Read Athena Force 12: Checkmate Online

Authors: Doranna Durgin

Tags: #Romance

Athena Force 12: Checkmate (6 page)

Like Selena,
pregnant though she might be. Or like Cole. God, she wished he were here. And she realized the sudden irony of it, that she would trust him with her life but not with her heart.

As these young men and women were now counting on Selena.

They just didn’t know it yet.

She wished she could give them some reassurance, some sign…
you’re not alone.
But it wasn’t time for that…far from it. By the time they knew she was here—working for them, fighting for them—things would probably be over one way or the other.

Selena closed her eyes against the sight of them, fighting a terrible wash of anger. She’d get nowhere with a paring knife and an ice pick if she didn’t use her anger wisely—drawing on it for strength when she needed it, leaving it behind when her thinking had to be crystal-clear. Her entire purpose as an FBI legate was to fight terrorism. It was why she was here.

She’d just never faced it on such a visceral level before.

Surprise.
Get over it. Move on.

And that’s exactly what she did. She’d found the hostages; she’d seen that Allori looked as composed as ever and Razidae remained alive. For the moment there was nothing she could do for them. Now she had to find the terrorists.

 

 

 

She didn’t have far to go. The next little peephole showed her just what she was up against. Just who. And as startled as she was to find the American fugitive, Jonas White, in deep discussion with a small grouping of the men sprawled around the room—cleaning weapons, holding weapons, staring fiercely at nothing in particular, and even in a few instances bleeding—her gaze skipped over the aging international player and settled on none other than the man from the lobby. The one who’d stepped from the cover of
GQ,
handsome and finished and sleek. Dark hair, sharp aquiline lines to his face and a broad-shouldered body made obvious now that he’d discarded his jacket and wore only the silk T-shirt; it followed every plane and long line of muscle, highlighting the elegance of his carriage. And his eyes…they flashed at Jonas White’s words, a dark and simmering glower. Eyes to die for.

Except Selena didn’t intend to.

She did step back a moment, taking a deep breath. Jonas White was one thing. He was a player, a man who liked to wield power and who liked to win—but a man whose most important considerations were his own skin and his own interests. His presence here no doubt represented some last-ditch effort to rescue his faltering influence and rebuild the empire that his adopted daughter, Lynn, had destroyed when she learned the true nature of his activities. And though Jonas was not to be underestimated…

It was the Berzhaani man who worried her. The one who’d been in the lobby…the one who’d probably started this whole mess, killing the guards so his people could storm the building. Unlike Jonas, this Kemeni leader burned with purpose. He’d see this crisis through to the end, and Kemeni interests would come before his own. Selena wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been looking at the reclusive Tafiq Ashurbeyli himself. It would take a man such as this to drive the Kemenis to such risky action when they were in fact close to defeat in the wake of Frank Black’s death and Jonas White’s financial collapse.

What had White told Ashurbeyli? Not the truth—not that he’d been behind Frank Black all along. But somehow he’d tied their fates together.

Just call
me
fate.
Selena smiled grimly in the dimness of the corridor.
Because I’m the one you’re about to meet. Together.

Having absorbed the implications of the room’s occupants, she returned to the peephole. She found the door leading to the function room that held the hostages. Guarded, of course. She had no doubt the main exit from that room was guarded, as well, and she’d already seen the interior guard. The hostages had nowhere to go unless she could cause enough diversion to get them out through this corridor. The ceilings were high and original; the heating ducts primitive and usually merely grates between the rooms. The same factors meant there would be little opportunity to beard the terrorists in their chosen den. She had no intention of revealing she’d discovered this passage until she had no choice.

Well, then. Perhaps she’d have to nibble at them from the edges. They might know she was here, but they wouldn’t know about her Athena Academy background. They wouldn’t know she hadn’t run to the darkest, most distant corner of the building to tremble and wait out the crisis.

But before she took any action at all, she needed to relay the details of the situation to someone on the outside.
Cole.
And to judge by the impact his voice had had on her the last time, she’d best get her head together before she made that call.

