Excerpt - Chapter One
Tell It To The Marines
Gunnery Sgt. D.J. McAllister leaned back against a sun-baked stucco
wall, and from beneath the well-worn Panama hat, he scanned the
area. The sun was low in the sky, glaring and red.
In front of him, the narrow street curved down the mountainside
in a line of odd sized buildings, half abandoned, each more cracked
than the last. Toward the bottom, tourists strolled in shop, though
most were closed at this hour for after-dinner siesta. A couple
kids raced by on bikes, barely noticing him in civilian clothes.
Uniforms, MP4 assault rifles, and black ops gear wouldn’t
do for this mission.
Hell, he looked more like a drug dealer waiting for a sale in loose
black slacks and a printed shirt.
“In position, Gunny,” came through the earpiece.
DJ motioned to his left. A fellow marine stationed a few yards
away moved in a little closer, DJ watching his six. Between them
was an old tin warehouse once used to store fruit for transport
to the city. Somewhere in one of the apartments across the street
were a couple of CIA operatives, watching, perched like birds on
a wire. His gaze slid along the rusted walls of the warehouse, hoping
for movement, a sound.
He was still having trouble wrapping his brain around the fact
that she’d been kidnapped. But that it happened in his ‘backyard’
told him this was fate; that he’d never escape her. Even when
he’d tried his damndest to forget her.
He almost felt sorry for her kidnappers.
Mary Grace Heyward was a force to be reckoned with; beautiful,
educated, and to say she was opinionated was lukewarm. Mad, she
had a mouth that could peel the skin off the best of men. DJ included.
He and half the US intelligence community here had been searching
the trail from the posh hotel in Panama City for two days. She’d
been snatched right after a reception for the US Ambassador. Why
he and his wife of twenty years had Mary Grace down here to plan
the wedding vow renewal ceremony was clear. The ambassador’s
wife was her older sister. Why Mary Grace was taken was still a
bit of a mystery.
“I got a sighting,” came through DJ’s earpiece.
Another marine was in the rear, moving through the dense forest
backing the warehouse. “It’s her. Red hair, lavender
suit. Gagged, tied to a chair. She looks asleep.” DJ prayed
she wasn’t dead. “Three men, armed and looking mighty
impatience, Gunny. One’s on a cell phone.”
“Translate?” DJ said. Impatience riddled him as the
marine repositioned himself closer. He had listening equipment that
would pick up her breathing.
“They’re going to move her. Shit. They want to send
on her finger to push the Ambassador along.”
DJ cursed, fear nibbling at his spine. These guys were playing hard
“We need Intel.” This from the CIA birds in the apartment.
“Get it yourself some other way,” DJ snapped softly,
not glancing up to the room he knew was lined with surveillance
equipment, and a couple soft handed analysts. “She’s
not staying there a moment longer just so you can gather what you
should have known!”
That the kidnappers had planned and executed this with stealth
and precision warned DJ that they were not dealing with idiots.
He pushed off the wall, walked in front of the tin building, then
slipped between it and the neighboring structure. The ground was
over grown with weeds and flowers, the space too narrow for quick
movement. Each step brought the stench of decaying animal feces
as he edged the perimeter. He inhaled deep, making himself accustomed
to it. Then he ditched the hat and drew his weapon.
“Markus, get high.” Sgt. Steve Markus was sniper trained,
and could pick dirt off a bug’s ass at three hundred yards,
but this was a no-kill zone. They needed the kidnappers alive and
had to get her out of there without much notice. No telling how
many sympathetic rebels were hiding in these mountains.
“Aye, aye Gunny.”
“Intel? Make yourself useful and trace the call.”
“You’re a real prick sometimes, McAllister, you know
“Yeah yeah, just do it.” DJ kept low, the bank of
windows above him bleary with dirt. If the warehouse wall wasn’t
tin, and wouldn’t make one hell of a noise, he’d brace
himself between the two buildings and work his way up for a look-see.
Then he heard a short, harsh scream, high-pitched and muffled.
Don’t fight them, he silently begged.
“Heads up, got a door opening.”
DJ stopped short of coming around the edge, heard the hinges scrape.
“One guard, one Uzi.”
DJ peered around the corner, saw the guard light a thin cigar.
He backed up to speak. “Bates, Camden, get ready to go in.
Markus, spot me.” He edged behind the kidnapper, and when
he was within reach, he snatched the machine gun by the barrel and
as the man whipped around, he popped him in the throat. It crushed
his larynx, stripped blood from his brain and he went down on his
knees without much sound.
