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Allison Benson wants to cut loose as an exchange student in Colombia, finally away from her father’s overbearing protectiveness for the first time. But she grows careless and soon finds herself being kidnapped, headed for certain hell on earth.
Captain Zachary Garrett shouldn’t even be on the ground in the Colombian forest, but the helicopter he was piloting was shot down behind enemy lines. When he hears a distinctly American, distinctly female voice screaming for help, he realizes that he is probably the only hope the beautiful woman has of escape.
After he has returned her to safety, she disappears from his life, but he can’t stop thinking about Allie. They spent just a few hours together, so how and why was she able to get under his skin in so short a time? More importantly, does she feel the same way about him? Should he try to find her, to see if they can turn a short, sizzling encounter into something more?
Publisher’s Note: This fast-paced military romance contains some explicit and potentially disturbing themes. It was previously featured in the USA Today bestselling Hero To Obey box set, which is no longer available.
"God dammit. Not now." As this wasn't the first time this type of interruption had happened, he could have sworn his commanding officer had him under surveillance, waiting until he was about to explode before calling him in. The incessant buzzing of his obnoxious ring tone made it impossible to finish his current mission; leaving a nice warm deposit inside… damn, what was her name again?
"Zach… seriously. Can't you make that thing shut up?" the curvy brunette on her hands and knees before him whined into the pillow she was hugging. He hadn't noticed until that moment how grating her voice was.
The mood broken, he pulled away from her upturned ass to walk the few steps to his heap of discarded clothes on the floor. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and hit 'answer' just before the call went to voicemail.
"Seriously. We are supposed to be on R&R this weekend. Couldn't this wait till tomorrow?"
"Get your ass back to base. We have a situation."
Zach's attention was on the submissive woman still kneeling naked on the bed, her legs spread, her pussy wet, and her ass a bright, splotchy red. He could still make out his big handprint on her right cheek.
"Garrett. You there?"
Captain Zachary Garrett's erection still stood at full attention. "Yeah, but I need ten minutes."
"You have three. This is not a drill."
The call dropped.
"Shit." He dropped the phone on the bed and reached for his jeans, pulling them on as he quickly shoved his socked feet into his boots. He pulled the wet condom off, flicking it into the nearby trashcan before tucking his quickly deflating boner in his pants.
"Where are you going?"
"Sorry, baby, but duty calls."
"But we're not even close to being done."
"Maybe you aren't, but I am."
His companion's whine was back as she sprung off the bed to get up in his face, her temper flaring. "You can't leave me hanging like this."
She pounded her fists on his muscled back in frustration as he bent to grab his wrinkled black T-shirt from the floor. She wasn't the first woman who'd been deserted for the job, and he'd bet money she wouldn't be the last. He'd be damned, though, if he was going to put up with her physical tirade.
With stealthy speed he'd trained hard to perfect, he threw her onto the lumpy bed. She was moving with enough velocity to bounce. The shocked expression on her painted face would have been comical if it wasn't so familiar.
I seriously need to start getting pickier about who the hell I fuck.
"Listen up. I'm sorry if you're less than happy about me leaving, but I saw that big fat vibrator you keep in your nightstand. It looks like you're gonna have to finish yourself off." He was leaning over her, his hands on either side of her head, trapping her on the bed.
"You're a real prick, you know that? My girls tried to warn me about you. I wish I'd listened."
Zach suspected he should give a damn, but he just couldn't be bothered. There was only one thing in his life that he was truly passionate about. He may give Major McIntyre shit about recalling him to duty, but if he were honest with himself, he'd rather be in the air anyway.
Zach leaned down to place a final platonic kiss on the woman's forehead, knowing he wouldn't be seeing her again. Considering he couldn't remember her name, perhaps it was for the best.
Fifteen minutes later, he pulled the jeep up to Marine headquarters on the small military base where he was currently stationed. He doubted most of the American public knew the U.S.A. had a base tucked away in Honduras in order to launch missions into the Caribbean and South America.
The plain building was lit up like a Christmas tree despite it being after midnight. Zach nodded at the armed guard holding the door open for him.
He knew the minute he walked into the situation room that he was the last to arrive. Ten impatient pairs of eyes turned his way. His friend, David 'Rock' Waters, spoke for the group. "Nice of you to join us, Garrett. You must be having to go pretty far off base to find women who aren't into your 'love 'em and 'leave 'em' bullshit."
