Authors: Gina Robinson
For Mom and Dad
I’ve said many times that writing a novel is both a solitary and a collaborative endeavor. The revision process for this book was a special time for me. All the resources I needed suddenly appeared from around the globe to help me in a single weekend.
My parents were visiting from across the state the day revision notes arrived on my doorstep from my excellent editor, Holly Blanck. My mom, who hadn’t read the book yet, scooped up the marked-up manuscript and read it before I got my hands on it. She finished it in a day and then she and I spent the next day brainstorming solutions to the problems Holly had pointed out. My mom has a creative, artistic mind. She’s an amazing self-taught artist and avid gardener. When you’re a writer, there’s no more fun way to spend time with your mom than talking story.
Ciudad del Este and Iguazu Falls are featured in the book. My husband, Jeff, came up with the idea of using Iguazu Falls. He helped me Google it and found pictures that made me feel almost as if I’d actually been there. But I really wished I could talk to someone who’d seen and experienced the falls and the city in person.
And then our friend Frank Marcott showed up for a visit from the Netherlands, where he’s a field service rep for a major U.S. corporation. Frank has been stationed as a rep all over the world. Well, guess who just happened to have done a stint in Argentina and had been to Iguazu Falls and Ciudad del Este several times? Thanks so much to Frank for sharing his experiences of these places with me.
Thanks also to the entire team at St. Martin’s Press for doing everything they do so well—editing, copy editing, cover design, marketing, and all the rest.
Drew Fields pulled to the curb and parked in front of his former home. He hated the bland, midsize sedan the Agency insisted he drive as part of his mind-numbingly dull, assigned cover life. A marketing director for a microbrewery? Really? At least there’d be free beer. He hoped.
That was the Central Intelligence Agency for you. The government sanitized everything. Even his official title—National Clandestine Services core collector. He was a spy, a secret agent. What kid wanted to grow up to be a core collector? Sounded more like nuclear reactor work.
Which, come to think of it, pretty nearly described his mission to reconcile with his estranged wife and stop her stepfather from selling vital satellite secrets to the Revolutionary International Organization of Terrorists, RIOT. If Staci ever found out what he was up to, there would be fallout. Plenty of it.
He shut off the ignition. Next time he was going to insist on an Aston Martin DB5. A sexy car made up for a lot of crap.
He took a deep breath. How was he going to convince Staci to take him back? Especially after he’d agreed to the divorce without a fight. And why now?
They had an anniversary coming up a week from Friday. Maybe he could play off that? Claim to be sentimental?
something of a phenom when it came to lying, a natural talent. His inborn gift had gotten him out of more than a few scrapes when he was a kid, and even more as an adult. But there were limits to even his ability.
Drew had tried to convince his boss, NCS chief and head spook Emmett Nelson, to send another agent on this mission to bring down Staci’s stepdad, Sam Deeds, aka the Fisherman. Drew had no desire to infiltrate Staci’s life. But Emmett did what he did best—used emotional blackmail.
RIOT was notorious for taking out family members of their business associates on a whim. It kept everyone in line and on task.
With Staci’s stepfather involved in nefarious, traitorous business dealings with RIOT, Staci and her mother were in danger. With a little ingenuity, Drew would be perfectly placed to guard Staci day and night, keep an eye on her mother, and spy on Sam, all without arousing anyone’s suspicions. It had to be him.
Stalling, and hoping to be clobbered by a stunning blow of inspiration, Drew studied the two-story house he still owned half of, looking for security lapses. Staci kept the bushes in front of the windows well trimmed and away from the house, and the sidewalk, driveway, and front entry clear of any hiding places.
She’d resisted her natural botanical urge to plant flowers and trees over every square inch of property and columns of junipers on each side of the door. Open spaces made for less stealth and more safety.
Before their marriage went sour, he’d picked this gated neighborhood for Staci because of its low crime rate and excellent security measures. A spy’s family was never 100 percent safe.
The Redmond chief of police lived here; a senator made her home away from the nation’s capital here. At least two state legislators and several high-profile entrepreneurs lived in the pricier part of the development.
Drew hated what he was about to do to Staci. The sooner he completed this mission and found an assignment overseas, disappearing deep undercover, the better for both of them. In the meantime, his Farsi was getting rusty.
