As the intelligence specialist for A-Tac, a black-ops CIA unit masquerading as Ivy League faculty, Hannah Marshall is used to working behind the scenes. But when a brutal murder hits too close to home, Hannah finds herself in the middle of the action, falling in love while racing to outwit a sadistic mastermind.
A KILLER CLOSES IN
After the death of her A-Tac partner, Hannah doubts everything she thought she knew about love and loyalty. When handsome Harrison Blake joins the team, she’s reluctant to trust him—or to act on her intense attraction to him. Then Hannah receives a podcast of a gruesome murder, and the only person who can help her find the killer is Harrison.
Harrison has spent years trying to hunt down the cunning monster who killed his sister. Now investigating with Hannah, he faces a shocking possibility—his sister’s murderer has resurfaced. As the danger escalates, Hannah and Harrison grow closer, and the desire simmering between them ignites. After Hannah disappears, Harrison has only one chance to save the woman he loves.
“You guys picking me up all right?” Hannah Marshall asked as she adjusted her skirt, pulling it firmly down around her thighs.
“Coming through loud and clear,” her boss Avery Solomon replied, his voice crackling in her earpiece. “You all set?”
“Good as I’ll ever be,” Hannah said, sucking in a fortifying breath as she walked across the street toward the five-story office building where she’d arranged to meet Alain DuBois. It was a quarter past eleven, and the street was dark. The surrounding buildings shuttered for the night. The sole streetlamp flickered ominously and Hannah couldn’t help feeling as if she’d been dropped into the middle of a film noire set.
Avery was set up in the building just behind her with Simon Kincaid, A-Tac’s newest member. And Harrison Blake, the unit’s computer guru, was in the adjacent building with Annie Brennon, A-Tac’s sharp shooter.
Their target, DuBois, was a high-end antiques dealer who had recently been connected to the Consortium, a secretive arms cartel that was directly responsible for planting a nuclear bomb in lower Manhattan and a plan to infiltrate A-Tac that had ended with one of the team, Hannah’s friend Jason Lawton, losing his life. Add to that the fact that the Consortium had also attempted to take out Drake Flynn’s wife and sister-in-law, and there was quite a score to settle, with DuBois being their only lead.
Unfortunately, up until now A-Tac hadn’t had any success running DuBois to ground, the man always seeming to be one step ahead in the chase. So they’d concocted a scheme to pull him into their net. Something that DuBois wouldn’t be able to resist. Hannah, posing as a woman who’d recently inheirited a large collection of art, including a presumably “lost” painting by Claude Monet.
Le Jardin, reputed to have disappeared during the Second World War, had taken on cultlike status among collectors. Experts split on whether the painting actually existed or not. And the chance to possess the elusive canvas had proved too much of a pull for DuBois, who despite his desire to remain off the grid, had agreed to a meeting.
The painting Hannah had stowed in her portfolio was actually a forgery. But the artist was very good. An American living in Ireland with a talent for reproducing the masters, and a working relationship with the CIA. There was, of course, some risk that DuBois would connect Hannah with A-Tac, but since she was a background player most of the time, it had seemed worth the chance. And besides, in her high heels and designer suit, minus her trademark glasses and streaked hair, she wasn’t certain she’d recognize herself.
“The place looks pretty deserted,” she said, as she slowed, coming to a stop in the shadows just to the left of the building’s front door. “Any sign of life inside?”
“Roger that,” Harrison Blake replied. “I’ve got infrared up and running.” Harrison was Jason’s replacement. And although she’d never have thought she’d be able to accept anyone else in the position, she had to admit that Harrison was good. And more importantly, he’d proved himself loyal to the team. Truth was, she liked the man. “Looks like there are three hot spots,” he said. “One in a back office on the second floor. A second on the first near the lobby. It’s moving, so I’m guessing it’s probably the security guard. And the last hot spot is in the corner office on the third floor.”
“The one where I’m supposed to be meeting DuBois,” Hannah responded, stepping deeper into the shadows and making a point of checking her portfolio. She ought to be out of range of any security cameras but better safe than sorry.
