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Authors: Doranna Durgin,Virginia Kantra,Meredith Fletcher

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

Femme Fatale (2 page)

BOOK: Femme Fatale
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Lyeta touched her chest, lifting her fingers to see the stain on her glove. “Not the CIA…someone within it. On
Egorov’s payroll. I’m certain of it. He knows I have the key….”

Beth kept one hand on the dying woman and swept her nightscope across the docks, searching for movement. She spotted the sniper up in the middle crane, the one next to them, and then ducked more completely behind the steel pillar as she recognized the characteristic, entirely familiar motion of a male silhouette bringing a rifle to shoulder. An instant later, a bullet pinged sharply off steel, a foot higher than her head.

He’s not very good.
His shooting habits told her so; that Lyeta still breathed told her so. He hadn’t kept his stance or his target; he hadn’t fully reacquired before shooting again. But he had them pinned all the same.

Calculating escape, calculating how much longer Lyeta might live and already patting the woman down for anything that Stony Man might find valuable, Beth nonetheless gave Lyeta a sharp look as the woman drew a painful breath. Already Lyeta’s eyes were losing focus; she looked at her bloody fingertips with a baffled expression…a woman who had escaped death for so long and now couldn’t quite understand what was happening. “I have it,” Lyeta told Beth. “The key to his entire computer system. Not just to get in…the master key. Scherba’s key.
I have it.
I hid it. You…you get it. Take it.”

“Where is it?” Beth said, digging a small pistol from Lyeta’s coat pocket, and taking the neat wad of cash she found in a pouch tucked inside the woman’s short tailored vest. A computer keycard…it would be flat, small, perhaps half the size of a playing card, albeit thicker. If Lyeta had it hidden against a thigh or along her bra strap, there’d be no quick way to get it. Beth pulled out her knife, reluctantly prepared to cut through Lyeta’s clothing. Reluctant…but ruthless. Doing what it took. She gave the
neighboring crane a quick glance, discovering there was now enough gloomy light to see it without the scope.
Then he can see me…
“Lyeta, I don’t have time—where is it?”


He
did this.” Lyeta’s breath came shallow and fast. She didn’t seem to notice Beth frisking her, and her hand sank slowly down to rest on her stomach in spite of her efforts to hold those bloody fingers up where she could see them. “Make sure he pays
before
he dies, you understand? Make sure he knows this came from me….”

“Done,
done,
” Beth said, unable to hide her impatience. An arriving vehicle announced itself with the unhappy chug of its engine and the quick slam of doors. Dockworkers? Or more trouble? “But unless you tell me where it
is—

“The Blue Crane,” Lyeta said, sounding almost dreamy. Her chest gave a strange jerk, her body unable to continue but not quite ready to give up. Her eyes rolled back; her head tilted.

Oh, no, not yet—
Beth grabbed Lyeta’s bloody shirt and pulled her away from the steel pillar against which she leaned.
“Where?”

“Blue…table. Bottom. Tell him…from me.” And Lyeta’s head lolled. The blood welling on her white shirt and deep blue vest, fully visible under the lightening sky, seeped away without being replaced.

Beth made a noise of disgusted frustration and eased the dead woman to the ground. “Great timing, just great. You’ll have to excuse me if I check for myself, just in case those last words of wisdom refer to your favorite childhood playground.” But her hands were gentler and more respectful than her words as she ran her hands over Lyeta’s long legs and womanly body, checking pockets, checking places where women over the centuries had
learned to hide valuables. Finally Beth sat back on her heels in frustration, closing the woman’s coat over her bloodied body.

The new arrivals were nowhere to be seen; nor was the sniper. Not a persistent sort…probably, as Lyeta said, Egorov’s man playing more than one role and with much to lose. Too much, with the dock coming to life around them.

She could say the same for herself. The still isolation of the night had already lost itself to puttering boat motors and an increased road noise; soon the waterfront would be alive with tourists, and this dock thick with workers…and police. Not to mention the lurking CIA, MI6, and whoever else had come out to play.

Beth jammed the few items she’d gleaned from Lyeta into one of her many parka pockets, wiped her bloodstained hands against the dew on the dock pavement, and got to her feet in one swift motion meant to turn into a brisk escape.

But she turned away from Lyeta and froze.

