Your Next Breath from New York Times best selling author Iris Johansen
Catherine Ling is one of the CIA's most prized operatives. Raised on the streets of Hong Kong, she was pulled into the agency at the age of fourteen. If life has taught her anything, it is not to get attached, but there are two exceptions to that rule: her son Luke and her mentor Hu Chang. Luke was kidnapped at age two, and now, nine years later, he has astonishingly been returned to her. Catherine vows never to fail him again. Now, just as she is building a relationship with Luke, it seems that someone from Catherine's past is playing a deadly game with her, and using those she cares about as pawns. Three are dead already: the former prostitute who helped Catherine when she was out on the street, a CIA agent with whom she worked closely, and the informant who helped her free Luke. Someone is picking off the people Catherine cares about one by one, with the circle narrowing closer and closer to those she loves the most. Catherine has made many enemies throughout her life, and she has no choice but to weed through her past to find out who is targeting her now, and then go after the vicious killer herself.
About the Author
IRIS JOHANSEN is The New York Times bestselling author of Live to See Tomorrow, Silencing Eve, Hunting Eve, Taking Eve, Close Your Eyes, Sleep No More, What Doesn't Kill You, Bonnie, Quinn, Eve, Chasing The Night, Eight Days to Live, Blood Game, Storm Cycle, and Silent Thunder (with Roy Johansen), Deadlock, Dark Summer, Pandora's Daughter, Quicksand, Killer Dreams, On The Run, Countdown, Firestorm, Fatal Tide, Dead Aim, No One To Trust and more. And with her son, Roy Johansen, she has coauthored Sight Unseen, Close Your Eyes, Close Your Eyes, Shadow Zone, Storm Cycle, and Silent Thunder.
Read an Excerpt
Your Next Breath
By Iris Johansen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Johansen Publishing LLLP
All rights reserved.
The woman's throat had been slashed.
She must have been killed at least twelve to fourteen hours ago. The expression frozen on her face was one of horror and bewilderment as she stared up at the ceiling of this little house that she'd worked so hard to make home.
There was a name scrawled in blood on the stone floor beside her body.
"I thought you would want to know, Hu Chang," Ivan Lagoff said to the man standing beside him, staring down at the corpse. "No one else has seen the body. I'll have to notify the police, but you're the one who helped Catherine Ling set up Olena Petrov in our village." He added hesitantly, "It could be troublesome for your friend Catherine?"
"Yes. Very troublesome. You were right to call me." He reached down and touched the gold chain with Catherine Ling's name on the ID plaque shining against Olena Petrov's gray sweater. "The police might not understand and ask Catherine awkward questions. Neither of us would want that to happen." He gently took the chain from around the woman's neck. "So we will make sure that it will not. You did not see this chain, Ivan. You found the body and you assumed it was a burglary."
Ivan's eyes widened. "That would be a lie. I could get into trouble. I checked the house and it appears nothing was taken."
"Then it might be wise to cause a little disarray and not be sure that nothing was stolen." He paused. "And when I leave, you should get soap and water and scrub out that name written in blood on the stones."
"I cannot do that." Ivan's eyes were fixed on the gold chain. "And you should not take that chain. The police would say that it's evidence."
Hu Chang nodded. "But evidence of what? So often the obvious turns out to be false and causes only confusion. You did not see this chain." He turned toward the door. "You did not see me. You do not mention Catherine Ling's ever having had anything to do with Olena Petrov. Do you understand?"
Ivan nodded slowly. "I understand. But I'm the head of this village, the Lurah. I have a duty. You ask a lot of me, Hu Chang."
"But I also gave a lot to you, Ivan," Hu Chang said softly. "Do you remember the night you promised me anything if I'd only keep your son on this Earth? I asked nothing at the time. I'm asking now. The life of your son surely has more worth than this simple favor?"
"It's not simple." But Ivan did remember that night. The local doctor had given up on his Niki, but there had been rumors about the powerful properties of the brews and medicines created by the physician, Hu Chang, who was visiting him. Hu Chang had only come to their village because of the rare herbs found in the nearby forest, but Ivan had thought he might be a gift from God. He had gone to Hu Chang on his knees. And by morning, his Niki was on his way back to health. "Perhaps for you, not for me."
"After you've done what I wish, it will seem much simpler. A small gift in exchange for a gift beyond price."
For a moment, Ivan looked down at the dead woman. Then he went to the sink and got a bucket of water and a brush. "I'll do it." He knelt on the floor beside Olena's body. "I ... liked her, Hu Chang. In the years she was here in our village, she was always cheerful, always helping with the neighborhood children. She never talked about herself, but I thought she might have once been a teacher. Was I right?"
