Conrad Flynn is on a top secret mission. One so secret, even his wife, Julia, doesn’t know about it. And when she finds out, the Cuban government isn’t going to be the only one coming after his head.
All Julia wants for Christmas is a massage. Simple, right? Especially when you get to spend Christmas in the Caribbean at a lush resort. But simple isn’t in the cards when you’re married to a spy who never takes a holiday.
Cuba’s latest biological weapon is pointed at the United States. Conrad’s directive is to steal the country’s leading virologist—a man with the antidote— right out from under their communist noses. When the virologist insists he won’t defect without his pregnant girlfriend, Con has no choice but to ask Julia for help.
Can the two super agents pull off a Christmas miracle and deliver their contraband safely to America? Or will their final mission end in a hail of bullets and bloodshed?
Conrad eyed the bikini-clad brunette over the top of the Tribuna de La Habana as she made her way toward him. She’d chosen the sand for her approach from the hotel to the outdoor dining area, rather than the boarded walkway. Good choice. The soft sand under her flip flops caused her hips to work a little bit, exaggerating their swing.
In, out, in, out…her left leg flashed and disappeared behind the slit of a barely-there wrap-dress hugging her body.
Between the high leg slit and the deep cleavage revealing the hint of her raspberry colored bikini top, she looked like a present…sexy and inviting. The ties of the dress cupped her breasts, forming a tiny bow at the center of her breastbone.
What he wouldn’t do to work the ties of that dress loose and unwrap the beautiful woman underneath…
Although her US driver’s license claimed a height of five-five, she topped out at five-four. But those legs…their lean contours gave her the appearance of someone taller. And she knew how to use them, her steps concentrated but not overly theatrical.
Add to them the swinging hips and every red-blooded male in the area was adjusting his suddenly tight shorts. She didn’t overdo the swing or exaggerate her stride, just let things flow in a sweet, gliding back and forth rhythm that had his pulse kicking up the pace.
Reaching his table, she stopped, lowered a pair of dark sunglasses an inch down her nose and locked eyes with him. “Hey, sailor boy.”
At 0700 hours, it was far too early for such a direct assault on his libido.
Her lips were devoid of gloss or false color. The full bottom lip curved ever so slightly in a spider-to-the-fly smile. Slouching to one side, she rubbed a hip against his arm before resting it against the table’s edge. “Can I buy you breakfast?”
Conrad’s brain shorted out. Only for a single beat of his heart, but it was enough to smoke a few neurons and send a second surge of heat to his lower brain. He swallowed and reached for his coffee cup, letting one edge of the Cuban newspaper sag. Caffeine. He needed caffeine.
The cup was empty.
Setting the cup back down, he noticed the woman’s lips rise with smug satisfaction. This was what he got for lying to his wife and abandoning their hotel bed before the sun rose.
The wife in question noticed his quandary, pulled out the chair next to him and made herself cozy, giving him the classic I’m-disappointed-with-you look. “We’re on vacation, Con. Translation: mind-blowing sex marathons, sleeping in, ordering room service and deep tissue massages on the beach. In other words, re-lax-a-tion. Surely you’ve heard of the concept.”
Spies and FBI agents didn’t take vacations. “I stopped listening at mind-blowing sex marathons.”
“Of course you did.”
Goddamn, he needed that caffeine hit. “Jules, you know I’m not the vacation type. I don’t sleep in, and if I recall correctly, the Julia Torrison Rules of Engagement state the only person allowed to touch my body is you.”
She tossed her sunglasses on the table and stuck a windblown lock of hair behind her ear. “Do not try to turn this into an argument. You refused to visit our families for Christmas. The least you can do is humor me and allow me to enjoy the white sand beaches and blue Caribbean waters here instead.”
Con laid the paper down and swept his hand at the view from the hotel’s outside terrace. “Go forth and enjoy.”
A waiter hustled up to the table with café cubano and a clean cup for Julia. Her Spanish was mediocre, but she played her hand well. The young guy openly flirted with her, patiently walking her through the Spanish pronunciations of greetings and items on the hotel restaurant’s menu.
Julia ordered for both of them in her halting Spanish and Conrad stewed. He needed to get Julia occupied for an hour so he could do a job. A job his boss, Michael Stone, had handed him along with his plane tickets and covert orders: Find Ramon Cabrera. Confirm the antidote formula is legit. If it washes, sneak the Cuban refugee and his valuable formula past the communist government and bring him to the States.
In other words, spies never took a vacation.
Julia was no longer a spy, though, and the mission was classified. Hell, Conrad didn’t do fieldwork anymore, so this mission was classified beyond classified if Stone had handed it to him. The one caveat…Con was still the best when it came to exfiltrations.
And lying to his wife.
He’d lied to Stone too. No way would the tightwad have given Con permission to bring Jules with him. But Conrad didn’t give a flying fuck about obtaining the deputy director’s permission. He might not always follow the rules, but he always tagged his man.
Mission accomplished…the sweetest set of words in his full adult vocab. That’s all that mattered in his book. And part of accomplishing Operation Exfiltration, a.k.a. Christmas Contraband, was bringing Julia on vacation.
Stone wasn’t married. Not yet. He’d learn soon enough when his fiancée finally dragged his ass to the altar. Classified was classified, but a happy wife beat a full house in the job department any day.
“We have dual massages at nine.” Julia scooped up her long hair into a ponytail with one hand as she used her other to locate a hairband inside her bright blue tote bag. “The masseuses do it right on the beach. The tables actually sit in the ocean. We’ll be surrounded by tropical water, warm sun and nature.” She secured the ponytail, exposing her graceful neck, and flashed him a smile. “Total bliss.”
“Gee, I’m sorry, but I already scheduled a dive session at nine.” Total flippin lie. One he would pay for dearly when she found out he was sneaking a Cuban defector back to the States.
He rearranged the paper’s folds, pretended interest in a story about Raoul Chavez visiting a landmark Havana restaurant on Christmas Day. “The best time to see the coral reef according to your guidebook.”
She sipped her coffee. Narrowed her eyes over the rim of the cup.
Sell it, Con, or there will be hell to pay. Taking a sip of his own coffee, he lowered the paper and gave her his best nonchalant, innocent return gaze. “Has something to do with the angle of the sun, I think. Plus, I thought you’d still be re-lax-ing, as in sleeping in, at that hour, and since you hate underwater stuff...”
He deliberately trailed off. Being a former SEAL, he loved the water, and she knew it. And while her happy place included white sand and blue ocean, she became claustrophobic any time her head was more than a foot or two under water. Diving was out of the question. She didn’t even like snorkeling.
