A standalone novel
Camryn O’Brien, secret agent newbie, doesn’t know if she’ll survive her first assignment. With the dubious help of three retired agents and an ultimate weapon that proves to be an ultimate pain in the butt, she goes forth to do battle with the League of Violent Economic Revolutionaries, fondly known as L.O.V.E.R.
On an exotic South American island, Camryn fights to keep the world’s richest man alive. Things look bleak. The enemy’s deadliest assassin is closing in for the kill, and she doesn’t have a clue to his identity. He could be anyone…
Even Jace Sentori, also known as the Game Master. Sensual and dangerous, he tempts her in ways she never imagined. Will she roll the dice and take a chance on losing her life as well as her heart?
Yes, this is a huge shout-out to the ultimate secret agent. James, I definitely believe that “Nobody Does It Better.”
(Originally published as From Boardwalk with Love by Dorchester Publishing)
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Original 2003 Cover
Poor name choice for an international crime-fighting organization. The bad guys sure wouldn’t buy into the earthly nirvana concept.
Camryn O’Brien cocked her head to get a better angle on the tastefully understated sign perched on Y’s massive desk.
Someone in marketing must’ve taken a poll, analyzed data, and decided that putting dots after each letter would add an aura of danger and secrecy to the agency’s name. Perfect.
Camryn did some mental knuckle cracking as she waited for Y. A few lights would make the office a little cheerier. As it was, only the light from Y’s computer screen pushed back the darkness. She glanced at the bare paneled walls. Of course, since B.L.I.S.S. headquarters crouched far beneath an innocuous little antique shop at street level, windows weren’t an option.
“Welcome to the women of B.L.I.S.S., Agent 36DD.”
Camryn swallowed her alarm as she jerked her attention back to the desk. The shadowy figure of a woman now sat behind it. Y. A woman steeped in power and mystery, a legend in the department. How had Y entered the office without making a sound?
Y pushed the monitor aside, so no light fell on her face, then sat quietly, waiting for Camryn to make an intelligent response.
No intelligent response came to mind, so Camryn began to hum. The humming was almost subconscious, an automatic reaction to extreme stress, a calming influence she’d used since she was a child.
“‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star?’” Y’s husky laughter filled the darkness.
More like “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star.” No more Big Gulps before career defining meetings. Camryn’s nervous system was connected directly to her bladder today. But she would not run to the restroom. This was her shot at a dream. She wouldn’t be able to take a potty break in the middle of saving the free world from destruction.
She’d better say something, or Y would kick her back down to Research. “I’m sorry about the humming, but?”
“No need to apologize, 36DD.” Y managed to sound almost motherly. “Our psychological testing revealed your need to hum childhood songs in moments of great duress. We have no problem with this so long as you can hum ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ at the same time you’re neutralizing an enemy agent.”
“Thanks.” I think. “My humming would never jeopardize an assignment.”
Y merely nodded. “How do you feel about being part of B.L.I.S.S.?”
Camryn had no difficulty responding to this question. “Excited. I’ve lived in this part of Texas all my life. I’ve even driven down NASA Road One to get to my job, and never guessed that an international crime-fighting agency was right across from Johnson Space Center.”
“This is only one of our headquarters. We have several others in different parts of the world. You’ll only have contact with this one, so if something…unforeseen happens, you won’t be able to compromise the total organization.”
Unforeseen? Camryn didn’t like the sound of that. “You’re lucky to be in this location. If trouble crops up, NASA can protect you.”
“No, dear.” Y’s voice was softly chiding. “We can protect NASA. The fake clock tower on the antique shop contains the latest technology and weapons. If anyone threatens NASA, he will be eliminated.”
Y leaned back in her chair. The chair didn’t squeak. Camryn had the feeling nothing in Y’s range of influence would dare squeak.
“I’m thrilled to be part of B.L.I.S.S., but I just started in Research a few months ago. I don’t have any training, so what can I offer the agency?” Camryn thought she knew the answer.
