If looks could chill, p.1
If Looks Could Chill, page 1
Table of Contents
ONE - Five years ago
TWO - Five years later
THREE - Haven Oaks Sanatorium
Praise for the novels of Nina Bruhns, three-time overall winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense
“Sexy, suspenseful and so gritty you’ll taste the desert sand. A thrill ride from start to finish!”
—USA Today bestselling author Rebecca York
“A provocative, sexy thriller that will get your adrenaline pumping on all levels. A riveting breakout novel that will shoot Ms. Bruhns straight to bestsellerdom. Move over, boys, and see how it’s really done!”
—Award-winning author Tamar Myers
“Intense pacing . . . powerful characters . . . searing emotions and explosive sexual tension! Once I started reading Shoot to Thrill, I couldn’t stop! This is high-action suspense at its very best!”—Bestselling author Debra Webb
“The stuff legends are made out of.”—Midwest Book Review
“Shocking discoveries, revenge, humor, and passion fill the pages . . . An interesting and exciting story with twists and turns.”—Joyfully Reviewed
“[A] delightfully whimsical tale that enchants the reader from beginning to end. Yo ho ho and a bottle of fun!”
“This is one you will definitely not want to miss!”
—In the Library Reviews
“Nina Bruhns . . . imbues complex characters with a great sense of setting in a fast-paced suspense story overladen with steamy sex.”—The Romance Reader
“Gifted new author Nina Bruhns makes quite a splash in her debut . . . Ms. Bruhns’s keen eye for vivid, unforgettable scenes and a wonderful romantic sensibility bode well for a long and successful career.”—Romantic Times (4 stars)
“The intricate and believable plots crafted by Nina Bruhns prove she is a master of any genre. Her talent shines from every word of her books.”—CataRomance.com
“The kind of story that really gets your adrenaline flowing. It’s action packed and sizzling hot, with some intensely emotional moments.”—Romance Junkies
“Nina Bruhns writes beautifully and poetically, and made me a complete believer.”—OnceUponARomance.net
“Tells a very rich tale of love . . . A book you are going to want to add to your collection.”—Romance at Heart
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
IF LOOKS COULD CHILL
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation mass-market edition / December 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Nina Bruhns.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-1-101-15181-5
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY® SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
This book is dedicated to all my friends
in the Kiss of Death Chapter of RWA.
A more amazing group of women
is simply not to be found.
Thanks for a dozen great years
of murder and mayhem!
I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help of CJ Lyons on the medical elements of this story—any and all errors and/or truth-stretching are strictly my own—and Dorothy McFalls for being the best first reader and critiquer in the universe. Thanks, ladies!
And once again a bow to my fabulous editor, Kate Seaver, and incomparable agent, Natasha Kern. You’re both a true joy to work with!
Five years ago
The Dumani Embassy, Istanbul, Turkey
“SHE seems young.”
Marc Boudreaux Lafayette flicked a glance over at fellow STORM operator Bobby Lee Quinn, who was lounging against a pillar in an elegantly tailored tuxedo, sipping a mar tini, appearing for all the world like he attended embassy parties every day of his life.
Marc knew better. Quinn was a Bama redneck with gun grease under his fingernails from all the ground ops he’d led in the past six or seven years working for STORM Corps. Still, for some obscure reason women loved him.
“Too young for you, boug,” Marc warned. For all the good that would do. If it wore skirts, Quinn was all over it. He returned his gaze to the newest CIA officer to hit Istanbul this summer. Darcy Zimmerman. Fresh as a summer rain, and pretty as a bayou orchid in a strapless blue gown that had their Arab hosts either frowning or drooling. Her cover was assistant to the cultural attaché at the U.S. embassy. But already she was attracting too much attention for a spook.
He gave the blond ingénue a week in this cauldron of politics, jealousy, and backstabbing. Tops.
Dieu. Less than a week, if Quinn got his hands on her. “Why? You plannin’ some kind of mischief, mon ami?”
“You got a problem with that, friend?”
Yeah. He did. The girl looked right out of college, and no way was she ready to handle whatever Quinn had in mind to dish her way. But . . .