Which was a damn shame. There was a cool world under the surface of the ocean he knew she’d love if he could show it to her up close and personal. One of these days, he was going to work on that stupid claustrophobia shit.
But not on this trip. He had a defector to hunt down, interrogate, and skip town with.
Sell it, Con. He glanced at the paper, reading and rereading a want ad that caught his eye. “Unless you want to come with me? Sunbathe on the deck while the guide and I take an underwater tour?”
She set her teeth, glanced away. Fiddled with her cup. “Nine is the only time slot the spa had open. If we don’t get a massage today, we’re screwed.”
He sighed as if it were a real disappointment for him too. Ran his fingers through the edges of the paper. “The price we pay for such a short trip, but hey, it got us out of D.C. and the holiday madness for two days.”
Her green eyes swung back to his, dropped to the paper and rose again. Reluctant acceptance replaced her suspicion. “Just promise we’ll meet back here and go to lunch when we’re both done. We’ll make our last few hours here fantastic.”
If things went according to plan, he’d confirm Cabrera’s intel, notify Team Pegasus to pick up their package at midnight as planned, and be back at the hotel before she was putty under the masseuse’s hands. He waggled his eyebrows and gave her a sexy grin. “After lunch, I’m locking us in our room and making good on that mind-blowing sex marathon.”
Her return grin was dirty and dangerous. “I’m holding you to that, Flynn.”
She really wanted that damn massage.
Julia finished her breakfast and lingered over her coffee, pretending to buy Con’s diving story while she enjoyed the ocean view from the restaurant’s patio. Done with his ham croquetas, he slid back his plate and picked up the newspaper, folding it into halves and settling in as if he really were on vacation.
But the great Conrad Flynn didn’t read newspapers for entertainment. He was looking for something. The state of communism in Cuba? The weather report? A coded message?
The former best spy in the biz, now the CIA’s Director of Operations, wouldn’t be looking for a covert message in a communist newspaper. Especially while on vacation with his wife. He didn’t do fieldwork anymore.
Yeah, right. Like Con would ever retire from fieldwork.
Julia let go of a sigh. She really, really wanted that damn massage.
She also wanted to know what Con was up to. Irritating man. Thinking he could get one over on her.
A breeze rattled the palm tree fronds off to her left. The trunks had been wrapped in Christmas lights and the soft sounds of Muzak holiday tunes drifted from the speakers overhead. Castro had brought back Christmas in 1997, thanks to the Pope at that time, and even the small tourist islands surrounding the mainland went all out. Tonight, people would gather at the island’s Catholic church, much like Americans back home would do. For those vacationers who didn’t want to make the trip to midnight mass, they could watch the Pope on the big-screen TVs in the hotel lobby.
Taking one last sip of her coffee, she hid her grimace—she really should have ordered café con leche. This stuff could wake the dead, which was why Conrad liked it so much. She’d have to flag down the cute waiter boy and order a pot for the room. Stretching as she rose, she gathered her tote bag. “I’m going shopping before my massage. I promised to bring Zara a Castro bobblehead.”
Con’s attention lifted from his paper, those dark orbs so intense she could drown in them. He’d let his stubble grow the past few days and his skin was deeply tanned. He fit right in with the local population. “I don’t want to know what she plans to do with that, do I?”
“She has a collection of world dictators she uses for target practice.”
One side of Con’s mouth quirked. “That’s my operative.”
Smiling with him, she thought about her previous life as a spy. She’d switched sides to the CIA’s dismay and joined the FBI. The FBI was similar, and yet, not. Some days, she wondered if she still had what it took to be an operative in a foreign land. “Do you miss it, Con? Fieldwork?”
The breeze lifted a lock of his dark hair and blew it across his forehead. “Every day of my life.”
Her heart pinged, guilt taking her for a ride. He’d chosen her over the one thing he lived for, all in the name of love. He’d defied God and country and the CIA to protect her. What more could a girl want?
“And I’d give it up all over again.” He laid down the paper and turned his white coffee cup in circles. “Because it’s worth the price to wake up next to you every morning, Jules. There’s nothing that compares to that.”
Julia skirted the table, laid her tote on top of his paper and plopped down on his lap. This man. So incredible. “That just earned you double points for this afternoon’s holiday celebration, Director Flynn.”
She brought her lips to his and kissed him long and deep. Under her bottom, she felt him grow hard.
Wiggling a little, she deepened the kiss, making sure he was properly dazed and couldn’t comfortably walk for at least five minutes once she stood and left. His hands roamed over her skin, teasing her through the soft cotton of her dress and bikini. “I’m at your mercy,” he murmured against her lips.
A minute later, she extricated herself from his hands and straightened her askew dress. As she sauntered away from the table, she kept one hand on her tote bag and cast a seductive gaze over her shoulder at him. Those intense eyes were locked on her hips and she gave them extra swagger for good measure.
Out with the massage and in with some spying. And when she figured out what her duplicitous husband was up to, she was going to make him pay. Dearly.
She made it to the door of the hotel before she heard Conrad call out. “Hey, you stole my paper!”
The girl’s still got it. Giving herself a mental high-five, Julia patted the tote bag and headed inside.
Conrad smiled at the glass door where Julia’s swinging derriere disappeared. The newspaper would keep her busy for a while. She’d no doubt spend at least an hour or two combing the articles with her weak Spanish skills and that would allow him to meet with Cabrera—the object of international renown as well as an international manhunt.
Ramon Cabrera was first and foremost a medical researcher. A virologist who’d accidently discovered an antidote to Ebola while working for his country to develop a bioweapon.
Bioweapons had been around since the beginning of history, but Ebola was one of the most deadly and one for which no antidote existed. Add to the fact it could be transmitted by aerosol and you had a bastard of a biological weapon of mass destruction that even a little ol’ country no one paid much attention to could distribute with ease.
The Soviets had started the whole Ebola biowarfare gig, and all these years later, Cuba had resurrected the program. When the Soviet bloc fell, it devastated Cuba’s military and infrastructure, but in the years since, the small country’s biotech research had emerged as one of the most advanced industries around. China, who’d help the Cubans become cyber-savvy, was also funding other anti-U.S. programs. Intel sources reported the focus was using Ebola as a biological weapon.
Combined with Cuba’s close proximity to American soil and a growing paramilitary contingent schooled in Soviet ways, this current sitch made the Cuban missile crisis look like a minor skirmish. And the Department of Defense had dozens of examples of how the Cuban intelligence services—one of the top services in the world—had intensified strategic targeting of the U.S. since 9/11.
