Vanquish (The Xander King Series Book 2), page 9
“One of Melanie’s?” He nodded toward the dress.
“Oh, yes. There is something off about her if you ask me, but she is very much a sweetheart.”
“That she is. Why are you here?” Xander cut to the chase as he stood up from the chair. The soft grass pillowed between his toes, and he was forced to look away from her mesmerizing eyes. They reminded him of Vegas Kelly’s emerald pair.
She held out her hand. “Xander, I am Zhanna Dragov.”
Xander glanced down at her hand, and then back to her eyes. He made no move to take her hand. “Why. Are. You. Here?” He enunciated.
She took back her hand, and then ran it through her hair. Xander could tell by the way she moved that she was used to getting men to do whatever the hell she wanted. The wind rustled through the surrounding olive trees, and down the long private drive he could see it blowing through the—quintessential Tuscany—pencil pines.
“I am here to help you,” she answered.
“It’s true. And I am here for myself as well. My father is monster.”
“That’s right, he is. He killed my parents. Give me one reason I should believe you are here for any other reason than to lead Dragov’s dog—Nicoli Pavlovich—right to my doorstep.”
“Because, you and I have common goal.”
“You and I have nothing in common.”
“Enough!” The volume of Xander’s shout caused her to jump. “Sam took your cellphone, correct?”
“Good. And you have no other electronic devices with you?”
“Then just sit by the pool, look pretty, and enjoy my hospitality. I don’t want to hear another word. I am going to kill your father with my bare hands. I’m going to watch the life drain right out of him for what he did to my family. If you’re lucky, I’ll spare you their fate.”
“But I need to tell you—”
“Xander!” Melanie called from the house, interrupting Zhanna. “The pizza is ready! I’ve got us all set up by the pool, I even hung those pretty string patio lights you like!”
Xander waved to her, and then turned back to Zhanna. “Save it for someone who gives a fuck, okay?” Then he walked away.
Zhanna was left alone, frustrated. Valuable information hung on the edge of her lips.
Expect the Unexpected
Just as Xander was all but telling Zhanna Dragov to go to hell, Nicoli Pavlovich and eight of his finest men stood on the tarmac at the London Heathrow airport, growing very tired of waiting for Xander’s G650 to arrive. Nicoli had been there for hours, he wanted to make sure Xander didn’t arrive early. But now he was beginning to think they had received the wrong information. Then his cell phone rang.
“I gave you the wrong information.”
“Wrong information? Xander is not coming?”
“Not to London. I’m sorry, I couldn’t risk calling you until now.”
“Where is he?” Nicoli’s voice sounded as if it was losing patience.
“Are you certain?”
“Of course I’m certain, I’m here with him now. I’ll text you the address. When will you come?”
“I’ll be there by morning.”
“Are you sure you want to try and take him alive? He isn’t like the low-life thugs you are used to dealing with. He—”
“He must be taken alive. You will be there to help, no?”
“Of course. But—”
“Then we will take him alive. There is no other way.”
“I’ll be ready.”
Xander took a seat at the long, reclaimed wood table beside the outdoor bar area at the edge of the lagoon-shaped pool. The smell of burning applewood and the baking of pizza crust filled the air around them. The chef was hard at work shuffling the pizzas around in the oven while Sam and Kyle were catching up with Melanie. She had done a fantastic job with everything. The soft yellow patio lights were strung above their heads like she’d promised, and somewhere in the distance, the sun was dipping its toes into the Ligurian Sea. That thought helped settle Xander’s nerves. He would do his best to forget Zhanna even existed. He couldn’t help noticing, however, just how gorgeous she was as she walked around the corner of the manor, the orange sky and rolling green hills as her backdrop. Sam was right, she was, if nothing else, distracting. Sarah and Jack walked out of the manor at the same time, and before Xander knew it, he was sharing a meal with his mortal enemy’s daughter.
Ain’t life grand.
