Congressman John Waters stroked his hand up the silken thigh of his companion until he reached the top of her stocking, where his fingers traced bare skin. He leaned toward her and whispered in her ear so he could be heard above the blasting music. “Would you like one more drink before we leave?” Brenda Bennett sent him a practiced smile and turned her face so she could nip his earlobe with her teeth before whispering back, “Make it a Red Bull and vodka. I want to spend a long time tonight with you. I have so many delicious things I’ve been thinking of doing with you and I don’t want to chance falling asleep.” She paused, her breath warm against his ear. “Either one of us.” Her tongue teased his earlobe. “Sounds like a good plan to me,” Waters said with what he thought was a sexy leer. Brenda playfully touched his leg with the stiletto heel of her sexy red open-toe shoes. “I’ll visit the ladies’ room and make certain I’m looking my best for you.” “You always look your best,” the congressman assured his favorite companion. He patted her thigh and stood up to make his way through the crowd to the bar. Brenda glanced to her left, her eyes meeting the woman seated at the table adjacent to hers, giving the briefest of nods. Both got up and made their way through the crowd to the bathrooms.
The Dungeon was the hottest club in town, where only the elite came together for two purposes—making deals and playing bondage games to get laid. Brenda made very certain her clients went away happy and returned often with very large pocketbooks. She was always especially happy to see the congressman because she was always paid double. Brenda smiled at the woman who followed her inside, but prudently remained silent while they both checked the stalls to ensure they were alone before they spoke. “I got your call, Sheila. Getting Waters here tonight wasn’t easy on such short notice. He had some big thing going on with his wife. You have to tell Whitney to give me more of a heads-up when something is this important to him.” Sheila shrugged. They both knew it didn’t matter in the long run how difficult the task was.
Their boss made obedience well worth it. “Whitney wants you to make absolutely certain our good congressman goes through with his vote to approve the research on his new weapon.” Sheila Benet handed Brenda the thick envelope, retaining possession when Brenda eagerly closed her fingers around it. “Don’t fail, Brenda,” she warned. “He doesn’t accept failure.” “Have I ever failed him?” Brenda asked, her dark eyes glittering with anger. “I have never failed him. You remind him that every name he’s ever given me, I’ve found a way to seduce or blackmail them into doing what he wants. I can read weakness, and although he hates working with women because we’re so damned inferior, he won’t find too many men who can do what I do. You just tell him that, Sheila.
” Sheila raised her eyebrow, still retaining possession of the envelope. “Do you really want me to tell him all that?” Brenda pressed her lips together tightly, but caution tamped down some of her anger. “I work hard for him. The one time I told him not to press Senator Markus, he insisted, and even then, when I knew what was going to happen, I still found his weakness. Rather than be blackmailed, he killed himself, just like I said he would. Whitney needs to place a little more value on me as a resource, that’s all I’m saying.” Sheila gave her a brief, cold smile as she allowed her fingers to slide away from the envelope, leaving it in Brenda’s hand. “That’s probably the very reason why he padded your pay, Brenda. Perhaps you might consider that he’s a brilliant man who rewards those useful to him. He had no choice but to call you when Waters seemed to be wavering on his vote.
Make certain the good congressman doesn’t even consider letting him down.” Brenda pushed the thick envelope into her purse and gave Sheila a smirk. “No worries. I’ve recorded every single session with the honorable, upstanding John Waters and I don’t think he would ever want the things he’s done to come to light—not with his uptight wife and righteous, churchloving family so vocal about all things sinful. He’ll do whatever Dr. Whitney needs him to do.” “You have a pretty good thing going here, Brenda,” Sheila said. “You get paid by Whitney and by the mark.” Her eyes went glacier cold. “Don’t blow it.
” Abruptly she turned and went into the nearest stall, slamming the lock into place to signal she was done. She’d given her warning and if Brenda chose to bitch again—well, that was between her and Whitney. But people who crossed him generally had a way of disappearing fast. Brenda hummed to herself, a slight smile on her face. She adjusted her silk blouse so that it was just open enough to reveal the enticing rounded curves. The material fell nicely over her nipples, pushed up by the camisole she wore beneath the silk. She glanced down to get her bright red lipstick from her purse. The water in the sink suddenly turned on. Her gaze jumped to the steady stream of water. She shrugged and looked up, uninterested in why the automatic faucet would have been triggered.
