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the hero, Nikolai Romanov
The Cold War was never this cold…
CIA analyst Julie Severin hates anything to do with Russia—the country that killed her cold war spy father. She also has a phobia about large bodies of water. Needless to say, she is horrified when she is ordered at the last minute to join an international team of scientists going deep under the frigid waters of the Arctic on an ancient Russian rust bucket of a submarine. Her mission: to recover a tiny data card hidden somewhere on the sub by a murdered CIA mole…and while she’s at it, acquire the sub’s arrogant but annoyingly attractive commander as the asset’s replacement.
When Julie’s life is suddenly threatened by an enemy agent hunting the same hidden microcard, she must turn to her nemesis for help. But the killer handsome Russian captain is hiding his own shocking secrets…
Or this hot…
Daring rogue submarine driver Captain Nikolai Kirill Romanoff is having the worst year of his life. Unfairly disgraced and demoted to driving the oldest, most dilapidated excuse for a diesel submarine in the entire Russian Navy, Nikolai’s youthful KGB past has come back to haunt him in a way he never anticipated: a compulsory undercover mission that will require all his considerable skill as an operative , a submariner…and as a man. Nikolai, his crew, and nine innocent scientists are now hovering at the bottom of the Bering Strait in a 2000 sq foot tin coffin, under attack from an unknown enemy, and he must extract information vital to their survival from a beautiful American spy—by any means necessary
As Nikolai and Julie frantically join forces to save the floundering vessel from a treacherous blitz attack that threatens to send them all to a watery grave, the two former adversaries find themselves fighting a losing battle against a sizzling attraction that far surpasses international borders, ancient hurts, and a ruthless common enemy.
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Pacific coast of Russia
Captain first rank Nikolai Kirillovich Romanov of the Russian navy marched into the Hotel Kursk and stalked through the vestibule, cutting an irate swath through a throng of startled hotel guests.
The notorious KGB had gone the way of the dinosaur two decades ago, but its successor, the Russian Federal Security Bureau, or FSB, was still trying to yank his goddamn chain.
Well, fuck them! He was a decorated naval officer now, a goddamn submarine commander, and the FSB had no right to issue him orders anymore!
Noticing the rash of speculative looks he was receiving, Nikolai forced himself to halt in the hotel lobby. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly—very slowly—wrestling his anger into submission.
It wasn’t easy; he’d been so damn angry for the entire accursed, humiliating year. But this topped everything. The biggest mistake of his inglorious youth had decided to give him one last swift kick in the balls, and at the worst possible time in his life.
And didn’t that just goddamn figure.
He jerked on the collar of his dark blue fitted navy sweater and smoothed back his already neat hair. It felt wrong to be out of his dress uniform in such a public place. But his old FSB handler had told him to blend in with the rank and file when coming to this meeting. A captain’s uniform would attract too much attention, even in this navy town.
He didn’t dare disobey. The KGB might be officially dead and gone, but the old men who used to run the sinister, secretive intelligence service were not. They’d merely changed the acronym to FSB and gained even more power under the new “democratic” government, doing their dirty business as usual.
Unfortunately, chain of command notwithstanding, a man in Nikolai’s precarious position careerwise could not afford to piss off such powerful men.
He spotted Leonid Cherenkov crossing the lobby toward him, looking as dour as he had fifteen years ago. Comrade Cherenkov’s nondescript brown hair was now gray, his nondescript pudgy features now florid, no doubt thanks to a fifteen-year flow of strong Russian vodka across those unsmiling lips.
“Kirillych,” the man greeted him, using the familiar form of Nikolai’s middle name, which had been his FSB code name back when he was young and stupid.
“Comrade,” Nikolai returned. He didn’t extend his hand, and neither did Cherenkov.
An old-school hard-line communist, Cherenkov had never approved of Nikolai, due to his remote connection with the old czarist Romanov family. The relationship had been distant enough that his father’s grandfather had not been assassinated during the Revolution, but he had stubbornly refused to change the family name, which had been a constant source of difficulty for his descendants ever since.
“It’s been a long time, Kirillych,” Comrade Cherenkov said with false affability. “You’ve done well for yourself.” He paused for effect. “Up until recently.” The old man gave him a smug smile, one that implied he could have predicted Nikolai’s fall from grace. “Blood will always tell” had been one of the bastard’s favorite maxims, turning the original Western meaning on its head.
Nikolai didn’t have the patience to play games. “What do you want?”
Cherenkov tutted. “In case you’ve forgotten, you still work for us, Kirillych.”
“I work for the Russian navy,” Nikolai retorted tightly.
Cherenkov shrugged, apparently as unconcerned with such technicalities now as he had been in the old days. “From what I’ve heard, you may be looking for a new job soon. Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t resigned your commission. Your present command”—he spread his hands for emphasis—“well, not up to your usual elitist standards, nyet?”
