Black Widow - J. Robert Kennedy - ebook
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“Dylan Kane leaves James Bond in his dust!”USA TODAY and BARNES & NOBLE #1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR • “A MASTER STORYTELLER” • OVER 800,000 BOOKS SOLD • OVER 3,000 FIVE STAR REVIEWSA MASS MIGRATIONAN OUTPOURING OF COMPASSION THE ULTIMATE BETRAYALUSA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy serves up another heart-pounding thriller in Black Widow. After corrupt Russian agents sell deadly radioactive Cesium to Chechen terrorists, CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane is sent to infiltrate the ISIL terror cell suspected of purchasing it.Then all contact is lost.From the war-torn deserts of Syria to the humanitarian corridors of Europe, J. Robert Kennedy delivers another action-packed thriller torn from today’s headlines, taking readers on a heart-wrenching journey from the perspectives of the innocent victims, the terrorists among them, and the heroes trying to stop them. In true Kennedy style, this deftly-crafted, taut thriller, provides all the action, humor, romance and heartbreak only he can deliver.Available Dylan Kane Thrillers:Rogue Operator, Containment Failure, Cold Warriors, Death to America, Black Widow, The Agenda, Retribution

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Black Widow

A Special Agent Dylan Kane Thriller

by

J. Robert Kennedy

From the Back Cover

FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY

A MASS MIGRATION

AN OUTPOURING OF COMPASSION

THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL

USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy serves up another heart-pounding thriller in Black Widow. After corrupt Russian agents sell deadly radioactive Cesium to Chechen terrorists, CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane is sent to infiltrate the ISIL terror cell suspected of purchasing it.

Then all contact is lost.

From the war-torn deserts of Syria to the humanitarian corridors of Europe, J. Robert Kennedy delivers another action-packed thriller torn from today’s headlines, taking readers on a heart-wrenching journey from the perspectives of the innocent victims, the terrorists among them, and the heroes trying to stop them. In true Kennedy style, this deftly-crafted, taut thriller, provides all the action, humor, romance and heartbreak only he can deliver.

About J. Robert Kennedy

With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.

"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard

"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford

"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity

"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen

"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer

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Books by J. Robert Kennedy

The James Acton Thrillers

The Protocol Brass Monkey Broken Dove The Templar's Relic Flags of Sin The Arab Fall The Circle of Eight The Venice Code Pompeii's Ghosts Amazon Burning The Riddle Blood Relics Sins of the Titanic Saint Peter's Soldiers The Thirteenth Legion Raging Sun Wages of Sin Wrath of the Gods The Templar's Revenge

The Special Agent Dylan Kane Thrillers

Rogue Operator Containment Failure Cold Warriors Death to America Black Widow The Agenda Retribution

The Delta Force Unleashed Thrillers

Payback

Table of Contents

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Table of Contents

Beginning

Preface

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Acknowledgements

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About the Author

Also by the Author

“The Hour (of Resurrection) will not come until the Romans land in Al-A'maq (valleys in Antioch, southern Turkey) or in Dabiq (a plain near Aleppo, Syria). An army consisting of the best of the people of the Earth (an international Muslim army) at that time will come out of Medina (in Saudi Arabia) to face them.

“When they will arrange themselves in ranks, the Romans will say: ‘Do not stand between us and those (Christian Converts to Islam) who were taken away from amongst us. Let us fight with them’; and the Muslims will say: ‘No! by Allah, we will not stand aside and let you fight our brothers.’”

Preface

This novel was written during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. Much has been reported and said about the situation, and this novel uses many of those opinions and theories, with the experiences of those involved mirroring actual events reported on the news, though often not on the mainstream outlets.

It is important to remember when reading this novel that it is just that—a novel. And though it shows the horrors and hardships many of these people have endured, it also shows how easily the generosity our Western societies have been raised to believe in, can be abused. To our own detriment.

And as time passes, and this crisis abates, as all do, it may be easy to dismiss the warnings that follow as the overactive imagination of a fiction author, and that would be fair.

Yet it may also simply mean that the security apparatus that we so often criticize, worked.

And we just never knew it.

Like the 69 terrorist attacks prevented on American soil since 9/11 as of this writing.

If we had let our guard down because nothing had happened for several years after that horrible attack, would we be as safe today? Would we feel as safe today?

Like the real life heroes those within this novel are modeled after, they never let their guard down.

And we are all safer for it.