Not his business. Besides, they’d assigned her to Istanbul, so she must be able to look after herself. As long as she didn’t compromise his mission or need her ass rescued, Marc didn’t care what she looked like. They weren’t here at the Dumani Embassy decked out in penguin suits to pick up women. They had a job to do. And Quinn was a pro. He wouldn’t get distracted. Alors, if he did, he could do the foutu—fucking—rescuing.
CIA had brought in STORM to help on this dash-and-grab because of the deniability factor. Strategic Technical Operations and Rescue Missions Corporation—STORM Corps—was a nongovernmental spec-ops outfit that hired out to private companies and individuals, mainly to recover and defend hostages and other assets. But they were often used to carry out sensitive or controversial covert ops in locations and situations where official government agencies couldn’t or wouldn’t go.
Such as this one.
Upstairs on the third floor of the Dumani Embassy was a safe containing an antiterrorist’s wet dream. First, new identity papers for Jallil Abu Bakr and Abbas Tawhid, the two men suspected of being the driving force behind al Sayika, one of the worst terrorist organizations to burst onto the international scene since al Qaeda. This year alone, al Sayika cells had blown up the Dutch stock exchange, poisoned a Saudi princess actively advocating for equal rights for women within Islam, and murdered a female French National Police commander for clamping down on the race riots in the Paris banlieues.
Just as fanatical as bin Laden, and far more sophisticated in their long-term planning, Jallil Abu Bakr and Abbas Tawhid were way up there on everyone’s Most Wanted lists, right under their fuckbuddy. Unfortunately, Abu Bakr was an enigma; no Western agent had ever seen his face. Abbas Tawhid was a cruel, ruthless, misogynistic sociopath who had risen through the ranks on sheer brutality. His face was well-known but the aliases he traveled under were not. Getting their hands on both these men’s identity papers would be huge.
But there was more.
Even more important, the upstairs safe was also believed to contain al Sayika’s master plan for the development and deployment of a highly lethal bioweapon, rumored to be some kind of horrific hybrid of an Armageddon virus. Avian flu, swine flu, smallpox, anthrax, Ebola. Take your pick. All equally deadly on their own. A mixed combination would be hell on Earth. Literally. It was crucial to stop the weapon before it got started.
Tonight Marc and Quinn were tasked to reach the embassy safe, open it, and photo-digitize all of the al Sayika documents without making a ripple. Thus insuring the two leaders would be caught, the bioweapon neutralized, and al Sayika’s growing power in the terrorist world stopped before it gained any more momentum.
CIA Barbie—aka Darcy Zimmerman—was supposed to pass them the combination to the safe—obtained from an enterprising embassy cleaning lady who’d gotten the deal of a lifetime, compliments of the U.S. taxpayers. Marc wondered how Zimmerman had managed that coup, especially looking like she did. After all, most conservative Muslims would be highly suspicious of any woman who was unmarried, showed so much skin, and interacted so freely with men. Frankly, he’d been expecting their contact to be a short, frumpy fortysomething old-maid type with sensible shoes. But tall, golden blond, and model-gorgeous Darcy Zimmerman broke the mold on all counts. The Company must be raising their standards.
Speak of the devil. Zimmerman was coming toward them on the arm of the Dumani agricultural attaché. She laughed at something the old roué said in her ear—he had to go practically on tiptoes—just as she spotted them.
“There you are!” she called with a cheerful wave, as if they’d actually met before. “I thought you two had left without me!”
Without missing a beat, she answered Quinn’s welcoming smile with one of her own and slid into his arms for a hug, kissing him on the cheeks, Euro-style. “Darling, meet Sheikh Asood.” She introduced them, using code names they’d been given for the op.
She was smooth; Marc had to give her that.
And so was Quinn. One smarmy smile and he ended up as the boyfriend, le tayau. Not that Marc was interested. Bon, she was beautiful, but not his type. He preferred women who had nothing to do with the world he worked in. And unlike Quinn, he never mixed business and pleasure.
