Authors: Blair Bancroft
|Kone Enterprises (2012)|
FBI Special Agent Vee Frost does not care for Homeland Security's list of job qualifications when they ask to borrow her services. "An experienced agent with a proven track record" is good. "Fluent in Russian" hints of an assignment close to her heart. But "Attractive female, under thirty-five" sends up red flags. Obviously, DHS is asking for services above and beyond the call of duty. But a loan to Homeland Security would look great on her resumé, and it sounds as if they really need her . . .
But when Vee agrees to turn on the charm for a mystery man who may hold the clue to something vital to U. S. security, she never anticipates a chase after two nuclear bombs from the old Soviet arsenal that will take her and the amnesiac Russian arms dealer from New York City to Connecticut, Colorado, New Jersey, and Florida, then on to Siberia and Iran. Nor does she expect to unearth a second personality beneath the façade of the tough arms dealer, Sergei Tokarev. A man with an agenda as hidden as the facts in his brain.
No matter how strong the bond Vee and Sergei form as they chase from one danger to the next, it seems doubtful either of them will live long enough to enjoy a happy ending.
Author's Note: LIMBO MAN and ORANGE BLOSSOMS & MAYHEM were written years apart, and yet the two stories, featuring amnesiac heros, were uploaded back to back. My only excuse: with all the current headlines about Iran's nuclear program, it just seemed the right time for LIMBO MAN to go "live."
Vee Frost slitted her eyes against the excruciating early morning brilliance of another glorious day in paradise.
or too eager for sex last night, she’d failed to close the blinds, and Saturday was starting much too early. Her brain, fuzzed on a combination of professional triumph, mojitos, and knock-your-socks-off sex, whispered,
em, go back to sleep
She started to roll out of bed, found she couldn’t move. The arm pinning her chest to the bed refused to be dislodged, even though the body attached to it seemed fast asleep. Cade Doucette, superior agent that he was, wasn’t about to let anyone escape from custody. Not even his stark
naked partner. Vee lay back against the pillow, a tiny smile tugging at her lips as she considered an alternative to closing the blinds and going back to sleep. After all, there were no Peeping Toms four stories up.
She and Cade had closed a big case yesterday, or at least a big case for this relatively quiet part of Florida’s central gulf coast. Sarasota County had the dubious honor of having had fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers living within its borders at one time or another, very likely exactly because the area was such a peaceful, out-of-the-way corner of Florida. A haven for retirees, from mid-westerners living in modest-sized ranch homes to the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, now throwing their weight around gated home-owner associations featuring wall-to-wall McMansions.
The case they’d just concluded involved a smuggling ring specializing in diluting prescription medicine and distributing the bogus pills through an online web site. Over a two-year period seven people, from age eighteen months to ninety-seven, had died from lack of effective medication, and countless others had failed to improve while faithfully swallowing their prescribed but ineffective pills. When the arrest went down, Vee had come close to disappointment. It was too easy. Scum, the lot of them. Too bad nobody went for a gun.
They’d been forced
to settle for nothing more exciting than a car chase, a roadblock, and some flying sparks after the bad guys’ car hit a bunch of stop-sticks. But the case, involving four months of intensive investigation, was righteous, all the bad guys in custody, the ring close
d for good.
The adrenaline rush was enough for a celebration that ended in fringe benefits between long-time partners. Maybe Scully and Moldur wouldn’t have been so grim all the time if they’d taken a bit of time to play—at least that’s what Cade always said, and Vee was inclined to agree with him. Just because the public image of the FBI was men and women in dark suits and long faces didn’t mean agents couldn’t let down their hair occasionally.
Sometimes they even forgot to shut the blinds.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Vee grinned at the ceiling. The jolly old sun had pinged Cade too. “Too early to get up,” she mumbled. Provocatively.
“Got anything else in mind?” The arm pinning her down didn’t budge an inch.
Vee answered by snaking her right arm under the bedcovers. “Aw, gee, superman, and just when I thought I’d worn you out.”
“Hey, we took down the bad guys, dodged the bullet, and survived to live it up another day. No moss grows on this ragin’ Cajun.”
Bless him, but he was a good guy
. Sometimes Vee wished they had that special spark, the something that said
forever and ever
. But then they couldn’t be partners. Too much emotion. Too much involvement. Too much distraction. Vee Frost and Cade Doucette, a good team. Too good to bollix up with words like love.
