Authors: Nikki Navarre
Tags: #Nikkie Navarre, #spy, #Secret service, #Romantic Suspense, #Foreign Affairs
THE RUSSIAN SEDUCTION
Published by Affluent Press, a subsidy of River Valley Publishing.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Cover design by Scott Carpenter Manufactured in the United States of America Copyright © 2012 by Laura Navarre First Print Edition
ISBN 978-0-9856453-0-4 (ebook)
THE RUSSIAN SEDUCTION
This one’s for my exceptional publisher JD DeWitt, and the team at Affluent Press, who found the perfect home for this unconventional project from a historical author with a colorful past.
And, always, for Steven.
Christmas had come early for Political Counselor Alexis Castle at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. To celebrate the holiday, the Russians expelled a senior U.S. diplomat for espionage. Then, as a stocking-stuffer, the Russian military steamrolled over its small southern neighbor. Thanks to her boss’s expulsion, this gift-wrapped emergency landed right in Alexis’ lap.
No doubt about it, the stakes for the fledgling democracy of Ukraine couldn’t be higher. And the timing of this little international crisis would either make or break her career.
Tonight the Italian Political Attaché was inching dangerously close to her own sovereign territory, armed with his megawatt smile. Behind him, the dazzling light of chandeliers glowed on the lemon-yellow walls of the German Ambassador’s residence. Christmas lights twinkled in the stately twelve-foot spruce tree soaring over the elegant crowd.
Alexis sidestepped the Italian’s ploy to corner her between the tree and the cocktail bar. Unfortunately, the designer suit couldn’t camouflage her pursuer’s pudgy frame, the scalp shiny with sweat against his receding hairline, or the fruity bite of Russian champagne on his breath.
But the heat was on her at this diplomatic reception—the first high-profile function she’d attended in her new capacity. The situation demanded an experienced diplomat’s discretion, not the panicked hyperbole of a woman overwhelmed by an aggressive male colleague.
So she smiled and kept her distance, while she steered their conversation firmly back to the crisis in Ukraine. Around them, a Beethoven sonata rippled through the Tsarist-era manor that housed the Ambassador’s residence.
Despite her evasive maneuvers, the Italian was breathing down the front of her tailored black suit while he answered her question. “Italy joins its NATO allies,
, in being appalled by this Russian blockade of Ukraine’s territorial waters. We fear it could be the prelude to an invasion.”
“My government shares these concerns.” Carefully, Alexis recited the latest points from Washington, transmitted to post by instruction cable. Regardless of her strong sympathy for the former satellite state of Ukraine—bullied by its aggressive neighbor
—she wasn’t about to make a misstep during her first week in a new job.
“But we hesitate to condemn these acts,” she finished, “until Moscow provides an explanation. And let’s not forget that the Ukrainians themselves are assessing the situation, and haven’t yet asked for our help.”
“But this is unbelievable!” The Italian gestured with his champagne flute, black eyebrows winging up in astonishment. “Gross intimidation of a minor neighbor that already teeters on the brink of political collapse! Is this not precisely why your country argues for Ukraine’s entry into NATO?”
If she could have spoken freely, Alexis would have vigorously supported these sentiments. Regrettably, as one of the U.S. government’s senior representatives in Russia, speaking freely was not a luxury she could afford.
“We seek to deepen our dialogue with Ukraine,” she murmured, “
upsetting our delicate relations with Russia—”
“While you ‘deepen your dialogue,’ the Russians deploy their nuclear-armed vessels in a transparent bid to rebuild the Soviet empire!” The Attaché paused, his oily eyes sliding over her. “Ah, but you are a newcomer to these responsibilities, is this not so, Counselor? Perhaps you have enjoyed limited… exposure to such matters.”
Alexis gripped the stem of her wineglass and arranged her features in a noncommittal smile. “Actually, the troubled relations between Russia and its neighbors are familiar terrain. My post for the past two years was here in Moscow—one level down, but in the same arena.”
She’d rebuffed the aging Lothario over the
, so now his bruised ego required stroking. How discouraging that, even on the brink of an international crisis, a female diplomat was not exempt from sexual advances in the workplace.
As she sipped her Riesling with its steely citrus palate, Alexis scanned her surroundings with worried eyes. Despite the festive decor, many guests were murmuring about the latest Russian aggression. An undercurrent of tension hummed through the well-bred gathering that made her nerves twitch. Yet the sedate throngs in business attire juggled their briefcases, exchanged brisk handshakes, and nibbled
without spilling a crumb on the Persian carpets.
To her dismay, her gaze collided with Deputy Chief of Mission Geoff Chase—her ex-husband. Still looking like Pierce Brosnan after all these years, dark-haired and steely-eyed, but aging past his prime. His trademark charm seemed to be working its usual magic on the French Ambassador’s wife and the Brazilian Embassy’s well-endowed female intern. But Geoff was watching Alexis, his elegant features etched in disapproving lines.