Leaning against the steel pylon closest to the warehouses, a man regarded her with deceptively casual intent. One hand hung loosely by his side; the other disappeared into his open jacket at belt level. Not reassuring. “Find what you were looking for?” he asked, his words shaped by a clipped British accent.

“No,” Beth told him, keeping all thoughts of the minidisc from reaching her face. For this sardonic creature was not of the Cape Town docks. She knew MI6 when she saw it, from the green oilcloth jacket encasing broad shoulders to the black jump boots that betrayed his readiness to move at the slightest provocation. She gave him a quick assessment—just over six feet, balanced in build and, she was willing to bet, hard tuned under that dark
olive oilcloth. It was his haircut that gave away his nature, too short to be casual, just shy of being high and tight. And his eyes—gray and hard. Add in that educated accent…the casual observer wouldn’t look twice, but Beth’s expert examination easily classified him:
Stuffy MI6.
The soldier type, not the deep cover spy.

Too bad he was so easy to look at. Damned waste.

“Shame you killed her for nothing,” he said, nodding at Lyeta’s body.

Beth didn’t turn back. She knew what it looked like. “Not that it matters,” she said, easing her hand toward her pocket, “but I didn’t.”

“No, of course not.” But his gaze went glacier cold, along with those clipped British words. “My hand’s already on my gun, in case you’re wondering.”

“It crossed my mind.” She eased her hand away from the pocket, reconsidering more subtle measures. She’d have to let him get close. Not necessarily a hardship. A pleasure yacht glided across the mouth of the bay in her peripheral vision, its deep engines thrumming beneath the sound of the smaller boats at the waterfront. “I don’t suppose
walk away
is in your little rule book of options.”

The corner of his mouth twitched…annoyance, not amusement. “Not the last time I looked. And I wanted this woman
alive.
We’re going to have to talk about that.”

Ah, great. Hotel room interrogation, quick and dirty…there
were
no rules for such things. It didn’t matter that they might be on the same side—they’d question her until they were sure and then while they were at it they’d wrest all they could from her. Not officially, of course. Officially she would remain the suspected sniper. Beth contemplated the edge of the dock behind her, and the drop to the water below. Maybe it wasn’t that cold after all.

“I can destroy your knee before you reach the water,” he said. “Although unless I free my gun up, it might take a couple of shots to find target.”

She glared at him in extreme annoyance.

To her surprise, it made him grin. “There,” he said. “At least you’re not simpering your way out of it all. Can’t bloody stand that.” He removed one hand from his jacket pocket. A pair of handcuffs dangled from his index finger. “Put these on.”

High-security cuffs with a specialized lock cylinder. Pick-proof. Great. She gave him another glare, and the corner of his mouth twitched again. Definitely amusement this time. He gave the cuffs a little jiggle. “It’s the easy way,” he said, taking no heed of the dock coming to life around them. “It’s going to happen regardless.”

That’s what you think.

He might hesitate to fire his weapon with so many witnesses…he might hesitate to hurt her and take the chance she couldn’t respond under questioning.
Might.

It was worth the gamble. She had the mini CD tucked away in her jeans; she had to get it to Barbara Price, not lose it to this stiff-necked MI6 agent. They were allies, yes—assuming she’d guessed right about his affiliation—but each agency handled things its own way. Beth put her trust in Stony Man.

She gave him defiant resignation and held out a hand; he tossed her the cuffs. She snatched them out of the air and whipped them right back at him, directly at his face. Then she whipped herself around, lunging for the side of the dock and thinking
watercoldcoldcold—

Oof!

She slammed to the pavement, losing her breath with a grunt. Solid, all right. Hard, heavy muscle. She let herself go limp—let him feel her do it. Waited for that instant of
reaction, his slight recoil. It gave her just enough room to throw her elbow out to the side and jam it back into his ribs. Instantly, he captured the arm again, seeking to pull it behind her back and lever it up.
Damn, he’s actually good.
But where he had strength and weight, Beth had lithe agility…not to mention a loose parka. She drew herself together underneath him, squirming within the parka, the slick skintight material of her leotard slipping easily against the parka lining. She pulled her energy into a tight ball and then exploded beneath him.

If she’d been a comic superhero, her MI6 opponent would have tumbled away—but she was just a spy on dark ops, so all she did was gain herself a little maneuvering space. An opportunity.

She took it.