"No. You were wrong. She was a whore." Hu Chang shrugged as he saw Ivan's shocked expression. "But that was another life, and you should remember the life she chose, not the one that was chosen for her."
"I will try." He moistened his lips. "That chain with Catherine Ling's name must be some kind of gift or present. It's strange looking, isn't it? Sort of like a military dog tag. I never saw Olena wear it." He avoided Hu Chang's eyes as he started to wash the name scrawled in blood off the stones. "And Olena could have been the one to write this name..."
The name was already beginning to blur with the vigorous use of soap and water. He scrubbed harder, avoiding Hu Chang's eyes.
"I've heard Catherine Ling can be quite deadly. She would not have reason to be angry with Olena?"
"You see, you are asking questions." Hu Chang opened the door, his voice was none the less lethal for its softness. "Which causes me to be most unhappy. Make sure no one else has reason to question my friend Catherine, Ivan."
It was a trap!
Robert Jantzen felt the blood pouring from the wound in his chest as he started to run.
Footsteps behind him. Not in a hurry. They knew he was going down.
The hell he was.
He reached in his pocket and pulled out his phone.
Venable. Get to Venable.
His hand was shaking as he dialed.
Venable picked up immediately. "Jantzen?"
"Trap. They were waiting for me. I'm at the dock. Chest wound—bleeding."
Venable cursed. "Try to find cover. I'll get someone there to help you. Don't hang up. We'll trace your location."
Jantzen looked around: warehouses, boats at the piers, bars in the distance ... He knew he'd never make it to any of them. He wasn't running any longer, he was barely staggering.
And those footsteps were getting closer.
But Venable knew where he was and wouldn't let him down. Venable never left an agent in jeopardy or considered him expendable. Jantzen still had his gun. Maybe he could manage to get behind some of those crates up ahead and hold out until Venable came through for him.
He forced himself to break into a run again, this time toward the crates.
He heard a laugh.
He pitched forward as the bullets tore into his upper back and lungs.
Dying. He was dying.
He was lying facedown but he saw the brown boots of the man who stopped beside him.
"Venable won't help you. She won't help you. You're a dead man."
His hand ...
Something cold and metal was being wrapped around his hand.
Everything was blurring, but he forced himself to focus. He could see the gleam of the gold chain of the dog tag that had been forced into his hand.
Yes, and the name ...
Catherine Ling ...
"I feel ridiculous." Catherine Ling scowled at her reflection in the hall mirror. The small hat she was wearing was a confection of scarlet and black chiffon and was the closest she'd been able to come to flattering her long dark hair and golden complexion. But it was still the last thing she would have worn given a choice. "And you're getting entirely too much enjoyment out of this, Luke."
Her son Luke's dark eyes were gleaming with mischief as he stood back and tilted his head critically. "You look beautiful, Catherine," he said solemnly. "All fluffy and soft. Kind of like that photo I saw of Queen Elizabeth."
"I'm going to get you for that."
"And after all, it's Kentucky Derby Day," Luke's tutor, Sam O'Neill said. "I've been trying to teach Luke all the cultural ramifications of the different American holiday events. Since this race occurs on our doorstep, he seemed particularly interested. So I went into detail about it."
"Including these idiotic hats women wear to the race." She glanced at Luke. "And he jumped on it."
"You went along with him," Sam murmured.
Because she was always glad to see Luke full of mischief instead of soberness. It had been a slow road back for both of them this last year. She and Eve Duncan had only recently been able to free Luke from Rakovac, the Russian criminal who had kidnapped him when he was only two and held him captive for nine long years. The violence and horrors Luke had gone through she could only imagine. She was just grateful that Rakovac had failed in his attempt to make Luke hate her and blame her for everything Rakovac had done to him. They were still on tentative ground, as demonstrated by the fact that Luke still called her Catherine, never Mother. But they were growing closer all the time. "I was trying to be a good sport. But I think this is a little too much."
"On the contrary, no embellishment is ever too much for you, Catherine. You wear everything boldly and with superb style."
She whirled to see him standing in the doorway of the library.
"Luke is right, that splendid confection is more a crown for a queen than a hat." He smiled. "But it's far more Kate Middleton than Queen Elizabeth."
"What the hell are you doing here?" She glanced at Luke. "Did you have anything to do with this?" She wouldn't have put it beyond him to arrange this surprise for her. Hu Chang had been Catherine's best friend from the time they had first met in Hong Kong when Catherine was only fourteen. But during these last months, Luke and Hu Chang had become both great friends and master and pupil. At times, Catherine didn't know if the envy she felt at the closeness of their relationship was over Luke or Hu Chang.