Nikolai ground his jaw. A month ago, following a near-disaster collision between two nuclear submarines for which he’d been held responsible, Nikolai had been demoted to commanding podvodnaya lodka B-403 Ostrov, the most pathetic, broken-down submarine in the entire notoriously neglected Russian Pacific fleet—a nearly mothballed Project 636 Kilo-class diesel-electric sub. This, after commanding the newest, most advanced nuclear submarine on the planet. Yeah, the one he’d nearly sunk.
“Ostrov is doing important work,” Nikolai responded curtly, chagrined at the not-so-subtle insult. Even if it was all true.
“Playing water taxi to a multinational scientific expedition studying whales and polar bears?” Cherenkov chided.
“Not whales and polar bears. Urgent climate and environmental studies,” he corrected stiffly.
Cherenkov shrugged again. “Still. A bit of a comedown for a decorated hero of the Russian navy, once considered the golden boy of the whole Northern Fleet. Eh?”
Nikolai’d had enough. “I’m leaving now,” he clipped out and turned on a heel.
“There’s a spy on your boat,” Cherenkov said loudly enough to make Nikolai halt in his tracks.
He turned back to glare. “What did you say?”
“Shpion. A spy. One of the expedition team boarding Ostrov tomorrow is a CIA officer.”
The news hit Nikolai like a punch in the gut. A foreign agent on his submarine? It was bad enough he still had to put up with the zampolit the FSB still always planted among the crew as its own damn shpion. But a real one? An American? Hell, no. Not on his goddamn watch!
“If you know this, revoke his visa!” Nikolai said hotly. “Send him back to Langley where he belongs.”
“Not him. Her. The spy is a woman,” Cherenkov said.
Nikolai’s mind reeled. He was still getting used to the idea of women on his boat to begin with, as three of the international scientists were female. But now this? He didn’t think so.
“Woman, man, I don’t give a damn! If she’s a spy, get rid of her.”
“The thing is, I do give a damn. The FSB would very much like to know what she’s doing here.”
“Then arrest her and question her,” Nikolai exploded. “I don’t need a goddamn spy onboard! I’ll have enough problems just making sure the goddamned rust bucket doesn’t spring a leak and sink in the middle of the goddamn Bering Sea!”
Cherenkov looked even more smug at this outburst.
“Which,” the intelligence officer said calmly, “is exactly why we want her there. Why, I ask you, is CIA sending someone on a routine, unclassified scientific expedition aboard a forty-year-old diesel boat that barely floats?”
Nikolai assumed it was a rhetorical question. He ground his jaw even harder.
“Nyet. There is something going on here. Right under our noses. We want to know what it is.”
“I am still Ostrov’s commander,” Nikolai argued, “and I refuse—”
“You have no choice,” Cherenkov interrupted flatly. “Unless, of course, you want certain buried information about your background to come to the navy’s attention . . . ?”
Nikolai barely hung on to his temper. “I’m sure the admiralty knows I’m a Romanov, comrade. Even they couldn’t have failed to notice the name stitched on my uniform.”
“I’m not talking about your father’s name,” Cherenkov said menacingly. “I mean your mother.”
Outrage swept through Nikolai. Did the man think he was a total idiot? This threat was an old one. His long-deceased mother had supposedly committed some terrible, treasonous—though conveniently undisclosed and top-secret—political offense. Bad enough to taint Nikolai’s entire future, according to Cherenkov. Nikolai had bought into the lie when he was an ambitious eighteen-year-old from a politically suspect family who’d wanted nothing more than to get into the highly competitive, restricted, and elite submarine service. Cherenkov had offered to bury the information on his mother—for a price. Thus had been born Nikolai’s intense, but thankfully brief, stint with the FSB.
He had wanted to believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union happening later that same year was somehow meaningful. A sign that his own new, independent life and future, away from his father and blessedly free of the harsh, restricting fetters of his past, would be joyfully reflected in that of his beloved country.
How wrong he had been. On both counts.
“Really? That old ploy?” he retorted and moved to leave.
“Perhaps this will convince you,” Cherenkov said, handing him an envelope.
He halted and, with a tersely jetted breath, he opened the envelope. In it were orders signed by the navy diviziya commander, giving Cherenkov authority over Nikolai and Ostrov in all matters of national security. Talk about shades of the past.
Nikolai’s hands were effectively tied. He had no choice but to obey.
“I see,” Nikolai ground out, swallowing down his burning frustration. Cherenkov could have just given him the damn orders to begin with, instead of attempting to humiliate him first. Of course, that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun. “What do you expect me to do?” he growled.
