Scroll down for the first two chapters of The Cliff Diver!

The Cliff Diver

Determined to protect Mina at all costs, Jonathon ventures to Greece, into the heart of danger to stop his enemy and ex-lover, Rory Bradford. Using his unlimited resources, he orchestrates the interception of a fentanyl shipment destined for the streets. When he disappears without a trace, Mina refuses to sit idly by as the man she loves faces peril.

Mina races to Greece, where she embarks on a relentless quest to find Jonathon. With unwavering determination, she delves into Rory’s dark past, and uncovers her secret identity. Rory is the daughter of a transnational crime leader, and she has imprisoned Jonathon. As Mina navigates the treacherous waters of international crime, she joins forces with a team of Jonathon’s highly trained, and resourceful friends. Together they fight against weaponized drones, guerilla attacks and time to rescue Jonathon from Rory’s prison.

In a perilous quest to secure a future with the man she loves, Mina discovers that she has the strength and fortitude to face her demons and bring Jonathon home.

Teaser: chapter one, The Cliff Diver

1

Mina

“I will possess your heart.”

Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie’s singer calmed me with his lyric voice as the buzz of the tattooist’s electric needle grated like a dentist’s drill. I tried to focus on the words and the rhythmic bass guitar humming in the background.

Lo Rain, a purple-haired artist, bent over my hip and thigh. Nag Champa incense filled the air. She drew wild lavender and a waterfall that reminded me of several cliffs I’d tombstoned. The waterfall would circle past the scar on my leg. Once, in Croatia, I’d made a bad judgement. When I plunged into the water, I hit coral, and it tore my leg wide open. The tattoo would always remind me that the choices I made were mine to own.

With my cell phone pressed to my ear, I lay back on the narrow padded table, my gaze locked on the painted ceiling above me. Gray clouds swirled around Greek gods, demons, and cartoon characters all peering down as if laughing at my pain.

“How’s it feel?” Jonathon asked. He would have sat in on the session if he could.

“Can’t you guess?” My teeth ground together. I tried not to think about the burning sensation from the needle pressed into my skin.

“Tell me.” His deep voice resonated with me. I missed him.

“She’s drawing a lavender flower with the fine needle tool.”

“And?”

“It stings. But I’m tough.”

“You’re the toughest woman I know, Mina.”

“I miss you. When are you coming home?” Jonathon was in an undisclosed location in Greece. He could have been on one of the thousands of islands or on the mainland. I had no idea.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t been able to find her.”

Three weeks earlier, he had stepped down as CEO of Prevail Pharmaceutical Software to follow a lead. The woman he’d dated years ago had orchestrated an elaborate plan to kidnap me and extort millions from Jonathon. He had traveled to Greece to find her—Rory Bradford, his ex-girlfriend. She was the mastermind behind the extortion plan orchestrated by Janko Vorobiev less than a month ago.

Her heart must have been shattered when Jonathon left her. When their love turned sour. Her revenge was cruel and unforgiving. Her thugs killed Jonathon’s personal bodyguard and ruined my best friend Traci Lambert’s life.

Jonathon wasn’t out for revenge. He planned to stop her reign of terror.

Though I longed for him to hold my hand during this self-imposed ordeal, the pain of the tattoo artist’s needle was nothing compared to the thought of losing him. “Are you being careful?” I asked.

“Of course.” It was a throw-away answer and one I didn’t believe. He refused to tell me what plans he had to ruin Rory.

“Tell me about Greece,” I said.

“I haven’t had much time to enjoy it.”

“You must be joking. The cerulean blue sky and Mediterranean Sea? I’ve been there and smelled the salty air. You must have found something to enjoy.”

“It would be so much better if you were here.”

“I miss you too.” I missed his stormy gaze and the smooth tone of voice. I missed the sting of his studded paddle on my ass. “Where you are now?”

“I’m drinking iced coffee at a small table on a busy street—”

“Paved or brick?”

“The street is paved with stones. Nearby there’s a statue of Poseidon holding his staff. There’s a Mythos beer umbrella above me with the name in bold green cursive. It’s so hot, I’m trying to stay in the shade even though the sun’s setting.”

“Are you in Athens?”

“No.”

“Mykonos?”

“No.”

“Chalcis?”

“Stop. You know I can’t tell you where I am. She could be listening.”

“But you’re using a burner phone.”

“You know her reach is far and wide.” He’d told me about how insanely controlling Rory was. Though she claimed to be a submissive, she worked hard to fill that role and to deserve Jonathon’s punishment. She taught him how to be a dominant in the bedroom.

“I want to see you,” I said. “I could be there this weekend—”

“—No. It’s too dangerous, Mina. Erik Edwards gave his life. Janko almost killed Greg. If I hadn’t come home in time, he would have killed you.”  