1

Vedeno Gorge, Chechnya

Colonel Kolya Chernov kept any of the emotions he was feeling off his face, though inside he was fuming. As the commander of Alfa Group Six, part of Russia’s elite Special Forces unit, Spetsnaz, he knew everything in their arsenal, and everything in pretty much anyone else’s, at least those that mattered.

Though here he didn’t have to go far from home.

What he had caught a glimpse of were type BGE 75-T containers.

Russian.

Or more accurately, Soviet.

A remnant of the Cold War—soon to be replaced with a new one, if their illustrious leader in Moscow had his way. Chernov loved his country, the Russian Armed Forces, and certainly his unit. Getting into Spetsnaz was one of the proudest days of his life, being promoted to colonel one of the more disappointing ones. He didn’t want to command a desk, he wanted to be out in the field, but as the general had told him, “You’re the boss, you can do what you want”.

So he did.

And when the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, the SVR RF, had contacted his unit requiring a four-man team to provide additional security in Chechnya, he had decided the request was suspicious enough to pique his interest, and the assignment possibly dangerous enough to satisfy his craving for action.

And now his suspicions were proven well founded.

The SVR were merely the renamed First Chief Directorate of the former KGB, and the new reality in Russia was that they and the remainder of the former agency, the FSB, were more like their old namesakes with each passing day. He didn’t trust the SVR as far as he could throw one of them, their motivations completely different from a soldier’s. He trusted his men, would die for his men, yet he’d have to seriously consider whether he’d hit the brakes if one of these SVR bastards were to step in front of his vehicle.

The six canisters contained Cesium-137, extremely dangerous, and more than enough to build multiple dirty bombs. This was a substance terrorists the world over were desperate to get their hands on, and here he was, standing guard while two SVR agents sold a batch to what were clearly Chechen rebels, he recognizing the leader.

Each group had a computer hooked to satellite links, and money transferred.

Smiles.

Handshakes.

And the deal was done, the Chechens climbing in their Toyota and leaving, the SVR agents heading toward the Mi-24 Hind helicopter now powering up.

He could hold his tongue no longer.

“I assume we’re now going to stop them?”

The lead SVR agent—his name never provided—looked at him, a bemused expression on his face. “Why would we want to do that?”

“Because we just sold terrorists nuclear materials.”

Any humor disappeared, the man’s eyes boring into Chernov’s as he stepped closer. “You are mistaken as to what you saw. Do you understand me?”

The attempt at intimidation probably worked on most, but not on Chernov, though he valued his life enough to know to drop the subject. “Understood.”

“Good. Now let’s go. There’s vodka to celebrate!”

Chernov was the last to board, his men, his friends, all giving him a look that told him they too knew what had just happened and were none too happy about it.

But this was the new Russia.

The same as the old Russia.

And those that questioned the KGB—or the SVR—might just live long enough to regret it.

2

Al-Raqqah, Syria ISIL controlled territory

Maloof stood, hands clasped behind his back, keffiyeh covering his face, his eyes squinting against the harsh sun of the Syrian midday. Safar stood on the other side of the door, a devout Sunni Muslim and longtime member of ISIL, he one of the originals before it had even become known by that ever-changing moniker.

Some would call him a fanatic.

And a moron.

He wasn’t very intelligent, which was why he continued to be a foot soldier, though now given the honor of guarding the Caliph himself, the leader of ISIL, a man few even knew existed, the Western press for some reason content to let people believe this was some ragtag group of loosely associated cells. Instead, it was a well-organized group with a clear organizational structure, which made it far more formidable than anything preceding it.

It had taken him six months to gain his position, distinguishing himself in battle, using his brains and training to get himself noticed. And when offered a promotion, he had declined.

“Rank means nothing to me. I serve Allah, and I can think of no better way than to protect the Caliph.”

His commander had smiled. “So you want to be on his personal guard?”

He nodded.

His commander’s eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t be trying to get yourself away from the front, would you?” Maloof laughed, his commander joining in. “No, I don’t think anyone could accuse you of that.”

And arrangements had been made.

He had met the man, their supreme leader. He wasn’t what he had expected. Rather unassuming, fairly quiet, considering the amount of blood that had been spilled under his orders. But that was neither here nor there. The man had a mission, one handed down to him since the Archangel Gabriel delivered the words of the Koran to Mohammad so many centuries before.

The Global Caliphate.

