Gayle Lynds
 
“Lynds’s rush - to - the - next - page excitement never stops.”
— Clive Cussler
 
“A gloriously paranoid, immensely satisfying international thriller.”
— Los Angeles Times
 
“A mirror-maze of perils and pitfalls.”
— Wall Street Journal
 
“You won’t sleep until you finish.”
— Cosmopolitan
 
“Watch out, Robert Ludlum!”
— Sue Grafton
 
“Page-turning suspense… An edge-of-the-seat spy novel.”
— Faye Kellerman
 
"Immensely Satisfying!"
— Los Angeles Times
 
MASQUERADE is a bravura performance by Gayle Lynds, whose maiden race in the international thriller sweepstakes should make 'the boys' turn around and take note..."
— Sue Grafton
 
"MASQUERADE is a fantastic read - a plot full of surprises, delivered with an unerring eye for detail, that moves at a ballistic pace. Wonderful, sometimes lyrical prose, crackling dialogue in a variety of accents, a poignant love story (or two), and - most of all - characters that are memorable and absolutely alive. I could not put this book down."
— John T. Lescroart
 
 
 
Masquerade
 
Masquerade
 

 

The Story

Now that communism has fallen, the enemy may be much closer to home - and much more difficult to find. MASQUERADE moves at headlong speed through a terrifying underworld that encompasses the posh beach communities of California, a highly secret CIA training camp, the netherworld of Washington super spies, and the dangerous back streets of Paris. Leading the chase - both hunter and hunted - is Liz Sansborough herself. She may be a trained government agent gone bad - or innocent victim and dupe. In a world of distorting mirrors, it's almost impossible to see the truth. Finally, she must depend on her own instincts and cunning to separate an almost unthinkable reality from the elaborate fantasy that has been created for her to inhabit - and, in so doing, she discovers hard truths not only about her own identity, but about the people to whom we entrust the continued identity of the world as we know it.

PART I

LIZ SANSBOROUGH

Chapter One

Her past was slipping away. One morning she awoke to find strange furniture in her room. The man told her, "It's all yours. Don't you remember?" She didn't remember, but it was too much effort to say so. She was exhausted and hurt and confused. Her head felt as if it would explode. After a while she no longer knew where she was. Then she no longer knew her name.

"You don't know your name?" he said.

"No." Pain pounded relentlessly behind her eyes.

"You will," he said. "Soon, I promise. Just rest, my beautiful darling."

As her suffering ebbed away, so did her strength. Her hands shook. Her lips trembled. She never answered the door or the telephone. She never sat beside the window or behind the desk. She'd come to distrust the world. Except for the man's voice, she lived in silence. Tried to hear in it who she was.

The man gave her medicine. He fed her like a baby. He undressed and showered her. She was helpless. All she had was the man, and a sense of loss so deep it shook her soul.

* * *

Sleep was her salvation. She stayed in bed. Time stopped.

* * *

The man gave her different pills.

She felt better. Stronger.

He told her his name was Gordon. "Don't you remember me yet, Liz, darling?"

"I wish--" She paused, the words lost, the idea forgotten.

* * *

A week passed. Sunlight streamed through the windows. A fresh salt breeze fluttered her nightgown. She held onto furniture and pulled herself around the living room.

"You're Gordon?"

"Yes, darling."

"You said my name was Liz."

"Liz Sansborough." He grinned, pleased. "You'll be back to your old self soon now."
Liz Sansborough. The name repeated itself in her mind. She seemed to hear it at all hours, throbbing like a heart beat.

* * *

The day she dressed herself, she asked, "Gordon, what's happened to me?"

"It was eight, nine weeks ago," he told her. "You slipped and fell down a cliff. You landed on the rocks just above the surf. It was terrible, darling. You didn't break anything, but you hit your head."

She grimaced.

"It gave you a concussion, and then sort of a brain fever. The doctor says that can happen. Inflamed brain tissue after a head injury, I mean. The inflammation caused your amnesia."

"I have amnesia," she said numbly. "Of course. Amnesia."

* * *

A stranger was in her room. She awoke sweating, panicked.

