The Russian Seduction
Book Number: 1
Series Name: Foreign Affairs
Released on: Oct 01, 2012
Published by: Affluent Press
Victor Kostenko was the golden boy of the Russian Navy, a submarine captain with a maverick image, until he lost his command for an act of treason he didn’t commit. Arrogant, aggressive, and super-smart, the captain pairs his daunting reputation with an appetite for adventure. And he’s never met a rule he won’t break. Now it’s rumored he’ll do anything to get back in his government’s good graces.
Political Counselor Alexis Castle is one of the highest-ranked diplomats at the U.S. Embassy, a rising star who yearns to live up to her father’s legacy as a legendary ambassador. Brilliant and driven, she’s always played by the rules. She’ll torpedo her career for sure if she falls for one of the world’s most dangerous men – a bad-boy Russian sub captain who breaks every rule in the book.
When a hard-line Russian leader invades a country the U.S. promised to protect, war can only be avoided by a risky undercover liaison between one man who has everything to gain…and a woman who has everything to lose.
Christmas had come early for Political Counselor Alexis Castle at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. To celebrate the holiday, the Russians expelled a senior U.S. diplomat for espionage. Then, as a stocking-stuffer, the Russian military steamrolled over its small southern neighbor. Thanks to her boss’s expulsion, this gift-wrapped emergency landed right in Alexis’ lap.
No doubt about it, the stakes for the fledgling democracy of Ukraine couldn’t be higher. And the timing of this little international crisis would either make or break her career.
Tonight the Italian Political Attache was inching dangerously close to her own sovereign territory, armed with his megawatt smile. Behind him, the dazzling light of chandeliers glowed on the lemon-yellow walls of the German Ambassador’s residence. Christmas lights twinkled in the stately twelve-foot spruce tree soaring over the elegant crowd.
Alexis sidestepped the Italian’s ploy to corner her between the tree and the cocktail bar. Unfortunately, the designer suit couldn’t camouflage her pursuer’s pudgy frame, the scalp shiny with sweat against his receding hairline, or the fruity bite of Russian champagne on his breath.
But the heat was on her at this diplomatic reception-the first high-profile function she’d attended in her new capacity. The situation demanded an experienced diplomat’s discretion, not the panicked hyperbole of a woman overwhelmed by an aggressive male colleague.
So she smiled and kept her distance, while she steered their conversation firmly back to the crisis in Ukraine. Around them, a Beethoven sonata rippled through the Tsarist-era manor that housed the Ambassador’s residence.
Despite her evasive maneuvers, the Italian was breathing down the front of her tailored black suit while he answered her question. “Italy joins its NATO allies, signora, in being appalled by this Russian blockade of Ukraine’s territorial waters. We fear it could be the prelude to an invasion.”
“My government shares these concerns.” Carefully, Alexis recited the latest points from Washington, transmitted to post by instruction cable. Regardless of her strong sympathy for the former satellite state of Ukraine-bullied by its aggressive neighbor again-she wasn’t about to make a misstep during her first week in a new job.
“But we hesitate to condemn these acts,” she finished, “until Moscow provides an explanation. And let’s not forget that the Ukrainians themselves are assessing the situation, and haven’t yet asked for our help.”
“But this is unbelievable!” The Italian gestured with his champagne flute, black eyebrows winging up in astonishment. “Gross intimidation of a minor neighbor that already teeters on the brink of political collapse! Is this not precisely why your country argues for Ukraine’s entry into NATO?”
If she could have spoken freely, Alexis would have vigorously supported these sentiments. Regrettably, as one of the U.S. government’s senior representatives in Russia, speaking freely was not a luxury she could afford.
“We seek to deepen our dialogue with Ukraine,” she murmured, “without upsetting our delicate relations with Russia-”
“While you ‘deepen your dialogue,’ the Russians deploy their nuclear-armed vessels in a transparent bid to rebuild the Soviet empire!” The Attache paused, his oily eyes sliding over her. “Ah, but you are a newcomer to these responsibilities, is this not so, Counselor? Perhaps you have enjoyed limitedhellip; exposure to such matters.”
Alexis gripped the stem of her wineglass and arranged her features in a noncommittal smile. “Actually, the troubled relations between Russia and its neighbors are familiar terrain. My post for the past two years was here in Moscow-one level down, but in the same arena.”
She’d rebuffed the aging Lothario over the hors d’oeuvres, so now his bruised ego required stroking. How discouraging that, even on the brink of an international crisis, a female diplomat was not exempt from sexual advances in the workplace.
As she sipped her Riesling with its steely citrus palate, Alexis scanned her surroundings with worried eyes. Despite the festive decor, many guests were murmuring about the latest Russian aggression. An undercurrent of tension hummed through the well-bred gathering that made her nerves twitch. Yet the sedate throngs in business attire juggled their briefcases, exchanged brisk handshakes, and nibbled canapés without spilling a crumb on the Persian carpets.
To her dismay, her gaze collided with Deputy Chief of Mission Geoff Chase-her ex-husband. Still looking like Pierce Brosnan after all these years, dark-haired and steely-eyed, but aging past his prime. His trademark charm seemed to be working its usual magic on the French Ambassador’s wife and the Brazilian Embassy’s well-endowed female intern. But Geoff was watching Alexis, his elegant features etched in disapproving lines.
