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First pages

1

Soul of a Thief

Paris, 1721

The Kane Incarnation

 

Heart of a killer, soul of a thief, at home in the darkness, Ambrose Kane moved through the unlit stone corridors as just another shadow. With rapier and dagger, he took the life of each guardian of this fortress one by one as he met them, as discriminating as heavy black smoke in a burning house.

Within minutes, he had reached the dungeon. Sliding his blade from the expiring jailor, Kane slipped a ring of keys from the man’s belt as he fell.

He strode deeper into the gloom toward the cell.

The stench reached him before the light could add features to the wretch within. Kane paused at the bars, afraid he was too late.

He opened the door with a rattle of keys and the loud squeal of old hinges.

The man inside hung crucified, arms spread wide, hands nailed to the stone wall through the palms, head sagging toward his chest. If his body moved with breath at all, Kane could not perceive it. But the overwhelming odor was of excrement and sweat, not of rot and death.

Kane leaned close, taking the mane of stiffened hair in his black gloved hand to lift his head and see his face, his closed eyes and slack mouth.

“You are Monsieur Alessandro?”

The eyes flickered.

“I have nothing to tell you,” the wretch said with a voice like dust.

“I am not a Shepherd.” Kane’s tone was close to sympathy.

“Then kill me before he returns.”

“I didn’t come here to kill you. I came to bargain.”

“What could I possibly give you?” The wretch blinked for focus.

“Freedom.”

***

Bordeaux, France

 

Kane had warned Colette in the past. When she would ask, as young women in love sometimes do, for more of him – for anything more that she might hold onto while he was away for long weeks or sometimes even months at a time – he had warned her.

“I am a liar, a thief, and a killer of men, women, and children.”

“You would not say such a thing to me if it were true,” Colette answered. “Lovers do not betray their worst secrets like that. And you do love me. Of that, I am certain.”

Her beauty was an enchantment, the kind he had fallen under before. Her face, her scent, and most of all her courage, created an unspoken spell and a siren promise of contentment, something which Ambrose Kane had long ago learned he could never have. But her power over him was stronger than his wisdom. She could make him forget many things.

“Yes. I do love you.” His words came like an admission of guilt. “I have told you the truth so you will not be curious, so you will not wish to know where I go and why. I have told you the truth so you can know enough to leave me if you are afraid, or stay with me if you are content to seek no more secrets.”

“You have not told me the whole truth,” she said. “And I cannot be afraid when I am happy and in love.”

“You should be. I swear to do everything in my power to keep you safe, Colette. But I am happy. I am in love with you. Changing that is not in my power. And I promise you, as long as you are with me, you will not be safe.”

***

“Freedom from what?” the crucified man asked.

“Freedom from a curse,” Kane answered.

“Curse?”

“King’s X.” Kane said the words like a secret passed between enemies, a secret that transcended the conflicts of the past.

The vacant squint on the wretch’s face was a lie and Kane knew it.

“I don’t know what…”

“Don’t.” Few people knew more about lies and how to spot them than Ambrose Kane. And he had little time to endure them now. “Let’s play a game. It’s called, who am I?”

The wretch breathed a little deeper, and waited for Kane to begin.

“On a hilltop in Ethiopia, long ago, you and I fought side by side in a great battle. We lost. You saved my life for the sake of the woman you loved. A woman, perhaps, we both loved. Do you know who I am, yet?”

“No.”

“Each of us owe our survival on that day, and all the evils that have befallen us since, to an object with many unusual properties. We, and others like us, call it by a secret name. The King’s X.” Kane paused to see if Alessandro was ready to stop.It is a ring composed of shimmering black and gold metal. Believed by some to be the signet ring of Solomon, given to the king by an angel of God himself.”

“Some people will believe anything, Monsieur.”

“Whether its power comes from Solomon’s magick or some alchemical science that predates even him, put the King’s X on your finger, even once, and many peculiar things will happen.” Kane studied the iron-spiked stigmata on the prisoner’s hand as he spoke. The blood was old and dried. “Among them, as long as you wear the cursed thing, your body will heal even the most grievous wounds.” He pointed with suspicion at the hole where the wound appeared to have healed around the iron with the spike still in place. “You are not wearing the King’s X now. What is this?”