“You have a particularly interesting skill, 36DD.”
Even though she couldn’t see Y’s eyes, Camryn sensed her attention had shifted to the computer screen.
She suspected the monitor displayed the brief and unexciting history of Camryn O’Brien. Age, twenty-six. Education, public relations degree. Hobby, likes to tinker with cars. Job history, unsettled. Useful skills? Only one that would interest Y. But that skill took Camryn out of the “ordinary” and into the “weirdo” category. She’d never thought of it as marketable until B.L.I.S.S.
“My ‘skill’ isn’t a skill at all. It’s natural, I can’t control it, and it’s been a pain in the butt my whole life.”
Y’s amused chuckle made light of her doubts. “Natural skills are sometimes the most useful.”
Camryn decided to put aside that line of thought for the moment in favor of something a little more immediate. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m honored to be a part of the organization, but about my agent number… Okay, let’s be upfront about this. My number’s a bra size. Why was I given a bra size? Who’s going to take me seriously with a number like 36DD?”
Camryn felt Y’s considering gaze and resisted the urge to fold her arms across her chest.
“No one, if you’re lucky. An agent who’s underestimated by the enemy has a huge advantage.” Y slid back her chair, further throwing her face into shadow. “We have one other number available. Would you prefer 20AA?”
Camryn blinked. “A battery size?”
Y offered her a take-it-or-leave-it shrug.
Camryn sighed and accepted the inevitable. “Fine. I’ll keep 36DD.” She tried for a positive spin. It would not be a good thing to look like your agent number. Too easy to identify. You’d stand out like… Well, you’d just stand out.
Y nodded her approval. “The numbers are computer generated. Nothing personal.”
Camryn had her suspicions. She’d bet the computer that burped out her number was the victim of a hacker from Victoria’s Secret.
Y studied Camryn. “But the letters are significant. The double D indicates you have the right to detain or destroy. That’s quite a responsibility.”
A B.L.I.S.S. assignment would be the ultimate affirmation of the new and totally revamped Camryn O’Brien, but she had to point out the obvious. “Look, I know you need an agent right now, and I know all the other agents are already on assignment, but I don’t think I’m ready for—”
Y’s gaze never wavered. “Is anyone ever completely ready?” She leaned closer. “I worked for Mary Kay Cosmetics before joining B.L.I.S.S. They taught me everything I needed to know about self-confidence. Femininity is power, and B.L.I.S.S. agents use their power in any way they must to achieve success.”
Camryn frowned. She wasn’t quite clear on Y’s concept, wasn’t sure she wanted to be clear on the concept.
Y leaned back again. “Mary Kay awarded me a diamond bumblebee pin before I left. Do you know anything about the bumblebee?”
Bumblebee? “Not much.” What did bumblebees have to do with anything?
“According to aerodynamic engineers, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly. Its body’s too heavy. Its wings are too small.” Y’s soft chuckle filled the space between them. “But no one told the bumblebee.”
Message received. Camryn had the uncomfortable feeling Y was breaking her up into basic components then placing her parts into debit and asset columns. “Tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll tell you how ready I am.”
Y nodded. “To the point. I like that.” She leaned forward and fixed Camryn with a penetrating stare. “You present a kind of wide-eyed naiveté that’s deceiving. That’s good. And you’re intuitive. Excellent. But your most useful skill is what you do to men.”
Camryn frowned. Would this one tiny blip in her “normal” rating determine her whole career’s worth?
“You, my dear, send men to hospitals in unprecedented numbers. Just being around you is an invitation to an accident for men. In your life you’ve incapacitated…” Y shifted her attention to the screen for accurate information, then shook her head. “We don’t even have the complete figures, but I’m sure it’s enough men to arm a small developing nation. What a wonderful skill to have.” Y’s voice rang with sincere admiration.
Camryn’s frown deepened. Maybe it wasn’t such a tiny blip.
