This is an unedited preview of Chapter 1, part 1 of Girl of Vengeance. It contains spoilers.
Dylan Paris still felt a little woozy, a sharp pain stabbing his forehead as he walked between two Royal Marines. They wore sharp uniforms—form fitting navy blue suits with white belts, rank insignia on the shoulder just like U.S. Marines (though upside down to Dylan’s eyes), white leather-brimmed officer’s caps with a red band. Unfamiliar insignia graced the collars and belts, and they wore medals on their chest rather than ribbons. Despite the finery, they wore serviceable sidearms, mean-looking Glock 17 pistols with a dull black finish. These guys were for real. And they were pissed.
It was all right. He was alive, and by the fact that he was now being escorted into the Embassy for an interview with Prince George-Phillip, he guessed he’d successfully distracted the Marines long enough for Andrea to make it over the wall. His hands were zip-tied behind his back, and his head hurt, but he was pretty sure she’d made it.
The Marines didn’t take him toward the main Embassy building, a relatively modern 3 story glass and brick affair which dominated the grounds. Instead, he followed them (or rather, walked in between them) toward the three-story brick building he recognized as the VIP residence. His heart was pounding. What if Andrea was hurt?
At the sound of a roaring engine, Dylan glanced over his shoulder. The fluorescent green Oldsmobile he’d bought from Mendoza now had a Royal Marine behind the wheel. It was moving into the Embassy compound. He turned back to their destination.
The temperature dropped rapidly when they stepped into a large, dimly lit foyer inside the building. Dylan’s eyes scanned the room, noting the three other exits and the broad staircase which circled around the left side of the room. The floors were highly polished and sported a twenty-foot wide Persian carpet which probably cost more than Dylan’s lifetime income.
The first Marine said, “Stay here,” and the second grabbed Dylan’s arm. The first then walked away, his heels clicking on the marble floor.
That was the first chink in their armor. Real soldiers didn’t click their heels, they wore combat boots. Dylan continued to scan the room, noting escape routes along with more prosaic details like the crown molding. A moment later Clicking Heels came back down the hall and announced in stentorian tones, “His Highness The Prince will see you now.” The guards then took him by both arms and took down the hall to a scene that looked nothing like he expected.
Prince George-Phillip he recognized instantly. For the one thing, the family resemblance was startling. He was at least six feet six inches—Ray Sherman’s height. Tall and lanky, with thick eyebrows and a hawk nose but otherwise with facial features similar to both Carrie and Andrea. His eyes, deep blue-green, were watering slightly.
“This is your accomplice, then?”
Andrea, who stood several feet away, nodded. Beside her, a girl—maybe six or seven years old—stood holding Andrea’s hand. The girl looked just like Andrea. Then she spoke in a wary voice. “Yes.”
“Remove the restraints, please,” the Prince said to the guards. “Please have Gertrude set up coffee and drinks and lunch. In the sunroom. Jane will be joining us—”
One of the Marines spoke rapidly. “Your Highness, I must insist—”
“You’ll insist on nothing. I realize their entry was unconventional, but here they are.” Without another word, Prince George-Phillip dismissed the Royal Marines and approached Dylan. He held out a hand. “I’m George-Phillip. And you are?”
“Dylan Paris, um…. sir. I’m Andrea’s brother-in-law.”
The heel clicker produced a pair of scissors and cut the zip tie. Dylan immediately brought his hands in front of him, rubbing the wrists. Then he took Prince George-Phillip’s hand.
Andrea spoke immediately. “You acknowledge you’re my father, and you expect us to be able to just sit down for a cozy lunch?” Her voice was a high tension wire, ready to break at any moment.
“No, Andrea. But I’d like a chance to get to know you and for you to get to know me.”
Her expression remained blank, guarded. She nodded once. Dylan breathed a sigh of relief. He guessed he understood her hesitation. After sixteen years of being rejected by the person she thought was her father, it was no wonder she was gun shy about opening up to this remote man she’d never heard until yesterday.
