Authors: Jana DeLeon
by Jana DeLeon
Published by Jana DeLeon
Copyright © 2012 Jana DeLeon
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
I stepped off the Learjet at the private airfield just before dawn. I’d been on the plane exactly seventeen hours, twenty-six minutes and fourteen seconds, wearing the same eight-hundred-dollar dress I’d worn when I killed a man twenty-five hours earlier. One of my shoes hadn’t made it out of the desert, and I clutched what remained of the other shoe in my right hand and my nine millimeter in the left. Apparently, eight-hundred-dollar dresses didn’t come with pockets or holsters, and I didn’t have the kind of cleavage that made a viable hiding place.
A black Cadillac DTS with limo-tinted windows waited at the end of the runway, so I took a deep breath and headed for the car, steeling myself for the ass-chewing I knew was coming. But when I opened the door and slid into the passenger’s seat, the angry, balding man I’d expected to see was nowhere in sight. Instead, a slightly overweight, fiftyish, African-American woman frowned at me, shaking her head.
“Girl, you are in one heap of trouble,” said the driver, Hadley Reynolds, CIA executive assistant extraordinaire.
“Did he have a heart attack when he heard?” I asked, wondering why the director had sent Hadley instead of coming himself. “I figured he’d be here to run me over with the car.”
“He had a moment there during that phone call when I wondered. His face turned so red, I thought he was going to pop, but then he rushed out yelling at me to pick you up and take you to meet him as soon as you arrived.”
I sighed, my fleeting thoughts of a real meal and decent clothes slipping from my mind. Not only had the plane been stocked with healthy food, it hadn’t contained an ounce of alcohol. “I guess picking up a burger and six-pack on the way is out of the question?”
“It’s six a.m.”
“Not in the Middle East,” I pointed out.
“This is Washington, D.C., not some giant sandbox. Besides, you’re meeting at a café. You can have all the fat and carbs you want.” Hadley looked down at her own plump figure then over at me and frowned. “You know, I rarely ask for anything although I do a lot of favors—and God knows, I’m never going to fit in one of those size-four dresses they put you in—but why can’t you be kind to the shoes?”
I looked down at what was remaining of the Prada shoes and felt a bit guilty. When I’d opened the box containing the shoes at CIA headquarters, I thought Hadley was going to pass out. She’d stared at them as if they were magical. My reaction hadn’t been exactly the same. “I’m sorry.”
Hadley raised one eyebrow.
“I swear. I’m sorry. That entire situation got a little out of hand. I didn’t plan on ruining the shoes.”
Hadley sighed and patted my leg, like she’d done since I was a little girl. “Honey, I know you didn’t, but you keep having these
. I’m afraid that one day I’m going to be picking you up in a box.”
“It’s my job.”
“The risks you take are not your job and you know it.” She paused for a couple of seconds. “You don’t have anything to prove…not to him or anyone else.”
I just nodded and looked out the window, not wanting to get into a discussion about my late father, the “him” in her statement. Even though he died when I was fifteen, I could still see him frowning at me and shaking his head. Unfortunately, I couldn’t blame him. Super CIA agent Dwight Redding had never made a mistake, never blown his cover, and never killed someone who wasn’t on the hit list.
Dwight Redding had been perfect. The golden boy at the CIA.
Changing mental channels, I focused on the current situation. “Why a café?”
“The director didn’t say.”
I studied Hadley’s expression, but she was telling the truth, which worried me even more. If Director Morrow wanted to meet with me somewhere other than CIA headquarters that could mean only one thing—he was letting me go.
I sucked in a deep breath and blew it out slowly, trying to prepare my defense argument. Best to hit him with it first, before he could pull the trigger—play to his sympathies. Yeah, that was it. If, of course, I could figure out exactly what his sympathies were before we got to the café. Eight years of working for him hadn’t provided a single clue.
Hadley made a sudden turn and pulled up in front of a dingy storefront with the day’s special painted right on the grimy window. “You sure he’s not going to kill me?” I asked, giving the neighborhood a quick once-over. It looked like the kind of place where no one would blink over the sound of gunshots.
Hadley shook her head. “If the director doesn’t kill you, the food in there probably will.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I climbed out of the car, leaving the broken shoe behind, and headed into the café.
I spotted Director Morrow and another agent, Ben Harrison, in a booth at the back of the single room. Otherwise, it was completely empty. Morrow frowned as soon as he saw me walk in. As I got closer, he noticed my bare feet and downed his entire glass of water. I glanced over at Harrison, trying to get a read on Morrow’s state of mind, but he gave me an imperceptible shake of his head. Not good. Time for defense mode.
“I had to kill him,” I said as Harrison rose and allowed me to slide into the booth across from Morrow. “I didn’t have a choice.”
Harrison made a choking sound, sat down next to me and had a fake coughing fit into his napkin.
“Your personnel file,” Morrow said, “is full of those ‘no choice’ situations. Your hit count makes Attila the Hun look like a pacifist.”