In the mirror, just behind her, she was startled to see the face of a woman standing very close to her. There was no sound at all. She had time to register a waterfall of platinum blond hair and Asian features. A hard blow to the back of her skull sent her head forward, slamming her into the edge of the sink. She felt nothing at all as blackness descended. Brenda’s body slipped to the tiled floor from the edge of the basin. With gloved fingers, the woman threw a handful of water onto the floor around Brenda’s feet and the soles of her shoes, crouched to snap one stiletto heel, and jerked the envelope from Brenda’s purse, all in one smooth, silent move. As she stood, she removed a tiny camera placed just over the mirror and seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye. “Brenda?” Sheila called out tentatively. The water continued to run in the sink.
Sheila frowned and glanced under the door of the stall. Brenda was lying on the floor. “Brenda?” she said again, her voice cracking. There was no answer, only the sound of the water running. Sheila continued to stare under the door, frozen in place. She couldn’t see any other feet, but Brenda’s shoe was off her foot, the heel broken. A thin stream of red ran along the cracks, moving in an ever-widening puddle. She gasped and jumped up. Behind her the toilet automatically flushed and she nearly screamed. Very slowly, with the tips of her fingers, she pushed open the door and peered out.
Brenda lay on the floor, the front of her skull smashed from where she had slipped on the water. Her clothes, instead of looking sexy and tempting, revealed her for what she was—a highly paid prostitute, her body obscenely displayed there on the bathroom floor. Swearing under her breath, Sheila quickly took toilet paper and opened Brenda’s purse to retrieve the envelope of cash. It was gone. Her heart jumped. Whitney would never believe her. The money had to be on the body somewhere, and she had to find it or he’d think she stole it. That would be just like him. She crouched down beside Brenda and looked her over. There didn’t seem to be a place she could have concealed the envelope.
Voices just outside the door had her jumping up and backing away, back toward the stall door. She let out a scream and stood, covering her mouth, her gaze frantically searching the body as the bathroom door burst open and three women came to an abrupt halt and added their voices to hers. At once chaos erupted. Harry Barnes, aide to Senator Lupan, scowled as he pushed his BMW to the limit on the curved mountain road. Why in the hell had Sheila Benet picked such a ridiculous place for a meeting? There were plenty of safe places downtown where civilization reigned. He was allergic to grass. To bugs. To stupid cows. He was finally about to score with the woman he’d been chasing for three straight months and he wasn’t going to blow his chance because Sheila had suddenly gotten paranoid. They could meet under the nose of the senator and the old man wouldn’t notice.
He punched a button and music flooded the car. He set his teeth as he glanced at his GPS. Another three miles. Stupid, stupid woman. Maybe he could call and his date would understand he’d be an hour late. Sheila had said not to make any calls, that if someone was on to them, they’d pick up his cell phone call. Damn. He slammed his flat palm against the steering wheel in pure frustration. No one was on to them. Why should they be? How could they be? And no one would dare to monitor his cell phone.
“Friggin’ Sheila,” he snapped and ordered his phone to call the sexy Miss Catherine. She looked very good in her prim little pencil skirts and red silk blouses as she sat behind a desk, her long hair coiled in that uptight little bun. He had images of unwrapping her like a Christmas gift stuck in his head and until he made it happen, he couldn’t move on. He talked for the next couple of minutes, persuading her to wait for him, that he’d make it worth her while. He hung up feeling smug, tossing the phone onto the passenger seat. Using the senator as an excuse was genius. What woman wouldn’t be impressed that he was so indispensable to a senator that he couldn’t get away until the senator was ready to call it quits and go home? Smirking, he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, pleased with himself. “That’s how it’s done,” he told himself aloud and grinned at his reflection in the rearview mirror. For a few moments there, he’d forgotten how good he was at playing the game. Now that he knew for certain his evening’s fun wasn’t lost, his mood swung back to cheerful—after all, Whitney was going to pay him handsomely for keeping the old senator in line.
Not hard to do at all these days. It only took a little work on his knees and the man was putty in his hands. Sheila Benet’s car was parked to one side exactly at the mile marker she’d told him, leaving enough room for him to pull over. He slipped out of the car and stretched. It was a beautiful night, the stars overhead and a half-moon shining brightly down on them. “Hey, Sheila, how’s it going?” he greeted as he sauntered over to her car. “Nice night for all this cloak-and-dagger drama.” Sheila stuck her head out the window. Her car was still running. “No one followed you?” “I don’t think there’s a cow alive on this road tonight.
