Stuart Woods' Smolder

Stuart Woods' Smolder

by Brett Battles

Narrated by Tony Roberts

Unabridged — 8 hours, 40 minutes

Stuart Woods' Smolder

Stuart Woods' Smolder

by Brett Battles

Narrated by Tony Roberts

Unabridged — 8 hours, 40 minutes

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Overview

AN INSTANT USA TODAY BESTSELLER

In this latest adrenaline-fueled adventure in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, Stone Barrington faces his most vindictive threat yet.


Finally enjoying some downtime in Santa Fe, Stone Barrington agrees to attend an art exhibit with a dear friend. There, he encounters an intriguing woman who is on the trail of a ring of art thieves. Always one to please, Stone offers his help.

From Santa Fe to Los Angeles, it quickly becomes clear that her investigation has links to Stone-particularly to rare Matilda Stone art, his mother's paintings. And when old grudges come to light, Stone is forced to reckon with a familiar enemy. Stone must act fast before whoever is out to get him finally closes in on him . . . for good.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Stuart Wood's Smolder is a page turner from beginning to the exciting end. . . . A welcome addition by Brett Battles who is a perfect choice to continue Stuart Woods novels." —Midwest Book Review

"For fans of the late author, Stuart Woods, Smolder will feel comfortingly familiar . . . Smolder captures the essence of the Stone Barrington series in a style very similar to Mr. Woods . . . the finished product is a clever and entertaining novel that readers of the series will likely enjoy."New York Journal of Books

"Another solid novel . . . Stuart Woods would be proud." —Red Carpet Crash

Product Details

BN ID: 2940175217156
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 06/04/2024
Series: Stone Barrington Series
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 200,239

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Right on time," Herb Fisher said.

One of the Woodman & Weld associates carried an ice bucket with a bottle of Dom Pérignon into Herb's office, followed by another associate holding four champagne flutes.

"I take it you were confident about the outcome," Stone Barrington said. He was a partner at the law firm, and was standing with Herb in front of Herb's desk.

"Weren't you?"

"You've haven't failed me yet."

That afternoon, they'd won a suit for a client to the tune of thirty-two million dollars. Stone had asked Herb to handle the trial and his friend had done a masterful job.

After toasts were made and congratulations shared, the two associates returned to their desks, leaving Stone and Herb alone.

"Did you notice the way Winston Petry looked at you after the verdict?" Herb asked.

"It was hard to miss."

"For a second there, I thought he was going to charge across the courtroom and attack you."

"I wouldn't have been surprised. Petry and I have a history."

"You never mentioned that before."

"It wasn't relevant to the case."

"From his reaction, I'd say it was relevant to him."

Stone shrugged. "That's his problem, not ours."

"Can you tell me now?"

"Back when I was of counsel to Woodman & Weld, one of the firm's clients was sued by Petry for breach of contract. I turned up evidence that he'd falsified his financials to get our client's business, and thus proved the contract had been legally terminated."

"That's a long time to hold a grudge for losing one contract."

With a grin, Stone said, "Because of what I turned up, financial regulators swooped in. My understanding is that Petry barely escaped going to jail and had to close his business. It took him several years to rebound and build up his new company."

"Now I get it, though it doesn't seem to have hurt him too much. He's worth a few hundred million."

"Slippery as an eel, as they say."

"He's going to appeal," Herb said.

"And he'll fail again. Your case is airtight."

Carly Riggs poked her head into the office. "Hello, you two. I heard the good news."

Carly was a fast-rising star at Woodman & Weld. She and Stone had had a passionate but short-lived relationship, ended by mutual consent, as working together and playing together was not a good idea, especially for a promising lawyer just starting her career.

"Herb did the heavy lifting," Stone said.

"Congratulations."

"Care to join us for a glass of champagne?" Herb asked.

"Can't. I'm heading out to an off-site meeting."

"Don't forget dinner at P. J. Clarke's tonight, seven-thirty," Stone said.

Carly grimaced. "Better make it eight-thirty."

"That's going to be one long meeting."

"Two meetings, back-to-back. Invite Dino. He can keep you company until I arrive. See you later." She hurried off.

"Why do I have the feeling she's going to be running this place someday?" Herb asked.

"By someday, I assume you mean next week."

"I wouldn't be surprised."

They clinked glasses.


That evening at P. J. Clarke’s, Stone checked his watch, then signaled the waiter for another round.

"That's not going to make her show up any sooner," Dino said. Dino was Stone's best friend and the police commissioner for New York City.

"Carly's never late."

"She said she'd be here at eight-thirty, right?"

"Yeah."

"It's eight-twenty-six. She's not late yet."

Fresh drinks arrived, Knob Creek for Stone and Johnnie Walker for Dino. Stone took a hardy sip.

"Okay, spill it," Dino said.

