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When his wife dies in his arms during a terrorist attack, American diplomat Richard Matthews walks away from diplomacy, vowing to bring to justice the man responsible or her death. His quest pits him against Robert Adler, the head of the CIA field operations. As Richard gets closer to finding a witness to testify, Adler plants Terra McIntyre to serve as Richard's assistant.
But just like black market TNT, unpredictable and volatile, Terra could bring either man down. Who is in more danger? Or is she a hazard to both.
Page Count: 546
Word Count: 133235
Washington, DC, USA—Present Day
“She’s twenty-four, business degree from Oklahoma State, capable worker.”
“I’ve read her file.” Robert Adler dismissed the voice behind him as he observed the girl through the blinds. Her hands moved with quiet efficiency over the keyboard before she walked away from her desk with grace. Though disguised by the business suit, the girl had the kind of body that could become an obsession with a man. “She’s perfect for the job.” He turned to Charles Harrison. “Get her in here.”
“Right away.” Harrison dropped the folder to his desk and hurried past Adler. “Francine, get Terra for me.”
“I’ll tell her when she comes back.” The woman continued her typing.
Harrison glanced over his shoulder at Adler. “No, get her now.”
She jumped up from her desk. “Yes, sir.”
Adler settled into Harrison’s chair. It was too low and the desktop more cluttered than he would like but would project sufficient authority toward the girl. She walked with a firm stride into Harrison’s office.
“Mr. Harrison,” she began speaking as she entered. “If you want this report done by Tuesday, I don’t have time to spare.” She slipped into the worn chair in front of the desk. With blinds closed over the windows, the only light in the room came from a small reading lamp directly in front of Adler. “I need a report from Gregory, and you know he always leaves early on Friday—”
Adler leaned forward into her view for the first time. Wide-eyed but silent, she looked around the office until she found Harrison behind her.
“Terra, this is Mr. Adler.” The name alone failed to impress her. Adler frowned. “With the CIA,” Harrison added, his face sweaty.
“Oh, yes. I knew you looked familiar.” She smiled at Adler. “You were featured in the newspaper a few weeks ago.” She hesitated as if bringing back a memory. “You’re an assistant to the director.”
She seemed as bright as the reports indicated. “Deputy Director of Operations.” He nodded at Harrison, who swallowed hard and left, closing the door behind him. Good riddance. The old fool served his purpose.
Adler studied the girl as she watched her boss flee from his own office. She glowed with youth, health, enthusiasm—and more. Beneath the tailored jacket, her silk blouse draped over a body even better than he expected. Though she appeared patient, her focused attention suggested curiosity.
“Is this about my application, Mr. Adler?”
Bold, too. “Your application to transfer to the office at Langley did come across my desk.” Her test scores and resume had piqued his interest almost as much as her photograph and the fact she had no immediate family. A more thorough background check satisfied him.
“Administrative specialist would be a promotion of two grades for me.” She met Adler’s gaze squarely. “And the work sounds more interesting than what I’m doing now.”
“I can imagine.” He opened the folder on the desk before him. “But I have a job in mind for you even more interesting than administrative specialist.”
“Oh, really.” She leaned forward.
“I realize the position for which you applied was in the business office, but we feel you may have potential as a field agent.”
“What kind of field agent?”
Adler tented his hands before him. “An agent in covert operations. As you may know, the DDO commands all field operations.” Her eyes as they met his held caution, but no fear. His chest tightened. He was suddenly certain his choice was correct. Elaine once looked at him much like this, until she met Matthews. After she met Matthews, she never really noticed anyone else again. Now, if all went as planned, this girl would become a constant reminder and a diversion to Matthews. “In fact, we have a small operation we’d like your assistance with. If you handle it well, we can make you a permanent member of the agency.”
Her raised eyebrows suggested interest. “Can you tell me a little about the operation?”
“Of course. We wouldn’t expect you to accept the assignment with so little information.” Once she began the operation, of course, things would change. Covert intelligence officers often carried out assignments with little information, to protect them and the operation itself. Four years ago in Zimbabwe, only the limited knowledge and unquestioning obedience of the Marines under his command enabled Adler to salvage an operation gone sour. Since then, he had carefully woven a safety net to disavow any blame for that situation. Loose strands appeared in the net from time to time, but he dealt with them as necessary. Now, this girl might be his most effective means to deal with still another unsecured knot. “A certain gentleman does some free-lance foreign policy analysis for us. His work is quite thorough, and he’s very knowledgeable.” He leaned forward. “Perhaps too knowledgeable. We’re not entirely comfortable with his loyalty.”
“Why not just fire him?”
“It’s not that simple.” She certainly didn’t hesitate to question him. “He’s not the big fish, he’s just a minnow, but he can lead us back to the big fish.”
“Just where do I fit into this?”
She might accept the assignment without much persuasion. “His secretary recently resigned. He’s contacted his regular employment agency for a replacement.” Adler smiled. “We’d like you to be that replacement.”
She tilted her head to the right. “How can you be certain he’ll hire me?”
“You’ll be the only candidate to apply. We’ve arranged it with the employment agency.” He opened her folder. “Your resume, which we developed from your application, is impeccable. Because it’s only a part-time job here in DC, there’s no need to justify leaving a secure government position. For a young, single woman living in an expensive city, taking a part-time job to earn extra money would not only be understandable, but expected. Naturally, you would have to remain with Mr. Harrison as a cover.”
“I thought the CIA was prohibited from domestic operations.”
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