Undercover Wife, page 1
Director: Thomas Casey
Deputy Director: Lucas Camp
When all else fails,
a Specialist is called in to “recover” a situation.
This team of highly skilled men and women was created to serve the needs of all other U.S. government agencies whenever the usual channels failed. The elite force is trained in every area of antiterrorism and aggressive infiltration. All agents have extensive stealth and sniper training and are multilingual. They must meet the most stringent mental and physical requirements of any national or international security force. They are prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission….
Failure is not an option.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Debra Webb was born in Scottsboro, Alabama, to parents who taught her that anything is possible if you want it badly enough. She began writing at age nine. Eventually she met and married the man of her dreams and tried some other occupations, including selling vacuum cleaners and working in a factory, a day-care center, a hospital and a department store. When her husband joined the military, they moved to Berlin, Germany, and Debra became a secretary in the commanding general’s office. By 1985 they were back in the States, and finally moved to Tennessee, to a small town where everyone knows everyone else. With the support of her husband and two beautiful daughters, Debra took up writing again, looking to mystery and movies for inspiration. In 1998 her dream of writing for Harlequin came true. You can write to Debra with your comments at P.O. Box 64, Huntland, Tennessee 37345.
Books by Debra Webb
583—SAFE BY HIS SIDE*
597—THE BODYGUARD’S BABY*
634—SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: BABY
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
935—THE MARRIAGE PRESCRIPTION*
948—THE DOCTOR WORE BOOTS
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Erin Bailey—Wrongly imprisoned for a crime she did not commit, Erin is desperate to regain her freedom and her life. But can she trust the handsome stranger who makes her an offer that sounds too good to be true?
John Logan—A specialist in a highly covert government organization, can he accomplish the mission no one else has been able to, and keep his “new” partner alive at the same time?
Thomas Casey—The enigmatic director of Mission Recovery.
Lucas Camp—Deputy director of Mission Recovery. He will do whatever is necessary to take care of his specialists. His people are his number one priority.
Pablo Esteban—A brutal and infamous drug smuggler and gunrunner. He hires only the best and only couples. No one disappoints Esteban.
Maria Esteban—Pablo’s sister. He protects her to the extent that she is all but a prisoner in her own home.
Larry and Sheila Watters—A couple who want to remain number one in Esteban’s eyes. They will stop at nothing to keep that position.
Hector and Carlos Caldarone—Brothers who have worked for Esteban and managed to stay alive longer than anyone else.
Vincent Ferrelli—Another specialist, and Logan’s only backup in Colombia.
Ramon and Maverick—Two top members of Mission Recovery’s Detail and Housekeeping Team.
This book is dedicated to all the American men and women who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe and free in too many capacities to name.
God bless you all.
“What’s so important that it couldn’t wait until I reported in day after tomorrow?” John Logan dropped into one of the upholstered chairs flanking the director’s desk. He and his partner hadn’t taken any real time off in over eight months. They were due some serious R&R—past due. This little trip back to D.C. hadn’t been on Logan’s agenda for the day.
He forced himself to relax. The jet lag was definitely catching up to him. Or, he thought wryly, maybe it was last night’s margaritas. A smile hitched his lips when he considered the private party he’d had with that sweet little senorita. Too bad this morning’s pre-dawn wake-up call had dragged him from the rumpled bed before they’d had the opportunity to share an encore.
“We have a problem.” Lucas Camp, Deputy Director of Mission Recovery’s Special Operations, leaned against the edge of Director Casey’s desk, his solemn gaze resting on Logan.
The undercurrent in Lucas’s tone tugged Logan’s wayward thoughts back to the here and now. Uneasiness tightened in his chest. He knew that tone, that look. Lucas was searching for the best way to say what needed to be said. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
Logan straightened in his chair, instantly running down a list of possible scenarios. “What kind of problem?”
Director Thomas Casey stepped into the dim pool of light provided by the brass lamp on his desk. The man always lingered in the shadows. As new to the organization as he was, Casey had already garnered himself a reputation for the cloak-and-dagger routine.
Logan, his senses rushing toward full-scale alert, shifted his attention to Casey. Something big was about to go down.
“We may have to abort the South American mission.” Casey’s gaze pierced Logan’s with the intensity of twin blue laser beams. “Taylor is dead.”
Logan was on his feet with no memory of how he’d gotten there. Jess Taylor was his partner. They had parted company just forty-eight hours ago to take some quick downtime before their mission began. How could she be dead? Logan shook his head in denial. There had to be a mistake.