Other than a few contentious staring contests, Xander made it through the meal. And a glorious meal it was. The chef started them with caprese salads—fresh sliced tomatoes and creamy burrata cheese topped with basil infused olive oil.
They paired the salads with a 2010 Castello di Ama, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.
Then came the pizzas. Perfectly smoked thin crust, a sweet and flavor filled tomato sauce, and fresh burrata cheese topped off with more of the basil olive oil.
Everyone agreed, dinner was perfect. It was full dark outside now. Xander couldn’t help but notice that everyone around the table was beautiful. Except for Jack of course, but the rest of them, beautiful. It didn’t hurt that they had just finished the fourth bottle of Chianti.
After Kyle finished flirting with Zhanna, Melanie, and Sam, he walked around the table with a chilled bottle of Pallini Limoncello in his left hand, and two snifters in his right. “How ‘bout dessert, me and you?”
Xander answered in the voice of a southern belle, “I do declare Mista’ Hamilton, you know how to make a girl swoon...I’ll grab some cigars.”
“I love it when you talk dirty to me. I’ll be in the lounge chair.” Kyle motioned toward the other end of the pool toward a lounge chair that sat in front of a wood burning fire pit, and walked on by. Xander went to stand up when Sarah grabbed his arm. Xander was halfway up but he sat back down to hear what she had to say. He leaned in as she began to whisper in his ear. He didn’t catch what she said the first time because her short, yellow cotton dress had ridden up her long tanned legs, and he could just make out the white panties that hid underneath. He felt a warmth move through his lower midsection.
“What was that?” He whispered in her ear. She smelled amazing. Like lavender and honey.
Sarah giggled and leaned back in, whispering. “I said, when you are finished with dessert, maybe we can have some of our own?”
Xander smiled. “Why, Ms. Gilbright, are you coming on to me?”
A devilish look flashed through her eyes. “I want to do more than that.”
Xander was a little taken aback. He wasn’t expecting her to come on so strong, but a lightning bolt of want struck through to his core. The sparks from which tingled all the way to his fingertips. He was going to have to hurry through his cigar. And that wouldn’t be easy, because Davidoff Oro Blanco cigars should never be rushed. He had a feeling it would be worth it.
“I don’t think that will be a problem.”
Just as he spoke, he noticed Zhanna staring at him from the end of the table. A sincere look flashed across her face. Could he be wrong about her?
“No, I don’t expect it will be a problem. I know I’ve had a little too much to drink, but I’m ready for what you were going to give me in Lexington.” She separated her legs and took Xander’s hand. She turned slightly to shield this from the others, and slowly she moved his hand onto her silky smooth leg. He gave her soft skin a subtle brush of his hand as she nuzzled his neck. Xander took his hand away and let out a deep breath. Sarah did the same. “I’ll be in my room. Don’t be long.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t be,” Xander assured her. Just then he noticed Zhanna noticing the moment. She didn’t shy from him catching her staring. In fact, she raised an eyebrow and took another sip of wine. Xander held her stare with a c
He kissed Sarah on the cheek, stood from the table, doing his best to hide his arousal, and grabbed the cigars from a humidor that sat atop the stone outdoor bar. He took a moment to watch Sarah saunter into the house, and he took a deep breath as he grabbed his lighter. When he turned back around Zhanna was standing right in front of him. He really needed to stop hanging out with such gorgeous women. He had a feeling one of them would be the death of him. No coincidence that thought hit him as he stared into the eyes of a Dragov.
“Xander, can I please have moment with you now?”
“Not now, I’m busy.”
“Xander, I talked to Sam a moment ago, but now I must speak with you about this. It is important.”
“Then I’ll let Sam fill me in.”
“Listen goddammit,” Xander’s tone was sharp. Everyone at the table turned toward him. Even Kyle turned from the far side of the pool to see what was going on. Xander lowered his voice a few decibels. “Listen to me. I don’t give a shit what you have to say. The only reason you are here is because Jack vouched for you, and Sam confirmed it was safe. But I don’t buy it. So steer clear of me, and we’ll get along just fine.”
