Authors: Cherry Adair
Tags: #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #Twins, #Missing Persons, #Terrorism, #Bookkeepers
Refreshed version of The Mercenary, revised by author.
This is the revised text of the work that was first published by Harlequin Enterprises Limited in 1994.
Copyright © 1994 by Cherry Wilkinson
Revised text copyright © 2008 by Cherry Wilkinson
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3K9, Canada.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
® and TM are trademarks of the publisher. Trademarks indicated with ® are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Canadian Trade Marks Office and in other countries.
In loving memory of my mother, Petal Campbell, who nurtured the woman I’ve
become. And Jean Reed, friend and mentor, who nurtured the writer I’ve become.
Two strong, smart women whom I loved and admired. I miss them both.
THE RED SUV CAREENED up the mile-long driveway spraying dust and gravel and spooking the horses grazing by the fence. It had been a blistering day, and the dust generated by the approaching vehicle hung lazily in the hot early-evening air.
Annoyed, Marc Savin narrowed his eyes. Knowing who his visitor was, he was tempted to go inside and lock the door. He swore again. He wasn’t ready for company, even if it was a man he respected.
Alexander “Lynx” Stone, his ex-partner and friend. Marc hadn’t seen him in two years.
A good guy to have at your back—not that Marc needed backup anymore. He was retired. For good. Nothing Lynx could say would bring “Phantom” back.
It took everything out of a man when he was responsible for killing the woman he loved. Marc kept his eyes on the plume of dust following the SUV and took a swig of beer. With his other hand he rubbed at the scar on his shoulder. The scar and the memories were two years old. The scar didn’t hurt, but the memories still managed to keep him up nights.
The vehicle slid to a stop several yards away, and Alex unfolded his lean frame from the driver’s seat.
Slamming the door he rounded the back of his vehicle. “Hey,” he said, unsmiling.
“Hey, yourself,” Marc replied, not bothering to mask his annoyance. “Don’t tell me, you were just in the neighborhood—”
“And decided to drop by,” Alex finished with a faint smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
Marc wondered how much Alex had guessed about his self-imposed exile, then wondered why he even cared. He took another drink.
“Nice place,” Alex commented, glancing around at the ranch house, barn and fenced-in corral. A few
quarter horses grazed in the pasture, while in another paddock a prize red bull lazily swatted at flies with
“I like it. What are you doing here?”
“Goddamn it, listen t—”
“Nothing you have to say is of any interest to me.”
“The whole damn operation is going down in flames.” This was Lynx talking now—not his friend Alex.
“We found the three rogue agents.”
That caught Marc’s attention, in spite of his attempts to stay emotionally removed.
“Curtis, Michaels…and Krista.”
Marc was up and off the step before he thought about it, advancing on his friend as a red-hot rage fired his body. It had been so long since he’d felt anything other than apathetic that he startled himself with the leap of fury. “Bullshit!”
“Truth.” Alex didn’t back down from his rage, merely shot him an empathetic glance.
“She was a double
agent from the beginning—”
Marc didn’t give him a chance to finish, simply connected his fist to Alex’s jaw with a satisfying slam.
Alex staggered back against his truck, rubbing his face ruefully. “Whoa! Don’t kill the messenger.”
“That’s fucking crap, and you know it.” Marc barely recognized the harsh sound of his own voice. Even while he was vaguely aware that he was overreacting, he reached over and grabbed a fistful of Alex’s shirt, yanking him away from the vehicle. He landed another solid blow to the younger man’s rock-hard midsection.
“Would I shit you on something this important?” Alex expertly warded off his blows, refusing to fight back, which only fueled Marc’s anger even more. Why was Alex lying about Krista? Red filmed his vision as he fought in defense of the woman he’d loved.
Alex finally joined in the fight, Marc’s equal. “You don’t have to be so effing stubborn.” His friend swung.
Marc leaned into the punch, shifting before the fist connected to his nose. He hit Alex’s solid belly, then hit him again, and took pleasure when his friend winced. “You’re blaming an innocent woman, just because she’s already dead.” Rubbing his stomach, Alex mumbled, “We followed a paper trail. Her signature was authenticated. The sat pictures were verified, as well. There’s no doubt she was one of them. None.”
Marc didn’t know anything about papers or photos. He did know that Alex was merely humoring him as they exchanged blows. But, damn it, it felt good to be beating the crap out of someone. Too bad his friend had shown up when he’d been spoiling for a fight for months. He hadn’t been invited, Marc though sourly, hitting him again, so he could damn well take his licks and then get lost.
Alex hit back, not holding his punches this time.
Good. Fine. Great.
Almost ten minutes passed before they staggered apart, exhausted and bloodied as the first star winked in the red-washed Montana sky.
“I didn’t want to believe it, either, but the evidence is there, man.” Alex exhaled, bent over at the waist.
“She turned on her country, and on you. She was rotten, Marc.” His mouth was bleeding, and he swiped at his lip with the back of his hand.
“Shut the hell up and get off my land. And don’t fucking come back.” If the news was true, then he’d spent the last two years of his life mourning a lie.
“Come with me to Marezzo,” Alex countered. “We need you.” Needed him? What a joke. The information Alex had just shared about Krista changed everything, and yet the anger, pain and heartbreak flowed back into his system as if it had happened mere days ago.
