Would-Be Christmas Wedding Online - Debra Webb

Chapter One

The National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, December 18, 11:45 a.m.

So this is how it feels to be a traitor.

Emmett Holt exited the metro at the Mall. Of all his less-than-admirable traits and accomplishments, this one had brought him to an all-new low.

There was no going back from this, no explanation or excuse he could offer for the damaging evidence he was about to hand over. While it was only a flash drive, it felt like a fifty-pound weight-lifting plate from the gym. He knew Director Thomas Casey had someone tailing him and he knew better than to waste time trying to make that identification.

If this sting backfired, if either Thomas Casey or his nemesis, Bernard Isely, got impatient, Holt—standing between them—would get cut down in the crossfire. Not exactly the way he’d seen himself going out of this business, much less this world.

Handing over the reports from the Germany mission when Casey had killed Isely’s father was a stop-gap measure. Isely wanted both the intel on the old mission and the vial of the deadly virus Mission Recovery had seized two months ago.

It didn’t take a genius to know Isely wanted a whole hell of a lot more than that. The man had one goal: to exact revenge and destroy Director Casey.

Holt was running out of excuses to keep both men at bay. And timing was everything.

He walked with purpose toward the National Air and Space Museum gift shop, just another man picking up another gift amid the throng of tourists. The weather was clear and the wind cold, but winter hadn’t turned truly bitter yet and people were still wishing for an idyllic white Christmas.

Holt could only wish he would still be alive come Christmas.

He stopped where the text message had told him to stop, feeling like a damned puppet on a string. Even knowing at the beginning that it would come down to this didn’t make it easier to stomach the reality of doing so. He was used to giving orders, not taking them.

Handing over this tiny piece of technology and the huge intelligence it stored marked the beginning of the end.

It might have been a few years since his last field op, but the skills didn’t go away. They were far too deeply engrained. He checked his phone, made the drop and didn’t die or get arrested as he walked back to the metro station.

“Did my warning help?”

Holt didn’t miss a step as Isely joined him on the escalator. “Sure.”

After receiving a picture of Director Casey’s sister, Cecelia Manning, and the single warning of “Beware,” Holt had dug into the woman’s recent history to see what threat or purpose she might pose for Isely. Or for him.

He’d learned all kinds of details he didn’t want to know, from her favorite perfume to her tight circle of wealthy friends who toddled about doing charitable works.

Then he’d found the big splashy occasion he knew Isely had been looking for: the charity gala the widow had organized to benefit cancer research in memory of her late husband. The event offered the perfect opportunity.

“And?” Isely prompted.

Holt wasn’t inclined to answer truthfully. He’d exhausted himself planting bugs in the woman’s house, a GPS tracker on her car, opening a profile that matched hers on an online dating site and monitoring her general safety while maintaining his own responsibilities at Mission Recovery.

“And her family will join her at tomorrow’s event,” Holt replied, giving the man what he wanted.

“You will take the appropriate action?”

Holt nodded, letting his hand shake just a touch. He didn’t want to oversell it, but a traitor would have reservations and a few jangling nerves at this point. He had a wild hope that a specialist would come charging in—now—before this got messy.

“I will send the address when it is time.”

Holt nodded again as the train came into the station.

“Don’t worry, my friend.” Isely’s hand landed heavy on Holt’s shoulder. “You have a new team now. You are not alone.”

Friend?

Isely couldn’t know it, but that was Holt’s worst fear.

Chapter Two

Alexandria, Virginia, 2:15 p.m.

“I know you’re disappointed, Mom.”

Cecelia Manning filled two mugs of coffee and handed one to her daughter, Casey. She watched Casey add a scant teaspoon of sugar and a hefty dollop of milk.

When the risk of milk ending up on her counter was minimized, she said, “My application was accepted.”

“What?” Casey’s mouth dropped open in shock. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am completely serious,” Cecelia replied. She decided hiding the pain her daughter’s reaction had caused was best for now.