Mac's Angels, page 1
Mac’s Angels: Surrender the Shadow is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1996 by Sandra Chastain
Excerpt from Tempting a Devil by Samantha Kane copyright © 2013 by Nancy Kattenfeld.
Excerpt from The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers copyright © 2013 by Mary Ann Hudson.
Excerpt from Friday Night Alibi by Cassie Mae copyright © 2013 by Cassie Mae.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
LOVESWEPT is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
Mac’s Angels: Surrender the Shadow was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1996.
My thanks to the following wonderful people who helped me plan this book:
Darian McFarland, AVTECH Executive Flight Center, Atlanta
The folks at the New Orleans chamber or commerce, the zoning office, and the French market
Ann Doggett, who lives on top of Lookout Mountain
Joanne Amort—historian Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana
Rexanne Becnel, romance writer and resident of New Orleans
Ted Hicks, who actually was a Fulbright scholar in Berlin and supplied the background information; my husband, Pepper, who knows more about World War II than most folks who served in it
And last, but certainly not least, to my critique group who kept telling me I could get it all together and make it work:
Ann Howard White, Lyn Ellis, and Patricia Keelyn.
Excerpt from Samantha Kane’s Tempting a Devil
Excerpt from Mary Ann Rivers’s The Story Guy
Excerpt from Cassie Mae’s Friday Night Alibi
Lincoln MacAllister studied the file he was holding—Conner Preston. In the ten years since Conner had left Shangrila, Mac had opened it far too often. Conner had never turned him down.
But Mac wasn’t certain he ought to use it now. Though the world knew Conner Preston as a sophisticated millionaire importer and exporter, Mac knew the truth, or he thought he had. This time he was worried.
Conner, firmly convinced that he was supposed to have died ten years ago, had become more and more daring, tempting death with a vengeance that skated on the thin edge of self-destruction.
But Conner Preston was the only man on the angel assignment board who could find out what was happening.
Mac picked up the phone and dialed the man adored by the very wealthy and those in need, and feared by the criminal minds of the world—the man known to them only as Shadow.
Halfway around the world, Conner Preston loosened his tie, unbuttoned his shirt collar, and leaned back in his executive chair as he listened to his speakerphone. “You know I’ll do anything you ask me to do, Mac, but undercover work for the government is one thing I left behind long ago.”
“This isn’t for the government, Conner. This is for the ambassador.”
“Close enough. When you and I designed Paradox, Inc., we set it up to serve the private sector, remember? If you can afford it, I’ll find it, rescue it, or move it—in my own way.”
“I remember and I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important, not just to the ambassador but to others. Shadow is the only one who can stop this disaster.”
Conner swung his chair around so that he could look out the window of his Venice apartment and see the slow-moving water in the canal beyond. Ten years ago he’d promised to repay Mac for saving his life and helping him find a use for the skills he’d learned as a Green Beret.
His buddies had given him the nickname Shadow because he could get in and out of dangerous places without being seen. Conner Preston had been the best at what he did and he’d thought it would never end.
But he’d made one mistake. He’d fallen in love with Erica Fallon. He’d been on top of the world when he and his brother Bart had gone to the little chapel on what was to have been Conner’s wedding day.
But instead of a wedding, Conner had been shot and Bart had been killed.
And the bride had never shown up.
“You don’t have to do it alone, Conner,” Mac said. “If you refuse, I’ll understand. I’ll find someone else.”
Conner stood and walked out on the balcony, allowing the lazy sound of the boatmen moving gondolas along the water to sooth his anger. “No, you won’t, Mac. I’d be dead or in prison if it weren’t for you. I owe you and you wouldn’t have called unless I were the only one who could pull it off. But I work alone.”
“Not this time, Conner. The woman who brought the ambassador here is the key to the mission.”
“I see. And who is the woman wielding all this power?”
There was a long pause.
Long after Conner had broken the connection, Mac sat thinking and tapping the folder on his knee. It was done now, and the wisdom of his decision was no longer in question. He picked up the phone, dialed a number, and waited for it to be answered.
“Erica, he’s on his way. It’s in your hands now.”
Conner Preston felt a burst of white-hot anger slice down his spine. He welcomed the sensation. It told him he was alive and reminded him that danger was just ahead. This time the danger was a murderer. And he’d been waiting ten years to confront her.
Following Mac’s instructions, Conner left his rental car in the parking area at the base of Tennessee’s renowned Lookout Mountain and bought a ticket on the famous Incline Railroad. His destination was only a block from the station at the top.
