The Russian Temptation by Nikki Navarre
Book #2 in the Foreign Affairs series
She wants the truth. He wants her.
Ambassador and scientist Skylar Rossi is determined to expose security breaches in an illegal Russian chemical weapons plant. Her mission is personal. She’s spent a lifetime atoning for the sins of her father, an international arms dealer. But the moment she steps off the Trans-Siberian train in Khimgorod—a city that doesn’t exist on any map—she’s alone, isolated and deep in enemy territory. She can trust no one, especially her so-called security escort, the refined and lethal Nikolai Markov.
Ex-KGB agent Nikolai Markov’s assignment is to keep Russia’s dirty little secrets out of Skylar’s hands…by any means necessary. But Skylar Rossi is more than just the mark. She’s responsible for his brother’s death and it’s payback time. So why is he suddenly feeling protective about a woman he might have to kill?
The stakes quickly turn deadly, and Skylar needs Nikolai to keep her safe. But their own chemistry may be far more dangerous…
Chapter OneHanging Pawns: Two chess pawns abreast without friendly pawns nearby. Considered a strength because they can advance—and a weakness because they can’t be defended.When the Trans-Siberian train chugged into the secret city of Khimgorod, Skylar Rossi was ready. Despite the uncivilized hour—five a.m., and the landscape still shrouded in ink-black Arctic night—she’d gotten up early to review her talking points one last time. On this tricky, first-ever mission to a city that didn’t exist on any map, a city whose very existence the Russian Ministry of Defense continued to deny, she needed to be prepared for a rocky reception.Still muddled from her sleepless night, she stood swaying in the dimly lit corridor of her second-class carriage, beside the row of closed doors that secured the tiny passenger cabins. Gamely she battled the urge to scurry back to her own narrow bunk, bolt the little door behind her, and pull the scratchy blanket over her head.Instead, she stood and shivered as the sharp winter wind knifed through the ill-fitting windows and whistled down the corridor. The cold sliced through the ivory wool of her knee-length coat, slid cruel fingers beneath her conservative pantsuit, and raised sheets of goose bumps on her skin. Inside fur-lined boots, her feet were chunks of ice, already numb and aching.Beyond the grimy windows, the white blaze of artificial light flashed into view like a holocaust, exposing the barren stretch of platform that marked her destination. As the train jerked and slowed, she gripped the attaché case that held her instructions from Washington.Thankfully, neither the precious documents nor her diplomatic passport had been in her purse, snatched yesterday at the train station in Novosibirsk.Once more, the seething tension of the past twenty-four hours constricted her lungs and threatened to trigger her asthma.“Merda,” she whispered, falling back on a curse from her long-dead Italian father—the only legacy of his she’d kept.Seemed she’d been fighting for air since she left her Moscow apartment yesterday, when all the careful arrangements she’d made for this dangerous trip began to unravel. Grimly she fought to release the pressure in her chest.Producing her inhaler would only signal weakness to the Russians.From the rattling platform between the cars, the broad-chested provodnitsa shouldered into the carriage. Her blocky frame filled the corridor, fuzzy overhead light glinting on the epaulets of her military-style uniform.Beneath them, the train clattered and rocked to a halt.“City of Chernov,” the attendant muttered. Unfriendly eyes darted over Skylar, probably checking for contraband, before she unbolted the door.You mean city of Khimgorod, Skylar thought. One of the best-kept secrets of the old Soviet Union, a closed city hidden in the hostile northern tundra, hundreds of kilometers from anywhere. If not for the satellite photos and that lone defector, her government would never have known it was there.Even for a senior official like Skylar, the place was only accessible from the isolated provincial capital of Novosibirsk where she’d boarded this train last night. And Novosibirsk itself, with its thin pretensions to civilization, was a terrifying half-day flight in an aging Tupolev from Moscow.Even now, she could hardly believe she was here, preparing to enter the complex where the Soviets had once conducted their secret research on highly lethal chemical compounds like sarin, soman, and VX—the most toxic nerve agent ever synthesized.So toxic, in fact, that a miniscule dose would kill 50% of the population exposed to it within five minutes.Khimgorod was also the complex whose massive factories still belched out metric tons of chemical weapons, in blatant violation of international law. The isolated citadel where the Chemical Munitions Agency was, even now, continuing its illegal and deadly efforts.“Remember,” the provodnitsa grunted, unlatching the ugly steel doors. “No photographs.”