Years ago, she’d admired his relentless ambition and laser-like focus on his career. These days, the sight of him left a sour taste in her mouth.
While Geoff angled through the crowd toward her, she reminded herself again that their marriage was over. They were no longer one of the State Department’s tandem couples, posted together at the same Embassies, transferred together every two years, their stars rising in parallel arcs. But it still hurt to see her ex-husband flirting so openly with other women.
He extracted her from the Attache’s amorous clutches-thank God for small blessings-with a smooth apology.
“That smug son of a bitch,” Geoff muttered, when he had her ear.
Dear God, not this again. He couldn’t possibly feel threatened by that sweaty Italian.
“What’s the problem, Geoff?” Keeping a professional distance between them, Alexis took a bracing swallow of wine. As disastrous as the five years of their marriage had been, she found having her ex-husband as her new boss to be equally trying.
“The ‘problem’ is that tall blond chap in uniform-near the band.” Her ex bristled with contained annoyance and adjusted his cufflinks. “Apparently thinks the epaulets give him an excuse to stare at youhellip;for the last five minutes.”
Evidently, the Italian’s sexual overtures weren’t the problem after all. In fact, she doubted suddenly that Geoff had even realized he was rescuing her.
“I’m sure it’s nothing.” Gritting her teeth at the soothing tone she’d deployed-old habits died hard-Alexis snuck a glance toward the string quartet. Through the shifting crowd, she could see no one staring, drooling on himself, or doing anything else unseemly. Nor could she spot anyone who matched Geoff’s sketchy description.
But that hint of Oxford English was creeping into his speech-always a dead giveaway of displeasure in her British-educated ex.
“And when the devil,” he muttered, “are you going to express our concerns about this Ukraine crisis to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? That demarche is a priority message-our official response to the Russian aggression. You’ve been sitting on the document for three days. They’re going to think in Washington that I can’t manage my subordinates.”
“It may surprise you to learn,” Alexis said dryly, “that this international crisis is not about your career.”
And neither was our divorce. Although he’d never been good at handling rejection, Geoff’s career had always come first. When she finally gave up on their marriage, his primary objection had been that her decision humiliated him before their colleagues. Still struggling to process the pain of his serial infidelities-the irrefutable evidence of her own inadequacy-she’d been praying his sudden interest in a Moscow job was unrelated to their divorce.
Geoff had to suspect she’d transferred here to escape the emotional fallout from their shattered marriage. Moscow was her post, damn it, and she’d been here first.
“Don’t lecture me about the future of democracy in Ukraine.” Reacting to her comment, Geoff’s gray eyes flashed a warning. “I’ve been conducting U.S. foreign policy since you were in high school, Alexis. If you want to prove you’re up to snuff at handling your new responsibilities, you’d better get that demarche delivered-and no later than tomorrow.”
“I’m on it.” Deliberately, she extracted her arm from his proprietary grip. “Believe it or not, Geoff, the chief of the MFA’s Security Affairs Department does not hover near his telephone breathlessly waiting for our calls. He’s brand new, as you know-since they just fired his predecessor for sleeping with mine.”
“And for suspected espionage,” he murmured, glancing around them. “Let’s not forget that minor detail.”
She relinquished her wineglass to a waiter, and loosened her white-knuckled grip on her briefcase. Yet she couldn’t relinquish as easily the familiar stab of resentment.
She’d earned her promotion the hard way, scaling the steep Foreign Service ladder over ten long years, logging twelve-hour days at four overseas posts-not all of them exotic, by any means. And her predecessor’s abrupt departure had just made her, at age thirty-two, the youngest Political Counselor ever to serve at this Embassy. As well as the highest-ranking woman, subordinate only to Geoff as Deputy Chief of Mission, and to the Ambassador himself.
Yet she still heard it whispered by the old boys’ network that she owed her advancement not to her own merits, but to the man she’d married. Or to her prestigious father, Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Wayne Castle, whose name still held substantial cachet years after he’d passed away. This promotion was her big break, and she was burning to prove her detractors wrong.
Geoff ran a hand over his well-groomed hair. “How exactly do you plan to track down the man, Alexis? You’ll understand that I’m asking this question as your superior. As I recall, you’ve already submitted several requests to meet with Victor Kostenko through the usual channels. Yet he’s steadily refused to see you.”
“In fact, he hasn’t responded at all yet.” Alexis declined to divulge how much that bothered her. “But Captain Kostenko is hardly your average Ivan. Until recently, he was a submarine captain, the golden boy of the Russian fleet. He commanded their newest Akula-class attack sub-apparently with considerable flair.”
Geoff turned aside for a cordial handshake with a Russian Duma member, but ignored the junior staffer hovering in his wake. When her ex turned back to Alexis, he spoke in a pleasant murmur that disguised his agitation from anyone in hearing range. “Why isn’t Kostenko sitting in his submarine, enforcing the blockade, with the rest of his comrades?”
“He’s been reassigned to a desk job at MFA, probably as a reprimand for some misstep we can’t identify.” This was all in Kostenko’s dossier, which she’d forwarded to Geoff days ago. Evidently, her ex-husband had been too busy in Moscow’s exclusive restaurants, schmoozing his new counterparts at taxpayer expense, to read his email.
“Even though they gave Kostenko a pretty senior slot,” she finished, “he’s bound to be mad as hell about it.”