When Rory paid Janko Vorobiev to extort a seven-figure sum from Jonathon, the plan failed, so Janko came after Jonathon. He killed Jonathon’s personal bodyguard Erik, and shot Greg Hauser, a good friend and confidant, in the knee. Luckily, Jonathon came home in time. He fought Janko, who got what he deserved, and now that man served time in federal prison.

“I won’t put you in danger ever again,” Jonathon said.

“I’d like to get my hands on Rory. I can hold my own. You know I’m a black belt.”

“Martial arts won’t protect you against semi-automatic weapons,” he said.

The needle dug into my hip bone. I sucked air through my teeth. “What have you learned about Rory?”

“I’ve hired mercenaries to fight her. I’ve got to be strategic and calculating. And …I’m worried she knows I’m here.”

Rory’s far-reaching influence was deadly. I’d be devastated if I lost him.

Our relationship began early last summer when he hired me to represent him. Jonathon had become a person of interest in the murder of his personal assistant. When I learned that he was into a certain lifestyle, I became a person interested in him.

Lo Rain turned the tattoo pen off. “I need you to roll onto your side.”

“Hold on.” I situated myself on the narrow padded table with my left arm raised up under my head, I pressed the phone to my right ear.

“Are you getting close to finding Rory?”

“There’s so much I can’t tell you over the phone.”

I noted the fear in his voice. “How much longer?”

Lo Rain answered, “About an hour. I’m filling in the waterfall with color, now.” She started up the pen again. The needle dug into my flesh, and I grimaced.

“There’s no telling,” Jonathon said. “It could be weeks or months before I locate her. I wish it were over and I could come home. I love you, Mina.”

“I love you, too.”

2

Jonathon

 

The hardest part of being in Greece, was that I was a half a world away from Mina. I missed her more than anything. I missed her sass, and her soft lips. I missed her brilliant conversation and her long, graceful arms. Last month we became closer than I ever dreamed possible. In all the ways no one ever understood me before, Mina got me. She saw me.

I looked out across the street at pedestrians hurrying to evening meetups, couples hand in hand, peering into shop windows, a young mother pushing a stroller. It had been a week since I called Mina. I thought of her and smoothed the beard I’d grown since I arrived in Greece.

Mina cried when she heard I was leaving. But when I explained that I needed to find Rory—to stop her—Mina understood. All her work defending sociopaths, felons, and psychotic scumbags had taught her something about the criminal mind. Mina understood that Rory would never let up. In fact it was her idea to dismantle Rory’s scaffolding. To infect Rory’s tower of power and bring her to the ground.

The rest came easily. Rory and I went to college together. We’d had a very dysfunctional relationship and when we parted ways, she returned to Europe. To her crime-boss father. She told me once that she was born in Europe when I questioned her ability to speak Italian. But I didn’t know she also spoke Russian. Or that Russian was her first language.

Rory Bradford, the woman I dated for four years, was actually Rory Protsenko, the daughter of Artur Protsenko, king of a well-known Russian crime syndicate. More recently she tried to extort money from me. And worse, she sicced her thug Janko Vorobiev on the woman I loved. To get her revenge, Rory tried to ruin the best thing I had going. Now it was my turn. I could never let Rory get away with what she’d done. I needed to put an end to this before she became even more desperate.

In the last month, I’d learned that Rory oversaw production of fentanyl from her factory near Izmir, Turkey. Though her father was the leader of a criminal empire, Rory had branched out on her own. She was power hungry and hated being under anyone’s thumb—including her father’s. She sold the deadly drugs to criminals and mercenaries from all over the world. For various reasons, most of them would rather do business with her than the Chinese.

Stan Moorlehem and I staked out the fentanyl plant one night while they loaded crates into the backs of four Sprinter Vans. Mayhem—Stan’s nickname—and I followed the vans to the port in Izmir. I alerted Nico Fortunato—a Navy Seal I met through Bujinkan training—and his team tracked the shipment. Nico commanded a team of highly trained men and women who intercepted a small freighter headed toward Bari, Italy. PHMSA, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration confiscated three tons of the deadly drug made by Rory’s company.

While sipping iced coffee, I made notes about what happened on a Chromebook, then sent them to Mayhem. “Rory seems undaunted by our attempts to destroy her. When PHEMSA officials traced the shipment back to one of her factories, they found it had been burnt to the ground. No trace of that operation was left. She had many, though, so we move to phase two. Find Rory’s headquarters. Find her other manufacturing locations. And find Sotoris.”

I hit send, then transferred the communication and all my notes to a thumb drive.

Across the road, a fifteen-foot metal statue of Poseidon towered above the stone circle. His fish tail swept waves made of aging blue iron. Brightly colored compact cars drove around the circle past the café—a blue and white Twizy, a red mini Cooper, a yellow Mercedes-Benz MB Smart Coupe—so close, I could almost touch them. The road was too narrow for more than one at a time.