“Dylan,” Andrea said. Her eyes were wide and her jaw was clenched as she spoke the words, and her vocal inflection strange. She was on the verge of hysteria. “Did you know I have another sister? Who I’ve never met? Jane, meet my friend Dylan.”
Her eyes watered, and mouth closed, she released a low rumbling growl in the back of her throat in an effort to suppress her tears. George-Phillip looked at her aghast, as if he’d never seen a woman cry before and had no idea what to do.
Maybe he didn’t. Dylan looked at him, met George-Phillip’s eyes, then jerked his head toward Andrea, trying to mentally send the command, Hug her, damn it.
Dylan didn’t know if George-Phillip got the message from his bad miming, or if his human instincts had suddenly clicked in, but regardless of the cause, the Prince moved toward Andrea with his arms out and a sympathetic expression on his face.
“There, there,” George-Phillip said. He rested his hands on Andrea’s shoulders. “There’s no need to cry. This is one of the happiest moments of my life. I want it to be the same for you.”
Andrea began to shake, violently, and she sobbed, unable to contain the tears. George-Phillip pulled her to him and put his arms around her. Andrea stayed still, arms at her sides, but she couldn’t contain her crying. She sobbed, loudly, the pent up terrible grief of a lifetime of hurt. George-Phillip murmured some meaningless sounds, and Jane put her arms around Andrea’s right leg.
“Why are you sad?” Jane asked.
That just caused Andrea to sob more. Finally, she managed to compose a meaningful sound, a single word that rang out in the room with far more weight than he would have guessed possible.
After she said the word, she pushed back against the Prince’s chest, forcing him to release her. Fiercely, she wiped her face with the sleeve of the George Mason University sweatshirt they had bought—what… two days ago? Dylan couldn’t keep track any more.
“Andrea… my daughter.” As he said the word daughter, Prince George-Phillips eyebrows seemed to do a solo dance, raising high up on his forehead. Hard to imagine, Dylan thought, that a man with no poker face at all could survive as the chief of intelligence of a large country.
George-Phillip continued. “Are you asking why I’m your father? Or why you never knew about it?”
“All of it,” Andrea demanded. “I want to know everything. I want to know why I was dumped off in another country and never knew either of my parents. I want to know why … why …”
She paused, trying to compose her face, then said, “I want to know why I was left to believe I wasn’t worth loving.”
George-Phillip looked somber. Dylan was usually a pretty good judge of people. And there was no question in his mind that the Prince was sincere. Men didn’t get that close to crying unless they were devastated.
“I’m so very sorry, Andrea. It breaks my heart that you didn’t grow up feeling loved.”
“You already broke mine,” she responded.
George-Phillip sagged. “Indeed. And Carrie’s, I suppose.”
“My mother would never have been ….” She whispered, “beaten and raped if she hadn’t gotten pregnant with Carrie. It was your fault.”
“That happened first nine months before Julia was born,” he replied in a sad voice.
Andrea closed her eyes. “They met in Spain. When she was eighteen. You’re telling me he forced her then?”
George-Phillip sighed and said, “I’m deeply sorry to be telling you this, Andrea. It happened when she was sixteen. And her father died a few weeks later.”
“I don’t … why did she marry him?”
“She was forced, Andrea. By her priest and her mother. Those days, things were different, especially in Spain.”
Andrea shook her head forcefully. “No. Abuelita? Not possible. She would never force her daughter to marry a rapist.” She hissed the next word. “Never.”
Dylan hoped Andrea wouldn’t piss off Prince George-Phillip to the point where they were forced to leave. He didn’t know what kind of legal limbo there were in—would they be arrested the moment they left the embassy? For that matter, the police probably didn’t know where they were.
He didn’t think George-Phillip would do that. But neither of them really knew him, did they? And he was the head of the British intelligence agency. You didn’t get to that kind of high-level position without the ability to make some cold-hearted decisions.
