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Giselle Hardy is living in Naples, Italy, when terrorists attempt to kidnap her. As her father, Admiral Thaddeus Hardy, prepares to host classified Middle East peace talks, the terrorists will stop at nothing to halt the meetings. Marine Raz Chayil comes to her rescue. But as she's drawn deeper into Middle Eastern politics, Giselle discovers he's the most intriguing---and dangerous---man she'll ever know. 320 pages, softcover from Kregel.
The Americano was an easy target. Eloisa had spotted him ten minutes before, and the little band of ladri not long after. There he was on the waterfront, doling out small bills, like some great white father, to the children who were crowding around, jostling, he assumed, in their eagerness for his charity. What they were really doing was cutting the strap on his expensive digital video camera.
There! It was done, and one of the children raced away, the strap trailing like a banner behind him. The man noticed something amiss and turned, and another, still braver, thief seized the opportunity to snatch the wallet from his hand.
The man shouted after them, doing his red-faced best to follow the giggling group, which scattered, dissolving swiftly into their native streets.
Eloisa loved her little dress shop by the marina. It didn't make much money, but it had big bay windows overlooking the streets of her beloved, crowded Napoli. When she wasn't busy making alterations or waiting on clienti, she could watch the boats churning the glittering waters of the bay. In season, she could see the city afresh, through the eyes of the tourists who wandered by. And too often these days, she could also watch dramas such as this unfold before her.
Turning from the window, she whispered a soft prayer, calling on her Jesus to reach out to those children and to help them turn away from the roads they were taking in life. She prayed for the tourist, too, even though she sensed that this small loss would be no more than an inconvenience. She prayed that he would learn to love those who harmed him, as Christ had loved his tormentors, even as they crucified him.
Eloisa loved to pray, loved to spend time with Jesus, interceding for the people she saw every day. She prayed for her family, her children and grandchildren who lived in Roma, for her customers, who came in often, sometimes not so much to shop as to enjoy Eloisa's genuine interest in them. And she prayed for the other foreigners who came here, the tourists and the Americani from the Navy commands in Naples and nearby Gaeta.
There was one here today, a girl who often received her special prayers, for Eloisa sensed a shadow of sadness about her.
The girl had narrowed her selection to two blouses, but at the moment was distracted by a group of local girls who were gathered at the next rack, examining skirts and giggling about boys. If not for her slightly foreign manner, this girl was near enough in looks to be one of them, with hair the color of polished mahogany, gray eyes, and a slight stature not typical of the raw-boned American women. At a new peal of giggles, she smiled softly, wistfully, as if she wished to join them. Instead, she returned to her selections, resolutely ignoring their fun.
Eloisa's heart went out to this girl, the daughter of Captain Thaddeus Hardy, the chief of staff of the U.S. Sixth Fleet. The child's life could not be easy. She had never known a home, only a series of sterile military housing facilities. She had never known true famiglia, the sense of belonging that came from growing up among brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
She also had never known lasting friendship. Eloisa knew that military children quickly learned to hold themselves apart, never growing too close, never trusting too much. During her family's first assignment here, the girl, Eloisa knew, had suffered the loss of three close friendships, before learning that hard-won lesson. They had returned recently after a series of other assignments around the world, and in the time she was gone, the girl's reserve had become even more pronounced.
Eloisa rose and went to join her young customer, lifting up a prayer for wisdom in what to say. "Buon giorno, Giselle." She gave the name its European pronunciation: Zheezelle. "Perhaps I can help you today?" And perhaps she could try once again to share with this young woman the one Friend who would always love her and never desert her, no matter who else came and went.
"Buon giorno, Eloisa," the girl replied, clearly pleased to have some attention. She turned around, holding her two blouses up against her breast. "Which do you think is better, the red or the gold?"
Eloisa paused to study her, and realized with some surprise that this girl was fast becoming a woman. She remembered the day that she'd first seen her, a child perhaps eight years old, following her mother on their first shopping trip in Napoli. Her face still bore the same sweet innocence, with her bright eyes and soft, dimpled cheek. But her figure had matured, even since the last time she'd shopped here; this girl would soon draw men's eyes with more than paternal indulgence. Giselle had reached that glorious time in life that every woman remembers with a smile, when love is new and sweet and pure.
