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Men of Steele, Book 4

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 Running Blind

Charter pilot Caitlyn Brevard’s sister disappeared while working undercover to expose human traffickers in the Caribbean. Four months later, Caitlyn has finally found her, but to infiltrate the captor’s inner circle and rescue Rose, she must appear at the man’s gala event with a fiancé she concocted to keep his lecherous son at bay. Can she convince Kurt Steele to forgive a past betrayal and play the doting groom-to-be?

Former special operator and wounded warrior Kurt can’t say no to a friend in need, especially not Caitlyn, who he can’t forget, no matter how hard he tries. But playing ardent fiancé to the woman who broke his heart—and still attracts him like no other—might just be more than he can bear. When their mission turns deadly, he and Caitlyn must risk everything to save Rose and get a second chance at a love worth dying for.

Fun Facts:

  • Kurt’s waterproof, agile microprocessor prosthetic knees are real. You can check it out here: https://www.ottobockus.com/prosthetics/lower-limb-prosthetics/solution-overview/x3-prosthetic-leg/. Not so fun is that fact that civilian amputees cannot afford such cutting-edge technology, and often struggle even to get replacement limbs of any quality.
  • If you want to get an idea what Kurt’s dynamic suction sockets look like, take a look at the pictures in this article produced by the Amputee Coalition: https://www.amputee-coalition.org/resources/options-in-sockets-and-liners/.
  • Caitlyn flies a Piper Navajo similar to the one pictured below. 
    Piper Navajo airplane

    By NOAspotting01 (www.aeropuertosdesalta.blogspot.com) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • The MC1R gene is responsible for the red hair and freckles that Caitlyn and her sister share. The photo project centering on mixed race redheads that Caitlyn mentions in the book is a real project by Michelle Marshall. Want to see some of her photos? Follow the link and scroll down to MC1R: http://www.michelle-marshall.com/work/
    redheaded woman with brown skin

    By Erik Jacobs [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Caitlyn’s house on Barbados looks something like this, but with different colors. 
    small house on Barbados with red roof and brown walls

    By rufus (flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • St. Isidore is a fictional Caribbean island based loosely on St. Lucia. You can learn more fun facts about St. Iz and Brandon Marlowe’s house on the Blind Ambition page.
  • Want to know more about Air Force PJs and why I was inspired to write about them? Check out the Blind Fury page.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Something was off. The Caribbean jungle beyond the chain-link fence had gone quiet.

The back of Caitlyn’s neck prickled and beads of moisture gathered on her skin as she and her dog strolled the grassy strip at the edge of the runway. Nascent sunlight washed the sky in pale gold, banishing the shadows, and at the end of his leash, Rockley lifted his leg and peed on a fencepost.

If something were wrong, wouldn’t he sense it too?

“Come on, Ro.” She flicked the leash and he quit sniffing the ground.

No less than eight guards tracked her progress toward the plane. Their presence should have made her feel secure.

About halfway to her ugly-but-reliable six-seater prop, Treavor Lambert and three men entered the airfield through a small gate that led to the house. His two guards—Jack, a hulking white man with a shaved head and a thick beard, and a lanky black man with cornrows named Christophe—flanked him. With their AK-47s and shiny muscles, the pair could have walked straight out of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

His son Glenn came third. Damn. He was back from his three-week tour of Europe. Late twenties, sandy hair, blue eyes, chiseled features, gym-honed muscles, and a tennis-court tan. The type who looked air brushed and superfluous despite his Ivy League education. The type who probably tortured kittens and charmed his mother with the same zeal.

“Good morning, Ms. Brevard,” Lambert said in his deep, booming voice.

She stopped and waited for the group to join her. “Morning.”

Lambert somehow looked cool and fresh in a gray suit tailored for his tall, trim frame, not a single strand of salt-and-pepper hair out of place. He bent over and stroked Rockley’s black fur. “He looks better every week. You’re taking good care of him.”

“Thank you, sir. He just needed a little love.” Someone had dumped the lab mix on the road near Rockley Beach, beaten and bloody, his coat matted and mud-caked. The poor boy was only now starting to look healthy again. “Lucky he’s a good flier or I wouldn’t have been able to keep him.”

As if she could have abandoned him to who-knows-what fate.

“Dad,” Glenn said, stepping forward. “We should move off the tarmac.”

Rockley darted behind her legs and growled softly.

