Authors: Heather Huffman
Tags: #Romance, #free ebook, #Marriage, #Espionage, #International, #Spy, #wedding, #Human trafficking, #heather huffman
“I think that particular threat has passed,
but we don’t have to tell her,” Veronica offered.
“Ron…” Jeff wasn’t about to let her comment
go. “Why has that threat passed?”
“I think Marko is planning on taking a more
direct approach now. He’s a little riled up.”
“What did you do to him?”
“Broke his heart. It wasn’t on purpose,
“How do you accidentally break someone’s
heart? Come on, sis. Even I wouldn’t try that excuse.”
“Bull. You have tried that one.”
“I can’t imagine it worked for me.”
“It didn’t,” Veronica admitted. “I feel bad.
I didn’t mean for him to fall in love with me. I certainly didn’t
intend to hurt Rick.”
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“I don’t want to say it out loud.”
“Now you have to. You can’t throw something
like that out there and just walk away from it.”
“I didn’t expect to be drawn to Marko. He’s…
I don’t know. He’s just not what I expected.”
“You should have gotten being a slut out of
the way before marriage, like I did.”
“I’m not being a slut.”
“Hey, if you’re finished insulting me for the
time being, could you send me a few files? I don’t know how long
it’ll be until Rick gets here.”
“I’m sure he plans on you waiting for him
patiently in your room.”
“So of course you’re not going to do
“Of course not. I was hoping you could help
me find the San Francisco location so I could maybe go scope things
“Gonna see if there are any more hot bad
guys? Got a taste for rebels now?”
“That’s not nice. I’ll send a file your way
in a bit. I’m sure we have something to at least point you in the
“You know, if you had Marko’s love child, it
would get Mom off your back. I mean, I heard your husband is the
reason you can’t have kids and all….”
Veronica hung up on him. There was no retort
for that one.
She tossed the phone in the trash and headed
back to her room to wait for the file from Jeff. The man might be a
mouthy brat, but he came through for her in every pinch. This one
was no different.
Veronica flopped down on the circa 1970s bed
with her laptop to sort through the files from Jeff. The room was
dark and outdated, but it set the mood well for the work she was
He’d also sent a picture of Brutus and Sissy
lounging on his couch. It made her miss her home—even if they
hadn’t finished unpacking all of the boxes.
Jeff included a mixture of FBI files with
information on arrests most likely related to human trafficking.
He’d also attached SFPD files pertaining to any prostitutes of
Eastern European descent picked up over the last two years.
She marked each incident, each arrest, on a
map and then overlaid that with intelligence from Vance. Her own
notes came in handier than expected. It was surprising how much
she’d learned just by being there to soak up the hushed
conversations and rumors that circulated at parties.
At first she couldn’t find the connection;
then it struck her that she’d forgotten one important element—the
antiques. When she started pulling in data about high-end Roman
artifact sales and the occasional black market piece recovered by
the police, the pattern became apparent. Most of the activity
radiated around one central point between the Tenderloin and SOMA.
Since she still had a couple of hours before she was supposed to
call Kate, it made sense to check it out.
Rick had the majority of the cool spy gear
and didn’t seem too inclined to share, so she made do with a pair
of kid binoculars she picked up at the Walgreens on the corner.
They worked well enough, even if they did have Dora the Explorer on
With her hair tucked under a 49ers cap, also
from Walgreens, she was good to go. It wasn’t a perfect disguise,
but it was better than flat-out announcing her presence.
She took a cable car to Market and wandered
until she found a little diner within view of the Golden Gate
Theater. She had a cup of coffee while she watched the street for
anything that smacked of smuggling people.
The first thing to catch her eye was a late
model sedan with tinted windows. It looked like the car Marko
always sent for her. That seemed as good a lead as any, so she
tossed some money on the table and started walking in the direction
the sedan was headed. She found herself on Stevenson, a narrow
street lined with multicolored buildings.
There was a large, dirty, beige building
standing next to a brick building on her left. On the right, a gold
and gray building stood next to a blue one and then a red. The
colors seemed to rotate on down the street. Peeling posters clung
to the building sides in spots.
Most interesting was the overhead that
connected the blue building to the beige one. It looked like two
train cars stacked on top of each other. She couldn’t make out the
writing on the green, topmost car, but the yellow one underneath
had the words “Department Store” across it in block letters. A fire
escape worked its way down from the green train car to a bright red
door on the beige building.
It was a fascinating street, but the iron
gates on the doors and the narrowness of it were a little
unsettling. She knew the sedan had come this far, but it was
nowhere to be seen now. Every nerve in her body tingled. This had
to be it.
She began looking for a building with
discreet roof access and finally found it in one of the gray ones
down the block a ways. She lay down on her stomach as close to the
neighboring building as possible. It occurred to her that she would
feel completely and totally ridiculous if someone were to stumble
across her, peeping at the surrounding buildings through a pair of
Looking back down the street, she could now
see that the beige building had the word “HEART” written across it
in yellow and brown block letters. Veronica wondered why the “A”
had been written upside down. Perhaps there was an artistic reason
to it her practical brain couldn’t wrap itself around.
With a firm reminder that admiring the street
wasn’t her true purpose, she went back to scoping out the occupants
of the buildings. There was a sporting goods store, a Foto Depo and
an adult superstore. It was the building labeled Polo Industrial
Enterprises that piqued her interest, though.
With startling clarity, she could remember
the word “polo” rolling off Marko’s tongue as his hand had closed
over her throat that night in Greece. It would fit his quirky sense
of humor perfectly to name a dummy company something as asinine as
She kept her focus on that building for the
next thirty minutes, hoping for some giveaway as to what was going
on inside it. The fact that the view inside every window was
restricted only heightened her suspicions. She finally gave up,
knowing she’d be late to meet Kate if she didn’t head back.