But hot and sweaty with the person you know best, the person you trust most in the whole wide world? That was its own kind of special. With a fair imitation of the whoop of a rodeo rider charging out of the chute on the back of a Brahma bull, Vee stripped back the bedcovers and settled herself on her familiar and welcoming mount. With no buzzer to sound at the end of eight seconds, she hoped to set
a new record, maybe riding on ’
til high noon.
The Florida sun rose higher, casting striped shadows on the bedroom carpet. Oh, yeah, if she was very, very careful, she might be able to spin this ride into the best damn orgasm she’d ever had. A truly glorious day in paradise. Cade, amber eyes gleaming, tightened his grip on her hips, helping her keep up the pace. He shifted her ever so slightly.
Oh, yes, right there!
Too good. On that particular spot she wasn’t going to last half as long—
The phone rang.
“Let it ring!”
“Nobody calls at eight o’clock on Saturday morning,” Vee gasped, slumping in the saddle, energy draining as s
he stared at the offending
ringing its little heart out on the bedtable eighteen inches from her hand. “Unless there’s trouble,” she finished on a sigh.
Cade was wrong. “No fuck” was more like it. Sporting a gargoyle scowl, Vee flipped open the phone, read the caller ID. Her bare torso snapped to attention. “Good morning, sir.”
“No problem,” she lied as Supervisory Special Agent Richard Everett apologized for disturbing her. “Yes, sir, of course. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
“What?” Cade demanded as she turned to face him.
“Everett made a point of saying this summons was just for me—almost as if he knew you were here. And not word one about why.” Vee shook her head. “I don’t like it, it doesn’t feel right.”
Cade frowned. “Nothing questionable about yesterday’s bust . . . and if it’s about
, they’d summon us both, right?”
“And not at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning.” Muttering several epithets in basic Anglo-Saxon, Vee dismounted her now flabby perch. For a moment she sat on the edge of the bed, while dire thoughts whirled through her sex-numbed brain. Her world was about to go awry. There’d been an urgency behind her boss’s few words. Something that was ringing a knell for her highly satisfactory life on Florida
’s gulf c
She was overreacting. It was nothing.
She was being reassigned. Separated from Cade.
Or . . . oh, God, had something happened to one of the family? But in that case they’d know she’d want Cade with her. Wouldn’t they?
Vee scrambled into her work clothes, a pinstriped navy pant suit with a pristine white blouse, low-heeled pumps, 9mm Glock, and Swiss army knife. Cade handed her a cup of instant coffee as she dashed out the door, and then she was on the Tamiami Trail, heading for downtown Sarasota.
Richard Everett was classic FBI, a man who strictly adhered to the dress code, solved cases with pedantic thoroughness, talked all the right talk, and negotiated slippery government politics with grace. Creative thinking wasn’t his long suit, but he had a gift for surrounding himself with people who excelled at thinking outside the box. Valentina “Vee” Frost was one of them.
He rose as Special Agent Frost walked through his door. The man sitting in front of his desk rose also. “Agent Tingley, this is Valentina Frost,” Everett said. “Vee, Wade Tingley of Homeland Security. He’s come down from Washington to talk with you.”
As Vee shook hands with the stranger from the Department of Homeland Security, she felt like the temperature in the room dropped ten degrees. There was absolutely nothing in her case files that could be of interest to this man, so what was he doing here? Or was Sarasota County forever tainted by its history with the 9/11 hijackers?
Tingley glanced at Richard Everett. “I’d like to speak with Agent Frost in private. Is there a room we could use?”
Great. An assignment too hush-hush to be discussed in front of her boss. Vee knew altogether too much about Homeland Security. She was being thrown to the wolves.
Their’s not to reason why, Their’s but to do and die.
Not the greatest moment for thoughts of Tennyson’s
Charge of the Light Brigade
. Wasn’t the next line,
Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred
And then they died.
Vee sat at the table in the empty conference room and turned what she hoped was a suitably blasé look on the man from Homeland Security named Wade Tingley. Under fifty, she guessed. Built like a fullback, with gray-flecked dark hair and a face like a boxer who’d gone too many rounds. But unlike an aging brain-scrambled boxer, his eyes were sharp. Cold as ice, yet vibrating with fervor. A true believer was Tingley, hunting terrorists, or whatever the target of the moment might be, with the passion of a missionary bent on converting a tribe of cannibals.