“But he was going to sell that girl to the sheikh. She was only twelve years old and -”
“I don’t care if he had Siamese twins with puppies. You
maintain cover.” He held up two fingers. “Two years worth of work blown in less than a minute. It’s a new record, Redding.”
“I can still salvage it. Just put me back in.”
“How do you propose I do that? You were
to be the distributor’s new eye-candy. All you had to do was deliver the money, collect the drugs, and leave. But no, you had to kill the brother of the boss…an arms dealer who shot his wife for walking in front of the television during American Idol. Do you really think he’s going to give you a pass on killing his only sibling?”
“Not to mention,” Harrison added, “that most hoochies don’t go around killing people with their shoes. He’s probably figured out you’re not some ditzy gold digger.”
I glared at Harrison, who only seemed to have diarrhea of the mouth when it involved me. “There wasn’t any place on my body I could hide a gun—not with that sleazy dress I had to wear. And that shoe had a spike on it. What the hell else is it good for?”
“Jesus, Redding.” Harrison laughed. “Haven’t you seen a movie, a magazine ad…another woman in public? Stilettos are common among people with estrogen.”
“Which explains why
know what they are, and I don’t. Why don’t you play the girl on the next mission? You’re obviously better suited.”
“There is no next mission,” Morrow said, cutting off the argument altogether.
I whipped around to face the director. “You’re firing me? You can’t do that.”
“I could do that if I wanted to, but that’s not the problem. We got news from Intel this morning. Your face has been distributed to every drug and arms dealer that does business with Ahmad’s organization. He’s offering one million to anyone who brings your body to him. Ten million if someone brings you in alive.”
“Jesus,” Harrison said, all antagonism gone.
I felt the blood start to drain from my face, and mentally tried to force it back up.
“So? It’s not the first time an agent has had a price on their head,” I said, hoping my voice sounded stronger than I felt.
Morrow shook his head. “We’ve never had a case this bad. Seeing you dead has become the personal agenda of one of the biggest arms dealers of the decade. I have no choice but to make you disappear.”
“No way am I going into witness protection. They’ll stick me in some bank teller job in Idaho.”
“I agree that witness protection is out, but not because I care what job you’d be asked to perform.” Morrow leaned across the table, his expression a combination of serious, concerned, and just a hint of fear. It was the fear part that made my breath catch in my throat.
“There’s a leak,” Morrow said, his voice low. “I know it’s coming from inside the CIA, but have no idea how high up it goes.”
I gasped, my mind trying to grasp what he’d said. It wasn’t possible. A traitor in the agency?
“No way!” Harrison jumped up from the booth and paced in front of it. “I don’t believe it.”
Morrow sighed. “I didn’t want to believe it, either, but the reality is, someone put Ahmad’s people onto Redding before she ever set foot on that boat. That whole scene with the girl was intentional—trying to force Redding to blow her cover so they could be certain. They knew she didn’t have a gun, but apparently didn’t factor in how dangerous she was in high heels.”
“Shit,” Harrison said and slumped back down in the booth.
Morrow looked at Harrison then back at me. “Both of you know that information about the mission could only have come from our office. According to Intel, Redding wasn’t supposed to make it off that boat at all, much less alive. And that whole shoe incident upped the stakes astronomically.”
“She can have plastic surgery,” Harrison said. “It’s done all the time, right?”
“No way!” I argued.
Morrow held up a hand to stop the exchange. “You’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies. Plastic surgery can’t change her height or her bone structure, not enough, anyway. Ahmad’s security equipment is top of the line. A single photo taken by one of his cameras, and they’d have the bone structure pinned right back to Redding. We still have another operative inside. We can’t afford the risk.”
“So, what am I supposed to do?” I asked, the gravity of the situation finally sinking in. “You’re telling me I’m not even safe at CIA headquarters? Where am I supposed to go?”
Morrow pushed a folder across the table. “I have an idea,” he said somewhat hesitantly. “It wouldn’t be official. Only you, me, and Harrison would know about it. That’s why I’m speaking to the two of you here. I can’t trust anyone else, and there’s the possibility that my office is bugged.”
Harrison glanced over at me and nodded. “Whatever you think, sir. I’ll do whatever you need.”
“All I need from you, Harrison, is to keep your mouth shut and remember this information in case something happens to me. For the obvious reasons, there will be no paper trail. Redding, on the other hand, is going to have to do a bit of maneuvering to pull this off.”
“Pull what off?”
“My niece just inherited a house from her maternal great-aunt. She’s scheduled to spend the summer at the place, going over the contents and getting it ready to sell. She’s never been there before, and my understanding is the aunt wasn’t the picture-hanging kind of gal, so there’s very little risk of anyone catching on.”
“Catching on to what, exactly?”
Morrow blew out a breath. “I want to send my niece to Europe for the summer, and I want you to go to Louisiana and pretend to be her. It’s the perfect cover. No one will be looking for you there, and no one in the town has ever met my niece. They just know she’ll be arriving sometime this summer to settle things.”