The Moscow Deception

Read an extract from The Moscow Deception – a gripping thriller staring the inimitable heroine, Bianca St Ives complete with New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards’ trademark pace, heart-thumping suspense and non-stop action.

Posted on June 13, 2018 in Extract
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This non-stop thrill ride has its roots in the truth – the existence of archaeological bounty Priam’s Treasure, looted from Nazi Germany by the Red Army and kept secretly in Moscow since the end of World War II. It is only recently that the Russians admitted to having any of these treasures in their possession and the German Embassy estimates that between 30,000 and 100,000 stolen works of art are still in Russian hands. In The Moscow Deception, Bianca is charged with stealing some of these artefacts back from the Pushkin Museum of Art – a job that is so dangerous even she needs to steel herself. But if Bianca wants to live to see tomorrow, this looks to be the only choice …

You never see the bullet that takes you down.

Somebody Bianca St. Ives was pretty sure knew what he was talking about had once said that. It was the thought she couldn’t get out of her head.

They were hunting her. Pulling out all the stops. Searching the globe. Along with what was arguably worse—searching the internet.

Sooner or later, they were going to find her.

They were stone-cold professionals. Seeker-finders. Assassins. Locating people and killing them was their job. And they were good at it. The best in the world.

Someday—most likely someday soon—a shot would be fired. Unless she was very, very lucky, she would die.

The thing was, Bianca wasn’t a big believer in luck.

She was a big believer in preemptive strikes.

Which was why, at 7:58 p.m. on a cold, rainy Thursday in November, she was in Great Falls, Virginia, a swanky bedroom community not too many miles from DC, staring down the scope of a sniper rifle at a man’s shadowy figure as she prepared to blow his brains out.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Cloaked by darkness, she lay flat on her stomach beneath the branches of a towering, too-fragrant blue spruce, settling the stock of the .300 Winchester Magnum bolt-action rifle into a more comfortable position against her shoulder. A tree root protruding through the muddy ground provided a natural support for the rifle’s barrel, taking most of the weight of the weapon so that she didn’t have to worry about muscle fatigue setting in in her arms. She was dressed all in black, from the military-issue balaclava that covered her head and most of her face to her gloves and combat boots. Her jacket and wristwatch were at least waterproof, which was a good thing considering the steady drizzle. The rest of her was already damp. And cold. The temperature was in the midthirties.

If shivering counted as exercise, she was the workout queen.

Through the Win Mag’s magnifying scope, she carefully zeroed in on her target. When he was in DC, he was a creature of habit, and he habitually arrived home at 8:00 p.m. Right now he was in the backseat of the big black car rolling up the oak-lined driveway of a two-story, ten-thousand-square-foot brick mansion at twelve o’clock to her position on a small, wooded rise in the enormous front lawn of the property across the street. The mansion where he lived came equipped with multiple layers of protection, including motion-activated security lighting, real-time monitoring via surveillance cameras and a rotating quota of armed guards complete with large dogs patrolling the five-acre property.

The dogs, the guards and the surveillance cameras were all new additions, dating from approximately one week previously, shortly after the time the man in the backseat of the car had returned from his latest “advisory” trip to Europe. So was the bulletproof, bombproof car and the personal-protection officer sitting up front beside the driver.

Expecting trouble much? Bianca silently asked her target.

Was she the trouble he was expecting? She’d done her best to make him think she was dead. He was either a careful man, or he wasn’t convinced of her death, or he had more enemies out there.

She was going with all three. But Reason Number Two was the biggie. It was why she was lying beneath the tree.

Over the last few days, her spiderweb of connections on the dark web had started whispering of an all-out man (woman?) hunt raging across Europe. People she knew of and people she knew had been swept up, brought in, questioned. Disappeared.

Who were they hunting? No one seemed to be sure. But the entire shadowy community of criminals and their connections, of which she was a part, was taking precautions. They were running, hiding, scuttling away like startled crabs into their hidey-holes until the coast was clear.

Bianca had a bad feeling that the heat wouldn’t die down until the target of the hunt was found and neutralized.

She had an even worse feeling that said target was her.

Only she wasn’t the scuttling-away type. She was the deal-with-your-problems type.

In the words of some long-ago Mafia boss, If you want to kill a dog, you don’t cut off the tail, you cut off the head.

The man in the car was the head.

So here she was, getting ready to cut it off.

She had to give him credit for taking precautions. But they weren’t going to be enough.

Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you: words to live by. Bianca knew what side of that equation she intended to be on.

Fixed in her crosshairs was Alexander Groton, recently retired head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—DARPA—and current sub rosa “consultant” for the CIA. He was talking on the phone. She could just see his dark shape through the rear windshield as the car passed beneath the security lights, which blinked on one after the other and shone in through the tinted glass.

The last—and only—time they’d met face-to-face, he’d been holding a rifle on her, threatening her life. Because, among other reasons, he’d wanted her to come to work for him and the CIA, and she’d turned him down. Then she’d hurled herself off a cliff and fallen to her death.

Or not.

So she’d already done the flight thing. Now she was in fight mode: calm and centered, her emotions turned off, every sense she possessed focused on what she was there to do.