“From god of his own universe-fully armed with torpedoes and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles-to just another bureaucrat drowning in paper.” Geoff grinned as if he relished another man’s disgrace. “Hell of a Christmas present, isn’t it? If the chap’s as much a monomaniac as the sub skippers I’ve met, that’s bound to stick in his gullet.”
“Victor Kostenko has been a difficult catch,” she finished, projecting a confidence she didn’t entirely feel. “But I’m going to bag him, Geoff. So don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t let it take too long.” He drilled her with a wintry stare. “For reasons he hasn’t bothered to explain, the Ambassador chose you to lead our dialogue with the Russians. He’s hoping your negotiations will prevent this maritime dispute from flaring into armed conflict. At a bare minimum, if we want to avoid a war, you must persuade Kostenko to talk.”
Geoff paused to flash his charming smile at the Canadian Ambassador, and Alexis exchanged greetings with the attractive brunette as well. When the woman moved away, her ex leaned close to finish his warning.
“Bear in mind, Alexis, you’re not the only new incumbent whose performance is being assessed. I can’t afford a fumble on my watch.”
Alexis concealed her cynicism, as she would have done with any new boss, and seized the moment to excuse herself. She was searching for the powder room when a pressed-and-starched functionary with a German accent slipped up discreetly beside her.
“A telephone call has rung in for you, Frau Chase.”
“It’s Castle,” she corrected. The divorce was still making the rounds in diplomatic circles, which inevitably led to some awkward moments.
“A telephone call has rung in for you, Frau Castle,” the young man repeated. “I shall show you the way, please.”
Alexis gripped her briefcase-awkward to carry, but these receptions were intended for business, not pleasure, and all of them did it. As she followed the German up the stately staircase toward the private rooms, the strains of violin music ebbed away. Her heels clicked against the floor as they wound onto another narrow stair, a servant’s passage for the original manor, she guessed.
For the first time, she suffered a twinge of unease. They’d climbed far beyond the public area now. Surely Ambassador von Hippel had made a nearer phone available where she could have taken the call?
“Excuse me,” she called, trying out her halting German. “Are you certain we’re going the right way?”
“Don’t worry, Frau Castle.” The functionary spared her an impersonal smile as he turned onto a dimly-lit third floor corridor. Ahead, an amber beam of light spilled over the Turkmen carpet from an open doorway. A sinuous rope of cigarette smoke twined through the air. Here the young man stopped, and invited her with a bow to enter.
Nodding her thanks, Alexis strode briskly into a high-ceilinged library, its walls lined with embossed leather-bound volumes. A massive antique desk reared before the window. The glass panes behind it were rimed with ice, gusts of snow swirling through the frigid darkness of a December night in Moscow.
In the intimate island of light cast by the Venetian lamp, a gold-braided officer’s hat was propped carelessly on the desk. In the Louis XV chair behind it, a man sprawled, turned away from her, feet braced on the window sill as he stared into the night.
Cigarette smoke uncoiled above his head as the officer inhaled, lamplight running like melted butter over dark blond hair, at least an inch too long for regulation. Light glittered against the epaulets that spanned his broad shoulders, three golden bars proclaiming a captain’s rank-her first clue as to who this guy might be. The black fabric of his uniform strained across the powerful muscles of his back and clung to impressive biceps.
Alexis cleared her throat and addressed the back of his head, employing her fluent Russian. “I beg your pardon. I was looking for the telephone-”
The soft click of the door closing behind her sent a chill of uneasiness skittering down her spine. She’d been led here, far from earshot of the other guests unless she shouted-though she’d never be so undignified-and dropped into a rather disconcerting private setting with a high-ranking Russian military officer.
A figure no U.S. diplomat should be meeting alone in this era of tense bilateral relations, without the sanction of an official dialogue to justify the encounter to superiors. It was a precaution Alexis waived at her own risk, given what had just happened to Oliver Grey, her unfortunate predecessor.
Behind the desk, the Russian addressed the window coolly, without turning his head. “I am afraid there is no telephone call, Ms. Chase.”
“It’s Castle.” Noting the crisp diction of his accented English, she switched languages to accommodate him. “Forgive my ignorance. You seem to know me, but I’m a bit unclear who you are.”
At last, he swung his legs down and pivoted to face her. The lamplight spilled around him like water in a ship’s wake, streaming past an impregnable hull. The Slavic sharpness of high cheekbones; a canny crease between tawny brows; hard jaw glittering with the gold dust of day’s-end stubble; and a mouth whose firm press suggested ruthlessnesshellip;and sensuality.
But God-his eyes. That Nordic gaze fixed her, unwavering, piercing blue as winter ice. She wondered how many men had looked their last into those cold eyes, then told herself to get it together. Still, she could barely contain the shiver that whispered through her.
His lips tightened in a humorless smile. “I’m Captain First Rank Victor Tarasovich Kostenko. I’m told you’ve been looking for me.”
“Captain Kostenko?” She erected a wall of diplomatic courtesy between them, to camouflage the frustration of her three-day pursuit. The guy had just ambushed her-with help from a NATO ally, no less-and she couldn’t afford to give him an inch of turf. “I understand you’re the newhellip;administrator tasked to observe Russia’s military engagement with Ukraine.”
