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Authors: Sarah Sky

Catwalk Criminal

BOOK: Catwalk Criminal
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Also by Sarah Sky

Jessica Cole: Model Spy: Code Red Lipstick

Jessica Cole: Model Spy: Fashion Assassin

 

 

 

For Maureen, with love.

“Mission Breaking Dawn. Go, go, go!”

Jessica touched the diamond stud as the command rang through her earpiece. Drew Hopkins had made his move. Her handler quickly relayed the message: a camera had captured the Ministry of Defence boffin slipping out of the cocktail party showcasing the best of British fashion. He was heading up the stairs to the seventy-second floor of the Shard, the highest level open to the public. A few moments later, a blond man in a navy suit had followed. The meet was finally happening. According to a tip-off from a trusted MI6 informant, Hopkins planned to sell the blueprint for a driverless armoured truck he'd helped design at the MoD. An unidentified foreign buyer had taken the bait and offered twenty million pounds, with the deal happening tonight.

Typical. The timing totally sucked. Judging by the worried faces of the other models and undercover Westwood agents – Bree, Sasha and Natalia – they realized it too. They were stuck on a lower set of stairs, balancing on skyscraper Charlotte Olympia heels as they waited for their cue – the start of The Vamps track. Within minutes all the models would emerge, circuiting level sixty-nine in couture evening gowns before mingling with VIP guests, including the wives of the British prime minister and US ambassador, fashion designers and magazine editors from around the world.

“We have to get up there!” Jessica urged.

Nobody moved. Had they frozen? Surely not! It was Jessica and Natalia's first official mission for Westwood – a secret division of MI6 that recruited models and other fashionistas – but Bree and Sasha were pros. They'd both joined when they were fifteen, the same age that Natalia had recently turned. She could totally get Natalia having an attack of the jitters, but what was
their
excuse? They were twenty-one and eighteen, old enough to know better, and they were totally copping out.

Do something! Anything would be good right now.

“You have to move, Bree,” Jessica pressed.

Their window to act was slipping away fast. Did she have to point out to Bree that she was supposed to be running this mission? That would go down
really
well. The raven-haired model continued to cling to the handrail, a few steps in front of her.

“You don't get to tell me what to do,” Bree shot back. “This is my operation and I need time to think. We can't let everyone see us piling upstairs. Someone could follow and the mission will be scuppered.”

What was she talking about? The mission would be over if they didn't get their act together.

“Only one of us has to go,” Jessica reasoned. “We need a diversion and the others can come up when the coast is clear.”

“Maybe we should wait for backup,” Natalia chipped in. “You're the leader, Bree, not Jessica. It's your call.”

“Don't you think I know that already?” Bree snapped. “Just because Nathan's our unit head it doesn't give Jessica the right to swan about acting like she's the boss.”

Really? This old accusation again? Bree had a chip on her shoulder the size of Kansas after she discovered that Jessica was the god-daughter of MI6 agent Nathan Hall. She thought he routinely gave her special treatment, which couldn't be further from the truth. He was as tough on her as he was everyone else.

“We don't have time for this!” Jessica took a deep breath and pushed past the other girls to the top of the stairs. Thankfully, Mike, the event organizer who looked like he was permanently on the edge of a nervous breakdown, was distracted. The prime minister's wife had launched into a speech praising innovative British designers. It bought them a vital few seconds, long enough for her to slip past Mike and get up the next flight of stairs.

“Where are you going?” Zak, one of the three male models in the show, called after her loudly. He removed the headphones to his iPod nano and slipped the device into the top pocket of his grey Paul Smith suit. “We're not on yet. Plus you're way out of sequence. You're not opening the show, Bree is.”

“Shut up!”
You idiot
, she wanted to add.

“I'm just sayin'.”

Mike spun round. “I'll count you in any second now, Jessica. Get back.”

