Adam Walker is one of the Company’s best field agents, a highly trained, well-honed killing machine when that’s what’s needed. But, he’s also a man of many secrets, and one of them is that he’s a ninja, one of Japan’s mythical death warriors. When another of Adam’s secrets, his lover Kiku, is killed, he turns to the one person he trusts, fellow agent Shainna Barton. While Shainna covers for him on a mission, Adam metes out his revenge, and discovers that his friendship with Shainna has a much deeper meaning that either of them ever realized…
Adam’s steps were sure and silent as he made his way to the rear of the small theater. Exhaustion consumed him, but the residue of rushing adrenaline afforded his body a moment of false energy. Successful in yet another assignment—when the body turned up with the stolen files, there’d be no questions asked. Business as usual.
Still, the timing had been off, and there’d been no time to warn Kiku to stay at home. Uneasiness whispered inside him again, as it had for most of the past hour. Not for the first time during recent weeks, though . . . . He wondered if it had been wise to reject her desire to take their relationship to a more intimate involvement. Loving Kiku was as natural to him as breathing. But being her lover was something he hadn’t honestly considered. Not until she’d brought it to his attention.
Why he hadn’t noticed her love changing to passion baffled him now, as he thought about it. He’d told her intimacy of that kind would create distractions within his mind—the kind that might one day get them both killed. She’d been skeptical, though uncharacteristically reticent about explaining why, when he questioned her quick acceptance of his decision.
He thrust the doubts aside as he reached her office and entered. As always, the closet-like room appeared in complete chaos. An organized mess, she called it. He crossed the short space and picked up the phone as he settled on the edge of her desk. He was about to dial her home number when a flicker of movement drew his attention to the small, private parking lot separating the theater from a large apartment building next door. Adam slipped the receiver into its cradle and moved to stand in the shadows next to the small window behind her desk.
He spotted Kiku’s nearly naked body and he froze. Instinct guided him as fear and rage surged through him. Reaching beyond the haze of tumultuous emotions, he drew on his training. A careful look at Kiku told him she was dead . . . her neck broken. Again, the flicker of shadows betrayed a presence. He waited. Seconds passed, so drawn out by tension they felt like hours, but one-by-one he saw each figure with striking clarity. And in that brief instant, each of the five faces was burned indelibly into his memory. He knew one of them by name, and recognized the others as students of Caisson’s dojo. The heavy weight of the gun under his left arm all but spoke to him the alluring suggestion to pull the weapon and use it was so tempting. Adam had to force himself to resist using his weapon, a task made all the more difficult when Caisson bent over Kiku and placed a mocking kiss on her forehead.
He tore his gaze away, no longer trusting his ability to control his grief-enhanced rage. As he leaned against the wall, he realized he’d been holding his breath. Slowly, he exhaled, shaking uncontrollably despite his imposed strength of will.
When the wracking spasms of anguish subsided, he emerged from the theater’s office and left without looking back.
* * * * *
Less than half an hour later, Adam slipped into Kiku’s small flat. Like her office, it was in disarray, although not to the same exaggerated extent. He did a thorough, systematic search of the entire four rooms, removing every trace of his presence in her life. The items were few, for he seldom left even the smallest of articles behind. No photographs of them to be found, together or individually, a house rule they’d agreed to years earlier.
Hovering in the doorway, he took one final look at the place. It was so much like her, he thought, inhaling the light residue of sandalwood incense in the air. Books on every subject to satisfy her insatiable thirst for knowledge were strewn about, along with old theater posters, exotically painted masques, and cassettes and CDs in various languages. Despite his protestations, a map hung on the wall, dotted with postcards from the countries they’d traveled together. He hesitated for a moment then decided to collect the cards and destroy the map.
When he finished, he locked the door and turned his back on this place, too. Kiku would have expected nothing less from him.
* * * * *
Shainna Barton sighed in weariness as she kicked open the door to her apartment to drag her luggage inside. She’d been out of the country for over a month this time, and home seemed more appealing than she would have thought possible. She was growing tired in more ways than one.
A quick slam and the door shut firmly, leaving her in the silent, air-conditioned sanctuary she’d bought only a year before, a purchase she’d recognized as the first step toward her accepting pending retirement from the field.
She’d called home the night before, and her oldest and dearest friend had opened the apartment and stocked the cupboards for her. DeeDee Caulwell was one of the few constants in Shainna’s life. She honestly didn’t know what she’d do without her.
