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Her Spy at Dawn Chapter One


Her Spy at Dawn, Book 4 Spy Games Series

Buy: Amazon UK/ Amazon AU/ Amazon NL

It’s a high-rolling game.

Intelligence officer Dan Hanson once made a decision that cost him his best friend’s life and taught a valuable lesson about following orders without question. He now has a well-deserved reputation for calmness under pressure and the unwavering loyalty of his team.

When Dan is asked to work with a government police investigator to bring down a corrupt politician, he doesn’t hesitate. However, when the sexy investigator turns out to be the love of his life—and his dead best friend’s ex-fiancé—he second guesses the past decisions he’s made.

Police investigator Alycia Evers has loved and lost. Twice. And if the past has taught her anything, it’s that life is short, it isn’t always fair, and she should rely on no one but herself. Being handed a case the Department of Justice believes can’t be won is a challenge she’s eager to accept, but the discovery she’ll have to work with the man who once broke her heart means the stakes are dangerously high.

Dan’s hiding secrets he can no longer keep and Alycia’s not sure she can face. He’s never stopped loving her. She has no intentions of loving again. When the sparks between them reignite, turning into an inferno of epic proportions, can they learn to forgive and forget and look to the future, not the past?

Chapter One

Excerpt © 2017 Paula Altenburg All Rights Reserved


At quarter past six on a cold Tuesday evening, Dan Hanson pushed through the heavy wood-and-brass door of the Greasy Weasel.

Stale beer stench and warm body heat slammed Dan in the face. He unrolled the fleece collar of his black leather flight jacket and tugged down the zipper as the door swung closed behind him. The small pub, situated on a low-traffic side street off ByWard Market in the center of downtown Ottawa, was relatively quiet at this time of day, when the working crowd was on its way home and the evening hockey fans who couldn’t get their hands on tickets for the Canadian Tire Centre hadn’t yet settled in. The game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators was to be televised at eight o’clock and Dan hoped to catch it on the pub’s big screen after his meeting. Sidney Crosby, the Penguins captain, was a popular Canadian player, but the Senators on home ice trumped a homeboy and the match promised to be a good one.

He scanned the dim room and spotted John Carmichael, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service director, sitting in a corner with his back to the wall so he had an unfettered view of the dank room. It was the seat Dan would have preferred, but in this instance he was OK with giving it up. John could be trusted to act as the lookout. He’d spent more than twenty years as a field officer—which had to be some kind of record. The Weasel had the added security of being owned by a former intelligence officer with an excellent grasp of his trade—past and present.

Dan slid into the empty wooden chair on John’s left, giving him a view almost as good. His boss looked tired. He was in his mid-sixties, not ready for retirement but far enough along in his career that the excitement was gone. About the same height as Dan he was thin without being scrawny, and even though he sat poker-straight in a pub chair in a low-brow drinking establishment, managed to look dignified and relaxed—two things Dan would never pull off. John had fastened a portable audio scrambler to the underside of the table. Dan could see the tips of the clips used to hook it in place. If anyone tried to listen in on their meeting, they’d be disappointed.

The CSIS director wanted this meeting kept as far off the record as possible. CSIS had been chasing intel on the Canadian Minister of National Defence for almost two years now and they were close to nailing him to the wall.

“Marlies is on her way,” John said as Dan signaled to the bartender to bring him a beer. “Her flight got in this afternoon.”

Marlies Wiersma—Lies, pronounced Lees, to the people on an informal basis with her—was a CSIS intelligence officer who’d just spent several months in the Netherlands gathering information on Canada’s current defense minister. Normally she answered to Dan, who was her team leader, but because the case involved a sitting Cabinet minister John had asked that no written reports be submitted and insisted all intelligence go directly to him. No one wanted the defense minister tipped off that he was being investigated by CSIS.

This would be Dan’s first briefing on whatever Lies had unearthed and he hoped it was good. Seeing the smug bastard’s face on television and hearing him be all pious about Canada’s duty as international peacekeepers left his blood boiling.

