Russia is playing mind games . . . They've changed the rules.
Can 280 characters destroy a nation?
Avery Goodyear, a romance editor from the suburbs, becomes a player in an international game of psychological warfare.
The FBI watches the attacks unfold in real time. The enemy's strategy: win hearts and minds to destroy American unity. The FBI focuses its secret weapon, ex-Army Ranger Rowan Kennedy, at the crisis.
With a PhD in propaganda, Kennedy puts everything on the line to expose the wealthy oligarchs and high-powered schemers threatening our way of life . . . and to protect Avery.
To beat the enemy at their own game, Rowan and Avery must break the rules. It only complicates things that they're falling in love.
The game is on. The set is in play. Who will win the match?
Release date: March 11, 2019
Print pages: 380
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Listen to a sample
Rowan Kennedy didn’t particularly enjoy following men into bathrooms.
They were tricky spots.
It was impossible to control for the privacy he needed to get his job done.
The slick density of the tiles amplified the noise. And it hurt like hell getting slammed into one of the edges. That had happened to Rowan only once, and it wasn’t in the line of duty. It was just some grunt who got the jump on him when he thought Rowan was hitting on his girlfriend at a bar outside of Fort Benning.
But the danger of fighting in a public bathroom was a lesson Rowan wouldn’t forget.
He pushed through the heavy men’s room door, timing his entrance to follow thirty seconds behind his contact.
He noted that this was the only exit point.
Rowan also noted the two athletic-looking guys hanging out in the hall who seemed attentive to his movements.
Inside, he stepped past the balding man with his hand on the wall, swaying drunkenly in front of the urinal, having trouble with his aim. Past the trough of sinks, back toward the stalls. Rowan paced along the bank of doors, his head tipped to the side.
After finding the pair of oxblood leather dress shoes he was looking for, Rowan moved into the stall to the right.
He sat on the toilet, lined up his foot with the partition and tapped out 3-2-3-4, thinking about the senator from Idaho who got himself arrested for soliciting homosexual sex doing something similar. Rowan would never use this technique in an American airport restroom. He didn’t even like using it here. But this was his assignment so…Tap, tap, tap.
An envelope slid toward him.
Rowan bent to pick it up, quickly fanning through the photos to make sure they would be useful. Yup, these would get the job done. He smiled as he plugged the tiny USB into his phone, sending the digital copies of the physical images back to headquarters. After the green light blinked on, telling him the transmission was complete, Rowan sealed the envelope and tucked it into the breast pocket of his tux.
The guy who’d handed off the photos hadn’t left his stall. He was humming a monotone note under his breath. Nerves.
Rowan continued with his subterfuge. He unrolled some toilet paper, stood, flushed, and counted to five before he exited to wash his hands.
The drunk was gone.
Rowan was alone in the bathroom except for the guy with the tasselled loafers sweating it out in the stall.
As he exited, Rowan noticed the line-backers were still in place as he strode up the hall, moving back toward his date.
Rowan was on a two-man team tonight.
Only, the other man was a woman.
She seemed pragmatic about her duties. Professional.
She was wearing flats rather than the typical strappy stilettos. Both sides of her evening gown were slit almost to her hips, revealing athletic legs when she’d walked up the steps to the museum.
Her hair was gathered back into a sleek ballerina bun.
While she blended well with the other ladies at the gala, to Rowan she looked like she could run and fight if need be.
Chances were pretty slim, though, that Clara would need those skills tonight. This was going to be a pretty banal asset shake.
The guy just didn’t realize he was an asset yet.
Rowan had met Clara for the first time in the cab when he picked her up outside her hotel, two hours ago.
When Rowan stretched out his hand to introduce himself, she’d batted him away. “No,” she’d said. “We have only a few minutes to get used to each other’s bodies, so we look like a couple.” Her accent had a practiced flatness to it that told Rowan she’d spent a lot of hours with a speech therapist, trying to sound convincingly American. “We can’t have any awkwardness between us. We should make out on our way to the museum, don’t you think?”
That kind of suggestion was a first for him.
Rowan didn’t mind.
“Sure,” he’d said. “We can make out on the way.” Do people even say ‘make out’ anymore?
As he leaned into the kiss, Clara had moved Rowan’s hands to her breasts and ass, letting him know those were part of the terrain he was supposed to familiarize himself with. While she, in return, stroked up and down his erection.