I looked at each driver, trying to see if they made the briefest eye contact. If so, I would leave. I would hide and cover my tracks. Rory’s people were everywhere.

Javier Garrido, my new personal bodyguard stood against the patio entrance in the shade of the setting sun. Javier had only been working for me for about a month. I’d selected him from a handful of well-trained bodyguards after Janko Vorobiev killed my right-hand-man, Erik Edwards. I signaled for him to join me.

“Sir?”

“Sit down, Javier.” I dragged the metal chair away from the table for him. Javier previously worked for a former governor of Illinois. He managed difficult scenarios and bomb threats. Originally trained in the army, his transition to protective services earned him high scores. More than that, he was fiercely loyal. He stayed with the past governor until he died of old age.

“Sir?”

“We need to talk, Javier.” I was still getting to know him.

He unbuttoned his black suit jacket and sat beside me. It might have been the heat, but he looked uncomfortable. This was never going to work between us if he couldn’t relax with me.

“Have I done something wrong, sir?”

“No. Of course not.” I finished the iced espresso and signaled the waitress to bring two more. “Ena akomi, parakalo.”

She nodded and went back inside.

 “Javier, what did you expect to get out of this job?”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“And stop calling me sir. It gives me a superiority complex. Besides, I think we’re about the same age.”

“Yes si—” Javier nodded.

“Just, Jonathon.”

Javier lowered his head.

He was trained to be respectful. I had to respect that. “Mr. Heun, then.”

“Mr. Heun.” He nodded.

The waitress set two iced espressos on paper napkins. I handed her the cash payment and a tip in Euros.

“Tell me something about yourself. Where did you grow up?” My track record this year with personal bodyguards was not good. My last personal bodyguard was a close friend. The one before that betrayed me and tried to kill Mina. Though I debated the wisdom of befriending Javier, it was important to learn about the people working for me. I never wanted to take them for granted. Especially when their lives were on the line.

Javier cleared his throat. His eyes were hidden behind slim, dark sunglasses. “I immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. with my family about twenty years ago. My father and mother gained citizenship after living and working in Chicago for ten years.”

“Where did you go to school?”

“Phoenix Military Academy in Chicago. After that, I enrolled in the army.”

“Where were you stationed?”

“I was never deployed to the front lines.” Javier downed a big swallow of the iced coffee.

“How do you feel about that?”

Javier looked at the table. “I’m not sure.”

“Look, I have some hand-to-hand combat skills. I’m a tenth-degree black-belt in Kendo martial arts.” Sword fighting was more than a hobby of mine. It was an obsession. I collected rare katanas and when I was home, I trained daily. “I’m telling you this so you know I can hold my own in the right circumstances.”

“Forgive me for saying so, but you’re a legend among my colleagues. How you stopped that international criminal—I mean, you cut off his hand!” His eyes lit up, but he quickly stifled the emotion and composed himself.

Legend? “I’m not proud of it.” It had taken every ounce of restraint to keep from killing Janko.

He squinted at the setting sun. “If I may, si—ah, Mr. Heun—I’m happy to be working for you. I believe in what you’re doing here. It’s the work of a saint. If you know what I mean.” 

“Javier, you think too highly of me. I’m not a saint . . . or a superhero. I’m a man risking my life to hopefully save others’ lives. That includes my fiancée.” Technically, I hadn’t asked Mina to marry me yet. I didn’t want her to make plans that may or may not become reality. I knew the deadly risks I faced here.

Javier fidgeted with a white-gold ring on his left hand. I’d noticed it before.

“Are you married?” I asked.

His eyes lit briefly. “Her name is Rachel.”

I could see it in the way he caressed the ring. Javier would never tell me he was afraid he wouldn’t make it back to Chicago.

“The men working for me are professionals. They have experience with the Russian mob and have helped police track and kill terrorist cells of ISIS and other groups. I don’t want you to worry that we won’t make it home.”

Javier looked down at his shoes and gave a slight nod.

“I will make sure you get home.” I reached across the table and gripped his arm. I understood his fear.

Beginning to doubt that Javier had the balls for this job, I finished the last of my coffee. “Let’s get back to the villa where it’s more private.” 

Javier nodded. “No disrespect, Mr. Heun, I’d like to spar with you someday.”

As I pushed the metal chair away from the table, I saw an orange Ford Fiesta rounding the curve and coming for us. Javier leapt at me and shoved the table out of the way.

Javier thrust me into the building as the Fiesta crashed into our table, just missing us. The car hit the building. With a blinding flash, an explosion deafened me. The force of the bomb threw me into the wall. I fell to the ground.

Hot flames licked my hands as I rolled on top of Javier. He seemed to be unconscious and as I tried to get up, a second explosion knocked me to the sidewalk. My cheek lay against hard pavement. Before my eyes fluttered closed, I saw burning bodies lying on the ground. Tables overturned and linen on fire. Smoke pouring out of the blackened shell of the orange car.