Authors: Bianca Mori
Takedown Book 2
This is a work of fiction. Settings, names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to events and characters, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author, excepting brief quotes used in connection with reviews written specifically for a newspaper, blog, magazine or other related media.
Copyright © Bianca Mori 2015
I wrote this book with Amsterdam in my head as the perfect setting. A lot of my inspiration came from
, a wonderful blog written by Deepa Paul-Plazo. Thanks for making Amsterdam come alive, Deepa! Any errors are mine.
Thanks are in order as well to Mina Esguerra, Liana Smith Bautista and all the wonderful people who comprise the Romance Writers of the Philippines Facebook group (writers and readers), some of whom were kind enough to read In Too Deep and tell me that they really,
wanted to know what happened next. That pushed me to finish this. This is for you.
Lastly, and I know she won't be able to read this but what the hell: Charlaine Harris's
novels got me through when I just didn't want to edit this book anymore. The sexy, intrigue-laced and supernaturally fun world of Bon Temps just helped get me in the right headspace when it came to Peyton. Couldn't have finished this without those books.
Peyton Riley (
Takedown Book 2
Not to get Liam Neeson on your asses, but the fact is that Peyton Riley has a very specific skill set. She's good at her job and has just gotten off a major project when she crosses paths with the gorgeous snake-in-the-grass calling himself Carson Varis. He's taken her against her will, but to where, and to what end? She's got days to figure this out and escape–before her boss finds out where his favorite specialist has disappeared.
Carson Varis has got an eye for art and a mania for professionalism. No one does work-life balance like he does. But a certain fiery redhead has gotten his goals in a twist. He has his employer's order to fulfill, but can't get the memory of her body (and her hair, and her deep blue eyes, and oh, that mouth) out of the way. Can he get it together and pull off a job well done?
"Gustave!" Carson cried as the older man lunged.
He gripped her arms, bound to the chair, with such force that she yelped in pain. "You caused my sister's death, you witch!" he screamed in her face. "Was it worth stopping the acquisition that a poor woman had to lose her life?"
"I—I didn't mean for her to die!" she yelled back, the panic that she'd been mastering surging through her body, a lunatic tide, burning and acidic. "I've never—in all my time—no one's ever been hurt—"
"Ha!" Gustave cried, and then he laughed maniacally. "'No one's ever been hurt'? Do you truly believe that,
? That when you destroy a person's livelihood, they are not ever hurt?"
They stared back at each other—she watching every flicker of muscle in his face for an approaching strike, he as though at something unpleasant stuck under his shoe. The revulsion in his face was clear. "Nagore may have been the first woman who's life you ended, but you have killed others before, oh yes,
, scores of them—killed their worth, killed their estimation, killed them in their minds so they walk among us like zombies—and you have done it all,
. You have blood on your hands!"
"What do you want from me?" she cried.
He gripped her arms again and shook her. "You owe me my sister's life!"
"I cannot bring her back!"
"Then you are in my debt!" He stood and appraised her, a dead calm stealing over his face as he looked her up and down. "Oh yes, dearest. You are in my debt."
The hood was ripped off Peyton Riley's face, catching on her red curls. Her head pounded in pain and her throat felt raw, like she'd breathed in diesel exhaust all day. She twisted in her seat, trying to see who pulled it—not only were her wrists handcuffed behind her, there was a long plastic tie across her chest and another fastening her ankles to the chair legs. All she could make out a shadowy, tall figure passing in the harsh glare.
The glare from a single lamp, lit with a white bulb, pointed at her from across the dark room. The shadowy figure went to stand behind another, sitting behind the lamp, thrown in darkness. She opened her mouth and let out a harsh laugh.
"The fuck is
?! Interrogation for Dummies?"
The seated figure laughed immoderately. "Ah, but Carson!" He had a slight French accent. "You deed not say she was so funny?"
At the sound of her captor's name, rage surged through Peyton's body, making her heart thunder against her rib cage. She squinted at the standing figure, trying to make out the familiar, tall, broad-shouldered frame. Memories of the past few days, of how he'd charmed her, let her take him to bed, how he'd looked at her with a dangerous combination of lust and sincerity, rushed through her head, making her vigorously struggle against her bonds. It was a futile effort that could lead to her hurting herself, but she didn't care.
He stood silent now, watching her. If she got out of this mess she'd make the bastard pay.
"Where am I? What are you going to do with me?" she rasped.
. But I would just like to talk," said the Frenchman. He sounded charming, urbane, as though he really regretted having to tie her up like this. It infuriated her.
Let me go, and we'll talk."
Frenchie chuckled again. "I am afraid that is not possible, Mademoiselle Riley. You are, shall we say? Quite slippery."
The name caused her to still and master her nerves. "How do you know that name?"
"We know much about you,
." A hundred conjectures raced through her mind at his words. "And I should say Monsieur Carson is knowing you quite intimately."
