Madeline Spruce, certified CIA seductress and assassin, becomes the contact for Colonel Yuri Dubrovnik of the MGB, the new Russian Federation intelligence organization. She must seduce the potential defector to determine his bona fides while investigating a plot by Russia and Iran to disrupt the planet’s largest oil-and-gas pipeline.
Working for the Deputy Director of Operations with her crack Agency team and new protégé Cecily Branch, Madeline must make every orgasm count to perform her mission and return to the embrace of Daniel Porter, her longtime friend and lover.
The wide crimson ribbon in the beautiful woman’s auburn hair symbolized daring. It was also the cue for Col. Yuri Dubrovnik, agent of the new Russian State Security Ministry, or MGB, that she was his intended contact in Le Bar of the Corinthia Hotel Budapest in Hungary. At the appointed time, the spy walked up beside her, knocked his ring on the bar and delivered his parole.
“I notice you are drinking a gin and tonic. Bah! Why don’t you let me buy you a real drink? Russian export vodka is best.”
“Only when it is drunk very cold, but without ice,” she replied as she looked the man in the eyes. His pupils dilated as he appraised her. From her vantage, he clearly liked what he saw. She pushed her cocktail from the edge of the bar with two fingers while he ordered two double Stolis, cold and neat.
Madeline Spruce, certified CIA seductress and assassin, wore a liver-colored gown. It complemented her distinctive deep brown eyes. Her fingernails and toenails were expertly painted with matching OLI polish. Liver had been selected as her signature color this evening because of its links with carnality. She was a living advertisement of available flesh.
When the barkeep brought the drinks, Dubrovnik touched her glass with his and threw back his drink in the Russian fashion. She did the same. He ordered a bottle. When it came, he refreshed their glasses.
“Let’s take this bottle to my room to talk,” he said with a wink.
She replied with a counterproposal. “Why don’t we finish the bottle and then walk around the old town? For that we’ll both need to change into something more appropriate.” She threw her new drink down her throat and looked straight into his eyes. A challenge. She was giving him an order, not asking a question.
Dubrovnik nodded and replied curtly, “I’ll change and meet you at your room.”
Although he had catalyzed the meeting, Madeline knew he had to play by the Agency’s rules. Of course, he didn’t have to like it.
“Give me ten minutes. I’m in Room 571.” She left the bar and felt his gaze following her all the way up the stairs.
The other people sitting in the bar area seemed to take no notice of what transpired. The geeky businessman was absorbed in his laptop while waiting for his client. The blonde in the yellow dress continued to nurse her cocktail at the bar, trolling for an evening’s wage. At the long table, the dark-haired beauty lingered looking lonely and sad. What was she waiting for? Ordinarily Yuri would have gone straight to her because she seemed to be the epitome of the aching Russian soul.
Yuri made quick work of the rest of the bottle of vodka. When he finished it, he strode up the stairs to his room on the next level to change clothes.
The people at the bar set into motion as if a button had been pushed. Don closed his laptop, Mandy finished her drink at the bar, and Cecily seemed to brighten up as she stood and straightened her blue dress. They all departed the bar area to change their disguises and assume their new positions. Their extensive rehearsals had prepared them to do exactly what was required.
On the fifth floor, Madeline returned to Room 571 and changed into her mauve track suit with a red hoodie and comfortable running shoes. She wore a listening device and expected Dubrovnik to do the same. Ten minutes after she had left the bar, Dubrovnik knocked on her door. His posture was relaxed, and his skin tone was cool and even. He seemed unaffected by having consumed the lion’s share of a bottle of vodka. He wore a stylish blue track suit with a green hoodie and running shoes.
Before he could speak, she raised her finger to her lips to indicate he should remain silent on account of the hotel’s notorious audio surveillance.
He smiled and reached into his sweatshirt’s pouch. He withdrew a thumb drive between his index finger and thumb. She took it from him, walked over to the low table and fired up her laptop computer. While he watched, she inserted the drive into the USB port.
With a few quick keystrokes, she downloaded the files from the thumb drive, encrypted them and forwarded the encrypted files to an Agency email address. Then she erased the files from her computer and handed the thumb drive back to Dubrovnik. He hid the drive in the pouch of his sweatshirt.
Before they set out on their walking-and-jogging odyssey around the old city, Madeline motioned for Dubrovnik to precede her to the lobby. She used the intervening time to review her agenda. Five minutes after he left her room, she locked up and descended to the lobby where Dubrovnik stood by the entrance. She identified Don and Cecily lounging on a couch as if they were a couple waiting for someone. They ignored her. Madeline didn’t see Mandy but assumed she would be outside waiting in running gear.
Dubrovnik and Madeline walked out of the main entrance and down the street before they said a word to each other. Looking back over her shoulder, Madeline was relieved to see Mandy following them at a distance.
“I’m taking a great risk to see you in this way,” Dubrovnik said.
“We all take risks,” Madeline said. “Speaking of risks, I have a thumb drive for you. Let me know when you want me to pass it to you.” She looked around for signs of Russian watchers. Just because she couldn’t see any didn’t mean they weren’t present.
“Take the next right turn,” Dubrovnik said. He abruptly veered to the right and walked down the side street.
Dubrovnik fell into a jog beside her. “Now hand me the thumb drive.”
Madeline passed him the drive, which he placed in the pouch as he did earlier with his own thumb drive. She leaned toward him and whispered, “The password is Onegin.”
He smiled, and then he began lecturing her about the great Russian literature in the time of the Czars. He might have been a scholar judging from the biographical details he related about Pushkin and the other poets. His conversation never flagged. He laughed at his own jokes. When Madeline participated by asking intelligent questions, he seemed surprised but delighted by her interest.
“Yuri,” she said as they returned toward their hotel. “Do you admire any modern or contemporary Russian authors?”
Dubrovnik scowled and shook his head. “All Russian literature written after 1917 is not really Russian at all. It’s tainted by Communism.” He paused. “The new Russian literature must return to its traditional roots.”
Madeline nodded. “Do you feel the same way about Russian music and dance?”
“About everything—architecture, painting, historical writing, archaeology—the works!” he said with fire in his eyes. He cocked his head. “You speak perfect Russian.”
“Where did you get your love of literature?”
He knit his brows. “My great grandmother liked to tell me all the old Russian stories. She told me they were dangerous. For my security, I was to tell no one I knew them. She lived through difficult times.” He paused. “I loved her more than anyone else in the world.”
Dubrovnik had a faraway look in his eyes, but he recovered after a moment.
“I’ll signal about our next meeting,” he said.
When they re-entered the hotel, they might have been strangers who accidentally walked in together. They went to their respective rooms separately and did not meet again during Madeline’s stay in Budapest.
The next afternoon, Madeline and the rest of her Agency team departed separately and returned by different itineraries to the United States.