Zach grabbed a too-ripe banana from the out of place bowl of fruit before sliding into the last seat at the front of the U-shaped table formation. He grinned as he peeled it, taking a big bite before answering, "Hey, there's a waiting list to get on my dance card. I'm trying to work my way through the list before I get shipped off to the next Shangri-La."
The room of alpha men gave him good-natured shit until their commanding officer cleared his throat, reminding them they were there for something a bit more serious than razzing Zach about his notoriously bad reputation as a playboy.
"Now that we have our flight commander here, let's get to work."
Adrenalin flowed through Zach's veins as his chest swelled with pride. He may have a reputation as a horn-dog when he was off duty, but he had worked equally hard to build his notorious badass reputation as a pilot. He had mastered more types of helicopters than anyone else on base and had the certifications to prove it. There may be no shortage of marine pilots, but Captain Zachary 'Thunder' Garrett was the one every platoon wanted on the most dangerous missions.
For the next half hour, Major McIntyre shared the classified Intel he had received from Washington. Less than twenty-four hours ago, Miguel Sanchez-Blanco's faction of the notorious Blanco crime family had acquired a shipment of Russian warheads, along with a huge cache of semi-automatic rifles. The mission to shut down the sale had failed, allowing the plane carrying the dangerous military grade weapons to leave Europe. The plane had been tracked all the way back to Bogotá, Colombia, where they had lost satellite coverage.
"Latest intelligence from the recon team on the ground has the shipment arriving at the underground fortress Miguel and his brothers have set up in the heart of their compound. We've been working on contingency plans for raiding the compound for weeks. It's time to put the plans into motion. Thunder is gonna fly us in under radar and get us close enough to hoof it in the last two miles. We'll run the mission as we've practiced, retrieving the weapons if possible, destroying them if not." McIntyre was using a long wooden rod as a pointer to mark locations on the overblown map of Colombia stuck to the wall. "We'll have twenty minutes to get in and out before they can get reinforcements in from their other locations. We'll head north on foot and rendezvous with Garrett again in the small meadow about five clicks north of the joint compound."
Zach's pulse was inching up as it always did when he was preparing for a mission behind enemy lines. The US military might have the public support of the Colombian government as they joined the war on drugs, but that didn't mean the Colombian people agreed with their presence. It was a well-known fact that the multiple crime cartels in the region thought it their national duty to shoot down US military aircraft.
No wonder he'd been called back for duty. The other pilots on base didn't have a fraction of the experience Zach had in live missions. He'd earned his stripes in Afghanistan, and liked to think of his time stationed in the Caribbean as a paid vacation.
Looks like the vacation is over.
They were in the air in less than thirty minutes. For a bigger crew, they'd normally fly in on a Chinook, but due to the stealth requirements of this mission, Zach was piloting a UH-1Y Venom Super Huey. It was a fast bird and handled the best in tight terrain, like when he needed to put down on a dime.
The experienced platoon of Marines dozed in the back, storing up their energy for their mission ahead while Zach hauled ass. They were racing the sunrise. They needed to be headed in the other direction by the time the sun peeked over the horizon.
His heart beat a bit faster as he approached the Colombian shoreline. They'd flown many missions over the Latin American country, most on humanitarian jaunts, some for surveillance, and a few to lend air support for the Colombian army. Tonight's operation would be their first clandestine mission without the Colombian army's support or even knowledge. It had them all on edge.
Zach spoke into his radio, "Time to rise and shine, boys." At the same time, he set a course he'd plotted many times during training. It would zigzag him through the region, allowing him to hug the rugged terrain in a way less experienced pilots wouldn't dare. The inky black night was a blessing, providing them additional cover, but also making his job harder as visibility was low. His night-vision goggles, radar, and superior skill as a pilot were the only things keeping them from flying into a rising mountain covered with tall oaks and palms.
The marines on board readied themselves in silence, mentally preparing for the mission ahead. Each man knew his job. Zach had as much confidence in them as they had in him.
An uncharacteristic moment of envy invaded his thoughts as he wondered what it must be like to be the hero who got to rush into the enemy camp to complete the mission. Providing air support and transport had always been enough for Zach, but recently he'd begun to wonder if he'd made a mistake becoming a pilot. He had started to resent missing out on the action and, more importantly, the men had been giving him good-natured ribbing about getting to take a nap while they did the real work.