She shot a daggers look at Zak as she returned to her place in the line-up. He might be a hotshot from the States, having bagged a lucrative Calvin Klein contract at the age of seventeen with his dark, rugged good looks, but he was also a total pain. Couldn't he hit on one of the other girls rather than sticking his nose into her business? For some reason he'd attached himself to her like glue all evening. Every time she turned around he was there, droning on about how many modelling gigs he'd landed and how he was being lined up to become the next big male supermodel. Mega yawn.

Bree turned around and leant towards Jessica. “Stop undermining me. I've told you before I can—”

“I repeat, Mission Breaking Dawn!”

Jessica and Bree jumped as the handler's voice boomed in their ears again. Unsurprisingly, he was panicking. The stakes couldn't be higher. If terrorists got their hands on this blueprint, they could create the ultimate weapon: a vehicle laden with explosives, which could be driven by remote and detonated anywhere.

Westwood had been given the task of stopping the deal from happening when Hopkins settled on the venue – the top of Western Europe's tallest building, in the heart of the London Bridge Quarter development. MI6 feared he'd spot their usual agents a mile off due to his MoD training, but undercover teenage models were another matter. Like most people, Hopkins didn't know they even existed. Westwood agents could identify the mystery buyer and terminate the meet, hopefully without attracting any attention.

Jessica had to think fast. No way could she let this deal happen, even if it meant letting down the red-hot British designer Ossa Cosway, who'd recently unveiled her as the face of his brand. She was wearing one of his emerald green, lace designs, together with jewellery from another Brit, Tatty Devine.

No! A guitar strummed and Bradley Simpson's voice boomed out. The Vamps track had started and they were on.

“We're out of time,” Bree hissed. “It's down to you, Jessica. It's the only option. You're last out so make sure you don't mess up.”

That was rich coming from her!

Bree strode out into the photographers' flashing lights, squeezed into a corseted red taffeta Alexander McQueen number, complete with a frothy train. Natalia followed, to a chorus of gasps and applause, rocking a heavily embroidered midnight blue Stella McCartney gown. Ten seconds later, she was joined down the catwalk by Sasha, who was in a shocking pink Victoria Beckham dress. At least
she
looked embarrassed about leaving a junior operative in the lurch.

Unbelievable. They'd totally and utterly passed the buck. Were they too scared of upsetting the designers here tonight? The girls were putting their modelling careers before Westwood. Hadn't they learnt anything in training? Clearly not.

Ten, nine, eight, seven…

The stage manager counted in Zak. She ignored him as he attempted to catch her eye for the zillionth time that evening. She was up next. Slipping her hand into the pocket of her gown, she pulled out a secret weapon. Her classmates back at school would never believe that the success of an MI6 mission could come down to this – a specially adapted Bobbi Brown Red Carpet lipstick – not that she'd ever be able to tell them. Her work with Westwood was top secret.

Twisting the base until she heard a tiny click, she flicked the dial to the lowest setting and slowly increased it. Too high and the electromagnetic pulse would knock out the electricity across all of East London. Too low and nothing major would happen. It had to be just right: enough to affect the whole of the Shard, from the reception upwards, to thwart any escape attempts by Hopkins and his business partner.

BANG!

Cries rang out as The Vamps' track suddenly cut and the floor was plunged into darkness. She kicked off her heels and was on the move with the help of her electronic contact lenses, which contained thermal imaging and X-ray technology. Blurry red shapes – panicking guests – loomed straight ahead. She dodged them, skirting past to the right. They didn't know where they were going, but she did.

Five, four, three, two, one. She was already taking the stairs to the seventy-second floor, two at a time. She had no idea if the other Westwood girls were following. Had they remembered to put in their own lenses? If not, they'd be as blind as the rest of the guests until their eyes became accustomed to the lights from neighbouring buildings, and that could lose vital seconds. Jessica knew from past experience that gadgets saved lives in the field. She always carried some with her, even on photo shoots, and made sure she knew exactly how everything worked. One slip-up could be fatal, yet Bree had forgotten to do a run-through of their gear back in the hotel dressing room.

