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Authors: Kate Mathis

Living Lies

Living Lies
Agent Melanie Ward [1]
Kate Mathis
PowWow Publishing (2009)

In a world of espionage and deceit, Melanie Ward lives her life as a Secret Agent. She has tenaciously proved to be one of the top operatives for a clandestine division of the United States Government. Recruited ten years ago after graduating from San Diego State University, Melanie distanced herself from family and friends, choosing instead to immerse herself into a new life.

When a justly earned promotion is snatched away by her nemesis, the arrogant and smug Finn Parker, Melanie recklessly walks away from the Agency and everything she has become. Lost with nowhere else to go, Melanie crashes and burns on her parents' old plaid couch.

This is not your typical spy story. James Bond never had to suffer through a barrage of blind dates instigated by his "loving" mother with the help of his college roommates. As Melanie struggles to repair broken relationships and heal old wounds, she realizes she belongs in her secret world of lies. But then there's Adam...

for Brent

Text copyright © 2009 by Kate Mathis

All rights reserved. Published by PowWow Publishing. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. For information, address PowWow Publishing P.O. 31855, Tucson, Arizona 85751-1855 U.S.A. [email protected]

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious,

and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Book design and composition by PowWow Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-9819789-5-6

CHAPTER 1

Melanie Ward was running on pure fear as she raced down the marble corridor. In 30 minutes the sleeping pill would wear off and he’d come hunting for her. There would be no hesitation or remorse in his dark, cold eyes. He’d give the nod, and one of his thugs would cut her life short. But … there was no turning back.

Melanie stopped at the door that, according to blueprints, was his office. She took in a deep breath, looked in either direction and, with a sweaty palm, twisted the gold handle.

Moonlight streaked through two slits in the heavy drapes, throwing her just enough light to navigate around the ornate furniture to an imposing desk that presided over the room. Melanie lowered herself into the leather wingback chair and pulled the chain of the small desktop lamp. Without a sound, she felt behind the drawers for false backs, hidden compartments or locks that would reveal the cache. Tracing her frozen fingertips along the underside of the pencil drawer Melanie gasped and sprang out of her seat. Sending the chair skidding across the tile and crashing loudly into the credenza. Her heart leapt with the thunderous noise and she dropped cowardly to the floor, waiting for the outcome of her recklessness.

After a handful of seconds with no sign of Malik’s brutes, her confidence resurged. Melanie examined the hidden lock she had found and rummaged through the obvious places searching for the key. Without success, Melanie contemplated where an arrogant, self-absorbed primate like Malik would hide the key. She checked her watch not having the luxury of time, hastily she began righting the damage she had caused on the credenza. A thick gold frame that had been knocked over, a photo of a young Malik with a woman caught her eye. They were both smiling, he at the camera and she at him. The woman was pretty, with flowing dark hair and features like Malik. As Melanie righted the frame, something shifted inside.

Broken glass
, she thought, giving it a stern shake to dislodge the fragments.

Instead of glass, a small gold key dropped to the Italian tile floor, bouncing and clanking to its final destination, an inch from Melanie’s left foot. Using one hand to steady the other, Melanie slid the tiny key into the lock and the latch released with a soft pop. Among the guns and stacks of cash was the thin folder she was looking for. She delicately laid out its contents on the desk and photographed it all, page by page. A continuous prayer of thanks looped in her mind as she meticulously replaced all as it had been and tucked the camera into her waistband.

Taking a deep breath, Melanie poked her head into the hallway - empty. Filling her lungs beyond capacity and with her stomach in knots, she prowled through the corridor and back to the parlor where she’d left a drugged Malik. His face was buried in an overstuffed pillow on his spacious red couch. The fire, though less intense than it had been, was still blazing, sending the beads of sweat that had collected on her brow rolling down her face. She wiped her temples and dumped the remainder of Malik’s Cabernet Sauvignon into a nearby potted palm. Taking her seat next to him, Melanie smoothed her hair back, steadied her trembling hands and prepared to deceive. Never having been a skillful liar, she now felt the pressure to perform.

