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Excerpt: Deadly Reunion

Excerpt: Deadly Reunion

Book 1: Covert Liaisons

CHAPTER ONE

Ellie Holt sped across the sky and wished the night was a whole lot darker. 

Twenty-four floors below her, the city of Dallas scooted, shuffled, and hip bumped in a complex line dance of pre-Thanksgiving madness. With luck, the milling crowds on the street were too focused on their own business to notice a cable running down from the construction site to Triphibian Electronics International’s roof, and swaying like a jump rope above their heads.

She swung over the edge of the building and onto the tile of a shadowy rooftop garden. As soon as her feet hit the tile, her usual crazy craving for a burger and fries disappeared.  So did the music in her head. She hoped Assassin’s Tango wasn’t prophetic.

“Safe,” she murmured into her mike, and glanced along the cable to the building site where her backup waited in the darkness of an unglazed window two floors up and over.

“Roger,” Fernando said.

Ellie stripped off her gloves, then set the grappling hook’s automatic detach timer. “Disengaging in three.” As she removed her harness, a klunk and scrape of metal told her the zip line had dragged the grapple over the parapet and into the void.

Once free of the harness, she arranged it and her gloves carefully at the base of the parapet next to the closest trellis windbreak ready for the return trip.

She adjusted her headset and shrugged her backpack into a more comfortable position. Pulled on a pair of latex gloves. “Ready surveillance camera looping.”

“I know my job,” Fernando said.

He sounded annoyed, but relying on an unknown’s expertise and agenda always made her edgy. She’d apologize later. Maybe buy him a beer.

A quick scan around told her not much had changed since she’d last visited Triphibian—as the boss’s girlfriend, and through the normal ground floor entrance. How many other women had Jake Granville made love to in the shaded privacy of the summerhouse since he’d dumped her?

Not her business.

At the door to the stairwell she stopped. Studied the keypad. For an insane second she was tempted to input her personal access code just to see if he’d wiped it from his security system as clinically as he’d wiped her from his life. But she’d fallen in love, not lost her mind. She tapped in numbers, hit ENTER, and the lock clicked open.

Her breath huffed out. Seriously? He hadn’t changed his access code?

She’d thought a decade of intelligence gathering for Anonyme had given her every kind of rush there was. Then she’d met Jake Granville. But in love or not, she’d have changed the damn code.

On the other hand, why should he see her as a danger? He probably thought “translating and interpreting sensitive data” for her family’s flagship company meant she spoke several languages. But an aptitude for languages was only part of her skill-set.

“Start the clock,” she told Fernando.  “And then head down to exit position.”

“Roger that,” Fernando said. “Surveillance cameras looped in the stairwell and primary office for fifteen minutes, starting . . . now.”

Ellie opened the door, stepped quickly into bright light—and caught her breath in both pleasure and pain.

Three of the walls were still painted the same cream and terracotta, but the fourth was a feature—a floor-to-ceiling photo of a desert scene. Loneliness. She’d shot that scene her first week in Texas, with the desert’s age and the echo of its silence reverberating in her bones. She hadn’t understood then what true loneliness was. Would she have gone on that first date if she’d known Jake was Benjamin Lucas’s godson—if she’d even imagined the extent of Lucas’s grudge against her family? No. And then … she’d have lost even more.

She jogged down one flight to the executive floor, ignored the public access, and tapped another series of numbers into the keypad on the private access door directly ahead.

When this lock, too, clicked open, she shook her head in disbelief. If they’d still been together, she’d have kicked Granville’s ass. Instead she thanked her lucky stars, and slipped out of the light and into the dimness of his sanctum.

The strong smell of lemon furniture polish and leather cleaner indicated the cleaning crew had not long gone. Ellie navigated the room by the illumination flickering in from the city through the corner office’s floor to ceiling windows.

In front of an impressive set of bookshelves, a desk of polished cherry wood gleamed in the reflected city lights. It was, as usual at the end of a working day, clear of everything except a computer and a phone.

Although she knew Jake to be in London, this evidence of his familiar ritual made her antsy.

“In exit position.” Fernando murmured. “All clear here.”

“Roger that.”

A year ago, the fact that Jake wasn’t a target hadn’t stopped her learning her way around his systems and security. No wireless networks in the building. Lots of lovely cables.

She clipped the tracer’s tone generator over the cable snaking into the back of his computer, and then returned to the stairwell.

“Bypassing fire security.” She ran a magnetic sensor over the top of the fire-exit’s doorframe until she found the security sensor. The strong magnet she slapped next to it would fool the system into keeping the door unlocked without sounding an alarm.

“Leaving primary target,” she murmured, taking a fireman’s master key from a pocket. “Start secondary clock.”

