Secret Agent Santa(7)

By: Carol Ericson

“Claire!” Spencer, his shirtfront bloodied, shouldered his way through the crowd. “Claire, are you and Ethan okay?”

All she could think about when she looked into his cold, blue eyes was that he was at the top of the list to replace the director. “We’re fine. How about you?”

“Me? I’m indestructible.”

“What happened?”

Mike squeezed her waist. They hadn’t even discussed whether or not they’d reveal what they’d seen out the window, but instinct screamed no and Mike seemed to approve of her discretion. She didn’t want to be questioned as a potential witness, and Mike’s real identity would have to be revealed if he stepped forward.

Dipping his head, Spencer pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh, my God, Claire. It was a car bomb. Jerry...”

“Jerry Haywood? It was his car? Is he all right?” She dug her fingers into her stepfather’s arm—as hard as she could.

He laid his hand on hers. “I’m afraid not, Claire. Jerry’s dead, one of his security guys is dead and a valet.”

“One of his security guys? Doesn’t he usually travel with two? And is the other one okay?”

“He’d already stepped away from the car. He’s injured but hanging on.” He patted her hand again and then pulled away from her death grip.

“What about the other valet?” Mike stepped aside to let an EMT get by. “I noticed two tonight when I arrived.”

“You know, I’m not sure about him. I’m going to make some inquiries. And stay tuned. The fire marshal may kick us all out of here tonight even though it’s just broken windows.” Spencer chucked Claire beneath the chin and made a half turn. His gaze lit on Mike’s hair, still sprinkled with glass. “Where were you two?”

“In the library.” Claire kicked a shard of glass to the edge of the floor.

“That’s at the front of the town house. Were you standing at the window by any chance? Did you see the explosion?”

Mike slipped his arm around her shoulder and kissed the side of her head. “We were too wrapped up in each to see anything.”

Spencer’s eyes narrowed briefly before he launched back into the crowd of people, shouting orders.

Claire blew out a breath. “There goes the new director of the CIA.”

* * *

MIKE CUPPED THE cell phone against his ear. “If Senator Spencer Correll becomes the next director and he is involved somehow with a terrorist organization, we’re going to have a major problem on our hands.”

“That’s an understatement,” Jack Coburn’s voice growled over the line. “How valid are Claire’s concerns? Has she shown you her so-called evidence yet? I sent you out there to appease my wife and calm the fears of one of her best friends. I didn’t believe she had anything—until this car bombing tonight.”

Mike winced. Why would Jack send him on one last important mission after how badly he’d flubbed his previous assignment? Looking after Jack’s wife’s friend was just about his speed now.

He coughed. “I agree. After tonight’s bombing, I’d say Claire might be onto something.”

“Unless...” Jack sucked in a breath.

Mike’s grip tightened on the phone. “Are you implying Claire set something up to bolster her story? That’s crazy.”

“After the murder of Claire’s husband, she had it in for Jerry Haywood when he was deputy director.”

“I know that, but it’s a huge leap to think she’d plan his assassination.”

Jack grunted. “Why would Correll be involved in an assassination at his own party?”

“Technically, it was Claire’s party, and that’s what I’m here to figure out, right? That’s why you sent me.” Mike sat on the edge of the bed in the room next to the one where Claire and her son were sleeping.

Since the bomb hadn’t done any outward damage to the town house except for the broken windows, the fire department had allowed the family to stay the night. Workers had been busy boarding up the windows, and the DC Metro Police, the FBI, the CIA and a swarm of reporters were still milling around at the site of the car bomb.

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