Jess Mulcahey's life gets complicated in a hurray when she finds herself babysitting a top-secret koala bear. As Jess's world gets tossed into the whirlwind of Navy SEALS and ransom deadlines, her best hope may be to hang on for the ride. With CODE NAME: PRINCESS, Christina Skye features her signature blend of seduction and adventure that readers have come to love.
From the Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group
; September 2004
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Title: Code Name: Princess
Author: Christina Skye
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Ten hours later
Washington State, near the Canadian border
The wind hit him like an ice pick from hell.
It was a nasty night in a week of nasty nights, but Hawk Mackenzie barely noticed. After twelve years as a Navy SEAL, bad nights were his specialty.
He studied the rugged terrain around him. Layered tracks led across the cliffs and then turned sharply, looping back to the road.
They'd stopped here for a break.
As Hawk maneuvered his powerful off-road motorcycle through ankle-high mud, his encrypted cell phone began to beep.
"This is Teague. What have you got?"
"Motorcycle tracks. Probably a dozen or so, but only three sets look fresh. Hold on." Hawk smiled grimly. "Someone's been through here recently, Izzy. Thanks to the rain, most of the detail is gone, but I'd say we're talking three dirt bikes." He ran a flashlight over the wet, freshly gouged earth. "The tracks heading back to the road appear to be deeper, too. Before they turned around, they picked up more weight."
Since the man on the other end of the line was one of the government's finest security operatives, Hawk knew every word between them was being recorded. After the call was complete, every detail would be tracked and analyzed.
"You're sure they had more weight when they left?"
"No doubt about it." Hawk pulled out a digital camera and powered up the flash. "I'm running some shots for you now. Maybe you can pull details from the tire tracks. Off the cuff I'd say there are three or four usable footprints here, too, probably from boots."
Ishmael Teague was silent for a long moment. "I need a field assessment, Mackenzie. Where are they headed?"
The Navy SEAL squinted into the icy rain sheeting down the cliff face. "They know the terrain, Izzy. If I hadn't been right on top of these tracks, I never would have found them. The tracks appear to be running north, so the obvious answer would be Canada."
Keys tapped quickly at a computer. "But--?"
"But I don't buy it. I think they'll stay local." Hawk studied the mud, frowning. "They'll go to ground and try to wait us out."
Hawk had been teamed with Izzy Teague before, involved in covert missions that required brains, guts and seat-of-the-pants planning, and Hawk trusted the man without reservation.
And trust was something Hawk didn't give easily.
"So you advise that we scratch our surveillance team in Portland?"
"Roger that." The SEAL hunched his shoulders against the driving rain, reading the terrain for subtle clues he might have missed. "Put a skeleton force in place for insurance. Meanwhile, I'll stay up here. Call it a bad ache in my bones, but I think something's out here."
Izzy bit back a curse. "I don't need to remind you that careers--and a hell of a lot of lives--are riding on this mission."
"No, you don't have to remind me." As he spoke, Hawk left his bike and walked in a careful circle, trying to piece together what had happened here.
Three off-road bikes, traveling fast.
Men with heavy boots, staying close to the granite edge so they'd leave few prints.
As his flashlight swept the ground, Hawk frowned. There were no dropped cigarette butts, no water bottles, no candy wrappers. All he found were three partial footprints and several indistinct tire tracks.
Phone in hand, the SEAL squinted out at the gunmetal water below him. "They're pros, Izzy. This place is clean. If they go to ground and try to wait us out, the weather is on their side. There have to be a thousand coves and inlets where they can hide along the Sound or across the Strait."
"The weather's heading downhill, too. I just pulled up the latest satellite maps, and tonight's winds are expected to top forty miles per hour."
Hawk said a few choice words under his breath. More dark clouds were already shouldering their way toward the coast.
"It's your call." Izzy Teague sounded irritated. "If you think they'll stay local, maintain your search area. Check in every six hours, and record all information precisely. Heads are going to roll if we don't recover this package pronto."
"No need for reminders." Hawk knew exactly what this mission entailed. As a SEAL, he was used to mantras about national security, but warnings about a scientific debacle and grave medical consequences indicated a whole new threat level. "I'll hang around here and see if I can find anything else before the rain scours the cliffs clean."
