Title: Shaken, Not Purred
Author: Kelle Z Riley
Genre: Cozy Mystery with Romantic Elements
Be careful what you wish for . . .
When chemist Dr. Bree Watson (aka Gabriella Catherine Mayfield-Watson) traded her lab coat for a trench coat, she expected the life of an industrial spy to be fun.
But on her first solo mission—to investigate a suspected drug lab—things get sticky. Fast. Especially when a dead body turns up on her second day undercover.
She might be in over her head as she juggles:
· Illegal drug manufacture.
· A murdered woman who had more enemies than sense.
· A hunky handler posing as her fake boyfriend who may—or may not—be interested in becoming the real thing.
· A sexy detective bent on wooing her—and wooing her away from espionage.
· The necessity of keeping secrets from her best friend and her family.
· A drop-out drug dog.
· And a handful of cover identities she has to keep straight—or not.
At least her cranky cat, Sherlock, still recognizes her. And she still finds solace whipping up comfort food and cookies in her kitchen. But in the whirlwind of investigations and undercover operations, Bree develops a serious identity crisis. Who is she, really?
A spy pretending to be a chemist? Or a chemist playing at being a spy?
Being a spy wasn't all it was cracked up to be in the movies.
What had she gotten herself into? She was a chemist, not a spy. Her diploma said so.
Bree stepped from the podium, hands shaking. The audience shouted questions. “Can you tell us specifics?”
“I’d love to...” she answered with a tiny, deliberate shrug, “...but my attorney won’t let me.”
“Damn patent attorneys.” The crowd chuckled.
Bree’s hands steadied. The crowd thinned; the questions stopped. Good thing since Bree was posing as an expert in a field she barely knew, presenting fictional data, hoping to catch the interest of an international terrorist. Her presentation was simply a baited hook.
Outside, Texas summer heat baked the sidewalks and withered the grass. Inside, Bree shivered—whether from fear or the chilled hotel air, she didn't know.
“Good job.” Matthew Tugood’s voice sounded in her head via her hidden earpiece. She fought the urge to reply and focused on the crowds. “He’s here,” Tugood said, voice low and calm. “At your nine o’clock.”
Bree swiveled right.
“Nine, Bree. Not three. Under that blonde wig, you're still a brainy brunette."
She looked left and encountered the outstretched hand of a tall Asian man with thick dark hair. The target they had code named Zed. “Intriguing paper.” His slightly accented English sounded Chinese ,or perhaps Korean. “Ice that burns is a paradox. I’ve always considered it impractical. Your work makes it seem less, shall we say, dangerous.”
Her skin prickled at his smooth words. Sweat slickened her hand as she shook his, her eyes never leaving his gaze. Was he testing her? Challenging her?
“Thank him.” Tugood’s voice hissed through the headset.
Bree managed a terse reply.
“You seem nervous,” Zed said with a smile. “Is this your first paper?”
Bree nodded, grateful he blamed her nerves on the talk.
“You did a good job. I’d like to discuss your research further.” He produced a business card.
“Nice to meet you, Dr. Chan.” Bree handed over one of her fake business cards. “I’m—” she paused, mentally reminding herself of her cover identity, “Catherine Holmes.”
“Dr. Catherine Holmes,” he said, consulting her card. “Impressive.”
“Are you headed to the exhibit hall?” He steered her toward the vendor area while asking questions about her research.
In her other ear, Tugood fed her a constant stream of information to pique Zed's interest. Bree struggled to keep her face impassive, her conversations straight, and her cover ID intact. All while trying to interpret Dr. Chan’s questions, gestures, and facial expressions in light of what Tugood had told her about him.
By the time they reached the exhibit hall, her brain felt as thick and gooey as freshly poured asphalt. A headache pounded behind her eyes—and in her eyes. Wearing green contact lenses to disguise her boring brown color had been a mistake. Under the blonde wig, her scalp prickled with an itch she didn't dare scratch.
When Dr. Chan moved away, Bree panicked. Tugood needed her to gain Zed’s trust. “Dr. Chan… Wait. Wouldn’t you like to arrange a time to...”
Zed turned back to her. “I’ll be in touch, Dr. Holmes.” His lips twisted into the tiniest of smiles. “Soon.”
“Let him go, Bree.” Was that disappointment she heard in Matthew’s voice? Resignation? Or was it her imagination?
She snagged a can of Diet Coke from the lunch buffet and downed half in quick gulps, hoping to clear her brain. Her first undercover mission for the Sci-Spy organization presented more problems than a freshman chemistry book.
Most of which centered on the damn earpiece. And the irritating voice it transmitted.
Over the last hours, Tugood’s once soothing baritone had morphed into an annoying mosquito-like drone, constantly with her and rarely wanted.
Worse yet, the earpiece itched.
Bree tried to nonchalantly rub the irritation away. Only to be subjected to a different irritant. "Stop that." Matthew's warning reverberated inside her head. "Touching your ear interferes with my ability to hear. And it draws attention to the earpiece."
Bree buried her head in her conference program to hide her response. "I'm a PhD chemist, not an idiot," she snapped, resisting the urge to say more. It would only get her another lecture on undercover protocol.
"Stay sharp, Dr. Watson."
It’s Mayfield-Watson. Bree gritted her teeth and lowered the program. Or Dr. Catherine Holmes. The thought of her cover identity caused her headache to throb more fiercely.
Now, Bree had a more pressing problem. Thanks to two cups of coffee and a can and a half of Diet Coke, she desperately needed a bathroom. And privacy.
She craned her neck searching. Objective number one was in sight.
She headed to the ladies' room, wondering how to achieve objective number two. Privacy.
Her necklace, eyeglasses, and briefcase all contained hidden cameras. She flipped the necklace over, slipped her glasses into their case, and draped her suit jacket over the briefcase, effectively blinding Tugood.
“What are you doing?” His voice held a trace of annoyance.
“I need to use the bathroom.”
“Turn your surveillance off.” Bree rubbed her ear, wondering if stuffing a tissue in it would deafen him.
“How can I keep you safe if I can’t see or hear what’s going on?”
“Five minutes, Matthew. Please.” She hated the whine in her voice, but a full bladder did that sort of thing to a woman.
A heavy sigh sounded in her ear. “Two minutes. Then, ready or not, the sound is back on. If your cameras aren’t letting me see what’s happening, I’ll set off the sprinkler system and force an evacuation. Got it?”
“Three minutes,” Bree countered.
“One minute, fifty seconds and counting.” A click followed Matthew’s warning.
Bree hustled into the bathroom, relieved that Matthew no longer followed her every move.
Dammit. James Bond didn’t have to put up with this kind of crap.
Being a spy was so not like in the movies.
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