An undercover operation is the only way to bring an
After months searching for a schoolteacher on the run
criminal gang, CIA operative Josh Sedovich finally finds
innocent beauty in the remotest part of Malaysia. Eager
get Erin Argon home and into protective custody, Josh
undercover to gain her trust and prove he isn't a threat.
And although Erin claims to have witnessed the murder of
very dangerous man, Josh knows there's more to the story
than she's letting on. But getting to know Erin—in public
and behind closed doors—makes Josh realize just how
determined she is to keep the truth hidden. Seems he
the only one keeping secrets that could get them both
Singapore—Saturday, October 10
She had been pretty once.
Now her skin gleamed in the glow of the fluorescent
lights. A strand of auburn hair fell across a well-shaped
brow and her lips held a glimmering trace of sherbet lip
"It's a shame, really," the coroner said as his sun-
bronzed hand held the edge of the stark white sheet.
"Life was just getting started. Twenty-five or there
about." He shook his head. "I try to remember that every
time I step out of the house. Enjoy the moment. You just
never know. And in this job you're reminded of mortality
every day." A strand of salt-and-pepper hair drifted
across his forehead. "I try not to think about it or it
would drive me crazy."
"True," Josh Sedovich said. "Any idea how she died?"
The coroner nodded. "She was hit by a blunt object to the
back of the head. Surprising, I always thought Singapore
so civilized until I moved here and took this job.
Unfortunately, it's turned out no better than anywhere
"Why does it always end like this? On a temporary visa to
see the world and, just like that, it's over." Josh ran
his hand along the side of his neck. "It's damn hot in
"No air-conditioning," the coroner said. "Is she who
you're looking for?"
"No. Fortunately not." He fisted his right hand. Not so
fortunately for the unknown young woman on the coroner's
Probable murder, potential arson and an unknown assassin.
He'd been on the trail of this case for the past three
weeks, and now one person was dead and still,
miraculously, the witness lived. Not only lived but
thrived over days that had turned into weeks and weeks
into months. It wouldn't have happened had the FBI called
him in sooner.
"Interesting that Victor has given you a hall pass. Maybe
the fact that she's American, too. But more than likely
not." The coroner looked at Josh with mild interest.
"Private investigator… " He frowned. "I thought you would
have to be a little more than that. CIA maybe. Or maybe I
just watch too much television."
Josh slipped his hand into his pocket and looked away
before meeting the coroner's gaze. "American? How do you
"Assumption on my part, but look at this." He pulled down
the sheet, exposing the cadaver's torso, and pointed at
her belly button. A steel stud pierced her navel; the
steel was offset only by the red, white and blue of the
"Maybe," Josh said doubtfully. "But she might be a
"Yeah, I know. Or her boyfriend was or, or… Still comes
down to an unidentified body."
He straightened, turning to face Josh. "'Course, tattoos,
earrings." He trailed off, looking pointedly at the metal
ace of spades in Josh's left ear. "Are rather a dime a
dozen." He shook his head. "Don't understand it much.
Must be the generation gap." An overhead fan kicked on.
"What's this girl done? Any ideas on why someone murdered
"Nothing that I know of." Josh flexed his fingers as he
looked at the sad, lifeless figure. He reached over and
took the corner of the sheet and pulled it up over her
breasts. "Wrong place. Wrong time."
"Seems a little more than wrong place and time. Someone
torched her apartment, but not before killing her." The
coroner coughed into his gloved hand. "Heard that the
original lease is in a different name, sublet. Can't get
hold of the girl who signed the lease to tell us who she
sublet to. Traveling Europe or some such idiocy."
"Just a minute." Josh held up his forefinger before
turning his back and taking a few steps away. He pulled
out the cell phone he'd bought at a local convenience
store and hit Redial. "Yeah, Victor. I'll be there in a
half hour, maybe less." He slipped the phone back into
"Well, I suppose we'll know who she is soon enough." The
coroner slid the drawer containing the body back into
place and out of sight.
Twenty minutes later, Josh stepped over the charred
threshold of the ruined apartment building. Outside, the
cinder brick exterior was still intact but inside was a
gutted mess. Water dripped from the ceiling and the acrid
smell of burned plastic mixed with wood smoke and other
He covered his mouth with the back of his hand and
"Josh Sedovich." Victor Chong held out his hand. It was a
quick shake, more a formality than one with any feeling.