That snarl of traffic wasn’t a hardship.
Getting out of the cab and adjusting his clothes was a little awkward.
But she was right. By the time they moved up the museum stairs, Rowan had felt comfortable and automatic as he put his hand on her lower back to guide her and let his palm slide just south of polite, giving her a pat as they joined the line to show their invitation to the guards. Anyone who saw them would never think that they were strangers, and that he’d never know her real name.
Clara was her operational name tonight. Clara Edwards.
As Rowan moved back into the main hall from his task of gathering the compromising photographs in the men’s room, he spotted Clara contemplating a statue.
She must have felt his eyes on her, because she turned and sent him a questioning brow as he approached.
He smiled. “You look so beautiful tonight. Like a work of art that belongs in a museum.”
She put her hand on his shoulder. “You don’t look so bad yourself.” Clara slid her fingers down to his chest, resting them over the envelope in its concealed pocket, assuring herself that Rowan had been successful. “Do you see anyone you know here?” she asked as her gaze moved around the room.
“Not yet, let’s look around shall we?”
He took her hand as they walked toward the exhibit hall. Their bodies moving easily together. Rowan was going to have to remember that make-out trick.
There were a lot of people at tonight’s gala event.
Brussels was busy this week, hosting diplomats and policy makers from around the world. Tonight the museum was full of movers and shakers. So, yes, there were people he recognized, from the intelligence world, from the security world, from the political and business worlds.
But he didn’t see Sergei Prokhorov, their mark.
There was a small clutch of Americans laughing a little too loudly. They probably didn’t realize they were standing in a spot that amplified the acoustics. Their security team did. As Rowan and Clara moved forward, Thorn and Honey—a couple of operatives from Iniquus, a for hire security group—bent their heads and explained the problem.
The security team shuffled their clients to a spot nearer the stairs. It looked like the US diplomatic corps was well covered. If shit hit the fan, he and Clara might have some back up. As Rowan thought that, Thorn caught Rowan’s gaze for a nanosecond. The connection made.
Rowan experienced some discomfort with the exchange.
Who else was here that might be able to place him? Who might whisper the wrong thing into the right ear? He wondered if that would make his approach tonight more difficult.
Clara turned and tipped her head up. “Sweetheart, look there on the right. Isn’t it beautiful? Let’s go see the Madonna.”
There he was in the gallery to their right, nursing a martini and looking bored with his conversation, standing in front of a Renaissance Madonna.
Clara’s face brightened with a smile of recognition. “Sergei,” she called with delight as she patted Rowan’s arm. “Come, let me introduce you.” She disentangled her fingers and quick-stepped over to Sergei with her arms extended.
Okay. Not the way he would have done this. A little more time. A little more attention to detail. But, all right…
Sergei’s mouth formed into a plastic half-smile. He stopped blinking. He must have been combing through his memory banks, trying to figure out who this woman was.
The man who was speaking to Sergei saw Clara’s approach, lifted his glass in a parting salute, and turned to move away.
Clara grasped Sergei’s arms and came up on her toes as she planted three cheek kisses, right-left-right, as was the custom here in Belgium, while sliding into the Russian language. “I’m so glad to see you. Here, let me introduce you to my date. This is Robert Baker.” She sent a radiant smile his way then turned back to Prokhorov. “He’s an American business consultant focusing on European economic expansion.”
Rowan stuck out his hand and smiled as if he were being introduced to one of Clara’s good friends. “I’m sorry, I speak English, et je parle français. Are you comfortable with either language?”
“English is fine.” Sergei focused back on Clara and seemed relaxed enough with this situation. She tucked her hand into the crook of his arm that wasn’t holding his drink, pointed, and started walking toward a private corner by the stairs.
Sergei looked over his shoulder, and Rowan saw him make eye contact with his security detail.
Thorn, from his place on the other side of the staircase, registered their approach.
Players were on the field. And Clara seemed to be taking the lead.
So here we go.
“Tell me, how is Irenka?” Clara asked.
Rowan figured that while he was gathering the intel in the bathroom, Clara had been choosing this spot. It was almost as if she hit an X and came to a sudden stop.
“Lovely, thank you for asking. She is with her friends in Paris, shopping.”
Clara’s gaze shifted to Rowan. “Irenka is Sergei’s new wife. She’s connected to a prominent oligarch family, the Orlovs. Their money comes from a variety of projects.”