Perhaps it was both. Gazing at the two of them, young Luke with his shining dark hair and brown eyes that were sometimes wary, sometimes curious and full of vitality, and Hu Chang, who was seemingly ageless and totally fascinating, it was difficult to know which one she loved the most. Or which one most exasperated her.
But Luke was grinning and shaking his head. "I only e-mailed him about your new hat. That's all. Hello, Hu Chang. I'm glad to see you. I thought you were still in Tibet."
"And I may go back. There's much work to do there. But I felt the need to see you and Catherine." He looked at Sam O'Neill. "I was able to get into the house with surprising ease, Sam. The library window was left unlocked. You are supposed to be Luke's security chief as well as his tutor. Have you not been doing your job?"
"And have you reason to check up on me, Hu Chang?" Sam asked. "I go around every night and make sure all locks are secure. I don't expect to have anyone trying to burgle the house in the middle of the day." He shrugged. "But then, you always do the unexpected. I'll go and put on a pot of tea to get out of the line of fire."
"That would be excellent." Hu Chang turned to Luke. "Why don't you go with him? I taught you how I like my tea while you were staying with me in Hong Kong. I've not had a suitable cup since your mother insisted on taking you to this place where horse races are more important than the cultures of a thousand years."
"Horse races are interesting." Luke's eyes were narrowed on his face. "And are you trying to get rid of me, Hu Chang?"
"Of course. I have private things to say to Catherine. We may share them with you later, but that will be her decision." His gaze went to the pouf of scarlet and black chiffon on Catherine's head. "But anyone who could talk Catherine into wearing that bit of beautiful nonsense has a tongue of silver. You may have no problem talking her into baring her soul to you."
"It made me smile." Luke was grinning again. "And it made her smile. Catherine doesn't smile enough." He turned and moved down the hall after Sam. "You were with her a long time, Hu Chang. You should have taken care of that."
"So now the pupil is teaching the master?" Hu Chang said, amused.
"You taught me that everyone can learn," Luke said over his shoulder. "All this wisdom and mystic stuff is fine, but it's not everything..."
Hu Chang was smiling as he turned back to Catherine. "He is changing, growing. I find it exciting. I think you must give him back to me soon."
"And I think you're crazy. I did without him for nine years. I'm having enough trouble just making a friend of him, much less having a mother-son relationship." She made a face. "You manage to hypnotize him. You hypnotize us all, Hu Chang."
He bowed slightly. "Not you, Catherine."
He had in the beginning, when she was only fourteen, before she had been recruited by the CIA. It was a time when they had been fighting street gangs and crooked magistrates and all the wickedness of Hong Kong. Even his appearance was mesmerizing. He was wearing his usual black trousers and tunic that were cut with faultless elegance. His dark hair was shoulder length and shone from the sunlight streaming into the windows of the foyer. His cheekbones were high, his eyes night-dark, and he always appeared totally ageless. He had told her he was Russian and Mongolian but looked neither, except for those dark eyes. He was a little above middle height but appeared taller, and she had seen him perform amazing feats of strength and skill. But it was his mind that had kept her intrigued all these years. He had traveled the world and studied dozens of philosophies and accepted parts of them. He had his own moral code, but he would not answer to anyone for anything he did. And she never tried to judge him. He had saved her life. She had saved his. When you had a friend as remarkable as Hu Chang, you only accepted and were grateful.
Except when he tried to steal your son from you. "Keep your hands off Luke, dammit."
"I said soon, not immediately." He gestured to the library. "Come and sit down. I've found that Luke is not above eavesdropping. I've lectured him on the lack of honor involved, but he blames it on being raised by criminals and raiders. He said that eavesdropping could sometimes prevent punishment."
"And that could be true. Rakovac put a gun in Luke's hand when he was only a small child."
"And Luke could be clinging to that excuse because of an insatiable curiosity and the desire to control his own life." He shut the door. "Either way, it's understandable. We must just cope with it. I do not want Luke involved at the moment."
"Why not?" She tensed. "And why didn't you come to the front door, Hu Chang?"
"I wanted to make sure that you and Luke were safe. Sam O'Neill is ex-CIA and usually more than adequate as a guard. I just didn't want him to get too complacent. I regard you as a treasure, and treasures must be kept polished and away from all harm."
"Bullshit. Why did you put Sam on the spot? Sam's not complacent. I wouldn't have hired him as Luke's tutor if I couldn't trust him."
