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Authors: Rebecca York

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Talons of the Falcon

Talons of the Falcon

Rebecca York

To Lydia, who shares our love of adventure, and dares to take a risk.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Eden Sommers
—No training prepared her for what she saw in Mark Bradley’s eyes.

Lt. Col. Mark Bradley
—His face was changed, his records missing. Had he been brainwashed, or was he really a deadly imposter?

Amherst Gordon
—“The Falcon” was alive and well…and very much a player.

Constance McGuire
—The Falcon’s assistant couldn’t help worrying when their agents were in danger.

Hans Erlich
—What had the East German doctor planted in Mark’s mind?

Maj. Ross Downing
—He ran the Pine Island facility by the book.

Dr. Hubbard
—If he carried out orders, he’d destroy what was left of Mark Bradley.

Sgt. Wayne Marshall
—The male nurse took his assignments very seriously.

Captain Walker
—Had his minority status made him bitter toward the Defense Department?

Lieutenant Price
—He saw Eden’s presence on the island as grounds for a turf battle.

Captain Yolanski
—Did his smart-aleck character hide ulterior motives?

AUTHOR’S NOTE

We were delighted when Harlequin Intrigue told us they would be republishing our Peregrine Connection trilogy. They are some of our favorite stories, and we had a wonderful time creating daring women and dangerous heroes and catapulting them into plots swirling with high-stakes intrigue and jeopardy.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restructuring of Eastern Europe, the world has changed at warp speed over the past eight years since the Peregrine novels were written. Yet with spy scandals at the upper echelons of the CIA and even a terrorist attack at the World Trade Center, themes of preserving peace and the balance of world power are just as relevant today as they were in the eighties when the Peregrine Connection was written.

In 1985, when we wrote
Talons of the Falcon
, we wanted to create a different kind of thriller—a romantic adventure featuring heroines just as strong as the heroes. We also reached into our own backgrounds and drew on travel experiences. For example, since Eileen grew up near Robins Air Force Base and could vouch for the strength and courage of the men and women in blue, we gave psychologist Eden Sommers and Lt. Col. Mark Bradley air force careers. Eileen also used her memories of family vacations at Jekyll and St. Simon’s islands off the Georgia coast to create the feel of the fictional Pine Island facility where Eden is sent to assess Mark’s condition.

On a research trip to Europe, Ruth discovered a wealth of details that added to the richness of the story—such as finding the right rocky secluded spot on the coast of Ireland for Mark and Eden to hide before escaping to France. The IRA is also featured in the story. Ruth got the idea for using the organization one evening in an Irish pub when the guy at the next table asked her and her husband if they’d like to make a donation to buy guns for terrorists.

Ruth’s familiarity with the Washington, D.C., milieu, and Eileen’s career with the Defense Department also helped bring an authenticity to the novel’s compelling portrayal of politics and power.

After reading
Talons of the Falcon
—and all the upcoming books in the Peregrine Connection—we were pleased with how well the books stood the test of time. We hope you think so, too.

Rebecca York (Ruth Glick and Eileen Buckholtz)

Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Prologue

“W
hat if Eden Sommers gets herself killed on this little assignment of yours?”

“Now, really. You’re acting as though the Pine Island business were some personal whim of mine and not a matter of national security,” Amherst Gordon grumbled.

The thin, aristocratic-looking woman pursed her lips but said nothing. She knew from long experience that Amherst wasn’t finished, and there was no sense trying to interrupt the man once he got started.

“Besides,” he continued, “you should think more positively about Ms. Sommers. The woman’s not only got spunk, she’s got exactly the background we need. Isn’t that so?” As he spoke, he reached up to rub the curved beak of the red and green parrot that perched on the shoulder of his tweed jacket. The bird regarded him with one shiny black eye, but it didn’t answer.

Constance McGuire looked down through her half glasses at the computer printouts spread among the teacups and jam pots on the wrought-iron table, and she sighed. A query of their extensive data base had produced only four candidates for this very dangerous assignment—each with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. But in the end there had been one overriding consideration, one factor that set Eden Sommers apart. “You’re right,” she conceded. “This woman has never worked undercover before, but everything else is damn near perfect—including that fortunate stint at Griffiss Air Force Base four years ago.”

Gordon kept his lined features impassive. His assistant never swore—unless she was worried about the safety of one of their people. And although he would never admit it to her, this time her worries were justified. To the outside world Pine Island was nothing more than an oceanographic monitoring station. But he and Connie knew that the supersecret installation was really an isolated, well-fortified interrogation facility. Its handpicked staff had a single mission—to squeeze the information they needed out of one Colonel Mark Bradley. And damn the cost to the U.S. government—or Bradley himself.