 

 

 

Cole crossed his arms and stared at the kitchen phone. Glared at it, truth be told. He’d already snatched it up once on the first ring, only to find himself at the other end of a useless conversation with someone at the FBI. Someone apologetically informing him that Selena might be involved in the current Berzhaani crisis. “Of course she is,” Cole had snapped, adding the instant follow-up, “What’re you doing about it? Has HRT been called?”

And the young man on the other end of the line had fumbled his words; Cole clearly hadn’t followed the script. Then he’d admitted he didn’t have any information about the Hostage Rescue Team and he couldn’t tell Cole even if he did. Typical. Cole had darkly warned the young man that they’d best stay out of Selena’s way. And then he’d hung up, leaving the line free for Selena.

He uncrossed his arms long enough to stalk from one end of the apartment to the other, then dropped for a quick series of push-ups. It didn’t do much to ease his explosive tension; he grabbed his cell phone and considered calling the special agent who’d recently borrowed him from the CIA.
It’s not
what
you know, it’s who…

But he didn’t yet have anything to say, not really. And the woman wouldn’t be at liberty to reveal any information even if she had it. Nope, he wasn’t sure the FBI connection was the way to go, no matter that they signed Selena’s paycheck. And the CIA? Not likely to be any better. They might well have a special ops team on the way; they might even be working with the military to get the SEALs sent in. They might well be engaged in a turf war with HRT.

That didn’t mean anyone would tell Cole.

He considered the phone in his hand, one hand rubbing the back of his neck. There had to be someone he could contact…strings to pull, favors to call in. He had plenty of both…just not anyone in a position to siphon him this particular information.

He flung himself into the creamy leather recliner opposite the television—on, but muted. The UBC station had only been repeating the same old phrases, the very same words they were running across the bottom of the screen. But now…now they switched to an image of Tory Patton. Tall and elegant, sleek black hair sweeping the length of her chin, green eyes piercing even across thousands of miles of satellite feed. Tory Patton. More than just a pretty star reporter face. She, too, had been to the Athena Academy.

Selena said little of her former schoolmates even when pressed, but Cole had no trouble seeing her fierce loyalty to them; he had no trouble spotting her pride these past few months. Athena grads Kim Valenti and Diana Lockworth had each saved President Gabriel Monihan from assassination attempts. Air Force Captain Josie Lockworth, Diana’s sister, had done recent breakthrough work on the Predator spy plane. And then there was Tory herself.

He wondered if she’d take a call from a man who had an inside scoop on this story.

But first he needed his scoop.
Call me, Selena.
Call.

Trust me.

 

 

 

Distraction almost did her in.

Selena stopped to look into the hostage room on her way out of the not-so-secret passageway and almost betrayed herself with a curse. For just as she peeked, several guards stepped into the room, grabbing Deputy Prime Minister bin Kuwaji one to an arm and dragging him toward the door without giving him a chance to fully catch his balance. The man Selena had privately identified as Tafiq Ashurbeyli stepped into the doorway, just far enough to snap a command. The rebels stopped long enough for bin Kuwaji to reclaim his feet, their expressions resentful. Then they marched him out the ballroom door—and, when Selena hurried back to the ballroom peephole, she was just in time to see the deputy PM being hustled through the double-doored entrance.

This can’t be good.

Selena hesitated. Any influence she had would be used up in one great big splurt of glory if she was caught following them—and she was very likely to be caught. And meanwhile she could stay out of sight, taking the long way back to the prime minister’s office and his private phone, where she could pass along what she knew. She had a preliminary insider’s view of the situation no one else could provide.

Unless, of course, she died before she made that phone call.

Make the call.
She tendered mental apologies to the deputy prime minister, hoping the best for him. And she was halfway back down the corridor when something bumped the wall, making a loud noise in a small space.

As in, I’m no longer alone.

