Her Spy to Have Chapter One
Her Spy to Have, Book 1 Spy Games Series
The games are about to begin.
Au pair and ex-pat Isabelle Beausejour has been living abroad for most of her twenty-four years, traveling the world with her irresponsible father. When Isabelle finds herself stranded in Bangkok, with no job, no money, and nowhere to turn, she soon becomes desperate.
Intelligence officer Garrett Downing is on the hunt for military goods that have gone missing. Instead, he finds himself coming to the aid of a young woman with more resourcefulness than common sense.
Isabelle has no choice but to accept a stranger’s help in getting back home. Once there, however, as enemies turn into lovers, it soon becomes a game of keeping secrets. Garrett is more than he seems. Isabelle knows more than she’s willing to admit. Will she choose loyalty to her father over the love of a man who tells lies for a living?
Excerpt. © 2016 Reprinted by Permission. All rights reserved.
“Chan me passport Canada, tha ja kai, khun ja seu tao rai ka?”
How much for the Canadian passport?
Isabelle spoke fast, her Thai barely adequate, her understanding of it less so, and tried to sound confident. The hustle and noise of the vendors and patrons of Khao San Road, the center of tourism in Bangkok, did nothing to help her concentration. The heat and humidity were two levels beyond tolerable. The heavy scent of spices from the street cart shielding the transaction from onlookers made her mouth water and her stomach rumble. She hadn’t eaten all day.
The market was crowded this evening. She’d counted on it. Nightclubs had opened their doors, the neon signs bright against a backdrop of tall buildings and patchy sky. Ragged hawkers stood on the street and handed out flyers announcing the various entertainment options available inside. As soon as she got her money, she could disappear in the confusion.
The young man in worn jeans and gray, sleeveless T-shirt appeared to grasp her meaning well enough. Straight black hair tickled his brow as he glanced around, then made an unmistakable gesture with his fingers. Show me.
Isabelle’s father hadn’t raised an idiot. That passport wasn’t coming out of hiding until she had the money for it within grabbing distance. Her hostel was only five dollars US a night, but other than a few bhat, that was now three dollars more than she owned. She had a few other things she could hawk which would pay for another night or two, but they wouldn’t bring in enough money to get her back to Canada. The document was all she had of any value. From here she planned to go to the Canadian Embassy and report it stolen.
She pretended not to understand him. Instead, she tapped two fingers on the back pocket of her shorts to indicate yes, she had the passport on her, and to give him the impression that was where it was stored, when in fact, it was safely taped to her stomach.
“You speak English?” the man asked.
“Un petit peu,” she replied. “Mais je suis française.” A little. But I am French. She didn’t want to be able to communicate with him too well just yet. “How much?” she repeated, again in Thai.
He named a ridiculous, lowball amount. It was worth far more than that, as Isabelle was well aware. She made a counteroffer—hers, much too high.
His dark eyes flitted past her left shoulder, just for a split second, but it was warning enough. She knew what was coming and been expecting it.
Someone jostled her from behind, knocking her off balance. A light hand slid across her buttocks. Isabelle felt the faux leather passport holder—with its wad of folded tourist flyers inside—being lifted from the pocket she’d tapped.
The pickpocket was okay, but she’d known better ones. She’d once met a Roma in Italy who could pull the money from an open wallet, right under the owner’s nose. She didn’t turn around, or indicate in any way that she knew she’d been robbed, but kept her attention on her target.
“I’ve changed my mind. I’m not interested in buying,” the man said to her.
Isabelle switched to English. “It will be your loss, then. I can’t imagine your friend will make much profit off a few tourist maps of the Grand Palace.”
Surprise flashed in his eyes, followed by a grudging admiration that lifted the corners of his lips, creasing smooth, buttered-toffee skin. “I see we speak a common language after all. Who told you to come to me?”
“I’d rather not say.”