"Chong." He shook the man's hand for the second time that
day. "Still can't convince you that a private
investigator might get you more information than this
team of officials you're set on?"
"No more than you could this morning."
"Definitely a case of arson," Victor confirmed with a
shake of his head. His safety helmet was tucked under his
arm and there were smudges of soot across his cheek. His
dark hair was matted to his head and it was obvious that
he had spent a great deal of time inside the smoking and
charred remains. "Have you seen the body?"
"And?" Victor arched a brow. "Was she the girl you're
looking for? Your lost person?"
"No idea who she might be, but she isn't who I'm looking
for." He glanced beyond Victor into the small studio
apartment where she'd lived.
"Can't imagine hunting missing persons day in and day
out. No variety."
"It's a job like any other," he said shortly.
"Now if that wasn't a false statement," Victor replied.
"People go missing for all sorts of reasons, and I'll bet
you've seen them all. So, best-case scenario that she's
not in the morgue yet. I mean the one you're looking for.
Obviously, the other. Well, we both know where she is."
"Best-case scenario, it wasn't her," Josh agreed, turning
to look at the damage the fire had done. "Too bad about
the identification bit. You would have made my job
Victor shrugged. "Although identification isn't my
problem, I still wouldn't mind having one up on Detective
Tay. He's a prideful bugger, always rubbing my nose in
Josh stepped around Victor, his gaze taking in the
cheaply papered walls, the hint of a vine pattern only
partially concealed by soot and smoke. The tiny apartment
was pretty much ruined. The water had destroyed what the
"Interesting that the body wasn't burned at all. Now it's
just a matter of getting the right people to view her.
And then we'll get that damn ID."
Josh breathed lightly as he stepped into the room. Victor
carried on his one-way conversation as he followed. The
smell of smoke was more intense here as it saturated the
air and bit harshly into his sinuses. His stomach rolled.
He looked with envy at the mask Victor donned as he
stepped over a pool of water and sodden books that were
scattered around a fallen bookcase.
The dull red spine of a hard cover copy of Wuthering
Heights lay across the top of a box of paperbacks whose
bright and torrid covers curled and swelled. The classic
was like an old dog in the midst of a pack of pups. He
skirted a small, nondescript, collapsed wooden table—more
cardboard than wood, the kind purchased in discount box
stores—and walked over to a small desk that stood
untouched except for the damp soot that clung to it. The
desk was different from the other furniture in the room.
It looked older and had character. The patina was richer
and darker, the legs had deep scrolls carved into them
that swirled through the wood. He slipped on a glove and
opened a side drawer. There was nothing but a collection
of elastic bands, tape, pens and blank notepads. The heat
had not gotten to this part of the room. He did a quick
take of the other side drawer. This time it opened to a
small line of files. His fingers flitted quickly through
them, stopped and went back. From the corner of his eye
he saw Victor watching. He wasn't sure how long Victor
would allow his surreptitious view of the apartment
before demanding that the fire investigative team and
police take over. It was a lull in the investigation. The
fire had only been out a few hours, and Josh was taking
full advantage as he had done in other crime scenes in
other countries throughout the world. It was all about
speed and timing. He left the files and moved to the
He took out a blue leather folder and pushed the metal
release. The folder opened; nothing was inside. He
glanced over his shoulder. Victor was not looking. His
attention went to the bottom side drawer, and his fingers
skimmed quickly through the files.
He flipped through papers in a cardboard file. Empty—
except one small sheet and a receipt. Both bore the name
Erin and one Erin Kelley.
Tell Mike I took his last advice.
The note was written in a careful script, the letters
fine, unlike a more masculine scroll that only confirmed
what the signature said. The writer was Erin Kelley, or
at least the woman currently calling herself that. The
woman who had so recently been Erin Kelley Argon before
she'd changed her passport and her last name. A twist of
fate twenty-nine years ago had her parents on a business
trip in Canada where her mother went into early labor. As
a result, Erin qualified for citizenship in that country
and when she'd run, she'd taken advantage of it. He took
both pieces of evidence, folded them one-handed and
slipped them into his pocket. He closed the drawer and
opened the middle drawer and retraced the fine line he'd
felt earlier. He pushed and something gave. He pulled
open the drawer farther to reveal a hidden compartment.
"What do you have?" Victor was beside him. "The
authorities only did a cursory look before they took the
body away. And I just got here. So anything you can do to
make our job easier." He pulled the thin edge of his
moustache with a troubled look. "Although, really, I
shouldn't be letting you do this."
