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Series: The Sophie Medina Mysteries #1
Published by: Severn House
Release Date: February 1, 2022
Reissued and coming soon!
These are the things Sophie Medina will swear to be true about her husband, oil executive and covert CIA operative Nick: He is an honorable, trustworthy, and loyal friend; an American patriot who would die for his country; and a loving husband.
He is also – according to his MI6 handler – a murderer. They say the wife is always the last to know.
Renowned photojournalist Sophie is used to Nick keeping secrets from her. But when Nick is kidnapped from their London home, only to be spotted in Russia months later, his bosses are convinced he’s turned traitor. Russian-born Nick is not the only thing that’s vanished – so have top-secret papers about an oil discovery that could destabilize the market and spark war.
Sophie trusts Nick, but when she moves back to her hometown of Washington, DC, she’s not so sure about his CIA colleagues. Struggling to tell friend from foe, Sophie’s drawn deeper into Nick’s shadowy world, where Russian mafia rub shoulders with American senators . . . and where death lurks, around every corner.
"[An] assured tale of love, loss, and secret agendas, the first in a new series. Crosby offers a complex portrait of our nation's capital, with its historic beauty and roiling underbelly of deceit and danger."
“A solid thriller.”
“Fantastic!” Top Pick, 4 ½ stars
—RT Book Reviews
"A scintillating tale of political intrigue, art history, international espionage, and blackmail. Do not miss this one!"
"A thrilling blend of art history and international intrigue . . . seamlessly blends fact with fiction to establish a fast-paced mystery that is as creative as it is well researched."
"Crosby’s thriller gets the pacing right."
"A fascinating mystery involving priceless imperial eggs, the battle for energy rights in remote Abadistan, and post Cold War politics. Can we say perfect timing?"
"This one is right up my alley — Faberge eggs, Russians, and political intrigue — all of which keeps you absolutely intrigued, ready for the gut punch. Ellen Crosby certainly has a talent for making the conventional wholly unconventional. You're going to enjoy this one."
—Steve Berry, author of The King’s Deception
“Multiple Exposure is a gem of a novel. It's got everything you want from a thriller: Characters you love, a plot that is at once fascinating and startling, and settings that are so real you can smell them. This is Ellen Crosby at her very best!”
—John Gilstrap, author of High Treason and Damage Control
“Multiple Exposure is a terrific, fast-paced mystery featuring a savvy photo-journalist, international intrigue, and the captivating world of D.C. wheeling and dealing. Ellen Crosby’s depiction of our nation’s capital is pitch perfect. Heroine Sophie Medina’s determination to solve the mystery her husband’s disappearance will captivate you from the first pages.”
—Allison Leotta, author of Speak of the Devil
“After her husband is kidnapped, intrepid photojournalist Sophie Medina finds the focus zoomed in on her personal life. Multiple Exposure kicks off a cracking new series where high society meets high-stakes international intrigue.”
—Erin Hart, author of The Book of Killowen
“Ellen Crosby, author of the popular Virginia wine country mysteries, serves up a potent cocktail of suspense and international intrigue in her newest novel. Multiple Exposure will delight the author's many fans, and draw many new readers into an absorbing world of shadows and deceit.”
—Daniel Stashower, author of The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War
“Ellen Crosby has segued from wine to international espionage without missing a beat. Her new book combines old-fashioned deduction with up-to-the-minute spycraft and gives us, in Sophie Medina, a doughty heroine who will be charming readers for years to come.”
—Louis Bayard, author of The School of Night
LONDON AUGUST, THREE MONTHS LATER
Timing is everything. Sometimes setting is everything, too. Lord Allingham, or Baz, as he was known to me, waited until we were standing in Innocents’ Corner in Westminster Abbey before he told me he had it on good authority Nick might still be alive. I knew his sources went all the way to the top since Baz is a senior minister at the Foreign Office, responsible for all foreign and commonwealth business conducted by the House of Lords. He also has contacts at MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, since he served on the Joint Intelligence Committee, although that’s something he’ll never, ever talk about.
Baz wasn’t smiling, so I knew his news about Nick would be one more wrenching development in what had become a sen- sational and well-publicized manhunt: American Oil Executive Vanishes in Bloody Abduction. It had taken a royal wedding to knock the story, complete with lurid speculation that involved aliens and a distant planet, off the front pages of the British tabloids.
Tomorrow would make exactly three months since Nick disappeared. There had been no note, no ransom demand, no one contacting me or Crowne Energy, Nick’s British employer, to claim responsibility or announce that he had become a pawn in a political agenda half a world away. If Nick’s cover had been blown—he was an operations officer with the CIA’s clandestine service—it never surfaced that he had been outed. To my sur- prise, not even the tabloids hinted that Nick might be a spy.
A week after the abduction, a group of German hikers found a dark green Citroën with more of Nick’s blood staining the backseat and inside the trunk, along with his wallet. They hadn’t even taken his ID or credit cards. The car had been abandoned next to a grove of pines off a small slip road on the Col de Tende, the mountain pass between France and Italy. I flew to Nice and joined the multinational search: five intense days combing pine forests and climbing scree-covered slopes while bearded vultures circled overhead, until the odds of finding him were almost nil.
