“Tzao gao,” swore Julian Samms
under his breath, the fluid burst of Mandarin as natural as picking the
lock on the front door of Katrina Flurry’s condo.
He wasn’t worried about being caught on tape by the high-tech security
system. Even a zoom shot would show him opening the door with what looked like
Besides, though she didn’t yet know it, Katrina Flurry didn’t live
And if he didn’t get her out of Miami now, she wouldn’t be living
Spectra IT, the international crime syndicate tailor-made to employ scum like
Peter Deacon, had put out a hit on the man’s former girlfriend, using the
assassin most suited to a job involving a sexy woman and a gun: Benny Rivers.
Julian knew way too much about Benny’s penchant for abhorrent sexual torture.
The other man was an equal opportunity sadist, meaning no man, woman or sheep
was safe from the abuse and humiliation he doled out before death.
Hank Smithson, the founder and principal of the Smithson Group, had sent Julian
to make sure Katrina avoided that scenario while Mick Savin, Hank’s newest
SG-5 recruit, put his bloodhound nose to Benny’s foul trail.
If the game went according to plan and she didn’t put up an uncooperative
stink in the process, Julian would have Katrina tucked safely away thirty minutes
He knew from his surveillance that she was home; he’d hoped a simple knock
would’ve been enough to gain him entrance. But no. Either she wasn’t
opening up because she hadn’t recognized him, or because she was busy in
her closet alphabetizing her shoes by designer.
He had absolutely no problem with quality footwear; he had a problem with any
obsession resulting in waste of any kind—physical, mental, emotional, or
The fact that she could afford a real life Sex and the City wardrobe had no impact
on his opinion. But then, nothing ever did. Nothing ever would.
Not after what he’d witnessed during the two years he’d spent stationed
And on that last deadly assignment in Kenya.
He’d read several installments of her syndicated column during his mission
prep. Cosmopolitan Arm Candy. What a load of high maintenance gou shi. The fact
that she had the readership she did left him speechlessly shaking his head at
the state of female affairs.
If women thought men gave a rat’s ass about external trappings, they were
out of their air-headed minds.
Men who were real men cared about two things. A woman able to carry on an intelligent
conversation filled with innuendo and mind games who then delivered an equally
fulfilling challenge once she joined him in bed.
The make-up and jewelry and shoes and nails? Uh-uh. His experience told him those
were tools used to impress other women and for gaining an edge in the self-esteem
war games females played.
Why they felt the strangely competitive need to best one another with the superficial
trappings of class . . . he gave another shake of his head as the door came open
in his hand.
He didn’t want to walk in and find himself facing the wrong end of the
handgun registered in her name, so he knocked again as he cracked open the door. “Miss
He peered into the foyer. Whoa. Nice digs, he mused, stepping onto white-and-black
marbled Italian tile. He knew from his background research that Katrina came
from money, that her father had died while she was in high school, leaving wife
and daughter financially set for the rest of their lives.
His bitching about her wardrobe budget aside, he had to admire her taste. Talk
about quality. He’d even give her elegance. Her place deserved a spread
in Architectural Digest. He figured her square footage at two thousand at least—not
a bad bit of acreage for one person to move around in.
She went for what he supposed was classical, or traditional, the sort of décor
that didn’t exactly invite anyone to sit, to ditch their shoes, to kick
back with a beer and spend Sunday afternoon watching football—a non issue
since the room didn’t have a television and he wouldn’t fit on her
red and gold brocade camel-back sofa anyway.
You’re a moron, Samms. You’re not a fixture in her condo or in her
life. And it would never be so with any woman, a fact his subconscious was still
warring over with his logic all these years later.
A cursory walk-through of her kitchen yielded no Katrina, no dirty dishes, and
nothing on the stove. A perverse part of him wanted to check her refrigerator,
see if it was stocked with fruits, vegetables, yogurt and designer label water,
but the unsealed package of Chunky Chips Ahoy on the countertop changed his mind.
Not to mention intrigued him.
He liked the idea of this gourmet woman having a few pedestrian tastes. It made
him wonder how she’d feel about eating those cookies in bed—yet another
mental detour he had no business taking.
He made his way over the plush ivory carpet toward the private rooms of the condo. “Miss
Still nothing and, yeah. He’d been right on the mark with his earlier assessment
of the money she spent on shoes. Standing at the door to her monstrous closet,
he estimated she owned a hundred pair.
A regular mini-Imelda.
And he really shouldn’t be checking out her wardrobe, but it was either
that or the bed. The bed which made him think about those cookies and how he
could really go for a night of down and dirty sex.
He headed back to the living room and the balcony that opened over the courtyard
pool. The fitness center and tennis courts would be his next destination since
he knew she employed a housekeeper and wouldn’t be doing her own laundry
in the center’s facilities . . .
There she was, down at the pool, her back to him as she got to her feet and tugged
at a pair of bikini bottoms that sent his libido back to the idea of leaving
cookie crumbs in her bed.
She’d coiled her shoulder-length caramel-colored hair into a knot on top
of her head. He liked the length of her neck almost as much as he liked the length
of her legs.
What he wasn’t crazy over was the way she was covering up without first
turning around so he could get a full frontal view of that body. Then again,
her body was merely a perk of this job, not the reason he was here.
She looked like she was on her way back upstairs, meaning he’d do better
to intercept her on the other side of her front door. Save himself a buttload
of explaining—who he was, how he’d gotten in, what he wanted, as
well as the hassle of having to restrain her when she refused to listen.
Cookies or not, she struck him as the type to act first and ask questions a mile
or so down the damn road.
In the next second, however, the insect she’d been dodging shot his carefully
laid plans to shit when the cement planter it hit exploded. Julian whipped his
gaze to the rooftop across from where he stood.
Sunlight cast Benny Rivers’s block-like head in silhouette, glinted off
the barrel of the rifle aimed her way.
Katrina’s only saving grace for the moment was the Rivers never gave his
prey an easy time, toying with his victims, making them sweat out the wait for
Heart pounding in the base of his throat, Julian gauged the distance from the
balcony to the manicured lawn edging the poolside walk, gauged the distance to
the deep end of the crystal blue water shimmering in the sun, chose the lesser
of two evils and jumped.