“Yes,” Harrison acknowledged, his voice crackling with static. “Annie’s in place, but the blinds are drawn, so we haven’t been able to establish visual contact other than infrared.”
“How about audio?” she asked. “Have you got confirmation that it’s DuBois, Simon?”
“I do. There was a phone call about three minutes ago. Nothing interesting. Just confirming an appointment tomorrow. But it was definitely DuBois. And I’m guessing, all things considered, whoever he’s supposed to be meeting is going to be pretty damn disappointed.” Simon had taken over as the team’s communications officer. He was young, gung-ho, and disarmingly charming. But in truth, Hannah preferred her men a bit more cerebral and definitely more seasoned. Still, Simon’s enthusiasm could be contagious.
“Look, if this is going to work,” Harrison said, pulling her thoughts back to the task at hand, “you’re going to have to get DuBois in front of the window.”
“And we’re certain Annie can make the shot, even with the blinds down and the window closed?” Hannah asked, even though they’d already discussed the logistics ad nasuea.
“It won’t be a problem,” Annie’s voice assured her. “All I need is for you to get him in place. There’ll be a shadow. And you’ll give me voice confirmation that it’s DuBois.” The plan was to tranquilize him. Then Avery and company would move him to a secure location for interrogation. The key was not to tip their hand.
“Okay, people.” Avery’s voice rang out, his baratone as usual brooking no argument. “Enough talking. If Hannah is late DuBois is going to get suspicious. Or worse, he’ll fly the coop.”
Hannah nodded, despite the fact that no one could see her clearly, straightened the short skirt again, and walked over to the front entrance of the building. After studying a lighted keypad, she typed in the code DuBois had given her. There was a whirring sound followed by a click as the door in front of her unlocked. Feeling a bit like the David heading into the lion’s den, she pushed open the door and walked into the small lobby of the building.
“There’s no one here,” she whispered into her comlink. “I’m headed for the elevator.”
“Copy that,” Harrison said as she pressed the button and the doors slid open. “The guard’s over in the next hallway.”
“All right then.” Avery’s voice boomed over the comlink. “It’s show time. Communications set to emergency only. We’ll be monitoring the conversation, Hannah, and listening for your signal, but otherwise we’ll stay dark.”
The doors slid shut, and the little elevator lurched as it began the ascent to the third floor. Three minutes later and she was walking down the hallway toward the office at the end. Heart pounding, she knocked on the door, surprised when DuBois himself pulled it open.
He was a small man with graying hair, dressed in a tailored suit with a handkerchief tucked in the pocket. His gaze was wary, but there was also a spark of appreciation. Depsite herself, Hannah smiled. Maybe the new look had been worth the effort after all.
“You must Rebecca Andrews,” DuBois said, extending his hand, exposing cuff links that were probably worth a year’s salary.
“I am,”she said, allowing her smile to broaden as she shook his hand. “I appreciate your meeting with me.”
“You have the painting?” he asked, his eyes dropping to the portfolio.
“I do.” She searched his face for some sign that he recognized her as A-Tac, but his gaze remained politely impersonal as he motioned her inside the office and after the closing the door, gestured to a table near the window.
“You can put it over there.”
She placed the portfolio on the table, and after opening it, carefully placed the forged Monet on the tabletop, then stepped back to give him access. There wasn’t anyway to force him to align with the window, so instead she held her breath as he examined the little painting, praying he’d buy into it long enough to give her time to figure out how to manipulate him into place.
“You’ve had it authenticated?” he asked, pulling out a jewelers loop.
“Yes,” she said, reaching back into the portfolio to produce the paperwork. “Charles Aveignon. My attorney’s recommended him.” She handed him the file.
“He’s one of the best,” DuBois agreed, placing the papers on the table as he continued to examine the painting. “What about provenance?”
“Considering the painting’s history, I’m afraid it isn’t what it should be. I can prove that my grandfather bought the painting from a dealer in Lucerne in 1956. But there’s nothing to attest to the fact that the dealer’s acquisition was legitimate.”