He never should have married Staci in the first place. What had possessed him to think a girl who couldn’t lie to save her life would make a good wife for a spy like him? She had a tell as obvious as Alaska. The woman couldn’t even keep from giving herself away when she played Clue.
Ironically, that’s what he’d loved about her—she was the one person he could believe, the one honest thing in his life. A little slice of black and white shining through an otherwise gray gloom. When she told him she loved him, he knew she did. When she said she wanted a divorce, she shattered his world.
And now here he was, at her insistence, stopping by the old homestead to pick up a box of odds and ends from their former life. A box Emmett had planted to give him an excuse to see her.
Drew glanced at his watch. Ten thirty. Right on time. He got out of the car, wondering exactly how he was going to convince Staci to give him another chance. He still hadn’t figured out exactly where he’d gone wrong in the first place. Other than being a secret agent and lying to her about it to get her to marry him.
He couldn’t believe he was undercover as himself, dressed in Staci’s favorite shirt, wearing his good-guy, boy-next-door persona on his sleeve. He’d rather be in Hawaii, working undercover as a tour guide, like he had last year.
He’d just recently returned from a minor follow-up assignment in Maui and hoped Staci didn’t notice his tan. But how could she miss it? In May, most Seattleites, and that included the residents of Redmond, were still a pasty shade of pale. She’d give him hell over it.
He slammed the car door shut to give her fair warning he’d arrived. The weather was pleasant—clear skies, temperatures in the low sixties. He left his jacket in the car. As he approached the door, he half expected her to open it and throw his stuff at him. He resisted the urge to shield himself with his arm. The woman had laser-beam aim. Instead of mounting a frontal assault, she made him ring the doorbell.
Her voice didn’t sound like hell’s fury, but he didn’t drop his guard. He never dropped his guard. He wondered if she’d suddenly decided they were going to be one of
couples, the ones who seem so cordial you wonder why they ever got divorced in the first place or how they even got up the gumption to file.
She opened the door partway and stood before him, just slightly breathless.
The sight of her gave him an unexpected jolt of desire and regret.
Old habits die hard,
he told himself. This was just the automatic reaction of a frustrated, celibate male spy to a beautiful woman with snapping brown eyes and slightly parted, highly kissable lips. Lips he was used to possessing.
The smell of freshly baked cookies drifted out from the house, diverting his thoughts. Chocolate chip, his favorite. He hoped his stomach didn’t growl. He hadn’t had a home-baked chocolate chip cookie since they’d separated.
Hot woman. Hot cookies. This is torture.
Staci’s hands were empty. He’d expected her to thrust a box in his arms and shove him on his way.
Evidently, whatever had possessed him to fix himself up had also gotten hold of her. She looked like great sex on a rainy day. Her dark brown hair was recently highlighted with streaks of auburn and flatironed shiny and straight. She wore skinny jeans, black pumps with three-inch heels, and a tight, low-cut, ruffled magenta blouse, belted with a wide black belt just below her eye-catching breasts. The belt made her waist look about two inches wide, her hips curvy, and her breasts double-D.
The heels might have been her idea of a power trip. She’d never liked being so much shorter than he was. Maybe she was hoping the heels would make them see eye-to-eye. Personally, he was having a hard time seeing anything above her breasts, but he forced himself.
“Drew.” She smiled and opened the door wide to let him in.
Right away his defenses went up. He couldn’t act too eager and happy to see her. She’d never buy that. “Where’s my stuff?”
“On the kitchen table.”
To his surprise, she remained pleasant despite his gruffness. What was up with her?
“It’s heavy. You’ll have to get it yourself.” She stood aside to let him in.
He surveyed her outfit again. “Going out?”
She stared straight into his eyes, still smiling. “No. Why?”
He looked her up and down. “No reason.”
Just that she usually wore jeans, T-shirts, and Converse tennis shoes around the house. No way she’d dressed up for him, had she? Maybe there was hope for this mission yet.
* * *
Staci kept her smile plastered on, thinking positive thoughts and going to her happy place so the smile would reach her eyes. She couldn’t believe she’d missed this last box of Drew’s junk. His stuff seemed to be multiplying like the hairs that appeared when she cleaned the tub. But she was determined to be civil now that their marriage was almost over. It was just unfortunate the divorce would be final so close to their anniversary. Drew probably didn’t even remember it.