One spectacular financial scheme. One woman alone against the world. Young, beautiful, and yearning for love, Heather Bancroft meets the "perfect" man...and is lured into a game in which she begins to make more money than she ever imagined. Betrayed by her own innocence, she loses all that is dear to her and discovers that she has been mercilessly used. Defeated and broken, but surviving with sheer persistence and ingenuity, Heather emerges from her trying ordeal, determined to punish the ruthless man who destroyed her life. Her thirst for revenge takes her halfway around the globe, to the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, where her nemesis secludes himself in obscene wealth that he's gained from the financial ruin of others. Heather is playing for the highest stakes in a lethal game. Only one man loves her - he's handsome, confident, and just as determined as she is. Only one man can stop her - a criminal mastermind who is intent on her destruction.
The private superyacht Alana sliced through the waters of the Mediterranean Sea like a glittering knife blade.
The 300 million euro ship was a floating city. It housed two swimming pools, a sports complex, a movie theatre, and dozens of elegantly furnished staterooms. The magnificent vessel was in constant motion crisscrossing the Mediterranean, making infrequent, short stops at Nice, Corfu, Venice, Monaco, and Barcelona. At each port, the finest food stocks and wines were brought aboard, handpicked by the ship's world-class chef.
The owner of this incredible vessel pledged allegiance to no country, believed in no political party, and prayed to no god. Although he boasted staggering, self-made wealth, he was known to no kings or popes or presidents.
He was an enigmatic recluse, a living ghost.
The yacht was his refuge, a movable island that insulated him from the ordinary humanity, a humanity that he expertly manipulated for his own selfish purposes.
He prayed to no god because he was a god himself.
* * *
Ricardo Maya stood on the uppermost deck of the Alana, his perfectly-fitted linen suit fluttering in the breeze. The late afternoon sun cut across the bronzed features of his face.
One deck below, a half dozen young girls were reclined around the swimming pool in chaise lounge chairs, stark naked. All were of centerfold quality, their oiled bodies glistening in the afternoon sun.
But today Maya did not even notice the girls. His mind was occupied with his latest financial scheme. The results of six months of arduous, painstaking work would all come together in the next few days, the "harvest", as he thought of it. Maya had no doubt that everything would go well, as always. But he was still on edge.
Sergei, his bodyguard and personal assistant, stepped up to him. The Russian was built like a refrigerator packed with sand.
"Sir, we will arrive in Marseilles in one hour."
Maya turned to him. "Everything is in order?"
"Da," Sergei said. "Vsyo v poriadke."
Maya nodded approvingly. Sergei was the most reliable man he had ever known. And he was the only person Maya truly trusted.
Now, Maya could make out the port of Marseilles. The brilliant white dome of the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica was barely visible. At this distance it was little more than a white dot on the hill overlooking the port.
"I had better make my preparations," Maya said.
A solemn glance passed between the two.
Sergei offered him his strong hand. "Good luck, sir."
Maya touched his shoulder. "Thank you, my old friend."
The harvest was the last and most dangerous step of the operation. They both knew that if Maya was caught, it would be during the next few days, when he collected his accumulated funds.
It was one of the only times Ricardo Maya ever went ashore.
* * *
A few minutes later, Maya was in his elegantly-furnished stateroom, methodically packing his bags. He removed his Patek Philippe watch and his gold Cartier necklace--there was no place for such flashy items in his travels. In one bag he included a wide array of outfits, some formal and some casual. In the other were a variety of disguises.
When he was packed and the ship was anchored, he was transported to Marseilles' Vieux Port in a sleek, quiet speedboat. Dressed casually in slacks and a sport shirt, he waited for the right moment and joined a group arriving on a ferry from Barcelona to go through Passport Control. From the port, Maya caught a taxi to the Saint-Charles Railway Station in the center of Marseilles, where he took a Eurostar train to Paris. In the Gare du Lyon station, after making sure he wasn't being followed, he entered a handicapped restroom.
When he emerged, he was no longer 42 year old Venezuelan-born Ricardo Maya, the reclusive billionaire. He was now 63 year old, gray-haired and stooped Antonio Fabreze, an Italian-American restaurateur on his way back to Italy to spend time with relatives.
Hobbling along with a cane, he took a train to Zurich and then caught an Alitalia flight to Venice, staying overnight in a modest hotel near the train station. After another identity transformation he became Eduardo Sanchez, a 48 year old Spanish real estate agent with a friendly smile and a spring in his step. He took a train to Bucharest, Romania, his final destination.
At 9:00 a.m. the following morning, in yet another persona, Maya arrived at Bucharest Stock Exchange, ready to bring his plan to completion.
He made small talk with the other excited stockholders who had just arrived. They all held large numbers of shares in DRR Minerals, a small mining company that was listed on the Bucharest Exchange. According to rumors, the firm had discovered a massive gold vein in one of its Brazilian mines, and its stock price was skyrocketing.
Ricardo Maya smiled. He chatted among the investors and sought out others who had not yet heard of DRR Minerals, spreading the rumors as far and wide as possible.
As he watched the stock price soar in response to these rumors, he wondered which of the men and women around him would die.
* * *
Late in the day, shortly before the market closed, DRR Minerals announced that no gold vein had been discovered, and that the rumors were false.
The stock price dropped like a rock.
An investigation was launched by local regulating authorities into insider trading and a possible "pump-and-dump" scheme.
The DRR Minerals stock price continued to plummet until it was only worth a few cents per share.
* * *
During the following days, several suicides occurred.
In New York, a top plastic surgeon took a fatal overdose of morphine. The note to his family simply said, "I have made a terrible mistake."
In Perth, Australia, the senior partner in a law firm blew his brains out with a revolver.
In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a middle aged advertising executive leaped to his death from the top of the Burj Tower.
All of the victims had invested their entire life savings into an obscure mining company called DRR Minerals that was listed on the Bucharest Stock Exchange.
* * *
The following week, Ricardo Maya was back aboard the Alana, seated at the massive mahogany desk in his stateroom. Above him, perched atop the ship's bridge, was a huge satellite dish that beamed vast amounts of data between the Cray supercomputer three decks below and a private geosynchronous communication satellite that Maya had put in orbit himself.
He had just totaled up the numbers from his 17 offshore and three Swiss bank accounts. He smiled with a deep sense of satisfaction as he gazed at the final figure on his screen.
The total was $353 million greater than it had been before he had left for Bucharest.
At times like this, Ricardo Maya marveled at his own genius. The scam was elegant in its simplicity, yet so broad in scope it was virtually undetectable. No one would ever have the perspective to "connect the dots," as the Americans liked to say. His operation was like a drawing made on the Earth's surface that was so large it only made sense when viewed from space.
Who would ever have enough distance to see the big picture and put it all together?
Maya opened the file that contained the news clippings that the onboard Cray computer had gathered from all over the world. He skimmed through them, one by one, his face expressionless. As he read, he experienced a kind of morbid curiosity. What kind of people would take their own lives, he wondered, because of a mere financial setback? Such weaklings. Such a senseless waste of human life. Yet Maya felt no remorse. In his opinion, these fools got exactly what they deserved. Was it his fault they were gullible enough to believe in fairy tales? To believe in psychics who could predict the future?
Better luck in your next lifetimes, he thought dryly, as he closed the file.
Maya rose from his desk and straightened his tie, studying his lean, toned form in the mirror. He smiled at himself, and his reflection smiled back, his bleached teeth a brilliant white.
He thought of the gorgeous young girls who were waiting for him one deck below, and he smiled again.
It was time to celebrate another victory.