In fact, no one had told her. For three days, Isabelle had wandered through the businesses and street stalls of Khao San Road, quietly ferreting out the information she needed. She’d studied the people who worked here, seen who met with whom, and what exchanged hands.
It had been far too easy. She’d spent her entire life learning how to blend into crowds. With nondescript brown eyes and unremarkable, olive-toned skin, hers was the kind of face that didn’t attract a lot of attention in a city like this. She was of medium height, slight but not skinny, and she wore her straight, dark hair scraped back in a high ponytail. She could pass as Italian, Spanish, or French—and spoke each language fluently, as well as English. Her passport claimed she was French Canadian, and it was the language she spoke with her father, but Isabelle hadn’t spent many of her twenty-four years in her home province of Quebec. She and her father had moved around a lot, on three different continents.
And now he was missing.
He hadn’t shown up in Thailand to meet her as planned, and he’d left no messages for her. Isabelle was worried sick. Their fallback plan in such an event was always for her to head to Canada and wait for him to track her down. Isabelle, however, had been fired by the British couple who’d hired her as an au pair, then abandoned in Bangkok to fend for herself. They’d refused to pay her final month’s wages, too.
She’d waited for her father longer than she should have, and now, unless this plan worked, she wasn’t going anywhere.
The young Thai studied her for a few seconds. She stared back. She wasn’t afraid for her safety. The only thing separating them from the horde of tourists wandering Khao San was a flimsy cart selling shrimp and crispy rice salad, and a few racks of T-shirts covered by three large umbrellas. She wasn’t above making a scene if she felt at all threatened. She did worry about losing her passport and not getting her money, though.
Five minutes later, they agreed on a price.
She lifted the hem of her drab, khaki-colored T-shirt and peeled the passport off her belly, then held it tight in one hand, close to her chest. She listened for hurried footsteps behind her, or anything out of the ordinary, but the street was noisy with music and people.
She made him count the money for her. He held it out. As she reached for it with one hand, she extended the passport in the other.
His eyes flickered up. They widened.
Isabelle tried to snatch the passport back, but someone caught hold of her wrist.
* * *
Garrett Downing had seen people do a lot of stupid things over the course of his career, but this was one of the best.
The boy with the money ducked behind the shrimp cart, thrusting aside heavily laden racks of bright T-shirts. Seconds later, he was gone. The vendor of the cart shouted after him, her irritation plain, although Garrett had no doubt the two were well known to each other. She had to be aware of what types of transactions were occurring behind her. The boy hadn’t selected this spot to do business at random.
The girl yanked her arm, trying to break free of his grip. When it was obvious he wasn’t about to let go, she sucked in a deep breath.
“Go ahead and scream for help,” Garrett said, cutting her off. He’d stepped in close so that to anyone passing by, it looked like they were deep in a domestic dispute. “I’d be interested to hear you explain this to the local police.”
She muttered something rude in Italian but he wasn’t so easily fooled. “That’s a Canadian passport you were about to sell. You either own it or you stole it. I doubt if you’d be as eager to draw attention to us by screaming if you stole it, so I’m pretty sure it’s yours and you speak English.” His fingers tightened on the fine bones of her slender wrist, not in an attempt to hurt her, but to show her he was serious about not letting go. “What the hell were you thinking?”
She stood her ground. “What I think—or do—is no business of yours.”
There could be a Thai boyfriend behind her imprudent decision—someone who’d convinced her she wanted to stay in the country to be with him, then set up this exchange for her. She wouldn’t be the first girl to fall for that ploy.
She’d handled the transaction like a pro, however. The majority of girls would be in tears at this point. He had no idea what her real game was and the mystery intrigued him.
“Maybe not for most things,” he agreed, “but what you do with that passport is. I’m with the Canadian Embassy.”