“I am the new Director of the Security Affairs and Disarmament Department,” he said coolly. “In that capacity, I oversee the Russian Federation’s military collaboration with the fourteen nations that comprise the post-Soviet empire. As even a newcomer to your position must be aware, this empire includes Ukraine.”
Given the classic sub skipper’s ego, she’d figured Kostenko would be annoyed to hear himself described as a glorified secretary. But he was a cool customer, this Russian, and his harsh-chiseled features gave nothing away as he parried her thrust with that little dig about her inexperience.
Still, she wasn’t going to let him rattle her. No matter what hair-raising exploits he might have piloted his submarine through, the man possessed substantially less diplomatic experience than she did herself.
As she pinned on her best game face, those narrowed blue eyes slid down her body from head to heels, then slowly slid back up. For a heartbeat, that chilly remoteness almost fractured. His gaze lingered on the immaculate silk suit she’d chosen so carefully to project her authority, the turquoise scarf she’d knotted at her throat to match her eyes.
She knew what he saw: the epitome of restraint and gravitas she took constant pains to reflect. Yet now, for some reason, she had to remind herself not to toy with the silver-blonde hair that brushed her shoulders, or tug at the costly jacket. Alexis tamped down that inner twitch of nerves and tightened her grip on her briefcase.
“I have talking points and a demarche from Washington for you, captain.” Pausing, she infused her tone with sympathy. “Since you’re new to your diplomatic responsibilities, I should explain that a demarche is an official position paper. In this case, it’s intended to initiate dialogue-”
“Thank you for the tutorial on elementary diplomacy, Counselor.” Now his tone was icy, but the furrow between his brows deepened. “Are you able to articulate the document’s subject-or are you merely functioning as a mailman?”
Touche, captain. She unclenched her jaw, and refrained from betraying a flicker of annoyance.
“I have a passing acquaintance with the topic,” she said dryly, “since I’ve been following your government’s evolving relations with its neighbors for the past several years.”
While you were cruising the North Sea playing war games. Her genteel condescension had to be getting under his skin. This wasn’t a man accustomed to being patronized-especially, she guessed, by a woman.
“My government is demarching you,” she finished, “to express its concern with the troubling presence of Russian naval vessels in Ukraine’s territorial waters.”
“It’s a training exercise.” Through watchful eyes he studied her, drawing on his cigarette and speaking curtly through the smoke. “If you have documents for me, I’ll give you a fax number.”
“I’m afraid that will not suffice.” Alexis worked to contain a sharp burst of irritation.
Though routine documents were often delivered via fax-not email, which was deemed too insecure-important messages like this one required the added emphasis of a personal meeting. And if he knew what a demarche was, Victor Kostenko damn well knew she wouldn’t be faxing this one. She wondered whether his inaccessibility was dictated by his superiors at MFA, or merely reflected his own difficult personality.
“My government would like a response to these concerns,” she pressed, “that goes beyond a confirmation of receipt from the MFA fax machine.”
And I’ll need that response by tomorrow, captain, if I want to hold on to my hard-won promotion.
Kostenko exhaled smoke, that ruthless mouth twitching as if he sensed her desperation. As if he too was scanning her for weaknesses, and had just picked up her “tell.”
“In point of fact,” he murmured, in his accented but impeccable English, “it will reflect poorly upon you personally if you are unable to entice a more substantive response from me, yes? It will reflect upon you: Alexis Castle Chase, who are the only surviving child of a legendary U.S. Ambassador, and the recent ex-wife of another senior U.S. diplomat.”
His eyes glinted like submerged glaciers in the North Sea as she clung grimly to her poise. No wedding ring, she noted, either on his left hand or his right, where an orthodox Russian would wear it. Which was more than a bit unusual for a guy his age-around forty, her analysts calculated-in this culture.
“It would reflect poorly,” he finished softly, “upon you: the new Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs, who are widely rumored to have obtained your impressive promotion through your connections with these two great men, rather than through your own merits.”
“I beg your pardon.” Gripping her briefcase until it cut into her fingers, Alexis responded with steely control. “Notwithstanding my ‘connections,’ your colleagues across five ministries consult me on a regular basis, as do your counterparts from the Russian Security Council and the Presidential Administration.”
She arched her brows. “I’m not certain how things worked on your submarine. But in diplomacy, it’s generally considered appropriate to coordinate your views with your superiors.”
An electric pulse of annoyance flashed in his eyes. He might be compelled to take his marching orders from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but she’d bet her trust fund this alpha male didn’t like it.
“At my level,” he bit out, “I possess the authority to make Russian policy and dictate its positions myself. Of course, I appreciate that an Embassy functionary stationed thousands of miles from her capital cannot enjoy the same privilege.”
And that smug son of a bitch had just impugned her professional abilities again. No doubt he’d intuited, with those aggressive instincts, how hard she worked to suppress her doubts-her secret fears that her performance could never live up to her star billing. He knew she was under the spotlight, and needed to deliver a stellar performance.
But the trick to dealing with Russians, as Alexis well knew, was never to blink. Now she drew from the sketchy information she’d read in his dossier to prepare for this meeting.
“Have they really let you off your leash at MFA, captain?” she murmured. “You must know those diplomats downstairs are buzzing about you. They’re asking each other what kind of misstep would impel the Ministry of Defense to pull its most talented captain from commanding an attack sub to sail a desk in the backwater of another ministry.”
