An Unforgettable Lady

By: Andre Jensen



John Smith checked his watch and looked around the Plaza Hotel's ballroom.

Things were going well. According to the report that had just come over his earpiece, the ambassador's plane had landed safely at La Guardia and the man would be arriving at the party on time.

Smith's eyes passed over the glittering crowd. It was the same kind of flashy scene that always revolved around $5,000-a-plate dinners. Women in jewels and long gowns, men in tuxedos, the collective net worth of the room up into the stratosphere. In the midst of the shifting throng, deals were being made, affairs were getting started, and social slights were exchanged with smiles. The place was choked with air kisses and hand pumping.

Underneath the chandeliers in the elegant ballroom, the whole lot of them looked as if they had the world by the throat. Smith knew better. He'd been hired by quite a few, had learned their dirty secrets and their hidden vices. He'd even watched as some got their wake-up call to real life.

Being the target of an armed stalker, that was something to worry about. Your kid gets pinched by some madman looking to hose you down for a couple million? That was a problem. Whether or not your mistress's boob job was symmetrical paled in comparison.

Danger, like illness, was the great equalizer, and the rich learned fast what really mattered when tragedy came knocking at their door. Courtesy of the visit, they also picked up a few lessons about their inner depths. Smith had seen hardened businessmen break down, sobbing from fear. He'd also witnessed great reserves of strength appear in a woman who'd only worried about her clothes before.

Being a personal security specialist was a dangerous line of work but it was the only thing he could imagine doing. With his military and intelligence background, and the fact that he didn't take orders well, it was a good fit. An observer, a protector, a killer if he had to be, Smith was at the top of his field and his small firm, Black Watch, Ltd., handled everyone from statesmen to financiers to international figures.

For some, it would have been a hard life. His chosen profession had him flying around the world, sleeping in hotel rooms, staying in other people's homes, moving on to the next job without a break. To him, the lack of continuity was appealing. Necessary.

An army duffel full of clothes and two metal briefcases of equipment were his only possessions. The money he'd earned, a tidy sum, was spread around in various off-shore accounts under several different names. Without a valid social security number, and with neither the Internal Revenue Service nor any other government agency having an unclassified record of him, he was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost.

But this didn't mean he went unnoticed.

A woman in a tight black gown sauntered by him, eyeing him with an invitation he imagined a lot of men would find irresistible. He looked past her, through her. He wasn't interested in a quick fling with a social diva. Experience had taught him to stick with his own kind.

The women he'd been with tended to be members of the intelligence community or in the military. They understood his life and expected nothing more than a shared night or two, a body to warm their bed. Civilian women tended to look into the future after they had sex and dealing with their misplaced expectations took time and patience he didn't have to spare.

His earpiece went off. The "package" was in his limo, heading to the Plaza.

"Thanks, Tiny," he said into a small transmitter on his wrist.

The ambassador had been receiving death threats, which was how Smith had ended up in a tuxedo at the party.

As he scanned the crowd, he didn't expect trouble. The place was crawling with his men. He knew and trusted them all, having handpicked them out of elite military corps. Black Watch was the only place he knew of where former Rangers, Marines, and Navy Seals could work together without throwing punches. If something went down tonight, they'd work together and do their damnedest to protect the ambassador.

Except Smith wasn't worried because he knew something no one else did. The man after the ambassador had been killed about five hours ago, in a deserted outpost in his native country.

Smith had been tipped off by an old friend of his, and considering the source, he was confident the intel was solid. It didn't mean the ambassador was out of the woods, as assassins could be-easily replaced, but it decreased the odds of trouble on this particular evening.

Despite the reduced level of threat, Smith wasn't any less alert. He knew where all the bodies in the ballroom were, in what patterns they were moving, how they were entering and exiting the space. Even the best intelligence in the world wasn't going to change the accuracy of his peripheral vision or his rapid assimilation of information.

The watchfulness was second nature to him. As immutable as his eye color.

Smith sensed someone approach from behind. He turned and looked down into the worried face of Alfred Alston, the gala's host. The man was a typical Social Register type, with a full head of prematurely white hair and the requisite horn rimmed glasses. Smith liked him. The guy had been easy to deal with.

"I’m terribly sorry to intrude, but have you seen my wife?"

There was a slight English cadence to his vowels, no doubt left over from when his family had crossed the Atlantic. Back in 1630.

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