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Award-winning author Cherry Adair broke thrilling new ground with On Thin Ice–her stunning romantic suspense hardcover debut. Now Cherry’s turning up the temperature, amping up the action, and raising the degree of danger and desire to irresistibly hot new heights.
Diamonds–jewels of every kind, in fact–are Taylor Kincaid’s best friends. The only thing she enjoys more is the challenge of stealing them, at which she excels like few others in the world. And specializing in plundering precious stones from wealthy international criminals just makes it all the more satisfying . . . and dangerously exciting. So for Taylor, there’s no resisting the double allure of snatching the elusive Blue Star diamonds–a prize she has pursued across three continents–from the South American stronghold of the murderous Morales terrorist organization.
The heist goes down without a hitch. Until Taylor discovers she has made off with more than she bargained for, namely the secret security-system codes that provide access to a South African diamond mine–packed with enough gems to sink a battleship. Suddenly, Taylor’s no longer just an ultrachic freelance jewel thief, but a reluctant player in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game against elite global trouble-shooters and bloodthirsty terrorists.
There’s nothing reluctant, however, about Huntington St. John, the top T-FLAC operative who’s hot on Taylor’s trail. And in Taylor’s opinion, just plain hot. The feeling, emotional and otherwise, is very mutual. Though they’re on opposite sides of the law, Hunt and Taylor swiftly come to appreciate each other’s well-honed skills. But since ecstasy is fleeting, and diamonds are forever, Taylor soon slips from the sheets and hits the streets . . . to reclaim the jewels she stashed overseas. And true to his name, Hunt is close behind–but this time, he’s after more than the codes. With the clock ticking, and two groups of terrorists closing fast, they’ll have to mix pleasure with some very risky business. If they can survive danger at every turn, outwit the ultimate high-tech security system, and somehow conquer each other . . . they just might get everything they desire.
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USA Today bestseller Cherry Adair has garnered numerous awards for her innovative action-adventure novels which include On Thin Ice, Out of Sight, In Too Deep, Hide and Seek, and Kiss and Tell. A favorite of reviewers and fans alike, she lives in the Pacific Northwest where she is at work writing the next T-FLAC mission.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
August 10 San Cristóbal South America
Dressed in black, shrouded by the night, T-FLAC opera- tive Huntington St. John melded with the darkness of the fetid alley behind the adobe jail. Night vision glasses made it possible to observe every inch of the inky interior of the cell through a narrow barred window high in the wall.
Where in the hell was the prisoner?
It had taken six long, bloody months to discover this woman’s identity. Six months, and the considerable resources of the counterterrorist organization Hunt worked for. It hadn’t been easy, by God, and he was not leaving without her.
He needed a thief. Someone resourceful, cunning, and unscrupulous. Someone at the top of his game. Hunt wanted the best. Nothing less would do.
Determined to find the right thief, T-FLAC’s crack team had scrutinized past burglary victims for the last five years. Limiting their search to individuals, or companies, with collections of fine gems who had the most sophisticated, advanced security systems. They’d compiled lists comprising thousands upon thousands of names. They’d cross-matched friends of the victims, relatives, staff, and lifestyle to find a common denominator.
Three hundred names had cross-matched, and 118 people appeared on more than six lists. A deep background check on those suspects turned up an interesting anomaly. Seventeen of the women had identical, or nearly identical, backgrounds. Or, rather, one woman had seventeen identities.
No one, other than himself and a few select T-FLAC operatives, even knew the thief was a woman. They’d finally connected the dots.
Hunt had his thief.
But where the hell was she?
An hour after ascertaining who she was, and with an educated guess, where she might be, he was wheels up and headed for South America. It was highly suspect that she just happened to be in the very city he needed her to be in. San Cristóbal.
In flight he’d knew she’d robbed José Morales followed by a quick arrest minutes before he touched down in San Cristóbal.
So, it was a fait accompli.
A quick, thorough search of her hotel room revealed nothing. Not a hint, not a clue. No surprise there. She never left clues. Ever. Which is why it had been so fucking hard to discover who she was in the first place.
This woman wasn’t merely extraordinarily good at what she did, she was a phenomenon. And fearless.
She was the one he wanted. And by God, he’d have her. Even if, as he suspected, she’d been hired by someone else.
Despite intel to the contrary, her absence from the cell could be explained by one of three options: she’d been moved to another location, the other party had already extracted her, or she’d been killed.
Now that would be bloody inconvenient all around. He’d already invested enough time and energy. He wasn’t about to start looking for someone else now.
Suddenly, footsteps echoed down a hallway. Clear, loud, deliberate. Two pairs—heavy, booted. And the odd, incongruous sound of chains rattling, like something out of a bad horror film.
One of the guards kicked open the cell door. It slammed against the adobe wall and let in muted light from the hallway to illuminate the cramped cell. “This time, bruja,” the jailer threatened in Spanish, “you will not get free.”
Hunt’s mouth flattened into a thin line as he took in the tableau in the doorway.
