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for the


Chapter 1

Erik had the feeling of being watched. It could’ve been leftover paranoia from his recent misadventure in Berlin, but Victor’s training caused Erik to never discount his instincts. So he found himself looking over his shoulder all morning—scrutinizing his surroundings, searching for a gaze that lingered a little too long or that was averted awkwardly.

   Kelsey, his girlfriend, must’ve sensed his trepidation as they swung, vulnerable, in a chairlift over the rolling hills of Buda, because her hand tightened around his.

   “So, I know you said you want to check out Buda today, but tomorrow I was thinking maybe we could get out of the city? I heard there’s just fields of sunflowers not far from here. I’d love to get some sketches, maybe some photos, depending on how scenic the whole deal is,” Kelsey said, introducing flowers into Erik’s mind in what seemed like an attempt to distract him from the darkness swarming his thoughts.

   “Yeah, okay,” Erik responded, still fixated on the sensation of prying eyes.

   Two mountain bikers passed beneath them on the thin dirt track that crisscrossed the grassy hill far below. The chairlift track was bordered by a thick growth of trees on each side, but they were at the wrong angle to prevent the sun’s hot rays from finding Erik’s fair skin. He tugged down the bill of his hat, his wandering gaze hidden behind the dark lenses of his sunglasses.

   “What’s up with you?” Kelsey asked.


   “You’ve been acting weird ever since you talked to Smith’s friend. What’d he say?”

   Agent John Smith’s friend was actually a CIA contact in Budapest—his counterpart in Hungarian intelligence. Kelsey wasn’t yet aware of the fact Erik had agreed to join the CIA, and would eventually work with the arrogant, rage-inducing agent. He just needed to find the right opportunity to tell her.

Not while we’re on vacation, that’s for sure.

   “He just pointed me toward a couple resources, nothing crazy.”

   “Then what’s the deal?”

   Erik could hear the displeasure in her voice.

   You’re projecting your fear. She can sense it, Victor said.

   Erik’s pulse quickened. It was back—the voice of his dead grandfather, his instincts made sentient. It’d been quiet ever since they’d finished with the red tape in Berlin and made their way up to Oslo.

Erik was starting to think about the spreading of his grandfather’s ashes when a man swung by on the return lift, catching his attention. The way he seemed to stare at Erik, like he was memorizing his features. His red shoes looked familiar . . .  . . . had Erik seen them before?

   He wracked his brain, grasping at tendrils of memory. Then he finally placed it. The man had been in line in front of them by about a dozen people. But if Erik was seeing him now, that meant he’d just stayed in his seat—a quick thirty-minute round trip to the top and back. Was that why Erik had noticed him?

   “Weird,” he said out loud, trying to get Kelsey’s attention.


   “You see that guy that just went by?”

   She nodded. “And?”

   Still annoyed, Victor warned.

   Erik bit his tongue, stopping the curse that tried to slip between his teeth at the voice’s continued presence.

   “He wasn’t far in front of us, in line. Must not have gotten off at the top.” Erik waited for her response, watching her face for any clues to her thoughts.

   “Weird,” she agreed, sending the hair on Erik’s arm rigid.

   “Yeah,” he said, turning in his seat to look behind them.

   The red shoes were already far down the hill, but there was a new distraction. Two men in the chairlift behind them momentarily piqued his attention. Erik could’ve sworn they both looked away as soon as he turned his head, but that could have just been his paranoia fabricating things to feed its ravenous appetite. Why was he so on edge? Everything had been fine before he called Smith’s contact.

   The man, Simon, had been helpful enough, offering to put Erik in touch with someone who might be familiar with 1950s Budapest. Erik hadn’t been lying when he told Kelsey the man had just informed him of a few resources to help in his search for a missing person. Kelsey was aware of why Erik had wanted to visit Budapest. Thanks to the events in Berlin, he had access to Victor’s ledger again—the one the Polish mob had murdered Victor to get—and the key for deciphering it.

   There had been other factors in Victor’s murder, like the fun fact that he’d stolen the heart of the mob boss’s wife and fled Poland with her after his cover was blown. Erik’s grandfather had been a CIA spy posing as a Norwegian businessman at the time, and it’d taken the mob boss over sixty years to track him down. Marga, the boss’s former wife and Erik’s grandmother, had already passed away from cancer by then. That had done little to stop the criminal family from enveloping Erik in a massive conspiracy that led to several deaths and, ultimately, the fracturing of Erik’s life, which he was still trying to mend.

   It’d been in Oslo, after his family—minus his brother, who was in a German hospital recovering from a bullet wound—had spread Victor’s ashes, that Erik had deciphered the ledger page lamenting the disappearance of a close friend and contact in communist Hungary. It had been written just before Victor went into hiding, and not knowing what had happened to his friend had pained him. The old spy never talked about his past, so everything Erik knew about the man’s life before the birth of his father came from those encrypted ledger entries. Talk about family secrets.

   “Earth to Erik,” Kelsey said, her voice snapping his awareness to the rolling grass rising toward their feet, signaling the end of the ride.

   “Sorry,” was his sheepish response.

They stepped off the slow-moving chairlift, then walked off the concrete platform, away from the small building that housed the lift’s machinery, and soon found themselves on the edge of a forest. A paved bike path and dirt hiking trail spider-webbed  away from them.

   “Wanna take the trees or the paved path?” Erik asked.

   Simon had suggested the shade of the forest trail, but Erik wasn’t sure Kelsey would want to hike it. The heat didn’t affect her like it did him, and her leather sandals might not be best suited for the dirt trail.

   “Like that’s a question,” she said, laughter following her words as she motioned to his sweat-drenched clothes. “Any more sun for you and I’ll be dating a puddle.”

   “Ha, good one,” Erik said, his smile real as he took in this wonderful woman.

   He led the way toward the trees, guilt riding him like a jockey. He hadn’t told her, but Simon had set up a meeting with his contact at the historic Elizabeth Lookout. Erik had sold the idea of the excursion to Kelsey by showing her pictures of the views from the lookout’s medieval-inspired stone turret. It was also a great opportunity for a workout, as the trail from the chairlift to the monument was a bit of a hike—a “calf crusher” as Simon had described it.

   Simon’s contact was a Pest local with family ties going back to pre-World War II. Simon had warned him that the man might not have any information regarding Victor’s long missing friend but suggested that his grandfather might remember him.

   “So . . .  . . . foresty . . . . . .”  Kelsey said with a quick laugh as they huffed their way up a set of earthen stairs.

   “Beautiful, right?”

   She just laughed again, and Erik got the idea she was less than impressed so far.

   “Good workout, at least,” he added as they rounded a bend on the trail.

   Kelsey’s response never came. Suddenly, they found the path blocked. One of the men from behind them on the chairlift was standing in front of them on the narrow trail.

   “Empty your pockets,” he said, his accented voice turning into a low growl as he brandished a knife.

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