Don’t read any further if you haven’t read Exodus (Clare Thibodeaux Series, Book 1 or Winter’s Icy Caress (Clare Thibodeaux Series, Book 2) and you plan to do so. There are spoilers in this preview chapter…
Nothing in this mission happened as planned. What should have been a simple search and rescue turned into a total Charlie Foxtrot within minutes. How did the bastards know we were coming? Wyatt Harris sat in the cabin of the HH-60H Sea Hawk trying to sort out what had occurred. They’d gotten the intel about a group of sex traffickers operating in the Middle East who had abducted US citizens and were selling them to the highest bidder.
Wyatt was part of a group of specially trained ex-military operatives who worked within the shadows. They didn’t have a code name just a number–5211. They didn’t exist on paper, and there wasn’t a personnel file on a computer in D.C. with their identities. He’d been a Navy SEAL, a sniper, and served four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The squad he worked with were hard asses who thought only of completing the mission, and if they broke a few rules along the way, too bad.
Rev was the leader of the group, a pilot who could fly almost anything with wings or a rotor. Doc wasn’t a medic, despite his call sign, but he served as the electronics / IT guy. The guy could fix anything with a microchip. Harp was their medic, but hearing harps wasn’t what anyone wanted when they needed someone to keep them from heading home in a government issue body bag.
Wyatt’s call sign was Law. With a name like Wyatt, he was dubbed Wyatt Earp for a time by the guys, but it was shortened to Law because he dispensed justice with his sniper rifle. After a year and too many missions to count, they were a well-oiled cog in the clandestine network.
Their directive had them dropping down about a mile out and coming in low under the radar. They would hump it to the target site, extract the hostages, and Doc would remain with the Sea Hawk and work his electronic magic as their eye in the sky. When they got close enough to do recon of the area, they realized the hostages were lined up with hands tied behind their backs, on their knees in the dark.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! This ain’t right.” Rev’s low rasp came over the comms, and he was pissed. “Speak to me, Doc.”
“I’m picking up the heat signatures of the women and then about 20 others in surrounding buildings nearby,” Doc’s calm voice replied.
“They’ve been expecting us. Can you identify any tangos on your scope, Law?”
Wyatt peered through the night vision scope on his rifle, looking for any hostiles near the women. As he scanned the area near the line of captives, he froze on the image of a young female with long blonde hair, and for a second, he was certain it was her. All hell broke loose, and the sound of automatic weapon fire accompanied the sickening sight of the hostages being mowed down. It was the traffickers’ way of saying ‘F.U.’ to them. After pulling back, they headed to the bird. Silent during the hike back with an eye to our backs in case the tangos had tracked them.
When he saw the helpless blonde kneeling in the desert sand, it brought back memories he’d tried to suppress over the last year. He thought he’d left the SpecWarrior life behind, but there was a girl… Isn’t it always that way? The woman who breaks your heart, or the girl you can’t forget. Wyatt knew all about the pain that comes from loving too much. He had a wife. No, he still had a wife. Clare.
They’d been married only one freakin’ day before it all went down the crapper. God, he missed her. He fell in love with her the moment he’d laid eyes on her. Yeah, love-at-first-sight was only in the movies, or so he thought before he spied his kick-ass lady. He slammed his head back against the fuselage.
“Shit, Law, can we keep this bird in one piece until we’re on the ground?” Rev yelled from the cockpit.
“Roger that.” He growled back. The woman made him crazy, and he hadn’t seen her in over a year. He had many regrets about the past, losing everything in the space of a few hours—his wife, their unborn baby and his purpose for living. He returned to what he knew best—going where others never wished to while doing the tasks they didn’t have the stomach to do.
All he knew is someone was going to have to explain this SNAFU, and how in the hell did they know we were coming?
Red Maple, Michigan
“Thank you for staying with us. Did you enjoy yourselves?” Clare Thibodeaux smiled at the middle-aged couple across the counter in her office. She owned and managed her parents’ resort along the shores of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was the place where she’d grown up; although, some events that tested her mental and physical strength followed the happy memories. But today was a good day, and she was at peace with her life.
“We had a lovely time, Clare. Your resort is a fabulous place, and we’re sorry we didn’t have a chance to meet your husband.” They were friendly people, and she wasn’t going to go into a long, sad tale of woe and ruin the pleasant moment.
“Maybe another time. Drive safe, and thank you again.” She waved as they walked out the door, twisting the engagement ring and wedding band on her left hand unconsciously.
It was probably time to take them off. The man, who put them on her finger, hadn’t shown his face in over a year. Some of the guests mistakenly thought her friend, Matt, was her spouse. A ridiculous notion and not one she cared to encourage. Wyatt Harris was the man who played the starring role in her pleasant dreams and nightmares. And she didn’t even know where he was, or if he was still alive.
Time to quit dwelling in the past and get on with the tasks of the day. She had cabins to help Sophie clean and ready for the next guests. As she was shutting up the office and thinking about her lists of tasks, she heard a familiar voice behind her.
“It seems I came right on time. Are you finished for the day?” Matt Stephenson stood a yard away, looking as handsome as always with his tall, lean muscular build and amazing green eyes set in a face sure to attract female attention.
“Not finished, but I have some cabins to clean if you want to lend a hand?” She chuckled, knowing his response.
“No, I think I’ll hang out and do a little fishing if you don’t mind.” He smirked as he took in her crossed arms and tough, no-nonsense stance.
She could see the wheels turning in his head. In some ways, he reminded her of Wyatt when he appeared to assess everything going on around him. And of course, he was a wiseacre, too. No, she couldn’t start comparing the two men. It was hard being alone, and she enjoyed Matt’s company. Lee Songetay, a former love interest, would come by, but his visits were sporadic. She’d pushed him away too many times to count when she was living with Wyatt. Now she’d been alone for over a year, and he made himself scarce. It seems she was right about his interest.
Clare grabbed her cell and pulled up a photo. The smiling couple in the picture was Wyatt and her in happier times. She traced her finger over the contours of his face, feeling the rush of warmth and need settle inside of her. Where are you? Do you even think of me? Do you hurt inside like I do or have you already moved on? She had some many unasked, and unanswered questions.
“Clare, can you help me for a second?” The sound of Sophie’s voice calling out from a nearby cabin brought her out of her trance.
“I’ll be right there, Soph!”
After they finished with the cleaning, checking in the new resort guests, and setting them up with gear rentals and guides, Clare was ready for some downtime. She wiped the back of her hand across her brow as she climbed the steps to her back deck. The lake breezes were welcome after spending a good part of the day inside.
“Are you ready for some refreshments?” Matt had a moisture beaded margarita glass in his outstretched hand which she accepted with a smile and a sigh.
“Thank you so much. I need this today. Weekends are busy with check-outs and check-ins and the prep in between. Mom and Dad made it look so easy.” She slumped down into a deck chair and sipped from her drink. As the refreshing beverage slid down her throat, she tipped her head back against the chair and closed her eyes.
“Maybe you need more help.”
She laughed. “Are you offering to leave your FBI job and clean cabins for me?”
“It depends on the incentives.”
The rogue was pulling her chain again. He was overly flirtatious, and she figured he did it to get a rise out of her. “Fishing, hunting and the great outdoors should be incentive enough.” She could play his games. It was fun bantering with him. She opened one eye and observed him for a moment. Naw, he wasn’t Wyatt, and she had to be honest with herself and admit anyone else in her life right now would be only a poor substitute for the real thing.