“That won’t present a problem,” DuBois said. “There are people who will pay most any price for the painting, with or without provenance. That is of course if it is in fact the missing Monet.”
“If?” Hannah asked, holding her breath as he frowned down at the canvas.
“Yes,” he said, “there are certain anomolies I wouldn’t have expected.”
“Now you’re frightening me, Mr. DuBois.” Hannah moved closer, patting the gun tucked into the holster on her thigh.
“I’m sorry.” His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes, but his tone seemed sincere and Hannah relaxed. “I’m probably just seeing things. The light here, is not the best. I’ll have to have it tested to be certain.”
“I have no problem with that,” Hannah said. “As long as you’re disceet. I’m sure you can understand why I want to keep the painting off the radar. If it were to go public, then there would most definitely be questions. Questions my family would prefer to avoid.”
“I assure, Ms. Andrews,” DuBois said, lowering the loop, his gaze probing, “my reputation is built on descretion.”
“Absolutely,” she soothed, trying to figure out a way to get him in front of the window. Time was running out. “That’s why I chose you. Maybe you could show me these so-called anomolies?”
“Of course.” His smile this time seemed genuine.
“Maybe we could move into the light?” she asked, answering his smile and nodding at the florescent light centered in front of the window. “I’m afraid my untrained eyes need all the help they can get.”
“That’s totally understandable. It takes years to be able to identify a master.” He picked up the painting and carried it over to where she was standing beneath the light. She made a play of looking at the painting as he explained the things that didn’t conform with Monet’s style.
Heart pounding she shifted slightly, forcing him to turn his back to the window. “It’s really amazing,” she said, the words her cue to Annie. “It almost doesn’t matter who painted it.”
“Yes, well, I suppose in a perfect world that would be true. But in actuality—” DuBois’s words were cut short as the window exploded, glass flying through the air like schrapnel. The man’s eyes widened for a moment and then he fell to the floor as another volley of bullets strafed the walls and floor.
“What the hell?” Hannah barked into the comlink, hitting the ground, glass cutting into her knees and palms as the gunfire continued.
“It’s not us,” Avery said, his voice crackling as her earpiece crackled to life. “And those sure as hell aren’t tranquelizers. The operation’s been compromized. What about DuBois?”
“He’s down.” She twisted to reach over and check his pulse. “Damn it. He’s dead.” More shots rang out, and she ducked lower as a second wave of glass rained down on her.
“Hannah, get the hell out of there,” Harrison’s worried voice broke in. “Now.”
“I’m working on it,” she said, already crawling toward the door. “Have you still got visual on the building?”
“Hang on,” he said, his worry carrying over the airwaves. “We’re taking fire—” One minute Harrison was there and the next he was gone, her ear filled with the sound of static.
“Harrison?” she called, still inching forward the glass cutting with every move. “Avery?” She was almost at the door. “Can anyone hear me?”
For a moment silence stretched almost palpably, and then all hell broke loose again as the gunmen resumed their barrage. Hannah reached for the doorknob, ducking back down as the shooter richochets a bullet off it. And then on a silent count of three she tried again, this time managing to get the damn thing open.
The hallway outside was quiet, and thankfully devoid of windows, but she still had to make her way out of the building. And if A-Tac was taking fire in both positions that meant there had to be more than one group of shooters and she was well and truly pinned.
Wincing as she straightened, she started for the elevator and then stopped, switching directions as she heard the tell-tale ding at the end of the hall. Heading for the stairway now, she sprinted forward, her heels and tight skirt impeding her progress. Angrily, she bent and grabbed the hem of the skirt, tearing straight upwards until she’d created a slit that allowed her to move more easily.
Then she removed the heels. Christian somebody or other. Her friends would have a fit if they knew that Hannah was throwing them away. But Madeline and Alexis were miles away, and at the moment, the shoes were anything but practical. And so with a quick toss, she sent them flying back into the office as she passed, the leather exploding as the motion caused a renewed hail of bullets, red soles spinning as the pumps careened into the floor.