By the time the search was called off, everyone—my fam- ily, Nick’s sister in California, our friends, his colleagues—had begun gently urging me to stop hoping and make peace with the fact that we might never find his body. To come to terms with the likelihood that he was probably dead, especially after the body of Colin Crowne, his boss, had been discovered a few days later in Vienna, floating in the Danube River not far from OPEC headquarters.
Which made Baz’s news all the more incredible.
I gripped my damp umbrella with both hands and said, “Where is he? Is he all right? When can I see him?”
Baz clamped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close, brushing a strand of hair off my face like a protective older brother. The rain was falling, fine and sharp as needles, on this unseasonably cool early August day as we entered the Abbey, bypassing the queue of visitors—one of the perks of nobility. Steel gray clouds hung so low in the sky that London had the closed-in feeling of being inside a bell jar. The scent of damp wool mingled with Baz’s cologne—Santal by Floris, very sen- sual—as he hugged me close.
Kings and queens are crowned and buried in the Abbey. Poets, statesmen, philosophers, and a few of the less-than-great who bought their tombs in the days when a burial spot was for sale are immortalized here. I stared at the effigies of the two infant daugh- ters of King James I; above them, a casket contained the bones of the boy king Edward V and his brother, supposedly murdered in the Tower by their uncle Richard III in the 1400s. It would be just like Baz to deliberately choose this tragic corner of Henry VII’s chapel, screened behind the altar where Edward the Confes- sor’s coronation chair and the mythical Stone of Scone sat, as an appropriate stage because of the irony of the setting and his news.
“I don’t know a good way to tell you this, Sophie, so I’ll just give you the unvarnished version.” Baz began walking, pulling me along with him. He and I are the same height, five ten, but he’s fair-haired and solidly built, the latter serving him well since he still plays weekend rugby to keep in shape. I have the lean, willowy figure of my American mother and the dark hair and olive skin of my Spanish father, a man I know mostly from old photos in European football magazines. Age-wise, Baz is ten years my senior, which makes him forty-eight.
“Come,” he said. “Let’s carry on, shall we?”
I nodded, suddenly glad for the strength of Baz’s arm around my shoulder, though I knew what he was going to do: deliver bad news sideways while we were walking and in motion. That way he didn’t have to look me in the eye. Nick used to do that. Eventually I realized it was a defensive tactic so he wouldn’t have to deal with the possibility of watching me dissolve into floods of tears. Men come so unglued when a woman starts to cry.
Except I don’t fall apart easily and Baz knew that. I’d been tough and strong throughout this entire nightmare.
“What is it?” I asked him. “Just tell me.”
Around us, tourists and visitors had begun filing out of the chapel. Evensong would begin shortly in the Quire and visiting hours would be over. Whatever he had to say, it wasn’t going to take long.
Baz squeezed my shoulder. “Nick’s been spotted in Russia.” I could feel the blood leave my face.
“Oh, God, Baz. If he’s there, the mafia got him, the Shaika,”
I said. “Right before he was taken Nick told me their threats had been escalating. It wasn’t enough just to pay protection money anymore. He and Colin were worried the Shaika planned to intimidate their workers and eventually force them out so they could step in and take over their operations. The Shaika got him, didn’t they?”
Baz shook his head. “Not exactly.”
“What do you mean,‘not exactly’?”
“We don’t think they kidnapped him.”
He was watching me as though he expected me to understand. And he had said “we.”
When you live with a man who has chosen the shadowy,
truth-altering world of espionage, you commit to his secrets and duplicity. As far as I knew, no one besides me—not even Nick’s sister or Colin Crowne, his boss—was aware that Nick led a double life. His degrees in geology and physics led him to work for Crowne Energy, a small oil exploration company that had been searching for oil near the Caspian Sea. But it was his native fluency in Russian that caught the interest of the CIA, which believed his job was the perfect cover to report on a dangerous and politically unstable Russian republic that was a hub of arms and drug trafficking.
To be honest, even I didn’t know what my husband really did.
“If I don’t tell you anything, Sophie,” he used to say to me, “then you don’t have to lie.”
Now Baz was talking as if he knew. I played my role anyway.
“Sorry, I’m not following you. If the Shaika didn’t kidnap Nick, then what is he doing in Russia?”
We stopped in front of the starkly modern blue stained-glass window dedicated to the airmen who flew in the Battle of Brit- ain: heroes of a grateful nation, men who made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country.
Baz’s answer, dropped into the respectful silence, caught me off guard. “We wondered if you might know why he’s there?”
“Good God, what makes you think that?”
“Do you, Sophie?”
“No. Of course not. Until five minutes ago, I thought he was . . .” “What?”
I moved out of Baz’s embrace. “I don’t know. Dead, I guess.” “I thought you never gave up hope?”
“I didn’t. But with every day that passes, it gets harder.” Especially because one of Nick’s people at the embassy had
been keeping me informed of their search. They’d pinged the GPS on his phone and got nothing. No credit card movement, no e-mail use, no phone calls.
He was gone, completely gone.
