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Authors: Doranna Durgin,Virginia Kantra,Meredith Fletcher

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Femme Fatale

BOOK: Femme Fatale
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CONFIDENTIAL

From the desk of Barbara Price, Stony Man Farm

In this file you’ll find the necessary information to bring you up to speed on Stony Man Farm’s latest mission. International terrorist Kapoch Egorov continues to elude the world’s grasp. It is now up to us to find him and bring him to justice before he unleashes his deadly weapon across the globe. Our three top agents—our Femmes Fatale—are already on the case.

First you’ll observe Bethany Riggs in South Africa. Her mission, code name “Shaken and Stirred,” is to escort a key witness to safety. But be alert. We’ve reason to believe that British Intelligence has sent their own agent, Jason Chandler, to capture the witness for their own purposes. If he and Bethany cross paths, the results could be explosive.

Next you’ll find agent Kylee Swain operating under the call sign “The Get-Away Girl.” Her career as a movie stuntwoman has always been the perfect cover to place her anywhere—except near ex-CIA agent Mick Stone.

Finally, for an assignment we’ve dubbed “End Game,” we’ve enlisted Victoria Grayson, the brilliant computer hacker who can outsmart any criminal. Her only known weakness: DEA Agent Bishop Tyler.

These three women are beautiful, intelligent…and deadly. And Egorov will stop at nothing to defeat them. There’s no way to predict which remote regions of the world this mission will take us to, or what lengths we’ll be forced to go to in order to complete it. But rest assured, no matter what it costs, these women will
always
get their man.

B. Price

DORANNA DURGIN

obtained a degree in wildlife illustration and environmental education, then spent a number of years deep in the Appalachian Mountains, riding the trails and writing science fiction and fantasy books. This award-winning author eventually moved to the Northern Arizona Mountains, where she still rides and writes, focusing on classical dressage with her Lipizzan. There’s a mountain looming outside her office window, a pack of dogs running around the house and a laptop sitting on her desk—and that’s just the way she likes it. You can contact her at [email protected] or P.O. Box 31123, Flagstaff, AZ 86003-1123 (SASE please) or visit http://www.doranna.net/.

MEREDITH FLETCHER

doesn’t really call any place home. She blames her wanderlust on her navy father, who moved the family several times around the United States and other countries. The one constant she had was her books. The battered trunk of favorite novels followed her around the world when she was growing up and shared dorm space with her in college. These days, the trunk is stored, but sometimes comes with Meredith to visit A-frame houses high in the Colorado mountains, cottages in Maine, where she likes to visit lighthouses and work with fishing crews, and rental flats where she takes moments of “early retirement” for months at a stretch. Meredith has a number of books planned involving women much like Kylee Swain in “The Get-Away Girl.” Interested readers can reach her at [email protected]

VIRGINIA KANTRA

credits her enthusiasm for strong heroes and courageous heroines to a childhood spend devouring fairy tales. A three-time Romance Writers of America RITA
®
Award finalist, she has won numerous writing awards, including the Golden Heart, Maggie Award, Holt Medallion and
Romantic Times
W.I.S.H. Hero Award. She loves to hear from readers. You can reach her at [email protected] or c/o Silhouette Books, 233 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10279.

DORANNA DURGIN
VIRGINIA KANTRA
MEREDITH FLETCHER
Femme Fatale
SHAKEN AND STIRRED

Doranna Durgin

This is for Pat and Kathy, and in memory of Carol—
for passing along the love and skills of this genre.

Dear Reader,

Greetings from the Northern High Country in Arizona. This is one of those great days to put the final touches on a project—there’s snow on the San Francisco Peaks, intensely blue sky all around and the crisp air of a high-altitude, early-winter day. But much as I love it here, I also had a great time with Beth and Jason exploring South Africa. Not only did I learn about a fascinating locale, but Beth and Jason were a hoot.

In planning a story, one creates characters with a certain intent, but it’s like casting actors—until you put them together and let them loose, you never quite know how the chemistry will turn out. These two grabbed the story and went romping off, leaving me writing as fast as I could just to keep up. Who knows what they would have gotten up to if I’d taken a day off!

The other unique part of this project was the chance to write as part of a continuing story arc—with two writers I very much admire, in a genre I’ve long enjoyed and, as a science fiction and fantasy writer, hoped to join. Variety—and love!—is the spice of life. The experience has been a pleasure, and I’m grateful to have been invited.