"Do you remember me, Liz?" He approached through the morning shadows, carrying what looked like a small suitcase.

"I . . . think so. Who--?"

"I'm your doctor. My name is Allan Levine." He was tall and cadaverous, but his voice was friendly. He set down his bag and smiled. "I haven't been here for a few days." He took her blood pressure and her pulse. "All your signs are normal again. The fact that you awoke while I was here shows how much more alert you are." He listened to her heart. He smiled but worked with the focus of a microscope. She wasn't sure she liked that.

"When will I be able to remember my life?"

"I don't know. Try not to worry about it." He took off his stethoscope. "I have some news you're going to like. First, you're so much better that I'll come only once a week from now on. And second, I'm reducing your medication to a pill a day."

"Which pill?" She hated taking so many of them.

"Your antidepressant. It'll help keep you on track."

"But I don't feel depressed."

"Of course you don't. But if you quit it, your brain chemicals will go out of control--wild, like before. You'll risk a relapse, and I can't guarantee you'll come out of it next time. Stop the antidepressants if you like, but I don't advise it."

The memory of the relentless pain in her mind, the horrifying chaos returned. "I never want to feel that again."

* * *

She and Gordon took walks. She grew stronger.

* * *

She dreamed and awoke with visions of other lives, other persons, never herself. She looked around the dark bedroom. A room she had no memory of.

She arose and went to the living room. "Where are we?"

Gordon sat up on the sofa in the morning gloom, rubbing


sleep from his eyes. "Liz? Is something wrong?" He turned on the lamp and looked at his watch. "It's only five o'clock!"

"Where are we?" she demanded again.

He studied her. "Santa Barbara. That's in California."

She turned, surveying the Danish-modern furniture, the stacks of books, the Venetian blinds closed against the dawn. This was the living room. There were three more rooms--kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom, where she slept. Gordon slept on the sofa out here in the living room.

She swung her arms, gestured at it all. "But what's this place?"

"Your condo. We've been living here a couple of years. You and I." He paused, asked softly, "Do you remember, darling?"

She sat heavily in the rocking chair. "We were lovers?"

He smiled. "Do you mind?"

Her gaze swept his long frame, rumpled from sleep, and came to rest on his beaming face. He was muscular, tall, with wavy brown hair and a square jaw. Handsome and solid, like the cowboys she watched in old TV Westerns. All that was good, but far more appealing was his constancy. She hungered for that. She had no past, and he was her lifeline to an unremembered, unknown world.

"Of course I don't mind." She smiled back. Suddenly she felt better. "But everything's so new. You. Me. This condo. Everything. What woke me was I realized something funny about my memory. I can't remember where I've been living, but I can remember how to tie my shoes and cook and even how to program the VCR. How can I know about that but nothing about my life?"

"Good question. Come on, let's have one of our walks."

"At this hour?"

"I'll explain it to you."

* * *

The summer air was fragrant and quiet. Santa Barbara's early morning streets were shadowy. Palm trees stood tall and black against the pastel sky.

Gordon and Liz took a winding path through Alice Keck Park. She noted she had no shortness of breath, and her limbs felt sturdy. This was because she and Gordon walked every day now.

"So?" she prompted.


"Ah, I see you haven't forgotten."

"Not likely. Not if it has to do with what's wrong with me."

"Of course. But all I know is what Doctor Levine told me."

"And that is?--"

"There are two kinds of memory--task memory and fact memory. Task memory is just what it says. Tasks. Doing things. What you can do. Like cooking, or driving a car, or operating a computer. Fact memory is the details around it--who, what, where, when, and why. Your identity. What's happened to you is typical of amnesiacs. You've lost all your fact memory and some of your task memory."

"So that's why I know how to read, but I can't remember any of the books I read before. Or why I wanted to. Or my accident and the fever."

She lifted her face into the sea wind and increased her speed. She felt driven by some mysterious force deep within, a strange force that compelled her to race ahead as if by physical insistence alone she could heal her mind and recapture her soul.

Gordon kept pace. A fresh wind blew north across Santa Barbara's red-tiled roofs, rustling hibiscus and palms. The air tasted of salt and summer. Gordon told her the month was July.

