Authors: Sandra Marton
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Military, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Contemporary Fiction
© 2013, Sandra Marton
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. 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 express written permission from the author / publisher.
s a boy,
Kazimir Savitch always figured the best way to start the day was to open your eyes and discover that it was a summer Saturday and the Yankees were playing a home game, meaning that if he was careful and clever, he could sneak onto a rooftop near the stadium and watch a few innings before the superintendent discovered him and damn near kicked his butt down six flights of stairs and straight out into the street.
As a man, Kaz still loved the Yankees, but he’d discovered a great way to begin the day, and it didn’t depend on the season or the day or even on baseball.
You woke up with a warm and willing woman in your bed, you were off to the best possible start.
Unfortunately, what he awoke to on this cold December morning was the shrill cry of his alarm clock.
Kaz groaned, opened one eye, looked at the clock and briefly considered hurling it at the wall.
Yeah, but it wasn’t the clock’s fault he was tired.
He’d been out to dinner with a client last night and fell into bed someplace around midnight, caught a couple of hours sleep before getting up to check the figures coming in from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. He’d made a couple of calls, dropped back into bed and now…now it was 6:40 a.m. and if he didn’t get moving, he’d be late.
Kaz slapped the alarm to silence. Yawning, he sat up and stretched his arms high over his head as the sheet and comforter fell to his waist.
Did he have time for a quick workout in the gym on the upper level of his penthouse?
No. Not today.
He had an eight o’clock appointment at his office on Madison Avenue. Being late was not an option. It never was—his years in Special Ops had trained him well—but today, more than ever, being on time was important. He wanted to be at his desk before Zach Castelianos showed up. They had served in the same unit; Kaz had even done some work for Zach’s elite security firm after they’d both left the service. Then he’d gone on to other things. They’d kept in touch —a couple of beers once in a while—but Zach had made it clear today was about business, though he wouldn’t say more than that over the phone.
Kaz was curious.
Did Zach have a job he wanted done? Something a little dangerous?
His walk-in shower had six sprays. He turned them all to high, grabbed a container of shampoo, dumped some in his dark hair and turned his face up to the cascading water.
It was a long time since he’d done anything edgy.
He washed quickly, rinsed off, turned off the sprays and wrapped an oversized bath sheet around his hips. Then he stepped before the double sink, lathered his face, picked up a razor and began to shave.
Once, his specialty had been surveillance. Intelligence gathering. And darker skills.
Now, it was finance. International finance. And he was good at it.
He was the head honcho, the brains behind and the guy who ran TSIF. The Sardovian Investment Fund. It had made him rich. Better still, it had meant schools and hospitals parks and roads for Sardovia and its people, and the damnedest thing was that it had happened only because he’d been wounded—barely wounded, compared with what had happened to some of the men he’d served with in Afghanistan. A punctured eardrum and the subsequent minor hearing loss was nothing, but it had rendered him unfit for Special Ops, where a man depended as much on his senses as on his M4 carbine.
Kaz rinsed the remaining lather from his face, dried it, slapped on some aftershave that didn’t smell like a field of flowers, and headed into his dressing room.
Who’d have imagined that when he’d looked around for a way to make a living, he’d have ended up the head of an investment fund? A successful one, enough so that it was kind of a moral quid pro quo, a way for him to make up for the immorality of the Sardovian SOB who’d sired him.
Until he was ten, he’d never known a thing about the man. And he’d never heard of Sardovia, but who had? A small kingdom on the Baltic, powerful beyond its size thanks to the gold that was mined in the high mountains that were its eastern boundary, wasn’t exactly a place that made the six o’clock news.
All that had changed for him on his tenth birthday.
A man who looked like an undertaker had turned up at the shabby apartment Kaz and his mother shared on 169th Street in the South Bronx, announced himself as the emissary of King Karl of Sardovia, and announced, as well, that the king wanted to see his grandson.
“Me?” a stunned Kaz had said.
It turned out that he wasn’t just a boy being raised by a single mother; he was the son of a Sardovian prince who had abandoned them both, and who never mentioned their existence until he was on his death bed.
“My king wishes to see the boy,” the emissary had said.
Kaz’s mother had been elated.
“He’ll want to take care of us, Kazimir,” she’d said happily. “We’ll be rich! And you—you will be a prince!”
Kaz took a navy Brioni suit from its hanger.
They had flown to Sardovia on a private plane, been whisked to the palace in a limousine, and brought before a white-haired old man seated on what Kaz supposed was a throne.
“Where’s his crown?” Kaz had whispered, and a dozen voices had said, “Shhh!”
“Boy,” the king had barked, “come closer.”
Kaz had not moved. His mother had poked him and he’d stumbled forward
The king had looked at him as if he were an alien.
“You are illegitimate, boy. Do you know what that means?”
Kaz had nodded. “It means that my father never took care of my mother and me.”
“It means,” the king had said coldly, “that you are a bastard, a vivid reminder that my eldest son was not worthy of inheriting the throne. Fortunately, my younger son
worthy. But, like it or not, my blood is in your veins.”
Kaz smiled thinly at the memory.
“I will never formally recognize you as my grandson—but I will see to it that you learn our ways, and that you are properly educated.”
That had meant a monthly stipend for his mother and, for Kaz, two weeks each summer spent in the gossip-filled confines of the Saradovian court.
He’d hated those summers, hated that his grandfather paid for his enrollment at a private boarding school in New England, where he’d worked his ass off so that at age eighteen, he’d won a full four-year scholarship to Columbia and turned his back on the king’s unwanted money.
He had not seen or heard from his grandfather after that, so he’d been surprised when the old man’s emissary turned up the day he got his degree in financial economics—a degree granted with the highest possible academic honors.