The Caliphate had now been reestablished after collapsing post-World War One. The previous had been massive at one point, extending from Spain to North Africa to the Philippines. What existed today was a pale imitation.

Yet it was a start.

What many didn’t understand was that the goal of many in Islam wasn’t world domination or intentional death and mayhem, it was the end-times—not something to be feared, but to be embraced.  Many Muslims felt their duty was to spread the influence of Islam until the return of the Mahdi and Isa—the Prophet Jesus—who would defeat evil and rule those who survived until the Day of Judgement.

And unlike most people of faith, Twelvers believed it their duty to do anything they could to bring upon Armageddon, so that they might achieve paradise sooner.

Twelvers led Iran.

And they would have the bomb within ten years should the new nuclear deal stand.

His comrades-in-arms had chuckled at the naiveté of the West when the deal was announced, the jokes quick, the wit sharp concerning its main proponent. It was gallows humor, everyone in the room knowing full well this could mean the end of their nation, a fiery death of nuclear hell now almost inevitable.

For he was Israeli.

Mossad.

Not a Jew, but an Arab, one who liked to think Islam had been hijacked by madness, and had worked hard to get to where he was today.

Undercover at the doorway of the orchestrator of so much mayhem.

The meeting taking place on the other side of the door he guarded had been routine—at least that’s what he had thought initially. A simple meeting of regional commanders to discuss the progress of the war.

Yet it had turned into much more, the open window over his right shoulder allowing him to hear every word said. The arrogance of these men was supreme, it never occurring to them that the enemy might overhear their discussion.

“We have managed to identify a source and arrange a purchase,” said one, he doing most of the talking, the Caliph alone responding.

“Excellent. When will we have it?”

“Very soon. It will be expensive, however.”

The Caliph laughed. “Money is no problem. Thanks to our generous benefactors and a healthy black market for our oil, our coffers are as rich as anyone’s. Just tell us what you need and we’ll see it transferred.”

“Very good, sir, I will let you know as soon as the final figure has been negotiated.”

“The source?”

“Chechens.”

“How did they get it?”

“Russians, apparently.”

“Soon they will pay the price for their arrogance, but first, the West.” The Caliph coughed then there was a pause, the clinking of a glass suggesting a parched throat quenched. “And the infiltration plan?”

“Going perfectly. We’re already moving men and equipment into place. The Americans and Europeans won’t know what hit them.”

“Excellent. Their political correctness and misguided compassion will be their undoing. They falsely attribute their ways to all others, naively believing in the basic good of people because they believe they are basically good. Little do they realize that theirs is ours for the taking, as they are the kafir, the infidel, and it is our sacred right to do whatever it takes to further our cause. Allah is on our side, brothers, and with us as his sword, we will strike a blow that will once and for all rid us of the American presence here in our homeland. Now and forever.”

Shouts of Allahu Akbar erupted and Maloof glanced over at Safar, who he could tell was dying to join in, though his doing so would betray the fact they had both been listening.

Maloof shook his head slightly, Safar nodding, his cheeks sucking in slightly as he clamped down with his teeth, resisting the urge.

As the cheers continued, Maloof surveyed the barren landscape surrounding the compound, wondering what this plan could possibly be. Clearly they intended to strike America and Europe with a blow painful enough to rid them of the American bombing campaign. He personally thought that a foolish assumption, since after 9/11 the American beast had been awoken, unleashing its fury on Afghanistan and Iraq, and pursuing the perpetrators across the globe. To think that Americans would retreat, with their tails between their legs due to a terrorist attack, was foolish.

Even for these people.

So it had to be something more.

But what could possibly hurt the Americans enough to want to give up?

What could the Chechens be providing, sourced from the Russians, that would cause enough devastation to make the Americans pull out?

9/11 had pissed America off. It hadn’t scared them. If it had, then perhaps a terrified public would have demanded their government stand down from its policy of active engagement. If they expected anything different this time, then the threat must be something so horrifying it would strike fear into the hearts of its victims.

He sucked in a breath as he realized what it might be.

And knew he had to get this intel to his handlers as quickly as possible.

Or millions could die.

3

Arbat, Moscow

Colonel Kolya Chernov tipped the bottle of vodka, draining the last few ounces into his glass, the fresh ice crackling in protest. It wasn’t tradition for a Russian to drink his vodka over ice, but he had acquired a taste for ice cold drinks while serving in too many hot and dusty shitholes where ice and refrigeration were rare commodities.

