From #1 New York Times–bestselling author Catherine Coulter, the explosive new addition to the remarkable thriller series featuring Nicholas Drummond and Mike Caine.
FBI agent Nicholas Drummond and his partner, Mike Caine, are deep into an investigation of COE—Celebrants of the Earth—a violent group known for widespread bombings of power grids and oil refineries across the country. While investigating a tip from a civilian who’s overheard about a possible bombing plot, the Bayway Refinery in New Jersey explodes. Nicholas and Mike race to the scene and barely escape being killed by a secondary device.
Returning to the civilian’s home to continue their interrogation, they discover the tipster—and the FBI team left to guard him—dead. While Nicholas calls in the assassinations, COE strikes again, this time launching a cyber-attack on several major oil companies and draining their financial and intellectual assets.
But COE has been infiltrated by a deep-cover counterterrorism agent named Vanessa Grace. A bomb-making expert, Vanessa must leave COE and join forces with Nicholas and Mike to stop the organization’s devious plan to assassinate the President. But there’s an assassin on the loose who could tip the scales in COE’s favor, and no one knows his ultimate target, or who has contracted his services.
Working with the CIA, the Secret Service, Mossad, MI-5, and even Savich and Sherlock, Nicholas and his team put their lives on the line to prevent another conflagration—and save the President.
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Catherine Coulter is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the FBI Thrillers featuring husband and wife team Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock. She is also the author—with J. T. Ellison—of the Brit in the FBI series. She lives in Sausalito, California.
J. T. Ellison is the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including What Lies Behind and When Shadows Fall, and her work has been published in more than twenty countries. Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All the Dead Lie was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She is also coauthor of the Brit in the FBI series, including the New York Times bestsellers The End Game, The Lost Key, and The Final Cut.
Also by Catherine Coulter
1: Knight to F3
Monday: 11 p.m.–4 a.m.
2: Knight to F6
3: Pawn to C4
4: Pawn to G6
5: Knight to C3
6: Bishop to G7
7: Pawn to D4
9: Bishop to F4
10: Pawn to D5
11: Queen to B3
12: Pawn takes C4
13: Queen takes C4
14: Pawn to C6
15: Pawn to E4
16: Knight on B to D7
17: Rook to D1
18: Knight to B6
19: Queen to C5
20: Bishop to G4
21: Bishop to G5
22: Knight to A4
23: Queen to A3
Tuesday: 7 a.m.–2 p.m.
24: Knight takes C3
25: Pawn takes C3
26: Knight takes E4
27: Bishop takes E7
28: Queen to B6
29: Bishop to C4
30: Knight takes C3
31: Bishop to C5
32: Rook on F to E8 CHECK
33: King to F1
34: Bishop to E6
35: Bishop takes B6
36: Bishop takes C4 CHECK
37: King to G1
38: Knight to E2 CHECK
39: King to F1
40: Knight takes D4 CHECK
41: King to G1
42: Knight to E2 CHECK
43: King to F1
44: Knight to C3 CHECK
45: King to G1
46: Pawn takes B6
47: Queen to B4
48: Rook to A4
Tuesday: 2 p.m.–6 p.m.
49: Queen takes B6
50: Knight takes D1
51: Pawn to H3
52: Rook takes A2
53: King to H2
54: Knight takes F2
55: Rook to E1
56: Rook takes E1
Tuesday: 6 p.m.–Midnight
57: Queen to D8 CHECK
58: Bishop to F8
59: Knight takes E1
60: Bishop to D5
61: Knight to F3
62: Knight to E4
63: Queen to B8
64: Pawn to B5
Wednesday: 6 a.m.–Noon
65: Pawn to H4
66: Pawn to H5
67: Knight to E5
68: King to G7
69: King to G1
Wednesday: Noon–4 p.m.
70: Bishop to C5 CHECK
71: King to F1
72: Knight to G3 CHECK
73: King to E1
74: Bishop to B4 CHECK
Wednesday: 4 p.m.–Midnight
75: King to D1
76: Bishop to B3 CHECK
77: King to C1
78: Knight to E2 CHECK
79: King to B1
80: Knight to C3 CHECK
81: King to C1
Friday: 8 a.m.
82: Rook to C2 CHECKMATE
United States–Mexico Border
Three Months Ago
Zahir Damari watched the coyote turn to face the ragged band of Hondurans on the sloping Texas side of the Rio Grande. As the last Honduran climbed up the bank, pulled up by his father, Zahir saw hope now dawning on the dirty faces, saw the relief in their tired eyes at surviving the nightmare trip. They’d made it; they were in America.
The coyote, Miguel Gonzales, eyed them with contempt—nothing new in that, he’d treated this group with unveiled scorn since the beginning of their trek eight days before. Gonzales stuck out his hand to the leader of the group, an older man, a father of two younger sons. He waggled his fingers.
“Pagenme porque ustedes son unos miserables.”
He wanted the other half of the money owed. No, the thieving scum wanted more. Gonzales had upped the payoff. Zahir saw the Hondurans’ shock, their fear, saw them talking among themselves, voices rising.
Gonzales pulled a pistol, aimed it at the group, and held out his hand again.