The U.S. government was worried. The Centers for Disease Control and the private medical sectors were worried. Taskforces had been set up, committee meetings called. Contingency programs ratified.
And while the politicians and doctors talked themselves to death, the CIA quietly sent an ex-spy to the last known sighting of the man who could change the biological warfare landscape with a single scientific formula.
Ramon Cabrera. The virologist had a half-baked but potentially successful antidote to shut down any Ebola attack. Or so he claimed.
Conrad didn’t know jack about viruses and hemorrhagic fever, but he did know a few things about defectors. Hadn’t been long since he’d pulled his own Judas act against his current employer—and didn’t that make for cozy bedfellows. Traitors and renegades had their own brand of rules. They traded in a commodity loyalists never understood. All Con had to do was follow the breadcrumbs Cabrera had left and verify the guy’s formula was for real.
Snagging his encrypted cell phone from a pocket in his cargo shorts, he scanned the hotel’s entrance again. No Julia.
He pressed a couple of buttons, watched a tiny map and beeping red dot appear on the screen. The meeting point wasn’t too far away. Charging the meal ticket to his and Julia’s suite, he pocketed the phone, double checked no one was watching him and set off down the beach.
She was going to kill him.
No surprise. Julia wanted to kill her husband at least once a week. At least.
Sections of the paper lay scattered over the king-size bed, the Want Ads section on top. Spies often communicated via want ads and singles listings.
Since the paper originated in Havana, the ads were numerous but nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe a little conservative by American standards—after all, this was a communist country—but nothing that tripped her spy radar.
What was he up to? Was he meeting someone or just gathering intel?
Intel at a tourist spot? Unlikely.
Julia sat at her laptop, encrypted with all the latest FBI and CIA security measures, and placed a call to Ryan Smith in London. SkyNet, her jazzed-up version of Skype, provided in part by the CIA’s uber-dweeb, Del Collins, went through its various checkpoints and clearances.
A minute later, Smitty smiled at her from half a world away. “Sheba. Merry Christmas. How’s my favorite spy-turned-federal-agent?”
“Merry Christmas. I’m in the Caribbean wondering where my husband is and why he’s trying to B.S. me into believing he’s not doing fieldwork.”
“I thought you and Solomon were on quickie holiday vacation.”
“Technically, we are, but apparently, he’s also working a mission. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
Smitty’s neck flushed. Thought so.
“Do you still have access to that GPS tracker I sewed into his briefs?”
“What are you going to do if you find him?”
“He lied to me about this vacation. All I want to know is why?”
“So he is working a mission.”
A grimace and the tapping of keys. “You didn’t hear that from me.”
“Person, place or thing?”
Wasn’t that interesting? “Who’s the person?”
Smitty put up his hands. “That’s all I’m saying. You want more, talk to Conrad or Michael Stone.”
Like either of them would fork over details. “Fine, I’ll find him on my own. And in the process, if I cause a stink, get arrested, and end up in a Cuban prison, I’m holding you responsible.”
Resignation clouded Smitty’s face. Another taptaptap. “He’s a half mile east of the hotel at a bar called the Cocina de Sophia.”
“That wasn’t so hard, was it? Anything else I should know? Code words, potential threats?”
Smitty gave her a brief rundown of what he knew about the target. It wasn’t much, but it would do. They said their goodbyes and Julia erased the browsing history and locked up the laptop. Grabbing her tote bag, a floppy-brimmed hat and her sunglasses, she headed for the east side of the island.
The island bar was a rundown shack. Definitely not tourist material, but open from five a.m. to midnight. Inside the dark building, a few early morning diehards like Conrad drank bad coffee and ate breakfast. Most of them were loners like him as well. The only difference was they were locals and he wasn’t.
Out back, a couple of pigs roasted away on grates for Christmas Eve dinners the bar would serve later that day. The smell wafted through the open door and reminded him of his lunch date. On the heels of that thought followed the afternoon’s plan to stay locked in the hotel room with Julia. It was serious fun to dream about it as he nonchalantly scanned the faces of the customers coming and going.
No one tripped his oh-shit radar and that was good. The only one to peak his interest was the waiter from the hotel, who came in, spoke to the owner and left. Con had kept his head down and the kid never even looked his way.
Since he’d been on the island, Con had seen a few paramilitary guys, but not one posed any kind of threat to him or his mission. They were young, hot-blooded teenagers mostly, and untrained. They had the right clothes and the right weapons, and God knew they had the right attitude, but they lacked direction and skill.
At eight-fifty-five, he took one last sip of coffee, paid his bill, and donned sunglasses and a wide-brimmed white hat. The hat’s fabric band sported a subtle red and blue stripe, the calling card Ramon would be looking for. Red, white and blue…Cuba’s national colors as well as America’s.
Outside the sun was heating things up. Wide swaths of bright fabrics shaded a dozen or so open-air stalls. There was no street here; a pedestrian footpath guided locals and a few of the more daring tourists who’d left the safety of the hotel’s grounds through the proffered goods.
Conrad did a slow crawl with the other shoppers, avoiding the children darting in and out of the crowds while keeping an eye out behind him as well as a hand on his wallet.
He’d almost made it to the designated meeting place when he took a detour to a stall with a toothless sales lady and hundreds of designer sunglasses. The sunglasses were fakes, of course, but he pretended to be interested. As he tried on pair after pair and checked his reflection in a cracked mirror hanging on a support beam, he kept one eye on the meet point, a stall selling Virgin Mary statues, and the other on a healthy looking thirty-something male with dreadlocks and a Che Guevara beard who’d had eyes on him since Con exited the bar.
No visible weapons on the guy, but the way he carried himself suggested he was hiding a handgun or knife in the waistband of his pants.
Trouble? Conrad’s oh-shit radar hummed but didn’t blare. Probably a thief looking for a mark. A review of the mental photograph of Cabrera in his head confirmed it wasn’t the virologist. Cabrera had short hair, wire-rimmed glasses and a mole on his left cheek. Dreadlocks was not him.
Conrad continued his sunglasses search. At nine on the dot, a woman…young, dark skin, hair pulled taut and covered with a Cuban flag scarf…walked up to the Virgin Mary table and began handling them one by one. Each time she set a statue down, she glanced over her shoulder.
Virgin Mary, table, shoulder. The stall owner was another old lady who chattered at the woman and made shooing motions with hands gnarled by arthritis when she realized a sale was unlikely. The young woman mumbled something back and ignored the get-lost message, continuing to search over her shoulder every few seconds.
