“My God,” Michael Rose murmured. He’d been off in another world, thinking about that day five years past when he and Sheila had been arrested at Dulles airport. Thinking about how deeply it had affected his life, how it had shaken his faith in his government. How it had taken a year to get to the truth behind what had happened. “Amazing.”
David Cortez glanced up, following his boss’s line of sight. Cortez had been about to pick up his beer off the smooth, dark-wood bar but stopped with the chilled glass halfway to his lips. “Jesus,” he said softly with a hint of a Cuban accent.
Rose tried not to stare, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d spent an entire career keeping his nose an inch from the grindstone, doing the right thing, shunning the temptations that were constantly swirling around him as he climbed higher and higher on Trafalgar’s corporate ladder. Now, in an instant, this. “She’s perfect.”
“Yeah, she is,” Cortez agreed.
The young woman sat on a tall stool on the other side of the bar, a glass of champagne on the napkin in front of her. She was keeping two young professionals in sharp suits and bright ties occupied without even trying. Both of them were doing everything but juggling to get her attention, but she was playing them off against each other beautifully. Touching their arms lightly, smiling at them demurely with her full, glossy lips. It was an incredible smile. She was an incredible woman.
“I need to meet her.”
Cortez turned toward Rose. “Easy, Mike,” he warned. They’d worked together since Rose had been promoted to chief financial officer, and they’d gotten very close after a lot of late nights at the office. After a lot of Chinese takeout, a lot of black coffee, a lot of good-nights to the kids over the phone. And a lot of guilt. More than anyone else, Cortez knew how vulnerable Rose was right now. “We’re almost to the finish line, we’ve gotta stay focused.”
But Rose kept staring. Mid to late twenties, he guessed. Old enough to be worldly, young enough to be impressionable. Not from or with money, either. From where he sat, that engagement diamond on her left hand looked like a microchip—less than a third of a carat, probably closer to a quarter—and her low-cut blouse was straight off a rounder rack at Sears. He watched as the man who he assumed was her husband cut aggressively between the two professionals and kissed her. Watched her react with a kiss of familiarity. A kiss devoid of passion. Watched the two suitors fade into the crowd, disappointment etched into their expressions. Then felt disappointment sink into his own chest. Which was surprising, and frightening, for several reasons.
“Yeah,” Rose agreed quietly. He’d heard about this happening, everyone had—the lightning bolt—he’d just never thought it could strike him. Especially now when he was on the lookout for it. “I guess you’re right.”
Then it happened: They caught each other’s gaze, and it momentarily paralyzed him. Her eyes were like lasers cutting through the cigar smoke, low light, and noise. Sparkling beams the color of Caribbean water on a postcard locking onto him and not letting him go, blacking out everything else around them. Rose was the number two executive at Trafalgar Industries, chief financial officer of one of the biggest companies in the world, a corporate superstar at forty-three. But suddenly he felt like an awkward, pimply kid at a high school dance. She was even more attractive than he’d first thought, and not just physically. She had a startling genuineness about her that shone through the potent sexuality. It was a one-two combination he’d never encountered, and he was back on his heels. God, what a risk this would be.
Cortez touched Rose’s arm. “Mike.”
Rose put his elbows on the bar, covered his face with his hands and rubbed his forehead with his fingertips, wondering where Sheila was. When he’d called home an hour ago, the au pair had told him that his wife had left the house at noon but hadn’t been back or called since. He checked his watch: eight o’clock. Maybe it was finally time to hire a private detective.
“Yeah, yeah.” Rose glanced across the bar, but the young woman and her husband were gone, presumably headed into the adjoining Morton’s Restaurant, one of the best steak houses in northern Virginia. He looked over at Cortez. “You committed to this acquisition, David? You committed to getting CIS?”
“A hundred percent?”
Rose nodded encouragingly, trying to shake the image of the woman from his mind. But that was impossible.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Fourth Order by Stephen Frey. Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Frey. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.