In Ava Glass's "The Traitor," when an MI6 agent who was investigating Russian oligarchs turns up dead under unusual circumstances, fellow British spy Emma Makepeace must go undercover on one of the Russians' million-dollar yachts to investigate the murder. But with the killer possibly close by, Emma's life is put in more and more danger as she gets closer to uncovering answers. Ava Glass weaves a thrilling race to the truth in "The Traitor" ($28), publishing on Sept. 19. Read an exclusive excerpt of the novel below.
Through the door of her cabin, Emma could hear the others talking and laughing.
A short time later, Conor called from the end of the hallway, "Hurry up, Sara! We're heading out."
Sara shouted back, "Coming. But I've lost my bloody phone."
Other voices joined in with sympathy and advice. But Sara said resignedly, "God knows where it is. It's my own fault – the place is a tip. I'll just have to stick with you lot, I guess."
There was a knock at Emma's door and Sara cracked it open. Emma was on the bed, holding a book.
"Sorry to leave you alone, lovely," Sara said. "Don't be lonely."
Emma held up the book. "I'll be fine. Have fun."
The door closed and the voices faded as they headed down to the launch. A few minutes later she heard the unmistakeable rumble of the powerboat engine.
Emma watched through the small cube of a window as the long, blue boat swung into view. She ticked the passengers off her list: the captain, the bosun, the engineer, the two kitchen crew, Sara, and, at the wheel, Jason.
No Cal Grogan.
Emma's heart dropped. The mercenary had stayed behind.
She watched as the boat cut a white curve in the cobalt sea and powered towards the marina.
Grogan was becoming more of a problem. The fact that he'd decided to stay on the Eden was unlikely to be a coincidence. His suspicions about her must have grown after last night.
Emma leaned back against the wall, her thoughts racing. This had been her best chance to get into Volkov's office. How could she do that with Grogan on board, watching her every move? He was the one person on the boat she was afraid of. He had the training and the bulk to defeat her.
But she couldn't let him stop her from doing her job.
There's no way to teach someone not to be afraid. Fear is an intrinsic part of us. But there are ways to make people forget their fear. Soldiers are taught to think of their enemy as something other than human. Spies are taught to think of their enemy as a traitor.
This training had been particularly effective in Emma's case because even before she joined the Agency she already despised traitors. Her father had been betrayed by someone in Russia he trusted, and that betrayal had led to his execution.
To Emma there was no sin worse than betrayal.
She had a fierce loyalty to her colleagues, and a deep love of her adopted country. In the way of many immigrants, she was more loyal to her adopted land than some whose families had lived there for generations. She didn't feel even slightly Russian, despite the fact that she spoke the language fluently and Russia had been part of her life since she was born. She was British to her core.
As far as she was concerned, Cal Grogan was a traitor. He was as British as she was, but had spent a decade working for Russian despots. He'd sold whatever soul he had long ago. Something in him had been lost, and he'd filled that space with money and violence.
She had to stop him.
In her mind, she went over the layout of the yacht. Volkov's office was on the same level as the pool deck. Grogan tended to spend his time in the lounge, one level up.
Gradually, a plan began to come together.
Moving quickly, she changed out of her uniform and into a bikini and a pair of shorts. She slid the phone, containing the Agency's SIM card now, into one pocket, and the knife into the other. Grabbing her sunglasses and a book, she slipped out into the corridor and up to the pool deck, where she stretched out on a deck chair.
Now, she just needed Grogan to find her.
Apprehension seemed to make Emma's hearing more acute. Everything sounded loud. The breeze blowing against the upper decks. The jangling of metal against metal. Water splashing. Gulls cawing overhead. The rumble as other boats sped by. And Cal Grogan's heavy footsteps, as he walked across the deck towards her.
"Making yourself at home?" he asked, with contempt.
Emma lowered the book and looked up at him in surprise. "What are you doing here? I thought you'd gone with the others."
"Thought I'd hang around. Keep an eye on things." He fixed her with a long look that seemed to see all of her plans.
Emma reminded herself that he was an expert in deception. But then, so was she.
"Great!" she said, brightly. "The boat's kind of creepy when it's empty."
"It was kind of funny you coming down to the aft deck last night," he said, after a long pause. Emma met his gaze. "Funny isn't the word I'd use."
"Uncanny timing, then," he said.
The tension between them thickened until Emma could almost see it in the air. He didn't trust her but he was still trying to understand why, and she wasn't about to help him figure it out.
"Is Madison okay?" she asked, sitting up. "What did the doctors say?"
"They said she needs to get sober. They're going to help her."
"When is she coming back?"
There was a pause.
"I don't see how any of this is your business. They're taking care of her. She's not our problem anymore." Grogan's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed.
"It's my business because I like her. We all want Madison back, safe and sound," Emma said, pointedly.
"Well I doubt she's ever coming back after her little performance yesterday. And don't go telling the crew what you saw down there." He thrust a thumb towards the rear of the boat. "Madison wouldn't want people knowing she was like that."
"Sara already knows," she said. "I told her last night."
Grogan stiffened, his scarred face darkening. "Why does every bitch on this boat have such a big mouth?"
His fury was so instant and visceral, it took effort not to flinch in the face of it.
Emma gave him an icy look. "If you need me for anything," she said, deliberately, "I'll be here for the rest of the afternoon."
She leaned back and opened her book.
Grogan didn't leave. She could sense him looming over her.
Refusing to look up, Emma stared at the page until the words swam.
At last, he turned away. As soon as his heavy tread faded into the stairwell, Emma sat up again. Finding the pool deck empty, she dropped the book to the efloor.
In theory, she could walk across the deck, through the glass doors and straight to Volkov's desk. But she didn't dare. Not yet. She needed to know where Grogan had gone.
