I'm not much of a coffee drinker...
I will take a bite of that bicep for breakfast. :-)
A night in London’s most exclusive bordello. Agent of the Crown Sir Martin Powell would not normally indulge, but the end of his time spying against Napoleon deserves a victory celebration. Yet, such pleasure will not come cheap. The auburn-haired courtesan he calls “Kitten” is in truth Katherine, Lady Egerton, a dowager baroness and the daughter of an earl as elusive as she is alluring. She flees a fate worse than death. But Martin has known darkness, too, and he alone can touch her heart--as she has touched his. To the English Midlands they will steal, into the rising winds of revolution.
Work under him, indeed. Typical bossy man. She’d help, but on her terms. After all, helping this annoying man would make Rhiannon safer. Her gaze slid to his muscled thighs under his black slacks, and her fingers started itching. The dark blue dress shirt only accented his dark features. He was one fine specimen, no matter how annoying. She glanced out the side window as his car sped along the Parisian streets. Hadn’t she promised herself she’d temper her attitude toward him? She exhaled a long, slow breath and forced herself to unwind.
A month. Thirty days of working with Jean-Luc. How could she stand it? Would she be able to keep her hands to herself? Could she fight the attraction? If she focused solely on business, she might stand half a chance.
“I saw on the television that the explosion was at the Metro stop near the Arc de Triomphe. The newscaster said four people were killed and many more injured.”
Jean-Luc’s jaw clenched. He snapped off the radio. “Yes, the reports are correct. Henri is at headquarters fielding the media’s many questions. He’s good with public relations. André and Bernard are on their way to the scene. First responders, of course, were there within minutes.”
“What kind of bomb did they use? How did they get it on the Metro?” Although there were security cameras mounted everywhere, there were no bag checkers. People were free to carry on whatever they liked. During her previous trips, there were mothers with strollers, dragging carry-ons instead of diaper bags. Shoppers had bags. Most young adults used backpacks.
Jean-Luc changed lanes again and turned onto a bridge, or pont as the French called them. “I’ll have more accurate news on the type of incendiary device once we get there and I see things for myself. Niko and I were part of the investigation team in London after the Metro explosion in oh-eight.”
“Is that when you both worked for Interpol?”
“Yes. You asked about the bombing site. The Metro stop for the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées is the Charles-de-Gaulle Etoile sortie, or exit. It’s always very crowded. They chose their target well if they were aiming for maximum damage.” His phone rang and he took the call.
While he spoke in rapid-fire French, she loaded a new roll of film in her camera and taped her recorder under her top. She clipped the microphone to her neckline.
Jean-Luc approached the Arc de Triomphe and stopped at a barricade set up around the area. He buzzed his window down and extended his badge, ordering the policeman to grant him access. Once the barrier was moved aside, he zipped his car beside others parked in a haphazard fashion.
“Let’s go. Stick close by in case something else happens. We have to be prepared for anything, is that clear?”
Although she had the urge to throw him some attitude, she also knew now wasn’t the time. People had died. Others were injured and horrified. She’d do what she could to help. “Tell me what you want done, and I’ll do it.” She opened the door and got out, slinging her bag over her shoulder and hanging her cameras around her neck.
Jean-Luc grabbed a bag from his trunk and, taking her hand, started jogging toward the cordoned-off Metro entrance.” I want you to take pictures of anything you see, no matter how insignificant. You’ve got good instincts, so use them. A word of warning. We don’t know if there are more bombs planted somewhere, although first respondents have searched the area.”
“I’m serious. I want Rhiannon to grow up with a mother. Understand?” They reached the concrete steps leading down to the Metro. “I’m not hearing what I want to hear.” He squeezed her hand in silent command for her response.
“You’ll have my cooperation. I promise. I’ll be careful.”
The doors at the bottom of the steps gaped open. One hung askew where it had been blown off several of its hinges—or yanked off as frightened passengers stampeded from the interior. Officers stopped them both and then flagged them onward as soon as they saw Jean-Luc’s badge.
A bank of turnstiles blocked their entry. He placed a hand on the post of one and jumped over the turnstile. Turning, he grabbed Gwen around the waist and lifted her over. They hurried toward the interior.
The normally pristine white tiles on the walls lining the many corridors were streaked with soot. Jean-Luc kept his hand on the small of her back as he hurried her through the maze of corridors. The escalator to the lower level wasn’t moving. Piles of debris carpeted the lower steps as they ran down them. She started taking pictures.
Her companion halted for a second, surveyed the scene ahead of them and cursed. On a tile next to the entrance to a loading area was a bloody handprint. She snapped several shots of it from different angles, hoping the multiple views of the handprint might give a clue as to the height of the person who left it. If the terrorist were short, then the heel of the handprint would be heavier in concentration of blood than the fingers. She panned the area, her shutter whirring as she shot pictures of everything in rapid succession.
Jean-Luc wrapped his hand around her wrist. “Let’s move on.”
They ran down the final set of steps, illuminated only by emergency lighting, and turned.
She wasn’t prepared.
Her eyes couldn’t take it all in at once. “Dear God,” she breathed.
Skeletons of white and green passenger cars sat on end, jackknifed against each other. Windows were blown out. Mangled steel polluted the loading area. Rubble of rail cars and body parts littered both sides of the tracks. Pools of blood streamed toward cracks in the concrete. Many of the gold and orange tiles on the walls of the station were blown off. Gaping holes marred the arched ceiling that was once white. Fluorescent light fixtures dangled. She shuddered and swallowed bile. I had no idea it would be so ghastly.
Huge emergency floodlights were powered by snakes of coiled cords. Firemen tugged on fire hoses, spraying down the wreckage. Shadows, moving and immobile, were everywhere. Her eyes darted from silhouette to silhouette and her skin crawled. She’d have nightmares about this. I don’t want to be here.
In the eerie silence, a controlled kind of pandemonium ensued. Medical personnel treated those less seriously injured. Gwen assumed those severely hurt had already been evacuated. Other passengers, not yet released, huddled, hugged and cried in hysteria. A few waded through the debris in silent shock, their eyes wide and vacant. Smoke blanketed the dim area. An unholy stench hung heavy in the air. She reached in her shoulder bag for a tissue to cover her nose. Her stomach lurched. I’m going to be sick.
Jean-Luc’s arm wrapped around her waist and turned her against his solid chest. “Are you okay?” His narrowed eyes surveyed the scene around them while his arm pressed her to him. He was fracturing himself for her benefit. Part of him was the comforting male; another was the expertly trained agent—no doubt observing, evaluating and developing his investigation tactics.
“Have you ever seen anything so terrible?”
He kissed her hair, almost in an absent-minded gesture. “Yes, in London.” His hand rubbed up and down her back. “Take a deep breath, sweetheart. We have work to do.”