I hope you enjoy Beth and Jason’s exploration of how two very different people can mesh as partners, as well as the stories that follow—and ultimately, the larger story arc that encompasses them all.

Doranna

Chapter 1

S
omehow it’s
always
a warehouse.
Bethany Riggs ran through the mental checklist of the weapons at her disposal, checked again that her Sig-Sauer P226 was an easy reach in the square cargo pocket of her deceptively casual squall parka, and eased out into the predawn gloom surrounding the entire dock area.
Not always a warehouse in Cape Town, South Africa…but a warehouse nonetheless.

Tonight…she’d bring a spy in from the cold.

Making a mild face at the drama of the thought, Beth hunched her shoulders into her medium-weight parka, chilled by hours of lurking in the fifty-degree night. She’d arrived early to scope out the site after Lyeta Denisov made contact late the evening before, leaving Beth no opportunity to examine the southern arm of the Table Bay docks in the daylight. A long jetty filled with warehouses, cargo docks and the mixed atmosphere of diesel fuel and sea foam, it was the perfect location for a late-night meet.

If only she’d had the chance to vet it more thoroughly.

Then again, neither had anyone else, which was no doubt Lyeta’s intent. There were plenty of people who wanted Lyeta Denisov…wanted her back, wanted her stopped…wanted her dead.

But Beth was the one who would get her—albeit on Lyeta’s terms. The Russian woman, betrayed by her lover and hunting both safety and revenge, offered information on the man’s internationally notorious, terrorist-friendly spy organization in return for protection. Beth’s handler from Stony Man Farm was only too glad to give it to her. Stony Man, MI6, the CIA…they all wanted spymaster Kapoch Egorov. But after a botched rendezvous with the CIA, Lyeta had turned to Stony Man. As black as black ops got.

Yeah, I’d be careful, too.
Beth crouched briefly at the end of the long series of warehouses and cargo cranes, comfortable in the black leg warmers she’d pulled up over low-riding jeans. Her flexible high-top dance sneaks weren’t the warmest footwear, but left her confident she could move exactly when and how she wanted. Soon enough Lyeta Denisov would arrive, just before the docks began the slow warm-up steps that led to the daily rhythms of activity. For now, only one ship floated beside the long, straight dock; the cargo containers were neatly stacked inside the warehouses, leaving the dock itself empty and desolate. The heavy scent of the nighttime sea lay over the area, and the constant rhythm of the waves lapped against Beth’s ears.

One might even call it peaceful.

Beth didn’t. The underlying tension of the night kept her alert and ultra-aware of the open nature of this area, and of its vulnerability. Too many exit scenarios called for diving into the cold, cold water of Table Bay; too many possibilities led to entrapment at the end of the jetty.
The looming skeletons of the stationary cargo cranes offered so much visual clutter in their foreshortened lineup that she found it nearly impossible to decipher the structure of one from another. Still, she pulled a Phantom night vision scope from one of the parka’s roomy pockets, sweeping its monocular view across the docks, across the ship deck, up and down the line of cranes. The man she’d previously spotted on the ship hadn’t moved. He remained slumped over the far rail, the thick glowing dot of his cigar marking his position. There was no one else in evidence.

Which didn’t mean they weren’t here. Lurking, as she was. Hidden.

She glanced down at her sturdy field watch. Not much longer. Then she’d have to come out from hiding and so would Lyeta Denisov. They’d meet, assess each other…and then Lyeta would come with Beth.

Or she wouldn’t.

Well, she wouldn’t actually have a choice, not once things progressed that far. Barbara Price of Stony Man Farm had made it quite clear that Stony Man wanted this woman.
Wanted.
And without a safe haven, Lyeta Denisov’s days were numbered.

Beth swept the area again, glanced at her watch, and tucked the Phantom scope away. She stood, shook out her legs, and bounced up and down in place a few times. No dancer went out onto the stage without warming up, and this performance would be pure improv. Maybe a casual stroll, maybe some nice modern aerobic work…

She started off with the casual stroll, breaking cover from the warehouse to walk the long dock without apparent concern. Her hands, tucked into her pockets for warmth, curled around the Sig’s custom Nill-Grips on her left and a collapsible baton on her right.

Since 1652 this port had earned its nickname for the warm welcome and supplies it offered weary travelers.
Tavern of the Seas.
Time to see just how warm a welcome Lyeta Denisov would receive.

Or if she’d show up at all.