Get your head out of your ass, Garrett. You're gonna get everyone killed if you don't keep your eye on your job.
Right on cue, the small lagoon he had been looking for came into view, a dim reflection of a sliver of the moon giving its location away. They were flying mere feet above the tree cover as he banked the copter to the right, heading for the small opening where he planned to put down.
Only once they were on the ground did his friend Rock pipe up behind him, "Just like threading a needle, eh, Thunder? There aren't many pilots who could land here in the dark."
Zach grinned. "Yeah, well, that's why you waited for me to get back to base now, isn't it?" He turned in his seat to watch as the men opened the side of the copter, piling out in silence. Rock was the last to leave. Zach called out to him. "Be sure to play nice with the other kids, now. I'll pick you up after school like we planned."
Rock grinned and said, "Thanks, Dad," just before he slid the door back in place, leaving Zach alone to wait.
"Come on, you guys! It's still early. I thought we were going dancing, too."
Allison wasn't going to give up on trying to convince her friends to stay out later. She'd been living under a microscope for most of her life, and she didn't want to lose even a single minute of this rare opportunity she had to cut loose. As a foreign exchange student at the University of Bogotá, she was finally far enough away from her father's reach to let her hair down.
"It's only Thursday night and I have a test tomorrow. Let's go dancing tomorrow night," her friend Kathy answered, pulling a $50,000 Colombian peso bill from her wallet to cover their tab, the equivalent of a $20.00 bill at home. "I want to run through my notes one more time tonight," she finished before standing.
Allie turned to their friend, Ken. He was as gay as gay could be, but he'd turned out to be an excellent salsa dancer the previous weekend when they'd gone dancing for the first time while in town.
He was ready for her pleading. "Oh no. Don't look at me. I told you before we came out to dinner that I needed to stay up late to finish a paper for my Global Econ class."
"But…" She faltered, unsure how to best convince them.
Allison didn't know Ken and Kathy very well. They had only met last semester as the exchange student group from their home campus of the University of Virginia had begun to prepare for their year studying abroad in Colombia. While most of the students in the program were sophomores or juniors, Allison was the sole senior in the group.
She knew she should be taking her studies more seriously if she intended to graduate on time at the end of the following summer, but it was only two weeks into the semester. She'd have plenty of time to knuckle down later. Right now, she wanted to enjoy her time away from the microscope.
The friends were heading towards the door of the small cantina where they had eaten dinner. She caught up with them on the sidewalk outside.
"Come on, you guys. Pretty please?" She tried not to sound as annoyed as she felt at not having the people around her bending over backwards to please her.
Don't forget. This is what you wanted, Allie. One year to try to be normal instead of being Walter Benson's daughter.
Ken wove his arm in the crook of one of her arms, while Kathy did the same on the other side. "You have a test tomorrow too, young lady. Let's go."
Apparently they knew her better than she thought, but she'd be damned if she'd come all this way to have her fellow exchange students take over where her over-protective parent had left off.
Back in the States, her senator father would often have bodyguards trailing her to make sure she was safe. He'd made himself a target many times in his political career by standing up to the party leaders, yet he was adamant about keeping his only daughter out of the public fray. She was sure he'd finally agreed to let her study outside of the country if only to shield her from the bullshit going on during this election year.
Allison dragged her thoughts back to the present, deciding on a whim that she'd had enough of kowtowing to others. She would turn twenty-two in less than a month, dammit. She was in control of her life. If she wanted to dance instead of study, by God she was going to dance.
She pulled the threesome to a halt in the middle of the uneven sidewalk. "You guys go ahead and go back. I'm going to stay downtown longer. I'll take a cab back to the dorm."
Kathy was shocked. "No way! Weren't you paying attention during orientation? We aren't supposed to walk or even take a taxi alone. Like never. Ever."
"Yeah, I was there, but I think they're exaggerating." Catching sight of a group of students leaving the nearby cafe, she had an idea. "Look. There's that group of Irish students from our international dorm. I'm sure they won't mind me tagging along with them."
Ken and Kathy turned enough to eye the direction Allie was pointing, looking unsure. "Have you even met them?"
Allison stretched the truth. She had said hi to them in the student cafeteria at breakfast a few times. She was sure they'd recognize her. "Sure! We had breakfast the other morning when you two slept in."