“Watch every move she makes,” Cherenkov said, handing him a photo of a mid-thirtyish redheaded woman who might have been pretty except for her tight and unflattering hairstyle. “Her name is Julie Elizabeth Severin. She flew in on the morning Bering Air charter from Alaska, posing as a reporter. I want to know exactly what she’s up to. What she’s looking for. Who she’s trying to contact, or recruit.” The older man’s eyes narrowed. “It could even be you she’s after, Kirillych.”
“Me?” Nikolai asked incredulously. “What would the Americans possibly want with me?” A man so out of favor with his government that his own petty official father hadn’t spoken to him since the unfortunate incident for fear of his stench rubbing off. Besides, the Americans had had ample opportunity to recruit him during the year he’d spent there as an exchange student. They hadn’t even tried.
Cherenkov’s eyes revealed nothing. “Whatever it is they want, I trust you will not give it to them.”
Nikolai straightened like a shot. “I love my country, Comrade Cherenkov, even if my country doesn’t seem to return the sentiment. If you have so little faith in me, assign someone else to deal with her. Or send the woman packing as I requested.”
Cherenkov ignored him. “Find out why she’s here. And Kirillych, you are to use any means necessary.” His lips thinned. “Understood?”
Nikolai was so appalled he couldn’t even answer. Seriously? They expected him to pimp himself out to the bitch?
“She’s in the hotel bar,” Cherenkov said. “I’ll expect daily reports.”
With that final order, the FSB apparatchik strode away, blending into the crowd like the slimy weasel he was.
Чёрт возьми! Devil take it!
Nikolai couldn’t believe he’d been roped back into the shady world of espionage. That was bad enough . . . but that he was also being forced to play demeaning undercover games, that was even more infuriating.
Damn, he hated the lies, the deception, the subterfuge. The compromises of his personal integrity. All he wanted was to live a normal, peaceful life in a place with people that gave a damn about him, and to do the job he loved above all else. But did he have an option here?
Not if he wanted to salvage the crash dive that had become his career ever since the disastrous collision that had landed him in his present state of disgrace.
But Nikolai had learned through long and bitter experience that moaning and groaning about things wouldn’t help. He had a submarine to command, an expedition to protect, and a shpion to catch. The sooner that last thing was accomplished, the sooner he could get back to salvaging his career, and hopefully rebuilding the life he wanted.
Resolved, Nikolai headed straight for the hotel bar. In this whole mess, at least he’d had one small piece of luck, even if he didn’t like it. The American spy was a woman.
Women he could do.
Entering the dim, smoky room, he stepped sideways and stood against the wall to orient himself. The bone-jarring blare of music and din of voices shouting over it was earsplitting. But the interior of the generous lounge was briskly cool and the pungent haze of cigarette smoke smelled relatively pleasant compared to the pervasive furnacelike heat and acrid petrol-fume stink of the diesel-fueled Ostrov.
With a practiced eye used to making the three hundred sixty degrees of a periscope circle scan, Nikolai took in the space before him. The Hotel Kursk lounge was large, starkly utilitarian, and packed with people sitting at a litter of stained linoleum bar tables. Mostly the occupants were men wearing various permutations of the distinctive black or blue and gold uniform of the Russian navy. There were a few small tables of men with their wives having a last night out together before leaving on patrol. And several tables occupied by groups of men seated with lone females wearing far too much makeup. But one table—two tables pushed together, actually—was surrounded by a half dozen foreigners.
They were easy to spot. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiya was normally closed to noncitizens, due to the highly military nature of the area, and they stuck out like a sore thumb.
The decibel level precluded hearing what language they spoke, but even from this distance it was obvious they did not belong. Their clothes, their choices of drinks, their very demeanors marked them as foreign.
These would be the scientists. The ones Ostrov would be ferrying through the polar ice for the coming twenty-one days.
Nikolai searched each of the women’s faces for his target, mentally measuring them against the redhead in the photo he’d tucked into his shirt pocket.
She wasn’t sitting at the table.
As a conscientious Western reporter, she should be down here in the bar soaking in the “exotic” atmosphere, meeting the scientists on the research team she was covering, gathering background for the articles she’d be writing about the expedition.
But of course, Julie Severin wasn’t a real reporter.
Where was the damned woman? Annoyed, he scanned over the lounge again. And finally spotted her. It was impossible to miss that neat auburn bun at the back of her neck? The color was nice, but the style was ug-ly. He slid farther from the door, blending into the shadows.
She’d just walked into the bar. Dressed in an elegantly cut business suit, she couldn’t look more out of place if she tried.
As he had, she’d stopped right inside the door and was looking around. He saw when she spotted the table of scientists, but she didn’t immediately head over to join them. She hesitated, watching them impassively for a full minute without moving. Then to his surprise she straightened and walked briskly in the opposite direction, to the bar.
