“Traitorous fucking bastard!”
Marty Mathews stared at her boss, division chief Vince Deerfield with a hidden sense of surprise as he threw the thick file on Khalid el Hamid Mustafa across the desk.
The dull, yellow folder hit, slid then fell from the desk to scatter loose sheets of information and pictures at her feet.
Khalid el Hamid-Mustafa. The bastard son of a Saudi sheikh suspected of terrorism. His father, Aziz Mustafa was a religious hardliner, a man who ruled one of the more barren sections of Saudi Arabia, on the Iraq border. He had tarred his sons with his own brush and in doing so had subjected his bastard son, Khalid, to years of suspicion by the United States.
It was the reason Marty had been tailing Khalid for the past two years. As a FBI agent, one on the low end of the totem pole as far as her boss was concerned, Marty had been stuck playing babysitter and peeping Thomasina to one of the most sexually active men she had ever laid her eyes on.
A dark, brooding, dangerous man. There was no doubt in her mind that Khalid Mustafa would be a very dangerous man to cross.
If she had doubted it, then the information her godfather had given her over the past years would have confirmed it.
There was a reason why she had never reported any of the more suspicious activities Khalid had engaged in. Quite simply, it was because he engaged in them at the orders of her godfather, the director of the FBI.
“No comment?” Vince snarled, his heavy brows lowered, his hazel green eyes spitting fire and brimstone back at her.
“I’m the agent who’s followed him for the past two years,” she replied politely. “As my reports state, there’s no evidence to support the suspicion that Mr. Mustafa has any ties to a terrorist community.”
Vince threw himself back in his chair and glared at her now. That glare was nerve-racking. It boded ill to any agent on the receiving end of it. Unfortunately, she was the agent in question.
“Two years,” he snapped. “I gave you two years, Agent Mathews, to find just a shred of evidence to support the suspicions we have against him. Two years. I could have convicted a five-year-old with that amount of time on my hands.”
No doubt he could have, but on the other hand, he wouldn’t have had a godfather who was director of the entire FBI going over his reports, editing them and deleting minor points that could have supported that suspicion because Khalid was currently his favorite mole.
“A five-year-old wouldn’t have the decadent lifestyle Mustafa has.” She rolled her eyes at the thought of it. “I rather doubt the man has the time to consort with terrorists. He’s too busy playing with his little friends.”
That was more truth than fiction, actually, no matter how much her father liked to smile and deny it.
Her boss stared back at her as though she were a slug under a rock that somehow had dared him to touch. The very fact that he couldn’t fire her without bringing down a heavy barrage of interest in his office was only the tip of the iceberg of reasons he hated her.
The man was slowly committing career suicide and didn’t seem to have a clue. Her godfather was Zachary Jennings, the director of the FBI and Deerfields boss. She didn’t run crying to Daddy Zach, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t well aware of the treatment she had been receiving in this office since being assigned to it.
“Well, you can stop protesting the assignment,” he bit out, his tone malevolent. “You’re off. The operation is dead in the damned water, thanks to your godfather and your incompetence. What did you do, go crying to him?”
Marty sat up straighter, a frown snapping between her brows at the accusation she had thought of only moments before. “I’ve never discussed this assignment with my godfather,” she informed him, bristling at the insult, but thanking God that her godfather had taught her how to lie when she was young. “And I stopped crying to him when I was three.”
“Then I don’t have to worry about a protest on my desk when I tell you that you have to be one of the lousiest agents I’ve ever had in my division,” he stated derisively.
“The only report you have to worry about is the one I may file, sir.” Frost filled her voice as she stared back at him, fighting to hide her anger. “Perhaps it wasn’t my lack of skill so much as your lack of foresight and inability to accept the fact that Mustafa is guilty of nothing but his own sexual excesses.”
She kept her tone respectful. She assured herself there was none of the animosity that brewed inside her leaking into her tone.
He sneered back at her, and it was all she could do to keep from telling him what a fruitcake he had become over the years.
His determination to .nd any shred of evidence that he could procure against Khalid had become a running joke within the office. He refused to listen to reason, refused to see that there was nothing to tie Khalid to any terrorist. Except those that her godfather had him secretly meeting with.
Now wasn’t that fucked up?
“My lack of foresight has never been an issue.” He rose to his feet and paced to the wide windows that gave views out over DC as he blew out a hard, disgusted breath. “Either way, the operation has been ordered shut down. You’re off the case, Mathews. You can begin the vacation you’ve been crying over for the past two years.”