Dreadlocks moved off to Conrad’s left, disappearing behind a stall selling cabbages and tomatoes. Mary-woman checked her watch, sighed heavily and tapped a foot. She shifted her weight. Once, twice. Scanned the crowd and ran a hand over her lower abdomen.
Who was she waiting for?
And why did he have the unmistakable feeling it was him?
Her skirt and blouse hung loose on her frame. Hiding weapons or simply beating the heat?
Paying three times the amount the glasses were worth, Con took his purchase and slid off to the right, doing his own disappearing act. From the cover of the sunglass stall’s backside, he peered through the fabric and framework and observed the woman as well as each and every person who crossed her path.
A minute passed, then two. The woman stayed put. Dreadlocks stayed MIA.
And Ramon Cabrera didn’t show.
Yep, his radar was going off now.
Was it a set up?
Only one way to find out.
Conrad stepped out from behind the stall and strolled toward the table of Virgin Mary statues. The moment the young woman saw him, her body tensed.
Wasn’t that interesting?
Instinct told him to move slow, look uninterested. Cornering a scared animal wasn’t the best move. He was after Ramon, after all. Not her.
Maybe Ramon had sent her in his place or maybe the virologist had already been nabbed by the Intelligence Directorate. Or maybe the guy was just plain late and the woman was waiting for someone else.
Sure she is. Conrad stopped to let two kids run in front of him. Dreadlocks was nowhere to be seen, but he felt eyes on him. Not the woman’s steady, anxious gaze either.
The kids where playing tag and ran in circles around Conrad, laughing and knocking into him as they tried to smack each other. He watched, feigning amusement and keeping his focus on the woman from behind his sunglasses.
She was definitely waiting for him. Her eyes kept darting to the striped band of his hat. So what had happened to good ol’ Ramon?
The shit radar blared some more in his head, but Con shut it down. A change in plans was annoying, but missions never went according to plan. Why would this one be the exception?
Extracting himself from the playful kids, he ran contingency plans through his brain. First, he had to find Ramon. Then he’d figure out Plan B.
He stepped in Mary-woman’s direction, but before he made it to the table, someone bumped into his right arm. Hard. Another woman, smaller, Caucasian and swinging a massive blue tote bag piled past him, knocking him out of the way.
A woman with nice legs.
Julia hustled up to the table of statues and smiled at the young woman and the stall owner, acting all enthralled with the goods for sale and trying to engage them in her halting Spanish. Strands of hair had come loose from her ponytail and blew across the back of her neck. The owner smiled sweetly at her and patiently listed the prices of the various souvenirs. Julia thanked her and began examining the Virgin Marys.
How had she found him and what the hell was she doing?
She lifted a statue and looked at the young woman whose attention was still locked on Conrad. “Another day in paradise, huh?”
Paradise. Jesus. How did she know his code word for Ramon?
The woman’s gaze did a quick shift to Julia’s smiling puss, her brown eyes rounding before they double-checked Con and went back to Julia. The code word meant something to her.
Ramon, you cad. Sending this gal in his place in case things got ugly.
At the same time, Conrad mentally gave the guy a high five. Ramon had sent a cutout in his place. Smart…and not in the mad scientist way.
Which explained how the guy had eluded Cuba’s intelligence service for the past three weeks and gotten in touch with America.
“Paradise,” the young woman said in English, her voice heavy with a French accent, “is highly overrated.”
Correct coded response? Check.
And Julia knew it. She looked at Conrad over her shoulder and gave him a wink.
Finally reaching the stall, he pretended interest in a pile of colorful Guayabera shirts and forced himself not to reach out and strangle his wife.
She paid for a statue and stuck it in her bag. “Are you familiar with the island?” she said to the woman. “I’m afraid I’ve ventured off the vacation property looking for this historical church…”
Julia pulled a map from the seemingly bottomless tote and pointed to a spot. “It’s the one with the black saints? I know it’s around here somewhere and I want to get a picture of it for my mom—she’s a nut about catholic stuff—but I’m totally lost. Can you show me where it is?”
From the corner of his eye, Conrad saw the woman give him one last hesitant glance before nodding at Julia. “Come with me. I’ll take you to the church.”
Con let them get ahead of him by a hundred yards, watching Julia and those sexy legs walk away from him.
The stalls didn’t have a solid end point, they sort of trailed haphazardly out from the center like a dog’s tail. He paid for the shirt, slipped behind the stall and changed into it. Tossed his hat and donned the new sunglasses. Then he followed the market’s tail to the end, palming his encrypted cell phone and making a call as he surreptitiously watched Julia and the cutout hoof it on a dirt trail and disappear around a bend.
When Smitty picked up on his end, Conrad lowered his voice. “You sold me out.”
“She was going to blow the mission.”
“Goddamn woman makes me crazy. She just stole my mark.”
“His cutout. He sent someone in his place.”
A pause. “Meaning he’s either very smart or you’re walking into a setup.”
“Nothing to gain by screwing over Sam.” Sam as in Uncle Sam. “But other benefactors may have offered him a deal. He may want us to sweeten the pot.”
“What are you going to do?”
Dreadlocks stepped out from behind a group of palm trees and headed up the footpath on the women’s trail.
Con’s oh-shit radar went Code Red. Who was that goddamn bastard? “I’m going to go save my wife’s ass and then I’m going to kill her.”
Smitty snorted. “Good luck with that.”
Dreadlocks was too obvious to be an operative. Con shadowed him covertly without any trouble. The guy stalled out ten yards from the church and stood in the shadows of a cluster of fig trees, eying the place and pacing as if raging some internal war over whether or not to enter.
He’d been tailing Con, then switched to tailing the women. Why?
The church was a one-room relic from a previous era, and all but deserted, even this time of year. Hence the reason Stone had picked it for the exchange of information. Con had to be sure Cabrera could come through on the formula.
His mission was already off track and Team Pegasus was waiting for his go-ahead. It sucked they were waiting three clicks off the island, risking their lives to save a defector on Christmas Eve instead of being at home with their families. Conrad had a soft spot for their leader, Lt. Commander Lawson Vaughn, who happened to have saved Con’s most valuable operative awhile back and now was the father of her unborn child. If the mission was blown—if Cabrera was playing games or had been captured by the commies—there was no reason for Vaughn and the others to tread water in the Caribbean. No reason for Conrad’s wife to be risking her backside either.