Though she shouldn’t have said it, and her Ambassador would probably faint if he heard it, her pointed riposte finally drew blood. Her adversary went utterly still, a muscle ticking in his jaw the only indication that she’d hit a nerve. His cigarette hovered, clamped between his fingers, a cylindrical ash growing on its tip.
“You must inform your Defense Attache,” he said with dangerous softness, “that his dossier on me contains certainhellip; inaccuracies. For the Kostenko who was the fleet’s most talented captain was not myself, but my father. As a submarine captain, I cannot claim to surpass him. And the so-called crime for which he was convicted-after his sub was lost at sea with all souls aboard, including his own-was nothing more than his Ukrainian ancestry.”
He paused. “The same so-called ‘deficiency’ which I, of course, must share.”
Kostenko’s Slavic features brooded, as he flicked the ember from his cigarette into a brass ashtray. “When we were united under the Soviet Union, the question of ethnicity was a trifling matter. Now, in these more complicated times, a loyal soldier and citizen of Mother Russia must be all the more zealous-as you will appreciate-in discharging his responsibilities.”
That would hold especially true for a senior officer whose mixed ethnicity straddled both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Cool and dispassionate though he might appear, Victor Kostenko had to be feeling some heat.
As she stood at attention before the enormous desk like a soldier on parade, with tension simmering in the air between them, Alexis felt an unwilling pang of sympathy for the officer’s dilemma. She understood, all too well, how it felt to be trapped by a father’s legacy. She too, in her own way, had struggled all her life to escape.
But in the end, she’d understood that she would never escape being the daughter of the venerable Undersecretary Castle. She could only atone for her own inadequacies. She wondered if Victor Kostenko had yet learned that painful lesson.
Back to business, she reminded herself, and smoothed her face to professional detachment. “As I’ve mentioned, I have the talking points and paper outlining our concerns in my briefcase. Allow me to convey these documents to you now. Then you can consult your superiors, and respond to me tomorrow-”
“I fear that is impossible, Ms. Castle,” the Russian said curtly. His clipped words did nothing to camouflage a simmering impatience with these diplomatic niceties, his tangible scorn for the protocols forced upon him. “I am not permitted to accept without prior authorization any documents on military matters, outside the physical boundaries of a ministry or agency of the Russian Federation. This is for your protection as well as mine.”
So that neither of them could be accused of espionage for the transaction. Alexis swore silently at the emergence of this latest bureaucratic obstacle. Indeed, to defend against such allegations, both of them were already required to report this private discussion to their respective authorities.
Conscious of the scrutiny of those cobalt eyes, Alexis placed her briefcase squarely at her feet-a silent declaration of intent. The embattled country of Ukraine was counting on her to flex some muscle. Her assignment was to wield the threat of U.S. wrath convincingly enough to strong-arm the Russian navy back into international waters, without resorting to violence. She had to deliver her message, come hell or high water, and persuade Kostenko to respond to her government’s very real concerns.
If she didn’t, it was her ass on the line. And the newly independent state of Ukraine might be breathing its last gasp of freedom.
“In that case,” she said calmly, “I must call on you at MFA tomorrow to discuss these pressing issues. When will it be convenient for you to see me? Shall we say 10 a.m.?”
A flicker of something-wry acknowledgement of her persistence, maybe-surfaced beneath the arctic chill of his features. Thoughtfully, he ground out his cigarette. Then, with an abruptness that disconcerted her, he pushed to his feet.
She couldn’t help noticing the guy towered over the hapless desk, way over six feet tall. And the breadth of his chest beneath that gold-braided jacket was, admittedly, impressive. She wondered what he’d been doing on his submarine to give him that physique. This was hardly the body of a man who spent his days scowling into a periscope-or hunched over a desk at MFA, for that matter. While the suntanned skin stretched over those Slavic bones in December hinted at an outdoor man.
Alexis cut short her wayward thoughts, every nerve tingling with wariness as he rounded the desk with the silent glide of a hunting shark. She stood her ground as he prowled toward her, surprisingly graceful for such a large man, with the athleticism she respected in her sparring partners at the dojo or the fencing salle. In the narrow confines of the library, he passed close enough to touch. If she’d wanted to touch him, which of course she didn’t.
Still, she couldn’t help noticing how the lamplight glittered on those epaulets and the double column of gold buttons marching down his torso. Or the way the caramel-colored light picked out sun-streaks in his hair, thick enough to tempt a woman to run her fingers through it.
And she definitely couldn’t help breathing in the fragrance exuded from his rough-shaven skin: an enticing blend of Davidoff cigarettes and the woody spice of David Beckham’s Signature cologne. It didn’t help that she was probably the only woman left on earth who actually liked the rich acrid perfume of a high-end cigarette, though she didn’t smoke herself.
Clearly Kostenko was escalating his offensive because he hadn’t managed to pierce her composure with his pointed words. Well, if he thought she’d be intimidated by his proximity, he was destined for disappointment, because she wouldn’t show him an ounce of weakness. She stood her ground as he circled her, like a great white smelling blood in the water.
Though she was definitely not afraid of him, she couldn’t deny being hyperaware of his every silent step. Warm breath stirred her hair and brushed her ear, making her toes curl, as he leaned in close from behind.
“Tell me, Ms. Castle, how far will you go to accomplish your mission?”