“You’re going to lose her,” John was saying. “I wanted you to know before she gets here in case she mentions it.”

“Lies? She’s being assigned a new team leader?” Dan couldn’t hide his surprise. And possibly experienced a tiny twinge of hurt. He liked Lies, even if she did have a gigantic feminist chip on her shoulder.

Maybe that was why she was being reassigned. He wasn’t always as politically correct as he could be—although he found it hard to believe she’d complained about him rather than come to him first. It simply wasn’t her style.

“You could put it that way.” John wrestled a faint smile. “The aerospace and defense trade commissioner to the Netherlands has requested she be permanently assigned to his personal staff. I told him yes, but with certain strings attached. She has to be available to me when I need an extra person in Europe.”

By person John meant woman. They made good intelligence gatherers because male targets liked having them listen and other females often shared confidences they wouldn’t with men. And by permanently assigned, the trade commissioner meant he and Lies were sleeping together and the arrangement was serious. Dan had known the two of them were involved because Lies’d had enough sense to give him a head’s up and ask his advice, but damn, he hated to lose her. Kudos to her, though, for refusing to give up her career. The way she’d explained it, there’d been problems because the trade commissioner wasn’t a fan of it.

“Son of a bitch.”

John lost the match with his grin. “Harry’s a good guy. And now he owes me. I view this as a win-win situation.”

Harry Jordan was a rising star in the international diplomatic circles, so yes, having him in the CSIS director’s debt was a coup. Dan wondered if the poor SOB knew what getting involved with Lies was about to cost him.

No doubt he did. And Lies would be worth it.

The door of the Greasy Weasel opened to let in another blast of chilly air and a long-legged, stunning blond dressed all in black. Flakes of snow clung to the sleeves of her woolen pea coat and she paused in the doorway long enough to brush them from her hair. The move was a calculated one. She’d be checking out every face in the room, committing them to memory, because she was here on secret business and someone else might be too.

Lies Wiersma possessed the same blue eyes as a collector doll Dan’s sister owned and the bouncy curls of child actress Shirley Temple. She was two inches taller than his five foot eight. Thigh-high leather boots added an additional three inches. Depending on the image she wished to present, she could pass for a professor, professional athlete, or a throwback to some 1920’s mob boss’s brainless moll. She made an excellent intelligence officer precisely because of her chameleon-like versatility and now Dan was about to lose her. Why couldn’t Harry Jordan keep his hands to himself?

Heads turned as she crossed the room.

“Hey,” she said cheerily, plopping her pretty ass in the chair on the other side of John and across the table from Dan. The table jiggled as she swung her long legs beneath it and the toe of her boot caught its pedestal. John rescued his drink before it could spill. Her already rosy cheeks pinkened. “Whoops. Sorry about that.”

There was nothing pretentious about her, another reason Dan liked having her on his team. She faked artless even better than classy simply because it suited her personality.

The bartender brought him his beer and he ordered another for Lies. She requested a Guinness.

“To counteract all the wine I’m forced to consume at embassy functions,” she explained. She added a dramatic sigh for effect.

“Your life is so rough.”

Dan tried to sound sympathetic. Part of him was. He had zero interest in fancy events. His background in intelligence had involved survival in third world conditions. He’d take the third world any day. The thought of having to wear a tuxedo ranked up there with emergency open heart surgery performed on a dining room table during a firestorm.

“Just keeping it real.”

The three of them chatted about the weather until Lies had her drink in front of her and the bartender had returned to his station.

Then they got down to business.

“Lies, why don’t you walk Dan through your report,” John said.

She gave him a quick briefing, clipped and precise. The defense minister had close personal friends who’d been running decommissioned Canadian weapons systems parts—aka used aircraft parts—through various maintenance companies in Europe. From there they made their way to countries with nuclear capabilities that Canada didn’t do military business with because they hadn’t signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Several of those countries had uneasy relationships with their neighbors.

