Red Heels, The LBD Project, Book 2

Covert agent, Evan Tyler, has survived her first mission wearing the high-tech weapon known as the Little Black Dress. Along with the help of her InDIGO team, she slipped behind the curtain of the Paris fashion scene to infiltrate and dismantle an international extortion ring bent on global manipulation.
What they discovered only extends their mission to find the head of this villainous organization and protect the desperate victims. New leads take them from Paris to Marseilles, Barcelona, and London, where Evan finds herself entangled with the handsome billionaire entrepreneur, Michael Cooper. She must protect him and his business if she hopes to uncover the truth.

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Red Heels, The LBD Project, Book 2

CHAPTER ONE

For most women, a cliffside lunch date with a handsome man in Marseilles, France, overlooking the turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, would be a dream. For covert agent, Evan Tyler, it was Tuesday.

Her date, French Economic Minister Gerard Boulette, looked as overcast as the sky. Evan thought that, like the sky, Gerard appeared so dark and burdened, if someone so much as sneezed hard, the storm would ensue. His suspicious gaze darted around the outdoor café, bouncing from patron to patron, never landing on her.

The café had only a few other patrons. Brave souls ready to snatch the umbrellas from the backs of their chairs or flee indoors when the clouds let loose. They were hunched over their lunch plates and coffee as the clouds dropped lower. The storm was close. Evan felt it in her bones.

This afternoon was the first time she’d met Boulette face to face, though Evan had seen him on television and, more recently, in a video recovered from her ongoing mission.

Gerard had been recorded in some impressively flexible but compromising positions with blonde model, Xandra Yakovsky, who now sat in a detention cell in DC.

Poor sap. Last week this guy had everything going for him. A wife, two kids, a job any man would envy, and a vague, month-old memory of a secret night with a fashion model in Paris. Evan had infiltrated and stopped the extortion ring, but not soon enough for Gerard.

Evan tried to maintain eye-contact, but Gerard refused to cooperate. He fidgeted with his coffee cup. His lip twitched as a bead of sweat formed on either side of his nose. “I can’t do this. I’m beyond help.” His voice trembled. The couple at the table nearest them glanced up at him and whispered. Evan guessed that they recognized him.

Evan shook her head. “You got caught doing something you shouldn’t, but you’re not beyond help. I have important friends. We can get you out of this situation if you just talk to us.”

“Good girl,” Agent Kirk whispered through Evan’s ear-canal receiver. “Just bring him to us, and we can clean this up before dinner.”

Evan reached out for Boulette’s hand. “Anton Hrevic is no longer a threat. Neither is Xandra. If you’ll just trust me—” Before she could finish, Boulette jumped from his chair and sprinted for the parking lot.

“He’s running,” Evan said to Kirk. “I’m in pursuit.” She chased him out of the café and toward his Mercedes, wishing she was wearing her running gear instead of three-inch red pumps and a pencil skirt. She reached his car just as the engine turned over, and dove into the passenger seat before he had the chance to protest.

“Don’t you understand? I am in chains. My wife’s family holds more sway with the government than the Prime Minister himself. Micheline has seen the video. She took my children and left.” Boulette shook his head and sped out of the parking lot and down the narrow street.

Kirk’s voice rattled in Evan’s ear again. “You caught him. I can see from your signal that you’re moving. Where is he taking you? Hedge and I are getting the gear together, and Ramos went for the car. Find out where you’re going, and we’ll meet you.”

Evan kept her voice calm. “Gerard, where are we going? I really can help.” She knew his life would never be the same, but she also knew that she could help minimize the damage.

Gerard had shared only a little of his tragedy with Evan. He had confessed what he remembered to his wife. She had stormed out with the children, becoming an easy target for whoever was behind the scheme. Micheline and the children were taken, and a ransom was demanded. But the kidnapper didn’t want money. Money would be easy. They wanted Gerard’s influence. They wanted his power.

Evan just wanted to connect the dots, find the scum, and save Gerard’s family. Easy as pie.

