Excerpt: Deadly Interpretations
Beating someone up was so much easier in slacks. No one touched me without a reason.
As I dug my high heel into the man's back and yanked his arms behind him, I forced his face into the dirty United Nations floor. "Look buddy. I'm in no mood for this today. Get out, because I have to work." He was lucky I didn't hurt him more.
"Harley Black." Even though his face was smooshed against the floor, the man managed to speak. "If you let me stand up, I'll tell you why I'm here."
I leaned closer so he could hear me. "Can I trust you not to touch me again?"
"Sure." He moaned. "You win. I just want to talk to you. Honest."
Two security guards ran to the door while I let the intruder get to his feet. "Is everything okay?" the taller guard asked.
I nodded. "Fine. Just letting this guy know who's boss."
"Call us if you need us," the same man said, and they both walked away.
My victim looked down and dusted off his dark blue polo shirt and stone-colored pants. "I have to talk to you in private." He lifted his head. He had big blue eyes framed by dark blond hair and strong cheekbones. In other words, the guy was very handsome, but I wasn't about to let that change the fact that he wasn't on my good side.
I crossed my arms, watching Mr. Good-Looking, who was my eye candy for the day. "You have two minutes," I said. "What do you want?"
After he looked toward the long row of glass interpreter cubicles and down at the General Assembly of the United Nations, he grabbed my arm and led me to the back of the small room. He pulled out a badge and held it up to my face, making sure I read the thing.
However, I wasn't impressed, so I watched his expression instead. A badge meant nothing to me. Besides, he was something better to look at than plastic and metal.
The man moved closer to my face. "I'm an agent with DHS," he whispered. "That stands for the Department of Homeland Security—"
"And I just kicked your butt? A girl kicked an agent's butt. How hilarious is that?" I laughed but he wasn't amused, so I stopped. I wasn't a cruel person, but it was really funny.
He smirked. "I used to work for the CIA, but I was demoted because of a small incident with a queen in a different country. She didn't believe her house was the target of a bomb. We got the bombers before they struck, but she wasn't happy with me, so I was demoted."
"What a shame." I knew I sounded condescending, but I really didn't care. "What do you want with me?"
"I think there's going to be a threat on your life," he whispered. "We're getting chatter from all over and something big is going down. They want to use a U.N. interpreter to talk between the nations."
I watched him in indifference, crossing my arms even tighter. "Uh-huh."
"You don't believe me?"
"Nope. They don't use U.N. interpreters for things like that, and you never told me your name. How can I believe you?" I pointed toward his hand, still holding his badge. "For all I know, you got that at some discount toy store."
"It's real. I don't tell people my name right away because they don't always believe me."
This should be good. "What's your name and I'll tell you what I think."
"I'm sure you will. It's not every day I'm beaten up by a girl. If I'd known you were good at self-defense, I'd have brought my A-game and not let your good looks mess with me." He shook his head, studying my face. "Black hair and blue eyes. Very striking. They didn't tell me about that."
I almost laughed in his face. "What's your name?"
"Bond. Jim Bond."
I started to chuckle. "And you used to work for the CIA? Are you any relation to James—"
"No." His expression turned serious. "It's not funny. I'm no longer CIA, either, remember?"
"I'll never forget, just like you should never forget not to touch my shoulder from behind again. You really need to learn some manners." I considered giving him my full anger, but since I'd just put him on the floor, I decided to be nice. "Now, Mr. Bond, I think it's time for you to leave so I can do my job."
His grin covered his face. He glanced down at my cleavage before returning his gaze to my eyes. "Unlike your dossier, you do have a nice attitude underneath that tough exterior. You'll do fine." He grabbed my arm and pulled me to him, kissing me hard while his tongue penetrated my lips. He backed away after a few seconds, slightly out of breath, his eyes just inches from mine. "Welcome to my world, Harley Black. You've just become a member."
Even though his kiss was brief, it was very sexy, stunning me. I had to catch my breath before I could answer. "What did I do?"
"You're tough, beautiful, and exactly what I need to foil an evil plot. Plus, you're going to date me, so get used to this." He kissed me again, and it was amazing, to say the least.
He backed away as I took a big breath and opened my eyes.
"I still have it," he whispered.
I had to teach him a few lessons to soften his inflated ego, so I hauled off and slapped his face with a loud smack of my hand. "Keep dreaming, egotist. I'm not easy and don't appreciate being assaulted."
I returned to my desk and sat down. Just as I removed my lipstick and mirror from my purse, my co-worker, Elizabeth, got back from lunch. She was very pretty, with blue eyes and wavy blonde hair that brushed her shoulders.
"Sorry I'm late," she said. "The foot traffic—" She stared at Jim, who was holding onto his red cheek, looking very puzzled. "Who's this?"