Gordon was more of a pragmatist than Constance. He knew there was simply no alternative to the course of action they were setting into motion. Eden Sommers had to come through on this one for them. If she didn’t, Bradley could kiss his twenty-year military career—and maybe even his life—goodbye. But there was a great deal more at stake here than one man’s life—or one woman’s, for that matter. Otherwise he and Connie wouldn’t be contemplating this admittedly risky plan.

“What’s Sommers’s ETA?” Gordon asked, pushing himself stiffly out of the chair and reaching for the silver-headed cane he’d picked up on one of his tours of duty in Britain. The parrot fluttered its wings momentarily as he rose, but remained on his shoulder.

His administrative assistant was all business now. “She should be arriving at 1300 hours. She left Vermont just before breakfast.” Constance glanced at the gold watch on her narrow wrist. “Jim’s probably pulling up at National Airport in the Aviary courtesy van just about now—unless the traffic on Route 50 was unusually heavy this morning.”

“Good. Very good,” Gordon murmured. He could always count on Connie to take care of the details. Whether she approved of an operation or not, she did what needed to be done.

For the first time that morning, he permitted himself a slight smile as he slowly crossed the flagstone floor of the solarium and paused to look out one of the French doors that gave access to the well-manicured lawn. The irony of running a top-secret operation called the Peregrine Connection from an elegant Virginia country inn never failed to amuse him. But then, hadn’t he picked the Berryville location—and supervised the restoration of this perfect cover site—himself?

Long ago he’d developed the philosophy that anything worth doing was worth doing right, and so any stinginess in government funding for this site had invariably been rectified with his own resources.

Unconsciously he flexed the rebuilt kneecap that had made it possible for him to walk again. A lot of people in the Intelligence community would be surprised to know that the Falcon was still alive. That was the way he and the Secretary of Defense wanted it. If he didn’t exist anymore, he couldn’t be doing anything illegal. And if he did happen to get caught at it, the secretary would deny the association.

There was the troubling issue of morality, of course. Like Saint Jerome, he had thought long and hard about ends justifying means. But Gordon, in his role as the Falcon, had come to terms with all that long ago. There were some operations that the attorney general could never approve. Yet that didn’t mean they weren’t vitally necessary.

“Don’t you think it’s unfair to send Dr. Sommers in there with only part of the picture?” Constance questioned from behind him, unconsciously echoing his own momentary twinge of conscience. Apparently she felt compelled to point out the doubtful ethics of this situation one more time.

Despite his resolve, Gordon’s brow wrinkled. Connie was right. What they were about to do to Eden Sommers was a little like dropping an angelfish into a tank of piranhas. But if they told her the whole story, they would prejudice her judgment. What they needed from Dr. Sommers was not only her expertise but also her unbiased opinion.

“The other side doesn’t play fair, Connie,” he reminded her. “And that means sometimes we can’t afford to play fair either.”

Chapter One

N
othing Amherst Gordon could do or say would make her take this job, Eden Sommers told herself as she settled more comfortably into the courtesy van’s padded seats and tried to relax.

“We’ll be there in a few minutes,” remarked the wiry young man who’d picked her up an hour and a half ago at National Airport. These were the first words he’d spoken in almost an hour. He had been chatty enough as he’d swung her overnight case into the custom vehicle and headed out of the airport parking lot, but when she’d tried to pump him about his employer, he’d suddenly developed an absorbing interest in a rock station.

Eden had been left alone with her uncertainties. In the atmosphere of secrecy that surrounded the whole affair, those uncertainties had only multiplied. This was the oddest private-duty assignment she’d ever been summoned to. Only the knowledge that the request for her specialized services came from the highest echelon of the government had made her agree to hear out this man called Amherst Gordon. But she had no doubt that as soon as he’d spoken his piece she was going to head back to the safety of the private clinic in Burlington, Vermont, where she’d been working ever since she’d left the air force.

The van pulled off a secondary road and turned into a narrow drive flanked by redbrick columns and a wrought-iron fence. A beveled white sign announced:

T
HE
A
VIARY

NO VACANCY

Eden craned her neck for a better view as they made their way up the long, curving driveway. Despite her apprehension, she couldn’t help being impressed by the understated elegance of the setting. The winding lane led up through a stand of red oaks and Southern magnolias toward a wide and well-manicured greensward. At the top of the hill, commanding a view of the surrounding countryside, was a stately red brick manor house that looked as though it had been there since plantation days. But if the facade had ever been scarred by age, it was now meticulously restored. The triangular pediment at the roofline gleamed with a new coat of white paint, as did the carving around its bull’s-eye window, and the antique brick had been repainted.

The surrounding topiary contributed to the well-tended effect with hundred-year-old boxwoods that had been sculptured into the shapes of large birds that now proudly guarded the building.

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