At least they’d think she was still stuck in the office.
Behind her she heard the doors to the elevator sliding open, just managing to duck into the stairwell before anyone could see. Painted submarine gray, the stairs were dimly lit, slowing her progress as she made her way down toward the second floor. But before she’d made it half way, she heard a door below her open, and the thud of feet on the stairs.
Damn it all to hell. She’d have to go up. Risking prescious seconds, she stopped to unholster her gun. Better to be ready in case there was a waiting party on the roof. “Anyone out there?” she whispered into the comlink as she took the stairs two at a time.
The silence was damning. Communications must be down. She gritted her teeth as she skidded to a stop, reaching out to grab the doorknob. No way was she going to consider the alternative.
At first she thought the door was locked, but then it groaned and finally yeilded, swinging open to reveal the inky night sky. The sound of footsteps behind her had grown louder. They were close, which meant her window of opportunity was closing. Even if she didn’t accept the idea that something had happened to the rest of the team, she was astute enough to know that they weren’t going to be able to help her.
She was on her own.
The night was chilly, a hint of winter in the air. She shivered, wishing she had thought to grab her overcoat. But time hadn’t exactly been on her side. She moved cautiously across the shadowy rooftop, hoping to gain access to one of the adjacent buildings. But on the left there was a barbedwire-topped wall, too high for her to scale, and to the right, a gap there was no way she could jump.
A quick tour of the peremeter proved equally fruitless. There wasn’t a fire escape, and the jump down to the ground from both the front and the back would be suicidal. There was nothing to break her fall. Across the street, she could see the flash of gunfire, which meant that at least for the moment, Avery and Simon were still alive and kicking.
Still clutching her gun, she moved back to the westside of the building, scouring the windows of the building with the gap, to try and find some sign that Annie and Harrison were okay. There was no light at all, and as she strained into the silence, no sound of gunfire. Again she assessed her options, hoping that maybe she’d find something she’d missed.
“Hello?” she called into the transmitter. “Anyone there?”
She hadn’t expected a response, so was surprised at the rush of XX that followed in the silence. Behind her, the door to the stairway slammed open. She had company. Spinning around, she got of a couple of shots, before diving to the floor of the rooftop, gravel adding new scrapes to her already shredded knees.
If she made it out of this alive, she was never wearing a skirt again. Ever.
She rolled over behind a smokestack, and after bracing herself on her elbows, lifted her gun to fire again. It was hard to make out bodies in the dark, but she could see at least three men. All of them armed. And if there were more, it was possible they were circling around from the back.
If solution didn’t offer itself soon, she was screwed. After firing again in the direction of the advancing men, she popped up, risking exposure for another quick look around the rooftop. But nothing presented itself, and when a bullet whizzed past her ear, she hit the ground again, the masonry in front of her exploding as another round came too close for comfort.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to find a solution, but there was nothing. And so, resigned to her fate, she started to push to her feet determined to take as many of them with her as possible. But just as she tensed her muscles, the comlink sprang to life.
“Hannah, you there?” It was Harrison, and nothing had ever sounded as good in all her life.
“I’m here,” she whispered, “but I’m in a world of trouble. I’ve got approaching hostiles, limited ammo, and no obvious way out.”
“We’re on the roof of the building to the west.”
“There’s no way I can jump the gap,” she said, popping up to fire, hoping to at least slow the advance.
“I’ve got a plan.” He sounded so sure of himself, she actually felt a swell of hope. “Just get over here as fast as you can. Annie and I will give you cover.”
“Roger that,” she said, galncing behind her trying to make him out in the gloom.
“On my count.” Harrison replied, his confidence reassuring. “One…two…three.”
