Sidney Sheldon’s Reckless

“Shit.” Jeff could hear the general’s mind racing. Presumably Tracy Whitney must believe Hunter Drexel would show up tonight, or she wouldn’t be going. And it made sense. Cauchin was probably the biggest name in the fracking industry in the whole of France. “Does the CIA know about this?”

“I don’t think so. Walton thinks she’s tracking Althea.”

“And Cameron Crewe?”

“She hasn’t called him today,” Jeff said. “I think she’s working alone on this. We have to get down there, Frank. We have to protect her.”

“Of course,” Frank Dorrien said smoothly. “We’re on it. Just sit tight.”

“Sit tight?” Jeff said. “I’m not sitting anywhere. I’m going to that game.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You’ll blow your cover. The moment Tracy sees you she’ll . . . Jeff? Jeff!”

The line was dead.

PASCAL CAUCHIN WAS IN an excellent mood.

He’d just finalized a lucrative deal to joint rights in a new gas pipeline, running from Bratislava to Poland and the East. His mistress had returned from a trip to Florida last night with even bigger breast implants that Pascal couldn’t wait to get his hands on. And tonight’s poker game looked set to be extremely interesting.

Lex Brightman, the flamboyantly gay New Yorker, was attending. Pascal Cauchin had only met Brightman once before, at a house party last weekend, but in that short time the theater producer had impressed him as displaying a uniquely American combination of arrogance and stupidity that boded well for tonight’s game. “I’m a pretty great poker player, if I do say so myself,” Brightman had informed Pascal, proceeding to talk him play by play through some of what he considered to be his top techniques for outwitting his opponents.

Pascal was looking forward to relieving Lex Brightman of a considerable sum of money.

Another new player was expected too, a last-minute addition by the name of Jeremy Sands. Pascal’s good friend, the art dealer Antione de la Court, had called just an hour ago to have Sands added to the guest list.

“You’ll like him. He’s a good player. Funny. Very well connected.”

Pascal wavered.

“He invested four hundred million in alternative energy companies last year.”

Sands was in.

And finally there was the lovely Mrs. Morgan Drake. Mary Jo. The Texas widow wasn’t Pascal’s usual type. He normally went for curvy blond girls, and rarely looked at anyone older than twenty-five. Mary Jo was a grown woman, and slender to the point of boyishness. When he’d bumped into her at the Ritz bar last week, her small, apple breasts had been discreetly concealed beneath an expensive gray silk blouse and her dark hair swept up in a demure chignon. And yet there was something intensely sexually compelling about her. Perhaps it was the intoxicating green eyes? In any event, in the week since they met Pascal had found himself fantasizing more and more about taking Mrs. Morgan Drake to bed, ripping off those demure clothes and unleashing what he very much hoped would be the tigress within. When she admitted an interest in cards, he immediately extended an invitation to tonight’s game and arranged for his wife, Alissa, to pay a visit to her sister in Lyons.

He would make sure that Mary Jo won a few hands at least, and that her cocktails were double strength. After that, it should be plain sailing.

“Excuse me, Sir.” A liveried butler appeared in the doorway of Cauchin’s palatial salon. “Mrs. Morgan Drake has arrived early. Should I have her wait in the library?”

Pascal smiled broadly.

Perfect! She’s the first to arrive. She’s obviously keen.

“No, no, Pierre. That’s all right. You can show her straight up.”

JEFF SAT IN THE back of the taxi, his fists clenched. All around him drivers were leaning on their horns, a cacophony of stress that was having precisely zero effect on the crawling rush hour traffic.

“Can’t you do anything?” Jeff asked the driver, in faltering French. “Try another route?”

The man gave a nonchalant, Gallic shrug. “Friday night. Les embouteillages sont partout.”

“It’s very important I get there quickly.”

Antoine de la Court, an old friend from Jeff’s days as an art thief, had pulled some serious strings to get Jeff invited to tonight’s game. But if Hunter Drexel got there before him . . . and if Tracy tried to confront him alone . . . Jeff felt his blood pressure soaring.

“Please!” He thrust a fat wad of euro notes at the driver. “C’est très important.”