She scrambled out from beneath him, darting for the safety of the warehouse—the people, the machinery roaring to life, the maze of stacked shipping containers—and jerked to a stop as he snatched the back of her parka. In an instant she ripped the zipper open, slipping free to the sound of his curse. Her surge of triumph lasted only a moment. As she reached the crane pylon he slammed into her again, pinning her against the cold steel. “Good God,” she gasped, panting heavily; his chest moved against her back as he, too, sucked in air. “Is that the only move you know? Slam and squash?”

His breath gusted against her ear in what could only be a laugh; it ignited her temper. Trapped against the pylon, her arms caught beneath her chest, she still wasn’t nearly as incapacitated as he thought. Her fingers fumbled with the scoop edge of her leotard, pulling it down, scraping at the skin-toned patch there.
Careful.
She peeled off the protective adhesive layer against her skin and, in spite of his hold on her, flipped around in his grip to face him.

“Aren’t you wiggly,” he observed. All confidence, no longer worried about restraining her. He thought he had her. He even had reason for that confidence—as she’d turned, he’d skillfully jammed his knees inside of her own. There’d be no sneaky attempts at kneeing his groin.

It was an excruciatingly vulnerable position, one that triggered instinctive fear and awareness.

In spite of Beth’s anger—her annoyance at this man’s interference, her annoyance at the sniper, her annoyance at Lyeta herself simply for dying in the first place—something of that vulnerability must have shown on her face. This close to his gray eyes, she could see them widen, darkening with the sudden awareness that their scuffle had grown unexpectedly intimate. Hip to hip, thigh to thigh, nothing between their upper bodies but her thin black leotard and the formfitting waffle-weave shirt he wore under his open jacket.

Mistake, mister. Yours.
She lowered her eyes; he pressed so close that her lashes grazed his chin. “I’m not the only thing that’s wiggly,” she said, and then glanced up in time to see hunger lurking in his eyes.

But he didn’t do as she expected. He didn’t shutter those feelings, didn’t move back from her. Pressed up against her, he dipped his head to murmur into her ear. “That happens.”

Second mistake.
Her hand eased up into the space between them, almost close enough to strike. Mr. MI6 had warmth burning beneath that cold gaze. His eyes were on her face, on her lips, and if he heard a dockworker’s shout of question, he ignored it. His face, clean shaven—
even at this time of day?
—brushed against hers, the clean lines of it made harder by his tight haircut. And suddenly, beyond all expectation, she felt her own hunger stir, a warm pooling in her chest and sinking downward.
Not the
plan…
But she let him see it, nothing so obvious as moving against him, just her lips parting as though they might receive his, close enough to feel his breath wash over them, close enough…to…touch.

She snaked her hand up to slap him lightly on the neck, placing the patch directly over his carotid artery. He had just enough time to give her a puzzled look…and as it changed to understanding, not quite enough time to say the unpleasant word that formed on his lips. “Fuuhh—” he managed, and crumpled to the ground not far from Lyeta, doped with the latest version of a knockout drop.

“You wish,” she informed him, much more primly than her body felt. She stepped over him, assessing the dock on the way, instantly spotting all the heads turned their way. Damn, they’d drawn attention. How could they
not?
And as soon as someone saw the pool of blood around Lyeta, they’d get attention, all right. She hoped Mr. MI6 was up to it. She bent to snag her parka on the way by and nearly stumbled when it didn’t come with her. “Oh, just
let go,
” she said under her breath, but the parka was caught beneath him and even as she knelt to roll him over, someone by the warehouse shouted, pointing at her. “Oh,
fuuhh,
” she said, in complete accord with the drugged agent. She managed to move him aside with a hard shove on his nice tight ass, putting her parka’s gun pocket within reach. She grabbed for it. The pocket ripped but the gun was hers again, and in the background the shouting had turned to running feet. Beth didn’t even look at them as she sprinted away, leaving Lyeta, Mr. Drugged MI6, and her very favorite parka on the pavement beside the crane.

But she had Lyeta’s mini CD, containing enough information to bare Egorov’s organization. She had her clues, so cryptic as to be worthy of a Saturday morning
cartoon show.
Blue Crane. Table. Bottom.
She had Lyeta’s death, already pinned on her by Mr. MI6 in spite of the poor performance of the sniper.

BOOK: Femme Fatale
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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