* * *

The next afternoon her questions coalesced.

Who was she really? Not just a name, an identity. Where did she come from? How long had she lived in Santa Barbara? Was she married? Did she have children? Who were her parents? What kind of work did she do?

Who? Where?

What kind of person was she?

She asked Gordon, and he brought out a faded photo album. They sat together at the dining room table. She smiled eagerly, nervously, as he told her, "Your name, as you know, is Elizabeth Sansborough. 'Liz,' right? You were born in London and grew up on Shawfield Street in Chelsea. Does that sound familiar?"

"England?" She shook her head. "No, dammit."

"Take it easy, darling."

Something was wrong. "Why don't I have a British accent?"

"All I know is what you told me--that you imitated your father, and his accent was, as you'll see in a minute, American."

He opened the album, pointed to a snapshot on the first page. In it picturesque row houses lined a narrow street. The white houses rose three stories, with chimney pots on top and black wrought-iron fences in front. Standing before one was a little girl in patent-leather maryjanes and a tailored wool coat. She held the hand of a smiling man in an overcoat.

"That's you and your father, Harold Sansborough," Gordon said. "And that's the house where you grew up. Your father was an American salesman, but he moved to London after he married your mother. Her name was Melanie Childs, and she was English. He worked for U.S. companies there. See, that next picture's your mother. Quite a beauty."

From a large portrait, Melanie Childs Sansborough, somewhere in her early twenties, stared off into the future. Liz looked nothing like her. Melanie had delicate features, a slender nose, and moist blue eyes that spoke of a protected upbringing. A pearl hung on a chain from her neck.

Liz smiled, relieved. She was looking at her parents. Real people, a real past, tangible and promising.

"What did my mother do?"

"She was just a housewife." He turned more pages, pointed to snapshots of Liz as a child--riding a pony in Hyde Park, boating with her parents on the lake in Battersea Park, flying kites along the Embankment. Other photos showed family vacations in France and summer visits to New York, where her father had gone for annual sales meetings.
The last snapshot was of her, suddenly a young, leggy adult, standing between her proud parents. She resembled her father.

She glanced up, breathed deeply.

Then she looked down again at herself, a teenager, in the old photo. It was she, all right, but it was also a person she didn't know.

She took the album to the bedroom and stared into the mirror, then she studied the young woman on the album page. Tall and lanky. A high forehead, flared nose, and wide mouth. Distinct cheekbones. She looked closely at the photo: Yes, there it was. The little finger on her left hand was crooked.

She held up her left hand and looked at the finger. It was crooked in the same way.
"You broke it when you were a child," Gordon told her from the doorway. "A skating accident. It never mended right."

"Yes. It still aches sometimes."

In the photo she noted the young woman's thick auburn hair and the black mole just above the right corner of her mouth. She looked into the mirror and touched the striking mole on her face.

She and the young woman were the same.

One person. Her.

Dramatic, not delicate. With an odd sense of distance, she realized she was beautiful, and that for some reason being beautiful was important.

He told her, "You were eighteen and headed for Cambridge."

"The university? Was I student?"

"That's enough for now."

"But I need to know--"

"You'll know everything soon. Very soon."

It wasn't good enough. "But what kind of person am I? Who am I? Do I teach school, rob banks, what have I become?"

He shook his head. "We're going to do this right, darling. The doctor warned me. I'm supposed to wait until you ask for information and then feed it to you slowly so you don't get overwhelmed. Remember, you almost died from the brain fever. Your mind's healing, and we can't rush it. Your past has to evolve. With time everything's going to come back to you." He gave her a confident thumb's-up and headed to the kitchen.

She turned pages, studied the pictures. And suddenly another question struck her. If Gordon was waiting until she wanted information, why hadn't he continued to reveal her adulthood, as she'd just asked? Why would the details "overwhelm" her . . . unless there was something he was worried about, something she should worry about?

* * *

"Liz! What are you doing?" He strode across the cluttered living room to the desk where she sat. Her desk, or so he'd led her to believe.

"Who's Sarah Walker?" She waved correspondence at him.