Man, she’d loved being a spy, as evidenced by this hot mess she’d dove head first into. He couldn’t understand why she’d thrown in the towel and defected to the FBI. She lived and breathed this shit as much as he did.
But whatever, as Zara, his favorite operative and Vaughn’s pregnant girlfriend, liked to say. It was time to find out what Dreadlocks wanted and what the woman inside the church with Julia had to do with Ramon.
Palming the small-caliber gun he’d bought from a different kind of street vendor the previous night, Conrad left his hiding place and snuck up behind the guy.
Dreadlocks had stopped pacing, but his body language still said he was dying to follow the women into the church. Conrad stopped four feet back—just out of reach of the guy’s hands—and pointed the gun at his chest. “Hands behind your head.”
Dreadlocks’ already tense body stiffened another notch. His hands, small for his size and lacking even the slightest trace of dirt or calluses, rose slowly into the air. “Kill me and you will lose the information you seek.”
English, layered with a healthy Cuban accent and a boatload of Ivy League-sounding pomp.
“Down on your knees.”
Conrad removed a military issued knife from the man’s back waistband and then circled him as the man complied reluctantly, sending a disgusted look Con’s way.
The single photo Stone had showed him was of a Latino-skinned, clean-shaven guy with the requisite scholarly eyeglasses. The man in front of him had the high cheekbones and intelligent air, but the dreadlocks and facial hair gave his features a completely different look.
And where was the mole?
The guy had covered it with makeup.
Con tossed the knife into the bushes. “Where are your glasses?”
Ramon Cabrera lowered his eyes and stared at the ground. “Broken in a scuffle with the police a few nights ago.”
“The dreads are a nice touch.”
The man’s gaze came up again, suspicious and full of animosity. “You are the man sent to help me?”
His tone suggested he doubted Conrad’s competence. Nothing like a hostile defector.
Con motioned at the church with his chin. “Who’s the woman?”
The fire went out of Cabrera. Just whoosh, all gone. His shoulders sagged, his eyes suddenly looked exhausted. “My girlfriend.”
Greaaat. That made things so much easier. “You sent her in your place? Why?”
A smidge of defiance returned to the man’s face. “I am a wanted man. It is dangerous for me to be out in public.”
No shit. “Then why were you tailing me back at the market? Why are you here at all?”
“Marguerite insisted she make the initial contact, but I feared for her safety, so I stayed in the shadows and made sure you weren’t going to hurt her.”
His methods may have lacked finesse, but his intentions were honorable. Con motioned for the guy to stand. “Inside.”
The church’s interior was dark and dusty. Julia and Marguerite stood near one of the few windows, Marguerite with her back to Jules and her shirt lifted.
Black squiggles lined the woman’s back. “What the hell is that?” Conrad said as he neared the two of them.
“Pieces of the formula.” Julia didn’t even look up as she spoke. “The key is knowing how to put them together.”
Since when did she know anything about scientific formulas?
Cabrera caught his girlfriend’s eye and some heavy duty silent communication passed between them. The kind that came from being together a long time and knowing each other well. As Con glanced at Julia, he discovered she was sending him a similar message.
Cabrera undid the tie at the waistband of his pants and—whoa, big fella— let them fall to the floor. His upper thighs were covered in similar coma-inducing squiggles. “Permanent marker. I had to write down what I could from memory. This was the only way I was sure I wouldn’t lose the key parts of the formula.”
Julia lowered Marguerite’s shirt. “We’re taking both of them.”
“What?” Conrad shook his head. “Nothing doin’. Cabrera only.”
Julia glared at him. “She’s pregnant.”
Double—make that triple—shit.
Cabrera hiked up his pants and grabbed Marguerite’s hand. “I will not leave without her.”
If it had only been the defector, Conrad wouldn’t have argued.
But there stood Julia, hands on hips and that look in her eye that said he was screwed.
Cabrera and his pregnant girlfriend. Package deal. How was he going to sell that to Stone?
Con sighed, already running a new Plan B in his head. He wasn’t selling jack shit to Stone. He was simply going to do what he always did…cut his loses, save the good guys and flip the bird at the commies.
Taking out his phone, he texted a three-digit number to Vaughn.
And just like that, Operation Christmas Contraband was back on.
Conrad followed his wife, staying hidden in the shadows, watching her back and listening for anything unexpected. Ramon was already at the meet site. Conrad had deposited him there earlier and established a communication unit link with Vaughn.
The comm unit was secured in Conrad’s ear as Julia and Marguerite walked the boardwalk under twinkling Christmas lights strung in the palm trees. They talked and laughed like old friends, Marguerite’s arm through Julia’s and Julia’s big blue tote bag, outfitted with several weapons, hung off her other shoulder.
Behind them, at the hotel, tourists and staff were busy celebrating Christmas Eve, many preparing for the midnight mass. On the beach, others were also celebrating in a less formal manner, lighting bonfires and setting off fireworks.
Perfect cover for the exfiltration.
In the dark, Conrad checked his watch, keeping the lighted display covered with one hand. Go time was 2300 hours, rather than midnight. His gut had told him to take advantage of the drunken revelry consuming the island and get his package out as soon as possible. Team Pegasus had confirmed they could meet at the rendezvous point one hour earlier than originally instructed. Another thing Conrad admired about Lawson Vaughn. The man knew how to flow with the tide—sometimes literally, as in this case with a rescue at sea—and still get the job done. Pegasus and the sub they were coming in on would be at the meet point at eleven o’clock to pick up their precious package.
The package came with a bonus. Michael Stone would be pissed Conrad had brought Marguerite along until he found out she was a French nuclear fusion scientist who’d been working on the Frenchie’s Iter—a fusion reactor set up to generate the next great category of non-fossil-fuel energy. While Marguerite had a valid passport and wasn’t on the run from anyone, she wanted her child to be born in America. And the Iter project had experienced mountains of delays and problems from the European community.
Of course, Julia had promised the woman whatever she wanted, but Julia wasn’t in charge of this mission, no matter how much she tried. Conrad had cut a deal with Marguerite…the CIA would take her with Ramon, but in return, she had to agree to share her knowledge on cold fusion and work with U.S. scientists in whatever capacity the U.S. government deemed necessary for at least five years.
He didn’t know a damn thing about her job or how the French would respond to him stealing a valuable scientist from under their noses, and he didn’t care. What he did know was how to manipulate people into a win-win situation. Julia thought he was a cad to blackmail a woman who was in love and wanting her child born on American soil, but Marguerite and Ramon were getting a damn good deal in return.
