The Russian Seduction
Series: Foreign Affairs , Book 1.0
By: Nikki Navarre | Other books by Nikki Navarre
Published By: Affluent Press
Published: Sep 21, 2012
ISBN # 9780985645304
By: Nikki Navarre | Other books by Nikki Navarre
Published By: Affluent Press
Published: Sep 21, 2012
ISBN # 9780985645304
Word Count: 82,000
Available in: Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.prc)
DescriptionState secrets have never been this sexy.
Victor Kostenko was the golden boy of the Russian Navy, a submarine captain with a maverick image, until he lost his command for an act of treason he didn't commit. Arrogant, aggressive, and super-smart, the captain pairs his daunting reputation with an appetite for adventure. And he's never met a rule he won't break. Now it's rumored he'll do anything to get back in his government's good graces.
Political Counselor Alexis Castle is one of the highest-ranked diplomats at the U.S. Embassy, a rising star who yearns to live up to her father's legacy as a legendary ambassador. Brilliant and driven, she's always played by the rules. She'll torpedo her career for sure if she falls for one of the world's most dangerous men - a bad-boy Russian sub captain who breaks every rule in the book.
When a hard-line Russian leader invades a country the U.S. promised to protect, war can only be avoided by a risky undercover liaison between one man who has everything to gain...and a woman who has everything to lose.
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Excerpt:Alexis was searching for the powder room when a pressed-and-starched functionary with a German accent slipped up discreetly beside her.
“A telephone call has rung in for you, Frau Chase.”
“It’s Castle,” she corrected. The divorce was still making the rounds in diplomatic circles, which inevitably led to some awkward moments.
“A telephone call has rung in for you, Frau Castle,” the young man repeated. “I shall show you the way, please.”
Alexis gripped her briefcase—awkward to carry, but these diplomatic receptions were intended for business, not pleasure, and all of them did it. As she followed the German up the stately staircase toward the private rooms of the Ambassador’s residence, the strains of violin music ebbed away. Her heels clicked against the floor as they wound onto another narrow stair, a servant’s passage for the original manor, she guessed.
For the first time, she suffered a twinge of unease. They’d climbed far beyond the public area now. Surely Ambassador von Hippel had made a nearer phone available where she could have taken the call?
“Excuse me,” she called, trying out her halting German. “Are you certain we’re going the right way?”
“Don’t worry, Frau Castle.” The functionary spared her an impersonal smile as he turned onto a dimly-lit third floor corridor. Ahead, an amber beam of light spilled over the Turkmen carpet from an open doorway. A sinuous rope of cigarette smoke twined through the air. Here the young man stopped, and invited her with a bow to enter.
Nodding her thanks, Alexis strode briskly into a high-ceilinged library, its walls lined with embossed leather-bound volumes. A massive antique desk reared before the window. The glass panes behind it were rimed with ice, gusts of snow swirling through the frigid darkness of a December night in Moscow.
In the intimate island of light cast by the Venetian lamp, a gold-braided officer’s hat was propped carelessly on the desk. In the Louis XV chair behind it, a man sprawled, turned away from her, feet braced on the window sill as he stared into the night.
Cigarette smoke uncoiled above his head as the officer inhaled, lamplight running like melted butter over dark blond hair, at least an inch too long for regulation. Light glittered against the epaulets that spanned his broad shoulders, three golden bars proclaiming a captain’s rank—her first clue as to who this guy might be. The black fabric of his uniform strained across the powerful muscles of his back and clung to impressive biceps.
Alexis cleared her throat and addressed the back of his head, employing her fluent Russian. “I beg your pardon. I was looking for the telephone—”
The soft click of the door closing behind her sent a chill of uneasiness skittering down her spine. She’d been led here, far from earshot of the other guests unless she shouted—though she’d never be so undignified—and dropped into a rather disconcerting private setting with a high-ranking Russian military officer.
A figure no U.S. diplomat should be meeting alone in this era of tense bilateral relations, without the sanction of an official dialogue to justify the encounter to superiors. It was a precaution Alexis waived at her own risk, given what had just happened to Oliver Grey, her unfortunate predecessor.