Instead of years.
Two long damn years.
“They’re dead, Marc. All of them.”
“The royal family. The king and queen of Marezzo and their son and daughter.
Executed. They didn’t have a chance, with the information Spider had—” Marc opened his mouth to say something, but found his throat had closed.
“Spider has the island, Marc. They’ve taken it over and God knows what they have planned. So go ahead and play cowboy if you want, but I’ll be leaving tonight to stop them.” Alex turned, not sparing Marc a glance as he walked away.
Rubbing his jaw, Marc stared after his friend. Alex still packed a hell of a punch. He waited, hoping Lynx would simply start the damn vehicle and leave. Instead, his friend reached into the open window and grabbed a thick manila envelope from the front seat.
“Read it and weep, you stubborn bastard.” Alex threw it onto the wide porch. He rounded the vehicle and opened the door, then climbed in. “And try to sleep at night, thinking about what those butchers are getting away with.” It wasn’t that Marc didn’t want to. It wasn’t that he even had a choice. Simple truth was, he’d be useless on a mission. Finding out that he’d been sleeping with, no, he admitted brutally, in love with, the enemy, solidified his belief. But could he, in good conscience, send his partner off to that island alone?
“Can’t do it.” Something in his tone must have gotten through to his partner, because Alex looked down at his bruised knuckles grasping the steering wheel and studied them for an inordinate amount of time. When he finally spoke, his voice was tight. “Then tell me what the hell’s going on—why have you refused missions for the last two years?”
“I was in the business for almost half my damn life. Half my life fighting other people’s wars. I wanted out.” It wasn’t all a lie, but it wasn’t all the truth, either. It would have to do. “Take care of yourself,”
Marc muttered, embarrassed by the emotion that had crept into his voice. “Don’t be a goddamn fool over there.”
“You’ve got my word on that.” Alex’s brilliant green eyes glowed in the lights from the dash. “Just promise me one thing.”
“I screw up, pal, you come get me.”
“Will you leave if I do?”
“You have my word on it.”
“For what that’s worth. Okay, you got it, buddy.”
Alex pressed his advantage. “I could do with some company.” Marc shook his head at his friend’s persistence. “It’s good to want things.” Alex hesitated then started the engine. “You know where to find me.” Yeah. He knew. Marc watched the SUV tear back down the gravel road like a bat out of hell. Alex drove the same way he attacked life. Full throttle.
He’d be back.
Marc returned to the top step of the porch as night stole over the ranch bringing with it a kind of peace he was learning to love. A horse nickered as the dust settled. The envelope Alex had left was behind him, but he never once turned to look at it.
It took him four days before he worked up the courage to open it.
Three days later word came that Alexander Stone was dead.
NERVOUS PERSPIRATION prickled her skin.
Even though she couldn’t hear breathing other than her own, her heightened sense of fear let her know she wasn’t alone. Someone was watching her. Victoria Jones lay very still, eyes closed, heart pounding an uneven tattoo beneath her sore ribs.
Needing a few moments to orientate herself she tried to keep her breathing steady. A log flaring in the fireplace. There hadn’t been a fire when she’d come in. But now she felt its heat and saw the dancing orange light through her eyelids.
To still her panic she counted to a hundred and twenty, then added another fifty for good measure, then slowly opened her eyes. The library was dim, but flickering firelight illuminated the lower half of the man sitting in the shadows across the room. Boots, long, jean-clad legs…the rest of him disappeared into darkness and shadow.
Heart lodged in her throat, she struggled to sit up. She’d accidentally fallen asleep, and now she was groggy and disoriented and at a distinct disadvantage.
The fact that the man wasn’t saying anything intimidated her and made her feel defensive and automatically in the wrong. But she could be overreacting. Fear and exhaustion had taken up permanent residence in her body.
Her hair had come loose and floated around her shoulders and down her back as she swung her feet to the floor. Searching with her toes for her shoes, she tried with one hand to tame her hair back into its customary bun.
The man, and Tory knew he was Marc Savin even though he had yet to say a word, observed her without comment, increasing her unease. Still, her grandmother’s strict teachings came to the fore and she
said in a prim, polite voice, “I’m sorry. I must have fallen asleep.” Giving up on her hair, she pushed her feet all the way into her low heels and stood, despite her shaky knees. Piercing the darkness to gauge his reaction to her uninvited presence in his home, Tory felt marginally more in control with her shoes on. The silence stretched uncomfortably. He wasn’t going to make this easy for her.
Why should he? He didn’t even know her. Fidgeting, she realized that it was silly actually, standing or sitting, barefoot or not, the amount of intimidation radiating from him was all consuming. Tory had no clue
how to deal with such a…a…presence.
The men she normally encountered in her day-today life were academics. Intelligent, cultured and extremely…low-key. Meek. But not Savin. She was fairly sure he didn’t have a meek bone in his impressive body. Which was precisely why she was there.
“What happened?” he asked lazily. “Miss the exit for the Holiday Inn?” His rough, deep voice startled her. His mockery added to her misery, and she waited for him to throw her out of his home. Not that she was going. She was a woman on a mission, she reminded herself, adding a little starch to her spine.