Authors: Lisa Phillips
Tags: #dpgroup.org, #Fluffer Nutter
DANGER IS HER ALIAS
As a spy, Sabine Laduca works alone. But when she investigates her brother’s murder, she’s forced into an uneasy alliance with his Delta Force team leader. The CIA taught Sabine to trust no one, and Sergeant Major Doug Richardson is no exception. The handsome soldier hides his own secrets, but nothing will stop Sabine from finding out who killed her brother. Not even when the CIA declares her rogue. Now not only is the killer after her, so is the agency. For the first time, she needs someone—Doug. Because only he can help her find the truth…and only he can keep her safe….
“Why are you here?” Sabine asked.
“I don't suppose you'll accept saving you from an intruder as an answer,” Doug replied.
“Not likely, since I had it handled.” Sort of.
As nice as it would be to believe that, he couldn't have known she'd needed saving at that very moment. She had to stay upright. If not, Doug would probably throw her over his shoulder and take her to whoever he reported to for that questioning he'd threatened her with.
Was he friend or foe? He acted as if he cared. But then at times he was like a runaway train. Nothing would stop him from getting what he wanted.
He broke into her thoughts. “Thinking about running again?”
“I wasâ” Her voice gave out. Sabine touched her throat. It was tender from the intruder's grip. She sucked in a deep breath. It was all she could do.
“Sabine.” His voice sounded far away, like he was speaking underwater.
The floor swept up toward her and Sabine descended into darknessâ¦.
A British expat who grew up an hour outside of London, Lisa attended Calvary Chapel Bible College. There she met her husband who’s from California, but nobody’s perfect. It wasn’t until her Bible College graduation that she figured out she was a writer (someone told her). Since then she’s taken the Apprentice and Journeyman writing courses with the Christian Writers Guild, and discovered a penchant for high-stakes stories of mayhem and disaster where you can find made-for-each-other love that always ends in happily ever after.
Lisa can be found in Idaho wearing either flip-flops or cowgirl boots, depending on the season. She leads worship with her husband at their local church. Together they have two children, a sparkly Little Princess and a Mini Daddy, and two bunny rabbits.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For my brother Fluffer Nutter, who read all fifty-seven thousand versions of my Speed Date pitch before declaring it was FINE.
I guess it was.
hat is she doing here?” Army Sergeant Major Doug Richardson hissed out a breath as three guys crowded around him in the commandeered apartment, his Delta Force teammates.
Doug put his eye back to the viewfinder. The glass-fronted bistro across the street was next door to a swanky hotel. The eatery was the current location of their target, who sat at the crowded restaurant bar with his aviator sunglasses on like some kind of hotshot movie star. Doug felt his teammates gather around him—Barker, Hanning and Perkins. The fifth member, Franklin, was positioned in the hotel lobby.
Doug had to be mistaken. Was it really her? Surely there were other women in the world with that stride, with the same dark—almost black—hair that caught the light like that?
But there she was.
She glanced around the restaurant like she was looking for an empty seat. Of course the only one available was the stool beside the target. She had no idea who this guy was. Or that this was a golden opportunity for his team to observe Christophe Parelli conducting business. And there she was, right in the middle of it.
The woman he’d met a handful of times was quiet and well-spoken—not the type to smile like that at the man who had financed her brother’s murder.
Their team had hoped Parelli would meet with the person he worked for. In an ideal world, the guy would be here to meet the person known only as the Raven.
Years of team effort would pull together in a result that brought them the mysterious head of the crime syndicate they’d been chasing for what seemed like forever. The idea that Sabine might be Parelli’s contact was insane. Doug wasn’t even going to entertain the idea that she might be the Raven, because that meant everything he felt was wrong.
At the funeral she’d stood alone beside her brother’s grave while the wind had whipped her hair around her face. The weight of her grief had about killed Doug. He’d almost missed the strain when she was handed the folded-up flag, but it had been there. If anyone touched her, it would have broken the tight hold she had on her emotions.
That was two weeks ago now, and Doug hadn’t been able to get her out of his head since. Though he’d had an instinct that this mission was going to go wrong, the last thing he thought it might be was her. She was supposed to be at home, grieving the loss of her brother.
Not in the middle of the operation to bring down the man who killed him.
Doug growled, then simply said, “Sabine.”
* * *
Sabine Laduca settled herself on the stool and signaled the bartender. Her stomach churned, but she pasted on a smile. “Diet soda, please.”
She smoothed down the skirt of her dress and walked her mind through her training. Her whole adult life had prepared her for this moment, and she could not screw it up. Years of instruction with the CIA, coupled with years of missions that took her all over the world and tested her beyond her skills... It all came down to now.
