Authors: Misty Evans
People in an author’s life give so much and never realize the depth of what they’ve given. For my parents, who believed in me and told me to write what I wanted to write and not worry about others’ opinions, I offer my deepest love and gratitude. For my sons, who waited patiently while I wrote
just one more line
and who tagged along on endless trips to the post office, I promise to squeeze out more mornings for coffee on the front porch and reading Harry Potter stories.
I owe oceans of appreciation to my dear friend and early reader, Angela Vogel, for her three-hugs-and-a-kick-in-the-pants whenever I swore I was giving up. Along with her, the rest of the Charmed Girls—Cyndi, Angi B., Kate and Lisa—supported my dream of being a published author since the beginning. I can’t thank you all enough.
I am blessed with friends who are also talented writers—Chiron, Nana, Carol, Tessy and Ree. I would not be the writer I am today without your guidance.
An author is lost without her resources. For this novel, I owe special thanks to Deb Duhr, librarian
, who hunted down out-of-print books and other elements for me on everything CIA.
This circle of gratitude is not complete without thanking my wonderful editor Sasha Knight and my dedicated agent Elaine English.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Con.” Julia frowned at the boom box parts lying around her crossed legs on the bed.
She had dissected the electronic box, cleaning out its internal organs, and was now carefully repackaging the frame with C-4 plastique explosive. The boom box would offer her partner an easy way to carry the bomb into the heart of the enemy in the approaching early morning hours.
“What do you mean?” Conrad said.
Julia looked up, the frown still creasing her forehead. “I don’t know. Something’s not quite right with this mission. Something’s off.”
“Getting cold feet, are you?”
She expected her partner’s cocky grin or a wink with the comment. What she got was his back as he began filling the inside pockets of his black leather coat with extra clips of ammunition. Something was definitely off. Ever since she’d arrived in Berlin the night before, things were strained between them. Conrad was distant and at the same time seemed to watch her every move.
Julia had witnessed Conrad’s metamorphosis from good guy to bad guy several times during their five-year undercover stint in Europe. As a highly trained CIA operator, he was capable of changing his physical appearance and personality in seconds with a minimum of tools.
All you need
, he would say,
is a one-degree shift.
Extreme changes in your normal looks, posture, or personality were difficult to pull off for any length of time, trapping you in your own deception. To lie well, the lies had to be built on truth; your cover had to be controlled and disciplined.
Sometimes the lies become the truth
, Julia thought, watching her partner now cleaning his Heckler and Koch P7. Conrad Flynn had been undercover for months, attempting to flush out yet another gray arms dealer in Germany. As usual, Julia knew little of the details. She was his backup when he needed it but spent most of her time in Paris at the U.S. Embassy under her own cover, working on her own operations. That suited her just fine. She hated Germany and hated what it was doing to Conrad. She had already walked through this nightmare once before with him, providing the explosives he needed to blow up a warehouse six miles outside the city limits. Tonight she was here to do it again, but what she really wanted to do was pull him into bed with her and hold him close.
Eyeing his naked back from her seat on the bed, she could see he had lost weight. The muscles in his upper back and arms had moved past the point of well-defined. He was now ripped. His hair was longer than she’d ever seen it, skimming his shoulders as he moved. Who were the criminals he was after this time and what had they done? More importantly, what had
done in order to gain acceptance among them?
When he turned to throw his jacket on a nearby chair, she continued to watch him. Curls of black hair hung over his forehead and his chiseled jaw sported a week’s growth of beard. He stopped for a second, staring at the table in front of him but seeming to see nothing. His stillness signaled deep concentration.
He’s running the plan again in his head
If only they could be somewhere else right now. She wanted to trace the deep lines between his biceps and triceps, wanted to kiss the scars on his back. Run her hands down his rock-hard thighs. Make him smile and laugh and forget the things he’d witnessed, the things he’d done. But the concentration on his face kept her still. What was his secret this time? Was it really the operation or was it something else? Another woman? Anxiety stabbed her heart like a sharp knife.
“How much longer?” he asked, critically surveying her work on the bed.
She looked down, flustered at her previous thought. “Almost done.” Placing a layer of plastique in one of the speaker boxes, she stuck in a detonator and a pager. “Each speaker is detachable and each is loaded with explosive. When you page the main box the others will blow too. Give yourself plenty of room before you send the page.”
He nodded and she began to screw the cover back onto the box. “God, I hate bombs.”
There was always this intensity around Conrad right before an operation went down. It was intoxicating and at the same time it made her want to shiver. “I’ll deliver it for you,” she offered.
His dark eyes flickered up and locked with hers. After a moment’s hesitation, he shook his head. “I know you would, Jules, but I can’t let you. It’s too dangerous. This is my gig and if I do it right, everything will be okay.”
She nodded and finished putting the boom box back together. Moving it off the bed, she brushed dust off her worn Levi’s. “Do I have time to take a shower?”
He studied her for a minute and then shook his head. “No,” he said, and there it was, finally, the cocky grin. “But we do have time for something else.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him. “I thought it was bad luck to have sex before a mission. You always make me wait ’til the dust has cleared.”