Marguerite had known it too. She hadn’t even blinked at his proposal before saying yes.
The boat dock was a mile north of the hotel. Not a short jaunt, but an important one. The dock was a crazy mix of commercial vessels, small, private yachts and common crafts. The boat of choice Conrad would be stealing was a handy little go-fast. Speedy, powerful and compact, go-fasts were often used by smugglers to outrun the Coast Guard. Ramon was already tucked in the silver boat’s cargo hold, the boat’s owners tied up with a legal matter Conrad had created for them to be sure they didn’t decide to spend Christmas on the water.
Every few yards, he double checked the area, making sure Julia and Marguerite weren’t being followed. With the exception of running children and locals headed into town for the festivities, the women didn’t encounter many people. In the shadows, Conrad cataloged everyone they did pass. No one dinged his oh-shit meter. No military, cops, or home-grown bounty hunters looking for a score tonight.
Still, he didn’t relax. He wouldn’t until he and Julia were home.
The dock came into sight. A few partiers on various boats, some docked, some floating in the warm waters under a sliver of a moon. Another plus…no full moon tonight to spotlight the exfiltration.
Keeping the strolling women in his field of vision, he sped up his pace and reached the go-fast before they hit the first slip. The boat was docked in the shadow of the owner’s second vessel, a medium-sized yacht at the end of the dock. One last check assured him no one was watching him or following Julia.
Abandoning his guard dog stance and using the yacht for cover, Conrad snuck over to his desired destination. As expected, the yacht’s windows were dark and no sounds emerged from it. The water surrounding the go-fast was dark and quiet, tiny waves lapping against the hull. It would be a straight shot out to the SS Seawolf’s coordinates and Team Pegasus. Estimated time from dock to submarine: five minutes, twenty-seven seconds.
Mission accomplished, country served, wife happy.
Merry Christmas to me.
Conrad slid behind the wheel, gave the cargo door two swift taps to let Ramon know he was there and hotwired the engine.
The power boat roared to life and hummed under his ass as he checked the various weapons secured on his body and counted the seconds until Julia and Marguerite appeared. When they did, he motioned at Julia to unhitch the rope anchoring the boat to the dock. She complied as Marguerite hopped in, the French woman’s face showing obvious strain even in the shadows.
Julia was wrestling with the rope when Con heard the distinct call of voices over the noise of the engine. Marguerite and Julia heard them, too, both women’s heads snapping toward the dock they couldn’t see on the other side of the yacht.
Con’s gut tightened. The shouts were not from holiday revelers. As Julia’s gaze swung to his, he made a sharp motion at her. Get in.
She complied, falling slightly as Con gunned the engine. The go-fast shot out of the slip just as a group of men rounded the yacht and gunfire rained down on them.
Julia yelped—being the total FBI professional she was—and fell smack into Conrad’s chest, a bullet whizzing by her ear and shattering the speedboat’s windshield.
Adrenaline and training kicked in and her Beretta was in her hand before she straightened, facing backwards so she could aim at the dock. One, two, three, she fired at the three figures standing there. Wait. Was that…?
The waiter from the hotel. She could just make out his face in the scant moonlight.
Her shots hit the wooden dock, the yacht, and something else, but had the desired effect. All three shooters ducked for cover.
The seating area of the boat had little room. Marguerite had tucked herself into a ball on one of the cushions. Ramon was half in, half out of the cargo hold. And Conrad…
The sky was inky black, the water, too. The only light illuminating the night came from the tiny moon and a few bare bulbs strung along the dock. The dock was bouncing and swaying from the commotion, throwing odd shadows over Conrad as they sped deeper into the night.
But the black silhouette on Conrad’s neck was no trick of the shadows. A dark stain was spreading quickly down to his shoulder and soaking into his cotton shirt. A stain that could only be blood.
Marguerite chose that moment to raise her head and reach out for Ramon, who was still struggling to get out of the cargo hold. Julia shoved Marguerite’s head back down, fired off an insurance round, and then turned to Conrad. “You’re hit.”
His focus was on driving the boat and continuing to evade bullets. Pretending he hadn’t heard her even though she had yelled over the engine noise, he touched a communication unit in his ear. “Pegasus, this is Solomon. We’re coming in hot. I repeat, this is a hot extraction.”
Lawson Vaughn must have responded. Con grinned. “Roger that, Pegasus.”
The men on the dock were firing their weapons while still hiding, and the boat was now far enough away, Julia could take her eyes off the area. She touched Conrad’s neck, her fingers coming away with warm, sticky blood.
Her heart, already hyper with adrenaline, sledgehammered against her ribs. Reaching into her tote, which was lying on the floor under her feet, she yanked out her bikini top. She felt for one of the padded cups and placed it against Con’s neck.
He jerked away. “What the hell are you doing?”
The boat hit a wave and for a second they were airborne. Julia gripped Con’s shoulder for support. “You’re bleeding.”
“Sit down before you fall overboard.”
He tried to brush her off, but she wrapped one of the bikini’s straps around his neck and tied it off. “Shut up and let me take care of you.”
Ramon appeared in her line of sight. “Julia?”
Marguerite grabbed her arm and yelled. “Julia!”
She cranked her head around to look at the woman. “What?”
Both Ramon and Marguerite pointed to a spot behind them and Julia’s heart did its sledgehammer routine once more. A boat, bigger than their speed boat and just as fast, was running low across the water behind them.
“Pursuers!” she shouted to Conrad as she counted the silhouettes she could see against the fading lights of the dock. “At least three. Closing in fast!” The outline of a machine gun emerged. “Get down!”
Just as she threw herself on top of Marguerite and Ramon, Conrad jerked the boat sharply to one side, sending up a huge tail of water behind them. Julia lost her balance, grabbed onto Ramon. The man lurched backwards, tripping over the Virgin Mary statue that had rolled out of her tote. His arms went up as he went down, yanking her off balance.
The boat tipped too far to Julia’s left and the next thing she knew, she hit the water. Hard.
The shock made her gulp. Bad idea. Salty water flooded her mouth and she coughed, sucking up more water in the process and choking.
Although she couldn’t see them—hell, she couldn’t see anything—she was vaguely aware of the others hitting the water as well and doing the same thing. Limbs flailing and searching for purchase, the struggle against drowning overtaking the fear of flying bullets.
Lying bastard. He was always, always, working. She should have known he wasn’t just avoiding the family holiday gig. Should have known he’d volunteered to do a mission.
And now they were ass-deep in trouble. At least he was at home in the water. She, on the other hand, never felt comfortable in anything larger than a pool.