"Spill what?"

"Whatever's bothering you."

"Nothing's bothering me."

"Says the man who keeps checking his watch."

"Fine. I just have this strange feeling something's up."

"Like what?"

"If I knew that I would tell you."

Dino started to respond, but then stopped, his gaze drawn to something beyond Stone. "Uh-oh."

"Uh-oh, what?"

"You can stop looking at your watch now."

Stone glanced over his shoulder and spotted Carly walking toward them in the company of Lance Cabot.

"I thought you told him to stay away from her," Dino whispered.

"I did."

"Try saying it loud enough for him to hear next time."

Lance had been eager to poach Carly for the CIA. Stone had disabused him of the idea. Or at least he thought he had.

As the pair reached the table, Dino checked his watch. "Look at that. Eight-thirty on the dot. You're right on time."

"Of course I am," Carly said as she took a seat next to Stone. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"No reason whatsoever."

"Good evening, Dino, Stone," Lance said. "I hope you don't mind if I join you."

"Would it matter if we did?" Stone asked.

"Probably not." Lance pulled out the remaining empty chair and sat.

Their waiter appeared, and Carly said, "Could you give us a few minutes?"

"Of course."

When the man left, Stone asked, "Why do I get the feeling you two didn't just run into each other outside?"

"Our meeting ran long, so I asked Lance to join us for dinner," Carly said.

"Your second meeting was with Lance?"

"It was," she said, as if the answer should have been obvious.

Stone narrowed his eyes at the head of the CIA. "I distinctly recall a discussion in which you promised not to approach Carly until a later date."

Lance held up his hands in mock surrender. "And I didn't. She called me."

Stone turned to Carly, surprised.

"Guilty," Carly said.

"Why would you do that?"

"Research."

"Research?"

"You're the one who told me that Lance was interested in recruiting me. I wanted to find out what that would entail."

"By calling him."

"We've already established that." Carly studied him. "Are you feeling all right?"

"I'm fine. I mean, I'm not fine, but I'm-"

Carly opened her purse. "I have Advil. Will that help?"

"I don't need Advil."

"Is it your stomach? I might have-"

"Carly, I'm not ill."

"You said you weren't fine."

"I didn't mean I was sick. You know what? Forget all that. You called Lance."

"Again, we've already established-"

Stone held up a hand, stopping her. "Let me guess. When he finished his spiel, he offered you a job."

"He did."

"And what did you tell him?"

"Per your instructions, I said no." Stone had made her promise she wouldn't join the Agency until after she'd gained more experience at the firm.

"Good," Stone said, relieved. "Sorry, Lance. You can't win them all."

Lance smirked. "Stone, we both know that's not true. Carly, you should probably tell him the rest."

"There's more?"

Carly nodded. "Lance has offered to let me go through training at the Farm with no obligation to join." The Farm was the CIA's training facility in Virginia.

"I thought it would be helpful to let her get a taste of what working for the Agency would be like," Lance said.

"How altruistic of you."

"Just doing my part to help Carly reach her full potential."

Stone stared at him for a beat, then shifted his attention back to Carly. "And you said yes to this?"

"I did," Carly replied.

"You do realize it's a trap, don't you? Once Lance pulls you in, he's going to do all he can to keep you there."

"Of course it's a trap. I'm smart, remember?"

"I thought you were, but now I'm beginning to wonder."

"You recall what I got on the bar exam, don't you?" Leave it to Carly to take what he said literally. "Perfect score. Did you get a perfect score when you took the bar?"

"I know the answer to that one," Dino said. "He did not."

"Et tu, Brute?"

"What? It's common knowledge."

Stone took a breath, then said to Carly, "When does training start?"

"A new session starts in the morning. Luckily, a slot happened to free up," Carly said.

"Tomorrow morning?"

"You seem to be having problems understanding what I'm saying. Are you sure you're okay?"

Ignoring her, Stone glanced at Lance. "And I bet if I asked, you'd say you had nothing to do with opening a spot."

"Do you really think so little of me?" Lance asked.

In unison, Stone and Dino said, "Yes."

Lance shrugged. "I might have made a call."

"What about the cases you're working on?" Stone asked Carly.

"I talked to Bill Eggers already, and he's agreed to let me take a two-month leave of absence. He said he thought it would be a good opportunity for me, and that you would handle reassigning everything."

Bill was the firm's managing partner. Stone made a mental note to have a word or two with him later.

Seeing that it was a fait accompli, he said, "Promise me one thing. When you finish, don't accept any job offer until you and I have talked through all the options."

She thought for a moment, then nodded. "I promise."

"Well, then," Lance said and stood. "If there are no more questions, we'll be off."

"We?" Stone asked, as Carly rose from her chair.

"Lance is heading back to Langley tonight and has offered me a seat in his helicopter."

"Of course he has."