When she was back at the hotel, she did a
quick Google search of the company Polo Industrial Enterprises
before scurrying to get dressed. The complete lack of Internet
presence for a company with a building that size furthered her
conviction they weren’t legitimate.
She forced herself to break the spell of the
Internet, setting aside the laptop to get ready for girls’ night
out. She knew it was un-spy-like, but she was genuinely looking
forward to a night on the town. Maybe there would be dancing
The driving punk beat flowed through her.
Veronica’s hips moved of their own accord. They had danced until
her skin was damp and yet she still itched to get back on the
floor. Maybe it was being in the company of Kate’s younger and
hipper coworkers—it made Ronnie feel younger and hipper as well.
Whatever the reason, she was finding the evening to be very
When the band began playing a Social D cover,
Veronica couldn’t take it anymore. She grabbed Kate and dragged her
back on the dance floor. The crowd pulsed around her and she was
completely absorbed by the beat.
He appeared as if out of nowhere. In a
dreamlike moment, the crowd parted and the couple gravitated
towards each other.
Kate recognized Rick and melted into the
crowd as seamlessly as he had appeared from it. Rick’s arms wrapped
around Veronica’s waist and he began to move with her and the
“I made Kate promise not to tell you I was
here when I texted her earlier,” his voice was low against her ear,
his breath sending a thrill down her spine as he answered the
questioning look on her face.
Joy swirled around her. There was something
about being somewhere so utterly normal with him, simply having
fun. For the rest of the evening, they laughed, they visited with
friends, they danced and they drank.
Their happy buzz grew and Veronica soon found
herself saying her goodbyes to the group. She refused to touch him
in the taxi, knowing she couldn’t be trusted in her current state.
He seemed to also realize that inhibitions were low and was almost
formal with her in the car. They spoke little and nothing of
importance was said.
Ronnie stayed focused on her mission to get
in the hotel room. She fumbled with the door; he was standing so
close to her now she couldn’t think straight.
“Yeah?” she turned to face him, abandoning
the keycard in the door.
The last vestiges of restraint snapped as he
lowered his head to kiss her. Effortlessly, Rick reached around to
manage the lock that had eluded her, and the two stumbled back into
Her head still hadn’t cleared from the beer
or the dancing. He was fueled by the days spent brooding over their
last moments together. The combination proved to be a potent
It wasn’t until the next day that Veronica
regained the presence of mind to even think about their reason for
being in San Francisco.
“I think I’ve found Marko’s San Francisco
operation,” she informed him as they wandered down Market Street on
their way to meet Kate for a farewell breakfast.
“How long have you been here?”
“And you’ve found it already?”
“I think so.”
She could tell Rick was skeptical, and that
“It’s not far from here. Maybe we could check
it out after breakfast,” she persisted.
“What are you basing this on?”
“Do I ask you to show your work every time
you pick a target, or do I trust that you have a brain in your
“I wasn’t implying anything. I just asked why
you think this particular spot is the San Francisco hub.”
“Because, Dick, I used FBI and local police
files and a map to figure out a most likely spot. Then I went to
that spot and looked with my eyes. Once there, I found a building
with a bogus name that links back to something Marko once said to
me. Their blinds are drawn tight when no one else on the street
even has blinds. The company has no Internet presence. Every
warning bell in my head is going off. As my partner, you should be
willing to at least go look at this damn building with me.”
“Fine, we’ll go look at the building,” he
She narrowed her eyes, certain it was a ploy
to get her to stop talking. That sucked some of the joy out of the
“So tell me again how you and Kate are
friends,” he caught her hand in his and held tight when she would
have jerked it away.
“You’re trying to change the subject.”
“Absolutely. I don’t want to spend the next
hour avoiding your glare. Let’s talk about something else.
“After college, I spent a year at the Santa
Fe office of the U.S. Department of Rural Development. I hired Kate
to coordinate an event for me—she was working out of Albuquerque at
“That’s right. I’d forgotten you lived out
west for a bit.”
“I guess I’ve always had a little adventurer
in me,” she smiled sweetly as she held the door open for him.
“Lucky for me.”
Veronica couldn’t tell if he was being
sarcastic or not. For the sake of unity, she was telling herself
not. Kate was already at the restaurant and had grabbed them a
table. Rick was instantly charming; his ability to turn off—or at
least hide—his emotions was enviable.
It took a bit more work for Veronica, but she
managed to make it through the entire breakfast without raising
Kate’s suspicions. She did her best to enjoy these last few moments
with an old friend she probably wouldn’t see again anytime
Just as quickly as he’d turned charming,
Veronica’s dear husband found his scowl when breakfast was over and
she was steering him in the direction of Polo Industrial
Enterprises. Although, the look on his face turned nothing short of
comical when she offered him the Dora binoculars.
“I’m sure you didn’t attract any attention
“I had to improvise.”
“And tell me again why you feel so strongly
about this spot.”
“No, you tell me why you don’t like this
“My point exactly.”
“Fine, you don’t think there is anything to
this place? Then you won’t mind if I go in and say hi,” she marched
over to the front door.
“Have fun,” he stood his ground on the
sidewalk, jamming his hands in the front pockets of his faded blue
Veronica made a face at him and tugged at the
“What’s wrong love? Didn’t expect me to call
“It wasn’t a bluff. The door is locked,” she
frowned at the stubborn obstacle.
“Damn. Guess we should go back to the hotel,
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”