Prince George-Phillip remained patient. He said, “I know there is much you don’t know, Andrea, and much that you have every right to be angry about. I’d like to tell you as much as possible, if you’ll let me.”
With a quick, firm nod, she said, “Yes. Fine. And I am hungry. Wrestling with your guards is a lot of work.”
“Come, then. Both of you. Jane, go wash your hands, and you may join us in the sunroom.”
Prince George-Phillip showed them where they could clean up—the water-closet, he called it—and a few minutes later Andrea, George-Phillip, Dylan and Jane were sitting at a cozy table in a room dominated by large windows on three sides. Surrounding the sunroom was grass, leading off to the trees and the row of houses on the other side of the fence.
With a wry smile, George-Phillip said, “We’ll have to do an audit of security here,” he said. “If you’d been an assassin I would have been done for.”
Dylan thought the Prince was right, of course. Even though Dylan had distracted the Marines, a sixteen-year-old should never have made it into the building.
A woman wearing a knee length double breasted tunic poured tea for all of them. There was no sugar in sight, unfortunately.
“Summer sausage rolls, Your Highness, with mini sandwiches and custard kisses.”
Jane’s face lit up at the last and she reached for the pastry.
George-Phillip blocked her hand with his. “Have a sandwich or two first, Jane.”
The little girl pouted, but obeyed. Andrea watched with misty eyes, and Dylan—whose childhood had been a mess of alcoholics and abuse—understood exactly why. It’s what he had always wanted too—a simple, domestic existence, with parents who cared.
Andrea said nothing—simply watching, her eyes moving back and forth between the father and daughter.
“You should know,” George-Phillip said conversationally, “I’ve come to the conclusion that my career is interfering with me spending time with Jane, here. Regardless of what happens with the current scandal, I intend to resign my position as Chief. I’ve no right to ask this, Andrea—but I’d like you to consider coming to London with me. When you have the opportunity. I’d like for us to get to know each other.”
Andrea didn’t reply. An awkward silence fell over the table, and Dylan leaned forward. He cleared his throat, covering it with his closed fist—should he have used his napkin? Then he spoke. “Do I call you… Highness? Or sir? Or….”
“In public, Highness or Your Grace is generally my title, but here, please call me George-Phillip. Do I have it correct that I have you to thank for my daughter still being alive?”
Dylan gave a wry smile. Not in a million years was he going to call a royal prince by his first name. “Sir, Andrea did that all on her own. She’s just about the most courageous person I’ve ever met.”
Prince George-Phillip gave his daughter a warm look. “Would that you hadn’t had to deal with those situations. But I’m proud and amazed at how you handled them.”
“I was just trying to survive,” Andrea said, shifting in her seat. Dylan tried to parse out George-Phillip’s sentence, but it still didn’t make sense. Would that… what?
Without preamble, George-Phillip said, “I think you should both stay here for the time being. You’ve been on the run and in hiding, and this is the safest place for you. Not to mention that until things are sorted out with the American investigation, both of you are wanted by the police here.”
Dylan met Andrea’s eyes. She was impassive. He nodded to her, as imperceptible of a motion that he could make.
She nodded back, then her eyes cut back to George-Phillip. She pursed her lips for a moment, then spoke. “Yes, we’ll stay. I have a thousand questions for you.”
“I’ll tell you everything I know,” George-Phillip said in a soothing tone. “You can ask anything. Within the bounds of the confidentiality required by my position, I’m an open book to you, daughter.”
“You say that my — the person I thought was my father—” She whispered the next words, her eyes darting to Jane. “Raped my mother. And that she forced to marry him?”
George-Phillip nodded. “She was seventeen when they actually married. Your eldest sister Julia was born a few months later.”
“When did you meet my mother?”
“In the winter of 1984. We met in February, at a dinner party here in Washington. I was new in the city, and so was she. Richard Thompson was traveling much of that spring, back and forth to Central Asia. Your mother and I fell in love.”