“The sales are arranged by a Canadian lawyer named Mike Freeland. Payment and delivery are made through dummy corporations managed by Bernard Vanderloord, a Canadian ex-pat with dual Dutch citizenship. Both Freeland and Vanderloord went to university with Patrick MacKenzie—” Canada’s defense minister  “— where they became good friends,” Lies explained. “After university, Vanderloord began an export business roughly based on a hawala system of exchange, leveraging off his and his friends’ families’ connections in foreign countries. Freeland’s family is Ukrainian on his mother’s side. Vanderloord has improved and expanded his business over time.”

A hawala system involved an agent in one country—usually connected to the client through family or community—who arranged for payment in another country using cash or an exchange of goods or services of equal value. It was a system based on reciprocity and trust. And it was illegal in Canada, as well as in most member countries of the United Nations.

Unfortunately, it was also incredibly difficult to shut down. Canada’s money exchange laws remained pitifully easy to circumnavigate. All one had to have were the right connections and colossal cojones.

Patrick MacKenzie had both in spades.

Dan sipped at his beer. There was more to the story than what Lies was aware of. An officer in Thailand had first uncovered the Dutch-Canadian connection while chasing military parts thefts passing through maintenance companies in Asia. The officer’s intel had led to the Dutch Politie and Interpol arresting another player, another Canadian ex-pat named Marc Leon Beausejour. While Beausejour remained uncooperative, he too had been a good university friend of MacKenzie’s.

Another intelligence officer had found a connection between the Russian Business Network—a cybercrime organization with links to the Russian Mafia—and the defense minister’s office in Ottawa. Vanderloord also had connections to the Russian Mafia.

All roads lead to Rome.

“Thank you, Marlies,” John said. “When are you returning to the Netherlands?”

“I’m packing up my apartment and giving the landlord my notice. I’m hoping to book a flight out for Sunday,” she replied.

Intelligence officers tended to live light, keeping very few personal possessions, and other than clothes, she wasn’t high maintenance. Harry was a lucky, lucky man. If Lies had been five inches shorter, and not one of his staff, Dan might have made a play for her, himself.

She drained her beer, attuned to the fact that her part of the meeting was over. “You gentlemen have things to discuss and I have packing to do.” She yawned. “Not to mention the six-hour time change is doing me in.”

“Give my best to Harry,” John said.

The pub was beginning to fill up as hockey fans trickled in, rowdy and ready to drink. Staff maneuvered between tables, carrying precariously balanced trays of drinks held aloft on the palms of their hands. Lies, smiling at everyone she encountered and exuding an enviable glow of contentment, declined several requests to join tables on her trip to the door.

The aerospace and defense trade commissioner was good for her. And to her. The evidence of it was plain. Dan was happy for her. He didn’t know Harry Jordan, but what the hell. He was happy for him too.

It was the world he felt sad for.

The noise level provided great cover. John and Dan both leaned in closer, two casual friends waiting for the game to begin.

“It’s not enough to take down a sitting Member of Parliament,” Dan said.

“There’s more. Lies wired Vanderloord’s Amsterdam apartment and got some fantastic intel,” John said. “She had to send it to me to get it translated. On a recent business trip to the Netherlands, Freeland brokered a sale of military parts to the Ukraine. Vanderloord arranged for payment through one of his companies.”

What John had tasked Lies to do was illegal.  But only if he got caught, which was unlikely. CSIS was a civilian organization that turned the security intelligence it gathered over to the appropriate law enforcement agencies as it deemed necessary. Since CSIS never gave up its sources, its methods couldn’t be questioned. The onus was on law enforcement to make any intel they received stand up in court.

“What’s the next step?” Dan asked.

“I’ve called in the Department of Justice and requested an RCMP investigator.” The RCMP was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s federal and national police force. “We both know it’s not guaranteed that MacKenzie will go to jail, but his arrest might apply enough pressure on him to make him willing to give up his supply chain, and information on how far it extends.”

That supply chain was CSIS’s real objective. Canada’s national security came first. Dan, however, wasn’t endangering any member of his team. “Are you sure we can protect Lies?”

