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she got to Ronsard's house. The CIA station chief in the embassy was of great help in procuring the tiny transmitters, batteries, and wiring she needed. If he asked any questions, he didn't ask them of her. She knew he had to have cleared everything with Langley for him to be as cooperative as he was.The station chief didn't know anything about the job she was doing, just that he was to get whatever she needed; the Paris-based CIA contingent didn't even know she had been meeting Ronsard, unless one of the case officers had taken it on himself to follow her one day, but she couldn't think why they would. So far as any of them had known until now, she had simply been a friend, visiting the ambassador and his wife.Lyon was about three hundred kilometers from Paris, farther than she wanted to drive, so she booked a flight and called the number Ronsard had given her to arrange to be picked up at the airport.She was eager to arrive, to look around and see what she had to deal with, so she could make concrete plans and decisions. Being a socialite, even a subdued one, wasn't her cup of tea. She wanted to do something besides shop and have lunch and attend parties.The weather was beautiful the day she flew down to Lyon, the flight smooth. She was met at the airport by a man in a stylish gray suit, his blond hair cut military short and his eyes hidden by sunglasses. He didn't speak other than when it was necessary, but he was efficient. He collected her luggage and handed her into a silver Jaguar, and she settled back to enjoy the drive.They went south on the expressway, then turned east, toward Grenoble. The region was beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful in France, with the French Alps rising in the east. The weather was warmer than it had been in Paris, the heat radiating through the expensive tinted glass of the Jaguar's windows.Her first view of Ronsard's villa made her blink in astonishment, and she was glad she was wearing sunglasses to hide her expression. After all, she was supposed to be used to wealth and luxury. John should have warned her, she thought absently.A sleekly paved drive, bordered with multi-colored flowers, led up to massive gates set in a twelve-foot-high gray stone wall that completely encircled the estate. The stone in the wall alone had to have been an enormous expense. The gates slid smoothly open as the car approached; when they drove through, the gates started closing again almost immediately.The estate itself was massive; she estimated at least forty acres had been enclosed, though the grounds had been so artfully landscaped there were sections where she couldn't see the wall at all. The house itself-though she doubted a structure that huge could be called a mere house-was four stories high, with wings stretching out on each side. It had been built with huge slabs of pale, luminous gray marble, with faint streaks of pink and gold running through the stone. The effect was stunning.To the right was a long, two-story building that was rather barrackslike in style, though more of that incredible landscaping went a long way toward disguising it. To the left, set like a jewel on a picturesque pond, was what looked like another house. She guessed that this was the guest quarters Ronsard had mentioned. It was large enough to be a small hotel, and looked small only in comparison to the massive-ness of the main building.Illegal arms-dealing had to be a very, very lucrative business.Until now she hadn't had any grasp of Ronsard's wealth, but now she had a better idea why he was pursued for his money.There were men in shades everywhere-his private army. There seemed to be a system of dress to designate authority. Most of the men wore a dark green uniform-type pants and shirt, and these men carried weapons openly. Next in number were those wearing dark green pants, but white shirts, and they wore only side arms. Fewest in number were those wearing light gray suits like her driver.A number of guests had already arrived. They were wandering in the formal gardens, casually but expensively dressed in what she had always thought of as country-manor style. Some sat on a side patio, indulging in cocktails. Six industrious individuals were on the tennis courts, batting the chartreuse ball back and forth with increasing languor as the heat sapped their strength.Ronsard himself came down the broad, shallow steps to meet her, smiling, and his hands extended as she got out of the car. He took her shoulders in a light grasp and, bending, brushed his lips across her cheek. Startled, she drew back and blinked up at him. That was the first time he had done more than kiss her hand, and she must have looked uneasy because he rolled his eyes."One would think, from your expression, that I had attempted to remove your dress," he said dryly. "If my ego had been inflated, it would now be as flat as yesterday's champagne." He gave a rueful shake of his head. "And to think I've missed this.""I'm sorry, I was just startled.""No, don't apologize and ruin the effect.""Now you're making me feel guilty.""I'm teasing." He smiled down