Gerard kept his eyes focused straight ahead and said nothing. His hands held tight and turned the wheel as though it was an extension of his arms. He took corners much faster than Evan thought possible, especially given the man’s state of mind. Evan was reminded of how her daddy talked about the famous Formula One racers and their cars.  Maybe it’s a French thing. Within another minute, they pulled inside an empty warehouse somewhere between the city and the Port of Marseilles-Fos.

Gerard parked inside, hopped out without a word, and began pacing as if Evan was not there. She got out of the car and looked around for a clue to their location. “Guys,” she said to the rest of her team. “We’re in a warehouse. Not sure where. Just ping the shoes again and get here fast.”

The warehouse was dark. No overhead lights, just the meager gray sunlight filtering in from the high windows on either side of the structure. Dark building. Dark clouds. Dark man.

“Gerard, please let me help.” Evan approached him and saw that he had something in his hand. A pistol. Her heart raced, and her brain went to work. Her Springfield was strapped to her thigh under her skinny knee-length gray linen skirt. Why didn’t I wear the dress? Retrieving my sidearm from this skirt will only set him off. Just talk him down.

Evan took a slow step toward the broken man. Yesterday he wielded world power. Today he soaked himself in a cold sweat of shame and despair. “I want to help you.”

Gerard moaned. “She took my children.”

Evan dipped her chin and advanced another three inches. “And I can help you get them back.” She kept her voice calm and quiet, but her thoughts cried out for Hedge. She needed him right now. This was not the plan. Alone in a warehouse with a desperate man. Gerard’s finger was on the trigger, and his hand was shaking. Not the plan at all.

“The man said that he would hurt them. He said that if I didn’t do what he wanted, he would hurt my family. He wants me to change my stance on European trade with the Middle East. He says that if I don’t, he will change it for me.” Gerard’s words ran into each other like a derailed train piling up on the tracks.

Evan knew she had to play for more time. “We don’t even know what he can do. Let me look into this man. Perhaps I can negotiate.”

“Stop!” Gerard blurted out.

Evan froze in place. She could hear him breathing. His body flinched as he groaned. Evan watched as he seemed to age before her eyes. His face turned ashen and the creases in his forehead deepened. He looked much older than forty.

Just a few days ago, Evan’s team leader, Hedge Parker, had told her how much he needed her. His words, his embrace, it made her feel safe. That feeling was miles away now. You need me? I need you. Right here. Right now.

Gerard’s eyes darted to the overhead door to his left. Evan turned to look, too. She thought she heard an engine humming outside. A crackle in her ear meant that Kirk was within one hundred meters of her location. His voice murmured, “We’re almost to the warehouse, Tyler. You okay?”

“Who is here?” Gerard asked.

Evan nodded. “They’re my friends, and they just want to help you.”

Gerard’s anxiety distorted his face like a disease. His lips twisted as he struggled to make them work. “How did they know we were here? Nobody knows. If they can find me, then he can find me.”

“No, Gerard,” she said, consciously willing her shoulders to relax. “You’re safe with me.”

Gerard Boulette’s body changed. He squared his shoulders and relaxed his face. He took a deep breath and stood at attention.

“That’s right, Gerard. Everything is going to be all right.”

He nodded back to her. “You are my friend?” he asked.

“I am.”

A side door opened with a loud clatter. Evan maintained eye-contact with her man, and a smile fell over his lips. “It is good to have a friend at the end.”

“NOOO!” Hedge yelled from the open door.

And in that split second, the clouds tore open, and the storm began.

Gerard Boulette raised his right arm as if to salute and pushed the muzzle of his revolver to his head and fired.

Evan lunged for him but was helpless to do anything. Her lean, muscular arms reached out to where Gerard’s body lay in a heap. It seemed to happen in slow motion, but too quickly for Evan to stop.

Blood and gray matter spattered the floor. Gray matter. But not gray. Bright pink. The only color in the whole gray place. Evan released a heavy breath as thunder rolled around her. The rain pounded on the warehouse, drowning out any other sound.

The storm had just begun.