Men of Steele, Book 2
Can they survive long enough for a second chance at forever?
Rescuing a kidnapped aid worker is just another day at work for former special operator Dan Molina. But his mission falls apart when the woman—who once broke his heart—refuses to leave the island.
Alexa Alyssandratos can’t return to her life as a nurse on the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean island, but she won't leave until she’s certain the orphans she cared for—especially one sick little girl—are safe from child traffickers. Denied their ransom, a would-be dictator and his soldiers are hunting Alexa, and Dan is the only person she can trust to protect her. Old passions reignite as Alexa and Dan race to save the children before they disappear forever.
- St. Isidore is not a real island. Its geography and location are based loosely on St. Lucia, a picture-perfect Eastern Caribbean island with lush forest, towering mountains, and gorgeous beaches. Here's a map of the faux island with some of the locations I used superimposed on a map of St. Lucia.
- Here's a hand-drawing I made at a coffee shop of how I envisioned the interior of Brandon Marlowe's house. This sketch helped keep it straight in my mind while I was writing, but you can see there's a reason I'm a writer and not an artist. 😉
- This is a picture I took on St. Lucia back in 2008. The incredible landscape is exactly how I envision St. Isidore.
- The resort buildings where the rebels hang out would have looked similar to this one before they were abandoned.
- The Air Force pararescuemen (aka PJs) really do participate in humanitarian and disaster-relief missions, as do many other groups in the military. (Learn more about them on my Blind Fury book page.)
Alexa lowered the trembling girl into the crawl space beneath the clinic and shut the trap door. She yanked the braided rag rug to cover it and stood. Jeannot’s soldiers would be here any—
The exam room door smashed open and a rangy man in a striped rugby shirt aimed a rifle at her chest. “Hands up!”
Heart hammering, she stepped onto the rug and raised her arms.
The last time the men raided the island’s Hygiea clinic in Terre Verte, they’d stolen everything—right down to the mattresses on the beds—and left one of the nurses dead. The mother of nine-year-old Flore. Flore, who should be safe at the orphanage next door by now.
As long as the stress—and the dust under the building—didn’t bring on another asthma attack.
“Just tell me what you need and I’ll get it for you,” Alexa said, her voice shaky.
Rugby kept his weapon trained on her. “Come with me.”
Her stomach jackknifed, but she followed him into the tiny waiting area where two other men stood guard.
He snagged her wrist and spun her into the front wall. “Do not fight me and you will live.” His lilting island tones didn’t match the menace in his voice.
A tremor ran through her body as he trapped her against the wall. Just last month a French aid worker in another village had been kidnapped and repeatedly raped until her family produced a ransom. Would they take Alexa because she was American?
The man drew her hands together behind her, sending her into panic mode. She knew how much rape could devastate a person. She’d witnessed it firsthand with her sister. No way would she go down easy. Not as long as she had any fight left. Alexa kicked back, connecting with her attacker’s shin and eliciting an enraged howl.
“Bouzin!” he yelled, calling her a bitch. He knocked her feet out from under her and she slammed to the ground, hitting her cheekbone and hip on the solid wood before he landed on her.
She bit back a whimper and flailed like a madwoman. All of the self-defense moves she’d learned were useless now that she was down.
“No more moving.” Rugby ended her fight with a knee to her back and shackles around her wrists and ankles.
Shouts came from the storage room that doubled as her sleeping quarters. She turned her head to see Garfield in the doorway, a rifle trained on him from behind. His lip was split and bleeding, and his dark eyes blazed with anger when he spotted her.
Hands out, palms up, he stepped forward. “Why do you fight us? We’ll let you take whatever you need. We’ll treat your men. No need for violence.”
Rugby stood. “You’ll let us take her.” He kicked Alexa in the ribs and she hissed in pain.
“Stop!” Garfield lunged toward her.
A soldier in a yellow shirt jumped forward and plunged his knife to the hilt in Garfield’s side, then pulled away. Blood ran through her friend’s fingers as he gripped the wound and sank to his knees, his eyes wide.
“Garfield!” Alexa jerked against her restraints. “Let me help him.” Her voice turned shrill as Rugby gripped her under the arms and tossed her over his shoulder, setting off a firestorm of pain in her ribs that left her gasping.
Her captor strode to the door, pausing to call directions to his crew, who appeared in the doorway of the back room with their arms full of medicine, blankets, and syringes.
Then he stepped outside into the moist Caribbean air, and Alexa watched through the doorway—absolutely powerless—as Garfield’s blood drained from his body, sliding into the cracks between planks in the scuffed wooden floor.
Alexa winced as the van Rugby had thrown her into barreled over another pothole. Every bounce against the hard metal floor of the cargo hold added another bruise to her battered body. If she had to guess, she was sporting about thirty minutes’ worth.
But Garfield has it worse.
Her throat closed and she blinked back tears. That old companion, helplessness, stole over her the way fog crept over the mountains back home in Seattle.
Please, let him and Flore be okay.
She rolled forward until the small locket tucked inside her sports bra pressed into her left breast. The oval trinket—and the pictures inside—had become a talisman of sorts over the years, getting her through the tough times. The memories of the people whose photos rested inside were both treasured and painful, but they fed her resolve to stay alive, to escape.
Despina, her beautiful, blonde twin. Shy, intelligent, caring. And dead. They’d been best friends, but Alexa had failed her in the worst way.
And Dan Molina. Mesmerizing hazel eyes, lean muscles, and soft lips that had devastated her as surely as the recent hurricane had stripped St. Isidore’s eastern shores. He was smart and honorable, and far better than she had deserved, even for a few weeks.
The van jerked to a halt, and sunlight cut through the dim space as the back doors were wrenched open a few seconds later. “Come,” Rugby said, slicing through the rope at her ankles before dragging her to her feet on the spongy earth.
Alexa squinted against the brightness as she stumbled through a forest of lansan trees, palms, and vines, the branches and leaves slapping her unprotected face.
Local traders had scarred the trunks of the lansan repeatedly to capture the resin, prized for use as incense. It didn’t take much thought to find a metaphor for St. Isidore’s people there. Subject to frequent abuse, but still standing.
After several minutes, the tall trees and wild undergrowth gave way to a grove of papayas planted in neat rows. The heavy pear-shaped fruits hung in clusters from delicate trunks that didn’t look strong enough to support their burden.
Sweat trickled down her sides and back as they approached a modest plantation house with two dormers and a wraparound porch. White paint peeled from the siding, and the steel roof had turned to rust.
“Oy!” Rugby called as he shoved her up the dirt drive to the questionably sound front steps.
A plump woman with graying cornrows pulled into a bun slammed open the screen door and urged them forward. “In the kitchen,” she said in the local kweyol.
Alexa couldn’t always understand the blend of French and English that reflected the island’s history of colonization, slave trading, and war, but she got the gist.
Her captor pushed her ahead of him into a dark foyer, then across a creaky wooden floor into the kitchen. She caught an impression of green walls and sixties-era appliances before the man at a small pine table stole her attention.
She’d seen only old pictures of him as a politician in his thirties. He hadn’t been photographed in almost twenty years. His hair was grayer and thinner now, his face lined but unmistakable with a thick scar that ran from his left earlobe to his chin. Frederick Jeannot.
Published March 2015, ISBN 9780991607310