The wretch offered a blank stare.

“Ah. Our game.” Kane returned to his story. “We first met in… I believe it was 1292. The location was the Templar keep in the city of Acre in Palestine. I was your master’s prisoner at the time. You were a young man in love with the aforementioned beauty. The city was on fire, about to return to the hands of Islam, and… do you know me, yet?”

“The Fall of Acre is not an unknown historical event.”

“You made me promise to give the girl safe passage from the burning city on one of my ships.” Kane offered.

“The name of the ship?”

“She was the Leila.”

The wretch squinted at him again, this time with recognition.

“Shahin the Hawk.”

“Once. I was.”

“You have news of the King’s X?” The prisoner’s pulse seemed to quicken.

Though the game had ended as he hoped, Kane grew suddenly suspicious and protective of his secrets.

“The girl. What was her name?” he asked.

“Her name was Khalidah. She was my wife.”

“Broussard the Templar.” Kane offered the same recognition.

“Once.” The wretch, Alessandro, nodded. “I was.”

Kane pointed again at his hand, held to the wall by the iron spike. “Now then, obviously the Shepherd has tried to break you, but I see wounds that could kill quickly, left to fester that they might kill slowly… yet here you are. Alive. How?”

“This Shepherd is rather obsessed with the King’s X.”

All Shepherds are obsessed with the King’s X,” Kane corrected him with lingering suspicion.

“This one unusually so. He’s not merely seeking the ring itself. He believes that he has created an artificial means to duplicate some of its effects.” Alessandro turned toward his hand. “Some of his ideas seem to have bourn fruit.”

“By what ‘artificial means?’”

“It is an elixir of his own formulation. Composed, in part, of white gold.”

“And he’s used it on you?”

“He wounds, then heals. He stabs, maims, whips, or cuts. Then he heals, to do it all over again.”

“How long has he tortured you?” Kane glanced about at the implements kept inside the cell, gruesome tools, cruel iron restraints.

“He has kept me alive in this hell for… months? Years? I don’t know. Where are we?”

“Paris. This dungeon is hidden beneath a great house owned by the Marquis de Rochefort. He is the Shepherd of this city. He is away at the moment, hunting for what I possess.”

“The true King’s X?” Alessandro grew more awake by the moment. “You still have it?”

“The bloody thing is hidden away.”

“Where?”

“My name, my home, and my secrets I will keep to myself, Monsieur Alessandro,” Kane cautioned. “Outside this house I have a friend waiting. He is a doctor. He will bring you to a sanctuary to restore your health. I will return to you when I can. With the King’s X. I intend to be rid of it. Forever.”

“It is worth a great deal. More than life itself. Why would a pirate like you want to give it up?”

“Its value is the idea it represents. Ideas mean nothing to pirates. I do not crave the hidden truth as you do. I do not care about the outcome of your secret war…”

“You care enough to find me. You care enough to return the ring to the weaker side of the fight. When it comes to the final test, you care enough to do the right thing.”

“I care nothing for the right thing,” Kane hissed at him. “Take this burden from me. I will be free. My life will be mine.

As hope quickened the blood in his savaged body, Alessandro considered what he knew of the soul standing before him and the offer he made.

“So, my old enemy, and my old friend,” he said at last. “If I know you at all, surely this is about a woman, then?”

***

For Ambrose and Colette, the nights together were enough to endure the days apart. And there were many of both.

It was on the twelfth night of one of his secret journeys and of her wanderings through the many rooms and corridors of the mansion when Colette perceived the existence of the clandestine space. On the Southwest corner of the great house, on the second floor near the end of a long hallway, between a library and a bedroom, there was something not meant to be noticed. She had paced off the distance many times to be certain. Unless there were seven paces of solid stone behind the wall, there was a hidden room.

It wasn’t until the twentieth day that loneliness and the relentless pull of unaddressed curiosity led her to seek out the truth behind her suspicion. She found the cleverly disguised entrance to the secret room.

