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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Roger Leiland both hated and loved Brazil. On one hand, he'd grown up there professionally. The Trust, the organization he worked for, the one he was now in charge of, had planted him in Rio many years ago. He'd lived there under his alias, Paul Costa, posing as an American businessman selling vaccinations to the Brazilian government. Paul Costa had fallen in love with a woman named Marta and consequently had fallen in love with Brazil itself. But then Marta was gone, dead after a drive-by shooting on the Rodovia dos Lagos Highway. The shooting had left Paul Costa all but dead, too. The Trust had realized he was slipping and pulled him out. Sent him to Chicago, where he was like a walking corpse slowly coming back to life, strangely paralleling his research therethe Juliet Project. Eventually, he'd moved to NewYork where he took solace in the resilience of power instead of the tenuous comforts of love. He climbed the ladder at the Trust until he'd forged an entirely new existence at the top, all the while keeping his thumb squarely on the Juliet Project.
Now, his expertise was needed in Rio again. Technically, he could have sent someone else, but he wanted to prove to himself that he was at the apex of his game, that Rio no longer touched him. He had been back in Brazil for a few weeks, and while he had felt a flicker of longing for his old life, it was only thata flicker. He was a different person now.
He had done his job while here. He'd gotten all the intel he required, and now he was meeting with Elena Mistow. Usually members of the Trust knew each other only by their aliases, and they'd been strictly trained to look no further. But even before he was a board member of the Trust, he knew Elena Mistow's real name. Everyone did. Because Elena Mistow was royalty. Her father had founded the entire organization.
Now, he and the woman called Elena sat at an outdoor café in Santa Terese, a charming area set on a hillside in Old Rio. He tried not to be impressed by Elena. She was younger than he, after all, and his subordinate. But there was her lineage. And her beauty.
Elena was all business. "What do we know about Luiz Gustavo de Jardim? Will he show himself anytime soon?"
"Gustavo will appear in public in the next six months. He has to. He's talking about running for office again, and he needs to thwart rumors that he's already dead."
"Wouldn't that be convenient?"
They both laughed. Nothing was ever easy or convenient with the Trust. They were silent for a minute, sipping coffee that tasted nutty and somewhat ashy. To the many on the street, they probably looked like a couple enjoying a break from the day.
"He'll pull the same stunt he always does," Roger continued. "He'll make his kids and wife surround him."
"The bastard uses them as human shields," Elena said bitterly, which amazed Roger. She still cared about who got hurt.
"It works for him," Roger said. "He's a small man. His wife is the same height. By now one of his sons will probably be taller."
"Audacious," she murmured. "And evil."
"We might have to take out the shields."
They exchanged a long look.
Roger broke the stare first, taking another sip of his coffee and gazing at passersby.
"We've never done that," Elena said. "We've sworn not to."
"It's impossible to infiltrate Gustavo's inner circle
so other measures have to be taken to eliminate him. And times are changing. You know that as well as I."
"No collateral damage. That's always been our rule."
"Everything changes. Don't hold on too tight. Just hold on to our mission. Taking out Gustavo, no matter what the cost, advances our end, and that's still pure."
Elena Mistow peered up at the gray-blue sky. She seemed to study something in the atmosphere. A minute passed, then another. "Jesus," Elena said.
Roger stayed silent. He sensed the searching of her mind, the processing, the emotion. He hoped she would draw the conclusion he'd already made.
Finally, she nodded. "So we take out the shields as a last resort."
Roger permitted himself the faintest of smiles before he raised his cup and took another sip.
One week later
I looked out my kitchen window. The Saturday afternoon sun was lighting the empty swing set and the bare winter ground. Another endless Saturday lay before me. I could remember, in a distant way, a time when my weekends were packed with activity and bursting with possibility.
I picked up the phone and called Liza's cell phone. "It's your sad, pathetic friend Kate," I said when she answered.
"Don't call yourself sad," said Liza.
"Can I still call myself pathetic?"
I laughed. Talking to Liza was about the only thing that got me laughing anymore.
"Are you back?" I asked.
"I was back, and I left again."
"Where were you last week?"
"Montreal. And I got something for you."
Liza Kingsley was always finding gifts for me on her travels. In Tokyo, she bought me a handbag in taupe-colored silk. I carried it for years until the lining began to shred. When Liza was in Budapest, she sent back a handwoven rug swirled with gold and celadon green. She was always going to London and bringing me packets of sweets from Harrods and, once, a cocktail dress in a chocolate brown, which she said would complement my eyes.
She was that kind of a friend. A great friend. Her friendship went beyond thoughtful gifts and a shared history. It was her phone calls and her visits and her cheerleading and her love that had propped me up and sustained me since Scott left.
And now this souvenir from Montreal. "Tell me," I said.
"I found you a man."
I coughed. "What?"
"He's amazing," Liza said.
"I'm not ready to date."