"Copy that." Izzy cleared his throat. "How are your ribs holding up?"
"What ribs?" Hawk picked his way slowly over the muddy ground. If he allowed himself to think about it, his pain was constant, despite the top-secret meds the Navy was testing on him.
"The ribs you broke two months ago, Mackenzie."
"They're no worse than they were yesterday."
Which wasn't saying a hell of a lot.
But Hawk Mackenzie knew this corner of Washington State better than anyone, and he didn't cave in to pain, so his tone was steady as he walked back to his mud-spattered bike. "Gotta go, Izzy. Wind's picking up."
"Keep your search short, and upload those images as soon as you get back to the hotel. If there's any speck of evidence left, I'll isolate it."
Hawk knew this was no idle boast. The man on the other end of the phone could geek one pixel out of a million until you knew names and dates--who, what and why.
"Roger that, Izzy. Signing off now."
"Keep your powder dry, Navy."
Hawk stared into the sheeting rain. Staying dry tonight was about as likely as getting laid.
Thirty minutes later more rain was hammering down the cliff, and the last hint of tracks was gone.
Cold and disgusted, Hawk packed up his flashlight and waterproof camera and kick-started his dirt bike. The pain at his side was angry and insistent, like a crowbar going in slowly under the bone, and the sooner he got inside, the better.
Izzy had arranged a room at a swank hotel along the coast, where Hawk could power up his laptop and upload his high-resolution digital images, then grab a short nap before he headed out again.
But first Hawk had a treacherous ride ahead of him.
A section of the cliff vanished in a brown slide of mud as he toed his bike into gear, all the while struck by the sense that he was being watched. When he finally made his way down the mountain, he was drenched to the skin and covered with mud, his ribs throbbing.
He tried to hide his exhaustion as he shouldered his backpack and strode through the lobby toward his room. Thanks to his carefully nurtured identity as a nature photographer on assignment for a respected travel magazine, there would be no questions about his odd hours or bedraggled appearance. The bored night manager nodded as he passed, and Hawk noticed that the waitress in the lounge off the lobby shot him a glance that suggested intimate possibilities.
But the SEAL's only concern was the fastest route to his room. All his thoughts were focused on his current assignment, recovering a top-secret donor mammal stolen from a secure location in Portland, leaving two agents dead and two more wounded.
Hawk's boots squished softly as he left the elevator and checked the hall. When he was certain no one was too close or too interested, he inserted his room key and waited impatiently for the green light to flash on the entrance pad.
Damned electronics. He swiped his key card again, controlling his impatience as icy water trickled down his neck. When the red light continued to flash, he inserted a small silver chip in the scanner. Within seconds the light flashed once, then changed to solid green.
Mission accomplished, thanks to Izzy's latest electronic wizardry.
After pocketing his priceless and highly illicit piece of technology, Hawk stepped inside, where he was immediately hit by the faint scent of perfume. A suitcase stood on the floor next to the closet, and a robe lay neatly folded across the end of the bed, covered by a red silk scarf.
He froze, focused on the off-key singing that drifted down the hall. Only two people knew that he was here and both of them had security clearance at the highest levels. It was impossible that either one would have betrayed his location.
Palming his field knife, he moved silently down the hall toward the shower. Steam drifted past as he put down his knapsack and glanced around the corner.
There was a woman in front of him.
A completely naked woman who was using his shower.
His first thought was that he'd opened the door to the wrong room. Since no electronic lock outside the Pentagon's E-wing was immune to Izzy's newest gadget, Hawk silently rechecked the number.
It was his number, and it was his room. What the hell was going on?
He moved back into the shadows, watching the woman lather shampoo into her hair and crank out a hip-gyrating, off-key Rolling Stones classic while hot water pounded over her shoulders. Hawk took a good look at the rest of her body, chin to toe. Even through the steam and the haze on the glass, that part of her looked just as interesting as what he had seen so far.
The woman had amazing legs. Her ass looked pretty damned nice, too, and while he waited for her to turn around, he felt a nudge of desire, which he ruthlessly suppressed.
When she started into a new song, he fingered his cell phone, inching back into the living room.
Izzy picked up on the second ring. "Joe's Pizza."