The door was locked.

It was on the thirty-third day that she found the key to the portal, hidden in another part of the house, and Colette entered the chamber she was never meant to see.

Behind the entrance was a sanctum. Within the sanctum was a small box of oak and iron. She opened the box and within it she beheld a great secret.

A darkly shimmering ring of black and gold.

Too large for her slender finger, at her touch it moved like a living thing. With welling terror she watched the ring encircle her finger like a serpent, its dark metal coils becoming one and inseparable from her soft white flesh.

Within the secret room of the empty house, Colette screamed in terror, with no one to hear her cries.

2

Corsair

Sierra Leone, 2017

The Dedalus Incarnation

 

It was General Augustus Brima’s birthday, and he was having a party. The air of his home carried the scents of perfume, vice, and the anticipation of many pleasures. Yet, as with all of General Brima’s parties, business would come before just about everything but the cocktails. A great deal of money and contraband would soon change hands in a celebration of greed and power.

The mansion of Augustus Brima was more fortress than home, 25,000 square feet of secured opulence, surrounded by jungle on three sides and on the fourth by a low stone wall, stretching for nearly a quarter-mile above a 300-foot drop to the ocean and a beach of jagged black rock.

In front of Brima’s home, armed men in expensive suits opened the doors of bulletproofed Land Rovers to check credentials and welcome dozens of the very worst people in the world.

One guest in particular had not come to celebrate or barter. His true name was known to no one. If he was known at all, it was by a single word, spoken only in the darkest places, where the wicked gather like toxic flotsam in the hidden eddies of the world. To those who knew of him in rumor, his existence seemed impossible. He was superstition, and his name occurred in nervous whispers. To those who knew him as fact, his name had come too late for any warning, and was spoken only in confusion, rage, and impotent calls for vengeance.

He was called Corsair. He was a thief. And he had arrived, unknown and unnoticed, to prey on General Augustus Brima’s birthday party.

***

The ocean grew colder the further Madeline swam from shore, and now as she completed the last few meters of her return trip to the Leila, she was freezing.

Sean Dedalus was a man of contrasts who inspired doubt for any good thing. He could present you with the most wonderful gift, and make you regret taking it. He could make your love for him turn to hate in an instant. In this case, he was merely taking something that sounded like it should be fun – a swim in the ocean to a luxury yacht – and making it something awful, or at least unpleasant.

The water was cold and black, and the Leila was anchored above a hundred feet of it. If she didn’t slip into hyperthermia and drown, or get attacked by a shark before reaching the damn boat, Madeline would count herself lucky.

***

 

Sean Dedalus entered Brima’s home the easy way, through the front door. His invitation was as counterfeit-yet-convincing as the deep black color of his naturally dirty blond hair. Dressed in black formal attire, Dedalus stalked the party like a familiar ghost. Glance in his direction once and you might not notice him. Look back again if you’re curious, and he has already moved on, out of sight, beyond your concern.

Madeline’s voice finally arrived, her warm Spanish accent speaking only for him from a receiver no larger than an aspirin, thoroughly hidden within the auditory canal of his left ear.

I’m back. Are you ready?

Dedalus received a glass of 21-year-old Bushmills single malt Irish whiskey. The cocktail waitress offered a lingering smile to make sure he knew she had been pleased to get it for him. He pulled the aroma of the whiskey to his nose and returned a glance. Unseen by anyone in the room but her, his deep blue eyes held her for just an instant. She continued on her way, contented.

Sean? Are you there?

Dedalus passed the bottom of a two-story staircase of white marble, carpeted in a delicate fall of red satin and curving like a woman’s hip. He moved steadily through the massive ballroom. The space was arranged like a cross between a museum and a street bazaar. Glass display cases were set up throughout, filled with diamonds and other precious stones. Dedalus offered barely interested looks at them as he continued deeper into the room.

It’s okay, I’ve got all night, Madeline chided him. But you probably need to get started very soon.

He moved through wide open french doors into heavy ocean air and a deep black summer night. A great stone patio glowed with the light of torches and elegant fire pits.