Considering Nick’s line of work, I had to ask. “He’s not in prison, is he?”
“Then where . . . ?”
“He was seen in Moscow by one of our operatives. It was Nick, all right, though he’s rather changed. A beard and different hair color. Thinner.” Baz paused. “He was getting on the metro. At Kuznetsky Most . . . Kuznetsky Bridge.”
Baz watched me absorb that information. Nick knew Mos- cow well since he often stopped there on business trips to Aba- distan, the Russian republic where Crowne Energy had set up operations to drill a test well, searching for oil. And thanks to a grandmother who taught him the language as a child, as I said, Nick spoke Russian fluently and with a native accent.
“What’s he doing there?” I repeated Baz’s question.
His voice hardened. “Sophie, it’s become clear that Nick probably staged his kidnapping. It would explain a lot. He may even have had help because he did a bloody good job, no pun intended. Very thorough, very convincing. I mean, we know Colin required everyone to get basic medical training before departing for Abadistan since you can’t even get an aspirin there, much less a syringe, so Nick’s perfectly capable of drawing his own blood. Over a period of time he could have collected enough to create a realistic-looking crime scene.”
I started to protest, but Baz wasn’t done.
“The lads surmise that he must have had a boat ready to take him across the Channel once he got to the coast after leaving London. Though knowing Nick and his capacity for sheer gall, maybe he strolled onto the ferry, nice as you please, and no one noticed him.”
“No.” I didn’t want to believe any of this, but the “lads” he was talking about probably worked at Vauxhall Cross. The head- quarters of MI6, also known as Legoland.
“I’m sorry, love. I hated to tell you, but I wanted you to hear it from someone who cares about you. No doubt Nick’s people at the embassy will be contacting you soon. I’m sure they’ll have questions as well.” He paused and said so softly that I had to lean closer to catch his words, “Under the circumstances, you must wonder who Nick’s working for these days. It rather looks as though he might be peddling information to the highest bidder.”
For a long moment, I couldn’t think of a thing to say. In all the time since Nick disappeared, those early harrowing nights trying not to imagine whether he’d been tortured or just merci- lessly executed, followed by the unendurable loneliness as weeks dragged by after that car was found in the mountains, I had never—not a single time—considered this.
“You mean Nick betrayed Colin, sold out Crowne Energy?” “For openers.”
“You are out of your mind.” My voice rose in a little bubble of hysteria. A woman walking by stopped and gave me a curious look. “He would never do something like that.”
Baz noticed the woman and touched a finger to his lips, ges- turing silence. “I think the possibility has to be considered.”
“No, it does not.” I would not let him go there, not allow this horrible accusation to take root and flower.
“What about Colin?” he asked.
“You know as well as I do, Baz.” I took a shaky breath and continued. “Colin’s body was found in Vienna, in the Danube. The same people who kidnapped Nick went after Colin next.”
“And when we all believed Nick was dead, that theory made sense,” Baz said. “Sophie, love, I trust you understand why I can’t go into detail, but we believe Crowne Energy discovered oil reserves in the Caspian Sea off the Abadi coast when they drilled that test well. To say that discovery would radically alter the political situation in an unstable part of the world is an under- statement. However, the only way to confirm what Colin and Nick found would be to review their well logs.” He paused and added, “Unfortunately, they’re missing.”
I wondered if Baz knew that piece of information through his contacts in MI6, or because his Foreign Office portfolio also included international energy policy. With London as the world’s second largest oil trading market and Britain as a declin- ing but significant exporter of North Sea oil, Baz knew all the players.
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“I’m saying that perhaps Nick has those logs and he’s selling information about what Crowne Energy discovered in Abadis- tan,” he said. “With Colin out of the picture, he’s the only per- son who knows what’s in them. As a geophysicist—or, to use your delightful old-fashioned American term, a doodlebugger— he also has the skills to interpret the seismic data.”
“Nick wouldn’t sell out anyone, Baz. Forget it.”
“I wouldn’t have thought so either, but how do you explain his turning up suddenly in Russia?”
“Maybe someone made a mistake,” I said. “Nick is Russian, or half Russian, from his mother’s family. It could have been someone else at that metro station who looks just like him.”
Baz shook his head. “No.”
I wrapped my arms around my waist, suddenly bone chilled and weary. “It can’t be Nick.”
“Why are you so sure?”
I took a deep breath and fought to keep my voice rock steady. “Because he wouldn’t do this to me.”
“Oh, my poor darling—” Baz started to pull me into his arms again, but I backed away.
“Don’t pity me,” I said. “I can’t bear it.”
“There’s something else,” he said. “You may as well hear it all.” I swallowed hard andnodded.
“Our people have gone back to Vienna,” he said. “In case we missed something in the first go round regarding the suspicious death of one of our citizens.”
“Maybe Nick met up with Colin in Vienna,” he said. “Maybe Colin had the well logs and now Nick has them.”
“You mean, Colin gave Nick the logs before he was killed?” But I knew that wasn’t where Baz was going.
“That’s one possibility. The other possibility they’re looking into is that Nick took them.” He gave me a worried look. “After he killed Colin.”
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