“Surveillance cameras looped in secondary stairwell, floor, and office for seven minutes,” Fernando responded. “Starting . . . now.”

Ellie went through the fire exit door, inserted a thin wedge in the gap, and jogged down one flight.

There she repeated the exercise and let herself onto the twenty-third floor.

A quick glance along the brightly lit corridor assured her the cleaning crew hadn’t yet arrived. She was cutting it close, but Ellie really needed the information her spy box could access.

Although Anonyme had found no solid evidence that Jake knew of his godfather’s past, his ignorance was hard to believe. Could he truly have no idea that Lucas had spent more than half a century betraying his country? Abusing his influence? God knew how many people—including members of Ellie’s own family—Lucas had sent to their deaths.

Ellie hoped Jake was truly as blind as he appeared. For her own piece of mind, however, she had to make sure.

A few moments later she was standing on top of a desk in the office directly beneath his, and sliding aside a ceiling panel to expose a bundle of cables. Then she slipped into the familiar rhythm.

Run tone receiver.

Find correct cable.

Slice and dice.

Wire up the network monitor transponder.

She pressed the monitor’s test button. Its green light glowed. Connected. Now Jake’s secrets would be as exposed as the cables in the ceiling.

Please don’t have any secrets.

She placed the unit away from the metalwork of the ceiling tiles. “Transponder check.”

“Excellent signal,”  Fernando said. “Returning to stealth mode.”

“Closing.”

But she’d no sooner started to slide the ceiling panel closed when he swore.

“Random security sweep.” Fernando’s lazy drawl turned clipped and terse. “Two-man team entering elevator on the fourth floor. Destination, twenty-three.”

And if the team stepped out of the elevator and the surveillance cameras didn’t pick them up—

“Level five,” Fernando said. “Six.”

Ellie slid the ceiling panel back into place.

“Seven.”

Checked its fit. “I’m done.”

“Eight.”

Quickly, but without panic, she jumped off the desk and onto the carpet. “Return secondary surveillance on my mark.”

“Roger. Car stopped on level nine.”

Ellie checked the desk for surface footprints. “Corridor clear?”

“Clear,” Fernando said. “Two more security people entering elevator on nine. Still clear.”

“Roger.” She moved to the office door.

“Going up,” Fernando said. “Ten. Eleven. Still clear.”

Once outside she relocked the door and, no longer concerned about stealth, ran for the fire exit—

“Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.”

—reached the stairwell. Shoved through the door—

“Fifteen.”

—caught the wedge as it fell—

“Sixteen.”

—ripped the security bypass magnet off the doorframe—clean—and let the door closer do its job.

“Seventeen. Eighteen. Move it, princesa.”

She kept her breath for the stairs.

“Nineteen.”

As she reached the first landing, the exit behind her clicked shut.

“Twenty.”

Second landing.

“Twenty-one. Shit. Twenty-two!”

She wrenched the primary stairwell door open, snatched the second wedge as she passed through, and hauled the door closed behind her.

“Twenty-three.”

It clicked shut. “Clear.”

“Normal secondary surveillance resumed,” Fernando said. “Elevator doors opening.” He blew out a breath. “Madre de Dios.”

Pulse pounding in her throat, Ellie reached up and removed the door’s security bypass magnet. She shoved both magnets and wedges into pockets and then keyed herself back into Jake’s office.

At his desk she unclipped the tone sender from the computer cable, checked everything was as she’d found it, and left.

“Security’s still on twenty-three,” Fernando said as she jogged up past Loneliness and out the roof exit.

She waited until the roof access door closed shut. “Un-loop primary surveillance.”

“Primary surveillance returned to normal,” Fernando said. “Security’s splitting up—one team to the elevator, one to the stairs. Exit’s in place.”

Ellie jogged across the patio tiles and between the little gardens and seating areas until she reached the trellis and her gloves and harness. A grappling hook once again bit into the parapet where Fernando had shot the return zip line over. Her exit swung from Triphibian’s roof across the gap between buildings and disappeared into the construction next-door two floors down.

She stepped into her harness. “Update.”

“Security’s heading down,” Fernando said. “La Patrona says she leaves for the gala in one hour forty-five minutes, with or without you.”

When travel plans went pear-shaped everything got screwed. This job should have happened the previous weekend. “Tell her I’ll arrive when I get there.”

“I’d rather eat dirt and die.”

Him and every other Anonyme operative.

She attached the carabiner to the zip line, pulled on her gloves, and swung up to sit on the edge of the parapet. Leaning back far enough to reach the grappling hook’s automatic detach timer, she set it to thirty seconds.

“Leaving”—she pressed the timer start, saw it flick over to twenty-nine—“now.”

And she let herself fly.