Set one hundred feet from the house, a waist-high stone wall guarded against the sheer drop to the Atlantic, snaking along the edge of lush grounds carved from the jungle until it disappeared into darkness. Far beyond the wall, the sun had already set, leaving only a thin slash of crimson at the western horizon.

When he was satisfied no one but his people might hear, Dedalus spoke to Madeline. His gently rising Irish inflection often made him difficult to read. He could sound pleased when angry, happy when grim, or harmless at his most dangerous.

“Do you want to give me a hint?”

To her ear, he sounded annoyed.

***

Three hundred feet below the cliff’s edge, and another thousand from shore, the Leila rested at anchor. Two masts, spires of composite aluminum, stretched 90 feet above her teak decks. A single, sleek cabin of gleaming white carbon fiber rose almost organically from her deep blue hull. The Leila was 120 feet of grace and speed, sails down, all running lights off, swaying silent and nearly invisible on the dark ocean.

On the Leila’s flying bridge, his bare feet propped on the console, salt and pepper curls buffeted by the hot breeze, Dr. Dabir Ansari alternated his attention between radar sweeps ahead, watching the silhouetted cliffs rising behind through night-vision binoculars, and listening in on the conversation between Madeline and Sean Dedalus on his headset.

Stand by. Madeline bought a moment, her nerves showing, while she continued to her position.

Just back from the long swim from shore, she snatched a towel from beside the hot tub and hurried up the spiraling steel staircase toward the flying bridge.

Flopping into the seat across from Ansari, she scraped salt water from her tanned legs with the towel in one hand while she brought her computer online with the other. As she worked, she noticed the way the sea water had soaked and pruned her fingers, and the way the rocks of the cliff wall had bruised and scraped her hands during the climb. Of all the things she had already given up to work for Sean Dedalus, she began to think he would surely take her beauty and youth, too. If she lived long enough.

***

On the stone patio behind Brima’s mansion, Dedalus skirted the torchlight, forced to wait to the edge of impatience before her voice returned in his ear with instructions.

At the southern end of the patio, you’ll find a grove of trees hiding part of the wall from view. No one will see what you’re up to there.

Dedalus stepped onto the lawn and headed toward the southern end of several acres of grass and gardens.

And while I’ve got your attention, next time how about getting Dabir to do some of the heavy lifting. Scaling cliffs, swimming though shark infested waters…

“Dr. Ansari drives the boat, Madeline,” Dedalus stopped her short.

***

Madeline glanced over to wrinkle her nose at another slow shake of Ansari’s curls. He could communicate a great deal with that shake. He often seemed to have the answer to a question she hadn’t yet thought to ask. At the moment, his knowing frown seemed to say, ‘you’re doing it wrong.’

There was a unique wisdom within the middle-aged Persian that seemed to reach far beyond what she could see near the surface. If there was such a thing as an ‘old soul,’ Dabir Ansari was surely one.

And if Sean Dedalus had any form of a conscience, Ansari was surely that, too. He had been with Dedalus ‘from the beginning,’ a cryptic expression which had always left Madeline uncertain. From the beginning of what?

***

Dedalus reached the far side of the grove. It was empty and away from the rest of the party.

“I’m here. Now what?”

Half-way between the last two torches along the wall, ‘X’ marks the spot.

“Really? You put an ‘X?’”

No, not really. I’m not stupid, Sean. It’s just a figure of speech.

He set his whiskey glass on the wall between the last two torches and leaned as casually as he could over the edge to look down. Within arm’s reach on the other side of the wall, hanging from a climber’s carabiner attached to the side of the cliff, Dedalus found several items he would need for the task at hand. None of these items would have made it past a search from Brima’s security at the front door.

Dedalus stretched for the small mesh bag holding the first necessary item. It was a small plastic case just a little larger than a checkbook. He tucked it into the pocket of his coat and headed back to the party.

You could say ‘nice work’ or something. Kind of went out of my way to find those trees to make it easier for you.

Dedalus walked silently back toward the crowding patio as Brima’s party continued to grow.