I haven’t seen headlights in the last fifteen minutes.” He resisted rolling his eyes as he held out his hand for the fat envelope. “Senator Lupan will do exactly as I ask him. Tell Whitney he has no worries on that score. The old man can barely breathe without his oxygen. I keep him isolated and happy. He has no family; there’s only me, and no one realizes just how bad that last stroke really was. He relies very heavily on me now.” “He can’t step down until this is done, Harry,” Sheila reiterated as she placed the envelope in the aide’s out-stretched palm. “No worries.
He’ll hang in there, if for no other reason than for something to do. He’s sick, but his mind is active and he needs the interaction and the adulation his position provides. I stroke his ego and a few other things for him and he falls right into line.” Harry flashed her his most charming smile. “It’s all good, Sheila. He’ll vote the way we want him to. I guarantee it.” “Would you bet your life on it?” Sheila asked with a snide curl of her lip. Harry’s smile faded as he turned away from her in disgust. Sheila Benet was a coldhearted bitch.
He’d never once failed Dr. Whitney. It didn’t matter how distasteful the task was, he got it done. Just because Sheila had the mad doctor’s ear didn’t make her so damn high and mighty. As many years as he’d been working for Whitney and taking the payoffs from Sheila, one would think she would have tried to be a little friendly. “Harry.” Sheila had followed him to his car. “It doesn’t pay in this business to get overconfident. Anyone can be bought. We got to you, didn’t we?” Harry gave her a black scowl and tossed the thick envelope of bills in his glove box in disgust, not bothering to count the money.
It was always right. He started his car and then slammed the door closed, flipped Sheila off, and took off fast, leaving her standing there. “Stupid, uptight woman, probably hasn’t gotten laid in ten years,” he snapped and glanced in his rearview mirror to see that she’d just gotten into her car. When he looked toward the road, there was a woman sitting beside him—small, Asian features, hair covered by a tight skullcap. She grabbed the wheel with gloved hands and jerked hard, sending the BMW straight over the cliff, plunging into the deep gorge below. Tree limbs hit the window, smashing the glass, and the car hit another treetop on the way down and began to roll. He shouted, his hoarse voice steadily cursing, although he had no idea what he was saying. When he managed to look again, he was alone in the car—the woman a figment of his imagination. Sheila saw Harry’s car abruptly turn straight for the cliff and drive right off of it as she pulled to the shoulder of the road. She slammed on her brakes, her heart pounding.
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” she chanted. Her mouth went dry. With shaking hands she drove to the edge of the road where the car had gone over and climbed out. It was a long way down. Whitney hadn’t been happy about losing Brenda, a key member of his pipeline to Washington, and he really would be upset if Harry was dead. No one else had ever managed Lupan. The senator believed his aide was the only constant in his life who cared about him. He’d be lost without Harry. She couldn’t imagine him doing anything but staying in bed if Harry really died.
She had no choice but to try to make her way down there and see if he was still alive. Cursing both Whitney and Harry under her breath, she changed from heels to her running shoes, put her hazard lights on, and made her way carefully to the edge. The terrain was very steep in some places but with a little work she could make her way down. She slipped several times and cursed the two men over and over when she had to half sit to get over one spot. Glass was everywhere, scattered around the wreckage of the car. Thankfully she heard moaning. Harry was alive. Breathing a sigh of relief, she clawed her way to the overturned car. Harry hung upside down, blood dripping from his head. His eyelids fluttered and he stared at her with pleading eyes.
Without touching him, she considered her next move. Harry was dying. Blood pumped from a gash on his leg and one side of his head appeared to be caved in. “Sorry, Harry,” she said, surprised she actually meant it. She stumbled her way around the car and, tearing a strip of cloth from her shirt, she pushed what remained of the passenger door open wider so she could lean in without allowing her body to touch anything. It wouldn’t be good to be found at another accident scene. Ignoring Harry’s moans, she opened the glove compartment. There was no envelope. The money was gone. Anger surged through her, followed by an adrenaline rush of sheer terror.
She had to find that money. If she went back to Whitney a second time, reported an accident had killed another in his pipeline to Washington, and that the first installment of the payoff was once again missing, she was dead. He would kill her. She knew him. Whitney didn’t allow mistakes. She swore out loud. “Where is it, Harry? The money. You’re bleeding to death. If you want my help, tell me where the money is.” Harry’s gaze shifted to the empty glove compartment.