Eloisa breathed a prayer that the purity would remain. "Both blouses are lovely with your coloring," she counseled. "But perhaps the gold is best."
"Si, grazie, Eloisa." Without further consideration, Giselle returned the red blouse to its place on the rack, then reached for her billfold. "Quanto costa?"
"For you, cara, I make this one a gift." Eloisa reached out to smooth the girl's hair. "You have been a good customer, and I am fond of you."
Giselle's expression of surprised pleasure was touching—she was clearly unaccustomed to gifts of affection. "Grazie, Eloisa."
Eloisa carried the blouse to the counter and expertly folded it with a tissue to protect it from wrinkles. "What is the occasion for a blouse so special?"
"I graduate from school next week. My father's giving a party for my class."
Eloisa noted that the girl had not mentioned her mother and wondered briefly about it. Dolores Hardy seldom shopped here anymore; Eloisa had heard she was often ill. Too ill, even, to involve herself in a party for her daughter?
Eloisa thought to ask about her, but had not yet formed the question when a man entered the shop. Eloisa's gaze rose from his uniform with its Shore Patrol armband to a dark, pockmarked face that bore scabs from a hasty shaving. She recoiled from the man's eyes, which blazed with an unnerving intensity. Her spirit told her something was very wrong.
"Miss Hardy." For an Americano, this man spoke with odd formality. "There has been an emergency. I am ordered to escort you to the command."
The girl nodded, clearly accustomed to obedience without question. The blouse was forgotten as Giselle allowed the man to take her arm and lead her from the store. They were gone before Eloisa could collect her thoughts to pray about the worry that was rising in her heart.
* * * * *
As they left the store, the shore patrol officer took Giselle's arm, guiding her firmly toward a waiting staff car. His face was tight, anxious, and he glanced over his shoulder as if concerned that someone might follow.
Something was wrong, Giselle realized, and it had to be something terrible. Her father had never sent for her before, not even when her mother had been hospitalized last year. She noted with increasing alarm that his guard, whose name read Zarid, was armed. Navy personnel didn't carry weapons among the civilian populace unless there was trouble.
"What happened?" she asked, trying to sound calm despite her growing fear. "Are my parents OK?"
Zarid shrugged, his face inscrutable. "I was told nothing." Gripping her arm more tightly, he quickened his pace. She nearly had to run to keep up.
Reaching the car, Zarid reached across her to open the back door. Giselle noticed that he positioned himself so that she was cornered between him and the car. Was he sheltering her from possible harm?
Giselle hesitated. "What about my car? Maybe I should follow you back to Gaeta."
Zarid shook his head, his jaw tightening. "It can be retrieved later. Please get in."
A sudden movement caught her eye, and she whirled with Zarid to find a stranger hurtling toward them, vaulting the front of the staff car to confront Zarid. He wore combat boots, chinos, and a T-shirt, all black. Even though he wore no uniform, his bearing was decidedly military.
The hair on Giselle's nape snapped to attention. Mercenary!
Zarid drew his gun from its holster, then caught Giselle by the waist and pulled her against his chest. Giselle stared at the weapon, thinking absurdly that it didn't look like a Beretta, the handgun issued at Gaeta.
The dark man advanced quickly. A knife appeared in his hand and flashed toward them, a terrifying blaze of steel. Giselle flinched away, expecting at any second to feel the metal slash her face.
There was a grunt, a shudder against her back; Giselle looked up to find the blade buried in Zarid's throat. She screamed as he fell, spilling warm blood down her shoulder as he crumpled to the pavement.
The assassin caught her and shoved her behind him, trapping her against the open door of the car. A young seaman in an ill-fitting uniform ran toward them, shouldering an assault rifle and looking for a vantage where the car didn’t block his shot.
The dark man rushed forward as the seaman rounded the staff car, catching the rifle barrel and forcing it down. A short automatic burst ravaged the rear tire of the staff car as he twisted the weapon from the seaman's hands. Slinging the rifle under the car, the dark man's fist connected powerfully with the seaman's throat.
Giselle heard a snap as the seaman's larynx collapsed. A horrible gurgling sound came from his mouth, followed by a foamy trickle of blood.
The boy's eyes stared helplessly as he slid to the ground, struggling for air that would not come. Giselle watched in horror was he died before her eyes.
It was slow, far too slow. And painful. But she couldn't turn away. Time seemed to freeze. In the stillness of death, she could almost hear her own heart beating. She lifted her eyes to the killer, found him staring at her. The intensity of his gaze was paralyzing; she wanted to run, but couldn't. Involuntarily, her hand came up to protect her own throat.
A car pulled to the curb; a door swung open. "Hurry . . . there might be more of them!" the driver shouted.
The assassin glanced at the new arrival, and the spell between them was broken. Gathering her wits, Giselle turned and raced for Eloisa's store.
He had her before she was halfway there, catching her by the waist and dragging her back to the waiting car.
Struggling to break free, Giselle screamed at the gathering crowd. No one moved to help. Their faces were shocked, uncertain, terrified.
The man threw her roughly across the back floor of the car, and dived in across her, his body covering hers. The car squealed forward, its impetus slamming the door.
She was pinned, helpless beneath his weight, her left arm trapped between them, her right pinned against the back seat of the car. He lifted a little, staring down at her. Then, with a surprising gentleness, he reached up to brush the hair from her eyes.
A new fear welled up in her as she met his eyes. She screamed, wrenching her left hand free and raking her nails down his cheek in a desperate attempt to break free.
He cursed, capturing her hand and pinning it above her head. With his free hand he covered her mouth, trying to smother her screams. "Be still," he demanded roughly. "We're not going to hurt you . . ." He cursed again as her teeth sank into his finger, jerking his hand away as if tempted to hit her.
"You OK back there?" the driver called.
"Just drive!" the dark man growled.
"Let me go!" Giselle snarled. "If you touch me, I swear I'll kill you both!"
He appeared unmoved by her threat. "You're a regular little tiger, aren't you, kid?" His tone was casual, almost pleasant.
Furious, she spat in his face.
His look of astonished anger gave way to a slow smile, which let his eyes with genuine mirth. The man began to laugh, his teeth gleaming white. Still pinned and helpless, Giselle raged silently.
"I don’t think we're being followed," the driver said finally.
The dark man eased his weight off her, straddling her hips to keep her pinned as he stretched to peer out the rear window. Satisfied, he released her wrists and moved to the seat. "You can sit up now," he told her. "Are you OK?"
Giselle slapped his hand away, scrambling to the far door before pulling herself up to the seat.
"Maybe I should introduce myself." He offered his hand, a sardonic grin on his face.
"It doesn't matter who you are," she snapped, ignoring his gesture. "You'll be dead when my father catches you."
Still smiling, he withdrew his hand. "Have it your way."
She glanced out the window. The traffic light at the next intersection was changing; the car began to slow. . . .
With a sudden movement, she flung open the door and launched herself from the car.
In a flash, he had her roughly by the arm, dragging her back into the car and flinging her across the seat. Cursing, he straddled her legs. He gripped her jaw with a rough hand, forcing her to look at him, his black eyes flashing dangerously. "Don't!" he warned harshly. "Don’t try it again."
When she didn't move, he cautiously reached back to his pocket.
She decided to slap him, caught him once hard across the jaw. She was going for a second strike when he caught her hand midway. Circling her wrists again with one hand, he held a card before her eyes. "Read it," he ordered, his voice a menacing growl.
It was a military ID, identifying the man as First Lieutenant Raz Chayil, attached to a Marine Corps division assigned to the Naval Support Activity facility at Gaeta.
The driver glanced back at her. "Those guys back there were probably terrorists. It's a good thing Raz wanted to swing past Eloisa's to have his new uniform altered or they'd have taken you for sure." He pronounced his friend's name "Rahz," so that is sounded kind of like "Oz."
She stared at the driver, then at Chayil, then at the card again.
His eyes laughed at her embarrassment as she began to realize what had really taken place. At her pointed stare, he chuckled and released her wrists.
He was taken by surprise when she slapped him again.
* * * * *
Later that day, Giselle was called to her father's office, which was set up in a wing of their lovely Italian villa that sat just outside the small Naval Support Activity compound at the top of Monte Orlando in Gaeta.
She passed the foyer, a small room with a sofa and coffee table set up for visitors, and found the door slightly ajar. She peered in curiously.