Trussed up in chains, the woman couldn’t brace herself as the guards flung her through the open door and onto the floor with a thud. Her head bounced on the cement and she let out a startled grunt of pain.
Hunt bit back a curse. This was precisely why he disliked women involved in missions. They were vulnerable and easily broken. He hated like hell seeing someone soft and delicate hurt.
The chains wrapped around her sounded almost musical as she rolled across the floor, until, stopped by the opposite wall, she lay still.
The two guards observed their prisoner for a few minutes from the doorway, speculating in rapid-fire Spanish as to whether the woman was a witch. Or worse. So, she’d attempted an escape, had she? He shook his head. Nice try, but no cigar, sweetheart. This prison built on the outskirts of town housed political prisoners, as well as the dregs of humanity. No one, including apparently a pro like her, had ever escaped.
Hunt was about to change that.
Listening to the conversation between the guards, Hunt shook his head. She’d given it her best shot five times. 5-0 wasn’t a great track record, but it sure took guts. No wonder the men were pissed. No wonder they had a mile of bicycle chain wrapped around her body, and God only knew how many gleaming new padlocks fastened down her back. She’d be lucky to draw in an unrestricted breath, let alone stand.
The metal door clanged shut and the key ground harshly in the lock. Sorry to disappoint, hombres, but she’s mine. He listened to the guards’ footsteps retreat down the hallway toward the front of the jail.
The crunch of tires on gravel drifted between the buildings down the narrow alley where he waited. Headlights strobed over the single-story structures as cars and trucks pulled into the unseen parking lot of the seedy nightclub across the alley behind the jail.
Vehicle doors slammed. Glass clinked. Laughing voices rose. A band tuned up their instruments. The door of the dive opened and slammed. Opened and slammed. Opened, letting out the raucous sounds of the crowd warming up for the evening. All music to Hunt’s ears.
He knew the bar would soon be packed to the rafters. The band would be loud enough to deafen anyone within a hundred yards, and the secondhand smoke would make a five-pack-a-day smoker look like a piker. This was almost too easy.
The night air felt thick and oppressive. Not even a glimmer of a star broke the blackness of the sky overhead. San Cristóbal in midsummer was not for the fainthearted. He’d been here several years ago on another op. The sprawling city on the edge of the rain forest was too damn crowded for his liking. Known for its topless beaches and raunchy night life, it wasn’t one of Hunt’s favorite places.
The atmosphere was a South American version of spring break—noise, people, skin, and excessive drinking. The combination usually turned things ugly before midnight. It was a quarter till.
In the distance, a dog’s barks turned to mournful howls. A car backfired. Lights continued strafing the roofline as more vehicles turned into the parking lot of the club. A steel guitar riffed in a jangle of bad chords, followed by the thump of sticks on the drum as the band continued its warm-up.
The chains wrapped around the woman chinked. Good. If she could move, she wasn’t too badly hurt. As far as Hunt was concerned, as long as she could talk and think long enough to tell him what he wanted to know, that was sufficient.
In theory, he had no problem with her captivity.
She was where thieves belonged.
But not where he needed her to be for the moment.
Oblivious to the muggy heat causing his dark shirt to stick to his back, he gave a quick tug to the clamps he’d hooked to the bars earlier, making sure they were secure. A clever T-FLAC invention, the device, small enough to fit in his pocket, it consisted of a complex series of pulleys and thin metal cable, and needed very little pressure to act as a fulcrum.
The band segued into their first number. What the group lacked in talent they made up for in volume. The ruckus from the club would drown out all but an atomic bomb.
“Thanks,” Hunt muttered dryly as he exerted the small hand movement necessary to activate the tool. Inside the cell the chinking of the chains abruptly stopped.
He stepped aside as window frame, bars, and chunks of plaster came out of the old adobe wall with a grinding thunk.
What,” the icy voice in Theresa Smallwood’s ear dripped fury, “do you mean there was nothing there? You arranged for the arrest immediately when she got back to her hotel, like I told you, didn’t you?”
Sweat pooled in the small of Theresa’s back as she pressed the receiver against her ear. The sound of the long-distance-distorted voice crawled over her skin like the tiny feet of a dozen spiders. The cramped phone booth stunk of pee, sweat, and fear. Theresa was responsible for two out of the three.
She shuddered, knuckles white as she clenched the receiver, and forced herself to respond. Forced her voice to remain steady. Competent.
“No more than three seconds,” she assured her boss. She prayed she didn’t sound as scared as she felt. They both knew how important this assignment was.
How dare that fucking thief put her life in danger? Theresa thought, still shaken with anger. She’d asked the girl to work for her. She’d offered to pay her, and pay her well, to retrieve the contents of Morales’s safe. Which, for Christ’s sake, she was going to do anyway. The girl refused Theresa flat out.
Theresa swallowed fear-thick spit. “She’d barely closed the door when the Federales grabbed her.” She hadn’t had a chance to hide anything. And Christ knew, she was too damn slick to have gone to all that trouble to hand it over to the police.
Theresa had waited a few minutes to make sure no one saw her, then tossed th...
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