security expert Gates Bromley's number one priority is protecting art collector Dav Gianikopolis. But when he joins forces with CIA Agent Ana Burton tracing several pieces of stolen art, Gates is distracted by the leggy brunette who stirs up the raciest thoughts. . .
After botching an operation that cost her colleagues' lives, Ana has been reassigned to cold cases. When news gets out that she's reopened a case involving stolen art and five brutal murders, Ana is almost killed. Seeking comfort in Gates's strong embrace is easy, but surrendering trust to the sexiest man she's ever known isn'tunless Gates can show her that an attraction this hot is worth all the risks. But first he'll have to stop a killer who's bent on keeping the past buried. . .
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Read an Excerpt
Deadly Little Secrets
By Jeanne Adams
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Jeanne Adams
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe bodies lay before her. Five sets of staring eyes, five gruesome deaths mocked her from the shocking clarity of the police photos.
"Five dead," the gravelly voice rumbled in Ana's ear. "A completely cold case, and one fat headache. That's what I got, Agent Burton." Even the noise in the background didn't disguise the irritation in Agent McGuire's voice. "Whoever they were, they were slick, professional, and cold as hell. They left us nuthin' to work with, ya' know?"
Ana Burton scanned the photos, fighting her own horrified reaction. The three meticulous professional, execution-style hits juxtaposed with the tortured bodies of two of the victims. Her stomach clenched. The pictures were painfully graphic; no angle was left to the imagination. In one, the sheer volume of blood pooling around the body made the dead woman look like she was haloed in red. In another photo, a young man lay with arms akimbo, his body ribboned with slashes and his remaining clothing so covered in red that its pattern was obliterated.
"I do know," she replied, pulling herself back from the brink. Her own losses were too fresh, too close to the surface to be looking at this kind of thing. She cleared her throat and refocused on McGuire. "You and Agent Hines, you were all over it," Ana told the retired agent, and meant the compliment. The notes on the cold case-a nine-year-old investigation of art fraud-were meticulous. They also led absolutely nowhere. "I'm hoping new technologies might shake something loose."
McGuire hollered at his grandkids to keep it down before he continued. "Gotta say that it would be good to get those bastards. You saw the case files-two of those people were killed slow. Mean. The art fraud part, that's stealing. Stealin's one thing. Good to catch them for that too, but the killing part? They need to go down, way down, for that."
"Couldn't have said it better, Agent McGuire. I talked to Agent Hines this morning, and he feels the same. Okay if I tap you again, if I come up with something new?"
"I'd be pissed if you didn't, get me?" McGuire's growl was part hopeful, part order this time.
"Got it. I'll be in touch."
They hung up, and Ana noted the conversation in her case log. She'd opened this cold case file two days ago, the second case in her four-month exile to the CIA's San Francisco office and the Cold Case Division. With this one, however, she'd felt the gut-level excitement she got from a real case, a hot one. Much as she didn't want to get involved-she was only on cold cases until her probation hearing-this one had her instincts perking up. Between her art degree, computer expertise, and Agency experience, this one would challenge her every skill set.
Don't get cocky. The self-caution was new. A painful reminder that she'd been tested in Rome and people had died because she was wrong. As horrific as the photos were, at least these people were already dead and buried. Her lips twisted in a grimace. She couldn't kill anyone on a cold case.
She'd already talked to the other agent, the very impatient Agent Hines. He'd handled the legwork on the original crime. Hines was a Senior Special Agent now, covering Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Wyoming. McGuire, on the other hand, had retired to New Orleans. They'd each given her a personal rundown, suggested some new areas to check, and been generally cordial. Neither recognized her name, which was a relief. To them, she was just another agent doing grunt work on a cold-as-ice case.
Her cell phone beeped an incoming text. She read about her best friend's latest scheme, some matchmaker deal. "Jenny," she muttered to the phone as she returned the text. "I don't want to go to some cattle call. Nice men? I don't think so. How many times do I have to tell you those Maximillionaire Matchmaker cocktail parties are a straight-up booty call?"
