Stuart Woods: Hothouse Orchid

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Stuart Woods Hothouse Orchid
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A brand-new page-turning Holly Barker novel from the perennially entertaining New York Times-bestselling author Stuart Woods. After Special Agent Holly Barker lets international terrorist Teddy Fay slip through her fingers for a second time, the CIA thinks she might want a long vacation, at least until Teddy is captured and the bad publicity has blown over. So Holly returns to her hometown of Orchid Beach, Florida, where she had been police chief for many years. But a very unpleasant surprise awaits her. Many years earlier, Holly and another female army officer had brought charges against their commanding officer for sexual harassment, attempted rape, and rape. Holly had managed to fight him off, but the other woman, a young lieutenant, had not. The officer in question was acquitted of all charges, and has also left the army – for a job as Orchid Beach 's new police chief. Will Holly return to the CIA? Or will she challenge her old nemesis for control of the Orchid Beach Police Department?

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Stuart Woods

Hothouse Orchid

The sixth book in the Holly Barker serie, 2009

This book is for Suzanne Alley.


Holly Barker arrived at CIA headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, at her usual seven thirty a.m., parked the car in her reserved spot and took the elevator to her floor. She set her briefcase on the desk, hung her coat on the back of the door and sat down, ready to do the work she always did before her boss, Deputy Director for Operations, or DDO, Lance Cabot, arrived. To her surprise, the door between their adjoining offices opened, and he stood there, looking at her in his wry way.

“Good morning,” he said, “and no cracks about how early I’m in.”

Holly smiled. “Good morning,” she replied.

“Come in.” He stood aside and let her pass into his office, which was much larger and more luxuriously furnished than hers. Rumor was that Lance had furnished the office out of his own pocket, but Holly knew him better than that. He was much more likely to have found a way for the Agency to pay the tab. He waved her to a seat.

“Coffee?” he asked, picking up a pot from the paneled cupboard that contained a small kitchenette and a fully stocked bar.

“Yes, thank you.”

Lance poured them both a cup and sat down at his desk. “Have I ever told you how good you are at your job?” he asked.

Holly blinked. “Not in so many words.”

“We’ve both been working on this floor for three years,” he said, “and, quite frankly, I think you could do my job as well as I do.”

Holly blinked in astonishment. Lance had always been miserly with praise, apparently believing that a “well done” sufficed.

“Except for the politics,” Lance said.

He was right about that, she knew. “Well…”

“You’re hopeless at the politics.”

“I’m working on that,” she said.

“Yes, but you’re still hopeless.”

“Not without hope of improvement,” she said, contradicting him.

Lance smiled a little. “Well, you can hope.”

“Lance,” she said, “I hope this is all a prelude to a big promotion, a larger office, a huge increase in salary and a Company Cadillac.” This was said less than half in jest.

“As I said, Holly, you can hope.” Lance pushed back from his desk, crossed his legs and sipped his coffee. “Actually, you have to leave us.”

Holly clamped her teeth together to keep her jaw from dropping. “I don’t know how to respond to that,” she managed to say.

Lance’s eyebrows went up. “Oh, it’s only for a time, say a month.”

Holly stared at him, uncomprehending.

“I’m not firing you,” he clarified.

“Good, then I won’t have to kill you,” she replied. “Now what the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m not doing the talking; other people are.”

“Talking? Not about you and me, surely.”

“Well, maybe that, too. What they’re talking about is Teddy Fay.”

Teddy Fay was a name never mentioned at Langley, a great embarrassment to everyone in the building, except to those who secretly rooted for him. Teddy was the former deputy chief of Technical Services, the division that supplied operational officers with everything they needed to accomplish their missions: a weapon, a wardrobe, an identity or a cyanide capsule. Whatever, Tech Services obliged. But Teddy Fay, after retiring, had gone off the reservation, had started killing right-wing political figures, Middle Eastern diplomats-anyone who Teddy felt did not have the best interests of his country at heart-and no combination of the Agency’s and the FBI’s resources had been able to stop him or even find him. Holly was the only CIA employee who had ever even seen him since his retirement and then only when he was disguised.

“Am I getting blamed for Teddy Fay?” she asked.

“Not exactly,” Lance replied. “It’s just felt that you’ve had a number of opportunities to kill him and you haven’t done so.”

“Lance, I’ve seen the man only once when I knew who he was, and, on that occasion, I managed to put a bullet in him.”

“Yes, but not in the head or the heart,” Lance pointed out. “And given that, during your schooling at the Farm, you ran up the highest scores with a handgun of any trainee ever, some wonder why you didn’t do just a little better. In fact, I myself have wondered.”

Holly had wondered about that, too. “I won’t dignify that with a response,” she said, by way of saying nothing. She almost said that she was not an assassin but thought better of it.

“Be that as it may, you are just a little too hot around here at the moment, so take some leave. The director has had a word with the higher-ups, complaining about the unused leave time that some officers have allowed to pile up, and you’re high on the list. You’ve got nine weeks coming, and it’s time you took some time.”

“Lance, I’ve got an awful lot on my plate right now.”

“You need a change of diet,” he said. “And, you might recall, we’ve made a few modifications in that house of yours in Florida.”

Holly had nearly forgotten about that, and she had not visited the house since. “That wasn’t my idea.”

“Go there. E-mail or call, if you can’t stand being out of touch, but go.”

Holly sighed. “Well, I guess I could clean up my desk in a few days,” she said.

“You’ve got two hours to write me a memo on what’s pending, so I can reassign the work, then you’re out of here.” He paused for a reaction and got none. “Are you hearing me?”

“I’m doing that job for the director,” she said. She had grown fairly close to Katharine Rule Lee, the director of Central Intelligence, and she wanted to further that relationship.

“This request comes from the director; I’m only passing it on. Give me the file; I’ll handle it.”

Holly threw up her hands.

“Why are you still sitting there?” Lance asked.

“All right, all right,” Holly said, then slouched out of the big office and to her desk. Her work was neatly filed, and she made a stack of folders as she wrote her memo. She was done in exactly two hours. She knocked on Lance’s door.

“Come in.”

She walked into the room to find the director sitting where she, herself, had sat earlier that morning.

“Good morning, Holly,” Kate Lee said.

“Good morning, Director,” Holly replied. She set the bundle of file folders on Lance’s conference table, then handed him the memo and watched while he read it through.

“I thought I’d stop in and reassure you before you leave,” the director said. “It’s not that we’re trying to get rid of you; it’s just that we’re… well, trying to get rid of you for a little while. We needn’t go into why.”

“I understand,” Holly said. “At least I think I do.”

“This will pass,” the director said. “After all, Lance has assured me that Teddy Fay is still dead.”

Holly nodded as if she agreed.

“Oh, by the way, Lance probably hasn’t told you this, if I know him, but we’re bumping you up to executive grade, and, in addition to the salary increase and a few perks, you now have a new title: Assistant Deputy Director of Operations-ADDO-effective immediately.”

“Thank you, Director,” Holly said with real appreciation, “and no, Lance didn’t tell me.” She shot him a glance.

Lance tossed her memo on his desk. “Oh, get out of here,” he said. “Let us know your whereabouts.” He tossed her an envelope. “You’ll need this.”

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