Even in the dead of a Russian winter, he preferred his drinks cold.

He loved the freezing, harsh wind on his face, the crisp air filling his lungs.

Embracing the winter—it was what made one Russian.

He closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair, his feet up on a ratty ottoman, and sighed. He loved his country, hated his government, and hoped he’d die before he saw it completely go to shit. And he had a sneaking suspicion that might be sooner rather than later.

He’d been benched.

Three weeks ago they had returned from the mission in Chechnya and the general had sent him home. “Take some time for yourself. Courtesy Moscow.” The last two words had been delivered with a look that implied it was a warning, the general’s embrace suggesting he didn’t expect to see him again.

If he was going to die, then so be it, but why the hell did it have to take so long? The waiting was worse than the deed. It left him thinking that perhaps they had changed their mind, that the phone might ring telling him to report to base.

Yet the fact it was just he and the others from that mission sent home told him this was SVR related, and they rarely changed their mind.

He sipped his now ice cold drink, letting it sit on his tongue for a moment before tilting his head back and letting gravity do its job, the delicious concoction created from boring ingredients something he had been enjoying since he was a boy.

A knock at the door had him putting his glass down and frowning.

This is it.

Nobody visited him. Not without calling first or using a coded knock a few trusted souls knew. He glanced at his PSS Silent Pistol sitting on the table beside him then stood, leaving the weapon where it was.

Where’s the fun in that?

It would be a four man team, two below, two sent in to do the job, their arrogance at being the best—which they weren’t—enough to think they didn’t need greater numbers. In fact, they were probably foolish enough to think he’d just stand there and die honorably.

Sorry, comrades, you’ll have to work for it.

He opened the door and his eyebrows jumped.

It was the quintessential little old lady.

“What can I do—”

The back of a fist swung at him from just out of sight, cutting him off. Expecting it, both hands shot up, blocking the blow, as a second man came into sight, weapon drawn. He grabbed the forearm of the first man with his right hand, bracing it at the elbow with his left, then jerked back, the arm snapping, his still unseen assailant screaming in agony as Chernov pulled him inside by the now broken arm, using him as a human shield as the other man advanced, weapon aimed directly at him.

Chernov shoved the screaming man at his still advancing partner, the man tossing him aside with his gun hand. Chernov darted forward, smacking the man’s hand as it swung around, hitting him on the wrist and forearm, the gun clattering to the worn linoleum floor with a thud. His hand clamped around the man’s now tender wrist and twisted, hauling him forward while he stepped to the side, knocking the man off balance. Controlling his fall, he swung him around, his arm hooking under the man’s chin and pressing against his neck.

A moment later it snapped.

His partner was still on the floor, gripping his dangling forearm, pushing himself toward the door when the little old lady stepped inside, brandishing a gun. Chernov stepped forward, snapping a foot directly at her chest, her surprised expression almost comical if she didn’t remind him so much of his own grandmother as she sailed out of the apartment and crashed against the neighbor’s door, her head slamming against the cheap wood, leaving her dazed.

He picked up the now dead agent’s gun and placed two rounds into the back of the crawling man then two more into granny before stepping into the hallway and listening.

Nothing.

He pulled the old lady’s body inside, closing the door, then stepped over to the window and peered at the street below. There was a black Lada Priora below, idling, the exhaust from the tailpipe a dead giveaway, the make and model, and the fact it was illegally parked, almost acting like a large SVR sign on the roof.

He stuffed his feet into a pair of boots, grabbed his jacket, hat, and gloves, then the go bag sitting inside his closet, ready for just such an event. He had money, passports, weapons, ammo, and a couple of untraceable cellphones.

Just for the day his country might betray him.

He stepped out into the hall, closing the door as his neighbor stepped out, a bitter widow who had yet to say a kind word to him in the ten years he had lived there.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Somebody hit my door.” She spotted the dent the old lady’s head had made. “Oh my God, what’s this!”

“Probably some drunk.”

“Drink will be the death of this country!” cursed the woman, shaking her fist at the world. “The death of it! It took my husband, and it will take my country!”

Chernov took the stairs two at a time, leaving the still ranting woman alone, her shouts good cover for his footfalls, though they were light, he putting as much weight as he could on the handrail in anticipation of a third SVR operative at the ground level.

Second floor.

He paused, peering down, and smiled. It was the third man, standing at the mailboxes, checking his watch, probably wondering what was taking so long.