The phone rang. She stole a glance at the caller ID. Dee. Shainna dropped her shoulder bag and flopped into a chair as she grabbed the phone. The worry in DeeDee’s voice hit before the actual words, and Shainna automatically reached for the TV remote control to turn on the news report her friend was going on about with such dread. The reporter’s words ran together as Shainna’s world twisted wildly on its axis. Her pulse roared so loud in her ears she barely heard DeeDee say she was on her way over.
* * * * *
From her window seat, Shainna looked out at the night sky. Her chill had very little to do with the air-conditioned air. The ice reached into her soul and expanded outward to her quivering limbs. She wasn’t prone to infatuation, never had been, but there was something almost obsessive in her passion for Adam Walker. They were friends; the relationship worked for them. But Shainna had realized, long ago, the hunger she felt in Adam’s company had precious little to do with being friends. If she’d been less honest, she would have hated Kiku Shimoda, simply for being the love in Walker’s life. But Shainna was too much a realist to pretend the other woman was the reason Adam didn’t love her.
She sighed and closed her eyes, letting her head thump gently against the wall at her back. Adam’s amazing topaz eyes came into focus so quickly she was startled to discover he wasn’t next to her. She could feel him, though. All around her. Inside her heart. His pain was agonizing—and total. He was out there, and by now, he knew.
“What are you going to do, Adam?” She asked the question aloud, as was her custom when working possible angles to a puzzle. She shivered when the answer, like a cold caress, brushed her consciousness—a promise of mayhem and death—as if Adam had spoken directly into her mind. They’d been connected on some level for what felt like forever. And in that moment, she wondered if he’d actually heard her and responded.
Before the odd thought could create another conundrum for her to ponder, she was distracted by a knock at the door. She crossed the room and opened the door, breathing a thankful sigh at the sight of her friend.
“Are you all right?”
She shut the door as DeeDee glided past, shedding her coat and tossing it into a chair before she turned to Shainna.
“I’m still trying to take in what’s happened.” Shainna confessed. “This is going to destroy Adam. Especially when he finds out what the press is reporting. I don’t even know where to find him, Dee!”
“Maybe that’s for the best.” DeeDee’s features showed visible concern.
Adam Walker was always a touchy subject between them, and the gentle censure in her friend’s voice made Shainna’s temper flare.
“Okay, Shain.” DeeDee held up her hands in a gesture of surrender before Shainna had time to snap. “Truce. Back off. What are you planning, anyway?”
“If I know Adam, he’s going to find who did this.” She paced, chewed her thumbnail, and tried to make her brain function past her fear for the man. Kiku was the world to Adam, and Shainna knew—via the Division grapevine—the two had been a solid couple for some time. Whether or not the rumors were based on truth wasn’t relevant to her heart. She’d tried not to resent Kiku for Adam’s lack of interest, but it hadn’t been easy when every part of her spirit and body cried for the man in ways she wished rather to never have experienced.
“And . . . .” She finally added. “He’s going to make them pay for what they did to her—in blood.”
“That sounds like Adam,” DeeDee agreed, her tone reflecting her dislike and her near contempt for the man they discussed.
“Why do you hate him so much?”
Startled, DeeDee didn’t answer for a moment, then she laughed. “I hate what he does to you. Adam himself means nothing to me. I know you’d walk through hell for him, and he wouldn’t have to ask you to do it. What would he do for you, Shain?”
“The same thing if I needed him.”
“You’re so certain of that. Why?”
“Because he’s Adam. Because what exists between us is a lot deeper than simply trusting another agent with your back.”
“What happened in Italy last year?” DeeDee asked. “You’ve never said much, but something changed between you and Adam on that mission.”
“Yeah, we took our last day and went sight-seeing like normal people. I got drunk and told him I loved him. We blamed the wine the next day, and pretended it never happened.”
“What did he say?”
“I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.”
DeeDee’s frown of confusion made Shainna laugh. “It’s a quote we found earlier that day, a 15th century Italian poet called Pietro Aretino wrote it. Adam told me we were friends, there was no room for anything else between us.”
“But he’s always willing to ask you to risk your life for him!”
“It’s my job, Dee. And his!”
“Not this time. This time it’s personal, so you should stay out of it.”
“How am I supposed to do that? He’s going to need backup, and if I know Adam, he’s going to make it clear he wants me.”
“Doesn’t mean Michael will agree.” DeeDee reasoned. She’d been fidgeting and tidying up the apartment from the moment she’d started the conversation. Now, she stopped moving. “He does have some control over Adam.”
Shainna laughed at DeeDee’s careful words, barely recognizing the shrill, hysterical edge that turned the sound brittle. “No one controls Adam,” she said, barely above a whisper. “Michael knows that better than anyone.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
Shainna trembled. “Wait.” She returned to the window and stared into the night once again. “I’m going to wait for him. What else can I do?”