Behind the desk, the Russian addressed the window coolly, without turning his head. “I am afraid there is no telephone call, Ms. Chase.”
“It’s Castle.” Noting the crisp diction of his accented English, she switched languages to accommodate him. “Forgive my ignorance. You seem to know me, but I’m a bit unclear who you are.”
At last, he swung his legs down and pivoted to face her. The lamplight spilled around him like water in a ship’s wake, streaming past an impregnable hull. The Slavic sharpness of high cheekbones; a canny crease between tawny brows; hard jaw glittering with the gold dust of day’s-end stubble; and a mouth whose firm press suggested ruthlessness…and sensuality.
But God—his eyes. That Nordic gaze fixed her, unwavering, piercing blue as winter ice. She wondered how many men had looked their last into those cold eyes, then told herself to get it together. Still, she could barely contain the shiver that whispered through her.
His lips tightened in a humorless smile. “I’m Captain First Rank Victor Tarasovich Kostenko. I’m told you’ve been looking for me.”
“Captain Kostenko?” She erected a wall of diplomatic courtesy between them, to camouflage the frustration of her three-day pursuit. The guy had just ambushed her—with help from a NATO ally, no less—and she couldn’t afford to give him an inch of turf. “I understand you’re the new…administrator tasked to observe Russia’s military engagement with Ukraine.”
“I am the new Director of the Security Affairs and Disarmament Department,” he said coolly. “In that capacity, I oversee the Russian Federation’s military collaboration with the fourteen nations that comprise the post-Soviet empire. As even a newcomer to your position must be aware, this empire includes Ukraine.”
Given the classic sub skipper’s ego, she’d figured Kostenko would be annoyed to hear himself described as a glorified secretary. But he was a cool customer, this Russian, and his harsh-chiseled features gave nothing away as he parried her thrust with that little dig about her inexperience.
Still, she wasn’t going to let him rattle her. No matter what hair-raising exploits he might have piloted his submarine through, the man possessed substantially less diplomatic experience than she did herself.
As she pinned on her best game face, those narrowed blue eyes slid down her body from head to heels, then slowly slid back up. For a heartbeat, that chilly remoteness almost fractured. His gaze lingered on the immaculate silk suit she’d chosen so carefully to project her authority, the turquoise scarf she’d knotted at her throat to match her eyes.
She knew what he saw: the epitome of restraint and gravitas she took constant pains to reflect. Yet now, for some reason, she had to remind herself not to toy with the silver-blonde hair that brushed her shoulders, or tug at the costly jacket. Alexis tamped down that inner twitch of nerves and tightened her grip on her briefcase.
“I have talking points and a demarche from Washington for you, captain.” Pausing, she infused her tone with sympathy. “Since you’re new to your diplomatic responsibilities, I should explain that a demarche is an official position paper. In this case, it’s intended to initiate dialogue—”
“Thank you for the tutorial on elementary diplomacy, Counselor.” Now his tone was icy, but the furrow between his brows deepened. “Are you able to articulate the document’s subject—or are you merely functioning as a mailman?”
Touché, captain. She unclenched her jaw, and refrained from betraying a flicker of annoyance.
“I have a passing acquaintance with the topic,” she said dryly, “since I’ve been following your government’s evolving relations with its neighbors for the past several years.”
While you were cruising the North Sea playing war games. Her genteel condescension had to be getting under his skin. This wasn’t a man accustomed to being patronized—especially, she guessed, by a woman.
“My government is demarching you,” she finished, “to express its concern with the troubling presence of Russian naval vessels in Ukraine’s territorial waters.”
“It’s a training exercise.” Through watchful eyes he studied her, drawing on his cigarette and speaking curtly through the smoke. “If you have documents for me, I’ll give you a fax number.”
“I’m afraid that will not suffice.” Alexis worked to contain a sharp burst of irritation.