Chernov began to whistle, taking the remaining steps at a leisurely, calm pace, his hands in his pockets, one gripping his gun, the other balled into a fist. He stepped onto the marble floor, it cheap and cracked from years of neglect—as was most of Russia—and nodded at the man. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The man avoided eye contact, instead grunting, SVR notorious for not wanting to be looked at.

It would be his downfall.

The man glanced up as Chernov approached and his jaw dropped as he recognized the man his partners had failed to terminate.

He reached for his gun.

But Chernov had his out and pressed against the man’s chest before he could get a grip on it.

“ID.”

The man glared at him then reached inside his jacket.

“Slowly.”

A wallet inched into view.

Chernov took it, flipping it open and chuckled. “SVR. What a surprise.”

“You’re a dead man.”

Chernov smiled. “You first.” He put two rounds into the man’s chest, pocketed his ID, then exited out the rear door, leaving the fourth agent to wait in his warm car to finally get concerned enough to check on his tardy comrades.

As he headed out into the brisk fall day, he dialed Yenin, a trusted comrade and friend, and his second-in-command on the mission.

It went to voicemail.

He frowned.

“It’s me. If you hear this get to safety, immediately.”

He dialed the other two members of his team and both went to voicemail.

He left similar messages.

But it was too late.

This would have been a coordinated op, all four hit at once. Either his men were still alive, going into hiding just as he was, or they were dead, not so lucky as to have as suspicious a nature as he had, a little old lady known immediately to simply be a diversion.

Yenin didn’t live far, only a few blocks away, and he kept a swift though not too attention drawing pace, cursing as he rounded the corner, the distinctive flash of emergency lights greeting him along with a throng of onlookers, all staring up.

He looked.

And his chest tightened.

He couldn’t tell from the distance and the rapidly failing light who it was that hung by his neck from a balcony three stories up, yet he knew exactly who it was.

Yenin.

I’m sorry my friend.

He wanted to defend the man’s honor and shout down those gathered who disparaged the man’s memory by criticizing his committing suicide. It wasn’t suicide; there was no way. Yenin was one of the happiest men he knew, and this was a cover up. Suicides were far too frequent in Russia, especially among men, and this wouldn’t even be investigated.

The SVR would see to that.

I wonder what they had planned for me.

A quick cab ride had him at Lieutenant Vasnev’s apartment, there no commotion outside, no obvious SVR presence.

He decided to risk it. If there was even the slimmest chance of saving one of his men, he had to take it.

What he found had him cursing.

Vasnev, dead in his bed, an empty bottle of pills at his side, a note resting on his chest.

I’m sorry for what I did.

Vague, meaningless. Enough to know he had committed suicide, not enough to know what he was talking about.

Unchallengeable.

Vasnev’s cellphone vibrated on his nightstand.

He ignored it.

It stopped, then a text appeared. He looked.

And frowned.

Answer the phone, Colonel.

He cursed.

Another text.

Or Lieutenant Ishutin dies.

He grabbed the phone and hurried from the apartment, it clear he was under surveillance.

The phone vibrated in his hand and he took the call.

“Surrender yourself, Colonel, or he dies.”

“Go to hell, we’re dead already.”

“You still have one way out of this, Colonel.”

He stepped out into the street, checking both ways, seeing no one obvious that might be tracking him. He returned to his brisk pace, dodging into an alleyway and sprinting. “Put him on.”

“Very well.”

There were some shuffling sounds then the young lieutenant’s voice.

“Colonel?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t do anything these bastards say! Save yourself, I’m already dead!”

A gunshot rang out and he ended the call, grabbing a young boy by the back of his jacket as he rode by on a bicycle.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“Want an iPhone?”

The boy eyed him suspiciously. “What do you mean?”

Chernov handed over the phone. “It’s yours. Just pedal as fast as you can to Gorky Park then back. Got it?”

The boy grabbed the phone, his eyes wide, a greedy grin on his face.

And he was around the corner in seconds.

Chernov tucked himself between a couple of garbage bins and waited, the cold slowly eating into him as he plotted his revenge.

4

Maggie Harris Residence, Lake in the Pines Apartments, Fayetteville, North Carolina

“I think I’d like to wait until my hair grows back.”

Command Sergeant Major Burt “Big Dog” Dawson raised his eyebrows, glancing at his fiancée, Maggie Harris. “That could take a while.”

