A deadly masquerade.
As an undercover asset for the FBI, Sasha Bracciali can deceive with finesse and improvise at a moment's notice. And she'll gladly practice any deception if it means saving a kidnapped Athena student. So Sasha takes on the roles of Mafia princess, seductress and co-conspirator at the fortress of an Eastern European despot. Cut off from everything and everyone she knows--including the FBI handler with whom she's been having an affair--Sasha unmasks a painful truth: She has no idea who to trust. But she must figure it out quickly, or her most ambitious charade will also be her last.
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September 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Charade by Kate Donovan
Champagne in hand, Sasha Bracciali wandered through a late-afternoon crowd of wedding guests, enjoying the rays of simulated sunshine pouring down from the skylight in the domed ceiling of the Martino family's ballroom. This magnificent venue had been inspired by the ancient Pantheon, complete with marble floor and ornate columns. And like its predecessor, the room's circular walls were studded with alcoves that housed huge statues of Roman deities and Italian saints.
Sasha had played here often as a child, especially during wintertime, when don Antonio Martino had allowed his children and their guests to skate and ride bicycles and to in-line skate here, warm and secure, no matter how fiercely the Chicago blizzards raged outdoors. The place still gave her a sense of complete security, even though she now knew all about the dirty business that supported it.
She also knew what don Martino would do to her if he found out she was working as a confidential informant for the feds, so she was careful, as she moved among the beautifully dressed revelers, not to appear too detached or too observant.
Just let the bra-cam do all the work, she reminded herself, strolling over to the wedding cake so that the tiny lens embedded in the lacy bodice of her navy-blue waltz gown could get a clear shot of some nearby musclemen. Clad in black suits, these thugs weren't making any pretense of enjoying themselves. For them, this was business: protecting the bride, the family and the expensive wedding presents.
"Any sign of him, Camper?" asked a voice from the microreceiver in her ear.
Sasha raised her glass to her lips to hide her reply. "Lots of familiar faces, but so far, no zio Vincenzo."
"You're doing great," the voice assured her. "Even if the Butcher doesn't show up, we've got some valuable footage, thanks to you."
She bit back a smile, wondering how Special Agent Jeff Crossman always managed to sound so reassuring and appreciative when she was wired, especially since he was so suspicious and critical of her at all other times. As her handler, code name Summit, he had helped her through every one of her official ops so far, while tirelessly working in the background to get her fired.
If he ever used that sweet, sexy voice on you in person, you'd have a vaginal meltdown, she teased herself. Luckily, there's not much danger of that happening.
She began swaying to the music, acknowledging that the love ballads filling the air were beginning to get to her. Nearby, a father was dancing with his toddler daughter, allowing her to stand on his feet to follow his steps. It stirred vague memories of Sasha's own father, and she imagined him--the powerful Franco "Big Frankie" Bracciali--behaving in the same indulgent way at weddings past.
It brought to mind one of Big Frankie's favorite stories, about the first time he took Sasha to Rome. She had been five years old, and when they had walked into the middle of the Pantheon, she had looked around, then announced cheerfully, "The Romans stole this idea from zio Antonio!"
Refocusing on the little girl dancing nearby, Sasha warned her silently, Your dad's a hero to you now. I envy you that. But I'm also afraid for you, because if he works for don Martino, or any of these other Mafiosos, you're in for some serious heartache.
"Heads up, Camper.A limo just pulled into the private driveway at the side of the house. Keep an eye out."
"Copy that, Summit." Grateful for the interruption, Sasha turned toward the entry hall that led to Antonio Martino's study just in time to see the bride--Gianna Martino-Barrett--dash through the columned doorways. The poor girl was probably sneaking out for a bathroom break, or even more likely, a quick drag on a cigarette. But there was always the possibility that her willful and reckless already appeared in her file.
always in Jeff's handwriting. me, miss." A huge guard blocked her path as motioned toward the alcoves at the east side of the "Guest bathrooms are over there. The entrance ladies is behind Minerva. Gents behind Neptune."
Sasha pretended to pout. "I'm not just a guest. I'm an honorary member of the family."
"This part of the house is off-limits at the request of don Martino."
"I'm guessing you don't know who I am. Either that or you have a death wish." She arched an eyebrow, but only in mock reproach. "I'm Sasha Bracciali."
His brow furrowed. "Bracciali?" "That's right," a man's voice growled from behind her. "She's Big Frankie's daughter, you moron. Get out of her way."
Sasha turned to give the bride's brother, Carmine Martino, a quick hug. "Finally! I was wondering when you'd notice me. Thanks for the rescue."
"My pleasure." The future head of the Martino crime family beamed. "Good thing you changed your mind about coming. I would've taken it personally if you didn't."