Crying over? She rather doubted it. She had submitted the request the month before she had been assigned to Khalid, and had merely resubmitted it every six months. She deserved her vacation. She hadn’t had one in over three years.
“Thank you, sir.” She just barely managed to keep the mockery out of her voice.
Not that Director Deerfield was fooled. He glared back at her as he clasped his hands behind his back and straightened his shoulders to stare down his hooked nose at her.
“You’re excused.” He grimaced, as though there was a smell that offended him. “I’ll see you back here in one month. Hopefully by then I can find an assignment worthy of your mediocre skills.”
Damn. She could wait longer than four weeks before returning to this office or Deerfield’s questionable mercies. The man was a fiend. She would have nightmares while on vacation concerning her return.
“Thank you, sir.” Rising to her feet, she gave him a short-lived, less than sincere smile. “I’ll see you in a month.”
Marty turned on her heel and walked quickly to the door, desperate to get away from the malevolence she could feel pouring from her boss.
Running to her godfather wasn’t going to be a problem though, because she had a feeling her time at the agency was history. At the moment, she was being courted by more than one private protection firm and she was seriously considering one very lucrative offer. “Mathews.” The sound of his voice as she opened the door had her turning back.
“Yes, sir?” She kept her tone calm and even. It wouldn’t due to clue him in on the fact that he was the type of director that gave the bureau a bad name.
“Mustafa is part of your little social clique.” There was a sneer in his voice.
Marty’s brows arched. “He often socializes in the same circles as my parents and godfather,” she agreed, reminding him yet again that her father was a U.S. senator and her godfather was the director of the bureau. Her mother had been a federal judge before her retirement three years earlier due to health concerns.
“So I’ve seen.” His lips were thin, pinched. “I’d be careful of my own associations if I were you, though. There have been rumors that Mustafa has been interested in you over the years. That interest could affect your career. I’m certain your godfather might protest being forced to protect you against your own bad judgment.”
Geeze. The man was a paranoid bastard just to start with, and an asshole on top of it.
“As you said, this assignment is over.” She glanced at the pages still littering the floor before looking back to her boss. “What I do with my free time is my business now.”
And if she wanted to sleep with a former suspect then that was her damned business.
Closing the door behind her, Marty strode quickly from the bureau’s unassuming offices and into the heated warmth of a DC summer day.
The first day of her vacation. A month free of strife and Deer. eld’s screaming rages because she hadn’t managed to come up with so much as a shred of suspicion against Mustafa.
If the man only knew exactly who Khalid was to the bureau. His code name was Desert Lion, the missions he had successfully completed for the bureau had been imperative.
But why didn’t Deerfield have the information that Khalid was one of her father’s in dependent agents? Why had she been told but he hadn’t been? That was information that her godfather, Zachary Jennings, still hadn’t given her, but she had her own suspicions.
Deerfield was likely on his way out, if she knew her godfather, Will. Otherwise Vince Deerfield would have been given the information that would have exonerated Khalid of the suspicions Deerfield had against him.
While she was striding along the sidewalk, a small smile tipped her lips. Two years investigating Khalid and she knew more about him than she may know about herself. She knew the brooding, dangerous reflection of the man that hid behind calm, often amused black eyes. She knew him for the male sexual animal he was, and as the aloof “other” lover he played in his relationships.
And often she wondered what would happen if she wasn’t an agent, if she wasn’t shadowing him, if she wasn’t the goddaughter of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a woman who he knew wasn’t content to merely “play”?
Would he be in her bed or simply demand to be a third should she choose a lover within the circle of his friends who shared their lovers. It sounded depraved. Perverted. Marty knew the protective and loving lifestyle environment her parents had created for her instead. Her father, her mother, and her godfather.
Walking into the parking lot behind the FBI offices, she moved quickly to her car, engaged the auto lock, and pulled the door open before sliding inside.
Her hands gripped the steering wheel as she stared along the walkway in front of her, the profusion of flowers and shrubbery holding her gaze with their splashes of color. She had one month to attempt the seduction of a man who seemed determined to remain as aloof as possible.
She had four weeks to steal his heart. If he had one to steal.
THE CLUB, SINCLAIR ESTATE
Khalid watched as U.S. senator Joe Mathews and the third he had chosen more than thirty years ago, FBI director Zachary Jennings, walked into the bar of the club, glancing around until they spotted Khalid.
