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Home > Darkest Before Dawn (KGI #10)(11)

Darkest Before Dawn (KGI #10)(11)
Author: Maya Banks

“What is Maksimov’s connection to this group and why would the woman be of interest to him?” Hancock asked impatiently, tired of information he deemed useless.

There was no shortage of independent cells all seeking dominance in an already war-torn region. So what made this one any different than the others? But he’d detected a hint of fear—and respect—for this group he spoke of, and Maksimov neither feared nor respected anyone, though it made him a fool because he was weak, and without strong, ruthless people to do his bidding, he was nothing.

“They owe Maksimov money. He is their main supplier of arms and explosives. They believe themselves untouchable by anyone and have no fear of Maksimov, the fools. If Maksimov has something they want very badly, then that gives him an edge. And they do want this woman. Already word has spread through the region of a lone woman, a defenseless American woman who has evaded capture, and it makes them look weak. Like fools who can’t manage to find a woman. They are furious, no doubt, and if they do find her and I have no doubt they eventually will—their reach is too far, their power too great—she will not die quickly. They will seek to make an example of her. They’ll use her to demonstrate just how ruthless they are, and they’ll use her to send a message to all who oppose them. I have no doubt Maksimov would not only pay much to have her in his possession but he would be indebted. To me.”

He said the last with supreme satisfaction, arrogance and greed lighting his eyes. So this was his goal. To dangle something Maksimov wanted desperately in front of his nose and to be the one to deliver the woman to Maksimov. It would elevate Bristow’s status with Maksimov, which would bring him more power and wealth. It would set him up for years to come, and when he was under Maksimov’s protection as one known to be in his inner circle, Bristow’s enemies would hesitate to strike at him, knowing that whatever was done to Bristow would be taken by Maksimov to be an insult—an attack—on Maksimov himself. And few dared to take on Maksimov, which allowed Maksimov to grow in power, expanding his already enormous reach and his empire into something truly frightening. If Hancock wasn’t successful in taking him down this time, he knew his time had run out. He had firsthand experience with how ruthless Maksimov could be. He still bore the scars of his last run-in with the man, but thankfully, Hancock had been in deep cover and his appearance had been altered such that it was doubtful Maksimov would recognize the man he believed to be the minion of the man who’d gone against Maksimov. It was his only up close and personal contact with the man he’d hunted for years, and by the time Maksimov had gotten close to Hancock, his already disguised features were bloodied, bruised and swollen, so Hancock felt confident the man wouldn’t recognize him. He planned to get very close to the man this time, and perhaps this woman Bristow spoke of would afford him just that chance.

He glanced at Bristow with interest, no longer viewing the task Bristow had ordered him to do as a delay he couldn’t afford, a pointless endeavor that would only lessen his chances of striking at Maksimov at the first opportunity.

“So you want me to go after this woman, intercept her before the men hunting her find her and bring her to Maksimov?”

Bristow frowned and shook his head. “No. Not immediately. Bring her to me. I won’t simply hand her over to Maksimov before gaining what I want from the exchange. And that will take time. Maksimov is reclusive and cagey. Not much brings him to the surface. If he really wants her, and I’m positive he will, I plan to make him wait and grow restless to the point he’ll give me whatever I want. It will be a negotiation. If I don’t get what I want from Maksimov, then I will bargain with the militants who want her so desperately. Either would give much to have the woman. Perhaps the militants would give me even more so they save face,” he added with a shrug.

It was a stupid, dangerous game to toy with and attempt to manipulate Maksimov, but Hancock didn’t warn Bristow of that fact. If the woman lured Maksimov into a personal meeting where he’d take possession of the woman, then that fit perfectly into Hancock’s agenda, and he didn’t particularly care what the consequences to Bristow were.

And it was equally stupid to bargain with a fanatical group because after giving Bristow what he wanted in exchange for the girl, they’d simply execute Bristow in very bloody fashion and take back not only what they’d given as payment for the woman but everything Bristow possessed, which would only add to their considerable wealth and power.

Anticipation licked through Hancock’s veins and his pulse sped up, the taste of victory in his mouth. If all it took was capturing a single woman who was running and hiding from a terrorist group to enable him to achieve his objective, then he’d do it without hesitation. He’d have to ensure that Maksimov took the bait because it did him no good for Bristow to turn to the terrorist cell to get what he wanted. It had to be Maksimov.

He glanced up at his men and saw answering resolve in their eyes. They wanted to take down Maksimov every bit as much as he did. And like him, they grew weary of their existence or rather nonexistence. To the world, they were dead. To their government they were traitors and had been given a death sentence. To their prey, they were angels of death, without mercy or compassion. They were feared by all and they mattered to no one. To even the strongest, unfeeling soul, such a life eventually wore on them. They were all ready to step down from their cause and allow others to do the work they’d done without thanks or regard for over a decade. And make whatever kind of life was left to them, knowing that even after they stood down, they’d always be hunted.

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