Deception in Geneva
Sometimes running from the past leads to hot and heavy consequences…
Former psychic spy, Chloe St. Laurent is a woman of many secrets. Five years ago, after her lover, a die hard mercenary, is kidnapped and murdered while on a secret mission in Darfur leaves her life and heart in ruins. As a means to cope, Chloe disappears into a thin air and settles in a small town in the Alps leaving behind everything and everyone in order to heal from the demons and horrors of that mission. She manages to build a new life, a life of solitude and peace. All that is about to change when Zane Hammond, head of a powerful mercenary organization, finds her and begs her to join forces with him in bringing down a notorious arms dealer. What unfolds between them not only unearths both of their pasts but ignites a dangerous attraction that cannot be denied. But helping the enemy is out of the question, since she holds Zane responsible for her lover’s death, Chloe is fearful of refusing him flat out and runs yet again. However, this time she does not run far before Zane catches up with her and renders some hot and heavy consequences for being deceived.
She’s my last resort. My only option.
The desperate directive repeated in Zane Hammond’s mind, calm and detached, as he stared at the open file on his desk, a sheaf of photographs fanned out across it, the woman in them threatening to steal his concentration to the exclusion of all else. The effect was most puzzling. Unusual.
For the twentieth time that day, he couldn’t help but go back to them. Actually, compelled was more like it. His interest in the subject seemed to go far beyond professional boundaries and into the murky waters of the personal. Having memorized her every feature, every curve of her luscious body, every nuance of her beautiful face was disconcerting to say the least.
Leaning back in his chair, he picked up the top frame. He held it up, angled it just right, and gazed at the woman. She was clad in a hot pink bikini, on the arm of a handsome man on a yacht in the South of France. Sipping Champagne. Wanton hair swirling out in the wind like silk.
The next frame was a close-up. She wore a black evening gown. Hair upswept in an elegant chignon. Diamonds dangling at her ears. A fur stole draped across her bare shoulders. Her face slightly angled to the side, eyes downcast, looking mysterious, haunted. He’d stared at this frame for days. There was something about it that touched him in an inexplicable way. Almost as if he resonated with it on some level. Even at night, as he lay in bed, the image swam within his consciousness until sleep claimed him.
In another, she was getting into a black Mercedes, beads of sweat trickling down her neck. The place looked like Egypt. Eyes hidden behind dark shades. She looked rushed, hurried. Nervous.
The next was unlike the others. It was black and white, shot by a long-range camera. She was oddly provincial. Her hair was drawn back in a severe roll. Her face was free of makeup. Pale, stark, and worried. People milled around her, but she was oblivious to them. She was on the phone, her eyes intense and focused. A man was propped behind her, on guard, his eyes scanning the crowd. He recognized the dark haired, hard edged, blue eyed Adonis – a diehard mercenary with an impeccable record.
He turned it over. The photo was stamped with a date. Eight years ago.
He reached out, rifled through the rest. No pictures of her with her dead lover. All of them were from the Sierra Leone era, five years ago or longer.
He reached over for the new batch of photos, taken a few days ago, and fanned them out like a deck of cards. One image in particular caught his eye. The jeans, hiking boots, and oversize coat she wore did nothing to hide the soft curves of her voluptuous body. Her dark hair cascaded in waves down her back. She wore no makeup as usual. A large shoulder bag was flung easily on her left shoulder as she headed inside a cafe to meet friends. Looking pensive. Guarded.
In his world, family and friends were a weakness that could easily be exploited. He knew how. He knew the methods. It would not prevent or deter him from exercising such measures if push came to shove. But he couldn’t think about that now. Projecting obstacles wasn’t wise when he had yet to convince her. Seek her cooperation.
The worst that could happen, he mused, was for her to refuse. But he wouldn’t let that happen. He would give her no options, no choice but to concede to his wishes.
The job was straightforward. Find the whereabouts of Abdul Shah, a notorious arms dealer, responsible for fuelling violence in war zones around the globe. Find him quickly, if possible, by any means necessary.