Her long-lashed eyes, a deep brown, raked him from head to toe. She started to laugh. He could understand why she found that so improbably funny. He was dressed in a green printed, button-down shirt, Tilley cargo shorts, and a pair of Ecco sandals, looking every inch the North American tourist, not diplomat, but what he’d told her wasn’t a lie. It simply wasn’t the whole truth. He really was with the Canadian Embassy, working out of the Defence attaché’s office while on assignment, but as an intelligence officer for CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He’d been in Thailand for more than a month now, investigating the theft of Canadian Department of National Defence property. Rumor had it that parts for weapons systems—meaning aircraft with nuclear capabilities—were being smuggled through maintenance contractors in Thailand, then shipped out on a convoluted route to Pakistan. He needed to figure out the path and the players. He’d come to Khao San tonight to meet an informant who hadn’t shown.
So Garrett was already annoyed when he’d stumbled on her foolish transaction. He reached into one of the zippered pockets on his shorts and pulled out his billfold. He flipped it open to his ID and showed it to her.
That wiped the smile from her face.
He shoved it back in his pocket. He plucked the passport from her fingers and looked at the picture and name. The passport then followed the billfold into his shorts pocket. “Well, Isabelle Beausejour. Let’s hear your explanation. I’ll bet it’s good.”
She deflated before his eyes, all the brash bravery gone. On the surface, she was ordinary enough. Smooth, light-olive skin. Even, unremarkable features. Dark, straight, unspectacular hair scraped into a cheerleader-style ponytail. Cheap shorts and T-shirt, the same standard uniform as all the international backpackers roaming Bangkok wore. Nothing about her explained this sudden alertness she caused in him—the spiking of interest that made him feel…greasy, was the best way to describe it. Like he was ogling a teenage girl in a schoolyard. He resisted the urge to check her passport again for her age. Eighteen, perhaps?
His thirty-one seemed so old by comparison.
“I was hungry,” she whispered.
While that was no doubt the truth, it was hardly the whole of it. He refused to feel pity as he debated what he should do about this situation. No harm had been done. If he let her go, she’d try to sell the passport again, he didn’t doubt it, but after his intervention just now, she’d find it much more difficult.
But she was hungry.
Not my problem.
His meeting was more important. He needed the intelligence he’d come to collect. He checked his watch. Which wasn’t going to happen tonight. The informant wouldn’t show now. Moreover, if he’d seen even a part of what had just happened, he’d stay far away.
Inside, Garrett sighed. Spare him from stupid people who made unfathomable life choices. He’d spent weeks chasing this lead. All of that careful work, gone. Then, a grudging pity took hold of his heart. He’d never been hungry a day in his life.
“Let’s get you something to eat.” He bit back his frustration. It wasn’t as if he had anything better to do at the moment.
He slid his palm down her wrist to her hand until their fingers laced together, as if they were lovers out for a stroll. She stiffened, but didn’t pull away. He’d have paid money to know what was going through her head at that moment.
They got caught up in a swarm of German tourists who were loud, drunk, and enjoying themselves to the entertainment of everyone they met on the street. Garrett pulled the girl to his side, shielding her with his larger frame, but also to keep them from becoming separated. Bodies bumped against him. Someone mumbled sorry. And then they were free.
They walked to a small Thai café he knew on Phra Athit Road, where the street was less crowded so they could talk, and sat at a table outdoors. Garrett ordered pork soup and noodles for them both, as well as some stuffed flat breads and a couple of iced colas. His shirt stuck to his back. He loved the food in this city, but the humidity and heat had been the hardest things about Bangkok for him to adapt to. While Ottawa, Ontario sweltered in the summertime, it was nothing like this.
He scooped up a spoonful of soup. “I’m waiting for an explanation.”
She sat very straight, her spine not touching the back of her chair, looking more poised than tense. Despite the hunger he could read in her eyes, and the faint hollows in her cheeks, she picked at her bread, barely eating. “I came to Bangkok four months ago to work as a nanny for a British couple. Two weeks ago, the wife caught her husband trying to kiss me in a corner of the garden. I was dismissed on the spot without final wages.”