“I hope so.” John frowned and met Dan’s eyes. “Vanderloord found the wire she planted. Right now he believes Harry’s behind it, but if MacKenzie talks to him about the evidence against him, Vanderloord is going to put two and two together and figure out where it came from. If that happens, Marlies’s career as an intelligence officer will be over and I might not be able to protect her from prosecution. She’ll wear this alone.” His jaw set, his quiet tone of voice determined. “We’re not going to allow that to happen.”

Dan knew what had to be done but he didn’t like it.

“So the next step is to make sure MacKenzie and Vanderloord don’t have that conversation,” he said.

“You still have your contacts?”

John referred to Dan’s days in the field. He’d worked deep undercover with some of the best people in the world in the worst of its places. After things went to shit on him in the Sudan, he’d gotten out. He’d never lost touch with his friends though. They’d do anything for him. He’d do the same for them. No questions asked.

“I do,” Dan said. “I hate this,” he added. Hated it. The noise in the room, so welcome only a few short moments ago, now scraped against his eardrums.

But he’d do it and John knew he would.

“If you liked it I wouldn’t ask it of you.  Besides, there’s no need to contact them right away. Let’s give it a few months until after the investigator is finished examining all the evidence. It’ll be months before charges are laid and I want time to get Harry and Lies out of the Netherlands first.” John ordered two more beer and set them both in front of Dan. It was now quarter to eight. “You going to be able to sleep tonight?”

“Should I be able to?”

“Yes.” John said it with no hesitation.

“Then I’ll be fine.” Dan trusted his boss as much as he trusted anyone he hadn’t worked with in the field. They all had occupational hazards to deal with and tough decisions to make. It was the way of the world. His world, at least.

“Good. We meet with the RCMP investigator tomorrow morning at seven o’clock in my office.” John gave the table a final pat as he stood to take his leave. “Enjoy the game.”

Yes, well. It was too late for that. He didn’t touch the beer John bought him, but left them sitting on the table throughout the game.

Alcohol wasn’t how he chose to deal with moral dilemmas.

* * *

Dan strode through John’s open office door the next morning hangover free and with a black coffee in hand.

It was eleven minutes to seven and he wanted to be in place ahead of the RCMP investigator. It would give CSIS a psychological advantage, showing that he and John were a united front. CSIS planned to cooperate as much as possible, especially since they’d called this meeting, but RCMP investigators were sticklers when it came to points of law. Months—years—of hard work, not to mention lives, could be destroyed by a single misstep on the part of either organization, so exchanging information turned into a careful game of poker with no one willing to reveal too many cards.

Dan and John spent a few minutes discussing the game. The Senators won it in overtime. At six minutes to seven, the phone rang. The security desk downstairs had a guest waiting, and John, because his executive assistant hadn’t yet arrived for work, had to go down to sign him in.

Dan watched the snow fall outside of the office window and sipped his coffee while he waited for John to return. Ottawa was settling into winter and the streets were a mess of slippery, dirty slush. A car slid into an intersection, causing a traffic jam at the lights. Horns blared.

He heard voices in the hall and turned away from the drama unfolding outside. He rose from his chair to greet the investigator, setting his coffee mug on John’s desk.

The investigator turned out to be a woman, not a man. John ushered her into his office ahead of him, the silly smile on his face telling Dan she must be charming and pretty. She was small, maybe five foot two, slender, and wore practical winter boots instead of the office heels women seemed to otherwise prefer—which made sense because of the weather. Her hooded coat was bright, royal-blue serge and she’d wrapped a white knitted scarf around her neck to fill in any gaps. She had her head turned away from him, saying something to John over her shoulder. Straight shiny hair, a rich shade of cherry-brown red, spiked Dan’s interest. He had a weakness for gingers. Especially the dainty ones.

However, something about the tone of her voice sounded an alarm in his head. A memory twigged. His heart started to race even before he could place it. She turned to him as John began to make the introductions, stretched out her hand, and both of them froze. Wide blue eyes, trimmed with thick black lashes he knew for a fact were naturally reddish brown, collided with his. They reflected his horror.

John’s voice came at him as if from the bottom of a long, empty, echoing chasm. “Dan, this is Alycia Evers, the investigator the Department of Justice sent over. Alycia, Dan Hanson. One of our team leaders.”