Within the time span of a week, the target had crisscrossed from Prague to Norway to Cairo to Russia which further complicated matters. The trail had been deliberately set into motion to deflect and derail collective efforts. A frustrating setback. With constant dead ends, he knew it required more than human skill to apprehend him.
She had the skills, or hoped she still did. Her knowledge would be crucial and necessary at every stage of the operation going forward. As far as he was concerned, she was his only hope.
The first thing he had done was collect data on her activities of the past ten years. Those in the know were hesitant to divulge information but by using a judicious blend of threats and bribes, a few telephone calls and some poignant questions gave him all the answers he needed. A thorough profile had been established. He knew every goddamn thing about her past. No stone had been left unturned.
And what a past. From all accounts the woman had been moonlighting as a psychic spy, one of the best in the world, who later went on to collaborate with a German neuroscientist in training covert operatives in how to access information about their targets using their sixth sense, thus endowing them with extrasensory advantages. With a twenty million dollar funding from private investors under their belt, the mind enhancement program had been kept a well guarded secret for years. The facility and location remained classified to this day.
His sources revealed that by just closing her eyes, she could see anywhere on the planet, to channel information about spatially and temporally remote geographical targets, to gain access to the insides of file cabinets, desk drawers, rooms, and building in restricted areas of other countries and places for the purpose of gathering intelligence.
Christ. The woman had skills.
The study was growing dark with the dawn of the early January sunset forming on the horizon, but he stayed motionless in the chair. Staring up at the ceiling, he tried to settle his mind down to the stillness necessary to absorb everything he’d learned about her. A still mind, like infinite space, was all encompassing.
But not tonight. His mind was far from cooperating. He’d sat there motionless for hours while dark fell, and muscles screamed in protest. He could not concentrate. He was distracted. Tense. Anxious. He had to stay cool. And God knows, staring at the woman in the photos for days on end was no way to get or stay cool. He had never seen a woman more sensual even while powerful. Her sensuality was intensified by a mysterious force burning within her. It was disarming. Disturbing. A mix of desire and male irritation conspired to utterly destroy his focus.
As the force behind Oceanus Security Solutions, that was unacceptable.
His interest was purely for professional reasons or so he kept telling himself. And yet somewhere along the way, the desires of the personal began to enter the equation. Hardly ethical, he knew. For many of his contemporaries ethics was a non-issue. Unlike them, he wrestled with it constantly when executing his responsibilities. It was a bitch for the conscience. In light of his position, a stark contradiction.
In a world filled with evil people, the OSS was its worst nightmare. The covert organization had the capability of operating in any environment – sea, air or ground – with all manner of weaponry at its disposal to neutralize such forces. It was well equipped, powerful. OSS’s agenda was clear: to help their wealthy, powerful clients eliminate threats of every kind. Secretly or otherwise. Legally or not.
And as its head, he had many enemies.
Fuck. Delete. Cancel. The thought had no place. It would not serve him now. He dismissed it, waving it away in his mind like an irritating fly. Moving on.
He knew every detail of the woman’s activities, all centered on normal daily routines. Despite living the life of a normal woman, or what appeared to be normal, was a woman who didn’t exist on paper. Many of the facts he’d gathered about her, he’d had to bust a few balls in the process. It hadn’t been easy. She’d cost him time and money, two things he hated to waste.
As soon as the satellite had focused its harsh glare on her residence in the Swiss Alps, he’d kept a vigilant eye. Since her home was perched on a slightly high altitude, they had taken measures to carefully study all the different routes and traffic directions leading to the location, pedestrian areas, dead-ends, amount and period of lighting of the surrounding areas. He knew the exterior layout of her property like the back of his hand, but the interior was a different matter. They couldn’t get close to her state-of-the-art security systems without being busted. The risk outweighed the effort. She had obviously taken extreme measures to protect herself, and any attempt to breach that security would be met with repercussions. The last thing he needed was for the local authorities to wander up his ass.