Fury fought with worry on his square face. "The doctor said--"

"I don't give a damn what the doctor said! This is my life. I've got a right to know who--and what--I am!"

He leaned across the desk, his jaw jutting. "Dammit, Liz! It's too soon!"

"For what, Gordon? For what?"

He leaned forward another inch. His square face was red. His brown eyes snapped. She'd never seen him angry. His furious worry softened something hard and lonely inside her. But she had to know. She slammed the correspondence down onto the desk.

"I'm sorry I've upset you, Gordon, but Sarah Walker . . . I've got to know. Who is she? See, I found these magazine articles in the drawer." She dumped them onto the desk, too. "'Tear sheets,' I think they're called. Articles published in some magazine called Talk, and they have Sarah Walker's byline on them. It seems to me, from looking through the files on the computer, that the computer and desk must be hers. There's nothing in the drawers or files with my name. Nothing!"

Gordon inhaled, calming himself. He stood back. "I was warned this wouldn't be easy. But dammit, couldn't you have waited a while?"

"No. One way or another, I'm going to find out."

"I've got to call Doctor Levine first. Once he approves, I'm off the hook. Be fair, Liz. He saved your life. He cares about you."

"Even if he says no, I won't stop. I can't. I need things to fill this empty hole that used to be my life. What will I find next you won't explain? Letters, more photos, mementoes--"
Before she could finish, he was at the telephone, dialing. She stood beside him as he talked to the doctor. At last he nodded and hung up. "He says if you're so determined, you can probably handle it."

"Of course, I can." She followed him to the hall closet, relieved to no longer be angry with him. As far as she was concerned, he more than the doctor had saved her life.

"Yes, but he still wants me to lead you through it." From the closet's top shelf Gordon slid out a thick file folder, another photo album, and two video cassettes.

"Thanks." Trembling, she took the materials and headed for the sofa. He sat beside her, and she opened the new album to the first page. There a photo showed her and her parents standing before a majestic ancient church with buttresses and spires.
"Recognize it?" he asked. "That's King's College Chapel in Cambridge."

But before she could answer, a deafening burst of sharp, erratic explosions filled the room. At the same instant, window glass shattered inward. The table next to her exploded. A lamp cartwheeled and crashed. She recognized the sounds in some deep recess of her mind. Gunshots!

"Liz! Down!"

She dove to the carpet and crawled behind the sofa. A second fusillade ripped through her condo, smashing wood, glass, plaster. Then Gordon was beside her. He pulled a pistol from inside his shirt and another from beneath the sofa. He shoved one into her hand. It was huge. An automatic, she thought.

How did she know it was an automatic?

"Take it!" he ordered.

She stared. "I don't know how to--"

"Yes, you do. Take it!"

She grabbed the gun. It felt . . . familiar.

Who was she?

Chapter Two

Suddenly there was silence. Plaster dust rained down from the ceiling. A shard of window glass shattered to the floor. Tension was electric.

Then another fusillade blasted through the broken windows.

Gordon's voice was tight. "They're shooting from across the street, keeping us down. They--"

"Why, Gordon? Who are they? Who are we? Who--"

An explosion rocked the condominium.

"Liz! Watch--"

The front door blew across the room, splintering chairs and a table. Three men burst through the gaping door frame. Gordon rose to a crouch, firing. One man fell back through the doorway. The two others dove right and left into the room, returned fire with a burst of bullets that ripped the couch.

"Liz!"

She held the big automatic, watched as the man on the right crawled rapidly out of view. He was on his elbows, a stubby black weapon with a short barrel and a hand-hold sticking out its side cradled in the crook of his arms. She turned as he came around the couch. He looked straight into her eyes. His face was bland, expressionless, topped by slicked-back brown hair.

He raised to his knees, the black weapon aimed directly at her heart. In seconds she'd be dead--

She pulled her trigger.

The gun bucked in her hands and she felt pain inside her. She was dead . . . she was . . . staring at the man on his knees as his chest turned red and his mouth poured red and he was thrown backwards like a rag doll into the wall and . . .