"There's a woman in my shower," Hawk whispered. "She looks to be five seven, maybe 140. Caucasian. Black hair." Bending down, he studied her suitcase. "Initials are E.G. Check the hotel database and see what you find."
As he waited, Hawk glanced through the closet.
A worn denim jacket. A pair of black jeans. A gray University of California sweatshirt. A pink silk suit with puffy sleeves and a short, tight skirt.
Somehow the jeans didn't track with the suit.
Hawk frowned. He was about to go for her purse when Izzy came back on the line.
"Hotel records show a new person registered in your room. Her name is Elena Grimaldi. No other information is available via the hotel computer."
"If she's here, where am I supposed to be?"
"You were moved to a different wing about two hours ago. It could be a computer error."
"Yeah, and I could be Time magazine's Man of the Year." Hawk cradled the phone, watching the hall to the shower. "What do you have on this Grimaldi woman? Is she a foreign national?"
Keys clicked rapidly on a keyboard. "No sign of any passport registered in that name entering the U.S. in the last six months." The keys clicked again. "The IRS has nothing available on that name either."
"So she's an illegal?"
"Looks like it. She's got no driver's license, no car or health insurance." More keys clicked. "Whoa--I just brought up a credit card listed under that name. The spending limit is five hundred dollars."
A fake identity, Hawk thought grimly. Someone was baiting a nice mousetrap for him with a wet, willing and very attractive female body.
The singing halted. A towel slid over the shower door and vanished. "Gotta go, Izzy. Keep on digging."
"Will do. Watch your back, pal."
Hawk broke the connection. The field knife was still hidden at his jacket sleeve when he sat down in the shadows, exhaustion forgotten. He'd give his intruder five seconds to start explaining who the hell she was and why she was in his room. If he didn't like what he heard, he'd start eliciting answers in the most direct way. Naked or not, gorgeous or not, the woman was a simple military objective as far as he was concerned.
Down the corridor, the shower door opened. Watching the mirror nearby, Hawk saw steam billow out into the airy bathroom. She worked at her tangled hair with a comb, mouthing an old Beach Boys tune, and with every movement her towel hitched up, offering him an excellent view of long legs and wet, gleaming skin.
A moment later she disappeared. Water ran in the sink, and bottles slid across the vanity. Hawk stood up, his back to the wall, as fabric rustled next door.
When she finally reappeared, a dry towel covered her damp body and her hair lay thick and dark on her shoulders. Big white cotton balls were stuck between her toes and she walked carefully, rubbing some kind of cream on her bare arms.
Certain that no weapons were visible, Hawk picked his moment and shot forward, spinning her hard. Her lips worked but she didn't make a sound. No protests or screams emerged. He felt her body tense, shock merging with panic.
And then her eyes went blank, almost as if she were about to faint. The oldest dodge in the book, he thought grimly.
"Who are you?" she rasped.
He didn't answer.
She took a shuddering breath. "Are you from Kelleher's office?"
Hawk shook his head once.
"Did Isaacson send you?" Her voice was squeaky and tight.
He filed the names away in his memory on the slim chance she had revealed two of her contacts. He decided the greed angle would work best, and he was about to offer her triple what the others were paying, when he noticed a container leaning against the corner of the bed. Made of reinforced mesh with heavy black nylon straps, it resembled the carriers used for medium-size dogs.
Or for a priceless, genetically engineered government lab animal.
Hawk checked the floor. There was no sign of movement, but a smart operative would have hidden the animal immediately.
Outside in the night, lightning cracked and wind hurled itself against the small balcony. Hawk decided it was time for answers. "Where did you hide it?"
Her eyes widened. Then she dug her nails into his shoulders and began to scream.
Hawk cut her off with one hand clamped across her mouth. He was cold, wet, and disgusted. His ribs hurt, his mood was getting nastier by the second and he wasn't inclined to be patient.
He turned her slowly so that he could check the whole floor behind the bed, conscious of his orders to guard the missing animal at all cost. As a SEAL, he was fully prepared to give his life to guarantee that safety. Anyone who got in his way would be immobilized, male or female.
Something stabbed him hard in his side, just below his ribs. He grunted at the sudden wave of pain burning from his old wound. His hand loosened slightly, and in a second she shot past him. She was struggling with the front door when Hawk spun her around and shoved her against the wall beside the open door.
From the Paperback edition.