Beth walked the length of the dock, hesitated at the far end to check the area with her nightscope—cigar man had finished his smoke and gone below, but she saw evidence of no one else. Except…except there was a rounded shadow by the warehouse, and it caught Beth’s eye. Closer examination revealed nothing specific, but she’d learned long ago to heed her eye. The skin up the back of her legs tightened, all the way up the back of her thighs and higher.

Here we go.

She walked back out on the dock, dawdling conveniently near the shadow she’d seen.

The shadow did not disappoint her. Hard soles scuffed the pavement, just enough of a clue so Beth whirled to face the shadow spot, abandoning subtleties.

“Not a good place for a walk,” said the man who emerged from those shadows, a burly fellow with all the bulky muscle of a dock laborer readily evident under his thin jacket. He spoke with the thickest of South African accents, words clipped and difficult—although Beth had no difficulty following his meaning, no difficulty at all. “I was getting cold, till I saw you.”

“Go away,” she said shortly. “I’m busy.”

“American,” he said, not sounding surprised so much as pleased. “I’ve never had an American.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She made a shooing motion. “Busy, I said. Go away.”

“Americans are nice,” he said, moving closer. He had a billed cap pulled down over lank hair, enough stubble
to count up a week or so, and the definite odor of old beer. “But so ignorant of other places, other cultures. They make stupid mistakes all the time.”

Annoyed, Beth said, “Possibly I’m stupid, but I’m
not
nice.” A glance at her watch inspired an inward curse at the oaf’s timing. She walked away, brisker now, wanting to put distance between them before things escalated into an exchange that might distract her.

He made no attempt at stealth; two long strides and he was upon her, his hand—the one she’d been waiting for—landing heavily on her shoulder and clenching the fabric of her parka. He spun her back around, but the anticipation on his face turned to surprise as she offered no resistance, moving easily under his hand—adding her own spin to his pull so she came around quicker than he’d ever considered. She saw that, too, on his face—just before she gave the baton an expert flick to extend it, whipping it across the big muscle of his thigh.

He gave a supremely startled
“Uh!”
bending over the pain to come face-to-face with the barrel of her Sig. She tucked the muzzle under his chin and lifted his face to look up at her. “His name is Wyatt,” Beth cooed, lifting the muzzle just enough to let the end sight dig into stubbled skin. “Steadier than any boyfriend I ever had, but prone to premature…ejaculation, if you get my drift. Now…did I hear you say something about going away? Perhaps about walking in the opposite direction, really fast? Because as I think I’ve already mentioned…I’m busy.”

Through clenched teeth he said, “Wouldn’t…want…to…keep…you.”

“Funny, that’s what most of my men say,” Beth told him, stepping back just far enough to indicate she would give him the chance to leave.

He took it. Hobbling, cursing—“You befok, stukkie!”—he headed up the dock and went beyond, toward the dawn-quiet Victoria and Albert Waterfront. Where American tourists
belonged.

Unfortunate for him that Beth was far from a tourist. She spared him not a second thought, replacing Wyatt in her pocket and collapsing the baton against her hand.

“Pig.”
The words came from a deeper darkness beside the building, laced with disdain and a cultured Russian accent. “You should have hurt him.”

“I did,” Beth said mildly.
Now here’s a woman packing a grudge.
“He deserved more, but he wasn’t worth jeopardizing my contact with…you.”

“Yes. With me.” Lyeta stepped away from the stack of pallets leaning up against the building. The scant moonlight painted her hair dark and her eyes impenetrable, but there was no mistaking her lean elegance, or the costly cut of the long, muted coat she wore. “You have come with proof that you are who I expect? You are Flash?”

“Sure,” Beth said. Flash for
Flashdance.
Too cute, but all hers. “If I’d been anyone else, I’d have screwed up just then. I didn’t. Let’s go.”

“So simple.” Lyeta said the words with amusement. “You don’t even ask for the information I promised?”

“I say we get away from these docks before we run into any more of its friendly inhabitants. We can be a nice cozy hotel room before the dockworkers show up. You don’t come up with the goods there, I can still walk away and leave you to everyone else.”

“You could have someone waiting at that cozy hotel room.”

“You choose it, then. Though you’re going to have to trust me at some point—or else stay behind.” Not that
Beth would let it happen. But for now, Lyeta could think as much.

