The Bodyguard

Cherry Adair, Gena Showalter, Lorie O'Clare

St. Martin's Paperbacks

CHAPTER ONE
Decommissioned Soviet Submarine Base #15
Arctic Ocean
90 00 N, 0 00 E
Invisible, Sebastian Tremayne and fellow T-FLAC operative Anatoly Cohen silently followed the three physicists, two male, one female, down the long, dimly lit corridor of Decommissioned Soviet Submarine Base #15.
The casual conversation of the targets wasn’t relevant and Sebastian tuned it out. Half of him prayed the woman wasn’t who he’d been told she was. The other half felt a surge of hope. The question was, what should he hope for? He looked at her and the question became instantly moot.
Her glossy chestnut hair was longer than it’d been the last time he’d seen her. But the color, even in the crappy lighting, was instantly recognizable. For a second he remembered the heavy, silken weight of it as he’d held her head in his palm and brought his mouth down on hers. Her hair had draped like a spill of satin over his fingers. Sebastian remembered the feel of her slender body pressed against him. He imagined he smelled the heady fragrance of night-blooming jasmine as the heat of her wrapped about him.
The smell of meat cooking on the grill outside, the sound of glasses clinking and people laughing, faded to nothing. For a few incredible minutes, standing there in a back hallway of his best friend’s house, holding his best friend’s fiancé, Sebastian had felt an aching yearning that had gone miles beyond sexual desire.
He walked a different hallway now. Cold, dim, and smelling of mold. This hallway was far more dangerous than being caught kissing another man’s woman. Turn around, sweetheart, he thought, angry with himself as well as with her. Let me see those big, beautiful lying brown eyes.
As if she’d heard him, the woman turned her head to answer one of the men, giving Sebastian a clear view of her profile.
Sebastian looked into the very much alive face of a dead woman.
His heart raced. Michaela Giese. Beautiful, vibrant Dr. Michaela Giese. Very much alive after being declared dead two years ago. He sucked in an inaudible breath, his heart manic with lo—lust. With unrequited hunger. Beating fast, because just looking at her turned him on like no other woman ever had, nor, he knew, ever would.
It took every ounce of fifteen years of T-FLAC training not to suck in a shocked breath, not to grab her, not to . . . Fuck—not to demand answers, right now.
They’d been right. She was here and responsible for building a nuclear bomb primed to detonate in mere hours. Set to melt the polar ice caps into a worldwide slushy margarita, flooding coastal cities, and within a short time, raising ocean levels. Fast.
Millions would die because of her actions. Because of her piss-poor choices. Unless ridiculous billions of dollars were paid to the terrorist she worked with by midnight.
Sebastian and Cohen were here to stop her.
The beautiful, breathing, lying, gut-yanking bitch was obviously ruthless enough to do it.
“That her?” Cohen whispered into his lip mic.
“Hell if I know.” Oh yeah. He needed some time to get used to her being back from the dead. Along with the pieces of him that had gone into that empty grave with her.
His fingers flexed at his sides as her glossy pony-tail swayed against her slender back as she walked. It would feel like heavy silk against his skin. He knew . . . He shook his head, as if to clear away cobwebs. Get a grip, Tremayne; what do you really know about her?
Had she intentionally faked the plane crash to come and work with the terrorists? Jesus. Jesus. How long had that been going on? He hated to believe it, but the evidence was too hard to negate. The timing had been just too fucking convenient.
Two years ago she’d abruptly called off her engagement to his best friend, fellow operative Cole Summers, a month after their engagement party. No explanations. But there’d been plenty of suspicions, most of them tossed his way by Cole afterward. It had been a major blowout that Sebastian and Cole had eventually managed to overcome.
A few days later, the bits and pieces of her crashed Cessna had been found on the shores of the tiny island of Diomede in the middle of the fucking Bering Strait.
There’d been no body.
Speculation had run rife at T-FLAC HQ. As far as anyone knew, Michaela didn’t know anyone locally. She was an experienced pilot, but there were no signs of foul play. She’d simply . . . vanished. Drowned in the icy sea. Or so everyone had believed.
Her funeral had been a seminal moment in his life.
“Still with me, bud?” Cohen asked quietly in Sebastian’s headpiece.
“Yeah.”
The long, narrow cement corridor, painted half filthy white and half puke green, had a domed ceiling and metal-caged, bare lightbulbs. A track ran down the middle, indicating that during the Cold War heavy equipment had to be transported to and from the dock at sea level.
Even with just his face and hands bare, it was freeze-his-balls-off cold, and Tremayne was grateful for the protection of his LockOut suit worn beneath a thick, hand-knit gray sweater and charcoal jeans. The insulated boots with the no-sound tread developed by the science geeks at T-FLAC were doing a good job of saving him from frostbitten toes. If they stayed in this corridor much longer, though, the gloves and face mask were going to come out of their pockets. He wondered if he had ice crystals in his eyebrows. . . .
Michaela was similarly dressed in a bulky brown sweater and too-long black pants, rolled up several times to accommodate her walking. She looked like a little girl playing dress-up in her father’s clothes. But she wasn’t a child. Whose clothes was she wearing?
Sebastian felt a surge of unwelcome annoyance at the direction of his thoughts. Even though Cole was now happily married and father to a delightful little girl, Sebastian still felt guilty as hell coveting his friend’s fiancé.
Ex-fiancé.
Dead, miraculously alive ex-fiancé.
And that guilt and anger was without the added component of her contribution to this particular terrorist cell. Damn damn damn.
“Think they’re heading to the nuke?” Cohen speculated. “If that’s the case, we can be outta here in thirty minutes tops.”