“Hey, wake up.” Melanie lightly shook his shoulder.

His eyes fluttered as he struggled to gain consciousness, licking his lips and clearing his throat.

“I fell asleep?” he asked, wrestling with the pillow to sit up.

“Yeah, while I was talking to you,” she said, her voice ringing with impatience.

She’d been out with Malik every Friday and Saturday night for three weeks and, fortunately, tonight she was going to break up with him. It had been increasingly difficult to avoid his advances, and although his kisses were surprisingly pleasant she was not eager to go further.

This was her longest relationship since high school and Melanie was nervous, unsure of how to end things without offending him or raising suspicions.

“I should take you home,” Malik said, obviously still groggy.

In the car, Melanie tried to recall how Hollywood handled break-ups. She was drawing a blank, distracted by the Beach Boys CD. All she could think of was “Ah, ba ba ba ba Barbara Ann.”

Malik’s black Mercedes rolled to a stop outside her building. With the camera pressing into her hip, Melanie began to speak, her voice cracking and tripping over a list of incoherent words. It was Malik who finally stopped her in mid-incomplete-sentence.

“You know, baby, you’re too much work and you don’t give Malik the love he needs,” he said, his piercing dark eyes devoid of emotion.

Her momentary speechlessness gave way to an absurd pang of rejection and, finally, the joy of relief as she realized she was off the hook. He was breaking up with her. Melanie almost laughed.

“I’m sorry, baby, but this was our last night together,” Malik leaned across her chest, his spicy aftershave searing the inside of her nose.

Preparing for a last kiss she closed her eyes and paused, suspended for a moment … until a gust of chilly wind swept in from her opened car door. Malik wasn’t pursuing a farewell kiss, he was kicking her out. Embarrassed, Melanie stumbled out onto the broken curb and stared dumbfounded as his cackle drilled into her ears, sending prickles down her spine.

“All you American women hate rejection,” he said, leaning over the passenger seat to get a good look at her.

“Whatever,” Melanie spat back, slamming the door.

He sped down the narrow residential street, his laugh still ringing in her ears.

Heated and offended, she stomped to the top of her stairway and sat, pulling her jacket tight around her trembling body as a cold wind whipped through the stairwell. Her assignment for the United States Government was over, successfully completed, the spy camera tucked safely away. Freezing, Melanie ducked into her apartment as a group of giggling girls spilled into the hallway.

Filling the tub with the hottest water possible, she twisted her long auburn hair into a messy heap and rubber banded it in place.

Her nerves were raw and her mind raced as she lowered her 5’6” frame into the steaming water.

In May she’d graduate with honors. She worked hard and was proud of her scholastic accomplishments, but tonight she proved that she was capable of more than just good grades. A senior at San Diego State, Melanie had earned and maintained a full academic scholarship. But classes were over for the semester. Her three roommates had left for winter break. For weeks she’d wanted to share her experiences and gossip about Malik, but the Covert Defense Division – the CDD – had prohibited her from divulging any information, so Melanie had censored every dialogue. The stress of such a huge secret had weighed heavily. She was relieved there would be no more lies.

The next morning, her daily six-mile run followed the well-pressed path that weaved deep inside the 1,200 acres that made up Balboa Park. She pushed herself harder than normal, her lungs stinging and her nose pink from the brisk morning air. The familiar path was lined with evergreens, but today Melanie’s mind was on the destination, not the journey. She’d cut five minutes off her best time and her legs burned from the extra strain as she reached the 200-foot California Tower of the Museum of Man.

Sitting on a bench, a man buried his nose in the daily paper and waited. Melanie couldn’t believe it had been just five weeks since he’d appeared at her library study cubicle, back when her life was as predictable as this trail - every curve known, every tree familiar and safe. Her well-planned steps had been charted out well past graduation.

