They had two minutes before the props rotated again.

Hunter pulled his diving hood into place, checked his gear, then sat on the rail next to Eliot and rolled backward into cool water. He popped up in the inky liquid and paddled to the stern, where BAD’s latest propulsion water sled floated.

Everything they needed was strapped in a watertight bag between two control arms. Hunter grabbed one arm and Eliot grabbed the other, both paddling away from the trawler while Eliot flipped on the power switch.

A tiny vibration in the handles indicated the electric turbo spun quietly within a cage.

The trawler engines rumbled to life and the boat moved off.

Unable to see Eliot’s face, Hunter called, “Ready.”

Eliot took a second to answer. “Cynthia is pregnant. I want you to be the godfather.” He rolled on the accelerator before another word could be spoken.

Shit. Just like Hunter had suspected.

Another woman with an agenda.

He’d deal with this over beers later.

After thirty-eight minutes that passed with the speed of a stiletto slicing butter, Eliot anchored the water sled close to the access spot. Currents surged, yanking Hunter back and forth, trying to draw him down into the undertow first, then bash him against jagged outcroppings of rock carved from weather and sea. He’d reconned the face of the cliff yesterday with a high-powered scope during a whale-watching cruise chartered for him and six agents.

The only dicey part would come when the wall angled out at a forty-five-degree slant two-thirds of the way up.

Once they cleared that area, the rest of the climb would come down to memory of the mapped-out route, skill, and patience.

They’d executed these maneuvers many times in low-light conditions, and night-vision monoculars with infrared illuminators would pick up every detail.

He climbed at a steady pace to reach the access point in the allotted time but slowly enough to avoid mistakes.

At the top of the cliff, he reached up until he found a handhold on the steel structure supporting the massive observation deck that shot out four feet over the cliff’s edge. He silently thanked the architect of Brugmann’s home for including a deck and pool in the design. Climbing up into the framework, he unclipped from the rope connecting him to Eliot.

Spider-climbing sideways, Hunter reached the corner of the deck and huddled in a pocket of space to scan for threats while Eliot tied off the rope. He slipped on gloves that were like a second skin, then pressed a button to illuminate his watch face for a brief glance. Six minutes to eight. Better time than he’d thought. Enough to reach the house before one of the two guards on duty made his hourly perimeter walk.

But when he pushed away from the deck to recon the open ground they’d have to cover, something was not right.

A heavily armed guard in black fatigues stood between the rear wall of glass defining the two-story Mediterranean-style house and the patio. He paced back and forth.

Something had changed since last night’s intel.

A permanent guard on this side meant additional-unanticipated-security. Why so heavily armed?

Hunter turned back to Eliot and used hand signals to tell him the security had increased. Eliot would normally have signaled “What the hell?” right back, then grinned.

This time he hesitated, no doubt thinking of his new family.

No room for baggage in this business.

As if catching the direction of Hunter’s thoughts, Eliot gave the “Let’s go” signal.

Hunter moved out. They had four minutes to make the door on the pool cabana attached to the main structure before encountering the guard that should be circling the compound.

Plans always played out better on paper.

Hunter had just reached the corner of the cabana with Eliot tucked in close when heavy footsteps from the front of the house thudded toward them.

Damn guard was early.

The guy covering the rear of the house had reached the end of his pacing route at the opposite side and turned back in the direction of the cabana.

Either way Hunter went meant exposure to a threat.

He was supposed to insert and exit without alerting any security, a stealth op just to confirm documents were in the safe so the FBI could bust Brugmann, a CIA field coordinator, before he sold agency assets.

No noise, no sign of breach, and no blood.

Two out of three was better than dying.

Hunter put his hand up for Eliot to stay put.

When the approaching guard stepped within two feet of their narrow hiding spot Hunter came out of the black shadows, slamming a chop at the base of the guard’s neck that didn’t kill him but took him out of play. He lowered the limp body between a wall of thick evergreen bushes and the house. Eliot gagged and secured the guard.

If the other guards performed an hourly voice check this would go to shit in a matter of minutes. If not, he and Eliot could still get in and out without notice.

No choice. Not unless he wanted six deaths on his hands.

When the rear sentry turned his back, Hunter entered the cabana with Eliot. Once inside, he passed the bar and service area, then went on through the showers, which reeked of chlorine. An interior door opened to a black-and-white-tiled hallway, which led to an out-of-the-way servants’ stairwell to the second floor.