I kept touching up my lipstick. "His name's Jim—"
"Manford," he said. "I'm Harley's new boyfriend…I think." He moved his jaw while I hoped he was still in pain. No man treated me like that and lived to tell about it. I should have him arrested for a drive-by kiss.
Elizabeth looked at me, then at Jim, her mouth hanging down. She was from the United Kingdom with a beautiful British accent and upper class demeanor. But from the look on her face, she couldn't believe her eyes, or stay in character for being upper class.
"What happened to Billy?" she asked me.
"He's busy tonight." I put away my lipstick and mirror. "He's jerking my chain, so I figured I'd play the field." I turned toward Jim. "Billy told me that right before lunch."
Jim nodded. "So that's why you're so crabby?"
"No, she's also PMSing," Elizabeth said in a matter-of-fact tone. "Bad day for her, and we all know it." She turned back to me while pointing at Jim. "How did you meet this guy?"
"On the street after lunch," Jim said. "We were both reading the paper at a newsstand. One thing led to another and we ended up making out on a park bench. It was really hot, too."
I narrowed my eyes at him, wanting to slap his other cheek to get rid of the smirk on his face.
"So why is the side of your face all red?" Elizabeth asked.
"I think I made a mistake." He moved his jaw again. "I guess I shouldn't have asked her which side of the bed is her favorite yet."
"Bad question," Elizabeth whispered. "Billy asks her the same thing all the time, but never follows through."
Jim didn't look innocent. From his subtle grin, he or his agency must've been spying on me for a while to know that information. I wondered what else he knew about me.
I batted my eyelashes at the creep. "Well, honey, I have to work, so don't you need to go elsewhere?" My voice was so saccharin-sweet that I wanted to hurl.
He pulled up a chair and sat down beside me. "Nope. Have the day off, actually." He picked up my hand and kissed the back of it. "I just want to spend the day with my sweetheart." His smile looked so stupid; I could've sworn hearts danced in his eyes.
"But honeybunch," I said. "I have to work. I can't be distracted."
Elizabeth looked down at the floor of the United Nations. "They're ready to start."
She and I picked up earphones and I moved closer to the microphone. We were both taking turns interpreting the spoken word from one of the main languages into English. Everything at the U.N. was interpreted into English, then from English to the language that the interpreter, or oral translator, was assigned, if the interpreter didn't know the other language. The languages used were English, Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. I spoke everything they needed except for Arabic, which I was learning in my spare time—what little I had. It took a lot of training and testing to be an interpreter. We had many substitutes, in the event of someone being ill, but we were considered the best.
Since I was doing the interpretations first, I was busy, nonstop. We did simultaneous interpretation, which meant there was no delay between their sentences where they waited for us to translate. Even though some of their speeches were online to help us interpret, we still had to listen to what they were saying on the floor, in case they deviated from the script. It was much tougher than consecutive interpretations, which allowed time between sentences. When I ran out of steam, it would be Elizabeth's turn. That was usually every twenty minutes.
I was talking non-stop about some peace treaty, when Jim leaned up and looked into the next room. He picked up a headset, plugged it into the jack on the desk, and pulled the thing onto his head.
The Arabic Ambassador began to speak, which meant Ali, from next door, was interpreting into English. They interpreted into English as well as Arabic in their section.
"He's not saying it right," Jim said.
I gave him a dirty look.
"Who?" Elizabeth asked.
Jim nodded toward Ali. "The Arabic guy. He's changed the whole meaning. He's going to start a war with what he's saying."
The people on the main floor began to get agitated. I knew it sounded nasty, but I just figured the guy from Egypt wanted to start a fight. It wasn't unusual for him to do that, because he'd done it before.
Or had he?
Jim got up from his seat and headed over to the next cubicle. Hassam was sitting beside Ali, waiting for his turn. Ali had finished speaking and had turned off his microphone. It was now my turn to interpret the Russian into English. The Arabic and Chinese booths usually had three interpreters, but the third guy in the Arabic section was on break. However, he always seemed to be on break.
"Be careful how you interpret their words," Jim said to Ali. "You're going to start an international incident."
Ali turned toward Jim. "No, I'm not. It's what the guy was saying."
"No, it wasn't. I'm fluent in Arabic and you're wrong. Now be careful or I'm going to call the section chief."
I kept one ear on what Jim was saying while still doing my job, listening to the Russians speak. It wasn't easy, but when Ali's and Jim's voices rose and security came running, everyone was given a five-minute break. Even the big boss, Kent, was in that cubicle.
"He wasn't doing it right," Jim said to Kent. "He was telling the other nations that if they didn't straighten up, the Arabic Alliance would bomb them in their sleep and rape their women. That's not what the guy said down on the floor at all." He pointed down to the General Assembly and seemed very agitated.