Other men swarmed into the room and all over the third man, knocked him to the floor.
"Look after Gordon!" Someone shouted.

Liz turned again. Gordon lay on the floor behind her. Blood covered him! Hands lifted her up, pulled her toward the doorway.

"Gordon!"

"We'll take care of him, Liz. Come on. Quick! Now!"

She was in the hall and being half-pulled and half-carried along to the service stairs at the rear. She resisted, fought.

"Christ, we're friends, Sansborough!"

"No time to explain it. Just bring her!"

Three of them wrestled her down the stairs and out to a waiting car. They shoved her in. Two new men pinned her there. The door closed, and the car screeched off in a stink of burning rubber. It turned up Micheltorena Street.

Another car was slewed across the street as they passed. Bullet holes riddled it.
Men ran to a third car as sirens sounded. Police cars were coming up Garden Street, heading toward her condo.

The car in which she was a passenger dove into the maze of small streets on the Riviera, climbed steep hills, and plunged across a long ridge and then down into a valley. She had no idea where she was. She and Gordon had never come this way.

The car continued on with her and the grim men until it finally stopped at a house hidden up a deserted canyon. The men hustled her inside to a room with a bed and desk. The door closed, and she heard it lock. There were bars on the windows.

* * *

Night's shadows spread long and inky across the small room. She sat there for what seemed hours, her stomach roiling. How badly was Gordon hurt?

What about the bland-faced man with the slicked-back brown hair and the bloodied chest and mouth? Had she killed him?

And who were they, these men who said they were friends?

Did "friends" lock her in a room alone?

But they had saved her from the attackers in the condo, and they knew Gordon. Or at least his name. But--

A man came in. He was older, thin, with graying hair and a kindly face. He carried a tray of sandwiches and milk.

"Why am I locked in?"

"We're sorry, but there hasn't been time to explain everything, Liz. You wouldn't understand yet. We were afraid you'd try to run away. But you're safe here, you need to eat, and we've sent for--"

"Where's Gordon? Is he hurt badly?"

"He's in the hospital. I don't know how serious it is, but I'll find out as soon as I can."

"What about the man I shot?"

"Dead. A clean kill."

She closed her eyes, nauseated.

"You had to shoot him, Liz. He would've killed you."

She steadied her stomach, forced her eyes open. "Are you the police?"

"In a way. We've sent for your doctor. He'll be here soon. Now eat, okay?"

She didn't want to. She thought of Gordon and of the dead man. But she unwrapped the first sandwich and bit into it.

* * *

"Liz, are you all right?" Doctor Levine hurried in, his long, gaunt face clouded. He turned on the overhead light, took a stethoscope from his bag, and checked her. "They tell me it was a close call."

"Who were they? Why did they want to kill us?"

"Not Gordon. You, I'm afraid. And yes, you have the right to know why. But I warn you, finding out about your whole life in what amounts to a relative instant can be a shock, traumatic. If you feel overwhelmed, stop. Start again tomorrow."

He left and returned with the photo album, the file folder, and the two video cassettes she'd begun to examine at the condo. She took them gratefully, and the thin man with graying hair rolled in a television set and VCR.

"Is there any word about Gordon?"

"Sorry, Liz." The doctor paused in the doorway. "I've given your medication to your security detail. They'll get you some clothes, fix you up. You can trust them. Do they have to lock you in anymore?"

She looked at the album, the cassettes, and the dossiers on her lap and shook her head. The doctor left. There was no sound of the door locking after him.

* * *

Outside her window, stars sparkled across the black sky. She went to the desk and turned on the lamp. She opened the album and the first dossier. According to them, she'd studied international relations at Cambridge and moved in with a lover.

Dozens of photos showed her with a dark-complected young man--in a tea shop, standing before the red-brick library, hiking along hedgerows, watching punters on the Cam. He had a serious face, smooth-cheeked, with coal-black eyes and hair. In almost every snapshot the hair tumbled over his forehead as if no force could control it or him. His name was Huseyn Shaheed Noon, a member of a prominent Pakistani family. When he returned home to tell his family about her, he took up his little plane for a flight. The engine failed. He crashed and died.