The man beside her was handsome enough, she supposed, if you went for the overly styled Mediterranean-playboy type. That wasn’t Sabine’s thing. Her type ran more toward a gorgeous Delta Force team leader with almond-colored skin.
The man who seemed to always be on her mind was the perfect mix of a tall African-American army general and a beautiful Caucasian woman. She’d seen a picture of his parents only once and didn’t know too much about them, but it was easy to tell he’d been given the best features from both.
Sabine shifted in her seat and shot the target a cordial smile, like she was perfectly content with her own thoughts.
It really was too bad that life threw a wrench in every single plan she made. Not so much disrupting her dreams, but more like completely obliterating them. Just not this plan—please—because this mission was more important than anything she’d ever done.
Contact with the target wasn’t sanctioned, but she needed Parelli’s fingerprint to gain access to his hotel room. There were other ways she could have gotten it, but there was no way she was going to pass this up.
This was her chance to look in the eyes of the man who had financed her brother’s murder.
Despite being a fully trained agent for years, she’d never killed anyone. It almost seemed fitting for this man to be her first. Except that revenge would be way too easy. Sabine wasn’t after quick and painless; her broken heart cried out for the complete destruction of everything this man held dear—which for this guy was money and nothing else.
Retrieving the hard drive from his computer was only the first step of the plan. Her handler’s instructions were clear: no bloodshed and no emotions—just get the computer data and get out. The tech guys he passed the hard drive to would do the rest of the work.
She glanced at the target and realized he’d pulled his sunglasses down his nose with one finger and was taking her in. Sabine pursed her mouth and put on her best British accent. “Lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
He flashed his bleached teeth. “This is the Caribbean. Unless it’s hurricane season, it’s always lovely weather.”
She laughed, trying her best to sound charmed. Her phone rang, stalling what she’d been about to say. It took everything in her to hold back her surprise at the number on screen, but she smiled as though delighted.
“Hello?” How long would it take him to ask why she’d put on a British accent?
“What do you think you are doing?”
She blinked. That was all the reaction she allowed to the fact that he’d roared. “Is everything okay, darling?”
“No, everything is not okay. Get up and leave the restaurant. Now.”
He knew where she was. Sabine transferred the phone to her other ear. Hopefully the target hadn’t heard Doug shout. She wasn’t about to let the Delta Force soldier interfere in her CIA-sanctioned mission. Too bad he was still yelling, which meant she couldn’t get a word in. Didn’t the army know that an operative was going to be here?
“You have no idea what you’re in the middle of.”
And he had no idea that she wasn’t a banker, but a spy.
Or did Doug think she was chasing her brother’s killer on her own? Either way, he needed to get off the phone. “Of course, darling, that sounds like a splendid idea. I’ll meet you there once I’ve finished at the shops.”
“No delays, Sabine. This better not be what I think it is.”
The bartender removed the target’s drink and replaced it with a fresh one.
“I go where I want, when I want. As I said, I’ll be there when I’ve finished.” She hung up.
“He wishes.” She held out her hand to the target. “I’m Sabine.”
He kissed her knuckles. “Christophe Parelli.”
Like his name was supposed to mean something to her? Well, it meant something, all right, and none of what she knew was good. It meant the son of a weapons dealer being groomed to take over Daddy’s business. It meant too much money and too little sense. In general, trouble with a capital
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, but I must dash. The day is waning, and there’s still plenty of his money to spend.”
Across the restaurant she looked back over her shoulder to smile and wave, but his attention was already elsewhere. She skirted the edge of the bar, swiped his empty glass from the tray and strode in the direction of the restrooms. With the glass tucked away in the mammoth purse she’d bought online because it went with her dress, Sabine went down the hall past the ladies’ room all the way to the exit door at the end.
* * *
Five minutes later Sabine placed the image of Christophe Parelli’s fingerprint on the hotel room’s door scanner and covered it with the base of her thumb. The reader needed body heat, but she didn’t want to confuse it with two overlapping prints. The light on the scanner switched to green, and the lock clicked open.
Doug’s team was probably here on the same mission. Too bad for them that she was going to get to Parelli’s computer first. She’d always had a problem with sharing.
Her steps were muffled on the plush carpet. Despite the price tag that came with this suite, it was still just a hotel room. Something inside her yearned for home, but she pushed it away. Now wasn’t the time for that.
The desktop was bare. The safe in the bedroom closet was shut and locked. Sabine entered the code she’d memorized and held her breath.
She drew out the laptop, flipped it over and pulled a screwdriver from her purse. The hard drive slid out into her hand. She secured the cover again, set the laptop back in the safe and glanced at the watch face on her bracelet.
Still enough time to search the room.
