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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dangerously Hot Chapter 1

This is my work in progress. It's coming out as soon as it's revised, edited, re-edited, re-everything. Meaning. I'm on it while you patiently wait and beg me for more on Facebook :). Enjoy!

DANGEROUSLY HOT
Anthology with Sylvia Day
all rights reserved @2012


The man was delicious to look at. What Americans would call “hot.” Tall. Darkhaired. Rakishlooking with that stubble. And, as always, that heated look in his jewel-green eyes gave her a sudden need for a long cool drink, preferably with vodka.
She was long past the point of wondering why he’d affect her this way. Just that he did. And each meeting, she anticipated that gaze, so direct, so damn intimate, and each time, she couldn’t help herself. She winked at him. And then, depending on the situation, they would pick up or exchange items in the middle or one of them would back away, following the unspoken protocol of a first-come-first-serve basis.
It was part of the game. She could play it a bit hotter but knew she couldn’t afford it.  It was just too bad they were on opposite sides because she had a feeling it’d be more than a bit hotter.
Scorching, more like.
Her superiors wouldn’t approve any consorting without their say-so. After all, she was their fixer. She couldn’t afford to be seen being friendly with someone who could use it against her.
But damn, he was hot. She waited for him to step back, do his usual two finger salute to acknowledge that she’d arrived first this time, but instead, he started walking slowly toward her.
She frowned. This wasn’t their pattern. Nowadays, their respective agencies had agreed to do things with the least casualties as possible. Yes, some treaties actually included secret clauses like “first-come-first-serve,” “positional operative compromise” and “negotiable exchange.”
So civilized.
She didn’t back away as he approached. Curiosity stopped her. He had a hand in his jacket, probably a weapon. It occurred to her that she might be a target but she didn’t think so. If he’d wanted to kill her, he’d have done so already from five meters away. Or any number of times she’d bumped into him the last year.
They’d never spoken to each other directly. He’d never touched her. Their long looks at each other had been when there were no witnesses.
She watched, unable to move, as his hands came up and cupped her face. Tilted it up. His thumbs rubbed her cheeks. She didn’t do a thing as his head swooped down and his lips caught hers. His tongue swept into her surprised mouth. Tangled. Tasted. Vodka and lime. Five seconds, tops.
He stepped back and gazed down at her, those eyes cool and unreadable. The corners of his lips lifted slightly, a smile of a man who had just found a secret.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a while now,” he softly said, that husky American Southern twang sending a tingle down her spine.
That voice was distinct, instantly recognized in the European underground. The Cowboy had a reputation of getting things done his way. But she had a reputation too, a lethal one.
She continued watching him as he disappeared into the shadows. Five seconds could get a man killed. Five seconds could change one’s life.
* * *
“So, did you make your move?”
Luke unzipped his leather jacket, shrugged out of it, and hung it on the hook by the entrance.  His friend, Konstantin, continued regarding him from the small dining table as he walked to the fridge. Perusing his options, he closed it, and went for hard liquor instead.  He went to sit across from his flat mate. He took a swig from the bottle.
Konstantin flapped the newspapers, folding it over, his dark eyes mocking him with a knowing gaze. “Was she that good? Or that bad?”
Ignoring Konstantin was pointless. He’d just continue riding him all night.
“Maybe I didn’t see her,” Luke said.
“And maybe cows don’t fly. You have the lovesick look about you, buddy.”
Luke grinned. Konstantin’s trademark of over-the-top exaggeration was just what he needed to loosen the tension inside him. His frustration must really be showing. Konstantin had that “I got you pegged” look in his eyes. “Pigs. It should be ‘and maybe pigs fly.’ Cows already don’t fly, Kostya.”
Whatever.” Konstantin copied the popular American slang term with bored perfection. He flicked his hand expressively. “You’re changing the subject. You can’t distract me from my quest.”
His flat mate also loved online role-playing games. His current obsession was some medieval quest for some magical weapons that pitted worldwide players against each other. Luke had watched him at his gaming sessions now and then, although it was beyond him why anyone, let alone someone who was in their business, would play basically a multi-level dungeon and dragons game for months on end without getting bored.
When asked, Konstantin had just shrugged and replied that it kept him on his toes, and besides, he met interesting people, from professors of medieval history to young men bored with their current factory jobs. Luke supposed those types were interesting to his friend only because they were ordinary people living safe, ordinary lives. He was so into it, he’d brought his current gaming character, Sir Constantinus, into his real-life dialogue, both amusing and somewhat disconcerting to some.
Luke took another swig and peered over the bottle. “And your quest is?”
“Come on, we all deal with information. Do you know how much I could get for proof that The Cowboy and La Nina are sitting on a branch?”