"Now, now, Stone," Lance said. "No one likes a sore loser."

Stone ignored him. "What about dinner?"

"No time," Carly said. "Besides, I'm too excited to eat."

She waved goodbye and followed Lance out.

The waiter appeared and nodded at Stone's empty glass. "Another?"

"Bring him the bottle," Dino said.

Chapter 2

Benji Madigan eyed the Zurn estate through his binoculars. Decorative exterior lights spread throughout the property, illuminating pathways and entrances, while interior lights glowed from several of the mansion's windows.

On his right, Devin Barnes scanned the property while Lenny "Sticks" Martin, settled on the other side of him, picked at his teeth with the sharpened end of a match.

"Looks the same to me," Benji said. This was their fourth night in a row checking the place out. Like the other nights they'd cased the place, there was no sign of security guards.

Devin lowered his binoculars and nodded. "Good to go as far as I'm concerned."

The mansion was located outside Aspen, Colorado, and was the vacation home of financier Gordon Zurn and his family. The Zurns used it mainly for winter ski trips and the occasional summer getaway, usually around the Fourth of July. The latter had been more than a month ago, and from the info Benji had obtained from a reliable source, they weren't expected back for months.

When the family wasn't in residence, the lodge was occupied by a middle-aged married couple who acted as the caretakers.

As for security, the property was woefully underprotected. While their alarm system was top-notch, given what was inside the house, Zurn really should have sprung for several full-time guards.

Sometimes rich people could be so stupid about what they did and didn't spend their money on.

Benji glanced at the two other members of his crew. "Let's do this."

They returned to their Chevy Malibu. They'd stolen it in Denver and covered the outside in a preprinted vinyl wrap that made it look like it belonged to the local sheriff's department. They'd even mounted an emergency light bar on the roof. To complete the charade, they wore uniforms similar to those worn by actual local sheriff's deputies.

"Okay, Sticks, you're up," Benji said.

Grinning like a child on Christmas morning, Sticks put his phone on speaker and made a call. When it connected, three high-pitched tones sounded over the speaker. He tapped in a four-digit code, then the triple tone played again, triggering his devices to go off, and the line cut out.

Sticks looked up. "Done."

Devin fired up a remote control and flew their drone high into the sky. Benji and Sticks leaned in on either side of him, so they both could see the drone's camera feed on the screen.

The craft was high enough for the camera to take in the entirety of the Zurns' property and much of the dark slope behind it. Everyone's attention was on the latter.

After several seconds, Devin voiced what Benji was thinking, "They're not working."

"Relax," Sticks said. "Just needs a little time."

"It's usually faster than this."

"You saying I don't know what I'm doing?"

"Relax," Benji said. "That's not what he meant."

The last thing he wanted was to upset Sticks. The man was not right in the head even on the best of days.

Before anyone could say anything else, the yellow light of a flame flickered to life on the hillside. A beat later, two more appeared several feet away. Sticks's igniters had indeed worked.

"See," Sticks said. "What did I tell you?"

"Sorry," Devin muttered.

Sticks grunted but let it go.

They watched the fire spread through the underbrush. When it began climbing up a few trees, Benji said, "All right, that looks good enough. Let's get moving."

They hopped into their faux sheriff's car, with Benji behind the wheel. He waited until they reached the gate across the Zurns' driveway before turning on the emergency lights and bathing the area in flickering red and blue light. Leaning out the window, Benji pressed the button on the intercom box over and over until the speaker finally crackled to life.

"Can I help you?" The man sounded sleepy yet surprisingly calm for someone woken in the middle of the night.

"Pitkin County Sheriff's Department," Benji said, sounding urgent. "There's a wildfire nearby. We need you to open the gate for emergency services, then you need to evacuate immediately."

"Fire? How close?"

"Too close to get into a conversation about it. Please open the gate, and then get everyone out of the house."

"Oh, of course, of course."

The gate swung open and Sticks laughed in delight.

"Quiet," Benji hissed, hoping the man on the intercom hadn't heard the outburst.

As soon as the gate was opened wide enough, Benji sped to the house.

"Radios on," he said.

He activated the one in his ear, then jumped out and ran to the front door.

It only took a few knocks with his fist before it flew open. Both caretakers were there, eyes wide and hair disheveled. The woman was loaded with several shopping bags stuffed with who knew what, while the man carried a soft leather briefcase and a half-zipped duffel bag.

Benji put an arm across the door like he was holding it open for them and motioned for them to move. "Get in your car and head into town. Go, go!"

They rushed outside, then stumbled to a stop when they caught sight of the blaze. It had grown to cover a large portion of the slope at the back of the property.

The wife grabbed her husband's arm. "Come on. We need to go!"

He blinked, then nodded. They raced toward the garage and, a few moments later, sped away in a Range Rover.

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