***

Madeline sat cross-legged at the console, waiting for the compliment she had clearly asked for. She stared at the dim glow of her laptop. Her wet bikini brought a growing chill.

“I must have been a very bad person in another life,” she said aloud after muting the connection to Dedalus.

“Why would you say that?” Ansari asked from behind his binoculars.

“Because… you know… karma. Don’t you know what karma is?”

“I know something of it, yes.”

“Well, mine is bad. Really bad.”

“No, it isn’t.”

She was shivering. His dismissive tone got under her skin.

“How do you know? You don’t know what I was like in a former life. I could have been Cleopatra! Maybe I mistreated a slave or a lover, or something, and that is why he…” She quickly shut her mouth as her inner feelings had begun to spill.

“You are not Sean’s slave. Or his lover. And you were not Cleopatra.”

“How the hell do you know?” she repeated, voice rising with embarrassment and growing annoyance.

“Because evolution moves forward, not back. If that is true of living things, it is true of the soul as well. And Cleopatra was a great queen.” He lowered the binoculars to study her for a moment as if to confirm his opinion. “You have not yet been a queen.”

He looked just long enough to notice that she had begun to seethe. He returned to his study of the cliffs before adding,“Give it time.”

Madeline thought through a half dozen angry words, but watching Ansari standing in the starlight softened her. She often didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, if his wisdom was real or just a put-on. But she was certain he was trying to help.

She decided not to say any of the words she’d thought of. Instead, she returned to her laptop, scrolling through the data she had carefully collected and organized in the months leading up to this night, until finally coming to the file on ‘Jessica Hall.’

***

Dedalus re-entered the ballroom, sipped from his glass and scanned the faces of the mingling guests.

Plenty of people, the high pitched squabble of a cocktail party. He could speak easily if he was subtle about it.

“Intel, please.”

Our law enforcement representative for the evening comes from the United States. She’s CIA.

Dedalus continued studying faces by the micro-second, his honed mind scanning and filtering for people he recognized and cataloging those he didn’t.

 I’m only looking at a surveillance photo, but she won’t be hard to spot when she comes in.

From the corner of his eye, a flash of red appeared at the top of the stairs. Dedalus turned and, for the first time that evening, a genuine expression crossed his face. For a split second, he showed a reaction of pure appreciation, as for a work of art.

“How might she fill out, let’s say… a red satin dress?”

The dress shimmered as Jessica Hall moved, shaming the curves of General Brima’s elaborate staircase as she descended toward the sea of guests.

***

Madeline sat in her puddle of cold sea water, loudly scrolling through photos with hard taps of her index finger. She reluctantly confirmed what he obviously already knew.

“She’s a bombshell,” she sighed.

3

A Late Arrival

Jess Hall felt many eyes turning toward her, precisely the reaction she had hoped for when she selected her dress. She offered a pageant contestant’s face to the room. Interested, but blank and non-threatening, a woman many of the men here would love to get to know.

That was not a situation she would like to face alone, but of course, she was not alone at all. She had brought the CIA along for the ride. A tiny receiver in her ear carried the voice of her partner, Agent Simon Carter.

Khalid Ihbrim Jafia arrived about fifteen minutes ago. Carter helpfully offered information to her.

Scanning from behind her blank smile, Jess spotted Jafia. He was studying one of the many displays of diamonds in the ballroom.

Carter continued for her.

The street value of Brima’s rocks could buy a lot of guns, maybe even a nuclear fission expert or two.

Crossing the halfway point down the stairs, Jess noticed another man, a stranger, dark hair, dark suit, self-assured, like an understated rock star dressed for an audience with the Queen. He was walking toward her across the floor, looking right at her with hard blue eyes that seemed to penetrate. She did not turn away from the contact, but lingered to study his face a little longer. It was familiar, but she still did not know it. She broke away from the stranger as Carter continued to feed her with information.

Also keep an eye out for the Colombians. Aldo Escobar has a couple of sons here tonight.

Jess maintained her even gaze as she located Javier and Tuli Escobar, two heirs to the most dangerous drug cartel in South America, sipping drinks at the bar.

