Authors: Diana Palmer
SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
New York Times
For R.D.M., and Irene, my lovely mother-in-law
I really can’t express how flattered I am and also how grateful I am to Harlequin Books for releasing this collection of my published works. It came as a great surprise. I never think of myself as writing books that are collectible. In fact, there are days when I forget that writing is work at all. What I do for a living is so much fun that it never seems like a job. And since I reside in a small community, and my daily life is confined to such mundane things as feeding the wild birds and looking after my herb patch in the backyard, I feel rather unconnected from what many would think of as a glamorous profession.
But when I read my email, or when I get letters from readers, or when I go on signing trips to bookstores to meet all of you, I feel truly blessed. Over the past thirty years, I have made lasting friendships with many of you. And quite frankly, most of you are like part of my family. You can’t imagine how much you enrich my life. Thank you so much.
I also need to extend thanks to my family (my husband, James, son, Blayne, daughter-in-law, Christina, and granddaughter, Selena Marie), to my best friend, Ann, to my readers, booksellers and the wonderful people at Harlequin Books—from my editor of many years, Tara, to all the other fine and talented people who make up our publishing house. Thanks to all of you for making this job and my private life so worth living.
Thank you for this tribute, Harlequin, and for putting up with me for thirty long years! Love to all of you.
Table of Contents
abby was worried about J.D. It wasn’t anything she could put her finger on exactly. He still roared around the office, slamming things down on his desk when he couldn’t find notes or reminders he’d scribbled on envelopes or old business cards. He glared at Gabby when she didn’t bring his coffee on the stroke of nine o’clock. And there were the usual missing files, for which she was to blame of course, and the incessant phone calls that interrupted his concentration. There was still the heavy scowl on his broad face, and the angry glitter in his brown eyes. But that morning he’d been pacing around outside his office, smoking like a furnace. And that was unusual. Because J.D. had given up smoking years before, even before she had come to work for the law firm of Brettman and Dice.
She still couldn’t figure out what had set him off. She’d put a long-distance call through to him earlier, one that sounded like it came from overseas. The caller had sounded suspiciously like Roberto, his sister Martina’s husband, from Sicily. Soon afterward, there had been a flurry of outgoing calls. Now it was silent, except for the soft sounds the computer made as Gabby finished the last letter J.D. had dictated.
She propped her chin on her hands and stared at the door with curious green eyes. Her long, dark hair was piled high on her head, to keep it out of her way when she worked, and loose strands of it curled softly around her face, giving her an even more elfin look than usual. She was wearing a green dress that flattered her graceful curves. But J.D. wouldn’t notice her if she walked through the office naked. He’d said when he hired her that he’d robbed the cradle. And he hadn’t smiled when he said it. Although she was twenty-three now, he still made the most frustrating remarks about her extreme youth. She wondered wickedly what J.D. would say if she applied for Medicare in his name. Nobody knew how old he was. Probably somewhere around forty; those hard lines in his face hadn’t come from nowhere.
He was one of the most famous criminal lawyers in Chicago. He made waves. He ground up hostile witnesses like so much sausage meat. But before his entry into the profession five years earlier, nothing was known about him. He’d worked as a laborer by day and attended law school by night. He’d worked his way up the ladder quickly and efficiently with the help of a devastating intelligence that seemed to feed on challenge.
He had no family except for a married sister in Palermo, Sicily, and no close friends. He allowed no one to really know him. Not his associate Richard Dice, not Gabby. He lived alone and mostly worked alone, except for the few times when he needed some information that only a woman could get, or when he had to have Gabby along as a cover. She’d gone with him to meet accused killers in warehouses at midnight and down to the waterfront in the wee hours of the morning to meet a ship carrying a potential witness.
It was an exciting life, and thank God her mother back in Lytle, Texas, didn’t know exactly how exciting it was. Gabby had come to Chicago when she was twenty; she’d had to fight for days to get her mother to agree to the wild idea, to let her work for a distant cousin. The distant cousin had died quite suddenly and, simultaneously, she’d seen J.D.’s job posting for an executive assistant. When she applied, it had taken J.D. only five minutes to hire her. That had been two years earlier, and she’d never regretted the impulse that had led her to his office.
Just working for him was something of a feather in Gabby’s cap. The other assistants in the building were forever pumping her for information about her attractive and famous boss. But Gabby was as secretive as he was. It was why she’d lasted so long as his assistant. He trusted her as he trusted no one else.
She was a paralegal now, having taken night courses at a local college to earn the title. She did far more than just type letters and run off copies on the copier. She practically ran the office. She also did legwork for her boss, and frequently traveled with him when the job warranted it.
While she was brooding, the door opened suddenly. J.D. came through it like a locomotive, so vibrant and superbly masculine that she imagined most men would step aside for him out of pure instinct. His partner, Richard Dice, was on his heels, raging as he followed.
“Will you be reasonable, J.D.!” the younger man argued, his lean hands waving wildly, his red hair almost standing on end around his thin face. “It’s a job for the police! What can you do?”
J.D. didn’t even look at him. He paused at Gabby’s desk, an expression on his face that she’d never seen before. Involuntarily, she studied the broad face with its olive complexion and deep-set eyes. He had the thickest, blackest eyelashes she’d ever seen. His hair was just as thick and had deep waves in it, threaded with pure silver. It was the faint scars on his face that aged him, but she’d never quite had the bravado to ask where and how he’d gotten them. It must have been some kind of man who put them there. J.D. was built like a tank.
“Pack a bag,” he told Gabby, in a tone too black to invite questions. “Be back here in an hour. Is your passport in order?”
She blinked. Even for J.D., this was fast shuffling. “Uh, yes…”
“Bring lightweight things, it’ll be hot where we’re going. Lots of jeans and loose shirts, a sweater, some boots and a lot of socks.” He continued nonstop. “Bring that radio operator’s license you hold. Aren’t you kin to someone at the State Department? That might come in handy.”
Her mind was whirling. “J.D., what’s going…?” she began.
“You can’t do this,” Dick was continuing doggedly, and J.D. was just ignoring him.
“Dick, you’ll have to handle my caseload until I get back,” he pressed on in a voice that sounded like thunder rumbling. “Get Charlie Bass to help you if you run into any snags. I don’t know exactly when we’ll be back.”
“J.D., will you listen?”
“I’ve got to pack a few things,” J.D. said curtly. “Call the agency, Gabby, and get Dick a temporary assistant. And be back here in exactly one hour.”
The door slammed behind him. Dick cursed roundly and rammed his hands into his pockets.
“What,” Gabby asked, “is going on? Will somebody please tell me where I’m going with my passport? Do I have a choice?”
“Slow down and I’ll tell you what little I know.” Dick sighed angrily. He perched himself on her desk. “You know that J.D.’s sister is married to that Italian businessman who made a fortune in shipping and lives in Palermo, Sicily?”
“And you know that kidnapping is sometimes a fast method of funding for terrorist groups?” he continued.
She felt herself going pale. “They got his brother-in-law?”
“No. They got his sister when she went alone on a shopping trip to Rome.”
She caught her breath. “Martina? But she’s the only family he has!”
“I know that. They’re asking for five million dollars, and Roberto can’t scrape it up. He’s frantic. They told him they’d kill her if he involved the authorities.”
“And J.D. is going to Italy to save her?”
“However did you guess?” Dick grumbled. “In his usual calm, sensible way, he is moving headfirst into the china shop.”