A barrage of bullets rang out, but this time coming from behind her. The men in front slowed, one of them falling, and Hannah didn’t wait to see more. Running full out, keeping as low as possible, she manuevered herself across the roof, sliding to a stop when she reached the two foot ledge that rimmed the building.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
Across the way, she could see Harrison, and at intervals, Annie, as she moved to get the best angle on each shot. Spanning the gap between the buildings was an old wooden ladder, the ends precariously planted on each building’s edge.
“You can do this,” Harrison’s voice coaxed in her ear. “It’ll be a piece of cake. Just like a—”
“Walk in the park?” Hannah finished for him. “You’re out of your mind.” She sucked in a breath and climbed up on the ledge. Behind her she could hear footsteps, and a bullet smashed into the masonry at her feet.
“Come on, Hannah. I’ve seen you deal with worse.” Harrison held out a hand, and Hannah stepped onto the ladder, the wood bowing downward with her weight.
“Son of a bitch,” she mumbled under her breath, freezing, as she teetered five floors above the street. Amazingly, it was the laughter that got her moving. That, and the bullets. With something less than grace, she dashed across the groaning ladder, and had almost made it to the other side when the ladder suddenly shimmied, and a low rumble behind her sent the hairs on her neck into the locked and upright position.
Then all hell broke loose, the office building exloding, the ensuing roar engulfing the night. Behind her all she could see was a wave of fire coming right at her, and then the far end of the ladder broke away, the remaining portion dropping downward. Panic laced through her, but she fought against it, instead reaching up to grab a rung of the ladder, the still cognizant part of her brain registering the fact that it was still attached somehow to the other building.
It was only when she looked up, that she realized it was Harrison, holding the ladder in place through sheer strength of will. “Climb, Hannah,” Harrison ordered, the words coming through gritted teeth.
Instinct kicked in and she scrambled upwards, his hand closing around hers when she reached the top. Annie appeared over the edge as well. She shot Hannah a quick reassuring look, then shifted her focus up again as a second explosion ripped through the night. Hannah could feel bits of the building as they blew against her, cutting through the fabric of her jacket and skirt.
“I’m going to drop the ladder now,” Harrison was saying, his voice barely audible over the din, even with the comlink in her ear. “As soon as it’s clear, we’ll pull you up. All right.”
Hannah nodded, and then, worried that they couldn’t hear her, responded with something she hoped resembled the word ‘yes’. The whole world seemed to be shaking with the fury of the blast, but even so she could feel the ladder shimming beneath her again. Her heart hammered so loudly it echoed through her head, threatening to swamp all rational thought.
But she’d be damned if she lost the battle now. So, summoning every ounce of willpower she could muster, she forced herself to swing away from the ladder, fighting to free herself from its momentum and the threat to pull her downward. Harrison’s grip tightened as he jerked her upward, the ladder spiraling downward toward the street. In one fluid motion, he pulled her up and over the building’s edge to safety.
“You all right?” he asked, his eyes searching hers, as his hands moved gently across her body, searching for injury.
“I’m okay.” She nodded, not quite believing the words. “I’m really okay.”
“Then we need to get going,” Harrison said, helping her to her feet, his arm strong around her waist when her knees threatened to buckle. “Annie?”
“We’re safe,” Annie said, lowering the rifle as she waved toward the office building now completely engulfed in flames. “No one could have lived through that.”
In the distance, Hannah heard the wail of sirens. “Avery and Simon?” she asked, still leaning against Harrison. “Are they…” she trailed off, unable to say the words.
“They’re fine,” Harrison assured her. “Both in one piece.”
She nodded, relief making her giddy. “But I don’t understand. Why would the Consortium destroy the building? Kill their own men?”
“Evidence,” Annie said. “They wanted to erase any trace of what really happened here.”
“And, concievably, ours,” Annie added, her tone grim. “The magnitude of the blasts and the resulting fire will destroy any chance we might have had to track the source. So it looks like they’ve won again.”
“Except that we’re still standing,” Harrison said. “That’s got to count for something.”
Excerpt from DEADLY DANCE by Dee Davis, Copyright ©2012 by Dee Davis. All rights reserved. Reprint only with permission from author. Please contact .