A subtle impulse turned her head and she found the stranger’s eyes again, closer now as he continued straight toward her, still watching her like he had been waiting for her to look back. She could see them clearly, deep blue and intelligent within a tanned and handsome face.

He reached the bottom of the staircase just as she did.

***

“Good evening,” Sean Dedalus greeted Jess Hall in his refined Irish accent.

“Good evening. Monsieur…?” Jess asked for his name with a subtle rise and the inflection of a sophisticated Parisian.

Dedalus smiled. She was in character. He loved that.

Madeline and Simon Carter continued to brief them both from moment to moment, and so a peculiar four-way conversation between only two people began.

Her name is Jessica Hall. The accent is a put-on. Madeline offered with annoyance. She’s from Washington, DC.

Her face was flawless, and though she was offering a non-threatening expression to the room, Dedalus could see a sharp intelligence hiding behind it.

“Sean Dedalus.” He offered Jess his hand.

Copied that. Simon Carter went to work, speaking only for Jess. Sean Dedalus. Give me a sec for intel.

“Marie Illiade.” Jess politely took his hand.

“Pardon me, Mademoiselle Iliade, but you seem a little out of place here.”

“Oh?”

“This room is overflowing with unpleasant people. You don’t look like a diamond smuggler to me?’

“Peut-être parce que je ne suis pas, Monsieur Dedalus.” Jess smiled. “Je suis gemmologue, un évaluateur de pierres rares.”

Dedalus smiled in return, finding everything about Agent Hall to be far too spectacular for the cover story she had just given of being a gemologist.

“I see.” He held her hand for an extra beat, just long enough to make her look down and wonder when he was going to let go. “That’s not quite as exciting as smuggling, but still important work, I suppose.”

Dedalus spotted the same waitress approaching. She glanced at Jess with the look of a woman sizing up the competition.

He set his whiskey glass on her tray in exchange for two bubbling crystal flutes of Brima’s private stock.

“Champagne?”

Ugh, Madeline groaned. It was loud enough in his ear to make his eyebrows raise a little higher than he had intended.

Jess took the glass from Dedalus. She took his arm when he offered it, and allowed him to lead her slowly toward the diamond displays. She tried again to place his face.

Okay, I’ve got him, Carter’s voice returned in her ear. Bio is sketchy. No photo, but he’s linked to the IRA.

“And what is it that you do, Monsieur Dedalus?”

“Me? I’m a terrorist. Irish Republican Army.”

Charming, Madeline scolded.

Charming, Carter disdained.

“How charming.” Jess flashed that smile again. Then she turned to study the displays as he led her through them. A lot of high quality stones, tens of millions of dollars worth.

If the rock Brima is rumored to have is real, it shouldn’t be hard to spot, Carter advised.

Jess’ eyes fell toward one display in particular, one with only a single enormous stone inside. The closer she stepped, the more astonishing the diamond appeared.

Could be 100… maybe 200 carats…

“It’s well over 300 carats,” Jess reported aloud as she studied the jewel.

“Your appraisal, Miss Illiade?” Dedalus asked.

“Strange.”

“How so?”

“Well, a stone like this would be priceless if it wasn’t contraband. But in one piece like this, it can’t sell in the open market.”

Dedalus took a longer look at the huge rock. It was the kind of gem you would find in a museum behind three inches of bullet proof plexiglass.

“Poor General Brima,” Dedalus sighed. “Still, so many innocent people died to get something so beautiful out of the ground, I suppose it would be a shame to cut it up now.”

***

Simon Carter stood silent and hidden within the darkness of the jungle, only one hundred feet east of General Brima’s home. He listened in on his partner’s conversation with Sean Dedalus as he trained night vision binoculars once more to the half-circle drive at the mansion’s front entrance.

Another Land Rover had just pulled up to the waiting guards, a late arrival.

Carter watched a man exit the back seat with a metal Haliburton brief case cuffed to his wrist. Another buyer. The man wore a felt fedora, a strange choice for the wet jungle heat. Carter only caught a glimpse of his obscured face as the man stood.

It looked familiar.