"Can we just get on with it?" she spat out. "I'm not interested in being tortured for information or whatever. Ask me what you want and I'll answer. I'm not protecting anyone."
There was a delighted gasp and the smack of hands clapping. "That is wonderful! I am so happy you are deciding to be cooperative."
"I'm not deciding anything." The handcuff bit into her wrist and she was losing feeling in her hands. She tried a different tack. "Would you please untie me? This is all so unnecessary."
"Not until we finish our little talk," he said, amusement ringing in his voice.
"What do you want to know?"
"I would like to talk about Barcelona,
There was an ominous pause as she struggled to master herself.
Breathe in and out. Focus. Concentrate on calming the racing heart, the panic in her bones, the million disjointed thoughts firing up like New Year's Eve in her brain.
The seated Frenchman shifted forward, and when he spoke the urbanity was gone from his tone. "Let us be plain, Peyton. I know you are connected with the recent disturbance in Barcelona. Alejandro y Compania." His voice was low, but every syllable dripped menace. "Ah! You flinch—that is very good. You are starting to feel afraid—and I've always found that fear,
, is the beginning of wisdom."
"There's nothing I know ab--"
There was a metallic crash as he sprung from his seat and the chair toppled over. "Do not play the idiot with me,
, it does not become you!"
He took a moment to collect himself. "Carson, my good man. Do correct me if I am wrong. Is not our guest helpless and securely fastened to her seat?"
"Yes," and was that a slight tremor in the hateful voice of her captor, the traitor?
"Am I not well-informed of her employment, whereabouts, recent history—a veritable curriculum vitae?"
She was fooling herself, trying to hear what she wanted to hear. His voice was as smooth and steady as when he was seducing her.
"And should I wish to learn what it is that I need, would you say that I am well within my power to take, ah, whatever measures I deem necessary?"
There was a pause. "Gustave--"
"Is it not, Carson?"
A longer pause this time. And then: "It is."
Another clap. "That is the truth. You, Carson, recognize it, and so do I. But Mademoiselle Peyton seems unable to. Perhaps I may be reduced to crude threats to let the message penetrate?"
He took two steps closer to the lamp. The residual light threw his lower jaw into focus. She could make out a strong, square chin, well-groomed stubble and a rather petulant lower lip.
In an even, carrying whisper, as though he were instructing a particularly slow valet about specific preferences for shining his shoes, he said: "You will tell me all about Barcelona,
, or I shall return you in a box to your employer. I will mince you into a little pie, bit by little fleshy bit, but not before I find out every single thing I need to know from you."
She lifted her chin. "And what do I get if I cooperate?"
A loud bray of laughter answered her. "Oh, my dear, you are a treasure! What do you get? It is simple,
! You get to live."
More options presented themselves to her, each more idiotic than the last. She sighed. There was no way out of this that she could think of at the moment.
"Just do what he says, Mary," said Carson.
"Fuck you," she spit out before she could stop herself. From behind the lamp the shadowy jaw of her interrogator stretched in a wide smile.
"Fine," she said. "I'll tell you all about Barcelona."
It had been almost too easy. When Roi had briefed her, she'd actually thought it was another one of his tests—but whether the goal was to obey the instructions to the letter or detect the flaw in the plan and correct it, was unclear to her.
Roi, however, had been specific.
"That is the brief, m'dear, and you'd do well to remember it," he'd said from behind his giant mahogany desk, the ever-present cloud of bluish cigar smoke haloing over his ruddy features. She called him Roi, as he'd asked, though she found his real name (and that knowledge she kept secret). If she had to guess where he was from, she'd hazard Scotland. Not that he sounded it—he had a rumbling, neutral, mid-Atlantic accent—but Roi had the air of a turn-of-the-century Great White Hunter about him.
He pierced the air with his cigar to make his point. "You've been getting into the habit of improvising, m'dear."
"Cappadocia and St. Louis went off spectacularly," she said casually.
"Don't get cocky, you blasted little devil." His white-blonde mustache bristled as though he was chewing a particularly tough steak, and his hands slammed on the desk. "
job is sensitive, and you'll do as you're told, understand, Smiley?"
She followed the brief: dusted off her Spanish, donned the blonde wig, the severe, body conscious clothes, and the strong perfume that made her feel ill by the second hour, because these were things that her project liked, and he had very, very specific tastes.
She took to hanging about the bar Don Rodrigo Alejandro liked to visit after seeing his mistress.
The fat, walrus-like Spaniard was a clock, Roi had boasted, and the young man to whom he'd outsourced the reconnaissance vetted his routine in less than a month. Don Rodrigo Alejandro, self-made man, owner of the mid-sized yet highly experimental (thanks to a maverick R&D head) chemicals company Alejandro y Compania, visited his mistress Maxima every Tuesday and Thursday at four in the afternoon. He emerged for solitary tapas at eight in the evening. He liked the dark and gothic Los Pintxos de los Angeles, which was set inside a real cave: whitewashed and clean, but still highly unsettling for Peyton. He liked to have a shadowy corner of the bar all too himself. He liked to have
(squid in olive oil and parsley) and small glass of
, and at exactly 9:30 he headed home to his manor in the hills to have supper with his wife Nagore. He liked his mistresses Hitchcock blonde and trim, he liked the scent Opium, he liked gifting them with bracelets from Bagués-Masriera and, most important of all, Roi intoned as he briefed Peyton, he liked to make the first move.