“Just let me say one thing, then I’ll let Sam fill you in.”
“Fine.” The annoyed in Xander’s tone was unmistakable. She was walking a thin line.
“Thank you? I didn’t do anything.”
“By letting me come here, you saved my life. So, thank you.”
Xander walked right past her toward Kyle. Though he completely blew off the thank you, Xander was a pretty good read of people. Women in particular. His read at that moment was that she meant what she said. He was going to have to find out what was going on from Sam. Sarah might be waiting a while.
Xander walked around and sat down beside Kyle. He sank into the rust colored cushion that covered the brown whicker lounge chair.
“There he is.” Kyle handed Xander a glass of limoncello. “Everything okay over there?”
“It’s fine.” Xander cut the tip of a cigar and handed it to Kyle. Kyle put it in his mouth and Xander lit it for him.
Through the side of his mouth as he got the cigar going, he joked with Xander. “You realize that talking to her like that only enhances my chances of getting her in bed before you do.”
“She’s all yours.”
“Seriously? I mean, I know you’ve looked into those eyes.”
Xander thought it over as he lit his cigar. They were amazing eyes. Windows to the soul, and what he saw in there was deep. He decided to change the subject. “Sarah just made a pass at me.”
“What? Just now? I hate you. She is so gorgeous.”
“So gorgeous,” Xander agreed.
“Where is she now?”
“Waiting for me in bed,” he grinned.
“Jesus, X, get your ass up there. She’s top shelf.”
“It can wait. I’m right where I want to be.” Xander clanged his glass against Kyle’s.
“This place is unbelievable. You gonna make some wine this year?”
“Oh yeah, grapes should be starting to grow as we speak.”
“Awesome. So, joking aside, what do you think of Zhanna being here? Pretty fucked up right?”
“I tried to play it off, but I know it must bother you. I mean, her dad...” Kyle decided not to ruin a good moment, and left it at that.
“Something about her eyes though.” Xander said as if he were in another world.
“Right? I told you.”
“No, I mean, something sincere. I don’t know. Maybe she’s just gorgeous.”
“Well, she’s definitely that...shit, she’s hotter than a whore’s ass on nickel night.”
“I hate to break up this little bachelor party, but we need to talk.” Sam said as she came around the lounge chair, Jack following close behind. Xander normally would fight it, but after Zhanna said she spilled it to Sam already, he was too curious to deny her. Instead, he scooted over, handed Jack a cigar, and let Sam have the floor.
A half an hour went by in a time that felt more like five minutes. Xander’s world had shifted on its axis. Was he losing his touch? Was Sam losing hers? For no reason whatsoever, the slogan to the reality TV show Big Brother flashed in his mind.
“Expect the unexpected.”
“What’s that?” Sam asked.
Xander took a final draw from his cigar, and placed it on the ashtray. His chiseled jaw protruded as his mind sifted through the overwhelming information.
“Nothing. I’m just trying to get my head around all of this.”
“It’s a lot. I know.”
Xander leaned forward in his chair and took a hard look into Sam and Jack’s eyes. “So...you think it could be Sarah?”
“We can’t be sure,” Sam replied, her eyes full of anguish.
Zhanna had it on good authority that there was a mole in Xander’s camp. Someone was feeding information to Pavlovich. Xander didn’t want to believe it was Sarah, but he knew it wasn’t Sam or Kyle, so who else could it be? Xander stood from his chair and stared out into the darkness. “I just can’t believe it.” He started to walk back toward the mansion.
“Where are you going?” Sam stopped him.
“To find out for sure. I can’t stand this shit not knowing who to trust. That’s why it has always just been me and you, Sam. And Kyle, of course. Jack, I’m sorry my man, but I don’t even know you.”