"Kate, it's been ten months since he left. It's time to dip your toe in the waters." A pause. "And look, you're not going to date. You'd just go on a date."
Wind forced one of the swings into the air. A second later, it listed to a halt. "I don't think so."
"His name is Michael Waller." She paused. "And he's French." Now she had a little goad in her voice.
"It's true. Well, he's American, but he's of French descent, and he speaks the language fluently."
"You're taunting me." Liza knew that French men, or at least men who could speak French, were my downfall. It was a trait uniquely embarrassing, because everyone I knew hated French men. Such men were thought pompous. Affected. Liza and I had grown up in Evanston, Illinois, but I'd spent six months after high school in a small town outside Paris, where I fell in love with a boy named Jacques. It was tragic. It was ridiculous. But I was hooked on the accent and the hooded eyes and the utter disdain French men carried for everyone, including themselves.
"It's true," Liza said again. "Of course, it's just one of the six languages he knows."
"Stop." I turned away from the window and leaned against the stainless steel fridge.
"How old is he?"
She cleared her throat. "He's a little older than you."
"Spill it, Liza."
"Michael is a very young fifty-five."
"That's seventeen years older than me!"
"I know, I know, but I wouldn't recommend him if I didn't think he was the perfect rebound man. Remember, this is just for fun."
"But seventeen years?"
"Hey, Scott was our age, and that didn't make a damn bit of difference, did it?"
I squeezed my eyes closed. It stung, yet Liza was absolutely right. The only thing that had made a difference was that I couldn't have a child. Oh, I could get pregnant with a little medical assistanceand I did three times, in factbut such pregnancies always ended in miscarriages. My body rejected the babies, and in return, Scott rejected me. Having a family was the most important thing in the world to him, even more important than his wife. And he was fiercely opposed to adoption. He wanted a baby who was his, he'd said over and over. Strangely, I didn't think I even wanted children anymore. The quest had sucked me dry, left me with little maternal desire. So Michael's age didn't matter in that respect.
"You there?" Liza said.
"Unfortunately. I'm stuck in the house that Scott built."
"I will. Soon. I just can't take any more changes for a while."
"What you need is a good night out with a nice, attractive man."
"And that's it? A night out?"
"That's it. He lives in Vermont but he visits Chicago for business. It's perfect."
"How do you know him?"
"Work. He used to be at Presario. I haven't seen him in years, but I ran into him in Montreal. And how fantastic is this? He's opening a restaurant called the Twilight Club in St. Marabel. It's outside Montreal."
"Exactly how am I supposed to date a man who lives in Vermont and is opening a business in Canada?"
"Have you not heard me? I'm just talking about one date."
"Why don't you date him?"
She made a snorting sound. "He's not my type, and I have no interest in the French thing, unlike you. So can I have him call you? He's coming to Chicago to meet with investors for his restaurant. He's staying at the Peninsula."
"Well, he's got money. I'm telling you, this guy has everything, Katelooks, smarts, money, sense of humor."
I stood away from the fridge and walked into the powder room just outside the kitchen. I flicked on the light and looked at myself in the mirror. "I'd need a haircut," I said. My blond hair, which I normally wore to my chin, had become unruly over the past few months. The too-long bangs had to be pushed aside now and the ends were in desperate need of a trim.
"So get a haircut, for Christ's sake," Liza said. "Get some new clothes, get a massage, treat yourself. Head down to Michigan Avenue and do some Christmas shopping."
"Maybe," I said in a noncommittal way.
The truth was, I'd lacked motivation of any kind since Scott took off. For the first time in my adult life, I hadn't even put up a Christmas tree. All I could manage was to drive to work every day, which was tough since I'd come to despise my job as an accountant at a medical-supply company. Before Scott and I got married, I used to work downtown at a big accounting agency, where we had major clients with interesting portfolios. Most people consider accounting boring, but I've always loved the order of it. My job seemed a challenging puzzle. But once I began working in medical supplies there were very few puzzles. Instead, I was crunching numbers about bedpans and catheters. The job was easier than my old oneand it was just a ten-minute drive from the housebut these things mattered only when Scott and I assumed we'd be having children. At least I hadn't changed my name. My family's name, Greenwood, was the one thing about my life that still felt like mine.
"God, I wish I was there to get you out of that house," Liza said.
"Where are you now?"
Liza had an apartment in Chicago overlooking Lake Michigan, but as the head of international sales for Presario Pharmaceuticals, she was often globe-trotting.
"Your cell phone works in Copenhagen?"
"My cell phone works everywhere. And if it doesn't I forward it to one that does."
"How is Copenhagen?" I asked.
"Are you having any fun?"
"When do I have time for fun?"
"Liza, you can't work all the time."
"Shut up, we're talking about your pathetic life, remember? Let him take you to dinner."
"Someone's got to be. So what do you say?"
I groaned. And yet I felt buoyed just by talking to Liza. She had that effect on me. I glanced out the powder-room window at the lonely swing set. "All right. Have him call me."