Ken finally let her pull away from him. "I don't like this. I'd still rather you came back with us."
Allison could see the group of Irish students moving away from them, heading in the direction of the Rio dance club a few blocks away. She needed to leave now if she was going to catch up to them. "Thanks for worrying, Dad." She went to her tippy toes to put a platonic kiss on his cheek before reassuring him. "But I'm sure it will be fine."
"Do you have cash if you do end up needing to catch a taxi?" Kathy injected.
"Oh, for crying out loud! You guys are worse than my real dad. I didn't think that was possible. Yes, I have plenty of cash." Watching the look on Kathy's face change, Allie cut her off. "And yes, I'll be sure to watch my purse carefully. No, I won't talk to strangers. Yes, I'll call if I have a problem."
The Irish contingent of students was moving in the opposite direction. With a final wave, Allison took off in the direction of fun, watching the sidewalk often to avoid tripping on the uneven pavement.
A few blocks into her walk, Allison was regretting her choice of footwear. If her feet were already hurting while walking to the club, she could only imagine how much they'd hurt after dancing and walking back to campus. The group she was tracking down seemed to be going faster and faster, and after getting stopped by several stoplights, she had begun to breathe heavily.
It was while she was waiting to cross a busy intersection that her sixth sense picked up the first hint of danger. Several poorly dressed men loitered nearby, smoking foul-smelling cigars and speaking in Spanish faster than her novice language skills could understand. She didn't like the way they were ogling her while nodding in her direction.
She took off at a brisk pace the second the traffic light changed. Only after crossing the street did she notice that she could no longer see the group of Irish students ahead of her. She fought down the sliver of anxiety that slithered through her like a snake, dousing her anticipation, replacing it with dread.
Allison was almost running by the time she got to the next cross street, stopping to look left and right, praying to see the group of students. She was still two blocks away from the dance club she was sure they'd been headed towards. They couldn't have gotten there already, she knew that. They must have ducked into one of the small shops along the way.
Turning to retrace her steps, she recognized two of the men who had been congregating on the corner, now stalking towards her. Her eyes met the taller of the two and his leathery face broke into a near toothless grin. Anxiety turned to fear. They were following her.
She needed to make it to the dance club. Surely there would be other students there from campus whom she could tag along with. The words from orientation came back to her. 'Safety in numbers. Don't go out alone.'
Yeah, well you screwed that up, now didn't you, Allison?
She passed a small corner grocery store and a near-full tobacco store, slowing down to glance inside, hoping to find the students from her dorm and pushing her panic down as shop after shop proved she was on her own. The sound of the men's steps approaching from behind was getting closer.
As she arrived at the next stoplight, Allison made a snap decision. Parked, waiting for the light to turn green, was an empty taxi. She'd have preferred a woman driver, but since she hadn't seen even one female taxi driver since arriving in town, she knew that was unlikely. She rushed to the back door, flinging it open, and hopped in just as the two men who had been following her got to the vehicle.
She quickly locked the door while giving the driver directions to her dorm. " Calle veintitrés años, el número de edificio de cinco cuarenta y tres ."
The men outside her window were bold enough to try opening the door she had just locked. Warnings of how taxi drivers would often rob foreign tourists came crashing back. Would the driver unlock the doors for these men? She was relieved when he started the old-fashioned meter on the front dash and moved the car away from the intersection.
Her sigh of relief was short-lived as the driver prompted her, " Americana?"
Allison ignored him. She had enough of a bull's-eye on her back. She didn't need to announce she was a single female American out doing exactly the opposite of everything she'd been warned against doing.
You are such a dummy, Allie. At least you've learned your lesson to be more careful.
After all, it didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out she wasn't Colombian. Even from a distance, her long, sandy-blonde hair and blue eyes were a calling card of her nationality. Her expensive designer clothes and shoes were like a billboard. And her poor Spanish linguistic skills, paired with an even worse accent, were like a neon sign announcing her as an American.
She began to relax as the driver took her in the direction of the campus. It dawned on her that she might arrive back at the dorm before Kathy and Ken. Wouldn't they be surprised that she'd beaten them home?
