Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sin is Not a Four-Letter Word by Aliyah Burke

They say the winds of change blow when you least expect it. What the hell did they know? Mace Dylan frowned as the cold January wind bit into his skin, sinking deep beneath his clothes and into his bones like icicles.

“Range?” he muttered, knowing the people on the other end were warm.

“Five hundred meters,” a hushed voice reached his inner ear where the device sat. There was a microphone placed against his throat so he could whisper and be heard as if he was standing next to them and speaking normally.

“Copy.” He rolled his shoulders to get some stiffness out of his muscles.

The wind increased in intensity, making him squint despite the mirrored sunglasses he wore. Damn, it’s cold!

“Two hundred and fifty meters.” That same quiet voice reached his ear. Normally, the feminine voice held a sensual and teasing note to it, but right now, it was all business.

Mace blinked and imagined himself somewhere warm. A lush female body curled up next to his, giving him pleasure. Heat all around him instead of this damn cold.

Almost as if the woman knew what he was thinking she sent another word along the wire. “Focus.”

His light brown eyes snapped with indignation. He had never lost focus on a job. Okay, once -- but that was a long time ago. “Intercepting.” With a lithe move, he rose from the bench he had been sitting on and headed off through the park. Soon his long strides had him blending in with the other people who moved through Groznyy, the capital of the republic of Chechnya, Russia.

“Directly ahead. Gray hat, blue jacket, and black pants.” The voice informed him.

Like that’s not what most of the people in this place are wearing. “Got him.” Amazing what modern technology can do. The tracker that was in his wallet was releasing a signal that was picked up by a receiver in his glasses. The man he followed strolled easily; clearly oblivious to the transponder he carried.

His hands were shoved in his pocket as he sidestepped to avoid an older woman moving slowly before him. That move put him just where he needed to be.

Mace bumped into the man he was after and reached out to steady him. “Excuse me,” he said in Chechen.

The man grunted and turned to say something and found himself with a gun in the side.

“What the …?”

“Keep moving, nice and slow,” Mace warned.

Together they walked down a side street and into a dark building. Mace led him up the steps and into a room crowded with five other people.

With a small grin, Mace closed the door and shoved the man deeper into the room. As much as he hated the long process of the stakeout, he loved bringing in a terrorist. That’s what you did when you were a member of the GDS.

The GDS, or Global Defense Squad, answered to no one. Many didn’t even recognize its existence. The GDS had access to all the other agencies’ files but no one had access to its files. The squad hunted terrorists all over the world, but in particular the ones who threatened the United States of America.

Sonia Clarkston, his supervisor and lover, looked over at him. Her dark blonde hair was swept back in a tight bun, making her look her part of cold boss lady. Her tan skin shone in the iridescent light of the room and her big green eyes narrowed as she looked at the man before him.

“Who the hell is that?” her soprano voice demanded. “That’s not Vladenski.”

Mace spun the guy around and yanked off the cap. Greasy, straw yellow hair flopped in his eyes. His breath left him in a hiss. It wasn’t Vladenski. “What the hell happened? Who had recon on him?” His body tightened as he tried to get his anger under control.

No one said a word, so Mace ground out. “Well don’t look at me, I was in the goddamn park all morning. Why couldn’t someone tell that it wasn’t Vlad?” He began stalking around the room after thrusting the unknown man onto a ratty couch.

All eyes turned to Enrique who shook his head. “Hey,” he complained. “It’s not my fault. The dude’s wearing a hat and it’s not exactly summer outside. He’s all bundled up from a distance he looked like Vlad. Mace never said anything about not being able to track the signal, so why wouldn’t I think it was Vlad?” He looked at Mace, but saw only his reflection in the mirrored lenses.

Mace noticed the shudder that crossed Enrique’s body, despite the conviction of his words. He wasn’t about to offer up any slack, he was pissed they hadn’t nabbed the right guy.

Sonia stood up, all six feet of her toned body, and moved toward the man glaring on the couch. “Who the hell are you?”

The man spit on her. Before it had time to settle on her black suede jacket, she backhanded him with a fisted hand and sent him flying back against the couch. “I wouldn’t do that again, if you want to keep those little dangling things between your legs,” she said in an emotionless voice.

The men in the room shifted. They knew that she would do just that and not even blink. Mace ignored her threat and walked back over to the man with a bright red mark on the side of his face. Removing his glasses, he put them in his coat pocket.

He reached out with one hand and lifted the smaller man right off the plaid cushion. “Who the fuck are you? Don’t screw with me. I’m cold, hungry and really want to get out of this place.”

The look of defiance filled the other man’s face as he just stared back at Mace. “Nothing you do could be worse than what he would do if I talked.”