“In a tree,” Luke corrected and frowned. “I should’ve known you’d try to sell information like that.”
Konstantin snorted. “You don’t care if I do or I don’t. The ladies think The Cowboy is a handsome challenge anyway.”
Luke hadn’t chosen that nickname. They called him that because he was so obviously American, with his South Georgia drawl and his boots. It was a pretty useful one since it didn’t sound particularly threatening and was easily identifiable. It didn’t take too long for many in the underground network to get to know the name and it was the first one on their minds when they needed something fixed when they needed an American handler.
Exactly what he wanted. Information from the fringe. Non-network news.
As for La Nina, the woman given that handle was neither a child or frigid. In fact, she was all woman and smoldering hot.
“You know, your silence is louder than any rock concert.” Konstantin reached for his own drink. He cocked an eyebrow before tipping his head back. “You didn’t get any.”
Luke laughed. He certainly wasn’t going to divulge any more information than necessary. “You have it all figured out, Kostya.”
“She’s La Nina. She may have a positive effect on masculine parts but that icy attitude wilts everything. And,” Konstantin added, “she beat you to the place first. Again. How many times this year already?”
“Not that many.” Six to be exact. Out of the dozen or so times they’d gone after the same thing, they’d somehow arrived at almost the same time. She’d scowled the first couple of occasions when he’d beaten her by those crucial seconds, but the very first time she’d gotten the best of him, he’d been rewarded with a sexy smile and a kiss blown in his direction. It was the first smile he’d ever seen on her lips and it lit up her usually guarded eyes.
No, he was convinced that icy attitude about which everyone was so turned of was fake. He’d seen amusement in her eyes before and she’d given him enough saucy winks that betrayed that hidden side of her.
Everything about her intrigued him. He had too much going on right now to make any move, but she often invaded his thoughts. Too much.
When they’d first met, he’d been amused by the icy wall of disdain the dark beauty had thrown up at him and everyone around. She’d looked as if she had other better things to do with her time than mixing around with a bunch of politicians. He hadn’t blamed her. It was a boring affair, with lots of standing around and hand clapping after long, pompous speeches.
It was only an hour or two later, when they’d “bumped” into each other while crawling in the ventilation system, that he’d realized she wasn’t just arm candy for some wealthy contributor. They’d paused without any startled movements, as if it was quite normal to meet in cramped spaces in between building floors, and she’d cocked her head and studied him for a few seconds before whispering in accented English, “I’m going that way.”
She’d pointed to a different direction from his. He’d nodded and replied, “Have fun,” before moving on. Different agendas. He hadn’t thought she would report him that night.
That was the night he’d asked Konstantin to get him a file on her. Since then, he and the delectable Nina had “bumped” into each other in Macedonia, France, Switzerland, even Morocco. It was always interesting how different she looked and acted each time, yet the look she always gave him had the same intriguing amusement. She’d also managed to not have any direct contact with him. Most fixers knew and contacted each other for favors and exchanges of information. From Konstantin’s file, “La Nina” didn’t do that much.
Until now, he hadn’t really acted on his attraction. But it’d been a week of frustration. He’d thought he’d found the most promising lead and it’d led to nowhere. His disappointment, after months of continual failure, was bitter medicine. Tonight he’d gone out to make some money to pay for the recent expenses and there she was, beating at the job. So he’d decided he needed a consolation prize.
Luke frowned. With as much travel as he did, they shouldn’t have met that often. Unless—Konstantin’s exaggerated sigh interrupted his reverie.
“You should really ask more questions about her,” his friend said, flapping his papers again.
Luke raised his eyebrows. “Are you offering it for free? That file you sold me cost a fortune.”
“Hey, I need to pay bills too, you know. And the landlady raised the rent.”
“I gave you extra rent money,” Luke pointed out.
“Only for the time you’re staying here. What about when I’m all alone to fence for myself?”
He laughed and took another drink. Konstantin made enough money but spent too much on high-tech games and gadgets.
“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll cover next month’s rent if, and only if, you have good information, something that tells me what her handlers are after. She’s been around the same places too much lately. I can’t see how my project ties in with her people’s interests. Find me something that gives me a clue.”
Konstantin smiled wickedly. “Done.” He pulled a disk from between the pages of his newspaper. “Your wish is my command. Those who seek will find.”
Luke scratched his stubble with the bottle’s mouth. He should’ve known Konstantin had something up his sleeve. He reached for the disk.
His friend shook his head and laid a hand over it. “Uh-uh. First, we agree on the month’s rent?”
“Only if the information is useful.”
“You know, if you weren’t a friend, I’d just take the disk back and let you find yourself another sifter. Most people just pay and take what is there.”