The morality of it, the ethics, the unnerving glimmer of a possibility that she might be opening herself up to some really bad karma or a long stint in a scary-hot place—she’d considered all that.

Killing him was the only way to keep herself and everyone she cared about safe. He was one of a handful of people who knew that she existed. He’d seen her, spoken to her, could physically identify her. She was as sure as it was possible to be that he was the one who’d set the hunt for her in motion. What he didn’t know about her—yet—was her identity as Bianca St. Ives and anything about the life that went with it. With the vast resources he had at his disposal, she was very much afraid that it was only a matter of time until he found that out. And then the hunters would close in.

The only way she was ever going to get away from him was if she died.

Or killed him instead.

Through the obscuring glass, she watched the denser darkness that was Groton as he turned his head. He was directly behind the driver.

Her right index finger quivered with the effort it took to keep it away from the trigger. Her heart rate increased just enough to be noticeable. That, plus the shivering, was not good.

When you’re on the job, block out everything except the job: it was one of the rules.

She did. Her heart rate came down. The shivering stopped.

She really wanted to get this over with, but—

Her index finger relaxed.

Not. Quite. Yet.

Like the rest of the car, the rear windshield was bulletproof, although she could always send the bullet drilling through the metal flashing around the window, which was the protective cladding’s weakest spot. Still, the angle wasn’t the best. With the driver located directly in front of the target and a bodyguard on board as well, there was a real potential for collateral damage.

Bottom line, she didn’t have the shot she wanted. She would get only one chance at this. She meant to get it right.

Her life depended on it.

The balaclava had a flap specifically designed to accommodate a listening device, and the earwig she’d chosen to wear with it was state-of-the-art audio surveillance. She touched the button on her earwig, switching on its receiver. Primo spyware, it could wirelessly pick up sounds—including conversations—within a range of fifteen hundred yards with no need for a mic.

“… afraid I’m going to have to bow out of next Tuesday’s lunch,” Groton said into the phone.

Bianca made a small grimace of satisfaction as she recognized his voice with no possibility of mistake. She was using the earwig specifically to avoid such unfortunate occurrences as collateral damage, or just plain shooting the wrong man. It performed as expected, picking up Groton’s voice as clearly as if she were right there in the car with him, rather than a thousand yards away burrowed into a carpet of soggy-cold pine needles with the wind shaking the branches overhead so that they creaked and groaned and the rain landing with a steady tap-tap all around. The house that belonged to the yard she was in—another oversize brick mansion—had lights on in three downstairs windows. She’d already ascertained that an elderly couple lived there alone. The lights came from their kitchen, where they had just finished their evening meal, and living room, where they were currently ensconced watching TV. They would be turned off at precisely nine o’clock when the couple headed upstairs to bed.

“I’m heading back to Oslo tomorrow.”

Back to Oslo, hmm? Bianca had firsthand, personal knowledge that Groton was lying. She didn’t know where he was planning to go, but she did know that he had just come from the near vicinity of Heiligenblut, Austria. At, what she’d discovered, after being kidnapped and taken there, was a CIA-controlled black site. Which was where, not quite two weeks ago now, Groton had tried to recruit and then, when she’d refused to work for him and his murderous cabal of covert operatives, kill her. Because, as it turned out, she was not the daughter of a world-class thief and con man with an eight-figure price on his head who had graced most-wanted lists all over the world for decades as she had been raised to believe. Instead, she was a genetically enhanced test-tube baby, the product of a highly classified Department of Defense experiment designed to create so-called super soldiers for the military. That experiment had gone horribly wrong and led to the murders of forty-seven of the forty-eight infants that had resulted, along with their gestational mothers.

She was the only survivor of what had been known as the Nomad Project.

She was Nomad 44.

Jump back, Harry Potter. Just call her the girl who lived.

Yeah, she was having trouble getting her head around it, too.

That was the other reason Groton and his minions wanted to kill her. The main reason. The facts were that the Nomad Project was unethical, illegal, unknown to Congress and had resulted in the murders of dozens of American citizens by government-sanctioned killers. The careers and possibly the freedom and even the lives of those who’d been in charge of the program were on the line if knowledge of its existence should ever get out. That was reason enough for them to want to wipe her and every trace of the program that had created her off the face of the earth.

Which she was 99.9 percent certain was what they were currently going all-out to do.

Big surprise, being the target of a CIA-sanctioned fatwa wasn’t her idea of a rousing good time.

That whole super-soldier thing? Not her fault. Also, not who she was.

She liked clothes. She liked shoes. She liked makeup. She liked guys. In other words, she was a perfectly normal twenty-six-year-old, five-foot-six-inch, slender blonde with a pretty face and enough sex appeal to occasionally turn it to her advantage.

Who’d been trained in martial arts by skilled sensei, weapons and explosives by special-ops retirees, pickpocketing, theft and the art of the con by the top pros in the game—

Okay, so maybe Barbie’s got a brand-new bag. It’s not like she was the Terminator or anything.

She was basically just your average girl. Your average girl with an unconventional past. Your average girl with certain mad skills. That included the ability to kill a man with a sniper rifle in rainy, windy, less-than-optimal conditions at a distance of a thousand yards.

The Moscow Deception publishes on the 14th of June and is available to buy here

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