A blankness filled Mace’s face. Opening his hand, he allowed the man to fall back to the couch. “You’re right. But just think about what would happen when we put you away in prison and leak it that you spilled your guts about Vlad and all his dealings.”

The pale face grew even paler. “You can’t do that,” he stuttered in Chechen.

A cold glint grew in Mace’s light brown eyes, making them shine. “Yes, I can. And you will be locked away with some of the worst men in history.”

Sonia leaned in and hissed, “And we’ll release that you raped one of the inmate’s daughters.”

The others in the room nodded their heads at that. Enrique added, “You know they will turn you into their bitch and kill you slowly, while you are forced to pleasure them.”

“But…but…you are officers of the law.”

Mace lifted one shoulder and let it fall. “Your point being?”

The man leaned forward and covered his face with his hands. “Okay. I’ll tell you.”

Mace and Sonia grabbed metal chairs and straddled them facing the small man. “Let’s start with who the hell you are,” Mace suggested.

“My name is Stolski, Dima Stolski. Vlad is gone. He has left Chechnya and is on his way to find...” His eyes darted around the room.

“Where?” Mace demanded, noticing how Stolski’s jaw clenched.

“He said he was going to find Cicero,” Stolski admitted in a resigned voice.

Sonia and Mace glanced at each other. Cicero had been eluding the GDS for years. Many years.

The sound of choking snapped their attention back to Stolski. “No!” Mace shouted as he lunged forward, trying to pry the man’s mouth open. “Give me the counteragent,” he ordered as he tried to get the stuff out of Stolski’s mouth.

“It’s too late, Mace,” Sonia said as she crouched beside him. “He’s dead.”

Stolski’s eyes were rolled back in his head. A line of frothy white foam dribbled from his half-opened mouth.

“Damn it. He did it; he took a goddamn cyanide pill.” Mace shoved the dead man away from him.

“Well, at least we know where Vlad is going,” Sonia grumbled as she rose. “Let’s get this shit packed up, and get out of here.”

“No,” Mace countered. “No one knows where Cicero is. The man’s a damn ghost. And no one has the means to get to him.”

Sonia nodded as she continued to pack up the surveillance equipment. Mace noticed she remained quiet. It was uncharacteristic of her. He wondered …

Once they were on the plane heading back to the United States, she approached him. The others were sleeping, but not Mace; he was reading over the report he would file.

“How are you doing?” she asked as she sat beside him. Her long fingers reached out to rest on his tanned arm. Mace always looked so damn good with his darker coloring. He was half Native American and half white. On him, the combination had created a beautiful man. His skin was continually tanned, no matter what time of year, or where in the world they were. She was jealous of that fact. His hair was thick and dark brown. Depending on the light, it could have hints of red or blond in it. It was blond for this assignment. He was gorgeous.

She was glad they were fucking, even if she was his superior, but there were times she wanted more from their relationship. It was no secret around the office they were sleeping together, but no one said a word since she never gave him leniency on a job. In fact, most of the time she was harder on him than the others in their team.

Mace barely looked up at her from the papers in his strong hands. “I’m fine, just pissed that we lost Vlad.” His attitude showed that he wasn’t in the mood for her ministrations.

“I know a way we can find him.” Sonia removed her hand from his arm. He was in a mood, but that wasn’t unusual for him. Mace didn’t like to lose.

“How the hell are we going to find him if he is with Cicero and we have no way of finding out where or who Cicero is?”

“There is a way,” she insisted.

Dropping the papers in his lap, he turned his golden brown eyes to the woman next to him. “And that would be?”

With a deep breath, Sonia met and held his gaze. “Sinjin.”

The world dropped out from under him. Mace would have collapsed if he hadn’t already been sitting. His mouth moved but nothing came out.

Sinjin. The one woman who had been his downfall. She had snowed him good. He thought she was a victim like the others, but it turned out she had played him just like she played everyone. The day before they were to move in and capture Cicero, he had been tipped off; and when Mace and the rest of the GDS agents had burst in on the scene all they found was Sinjin.

She had pled, begged, and sworn she was innocent, but his fury at finding a picture of her in bed with Cicero had hardened his heart toward her pleas. So he had refused to speak on her behalf after they arrested her. She had spent the past six years in an isolated prison in Iceland. A prison called Ferð Endir, Journey’s End.

Sinjin had been a mercenary. One of the best. When she had refused, for whatever reason, to give up Cicero, the GDS had not been lenient with her. She had been wiped from the radar. All her files had been destroyed, and for them she didn’t exist.

Not wanting to see her, Mace asked, “Are you sure that would be wise? After what happened between her and the GDS, why would she be willing to help out?”

Sonia watched his reactions. “She doesn’t have to agree. If she gets implanted with a chip we could track her. The reason she is where she is, is because Ferð Endir was the only place we knew he couldn’t break her out of. But I am positive that he is watching that place for who comes and goes.”