At least that intel hadn’t changed.

Brugmann’s only nighttime staff, a housekeeper, had been called away with an FBI-induced emergency.

Hunter moved up the steps without making a sound on the thick Berber carpet. A walkway exposed on both sides and crossing over the living room area bridged the spot where he stood and the door to Brugmann’s bedroom, where the safe was housed.

Lowering to his stomach, Hunter snaked his way across the bridge with Eliot right behind him. Few spotlights above were on, but shadows cast through the carved wood railing showed clearly on the white and sand-colored yellow living room below.

When he reached the far side, Hunter pushed up to his feet in a tight corner next to the door. The bedroom doorknob opened on a whisper. The home had been in Mrs. Brugmann’s family for a hundred and twenty-seven years. She hadn’t accompanied her husband on this trip and Brugmann had no history of seeing other women. The bedroom should be empty.

On the other hand, Brugmann wasn’t supposed to have additional guards tonight either.

Eliot slithered past Hunter, into the thankfully empty bedroom with open windows welcoming the salty breeze. Voices downstairs approached the living room from the foyer.

Hunter paused. Brugmann had a guest.

The buyer for the list of CIA operatives and reason for additional guards?

This was about as much fun as a surprise birthday party, which Hunter ranked alongside boats that sank. He and Eliot had less time than expected.

He waited until the voices drifted into another room before entering the bedroom and pushing the door almost closed. Eliot had located the safe hidden behind a wall of mirrors. Documents in his gloved hand, he read quickly, then gave a thumbs-up.

Hunter released a tight breath. One thing had worked according to plan.

Eliot shuffled papers, pausing to read, then shook his head. He signaled he’d found something unexpected and turned his thumb down in a “bad news” sign.

What? Was it written in Egyptian or something?

Hunter leaned down to view the page under the light of the safe. The first document listed seven CIA agents, their posts, photographs of five men and two women, plus the codes needed to approach them as a friendly. Eliot snapped shots of all documents in case the FBI didn’t contain them, but they now had evidence to convict Brugmann of treason. The minute Hunter vacated the premises he’d send Retter a signal to contact the FBI agents waiting a mile away to bust this prick.

When he reviewed the second document, Hunter realized the problem. Eliot had found a map indicating detonation points beneath a hospital to be bombed the day after tomorrow in England.

England’s prime minister had just been admitted for brain surgery, to take place in that hospital on that day. One of the finest specialists in the world, Peter Wentworth, was traveling from the U.S. to perform the surgery with a full contingent of security.

The Wentworth dynasty ranked among the top ten wealthiest families in the world.

Nothing in the document indicated who was behind the bombing or specifics on the target-the politically embattled prime minister or Peter Wentworth, who supported the prime minister’s unpopular economic views.

Eliot returned all documents to the safe but did not relock the safe or reset the security alarms he’d bypassed since the FBI would be alerted within two minutes of their exit.

Of course, the way Hunter’s luck was running tonight, he wouldn’t be surprised to meet Brugmann at the door to the bedroom. But when he checked the hallway was clear. Melting to the floor, he made efficient moves. A door across the foyer from the living room below opened. Brugmann’s bald head and round body popped into view. He waddled to the living room with his guest right behind.

Hunter mentally catalogued the guest’s robust physical build, straight black hair to his collar, clean-shaven face… and a scar running along his right cheek and jaw. He wore his off-the-rack dark-gray business suit casually with the collar of his blue shirt unbuttoned.

Nothing distinctive about the clothing or his mannerisms.

No time for more surveillance. Hunter continued inching his way across the walkway bridge to the exit steps with Eliot on his heels. At the other side, he raced silently down the stairs to the cabana entrance, checked the outside guard, then made it to the corner of the building without incident.

The guard he’d put down hadn’t moved an inch. Still out.

“Jocko!” the guard at the rear of the house shouted.

Hunter froze and stuck his neck past Eliot’s imitation of a statue to check the rear guard, who had stopped and faced away from the cabana. There was something familiar in the guard’s posture. He cupped his earpiece, listening for a reply that wouldn’t come if Jocko was the unconscious man behind Eliot.

Hunter signaled Eliot to keep moving forward slowly, but he stopped again quickly. A third guard appeared between them and the corner of the deck.

