I’ve got something cool and a little bit different than normal today. One of my absolute favourite authors, Will Jordan, recently published the sixth instalment in his amazing spy thriller season featuring CIA agent Ryan Drake.
I’ve been looking forward to getting stuck into Ghost Target and I am delighted to be able share an excerpt of the book.
Set halfway up a gentle hill a couple of miles east of Marseille, overlooking a sheltered bay and the vast swathe of the Mediterranean beyond, the old French villa enjoyed views that would have made most estate agents green with envy. Unfortunately for Ryan Drake, the view was just about the only thing this place had going for it.
In need of a place to lay low after being forced to go on the run from the Agency last year, Drake had chanced upon the old, dilapidated villa about six months ago. Clearly the building had suffered from decades of neglect, but for him it had seemed ideal. A cheap, isolated, easily defensible building in an elevated position, with only a dusty single-track road leading up to it.
Nobody could approach closer than half a mile without his knowledge. And given that the nearest house was on the far side of the bay, he had little concerns about his neighbours spying on him. In short, it was a perfect safe house.
Posing as a foreign property investor looking for a restoration project, he’d put in a cash bid the very next day. Needless to say, his offer had been accepted almost immediately.
He hardly considered himself a rich man, but like any deniable CIA operative with an ounce of foresight and pragmatism, he’d set up a pretty comprehensive security blanket during his time with the Agency – false identities, travel documents, passports and a decent financial reserve that he could tap into. A man like him never knew when he might have to disappear in a hurry, and last year in Libya that fear had proven all too real.
Some modernization required, the property listing had said. That was a euphemistic way of looking at it, he’d soon realized.
The previous owner had obviously been a bit of a hoarder, because the place had been packed with junk of all descriptions – everything from old newspapers, magazines and pictures to ancient television sets, radios, ornaments, broken furniture and a hundred other things he hadn’t bothered to look at. There had even been an artificial leg hidden away in a corner of the basement. Drake had been tempted to put an ad in the local Lost and Found, since its owner was sure to be missing it by now.
Still, six months down the line, things had improved marginally. The plumbing worked, when it felt like it. The boiler, like a moody teenager, would alternate between being cooperative and useful, to not wanting anything to do with him. And the electrical system, installed in 1936 as the yellowed sticker on the fuse box proudly proclaimed, couldn’t be counted on if more than three lights were turned on at once. He’d done what he could to get it back into working order, but his modest electrical expertise was no match for the madness of 1930s French building practices.
Swinging the big oak door closed behind him, Drake walked through the wide tiled hallway to the kitchen, set his bag of bread and pastries down on the counter and started the kettle boiling.
Glancing at his hand, he frowned when he noticed a trace of dried blood on his grazed knuckles. He had barely thought about the fight on his long walk home; he’d just carried on with his morning routine as if nothing had happened.
For a while after he’d noticed the man observing him, it had crossed his mind that the guy might be a real player – a professional hit man sent by the Agency to hunt him down and kill him. There were plenty such men on the payroll.
But their brief scuffle earlier had taught Drake otherwise. The man’s attack had been clumsy and stupid. He was a street thug; nothing more. There were a lot of them in Marseille these days, ready to prey on the rich Brits, Russians and Americans who flocked here every summer.
As he ran his hand under the cold tap at the sink, watching another man’s blood wash away and disappear down the plug hole, he felt a familiar throb of pain radiating out from his knuckles. He’d broken his hand in a boxing match many years earlier, the damage forestalling whatever aspirations he’d had as a professional fighter. It had healed well enough, but the old injury still troubled him now and again.
He hadn’t felt the pain at the time; the adrenaline had been pumping and he had been too intent on not getting clubbed or knifed to death to worry about it, but now that he’d had a chance to calm down, it was starting to catch up with him.
It had been a while since he’d found himself in a situation like that. More than a while, actually. Living a simple life, the past six months had been deceptively quiet and uneventful. A man could almost forget his past if he spent enough time in a place like this.
Standing by the sink, he paused for a moment, playing over the events again in his mind. Street thugs he could handle, but not if the situation escalated into something more. Even if his actions today had been necessary for self-defence, he had called attention to himself by beating that man down.
There was a chance of course that Philippe Giroux would heed his warning and steer well clear of Marseille, perhaps finding a new town in which to prey on unwary travellers. A chance, but Drake sensed it was unlikely. Street criminals were as territorial as a pack of wolves, and just as vicious when provoked. There was no telling who Giroux might talk to about the mysterious foreigner who had nearly killed him this morning, no telling where the rumours might end up.