Zahir smiled at Miguel Gonzales, a brutal man with stained teeth and black eyes that reflected Hell. He walked up to him, his hand outstretched with bills, and as the coyote grabbed them, Zahir stepped in quickly and gently slipped his stiletto into Gonzales’s filthy shirt. Gonzales didn’t make a sound because Zahir’s knife was always true. It slid under the breastbone, directly into the coyote’s heart. Gonzales simply looked up into Zahir’s face, dropped the pistol, fell on his side, and died in a mess of dry shrubs.
The Hondurans were frozen in place, too terrified and shocked to move. Zahir leaned down, pulled out his stiletto, cleaned it on Miguel’s filthy jeans. He calmly went through Miguel’s pockets, pulled out a big wad of bills, handed them to the young woman closest to him, and smiled.
“Buena suerte”—good luck—and he gave them a salute and walked away, toward El Paso, only three miles to the north.
The day was brutally hot, but he didn’t mind since he’d been raised in the worst desert heat imaginable.
In his shirt pocket was a small notebook filled with information and strategy from Hezbollah’s top enforcer, Hasan Hadawi, the Hammer, about a brilliant young scientist named Matthew Spenser, and how Zahir could use him to help him cut off two heads of the hydra. It made Zahir’s heart speed up to think about the actual doing of it, the awesome pleasure that would course through him when he’d succeeded.
Zahir knew most of the intel and strategy was from Hadawi’s Iranian master, Colonel Vahid Rahbar, openly committed to the obliteration of anyone who wasn’t a Shia, which would leave a small world population indeed.
Zahir knew Spenser and his small group were hiding near Lake Tahoe. Spenser, according to the Hammer, had gone off the rails years before when his family had been killed in London’s terrorist subway bombing in 2005. Now he led a small group called Celebrants of Earth, or COE, their goal to eliminate oil imports from the Middle East, but no murder, no casualties. The idiot ideologues. Until recently, Zahir knew the group had operated in Britain and Europe, blowing up only mid-sized oil refineries, small crap. But now they were here, in America, their message to the media after each bombing always the same:
No more oil from terrorist countries or you will pay the price.
Both the Colonel and the Hammer believed Spenser was an unsophisticated anti-Muslim zealot, and ripe for manipulation. Over the Hammer’s favorite gin and countless French Gauloises, he’d told Zahir to become Matthew Spenser’s best friend, his mentor, a man he would come to trust implicitly, a man he would follow. “You will gently mold and manipulate this fool’s penny-ante goals until they become your glorious ones”—that is, until Spenser became a murderer. Zahir knew it would be a challenge, but one he would win. He knew he wasn’t as smart as Spenser in science, but he was years beyond Spenser in strategy, planning, execution, and sheer balls. But unlike the bare-fisted Hammer, Zahir was never guilty of underestimating an opponent, or reducing him to faults and weaknesses and strengths. He knew when to use a hammer, when to use a simple lie.
It was over the Hammer’s fourth gin that he’d told Zahir with a snicker that Spenser might have a possible weakness—a woman named Vanessa, a beauty, late twenties, red hair, milk-white skin, and blue eyes, and the Hammer showed him a photo of her. She hardly fit the image of a wacko bomber, but the Hammer assured him she’d been building bombs with an Irish IRA git named Ian McGuire and his faction. Both groups hated what they saw as radical Islam’s encroachment into their world, and according to the Hammer, this common cause united them.
With another snicker, he told Zahir the woman and Spenser were probably lovers and his grin split his mouth wide enough to see the gold filling in his back molar. He suggested Zahir seduce Vanessa away from Spenser, but Zahir couldn’t figure out what that would gain him, certainly not Spenser’s trust and friendship. He would see.
But it was Iranian colonel Vahid Rahbar who’d told him his most important goal: to steal Spenser’s amazing invention, a bomb that looked like a gold fifty-cent piece, no larger, and, according to their sources, would be undetectable. Nearly perfected, they’d heard, and the minute it was perfected, he wanted it. The colonel had rubbed his hands together. “You, my friend, will light the fuse that will begin the war, then we will explode their cities, kill millions, and none of them will even know how it was done. Our casualties—it is nothing compared to what we will gain. When it is all over, we will rule the world.” Unspoken was Shia will arise from the ashes and control the earth’s destiny.
Zahir didn’t really care if Shia ran the world or if Buddha took over. His specialty would always be in demand.
Zahir whistled as he got into another stolen car, lifted from a side street in Reno. He would steal another car in a place named Incline Village, drive into the Sierras, and find Spenser.
He wondered which head of the hydra he’d manipulate Spenser into killing—the president or the vice president.
The game was about to begin.
KNIGHT TO F3
Grangemouth Refinery, Scotland
Four Months Ago
Vanessa was crouched down, staring into the night, her muscles tense and cramping in the night chill. It was her first job with Matthew, her first bomb built especially for him. It would work, she knew it would, but deep down she had doubts, and hated it. She shook her head, knowing she’d produce a lovely explosion for him as she watched for Ian and his boys. The Firth of Forth was to her left, salt and brine mingling with the sharp scent of unrefined oil.