The image of some millionaire stalking up and down a line of scantily clad models, Jen included, popped into her brain.
Not in the market, she texted back. Remember the migraine?
The headache had actually come from gritting her teeth and resisting the urge to shoot the self-important moron who'd bored her to tears the last time Jen talked her into a social event.
She decided not to mention that part.
Jen was on a mission to get her out of her apartment and into the land of the living, if not the dating pool. She kept saying, "Hey, you used to love it, you were the life of the party."
That much was true. Before Rome, before probation, Ana had loved dressing up, going out, hanging out. Now?
"Not so much," she said, pondering the changes in her life. She had good reasons for holing up at home. The cat needed her. And she needed the cat. And to organize her shoes by color. And to rearrange the spices she didn't cook with. Life outside the apartment was work, and she didn't want to do it. Not right now.
Besides, no one wanted a brooding, gun-toting washed-up CIA Agent for a date.
Through the glass top of her cubicle, she saw Special Agent Pretzky change directions and stalk her way. Ana winced, which increased her self-disgust. Cold-case duty, a safe place for a dangerous, potentially weak link in the Central Intelligence Agency's strong chains, wasn't fun, but working for Pretzky was even less so. Everyone walked on eggshells around her and avoided direct contact. Pretzky had made it obvious she didn't trust Ana Burton, agent-under-scrutiny.
Hell, Ana thought, resigned to another difficult encounter. She didn't trust herself, why would anyone else trust her? Really, the stone-cold silence from the other agents was okay. Some days, Ana didn't even want to talk to herself, which was a sad state of affairs since she was notorious for constantly talking scenarios through out loud.
Pretzky, however, insisted on talking, but she used it as a whip, the way the others used their silence. Neither was pleasant.
"Agent Burton." The woman rounded the corner of Ana's cubicle and stood, hands on hips, glowering her disapproval at the new stack of boxes on Ana's desktop. "That isn't the arms dealer's file." Trust Pretzky to know which files were in the dump truck load of cold files on her desk. She probably had them microbugged.
"An art fraud case from mid-2000. The arms dealer is finished. Here's the report," Ana said as she handed over a file folder with a neatly printed report, in triplicate, enclosed. Since Pretzky expected it, Ana gave her a rundown. "The prime suspect from the old notes didn't do it. I tracked down the guy who did pull the trigger, via DNA, to Nevada. He died in prison. The man confessed to our case, even gave evidentiary proof and signed a confession, but no one bothered to cross the t's and let us know."
A ferocious frown creased Pretzky's brow. "They didn't see fit to notify us?"
"No. It's in my report," Ana said. She'd been waiting for Pretzky to appear so she could hand it over. She'd sent everything else to Closed Files. It would be held there till Pretzky signed off, but it was off her desk.
One cold case down, eight million to go.
Pretzky's "Hmmmm" was more of a growl, but Ana ignored it. She ignored most things these days, except the job, and the cat. And Jen, who refused to be ignored. Withdrawing, of course, was exactly what the department shrink wanted her to admit to, and Jen regularly accused her of.
She practiced the Company line on that one: Deny, deny, deny.
Ana crossed her arms and waited as Pretzky read through the data. It was good, thorough work, and Ana knew it. Not that Pretzky, or anyone else, would admit it, but it was. Ana knew there weren't many agents who could have unearthed the data she had, thought of the angles, pulled the case files, and made the intuitive leaps that got more info and closed the case in two months of digging through old dirt. It was her gift. Or at least it had been.
"Have you sent everything to Closed Files?" Pretzky demanded. It was damned if you do, damned if you don't with her.
"They've got everything, but I sent it with the proviso that you had to sign off." Per regulations. Ana didn't add the last bit.
"What's next?" Pretzky demanded, pointing at the notes next to Ana's computer.
"Like I said, art fraud. Glacier cold, after almost a decade. About ten high-profile victims. Each victim was selling paintings from their collections through various galleries." Ana held up a photo of one of the real paintings. "Real painting leaves one gallery, but a forgery arrives at the buyer's gallery or directly to the buyer. In most cases, the forgery was undetected until the new owner was appraising for insurance. Or on a secondary sale, the forgery was tracked back through the sales to the original owner. The Agency got involved because it was international, and because there were possible international mob connections." She held up the photos of the corpses. "Torture slayings on the East Coast, execution-style killings out here in the Bay Area. Five dead."
