The assassin stared through the scope, ignoring the cramp in her calf threatening to escalate to her hamstring. The cold concrete floor gave no comfort and she berated herself for not dressing warmly enough.
There was nothing she could do about it now. The target was due to appear at any moment. She repositioned her balaclava, adding a semblance of warmth to the original goal of keeping her from shedding DNA on the rifle. A slight drizzle had begun to fall outside the floor-to-ceiling opening of the unfinished office building, obscuring the upper floors of the buildings before her, but she’d chosen her hide well. Visibility was still good at this height.
And so, she waited.
She inhaled deeply and let it go with a soft sigh, loosening the tension that had gathered at her shoulders. The dull throbbing behind her eyes told her it was time for an injection.
Not yet. You have a job to do.
The Huntress closed one eye, then the other in an attempt to relieve the dryness. Just then, three large black SUVs pulled to the curb, lining up one after the other. She zeroed in on the center vehicle. The outer door to the restaurant opened and the target’s security contingent emerged. The assassin took a deep breath and peered through the scope with laser focus, her finger resting on the trigger.
The restaurant’s interior doors opened, and a tall, bespectacled man wearing a dark suit with a tan scarf entered the vestibule. Three advance agents, all dressed in black and wearing identical black sunglasses, moved into the open and fanned out, speaking into their wrist comms as her target continued through the second set of doors and onto the sidewalk. Three additional security guards surrounded the man in the suit and shuttled him toward the middle SUV.
She held her breath and squeezed the trigger.
The explosion of propellant forced the round through the barrel of the Russian-made rifle, guiding the bullet on its deadly trajectory. Moments later, the target’s head exploded in a puff of red mist.
The assassin was on her feet as the target’s security sprang into action over the assassinated politician. After she collected the spent bullet casing, she broke down the rifle and stowed it in a canvas bag. Then she removed a loaded semiautomatic from the bag’s side pocket and headed toward the exit. The streets would be cordoned off soon, making escape more difficult. Because of her skill with the rifle, she’d been able to set up farther away than usual, so it would take time before the authorities checked this distance from the target area, if they even did.
Before she reached the door leading to the emergency stairs, she slid the pistol into her waistband, then dropped the bag containing the rifle in a large blue barrel filled with construction debris. She wasn’t worried about authorities finding the untraceable weapon. They’d chase their tails, assuming the shooter had been Russian, keeping the Association safe from unwanted scrutiny.
She paused at the doorway to listen before descending the stairs two at a time to the parking level. When she reached the door to the garage, she stopped again, listening for activity on the other side. Hearing nothing, she cracked it open and peered out.
The cavernous space was vacant except for a dark sedan in a far corner. Already in place when she arrived, the sedan was still empty and hadn’t moved. The car most likely belonged to construction personnel.
She slipped from the stairwell and began to walk at a normal pace, taking deep, even breaths in an effort to calm the adrenaline coursing through her. She’d made it fifty feet before the soft click of a car door closing brought her up short.
She’d missed something.
Eyes forward, she continued toward the exit, keeping her body language relaxed and unconcerned, reaching at the same time for the semiauto. She was almost to the ramp leading out of the garage when a heavyset man with dark hair and a stump of a neck stepped in her path. Frowning, Valentina opted to play dumb and tried to go around him, but the man moved, blocking her way.
“Let me pass,” Valentina said in flawless Czech. She slid the 9mm free and aimed the barrel at him. Tires squealed on the concrete behind her. Car doors opened and the sound of feet hitting the concrete echoed through the garage. She glanced over her shoulder at the source. Three men dressed in gray camouflage with suppressed sub-machine guns stood near an idling SUV.
The man nodded toward the vehicle. “Get in.”
She eyed the gunmen, gauging her chance of escape.
Not great odds. But she’d take a couple of them with her.
As if reading her mind, No-neck added, “Gerhard wants to see you. Now.”
“Well.” Her shoulders inched down as she tucked her gun back into her waistband. “Why didn’t you say so?”
Gerhard Weber smiled at the message from his client. The Huntress had come through again, as he knew she would. He leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. What an amazing asset she’d turned out to be. He hadn’t believed his contact when he’d offered to “introduce” them to each other. Had thought the man might have been exaggerating.
That was before Bucharest.
She was quite possibly the best assassin he’d ever seen. And he’d seen several.
And now she’d done it again. The police in Prague had no idea where to turn. There were rumblings of Russian influence—the target, the Czech Republic’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, had been a strong critic of the Federation’s president and his inner circle. And, to Gerhard’s delight, the assassin had exploited the opportunity by using a Russian-made rifle. She’d solidified her worth to the Association and done Gerhard an immense favor by completing a job for one client, while at the same time helping rid another powerful man of a problem. Favors were as valuable as gold in his world.
Perhaps more so.
His computer screen pinged with a message from his assistant. The assassin was outside, waiting to be debriefed.
Show her in, he typed.
The door opened and his assistant stepped aside, allowing Valentina to enter. Gerhard’s admiration grew with each meeting. Not only was she a ruthless and efficient assassin who actually took orders, but she was beautiful. Tall and fit with long, auburn hair and intense eyes, she’d do well working a honey pot operation, as long as she dialed back the intensity. Otherwise, she’d likely scare the shit out of most men.
Gerhard wasn’t most men. Besides, he preferred his companions on the younger side.
Valentina crossed the room and stood before him.
“Welcome the conquering Huntress.” Gerhard smiled as he stood, spreading his arms wide.
“I’m here. What’s so important that you needed me back at HQ?” She gazed at him with unnerving steadiness.
Gerhard’s arms froze mid-spread, and he cleared his throat. He didn’t like her tone. “I wanted to congratulate you in person for a job well done,” he said as he lowered his hands. “You’ve shown yourself to be fully recovered and back at the top of your game.”
“Thank you. And?”
“And,” Gerhard slid a tan folder toward her across his desk. “I wanted to personally brief you on your next target.”
She picked up the folder and flipped through the information, pausing at various sections, her brow furrowing as she read. She looked up from the file. “This will cost quite a bit more than the last job.”
“Why is that?”
She closed the file and put it back on the desk. “Because it’s more dangerous, and I’ll have to deal with more obstacles.”
Gerhard nodded. He’d expected as much. He scribbled a number on a notepad, then slid it to her with a questioning look.
She glanced at it and replied, “More.”
Gerhard sighed and pulled the notepad back, making a show of how much the negotiation cost him. A ruse, of course, but required, nonetheless. He crossed out the original amount and penned another.
She looked at the new offer and smiled. “Seriously, Gerhard? I realize the first was your opening gambit, but this is insulting.”
She’s asserting her independence. He’d have to tell the doctor to adjust the dosage. Couldn’t have one of his employees going rogue.
“All right. Fine.” He wrote a much higher number and pushed the notepad back at her. If she didn’t agree this time, he’d have to reconsider their arrangement.
Valentina glanced at the offer and smiled again. This time, triumph made an appearance. “We have a deal.” She picked up the folder and headed for the door.
She’d barely touched the handle when Gerhard cleared his throat. She glanced over her shoulder at him.
“Be careful,” he warned.
Her eyes narrowed. “I always am.” And then she was gone.