The lack of embellishment, and the faint bitterness beneath her words, told him everything. The story wasn’t uncommon. The only thing he questioned was how willing a participant she’d been in the garden fiasco, and that was none of his business. “Why not go to the Embassy for help?”
She sipped a little soup from her spoon before answering. “I planned to, but I needed to have money to get back to Canada. I was going to sell the passport, then go to them and report it stolen. They’d have issued me a temporary one.”
Her plan was bad on so many levels. Not to mention, a federal offense that could well lead to jail time. He had to ask himself what sort of person thought to sell a passport. She’d almost pulled it off, too.
There was also that two-week period of time since her dismissal. It made no sense.
“You have no family to call? Friends?” he persisted.
Again, she hesitated. “There’s just my father, and he travels a lot. I’m not sure how to reach him.”
Garrett had a good memory and there was something about the name that rang a bell. He’d seen it somewhere else recently. A CSIS case file, perhaps.
Then he had it. Marc Beausejour was a suspected middleman in the theft of Canadian government property. There had been little information on him in the file, if he recalled correctly, mostly because Beausejour was a simple link in a very long, complex chain.
Garrett tapped the table with an index finger, his thoughts racing. Perhaps not so simple as was first believed. What a coincidence that a girl bearing his name, with the same transient lifestyle, happened to be in Bangkok at a time coinciding with a CSIS investigation of the smuggling of Canadian military goods across international borders.
“What’s your father’s name?” he asked.
“Leon.” She gave it a French pronunciation, Lee-onh, with the accent on the heavily nasal second syllable.
The name was wrong, but that didn’t mean a whole lot. He wished he could remember if Marc Beausejour had a middle name, or another he went by. “What does he do?”
She shrugged slender shoulders beneath the shapeless, oversize T-shirt she wore. “Something in international business. For a security management company, I believe.”
“What’s the name of the company?”
“I have no idea.”
He set down his spoon, finally giving in to impatience. “Look, Isabelle. I could have turned you over to the authorities. Instead, I’m trying to help you. A little cooperation on your part would be nice.”
She raised dark, unreadable eyes from the contents of her bowl, which she’d been examining with an intense and frowning concentration. “I’m an adult. My father and I are no longer as close as we once were. When he wants to see me, he finds me. I’m sorry if my lack of reliable friends is an inconvenience for you. I have plenty, I assure you, but none I feel comfortable enough with to call and ask for several thousand dollars that I probably won’t be able to pay back.”
His impatience dissolved. She was scared. More than that, she was defensive, and trying to deflect his attention away from her father. She was protecting him.
Too many coincidences.
He had her passport, which should have emergency contact information, but he didn’t want to spook her any more than she already was by checking it in front of her. Besides, it was undoubtedly false. If her father was connected to his investigation, and his instincts said he was, then keeping track of her might be the best way to find him.
And it would be easiest to do that if she were in Canada.
* * *
He still had her passport. She had to get it back.
Her fingers burned from where he’d been holding her hand. The name on the ID he’d shown her read Garrett Downing. Despite the ugly and tasteless shirt, he was a nice-looking man. Broad-shouldered, not quite six feet tall, and physically fit, he was built more like a wrestler than a runner. He had short brown hair, bleached at the tips by the sun. A bump and slight bend to an otherwise straight nose indicated it must have been broken at least once, giving him a “Don’t mess with me,” air. He probably wasn’t as old as he’d have people believe. Isabelle was good at guessing ages and she placed his at around thirty.
And he was smart.
She had lived abroad for years. Ex-pats heard things. Mr. Downing, she suspected, was with CSIS, which meant he was a spy. That was the only reason she could think of for why he’d be working at the Canadian Embassy, yet hanging out in Khao San at this time of night wearing those ridiculous clothes. Plus, Khao San wasn’t a place where foreigners spent more than a day or so, really, and he obviously knew the area reasonably well. She didn’t get the vibe of a man interested in late night sex shows, or child prostitutes, either. He paid close attention to his surroundings, radiating an intensity that kept her on edge, as if she were waiting for a bomb to go off or some other tragedy to strike. His eyes, a clear, hazel color in the artificial lighting, never stopped moving. She’d bet he could tell her the exact number of tuk-tuks—unauthorized taxis that looked like three-wheeled golf carts—that had gone past since they sat down. That was how he’d noticed what she’d been doing.