With the important details taken of, he’d turned his eye on the personal, mundane aspects of her life. He knew about her past and yet knew nothing about her present. To his dismay, there were no driving, employment, tax or medical records. It was as if the woman were a ghost. However, one piece of data had been successfully obtained. Her father was long gone, but her mother was still very much alive, albeit ill, living in a retirement home in Lyons. This, he mused, was his trump card. Family members always were. Leverage, he thought, was fucking sweet.
He’d forgone full support on this operation, being as competent as the mercenaries in his employ, no one outside his trusted circle knew of his plans. No spectators, suggestions, criticisms. This was personal. In fact, so personal, that he had to make sure he knew exactly who she was before bringing her into the fold. He had to know her as well as himself. A miscalculation on any level could be catastrophic. There was too much at stake.
He knew what the target was capable of, threats had been made, and deaths of few of his men had proven they could gain access anytime, anywhere. It was a warning to back off. But Zane had no intention of doing that. He would get them, and then render his own brand of justice. As the founder of OSS, his father had terminated the enemy without blinking whereas now it was his responsibility. Spending most of his early life in the shadow of his father and watching him embroiled in the nasty world of espionage and various high level, high risk operations too numerous to count, he’d learned the extent to which he could bend the rules. Hell, in his world there were no rules. The conditions didn’t allow for any. He’d lived without them for so long that he no longer had any concept of them. His boundaries were broken down by lies and betrayals so thick and complex that the mere idea of having them was stifling. As far as he was concerned, lack of boundaries gave him a degree of freedom that the average civilian could not even fathom.
In fact, he reflected, he’d never had much interest in following the rules. Even as a child, he’d refused to do so. Rules, he’d discovered, were artificial. Notions of propriety forced upon people who had no idea they were being mind fucked into being docile doormats. His father had trained him and his brother otherwise. He’d expected them to rely on their own sense and sensibilities, to hone their instincts, and build the stamina worthy of running the OSS one day. In a world of high stakes, secrecy, risk and unspeakable acts controlling the parameters of your mind was the rule. The law. Anything else would be deadly.
He pushed the thoughts away. This kind of self reflection was irrelevant now. He had no time for philosophical musings. Next.
Keeping her under round the clock observation had yielded nothing out of the ordinary, except that he’d learned the times of her arrivals and departures. Her habits, tastes and preferences in social and cultural activities had been determined. Simple, everyday stuff. And for some strange reason, it delighted him.
From his reports, he knew dark chocolates were her favourite. And by all accounts she was a night owl like himself. She liked classical music – Bach, Chopin, Vivaldi. She preferred natural fabrics when purchasing clothes, careful to choose monochromatic tones and hues. It was perhaps to deflect attention. She indulged in color only when buying lingerie. Pretty colors of pink, cream, and lilac. To his mind, that was a valuable piece of data – that beneath the drab clothes lay a sensual woman, soft at her core, and pliable. It gave him extreme pleasure to know this. If and when required, he mused, it would be another angle to exploit.
The persona of the single woman living alone, with average means, no status, and without family was a lie. Apparently friends and neighbours suspected nothing and had accepted her as one of their own. And she didn’t have many of them. For the most part she kept her own company. No lovers to account for which surprised him. Unless, of course, she was purposely keeping such details under wraps. If she was, he would’ve uncovered them by now.
The outer reality bespoke of a woman living a simple, small town life. Only a woman worth millions of dollars, he mused, could afford such simplicity. From their research, her financial status was solvent, with a few investments made over the past five years. Nothing that would raise eyebrows or draw unwanted attention. Very smart.
It appeared to him that she had gone to great lengths to construct an identity that would meld well with the flock that populated her little town in the Alps. Like a chameleon, she had morphed into a woman of solitary means. But why?
