Vendetta: New Excerpt

Vendetta

Iris Johansen

October 23, 2018

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Iris Johansen comes a new explosive thriller Vendetta.

Carl Venable, head of the CIA task force on terrorism and Jude Brandon’s final link to terrorist ringleader Max Huber, with his dying breathe gives Brandon a mandate: keep his daughter, Rachel, safe at any cost. But Rachel Venable has a shocking, twisted past of her own, one that comes rushing back after her medical clinic in Guyana is attacked by Huber―the same man who murdered her father and kept her imprisoned for months.

Brandon and Catherine Ling, Rachel’s longtime ally and fierce protector, are determined to keep Rachel out of danger, but she knows that it’s impossible to stay hidden when Max Huber wants you dead.

As Rachel and Brandon race against the clock to bring Huber down before he can orchestrate a disaster that will lay waste to half the country, they also fight a growing attraction to each other – an attraction that could prove just as dangerous as Huber himself.

CHAPTER
1

WOODSTOCK, MONTANA

Carl Venable, head of the CIA task force on terrorism, was not often out in the field, and even less often in physical danger. But now he was missing. And he was the one man who couldn’t be left behind.

And, dammit, there was no way Jude Brandon was going to have that happen.

“They’re coming, Brandon!” Nate was skidding down the slope toward him as he came out of the forest. “Just over the ridge. I told you that you couldn’t keep searching. Get on the damn helicopter! They’ll be here in minutes.”

“How many minutes?”

“Fifteen, maybe.”

“Did you see Venable?” Brandon asked. “Did you see him, Nate?”

“I saw him.” Nate jumped into the cockpit of the helicopter. “We’ve got to get out of here. Twenty or thirty of Huber’s men are heading for that cabin. It’s too late. We don’t have a chance of retrieving him.”

“The hell we don’t.” Brandon was already heading back up the hill. “We’ve got to get him out of here. He has a damn target on his back. You know what they’ll do to him if they get their hands on him. Be ready to take off when I get back.”

“It’s no use, dammit.” Brandon could hear Nate cursing behind him.

Screw it. Fifteen minutes could be a long time. Nate should have gotten Venable out when he saw him. It wasn’t like him to leave a job undone.

Three minutes later, he was at the cabin.

A minute later, he’d checked out the exterior of the grounds and determined it was clear.

But Venable had not been anywhere in sight, and Nate had said he’d seen him.

Brandon threw open the door, dove in, and rolled to the left.

“You never listen, Brandon,” Carl Venable said from across the room. “I’ve been expecting you.”

“Then you should have come when Nate—” He stopped as he saw that the CIA operative was lying on a cot that was as bloody as the front of his white shirt. “Shit.” He was on his feet and across the room in two strides. “You’re wounded. How bad?”

“Very.” Venable’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Sorry, Brandon. I know you’d like to rob Huber of this particular victory, but I’m dying. I should be gone in a few minutes.”

“Not if I can get you out of here.” He was opening Venable’s shirt. “I’ll just apply pressure and—” He stopped as he looked down at the wound. “Damn.”

“Too late,” Venable said. “You’re good at battlefield wounds. You know it’s the truth. Say it, Brandon.”

“Okay, it’s true.” He met Venable’s eyes. “But I can get you out of here before Huber shows up and does anything else to you.”

“I’ll be past worrying about … torture before he walks through that door. We both know it.”

He wasn’t going to deny it. Venable wouldn’t appreciate it. “What about your informant? Did Nemesis tell you anything?”

“No time. But I gave him … Rachel’s name.”

He stiffened. “Your daughter’s name? Are you crazy? Why not mine?”

“A little … insurance.” Venable tried to smile, but his voice was getting weaker. “Not that I … don’t trust you. I just trust her more. And it’s a way of doubling my chances of getting Rachel out of this alive. Another reason for you to keep Max Huber away from her.”

“You don’t need insurance. I said I’d do it.”