Though routine documents were often delivered via fax—not email, which was deemed too insecure—important messages like this one required the added emphasis of a personal meeting. And if he knew what a demarche was, Victor Kostenko damn well knew she wouldn’t be faxing this one. She wondered whether his inaccessibility was dictated by his superiors at MFA, or merely reflected his own difficult personality.
“My government would like a response to these concerns,” she pressed, “that goes beyond a confirmation of receipt from the MFA fax machine.”
And I’ll need that response by tomorrow, captain, if I want to hold on to my hard-won promotion.
Kostenko exhaled smoke, that ruthless mouth twitching as if he sensed her desperation. As if he too was scanning her for weaknesses, and had just picked up her “tell.”
“In point of fact,” he murmured, in his accented but impeccable English, “it will reflect poorly upon you personally if you are unable to entice a more substantive response from me, yes? It will reflect upon you: Alexis Castle Chase, who are the only surviving child of a legendary U.S. Ambassador, and the recent ex-wife of another senior U.S. diplomat.”
His eyes glinted like submerged glaciers in the North Sea as she clung grimly to her poise. No wedding ring, she noted, either on his left hand or his right, where an orthodox Russian would wear it. Which was more than a bit unusual for a guy his age—around forty, her analysts calculated—in this culture.
“It would reflect poorly,” he finished softly, “upon you: the new Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs, who are widely rumored to have obtained your impressive promotion through your connections with these two great men, rather than through your own merits.”
“I beg your pardon.” Gripping her briefcase until it cut into her fingers, Alexis responded with steely control. “Notwithstanding my ‘connections,’ your colleagues across five ministries consult me on a regular basis, as do your counterparts from the Russian Security Council and the Presidential Administration.”
She arched her brows. “I’m not certain how things worked on your submarine. But in diplomacy, it’s generally considered appropriate to coordinate your views with your superiors.”
An electric pulse of annoyance flashed in his eyes. He might be compelled to take his marching orders from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but she’d bet her trust fund this alpha male didn’t like it.
“At my level,” he bit out, “I possess the authority to make Russian policy and dictate its positions myself. Of course, I appreciate that an Embassy functionary stationed thousands of miles from her capital cannot enjoy the same privilege.”
And that smug son of a bitch had just impugned her professional abilities again. No doubt he’d intuited, with those aggressive instincts, how hard she worked to suppress her doubts—her secret fears that her performance could never live up to her star billing. He knew she was under the spotlight, and needed to deliver a stellar performance.
But the trick to dealing with Russians, as Alexis well knew, was never to blink. Now she drew from the sketchy information she’d read in his dossier to prepare for this meeting.
“Have they really let you off your leash at MFA, captain?” she murmured. “You must know those diplomats downstairs are buzzing about you. They’re asking each other what kind of misstep would impel the Ministry of Defense to pull its most talented captain from commanding an attack sub to sail a desk in the backwater of another ministry.”
Though she shouldn’t have said it, and her Ambassador would probably faint if he heard it, her pointed riposte finally drew blood. Her adversary went utterly still, a muscle ticking in his jaw the only indication that she’d hit a nerve. His cigarette hovered, clamped between his fingers, a cylindrical ash growing on its tip.
“You must inform your Defense Attaché,” he said with dangerous softness, “that his dossier on me contains certain… inaccuracies. For the Kostenko who was the fleet’s most talented captain was not myself, but my father. As a submarine captain, I cannot claim to surpass him. And the so-called crime for which he was convicted—after his sub was lost at sea with all souls aboard, including his own—was nothing more than his Ukrainian ancestry.”
He paused. “The same so-called ‘deficiency’ which I, of course, must share.”
Kostenko’s Slavic features brooded, as he flicked the ember from his cigarette into a brass ashtray. “When we were united under the Soviet Union, the question of ethnicity was a trifling matter. Now, in these…more complicated times, a loyal soldier and citizen of Mother Russia must be all the more zealous—as you will appreciate—in discharging his responsibilities.”
That would hold especially true for a senior officer whose mixed ethnicity straddled both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Cool and dispassionate though he might appear, Victor Kostenko had to be feeling some heat.
