Excerpt from High-Risk Reunion
País Vell, the Pyrenees Mountains, 11:37 p.m.
Rafael Navarro dangled from the wall of the medieval castle, the murmur of approaching voices drifting down to him in the inky, moonless night. He went dead still, slid his gaze to the void plunging forty feet below him, and wondered what had gone wrong with his plan. Those guards weren’t supposed to arrive yet. He’d spent weeks studying their rotation for the G-6 summit, counting off the intervals of the passing searchlight, calculating the exact time and place to break into the American diplomat’s room. And he should have had three more minutes to scale this wall.
Cold sweat beaded his forehead. His back and shoulders throbbed as he clung to the nylon rope. But he schooled himself to absolute stillness, knowing even the slightest shift could move a prong on the grappling hook, drawing the royal guards’ attention to him. Behind him, a cool breeze swept down the slopes of the Pyrenees Mountains, the slow, rhythmic clanking of cowbells tightening his nerves.
“You’re not seriously going to smoke that.” The man’s voice came from the wall walk above.
“Why not?” a second man asked. His deep voice had a belligerent edge. “It’s not going to kill anyone.”
“The hell it won’t,” the first guard said. “You heard the boss. Anyone who screws up tonight gets fired.”
Rafe’s heart galloped against his rib cage. He’d be dead if he didn’t move. Now. In a few precious seconds, the searchlight would pass, illuminating him like a dark bug splayed on a silver wall.
But cigarette smoke wisped past. More crucial seconds ticked down. Rafe gritted his teeth, his biceps trembling, every survival instinct screaming at him to go. But he couldn’t move, couldn’t even change positions to relieve the pressure on his now-numb hands.
“Hombre. Would you come on?” the first guard said, echoing Rafe’s thoughts. “The next rotation’s about to catch up.”
“Fine.” Disgust tinged the smoker’s voice. A glowing cigarette butt streaked over the wall, barely missing Rafe’s head. The guards finally pushed away from the ledge, the thud of their receding footsteps fading into the night.
Rafe eased out a breath, but forced himself to wait, counting off several vital heartbeats in case they circled back. Then he powered up the rope in a surge of adrenaline, glad he’d kept up the brutal workouts that enabled him to make this climb, even though he’d retired from a life of crime.
He reached the medieval battlement and paused again. Still clear. His arms aching, the desperate need to hurry flogging his brain, he hoisted himself over the edge. Then he yanked up the rope, pulled the grappling hook from the wall, and ducked -- just as the search light skimmed overhead.
Too damned close.
His heart pounding, that addictive rush of danger streaming through his veins, he crawled to the ancient watch tower, careful to keep his head under the light’s wide range. Then he coiled the rope and tucked it against the wall for his descent. The high-powered beam swept back over the cylindrical tower, past a planked oak door dotted with iron studs.
Now. He leaped up and sprinted to the door. Skidding to a stop, he whipped the lock-pick gun from his back pocket, inserted a tension wrench into the lock and applied the gun. A series of sharp, rapid clicks rent the air.
The lock gave way. Rafe squeezed through the door, careful not to let the hinges creak, into the darkened alcove that adjoined the diplomat’s room. At this height he didn’t worry about triggering an alarm. No one got past the armed guards, surveillance cameras, and intrusion detection devices on the castle’s lower floors -- except a third generation master thief like him.
But he wasn’t out of danger yet. He had to find the historic signet ring and get back down that wall -- before the reception ended and the American returned to his room.
Flicking on his penlight, he padded across the antique rug to the Baroque-style bureau. He checked the drawers, peeked behind the huge gilded paintings on the medieval wall. No ring. No hidden safe. He turned toward the bedroom.
A soft, feminine laugh stopped him cold.
His pulse drummed hard. He snapped his gaze to the closed velvet drapes dividing the two rooms. The diplomat had come back early -- and he wasn’t alone.
Rafe frowned, debating his options, but he didn’t have a choice. He had to get that ring tonight. The diplomat was scheduled to present it to País Vell’s king in the morning. And if that happened, Rafe’s bargain with the police chief would be void.
His nerves ratcheting higher, every sense hyper-alert, he crept to the floor-length drapes and nudged the edge aside. The cool, musty room was shrouded in darkness; only the faint, golden haze from a bedside lamp penetrated the gloom. Rafe zeroed in on the couple standing across from him on the opposite side of the bed. The woman had her back to him, and the mellow light gilded her naked curves.
No, not naked, he amended, his mouth quirking up in regret. But her back was bare, her gown plunging so low on her hips he could easily imagine the rest.
He allowed his gaze to linger, taking a long, leisurely slide down the sensual sweep of her spine to the riveting contours of her hips. He couldn’t fault the diplomat’s taste -- or haste. The woman was flawless, at least from the rear. She had sleek, honeyed skin and centerfold-worthy curves. She wore her dark hair up, exposing the tempting nape of her neck. Loose tendrils danced in the light.
And given the rapt expression on the balding diplomat’s face, her front side was better yet.
But Rafe didn’t have time to ogle the diplomat’s escort. Dragging his attention back to the room, he scanned the wing-backed chairs hulking in the shadows, the imposing, Louis XIV armoire with its carved doors hanging ajar. That ring had to be within reach. But how could he get past the bed to search?
The diplomat tugged off his shirt and tossed it aside, then struggled to pull off a sock. He staggered and lost his balance, lurching against the woman. She steadied them both and laughed.
Rafe stilled, the low, throaty sound jarring something inside him, a memory he’d fought to erase. He whipped his gaze to her smooth, velvet skin, the dip of her slender waist, and gave his head a swift shake. It couldn’t be her. There was no damned way.
Gabrielle Ferrer hadn’t set foot in País Vell in years.
“Come on, honey,” the diplomat said, enunciating his words too carefully, drawing Rafe’s eyes to the wine glasses beside the bed. “You’re wearing too many clothes.”
He spun her around in a move probably meant to be debonair. Instead he tripped and sprawled back over the bed. The woman fell atop him and laughed again. “Easy there.” She pushed herself up to her elbows, bringing her face more fully into the halo of light, and Rafe’s heart slammed to a halt. So he hadn’t hallucinated that voice. It really was Gabrielle.
Hell of a place to find his ex-fiancée.
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Copyright 2011 by Gail Ellen Barrett. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.