Camden rushed in, gagged, and dragged him into the forest as Bates
picked up the Uzi. The door was still open. DJ snatched the cigar,
puffed on it to make like the man was still near, then peered, his
gaze skipping past Mary Grace to the other two. With hand signals,
he identified the enemy’s location. Bates advanced opposite
DJ gave a three count, then slipped around the edge of the door.
Head bowed, Mary Grace’s cheek burned from the slap, her
eyes watering. A shadow to her right caught her attention and she
lifted her head, afraid the man was going to make good his promises.
What she saw was a one-man wrecking machine in a flowered shirt.
DJ. His weapon out, his back against the open door, he scanned the
room, and when he saw her, blue eyes pinned her to the chair. If
she wasn’t tied, gagged and highly ticked off at being kidnapped
in the first place, Mary Grace would have laughed at the sheer irony
of it all. Why did it have to be him? For a slivered moment, he
just stared, so intense, so raw, Mary Grace felt her whole body
tighten with an inescapable punch of need and emotion.
She wasn’t surprised he could still do that with a look,
and right now, was damn grateful for it.
Her gaze flicked to the two men a few feet away. DJ put his finger
to his lips and moved on silent feet toward them. He had one little
gun, they had machine guns. What did he think he could do?
Then he did it, hitting so hard and fast she almost didn’t
He clipped one in the throat, the second in the solar plexus.
Both buckled, choking for air. Then with double fisted hits to the
back of the neck, DJ sent one to the ground. The marine behind him
dispatched the other with equal speed.
“Well. That was fun,” a marine said, aiming his gun
at the kidnapper.
“We’re not done yet.” DJ kicked the weapons
out of reach, then picked up the cell phone as his teammates secured
the prisoners. “The lines still connected.” He covered
the receiver. “Shit! That’ll alert someone nasty.”
Markus came in and he tossed the cell to him. “Give that to
Intel, see what they can find. Let’s make this exit quiet,
no telling who they were talking to on that cell or how far away
He searched the prisoners, ignoring her.
“Yo, DJ! Hurry up and untie me!” she shouted from
behind the duct tape gag. It sounded like bad humming.
DJ faced her, his gaze moving over her in a clinical ‘inspecting
for injuries’ look, by passing her porn queen position; thighs
spread, ankles tied to the chair legs. Her skirt was hiked so high
she felt a draft, and humiliated, she gave him her best glare.
“Bet that look sends men running home to mama, huh?”
he said, pulling up his shirt enough to holster his weapon and reveal
a kevlar vest underneath.
Suddenly he touched his ear, all three men looking at each other
as if listening to God. DJ cursed, motioning to the other two. Collecting
weapons, they hurriedly dragged the unconscious men out the door.
“Untie me!” she shouted again and knew darn well he
understood her. But he didn’t, and instead, he fiddled with
the ropes cutting into her wrists and ankles, and lifted her from
the chair. Then the man had the unmitigated gall to toss her over
his shoulder like a sack of feed. Air punched out of her lungs at
first impact, then again and again with every quick step he took
out of the warehouse.
“Jesus MaryGrace. Put on a few pounds lately?”
She twisted on his shoulder and glared murderously at him. He
smirked, cupped her behind and kept moving. The man always had more
nerve than smarts, she thought, conceding temporary defeat and slumped.
She couldn’t breathe, her head was pounding with all the blood
rushing between her ears, and never mind that this was the most
unladylike position ever.
DJ stopped between the buildings, set her on her feet, then whipped
out a knife and cut her bonds. She groaned, but before she could
pull the sticky tape, he yanked it off.
He covered her mouth, backing her up against the wall. “For
once in your life, keep quiet!” He looked left and right.
“Those three aren’t the only men after you.”
Her eyes flared and when he let her go, she huddled close to him,
rubbing circulation back into her arms and legs and trying not to
gag on the smells lingering in the humidity. Then she noticed the
tiny flesh colored ear piece in his right ear--then she let herself
notice the rest. Black hair, chiseled profile, he was still heart
stopping handsome and packed with a sexual energy she’d never
found in any other man. Ever. Not even with her late husband. Just
being this close made her hands itch to touch him, and never mind
that her body was doing a happy dance. It’s been so long since
I felt that, she thought. To hell with the kidnappers. She laid
her hand lightly on his arm.
DJ’s gaze flew to hers, locking hard, her wide eyed stare
grinding right down to his bones and making him nuts in all the
wrong places. He didn’t want her to look at him like that,
not now, not here. The situation was too dangerous to get side tracked.