Interesting. Perhaps she was seeking a more intimate encounter with the Russian navy than a mere ride on a submarine. Which would make his job easier, if even less appealing.
Unsurprisingly, the ranks of men lined up three deep at the bar parted to let her through. A young rating jumped from his stool and offered it to her. Chivalry was not quite dead in Russia, Nikolai was gratified to see. Or maybe the kid thought he had a snowball’s chance in hell with her.
She thanked the rating politely, sat, and ordered from the attentive bartender. Men pressed in around her. She proceeded to ignore the lot of them, the scientists and the youthful rating included.
Even more interesting, if a bit puzzling. What was she up to?
As Nikolai watched, the short, bald bartender set a full shot glass of clear liquid in front of her with a flourish. She downed it in one gulp and ordered another.
Nikolai almost snorted. Who was she trying to impress, anyway? No one could outdrink a Russian. Especially in a roomful of Russian sailors.
Enough of this nonsense. Time to make a move.
He pushed off the wall and ambled up to the bar, elbowing aside the ratings to sidle in next to her stool. He turned toward her. And got another surprise. No wonder the men were flocking around her. The photo had not done her justice. Not remotely. Even with the unflattering hairdo, up close the woman was gorgeous.
She was much younger than he’d thought, with vibrant red-gold hair fighting to escape its tight confines. Her body appeared lithe and curvy beneath her tailored gray business suit; her legs were long and provocatively crossed under a skirt that barely flirted with the tops of her knees. A sophisticated red high heel dangled casually from the toes of her shapely foot. Against his will, his body stirred. Хуйня. He wondered if her toenails were painted to match.
Perhaps he’d find out.
Okay, so this spy thing might not be so bad after all.
He did a quick mental shift and opened his mouth to deliver one of the many pickup lines that had served him so well in the past. He didn’t get the chance to utter a syllable.
“Fuck off, sailor,” she cut over to him in almost flawless Russian and tossed back her shot. She did not even bother to glance his way.
Shock speared through him. Still, he had to stop himself from grinning. Beautiful, sassy, and she wasn’t afraid to drink. His favorite feminine combination. Too bad she was a spy.
He gestured to the bartender to set up two more shots and casually said to her, “American?”
She looked briefly irritated, then switched to English—probably hoping he didn’t speak it. “You have a problem with that?”
“Not really,” he returned in near-perfect American English. “But some of the men in this room might.”
She glanced around. “I’m terrified,” she drawled.
The bartender placed the two brimming glasses between them. Nikolai picked up one and gave her his best winsome smile, a smile that usually had women falling all over him. “An American woman alone in a place like this . . . you really should have a protector.”
She looked positively bored. “And that would be you, I suppose.” Her tone oozed disinterest.
He shrugged and threw down his shot. “Sure. Why not?”
When she finally glanced at him, her eyes were a cool gray-green. The exact color of the sea on a cold, rough morning in the icy north. The kind of morning that reminded a man he was alive. He almost shivered.
Anticipation surged through him. Hell, she’d had him at “Fuck off.”
“No, thanks. I can protect myself,” she stated. Her chilly gaze cut to the second shot glass, then back up to him. “And you can keep your damn drink.”
He feigned a brief confusion, then picked up the glass. “Oh, this wasn’t for you.” He tossed it back and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Me, I’m a two-shot man.” He leveled her a look. “One is just never enough. Don’t you agree?”
She stared at him. A tinge of red flushed across the apples of her cheeks.
He felt a coil of hunger tighten deep in his belly. Or maybe it was the vodka.
Abruptly, she stood. Without a word, she turned on her sophisticated city-girl toe and strode like an arrow through the crowd toward the lounge exit. An invitation? He sure as hell hoped so. He slapped an appropriate ruble note onto the bar and followed her. She moved with confidence, a subtle hint of sexuality in the sway of her hips. A stray lock of her auburn hair had sprung loose and lay curled over her shoulder, looking silky and touchable. He suddenly had a vision of loosening that tight bun and letting the freed waves of red cascade over his shoulders.
Damn, he wanted her.
He wanted her in his bed, naked. Under him.
Which was all the more unbelievable because that was exactly what Cherenkov had asked him to do.
Using any means necessary.
It hadn’t taken a genius to know what that meant. He was to sacrifice his body for the good of his country. Of course, at the time he’d had absolutely no intention of doing so. He wasn’t a damn gigolo. Besides, there were other ways of learning the secrets of a shpion.
But a man could change his mind, couldn’t he?
While you wait for RED HEAT to come out, please enjoy this fun video from one of the best submarine movies ever made: Down Periscope!