As she stood at attention before the enormous desk like a soldier on parade, with tension simmering in the air between them, Alexis felt an unwilling pang of sympathy for the officer’s dilemma. She understood, all too well, how it felt to be trapped by a father’s legacy. She too, in her own way, had struggled all her life to escape.
But in the end, she’d understood that she would never escape being the daughter of the venerable Undersecretary Castle. She could only atone for her own inadequacies. She wondered if Victor Kostenko had yet learned that painful lesson.
Back to business, she reminded herself, and smoothed her face to professional detachment. “As I’ve mentioned, I have the talking points and paper outlining our concerns in my briefcase. Allow me to convey these documents to you now. Then you can consult your superiors, and respond to me tomorrow—”
“I fear that is impossible, Ms. Castle,” the Russian said curtly. His clipped words did nothing to camouflage a simmering impatience with these diplomatic niceties, his tangible scorn for the protocols forced upon him. “I am not permitted to accept without prior authorization any documents on military matters, outside the physical boundaries of a ministry or agency of the Russian Federation. This is for your protection as well as mine.”
So that neither of them could be accused of espionage for the transaction. Alexis swore silently at the emergence of this latest bureaucratic obstacle. Indeed, to defend against such allegations, both of them were already required to report this private discussion to their respective authorities.
Conscious of the scrutiny of those cobalt eyes, Alexis placed her briefcase squarely at her feet—a silent declaration of intent. The embattled country of Ukraine was counting on her to flex some muscle. Her assignment was to wield the threat of U.S. wrath convincingly enough to strong-arm the Russian navy back into international waters, without resorting to violence. She had to deliver her message, come hell or high water, and persuade Kostenko to respond to her government’s very real concerns.
If she didn’t, it was her ass on the line. And the newly independent state of Ukraine might be breathing its last gasp of freedom.
“In that case,” she said calmly, “I must call on you at MFA tomorrow to discuss these pressing issues. When will it be convenient for you to see me? Shall we say 10 a.m.?”
A flicker of something—wry acknowledgement of her persistence, maybe—surfaced beneath the arctic chill of his features. Thoughtfully, he ground out his cigarette. Then, with an abruptness that disconcerted her, he pushed to his feet.
She couldn’t help noticing the guy towered over the hapless desk, way over six feet tall. And the breadth of his chest beneath that gold-braided jacket was, admittedly, impressive. She wondered what he’d been doing on his submarine to give him that physique. This was hardly the body of a man who spent his days scowling into a periscope—or hunched over a desk at MFA, for that matter. While the suntanned skin stretched over those Slavic bones in December hinted at an outdoor man.
Alexis cut short her wayward thoughts, every nerve tingling with wariness as he rounded the desk with the silent glide of a hunting shark. She stood her ground as he prowled toward her, surprisingly graceful for such a large man, with the athleticism she respected in her sparring partners at the dojo or the fencing salle. In the narrow confines of the library, he passed close enough to touch. If she’d wanted to touch him, which of course she didn’t.
Still, she couldn’t help noticing how the lamplight glittered on those epaulets and the double column of gold buttons marching down his torso. Or the way the caramel-colored light picked out sun-streaks in his hair, thick enough to tempt a woman to run her fingers through it.
And she definitely couldn’t help breathing in the fragrance exuded from his rough-shaven skin: an enticing blend of Davidoff cigarettes and the woody spice of David Beckham’s Signature cologne. It didn’t help that she was probably the only woman left on earth who actually liked the rich acrid perfume of a high-end cigarette, though she didn’t smoke herself.
Clearly Kostenko was escalating his offensive because he hadn’t managed to pierce her composure with his pointed words. Well, if he thought she’d be intimidated by his proximity, he was destined for disappointment, because she wouldn’t show him an ounce of weakness. She stood her ground as he circled her, like a great white smelling blood in the water.
Though she was definitely not afraid of him, she couldn’t deny being hyperaware of his every silent step. Warm breath stirred her hair and brushed her ear, making her toes curl, as he leaned in close from behind.
“Tell me, Ms. Castle, how far will you go to accomplish your mission?”