Cold in the Shadows

By: Toni Anderson


The professor’s eyes ran over him and his new squeeze, then away, dismissing him as just another tourist.

She didn’t recognize him from last night. There was no obvious guile in her gaze. No deception.

“You’re right in that individuals bred in captivity have no toxicity, but these specimens were pulled straight from the nearby rainforest where they are endemic and, trust me, you wouldn’t survive a close encounter.” Her voice was husky, sexy enough to raise his awareness of her as a female rather than a target.

He’d always had a thing for voices. And nerds.

She continued, growing more serious, “It takes years for them to lose their toxicity, and even touching a paper-towel that has been in contact with the skin of these particular individuals can kill you. They are extremely dangerous.”

“Death by frog.” His smirk didn’t reach his eyes. “Bet that ain’t pretty.”

The redhead laughed. The professor did not.

“We’re very careful how we handle them.” She looked stern now, like she was the teacher and he was the naughty schoolboy. And there was his vivid imagination going nuts again.

“Have you ever seen someone die after touching one?” asked his new friend.

“Thankfully, no.” The professor’s gaze was open and sincere.

What did he expect? Skull and crossbones instead of pupils? He’d been with the Company long enough to spot an operative with one quick glance, but this woman was an enigma. Either she was an incredible actress, or he was way off base in his assessment of the facts. Hell, maybe she was just another enviro-nut trying to save the planet—or, in this case, frogs.

“Do they taste like chicken?” he joked.

Those violet-blue eyes flashed. “I don’t know,” she bit out. “Would you like to try one?”

Ouch.

Her fiery response was hot as hell, but obviously she didn’t appreciate his sense of humor—he’d been told it was an acquired taste. He didn’t look away, instead used the opportunity to study her carefully. Her gaze was determined, but he could see fear at the edges—from the scare he gave her last night? Or did she live in constant fear, waiting for her time between the crosshairs? He didn’t figure being an assassin was particularly good for your long-term health. Someone, somewhere was always trying to tie up loose ends.

The information he had on Lockhart was solid, but facts didn’t necessarily add up to truth—something he’d learned during his time in Iraq. He needed to dig deeper, get closer. But didn’t dare tip her off. Hence his little tourist trip today. Like Lockhart with her frogs, he wanted to study her in her natural environment.

“Aren’t you scared, working with them?” His new friend asked in a voice that was as thin and high as her heels. “I mean, what if one hopped on you?”

“I’m more scared of people than I am of frogs.” Sadness touched one side of the biologist’s stern mouth.

Join the club, sister.

“I’d be terrified.” The woman shuddered beneath his palm and relaxed back into him. He removed his hand. God, he hated using people, and yet he was so fucking good at it.

“What d’you feed ’em?” He searched for questions a normal tourist would ask, rather than “do you stay and watch your targets die, or do you take off early to avoid traffic?”

“Ants, beetles, some plant material. We go out and forage in the jungle for fresh food every few days,” the professor told him.

“You go into the rainforest alone? Aren’t you scared of being kidnapped?” he asked.

K&R was a lucrative business throughout South and Central America, as well as many Middle-Eastern countries. One of his best friends was a former SAS soldier who worked full-time as a negotiator for the families of kidnap victims. This was prime territory for those who liked to extort a little extra pocket money with relatively low investment, so why was Dr. Lockhart immune? Were the local bad guys more scared of her than she was of them? Was she connected in some way? None of his sources had any information on the professor that he hadn’t already gleaned for himself.

“I don’t go into the jungle alone.” Lockhart’s gaze skewered him, seriously questioning his intellect—he got that a lot. “I’m extremely careful, obviously, but it’s no more dangerous here than in some parts of the States. I’ve never had any trouble in the rainforest.”

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