In the silent room she tried to recognize the solemn youth with the earnest eyes, but she couldn't. She'd loved him. She must've been devastated to lose him. But what was love? She loved Gordon, still . . . she had no remembered experience of romantic love, and the concept, the hugeness and newness of it, was more than she wanted to deal with.
Her parents had died, too, while she was at Cambridge. Killed by a mugger in New York City when they'd flown there for one of her father's annual sales meetings. Killed for money and jewelry. She felt a jolt of pain for this unremembered couple. Her parents.
What would it take to retrieve her memory, to again feel their passing as the personal loss she knew it must have been?

For a few moments she sat and thought of those two unknown people who had been her parents. With a long sigh she returned to her reading and received another emotional jolt.

The year after her parents died she'd married a blond young man with freckles, muscles, and a look of easy confidence. Garrick Richmond, an American on a Fulbright scholarship at Cambridge. There were even more photos of her and the blond American. He was always smiling, radiating happy-go-lucky charm. Twenty-one that year, she had also chosen U.S. citizenship. Later she and he had moved to Virginia, because he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA. She remembered reading about the CIA in the newspapers. It was dangerous work, and Garrick Richmond had died on assignment in Lebanon. The Shiite Jihad had killed him.

She closed the album and the dossier. A dark, suffocating cloak fell over her. Another death of someone she'd loved. Did everyone she loved die? Was there something about her, some curse she couldn't remember? Without her memory she could only speculate and be afraid. Without her memory it seemed as if they'd never lived. Without her memory she'd never lived.

She walked to the bed. When the memory is blank, you can't be yourself because you don't know who you are. You have no identity. No past that shaped you. No experiences to make judgments from. No old emotions to test new ones against.

You're simply a face in the mirror. The taste of toothpaste. The square of sunlight that warms you. The feel of cotton soft against your skin.

You grieve and rage and speculate endlessly, fruitlessly.

If one "loses" one's memory, to where has it been lost?

Her name was Liz Sansborough. She was thirty-two years old. Widowed. Everyone she had loved was dead. She lay on the bed in the strange room and cried for all those thirty-two years, for all those she had lost and didn't remember.

* * *

She had worked for the CIA. She was a spy.

Her complete CIA dossier was in the next file folder. She'd joined after Garrett Richmond had died. She'd trained at Camp Peary, Virginia, "the Farm." The dossier listed the instruments and machines she'd checked out on. Her cipher and judo skills. Marksmen tests. She was a good shot . . . or had been. No wonder Gordon had insisted she take the automatic.

She put a video cassette into the VCR. According to the label, it was her London flat, filmed by a friend five years ago. The flat was small, with the same Danish-modern furniture that now decorated her Santa Barbara condo. A closeup showed her, Liz, holding a book, the little finger on her left hand crooked.

She remembered none of it.

The second cassette had been made by the Company. It showed her on surveillance in Potsdam . . . picking up a drop in Salzburg . . . trailing someone through a murky alley in Vienna. At the end of the film, she looked up from the Vienna darkness, and yellow lamplight illuminated her in a haloed glow. That face was hers, right down to the dramatic beauty mark above her mouth.

According to her dossier, she'd been stationed in London because she knew it so well, and she'd worked throughout western Europe. Then three years ago she'd been sent to meet a courier in Lisbon. When she got there, the courier was dead. An assassin who called himself the Carnivore had just shot him. The Carnivore then shot her. Shot her and left her for dead.

It had been a long haul, but CIA medical people had pulled her through. Then they'd retired her and set her up in Santa Barbara as a journalist with the cover name Sarah Walker.

Sarah Walker!

So the desk in the condo was hers after all. She contemplated being someone named Sarah Walker. A magazine journalist. There was something familiar about the name, but it was more an emotion than a memory.

Then she thought about being shot and left for dead. In a way, she had died. Only the dead remembered as little as she.

Was all this really her?

The last item in the file folder was a photograph of her and Gordon, arms wrapped around each other, standing on the beach. They were wearing swimsuits, and behind them white surf pounded the golden sand. She studied the photo, turned it over. The inscription said the picture had been taken at Hendry's beach with a date last year.

