P R O L O G U E
After several security checkpoints, including an eye scan, he’d reached his destination.
A cool blonde, her hair done up in an elegant chignon, waited behind a beautiful antique desk. Her expensive perfume, with notes of vanilla and jasmine, refreshed his senses from the earlier austere surroundings.
The blonde, known merely as Ms. Z, was immaculately dressed in a tailored ice-blue business suit. The color of her clothing matched the coldness of her eyes.
Ms. Z had a .480 Ruger, one of the most powerful handguns in the world, pointed at his middle. Hollow tip bullets, for maximum damage, rested like sleeping soldiers in the chamber, ready to awaken at the slightest pull of the trigger.
“Good morning. Do you have the package?” Her perfunctory greeting went along with her just-so smile.
He briefly wondered what would happen if he said no. Although tempted, he wasn’t so reckless as to find out. Easy-to-clean marble tiling instead of carpet graced the floor for a reason.
“Yes, I have it,” he said, nodding. While he dug in his pocket, his mind took him back to the woman who had paid the ultimate price.
“I’ll leave everything for us—”
“Now why would you do that, darlin’?” he asked, cocking his head to the side. “There is no us.”
He had what he needed. She was of no use to him.
Her blue eyes widened in shock. Her mouth, on which he’d mumbled fake promises as he moved inside her, trembled. “Wha-wha-wha—”
“What do you mean?” His eyes flashed with anger as he cruelly mimicked her voice. “Is that what you wanted to ask me?”
She nodded her head, too choked up to speak.
“I meant just what I said.” His words burned like poison and his demeanor had changed from an attentive lover to a sadist jerk.
“But we love each other,” she whimpered, moving to embrace him.
He held out his hands to keep her at bay. This scenario was nothing new to him. He’d been through the same thing three other times. Once on the phone and twice via text. He decided to end this particular mission face to face in order to inflict as much damage as possible.
How could she leave a husband and kids who loved her? Sure, he’d used all his considerable resources and charm to lead her astray, but he hadn’t forced her to do anything she didn’t want to do. The ease with which she’d fallen for his ploy disgusted him most of all.
He gazed at her with disdain, allowing a careless smirk to play about his unusual lips she’d loved to caress.
“Love? We didn’t have love. Your husband had love. Your kids had love—all for you. But as for me . . .” He twisted his lips into a sneer as he looked up at the overcast sky before he drilled her with dead, flat eyes. “I never liked you, let alone loved you.”
Her mascara-coated tears fell freely. Dark trails ran down her pink rouged cheeks. “Why? Why did you do it?” she whined.
“Just because I could,” he said, getting into his car. He started the engine and blew her a kiss as he drove away. He didn’t even spare her a glance in the rear-view mirror.
Ms. Z cleared her throat, snapping him back to the present. “Agent?” Ms. Z asked, lifting a perfectly arched eyebrow.
Even though there was no call for it now, he followed protocol by delivering the information needed to ruin the reputation of the mark. He dug out the USB stick from his jean pocket. It winked in the light.
A seamless box opened in a wall to his right. When he placed the contents inside, the box retreated as if it had never been. Gone from his sight forever, just like the mark from the world by her own hand.
Ms. Z motioned for him to pick up the manila envelope on the coffee table.
“Your next mark,” she chirped.
Her phone rang. She left him to answer it, careful to keep her gun trained on his torso.
Ignoring her, he broke the seal. The picture of a woman and a new USB stick tumbled out. He caught them both with deft fingers. The woman, a few years younger than he, had a curvaceous body and dark skin. The smile she wore was free from guile.
A feeling of kinship, long forgotten, stirred inside of him.
He tore his eyes from the picture to focus on Ms. Z.
“Leader asks that you remember this mark is strictly platonic.”
He nodded his understanding and, stuffing the picture and the stick into his jacket pocket, he headed to the door.
Ms. Z stopped him by holding up her hand. “We need a verbal confirmation.”
Secretly, the overkill surprised him, but he complied. “Yes, I understand the instructions. Strictly platonic.”
Back in his car, he took the picture out to study it again. The mark’s unusual caramel brown eyes held him captive for a moment. He forced himself to look away, putting the photo face down on the seat.
Confidence soared through him at the thought of a fresh assignment. He was ready for it. He also had no illusions. This mark would fall for him just like all the others. After all, he was an expert at what he did. Leader couldn’t fault him if the mark were stupid enough to get hurt like the last one.