She steadied herself against the handrail and caught her breath as a sharp gust of icy wind tousled her strawberry-blonde hair. It was well below zero tonight. She caught a quick glimpse of the London skyline before the deck lurched beneath her feet. Downstairs she'd been distracted and hadn't taken in how ridiculously high up they were, as she'd avoided looking out of the windows. However, level seventy-two was open to the elements. She closed her eyes and counted to ten.

Pull yourself together
.

This floor was protected by a high fence so there was no chance whatsoever of falling. Still…

She'd never been good with heights, particularly after a
modelling shoot in Paris when she'd fallen off a six-storey building, saved only by an MI6 nano wire. Tonight had to be a piece of cake compared to that experience. There was no way she could fall. Her eyes flew open. She could do this. She ventured out further on to the deck. Where was Hopkins? Quickly, she did a circuit. She controlled her breathing and fixed her eyes straight ahead to make sure she didn't take in the views. The deck was deserted apart from a waiter having a crafty fag. Hopkins hadn't come back down so he must have gone up into the restricted area at the very top of the building. Typical. She stared up. The thought of climbing any higher made her nauseous.

Keep calm. Don't think about it. Just do it.

Could she? She knew she didn't have a choice. She hitched up her skirts and climbed over the chain marked
No Entry
.

“Target's at the top of the spire. I'm in pursuit.” Her diamond stud was connected to an earpiece, allowing her to receive and relay information. She'd left out the whole wanting to throw up bit. That was too much detail to give her handler.

“The Shard's sealed off,” he rasped into her earpiece. “They're not going anywhere. Get a visual on the buyer and wait for backup. We have an armed unit on the ground moving in. They'll be with you in minutes.”

They must have given up on the other Westwood girls. So had she, unfortunately. They were a lost cause. Nathan would rip them apart in debriefing – if they were still working for Westwood by then. A loud, whirring noise made her look up again. She watched as a dark spot in the sky drew closer.

“We've got company.”

“Clarify?”

“A chopper's approaching from the west. Is it one of ours?”

The handler fell silent for a few seconds. “That's a negative. Secure the blueprint. You can't wait for backup. Go.”

She hurtled up the stairs, past the dark shapes of machinery and equipment. She had to keep going, even though her knees were crumbling beneath her and her lungs were about to explode. Lunging for the handrail again and again, she hauled herself upwards. Kick-boxing and ballet had helped build up her stamina, along with the karate classes she'd started at school, but this workout would test Olympic medallists. She was at the eighty-ninth level. A few more steps to go.

She paused for a split second at a clanking noise further down the stairs. Was that her backup, finally? Fingers crossed she wouldn't have to do this on her own. One last step. Panting, she stumbled out on to the deck, blinded by hair lashing her face. Pushing her locks aside, she saw a dark-haired man sprawled out in front of her. Blood poured from a gash in his forehead.

“Hopkins is down!” She felt for a pulse and found a weak one. “Assistance needed,” she shouted above the whirring of helicopter blades.

“And the blueprint? Where is it now?”

Jessica looked up into the dramatic steel and glass spire towering above her. A rope dangled down from the helicopter; a blond man was already two metres off the ground. As she squinted at him, her X-ray lens picked out a small, rectangular metal object in his trouser pocket. Hopkins must have transferred his blueprint on to a USB flash drive. The MI6 informant was wrong. He'd claimed Hopkins was carrying the plans on a mini iPad.

“It's being taken by helicopter!”

She lunged forward and grabbed the man's foot. He jolted with surprise and immediately aimed a kick at her head. Dodging it, she clung on grimly as the helicopter rocked and the rope swung wildly. She couldn't let go. A glint of steel flashed above her head as the man slashed at her with a flick knife. She shifted position but wasn't quick enough to dodge the blade. White-hot pain made her gasp as blood dripped from her hand down to her armpit.

BOOK: Catwalk Criminal
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