They looked happy.

As she stared at the photo, she heard the door open. She turned. Gordon stood there, his face pale, his shoulder heavily bandaged, his arm in a sling.

She ran to hold him.

* * *

They were sitting side by side on the bed in the small room. She said, "I worked for the CIA. You knew that?"

"Yes, Liz."

"Then you must be with the CIA, too."

"That's how we met, you and I. We call it the Company, or the Agency, or simply Langley."
"And the men who rescued us, this house?"

Gordon's pale face smiled. "They're CIA, too. This is one of our safe houses."

"But how could you and I have been living together in Santa Barbara? What about your work? Your assignments?"

"Even agents have private lives, darling. I was in and out, but Santa Barbara became 'home.' You were home. See this?" He held up his left hand. On the ring finger was a wide gold band.

She remembered seeing it, but hadn't really thought about it. "We married?"
"Not officially. Not our style."

He took a smaller band from his shirt pocket. He studied it solemnly, then smiled into her eyes, silently telling her it meant a lot to him. "This one is yours."

"You gave it to me . . . before?" She glanced at her left hand, the ring finger, so smooth and empty.

"Yes. We gave the rings to each other when I moved in. But the nurse took yours off in the hospital. They worry about thefts, especially when the patient is unconscious. Then when your amnesia was diagnosed, I figured I didn't have the right to put it back on. Take it, darling."

The gold band was heavy on her palm.

"When you fell and got the concussion," he told her softly, "I couldn't leave you. You became my assignment. Making you well."

She sensed he wanted her to put on the ring, but she couldn't. It was too full of meaning she didn't yet understand.

She slipped it into her pocket and changed the subject. "'The Carnivore' is an ugly name, vicious sounding. Who is he, Gordon?"

He acknowledged her decision with a disappointed flicker of his eyes. "An international assassin, with a code name to match his reputation. No one knows who he really is, and there are no photos of him. He supposedly kills anyone who sees him. That's what happened to you in Lisbon. He believed you saw him, so he had to kill you."

She looked into his ashen face and said, "Tell me everything about him. The Carnivore."

Gordon stood, paced across the room to the barred windows. He gazed out at the night as if he could see not only the past, but the future.

"For thirty years, give or take, Langley's tried everything to neutralize him." He turned, his face grim. "And we're not the only ones. Every other intelligence agency on both sides of the old Iron Curtain would like to take him out, now more than ever. He's a loose canon in an increasingly volatile world. Ruthless. Efficient. Totally independent. His only allegiance is money. We've heard his real name's Alex Bosa, but we haven't been able to confirm it. When and where he was born, his parents' nationalities, his schooling, if he even had any, his age, are also big unknowns. We don't know what he looks like, because, as I explained, he kills anyone who spots him."

"If I saw him, why didn't I give you a description?"

"Apparently he was in a dark shadow. All you saw was his silhouette, but he thought you saw a lot more. He fired. His bullet knocked you unconscious and left one hell of a lot of fatal-looking blood. But the wound was superficial, thank god."

Fear clenched her heart. "I was lucky."

"Very. If a police patrol hadn't turned into the alley just as he was heading toward you--his back was to them--probably to make sure he'd finished you off, he'd have realized you were alive. Fortunately he ran. We figured right away it was him, and the next day we got confirmation from covert ops."

Liz shivered. Then she realized Gordon was staring at her. He was intense, gloomy. She studied his pallid face, his bandaged shoulder, his arm in the sling. She thought about the sudden, violent attack on her condo and the CIA's swift rescue.

The pieces began to fit together with chilling logic. "Obviously the CIA's been watching me," she said. "Those men who attacked us! Who were they?"

"We're not sure. The wounded one we caught hasn't talked and probably won't. But we know what they wanted."

She waited, her heart pounding.

He said, "We've had a leak. The Carnivore's heard you survived, Liz, and he says your claim that you didn't see his face is too convenient to be believable. He's spread the word he'll pay top dollar to your killer. He's taking no chances, so he's personally looking for you, too. One way or another, he's going to make sure . . . this time . . . you die."
 
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