Lyeta tipped her head back to eye Beth, her shoulder-length hair swinging slightly with the movement but not as freely as it might have. Dirty, Beth thought. Wherever Lyeta had spent the night, it hadn’t been a cozy hotel room. At least, not one with running water. Then the woman gave a sudden sigh. “It does not do to stand out in the open.”

“Your choice,” Beth reminded her, keeping the woman in her peripheral vision as she gave the dock another once-over. Mr. Friendly could come back. He could even bring Mr. Friendly II, or a whole gang of Mr. Friendlies.

“I did not know when I chose this place…” Lyeta hesitated. “There have been attempts,” she said. “Your CIA, I am certain—the debacle at my attempted meet with them was no coincidence. They are not secure.”

“Not
my
CIA,” Beth said with a little snort. “Come on, then. Plenty of hotels right here on the waterfront. We’ll give each other narrow-eyed looks for a while, you can hand over your little token of good faith, and we’ll call for room service.” Not exactly standard room service…Lyeta might need food, but she wouldn’t get it until she was packed up in a nice anonymous car headed for the airport and Stony Man’s waiting jet.

“My
little token of good faith,
” Lyeta said, offended. “Only the innermost workings of Egorov’s organization, laid out for your pleasure.”

More than offended. There was pain behind that affected haughtiness.

“It’s true,” Beth said, recalling her briefing. That they were lovers…and that Egorov, dying or not, had begun
jockeying his fortune around, making plans to shut Lyeta out. “You
do
love him.”

“He betrayed me.” Lyeta’s voice turned chipped-ice cold. She tightened the belt on her already sleek coat and stepped out beside Beth, setting a stiff pace.

“So you betray him,” Beth said. “Natch. That’s the way it works, isn’t it?”

“I buy my own safety, first and foremost.” Lyeta’s boot heels clipped against the pavement, masking Beth’s nearly silent progress. Then her pace faltered, and a softer, saddened tone made a brief appearance in her voice. “It is of no matter. He dies soon anyway. Nothing I do here today will truly reach him.”

For Kapoch Egorov was dying. Lyeta’s information would give Stony Man the ability to strike his organization during its most vulnerable time…the leadership transition after Egorov’s death.

“He’ll know you did it,” Beth pointed out as they approached the last of the cranes. “That would sure as hell annoy me, if I were in his shoes. It would
reach
me.”

Lyeta stopped, whirling to face her with a cold ferocity that spoke of her formidable nature…and told Beth just exactly how this woman had survived and flourished within Egorov’s cutthroat organization. She reached inside her camel-hair coat and only the coolly aristocratic arch of her fine brow kept Beth’s finger from tightening on the trigger of the gun that, as quickly as that, filled her hand. Still within its pocket, but Lyeta had no doubt of its presence, and Beth made no pretense of hiding it.

They locked gazes for a long moment, and then Lyeta brought out a minidisc, dangling it between her first and second fingers in a graceful gesture. Beth took it without removing her gaze from Lyeta’s, her own fingers brushing against gloves of the finest, supple kid leather. Lyeta said,
“There. That is the information I have for you. In exchange for this early gift, you will not burden me with your opinions.”

Beth shrugged, opening her parka just enough to tuck the mini CD into the flat zippered pouch velcroed inside her jeans behind her hip. Snug fit. “Okay,” she said. “But let’s not dawdle, huh? Did you know that an average four-foot, ten-second wave puts out more energy than 35,000 horsepower per mile of coast? And these waves are
cold,
besides. I don’t want to have to find out just exactly how cold and energetic.”
In other words, we’ve been out in the open long enough already—

Too long.

The crack of the rifle hit Beth’s ears the same moment Lyeta jerked backward, her expression stunned. Even as Lyeta crumpled, Beth grabbed her by the shoulder of her expensive coat and yanked her toward cover, scrambling to get them both behind the massive steel leg of the crane.

“Told you,” Lyeta gasped in a breathy whisper. “CIA—”

“Why would
they
kill you?” Beth said fiercely, yanking Lyeta’s coat open to assess the damage. “They might
want
you, yes, but kill you?” Seeing the dark stain across Lyeta’s chest, she didn’t bother reaching for her miniflashlight. Dawn’s faintest light told her everything she needed to know, and she patted the coat back into place with resignation. Damn it, this woman was her charge, in
her
hands. She looked up along the line of cranes. Perfect sniper nest even with the scrutiny she’d given it, and the very reason Beth wouldn’t have chosen this location…but Beth had not been consulted about location.

BOOK: Femme Fatale
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