The darkness was broken only by the lights of the refinery, always running, even after the sun went down. The lighted metal poles mingled with security lamps and boom lights to halo the bobbing headlamps on the workers’ helmets. The whole scene looked fantastical, a stage setting in an artificial gloom.
Vanessa looked at her watch. Five minutes to go. Ian was placing the bomb, and at his signal she should be the one to detonate it, but not this time. Matthew told her he was going to be the one to blow up the night sky.
Well, let him, if it gave him a kick. Or was it this particular refinery? Even though it was her job, she smiled at him as she handed over the trigger. It didn’t matter, she knew her baby would work just fine.
Vanessa didn’t yet understand him, but it was early days. She recognized his genius, his facility with ideas and each step they had to consider before moving ahead with his selected target. She also knew his amazing bomb wasn’t yet perfected. If it was, surely he’d want to test it.
She looked at her watch again, said aloud to Matthew, “Where is Ian? He should be out by now. The security guard will circle back around in thirty seconds. He’s cutting it too close.”
Matthew Spenser, the Bishop, a moniker he’d been given by Ian a long time before, because, as Ian had explained to her, he’d learned that Matthew existed in a master’s chess realm that was always ten moves ahead of everyone else, and so didn’t he deserve the name? Why not King? she wondered, but didn’t say anything. Matthew was tall, lean, and hyper, sharp as a poised knife, he liked to think. She felt the excitement coming off him in waves. He was about to score another win.
He said to Vanessa, “Ian’s never failed me. He’ll be along. He knows what he’s doing.”
Three minutes now. They couldn’t use comms; radio frequencies could set off the bomb.
She saw movement by the perimeter, and her adrenaline spiked. No, it wasn’t Ian. Where was he? She felt gut-wrenching fear that something had gone wrong, that he’d been caught. Or, almost as bad, that she’d messed up and the bomb was somehow defective. Or, at the very worst, she’d been found out. No, she had to calm herself. Her beautiful, powerful Semtex bomb would work and Ian was a master at this; he’d get it set in place and get himself and their guys out of the plant. All would go well.
She let out her breath. Since her prints were all over the bomb and Ian always wore gloves, the message would be clear and received. Her bosses would know it was her group who’d blown up Grangemouth.
Matthew squeezed her arm, gave her a quick smile. “Your first bomb for me.” She could only nod. He felt to her like he was ready to jump out of his skin, or his brain, maybe both, but she felt it, too, this manic brew of emotions that roared through both of them. She wondered if in the aftermath of the explosion he would try to get her into bed, to celebrate scoring this victory by scoring her. She’d hold him off, waiting, waiting, trying to judge if she would have to go the sex route to find out what she needed to know.
She took one last look at her watch. “We’re out of time.”
“Vanessa, look there.”
Ian was running across the field toward them, his now-empty backpack flying like wings behind him, a crazy smile stretched across his face, three of their men behind him.
She put in her earplugs.
Matthew was watching her as he stuffed in his own earplugs. Then, without a word, he grinned down at her and handed her back the trigger with a flourish. “Have at it, Vanessa, have at it.”
Why had he changed his mind? What did it prove? Had he planned to see if she’d lose her nerve, not be able to detonate the bomb? Well, it hardly mattered.
Vanessa looked up at him as she depressed the trigger, a button on her cell phone.
A fraction of a second later, she felt the explosion. It started in the soles of her feet, pounded up her legs as the ground began to shake and an earsplitting roar tore through the silence. The night sky became day.
The concussion knocked both of them backward. They landed hard, their breath knocked out of them. When Vanessa managed to pull air into her lungs, she scrambled to her hands and knees, facing the heat of the blaze raging in the refinery. It looked like a bonfire on steroids, much stronger than she’d expected. She saw Ian and his men crouched down behind distant refinery trucks, did a quick head count. Everyone was accounted for.
So fast, all of it, so fast. The bomb had done its job, and she’d been its builder. She’d proven herself, established herself once and for all. Now she would be in with Matthew Spenser; now he had to accept her into his inner circle. After all, she was the one who’d engineered this marvel for him, and he would know there were more marvels to come. He had to trust her now.
He was screaming something at her, his voice wild, filled with alarm.
She couldn’t hear him, pulled out her earplugs, but it didn’t help much. The bomb’s concussion had deafened her.
Then he leaped on her, rolling on top of her, slapping at her head.
“Your hair is on fire!”
Her hair was on fire? She knew she should be panicked, she should freak out, but she didn’t move, and let him worry about it. Matthew jerked off his shirt and smothered her head in it.
When he pulled his shirt off her head, he stared down at her. “It’s only the ends of your hair. Are you all right?”
She stared up at him, smelling her burned hair, listening to the roaring flames, and she started to laugh. She rolled away from him and dropped her singed head to the scrubby, ancient land and laughed and laughed.
Matthew lay beside her, panting, watching her. He rolled up on one arm, raised his hand and fingered the ends of her burned hair. “Vanessa, are you all right?”
“Oh, yes, I’m perfect,” and she laughed again.
Ian, his dark hair coated in ash, his men behind him, appeared to their left. “What a blas...
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