“That’s flea market information. You’re a specialist.”
“Why, thank you.”
“Not that your sifting skills have helped me in my quest the last ten months,” Luke said. Every piece of information Konstantin had provided had led to dead ends or more questions. It was time to push his friend a bit harder. “Maybe it’s beyond your skill level?”
“Ouch. You wound me. And I suddenly feel insulted. You’re lucky you have a bottle in front of you or I might not fight this urge to punch you.”
Luke grinned back mockingly. “Now you’re trying to distract me. I don’t dispute your amazing ability to get news about lost objects, but maybe missing people isn’t your forte.”
Konstantin was a first-rate sifter and in spite of recent setbacks, Luke was confident his friend would eventually get to a key piece of information that would help. But, he’d also kept from Konstantin the real reason why he’d kept on going, in spite of depleted funds and numerous dead ends. Ten months missing was a long time, but he refused to give up.
“Yet you’re curious enough about La Nina you asked me to assemble a file for you. Technically, she isn’t a missing object or person, so how do you know my info is correct?” Konstantin mocked back. He pushed the disk across the table. “Do you want this or not?”
“You’re a pain in the ass when you’re argumentative.”
“And you’re cute when you’re mad. Now come on, let’s do some good drinking. That woman’s obviously gotten under your skin. Either you get laid or she’s going to make you a bad-tempered poor man.”
Luke couldn’t agree more. He’d barely tasted her. He wanted to do more.
Later, after another hour of shared alcoholic small talk, he sat at his desk in his room. Konstantin had tried to play down the lack of new avenues, advising him that something unexpected always appeared. Trying to avoid thinking about his disappointment and about a hot kiss, he’d drunk quite a bit more than he’d wanted, until Konstantin had checked his watch and abruptly sent him to bed, joking that he should go dream about La Nina.
Oblivion would be welcome. Curiosity got the better of him, though. He inserted the disk into his laptop and started clicking on the objects in the open folder. A personal email. Familiar items they’d both gone after. One was an envelope she’d gotten hold of before him. Photos. Probably blackmail ones. Fixers generally were asked to retrieve those. He clicked on one of the thumbnails. The image made him sit up in his chair, the warmth from alcoholic consumption receding like a bucket of ice water.
“Damn you, Kostya,” Luke muttered, his chair scraping the floor as he fumbled with the keyboard. His friend had played him well.
* * *
Tonight’s job was relatively simple. Pick up an envelope at the old hotel’s desk. Deliver it. No dressing up. No taking off to another country. Nothing strenuous, unlike the last assignment, that had included scaling a building in the dead of night. The meeting was going to take place at a much later hour, giving her time for a quick meal.
Looking out the bus window, Nina rubbed the back of her neck. Easy night but then, it wasn’t over yet, and she was still tired. She needed some downtime soon. Traveling all over the place meant little time to adjust to different time zones. She’d been making do with naps but her energy wasn’t at peak level. Not good. She needed to be on her toes at all times.
Tonight, she’d slipped, allowed her curiosity to get the better of her. She’d already let him get to her, and now she’d gone one step further. Why had he kissed her? That was the last thing she’d expected—him acting out her fantasy.
She must be tired. Or she would have given him a reason or two not to touch her again. She felt her lips curve into a smile thinking about him. He did look good in that leather jacket, though. She’d wanted to put her hands inside it to find out whether he was as hot as he looked. Her smile turned into a grin which she hastily hid with a hand, pretending to suppress a yawn.
She stood up as the bus neared her destination. Good-looking or not, she couldn’t afford any distractions right now, and especially with someone in this business. Things were murkier than ever and adding another emotional complication into her life would be exactly like the little missteps that led to a fatal one. Of course, her father was referring to chess pieces she lost to him one by one during their games, but she’d always known he was teaching her something else entirely.
A cold blast of air hit her as she exited. Exactly what she needed.
She walked briskly down the winding streets, the old crumbling cobblestones under her shoes sticky with wet dirt and trash from the day. There weren’t too many people out at this hour but in no one was ever alone in this part of town. Most tourists had gone back to their hotels, warned by their guides to stay away at night; most of the locals avoided the area, knowing well that it could erupt in sudden violence in the darkness of night; and the law, paid off, mostly looked away. The result was an area on the seedy side of the town that was mostly self-governed by crime groups.
Some, like her, had a pass to walk through without too much fear of being accosted by gangs. Nina kept one hand in her jacket, though. It didn’t pay to be complacent.