He let out a sigh, checked his watch, and got up, to get the blood moving. Zane walked across the office to a mahogany cabinet and pressed a button on the side. It swung outward and inside the finest Brandy, Whiskey and Cognac bottles and various shapes of glasses lined the shelves. Holding the bottle of Johnny Walker by the neck, he poured a good sized tumbler. In a well practiced move, he tossed back the drink and poured another one. Sipping on the whiskey, he moved to the picturesque windows. It occurred to him that he’d decided he would not consume any alcohol before the meeting. This lapse would leave him at a disadvantage. Lapses were deadly. An operative could not afford to make them. He had to be a blank slate, ready to be anyone, anything. His father had drilled that lesson into the deepest caverns of his mind.
He took a long swallow and hissed through his teeth as the burn settled in his gut. But he’d allow himself a small luxury since no one was watching. All eyes were on Jillian Anders, and he had become inexplicably fascinated by her. If not for the fact that he was worried about the method being used to bring here tonight, or if she’d cooperate, or better yet, if she’d be willing to, he might almost have been enjoying himself.
He shook his head in disbelief. An alarming thought.
The woman was dangerous. Some years ago, Anders had become romantically involved with a mercenary named Michael Peters. During that period which had led up to his abduction and murder while on a secret mission in Darfur, had left many shocked to the bone. A negotiating tactic gone horribly wrong. Since that time, she had disappeared from sight, into the invisible ethers.
Anders had gone into hiding. In fact, she had vanished like a ghost on that bloody day and had shown no desire to be found.
Thanks to his brilliant team the ghost was now found.
Zane took another long swallow as he returned to his desk, turning his attention to the laptop glowing in the dimed room. He clicked on the new photos he’d obtained yesterday. Yoga class. He took a sip of his whiskey and skipped through the images to his favourite one. Here he was again, allowing himself to be drawn back to her. Like a fucking magnet.
She was in the ‘plough’ pose. God love the Kama Sutra. He suspected that its suggestive name wasn’t an accident. Legs draped over the head, bent at the waist, elevated pelvis. Fuck. It stirred the blood between his thighs, torturing his cock. He could see where he’d fit into that scenario alright. Oh yeah, he’d know how to work that position for maximum effect.
Her body looked stunning in that pose. Hot and tempting. He liked this photo, having grown addicted to it and the hot rush that it gave him no matter how many times he looked at it. He skipped through the class to the photo where she was stepping out of the pool at the local health club. Clad in a killer bikini. The curves and hollows, the highlights and shadows of her wet body pumped more blood down south.
He’d seduced many women in his career, and some of them had been very beautiful, but he’d never reacted like this to a woman before. Or any other, in truth, or otherwise. He liked sex. His sexual appetites were insatiable. But he always remained detached – particularly in the context of an operation. From the beginning of his career, he had been encouraged to stay detached at all costs. His sex life was no different. He could fuck and walk away, as he had done with every woman he had taken to his bed. Stay cool. Always.
So why couldn’t he do it now? Why was he so fascinated now? There was no logical explanation. And no excuse. It made his stomach muscles tighten. A bad sign.
Ah, here it was, the best part. The women’s shower area at the health club. The photos of Jillian were incredible. Full, lush breasts, the soft round curve of hips and ass. Water dripping around her taut, protruding pink nipples as she soaped herself. Jillian rinsing. The suds sluicing into the depilated triangle. That was another intimate tidbit he knew about her – she went Brazilian.
His cell phone rang. Zane was irritated at the interruption, and yanked the phone out of his pocket.
He put it to his ear. “What?” he asked, with ill grace.
“So?” It was Sasha, his friend and second in command. The tone in the man’s voice put Zane’s teeth on edge.
“So what?” he countered.
“Do you still want me to bring the woman?”
Zane’s jaw tensed. “Where are you?”
“Just a block away from her house,” he said. “I could grab her anytime.”
Zane was silent for a moment. “Anyone follow you?”
“Follow? You’re fucking kidding right?” Sasha made a derisive sound. “Did you forget Afghanistan? C’mon Zane. Do you want the woman or not? Don’t fucking waste my time. Its freezing out here.”
