This preview of Undercover Love is a prologue that was cut from the final print version, so this is the only place it can be found. I hope you find it intriguing. J
No good ever came from phone calls in the dead of night, thought Kyle, as the jarring, unwelcome sound echoed in the silence of his bedroom. At the third ring, he glanced at the illuminated face of the clock. Four AM. Too damn early for respectable callers. His solitary lifestyle didn't promote close relationships, and none of his casual acquaintances would call at this hour.
Crossing his arms behind his head, he continued to stare at the shadows on the wall, trying to ignore the intrusion.
The answering machine picked up on the fifth ring. His outgoing message was greeted by a click of a disconnection. In a few seconds, the phone rang again. The machine picked up again, another click, and eventually, more ringing.
The caller was persistent.
Kyle sighed, switched on the lamp and reached for the caller ID box. Squinting against the light, he read the name in the tiny digital screen.
The simplicity of the name didn't begin to depict the complex man behind it, nor the host of conflicting emotions it evoked. The first was pain; dulled, but chronic. Then came patriotism, honor, duty and disillusion.
Sullivan was one of the good guys; a relentless pursuer of justice who'd worked his way up through the ranks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation until he'd earned one of the top law enforcement jobs in the country. Kyle had been one of them, too, one of Uncle Sam's best until he'd wearied of watching good men fail while the bad guys triumphed.
The phone rang again as he stared at the reoccurring name. He hadn't seen it or the DC phone number for a very long time, but his old boss was as obstinate as they came. Sullivan would keep calling until he got a response or the phone was disabled.
Curiosity warred with the temptation to yank the cord.
Curiosity won. On the fourth series of rings, he lifted the receiver to his ear.
"Good morning to you, too, Tremont," said the amused voice with a heavy east coast accent.
"It"s not morning in Texas," he reminded dryly.
"How could I forget?"
Kyle decided to jerk his chain a little. "Senility?"
Sullivan snorted. "And I was trying to be pleasant. What's got you so cranky?"
"Middle of the night phone calls from cheerful deputy directors make me cranky."
"I didn't interrupt anything important, did I?" Sullivan sounded almost contrite. "Do you have company?"
Kyle wished someone were sharing his bed. Maybe then he wouldn't be so edgy and wide-awake with his body
hungering for a woman. Celibacy, even self-imposed, was hell on the nerves.
"Sorry about that. I'm heading to the office soon, but I wanted to call you on a secure line here at home."
"Since I'm retired from the agency and plan to stay retired, this can't be business," Kyle insisted. "That means it must be a social call. One that could have been made later in the day on any non-secure phone line."
Sullivan chuckled. "Nice try. Truth is, I'm calling on unofficial business. To offer you the opportunity of a lifetime."
An instant of dead silence followed his announcement, then a succinct reply. "Bull."
Another chuckle from Sullivan. "Okay, so maybe you won't think of it as a favor right now, but . . ."
"No buts," Kyle swiftly injected. "I don't work for the FBI anymore. I don't owe you any favors, and I don't even want to know what's on your mind."
He started to hang up, but heard Sullivan throw out the name Haroldson. It was guaranteed to arrest the action. His arm stilled, then he drew the receiver back to his ear. Knowing he'd hate himself, but incapable of resisting, he asked:
"What about Haroldson?"
"We've got him."
The deep satisfaction in Sullivan's tone caused an equally deep reaction in Kyle. He held Gregory Haroldson responsible for the murder of his partner and best friend. Nothing would please him more than to see the wealthy banker brought to justice.
"In jail with enough evidence to put that slime ball behind bars for life?"
A hesitation on the other end of the line caused his short burst of euphoria to evaporate.
"Not quite, but close. We've had someone in deep enough to get all the evidence we need and indisputable testimony against him. The grand jury indictment will come down as soon as we get our agent safely out of his reach."
Considering Haroldson's wealth and vast organization, there was no such thing as being out of his reach, thought Kyle. He wanted to know more.
"You've got his records, dates and a witness?"
"Fool proof evidence. The account ledgers, tax records and computer files are enough to fry him. It's being handled with care. He won'tslip through our fingers this time."
"You just called to share this news?"
Kyle's muscles tautened. Haroldson had a reign of corruption that spanned decades, yet he disguised his evil behind a urbane banker's facade. The authorities had never been able to provide enough proof to bring him to justice.
"The agent we have inside his operation is Phantom. That's the reason I called from home. You're one of the few people I trust explicitly, and now you're the only one besides me who knows the identity of our agent."
"I don't know Phantom's identity."
"Not the identity; that Phantom is our operative inside."
Kyle didn't thank him for the confidence. He didn't want to know privileged information, even if he was growing more intrigued by the minute. He'd heard rumors about a fearless young protege of Sullivan's, one whose identity remained a closely guarded secret.
Thus, the code name, Phantom.
"What does any of this have to do with me?"
"I need someone to get Phantom out of Haroldson's organization and into a safe house."
"Why can't your super agent take care of himself?"
Sullivan paused to weigh his words. "It's complicated. I told you Phantom is in deep. Haroldson's security is tight and surveillance is constant. If our plan goes according to schedule, the extrication will be uneventful, but there's always a risk. I want unofficial backup just in case."
"You have a whole army of agents in your employ."
"I'll use the most trusted ones to guard the safe house."
"Soon. The arrest can't be made while Phantom is still a trusted member of the organization."
"Why not arrest your agent, too, and then get him into protective custody?"
"Not an option. Too many things can go wrong in holding cells and with the endless red tape. Besides, we've already arranged an alternative plan."
"I'm going to facilitate a phony assassination attempt. You'll save Haroldson's life, so you'll be an instant hero. He's big on rewarding heroics. You'll be offered a job and once you're in, you won't have to stay long."
"I can't accept that, Tremont."
"You don't have a choice. I'm not in the spy business anymore. I'm a carpenter."
"A carpenter who jogs every day, goes to the firing range twice a week and maintains a black belt?"
Kyle clenched his teeth. It rankled that his activities were being monitored, but Sullivan wouldn't have called if he had any doubts about competence. Still, the physical aspects of undercover work weren't the most important. It took youthful bravado, fierce dedication and an emotional stamina he couldn't muster anymore.
"The answer is still no. I've been out too long, and I can't identify your super agent."
"You won't have to. It's safer that way. Phantom knows everything that goes on in Haroldson's organization. Once you're in, contact will be made and the plan put in motion. All you have to do is get our agent to the safe house."
"If it's so easy, why go outside the agency for help? Why can't one of your old-timers do the job?"
Another brief hesitation. Kyle's pulse quickened with the rush of adrenaline he hadn't felt in years. Sullivan's hesitancy answered his question.
"You've got security problems in the agency?"
"Let's just say I have a weak link, and I can't find it."
The mention of a weak link brought Marty to mind along with a rush of bittersweet memories. He and his former partner had been so much more than friends. Her death had left a raw, still-bleeding wound in Kyle's soul.
His response to Sullivan was hard and cold. "The same weak link that cost Marty her life?"
The deputy director's answer came on a soft sigh of regret. "I'm afraid it could be."
A familiar rush of frustration coursed through Kyle, accompanied by the nagging guilt he'd never been able to appease. He knew now what he hadn't known when he left the agency. There'd be no peace for him until Marty's murderer had been brought to justice.