Mace remained stoic. “So we will use her as bait. What if she tells him of the implant?”

Sonia shook her head. “Nope, she wouldn’t know of it. It would be implanted when she was getting a doctor’s visit.”

“Sounds like you already talked it over with your superiors. Why are you telling me? If this is the way you are going, it will have nothing to do with me.”

“We want to see if she will cooperate first. If she is willing to do this, we will wipe the slate clean. She will be allowed to resume her old life.”

“You aren’t making sense. Why ask for her cooperation? She snowed the agency last time,” he bit out, the feelings of betrayal rising to the surface.

“We are hoping she will be bitter at him for leaving her to rot in that place. She seems the type who thrives on revenge.” Sonia crossed her lean legs and fixed him with a stare, waiting for his response.

And the GDS will be on the top of her list to extract revenge upon. “I still fail to see why you are broaching this with me.” He arched a brow and held her assessing gaze.

“My superiors think you should be the one to offer the deal to her. Explain it all, what she would be expected to do and what she would be given in return. Hell, you can even tell her about the implant.”

“What’s so special about this implant?” Mace tried to slow his heartbeat.

“It will have a failsafe.” Now Sonia looked uncomfortable.

Cocking his head, Mace narrowed his eyes. “As in, you would have the power to kill her?”

“If she wasn’t holding up her end of the bargain and threatened to blow it, allowing Cicero to get away, then yes, she would be eliminated.”

Mace shook his head. “No way. I’m not doing this. I am not telling her that we will give her freedom all the while knowing that the implant could kill her if someone at the agency deemed it warranted.”

“I’m afraid there isn’t an option for you on this Mace. The orders have come down. You have to do it.” Her eyes softened, almost like they had just finished making love. “I know this is hard for you, but it’s the best way. Cicero is a danger to the world and needs to be stopped.”

Slashing his hand through the air, Mace clenched his jaw and stood. “I know how dangerous he is, Ma’am. I don’t understand why I have to be part of your game.”

The use of “ma’am” had Sonia narrowing her eyes, the earlier softness wiped away. Mace knew she understood he was telling her that if he did this, there was no longer a relationship between them. For a moment, she appeared to consider allowing him to refuse it. Never had he reacted like this before to a direct order.

“You are going to because that is your order. You have a past with her and that will be a way in.”

“My past with her was destroyed when I did nothing to help her get out of that sentence to go to jail in the middle of nowhere. I washed my hands of her six years ago!” Mace’s voice had risen, which woke up the rest of the team. They watched with shock. Mace rarely lost his control.

“Well then I suggest you do whatever you need to in order to get back in her good graces,” Sonia had begun to shout as well. She hated to be challenged and he knew it. “Just don’t forget that with that chip, if she strays from the plan, she will die.”

“Oh yeah, that’s a great selling point, isn’t it. Come help us, the ones who put you here, and we may not kill you,” Mace sneered, his fists clenching.

“You are my subordinate,” she snapped. “Do as you are fucking told.”

“I know my job. I’ll do it, but it will be a cold day in hell before I like it.” Mace stomped off to another part of the plane, ignoring the stares he was receiving.

Sitting down in a different seat, Mace groaned. A cold day in hell. Well, Iceland sure as hell wasn’t going to be warm. This must be the winds of change. Shoving a pillow under his head, he closed his eyes.

The image that floated before him was that of Sinjin. She stood tall and proud before him even though there were tear tracks down her face. The peach summer dress she wore moved gently in the light wind that blew. Her hair was short and being ruffled by the warm caress of the wind. Her dark skin was stunning against the dress she wore and he knew personally just how soft it was, softer than it appeared to the naked eye.

More winds of change.

The devastation that filled her dark brown eyes cut him to the quick as he turned his back on her pleas. He watched with forced indifference as she was taken by two women agents and shackled like a thug.

The metal cuffs were tight against her bare skin, but she never took her eyes off him, the pain in them receding to be filled with contempt. Each snap of a cuff, each rattle of a connecting chain, turned her gaze harder and harder until it was like looking at diamonds. Dark brown diamonds.

There were no more tears as Dirk Tenodar told her that if she would just give up Cicero, they would cut her a deal. When she remained silent, he warned her she would be locked up. A warning that still got no reaction from her.

She allowed them to put prison booties on her feet since she had been barefoot when they burst into the house. The whole neighborhood was out to see her shuffling steps that took her into the waiting paddy wagon.

As Mace watched her be assisted up the steps, her dark face swung back to look at him. If there hadn’t been emotion in her eyes before, now there was. Loathing. Then as if dismissing him she hobbled into the back of the vehicle transporting her to her new home. Ferð Endir.