“Sorry,” Caitlyn said at Glenn’s sharp look, tugging the dog toward the plane. “He’s still not comfortable around white men under forty.” More specifically, a creepy frat boy who couldn’t understand a woman not falling at his feet for a chance to sample his awesomeness.

“Is that your excuse too?” Glenn fell into step behind her as she trailed Lambert and his security detail. He’d asked her out repeatedly during the year since she’d started providing frequent hops between St. Isidore and the other Eastern Caribbean islands for his father.

Rather than take the hint when she declined, he seemed only more intent on changing her mind.

“I don’t mix business and pleasure,” she said. Especially with self-important assholes.

He leaned close and whispered in her ear, his hand skimming down her back. “That’s too bad, because it would be a pleasure.”

Caitlyn’s skin crawled and she jerked away as his hot breath touched her neck. “That’s—”

“Come to the music festival in Sancoins with me this weekend,” he cut in. “You’ll have fun.”

Sure, if one’s idea of fun was getting date raped.

If Glenn had been her client, she would’ve turned down the steady work after the first flight, and damn the money. But he wasn’t, and she didn’t want to let him ruin what was otherwise a good thing, so she’d been reluctant to stir up trouble. But she should talk to Mr. Lambert, request that Glenn not accompany him on her plane anymore. “No, thank you,” she said. “Nothing’s changed.”

His handsome face twisted into a scowl. “If you and this guy are so hot and heavy, how come he lives in D.C. and you’re here?”

Kurt would probably laugh at the irony of her using his name to fend off unwanted advances, but she’d realized early on that it was better for business to pretend she was in a serious relationship. Fewer bruised egos and unwelcome propositions.

But her story had grown suspicious after so many years of “dating,” so last month she’d faked an engagement. She now wore a modest CZ solitaire she’d ordered from the Internet on her left ring finger.

“We’re working on it,” she said, skirting around Glenn. “He already popped the question, we just need to sort out the details.”

“I’m starting to doubt this fiancé of yours is even real.”

Her heart skipped. None of this was his business, and her story was supposed to convince him to back off.

Glenn followed on her heels. “I mean, if you were my girl, I’d make things happen a lot faster.”

Never. She quit walking and faced him. “Please stop. I mean it.”

A nasty expression crossed his face and she tensed.

“Glenn!” Lambert growled. “Leave her alone. She’s working.”

Color stained Glenn’s cheeks and he flashed a scowl in his father’s direction. Then, he spun on his heel and stalked toward the plane, passing his father without a word.

Caitlyn lightly touched the weapon holstered at her side and started breathing again. She wasn’t helpless against assholes like him anymore. That didn’t mean she welcomed the conflict. The less contact with Glenn, the better.

As she started walking again, a silver glint flashed at the edge of the jungle. Without thought, Caitlyn launched herself at Lambert. “Get down!”

She caught him around the middle and knocked him to the ground. The impact as she landed across his hips jarred her entire skeleton.

Crack. A rifle shot ruptured the air. Lambert’s guards dropped to their knees. They formed a wall in front of him and Caitlyn and turned their firepower on the gunman’s location.

Within seconds the barrage stopped, leaving behind a coppery, sulfury scented haze and a ringing in her ears.

“We got him.” Christophe turned to Lambert, his voice faint. “Sir, are you all right?”

Caitlyn scrambled off her client, her heart on double time. There was no blood on either of them, and Lambert’s eyes were open, his gaze lucid as he pushed to sitting. Thank God.

The shock of adrenaline kept her on her knees. She couldn’t trust her shaky limbs yet. Some people claimed that near-death experiences made them feel more alive. Her stomach violently rejected the notion.

She’d been shot at before. Hell, she’d lived in a hyper-vigilant state of awareness during—and for a while after—her deployment to Iraq, but damn. Despite—or maybe because of—Lambert’s security measures, she’d never expected bullets to fly here. Somehow that made it worse.

Christophe moved in and waved her back so he could check his boss’s condition while she scanned the airfield. Perimeter security goons rushed the downed shooter and scurried like ants to ensure the remaining area was safe.

Get up, Cait. With a deep breath, she stood and brushed dirt off her pants with trembling hands. Empty hands. She must have dropped Rockley’s leash when she knocked down Lambert.

“Ro?” she called, turning in a circle, shading her eyes from fresh sunlight glimmering over the treetops. “Rockley!”

Her breath backed up in her chest. Please.

A yelp came from her right. The mutt cowered under the plane’s fuselage, up against one of the wheel chocks.