Officially, the command staff of the Sixth Fleet conducted business from offices aboard the command ship. But practically, when the ship was in its home port, Thaddeus Hardy preferred to work as much as possible from his home office. Giselle appreciated this, sensing it was his way of trying to make up to his family for his extended absences, when the flagship was touring the Mediterranean.
Dominated by an antique oak desk that he'd bought himself, the captain's office was in perfect order, with a green blotter precisely squared at the center, and a wooden work basket on the corner nearest the door. There was no mess, no clutter; as elsewhere in Thaddeus Hardy's life, everything had its place. Giselle's place was usually not here. As chief of staff, Thaddeus was second-in-command to the admiral who commanded the U.S. Sixth Fleet, the Naval Support Activity here at Gaeta. Additionally, the facility supported a NATO telecommunications school. Much of Thaddeus' work was highly classified.
Giselle tapped the door.
Her father glanced up and smiled, picking up a stack of papers and tapping them straight, then placing them—face down—in his work basket. "Giselle, come in."
She obeyed, crossing to his side of the desk to deliver a kiss on the cheek before moving to stand across from him.
"Sit down," he offered, gesturing to the ancient burgundy leather armchair that stood against the wall next to the file cabinet. Her father kept if for visitors, but placed it out of the way so that it had to be pulled out for use—something no one would do unless invited. Keeping visitor standing, he said, tended to keep discussions brief.
It was the first time Giselle had been offered the chair, it seemed a tremendous honor. Trying to conceal her surprise, she positioned it and sat.
The captain clasped his hands on the desk before him. He wore his most casual uniform, a crisp khaki shirt with matching trousers and belt. On his chest above his pocket, six smart rows of ribbons stood as vibrant reminders of his accomplishments.
If ever a man was meant to wear a uniform, Giselle decided, it was her father. With his deeply tanned face, authoritative gray-blue eyes and silver hair, she suspected that people didn't even need to see his insignia before they saluted. The lines at his eyes were not from smiling, but from years of sun reflected off the brilliant sea. This was a man of action, a hero, and not only in his daughter's eyes.
He gazed at her intently. "I'm told you were every brave today."
She dropped her eyes. "I didn’t feel brave," she whispered. "I was scared to death." And fighting the wrong men, she almost added.
"I've never seen an act of courage that wasn't committed by someone scared to death," he assured her. "I'm proud of you."
Giselle nodded, fighting down a lump in her throat. She closed her eyes and saw the terrorists again, dying as she watched. Thinking about it made her feel sick.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I never wanted you to see that kind of horror." Her father's voice was strangely thick, and when she looked up, she saw that his eyes were damp. She burst into tears.
He hurried around the desk and pulled her into his arms. She squeezed his waist fiercely, wanting to loose herself in the scent of starch and aftershave. He held her so tightly that she could barely breathe, and for the first time, she began to feel safe again.
When his arms finally loosened, she realized that her forehead had been pressed against the eagle on her collar. She brought up a hand to touch the imprint.
He smiled. "Your mother complains about that, too."
Giselle laughed. "She says you even wear it to bed."
"A slight exaggeration," the captain told her fondly. It was tacitly agreed between them that her mother's resentment of his military service, like her drinking, were not to be discussed. Together, Giselle and her father pretended that all was well, and when things got so bad that pretending wasn't possible, they found things to do away from home. The shared secret had brought them closer than most military fathers and daughters.
Her father took her arms and put her away from him, giving her a long once-over. He drew in his breath and let out another sigh, his eyes growing misty again. "I hadn't realized how you've grown up. You'll be going off to university this fall, won't you?"
She nodded, suddenly wishing she could turn back the calendar. Never grow up. Never move away. The world was a terrifying place.
Her father squeezed her shoulders, then returned to his chair. "What happened today was an isolated incident—it will never happen again." He spoke as if issuing a command to the cosmos, and some part of Giselle believed it would obey. "But I want you to learn how to take care of yourself before you leave for school. Just so you'll feel safer. Report to the gymnasium tomorrow at 1300 hours for self-defense lessons."
"Yes, sir," Giselle replied automatically. He had been giving an order, not asking for her opinion.
Her father smiled and returned to his paperwork.
Dismissed, she made her way out of the office, closing the door quietly behind her.
Divided Loyalties by L.K. Malone, copyright 2002.
Used by permission of Kregel Publications. All rights reserved.