Reaching back to take the money, the driver smiled, leaned uselessly on his horn, and inched forward into the gridlock.


Jamie MacIntosh paced tensely around his London office. The Thames crawled sluggishly beneath his window, which was smeared by a steady stream of gray drizzle. It was the most inauspicious of days. Rainy. Dull. Lifeless. And yet in Paris, Jamie’s team might be just minutes away from apprehending Hunter Drexel.

“Have you got eyes on Drexel?”

“Not yet.” Major General Frank Dorrien sounded equally tense. Jeff Stevens was planning to go rogue and show up at the poker game as a player, revealing himself to Tracy and potentially blowing the whole operation out of the water. Frank was in a café directly opposite Cauchin’s apartment building. He had a man on the roof, one more in the lobby, and two on the street entrances at front and back of the building.

“What about the others?” Jamie asked.

“Tracy Whitney’s inside. So are the other three players. Stevens is a no-show so far.”

“Maybe he couldn’t get on Cauchin’s list so late in the day?” Jamie suggested hopefully.

“He’ll get in there somehow,” Frank said grimly. “He’s terrified for Tracy. I showed him Drexel’s file yesterday.”

Jamie erupted. “You what?!”

“It was a calculated risk.”

“Miscalculated! Are you out of your mind?”

Frank’s voice dropped to a whisper.

“He’s here.”

“Who? Who’s there? Drexel or Stevens?”

“Gotta go.”

“FRANK!” Jamie MacIntosh roared. But it was too late.

Slamming the phone down in frustration, he started pacing again.

“MARY JO. LET ME get you another drink.”

Pascal Cauchin was leaning over Tracy on the chaise longue, so close that she could smell the toothpaste on his breath and the desire seeping through his pores. Cauchin was tall and thin, with dry skin and thin lips that he kept darting his tongue over to keep them moist. He had long fingers and large, wide-set eyes that bulged and swiveled constantly around the room, as if searching for danger. Or perhaps opportunity. He reminded Tracy of a lizard. Cold-blooded, quick, and slippery, with a nasty bite.

“Oh, ahm fine thanks, darlin’, ” Tracy protested. Her last gin and tonic had been ridiculously strong. She still hadn’t formulated a definite plan for what she would do once Hunter Drexel arrived, but she knew she would need her wits about her.

“I insist,” Cauchin purred. “Pierre? Another gin for the lady.”

“Isn’t it time we got started, Pascal?”

Albert Dumas, a newspaper mogul and regular at the Montmartre poker evenings, was getting irritated. It wasn’t like Pascal to wait for latecomers. If the two Americans, Jeremy Sands and the other chap, Brightman, couldn’t be bothered to show up on time, they didn’t deserve to play at a top French table.

“We’ll give them five more minutes,” Cauchin said, not taking his eyes off Mary Jo, who had pulled out all the stops tonight in a backless green dress that was making it very hard for him to concentrate. The drunker he could get her before they started, the better.

HUNTER SAW FRANK DORRIEN first. He recognized the man in the café from Sally Faiers’s description, although even without it the general’s hiding behind Le Figaro was crashingly obvious.

So. The British are here.

From the direction of Dorrien’s glances, he ascertained that they had a man on the roof and possibly another at the back of Cauchin’s building. There was no sign of the CIA.

It’s risky, Hunter thought. Very risky. But not impossible.

From his alleyway vantage point he saw the other players arrive. He recognized Albert Dumas, but not the quirky little fellow in the bow tie, nor the overdressed but beautiful woman in the green evening dress.

Hunter wanted to play tonight, badly. He wanted to beat Pascal Cauchin, to see the look on his face when he lost his shirt. But not at any cost.

Sliding farther back into the shadows he watched and waited.

“I EXPECT JEREMY’S STUCK in traffic,” Antoine de la Court said nervously. “He’s usually very punctual.”

Albert Dumas gave the art dealer a disdainful look. He’d never been fond of the mincing de la Court, with his bow ties and gossipy anecdotes about the art world and affected way of tossing his bald head back when he laughed. It didn’t help that Antoine was an excellent poker player, as cunningly skillful as he was charming. Albert had lost a lot of money to the ghastly little fag over the years.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon