A slow vibration against her bare skin.
Just above her breasts.
Her hand flew to the wafer-thin locket she wore on a gold chain around her neck. The modest piece of jewelry didn’t go with her designer gown, which called for diamonds or flashy rubies, but Margarita never went anywhere without the small, oblong gold disk. When she flattened a palm over the locket and felt its barely discernible signal, excitement shoved everything but one thought from her mind.
SPEAR. She had to find a private corner, and fast! Someplace she could use the tiny transceiver tucked in her beaded handbag. With a toss of her head, she cut Carlos off at the knees.
“That was…enjoyable. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better return to the ball.”
Carlos waited until she’d swept through the open French doors to unclench the fists he’d dug into his pockets.
There was nothing the least enjoyable about that kiss! Every nerve in his body snapped with desire. His groin ached so fiercely, he could barely stand upright. Another moment or two with Margarita’s mouth under his and he would have dragged her down on the damned balcony, ripped off that handkerchief she called a gown and blown his chances with her forever.
He knew her so well. He’d watched her mature from a bright, eager girl into a stubborn, determined woman. Had wanted her for as long as he could remember. He’d been biding his time since she returned from the States, waiting for her to find a middle ground between the liberal concepts she’d absorbed during her years abroad and the more traditional ways of Madrileño. He’d declared himself a year ago and waited patiently for her to recognize how well matched they were. At this moment, he wasn’t sure he was going to survive the wait!
Intellectually, Carlos accepted that Margarita had to find her own way to him. That he couldn’t force her into his bed…as much as he’d like to. Nor could he force her to admit she wasn’t any more immune to the electricity that crackled between them than he was. All he could do was keep applying pressure. And keep in rigid check his growing urge to claim her in the most elemental way a man can claim his woman.
Holding back got more and more difficult every day. At the thought of her thick, silky black hair tumbling over naked shoulders and her slender body hot and urgent beneath his, the ache in his groin doubled.
Shaking his head at the follies of men, Carlos reached into his tuxedo pocket for a cigar. From past encounters with the stubborn woman he was determined to make his own, he knew it would take some time before the clamor in his body subsided and he could rejoin the others in the ballroom.
A wry smile twisting his lips, he bit off the end of the cigar. Margarita had no idea the knots she tied in his gut with a single flash of her magnificent violet eyes. If he was to retain any semblance of his masculinity, Carlos had better make sure she never did.
The way he felt right now, that might be far easier said than done.
Impatience beat at Margarita like the wings of the millions of monarch butterflies that made Madrileño their summer home. Dodging guests with a smile and the excuse that she was looking for her father, she slipped down one brilliantly lit corridor after another. It was almost impossible to find a private niche in the Presidential Palace that served double duty as the seat of government as well as her aunt and uncle’s home. Ball guests mingled in the anterooms and hallways, exchanging news about the latest diplomatic crises. Uniformed aides hurried to and fro. Servants jumped to open doors.
Finally she found a deserted chamber. The small room with its deep crimson walls and gilt-edged portraits of past presidents was used to receive lesser diplomats. Its single door and heavy velvet drapes that would absorb sound suited her needs perfectly.
Closing the door behind her, she fumbled in her beaded bag for a small, flat instrument closely resembling an ordinary cellular phone. Only she and the other SPEAR operatives knew the powerful capabilities packed into its innocuous plastic case. She punched in her code, spoke a few casual words and waited for the voice-activated sensors at the other end to verify her identity.
When she was patched into Central Control, she recognized the agent who responded immediately. Rangy, blue-eyed Marcus Waters had shared weeks of brutal survival training with Margarita—and let her know in his grinning, cocky way that he wouldn’t mind sharing a bed with her as well. She’d laughed off his offer at the time, but she wasn’t laughing as she listened to the astounding information Marcus relayed.
“We just got word your Madrileñan police bagged a very interesting fish in that big drug bust yesterday.”
“Who?” she demanded, too keyed up after her session with Carlos for word games.
“Brace yourself, babe. From the physical description flashed over the Net, we think he may be Simon.”
Margarita’s jaw dropped. “The man we’ve been hunting the past six months? The same man we suspect of executing a personal vendetta against SPEAR?”
“That’s the one,” Marcus said cheerfully. “Jonah’s in the air as we speak, on his way to San Rico.”
Jonah! The shadowy head of SPEAR. He was legend in the agency. A voice on the phone. A cryptic telegram. A cassette tape hand-delivered in a bouquet of flowers. The fact that he was now enroute to San Rico set her pulse jumping.
“He wants you to hightail it over to the Bastille where your guys are holding Simon,” Marcus instructed. “Just to make sure the bastard doesn’t bribe his way out of custody.”
In the midst of her clamoring excitement, Margarita could still feel a twinge of pique on behalf of her countrymen. “Not every Latin American official takes bribes.”
“Of course not. Only the ones who’ve gone bad. And unfortunately, they aren’t restricted to Latin American. Let me know as soon as you get Simon in your gun sights.”
Her momentary irritation forgotten, Margarita jammed the transmitter into her purse and willed herself to walk sedately through the crowded corridors. At last she reached the tall, arched doors that led to the plaza outside. Weaving her way through the limos lining the square, she quickly plotted her course of action.
Her condo was less than a block away, one of a cluster of new buildings that clung to a steep hillside. She’d purchased the airy little one-bedroom over her father’s strenuous objections and her mother’s very vocal fears for a young girl living alone. It hadn’t done the least good for Margarita to remind her mother she’d left girlhood behind her years ago.
She could change and arrive at the grim fortress that served as Madrileño’s central prison in less than ten minutes. Fifteen at most. From past visits to the dark, dank prison, she knew the rats that scurried along its narrow passages were the size of small dogs. She wasn’t going inside its walls until she donned a long-sleeved blouse, sturdy jeans and boots.
She wouldn’t need to invent an excuse to see the prisoner. As the niece of the President, she could pretty well go where she wished. Just in case anyone asked, though, she’d fabricate a cover story about needing to interview the prisoner to gather information for her job as an analyst at the Ministry of Economics.
In her simmering excitement, Margarita didn’t so much as glance over her shoulder at the ornate facade of the Presidential Palace…or spare a thought for the man she’d left cooling his heels on its balcony.
A relic of the days of Spanish rule, the Castillo San Giorgo sat like a stone monolith on a spit of land jutting into the sea. Almost five feet thick at the base, its walls had been constructed of a local stone the conquistadores had labeled coquina. The Spanish had used the same material to construct their fort at Saint Augustine, Florida, which Margarita had visited during her years in the States.