But how bad was he hurt? As her thoughts raced willy-nilly and her lungs threatened to explode, she fought against the panic surging in her veins. Straightening her body, she pushed upward.
At least she hoped it was upward.
Everything was too dark. Her equilibrium was off. There was nothing but water and more water. Pressure in her lungs.
Where was the damn surface? Her heartbeat roared in her ears. She kicked hard, pushing water with her hands. Everything inside her chest screamed with hot intensity.
Wham. The top of her head hit a hard, immovable force. The speedboat?
A sharp pain ran from her crown down the back of her neck. Pinpricks of light danced at the edge of her vision. Her feet and hands went numb.
Air! Air! Air!
She bobbed, the fight draining out of her. Pain in her head, an elephant on her chest. Her head knocked into the boat again. She must be underneath it. Raising her unfeeling hands, she shoved at the boat, and when that didn’t work, she tried to find something to hang onto. Her fingers brushed metal. A cleat?
She had to breathe and she had to breathe right frickin’ now. Her mouth defied her mental command to stay shut, the demand from her lungs too overpowering.
She gulped more water. Choked. Gaged. Gulped more, her lungs even more confused when they couldn’t process the liquid air. What little vision she had gave over to the pinpricks and she felt herself sinking.
Down, down, down.
She was done.
I love you Con. God, he was going to be pissed if he made it out alive and she didn’t. He’d never forgive himself.
In one last desperate attempt to save herself, Julia gave a feeble kick of her feet.
Yes, there. A light.
And also the muffled, but very real sounds of a gunfight.
She had no choice. She had to have air. Needed to check on the others. Needed to make sure Conrad was all right.
Her legs tried to kick again, but she was out of gas. She started to float back down…
A hand grabbed her by the back of the neck. Another tugged on her shirt. Suddenly, she was moving at what felt like the speed of light. A few seconds later, her head broke the surface.
This time when her mouth opened, she drank air. There was enough water in her lungs she vomited up a gush of salty water.
Conrad’s face appeared in her vision. Bullets zinged overhead and hit the water around them, but she didn’t care. She tried to say something, but her throat wouldn’t work. His brows formed a dark line over his eyes and he hugged her close. His body was just as wet as hers, and yet he radiated heat and security. She burrowed into him.
But the next thing she knew, he flipped her around so she was looking at a combat ready raiding craft like SEALs used with a set of men in combat gear.
The boat was inflatable and looked flimsy, but it was holding four team members, three of which were firing off mean-looking semi-automatic weapons, and another man holding out a hand toward her. Lawson’s second-in-command, John Quick. Behind him, Ramon and Marguerite huddled together.
Thank god, they were safe. Safe being relative when people were shooting at you.
Julia’s arm wouldn’t rise to grip John’s. She was too weak, still coughing up water, and everything felt numb.
And then she heard the distinctive sound of a larger weapon firing overhead. Instinctively, she flinched. A second later, Con gave a giant push and she lifted out of the water and into John’s hands.
He hauled her aboard, turned to hold a hand toward Con. Just as Conrad’s upper body cleared the boat, whatever weapon Lawson Vaughn had fired hit home. An explosion rocked the area, their pursuers going up in a ball of flames.
Conrad dragged himself the rest of the way onto the boat, a grin splitting his face as he watched the fireworks.
Vaughn’s face showed a similar expression as he exchanged a look with Con. “They were starting to piss me off, sir,” Lawson drawled, lowering the missile launcher from his shoulder.
Con laughed, sluicing water from his face. “Me, too, Lt. Commander. Nice work.”
Con and Lawson clapped their hands around each other’s forearms in some kind of Navy/SEAL handshake Julia didn’t understand and Lawson helped Conrad stand. Con looked at her and gave her a thumbs-up. “Ready to go home?”
If his hand hadn’t been shaking so hard, belying his cocky-ass grin, she would have shoved him overboard.
Six hours later
Julia tried to unlock the door to her apartment, but exhaustion weighted down her limbs and caused her fingers to fumble with the key. She’d slept four hours on the submarine that had transported them to Florida after John Quick had shot her full of antibiotics and pronounced her okay.
He’d also declared Conrad’s bullet wound was just a graze while putting six stitches in it.
Just a graze. On one hand, she’d been relieved. On the other, she’d wanted to haul out her Beretta and ‘graze’ Con’s ass.
On the plane ride from Tampa to Virginia, she’d slept another hour, then endured a more detailed physical by a CIA-approved doctor and a debriefing—on Christmas, no less—by her former boss, Deputy Director Michael Stone. Her FBI boss had gotten in on the act as well. Neither man was pleased with the fireworks show, but like always, Conrad had smooth talked his way out of trouble.
Julia was pretty sure she was still in hot water with her boss, but it was Christmas after all. The ass-chewing would commence next week.
Pale winter sunlight painted the horizon as the black sedan Michael had procured for them dropped them in front of her apartment. Their apartment…at least until she kicked the Great Conrad Flynn out on his jean-clad ass.
She stabbed at the lock again and the damn key slipped through her fingers and fell to the stoop. A heavy sigh escaped her lips. This was so not how she’d planned to start Christmas morning.
Con’s hands gently gripped her upper arms and eased her to the side. He picked up the key and unlocked the door. He wasn’t one for apologies, so she was going to have to make him pay. Big time.
Operation Make-up With Julia commences now.
Swinging the door open, he stepped back and motioned her in with a giant flourish of his arm. She avoided meeting his eyes, but she still noticed the sly grin on his face. He was pleased with himself.
Truth be told, she was pleased with him too. He’d given Ramon and Marguerite—as well as their unborn child—a wonderful gift. A new life in a free country.
Not to mention Con had rescued her from drowning.
She stepped across the threshold and the scent of fresh pine hit her nose. Of course, Conrad and his precious secret mission were the reasons she’d almost drowned in the middle of a gunfight to begin with. Nothing with him and their relationship ever seemed to get easier, even now that they were married.
Her luggage had been left behind. Her tote, lost in the waters of the Caribbean. The only things she had were the clothes on her back—and the jacket she wore over her own clothes? It was Conrad’s. Lawson Vaughn had brought the jacket and a change of clothes for Con and another set for Ramon, not realizing two women would be joining their ranks as well.
But Con, being the nice guy he was, had given the fresh clothes to Marguerite and the jacket to Julia.
Head up and heart flip-flopping between wanting to kill him and wanting to hug him, Julia stomped through the living room and into the kitchen, shrugging off his coat and dropping it on the floor. Then she stopped, turned on her heel, and went back to the living room.
A huge spruce tree, complete with lights and ornaments, stood in the far right corner. Elaborately wrapped packages sat tucked underneath.
Conrad made his way to the couch, picked up a mug from the coffee table with what appeared to be steaming fresh coffee in it, and admired the tree with that cocky grin still on his face.
The smell of coffee drifted over to Julia. She couldn’t resist the draw. The coffee at CIA headquarters had been undrinkable.
Grabbing the other cup—thank you, Universe, it was still hot and perfectly brewed—she cocked her chin at the tree. “What is that?”
Con scrutinized her. “Surely you’ve seen one before. It’s called a Christmas tree.”
Smartass. “How did it get here?”
“Santa’s elves. You know those little guys with the pointed ears?”
“Tell me you didn’t call Zara in the middle of the night and make her do all of this.”
He sipped his coffee. “Are you kidding? She’d rather shoot off my balls for taking Vaughn from her on Christmas Eve than help me out with a surprise for you.”
Zara was a woman to be admired. “So, Ruth did it.”
“She loves me.” Conrad shrugged at the fact his secretary thought he walked on water and spoiled him rotten. “What can I say? She loves Christmas and all this holiday shit. She was thrilled to do this.”
“You’re giving her a nice holiday bonus, right? A big, fat holiday bonus. A raise, too.”
He winked. “I’ve got Ruth covered. She is, as we speak, packing for a trip to see her grandkids, all expenses paid.”
The coffee was good. She wanted a shower and a pair of her softest pajamas to crawl into. She wanted breakfast and then a good eight hours of shut eye.
She wanted to know what was in the boxes under the tree.
“They’re all for you.” Con set down his cup and rose. He took her hand, drew her down to the couch, and picked up a sheet of paper from the coffee table. “But first this.”
He handed her the paper and sat next to her. It was a flight plan for a private plane scheduled to leave Ronald Reagan National Airport at noon and land in…
Julia’s heart warmed slightly. “We’re going to see my brother?”
“That’s what you wanted, right? To spend Christmas with Eric and his kids? And then I changed your mind so I could get Ramon. I figured the least I could do in return was get you to New York later today since you were such a good sport. Titus is loaning us his plane and a pilot.”
Operation Makeup with Julia was in full swing. A tired smile crossed her lips. This was why she didn’t kick him out. Why she loved him so much. He somehow managed to do a very dangerous job and still make her happy in the end. Even bribing Director Allen, the man at the top of the spy chain, into loaning them his private jet.
But she wasn’t letting him off the hook…just…yet. “You think that’s going to redeem you for ruining my vacation? I didn’t even get a massage.”
His eyes danced with amusement. He picked up another, smaller sheet of paper and handed it to her. “You’re booked for a complete package at the West Village Radiance Spa with Eric’s wife tomorrow.”
She set down her cup and handed the papers back to him. “I’m going to take a shower.”
The amusement left his eyes. His brows dipped. Was he forgiven or not? “Um, okay. What about your presents?” He gave her another sly grin and waggled his eyebrows. “Don’t you want to open them first?”
Seeing Eric and the girls was present enough. She smiled at the thought of surprising them. And all the hoops Con had jumped through to make it happen.
The miracles he worked in his job and in his personal life were sometimes messy, but they were still miracles.
“What I want…” Julia held out her hand to him. “Is for you to come scrub my back. Then you can make me breakfast while I pack for our trip.”
He took her offered hand, rose and drew her close. His voice was husky as he gazed down into her eyes with obvious love. “And then?”
“And then,”—she teased a curl of hair at the corner of his forehead, gently touched the bandage on his neck. “I have a present for you.”
He smiled and she went up on her toes and kissed him. He returned the kiss, deepening it and holding her in a firm embrace. For a long moment, they simply stood there, exploring each other’s mouths, running their hands over the other’s body. Fitting together perfectly.
Con finally broke away. “Merry Christmas, Sheba.”
“Merry Christmas, Solomon.”
“We make a good pair, you know. Sure you don’t want to come back to the CIA and work for me?”
Patting his derriere, she gave him a patient smile. “In your dreams, buddy boy.”
He laughed and followed her toward the bathroom. “You watch. I’ll wear you down one of these days.”
“Oh, right. Because you always get your man.” She couldn’t help but tease him.
He turned on the shower, brushed a soft kiss across her lips and started undoing the buttons of her shirt. “Or woman.”
He’d already worn her down. That’s why she’d married him. “I love you even when I want to kill you, you know.”
Her shirt hit the floor, followed by her bra. His fingers went to the snap at the waistband of her jeans. “A Christmas miracle, right there.”
A Christmas miracle. Yes, indeed. It was impossible not to hope for a bright New Year for all of them. Her and Con. Zara and Lawson. Michael and Brigit. Even Ramon and Marguerite. “One of many.”
And hopefully without any fireworks.
As if that would ever happen when you loved a spy.
Con finished undressing her and led her into the warm water of the shower. As he soaped her body from head to toe, she heard him murmur, “Mission accomplished.”
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she grinned. Silly boy.
His Christmas Day Make-up With Julia mission was just getting started…
How did it all start with Conrad and Julia?
For fans of Homeland and Covert Affairs!
***#1 Romantic Suspense, #2 Romance, #3 Bestseller in Kindle Store in 2010!
***1st Place Winner of the New England Readers Choice Award for Best Romantic Suspense!
First in the award-winning romantic suspense Super Agent series by USA TODAY bestselling author Misty Evans.
Julia Torrison—codename Sheba—is keeping secrets.
Seventeen months ago she was one of the CIA’s super agents, facing down dangerous terrorists with her partner and lover Conrad Flynn. After a mission was blown and Conrad died, Julia was yanked back to Langley and given a new identity. She is now the Counterterrorism Center’s top analyst, spending her days at CIA headquarters and her nights in her boss’s bed. Her former life as a secret agent has been sealed off with her heart.
Former SEAL Conrad Flynn—codename Solomon—has his own secrets.
For starters, he’s not dead. Going under the deepest cover possible, he faked his own death to save Sheba’s life. Now he must tear that new life apart and ask for her help to hunt down a traitor inside the Agency’s walls.
Is Conrad a rogue operative or a jealous ex-lover looking for revenge?
Julia must risk everything for the man who still holds her heart in order to decide. Drawn into a web of seduction and betrayal, she is forced to play the spy game of her life, flushing out an Agency mole and stopping a hostage situation using nothing more than her iPod and her intuition.