Clothes were strewn over every available surface, and the bathroom counter was cluttered with men’s hair-care products. Sabine rolled her eyes. It wasn’t like he was a movie star or a male model or anything like that.
Satisfied there was nothing else worth taking, she turned to exit the suite.
The lock on the outer door clicked.
Her breath stuttered and a blue baseball cap appeared between the now open door and the frame. She shoved the hard drive in her purse and blanked her face.
Doug’s gaze found her in the middle of the bedroom—dark caramel eyes that gave nothing away. He filled the doorway, so tall that, if he didn’t shave his head, his hair could have touched the frame. So wide it was a wonder he didn’t get stuck. Sabine was tall herself, but Doug made her feel small in a way that had nothing to do with self-worth and everything to do with comfort.
Her brother had been skinny and baby faced his whole life—even at thirty-one years old, Ben had looked more like a kid playing dress-up in his uniform than an actual soldier. Doug, on the other hand, made that dark green dress uniform look good. Mouthwateringly good.
Today his navy blue T-shirt was damp with the heat of the day, and his cargo shorts and ball cap were every tourist’s go-to apparel. Only there was nothing about him that blended in.
Doug closed the door and held up the clear plastic with Christophe’s fingerprint on it. She shut her eyes. She’d left it on the scanner. She wanted to reprimand herself over such a simple mistake, but put a hand on her hip instead. “What are you doing here?” Her voice shook more than she’d have liked, but it was too late now.
“What am I— Seriously? That’s what you’re going with?” He glanced around the room. “Let me guess...CIA?”
She stiffened. He wasn’t supposed to get it right the first time.
“Did Ben know about this?”
Her stomach surged like a storm-fueled wave. “You don’t get to talk about my brother.”
He stepped closer. “This is about him, right? Ben is the reason why we’re all after Parelli.”
She hated that he pitied her. And that his voice had to go soft. He’d been there when Ben was murdered by a sniper on what was supposed to be a routine mission. As far as she was concerned, that meant Doug was responsible.
“We need to talk but not here. Let’s go.”
Sabine blinked. “Excuse me? I happen to be working.”
Doug looked away. “Copy that, California.” He surged forward. “Someone’s coming. We have to hide.”
Apparently “California” was the handle of the newest member of Doug’s team—the electronics expert who had replaced her brother, Ben. She didn’t want that thought to touch her, but the knife slipped in, anyway.
She loved Ben’s old team: Barker, the big African-American Texan who always smiled; Hanning, who looked like a male model in his designer clothes; Franklin, so ordinary in appearance that she had almost overlooked him, until she got to know him and found out his heart was large.
Doug dragged her to the closet and closed the partition door so they were shrouded in darkness. He pulled on her arm and tried to get her to move deeper into the closet, but she shrugged him off.
“Sabine,” he hissed.
Nose to the wood, she studied the suite through the slim gap in the door. “They’re here.”
Christophe Parelli sauntered in and tossed his sunglasses on the bed. A woman followed him, wearing a red dress similar to Sabine’s. She, too, had long, dark hair. In fact, the resemblance was so striking that Sabine sucked in a breath through her nose.
The woman moved to the fridge in the corner and pulled out a glass bottle of amber liquid. She took her time pouring two drinks and then handed one to Christophe. With the limited view Sabine had, she couldn’t make out the woman’s features. Her bearing was familiar, but Sabine couldn’t place where she’d seen her before.
Doug touched Sabine’s shoulder. She took another deep breath and expelled it, low and slow. As soon as the woman and Parelli left, then Doug and Sabine would be able to get out of there.
Christophe held up his glass. “A toast, to a beautiful relationship.”
“Yes.” The woman took a sip of her drink, while she watched Christophe swallow his. “Too bad it cannot continue.”
Christophe jerked. The glass fell. It hit the carpet with a dull thud. His hand grasped his throat. “What did you do?” His voice was raspy.
Though the woman laughed, there was no humor in the sound. “You didn’t think I could let you live, did you? So naive. You, my dear, are a liability, and liabilities must be eradicated.”
Christophe dropped to his knees, wheezing. Doug pulled on her arm as he tried again to draw her away from the horrific scene, but she held fast. Something about the woman would help identify her. Anything was better than admitting Sabine was seeing someone take their last breath. Again.
Doug’s hand slid from her elbow, and he stilled her fingers with his.
The woman sighed. “I know it pains you to hear it. But you are one small part, an insignificant part that I cannot allow to remain free. So goodbye, my dear. It really was a pleasure.”
Christophe collapsed to the floor. Sabine could barely see his chest move. The woman strode from the room, leaving the door wide open.
Doug opened the closet door. “Copy that, California. Ten minutes.”
Sabine forced her gaze away from the dead man. “What?”
“Rendezvous. Let’s go.”