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Secret cities. Remote, real-world citadels scattered across the wind-blasted Siberian tundra that don’t appear on any map, which you can only reach through buying a train ticket to someplace else. When the train pulls in to one of these secret cities, militia with machine guns and combat fatigues patrol the platform. Even snapping a quick photo through the window is forbidden—with a stern interrogation, a passport inspection and the confiscation of your camera the inevitable result.
Sounds like something from a James Bond movie, doesn’t it?
In fact, dozens of these Stalin-era “closed cities” still linger in remote regions of Russia and other little-known corners of the former Soviet Union. In Communist times, they churned out metric tons of chemical weapons and other apocalyptic nasties. These days, some international cooperation is permitted. I visited many of these places, armed with my black diplomatic passport and an encyclopedic list of security protocols, during my real-life career as a weapons of mass destruction specialist for the State Department.
Sexy, glamorous and postcard-pretty these secret cities are not. I visited one on the frozen steppes of Central Asia where the icebox guesthouse was so frigid the water froze in the toilet. As we shivered, our warmhearted hosts proudly served roasted sheep’s head and fermented camel’s milk to warm us. On another occasion, as my delegation flew in an aging Tupolev over the Caucasus, it was literally raining inside the plane. My colleague fell asleep with his face against the window and froze to the side of the plane.
It’s these real-life adventures from my government past that inspired my new sexy spy romance, The Russian Temptation, Book Two in the Foreign Affairs series. Dr. Skylar Rossi is a U.S. ambassador and chemical weapons expert who penetrates a secret city to thwart a terrorist plot. Ex-KGB agent Nikolai Markov has orders to stop her. But the chemistry between them is far more dangerous.
EXCERPT: The Russian Temptation
“Tell me, Mr. Markov,” she said huskily, beneath the slow pulse of music made for sex. “Do you ever dance?”
That depends on my persona—the façade I happen to be wearing at the time, he imagined telling her. Just like my clothes and my cocktail and the way I seduce a woman.
As for himself, the real Nikolai…whoever that was…he hadn’t one bloody clue.
“Let’s find out.” Indulging the impulse, he pivoted toward the dance floor and gripped her elbow. Beneath the soft cashmere, she was electric, a ballerina’s delicate lines fired with supple heat.
A frisson of awareness, purely sexual, arced between them. His pulse kicked up like the recoil of his Walther TPH.
Keep your mind on your business. Find out what she’s up to.
When she slid gracefully from her stool, a buzz of masculine satisfaction hummed through him. Together they wove between tables to reach the crowded patch of floor.
The mirrored ball revolved overhead as he positioned them beneath it, within striking distance of the exit. Sparkling light swirled over the swaying couples, camouflaging every casual movement, distracting him all over again.
Swiftly he spun her into his arms. His fingers laced with hers, palm to palm. His free hand closed around her waist.
She was tall for a woman, eyes level with his, which he found refreshing. He didn’t see many women who approached his six-foot height wearing low-heeled boots. Her tapered fingers twined with his, cool and capable, impersonal as a handshake. Her sinuous form undulated, heating the scant few inches of space between them.
But she kept turning her head, studying the neighboring couples—especially the men.
Unexpected anger flashed through him, a sensation as foreign to him as carelessness or impulse. Suddenly impatient with the waiting game, the check-and-checkmate tension of the geopolitical chess match their governments had set them up for, he tightened his grip on her waist and pulled her toward him.
Her lithe dancer’s body collided with his. All the breath spilled from her lungs in an audible gasp.
The soft fullness of her breasts pressed against his chest. A flash of heat pulsed through him. One lean thigh slipped between his as she shifted to regain her balance.
Darkening to navy, her eyes snapped toward him. She tilted her chin to confront him.
“Pardon my language,” she said, “but what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“My sentiments precisely,” he countered, low and swift. “I was about to ask you the same. Why were you so determined to come here tonight?”
Startled by the sudden flare of confrontation, his lightning shift from urbane companion to sharp-eyed predator, Skylar’s thoughts eddied into a tailspin. Fighting for composure, she sucked in a ragged breath as adrenaline spiked through her.
He was holding her far too intimately, their legs entwined like lovers, her palm spread across the hard plane of his chest. The expensive lapels of his jacket had parted. The snug-fitting silk blend of his black turtleneck was soft as a kiss, barely shielding her from the understated power of his knife-slim body.
She stared into his dark gaze, shimmering with amber like the expensive Scotch he’d barely touched. A searing awareness burned through her of the inconvenient and downright dangerous attraction she’d been battling all day.
She hated the cloak-and-dagger shenanigans his government was pulling. He was the man behind the curtain, the one calling the shots.
Yet her body was tingling with sensual response, breath short and tight in her lungs, face warm with the heat building between them. And his fragrance was making her dizzy, that blend of amber and cedar and expensive cigarettes that purred money and sophistication like a purebred cat, claws barely sheathed under velvet.
“Well, Dr. Rossi?” he murmured. “I’m waiting. After the close calls you’ve had today, why are you here in this working-class dive bar wrapped around a Russian security official instead of safely locked into your hotel room, packing your suitcase for the midnight train?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In her other life, Nikki Navarre is a diplomat who’s lived in Russia and works on weapons of mass destruction issues. In the line of duty, she’s been trapped in an elevator in a nuclear power plant and has stalked the corridors of facilities churning out nerve agent and other apocalyptic weapons. In this capacity, she meets many of the world’s most dangerous men.
Inspired by the sinister realities of her real life, Nikki writes dark medieval and Renaissance romance spiked with political intrigue. A member of Romance Writers of America and a Golden Heart finalist, she has won the Emily Award for Excellence, the First Coast Romance Writers Beacon Award, the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award, the Golden Pen, the Duel on the Delta, Hearts Through History’s Romance Through the Ages, and other awards listed here.
Previously published with Samhain and Dorchester, Nikki's newest releases include the epic medieval romance By Royal Command (Harlequin/Carina, July 2012) and The Russian Seduction (Affluent Press, August 2012, writing as her alter ego Nikki Navarre.) She teaches writing workshops on "Sympathy with the Devil: Dark Heroes in Popular Fiction." Nikki divides her time between her writing career and other adventures for U.S. government clients, and lives in the Pacific Northwest with her Siberian cats Pandora and Delilah.
Spy on Nikki Navarre at http://www.lauranavarre.com/book/russian-temptation.