"But I must trust him, too," Hu Chang said quietly. "I thought I made that clear. I have both an emotional and scientific investment in Luke. And an overpowering emotional investment in you, Catherine." He reached in his pocket and drew out his phone. "And I do not like what has been going on for the past week. I've been trying to keep it from you until I could find a solution. But the problem is escalating, and it troubles me." He dialed up his photos. "And it will do more than trouble you." He added quietly, "Sorrow, Catherine."
She took the phone. "What the hell are you talking about? I've not got any idea what—" She broke off as she looked down at the photo. "Olena?" she whispered. Blood. So much blood.
Shock. She couldn't breathe. She felt as if she'd been kicked in the stomach.
That look of frozen horror was unmistakable. Nightmare. This was a nightmare.
"Dead? She's dead?"
"Throat cut. No sign of robbery. You can see your name written in blood on the floor beside her."
She swallowed. None of it made sense. The only thing clear was that Olena had been murdered. "Was she trying to tell me something?"
"No. I believe her murderer was the one telling you something while making it as difficult as possible for you."
"Olena." She rubbed her temple. "I can't quite take it in, Hu Chang. I thought she'd be happy now. She didn't deserve this. All her life was pure hell until these last years. From the time she was a teenager she was serving tricks on the boat docks in Hong Kong. She started on drugs just to keep from cutting her wrists. But she was good to my mother, she was good to me. She'd share food with us. And she kept the men away from me until I was old enough to take care of myself."
"I know, you told me."
"I did, didn't I?" She shook her head to try to clear it. "I thought she'd be safe in that little village. After I went to work for Venable, I thought I'd cut the ties to that old life. But there was still Olena, and I didn't want to leave her in that hell."
"And you didn't," Hu Chang said gently. "We found a place for her, you got her off the drugs and gave her a chance."
"And she still died with a cut throat," Catherine said bitterly. "Just the way it might have happened on the docks in Hong Kong."
"But she had those years you gave her, Catherine. And Ivan said they were happy years."
"She should have had many more years. She wasn't much more than fifty." She drew a deep, shaky breath. "Who did this, Hu Chang? Why? How can we get him?"
"Three good questions. I have no answers." He took the phone and dialed the photos down. "Not for Olena. Not for Jantzen."
Her eyes widened. "Jantzen?" Shock on top of shock.
"He is also dead. I did not take these photos I'm going to show you. Venable sent them to me because you were involved, and he thought you should be advised. I take it you worked with Jantzen?"
She nodded. "We worked several drug busts together in Caracas and Quito. He's a good guy. I liked him."
"A good friend." He nodded. "As good a friend as a loner like you permits herself." He handed her the phone again. "With the exception of my humble self."
Excerpted from Your Next Breath by Iris Johansen. Copyright © 2015 Johansen Publishing LLLP. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a wonderful read. i won it on Goodreads and could not put the book down. If you want a book with suspense and a very good story line than this is the book to read.
This is Iris Johansen at her best! An edge of your seat thriller that starts on page one and doesn't let go! I love the way this author can create characters, and Catherine is one of my favorites! This time, someone is after her and ready to hurt her by killing off anyone of importance in her life. She must find a way to stop him before anyone else dies! Lots of old faces emerge, and some new. This is part of a series, however it can be read as a stand-alone. I would personally recommend starting at the beginning so you get a better feel for all characters involved, but Ms. Johansen does a good job of filling readers in and bringing them up to speed. The series is a spin-off of her Eve Duncan series. For those familiar with that series, you will be happy to know that several characters from that series make more than just cameos in this book! It was great to see them! Also, the ending of this book was a little foreshadowing in letting where the next Eve book will be going - I can't wait for it! There was no actual sex, although there was reference to it and there is LOTS of sexual tension thrown around. Also, there is violence so no young readers please! Thank you Ms. Johansen for ALL the sleepless nights you have given me through the years; you have done it again! I know I can always count on you for a great read! Can't wait to see where you are taking us next with EVE either! It promises to be another thriller! -- SPeeD
This book was so hard to put down. I needed to know who might get hurt next to hurt Catherine Ling. keep books like this one coming. Every character that I like was involved in this story. That was fantastic.
can't wait for the next book!
kept me interested
I have been a fan of Iris for a long time now, and have rolled my eyes at the dripping drama and possessiveness of the women characters and the portraying of tough men who speak in a manner of a female author. This book is the worst of all the above and it's only 294 pages.
As always not disappointed. Waiting for the next book!
I have to say that this was one of the worst books I've ever read. Ridiculous characters... Stupid plot.