The train was empty. People who lived in the village used the winding, foggy road on the back side of the mountain, and there were no sightseers on the last trip of the day to the battlefield park hidden at the top.
As the train jerked to a start and inched upward, Conner fastened his attention on the wooded area along the tracks. The lighted car made him an open target on the slow, steep climb. He didn’t like being exposed. Anyone could be waiting out there and not be seen. His sense of danger heightened.
Finally, the car reached the end of the line. Conner stepped off and watched as several women, maids, he guessed from their conversations, boarded the train for the ride down.
From the observation platform, Conner took one last look at the valley below. A cloud slowly moved between him and the rising sliver of the December moon. It cast an opaque web of black over the twinkling Christmas lights of the sprawling city of Chattanooga and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond.
Conner buttoned his overcoat and walked out of the empty station into an early evening mist so thick that it muffled the sound of the tram returning to the bottom of the mountain.
Behind him, the lights went out. The darkness was ideal. It fed the smoldering anger that had followed him across the Atlantic to confront the woman responsible for his brother’s death.
As he looked around, streaks of light and dark seemed to lift, then swoop to gather their tattered wisps. He felt as if he stood in some kind of unnatural cold, wet smoke. Taking a quick glance down the murky street, he wondered if Mac could possibly be right. Could she be here, in this strange, surrealistic community perched in the clouds?
Erica needed help and Mac had sent Conner. If Mac’s request was intended to soften Conner’s hatred toward her, it hadn’t. He had listened when Mac said it was time he faced the truth about the past, whatever it was. But Conner wasn’t buying any plea to forgive and forget. Wisely, Mac hadn’t made one. He’d simply asked Conner to come.
What bothered him was why. Mac knew how Conner felt about Erica, the constant anger that fueled his daredevil missions. He’d rescued Peace Corps advisers, nuns, sick and wounded children who needed medical attention, but this ambassador was a nobody, a state department official without a post. If the world learned he’d been shot, they probably wouldn’t even recognize his name.
How Erica had come to be his administrative assistant, Conner couldn’t imagine. She’d been an artist when they met, determined to make her mark on the world. Erica was like a whirlwind that had scooped up a brash young soldier and carried him to places he’d never dreamed of. In her own way she’d been as much a risk-taker as he.
Now Mac had taken the wounded ambassador to safety at the Shangrila medical compound and asked Conner to protect Erica. For his own reasons as much as Mac’s, Conner agreed.
Only Mac knew what had happened ten years ago in Berlin, though Conner was no longer sure either of them knew everything.
The German newspapers had reported the murder of Bart Preston, the bright young American architectural student attending the Technical University of Berlin. Little mention was made of the other American, a soldier, who was badly wounded. It was considered just another assault on the military by some left-wing group seeking publicity to support their claim that outsiders were behind the move to tear down the Berlin Wall.
Only a few insiders knew that the two victims were brothers, or that the site of the attack was a little historic church whose minister had been engaged to perform a wedding. And the press didn’t know there was a third American who was missing from the scene—Erica Fallon—Conner’s future bride.
Erica was supposed to meet Conner and Bart at the church. Instead, it was two masked gunmen who’d tied up the minister, ransacked the chapel, and waited inside. Afterward, Bart was dead. Conner, with gunshots in both legs, was stabilized and flown to a military hospital in the states. The army would handle the investigation. The army would find Erica and tell her what happened. The army would keep Conner informed.
According to Mac, it wasn’t until later that the military investigator learned the reason for Erica’s absence—a change of heart about the wedding and an early morning flight to Paris.
In a few moments Conner had lost his brother, the woman he loved, his military career, and for a time, his will to live. But Mac had stepped in and refused to let him quit Mac recognized the potential for Conner’s unique experience and convinced him that he could use his military skills to set up his own business.
Conner never heard from Erica. Mac said she’d stayed in Paris. By the time he was ready to leave Shangrila, Paradox, Inc. was a reality and he had realized that there was no room in his life for a permanent personal relationship. He’d sworn he’d never see Erica Fallon again. He didn’t dare. He hoped instead that life would be her punishment, as it was his.
Conner Preston operated his import-export business with sophistication and flair. But his undercover services, for those who could afford them, were carried out by a man known only as Shadow.
For ten years Conner searched quietly for the mastermind behind Bart’s assassination. At the same time he rescued or found lost people, places, and objects—everything from the ordinary to the bizarre, from the legal to the not so legal. He’d been incredibly successful because he had nothing to lose. His life had ended in the chapel, watching his brother die. Now he belonged to Mac and those who needed him most.
