Chapter Seven

The Agriculture Building, 7th floor

Tehran, Iran

June 15, 7:59 a.m.

“We have to go,” said the tallest of the four women. She was a blocky Serbian with a knife scar across her mouth.

“You go,” said the Italian woman by the window. Although she was younger by twelve years than the Serbian and had less field time than either of the other two-a Castilian brunette and a French blonde-the Italian was the team leader. “I want to watch this.”

The others nodded and began packing their gear-disassembling their sniper rifles and scopes-but the Serbian lingered. It was her laser sight that had danced over the heart of the American agent; it was hers that had wandered down to burn with ugly promise over his crotch. She would have taken that shot, too. Without hesitation or remorse. Now her black eyes bored into the younger woman’s.

“Another team is already on Rasouli,” said the Serbian. “They’ll pick him up when he leaves the cafe. Why are we wasting time?”

The Italian woman turned slowly away from the window and fixed her gaze on the tall Serbian. She held that stare for five full seconds, not blinking, not allowing a trace of emotion to change her expression. It was an old trick, one of Lilith’s-something her mother had used on her countless times-and it worked now, too. The Serbian’s eyes held for four seconds and then slid away.

“I want to watch the American,” said the Italian, letting her gaze linger a moment longer before she turned without hurry back to the window. She made sure not to turn or acknowledge as the three other women finished packing.

After the other two filed out, the Serbian lingered in the doorway. “The American isn’t our-”

“I’ll decide who is and isn’t our concern,” snapped the Italian. When she was angry her tone was identical to her mother’s, and it shut the Serbian up as surely as a slap across the face. It did that with everyone. The Italian gave it a few seconds to set the mood, then she said, “Set up a surveillance post. Two cars. If Ledger leaves the cafe I want to know where he goes and where he’s staying. Upload surveillance photos and data to my personal file on Oracle.”

The Serbian nodded so curtly that it looked painful. “And then?”

“And then go back to the staging area until I call you.” The Italian made sure that her voice carried every bit of Lilith’s icy command. It was an illusion, borrowed power, but it was a useful skill that she’d begun cultivating before she was ten years old.

The other women mumbled something and went out.

When she could no longer hear their footsteps on the stairs she waited another thirty seconds, and then sighed, her shoulders slumping.

Was it ever like this for Lilith? Probably, she thought, and wondered how long her mother had to fake being tough before she actually became the stone-faced, stone-hearted monster she was now.

Knowing her mother as she did, that transformation had probably happened at a much younger age, maybe before she had been abducted by the Upierczi. If it hadn’t been there already, Lilith would never have escaped the pits, never have escaped the breeding pens.

For her own part, the Italian woman did not yet feel that hardness developing within her own soul. Perhaps it all came down to how many people she had to kill, perhaps there was a line that, once crossed, burned away all softness. At twenty-five, the Italian woman could still count the numbers. Every head shot, every cut throat, every garroting and poisoning. Lilith? If even half of the stories were true, then her kills could fill a medium-sized office building. Or an entire graveyard.

The woman believed that all of the stories told about her mother were true.

Every last one.

And everyone in the sisterhood expected her to be her mother’s daughter in every sense.

She murmured a brief prayer in Latin as she bent to peer through the sniper scope at the two figures seated in the coffee shop.

Joe Ledger and Jalil Rasouli.

Why had she lingered to watch?

The question flitted around in her head, fluttering like a bat after moths.

Why?

The obvious reason was to maintain surveillance on Rasouli, who-she hoped-did not know that the team he had hired had been actively surveilling him for three months. The Italian woman’s team was one of several who kept tabs on Rasouli and other key players in the Muslim world. Just as other teams kept a close watch on significant persons in the Christian world. Adding to the general store of information about Rasouli’s whereabouts was the obvious answer to the question.

Obvious, but a lie.

The truth was something that she could never put into a field report. She would not know how to phrase it anyway. A gut instinct. A feeling. In her personal lexicon she called it a “flash.”

They did not happen often and sometimes she never understood what they meant. However, there were too many times in her life when a flash-a moment in which her entire mind and heart were locked onto a single person-proved to be a turning point. Sometimes those flashes saved her life.

Sometimes they forged an instant and inexplicable connection between her and the person who she was destined to kill.

She stayed there, seated on a folding chair, her sniper rifle resting on a bipod which in turn rested on a stack of small, sturdy crates. Not watching Rasouli.

She watched the American. The man who had identified himself as Captain Joseph Edwin Ledger.

She liked the name.

And she liked the man, which surprised her.

Not for the obvious reasons, and even she was aware of that much. To be sure, Ledger was tall and fit, handsome in the rugged way athletes often are. Some rough edges, a few visible scars, a lean waist, and muscular shoulders. That wasn’t it, though.

It was his eyes.

Her sniper scope was of the finest quality. Very precise and powerful. Through it she had looked into the man’s eyes while he joked with her on the phone. She knew that he’d been afraid. Who wouldn’t be with laser sights on him? But he wasn’t afraid in the right way. His was a practical fear, of the kind that only warriors have.

Warrior. She tasted the word. It was grandiose and yet it seemed to fit him quite well. More than that, though, was the hurt she saw in his eyes. Not hurt from anything related to this incident. Deeper hurt, older. That was something this woman understood more intimately than anything else. Her world was built on pillars of pain and suffering.

Was it possible that this man’s soul dwelt in a similar tower? Was that why she felt the flash at the moment when she and her team had first trained their laser sights on him?

If so, then it would genuinely hurt her to have to kill him.

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