She grinned at him and jumped on the couch beside him, resting on her knees and leaning forward, giving him a cleavage shot that his comrade in arms Niner would have had a hard time resisting commenting on, and he couldn’t help but glance at, she the most beautiful woman in the world as far as he was concerned.

Regardless of her very short hair, a result of surgery after a gunshot wound to the head in Paris months ago.

“You in a hurry?”

He smiled, looking up at her. “There’s no right answer to that.”

She squeezed her arms together, glancing down. “See something you like, soldier boy?”

“You know it.” He grabbed her, flipping her on her back, a delighted squeal escaping as he climbed on top of her, their bodies intertwining as passion replaced wedding planning. As they tore each other’s clothes off, he reveled in the fact that this woman he loved had bounced back so quickly from her near death experience and seemed to have lost none of her zest for life. Her recovery had been slow and painful at first, though the men and women of the Unit had been a huge help, she never left alone to dwell on her situation.

And her beautiful hair growing back enough to hide the vicious scar on her head had triggered a breakthrough.

An outing.

Repeated many times since, the barrier broken.

“You like my hair, don’t you.”

He bit her earlobe. “Yes.”

She returned the favor. “I mean my long hair.”

“Yes.” He kissed her hard, gripping the back of her head, careful not to put any pressure on the scar, it no longer a pain issue, simply a comfort issue for her.

She pulled her lips away. “Are you even listening?”

“Kind of busy, babe.”

He got to second base.

She moaned.

“Screw the hair,” she groaned, grabbing his head with both hands and shoving him down her chest. “Remind me why I put up with you.”

He looked up and grinned. “I love it when you talk dirty.”

“Oh no!”

“Huh?”

“I’m on your phone and it’s vibrating.”

He winked. “Umm, is that a bad thing?”

She laughed, reaching under and pulling his pants out from under her. “How the hell did they get there?”

“Who cares?” She tossed the phone on the table and stared down at him. “Weren’t you on a mission?”

He laughed, then rocked her world.

And she his.

Gasping for breath from the other side of the room, they somehow having left the couch, clearing the table and chairs, Dawson stared up at the ceiling, Maggie draped across him, a finger circling his nipple. “That was fun.”

He kissed the top of her head. “Yeah, we should talk about your hair more often.”

She rolled on top of him, her hands pressed into his chest, her chin resting on top as she stared at him. “I never did get a straight answer.”

She loved her long hair, and its now short length was a constant reminder to her of what she had been through.

And wedding photos were a once in a lifetime thing.

He hoped.

“I’ll tell you what,” he began, carefully. “I want to marry you. Whether that’s two weeks from now or two years from now, I don’t care. As long as I know you feel the same way about me as I do about you, then I’m not worried about trying to seal the deal. We’ll get married whenever you want. If you want to wait for your hair to grow back out for the wedding photos, then we’ll wait.”

She stared at him, the love in her eyes crystal clear. “How did I get so lucky?” She slid up and gave him a kiss, her legs trapping the little sergeant major between them. “Ooh, I think someone’s looking for seconds.”

The phone vibrated again for the fourth time.

“You better get that first.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I guess.” He was off duty and if it were Unit related, a coded message would have been left. None was, the caller always hanging up before his generic greeting played.

He was always on-call, it simply a fact of life as a member of America’s elite 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta, more commonly known to the public and Hollywood as the Delta Force. They were the elite of the elite, sent on their country’s most dangerous missions, and the only military unit authorized to operate on American soil, the President having authority to suspend Posse Comitatus for this unit only.

Maggie rolled over and Dawson stood. She gave the little sergeant major a smack. “Hurry back.”

He winked, grabbing the phone and swiping his thumb before it went to voicemail. “Hello?”

“Do you recognize my voice?”

Dawson recognized the accent. Russian. Though not the voice.

“No.”

“We’ve met.”

“That narrows it down.” It actually did. The number of Russians he had met that might actually call him, he could count on one hand. “Give me a hint.”

“We enjoyed some boating on the Black Sea once.”

Dawson immediately knew who he was speaking to, and context gave him the voice recognition he needed. It still didn’t explain why this man, a Russian Spetsnaz Colonel, would be calling. “I know who you are.”

“Good. I need your help.”

Dawson sat on the couch, Maggie wrapping herself in a blanket, she already sensing the fun was over. “Our countries aren’t exactly on the best of terms.”