“When has an op ever been that fucking easy?” Sebastian rubbed the back of his neck. He trusted that itch, and it told him there was plenty of shit and several fans before they teleported out, job accomplished.
Ahead, one of the scientists they were following pushed open a rusted metal door, which creaked ominously. Michaela and the other man followed him inside. “—just ask that you check my numbers,” the man in front said to Michaela.
“I’m sure there’s nothing to w—” The thick, insulated door closed.
“I’ll go see what’s up,” Cohen offered.
Sebastian leaned against the corridor wall to wait.
Would Michaela recognize him when she saw him again? Hell, would she even remember him? They’d met five times. Always with Cole and a group of friends. Every second of every one of those encounters was fresh in Sebastian’s mind. Hell. He’d better get his shit together before he confronted her. He was here to do a job. A job he’d volunteered for even though it was one he didn’t want.
Like it or not. He was a trained counterterrorist operative with a directive. Clear. Nonnegotiable. There was no wiggle room in his orders; personal feelings were not only unimportant, they were also forbidden.
A brush of air nearby indicated Cohen was back. “They’re splitting up until a meeting in an hour.”
“I’ll take care of her.” Sebastian’s heart did a triple axel. “Maybe the guys will lead you to the lab?”
“That’ll save time.”
A technopath, Anatoly Cohen’s power was the ability to control technology. They didn’t need to know how to shut the nuke down or how the damn thing was rigged; Cohen would use mind control to jam the signals and rewire the thing without ever touching it.
The door opened and Michaela preceded the men back into the corridor. She had several large black binders cradled in her arms. “I’ll look these over,” she told the older man with a nose like a strawberry and thinning gray hair pasted to his shiny scalp. “But I’m sure you have nothing to worry about.” The sound of her husky contralto went through Sebastian like the first rays of spring sunshine after a long, dark North Pole winter. Oblivious to his presence, Michaela was close enough to touch. The heady fragrance of jasmine was a ghost of his imagination. She’d lost weight. Too much weight. Her face was hollowed, her beautiful eyes shadowed and troubled.
“Please confirm my findings, Michaela. You know Tongpan.” The shudder shaking the man’s skinny frame had nothing to do with the Arctic air blowing through the corridor. Who was Tongpan? His name hadn’t been on any of the intel they’d received. Tremayne made a mental note to pass it on to HQ later.
The waiting fishing trawler had dropped anchor six miles away early that morning. In case things turned to shit inside the sub base. Sebastian didn’t anticipate trouble. The place was manned with geeks and low-level security people; the principals would control what was happening here from a remote—and safe—location.
“I’ll check and triple check. Again,” Michaela told the man soothingly. “I’m sure you have nothing to worry about. After all this time, you just need a few more hours of patience. Then all any of us can do is wait.”
“Dr. Gangjon will expect us to go with him when he leaves?” Sebastian heard an invisible question mark at the end of the sentence. Hope and fear painted a stark mask on the man’s horse-like features. The tall and painfully skinny guy’s puppy-dog eyes watched Michaela’s every move through bottle-thick glasses. Another sucker bites the dusk. Was he bitter? Hell no. She should just wear a goddamned warning sign on her chest: HEARTBREAKER!
About to turn the opposite direction down the passageway from her comrades, Michaela paused. “I sincerely hope you’re right, Dr. Ackart.” Her tone indicated she had no faith in his supposition whatsoever.
“Gonna catch up,” Cohen said softly into his lip mic. “Cover my ass. Hell—better connect in case we get split up.”
The thought had occurred to him. He reached out and closed his fingers around his partner’s upper arm. Sebastian’s ability to maintain invisibility would last another hour unless he once again made physical contact with Cohen to rejuice the power.
Sebastian had no powers of his own. Unlike Cohen, he wasn’t a wizard. He was more of a supernatural freak of nature. He had one power, and one power only. As a power chameleon, he could absorb powers from a wizard by direct physical contact. Transmogrifying was a handy tool in his T-FLAC grab bag, but it didn’t define him. Not enough to be part of T-FLAC’s paranormal unit anyway.
The transference of Cohen’s powers was an adrenaline spike that had Sebastian’s heart galloping pleasantly.
“Man, I’m getting the sucky end of this assignment,” Cohen said, clearly amused. “I get to go play mind fuck with a computer, while you get to fuck her.”
“Can’t do much about your short straw, man.” Sebastian forced a lightness to his tone he in no way felt. “Go,” he whispered into the mic and immediately felt the absence of the other man’s heat signature beside him as Cohen teleported after the two scientists.
For several moments Sebastian just stood there, icy air playing against his face as she walked away from him, her steps brisk.
His eyes burned and his chest hurt like hell. He’d been handpicked over psi guys because of Cole’s recommendation. Now that the per sis tent itch on his neck was increasing he had a damn good idea why.
The mission had started out simple. Get in, use any means necessary to prevent the nuke from detonating, then get the hell out. He’d had no idea that might include one-on-one time with the woman whose “death” had ripped his heart to shreds. Cole didn’t blame the breakup on Sebastian anymore, but he knew damn well that Tremayne would recognize her if she were indeed there. But there was a world of difference between “see if she’s there” and “do what you must if she is.”
With Michaela in the mix, this wasn’t just another ball game; this was the Super Bowl. Winner take all. And he was a piss-poor loser.
Why the fuck did it have to be you, Michaela?
Excerpted from The Bodyguard by Cherry Adair, Gena Showalter and Lorie O'Clare.
Copyright © 2010 by Cherry Adair, Gena Showalter and Lorie O'Clare.
Published in 2010 by St. Martin's Paperbacks.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.