“Thank you,” Skylar said in polite Russian. “I’ve been briefed on the security protocols.”Hoping to project the necessary resolve, she glanced at her blurred image. From the window, her pale blue eyes stared back, wide and anxious. Unfortunately, she looked like hell after that sleepless night, and her cosmetics had vanished along with her stolen purse. Uneasy, she swept a few tendrils of chin-length black hair behind her ear and straightened her faux white leopard hat.Mannaggia, Skylar! You have exactly one chance to get this right, so settle down and focus.It had taken Washington two decades to pry open this Pandora’s box, plus six months of her own relentless effort to convince the Russians she was the one to deal with. If the deal went wrong, it would probably take another twenty years before Moscow let anyone else sniff around.Although, given the fact that a microgram particle of VX was lethal when touched or inhaled, she planned to do all her sniffing through a gas mask.She was still struggling to ease the tightness in her lungs when the train doors clattered open. Freeze-dried oxygen from the Siberian night slapped her face and seared into her lungs like battery acid. Convulsively she coughed, releasing a cloud of frosted breath that froze instantly at minus forty Celsius.So much for my gravitas.Gripping her rolling suitcase, she muscled the luggage down to the ice-rimmed platform.Warily her gaze swept the unfamiliar scene. Around her, a chain link fence topped with spirals of barbed wire enclosed the platform. Beneath the barricade, piles of grayish snow marked the impenetrable boundary of this no man’s land.Under the train’s muted chug, still huffing behind her, the white hush of the tundra enveloped her, then the pure high whistle of the Siberian wind.No one else appeared to be disembarking, and she struggled to master her unease. She couldn’t help feeling a bit intimidated by the welcome committee that patrolled the platform: half a dozen stern-faced guards in combat fatigues, scowling beneath fur hats, the two-headed Russian eagle glaring against sable. Clearly, these watchdogs were there to ensure the other passengers stayed on the train and no curious tourist snapped a photo through the windows. If anyone felt tempted, those Kalashnikov machine guns, gripped in casual menace, sent a fairly clear message.Directly before her, electric light blazed against the black Cyrillic letters that spelled out the official lie.CHERNOV.The exotic lettering seemed to scowl at her. Despite all her dogged efforts to become fluent, she was still learning the language. There loomed another problem that gnawed at her.Behind her the train doors whooshed together, the metallic clatter sharp as broken glass.“Ambassador Rossi?”The quiet murmur sent her spinning around. Before her, close enough to touch, loomed a phalanx of three dark-suited figures. And she’d had so little warning of their arrival that they might have beamed down from the starship Enterprise, for all she knew.Anxious, she searched the shuttered faces, inscrutable behind upturned collars and pulled-low hats, and looked hopefully for Anton Belov’s kindly round face. Unfortunately, her host was not among them.“I’m Ambassador Rossi.” Thankfully her asthma was subsiding, and she offered a pleasant smile. “You must be the welcome committee.”Silently a man stepped forward, graceful as a cat on the treacherous ice. The blaze of floodlights behind him shadowed his face in silhouette. She strained to make out his features: a tall knife-slim figure, impeccably clad in a black wool coat, dark cashmere scarf knotted neatly around his throat. Unmoved by the shocking cold, he stood hatless, artificial light glistening over silky dark hair.“Welcome to Chernov.” The syllables unfurled in a cultured tenor—rapid Russian she could barely follow. “Or Khimgorod, if you’d prefer. Unfortunately, I fear your visit with us must be a short one.”Skylar understood enough to frame a reply, but regretted the interpreter she’d left behind—the associate whose unexpected, last-minute illness had forced her to leave Moscow without him.Just one of the many disasters that sprouted like mushrooms around this visit.“It’s a pleasure to be here,” she said in her best Russian, and hoisted her attaché case. “You’ll see that I have all the necessary approvals from your government: authorization from the Chemical Munitions Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a valid Russian visa in my diplomatic passport. I also have an official invitation from Anton Belov, Director of the Khimgorod Chemical Combine. I’m scheduled for a two-day visit—and my meetings begin in three hours.”“We understood you would be accompanied,” the man said coolly, “by your interpreter. Where is this man, Your Excellency?”As a rule, Skylar disliked the formal address that was her due as Ambassador and Chief of Mission at the International Chemical Science Institute—an intergovernmental organization with diplomatic status. But this wasn’t the moment to indulge her personal preferences.She had a feeling she’d need all the intimidation factor she could muster to deal with this situation.Intrigued? Comment here for a chance to win a print or e-book copy of The Russian Seduction, Book One in the Foreign Affairs series. The adventure continues at http://amzn.to/1caeAtA
Inspired by the perilous realities of her real life, Nikki writes romantic suspense set in glamorous international locales and laced with political intrigue. Her literary credentials are suspiciously similar to those of her innocent twin. A member of Romance Writers of America’s Published Author Network (PAN), winner of the 2012 Pacific Northwest Writers Association award for romance and many other awards, Nikki holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine, an M.A. in National Security Policy from The George Washington University, and other alarming credentials.
Based in an island compound in the Pacific Northwest with her screenwriter husband and two Siberian cats as accomplices, she divides her time between her writing career and other adventures for U.S. government clients. Her notorious exploits in the world of diplomacy will get her in trouble one of these days.
The Russian Temptation may be the last mistake she ever makes.
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