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All the Queen's Men, page 1

 

All the Queen's Men
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All the Queen's Men


  LOOK FOR THESE HEART-POUNDING

  NOVELS OF ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

  FROM BESTSELLING AUTHOR

  LINDA HOWARD

  She’s hunting for a mate—and there’s

  no more playing it safe.

  OPEN SEASON

  Handsome, rich, sexy, deadly....

  MR PERFECT

  “Sexy fun.”—People

  ...and don’t miss

  ALL THE QUEEN’S MEN

  NOW YOU SEE HER

  SON OF THE MORNING

  SHADES OF TWILIGHT

  AFTER THE NIGHT

  DREAM MAN

  HEART OF FIRE

  THE TOUCH OF FIRE

  All available from Pocket Books

  PRAISE FOR THE SENSATIONAL

  NOVELS OF NEW YORK TIMES

  BESTSELLER AUTHOR

  LINDA HOWARD

  ALL THE QUEEN’S MEN

  “A high-suspense romance. . . . Howard’s trademark darkly sensual style and intense, layered plot will delight her fans.”

  —Booklist

  “Ms. Howard has made the character [of John Medina] irresistible. . . . A fascinating novel of suspense and sensual tension.”

  —Rendezvous

  “[A] sexy thriller . . . another explosive hit.”

  —Romantic Times

  KILL AND TELL

  “Linda Howard meshes hot sex, emotional impact, and gripping tension in this perfect example of what romantic suspense ought to be.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “An incredibly talented writer. . . . Linda Howard knows what romance readers want. . . .”

  —Affaire de Coeur

  “An emotion-packed, suspenseful ride. . . . [Linda Howard’s] sensual stories will make your heart beat a little faster. Romantic suspense has never been better. Linda Howard proves that romance and danger are a heady combination.”

  —Literary Times

  “A riveting masterpiece of suspense. . . . Linda Howard is a superbly original storyteller.”

  —Iris Johansen, New York Times bestselling author of Dead Aim

  OPEN SEASON

  “A perfect mystery for a late summer weekend. It’s part romance with a dollop of suspense.”

  —The Globe & Mail (Toronto)

  “This book is a masterpiece. Howard hooks us with a devastating opening prologue, then paints such visual pictures of her characters that they live.”

  —Rendezvous

  “The irrepressible Daisy Minor has a way of freshening everything.”

  —The Palm Beach Post

  MR. PERFECT

  “A frolicsome mystery . . . Jaine Bright lives up to her name: she’s as bright—and explosive—as a firecracker.”

  —People

  “Mr. Perfect really scores. . . . Part romance novel, part psychological thriller, [it] is both a frightening and funny look at the plight of the modern woman searching for an ideal mate.”

  —New York Post

  “There is nothing quite like a sexy and suspenseful story by the amazing Linda Howard! . . . Funny, exciting, gripping, and sensuous . . . one of her all-time best!”

  —Romantic Times

  NOW YOU SEE HER

  “Steamy romance morphs into murder mystery. . . .”

  —People

  “An eerie, passionate, and thrilling tale . . .”

  —Romantic Times

  “Sensual, page-turning.”

  —Amazon.com

  SON OF THE MORNING

  “[A] romantic time-travel thriller with a fascinating premise. . . . gripping passages and steamy sex.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A complex tale that’s rich with detail, powerful characters and stunning sensuality. . . . It’s no wonder that Linda Howard is the best of the best.”

  —CompuServe Romance Reviews

  SHADES OF TWILIGHT

  “[A] sizzler. . . . Ms. Howard is an extraordinary talent. . . . [Her] unforgettable novels [are] richly flavored with scintillating sensuality and high-voltage suspense.”

  —Romantic Times

  AFTER THE NIGHT

  “After the Night has it all. . . . Intense romance and mounting tension.”

  —The Literary Times

  Books by Linda Howard

  A Lady of the West

  Angel Creek

  The Touch of Fire

  Heart of Fire

  Dream Man

  After the Night

  Shades of Twilight

  Son of the Morning

  Kill and Tell

  Now You See Her

  All the Queen’s Men

  Mr. Perfect

  Strangers in the Night

  Open Season

  Dream Man

  Published by Pocket Books

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  A Pocket Star Book published by

  POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  Copyright © 1999 by Linda Howard

  Originally published in hardcover in 1999 by Pocket Books

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce

  this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue

  of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  ISBN 13: 978-0-671-56884-9

  ISBN 10: 0-671-56884-1

  eISBN 13: 978-1-4391-1999-0

  First Pocket Books paperback printing June 2000

  10 9 8 7 6

  POCKET STAR BOOKS and colophon are registered

  trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.

  Cover design and illustration by John Vairo Jr.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  CONTENTS

  Part One

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Part Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Part Three

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  PART

  ONE

  CHAPTER

  ONE

  1994, Iran

  It was cold in the rough little hut. Despite the blankets hung over the one window and the ill-fitting door, to block the escape of any telltale light, frigid air still seeped through. Niema Burdock blew on her fingers to warm them, her breath fogging slightly in the one dim battery-operated light that was all Tucker, the team leader, allowed.

