I thought it was time to give you a glimpse of Nick and Holly’s book. I’m about halfway done at this point and anticipate turning it in to New York at the end of April.
In my mind, Holly has always looked something like Scarlett Johannson. I promised myself my next hero would look like the amazingly sexy David Gandy. And guess what? They did a super-sexy Dolce & Gabbana shoot together, which I took as a sign.
If those images don’t work for you, feel free to imagine the blond woman and dark hunk of your choice. What you do in your imagination is none of my business.
The book doesn’t have a fully official title yet, so... Without further ado, I introduce Nick and Holly.
Holly honestly has no idea what she’s in for, but then again, neither does Nick.
From Chapter One...
Trust no one.
What the hell did Kramer mean by that?
Nikolai Andris rubbed his closed eyes with the heels of his hands, then looked up at the clock.
This was a waste of time.
For almost three weeks, he’d been keeping Holly Elise Bradshaw under round-the-clock surveillance. He’d turned her life inside out but had found nothing. He’d tapped both of her phones, sifted through her laptop, searched her condo, memorized the details of her childhood, learned about her friends, pored over her financial records, scrutinized her posts on social media for hints of tradecraft, and tracked every move she’d made via GPS. He’d found nothing remotely suspicious.
He’d even gone behind Bauer’s back and contacted Rich Lagerman, an old buddy from Delta Force who was now working for the FBI, and asked whether Bradshaw was one of theirs. Every federal agency in the country now had undercover officers, and it wouldn’t be the first time operatives from different agencies had tripped over one another while pursuing the same suspect.
“Nope. Not one of ours,” Rich had said. “But if you need any help with her, maybe some late-night, under-the-covers work, let me know.”
Nick now knew more about this woman than she knew about herself. If Holly Bradshaw was some kind of underworld operative, a foreign agent, a traitor who sold US secrets, then he was Elvis fucking Presley.
Someone at Langley had screwed up.
Nick had been recalled from assignment in Tbilisi amid whispers that a handful of officers were missing or dead and that the Agency was conducting an shake-up and internal investigation of its Special Activities Division, or SAD, the top-secret branch of the CIA that had recruited Nick out of Delta Force nine years ago. He’d never been assigned to operate within US borders, so he’d arrived in Langley expecting to find himself in the middle of an inquisition.
Instead, Bauer had given him a file with the latest intel on Sasha Dudayev, aka Sachino Dudaev, the Georgian arms smuggler who’d killed the only woman Nick had ever loved.
“He killed an officer and stole a flash drive containing classified information vital to US operations outside the homeland,” Bauer had said. “Keep Bradshaw under surveillance, recover the data, and neutralize them both using any force necessary.”
As a rule, the Agency left affairs within the homeland to the NSA and FBI, but they sometimes broke that rule when it came to high-value international targets and US citizens who’d crossed the line to work with those targets. It was unusual for Nick to run surveillance on a fellow American in her home, but apart from that element of his current mission, Bauer had given him exactly what he’d wanted for two long years now—a chance to make Dudaev pay.
Dudaev had played the Agency and brought the Chechen op down on their heads. Nick had been there that night. He’d watched, wounded and pinned down by AK fire, as the son of a bitch had emptied his Makarov into Dani’s chest, then made off with the cache of arms the Agency had wrested away from Chechen terrorists. Nick had crawled over to her and held her body afterward, held her until he’d passed out from blood loss.
His sole task that night had been to protect her, and he’d failed.
But now things were about to come full circle.
There was only one problem.
The suits at Langley had clearly made a mistake when they’d fingered Ms. Bradshaw as Dudaev’s contact. Okay, so it was an understandable mistake. The bastard’s last lover had been an Italian journalist who’d acted as his mole and messenger—until he’d had her killed. Analysts must have assumed he’d recruited Ms. Bradshaw when she’d interviewed him about his new art gallery and then begun dating him.
As understandable as the error might be, nothing changed the fact that Nick had now wasted three weeks discovering that Holly Bradshaw was exactly what she seemed to be—an entertainment writer, a smart but shallow blonde, a woman who loved sex, expensive clothes, and good times with her friends. He’d explained all of this to Langley, sharing every bit of intel he’d gathered on her. If Dudaev was about to sell the flash drive, the deal would go down without Bradshaw’s knowledge or participation.
Bauer had shrugged. “Stick with her. The analysts swear she’s the one.”
Some people just hated to be wrong.
Nick’s time would be better spent trailing Dudaev and hunting down the real contact—or sorting truth from rumor on the internal investigation and the missing and dead officers.
Trust no one.
Kramer had contacted him this afternoon insisting they speak face to face. He’d told Nick when and where to meet him. Nick hadn’t needed to ask what was on Kramer’s mind. It wasn’t unusual for an officer to be killed in the line of duty, but it was strange that Nick and Kramer had worked with all of them. Then Kramer had ended the call with those three words—and Nick’s imagination had taken over.
“They’re ombré crystal pumps in royal blue with four-inch heels.”
Nick took another swig of cold coffee. In his earpiece, Bradshaw and her friend Kara McMillan were still talking.
