The sun beats down on the back of his neck, merciless and blistering, as far removed from the Parisian winter as he could ever have imagined. Adjusting the unflattering bucket his companion had insisted was the current fashion, he shifts on his chair and continues his discreet surveillance of the couple in the opposite eco-cabin. The middle-aged couple posing as husband and wife but were in reality brother and sister, currently number one on Section One’s database of newly established money launderers with a strong connection to one of the more ruthless weapons cartels in South East Asia, and the reason he and Nikita are currently sweltering in an exclusive eco-tourist lodge in Australia at the height of their summer.
As another trickle of sweat finds its way down his back, he can’t help wishing their target had chosen a more northerly destination for their latest operation.
He smells the coconut of Nikita’s suntan lotion long before she appears at the edge of his peripheral vision. If he turns his head, he knows he will see seemingly acres of golden skin, an impossibly tiny swimsuit and salt-water tangled hair, all of which will conspire to tempt him in forgetting the target and find respite from the heat inside the relative cool of their cabin, if only for a short time. When the first droops of cold water splash onto his shoulder, the urge to twist on his chair and press his mouth to the salty curve of her belly rises up in him like a fever.
“The woman is at the pool,” she tells him, her newly flattened accent surprising him anew. Section hadn’t seen the point in passing him off as any nationality but what he was, but Nikita was another matter entirely. She not only looks as though she’d been born to laze on an antipodean beach, but she sounds like it, too. “She’d just started on her third Bloody Mary when I left.” She puts her hand on the back of his neck, her still-damp palm cool against his hot skin. “Nice outfit,” she murmurs teasingly, and he knows she’s inspecting his bare legs. “Maybe you should wear it once we get back to Section.”
He doesn’t bother inspecting the shorts and sleeveless shirt he’d donned that morning. “There is a firework display on the beach tonight at twenty-one hundred hours?”
She sighs, as if bemoaning his determination to keep his mind on the task at hand. “Yeah. The target will be there, I heard her telling the bartender while she was trying to flirt her way into a free drink.” Turning to look at her, he sees her wide mouth twist into a moue of distaste. “Why is it that the richest people are always the worst cheapskates?”
He smiles. It feels good. “Perhaps that is why they are ao rich.”
“Don’t forget the money laundering,” she whispers in a sing-song voice as she tugs the cap from his head and runs her fingers lazily through his damp hair. “Do you think they’ve set up the meet for tonight? Do a little business while everyone else is off singing the national anthem and watching the fireworks?”
Thousands of miles from Section, warmed by an alien sun, his senses swamped with the beguiling scents of coconut and salt and warm female flesh, he closes his eyes and leans into her touch. “Yes.”
The pressure of her touch increases, then he feels the length of her bare thigh, still cool from her visit to the saltwater pool, pressing against his spine. “Sounds like we’ve got some downtime, then.”
His whole body clenches, bare toes curling into the wooden floorboards beneath his feet. “Have you finished memorizing the national anthem?”
She leans over him, damp tendrils of her bright blonde hair sliding over his bare arms, the soft press of her breasts teasing the back of his neck. Her flesh is cold, her swimsuit still wet, and the hunger for the feel and taste of her burns hot on his tongue and in his blood. “You’ve been on watch for three hours.” She tangles her fingers through his as she presses her cool cheek against the side of his face. “I think you need to take a break.”
He’s rising to his feet, protesting even as his hands are encircling her waist, his gaze studying each new glistening freckle that has appeared in the hollow between her breasts since they last made love. He takes the two steps to the open doorway that leads into their private cabin, but the need to ensure a smooth operation that evening is too entrenched to ignore. “Nikita-”
“I know the first verse, I’ll be fine. Trust me, Michael, I’ve done my homework.” She kisses him, a lazy tasting of salt and heat, the promise of languid, wanton pleasure. He reaches out to shut the cabin door behind them, plunging them into a private sanctuary that seems of cedar wood and coconut, tasting the hum of her next words as he kisses the salty curve of her tanned throat. “The first verse is all I need to know.”
Later that night, the scent of coconut still clinging to his skin, he signals to their backup that the target is about to make first contact with their next client, and listens to the raucous, tipsy singing swelling up around him, the same words being sung with enthusiastic abandon again and again. Smiling to himself, he makes a mental note to tell Madeline to update her profiles.