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Cold Cruel Kiss (PAPERBACK)

Cold Cruel Kiss (PAPERBACK)

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Heart-pounding action, pulsing attraction, spooks, conspiracies, betrayal, political wrangling; Cold Cruel Kiss has it all.” ~ All About Romance *Desert Isle Keeper*

When the daughter of the US Ambassador to Argentina is kidnapped in broad daylight on Christmas Eve, the FBI sends one of its best negotiators to investigate—in this Romantic Thriller by NYT bestselling author Toni Anderson. 

Supervisory Special Agent Max Hawthorne arrives at an embassy thrown into chaos as US and local law enforcement hustle to track the young woman. Is this a simple kidnap for ransom, or part of a political agenda? Could it be something more sinister?

Lucy Aston has something to hide. Preferring to stay in the shadows, the lowly, fashion-challenged office assistant resents being assigned to help Max. But Max can’t resist a puzzle…he’s starting to suspect Lucy Aston is not what she seems.

When rumors emerge of a suspected Russian spy operating out of the embassy, Lucy’s carefully constructed life begins to crumble. As she and Max race to rescue the ambassador’s daughter, Lucy has to do whatever it takes to keep her cover from being blown—even if that means betraying the man she’s falling for.


*Winner of the National Excellence in Romantic Fiction Award for Romantic Suspense.