“What good is it if I can’t control it? Every time I date a guy, I wonder if we’ll end up doing the emergency-room-rumba.”
“Oh, but you can control it.” Y’s tone indicated the matter was settled.
“Could’ve fooled me.” Camryn hoped her mumbled sarcasm hadn’t reached Y. She really wanted this assignment.
Y opened another page on her computer. “Let me tell you what we know about Camryn O’Brien. Your mother died shortly after your birth. Your dad and six brothers raised you. Six protective brothers. You were never allowed to solve your own problems or make any independent decisions. You were smothered by the men in your life who thought they were keeping you happy and safe.”
Camryn swallowed hard. It wasn’t easy listening to the essence of your life laid out in clipped unemotional word bytes.
“The accidents started when you were seven years old.” Y scrolled down the page. “First recorded incident. Your brother Ben wouldn’t let you climb the live oak tree in your yard to rescue your kitten. He went instead. Ben fell out of the tree and broke his leg.” She scrolled to the bottom of the page. “Most recent recorded incident. Last week Sam Delora took you to The Ragin’ Cajun restaurant. He was right in the middle of saying he’d order for you because he knew what was best on the menu when a light fixture fell on him. Broke his glasses and knocked him out. Emergency room visit for bump on head.” Y glanced from the screen. “Do you see a pattern, agent 36DD?”
Camryn closed her eyes. She’d spent a lifetime avoiding a truth she’d probably always recognized subconsciously. “The men who get hurt are the ones who try to make my decisions, the ones who want to take care of me.” Managing men drove her nuts. She opened her eyes surprised at the relief her admission brought.
“Very good.” Y was in her approving-teacher mode. “Now that you understand the why, you can control the when.”
Was it possible? A secret weapon. If she could really control her “gift,” she’d have an honest-to-goodness secret weapon. Camryn shut down her burgeoning excitement. She wouldn’t know for sure until she tried it.
Y was silent for a moment, letting the implications sink in.
Camryn grinned. “This is so great. I’ve really wanted to be part of B.L.I.S.S. This is my chance to prove I can handle a demanding job without a man’s help. My brothers won’t be around to rescue me. I can be me.”
Y nodded. “B.L.I.S.S. wants you because you’ll approach every assignment with a single-minded determination to succeed. Single-mindedness, that total commitment, is what B.L.I.S.S. looks for.”
Camryn felt Y’s smile touch her.
“Anyone can be taught to shoot a gun, but you bring a lot more positives with you than an ability to use weapons.” Y shut off her monitor, throwing the room into almost total darkness. “Now I bet you want to know about your first assignment.”
Camryn drew in a deep steadying breath. This first assignment would probably be insignificant. Something to get her feet wet. But if she did a great job, it would lead to bigger things.
Y was all business now. “You must protect Owen Sitall, the world’s wealthiest man. Owen owns most of the free world and a few of the semi-free parts as well. He’s been marked for assassination by Zed, L.O.V.E.R.’s deadliest agent. Your assignment is to stop Zed.” Her tone indicated this should take a few days, tops.
“L.O.V.E.R.?” Camryn’s throat had closed in panic, so it was sort of hard to get more than one word out at a time.
“League of Violent Economic Revolutionaries.” Y seemed unaware of the monumental mistake she was making. “They plan to kill Owen before the next World Economic Summit. Owen flies to Paris for the summit in thirteen days. If they succeed, the world’s economies will face chaos and life as we know it will cease.” She paused to retrieve a disk from a drawer. “You can take a look at this later to get more details. You’ll be leaving—“
Urp. She’d wanted an assignment that would showcase the new and improved Camryn, but she hadn’t counted on the fate of the world hanging in the balance. “Wait, wait. What if Zed isn’t a man? I don’t have enough training. What do I do if—?”
“Remember the bumblebee, agent 36DD.”