She wasn’t ready for a confrontation. The Kemenis knew she was here, but they didn’t yet know how much of a problem she intended to be. They hadn’t placed a high priority on locating her—or else the ballroom would have been empty, and the rebels would have been out combing the building for her. Instead here came a clueless clod of a Kemeni, probably confident he wouldn’t run into anyone within this serving corridor. They were two trains on the same track, heading for a wreck.

She would have rolled her eyes if she’d had time. She didn’t. She fumbled for the recessed push-ring for the thin door to the adjacent function room and slipped through, closing it as quickly as she could while remaining silent. Even so, there was the slight snick of the door settling back into place—little more than reinforced wallboard, it had no latch, just a snug fit—and if he was closer than she’d thought, he could well have seen the brief spear of light shafting into the corridor.

Be careless,
she thought fiercely at him—but she reached into her pocket and withdrew the ice pick, fitting it through the center of her fist so the knob settled into the natural depression between the wrap of her thumb and index finger. It wasn’t a kubotan, but it would do.

She barely settled herself into place against the wall beside the door when she heard blunt fingers scrabbling against the inset latch on the other side. Great. Just once, she wanted a careless one. She slid down to crouch against the wall as he pushed the door open to scan the interior of the room.

Selena drove up from beneath, whipping her arm up from the elbow to slam the side of her wood knob-enhanced fist into the man’s temple. Right on cue, his eyes rolled back; he dropped heavily to the floor. “Shhh!” she hissed at him. “Be quiet!”

But she didn’t hesitate to see if the noise had been noticed. She shouldered his assault rifle and dragged him back into the corridor, closing the door firmly behind them. Without much care for his already insulted head, she grabbed his ankles and hauled him toward the kitchen, stopping frequently to listen for other incursions. At the converted linen closet she hesitated even longer, listening hard before sticking her head out to do a quick visual check, then quickly hauling her prize off to the kitchen.

Atif looked up, startled and concerned, as she entered the walk-in cooler, but his expression cleared by the time she’d closed its substantial door. “Already!”

“He got in my way.” Selena let her annoyance show.

“At least he doesn’t have a radio—they won’t be expecting to hear from him. And they’re just getting their routines squared away, so if I’m lucky they won’t notice he’s missing for a while.” She found a cone of butcher twine on a shelf near the door and yanked off a furious length of it.

“He’s not dead?” Atif looked at the terrorist in surprise. “He looks so nicely limp.”

“He’s a deadweight, but he’s not dead.” Selena tested the butcher twine and tossed it away, then spied an industrial-size roll of cling wrap. She smiled. Atif followed her gaze, and then he smiled, too. Within moments Selena had the man wrapped in enough layers of clingy plastic to all but immobilize him, with separate, twirled wraps around his wrists and ankles. She dragged him off toward the back of the cooler—“We need to leave room for more,” she told Atif, who only smiled—and propped him up against the back shelves just as he opened bleary eyes. “Behave yourself,” she told him, putting herself squarely in his unfocused vision.

“You…” The rebel couldn’t seem to wrap his brain around the nature of the person who’d taken him down so neatly. “No woman tells me—”

“Okay,” Selena said readily, and handed the assault rifle to a surprised Atif. “Then he’ll tell you.” She hadn’t meant to leave the rifle here, but Atif had no other weapons…and he was wounded. If Selena brought more disabled rebels this way—or if someone thought to check this cooler—Atif would need the rifle more than she.

She’d just have to get another.

“And be quiet,” she admonished the rebel as Atif fumbled the rifle with his wounded arm and finally got it pointed in the right direction. “Because there’s plenty of cling wrap, and if you make a fuss, Atif is going to wrap up your face. I very much imagine that would make it difficult to breathe.”

Atif looked intrigued by the thought, his expression just a little over the top. Selena’s heart went out to him. He was hurt, he was surrounded by his dead friends, and he was doing his very best to rise to the unexpected role she’d assigned to him.

“I won’t be long,” she told him.

“But where—?” Even with the rifle, he clearly preferred to have company in his guard duties. Still, he didn’t wait for her to respond. He cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders. “Never mind. Of course I should not know.”

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