“Melanie Ward, I’m Agent Gary Collins with the CDD,” he said quietly, flashing his badge. “I was hoping to speak with you for a few minutes.”

The minutes turned into an hour as Agent Collins explained his situation. A man who had approached Melanie on Friday night at the local hot spot, the Jungle Jim, was Malik Razul, the suspected leader of an information theft ring. The CDD had been unable to penetrate his tight inner circle but now they hoped Melanie would gain access to his home office. Female agents had attempted to lure Razul, none had succeeded and it was time for a new tactic. Melanie.

“He’s not a nice man and if you’re caught … well, he has people for that. But we have people, too and we’ll keep you safe.” Agent Collins had promised.

Collins awakened her sense of adventure and there was no masking the thrill. She felt alive and passing on the opportunity was not an option.

“I have confidence in you, Ms. Ward,” Agent Collins said, his expression taut and stern.

The following Friday night, Melanie changed her outfit three times and only nibbled at the sandwich she’d made for dinner. The poorly ventilated nightclub was packed, as usual. Lights from the dance floor illuminated the cigarette smoke that permeated the air. Melanie sat on her usual stool at their usual table.

“This is my last year of college and I am going to meet someone tonight,” she told her best friend and roommate, Carla Wagner.

Scanning the faces she recognized from school, Melanie kept an eye out for Malik Razul.

“It’s about time. You’re missing out on the college experience by studying so much,” Carla said, her Southern accent almost undetectable.

For a year, Melanie and her friends upheld their weekly ritual of gathering at the Jungle Jim. Only a mile from campus, it was a popular school hangout, and although the name denoted a sense of the tropics, there were neither plants nor animals to be found. There was, however, a large dance floor, a loud DJ, pool tables and, of course, alcohol.

“What about him?”

Melanie’s gaze followed Carla’s discreetly pointed finger toward Danny Ashe. There was no need to look. She already knew his face, his eyes, his smile. He had been in at least one of her classes every semester since freshman year, but she had long ago given up hope that there could be anything between them. Danny was a jock, on the university’s rugby team, popular and handsome, and Melanie was an academic. She wore little makeup, kept her hair imprisoned in a tight ponytail and wore a uniform of jeans, freebie T-shirts and tennis shoes. Hardly the type of woman Danny Ashe dated. But her crush lingered.

“Yeah, he’s cute, but he’s got a girlfriend.”

Melanie took one last, long glance at him as he ran his fingers through his blond hair. Perpetually bruised and broken from his battles on the rugby field, tonight he sported a fresh black eye. Her gaze shifted momentarily to Carolyn, Danny’s girlfriend, who laughed with her friends and pointed at people who were not as popular or beautiful as they were.

You wouldn’t have fit in with them anyway,
Melanie told herself with a heavy sigh.

At a nearby table, her other roommates, Jenny and Trish, shamelessly flirted with two boys who were relishing the attention. Melanie watched as Jenny lit up a cigarette and Trish leaned forward, pulling down the waistband of her skirt. She’d recently added a butterfly tattoo to the small of her back, its bright blue wings stretching out several inches. Trish was 5’10” without her stiletto heels and was as beautiful as any cover model. At the start of the semester she’d dyed her hair a brilliant red and cropped it military style. She was playful and carefree and it seemed to Melanie that, whatever the circumstance, Trish always got her way. The flashing strobe from the dance floor reflected off Trish’s short haircut, deepening the color to a rich violet.

Jenny, though not as skilled as Trish in the art of the come-on, kept up with Trish, boy for boy. She was the classic girl next door, baiting the male species with her bouncy golden hair, which she forever tossed back and forth, her large baby blues giving the false impression of innocence. A long cigarette had become her signature over the past few months as she tried to lose the extra 15 pounds she’d put on since her high school cheerleading days.

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