There was a chuckle. “Indeed. But this has nothing to do with my country. This is one soldier talking to another soldier.”

Dawson’s eyes narrowed. “Why me?”

“You’re the only person I trust right now.”

His eyes opened slightly wider. Interesting. “What’s happened?”

Colonel Chernov quickly filled him in, Dawson beginning to get dressed within the first thirty seconds. This was huge. Horrifyingly huge. Nuclear materials delivered into the hands of Chechens, by the SVR, was almost inconceivable.

If it hadn’t happened several times before.

“What do you want from me?”

“I need you to get this intel into the right hands. There’s nothing I can do with it at this point.”

“Do you need help getting out?”

“No. I have a few loose ends to, shall we say, tie up? Then I doubt you’ll be seeing me again, my friend.”

Dawson knew what that meant. Chernov was going to eliminate the SVR agents involved, then disappear to some island somewhere under a new identity.

“They’ll want proof.”

“As soon as I hang up I’ll text you a link. User ID is your first name, password is my first name. The cloud site has everything I know. It’s all verbal, that’s the best I can do, but I’ve given enough details that you should be able to verify at least some of my story.” There was a pause. “Listen, friend, I have no reason to lie about this, but I need to know if you believe me.”

Dawson had to admit he did, there no conceivable reason for this to be a lie. The question was whether what the man was telling him was accurate, not truthful. “Yes. I believe you believe you’re telling me the truth.”

Chernov laughed. “You should go into politics, my friend.”

Dawson chuckled. “As I told our President once, I’d probably kill too many of my opponents for them to ask me to stay.”

Chernov roared. “I like you, comrade. You and I will drink some vodka together one day perhaps, when we are both old men, hiding from our governments.” The joviality suddenly disappeared. “Listen. This is legitimate. I saw it myself. If you do not stop them, I don’t know how many will die, but it will make 9/11 look like a training exercise.”

5

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“Raptor One, Sierra Four! Abort! Abort! Abort!”

Dylan Kane bolted upright, his body dripping in sweat, his head throbbing in protest at the sudden movement. He looked around the dimly lit room, trying to gain his bearings. He was in an unfamiliar bed—not that that was unusual—and it was daytime, the sun mostly blocked out by heavy curtains, but from what he could see the room was immaculate, a print depicting the Chinese zodiac over the bed.

Fang!

He lifted the sheets, found his underwear still on, and breathed a sigh of relief. Lee Fang was a beautiful woman—gorgeous—but if they were going to sleep together, he’d definitely have wanted to remember it, and his throbbing headache suggested there had been a hell of a lot of alcohol enjoyed the night before.

Yet it wasn’t that.

If he were to sleep with her, he wanted it to be special.

Which was totally out of character for him.

His life was a string of short-term relationships based on the three most important things to him. Sex, sex and sex. Perhaps that was being unfair to himself. Good food, good drink and good company would probably be more accurate, though he often found that the good food and good drink led to the good company hopping in his bed for a good romp.

And he had been quite happy with that for years, his job taking him into harm’s way more than it didn’t, his free time short and unpredictable.

Hardly something to build a relationship around.

Especially when you couldn’t tell a prospective mate why you might only see them half a dozen times a year, and not to bother making any plans since you might be called away at any minute.

Which was why he was so confused about his feelings for Fang.

His fetish was Asian women, though he found all women beautiful in their own way. It was probably because he spent most of his time in that part of the world, so that was what was available to him. And when you were in the Third World, it was easy to find a beautiful woman who was willing to have some fun for a few days or a week, if it meant living the dream.

He wasn’t a pig. He treated with respect every woman he had relations with, and made them feel like a princess when they would go out for dinner. And everything they did for him, or to him, he liked to think was because they were appreciative.

Though he knew deep down he was kidding himself.

When off duty he was a self-destructive drunk who slept with as many women as he could, all in an attempt to forget what he did when sober.

Kill people.

A lot of people.

The Central Intelligence Agency was a cruel taskmaster at times, and if he were FBI or regular forces, he’d probably have been pulled off the frontlines long ago for failing a psych eval. But being a Special Agent in the CIA meant training to beat any such evaluation, so they rarely bothered with them, at least not for the deep cover operatives like himself, who lived a cover day in and day out.

He was Dylan Kane, Insurance Investigator for Shaw’s of London. A jetsetter who travelled the world to investigate large insurance claims and potential fraud for the large, well-known company that insured the rich and powerful for things State Farm wouldn’t touch.

