Maxim (The Shadow Box, 1996, etc.) offers a sturdy romantic thriller in which a couple of retired espionage agents realize that escaping their Cold War pasts may prove tougher than they reckoned. After a storied career, American Elizabeth Stride quits Israeli intelligence--which made her a terrifyingly efficient assassin after she endured near-death experiences at the hands of barbarous Arabs--in search of a stateside refuge. Soon after the sometime hit woman (known professionally as the Black Angel) settles on Hilton Head Island, she's joined by Martin Kessler, a former Stasi stalwart who saved her bacon in Romania after the Berlin Wall came down. The upscale enclave proves something less than a sanctuary for the retired killer and her lighthearted East German lover (who misses the great game's excitement) once they stumble on Cyril Pratt, a twisted bounty hunter who's in the neighborhood to abduct an orphaned Muslim girl named Aisha Bandari. Elizabeth and Martin call on old skills to foil Pratt's plan. In doing so, however, they're drawn into a transnational conspiracy to supply Islamic terrorists with enhanced radiation devices of Russian manufacture, which could make target cities uninhabitable. At the heart of the intrigue are Aisha's uncle, Kamal Bandari, a venal Egyptian poi who ordered her kidnapping, and Lawrence Tarrant, a mercenary arms-dealer kept under surveillance by agents of the US government. An impatient Bandari soon sets sail in an ocean-going yacht for Hilton Head to check on Aisha's whereabouts and to give his villainous clients a chance to test their nuclear weapons. Followed by a flying squad of feds, Tarrant heads there as well. At the cost of his own life, the ex-Communist thwarts Bandari's plot in a bloody climax, and a saddened Elizabeth is left to care for Aisha, who seems destined to thaw Elizabeth's icy, world-weary reserve. Top-drawer entertainment with plenty of (some of it kinky) action that speeds the reader past the narrative's more improbable events.