Leaving her book and sunglasses on the chair, she headed to the staircase. He could have gone down but there was nothing there for him. She was willing to bet he'd gone to the lounge.
She climbed the steep stairs, her bare feet silent.
The bar deck was deserted. Emma strode out across the teak flooring, warm beneath her toes. She tried to see through the dark glass into the lounge but the glare of the light made it impossible. She headed to the kitchen, as if that had always been her destination.
Conor and Lawrence had left it spotless. The appliances gleamed. Emma poured herself a glass of orange juice, taking her time as she listened for any sign of Grogan on the silent boat.
Where was he? If he wasn't up on this deck, she didn't dare break into the office.
When she walked out on deck a few minutes later, she took her time, stopping to lean against the rail and take in the view of the city across the water. Sara's phone was a dead weight in her pocket, a constant reminder of what she was meant to be doing. What she could not do with Grogan right there.
It could be weeks before she was alone on this the Eden again. By then who knew what deals Volkov would have made? What weapons he might have sold? How many people might be dead?
She had to do it now. If she had to fight Grogan, so be it.
As she turned back towards the stairwell, her mind made up, she heard a voice coming from the lounge.
Through the tinted glass she could just make out Grogan's shape on one of the sofas in the airconditioned room, a phone pressed against his ear. She couldn't hear what he was saying, but she walked deliberately slowly, making sure he could see her sipping from her glass of juice before retracing her steps to the staircase.
As soon as she reached the stairwell, she broke into a run, flying down the steps to the pool. She set the juice glass on the deck next to her sandals, and dashed through the glass door, into the shadowy hallway. The carpet was velvet soft beneath her bare feet as she opened the double doors into Volkov's office.
The adrenaline rush made her head feel light. Doing this with Grogan right above her was insane. But he'd probably be there for at least a few minutes, and she had to take the risk.
Bypassing the desk, Emma headed straight to the cabinet on the wall.
The Dottling was thick-walled and dark. When her fingertips brushed the keypad, the numbers lit up in pale blue.
Every safe has a back door code – a way to open the device if the owners lose or forget the code they've created. A way for a spy to see what's inside. Ripley had given her the code for this one.
Holding her breath, Emma typed in the sequence she'd memorised two days ago: 1001091969.
For a breathless moment, nothing happened. Then the device whirred and the safe door unlocked with an audible metallic clunk.
When she pulled the heavy door ajar, the first thing she saw was money. Lots of it. Multiple thick stacks, all of them bound with paper strips. It had a smell – a kind of sweet-sour scent, like sweat. This, she thought, must be what Volkov had collected in St Tropez.
She reached for a stack of green hundred euro notes. As she picked it up, two small plastic bags fell out from the safe, landing at her feet. Emma picked them up gingerly. Each held fine white powder.
Emma remembered the mirror she'd seen on Madison's dresser, with its white powdery residue.
Pulling Sara's phone from her pocket, she took a photo of the drugs and money together. As she worked, she constantly listened for any sound, but this office was well sound-proofed; the carpet thick enough to absorb footsteps.
Whatever happened, she wouldn't hear Grogan coming.
She needed to work fast. She'd been in here two minutes so far. She could allow herself no more than five to get what she needed.
Hurriedly, she began pulling documents out of the depths of the safe. Tucked away behind the first stack she spotted her phone. She left it where it was and worked quickly through the documents, taking pictures of any that looked useful. Most of the paperwork documented the movement of money. Hundreds of thousands of pounds in one account. Millions in another. Some based in London, but others in Dubai, in Moscow, on Jersey.
There was no time to read. She shot each one that looked useful and moved to the next. Still, it was time consuming work. By the time she finished the first stack and started on the second, the five minutes were up and her nerves were on edge.
But she couldn't go now.
There had to be something incriminating in here. Some proof of the chemical weapons Volkov was selling.
She was flipping through a stack of papers when one document stopped her. It looked like a ledger, of sorts. Everything had been written by hand – as if the person keeping track hadn't wanted to put the information on a computer. It held nothing but a series of transactions. The amount of money involved was stunning. Tens of millions of pounds.
Emma took a picture of it, before slowing down to read it.
It looked to her like a register of recent payments. Each line held an amount, who it came from, a code in the middle, and which account it went to. The biggest single transaction was a transfer of fifteen million pounds from a bank in Iran.
The other countries on the list of those making payments to Volkov's company read like a roster of the despotic nations.
She was sure this was it – the ledger of his sales. This was why Garrick hadn't found what he needed. It wasn't on any computer. Volkov had wisely decided no computer was safe.
Even here, though, on paper, the chemical names were in code – he was that cautious.
MI6 could break the code. But one thing was abundantly clear already: nobody would be safe when he was finished with these deals. These were the kinds of countries that wouldn't just buy banned weapons – they'd use them.
As she turned the page, a piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. When she picked it up, Emma noticed it didn't look like the other documents. It was on thicker paper, and the handwriting was different. It looked like it had been shoved inside the ledger by mistake.
It held a note scrawled in Russian: "I'm getting tired of cleaning up your messes. This must finish it. There's too much at stake." It was signed "Oleg". It was dated two days after Stephen Garrick was murdered.
Gripping the phone tightly, she photographed it.
It had to be from Oleg. Former director of the Russian spy agency, smarter by far than Andrei Volkov, and much more ruthless. This was visible, quantifiable proof that Federov had given Volkov money directly. Proof that both men knew something had gone wrong. Proof that they were working together.
But was it enough?
Before she could answer the question, a sound stopped her. It was very faint. If she hadn't been so still, she might have missed it. But in that instant of silence it was clear and unmistakeable.
It was the ding of the lift arriving.