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Pride? Where in the hell had that come from? Being proud of the woman seated next to me, the first to ask the question we were all thinking, was a fellow agent, and not the best one I’d ever worked with. She wasn’t someone whose actions should inspire such a feeling. Sure, she had promise, if she could get out of her own way and think like a regular intelligence officer instead of a honey trap. Being proud of her had no place in our working relationship.

“I may have missed something…” she began. She continued by inquiring if the man who was killed in an op in Dubai, a man we believed murdered the former US ambassador to Malta, might be related to Francesca Vella and her daughter, Charlene Vella-Borg.

Nemesis, the commander of the UN Coalition Against Human Trafficking, had responded simply, saying it stood to reason he would’ve been.

As far as leads went, this was huge.

“Well done,” I leaned over and whispered, trying my damnedest not to ogle her cleavage that was on full display. It was the middle of January, one of the coldest months in Shere, England, where the coalition’s command center was located,. And yet she—Schön, which meant beautiful in Swiss German—tended to wear low-cut blouses regardless of outside temperatures. Not that the inside ones were that much higher. Typically, I wore a pullover to fight off the chill of the older structure.

“Thanks,” she leaned over and whispered. Leaning truly hadn’t been necessary. In fact, I would’ve much preferred she hadn’t. It was impossible for me to keep my eyes diverted when her breasts spilled forward and I could see where they strained against her pink lace bra.

In the six weeks since Schön had been assigned to the UN’s Albanian task force, for which I served as commander, I’d become familiar with much of her undergarment wardrobe. Bras mainly but there was the one time I’d seen a deep purple lace set, complete with a thong tiny enough that her bare pussy was on almost full display.

I’d hurt her that day but I had no choice. I was her commander and while every other man she’d ever worked with—another exception being my best friend, Zeppelin, the Swiss task force leader—had been eager to take advantage of what she’d offered. I couldn’t.

Every day I waged the battle of not kissing her bow-shaped lips, running my finger along the lace of her bra, or wrapping my arms around her and grinding the hardness I felt whenever she was near, between her legs. It made me feel like a lecher—the equivalent of a dirty old man, not because we were far apart in age. Instead, it was my rank versus hers. Had I acted on my desire for Schön, I could very well face disciplinary actions should she ever accuse me of unwanted sexual attention. Not that I truly feared she’d do it.

More, I wanted her to realize she didn’t have to use her body to advance in her career. Her intelligence, her intuition, her savvy, should be what she relied on.

I couldn’t say I saw her as a younger sister. If I had, it would’ve been far easier for the two of us to work together each day.

“Magnet? Schöön? A word?” said Nemesis when the briefing ended.

“Of course,” I responded when she approached.

“Schön brought up a point that was the metaphoric elephant in the room. It is imperative we seek DNA samples from both Francesca and her daughter in order to prove one way or another if Xavier ‘Sheka’ Vella and Valerie ‘Pharaoh’ Olin are a genetic match to either or both women. If so, we have the biggest lead thus far in our pursuit of AMPS.”

It was one of the largest human trafficking rings in the world, one whose origins traced back decades, starting with the man we believed started the organization—Salvatore “Cronos” Rávdos. Based on Pharaoh’s assertion right before she died, he was her father. DNA testing showed Xavier was her brother, which meant they also shared a mother. Could either Francesca or her daughter be that woman? My gut told me it wasn’t  Nonna, as everyone referred to Francesca, but I had an equally difficult time believing Charlene could be either.

The woman we sought was the mastermind behind AMPS, and Charlene was the least likely person to hold such power. Which meant, she probably did.

“We have four agents on the ground in Gozo where Francesca and Charlene are believed to be,” said Nemesis. “All four of whom are familiar to our suspects. Schön, you are not. Neither is Brando Ripa, aka Michelangelo. I’m sending the two of you undercover to get close to the two women, close enough to obtain something we can use for DNA testing.”

“What about me?” I asked.

“It isn’t necessary for you to travel with them.”

“I’d prefer to do so.”

Nemesis cocked her head. “Very well. Speak with Ares. You can replace one of the three agents from his US task force who are working the op presently.”

I nodded, thankful Nem didn’t confront me as to why I insisted I deploy with Schön. If she had, I don’t know what I would’ve said. My request to join her on the Maltese island of Gozo was illogical. As much as I knew I had to keep my hands off of her, I also knew being away from the woman was something I could not possibly endure.

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