Years ago, she’d admired his relentless ambition and laser-like focus on his career. These days, the sight of him left a sour taste in her mouth.
While Geoff angled through the crowd toward her, she reminded herself again that their marriage was over. They were no longer one of the State Department’s tandem couples, posted together at the same Embassies, transferred together every two years, their stars rising in parallel arcs. But it still hurt to see her ex-husband flirting so openly with other women.
He extracted her from the Attaché’s amorous clutches—thank God for small blessings—with a smooth apology.
“That smug son of a bitch,” Geoff muttered, when he had her ear.
Dear God, not this again.
He couldn’t possibly feel threatened by that sweaty Italian.
“What’s the problem, Geoff?” Keeping a professional distance between them, Alexis took a bracing swallow of wine. As disastrous as the five years of their marriage had been, she found having her ex-husband as her new boss to be equally trying.
“The ‘problem’ is that tall blond chap in uniform—near the band.” Her ex bristled with contained annoyance and adjusted his cufflinks. “Apparently thinks the epaulets give him an excuse to stare at you…for the last five minutes.”
Evidently, the Italian’s sexual overtures weren’t the problem after all. In fact, she doubted suddenly that Geoff had even realized he was rescuing her.
“I’m sure it’s nothing.” Gritting her teeth at the soothing tone she’d deployed—old habits died hard—Alexis snuck a glance toward the string quartet. Through the shifting crowd, she could see no one staring, drooling on himself, or doing anything else unseemly. Nor could she spot anyone who matched Geoff’s sketchy description.
But that hint of Oxford English was creeping into his speech—always a dead giveaway of displeasure in her British-educated ex.
“And when the
,” he muttered, “are you going to express our concerns about this Ukraine crisis to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? That demarche is a priority message—our official response to the Russian aggression. You’ve been sitting on the document for three days. They’re going to think in Washington that I can’t manage my subordinates.”
“It may surprise you to learn,” Alexis said dryly, “that this international crisis is not about your career.”
And neither was our divorce.
Although he’d never been good at handling rejection, Geoff’s career had always come first. When she finally gave up on their marriage, his primary objection had been that her decision humiliated him before their colleagues. Still struggling to process the pain of his serial infidelities—the irrefutable evidence of her own inadequacy—she’d been praying his sudden interest in a Moscow job was unrelated to their divorce.
Geoff had to suspect she’d transferred here to escape the emotional fallout from their shattered marriage. Moscow was her post, damn it, and she’d been here first.
“Don’t lecture me about the future of democracy in Ukraine.” Reacting to her comment, Geoff’s gray eyes flashed a warning. “I’ve been conducting U.S. foreign policy since you were in high school, Alexis. If you want to prove you’re up to snuff at handling your new responsibilities, you’d better get that demarche delivered—and no later than tomorrow.”
“I’m on it.” Deliberately, she extracted her arm from his proprietary grip. “Believe it or not, Geoff, the chief of the MFA’s Security Affairs Department does not hover near his telephone breathlessly waiting for our calls. He’s brand new, as you know—since they just fired his predecessor for sleeping with mine.”
“And for suspected espionage,” he murmured, glancing around them. “Let’s not forget that minor detail.”
She relinquished her wineglass to a waiter, and loosened her white-knuckled grip on her briefcase. Yet she couldn’t relinquish as easily the familiar stab of resentment.
She’d earned her promotion the hard way, scaling the steep Foreign Service ladder over ten long years, logging twelve-hour days at four overseas posts—not all of them exotic, by any means. And her predecessor’s abrupt departure had just made her, at age thirty-two, the youngest Political Counselor ever to serve at this Embassy. As well as the highest-ranking woman, subordinate only to Geoff as Deputy Chief of Mission, and to the Ambassador himself.
Yet she still heard it whispered by the old boys’ network that she owed her advancement not to her own merits, but to the man she’d married. Or to her prestigious father, Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Wayne Castle, whose name still held substantial cachet years after he’d passed away. This promotion was her big break, and she was burning to prove her detractors wrong.
Geoff ran a hand over his well-groomed hair. “How exactly do you plan to track down the man, Alexis? You’ll understand that I’m asking this question as your superior. As I recall, you’ve already submitted several requests to meet with Victor Kostenko through the usual channels. Yet he’s steadily refused to see you.”
“In fact, he hasn’t responded at all
.” Alexis declined to divulge how much
bothered her. “But Captain Kostenko is hardly your average Ivan. Until recently, he was a submarine captain, the golden boy of the Russian fleet. He commanded their newest Akula-class attack sub—apparently with considerable flair.”