Perhaps it was time to move on, find a new place to lay low. That would be the smart thing, the prudent thing to do to ensure his survival. Why then was he so reluctant to contemplate it?
The click of the kettle snapped him out of his dark musings. Turning off the tap, he shook his hand a few times to get most of the water off, then emptied the boiling water into a waiting coffee pot. As he made for the fridge to get some cheese and jam, he decided to put his earlier thoughts on hold, at least until after breakfast.
Making decisions on an empty stomach was never a wise move.
A short while later Drake was sitting at a weathered old wooden table – one of the few items salvaged from the original owner – on the villa’s outdoor terrace, staring at the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean as he waited for his laptop to boot up. It was already shaping up to be a warm day, the sun rising slowly into an almost cloudless sky.
He took a sip of coffee, watching as a big motor boat powered through the light swell about a hundred yards offshore, waves and foam churning in its wake. Even from this distance he could make out the young women in bikinis sunning themselves on the stern deck, while a couple of older guys in garish shirts messed around in the wheelhouse. The sort of people that Giroux would have an easy time relieving of some not-very-hard-earned cash.
‘Enjoying the view, huh?’ a voice chided him.
Drake felt a pair of slender hands slide across his shoulders, pausing to tighten their grip a little as they reached his neck.
‘I see you eyeing up those bikinis, you know.’
He glanced up as Samantha McKnight walked into view, barefoot on the stone terrace, dressed only in briefs and a white tank top. Her dark hair was tousled from sleep – or lack of it, given what they’d been up to last night – and her face untouched by make-up. Not that she needed it. Already an attractive woman, life in the Mediterranean sun had tanned her naturally pale skin, endowing her with a glow that he found most pleasantly diverting.
Drake grinned. ‘Wouldn’t dream of it.’
‘Sure you wouldn’t. Not when I’ve got a gun in my bedside drawer.’
‘Yeah, but I’ve seen your shooting,’ Drake teased her. ‘Anyway, what’s with the Rip Van Winkle routine? I’ve been up for hours already.’
‘I spent ten years in the army, getting woken up by asshole drill instructors at 5 a.m. The way I see it, I’ve earned some downtime.’ She grinned playfully, her eyes glinting like the sea behind her. ‘Plus I lost a couple of hours last night.’
‘Play your cards right and you might lose a couple more today,’ he said, eyeing her over the rim of his coffee cup. The sea breeze had stirred up, flattening the tank top against the contours of her body, giving the momentary impression that she was wearing nothing at all.
It was an impression that wasn’t lost on him.
‘Keep dreaming.’ Reaching down, she snatched up his plate of untouched croissants, leaping nimbly beyond his reach before he could stop her. ‘Especially when you hog all the food.’
‘Hey! I had to walk four bloody miles for those!’ Drake protested.
‘And I truly appreciate such a noble sacrifice for your helpless maiden.’ McKnight gave him a look of mock seriousness, before tearing off a chunk of pastry, dipping it in the jam and popping it in her mouth.
Helpless and maiden were not words Drake would choose to describe Samantha McKnight. Nonetheless, eyeing the graceful lines of her body, the soft curve of her breasts that her minimal clothing did little to hide, he felt less inclined to argue the point.
She settled herself on a chair beside him, her long legs stretched out before her, and for a few moments seemed to lose herself in the view. She was smiling; the kind of smile that came so easy to her now.
‘You know something? I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of being by the sea. The sound of the waves, the smell of salt in the air, the endless horizon…’ she said wistfully. ‘No matter how many times I wake up to it, it still feels new every time.’
Drake decided not to dwell on that last statement. ‘Beats a rainy Monday morning in Croydon, that’s for sure.’
She glanced sidelong at him. ‘Hey, give me a break. I’m a Kansas girl – didn’t even see the ocean for the first time until I was nineteen. Couldn’t believe there was so much water in the world.’
Drake cocked an eyebrow, resisting the obvious joke about her not being in Kansas any more. ‘Parents not big travellers, then?’ he asked instead.
At this, her smile faded a little. ‘Mom didn’t stick around too long, so it was just me and Dad. And no, he wasn’t big on travelling.’
He felt bad for dredging up unhappy memories. ‘I’m sorry.’
She looked at him, and there was a sadness in her eyes that seemed quite out of sync with her usually buoyant personality. Then, with a single blink, the dark cloud seemed to pass and she was herself again.
‘Don’t be. He was a great father.’