Lifting his glass of whiskey, Khalid took a sip of the dark liquid as he tracked their progress through the room to the small seating area where he sat. If their expressions were anything to go by, then the news was good. Perhaps. The somber seriousness that had tightened their faces for the past two years had eased, and with it, hopefully, their tempers had as well.
The two men were both trim, fit for their ages. The senator was nearing sixty, the director was only a few years behind, but both men appeared years younger. They swore it was due to a peaceful, stress-free home life.
There were days Khalid sincerely doubted that. He knew who they claimed as a daughter.
“Khalid.” Zach sat down in the settee across from the leather recliner that Khalid was currently relaxing in. The senator took a seat in the chair beside the director, leaned back, and allowed a selfsatis.ed smile to tip his lips.
“Consider your problems over,” Joe announced softly, his deep voice tinged with amusement as Khalid’s brow lifted in curiousity.
“Really?” he drawled. “All of them?”
“The majority, perhaps,” Zach chuckled. “The FBI has dropped their investigation of you. Deerfield was forced to pull the assignment this afternoon. Marty’s on her way home for a vacation, and I’ll be submitting my report on Deerfield next week. We should have his resignation within the next month.”
“Before Marty returns to the office, I assume?” Khalid felt his fingers tingle with the need to curl into a fist at the thought of the hell Deer.eld had been putting her through.
There were agents in the club, men who reported to Jennings, and who had revealed information concerning Marty to Khalid. Those men had kept them both appraised of the insults Deerfield had heaped upon her concerning her inability to find evidence against Khalid and his supposed terroristic activities.
“Before Marty returns to the office.” Zach nodded, his expression tensing with anger. “The bastard has stepped over the line one time too many.”
“And still your daughter refuses to file a report against him,” Khalid murmured.
Zach nodded heavily. “Marty’s not a snitch. I can get his resignation without her, but it would have helped.”
“And have you asked her for her help?” Khalid sipped at the whiskey as he glanced at the two men.
Zach shook his head emphatically. “If she finds out we know about her problems with her boss, then she’ll begin to question our sources. I don’t want that. Keeping an eye on that girl isn’t always easy. I don’t want her to know just how well I keep tabs on her.”
Khalid refrained from objecting. He wasn’t a believer in hiding information in this situation. Marty was an intelligent woman; who lived a potentially dangerous life, despite her godfather’s attempts to ensure that she was protected. She would only be hurt and angry if it appear that her father had no faith in her abilities.
“He still disapproves.” Joe nodded in Khalid’s direction.
“It is not my place to approve or to disapprove.” He shrugged. At least, not yet it wasn’t. The battle he was .ghting to steer clear of her was becoming harder by the day, though. It was a battle he may yet lose.
“It could be.” Joe’s gaze was somber now. “If you were serious in your intentions.”
Khalid had to chuckle at that. “Gentlemen, this is the twenty-first century, not the eighteenth,” he informed them. “We’re not Southern gentlemen seeking to protect the honor of our daughters. My intentions are as they have always been. I must plead guilty to seeking plea sure alone.”
Joe grimaced as Zach shook his head at Khalid’s answer.
“Marty isn’t a toy,” Zach stated, his voice firm, his tone warning. It was a familiar argument, though one Khalid rarely started or participated in.
“Tell me.” Leaning forward, he slid the recliner back into its folded position. “Is Deerfield still trying to find out what happened in Saudi before I left?”
Of course he was. Khalid stared at the two men’s faces and saw the answer in their eyes. Deerfield would never give up, he suspected.
For some reason nothing mattered to him as much as destroying Khalid.
He should stand in line, Khalid thought. There were many who would love to see Khalid el Hamid-Mustafa destroyed, least of whom were his two half-brothers.
“We’re taking care of it,” Zach promised him. “Deerfield’s resignation will strip him of his clearance and ensure that he never learns your secrets.”
His secrets. More like his nightmares. The bloody, shameful past that haunted his days like a dark specter. They were secrets that could never be hidden, if Deerfield talked to the right person. And no doubt, if he hadn’t already, then he soon would.
Khalid nodded as he rose to his feet. This conversation was at an end as far as he was concerned. If he stayed to socialize with the two men the conversation inevitably would return to Marty. To the one woman he ached to possess with a hunger unlike any he had ever known before. She was the one woman he was forced to deny himself.