at her, then said briefly to the two young staffers who stood behind him like sentinels. "Put Madame's luggage in the Garden room.""The Garden room," she repeated. "That sounds lovely.""It's actually a small suite. I want you to be comfortable. And before your suspicious nature rears its ugly head, no, it is not next to my private suite. None of the guest rooms are.""Consider my suspicions headed off at the pass." She took his arm, and he led her inside, where delicious coolness and airy space replaced the heat of outside.Marble columns soared to a painted ceiling three stories high. The floor was granite flagstones, in a darker hue than the pale gray of the columns, and dotted by enormous, richly colored rugs with tight, thick weaves. Twin marble staircases curved to the left and right, coming together at the top of the arch with hallways opening off each side."I hope you're providing tour maps to everyone, so they don't get lost," she said as he escorted her up the stairs."The design is basically simple," he began, and smiled at the disbelieving look she gave him. "There aren't any cul-de-sacs. All secondary hallways lead directly back to the main hallway. If you have a sense of direction, you can find your way back to here without any difficulty."As they mounted the stairs she looked up at an enormous tapestry hung on the left wall. "How old is your house?""It isn't old at all. It was built in the seventies by one of the Middle-Eastern oil billionaires. When the price of oil dropped, he needed to raise cash, and I was in a position to provide it."Upstairs, the marble stairs gave way to dove-gray carpeting so thick her feet sank into it. Light streamed through Palladian windows; walking over to look out, she saw an enormous swimming pool in the courtyard below; the pool was irregularly shaped so that it resembled a lake, exquisitely landscaped, with a small waterfall sparkling over rocks before cascading back into the transparent turquoise water."The pool must be spectacular at night, like another world," she said."It's one of my pleasures. A long swim is relaxing after a difficult day."He led her along the hallway, turned left down a secondary hallway, then opened a door on the right. "Here is the Garden room. I hope you will be comfortable."Niema stepped inside, and her eyes lit with pleasure. "It's beautiful."The reason it was called the Garden room was obvious: It was filled with greenery. Besides the lovely arrangements of cut flowers, there were eight-foot tall areca palms in strategic locations, succulent jade, rhododendrons. They were in a small sitting room; double doors to the right were opened to reveal a sumptuous bedroom. Straight ahead, glass doors opened onto a private balcony that was lush with potted trees and flowers. The balcony was the width of both the sitting room and bedroom, perhaps forty feet wide.Ronsard was watching her move around the suite, touching the plants, smelling the flowers. "This is a peaceful place. I thought you would enjoy it; an escape from the social whirl.""Thank you," she said sincerely. His thoughtful-ness in providing this retreat was touching. He was correct in thinking she enjoyed occasional solitude and serenity in which to recharge, but as she looked around she realized that the balcony would also provide an excellent means of clandestine entry, a la Medina. She would make certain the glass doors were always unlocked-not that they would provide much difficulty to someone as adept at breaking and entering as John was.Her luggage had already been deposited on a padded bench at the foot of the bed. Ronsard took her arm. "A maid will unpack for you. If you aren't too tired, I have someone I'd like you to meet.""No, I'm not tired," she said, remembering he had mentioned in Paris that he wanted her to meet someone. The electronic supplies she had brought were safely locked in her jewelry case, so she wasn't worried about the maid seeing them and reporting to Ronsard that one of his guests had brought some interesting equipment with her."My private wing is on the other side of the house," he said and smiled. "I wasn't lying when I said your suite wasn't next door to mine. I wish it was, but I deliberately remodeled so that the guest rooms were somewhat distant.""For privacy, or protection?""Both." A tender look swept his face, an expression all the more astonishing because it seemed to be directed elsewhere. "But not my privacy, and not my protection. Come. I told her I was bringing someone to see her, and she has been excited all day, waiting.""She?""My daughter. Laure." Chapter SeventeenHis daughter? John hadn't mentioned that Ronsard had a daughter. Niema tried to hide her surprise. ""You've never mentioned her before," she said. "I thought your sister was your only family.""Ah, well, perhaps I'm paranoid. I do everything I can to safeguard her. As you pointed out, I'm an unsavory character; I have enemies.""I said Eleanor thinks you're an unsavory character," she corrected."She's right, you know. I'm far too unsavory for a woman like you."She rolled her eyes. "Smooth, Ronsard. Women

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