Dan couldn’t force his heart rate back to normal. He’d have to wait for it to settle all on its own. Hopefully that happened before he threw up or passed out.

“We’ve met,” he managed to say, and was proud the words came out somewhat normal. At least he hoped they did. The dull roar in his ears made it difficult to be certain. “Alycia and I went to the same university.”

“It’s been a long time since Dalhousie,” she replied, recovering faster than he did. “I haven’t seen you in what—nine years?”

She knew exactly how long it had been, probably right down to the hour and the minute. And it hadn’t been university. It was at a funeral. The memory of that awful day was indelibly imprinted into his brain. He could recall all the details of the visitation room—who’d been around her, what she’d been wearing, the stark expression of loss deadening her eyes. Roses had covered the plain casket behind her. To this day, Dan couldn’t stand the sight or smell of them.

I begged him not to go, she’d said to him, as if she couldn’t quite figure out where things had gone wrong. But he said you’d let him know if there was any real danger.

That was Terry—too trusting, right up to the end. Dan had warned him before he signed on as a volunteer doctor that the Sudan was unstable, but Terry had believed in the best of human nature. He’d probably thanked the bastards who’d taken his hospital hostage and then slit his throat after Canada wouldn’t negotiate for their release.

And Dan… Rather than offering her words of comfort, as inadequate and lame as they’d be, had done his job. He’d been searching for clues about the events behind that hostage taking. Information. Think, Allie. Can you remember what Terry said to you last? What his last phone call to you was about?

She’d looked in his eyes and she’d known.

“Has it been that long?” Dan said, pushing the memories away. The coffee twisted and turned in his stomach. “Wow. Look at you. Working for the Department of Justice. I did not see that coming.”

She’d wanted to be a lawyer. Between them, she and Terry had planned to save the world. Dan had been so out of step with them and their philosophies. He was all for saving the world too. Sometimes though, a hammer was needed.

“I work for the RCMP,” Alycia corrected him. “The DoJ has oversight.”

She was a cop.

Dan hadn’t pictured that. Not at all.

John appeared reconciled to letting them take a mutual stroll down memory lane for old times’ sake, but Dan had no intentions of going there. Besides, the whole point of this early meeting was to avoid drawing unwanted attention to it. No need to prolong it.

“We should get started,” he said.

He helped Alycia with her coat and scarf, hanging them on the rack behind the office door while she dug through her briefcase and he got his bearings. She used a pen and paper to take notes, he saw with approval. Good for her. That couldn’t be hacked—or accessed by anyone with an equal or higher security clearance.

As John laid out the facts of the intelligence CSIS had gathered, Dan studied Alycia. A plain navy suit jacket and skirt and a white blouse with a frilly collar screamed feminine practicality. No rings on her finger. Her only jewelry was a fine gold chain with a solitaire diamond pendant and matching diamond studs, a set that she’d inherited from her grandmother when she turned twenty-one. The color combination of blue eyes and red hair was natural, even if she’d darkened her hair, and her smooth, creamy skin remained as flawless as ever. She’d always been fussy about sunscreen. No freckles for her.

God, she was gorgeous. A lump of regret jammed in his throat but he worked it free. He’d been the one to break up with her. A year later she’d begun dating his best friend. The two of them were much better suited.

Or they had been. Terry was dead. Best not to forget it.

Alycia began asking questions about the chain of events surrounding their case against the defense minister. John answered. Occasionally, Dan was consulted to fill in a few blanks, a reminder that this was a business meeting. Slowly, as he listened to John and Alycia, he got over his shock. His pounding heart no longer threatened to burst from his chest. However hard this was for him, for Alycia it had to be a thousand times worse, and yet no one would guess.

The Alycia he’d known wouldn’t have hesitated to show the entire world what she was feeling. She’d been all fire. Now she was ice.

“I’m going to need your sources in order to conduct a proper investigation,” she said. Her hair flipped a little where it met her shoulders, dynamic red against don’t-mess-with-me blue.