  Her husband, Dallas, seemed perfectly comfortable in his T-shirt as he calmly packed the Semtex blocks into secure sections of his web gear. Niema watched him, trying to hide her anxiety. It wasn’t the explosive she worried about; plastique was so stable soldiers in Vietnam had burned it as fuel. But Dallas and Sayyed had to plant the explosives in the manufacturing facility, and that was the m
ost dangerous part of a job that was already hair-raising enough. Though her husband was as matter-of-fact about it as he would be about crossing the street, Niema wasn’t that blasé about the job. The radio detonator wasn’t state-of-the art; far from it. This was deliberate, a precaution in case any of their equipment fell into the wrong hands. Nothing they were using could be traced to the United States, which was why Dallas was using Semtex instead of C-4. But because their equipment wasn’t the best available, Niema had gone to great pains to make sure it was reliable. It was her husband’s finger, after all, that would be on the switch.

  Dallas caught her gaze on him and winked at her, his strong face relaxing from its normal impassiveness into a warm smile that he reserved only for her. “Hey,” he said mildly, “I’m good at this. Don’t worry.”

  So much for trying to hide her anxiety. The other three men turned to look at her. Not wanting them to think she couldn’t handle the stress of the job, she shrugged. “So sue me. I’m new at this wife business. I thought I was supposed to worry.”

  Sayyed laughed as he packed his own gear. “Heck of a way to spend your honeymoon.” He was a native Iranian who was now an American citizen, a tough, wiry man in his late forties. He spoke English with a Midwestern accent, the result of both hard work and almost thirty years in the United States. “Personally, I’d have picked Hawaii for my wedding trip. At least it would be warm there.”

  “Or Australia,” Hadi said wistfully. “It’s summer there now.” Hadi Santana was of Arabic and Mexican heritage, but an American by birth. He had grown up in the heat of southern Arizona and didn’t like the cold Iranian mountains in mid-winter any better than did Niema. He would stand guard while Dallas and Sayyed planted the charges and was occupying himself by checking and rechecking his rifle and ammunition.

  “We spent two weeks in Aruba after we got married,” Dallas said. “Great place.” He winked at Niema again, and she had to smile. Unless Dallas had been to Aruba another time, he hadn’t seen much of it during their honeymoon, three months before. They had spent the entire two weeks lost in each other’s company, making love, sleeping late. Bliss.

  Tucker didn’t join in the conversation, but his cool, dark eyes lingered on Niema as if assessing her; wondering if he had made a mistake including her on the team. She wasn’t as experienced as the others, but neither was she a novice. Not only that, she could put a bug on a telephone line with her eyes closed. If Tucker had any doubts about her ability, she wished he would just come out and say so.

  But if Tucker had doubts about her, then turnabout was fair play, she thought wryly, because she sure as hell wasn’t certain about him. Not that he’d said or done anything wrong; the uneasiness that kept her on edge around him was instinctive, without any concrete reason. She wished he was one of the three men going into the plant, rather than remaining behind with her. The thought of spending the hours alone with him wasn’t nearly as nerve-racking as knowing Dallas would be in danger, but she didn’t need the added tension when her nerves already felt stretched and raw.

  Tucker originally had planned to go in, but Dallas was the one who had argued against it. “Look, boss,” he had said in that calm way of his. “It isn’t that you can’t do the job, because you’re as good as I am, but it isn’t necessary that you take the risk. If you had to, that would be different, but you don’t.” An indecipherable look had flashed between the two men, and Tucker had given a brief nod.

  Dallas and Tucker had known each other before Tucker put this team together, had worked together before. The only thing that reassured Niema about the team leader was that her husband trusted and respected him, and Dallas Burdock was no one’s pushover—to the contrary, in fact. Dallas was one of the toughest, most dangerous men she had ever met. She had thought he was the most dangerous, until she met Tucker.

  That in itself was scary, because Dallas was something else. Until five months ago, she hadn’t really believed men like him existed. Now, she knew differently. Her throat tightened as she watched her husband, his dark head bent as he once again focused all his attention on his supplies and equipment. Just like that, he could tune out everything but the job; his power of concentration was awesome. She had seen that level of concentration in only one other man: Tucker.

  She felt a sudden little ping of disbelief, almost a suspension of reality, that she was actually married, especially to a man like Dallas. She had known him for just five months, loved him for almost as long, and in so many ways he was still a stranger to her. They were slowly learning each other, settling down into the routine of marriage—well, as routine as it could get, given their jobs as contract agents for various concerns, principally the CIA.