Read a Sample

Chapter One

Kristen skipped along with her arm linked through Gemma’s, their shopping bags bouncing awkwardly against their sides. Gemma dragged them both to a stop, laughing so hard she had to fold over to catch her breath.
The crowd was thick at the popular artisan market near Recoleta’s famous cemetery. Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and everyone was intent on finding last-minute gifts.
“Come on!” Kristen yelled over her shoulder at the third member of their little group.
Irene shot Kristen an amused glance and finished paying for the fused glass dish she’d picked out for her mother. Irene was the smart one, the sensible one. She’d come with a list of gifts to purchase and had now finished ticking them off.
Kristen was the boring one of the group. She’d bought and wrapped all her family’s and friends’ gifts weeks ago. She saw a stall with leather belts coiled up like snakes and bit her lip. Should she get something for Miguel? They hadn’t actually met...but what if they did finally meet up over Christmas and he gave her a gift? Shouldn’t she at least have something for him too, just in case?
She could always give it to her little brother for his next birthday. Or even her dad.
As she paid for the belt, someone bumped against her. “Ooff.”
The man was gone, hurrying through the bustling crowd and out onto the street without even bothering to check on who he’d jostled. She felt for her wallet, but everything seemed to be there.
Irene caught up to them.
“Who’d you buy the belt for?” Gemma asked Kristen with a sly smile.
Kristen shrugged but couldn’t quite pull off nonchalance. “I might give it to my dad.”
“Sure,” said Gemma.
The other girls grinned. Kristen’s skin prickled as she felt a blush heat her cheeks. She’d discovered long ago that, if she wanted to keep a secret, she couldn’t afford to tell anyone. She lived in a place where she was checked for electronic listening devices before she entered her home, where her phone was tracked by a federal agency and her social media accounts were monitored by her parents and her mother’s security team.
If they discovered she’d set up an anonymous account, they’d ground her for a month and delete everything.
She didn’t want this deleted. She wanted this small degree of autonomy. She wanted to have some say in what she did, with whom, without having to clear it with security. She hadn’t mentioned Miguel to a single soul—except her little brother who’d read a couple of texts over her shoulder a few days ago. She’d chased him and beaten him with a pillow in his bedroom until he’d sworn not to mention it to anyone. She had enough dirt on him to make the promise
“Leave her alone,” Irene admonished when Kristen’s embarrassment started to show.
“It’s fine.” She forced herself to smile serenely. “Gemma has an overactive imagination.”
Her friend didn’t mean any harm. She’d been poking at her for weeks, suspecting she was seeing someone, but Kristen really wasn’t. She was only texting some guy who seemed nice. Too nice, actually. She was smart enough to know he was probably hoping to get her to send him some nude selfies or let him into her pants if they ever met in person—before he revealed he wasn’t the beautiful poet whose image he cultivated.
Boys weren’t that difficult to figure out, and yet...she still wanted to take a chance that the poet was real.
But her mother would kill her.
Her mother didn’t need to know.
Kristen wouldn’t do anything rash. She wouldn’t meet him somewhere that wasn’t safe or public. Maybe she’d ask a friend to come with her and watch from nearby.
Because that wouldn’t be weird at all. She rolled her eyes at herself.
They stopped at Starbucks and grabbed iced lattes. It was hot out and the excitement from the lead up to Christmas was palpable.
They wandered down Avenue Alvear laughing and joking. Kristen blushed at the admiring glances some of the local men sent them. She averted her gaze and bowed her head,
uncomfortable with the wolf whistles and avid interest in some of their eyes. She was tall and blonde like her father. Lots of curly hair that reached down to her waist. The other girls were prettier, but she always felt exposed because of her height. Irene didn’t notice the attention. Gemma’s smile grew.
Kristen came to a standstill when she saw a dress in a
shop window. It was the most gorgeous creation she’d ever seen, all form-hugging but frothy and pale, pale pink.
Irene jogged her elbow. “That would look great on you tonight. Let’s go try it on.”
Kristen shook her head. “It’s too expensive.”
Irene shrugged. “Try it on and see.”
“I will, if you don’t,” Gemma chimed in.
Kristen shot her a look. Gemma’s parents were loaded and let her buy whatever she wanted. Kristen really wanted that dress and the idea of Gemma wearing it to the party they planned on sneaking out to later when they met up with the rest of their friends...
Her stomach clenched.
It didn’t hurt to try it on, right? They were supposed to be having fun. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
Thirty minutes later, Kristen piled out the store with more shopping bags, laughing and euphoric, and also terrified by the amount of money she’d just spent. The dress was amazing and made her look skinny and sexy and hot damn.
Gemma had also bought a dress that cost even more than the one Kristen had fallen in love with. Gemma had added matching shoes to her purchases, but Kristen knew that spending any more money would get her into serious trouble if found out.
Serious trouble.
She owned a pair of heels that would work, and she could sneak her mother’s diamond studs that looked good with everything. Kristen was already going to have to lie about what the dress cost and hoped she received enough cash for Christmas from her family to pay back the money she’d borrowed from her savings.
Those savings were supposed to be for college, but Kristen didn’t know what she wanted to study yet. Didn’t even know if she preferred arts or sciences. She’d applied for a general first year at four different colleges back in the States, but she didn’t want to leave her family yet, or Argentina. Which sounded lame so she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone.
She wanted to meet Miguel. She wanted to fall in love. One thing she didn’t want to do—and that was work for the Foreign Service. The most boring job in the world.
The girls linked arms and started skipping down the pedestrian street. Kristen had only been here a little over a year, but these girls would be her friends forever.
“I love you guys!” she shouted happily.
Fireworks exploded in the background. The Argentine people were big on fireworks, especially at Christmas. Her dog, Roo, would be hiding under her brother’s bed all day and night.
She and her friends planned to sneak out to a club after midnight. Irene was going to drive them. Kristen’s parents were booked solid with official Christmas parties until the early hours of the morning and were unlikely to miss her. Kristen would simply tell whoever was on duty at the