“You know I can’t give them to you,” John replied.

Of course she knew that. It didn’t mean she wouldn’t do her best to get them.

“Unofficially, then.”

“Not even unofficially, I’m afraid.”

She was just warming up. “We’re talking about taking down a sitting Member of Parliament. If we’re to be successful, I’ll need everything.”

Dan admired her approach. She was using the “we” word and placing the RCMP, Department of Justice, and CSIS all on the same team. They were and they weren’t.

“I’ve given you all that you need,” John countered. “It’s up to the RCMP to confirm its veracity and build a legal case against MacKenzie.”

She tapped her pen on her notepad. “Not giving me your sources will leave the Department of Justice and the office of the Judge Advocate General with the impression that CSIS overstepped itself when gathering this intelligence. Let’s not forget Foreign Affairs.”

This crap was complicated. Another reason Dan preferred fieldwork.

“I have complete faith in you and your investigative abilities as we move forward together on this,” John assured her, turning her own tactics against her. “Your boss sang your praises, so it seems unlikely we’ll need to worry about any impression the DoJ forms. As for the JAG’s office, I’m sure you can handle them too.”

Alyica’s cheeks dimpled. “You have a lot of confidence in me considering this is the first time we’ve met.”

John didn’t have dimples, but his answering smile was equally charming. “I run CSIS,” he reminded her. “I did my homework. This isn’t your first investigation of a government official.”

“Maybe not,” she conceded, “but this one is a lot higher up the food chain and it goes well beyond expense account fraud.”  She tucked her notepad into her briefcase. “Why don’t we all think on what our next steps will be, then meet again in two weeks’ time?”

“Perfect.” John slid a business card across his desk toward her. It was simple, with only his name and phone number printed on it. “Call me directly when you’re ready.”

The business card followed the notepad into her briefcase.

Dan scrambled to get her coat. He held it for her as she stuck her arms in the sleeves. The soft scent of vanilla clung to her skin and he tried not to breathe in too deeply, even though he wanted to inhale it into his lungs and let the memory of it override the smell of roses attached to her that he couldn’t seem to shake.

“Why don’t you walk Alycia down to the front desk and sign her out for me?” John said to him.

His brain hadn’t yet fully recovered from shock and wasn’t working at optimum speed, so he couldn’t think of a way to decline. She didn’t look enthusiastic either.

They were silent as they walked to the elevator. She had no more to say than he did. The past was the past. It was better off left alone.

When the elevator doors whispered shut she rounded on him, her eyes flashing with the blue sapphire flames he remembered. “Doesn’t it bother you at all that if you don’t give me your sources to work with, Patrick MacKenzie might well get away with murder?”

Yes. And she knew exactly how much it bothered him.

“That’s a little dramatic,” Dan said.

“You don’t call it murder when he’s supplying military weapons systems parts to hostile nations and they’re dropping bombs on innocent people?”

The elevator hit the ground floor. The doors opened. Civil service workers were beginning to arrive for their day shifts while others were finished their nights. He had a million things he’d love to say in his own defense, but in the end, she was right. She was also wrong. MacKenzie was only one part of a much bigger problem.

He remembered the reason why they’d broken up all those years ago. He’d been recruited by CSIS, and at the time her world was so filled with do-gooding she would never have understood the work he’d chosen to do. He’d hoped someday she might.

He’d gambled and lost.

“It would be murder even if the people weren’t innocent,” he replied, taking the wind from her sails.

He stepped back to allow her to exit the elevator first. As they got off others got on, thankfully ending the conversation. He signed her out at the front desk and waited while she turned in her visitor pass.

He offered her his hand. Hers was small and warm. Familiar and not. Then he uttered the second biggest lie of his life—and he’d told a lot of them.

“It was great seeing you again,” he said. “I look forward to working with you.”

He watched as she headed out the main doors and passed through the front gate onto the street. The snow was falling heavier now. She disappeared into a squall of white flakes—a slim figure in a royal blue coat, one gloved hand holding her hood over her red hair to fend off the approaching storm.

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