Rafael Navarro dangled from the wall of the medieval castle, the murmur of approaching voices drifting down to him in the inky, moonless night. He went dead still, slid his gaze to the void plunging forty feet below him, and wondered what had gone wrong with his plan. Those guards weren't supposed to arrive yet. He'd spent weeks studying their rotation for the G-6 summit, counting off the intervals of the passing searchlight, calculating the exact time and place to break into the American diplomat's room. And he should have had three more minutes to scale this wall.
Cold sweat beaded his forehead. His back and shoulders throbbed as he clung to the nylon rope. But he schooled himself to absolute stillness, knowing even the slightest shift could move a prong on the grappling hook, drawing the royal guards' attention to him. Behind him, a cool breeze swept down the slopes of the Pyrenees Mountains, the slow, rhythmic clanking of cowbells tightening his nerves.
"You're not seriously going to smoke that." The man's voice came from the wall walk above.
"Why not?" a second man asked. His voice had a belligerent edge. "It's not going to kill anyone."
"The hell it won't," the first guard said. "You heard the boss. Anyone who screws up tonight gets fired." "Yeah, yeah."
Rafe's heart galloped against his rib cage. He'd be dead if he didn't move. Now. In a few precious seconds, the searchlight would pass, illuminating him like a dark bug splayed on a silver wall.
But cigarette smoke wisped past. More crucial seconds ticked down. Rafe gritted his teeth, his biceps trembling, every survival instinct screaming at him to go. But he couldn't move, couldn't even change positions to relieve the pressure on his now-numb hands.
"Hombre. Would you come on?" the first guard said, echoing Rafe's thoughts. "The next rotation's about to catch up."
"Fine." Disgust tinged the smoker's voice. A glowing cigarette butt streaked over the wall, barely missing Rafe's head. The guards finally pushed away from the ledge, the thud of their receding footsteps fading into the night.
Rafe eased out a breath, but forced himself to wait, counting off several vital heartbeats in case they circled back. Then he powered up the rope in a surge of adrenaline, glad he'd kept up the brutal workouts that enabled him to make this climb even though he'd retired from a life of crime. Until now.
He reached the medieval battlement and paused again. Stiii ciear. His arms aching, the desperate need to hurry flogging his brain, he hoisted himself over the edge. Then he yanked up the rope, pulled the grappling hook from the wall, and duckedÂ—just as the searchlight skimmed overhead.
Too damned close.
His heart pounding, that addictive rush of danger streaming through his veins, he crawled to the ancient watchtower, careful to keep his head under the light's wide range. Then he coiled the rope and tucked it against the wall for his descent. The high-powered beam swept back over the cylindrical tower, past a planked oak door dotted with iron studs.
Now. He leaped up and sprinted to the door. Skidding to a stop, he whipped the lock-pick gun from his back pocket, inserted a tension wrench into the lock and applied the gun. A series of sharp, rapid clicks rent the air.
The lock gave way.
Rafe squeezed through the door, careful not to let the hinges creak, into the darkened alcove that adjoined the diplomat's room. At this height he didn't worry about triggering an alarm. No one got past the armed guards, surveillance cameras and intrusion detection devices on the castle's lower floorsÂ—except a third-generation master thief like him.
But he wasn't out of danger yet. He had to find the historic signet ring and get back down that wallÂ—before the reception ended and the American returned to his room.
Flicking on his penlight, he padded across the antique rug