As she resumed her breakfast, Drake turned his attention back to the laptop and opened his email to check for messages from his former teammates Cole Mason and Keira Frost. Once part of an elite group known as a Shepherd team, tasked with finding and rescuing lost Agency personnel, their attempts at exposing the secrets of the Agency’s corrupt Deputy Director Marcus Cain had led to them being branded as criminals and traitors. Now they were on the run like Drake and McKnight, maintaining loose contact via anonymous email accounts.
There was the usual round of spam offering Rolex watches to ‘Gentleman with high ambition but low moneys’, and another effort by the deposed king of Nigeria to get Drake’s bank details. The guy really must have been desperate; this was his third email in the past month.
But there was one message in the inbox that most definitely wasn’t a waste of time. There was no subject, but the sender was one J. Doe. Hardly an original name, but Drake knew what it meant. J. Doe wasn’t the kind of person to send ‘How are you?’ emails. If she contacted him, it was for a reason.
Putting down his coffee, he opened the email.
We need to talk. Can we meet?
Drake frowned. As far as missives went, this one was about as short and to the point as it could be. Still, he knew the sender well enough by now to understand she wouldn’t give anything away over an unsecured email server. Whatever she had to tell him would be delivered face to face.
The question was, what did she want?
‘Everything okay?’ McKnight asked, noticing his change in expression.
‘Hmm?’ he said, stirred from his thoughts. ‘Yeah, nothing I can’t handle.’
Despite his evasive words, he knew he would have to send some kind of reply. For one thing, J. Doe wasn’t someone you ignored. For another, whatever she wanted to discuss would likely find its way to him sooner or later anyway. Better to meet it on his own terms.
A moment later, he started typing.
Marseille, tonight. Bar Mele, 8 p.m.
If she wanted to be brief and blunt, he was happy to respond in kind.
His simple missive complete, he sent it winging off through cyberspace to wherever the sender happened to be. Depending on the vagaries of server cross-links and how many budget Rolex watches were being touted that day, the message should take anywhere from ten seconds to two minutes to arrive.
He had set the meeting for tonight partly because he wanted to get it over with, but mostly to gauge how badly she wanted to meet with him. If she agreed, it meant something serious was going down.
Three minutes later, the reply came.
I’ll be there. Don’t be late.
Drake leaned back in his chair and took another sip of coffee. Well, that confirmed his theory at least. Whatever she wanted to discuss, it was important.
It didn’t make him feel any better.
From Marseille to Islamabad at breakneck pace… it’s kill or be killed for Ryan Drake and his team
Ryan Drake, once a decorated field operative, is now wanted for treason. On the run from the CIA’s corrupt Deputy Director Marcus Cain, he has spent the past six months in a remote French safehouse. Drake’s former life seems to be behind him, but the uneasy peace is shattered when Cain moves against him with startling force.
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan is faltering in the wake of a devastating suicide attack. Cain though has a plan to find and destroy al-Qaeda’s top commanders. And nobody will stand in his way.
Backed into a corner, Drake turns to the deadly but unpredictable Anya – once Cain’s most promising agent, now his most bitter enemy. With tensions running high and their uneasy alliance threatening to tear itself apart, Drake’s hastily assembled team travels to Pakistan to intercept Cain.
With the fate of the War on Terror hanging in the balance, loyalties are tested and scores settled, as Drake embarks on the fight of his life. Only one side will survive…
From the bestselling author of Black List and Deception Game, Ghost Target is the sixth Ryan Drake thriller, and an incredible tale of deception, desperation, and ultimate betrayal.
About the Author
Will Jordan is a British thriller writer, born in Fife, Scotland in 1983. His works to date include:
Redemption (Ryan Drake 1) – 2012
Sacrifice (Ryan Drake 2) – 2013
Betrayal (Ryan Drake 3) – 2014
Black List (Ryan Drake 4) – 2015
Deception Game (Ryan Drake 5) – 2015
Ghost Target (Ryan Drake 6) – 2016
After graduating high school he moved on to university, gaining an Honors Degree in Information Technology. To support himself during his degree he worked a number of part time jobs, one of which was as an extra in television and feature films. Cast as a World War Two soldier, he was put through military boot camp in preparation for the role.
The experience piqued his interest in military history, and encouraged him to learn more about conflicts past and present. Having always enjoyed writing, he used this research as the basis for his first thriller, REDEMPTION. He was able to supplement this with visits to weapon ranges in America and Eastern Europe, as well as research trips to Washington DC.
For his second thriller SACRIFICE, he was able to interview members of the British armed forces who had served tours in Afghanistan.
He lives in Fife with his wife and two sons.
You can follow Will on Twitter at @WillJordan83.