Carter zoomed closer, hoping the man would turn his face toward him again. At the back of his neck, just above the collar and below the hat, Carter could see, like the tip of an iceberg, the solid scarring of a grievous injury.

The man had been burned. Intense heat had hit him squarely from behind, almost as if he had laid down over hot coals or a shallow boil of oil. His flesh had scarred into a permanent reminder of the event, like the cooling of melted candle wax.

As he watched the burned man stand for a body search, Carter quietly commanded the soldier crouching over his shoulder.

“Be ready, Captain. We may have to go in early.”

Captain Hanson led a hand picked squad of Special Activities Division Commandos. Ten men. More than enough to bring General Brima’s party to a close.

That, of course, is what they had come for. They had already identified half a dozen of the wealthiest men and women on the most wanted list of the CIA, Interpol, and just about every other international law enforcement agency.

But this man in the hat could change their plans.

“Who’s the late arrival?” Hanson asked.

“Maybe no one,” Carter muttered from behind his binoculars as he waited. “Maybe a problem.”

“You think you’ve seen him before?” the Captain asked.

“Three weeks ago, in connection with a murder and the theft of a very large diamond.”

“Diamond? Then why the surprise that he’d be at a contraband diamond auction?”

“I’m surprised if he’s anywhere. He shouldn’t be alive.”

“What happened?”

“Shot in the head. The bullet was lodged in his skull, inoperable. Doctors said he was brain dead.”

“People don’t recover from a bullet to the head in three weeks.” Hanson pointed out.

“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure I’m looking at one right now. And he’s not the type to forgive and forget.”

“Agent Hall?”

Carter nodded.

“It was self-defense. But I doubt that matters to him. The last thing he saw that night was Jess pulling the trigger.”

Just before entering the house, the man in the hat glanced into the darkness of the jungle, almost exactly toward Carter.

Carter’s pulse quickened. Though unburned by that pursuing flame, his face still bore the smaller scars of a lifetime of brutality. Impossible as it seemed, Agent Carter knew this man.

“Confirmed. Her cover is about to be blown.”

The operative in danger was his partner, and that already made this personal. But the adrenalin filling his veins at this moment only confirmed what he’d suspected for a while now. He was in love with Jessica Hall.

***

Jess, you need to move! Get out of sight right now! Carter was urgent in her ear.

Dedalus noticed a look of concern pass over her face and then disappear as she returned to the character she was playing.

“Is everything alright, Miss Illiade?”

There was a brief pause before she could answer, as if she were still receiving the message that had distressed her in the first place. Then, very suddenly, she turned away from him and rushed off.

“She ran off,” Dedalus said quietly. “Was it something I said?”

Could have been any number of things you said, Madeline pointed out.

Dedalus followed Jess’ red dress with his eyes, knifing through the crowded hall until she reached a side door exit from the ballroom and disappeared beyond it.

Maybe you have spinach in your teeth.

Dedalus scanned the rest of the room quickly. A moment later, his face briefly gave away his second genuine reaction of the evening: shock. He turned away, scratched an eyebrow to obscure his face, and began his own retreat for the first exit he could find.

“Well, this is really unexpected and interesting.”

Madeline heard the nervousness in his voice.

Hey, I’m blind out here!


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Stephen T. Harper lives with his beautiful wife by the merely-pretty-in-comparison sea in Southern California. He tells stories about heroes and villains, lovers and haters, and the trouble they can get up to.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
The idea for Sean Dedalus comes from my earlier novel, “King’s X.” In that book, heroes and villains remember past lives and fight across time.There was a favorite character, a pirate, who we didn’t get to see in the modern timeline. I wanted to tell his solo story. Lighter, faster. And here it is!
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I think you can enjoy this story with or without grasping this message, but... if there is one, it’s something like 'we are much more than we appear, even to ourselves. You are limited only by what you can imagine.'
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I love big-myth stories. Star Wars, King Arthur, The Matrix, Game of Thrones... Big adventure, big romance, and big problems that can make you think even when it just feels like you’re having fun. And I like lovable pirates. Sean Dedalus is the Han Solo of the King’s X universe.

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