“We just—she was…” Logan’s voice faltered beneath the steady gazes fixed on him. There was no way either of these two men, his superiors, would lie to him. “How?” He barely recognized the harsh sound as his own voice.
“Sanchez hit her outside the airport in L.A.,” Lucas said quietly. “We know it was him because there were three eyewitnesses. Based on the description, there’s no question.”
Fury roared inside Logan. Sanchez, the weasel son of a bitch. Logan should have killed him when he had the chance. But Sanchez had begged for mercy and sworn that he would spill his guts about the drug runners trafficking for the Mexican kingpin Mission Recovery had worked to bring down for nearly a year. Jess had fallen, hook, line and sinker, for Sanchez’s act. Logan hadn’t trusted him, but he had deferred to Jess’s judgment. Now he was sorry. But not half as sorry as Sanchez would be.
“Where is he?”
Lucas raised an eyebrow at the savage sound of Logan’s demand. “We’re taking care of Sanchez.”
“I’ll take care of Sanchez,” Logan countered. His muscles tightened with rage. He wanted to tear something apart. He wanted to watch Sanchez die slowly, very, very slowly.
“You already have your assignment,” Casey pointed out in that calm, even manner of his that represented nothing more than another of his illusions.
Thomas Casey was one hundred percent lethal and completely heartless. The mission was always his top priority. That was the
Logan aimed his fury in Casey’s direction then. “Jess is dead. It’s going to be pretty damned hard to complete that mission now. No partner, no pass into Esteban’s tight little group. It was a package deal, remember? Couples only.”
“We may have an alternative.” Lucas opened the folder lying next to him on Casey’s desk. “Erin Bailey.” He tapped an eight-by-ten picture that made Logan do a double take.
The mane of thick hair was too long and blond instead of black, the lips a little fuller maybe, but otherwise the woman in the photograph could have been Jess in disguise.
“Who the hell is she?” Logan’s focus never left the photograph. The curve of her cheek, the delicate line of her nose, and the extraordinary violet eyes were exactly the same. It was unnerving…eerie.
“It gets better,” Lucas added knowingly, anticipation lifting his tone. “She’s a hacker, U.S. Grade A. Not in the usual sense, however, she specializes in computer security. Learned her hacking skills to better serve her needs as a security analyst.”
Computers? That had been Jess’s specialty. That particular skill was necessary to the success of the South American mission. “How’d you find her?”
“Completely by accident,” Lucas explained. “Forward Research found her.”
Logan knew all about Forward Research. The group was composed of a dozen men and women who did nothing but recon for people who showed unparalleled skill in a given field. It was Forward Research who had discovered Logan three years ago. Now he was a specialist who met the most stringent mental and physical requirements of any national or international security force.
Putting his fury on hold momentarily to assuage his morbid curiosity, he asked, “Have you recruited her?”
“No.” Casey answered the question. “First, we wanted to see if you would have a problem with this approach.”
Yeah, right. Casey didn’t give one damn if Logan had a problem with it or not. If the woman could be gotten, the mission would go on.
“We know you don’t want to let all the months of hard work you and Jess put into this mission go down the proverbial drain,” Lucas said, placating him. “Erin Bailey is our only hope for salvaging this mission.”
Logan wanted to say to hell with the mission, Jess was dead. But an instinct too strongly entrenched wouldn’t allow him to do that. This mission was top priority. If their circumstances were reversed, Jess would feel the same.
“Where is she?” Logan asked roughly.
“In an Atlanta federal penitentiary.”
Logan looked from Lucas to the haunting photograph and back. “What’d she do?” The innocent-looking woman in the picture hardly looked capable of criminal activity. Another strike against her, Logan mused. How in the hell would she ever survive in Esteban’s world?
“Nothing, she says.” Amusement twinkled in Lucas’s eyes. “But then, all prisoners say that.”
“She tampered with the security systems of several large southeast corporations in order to drum up business for the small but rising cyber security company where she worked,” Casey explained. “She was sentenced to five years. She’s only served four months of her term and, from recent accounts, isn’t faring so well with prison life.”
A look passed between Lucas and Casey. Logan would just bet that the Bailey woman’s run of bad luck in her new prison life had more to do with Mission Recovery than fate. Mission Recovery liked to stack their deck.
Whatever the case, Logan picked up the folder and stared more closely at Erin Bailey. According to the accompanying physical description, she was approximately the same height and weight as Jess. Five-two, one hundred five pounds. He frowned. “Does she have any family? A boyfriend, maybe, who might create a problem?”