embassy that she was going to hang out with her friends for a few hours. She wasn’t a prisoner and was free to come and go as she pleased—to a degree. They would not be happy with her going to a club, but they didn’t need to know about that.
She’d promised to always tell someone where she was going to be—so she’d leave a note on her dresser and carry her cell phone.
She would do that.
She wasn’t stupid.
The idea of texting Miguel that she was going to be at the club tonight was tempting. She shouldn’t. She knew she shouldn’t. But she might.
The girls danced in a circle and blew air kisses at one another. They needed to get home and grab some food and shower and get ready for the party.
“Tonight is gonna be wicked.” Gemma giggled.
It was. It really was. Best night ever. They carried on walking until they hit the intersection for Rodríguez Peña, heading toward where Irene had parked her mom’s car.
A white van screeched to a halt in front of them and the girls all backed up a step.
“Asshole,” Gemma muttered under her breath.
Kristen went to walk around the van, but a man wearing a mask jumped out of the passenger door and grabbed her
around the waist.
“Hey! What the hell?”
Another man followed him. He also wore a mask.
Fear sliced through her. Was this a joke?
Gemma started screaming. Kristen dropped her bags as she tried to pry her way loose from the steely arm encircling her.
He didn’t let go.
Panic started to overtake her. “Get off me! Help! Help me!”
His hand clamped over her mouth. She tried to bite him, but he shifted his grip with his palm under her jaw, fingers digging hard into the skin on either side her nose. Her heart pounded violently, beating against her ribcage like a frantic bird trying to take flight. She heard the others shouting.
She tried to pull the man’s hands off her face, but he was too strong. She reached behind her head and raked her nails down his face, going for his mask. The side cargo door of the van was now open, and her assailant lifted her off the ground and stepped inside the dim confines of the
vehicle. She latched onto the edge of the doorway, but he peeled her fingers off and yanked her away. He had to
release her mouth to do it.
“Help me. Help me!”
He staggered inside the van and sat with her squeezed between his legs, restraining her arms and legs. She kicked at his ankles, but her sandals weren’t built to inflict damage. Desperate to escape, she threw her head back and connected hard enough with his nose to make him cry out in pain. Even so, he didn’t let go.
Another masked man in the van shoved a thick canvas hood over her head and pulled a drawstring tight. Her world went black.
What’s happening?
She couldn’t breathe, but she screamed until her lungs hurt. She was pushed forward, and her wrists were cuffed behind her back with metal bracelets.
She screamed again, and a blow to her head had light whirling through her brain as pain fused her teeth together. When the pain faded, she tasted blood. It shocked her into silence, more effective than the terse orders to shut up and be quiet.
Another yell pierced the cargo hold. Irene. She was shouting and screaming until she suddenly made an oof
noise and went quiet.
Oh, god. They’d hit her too.
The doors banged shut, and the van squealed into traffic. Kristen fell sideways and only remained upright because of the grip her assailant had on her.
“What are you doing? Where are you taking us?” Her voice was muffled and feeble.
“Quiet.” The voice was fast and agitated. He spoke in Spanish. “Or I’ll gag you so you cannot make a sound.”
His grip on her tightened. She whimpered.
It hurt to sit this way with her arms cuffed behind her back and pressed against this man’s groin. Desperate tears dampened her eyes, and her throat hurt.
The hood was musty with old sweat and made her want to vomit. Who else had worn it? Where were they now? Alive? Or dead?
The driver was going fast.
Was someone giving chase? Surely someone had called the cops? Where was Gemma?
“What do you want? Where are you taking us? It’s Christmas!” she cried.
“Quiet!” He shook her. “Don’t cause trouble, and you might live to enjoy it. Fight us, and it will be unpleasant for you and your little friend. Understand?”
So, she was supposed to be a good girl so they could abduct her more easily? It was absurd and, yet, she didn’t have a choice. Kristen jerked her head up and down. Yes, she understood. She understood they were terrible people.
Where was her cell? Her mom said she had to always keep her cell phone on her person so Diplomatic Security Service could use it to track her. Even as she thought about it, someone ripped away her small purse.
Was this real? Kristen kept expecting them to stop the car and start laughing. Rip off their hoods and say this was all a joke.
Ha ha.
So funny.
If this was a prank, she was going to punch everyone in the face the first chance she got and, oh, how she would laugh.
Her arms brushed bare skin where her captor’s t-shirt had
ridden up. She raised her arms, trying to avoid touching his privates, and the gems in her rings scraped his skin. Then she realized he’d made a big error in judgment. She was about to lunge for his penis and twist as hard as she could when he shifted her away from him and pushed her, face-first, against the floor of the van. Someone began wrapping rope around her ankles.
Oh, god.
As she lay with her chin jarring against the metal floor with every bump, she knew this wasn’t a joke. She and Irene weren’t going to any party this evening, and they might not be alive tomorrow. Her heart gave a panicked squeeze.
It seemed like forever, but eventually, the van slowed and started turning through windy streets.
Were they at their destination?
The van jerked to a stop, and the doors opened. She yelped as she was dragged over the grooved surface and hauled across someone’s shoulder.
She heard doors opening on another vehicle. Crap! They were changing cars. No one would know how to find her. No one would know where they’d taken her.
She’d be gone. Disappeared.
Her mouth parched. She might never see her family again. Panic flooded her body, but she knew fighting wouldn’t save her. She wasn’t strong enough to physically defy these bastards.
She suddenly realized she needed to leave as many clues behind as possible. DNA. Fingerprints.
She eased off one of her rings and let it drop to the ground.
The man dumped her into the trunk of another vehicle, this one a lot smaller than the first. The pain was excruciating as she rolled onto her back. Something heavy was dropped on top of her, smacking her in the face. Irene?
The trunk slammed shut, and the darkness was all consuming. She shifted to ease the tension in her arms, relieved when Irene—she was pretty sure it was Irene—
also wriggled.
The engine started, and the stench of exhaust fumes wafted into the tight compartment, making her feel nauseous.
The car shot off, and the two of them rolled helplessly around the small space. Her stomach roiled, and her equilibrium was unsteady like a cork in a stormy ocean. Kristen braced herself as best she could, closed her eyes, and prayed.

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