"Any DNA or soft evidence to run?"
Ana shook her head. "Professional all the way, probably with inside help. No DNA, no prints." She wouldn't give any of her theories, as she might once have, nor would she speculate or brainstorm. People took that, ran with it, and got hurt. The only thing she added was, "Two or three new databases that may yield leads. We'll see."
"Want to discuss it?" Pretzky said, brusquely. The offer was pro forma; Pretzky didn't want her to agree.
"Not yet." Ana tried not to wince, knowing she was lying. The discussion, the brainstorming, was her favorite part of solving cases, and God knew she loved it; lived for it. Now, though, with the cloud of suspicion hanging over her, she didn't want anyone depending on it. Besides, everyone from Pretzky, to the shrink, to Jen was waiting for her to go back to the old way, the cocky, my-data-analysis-is-gold Ana.
"Hmmm," Pretzky continued to look over the old case notes and Ana's new inquiries. "No connection between the East and West Coast galleries?"
"A couple, but the original team checked them out. Problem is, several of the principals at the galleries disappeared."
"In the wind," Ana agreed. She also agreed with Pretzky's next comment.
"Nobody just disappears. You're going to start there?" "Yes." It was one of her specialties. Finding the unfindable. Nothing made her feel as alive or as worthy of her paycheck as the data mining, the just-in-time analysis she did for field agents. There was right and wrong. Helping find the data that unraveled the puzzles or led to the sources was what she lived for, no matter how much dreck she had to sort through to find the key. In fact, the thrill of the hunt, sorting the wheat from chaff was a rush. And sometimes the nature of the dreck made the find that much more interesting.
The job was everything to her. She just had to hang on and believe in herself and defend her actions. She prayed daily that the final Inquiry Panel cleared her to go back to her real work. If they didn't, she had no idea what she would do.
Pretzky continued to hum in her throat as she read. Finally, after a few more pointed questions about the new project, Pretzky took the closed-case report and stalked away, hunting for other agents to annoy.
"Thanks so much," Ana muttered sarcastically, turning back to her terminal. This case wasn't online, but the data she needed for cross-referencing were. She continued reading the extensive, well-written notes in the original file. The fraud had been perpetrated on a number of Bay Area dealers and collectors, as well as dealers and collectors in a variety of other US and international cities. Rome leapt off the page, but she fought down her immediate reaction to even seeing the word.
The images in her mind were harder to suppress: a bomb designated for the Italian Parliament, the fiery explosion, two agents dead.
When her incoming e-mail alert pinged four times in a row, she almost kissed the monitor, she was so happy for the distraction.
"What have we here?" she wondered, opening the first, only to find a slew of unrelated Italian phrases. The subject box said Please Translate. "Uh-huh, right. For whom?" She was officially out of hard data analysis until she was cleared, so she shouldn't be getting this kind of e-mail. Scrolling through the Italian, she winced at the note at the bottom.
Hey gorgeous! How's the dead zone? Sending this to you 'cause you're the best. Help! It may be Italian, but it's all Greek to me. HaHa. Seriously. Stumped on this one. Literal, it ain't. Luv ya, TJ.
"TJ, why do you keep coming to me?" She nearly whimpered the words. "I almost got you killed and you love me? Why do you do this to me?"
TJ had been one of the additional agents in Rome. He'd nearly gotten killed with the others because of her faulty data assessment. Instead, he'd helped her pick up the pieces, clean up the mess. They'd had a relationship, once upon a time until he accused her of never being willing to open up. She'd accused him of cheating on her. She'd been hurt too much to tolerate that.
They'd both been right, so they stayed friends. A minor miracle.
Once she was back in the States, on probation, he'd continued to send her questions, to publicly note her help in reports, and to praise her work to all and sundry. It was as if he wanted to turn the screws. He said it was to help her remember who she'd been, all the good she'd done.