“What are you asking me, captain?” she countered. “Obviously, I’ll do nothing illegal, or even remotely inappropriate.”
But her voice sounded breathless, which was unsurprising given the way her stomach was fluttering. A dead giveaway to a perceptive man, which he definitely was, that she wasn’t as firmly in control as she pretended to be.
Now he lingered behind her, so she couldn’t see his face, and she seized the moment to shore up her defenses. But when he spoke-whisper-soft-his voice seemed thicker, his accent more pronounced, as though he too felt distracted.
“I’ll inform my colleagues that your government is planning to demarche us about our legitimate military collaboration with Ukraine.” His breath teased her ear. “I’m able to make no guarantees, you realize. However, one might possibly avoid an official refusal…if you were to give me the relevant documents when I see you tomorrow evening.”
A swell of satisfaction flooded through her at his apparent capitulation, even though he’d hedged his bet. But she caught her breath at his unexpected last word.
“Tomorrow evening, captain?” She’d be squeaking in just under Geoff’s deadline, and she didn’t like cutting it that close. “Are you planning to attend the Embassy reception? We’re hosting an event for the Russian scientists who’ve won slots in our exchange program-”
“Hardly.” Victor Kostenko snorted as he completed his stroll around her. “And neither are you, Ms. Castle, if you really want to give me those unpleasant documents you’re carrying.”
She bristled at his peremptory tone. “I’m afraid my presence at that reception is a command performance. May I suggest an earlier appointment?”
“Unfortunately that will be impossible given my schedule. I’ll send a car for you at 1830 hours,” he finished, those vigilant eyes glinting as they catalogued her reaction. “Don’t be late.”
Anger flared through her as Alexis stared up at him, absorbing the calm certainty in his tone, his utter conviction that she would yield to his diktat without a syllable of protest.
Of course, her father had thought nothing of regimenting her life in precisely that manner, without even consulting her. And she’d resented the hell out of it. When Wayne Castle passed away, she’d seized control of her own life, and vowed not to let anyone else behind the wheel. She couldn’t tolerate being pushed around by another man who projected her father’s unquestioning authority. Especially not this Russian skipper, who exuded all the arrogance and aggression that were archetypes of the breed.
But she had to deliver that message, and he’d just outlined the circumstances under which he would concede to take it. Yet she couldn’t deny-and couldn’t hide, damn it ten times-the wicked thrill of challenge that rippled through her.
No doubt about it, Captain First Rank Victor Kostenko was far too sure of himself for any woman’s good.
“I’ll report your proposal to my colleagues, captain,” she said blandly. “Will any of your comrades from MFA be joining us?”
“No.” Looking amused, the captain extracted a fresh cigarette and a slim silver lighter from his pocket. “Do you think I’m going to require reinforcements to deal with you, Counselor?”
She’d bet he didn’t allow himself to require or rely on anyone. But if she agreed to take this meeting tomorrow, she’d be on his turf. She wasn’t so blind cocky that she’d pass up the opportunity to secure some allies of her own.
“As you like,” she said crisply, lifting her chin. “For my part, I’ll be accompanied by our Defense Attache, General Baker.”
“We won’t require the general’s presence for the dialogue I’m envisioning.” His voice deepened an octave. “Kindly arrange to leave your minders at home.”
For a nanosecond he actually smiled, fine lines creasing in the suntanned skin around his eyes, and that flash of bad-boy charm hit Alexis like a triple shot of espresso.
Whoa. He hadn’t picked that up at the Russian school for sub skippers. That smile made it impossible to overlook the inconvenient distraction she’d been struggling to ignore since she’d walked into the German Ambassador’s library. All his Russian brusqueness and glacial chill notwithstanding, Victor Tarasovich Kostenko was a rather unusual specimen.
In fact, he was the type of guy she might possibly have gone for-except for that minor detail about being a high-ranking Russian officer. Which was the show-stopper, of course. He was the very last liaison any career-minded American diplomat would ever dare indulge.
And he was doubly dangerous to Alexis, since her boss Oliver Grey had just been expelled from country for an unsanctioned sexual relationship with Kostenko’s female predecessor. Their capitals were still scrambling to establish who’d been spying on whom. As for the luckless Russian diplomat, rumor had it the Minister of Foreign Affairs had sacked her personally. While the Embassy’s security office had already warned Alexis the pissed-off Russians could target her for the payback.
So don’t overreact to the fact that the guy’s somewhat attractive…borderline interesting…and apparently single. You’ve probably just been celibate too long-ever since Geoff. But even as she cautioned herself, she bent to retrieve her briefcase and caught another mouth-watering whiff of that Beckham fragrance.
Holding her professional composure like a shield between them, she uttered a brisk goodnight and hightailed it out of there. But she was still vibrating beneath the sweep of his eyes, like a targeted vessel pinged by Russian sonar, when she swept around the corner and out of firing range.
Satisfied Amazon Reader Chi
Bloody brilliant! I am hooked from the very first page. I was promised to an awesome ride from the start. The author is supreme in her choices of words and to have an inside looks on how the diplomacy at work, that to me is just cherry on top. For me, this is a spy romance thriller. Both Alexis and Victor are of privilege families of their own countries, but they did not cross the line and betray the responsibilities they were given. I love how Alexis can hold her own and rise to the challenges, I admire her poise and grace, the unmatched intellect and the way she turned the table on the Russian government officials, totally took my surprise. The love scenes are steamy, tastefully done with no vulgar language. Finally, I like how the author ended the story. No fairy tale “marry me “, she just left us to wonder and imagine. Dear Ms. Navarre, you’ve got yourself a loyal fan here. Please keep the good works coming, I can hardly wait for your next novel. Brilliant works you’ve done.