“But you’re like me, a driven man. She’s had to contend with me all her life, I don’t want to leave her to face another struggle alone. Tell her that I kept … my promise. This time I’m giving her a choice.” He coughed, and a tiny bit of blood appeared at the corner of his mouth. “And I have one final job to do. I have to make sure … that Huber thinks he has plenty of time … for his next move. That means getting you the hell out of Dodge before … he finds out that you’re on your way to get her. So on your … way, Brandon.”

“I don’t take orders from you, Venable.”

“No, but you’ll take this one. Rachel’s your only way to score against Huber now. You’ve fought too long to give up your shot at him. I don’t flatter myself you’re doing … this for me, you’re doing it for pure revenge. You’re … good at that, Brandon. How much time do you have left?”

“Seven minutes.”

“Tell me how you’ll … get out of here?”

“I can’t use the helicopter, they’re almost on top of us. They’d know that I’d been here. I’ll hide the copter in the woods, and Nate and I will walk out, then call for assist when it’s safe.”

“And then you’ll go … for Rachel?” Venable was holding his gaze. “Promise me. There won’t … be much time. He’ll know where she is by now.”

“I’ll go for her.” He looked down at him. “She’s not my choice. But I’ll use her to get what we both want. You shouldn’t have gotten yourself shot, Venable.”

“I realize it was a major … disruption of your plans.” His voice was fading. “But you won’t have a plan unless you get yourself out of here. Forget that … bullshit about not … leaving a man behind. I always told you that the Army brainwashed you. That’s why … I told Nate not to tell you I’d bought it.”

“Yet I don’t think you would have left me behind.” Brandon was already heading for the door. “But I’ll get out, and I’ll get Huber.” He looked back over his shoulder. He didn’t want to leave him, dammit. At one time or another Venable had been both ally and enemy to him, but he shouldn’t have to die alone. His eyes were closed, and Brandon didn’t know if Venable was still alive to hear him. “I’ve no use for the CIA, they’ve tended to get in my way. But you were the best and most honest operative I ever ran across, Venable. It’s been a privilege.”

“How … generous. I feel … honored that—” His head slumped sideways. Brandon could no longer hear his breath.

Dead.

Brandon could feel the fury tear through him as he shut the door and started at a run toward the hills. He hadn’t known Venable that well, but this time they’d been on the same side, fighting the same battle for different reasons. And what he’d known he’d liked and appreciated as much as he’d allowed himself. They were both obsessed, and obsession permitted little else to enter into a relationship. Venable’s death only added to the score Brandon had to settle with Max Huber.

And Venable had been his best key to getting Huber, he thought with frustration. He had been so close …

But Venable had given him another key. And her name was Rachel Venable. Forget about what might have been and go after the possible.

He took out his phone and dialed Nate. “Venable’s dead. You should have told me he’d been shot.”

“He told me not to do it. He said if I did, you’d go after him. He was dying, Brandon. I could see it. But you went anyway. I thought you would.”

“So did he.” Because Venable had wanted one last assurance that Brandon would do what he wanted. “I’m on my way back. Start preparing the helicopter. We’re going to hide it in the woods.”

“I’m on it. Anything else?”

“Call Monty and tell him to chart a course for Georgetown and make ground preparations. We’ll need a team of ten or twelve.”

“Georgetown?”

“It’s on the coast of Guyana, South America. We’re going to Guyana.” He cut the connection.

One more call. It was one he didn’t want to make. It could mean endless complications, subtle manipulation, and perhaps even duplicity. But he knew it had to be done.

He quickly punched in the private number for Claire Warren.

NALEZ, GUYANA 7:40 P.M.

Just one more drop of the broadleaf palm root …

Rachel Venable’s eyes narrowed with concentration on the glass vial as she carefully squeezed the yellow liquid into the mixture. Good enough. She’d had to substitute here in the rain forest because the ingredients had to be fresh in order to be at top efficiency.

And top efficiency might not even be good enough, she thought wearily as she put the cap on the vial. She’d already sent Maria Perez’s test results to the lab in Georgetown, and they’d said that nothing could be done. They’d given the little girl perhaps two to three days before she went into a coma. She’d been totally unresponsive to every treatment they’d tried since she’d come down with the virus. It might be another day after that before the virus killed her. The mosquito-borne Taran virus had caused a rare fever that had struck this village in the rain forest with almost always fatal results. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason why some victims were taken and others spared.