Like half-billion dollar yachts and gold trimmed 747s.

The reality was much less glamorous, the shitholes he usually found himself embedded in fine examples of human progress like Yemen and Pakistan.

He had lost count of how many people he had killed over the years.

Though he knew exactly how many innocent people he had killed.

Happy humming from the kitchen and the smell of something wonderful had him swinging his legs from the bed, eager to see the woman who had him completely confused, questioning his entire way of life.

At least the downtime.

Lee Fang was a Chinese national—a traitor, if you believed her government. Caught up in a scandal involving supporting an attempted coup here in the United States, she had been forced to kill a Chinese general and flee to America. Kane had been her contact.

She was a member of the Beijing Military Region Special Forces Unit, an elite group of soldiers in the People’s Liberation Army, and exceptionally good at her job.

Yet now she was an exile, living under an assumed identity, with no friends or family and no prospects, her agreement with the American government—who were providing a generous pension for life in thanks for her service—not allowing her to use any of her skills she had acquired over years of training.

The last time he had seen her, recruiting her to help him on a mission here at home, he had made a promise to her that he would be that friend she needed. Hell, he only had one friend that he could think of, and that was Chris Leroux, an old high school buddy that now happened to work at the CIA as an analyst.

And one more friend would do him good.

She had happily, though shyly, agreed.

He had stopped in yesterday, determined to show her a good time.

With their clothes on.

They had hit a nice restaurant, Fang clearly enjoying dressing up and getting out. She had been breathtaking, the line of her dress plunging down her back revealing a physique that had mini-Dylan demanding a peek. It had been everything he could do not to stare, then when he realized she actually seemed to enjoy his attentions, he simply gave up and admired her all evening. Dinner had been fantastic, then dancing at a club turned crazy with Kane impressed at how the tiny woman could hold her liquor.

He had a feeling he had been conned though, he pretty sure she was tossing some of her shots.

It had been the best time he could recall ever having.

And I just wish I remembered it all.

He looked about for his clothes and found none.

Uh oh.

He glanced down and just prayed she was clothed or his desires might be revealed.

Pointedly.

He stepped into the hallway and walked toward the kitchen and the singing, which had replaced the humming, a beautiful Chinese lullaby about a girl and her forbidden love.

He smiled.

I wonder if she realizes what she’s singing.

And that I speak Chinese.

“Good morning!” he called before rounding the corner, giving her a chance to prepare should she not be decent.

You must really like this girl.

He rounded the corner and found Fang standing at the stove, a smile on her face, something white on her forehead, standing out against her brown skin. “Good morning!” she beamed, clearly in better condition than he was. “Traditional American breakfast?”

He glanced about. “Umm, what do the Chinese consider a traditional American breakfast?”

“Gluttony with a side of greed is the official line, but this is from your famous Denny’s commercials.” She pointed at various stations around the kitchen. “Scrambled eggs, bacon and toast.” She pointed at a stack of black—objects. “I tried pancakes. Much harder than it looks.”

He laughed, stepping forward and wiping some of the mix off her forehead. “I’m sure everything is terrific.” He paused, looking at her then away. “Umm, awkward question, but, umm, did we, you know…”

“Sleep together?”

“Yeah.”

“No. You were a perfect gentleman until you passed out in the stairwell.”

He flushed. “Sorry.”

She shrugged. “I carried you in, put you to bed then slept on the couch.”

A sudden revelation had him staring at his underwear. “Wait a minute, these weren’t what I was wearing when we went out.”

It was her turn to blush, her eyes quickly darting away. “Well, I had spilled my drink on you and you were soaked.” She glanced up at him. “And you were in no condition to change!”

“Uh huh. And I’m sure you didn’t look.”

She flushed again, turning away. “Of course not.”

“Liar.”

She glanced tentatively over her shoulder at him. “Are you saying that you’d look at me?”

His cheeks burned. “Well, that’s different. I’m a guy and you’re gorgeous.”

He heard her take a sharp breath. “You really think so?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

“Don’t you?”

“Th-that wasn’t the question.”

He took her by the shoulders and turned her back around, facing him. He tilted her head up and gazed into her eyes. “Trust me, you’re gorgeous. Any guy would be lucky to have you.”

Gloom spread across her face as her chin dropped to her chest, her shoulders slumping. “No guy can have me. I’m damaged goods.”