Lucas shook his head. “Not a soul. She was apparently engaged to her boss when she got busted. He swore under oath that he knew nothing of her criminal activities. I don’t think he misses her, considering the brunette hanging on his arm these days.”
Something about that little story didn’t sit right with Logan, but the woman’s personal problems weren’t his concern. “What makes you think she’ll go for it?” He leveled his gaze on Casey’s. “We all know just how much risk is involved.”
“Erin Bailey wants her life back.” Casey reached across his desk and took the folder from Logan. He fanned through the pages until he found the one he wanted. He glanced over it, then closed the folder and dropped it back onto the polished surface of his mahogany desk. “And I’d be willing to wager she wouldn’t turn down the opportunity for a little revenge. We already know that her boyfriend set her up. But, just in case she’s not interested, we’ve set a little incentive in motion. It’s all in the file.” Casey smiled, a gesture that made him seem almost human. “I’ve made arrangements for you to offer her a deal.”
Logan tensed inwardly. He wondered if the Bailey woman would be foolish enough to make a deal with the devil himself. But Logan wasn’t going to waste any time or energy trying to figure out who represented the biggest threat to Erin Bailey, Esteban or Mission Recovery.
“And if she accepts our offer?” Logan suggested.
The smile dissolved into the usual grim line that Logan associated with the unit’s new director. “Then you have one week to turn Erin Bailey into Jessica Taylor.”
ERIN WAS DREAMING. She was standing in the middle of a beautiful green meadow. Bluebonnets and daisies were sprinkled amid the sea of lush green. A wide-open blue sky spilled from the heavens as far as the eye could see, with only a puff of white here and there to disrupt the absolute infinity of pure blue color.
In the dream, Erin closed her eyes and spun around slowly. The tall grass tickled her ankles. It felt soft beneath her bare feet. The sweet smell was all around her. The scent of wildflowers…of rich, green grass…the smell of freedom—
“On your feet.”
Erin jolted awake, squinted through the darkness and tried to make out the silhouette hovering over her cot. Fear surged through her when a strong hand closed over her shoulder and shook her. Oh, God, what if Guard Roland had decided to make good on his threat? Or was it that inmate who seemed to have it in for her? Panic tightened around Erin’s chest. She wanted to scream, but the sound simply knotted in her throat.
“What—what’re you doing?” she managed to mumble around the lump of fear. It was well past midnight. The cellblock was deathly quiet.
“I said, on your feet,” the gruff voice repeated in a harsh whisper.
The voice was different. This wasn’t the guard who had threatened her. Relief washed over Erin as she scrambled from beneath the threadbare covers. Feeling her way, she pushed her feet into her shoes, stood and quickly righted her rumpled clothes.
The guard tugged first one hand then the other in front of her and handcuffed her wrists together. “Keep your mouth shut. I don’t want you waking up the whole damned block.”
He shined his flashlight in her face. Erin squeezed her eyes shut against the blinding light and nodded her understanding. The light vanished with a definite click. Where was he taking her at this time of night? What did he want? She frowned. Why had he handcuffed her? Before she could consider the questions further, the guard pushed her through the door, then closed and locked it behind him.
The rasp of leather soles on the concrete was the only sound as they passed cell after cell. The occasional cough or snore from a sleeping inmate splintered the dark silence from time to time, but no one roused enough to wonder or witness what was happen
Erin wanted desperately to ask where they were going, but fear kept her silent. Too many times she had seen inmates pay the price for disobedience. The guard had told her to keep her mouth shut, and she would. But, God help her, fear thudded in her heart, leaped in her pulse. How could she trust anyone in this place? The near darkness of the long corridor only served to sharpen her awareness of being locked up. How would she ever survive another four years and eight months here? Even the confined, sweaty odor of the place made her sick to her stomach.
At the final checkpoint, another guard opened the door leading from the cellblock. A dim circle of light from the desk lamp lit the female guard’s unsmiling features. The door slammed shut behind Erin and “her escort,” leaving her both relieved and anxious. Inside that cell she felt relatively safe from the evil that existed all around her, but at the same time she felt this pathetic world closing in on her in that six-by-nine cinder-block room.
Before they reached the main visitors area, the guard hesitated in front of one of the doors leading to an interview room. The same room where Erin had met with her lawyer on the two occasions he’d seen fit to show interest in her case.
“I’ll be waiting right here to take you back to your cell.” His words more warning than statement of fact, he opened the door and waited for her to enter the room.
“I don’t understand.” Erin felt the sudden, unbidden urge to run. “Why am I here?”
“Go on.” The guard gestured to the door. “You have a visitor.” This time his tone was clearly impatient, annoyed.
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