“Oh, thank God.” She nearly fell to her knees. Stumbling, she ran to the dog and dropped to the tarmac, hugging him with one arm and stroking his back. “What a good boy. I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I love you, sweetie. I love you.”

He whined and nuzzled her face.

Her heart finally found its rhythm and she took a deep breath, dropping her forehead to his. “Jesus.”

Behind her, someone cleared his throat. Rockley growled and ducked his head. So, Glenn then.

She stood and tried unsuccessfully to wipe Ro’s black hairs off her white shirt and tan cargo pants before turning.

“You okay?” Glenn asked, his brows furrowed.

“Fine.” She jerked her chin at Lambert who stood in a huddle of his men. “Your dad?”

“A few bruises, but alive, thanks to you.” His voice deepened with anger. Glenn might be an ass, but the attempt on his dad’s life had pissed him off.

She shrugged off his words. “I could just as easily have been wrong.”

“But you weren’t. And everyone else missed it.” He rubbed a shaky hand over his mouth and down his jaw. Maybe he was human after all. “What clued you in?”

“A reflection. A small spark of light. The guy clearly wasn’t an expert.”

“And that was enough?”

“It didn’t belong, and I’ve seen it before.” But she was not going to talk about Iraq. Certainly not with him. “Does your dad still want to go?” she asked.

Glenn sighed and gave her a visual inspection. “Of course.”

“Don’t we need to wait for the police?”

He gave her a “get real” look. “This is St. Isidore. He owns the police.”

She managed not to frown. Lambert was supposed to be a legitimate businessman, so it was odd for anyone in his camp to admit he worked outside the law. No one had been able to prove his dealings went beyond greasing the skids to get things done in some of the corrupt island-nations, something every businessman in the Caribbean undoubtedly did.

“The guards are handling things. If the cops need a statement,” Glenn said, “they’ll contact you later, but this was pretty straightforward. The other guy shot first.”

“Any idea who it was?”

“Doesn’t much matter now.”

She shivered. It did matter. Someone wanted Lambert dead, and if the shooter had a boss, her client was still in danger. As was she by association.

“Woman of the year!” Lambert bellowed as he approached, wiping dust from the back of his suit jacket. “You saved me.” He grabbed her free hand and pumped it between both of his.

“Just protecting my number one source of income.” She gently slipped free of his grasp.

He laughed, deepening the creases etched into his deeply tanned face by the Caribbean sun. “I’ll double it.”

“Sir, that’s not—”

“Nonsense.” He didn’t appear shaken, but then he was an expert at hiding behind bluster. “Don’t argue with me. I’m the customer.”

She wrangled a deferential smile. “Okay. Thank you.”

Dropping his jubilant expression, he asked. “Are you okay? You good to fly?”

“One hundred percent,” she said, grabbing for Rockley’s leash. “Let’s do it.”

“Excellent. Come inside and get some coffee while I change into a clean suit.” He pinched the shredded fabric of his pants between his fingertips. “This one is ruined.”

Inside? She’d never been invited into his home before. “What about Rockley?”

“Bring him.” Lambert waved her to follow him and then waited for her to catch up, leading her along a brick path toward the house.

She gave the leash a gentle tug and moved in alongside Lambert as they passed through a gate, and up to the wraparound porch held up by ornate columns.

After they entered through a set of French doors, he waved her toward a doorway. “Coffee’s already made. Mugs, cream, and sugar are on the counter. One of the girls in there can help you. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Glenn had stayed outside talking to one of the guards, so she felt safe entering the kitchen alone. Whereas the living room had been appointed in ornate furnishings that looked too old and valuable to safely sit on, the kitchen was modern. As big as her small house, it was bright and airy with pale gray cabinets, stainless appliances, and white granite counter tops. A large window over the farmhouse sink and a skylight over the island let in the washed-out light of early morning.

To her left, a wide counter had been turned into a drink station with a coffee maker, cappuccino machine, and an electric tea kettle. “Something for everyone,” she muttered. “Rockley, sit.”

He followed her command and she pushed the looping handle of his leash down onto her forearm to free up her hands. Grabbing a yellow mug off a hook filled with a rainbow-colored set, she filled it about halfway and added a little cream and sugar.

Lambert would be out any minute. No need to take more than she could drink.

“Can I help you with anything, ma’am?” a woman asked from behind her.

“No, thanks,” Caitlyn turned.

The mug slipped from her hands and shattered on the tile floor. “Rose?”

<<<>>>

Published: January 2018, ISBN 9780991607334

Previous book in the series: Blindsided ~ Next book in the series: Coming late 2018