She opened her small cross-body purse and pulled out her smartphone. Most of the other students had a cheap phone on a local plan. Allie was grateful that her dad had insisted she keep her full package, despite the additional cost for data roaming. She suspected it was so he could track her location, as if he could actually do something to help from thousands of miles away if she ran into problems.
After checking her email and FB for messages, Allie glanced up, expecting to be nearing the university. Instead, she realized she didn't recognize any landmarks around them. They had turned down a small side street, the buildings encroaching in on the road, putting the narrow sidewalks only inches away from the vehicle. Alarm bells were going off.
She struggled to find the right words in Spanish to tell him he'd missed the turn off to the school. " Se ha perdido la vuelta al campus. Voy à la Universidad." Her eyes met the driver's in the rearview mirror and it was then that she knew for a fact she was in trouble. She didn't see lust or glee in his weary eyes. She saw anger. Hatred.
She clutched her phone, glancing down to her lap, thinking quickly about whom she should call. She needed help. It wasn't exactly like she could call 911 as if she were at home, and calling her dad would do nothing to help here and now, and he'd only worry. Hell, maybe he'd even make her come home.
Her decision made, she found the contact for Kathy and pressed 'send' before looking back up to assess the surroundings. As dangerous as the taxi driver seemed to her, she quickly realized he was the lesser of the evils. The cab sat stationary in the middle of the narrow street while men began to pour out of the buildings surrounding them as if a loudspeaker had alerted them to her presence.
Allison's pulse was pounding in her ears, making it hard to hear Kathy's voicemail answering at the other end of the phone. The instructions to leave a message coincided with the first man testing the door next to Allison and finding it locked.
"Kathy, it's Allison. You were right. It was too dangerous. I tried to take a cab back to the dorm, but the driver took me to a dangerous part of town. Call the police. Report that I'm in trouble and need help. It is cab number 6296. It says the driver's name is Alejandro Nunes. There are men trying to get in the back of the cab. Oh God, there are more men coming over."
Allison stopped talking as she watched the cab driver lower his window far enough to accept a big wad of cash wrapped in bands, like they gave out at the bank. She watched him fan out the thick stack of bills and then grin as he looked up to meet her gaze in the rearview mirror. She saw the joy in his eyes as she heard the electric door locks click open.
"Call my father, Kathy! They are taking me. Oh God!"
Two men simultaneously grabbed her, one from the left and the other from the right. They ripped her iPhone from her ear, throwing it out of the car to the ground. She could hear what sounded like the crunch of glass as she assumed one of their cohorts crushed her phone against the pavement.
Allison fought with all her might, biting the forearm of the man who had her torso, and kicking the man on the other side who was trying to subdue her flailing legs. Her efforts were ineffectual.
Things went from bad to worse once they had her out of the car. A third man pressed her body to the hot pavement with his knee to her chest while the man she'd been kicking succeeded in wrapping dirty nylon rope around her ankles, locking them together.
Allison opened her mouth to scream and the man at her head took the opportunity to shove a dirty rag into her mouth to muffle her cries. Surely there had to be someone sympathetic nearby who would call for help. Women didn't get kidnapped in full view of a dozen people, did they?
Within a few long seconds, the men had completely subdued her, tied her, gagged her, and left her to lie on the side of the street as the asshole cab driver took off with a squeal, anxious to put distance between himself and the crime in progress. The men appeared to be in no hurry at all. The tallest of them seemed to be in charge, taking a pocketknife out of a holder on his belt and opening the sharp blade.
Her life flashed before her eyes as he leaned down, knife in hand. This was it. She would die on a dirty street in Bogotá, Colombia, at the age of twenty-one.
She should have been relieved when he used the sharp blade to cut the strap of her purse, pulling it away from her body and opening it to rummage through. He pulled her Coach wallet out and opened it. She prayed they would take her cash. Hell, they could have her credit cards too. Just rob her and let her go.
Time stood still while the hoodlum took his time looking through each nook and cranny of her wallet. It didn't make sense to her, at least not until he knelt next to her to speak softly, as if he were her friend… speaking perfect English.
"Welcome to Colombia, Miss Benson. My colleagues and I would like to invite you to stay with us for a while."
Allison shook her head vehemently, struggling against her bonds.
"Now, now. Is that any way to thank us for our hospitality?" His menacing brown eyes met her own and she saw pure evil. It was the last thing she saw before the drug-covered cloth was pressed over her mouth and nose and the evil faded to black.