And he had her in his sights.
“Agent Frost,” he said with a grimace that was probably an attempt at a smile, “I’m acquainted with your father. Good man. Homeland Security is fortunate to have him.”
Good old dad, who spent his days in the top echelons of Homeland Security. Tingley was scoring points just by saying he knew him. Vee supposed the DHS agent was trying to establish rapport, but, guess what? It wasn’t working.
Not that a special assignment wouldn’t look great on her resumé, but if she left Sarasota, she and Cade might never work together again.
Nothing’s permanent. You knew that when you signed on.
“The family’s very proud of him,” Vee said.
“Your mother is famous as well, isn’t she? Saved a lot of OJ types?”
Cooly, Vee nodded. “Some of them were actually innocent.”
“Right.” That one word conveyed the depth of Tingley’s skepticism. “Must be a bit of a conflict,” he added slyly.
“They’ve been divorced for years.” She was willing to bet he already knew that.
Vee’s clipped tone should have clued Tingley that he’d gone far enough with the family history. Evidently not. “And your sister works in Grand Teton?”
“Jilian prefers to be a dropout from the family excitement. I applaud her choice.”
“And your brother?”
“Off the radar, as I’m sure you know.”
“Ah . . . another Frost who prefers the dangerous life.”
“I don’t consider the FBI all that dangerous. We’re investigators, not beat cops.”
Tingley’s face cracked into a “gotcha” smile. Vee shivered. “Investigation. Exactly why I’m here, Agent Frost. I have a bit of a problem we hope you can help us with. The FBI has agreed to a loan, if I can persuade you to join us. Everett insists I point out that the assignment is wholly voluntary. You are in no way required to do it, although naturally we hope you will.”
Vee stared at him, waiting for the shoe with the bomb in it to drop.
Tingley came as close to a squirm as an anything-for-the-cause patriot could.
Oh-oh. This wasn’t going to be good.
“Special Agent Frost . . . we’ve come to you because we require someone with unique qualifications.” He raised one beefy hand and began ticking off his specifications. “An experienced agent with a proven track record.”
So far, so good. That one had a nice ring to it.
“Fluent in Russian. You are, I believe?” Tingley looked at her expectantly.
“Yes, sir. My grandmother insisted I learn, and I spent a year of graduate study at Akademgorodok in Novosibirsk.”
Tingley blinked. “Novosibirsk,” Vee repeated. “Moscow and St. Petersburg were too European. I preferred the Wild East of Siberia. Great campus, by the way. Modern buildings, surrounded by primeval forest.”
Tingley, giving a slight nod, returned to his list of qualifications. “Three. Attractive female, under thirty-five.”
Oops. Red flag
“And tough enough to take on a difficult assignment that could last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks,” Tingley added hastily, looking her straight in the eye.
Vee ignored the implied compliment. “There are a lot of female agents who speak Russian,” she pointed out.
“Not so many any more. They’re studying Arabic or Chinese instead. And some fifty-year-old survivor of the Cold War won’t do for this one.”
Tingley was pussy-footing. Vee’s curiosity rose, and so did her pulse. She sensed a seminal moment. An intriguing case, a career-boosting challenge. But
attractive female, under thirty-five
was mined with pitfalls. “I’d appreciate it, sir, if you’d come right out with it. What is it you want me to do?”
Tingley leaned forward, the light of a true believer glowing from his pale blue eyes. “We’ve had a rare bit of luck. A top Russian mafioso literally fell into our lap. Beaten half to death. Witness saw him being tossed off a bridge into the East River, called the cops. No sign of him, but next morning a dogwalker spotted a body, head just far enough onto the riverbank that he didn’t drown. Maybe by chance, more likely because he’s as tough a wiseguy as they come.”
Okay, this was getting interesting
. Vee waited.
“His face was too swollen to be recognized, but Interpol had his prints. Sergei Tokarev, top dog to the branch of the Russian mob that’s into arms smuggling. Plainly, he pissed someone off, but we don’t know if his own people turned on him or a rival gang took him out. And he’s not talking.”