Jamie Michele, Author of An Affair of Vengeance
Diplomat Alexis Castle’s glamorous but stressful career dictates every move she makes. And in Moscow, where she’s under constant surveillance and faces the very real threat of being compromised by a Russian intelligence agent, her moves are limited to a handful of carefully calculated cocktail parties. Briefcase always in hand, her poise is unbreakable–until the Russian navy makes a threatening move on fragile Ukraine, and she’s forced to negotiate a solution with her new counterpart in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, disgraced Russian submarine captain Victor Kostenko.
Kostenko, furious at losing his sub command for a trumped-up charge, refuses to engage the American on the Ukrainian crisis, but Alexis is persistent. The daughter of a legendary ambassador–and the new ex-wife of another top-level diplomat–she is driven by the need to prove that her success in her field has nothing to do with the men she’s loved. She pursues Kostenko with all required propriety, but once she catches him, their diplomatic standards of engagement are slowly shredded. For now that Kostenko has seen her, he must have her.
And what the Captain wants, the Captain gets.
He agrees to discuss the Ukrainian crisis, but only on his terms. Kostenko teases Alexis, drawing her out of the highly structured world of Russian-American diplomacy. Each increasingly unprofessional encounter reveals another layer of attraction that Alexis struggles to deny, for to give in to her unshakable need for the Captain would mean trashing her career at best, and being arrested for espionage by the Russians at worst. For Kostenko, the possible outcomes of an affair with an American diplomat are no better. The facts are undeniable: they cannot be together. Even a whisper of impropriety could be enough to ruin their lives, but soon, things go far beyond a whisper. As their torrid affair deepens, so does the crisis in Ukraine, and their trust in one another is tested beyond the limits of what their secret love can endure.
I LOVED this book. As soon as I finished, I wanted to read it again. I promise you, that’s a rare emotion for me. And for once, I wasn’t skimming sex scenes. I actually caught myself muttering as I encouraged the heroine to gaze upon the naked hero at one point. The shower scene. (Yup, you want to read it.)
Fantastic sex aside, most of the power of this novel lies in the pitch-perfect setup of conflicts between the hero and heroine. While Russia and America aren’t at war, Navarre (a career diplomat herself) nonetheless cultivates a certain Cold-War-like tension between the two diplomats that reminds me of the very best spy novels. It’s very difficult in a contemporary romance novel to create a situation in which two people truly cannot be together, but Navarre does here. To so much as have a private dinner with Kostenko would be a black mark on the heroine’s record, so when he begins nuzzling her neck and she finds herself wanting more, I bit my nails for her. Alexis couldn’t give in to Kostenko’s determined seduction–it’d ruin her life and possibly ignite a war. But she had to! She needed to break free of the strictures of her “dream” career, which was never her dream to begin with–it was her father’s and her husband’s. She’d only convinced herself that it was hers. With Kostenko, she’s free to find herself. And that’s scary. No matter what might be waiting for her on the other side, a woman doesn’t just throw away a decade of clawing herself to the top of a challenging field because of one super-hot Russian sub captain.
Except he’s more than just hot–he’s the hottest, tallest, broadest-shoulder-est man in Moscow. Heads turn and bras pop when the Captain walks into a room. It’d be ridiculous if he didn’t seem so real! But I swear, this man exists somewhere. (I’m sort of hoping the author has him in her attic, Jane Eyre-style). Navarre revels in describing him over and over again until I found myself smelling his distinctive mixture of Beckham cologne and high-end cigarettes (hey, he’s Russian, it’s realistic) before she even mentioned it. I salivated over the way his perfect pecs filled out his captain’s uniform. I ogled his flawless biceps when he tugged off his crisp white shirts. I shivered beneath his Arctic-blue gaze right along with our heroine. Alexis didn’t stand a chance against that calibre of hotness, and that’s the way it had to be. If she was going to commit a breach of protocol so severe that it could end her career, the guy had to be worth it. More importantly, I had to believe that he was worth it, or else I wouldn’t be able to sympathize with her. (He totally is, and I totally did). Because the author crafted an irresistible hero and a relatable heroine, I could nod understandingly whenever Alexis dove back under the covers with the Captain, even though she seemed to ruin her life in the process.
This is all coming from a reader who often leaves romances half-read and skips sex scenes, remember. But you couldn’t have paid me to stop reading this book. Partly because their affair is utterly forbidden, the sexual tension between Alexis and Kostenko is ignited in the first five pages and grows to an inferno by the book’s end. The push-pull of duty versus desire kept me turning pages long after I should have been asleep. I 100% recommend this extremely sexy and glamorous romance with a compelling thriller sub-plot, and look forward to the next release in this author’s Foreign Affairs series.
The Romance Review
Edgy, sensuous and well-crafted, THE RUSSIAN SEDUCTION matches a classic spy novel with a absorbing, intense romance. Nikki Navarre’s skill at weaving intense characters with the high-stakes world of international politics makes for a story that will keep readers guessing until the very end.