"Is that true?" Kent asked Ali.
"Not at all." Ali pointed at Jim. "He hates me because I'm from Saudi Arabia."
"Not true," Jim said. "He's doing it wrong."
I headed into the next room just as Ali stood up and threw his earphones onto the desk. "I quit," he said.
Kent scoffed. "You can't just quit."
"Yes, I can," he said to Kent. "I have another job offer and I'm taking it. It's more money anyway." He walked out of the room and no one stopped him.
Kent pulled out his cell phone and dialed, putting it to his ear. "I need to find Jafar." He listened for a moment. "Then get me a substitute for the Arabic section." He sighed after a moment. "They can't all be at that meeting." He glanced over at Jim. "Never mind. I know what I'll do." He ended the call and stared right at Jim. "I need someone to sit in for Jafar. Since you know so much, you do it."
Jim looked confused. "But I'm not trained—"
"Tough. We'll get someone in here as soon as we can, but for now, you're it." He glanced at Hassam. "Keep him in line. We're going to test him out and make him go first." He pushed Jim into the chair. "Now, let's get going." Kent turned toward all the onlookers. "Back to work, people. We have to create world peace here."
I stepped closer to Jim and leaned down to his ear. "Are you sure you can do this? It usually takes years to become an interpreter, along with many tests."
"But you did it in less than a year."
So he did know a lot about me. "I have a photographic memory and learned languages fast, starting in the fifth grade. I'm the exception." I couldn't think the administration would let him just waltz in like that. Kent was usually a stickler for the rules. "You can't do this.""
"Sure I can." He smiled. "Piece of cake. I was in the Middle East for six months and knew the languages backward and forward before I even went. Arabic is an easy one for me."
"What will your boss think?" I asked.
He leaned closer, looking down my top. I knelt beside him and held my blouse closed at the top so he couldn't see anything, making him chuckle.
"My job is to watch you and this is the perfect cover," he said. "I'm going to ask if I can do this full-time."
I nodded. Lucky me.
I returned to my room and sat in my chair, trying to figure out what had just happened.
Elizabeth leaned over to me. "Cute one, huh?"
"Yeah. I'm trying to break him in."
"Good luck with that. He looks chivalrous and smart, so that might be his downfall."
I leaned back and talked louder so Jim could hear me. "I bet he's a sucker for tears, too."
"I heard that," Jim said.
We all got back to work, keeping world peace for the day. As soon as the session ended at five, I stood up and opened my desk drawer, removing my purse.
Jim moved to my side. "Ready to go? I'll call a cab."
"A cab? They're pricey. No, I'll just take my bike. See ya tomorrow." He must be a rich DHS agent or something. It would be faster on my bike, too.
He grabbed my arm, forcing me to look at him. "A bicycle? At five in the evening?"
Elizabeth laughed and headed toward the door. "See you tomorrow."
"Have a good one." She left the room and I looked up at Jim's eyes. "Not a bicycle." I reached down and pulled out my helmet. "Motorcycle."
He raked his eyes over me for about the third time since he'd met me. It was getting annoying. "You drive a motorcycle?"
"It goes with my name." I turned to walk away, but he held on tight.
"No, Harley. I'm with you, remember?"
"Fine." I reached down and handed him a second helmet I kept in the drawer in case I needed it. "Put it on and I'll see if you're worthy enough to ride on the back."
"I don't do motorcycles."
I never knew a man who didn't like motorcycles. What was wrong with this guy?
"Then you're out of luck," I said. "Call a cab and I'll see you later some time." I headed out of the room, but his hand on my elbow stopped me. He didn't look very friendly, either.
"No, you'll come with me," he growled. "You're my job. Someone was kidnapped from this place last week and I'm not taking any chances. If you remember, you're my job."
"Who was kidnapped?"
"Someone high up. He was a part-time guard and no one really knew him. But he had clout, and if he was kidnapped, anyone can be. No, you come with me."
I lifted my chin in defiance. No one was going to mess with Harley Black and win. I already knew I could take this guy on, and so did he. "We're taking my bike. I'm not leaving it here all night."
He studied my eyes and stroked the hair back from my face. "Do you drive safely?"
I backed away. I hated being touched. "Yep. Never got a ticket." I never looked away from him, making sure he knew I meant business. In his world, men thought they ruled, but in my world, I ruled, and he'd better realize that.
"Fine. You can drive then." He leaned down and kissed me. His skin was hot, and I could feel his minty breath brush over my cheek. "Don't ever forget you're dating me, got it?"
I hated this. "What happens if I do or Billy comes back?"