For too many years he had contented himself with being merely a third to other club members’ lovers or wives. He had no desire to form a commitment to any woman, or to any relationship. He had no right to do so. He had lost that right long ago in a desert .lled with blood and betrayal.
“If you’ll excuse me.” He nodded to the two men as he moved away and headed for the bar’s exit.
He had no desire to discuss Marty at this point, just as he had no desire to face another night filled with arousal and nightmares, and the memories of a past he could never change.
“What do you think?” Joe sighed, as he watched Khalid before turning back to the man who had been his best friend most of his life.
“I think I’d prefer it if our daughter were interested in another man,” Zach sighed, as he ran his hand over his jaw and tried to hold back the concern building inside him. “He’s a hard man, Joe.”
“He won’t stay away from her.” Joe shook his head at the thought.
“If he managed to, eventually, she would find him.” This was a truth was certain of, Zach. “She’s as obsessed as he is.”
“She’s protective of him,” Joe countered. “And she’s curious.”
Zach sat back in his chair and breathed out a heavy sigh. Marty was like wind soft and gentle a one day, blowing .erce and hot, or icy cold, the next. But one thing remained constant, and that was her loyalty to those she cared about. For some reason she had focused on Khalid when she was no more than a girl, and that fascination hadn’t abated.
Joe knew Zach had lived in fear in the past years of that dark fascination that often filled their daughter’s eyes whenever she saw Khalid. The man would break her heart, and Joe didn’t know if he could ever forgive Khalid if he hurt her. But he knew Zach would see to it personally that Khalid regretted any tears Marty shed.
While rubbing his hand over his face, Joe gave Khalid’s retreating back a final glance before lifting his drink and finishing it. Zach would take care of the problem of Vince Deerfield and get him off Khalid’s and Marty’s asses. Joe would watch his daughter do what Zach had made him promise not to do. And that was to help her to attain what he felt would make her happy. But even more, he had a feeling it was what would make Khalid happy as well. Eventually. The boy needed something to fight for. Someone to fight for. He was growing lax in his own protection.
Sometimes a man could just sense when two people were meant to be together. Khalid and Marty matched in ways that defied description and, as a father, Joe wanted nothing more than her happiness and Khalid’s peace.
Over the past two years he had watched the anger build inside Marty as Deerfield went after Khalid. Each order that had gone out to tap his phone, search his home, or follow him to whatever function or event he was attending had struck a sensitive nerve in the girl.
Each time she had been forced to remain on surveillance while he played his “games”, as she had called them, she had changed a little more. As though the knowledge that he was sharing another woman’s bed only angered her further.
Unfortunately for her godfather, keeping her away from Khalid would be impossible. Joe figured he might as well do as he always did and help if she asked. Then again, he knew his daughter well. She wouldn’t need much help. He had a feeling she just might be the woman to tame the desert lion’s heart and to heal the wounds to his soul.
Or she would end up sharing them.
“Stop worrying, Zach,” Joe ordered firmly, as he picked up a paper on the table in front of him and sat back to read. “She’s a grown woman. You have to let her live her own life at this point.”
“So says the man who has standing orders out that she’s to be covered by a protective detail at all times,” Zach grunted. “Don’t give me that crap.”
Joe’s lips quirked in an amused grin. “Where bullets are flying, I tend to remain cautious. Where Mustafa is concerned?” His grin widened. “He’s a drowning man. Give her two weeks, he’ll be like the rest of us. Putty in her hands.”
“He doesn’t have a heart, Joe,” Zach stated, causing Joe to lower his paper and frown back at him.
“What the hell do you mean by that?”
“His brothers destroyed any part of him that he could give to another woman in that damned desert,” he stated, as Joe clenched his jaw, thinking of what had been done to Khalid so many years before. “They ripped his heart out of his body. That’s why he needs to stay the hell away from our daughter. He can’t do anything but hurt her.”
Joe prayed he was wrong, if for no other reason than his daughter’s sake.
Excerpted from Guilty Pleasure by Lora Leigh.
Copyright © 2010 by Lora Leigh.
Published in January 2010 by St. Martin’s Press,.
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.
Lora Leigh is the author of Live Wire, Forbidden Pleasure, and Enigma, among many others. Writing is her passion, her peace, and her lifeline, and she can often be found daydreaming and plotting and planning with the varied characters that fill her imagination. When she isn’t writing, she tends her flower gardens, watches horses romp outside her home, or spends time with the family and pets she fills her life with. She lives in the rolling hills of Kentucky.