Alexis Castle has spent ten years in the US Foreign Service, making a meteoric rise to one of the highest-ranked diplomatic positions at the U.S. Embassy in Russia, but it has come at a cost. Desperate to step out of her diplomat father’s impressive shadow, Alexis has had few personal relationships, especially after the end of her marriage two years ago. But when U.S. relations between Russia begin to seriously sour after Russian subs move into Ukrainian waters, Alexis finds herself thrown into very close company with one Captain Victor Kostenko, a man who threatens to destroy the carefully controlled world she’s worked so hard to build.
Victor Kostenko was once a respected submarine captain, but when a charge of treason was leveled against his family, he lost his command, but not his arrogance or his determination to clear his family name by any means necessary. If that means performing a few missions for the Russian government, then so be it.
Alexis knows he is not a man to be trusted, either with her diplomatic information or her trust, but try as she might, she can’t deny her growing attraction to the adventurous, intelligent Russian or ignore the heat that smolders between them. Giving in to her desires could mean much more than the end of her career, because her heart is involved as well, and the one man she wants is the one man she knows she can never trust.
The Russian world of this book was a sensational choice and expertly crafted. Fans of James Bond will delight in the first meeting between Alexis and Victor, complete with shadowy offices, a cigarette haze and the promise of danger in every syllable. This atmosphere is sustained beautifully throughout the book, with settings and locales straight out of classic spy films, and the constant threat of betrayal and double-crossing keeping readers on their toes. Though there are times when the descriptive details slow down the story, on the whole, the world of this story is really quite well done and added a great deal to the reading experience.
Perhaps because Alexis keeps her emotions so highly controlled, it was difficult to really get to know her at the beginning of the book. I was glad to see how her relationship with Victor opened her up and allowed readers to see the sensitive, deeply conflicted and very likeable character that she was hiding for so long. Her insecurities are deep and honest, and watching her face them all down over the course of the story really endeared her to me.
Similarly it took a while for Victor to become a three-dimensional character for me, which might have something to do with the fact that we only see him through Alexis’ eyes. But as they got to know each other and grew closer, his façade also fell away, revealing the man behind the titles and the cover stories. It turns out he is a terrific alpha-male hero—strong, relentless in his search for the truth and utterly devoted, both to his mission and the woman at his side.
There were few obvious answers in this book, and the questions swirled around Alexis’ relationship with Victor, his involvement with the darker aspects of the Russian political structure, and the truth regarding his family and the accusations brought against them. Though I had my suspicions, there was quite enough suspense and tension to keep me flipping the pages; and once the fire between Alexis and Victor finally had a chance to flare, the tension and almost uncontrollable passion between them was phenomenal. Each scene brought them closer together and revealed, bit by bit, parts of their character that sometimes came as much as a surprise to Alexis as to the reader.
While I would have liked to have felt a little closer to Victor than I did by the end of the book, I truly enjoyed this story and the intensity of the tangled relationship between the main characters. There’s no doubt that Nikki Navarre knows her subject matter, and has used her knowledge to create a story that is as sultry as it is suspenseful, and I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting more!
THE RUSSIAN SEDUCTION is the story of what happens when Political Counselor, Alexis Castle, a diplomat on her way up, meets Victor Kostenko, a submarine captain who lost his ship, his command and is on the way down. Each has a great deal to prove to their respective governments. Can Alexis show everyone that she earned her position and doesn’t have it because of her family connections? Can Victor prove that he follows his own code of ethics or is he just marching to his government’s dictates, determined to ruin Alexis in the process?
This is a sizzling hot story between two very strong characters. They know the risks, know that they are pawns but manage to fall in love anyway. Now, how are they going to survive all of the dangers and adventures that their adversaries throw at them? Is a happy ending even possible? Or will their passion destroy them? Nikki Navarre keeps the reader hooked scene after scene, page after page as the story evolves. The Russian setting was beautifully drawn and the authentic descriptions brought the book to life.
I can’t wait to read more!
Cocktails and Books
Oh my! Nikki Navarre has provided us with political / romantic suspense story that kept me on the edge of my seat. For political junkies, it was the perfect mix of intrigue, political tension and romance to hook you.
Alexis Castel has worked hard to earn the post of Counselor at the US Embassy in Moscow, despite who her father was and the fact that she reports directly to her ex-husband. With tensions rising between Russia and Ukraine, it’s Alexis’ job to make contact with her Russian counterpart, ex-sub captain Victor Kostenko, and try to find a way for Russia to back down before the President’s visit in a few weeks. She didn’t count on the sparks flying when she mets Victor or to become embroiled in a Russian cover-up about what exactly happened when one of their ballistic missile subs went down two years before.
I love a good political thriller and The Russian Seduction is a really, really good one. Told for Alexis’ point of view (in the third person) we find a woman torn between the expectation of her father, her ex-husband and what she really wants. While she excels at her job, she’s finding herself restless. When she mets Victor, he (unknowingly because she hides it behind political bravado) unleashes the adventurer in Alexis. She fights herself, for three quarters of the book, because despite wanting to be a woman in control of her life she finds herself hopelessly attracted to Victor and willing to let him take charge (a place she never wanted to be in again). Alexis has to look deeply at herself and her desires to discover that a little adventure with a former Russian sub captain is exactly what she needs.
I look forward to reading more from Nikki Navarre.