Sighing, she hit PRINT. She needed to see it in hard copy sometimes, to make sense of it.
The second one was from him as well. It was titled More Greek. It contained one phrase only, which, in this case, was actually in Greek.
The third e-mail was from Pretzky. She'd signed off and sent the report.
The fourth was from Jen.
"Damn it, Jen," she hissed, printing and deleting the e-mail. "Who has a cattle-call date with millionaires at four-thirty on a frickin' Wednesday?" She then backtracked through the coded system, which she'd long ago deciphered, and deleted the e-mail off the delivery server. Personal e-mails were frowned upon even in Cold Cases. She wasn't rocking the boat over another of Jen's goofy plans to get her out of the house.
Obviously Jen was taking personal time off to try out the millionaire dating pool. Pulling out her phone, Ana sent her a text.
Can't go. Translations to do. Calls to make. No time for cattle calls.
It would make Jen laugh, at least. It wouldn't deter her, but nothing did. Within days she'd be after Ana again to try something else in the way of dating or getting out, or taking a class or something. Ana's back still hurt from the yoga experiment.
She slipped the Italian work into her briefcase. She'd look at that tonight.
Her phone rang, and this time, she checked the incoming number. Not Jen. Hmmm.
"Agent Burton," she answered. "To whom am I speaking?"
"Agent Burton, this is Gates Bromley, special assistant to Mr. Davros Gianikopolis." The man's rich, luscious voice filled her ear. "You had called regarding a follow-up on an old case."
She was so mesmerized by the voice, it took Ana a heartbeat to make sense of the words. "Yes. I'd like to make an appointment with Mr. Gianikopolis to discuss his losses in the incident. I'm following up on some new leads."
"I'll be happy to meet with you, get the information, and assess if there's any new data we can add." Holy cow, the man's voice was pure, liquid sex.
For a second, all she could think about was the image of liquid sex. Jeeez, she had to get out more. Jen was right, and she hated to admit it. In the next second, she processed what he'd said and bristled at the high-handed phrasing. Assess the data, my ass. Fabulous voice or not, this guy needed a set-down.
"Mr. Gianikopolis is the insured." She kept her voice brisk, impersonal. "I'll need to speak with him. You are welcome to be present, Mr. Bromley." She put all the I Am An Agent Of The Law insistence she could in her voice. "Which day this week is he available?"
There was a momentary pause, and when Gates Bromley replied, he sounded amused. "Mr. Gianikopolis is in town, but unavailable for the next several days."
"Fine. Tuesday then?" she pushed.
"Ten a.m. at his estate" was the still amused but clipped reply. He rattled off the address.
"I'll be there. Thank you," she added, remembering her manners. She'd gotten her way-didn't hurt to sugar things up. "I won't take much of his time."
"I'll see to that, Agent. Good day."
Excerpted from Deadly Little Secrets by Jeanne Adams Copyright © 2010 by Jeanne Adams. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A CIA field mission in Rome turns ugly leaving dead agents behind. Due to the botched Italy operation, field agent Ana Burton who worked the ill-fated mission is assigned to investigate cold cases in San Francisco. Her current inquiry is almost a decade old as an art fraud case led to five cruel murders. While doing her investigation, Ana meets security expert Gates Bromley who works for art collector Dav Gianikopolis. Soon after they discuss her case and realize their attraction to one another, someone tries to kill Ana. Soon after the attempt on her life, intruders assault the Gianikopolis estate. Gates and Burton know someone wants this case to remain lost in the tundra. Deadly Little Secrets is a terrific romantic suspense investigative tale as a cold case suddenly turns the heat up. Ana is a super lead as her confidence is degrees below zero; she prefers cold cases because the dead are already dead so she cannot be the cause. That is the irony of Deadly Little Secrets. Gates is a wonderful counterpoint to the heroine although some readers might feel he may be too skillful. Either way fans will enjoy this action-packed thriller. Harriet Klausner
Enjoyed this tale. Fast paced, especially at the beginning.
Awesome book loved it