“So what do you propose we do?” Jack asked him as he settled into the chair and crossed his leg, cowboy boot lying across his knee.
“Trial by fire.”
“What are you suggesting, Xander?” Sam asked.
“Jack, you said Zhanna was KGB, right?”
“Yep. The two of you have a lot in common. She joined up to take down her father, you joined the military for the same reason, you just didn’t know that you both had a common enemy in Dragov.”
“And tell me again, why she is so set on taking down her father?”
“Same as you. She watched him kill her mother. She’s been stewing on it ever since. It wasn’t until she heard about what happened to you that she thought she could actually make it happen...take him down I mean.”
“And she heard about me through who again?”
“Her friend. Nicoli Pavlovich’s niece overheard Pavlovich making a deal to send the Middle Eastern militia to kill you at your home in Lexington a couple weeks back. It stood out to her because she had never heard of Kentucky. When Zhanna heard you killed them all, she reached out to me. She thought maybe the two of you, working together, could take Dragov down.”
“And Director Manning?”
“I’d had my suspicions for a while now, but when Zhanna told me about the secret bank account he has in the Caymans, and the two million dollar deposit he’d made to it last month, I knew he was working with Dragov.”
“Mother fucker!” Xander shouted. His voice echoed through the hills. A cool breeze blew through the pencil pines and rows of grape vines, a welcome sensation for Xander because at that moment his blood was at a full on boil.
“Xander, I am sure that Dragov is the man that had your parents killed, but I am just as sure that Manning is the man that set your daddy up.” Jack explained as he stood from his chair and joined Sam. “There is no way of knowin’ how far back Dragov got to Manning. And as for your question about Sarah, she has only been involved with tailing you for the last six months, when Manning put her in charge of monitoring you. It’s obvious now why he wanted you watched. He didn’t give a good god damn about you taking out criminals in your spare time, all he cared about was making sure you didn’t find out about Dragov without him knowing, so he could give Dragov the heads up. When Manning thought you found out who killed your parents, that’s why he had Sarah’s team go to Moscow instead of Syria. He di
“This is fucked up.” Kyle said as he sidled up beside Sam and Jack.
Xander didn’t know what to say. His head was spinning. “Why the hell would Sarah go through all the trouble of saving my ass if she is in on it with Manning? Why wouldn’t she have just let them kill me on the yacht in the Virgin Islands?”
Sam stepped forward. “Maybe to make sure you wouldn’t come after her if the truth ever came out?”
“But she killed Dragov’s own men when the two of you saved our ass on that boat.”
“Wouldn’t that give her plausible deniability?”
“Jesus, Sam. Is all of this really that messed up? The head of the CIA worked with a mob boss to kill my father, and now because I put a wrinkle in the plans to keep it covered up, he’s helping Dragov take me out too? How much money does it cost to pay off the CIA these days?”
“Xander, you know as well as I do that double agents happen all the time,” said Sam.
Xander pondered that for a moment, then turned his eyes to Jack. “You’re right, Sam. Double agents do happen all the time.”
“ Now Xander—”
Before Jack could finish, Xander had closed the ten foot distance between them, and had Jack by the shirt collar for the second time that day. Fury rumbled in Xander’s eyes. “Give me one reason not to end your life right here, Jack. One reason!”
Kyle stepped forward, but stopped himself when Xander shot him a clear stay out of it look.
“Your father was a friend, Xander.”
“Manning put you on this detail, Jack. If Manning is in on it, then you are too! Why else would he put you on my case if he thought for a second you might help me?” Xander threw Jack onto his back and pulled a pistol from the back of his belt. Jack held out his hands and just before Sam could form a protest, Zhanna stepped out of the darkness and into the lights that were still glowing above the pool.
“Because I made sure Manning put him on it.”
Xander swung the gun in Zhanna’s direction and held it there. “Bullshit! There’s no way you could make that happen. I’m going to bury you right beside Jack and let you both fertilize the grapes that will make my Chianti!”