The guard blocked their exit point to where the climbing gear waited. He and Eliot would lose a firefight of two 9mms against an arsenal of HK rifles. Lights flooded the pool area and decking. Hunter sucked back deep in the shadows.

The guard near the house shouted, “Where’s Jocko, Smitty?”

“Looking for him myself.” Smitty stood near the edge of the cliff. His flashlight beamed on. He started sweeping the area, walking toward Hunter and Eliot.

Hunter recognized the voice of the guard at the rear of the house as belonging to Filet Bailey. Filet Bailey and Smitty were mercenaries out of the UK who took short-term work for high pay. They specialized in leaving no evidence.

Where were Brugmann’s regular clean-cut security guards?

These mercs killed for relaxation.

“See anything on the lower level?” Filet Bailey called out.

Smitty swung his flashlight in a circle, washing the last bit of shadow away from where Hunter and Eliot hid.

Son of a bitch. Hunter signaled his intent to Eliot, then raced ahead and shot out of the darkness toward the guard’s left side. He silently sandwiched the guy’s head between his hands, wrenching hard as he brought him to the ground.

Smitty’s neck snapped with a dull crunch.

“Smitty?” Filet Bailey called out, paused, listened, then yelled into his transmitter, ordering men to the rear.

Hunter waved Eliot ahead of him under the deck, then hunched down, working his way back to where they’d tied off the rope to the steel crossbeams. Eliot hooked up his climbing gear and dropped over the edge.

Hard voices shouted overhead. Boots hammered the decking.

Hunter calmly lashed his climbing gear into place, then hit a series of clicks on his radio to alert Retter he could authorize the FBI to raid the compound.

Like right fucking now would be a good time.

Filet Bailey shouted orders. Lights flashed between the wood slats overhead, glancing off Hunter.

Hunter gave Eliot a fifteen-second lead. The original plan had been for Eliot to quickly rappel down the face, followed by Hunter using the same rope.

That plan hadn’t involved additional security or shooting.

Now they couldn’t risk someone cutting the rope before they both made it down, which meant Eliot dropping a hundred feet to find a new anchor point for their rope.

Bullets burst from the side of the deck where Hunter had dropped Smitty. The guards had found their exit path.

Unclipping a smoke bomb from his belt, he pulled the pin, counted several beats, then lobbed it into a trough in the ground that fed the rolling grenade to the corner of the deck.

“Go.” Eliot’s sharp whisper came through Hunter’s earpiece.

Hunter dropped past the edge. Smoke boiled over the cliff. Eliot had fed enough slack for Hunter to rappel below where Eliot hung anchored from an SLCD-spring-loaded camming device.

Bullets pinged wildly, but the guards hadn’t figured out how to flood the cliff with light yet. Hunter ripped off a round, silencing the shots above for a moment. He stowed the weapon, freeing his hands for ten seconds. Snagging the rope that trailed from Eliot, Hunter hooked the free rope into his second locking karabiner so they could leapfrog going down.

Hunter dropped two hundred feet like a lead weight into the black abyss waiting to swallow him.

The eerie silence above disturbed him more than rounds of live fire. Eliot hugged the wall, waiting for the signal to drop just past Hunter and hook to his trailing rope.

What was going on at the Brugmann compound? Hunter doubted the FBI had arrived or contained the site that quickly and without more shots.

Too quiet, and Eliot was stuck exposed.

Hunter stopped just above the section of rock wall that slanted in. He had to get Eliot out of firing range. Running his fingers over the face, he found a deep cut in the rock from memory. He shoved an SLCD into the opening, then pulled up twenty feet of trailing rope to tie an anchor sling. He fed slack out the top of his karabiner so Eliot could rappel while Hunter gave cover.

He ordered, “Go,” into his transmitter.

Once Eliot reached Hunter they’d use a series of anchors Eliot had placed on the way up to now climb below the inclined face of the wall, which would protect them both from enemy fire.

Eliot started dropping fast.

Lights in the compound blazed high above him, but still no sounds filtered down. And no one looked over the edge.

A red laser light bounced on the wall above Eliot… on the SLCD anchor where the rope was tied off. One bullet sang out, then a second one hit the anchor… snapping the rope.

Hunter lunged for the wall to brace himself for the sudden yank of Eliot’s weight.

If Eliot had locked his karabiner or had a knot to stop the rope from sliding out.

Rope whistled past Hunter’s ear. Eliot bounced against the cliff face next to him with a sickening thud.