Rowan nodded with uplifted brows and pursed lips as if he found that interesting.
“Is Trinka with her, too?” Clara asked Sergei then turned to Rowan. “That’s Irenka’s daughter, and the favorite granddaughter of Alexander Orlov. Alexander is very powerful and in very tight with the Kremlin.”
Sergei gave a frown and a nod. “This is true. My father-in-law is very influential,” he told Rowan before turning back to Clara. “Trinka is at home. She has school.”
Clara opened Rowan’s jacket. “Trinka just started university this fall.” She pulled the envelope from his pocket. “Trinka is learning so many new things this year,” Clara was saying to Sergei as she focused on the envelope, ripping through the seal.
Rowan shifted his angle to block her actions from Sergei’s bodyguard.
When Clara flipped the first picture around for Sergei to see, Rowan’s stomach dropped. A young woman lay naked across a bed, her fingers tangled into Sergei’s grey curls as he went down on her. Sergei grabbed at the photo, but Clara was too fast.
She dropped her hands down, and when she brought them back up, the photo on top depicted Sergei mounting Trinka from behind, his hairy ass squeezed tight with his thrust.
The bodyguard was on the move.
Rowan couldn’t figure out why he’d been at such a distance in the first place. Then Rowan saw the second thug slide forward. Rowan was forming a plan when Honey Honig’s seven-foot frame moved into the body guard’s path. Honey looked around like he was lost.
Thorn Iverson got in the way of Sergei’s number two as he joined Honey.
“Wave off your team, Sergei. Do it now,” Rowan commanded under his breath.
“I’m fine,” Sergei called out in Russian. “All is fine.” He lifted his martini in the air like he was offering a toast.
Honey and Thorn shook hands as if greeting each other and turned to enjoy the modern nude that took up the wall just to Rowan’s left but out of ear shot. Perceptive. Helpful. Their movements a study in nonchalance, just accidentally getting in the way. Nice.
“What do you want?” Sergei’s spittle flew out with his words.
Clara threw her head back and laughed, lightly touching Sergei’s sleeve, like they were having fun, then said, “Your phone. And just for the moment.”
Clara lifted the photos. “I’ve actually never seen these. I wonder what else they’ll show.” She flipped to the next one. Long blonde hair, lips and a penis. “Oh.” She wrinkled her nose as if smelling hot garbage. “Look how thin and scrawny it is—that rat’s nest of grey hair.” She looked up to catch his gaze. “You have a pathetic dick.”
“Why do you want my phone?” Sergei asked.
“Just for a moment,” Rowan said. “Pull it out of your pocket. Open the screen.”
Clara flipped to the next photo and cocked her head to the side as she examined the image, distain pulling at her nostrils.
Sergei did as Rowan asked.
“There we go,” Rowan said. “Now pretend to show me something on your screen.”
When Rowan leaned in, he attached a cord to the bottom of Sergei’s phone, making sure to block what he was doing from view. That cord was already connected to a burner phone in Rowan’s tux pocket. Rowan swiped open an app and started to download everything from Sergei’s phone to the burner.
The burner phone immediately encrypted the information and sent it via satellite back to the bureau, while introducing spyware. Not that Sergei wouldn’t know this and toss his phone. But it was too late. That spyware already reached into his open files, into his computer, his email, his social media accounts. He was exposed. Everything about him. From now on. Unless he torched it all down and started fresh.
But whoever did that?
“Just stand there. This won’t take too long,” Clara said once again feigning a friendly air. “You can go right back to your training of Trinka.” She held up another photo. “It looks like she displeased you, but you’re a good disciplinarian.”
Rowan focused on the spectrum showing the download, but Clara shoved the picture of Sergei spanking the girl right under Sergei’s nose.
She shuffled through the rest of the photos.
Rowan could feel Sergei’s security getting uncomfortable and curious.
“Put the photos in the envelope, please, Clara,” Rowan said. The light shined green. “Put the envelope away in your purse. Sergei got the message.”
The text came through: Successful download.
“We’re all done.” Rowan pulled the cord from the bottom and handed the cell phone back to Sergei. “It was nice to meet you,” he said, clapping Sergei on the back. “I’m sure we’ll be running into each other again.” He held out his hand to Clara. “Let’s go see what they have on the buffet table, darling.”
Sergei growled, “You will regret tonight.”
And Rowan didn’t doubt him for a second.
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