Published by Harper Collins
ebook (25 August 2016)
66 Metres is the first book in the Nadia Laksheva Spy Thriller Series and my thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for including me on the tour and for providing this extract.
Once back at Kadinsky’s country dacha, she stood in the large lounge with its single bay window overlooking the dry fountain, a chipped statue of Pan in its centre. Inside, oil paintings of battles, including one above the fireplace featuring a victorious Napoleon, hung around the white, corniced walls. Kadinsky ordered Katya not to speak, then walked around Nadia. He looked her up and down, then shook his head. He dropped into a wide leather armchair. Katya was perched on an antique wooden dining seat opposite. Nadia stood between them, and Kadinsky’s two henchmen – one grossly fat, the other slim as a snake and with pockmarked cheeks – leaned against the far wall.
‘You have grey eyes,’ he said, wagging a finger at her. ‘Like a fucking tombstone. Who’d want to make love staring into such eyes?’ He glanced at Katya. ‘Are you sure she’s your sister?’
Katya’s gaze dropped to the carpet. She nodded, her own eyes a deep blue, like her mother’s. Nadia had her father’s eyes. Killer’s eyes, he’d once joked, when she’d been too young to realise it was a confession.
Kadinsky swirled the ice in his whiskey tumbler with a pudgy index finger. ‘What else can you do, girl?’
Nadia never knew where her answer came from, possibly revulsion against a life of prostitution, but she thought of her father, and the words slid out of her mouth. ‘I can shoot. I never miss.’
Kadinsky’s thugs laughed. He didn’t. ‘I detest exaggeration,’ he said. ‘So American.’ His mouth moved as if he was going to spit.
‘Let’s see if you can really shoot. Give her your pistol,’ he said to one of the henchmen, the one with a pockmarked face – Pox, she named him – who immediately lost his sense of humour.
She took the weapon from his outstretched hand, weighed it in her palm. An old-style Smith & Wesson. God knows why the guy had it. Most blatnye preferred semi-autos, Makarovs or the older but higher-velocity Tokarevs. She checked that it was loaded, all six bullets nestling in their chambers. She glanced at Kadinsky, thought about killing him. But the other henchman, the fat one with slicked black hair – hence, Slick – had his Glock trained on her, his lopsided leer daring her.
Kadinsky waved a hand towards Katya, five metres away. He tilted his head left and right, then settled back against the soft leather, took a gulp of whiskey, and smacked his lips. ‘The red rose in the bowl of flowers behind her left ear. Shoot it. From where you stand.’
Slick’s eyes flicked toward Katya, gauging the angles. His leer faded.
Nadia stared at her sister and the rose. Most of it was behind her head. Only one leaf of the scarlet blossom was exposed. She swallowed, then lifted the revolver, and took up a shooting stance like her father had taught her. Right arm firm, elbow not fully locked, left hand under the fist, prepared for the recoil. She had to do it before anger built and disrupted her concentration. She cocked the hammer, lined up the shot, then spoke to Katya’s serene, trusting face: ‘Love you,’ she said. Then she breathed out slowly, as if through a straw, and squeezed the trigger.
Masonry exploded behind Katya. The crack was so loud that three other men burst into the room, weapons drawn. Kadinsky waved them back as Pox peeled the revolver from Nadia’s stiff fingers. Petals fluttered to the floor amidst a plume of white powder from the impact crater in the wall. Katya sat immobile, pale, the hair on the left side of her head ruffled as if by a gust of wind. A trickle of blood oozed from her left temple, and ran down her cheek.
Katya, lips trembling, beamed at Nadia. ‘Still alive,’ she said, her voice hoarse. She touched the graze with an unsteady forefinger.
Nadia began to shake. She folded her arms, refusing to give Kadinsky the satisfaction.
Later that night, while she slept in Katya’s bed, holding close the sister she’d almost killed, Slick and Pox burst into the room. Katya woke, leapt out of bed and told them to fuck off, for which she received the butt of a revolver across her mouth.