To hell with bumblebees. “But—”
Y held up her hand. “You’ll do fine, dear. I wouldn’t send you into your first assignment alone. Three former B.L.I.S.S. agents will accompany you. In their day, they were the best.” Y offered an aside. “We don’t usually call agents out of retirement, but unfortunately we’re a bit shorthanded. If you think of anything else you need to know before you leave in three days, feel free to contact me.”
Three days? Anything else? Anything else? How about, where’s the bathroom so I can throw up?
“I’ll have an associate take you to meet your partners.” Y stood and slid open a paneled section of the wall. “They can’t wait to get started on the assignment.” Camryn wondered how anxious they’d be once they found out who their fearless leader was. She tried to distract herself from her tiny but vocal voice of reason screaming excellent advice such as: Run like hell! Hide your head under your pillow! and her personal favorite, Eat Snickers bars!
“Remember, 36DD, that a woman of B.L.I.S.S. has only two options. She survives and grows wiser…” Y placed her hand on Camryn’s shoulder. “Or she doesn’t.”
The woman waiting to escort her took Camryn’s mind off the sound of Y’s door sliding shut behind her. Big. Tough. Scarred. Silent. Would Camryn be like this after a life of service? “So how long have you been with B.L.I.S.S.?”
The woman stared coldly at her. “Two weeks.”
“But I have previous experience.” Her accent hinted at time spent in Russia.
Camryn didn’t choose to speculate on what that “previous experience” entailed. Their steps echoed in the wide empty hallway. The white walls looked innocuous, but Camryn suspected there were cameras interspersed with weapons of mass destruction hidden every few feet.
To forestall any temptation she might have to start humming “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Camryn asked a question. “What’s your agent number?” She didn’t want to be the only one with a bra size for a number.
“I am agent 5455.” She cast Camryn a piercing stare. “It spells KILL on your touch-tone phone.”
“What a great number. Friends and assassin-seekers can just dial 555-KILL. I mean, who’s going to forget it?” Oh boy. Time for another question. “What does B.L.I.S.S. stand for?”
“All information in the agency is on a need-to-know basis, agent 36DD.”
Uh huh. “You don’t know.”
“No.” A woman of few words.
“Does anyone know?”
Agent 5455 shrugged. “It is rumored that C knows.”
“I don’t know.”
Camryn should’ve hummed “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
“Do you play Monopoly, agent 36DD?” Agent 5455’s suit jacket gaped open revealing a shoulder holster and gun.
“Monopoly? Sure. Doesn’t everyone? It’s part of being American. Mom, Monopoly, and apple pie.” Great. She’d aimed for a low confident tone, but what came out was squeaky alarm.
Agent 5455 followed Camryn’s gaze to the gun and offered a slight twist of her lips that was probably her idea of a huge grin. “Your first lesson for survival. Be prepared even when you assume you are in a friendly environment.”
Camryn nodded, calm enough now to wonder about the Monopoly question. What did Monopoly have to do with anything? But she forgot about Monopoly when they reached the end of the hallway.
The door facing her was as intimidating as if it had been studded with six-inch spikes and a warning sign. Beware: hungry dragon. Prefers tender new agents.
“Behind this door waits everything you’ll need to complete your assignment successfully.” The woman had a warped sense of the dramatic.
“Right. So before I meet my partners in death and destruction, any advice for a newbie?”
“Advice?” Agent 5455 didn’t hesitate. “Never trust anyone.”
Camryn frowned. Not a very positive spin on life, but she supposed it beat being dead.
The door did some kind of secret scan known only to it and other like-minded doors. It clicked its approval and slid open.
Agent 5455 motioned her into a large brightly-lit room.
Camryn’s eyes widened.
“These are your partners. This is your car. And this is your ultimate weapon of destruction.” Agent 5455, a.k.a. Ms. KILL, accompanied her introduction with a sweeping gesture of finality.
Camryn stared at her partners…
Looked at her car…
Peered down at her weapon of destruction…
She was doomed.