  Dallas was calm and steady and capable. Once she would have described those characteristics as desirable, if you were the domestic suburban type, but basically unexciting. Not now. There was nothing staid about Dallas. Need a cat out of a tree? Dallas could climb that tree as if he were a cat. Need the plumbing fixed? Dallas could fix it. Need to be dragged out of the surf? He was a superior swimmer. Need someone to make a difficult shot? He was an expert marksman. Need to blow up a building in Iran? Dallas was your man.

  So it took some doing to be tougher and more dangerous than Dallas, but Tucker . . . somehow was. She didn’t know why she was so certain. It wasn’t Tucker’s physical appearance; he was tall and lean, but not as muscular as Dallas. He wasn’t edgy; if anything, he was even more low-key than Dallas. But there was something in his eyes, in his characteristic stillness, that told her Tucker was lethal.

  She kept her doubts about the team leader to herself. She wanted to trust Dallas’s opinion of Tucker because she trusted her husband so much. Besides, she was the one who had really wanted to take this job, while Dallas had been leaning toward a diving trip to Australia. Maybe she was just letting the tension of the situation get to her. They were, after all, on a job that would get them all killed if they were discovered, but success was even more important than escaping detection.

  The small facility buried deep in these cold mountains was manufacturing a biological agent scheduled to be shipped to a terrorist base in Sudan. An air strike would be the fastest, most efficient way to destroy it, but that would also trigger an international crisis and destroy the delicate balance of the Middle East along with the factory. A full-scale war wasn’t what anyone wanted.

  With an air strike ruled out, the plant had to be destroyed from the ground, and that meant the explosives had to be hand-placed, as well as powerful. Dallas wasn’t relying just on Semtex to do the job; there were fuels and accelerants in the factory that he planned to use to make certain the plant didn’t just go boom, but that it burned to the ground.

  They had been in Iran five days, traveling openly, boldly. She had worn the traditional Muslim robes, with only her eyes revealed, and sometimes they had been veiled, too. She didn’t speak Farsi—she had studied French, Spanish, and Russian, but not Farsi—but that didn’t matter because, as a woman, she wasn’t expected to speak. Sayyed was a native, but from what she could tell, Tucker was as fluent as Sayyed, Dallas nearly so, and Hadi less than Dallas. She was sometimes amused by the fact that all five of them were dark-eyed and dark-haired, and she wondered if her coloring hadn’t played nearly as large a part in her having been chosen to be a team member as had her skill with electronics.

  “Ready.” Dallas hooked the radio transmitter to his web gear and shouldered the knapsack of plastique. He and Sayyed had identical gear. Niema had practically assembled the transmitters from spare parts, because the transmitters they had acquired had all been damaged in some way. She had cannibalized them and built two she had tested and retested, until she was certain they wouldn’t fail. She had also tapped into the factory’s phone lines, a dead-easy job because their equipment was of early-seventies vintage. They hadn’t gotten much information from that, but enough to know their intel was accurate, and the small facility had developed a supply of anthrax for terrorists in Sudan.
Anthrax wasn’t exotic, but it was sure as hell effective.

  Sayyed had slipped into the facility the night before and reconnoitered, returning to draw a rough floor plan showing where the testing and incubation was done, as well as the storage facility, where he and Dallas would concentrate most of their explosives. As soon as the factory blew, Tucker and Niema would destroy their equipment—not that much of it was worth anything—and be ready to move as soon as the three men returned. They would split up and each make their own way out of the country, rendezvousing in Paris to debrief. Niema, of course, would be traveling with Dallas.

  Tucker extinguished the light, and the three men slipped silently out the door and into the darkness. Niema immediately wished she had at least hugged Dallas, or kissed him good luck, no matter what the other three thought. She felt colder without his bracing presence.

  After making certain the blankets were in place, Tucker switched on the light again, then began swiftly packing the things they would take with them. There wasn’t much; a few provisions, a change of clothes, some money: nothing that would arouse suspicion if they were stopped. Niema moved to help him, and in silence they divided the provisions into five equal packs.

  Then there was nothing to do but wait. She moved over to the radio and checked the settings, though she had checked them before; there was nothing coming over the single speaker because the men weren’t talking. She sat down in front of the radio and hugged herself against the cold.

  Nothing about this job had been a picnic, but the waiting was the worst. It always had been, but now that Dallas was in danger, the anxiety was magnified tenfold. It gnawed at her, that internal demon. She checked her cheap wristwatch; only fifteen minutes had lapsed. They hadn’t had time to reach the facility yet.

  A thin blanket settled over her shoulders. Startled, she looked up at Tucker, who stood beside her. “You were shivering,” he said in explanation of his unusual act and moved away again.

  “Thanks.” She pulled the blanket around her, uncomfortable with the gesture, considerate though it was. She wished she could ignore her uneasiness about Tucker, or at least figure out why she was so wary of him. She had tried to hide her wariness and concentrate only on the job, but Tucker was no one’s fool; he knew she was uncomfortable with him. Sometimes she felt as if they were in a silent battle no one else knew about, those rare times when their gazes would accidentally meet and distrust would be plain in hers, a slightly mocking awareness in his.

 
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