In the daylight the old city had the charm of history mixed with modern high rises, but late at night, parts of it became gothic, shrouded with its secrets. The underground world came alive. Cobbled alleys and ancient arches led to sweaty clubs playing techno music and forbidden back ways that opened to other forbidden dens of iniquity. This was where things got exchanged without getting traced, where deals were made between parties preferring to stay anonymous, and those playing international espionage games sometimes chose to meet. Talinn was a city churning with foreigners and Nina knew she was thought of as just another seeking her fortune between the borders of Russia and Finland, as so many had done through the centuries.
She rapped three times at the door of a massive structure which had been the house of a nobleman a century ago. Now it was run by people not quite as noble. Nina suppressed another smile. Something was wrong with her tonight. She couldn’t seem to stop joking about every little thing.
A little hole slid ope and a face peered out. “What’s the problem?” he asked in Russian.
The code word was “found.” “I found something you lost,” Nina replied, “and would like to return it to the owner.”
The slider shut and the door unlocked with a loud clack. She pushed it open with a foot. A big burly man sat at a high round table, playing solitaire, a gun by a stack of cards. He didn’t look up.
“Left passage, second door. Don’t go in anywhere else or you deal with the consequences.”
Nina strode into the dingy foyer. She placed cash on the table, right beside the weapon.
“Relax, Mikhail,” she drawled. “I’ve never caused any trouble here.”
The burly man turned over a card. “Keep it that way. I like you, La Nina, but there’ve been reports you used your weapon in the market place. I don’t want any attention drawn here.”
Nina shrugged. “The market place’s different. Everyone’s trigger happy and thinks with his dick.” Her persona, La Nina, was a cold and unapproachable character and she played that part well. Fuck with La Nina and she used her weapon. It was good way to keep the hooligans at bay. She looked in the direction of the left passage. “Is the owner here or do I wait?”
“Not here yet.” Mikhail finally looked up. His eyes, mismatched in size, made him sinister- and dangerous-looking even without the gun. “I wouldn’t dawdle with this one. Whatever you’re up to, finish with him quickly.”
“Didn’t think you cared,” she murmured. Behind those doors were clandestine meetings going on. The man sitting there didn’t look it, but he had good information.
Mikhail picked up her cash and pocketed it. His gaze met hers, dark and emotionless. “Nah,” he said. He pointed a beefy finger to his bald head. “Just wanted you to think about who you’re dealing with. Money is everything but some money takes everything.”
Nina held his gaze for a moment. Warning?
“That’s a roundabout way of saying money isn’t everything,” she retorted lightly. “I absolutely agree. I’ll talk to you later.”
She went to the designated room, a simple small 5x5 place with a table, chairs and a jug of water. It was actually one of the more “luxurious” rooms in the building. She’d been inside a couple that were cubby holes, not unlike confessional booths in churches, except those using them were probably planning to commit more sins rather than to repent.
She picked the chair facing the door. Five minutes passed. Usually, they were on time or her handler would call her on her cell. Ten minutes. Her rule book said, if there were no communication, an item not picked up went back to the open market at her discretion. Patting her jacket, she thought of the large envelope hidden inside. She didn’t know what was in it and should first call to ascertain everything was in order. Missed meetings were not a usual thing. She stood up.
Nina nodded at Mikhail, giving him a shrug as information. He checked the monitor on the wall, pulled a lever and the heavy wooden door unlocked. Outside, she zipped her jacket up again as she slipped into the semi-darkness.
Across the street, a group of youths were dancing as their thug friends jeered on. Down the road, she could see prostitutes sitting on their stools under some brightly lit corridors. Parked cars. No one hurrying toward the building. A furtive glance to her right. She took a side alley. Down another. She finally turned around.
“You’re a lousy tail,” she remarked conversationally. “I usually shoot first when I’m tired. You’d better come out, Cowboy.”
He emerged from behind, much closer than he should be.
His voice floated toward her, dark with promise. “I’m much better on top.”


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2 comments:

alund said...

Fantastic preview! Can't wait for the book to be published.

Since you are in the process of editing, I thought I would point out that you should correct "La Nina" to read "La Niña". The "ñ" is easily corrected in a PC by pressing ALT + 164.

Deborah Blake Dempsey said...

No, no, no, no, no. Wah, why did it have to end? Okay, so first, thank you very much for posting this. It definitely wets the, umm whets the appetite for more. . I can’t wait for you to tell us it’s published. I can’t take the wait as, you know, I’m in love with Luke.

Knowing what he looks like, that first sentence made me salivate. Heck, I need that vodka filled drink from reading this.

That line “Her superiors wouldn’t approve any consorting without their say-so”, brings out the rebel in me. I would so be fired if I ran into this man.

Wow, what a way to start the story. A look. A touch. A kiss. And then, and then, he walks away. Holy hell woman that’s just hot.

Konstantin sounds very interesting. I hope he gets his own book. (hint, hint) Unless, he’s evil. Either way, I trust where every you will take me.

This is a great start Gen and I’m eager to learn more.

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