Zane clenched his jaw. How could he forget? Sasha loved waving his superior skills in Zane’s face just to rile him up. “How soon can you get here?” he said finally.
“Time is irrelevant. Don’t you worry about that,” he said dismissively. “You’re not having second thoughts are you? Cause if you are, you’d better tell me now.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I sense hesitation.”
Zane went silent. Leave it to Sasha to hone in on his state of mind. The man liked to question, prod and challenge him. But Sasha, more than anyone in his entire organization could get away with it. The only other person who even dared was his other friend, Jet Ryder, a highly skilled mercenary, engaged in some of the most dangerous, high threat operations in the world. Jet was exceptional, and so was Sasha. As men, he respected them and as friends he trusted them. Only they could be counted on as friends. And he trusted them with his life.
“No hesitation,” he asserted. “Bring her to me.”
He ended the call and stowed the phone in his pocket. He tried to grasp for his elusive, detached calm again.
God. Endless operations, twenty years of mixed martial arts, combat experience on five continents, a rating with every weapon that shot a bullet or held an edge but none had him so tense as the impending meeting with Jillian Anders.
Nerves. Another thing he could not afford. His nerves had been a problem for most of his life when it came to personal matters. Ironic, considering the career path he’d been destined to follow. With those he had a personal connection with he’d wanted to be softer, kinder. That choice would’ve appalled his father. Dale Hammond was a man who had gone to great lengths to maintain a cold distance with the people around him, including his family and friends. No one could’ve predicted how dangerous and destructive the long term effects of that would be, least of all the man himself. It was, Zane realized years later, the reason that his mother had taken her own life.
So he’d learned early to rein in and control his nerves, unaware that such ability would serve him in the future and the responsibilities that would soon come beckoning. He could hear in the back of his mind what his father would have to say about that, but he blocked it before it could start to play in his head. He had no time or energy for a sermon.
He had told Sasha there was no hesitation, but he had lied. A woman like her would not easily do his bidding, he knew. She had her own life. She had put the past behind her. Why would she help him? What would be her benefit? Money, he thought. Outrageous sums of money, he was sure, would help convince her to see things his way. At least, he hoped it would. From the point of view of financial solvency, it was difficult to justify such a payout. But when a life hung in the balance, when a life was being threatened, the money was a secondary issue. Saving a life took precedence. His life.
In the course of his career, he’d managed to avoid hurting innocent people, and still obtain successful outcomes. He’d relied on skill, luck and cleverness, but his luck had run out six months ago in Afghanistan.
The usual chain of command, the calling in of favours from international sources, deploying some of the most skilled mercenaries in the world had failed to capture the target. The intel of the target’s whereabouts in Afghanistan had been false. It had been maddening to say the least. Running out of options, and desperate, Jet had suggested an alternative. At first the suggestion had seemed ludicrous yet the more he rolled the idea around in his head, the more it grew on him. A psychic. Many in the intelligence community used them, he knew. He’d just never had any use for them until now.
Jillian Anders. Psychic spy.
He’d hoped to forego such a route. But no. His options were limited and there was too much on the line for him to backpedal now, especially if her skill base could help in apprehending the source of his troubles and rid the world of a monster like Abdul Shah. He could not afford failure, not at this stage of the game.
He turned his attention back to the photos of her, thinking to distract himself with her luscious flesh. It did not help to look at the images of her rinsing away the suds over her breasts with her hands. The visual of it made him squirm, it made him sweat. He shifted his shoulders, flexing the muscles in an effort to relax, to detach.
She’s my last resort. My only option. The directive droned in his head.
The phone in his pocket chirped. He took a look, and his guts tensed. It was a numeric code, sent by Sasha.
His heart accelerated as he read the message, decoded it.
A few lines informed him that the woman had been picked up. Zane stared at the screen for approximately three seconds, and then slipped the phone back into his pocket. He took a deep breath, and exhaled.
Damn. Nerves were a luxury that he couldn’t afford tonight.