“You’ve been working for twenty-four hours straight, Rachel. Give it up.” Dr. Phillip Sanford stood in the doorway of her tent, his gray eyes narrowed on the vial in her hand. “I just received orders from headquarters. They’re pulling us out of Guyana. They said our team has done everything we could do here.”

Rachel tensed. She’d been expecting it since they’d sent the last ambulances with the survivors to Georgetown this afternoon. Their unit of One World Medical was always in demand in war-torn cities or places like this where no one else was willing to serve. They were constantly on the move. “When?”

“Tonight. As soon as we can pack up. They want us in Sudan by tomorrow night.”

“No!” She looked down at the vial. “Not that soon. Stall them, Phillip. Give me another twenty-four hours.”

“That will be hard to do.” He made a face. “Would you care to tell me why?”

“No.” She moistened her lips. “Just stall them. It won’t be that hard. They think you walk on water. You always manage to bring in mega donations when they trot you out at those fund-raisers.”

“But I don’t walk on water,” he said quietly. “And I do this job because it needs doing. Just as you do, Rachel. Only I’m becoming aware that we approach it from different directions.”

“I work just as hard as you do, Phillip.”

“Harder. Because after you’ve spent your time at the operating table trying to heal these people, you’re here in your tent playing with all your potions.” His gaze ran over the shelves of ingredients above her worktable. “That’s been your modus operandi ever since you joined my unit two years ago. You’re one hell of a doctor, Rachel.” His gaze shifted to her face. “But what else are you?”

“It’s all in my résumé.” She smiled with an effort. “As you say, I like to play with my potions. I spent years studying with Hu Chang, who taught me a great deal about natural and herbal medicines before I went to medical school. Naturally, I can’t use them in my practice, but they keep me interested out here in the jungle.” She lifted her chin. “A harmless hobby, Phillip.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t allow it to be anything else. You believe in the primary rule. First, do no harm.” He was silent. “But I’ve seen that you occasionally have patients who had miraculous recoveries after we’d given up on them.”

“There are always miracles. We’ve all seen them and been grateful.”

“But you have more than your share.” He held up his hand as she started to speak. “I’m not accusing you. We’re all in this fight together.” He looked at the vial in her hand. “I just want you to know if you need help, I’m here for you.”

She inhaled sharply as she saw his expression. During those first years with Hu Chang, whenever she’d looked in the mirror, she’d seen that expression on her own face. The intensity, the eagerness, the potential that if you just reached out, you might make something different and wonderful happen. Of course Phillip would react as she had done. He was a healer of the very best kind, who would do anything for his patients.

But he mustn’t do this.

She met his gaze. “You’re head of the team. I know I can come to you with problems.”

“That’s a nice noncommittal answer.” He paused. “You held Maria Perez back when we sent the rest of the patients to Georgetown. Why?”

“Her mother, Blanca, wanted to spend her last days with her daughter.”

“She could have gone with her.”

“She thought Maria would be more comfortable here.”

“For the next twenty-four hours?”

“Yes.”

“And you won’t let me help you?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” She paused. “But if I did, I hear there’s such a thing as plausible deniability.” She added quietly, “You’re a good man and a wonderful doctor, Phillip. As you said, we approach our profession from different directions. My direction isn’t nearly as safe or free from the possibility of guilt or mistakes as yours.” She glanced at the rows of potions on the shelves. “Back off. You’re not welcome here.”

“Have it your way.” He grinned at her. “I’ll see you at the mess later to have a last cup of coffee. I think it’s going to take a longer time than I expected to pack up that mess. I believe it would be a goodwill gesture to deliver the remains of the food to the villagers. And we’ve left a lot of refuse to clean up around the camp…”

“Twenty-four hours?”

“It might take all of that.” He turned and headed for the tent opening. “Good luck, Rachel.”

“I don’t have any idea what you mean.” She took the vial and strode out of her tent and across the camp toward the single patient tent left at the edge of the clearing. “I’ll see you later, Phillip.”

Copyright © 2018  Iris Johansen

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