Chapter One

The aeroflot flight had touched down on the tarmac an hour ago. Natalie stood at the gate inside Dulles International Airport, waiting for her latest assignment to show up, if he was wearing his uniform and keeping his papers at the ready, as he been advised, he should have sailed through Customs. Instead, he was late. Very late. She shifted from foot to foot, imbued with an unbecoming impatience that warred with her military bearing.

Trying to stay focused, Natalie quietly practiced the Russian words with which she’d planned to welcome the Colonel. “Zdrastvuytye, Polkovnik Baturnov. Minya zavut Katpain Natalie Wentowrth.” She hoped she had the pronunciation right and that she was saying “Hello, Colonel Baturnov. My name is Captain Natalie Wentworth.” If that wasnn’t what the words meant, she hoped they didn’t translate into anything embarrassing. But she was prepared to take the risk, IN her more than ten years of protocol work with the Army, she’d found that people responded best when they were greeted in a reasonable facsimile of their own language.

She eyed the door through which the colonel should emerge. People jostled past her, anxious to catch their connecting flights or in a hurry to find their luggage. She practiced the difficult words again, wishing that hello in Russian was not a multisyllabic word beginning with the impossible zdr combination.

....

She spotted the Colonel immediately, He was standing beside two luggage carts, talking to an older gentleman. He wore an olvie-green military uiform, trimeed in red. His epaulettes announced his rank, Her Russian Colonel had finally arrived.

The first thing she noticed as she began to weave her way through the crowd toward him was that he looked haggard. The long flight from his native country must have been grueling. The second thing she noticed was that he didn’t look Russian. Then she silently acknowledged the prejudice of that thought. She knew better. Russians were as varied in appearance as Americans. This one looked very European with his finely wrought features and classic brow.

The older man said something to him as she approached the huge space between them. Suddenly the pair laughed together, and Natalie hung back, observing them curiously. Though she’d still been in college when the Soviet Union had fallen, she couldn’t help a twinge of uneasiness when she noticed the old man hold out a small carry-on bag. The Colonel took it and then slid one of the two heavily loaded carts he’d been pulling in the man’s direction. What was this? Why did Baturnov accept a carry-on bag from the other man?

At last, the frail-looking man waved farewell and Colonel Baturnov turned to scan the area, presumably for her. She gave herself a mental shake--she wasn’t going to allow herself to harbor some absurd notion that her assignment was up to something. She walked toward him, telling herself not to let her imagination run away with her, Natalie could see this was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill Russian soldier. At least not by the look of him. Colonel Baturnov held himself very tall and straight with a self-assured bearing that bordered on arrogance.

Despite her resolution, she couldn’t keep from eyeing the nylon bag in his hand, The word 'spy' popped into her head before she could talk herself out of it.

The Colonel and the Kid:

“A husband or a lover?”

Viktor wondered, as he listened to Natalie’s side of the telephone conversation. He was honest enough to acknowledge the spasm of disappointment tht flashed through him.

Natalie concluded her call and turned to Viktor. “We should go eat.” She spoke as if she were biting off the pin of a grenade. Clearly Frank--the man on the other end of the phone--had set her on edge, and Viktor felt a twinge of exultation. At the same time he reminded himself that he was not in a contest with Frank. He must fight the primitive urge to compete with a man he didn’t know over a woman he had just met.

So he better not look at her too much. “yes, it would be good to eat,” he replied. And once he had fed himself, he would sleep off his jet lag and be better prepared in the morning to cope with everything. He needed to be functioning at his best.

His twelve year old son’s life depended on it....

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