Josh ignored the man as he took out an American driver's
license and a passport. He flipped open the passport and
it only confirmed what the first piece of ID had already
told him. "Here's your identification. Emma Whyte. She
had it well hidden against thieves."
"By jove. Good work, old chap."
Josh grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck. "Since
when did you become a Brit, Vic?"
Victor scowled and glanced at his watch.
"What time is it?"
"It's been a long day. I'll leave you to it," Josh said.
"She's obviously not the woman I was looking for."
"Good luck!" Victor told him genially.
Josh stepped over the threshold, seemingly empty-handed.
Once outside, he dialed the number that would be in
service for only a few more hours.
"It's not her," he said. "But she was here. Whoever the
bastard is that they have on her tail, he now knows her
"What's the matter? You sound off."
"Could be the last two years have been pretty much on the
"What, you're telling me you don't love it?"
"Not that much. After this, Vern, I need a vacation. I
need to go home."
"To the RV? Josh you're not a family man and you live in
His hand went into his pocket, his thumb smoothing the
worn bead of a dime-store earring. "It's home, Vern. And
family or not, it's time for me to take a break."
He dropped the earring back into his pocket as a door
slammed across the street. He walked away from the
apartment building and around the corner to where an
alley gave him a discreet view of the comings and goings
around the apartment. "What gives with this case, Vern?
There's another body. A woman. Every bloody assignment…
I'm so damned sick of seeing women dead. At least this
time she wasn't raped. Not that that is any better. Dead
"You're taking it personally," Vern Ferguson, the
director of Josh's branch in the CIA said.
He turned away from the street and looked down the tight,
concrete-bordered alley. Sometimes it was hard not to
take it personally. He drew in a breath, held it a few
seconds longer than necessary. "You said you have
something new? What is it, Vern?" His gaze roamed the
area—the overflowing garbage bin, the tiger-striped dog
snuffling through the refuse. "I don't think there's much
time. We could be talking hours, minutes. Who knows?"
"Intelligence has her in Georgetown, Malaysia."
"Georgetown. Damn it, Vern. Too bad you didn't have that
for me sooner. You know the Anarchists don't waste time.
They're not just any biker gang. As it is she's been
running for five months."
"Yeah, I know," Vern said with a hitch in his voice that
was part wheeze, part cough. "She's tired and with the
trial going forward, they won't stop."
"Right, and they want her dead, and odds are they're on
their way. Fortunately, no one knows where in Georgetown
"Then quit wasting time on the damn phone." Josh grimaced
as he clicked off and tossed the phone into a nearby
* * *
Georgetown, Malaysia—Monday, October 12
"Give Respect, Get Respect." Erin Kelley repeated the
words as she wrote the phrase on the chalkboard and ended
with a sweeping flourish. Her fingers shook and she had
to stop. She ran her tongue along her lower lip, her back
to the class. But even writing the word respect sent a
slight tremor through her. The chalk dust clung
uncomfortably to her sweaty palm.
The temperature was unseasonably warm and this early in
the morning the heat was already unbearable in the small,
cramped room. A finger of light skittered across the
blackboard, briefly illuminating the words. She mentally
shrank from the light as if under a searchlight, as if
they'd found her after all these months. Impossible, she
reminded herself as the chalk sweated in her hand, and
the children shifted anxiously behind her. And as she had
done so many times before, she reminded herself that she
was safe, that her trail was cold. Enough time had
elapsed. They'd never find her. They were no longer
interested. And as she did at odd times throughout any
given day, she considered the truth of those beliefs and
whether she was really safe, whether these children were
safe. One day, she knew, despite her hopes, the answer
would have her on the run again but that wasn't today.
She put down the chalk and turned to face the class.
"Today, we're going to learn about respect," she said in
English. The school's curriculum was taught in English to
children who were already bilingual, fluent in both Malay
and English, and who, in many cases, if they hadn't
already, would master a third or even fourth language in
At the back of the room a heavyset boy shifted in his
seat. Beside him, a sullen-faced classmate shuffled
papers across his desk. And at the front one boy
whispered furtively to another. The rest of the boys eyed
her uneasily. They knew what was coming. There wasn't a
boy who had missed the taunting in the schoolyard and not
one who didn't know what was going to happen as a result.
She had made it all perfectly clear from her first day.
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