He pulled me in for a hug and massaged my back. "You'll see the inside of a jail cell," he whispered. "We don't know for sure if your loyalty is to the U.S. or not, and if you disobey me, you'll be considered a risk to national security."
"Nice threat," I whispered. "Are you going to hold that over my head for everything?"
He leaned back with a grin. "I can try." He took the helmet in his hand. "I'm driving." He tried walking away with his hand still holding onto my arm, but I stayed put, making him almost fall backward.
"Not on my bike, you're not," I said.
He moved very close to my ear. "Listen to me or it's jail for you," he whispered.
"Stick me in jail, then. I have rights and no one drives my bike but me."
We were at an impasse. He stared me down, but there was no way he could win.
"Fine," he finally said. "But you go the speed limit."
There was no way I'd do that, because he'd just challenged me. I left a grin cover my face, knowing his weakness.
As we walked out of the room, he grabbed my hand, leaning up to my ear. "We're dating, remember?"
"How could I forget something so wonderful?" I knew my tone was sarcastic, but he deserved it. I even shot him a smile while thinking of ways to kill the guy. I should be so lucky.
We passed some of the members of the United Nations when Felix Ernst, the German Ambassador, put his arm over my right shoulder. Jim was on my left.
"Harley, what happened upstairs after lunch?" Felix's accent was strong, but he was very good at speaking English. Considering German wasn't one of the languages we interpreted, he had no choice but to use one of the other languages or bring his own interpreter.
Jim leaned forward to see Felix. "Lover's quarrel. We worked it out." He glanced at my face with a snide grin. He'd pay, somehow.
Felix lifted one eyebrow. "Is this a new boyfriend?"
"Uh, sort of." I glanced toward Jim. "I'm breaking him in."
Felix laughed, but Jim squeezed my hand. As I darted my eyes toward Jim, he clenched his jaw. I let go of his hand, but he grabbed it again, holding on tightly.
"Well, then I guess fixing you up with my son is out of the question, since you're taken," Felix said to me.
"For now." Jim squeezed my hand again. "And probably for a long time." He stopped squeezing my hand, to my relief. I pulled it from his grasp and massaged it but didn't say a word. Rotten man.
Felix chuckled. "Can you both come over for dinner? My wife's making German sausage and potatoes. That's my favorite."
"Not tonight," I said. "I hope it's good though."
Felix leaned over and kissed my cheek. "Have a great evening."
He left my side and Jim wrapped his arm around my shoulders, leaning close to my ear. "Never again. I'm not going to be whipped by a woman. Got it?"
"Such a romantic."
He moved to stand in front of me, very close to my face, even though he was a few inches taller. "I'm serious. I'm in charge in this relationship and you're not 'training me.'" He put his hands on both of my shoulders.
"Sure." I smiled to myself. He was like putty in my hands.
"Good. Now that we have that understood, I'm driving. My masculinity depends on it." He held out his hand. "The keys?"
"Nope. My bike and you'll have to arrest me before you drive it."
He shook his head, sighed, and looked at his watch. "Just for tonight. We'll have my car as soon as we get to your apartment."
He took a step toward the door, but I stopped him from walking away. "You know where I live?"
He leaned toward my ear. "I know everything about you. Your younger brother is Scotty and you have another brother Harold in upstate New York. Your parents died two years ago, when you came back from working at the United Nations offices in Geneva, dating some guy named Claus. He dumped you when you told him you had to take care of Scotty, because Harold wasn't dependable. I just didn't know what you looked like, in person. Your driver's license didn't do you justice."
I was stunned. "How do you know this?"
"I know everything, remember? Now can we get out of here before everyone wonders why we aren't leaving?"
I couldn't wait to grill this guy. Tying him to my bed and beating him until he talked came to mind, but I had a feeling he wouldn't stand—or lie—for that. However, I had to keep reminding myself that I could beat him up. Since I had the upper hand in combat, he'd better take me seriously.
I took him to my motorcycle in the parking garage. After storing my purse in a saddlebag, I pulled all my long hair to the back and yanked on my helmet.
He stared at me and touched my hair. "You're beautiful. Do you know that?"
I think I caught him off guard, because he laughed and crossed his arms. "Egotistical, too."
"Yep." I yanked the visor down on the helmet and got onto the bike. He pulled on his helmet and sat behind me, his hands going around my waist.
"I like this," he said into my ear.
I just grinned. He'd have an entirely different idea about this closeness after we made it home.
Just as I started the bike, a black car spun around the corner, screeching its tires. Both Jim and I turned to watch the car heading straight for us. I moved the bike up as far as I could, and just as the car sped past, the door opened and a body was hurled out of the car. I looked down, horror filling my thoughts as soon as I saw the guy's face.
It was Ali.