This time it was personal. Conner’s official objective was to protect Erica. Shadow’s mission was to finally confront the woman he would forever hold responsible for Bart’s death and expose the evil in her heart.
If Erica Fallon had ever had a heart.
As the wind pushed against the back of the house, Erica heard every sound, every creak of the walls, every brush of a branch against a window. She was running out of time and she didn’t know what to do.
Mac had been willing to take the ambassador, even with the risks involved. He’d even offered Erica sanctuary, but she knew the truth—the bullet Ambassador Collins had taken was a warning to her.
Ten years ago Erica had learned about warnings, to believe them or unconscionably bad things happened. Once again she was being deliberately drawn into something evil and she had no idea what the evil was.
And who was Mac sending to help her? Why had he been so mysterious, referring to him only as “the man”? She folded her arms across her chest and squeezed. The house was warm. It was her heart that was cold.
It had been that way for a very long time.
When the doorbell rang, she jumped. Her throat closed off and she couldn’t swallow. He was here. It had to be Mac’s angel. No one else knew where to find her. At least she didn’t think she’d been followed. And, except for the ambassador, she’d kept her connection to her family home in Tennessee a secret.
Erica stepped into the foyer, glanced into the mirror, then chastised herself. What difference did it make how she looked if she was going to die?
The streetlight beyond the security hole kept her from seeing the man’s face.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“Mac sent me,” came the muffled reply.
Erica opened the door and stepped back to let the man inside.
He stood very still, merging so well with the fog and darkness that for a moment she thought he was gone. Then he straightened his shoulders, as if throwing off a great weight, and stepped closer, into the light.
Dear God—Conner. “No,” she whispered as she caught her throat with her fingertips. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this. “No, he wouldn’t do this to me.”
“Yes, he would, and he damn well did—to both of us.”
Conner Preston took a cold close-up look at the woman he’d once loved. Loved, then hated, then dismissed.
At least that was what he’d thought. He’d been wrong. Just looking at her brought it all crashing back.
She’d changed. Ten years ago she’d been so young and determined, so full of life, convinced that the world was hers for the taking. And she had taken it as though there were no tomorrow.
Her live-for-the-moment philosophy had seemed curiously at odds with her reason for being in Germany. She’d been an art history student on a Fulbright scholarship studying the design of historic buildings. That was how he’d met her, through his brother Bart, who was an architectural student in the same program.
As Americans, Bart and Erica had been partners and friends. Then Conner had been transferred to Berlin and reunited with his younger brother.
From the moment Conner had laid eyes on Erica, he’d been completely captivated. For weeks, he was the third member of their team. They’d minutely measured, photographed, and studied the little chapel that was the focus of their project. Conner hadn’t understood his brother’s love for the old church, but he’d dissect the Empire State Building if it would keep him close to Erica.
They’d measured and sketched the historic structure for hours, even crawling through the ancient catacomb
Then Erica did something she’d never done before. She left the work to Bart while she and Conner shared private picnics at Tiergarten Park and Wannsee Lake, visited coffee houses, where they drank strong espresso and ate the local specialty, hot dogs and French fries with mayonnaise. Erica fell in love with as much determination as she approached her studies. And the studies were left behind in the wake of newly discovered passion.
Erica was the most exotic woman Conner had ever met. She’d heard his buddies call him Shadow and demanded a special name of her own. Because of her flair for the dramatic, he’d laughingly called her his Dragon Lady. Her midnight-black hair had been long and straight, falling across her shoulders to the middle of her back. The first time they’d made love she’d teased him by covering her breasts with it.
Conner closed his eyes, trying to shut out that memory. He couldn’t. It slammed into him with sonic force.
A gust of wind blew dry leaves across the porch in a rustle, reminding him that they were standing in the light. Out of habit, he glanced behind him.
Erica stepped back and in a tight voice said, “I guess you’d better come in, Conner.”
“Yes.” He found it oddly difficult to speak. The ease of their past relationship was long gone and the new emotion between them was dangerously volatile.
He shrugged out of his overcoat while Erica closed and locked the door.
The click sounded like a shell falling into the chamber of a gun. Conner patted his jacket, instinctively reassuring himself that his own weapon was within reach.
“You won’t need that here,” Erica said as she took his coat, careful that their hands didn’t touch. “At least I don’t think you will. But then, I’m not sure of anything anymore.”
Once, the catch in her voice would have moved him. Then he remembered what she’d done. “Whatever you know is more than I know. Talk to me, Dragon Lady.”
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