He looked shocked. There was no doubt in Sheila’s mind he thought it would be there. She shifted out of the car as he gurgled, a little repulsed as blood trickled from his mouth. She didn’t like blood. She’d ordered kills many times, on Whitney’s behalf, but she didn’t actually get her hands dirty. She could hear his breathing, a death rattle now, and bile rose. The money was gone. Where, she had no idea, but it was gone. She couldn’t search that wreckage of a car; like in the bathroom a couple of weeks earlier, the money had disappeared. No officer had reported finding an envelope of money when Brenda’s body had been taken to the coroner.
She backed away from the crumpled car and the smell of death. All she wanted to do was run, but with her heart pounding so hard, she stood frozen. Wind rustled leaves in the trees and moved brush so that limbs swayed and creaked. A chill went down her spine. She looked around, suddenly afraid. The night had eyes and she couldn’t be seen. She tried to run, a small sob escaping. She slipped and began to claw her way up the steep incline, more afraid than she’d ever been in her life—and for the first time it wasn’t Whitney she was afraid of. Major Art Patterson whistled softly as he ran down the steps of the Pentagon. The sky had turned dove gray, not quite dark yet not light.
He loved the time of day when the sun and moon came together. He glanced upward. A few stray clouds drifted lazily by, but were so thin the stars already out had no trouble shining. He grinned up at the moon and stars as he hurried to his car. Life was good. He enjoyed working for his boss. General Ranier was a four-star general, tough as nails but fair. The program the general was responsible for was one Patterson believed in. The GhostWalkers were men and women trained in every type of warfare possible, in every terrain, in water, in air, in every type of weather. They were the elite of the elite.
He thought of them as “his” team. He should have been a GhostWalker. He would have made a great leader, and working for Ranier allowed him to play a very large part. He knew he was a great asset to the GhostWalker program. He drove a showy little silver Jaguar, racing through the streets toward his meeting with Sheila Benet. She seemed so cool, but she flashed fire when they came together. She liked the uniform and the power he wielded, and he liked melting all that cold ice. He stroked the black leather seats almost lovingly. Yeah, he had the good life. Just because he didn’t show psychic ability didn’t mean he wasn’t a true GhostWalker.
Whitney had recognized his abilities and just how useful he was to the program. Ranier had turned on Whitney, believing he’d gone too far when his experiments on young orphaned girls came to light, but the general hadn’t looked with an open mind. Patterson had tried hard to convince him of the truth—those girls were throwaways. No one wanted them in any of the countries where Whitney had found them. Had he not taken them, they would have ended up on the streets as prostitutes. At least they served a greater purpose. Whitney gave the girls clean beds and food. Most were grown now, and Patterson had seen the facilities once where they were housed, and the conditions were very nice. The women were all educated and spoke multiple languages, had all been trained as soldiers and shaped into useful members of society. The general loved his GhostWalker program and fought for it with every breath in his body, but he blamed Whitney for tainting its reputation.
No one wanted the experiments to come to light, but they’d been necessary and Patterson believed in what Whitney was doing 100 percent. The major parked in the second-story parking garage at the mall. He rarely went to malls, but Sheila had insisted they be out in the open, in a very public place. She seemed far more nervous than usual, which was unlike her. He whistled as he made his way to the escalator to take it down to the first floor where he was meeting her in the little French coffee shop. At least the coffee was good. She was already sitting at a small table in a corner, which afforded them a little privacy. She was dressed in her usual style, that pencil-thin skirt that showed off her hips and long legs, so elegant in stockings and high heels. There was nothing cheap about Sheila Benet. She was class all the way.
He liked sitting across from her in any public situation. She was a woman who turned heads with her hair in the upswept twist and her prim-and-proper short suit jacket that hugged the full curves of her breasts and small waist. She reminded him of the pinup girls from the forties with her red lipstick and shapely figure. He bent to brush a kiss along her temple in greeting. He was always careful when he touched her never to take it too far that she could object. He wanted her always wanting that little bit more from him. She was the type of woman who could never fully be in the seat of power or her man would lose her. He wasn’t a permanent kind of man, but the affair was fun and ensured his favor with Whitney. He often idly wondered if Whitney slept with her, but she was very close-mouthed on the subject. “You usually prefer to meet in dark places,” he greeted.
“What’s up, Sheila? You said it was urgent and you wanted to come somewhere very public. Is there some problem?” “I don’t know,” she replied in a low voice. Behind her sunglasses her eyes moved restlessly, surveying the crowded shop. “Maybe. There have been unexplained accidents lately, and I don’t want to take a chance that you might be one of them.” He had never seen Sheila shaken or he wouldn’t have taken the threat seriously. “I can take care of myself, honey, but thanks for the heads-up. I’ll be careful.”