The emissary had bristled with importance.
“My king has decided that you are to take up residence in Sardovia and serve in an advisory position to the minister of finance.”
“Tell your king that
have decided to join the Marine Corps.”
His mother had grabbed his arm. “Kazimir,” she’d hissed, “you cannot do this to me!”
“You need not worry, madam,” the emissary had said. “They will not accept your son. He is a foreigner.”
But he wasn’t.
Kaz held dual citizenship. The Corps was happy to have him, happier still to move him quickly into Special Ops.
He’d loved it. The Corps. Special Ops. The hard training, the feeling that he was doing something that mattered. He would never have left except for the damned wound to his eardrum. Actually, the Corps had asked him to stay on. They’d offered him a desk job in D.C. and he’d tried it, but it hadn’t been a good fit.
Spit and polish wasn’t his thing.
Which was laughable, he thought as he tucked in his shirt, zipped his fly and looked at himself in the wall of mirrors that lined the dressing room. If this wasn’t spit and polish, what in hell was it?
At first, he’d worked for Zach Castelianos. And he’d started investing in the market. It fed his need to take risks. One thing led to another. Five years ago, he’d started his own investment firm. It was small. It was open to investors by invitation only. It had done well. Hell, it had done brilliantly.
He met a friend of Zach’s, a so-called financial genius named Travis Wilde, at a financial conference. Wilde had shaken his hand and said, “You’re heavy-duty competition, dude.”
It had been a huge compliment, and an honest one—which was the reason Kaz hadn’t been all that surprised when the Sardovian minister of finance paid him a visit.
Time had passed, but Kaz’s attitude had not changed.
“I told the last guy to take a walk,” he’d said to the minister, “and nothing’s changed. I’m not the least bit interested in serving on a council.”
The minister had stood as straight as an oak.
“You are to take over the investments of Sardovia.”
Well, well, well, Kaz had thought, but he’d kept his face expressionless.
“Because you are Sardovian.”
“I am American.”
“You are Sardovian. And Sardovia has wealth, but it has not been properly invested. We need hospitals, teachers and schools. We need a future for our children. Is that not part of what America said it wanted to bring the people of Afghanistan?”
Nothing had touched Kaz, until that.
Unannounced, he’d flown to Sardovia, rented a car and spent a week on his own, driving from villages to towns to cities. He’d met people. Real people. Farmers. Small merchants. Women who wanted better things for their children.
And he’d become the head of The Sardovian Investment Fund.
Now, five years later, Sardovia had a future. Investors. Businesses. Schools and hospitals. Kaz hoped that he had, in some small way, made up for the immorality of the man who had fathered him.
A month ago, his grandfather had sent for him. Kaz had considered saying thanks, but no thanks.
“Don’t be a fool,” he’d told himself, and he’d accepted the invitation.
Their meeting was stiff. It was not private. It was not about family, or about a grandfather and his grandson. It took place in the royal dining hall, at a table that could easily have accommodated fifty. Instead, they were twenty-two. Ten ministers. Ten ministerial assistants. The old man.
Tea was poured from an exquisite brass samovar that was probably as old as the kingdom itself. There was grape brandy, a Sardovian specialty that tasted like raw alcohol. Kaz had drunk worse and he tossed back a shot of the stuff.
After ten minutes of silence, Kaz had looked across the table at his grandfather.
“You wanted to see me.”
The ministers’ heads had swiveled from Kaz to their king.
“You have served me well,” the old man had answered.
“I have served Sardovia,” Kaz had said, “and her people. Not you.”
Heads swiveled again.
The old man had narrowed his rheumy eyes. “You are not like your father.”
“Thank you for the compliment.”
A smile as thin as the blade of a scimitar had curved the king’s mouth.
“Therefore, I have decided to forgive you for your illegitimacy.”
Kaz had laughed. His grandfather had not.
“You find this amusing, Kazimir?”
Kaz had risen to his feet.
“I find it ridiculous,” he’d said. Then he’d turned on his heel and walked out.
Kaz had felt as if he were being measured for something. Now, weeks later, he still had no idea what that something might have been.
Not that it mattered.
He’d made his lack of interest in being absolved of blame for his own illegitimacy clear. He knew that he would never hear from his grandfather again, and that was fine. Sardovia would continue to flourish; the investment fund would continue to grow, and that was what mattered.
Except, he had heard from him. Just yesterday. Not from him directly, but from his minister of state.
His grandfather wished to see him on an urgent matter.
Kaz was to return home for Christmas. It was an order.
Yeah, well, Kaz didn’t deal well with orders, especially from an old man who had little interest in him.
He’d stay in New York for Christmas; the city was more his home than Sardovia. Whatever the “urgent” matter was, the old man could call him and discuss it over the phone.
Kaz took the stairs to the lower level of his penthouse, thought about getting a quick cup of coffee, checked his watch, and decided against it.
Two minutes later, he stepped from the elevator, nodded at the concierge’s pleasant “Good morning, Mr. Savitch,” returned the doorman’s similar greeting and climbed into the rear of the staid Mercedes Benz he used during the week for the drive uptown from his condo on Gramercy Park.
“Morning, sir,” said his driver, a man who knew better than to open and close doors for his boss.
“Morning,” Kaz said.
He picked up the New York Times that lay waiting on the seat next to him, opened it and turned to the financial section, but his thoughts went to the meeting he’d have in less than an hour with Zach Castelianos.
“I’d rather not discuss it over the phone,” Zach had said.
Why so secretive? Did Zach want him to take on something dangerous, something an investment fund manager would not do?
He would know soon enough.
For now, all he could do was hope.
Every now and then, every a man needed a real challenge.