So Peyton waited inside the gloomy bar, nursing tiny wineglass after tiny wineglass of
, waiting for her project to look her way. But the walrus would not take the bait. There he sat in his corner, sweating under the tiny spotlight that just caught the top of his red forehead, eyes cast down to his eels and enjoying his
chocos y patxaran.
In the third Tuesday of her vigil, she contrived to bump against him as he exited the bar.
Lo siento, Señor
," she mumbled with demurely averted eyes, taking care to be close enough for him to get a whiff of the hateful perfume, and hurried away before he could reply.
Next Thursday he invited her to his corner.
Don Rodrigo Alejandro did not like keeping several mistresses at a time, thinking it particularly ungallant, and so a month after she bumped off his belly at Los Pintxos, he broke it off with Maxima. There was a parting hummingbird brooch for the cast-off and a gold Bagués bracelet for the newly appointed mistress to mark the occasion.
The challenge of this particular project was the very thing that had made Rodrigo easy to lure. Fastidious, methodical and systematic, he was predictable yet inflexible—and that made Peyton's goal, which hinged on accessing files pertaining to the bankruptcy of a previously acquired company, all that harder to accomplish. A failsafe planted at Alejandro y Compania confirmed that the critical files were kept at Rodrigo's home office, and the very proper gentleman would never consent to bring his mistress there.
And so Peyton had to resort to a long game—to trigger (or restart, as the case would be) Rodrigo's mid-life crisis.
There were the spontaneous coastal trips that she'd arranged for him complete with nighttime skinny dipping. That one memorable weekend when she convinced him to try hang-gliding, which he'd mentioned once in passing as interesting. (Roi had a fit over that one.) The little thoughtful gifts she left among his personal belongings. The tearful scenes when he left her apartment after their biweekly trysts. The subtle acting it took to convey her devotion and interest in all things Rodrigo.
"The key," she said dispassionately to Gustave and Carson as they listened, "was sincerity and restraint. Too emotional and he'd have chucked me as a loose cannon. I had to act like I was dying inside but had my feminine pride so I couldn't fall all the way apart." She tilted her head at Carson. "A lot of tearful eyes and quivering lips and softly sobbing when he thought I thought he was asleep and lots of 'no thank yous' and 'yes I'm fines' and 'of course, I understand.' And sex, of course, as an incentive." She dropped her chin and fixed them a provocative stare. "I let him put it
"You are positively a she-devil," said Gustave.
"I'll take that as a compliment," said Peyton, and resumed her story.
Inch by inch the long game crawled forward, every deviation Rodrigo made in his routine a small victory for Peyton. Finally, that winter, she seized her chance.
It was tradition for Rodrigo and Nagore to winter in warmer climes, but there were several variables in this year's planned trip: Peyton, a critical acquisition that Rodrigo was shepherding through the process, and Nagore's newborn niece. Barren herself, Nagore jumped at the chance to spend the weeks after the New Year holidays with her sibling and child, leaving Rodrigo all to Peyton's whiles.
Such were the insinuations of her long game that all it took was a sigh and a wistful look at the hills where the Alejandro manor stood for Rodrigo's resolve to crack.
"My love, do not be sad," he'd chided. "It is nothing. You have my heart!"
"I understand completely why I must be kept away ," she hiccupped sadly. "Your home is a sacred space, after all. That is where your heart lives, and I am but an intruder."
The speech wormed into the man's heart, and soon after he was smuggling her into the grounds, through the topiary garden and the servants' back entrances to tryst in his home. The man rutted like a boar and slept fitfully, leaving Peyton precious little time to search through the manor—which naturally swarmed with household staff—for the files.
Meanwhile, Nagore sent home excuse after excuse to extend her holidays, and while Rodrigo harrumphed and scolded, her prolonged absence suited him and Peyton just fine.
It was a bitterly cold late winter day when she finally cracked the concealed safe in Rodrigo's office (hidden behind the amateurish Goya reproduction, conspicuous where the rest of his art collection favored mid-Century modernists). The files were extracted, photographed and returned, and her long game, as it would seem, would finally be over.
But she had fallen into the bad habit of improvising, and instead of disappearing immediately, her fondness for the old walrus led her to treat him to one last night of passion. She went all out: his favorite lingerie, candles, rose petals, copious spritzes of Opium. Her project was completed, after all, and she wanted to go out with a bang.
It was there, as he panted and bucked under her, and while she rode him to her own peak, that the door to the master's bedroom opened and Nagore, finally home and eager to surprise her husband, found them
Peyton fled as fast as she could.