As they made meaningless chitchat with Asood, Marc studied what he could see of the embassy’s structure. He knew from blueprints supplied by STORM that the building was an old converted Ottoman palace. Complex mosaic dé cor adorned the carved stucco walls and high ceilings; intricate marble arches and gilded scrollwork were everywhere, the perfect backdrop to the luxurious furnishings, rugs, and tapestries. Pretty impressive stuff.
The good news was because of the palace’s age and historical value, very little renovation had taken place inside—including even the most rudimentary security features. No cameras, alarms, or motion detectors. The bad news was guards had been liberally sprinkled around the main stair-cases. It would be tricky getting past them.
“Shall we visit the buffet?” Zimmerman suggested, looping her wrists around each of their elbows after Asood saw which way the wind blew and excused himself.
“I’m Bobby Lee, by the way,” Quinn said, pulling her closer to his side than was strictly necessary.
She smiled up at him. “Yeah. I know. You guys ready for this?”
“You’ve got the combination?” Marc asked, trying to move things along as they casually strolled from the salon toward the opulent dining room. They had to wade through three smaller rooms crushed with people to reach it. He instinctively scanned faces and body language, looking for anything suspicious. So far, so good.
“Just follow my lead,” she said.
They grabbed plates and selected a few morsels from the overflowing buffet table, slowly making their way down the line. She obviously had a plan, so he and Quinn just went along, ready for anything. Marc already had a plan, but what was he going to do about it, stamp his foot and demand his was better? Besides, maybe his wasn’t better. Semper Gumby.
“How do you like Istanbul so far?” he asked Zimmerman, to fill the silence. Ah, merde. She and Quinn were already making goo-goo eyes at each other over the hors d’oeuvres. Marc barely resisted rolling his. Get a room. Please. After the op.
“Amazing place,” she answered, still looking at Quinn. “Gorgeous city.”
“Aren’t you afraid?” Quinn asked. “Being a young woman alone and all. Dangerous place, Istanbul.”
She gave him a dazzling smile. “Worried about me?”
He grinned. “Wouldn’t want anything untoward to happen.”
Not until he got her back to his hotel room, anyway, Marc thought. Salleau prie.
She reached up and touched Quinn’s chin with a finger. “Hell, no fun in that.”
Marc was just about to clear his throat and suggest getting back to business when she winked at him and suddenly melted back through an arched opening he recalled seeing on the blueprints. Hidden by a beaded screen, it blended in perfectly with the line of marble arches marching along the back wall of the room. But this one opened discreetly into a darkened hallway leading to the kitchens in the back.
She’d timed her exit to exactly when the guard was looking the other way, distracted by a serving spoon clattering onto the marble floor like a firecracker. A setup?
Alors. Not bad. Marc slipped through after her, followed by Quinn.
She deposited her plate on a cart sitting in the shadows, and they quickly did the same. She beckoned, hurrying down the hall until they reached a narrow flight of stairs.
“This is the servants’ staircase,” she whispered. “It goes all the way up. Yo
“Third floor. Second office, east wing,” he recited.
“Exactly. Here.” From a low hall table drawer she produced a red-patterned kaffiyeh scarf of the type worn by Saudi-aligned Arabs, along with the distinctive bronze knotted agal of the Dumani security guards to hold it in place. “You’ll blend in better than Quinn,” she said.
Considering Quinn had short, white blond hair and striking blue eyes reminiscent of an Alaskan husky in the dead of winter, and Marc was typical Cajun dark, yeah, you think?
“I’m also lead on this one, me,” he informed her dryly.
“Pretend you’re a guard,” she said, ignoring the gentle barb. “You speak Arabic, right?”
He nodded. “Some.”
“Good. However, there’s been a complication.”
Naturellement. It wouldn’t be a typical joint-CIA goatfuck without one. And here he’d thought he’d gotten off easy, with just Quinn’s flag waving in the air.
“The stairs between the second and third floors were varnished today,” she said. “They’re still wet.”
Which meant he’d leave permanent footprints. Yeah, mal pris. Not good.
“What?” Quinn exploded under his breath, his face clouding with anger. “Why didn’t you tell us this in the—”
“It’ll still work,” she insisted to Marc. “You’ll just have to come around to the front staircase and sneak past the guards to get to the other wing. There’s an old harim staircase that leads up to the third floor.”
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