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Authors: Cliff Ryder

Black Widow

BOOK: Black Widow
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Cliff Ryder
Black Widow
Table of contents

 

Espionage takes to the twenty-first century playing fields, where rules are broken and remade outside the reach of governments and the law. Agents recruited for the clandestine organization known as Room 59 play hard, play for keeps... or die trying. But now new Room 59 agent Ajza Manaev, a top MI6 operative, discovers just how high the stakes really are when she goes undercover inside Chechnya's terrorist training camps, where bitter young widows harness their hate as suicide bombers. Ajza doesn't know she's being manipulated by many sides of a deadly game. Her mysterious Room 59 handler has his own agenda, while the secret, silent mastermind behind a global destabilization plot hopes to push Ajza's loyalties to the breaking point. And in a game where the ground is always shifting, Ajza is inducted by hellfire into Room 59's harsh reality: she's on her own.

 

Special thanks and acknowledgment to Mel Odom for his contribution to this work.

Prologue

Moscow

"I don't want you to die because of me," he pleaded.

Maaret looked at her husband through tears as they stood in the cold wind that whipped through Patriarshiye Ponds. His plea touched her heart and she saw the pain in his blue eyes. He was so young, so full of life and joy despite the darkness and fear that stained his soul. She didn't know how she had missed seeing those other things. But she'd been so much in love with him that she had only seen the good.

The thing that hurt the most was how much she still loved him.

He wasn't Russian except by blood, but he should have been. In addition to the light eyes, he had soft blond hair that always managed to look unkempt. More than the looks, though, guilt and despair filled him. Those things made him truly Russian.

As she looked at him, her cheeks numb in the freezing temperature, Maaret wondered if his soul had been as tortured before he had come to her country, lied to her and fathered their child.

Unconsciously Maaret ran a hand over her swollen stomach. That the child should die was the most hurtful thing of all. She had created her baby with the love she had for her husband.

"Please, Maaret," he whispered just strongly enough to be heard above the wind. "Please forget this madness and come away with me."

She smiled sadly and touched his lips with her cold fingers. Even with her glove off, she no longer felt his flesh beneath her. The distance she felt from him scared her, and that distance grew with each gray breath.

"No," she said simply. "It is too late."

"It
isn't
too late." His stubbornness overrode the fear. "I can save you from this." His hand touched her stomach, then slid to the belt of explosives she wore around her hips.

"It
is
too late," she insisted. She took his hand in hers. "They watch us even now."

He shook his head. At times, he was so like a child. She thought, even then as she faced her death, that he would have made a wonderful father.

If he had stayed.

And if he had stayed and been found out, he would have been killed.

People passed them as they stood there. Older couples gave them knowing smiles, undoubtedly thinking that this was a spat between a young husband and wife. Those people didn't have many concerns. They lived in an affluent part of Moscow where the night was held back by bright lights and fences protected the pond and the tall apartment buildings. Snow dusted the boughs of the mighty pine and spruce frees, and swirled between the naked branches of tall oaks.

In addition to wealthy Russians, Americans and Europeans lived there, as well. That was why the area had been targeted.

"I... I..." Her husband's voice broke, and his obvious pain and confusion and desperation fueled her own. "I can fix this, Maaret. I swear."

She knew, though, that his promise was hollow. He had masters and allegiances just as she had. Neither of them could escape their fates.

"You can't," she told him.

"There must be a way."

"No." She shook her head. "They have found you out, my love. They know what you truly are."

The tears that tracked his face glistened like diamonds in the streetlights. Like a child, he wiped them away with his sleeve. Then he glared across the walkway that wound through the residential area. A few of the nearby windows held Christmas ornaments and lights.

"Are they here?" he asked hoarsely.

"I don't know," Maaret said.

"Did Taburova bring you here?"

"Yes."

Her husband seized her arms. "Maaret, please listen to me. I have friends."

She knew he had friends. They posed danger to him and to her. And to the child.

"I can take you from here," he said.

Here
wasn't Moscow. This was the first time she'd ever been to Moscow. Her country lay to the north. It was all she'd ever known. She'd been born in a small house there, and she'd always believed she would be buried in one of the small graveyards.

"I don't want to leave my home," she told him. "When you married me, you promised you wouldn't take me from my home."

"I love you, Maaret. I would have promised you anything."

"So you lied?"

He flinched painfully at her words, but still clung to her. He no longer met her gaze.