CSIS. Without a doubt.
He was asking too many questions. Those hazel eyes had fixed on her face in a way she didn’t like when they spoke of her father. She searched through everything she’d said and could find nothing that would warrant such a reaction. She loved her father deeply. It had been just the two of them for as long as she could remember. But from the age of fourteen, she’d known his work for an international security management company occasionally skated on the fringes of the law, offering protection to people who might not deserve it. Thank God she knew nothing about his recent activities—or current whereabouts.
She forced herself to eat even though her appetite was long gone. She had no idea when she might get another meal, and it gave her time to think. Even if Mr. Righteous saw her deported back to Canada, she’d have nothing when she got there. No money. No home. No family except for grandparents she hadn’t seen since she was a very small child, and who’d expressed no interest in her. Educated in a number of boarding schools, and sometimes by satellite from remote locations, her friendships, casual at best, spanned three continents. But Canada was where her father wanted her to go if they were ever separated, so that’s what she intended to do. Besides, it was far better to be destitute in Canada than penniless on the streets of Bangkok. The thought of ending up in one of the local strip shows in order to feed herself didn’t appeal in the least.
“Where do you think your father is now?”
Isabelle lifted a napkin to her lips, then crumpled it in her hand. “I don’t see what relevance this has, Mr. Downing. I’m an adult,” she repeated. “He’s not my keeper.”
That threw her off, and she slipped into her native French without thinking. “Pardon?”
“Call me Garrett. And it is relevant. How old are you, Isabelle?” He cast a disarming, crooked grin her way that unsettled her further. “Don’t make me check your passport.”
She could tell that surprised him, which came as no shock. She knew very well how young she looked. How plain. Women who traveled alone as much as she did went out of their way not to draw too much attention to themselves. She’d broken that rule today.
She ran through what she knew—or at least suspected—in her head. He was no doubt CSIS. He was curious about her father, who’d planned to meet her in Bangkok. And her father was missing.
But what if she was wrong and Garrett Downing wasn’t CSIS, or even with the Embassy at all? What if he was something else entirely? And what if he hadn’t stumbled on her by accident, but because he’d been looking for her?
How much trouble was her father in?
She itched to examine his ID more closely.
“I’d like my passport back,” she said.
“I can sympathize with your situation. I really can. Well,” he amended. “Trying to sell your passport, not so much.” His eyes glittered with humor, making him seem more human and less like a spy. Or killer. Worse, a white slaver. “But unfortunately, the best I can do for you is to help collect your belongings and escort you to the airport. You can have it back once we get there.”
“I have no money,” Isabelle reminded him.
“I’m going to buy your ticket for you.” He held up a hand before she could interrupt. “I’m also going to go to the gate with you, make sure you get on the plane, and have someone waiting for you when you arrive in Canada. I can at least help get you back on your feet.”
Tears of relief, hot and unexpected, welled in her eyes. Then a lifetime of caution reasserted itself. The possibility of white slavery wasn’t a joke. She blinked the tears away. “Why would you want to help me?”
This time, he was the one to hesitate. “I have two sisters. I’d hate to see one of them in your situation.”
She wasn’t a lost twelve-year-old. He had another motive, one he didn’t plan to share with her. She could hardly question him about it.
Or turn down his offer, either.
The sweating glasses of cola had left large rings of water on the table. Isabelle dabbed at them with the crumpled napkin still clutched in her fingers. “I can’t pay you back.”
“I don’t expect you to.” He finished the last piece of flatbread and washed it down with his drink. He flashed that grin at her again. “Besides, there’s a good chance that whoever meets you at the airport will confiscate your passport again.”