He moved toward her. “Tonight’s different.”
She stepped into his arms, wrapping hers around his neck. “Oh yeah? How’s it different?”
“Full moon,” he whispered in her ear, his lips finding the exact spot on her neck that made her shiver. She let him lead her to the bed, let him undress her first with his gaze and then with his hands. Giving herself up to him, she fought the nagging voice in her head.
The man sat perfectly still in the semidarkness watching the woman sleep. Only a sheet covered the slender body on the queen-size bed. Long hair stretched out in waves on her pillow, and he tamped down the urge to reach out and touch it. He watched the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest and slowed his own breathing to match. Resting his gun, a suppressed Heckler & Koch, on his right thigh, he wished he had a cigarette to calm his nerves.
Cigarettes, like his true identity, had been given up years ago, but every once in awhile he caught himself craving the feel of the stick between his lips, the smoke curling around his face. At thirty-two, he’d lost track of all the things he’d given up to become the man he was at this moment. He’d played too many roles, led too many lives, losing his sense of duty and fairness only to find himself becoming the enemy he was supposed to search out and destroy.
But he’d never lost track of her.
She continued to sleep deeply, a sight he had rarely witnessed in their five-plus years together. Her demeanor when awake was calm and unshakable. She was analytical and calculating, sizing up any given situation and devising two or three options to keep herself, and him, alive. But in sleep, nightmares tormented her. Nightmares that gripped her so hard she would cry out, making his blood run cold. He would pull her close and murmur reassurances in her ear, stroke her face and rock her in his arms. Anything to scatter the demons that terrorized her mind and raped her soul.
Seeing her at peace here in the early morning hours gave him comfort.
I shouldn’t have come. I should have stayed dead to her, left her in whatever conciliation she has found.
But he needed her and the hand was already dealt. If he failed he would be dead, for real this time, and someone else would come for her. He couldn’t fail. Her life depended on it as much as his did.
A memory of their escape from Berlin the first time he’d used her knowledge of explosives surfaced in his mind. After he had detonated the bomb and eliminated the warehouse, he had pulled her into a hotel in the Mitte District and paid for a shabby room. There they had spent those first few hours after the explosion making love under the goose-down quilt, needing the affirmation they both still lived to wipe out the pain they shared. Hours later, after he had slept and she had stared out the window at the stagnant Spree River, they wired a car and drove to Tegel Airport. Both had changed their appearance and, traveling together, never raised a single eyebrow as they passed the airport’s security and boarded a plane to Venice. Only then in the safety of the sky did exhaustion take over and afford her sleep.
The woman stirred, bringing her legs up into a fetal position. The room was starting to gray with the approaching sunrise. Her hand slipped under her absent lover’s pillow and he smiled, the familiarity of her movement sending ripples of anticipation rushing through his veins. He struggled to keep himself from whispering her name in the silent room. Pulling himself back a step from the edge, he took a deep breath, slid his gun into the waistband at the small of his back and willed himself to be patient and savor the moment. After all, he had waited seventeen months for this.
Julia Torrison sensed two things upon wakening. Michael was gone and there was another unidentifiable human presence in her room.
Maintaining her deep, even breathing, she kept her body motionless as if still in sleep to give her mind a few more precious minutes to filter through the probable identity of her visitor.
The options were cataloged in her brain. Enemies of her country and of her own making were widespread. But who these days cared whether she lived or died? She was simply an analyst now, lost in the windowless, cubicle-induced maze of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. From her four-by-six bunker of space, she did what they asked her to—analyze terrorists. Fieldwork was behind her now. Years of training and self-discipline, invisible orders and covert operations lost in the blink of an eye, in the explosion of a bomb, in the abrupt and complete silence of her partner.
No enemy could have found her easily. The CIA had created a new identity for her, Abigail Quinn, and plunked her in their ultimate safe house at Langley. She had thought she would go mad from the sterile confinement of the CTC office, but filtering through the endless pools of information about the disciplined madmen trying to bring America to its knees had actually pacified her. It had become meditation, freeing her brain from the racing thoughts about
. About what she could have, should have done to save him. The guilt for still being alive while he was dead gnawed at her, especially in the dark hours of the night when Michael’s hands reached for her instead of his. But through the work, and because of Michael’s constant reinforcement, she was finally becoming Abigail Quinn. Her past self was doggedly being sealed off, layer of brick over layer of brick, never to be seen again.
Perhaps her visitor was simply a thief who had watched Michael leave with Pongo, his Rottweiler, for their daily run to the lake. However, no casual burglar could have made it past the posted guard at the gate or the home’s eleven-thousand-dollar security system.
Michael’s pillow was still warm where his head had been minutes earlier. Her hand wrapped slowly around the hidden Beretta 92F 9-mm stored there and she felt the thrill of the hunted turned hunter. People underestimated her because she was a woman and because her characteristic quietness was often taken for ignorance.
It was always their mistake.
Julia willed her heart not to pump out of her chest as she eased the safety off the gun. It really didn’t matter who the intruder was…he was in for a big surprise.