"I did what I had to," he whispered.

"You didn't have to marry me. You didn't have to father our child. All you had to do was inform your masters about the heroes of my country and their efforts to free us from the Russian dictators."

"It's not like that." His protest sounded weak.

"Then why spy in my homeland? Surely you could have found other women in..." Maaret faltered because she suddenly realized she didn't even know what country her husband was from. Everything about him had been a fabrication, a dream that continued to evade her.

He held her at arm's length and gazed into her eyes. "I love you, Maaret. And I love our child. I want us to be together. I want us to be happy."

She believed him. God help her, she believed him. The weight of the explosives strapped to her body suddenly felt like concrete blocks. They crushed her. And they threatened her baby. She felt him — she'd never doubted the sex of her unborn child — move within her. He shifted, as restless as his father.

"You must go," she told him. "This is not a safe place." She breathed the cold air into herself and turned her body and her heart numb. She pushed him away.

"No, Maaret," he said more forcefully. "I won't allow you to do this."

"You won't allow me?" Maaret's anger stabbed through her. The child within her moved again. She swept her arms against his and broke his hold on her. If only his hold on her heart broke so easily.

"I am your husband," he told her.

"You are a
liar!"
Her viciousness amazed her.

"I love you. I never lied about that."

Maaret saw the knife in his hand too late. Even then, she didn't fear him, only what he meant to do. He leaned in and kissed her. She wanted to slap him and push him off her. Instead, she took his face in her hands and returned the kiss with a hunger only he caused within her.

It wasn't until he drew away that she realized the weight of the explosives had vanished. He held the six packages of plastic explosives — Semtex — still strung on the belt, but the belt was severed.

"No!" Maaret gasped. She fumbled in her coat pocket for the detonator Taburova had provided her when he'd strapped the explosives on her. "You can't!"

Her hand searched her empty pocket.

He opened his fingers and showed her the detonator. He'd stolen it without her knowledge.

"You can't do this!" she shouted loudly enough to draw the attention of passersby.

"I can't let you die, Maaret. Nor can I let my child die." His face was grim. "Taburova and the others are homicidal hate-mongers. They're not the patriotic heroes you believe them to be."

Maaret lunged for the explosives.

He pulled them away easily.

"I'm not doing this for them," she pleaded. "I'm doing it for me. And for our child. If I die striking back at our enemies, all my sins will be washed away. Our child will die, but he will be reborn without sin."

"Our child," he said, "is already without sin. And I want his mother to live because I love her more than my life."

He turned and ran through the falling snow, threading through the bystanders and passersby. Some of them saw the belt of explosives dangling from his hand, but none of them recognized them.

Maaret tried to pursue him, but the new snow made the footing treacherous. She skidded and slipped, and finally realized she couldn't catch him.

He fled without a backward look, intending to reach the pond only a few feet away. He halted at the fence and drew the belt back to throw.

The explosion was devastating.

The concussive force slammed into Maaret and knocked her off her feet. Her first thought was the baby. It took so little to trigger a miscarriage. She'd been surprised that the stress of the past few days hadn't triggered an end to her pregnancy.

Deafened by the blast and temporarily blinded by the light, Maaret rolled over and pushed herself to her feet. She stood, finally, and swayed as she looked at where she'd last seen her husband.

The fence leaned precariously and powder burns stained the snow black. One of the massive pines lay broken and leaning against the side of an apartment building. Many windows stood empty of glass, and tattered curtains shifted in the breeze. Pedestrians who'd survived the blast climbed back to their feet. Several people remained down, and more than one twisted, bloodied body offered mute testimony of death and severe injury.

Screams penetrated the cottony pressure in Maaret's ears. Warmth covered her right cheek. When she touched her face, her fingers came away stained crimson.

Blood,
she realized. But it wasn't hers. It was his.

Maaret joined in the screaming. Earlier, when she'd accepted her own death and that of her son, she had known she would never see her husband again. But she hadn't planned on being alive to have to deal with that.

Instead, he was gone.

She stumbled toward the blast area. She was the only one who walked in that direction. All the others fled, running and limping away as quickly as they could.

"Maaret."

The man's cold, hard voice came from behind her. She didn't turn because she didn't wish to deal with his harsh remonstrations. It wasn't her fault that her husband had come there. He could only have found her through the man who called her name now. She'd been the bait in a malicious trap.

BOOK: Black Widow
2.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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