“I love them,” Bradshaw said, “but my shoe budget is blown for the next ten years.”
Nick doubted that. Bradshaw’s daddy was a retired brigadier general who had served with US Army Intelligence—another reason analysts believed Dudaev had chosen her—and Daddy had created a nice little trust fund for his baby girl.
“How much do a pair of Christian Louboutins cost?” McMillan asked.
Nick ran through the key facts on her, more to help himself stay awake than because he’d forgotten anything.
McMillan, Kara. 40. Journalist, author, journalism instructor at Metro State University. Wife of Sheridan, Reece, lieutenant governor of the state of Colorado. No arrests. No suspected criminal associations. Three children. Formerly employed by the Denver Independent on its Investigative Team, aka, the I-Team. Met Bradshaw through work. Close personal friend.
“Well, it depends on where you buy them, whether they’re on sale, which shoe you choose—that sort of thing.”
“Holly,” McMillan said in a stern voice. “How much?”
Bradshaw hesitated. “These were just over three thousand.”
Nick had just taken another swig of coffee and nearly choked.
Three thousand dollars? For a fucking pair of shoes?
“Wow!” McMillan laughed. “Reece would divorce me.”
“Did you get them for your big date with Sasha tomorrow?”
“I needed something to go with my new dress.”
Nick rolled his eyes. The woman’s closet was full of shoes. The last thing she needed was one more pair—especially one that cost three fucking grand.
“I read in the paper that he’s a billionaire—gas and oil money,” McMillan said.
Nick felt his jaw clench.
Dudaev’s fortune had been built on human lives, including Dani’s. Murdering her had been nothing more than a business transaction to him. He could change his name, wear designer suits, and open a dozen art galleries trying to make himself seem respectable, but nothing could wash the blood off his hands.
“You should see the sapphire necklace he gave me last week. The chain isn’t actually a chain. It’s a strand of diamonds.”
Nick already knew from another conversation—this time with Sophie Alton-Hunter, another friend from the newspaper—that Bradshaw had bought the dress to match the necklace. Now she’d gotten the shoes to go with the dress. And at last Nick understood what a woman like Holly Bradshaw would see in Dudaev.
Well, greed was blind.
She had no idea what kind of man he truly was. If she wasn’t careful, he’d strangle her with that necklace.
“Sophie told me. It sounds like he’s serious about you. Do you think this will be it—the big night?”
What did McMillan mean by that?
“I don’t know. I mean, he’s good looking enough.”
“Good looking enough?” McMillan laughed. “He’s a lot better looking than that banker you went out with last year. Where was he from?”
“He’s better looking than that Saudi prince, too, whatever his name was. In the news photos, he looks a lot like George Clooney but with a more aristocratic nose and a mustache. Sure, he’s got some gray, but I’ll bet he’s fully functional.”
They were talking about Ms. Bradshaw’s love life.
Nick glanced for a moment at the photos of her he’d pinned to the wall above his desk. He could see why men were eager to sleep with her. She was hot.
Okay, she was incredibly hot. Platinum blond hair. A delicate heart-shaped face. Big brown eyes. A full mouth, and a body that…
Get your mind off her body.
What good were looks if they got you into trouble? There were men who preyed on beautiful women, and Dudaev was one of them.
“Yeah, but he’s… I don’t know… self-absorbed. He’s probably the kind of man who rams into you for five minutes and then acts like he’s just done you a big favor, the kind who makes you wish you had a magazine to read when you’re in bed with him.”
McMillan was laughing now.
But Bradshaw hadn’t finished. “A lot of guys are like that—oblivious to what women want. ‘Don’t worry about getting me off, babe. I just want to go down on you all night long’—said no man ever.”
Nick shook his head. Is that what she truly expected?
A dude would have to have a motorized tongue to pull that off.
Did all women talk like this about sex? Nick couldn’t imagine his sister sharing details about her sex life with her friends or using this kind of language. His mother, a devout Georgian Orthodox Christian, would have had a coronary if she’d caught her daughter or even one of her five sons talking like this.
Not that it offended Nick. He found it kind of sexy, actually. But then, given the things he’d seen and the things he’d had to do, a conversation about oral sex was pretty damned tame.
“Not all men are selfish.”
You tell her, McMillan.
“No, I suppose not. But lots of them are. It makes me want to take out a full-page ad in the paper just to help out womankind. ‘It’s the clit, stupid.’”
Nick let out a laugh—then caught himself.
Keep your shit together, Andris.
# # #
Holly Bradshaw glanced over her shoulder at her living room wall. “Mr. Creeper must be watching something funny on TV. I just heard him laugh. I never hear him.”
“You still haven’t met him?” Kara asked through a yawn.
“He’s lived there for almost a month now and hasn’t once come over to say hello. He stays indoors and keeps the shades drawn. I’ve seen him outside once. He was taking out the trash, but he was wearing a hoodie. I couldn’t see his face.”
Kara’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Maybe he’s a serial killer.”
“You’re not helping.”
“Who cares about him anyway? If I were you, I’d be so excited about tomorrow night. You lead such a glamorous life. I’m so jealous.”