In the back of Dylan’s mind, the worst ran through his head. Why the hell didn’t you protect her, then? He didn’t say the words out loud. It wasn’t his place. But he hoped Andrea would ask.
“And so Carrie was conceived,” Andrea said.
“And what happened after that?”
“I didn’t know about Carrie for many years after that. I … in May of that year … I’d just returned from a trip to London… she broke it off with me. With no explanation. I didn’t see her again for twelve years.”
Andrea gave him a pained look. “Did she tell you later?”
“Yes, when we encountered each other in China. We were both a little older and wiser then. But Adelina… it was tragic. He’d destroyed her spirit. The bright, courageous woman I’d known had become a mouse in public, never contradicting anything her husband said. She told me that the reason… the reason…”
George-Phillip’s face twisted in pain.
“Da?” Jane said. “What hurts?”
George-Phillip placed his left hand on Jane’s shoulder. And his right hand on his chest. “My heart hurts, Jane. My heart.”
Jesus, Dylan thought.
George-Phillip said, “Jane, I think it’s time for you to go see Adriana.”
Jane’s eyes watered. “I want to be with my new sisters.”
“I promise you can later. Right now, we need to have some adult talk.”
She climbed down from her seat, as always looking precarious—as if she might any instant go flying in one direction while the chair went in the other—then walked around to his chair the long way around the table, passing Andrea and Dylan along the way. She then stood on her tiptoes and gave the sitting George-Phillip a kiss.
“Play with me later?” she asked. He nodded and said, “Yes, of course.”
“Will you play with me too, sister?” she asked Andrea.
Andrea might be distrustful of George-Phillip, but it was clear she held no reservations about her six-year-old half sister. Her eyes went glassy, and she nodded and said, “Yes, I’d love that.”
A few minutes later, after the little girl had left the room, George-Phillip continued. “While I was out of town, out of the country, Adelina had realized she was pregnant. And she believed that Richard would kill her, or Julia, or possibly her brother Luis, if he found out she was pregnant. She believed he was a complete sociopath. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but she provoked him into attacking her. So that she could convincingly make him believe that Carrie was his.”
Andrea winced. Seemingly without volition, she reached out and grabbed Dylan’s hand.
“I tried to persuade her to leave him. I did. I’d have gladly given up my career and taken her hand in marriage. I wanted that more than anything else in the world.”
“But you didn’t,” Andrea said.
George-Phillip gave her a sad smile. “I didn’t. When we met again in Beijing … many years had passed. Your mother and I… resumed our affair. But with very strict rules that she set. You see, a great deal had happened in the years we didn’t see each other. Richard began to suspect that Carrie wasn’t his child, because she was so incredibly tall. He took her to a lab and had them both tested. And when he found the results, he beat her almost to death.”
Andrea winced. She didn’t say anything, just listened. She hadn’t touched the food.
“Later, she told me what those years were like. Your family moved a lot—based in San Francisco, then Belgium for three years, then China. Your father had the perfect deep cover—he was Central Intelligence Agency, but as far as the world was concerned, he was a diplomat. That gave him license to operate anywhere. As the years went by, he kept her off balance. Randomly he would terrorize her—keeping her afraid and off balance. That just got worse as the years went by.”
Andrea gritted her teeth. “She was crazy,” she said.
“What do you mean?” George-Phillip asked.
“You describe a victim who was terrorized by Richard Thompson, but what I remember is that she was crazy. She’d break down at the slightest provocation. She was completely unpredictable—the same behavior that one day resulted in a mild scolding would, the next day, provoke screaming rage. She cut us to pieces with her words.”
Dylan sighed. He knew what that was like—his father had been a complete bastard and a drunk. For the first time, he felt real sympathy for his mother-in-law. Adelina Thompson had been the terror of all of her daughters. He’d never imagined she’d undergone that sort of trauma.
George-Phillip’s eyes watered at Andrea’s words.