Nadia half-planned to try to grab one of the guys’ guns at a crucial moment, but they knew what they were doing. One held her down, while the other did whatever he wanted. She retreated into a corner of her mind, a memory, the first time her father had taught her to hold a gun, his arms around her, helping her aim, shooting at empty beer bottles. He’d been so proud of her when she’d hit one. But she couldn’t hang onto the memory. It hurt, what they were doing, it fucking hurt, and she knew this was a wound that would never heal. She tried to scream STOP! But Slick clamped his hand over her mouth. Katya leapt onto his back, aiming to pull him off, but Pox punched her in the stomach, then in the mouth. Katya went down, didn’t reappear. Nadia continued to struggle, thought of her father, how he’d be raging in hell if he could see this, knew what he’d do to these two bastards if he were there. She clung to his rage like a lifeline…
Eventually they left, and Katya, her chin smeared with blood, an ugly bruise rising on her left cheek, came back to the bed and held Nadia tight. Nadia’s body was strangely still, as if it belonged to someone else. She wished it did. While her eyes stayed dry, her elder sister cried and whispered apologies, repeating how it would be all right, the worst was over, and the important thing was that they were together. For the first time ever, that night, Nadia held her sister until she fell asleep, rather than the other way around.
At dawn Nadia woke to find her sister gone, presumably to Kadinsky’s bed. She considered their predicament. Katya was locked into Kadinsky’s world, and now she owed him too, and he wasn’t about to simply let her off. She was trapped. Her mother’s prediction came back to her: a killer or a whore. Maybe both.
She dressed, crept downstairs and stole outside, timing it to get past the guard by the main door when he went to take a piss. Snow crunched under her boots. She got a couple of miles from the dacha before she collapsed from the biting cold, and lay down in the crisp silence. ‘It’s okay,’ she heard her mother say inside her head, with a kindness she’d not heard from her in years. ‘Better this way.’ She closed her eyes and went to sleep, hoping never to awaken, unless to join her father.
But she did wake, and found herself back in the dacha on a sofa, buried in blankets and fur coats. She shook violently. People were shouting in the room next door. Katya, Slick, and Pox, then that low growl that cut off everyone.
Katya came in. She wiped away tear streaks on her bruised face, and closed the door behind her. She braved a smile and walked toward Nadia. ‘They won’t touch you again,’ she said, her voice shaky. ‘Nobody will.’ She sat down next to her.
Kadinsky entered, a gold-rimmed coffee cup in his hand, a sad-looking golden retriever trailing him. ‘Here’s the deal, girl.’ He spoke to the bay window rather than her, and took a swig before continuing. ‘I could use a female operative who doesn’t wet herself under pressure. Maybe that could be you. You’ll work for me for five years. Your training will take three, including eighteen months in Britain. I want your English impeccable – not like a newsreader, like a local.’ He stared at her, his gaze hard. He stooped to pat the dog ineffectually, as if he didn’t really know how, then stood tall, downing the last of the coffee. He spoke to the window again. ‘Katya stays here. Do ten ops for me, then I’ll let you both go.’ He nodded to himself as if concluding the contract. ‘Ten ops, five years. Then, svoboda… freedom.’
He left, not waiting for an answer. The dog followed, its head bowed.
Kadinsky’s words echoed in her mind. Five years. Half the life she would have lost in prison. If she’d have lasted. Thinking of her cell helped. Katya had gotten Nadia out of her own personal hell. But would Kadinsky really let them both go afterward?
Katya hugged her, and she succumbed to the embrace, because the only person she cared for in this brutal world was Katya. ‘It’s going to be all right,’ Katya said. ‘You can trust him. Pyotr Aleksandrovich is a hard man, but he keeps his bargains.’
She knew what Katya was trying to do, using Kadinsky’s first name and patronymic, making him seem like family. But something inside her hardened, as if the tears that should have come earlier turned to glass. She promised herself she would go and retrieve her father’s Beretta the very next day, strip it, clean it, begin practising again.
Ten ops. Five years. Then, one way or the other, she and her sister were through with Kadinsky.
‘It will be all right, Katya,’ she said. ‘Whatever it takes, I promise one day I’ll make it right.’
| About the Book |
The only thing worth killing for is family.
Everyone said she had her father’s eyes. A killer’s eyes. Nadia knew that on the bitterly cold streets of Moscow, she could never escape her past – but in just a few days, she would finally be free.
Bound to work for Kadinsky for five years, she has one last mission to complete. Yet when she is instructed to capture The Rose, a military weapon shrouded in secrecy, Nadia finds herself trapped in a deadly game of global espionage.
And the only man she can trust is the one sent to spy on her…
| About the Author |
J. F. Kirwan is the author of the Nadia Laksheva thriller series for HarperCollins. Having worked in accident investigation and prevention in nuclear, offshore oil and gas and aviation sectors, he uses his experience of how accidents initially build slowly, then race towards a climax, to plot his novels. An instructor in both scuba diving and martial arts, he travels extensively all over the world, and loves to set his novels in exotic locations. He is also an insomniac who writes in the dead of night. His favourite authors include Lee Child, David Baldacci and Andy McNab.