But Holly knew that wasn’t true. “You and Sophie and the others—you spend every evening with your kids and a man who loves you while I watch TV by myself or go out to the clubs. I think you’re the lucky ones.”
Like the rest of Holly’s friends, Kara was happily married to a man who cherished her. Reece was one of the kindest, most decent, and sexiest men Holly had ever met—which was really strange, given that he was a politician. He’d bent over backward to prove to Kara that he loved her. Now, they had three kids and lived what seemed to Holly to be a perfect life.
The fact that all of her friends were now married and most had children had changed her life, too. She spent a lot less time out on the town with them and a lot more time alone while they took on new roles and responsibilities. As much as she craved excitement and enjoyed the city’s nightlife, some secret part of her had begun to long for what they had, and that longing seemed to grow sharper all the time.
But Kara didn’t seem to believe her. “Are you saying you’d be willing to trade places with me?”
“And sleep with Reece?” Holly stretched out on her sofa and felt herself smile.
“That’s not exactly what I meant.”
But the question, however intended, had Holly’s imagination going.
Reece was sexy with dark blond hair, blue eyes and muscles he hid beneath tailored suits. How fun it would be to peel one of those suits away from his skin.
Tessa was married to Julian Darcangelo, the city’s top vice cop and a former FBI agent who’d worked deep cover. Tall with shoulder-length dark hair, a ripped body, and a strikingly handsome face, he was sex on a stick—and crazy in love with his wife.
Then again, Marc Hunter, Sophie’s husband, had served six years in prison and had that badass vibe Holly loved. A former Special Forces sniper, he was also a devoted family man—and sexier than any man had a right to be.
Gabe Rossiter, Kat James’s husband, had a rock climber’s lean, muscular build and had all but given his life for the woman he loved. Kat was a lucky woman.
Zach McBride, a former Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient, had saved Natalie from being murdered by the leader of a Mexican drug cartel. All lean muscle and confidence, he had the hard look of a man who was used to taking action.
Nate West, Megan’s husband, had been badly burned in combat, his face and much of his body disfigured. The part of him that wasn’t scarred was extremely handsome—and he had a cowboy charm that brought the song “Save a Horse, (Ride a Cowboy)” to Holly’s mind.
Javier Corbray had rescued his wife, Laura Nilsson, from captivity in a terrorist stronghold in Pakistan, sacrificing his career as a SEAL. With a sexy Puerto Rican accent, dreamy, dark eyes and a mouth that—
“Are you fantasizing about my husband?” Kara’s accusing voice jerked Holly out of her reverie.
“No, of course not. Not really. Okay, a little,” Holly confessed. “I was just deciding which one of you I’d most like to trade places with.”
It was just a game. Holly had never so much as flirted with a married man. She didn’t poach on other women’s territory. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t fantasize.
“Holly!” Kara laughed. “I’m sorry I phrased it the way I did. Let me try again.”
Tessa, Holly decided.
She’d trade places with Tessa. She’d always had a secret crush on Julian.
But Kara went on. “If you want to meet good men, maybe you should quit going to the clubs. Most of the guys there are just looking for someone to hook up with.”
It wasn’t the first time Kara had suggested this, but she didn’t understand.
How could she?
Holly fired back. “You met Reece at a bar.”
Okay, so it had been a restaurant. Still, Kara had consumed three margaritas, so it might as well have been a bar.
“Only because someone interfered,” Kara replied.
Holly smiled to herself. It had been so easy.
“Where else can a woman meet men? If I don’t go out, I’ll never meet anyone. It’s not like Mr. Right is going to just walk up and knock on my front door.”
“You never know.” Kara changed the subject. “Hey, did you hear that Tom is converting to Buddhism?”
Holly sat upright. “Tom? The same Tom Trent I know? The one who spends his day shouting at everyone? He’s converting to Buddhism?”
“That’s what my mother says.”
Kara’s mother Lily lived with Tom.
“She would know. But Tom—a Buddhist? He and the Dalai Lama have so much in common, like, for example… nothing.”
Tom was the editor-in-chief of the Denver Independent, where his temper was as much of a legend as his brilliance as a journalist. As an entertainment writer, Holly didn’t work directly beneath him like her I-Team friends did. Beth Dailey, the entertainment editor, was her boss. Beth never yelled, never insulted people—and she appreciated Holly’s shoes.
“I think it’s perfect,” Kara said. “If anyone needs to meditate, it’s Tom. Gosh, it’s after midnight. I need to get to bed.”
“Same here.” Kara wasn’t the only one who needed a good sleep.
The two said good night and ended the call.
Holly got up from the sofa and went through her nightly routine, undressing, brushing her teeth, and washing and moisturizing her face, a sinking feeling coming over her. Naked, she walked over to her dresser and carefully took her new Louboutins out of their red silk bag, moving them so that the light made the crystals sparkle.
She didn’t want to spend another moment with Sasha Dudayev, but she’d already accepted and had the shoes…
Just one more date and that would be it.
She tucked the shoes carefully back in the bag, turned out her light, and crawled between her soft cotton sheets.
(c) Copyright 2015 Pamela Clare