Then, “Be advised, late arrival,” came through the
ear piece and DJ focused.
The hollow rumble of an engine moving into the warehouse sounded
like thunder. Doors slammed, footsteps and their pissed off Spanish
crystal clear as the men passed toward the back where they’d
Mary Grace made a tiny sound, and DJ looked at her, mouthing, “Let’s
go.” He scooped up his hat, moving through the alley toward
the street. He stopped at the edge as the warehouse door went down.
DJ felt Mary Grace press up against his back, every inch of her
defined. “Intel! Intel?” he said just above a whisper.
“We’re packing out.”
“Like hell you are! Where’s the fucking car?”
“Behind this place.”
Great. It was supposed to be parked in front. DJ muttered something
about national security in the hands of idiots and looked at MaryGrace.
“We have to run to that building, get inside and to the car
in the back.”
“And if we can’t?” she whispered back. If they
He shrugged. “I’ll improvise when we get there.”
“That’s your plan?”
“Best one I got right now.”
He checked the area, and with her, took off across the street
to the apartment. He shoved through the doors, over took the hallway
toward the back of the building. He stopped for a second, glancing
around. They were trapped, no exit. Then he kicked in the last door.
A woman inside screamed and hurried into the corner.
Mary Grace apologized in Spanish, but DJ headed straight to the
nearest window, then shoved it open.
e glared at the screaming woman. She shut up instantly.
He grabbed Mary Grace close. “It’s a short drop. Get
She looked down, eyes wide. “Oh no no no!”
He didn’t give her a choice, scooped her up and put her
legs over the sash, almost dumping her out.
Mary Grace grabbed the window frame. “DJ, that’s too
“It’s only nine-ten feet. Where’s all that southern
“Back in South Carolina in my panty drawer.”
They heard shouts and footsteps. “Now, dammit!”
“Okay okay, I’m going.” Mary Grace closed her
eyes and jumped. She landed fine, but her high heels stuck into
the ground, toppling her backwards on her butt.
DJ dropped to a crouch beside her. “You just gonna sit there?”
He yanked her to her feet, pulling her along toward a car.
MaryGrace gaped at the vehicle, reaching for the handle. “This
isn’t a car, it’s a go-cart.” His shoulders wouldn’t
fit in it!
“It runs. Get in.” She did. Already inside, he started
the engine and was pulling out when a bullet it the side window.
It shattered over her head. She yelped, ducking.
“You okay?” He ground the gear, jammed the gas and
the little car lurched forward, sliding on the steep incline. When
she didn’t respond, he grabbed her shoulder and shook. “Are
“No.” She brushed glass out of her hair as the car
bounced along at an amazing speed, and Mary Grace held on for dear
life. “You call this a rescue?”
“Nag, nag, nag,” he said calmly. “We’re
He turned right, then left, then right twice more, speeding up
the hill. The car moved faster than she’d expected, hitting
every rock and dent in the road.
Mary Grace swore she lost a filling back there. “Where are
“Haven’t a clue.” He reached under the seat and
handed her a radio. “Turn that to 12 megahertz and say, ‘Op
She obeyed, repeating it.
“You have to put your finger on the button.”
She flushed and did it again.
“Now let go of the button to hear.”
“Be more helpful next time.” She repeated the transmission.
“Op two to Op one,” came through instantly. She held
the radio out like it was infected.
DJ grabbed it. “The gang is hot on my tail, guns blazing.”
“No back up. Intel took the other ride.”
Fucking cowards. “Then steal one!”
“Will do, Op One. Base is coming for the first team, but
you have to lose those guys. Get out of sight, ASAP. Will contact
at oh-seven hundred tomorrow.”
“Shit.” DJ confirmed and handed her the radio. He
was on his own.
“What did all that mean and why are you still driving so
fast? There’s no one behind us.”
“Yes. There is.” He turned the car so hard she slammed
into the door.
Then she saw it, a dirty black truck barreling after them.
“Man, I wish they’d give up. I really didn’t
want to shoot anyone today.”
She glanced back, seeing only men and weapons. “Don’t
stop on my account.”
“What the hell did you do to these guys?”
“Try that on someone who doesn’t know you.”
She shrugged, brushing the glass off her clothes. “I bit
“Scratched and clawed too I’ll bet.”
“Yes well, a good manicure is a woman’s best weapon.”
He scoffed, amused, shifting gears and hauling ass. “What
did they say?”
“They wanted me to pay for what my husband did.”
He scowled. “But Paul’s been dead for three years.”
“I caught that discrepancy too.” And I hope he’s
rotting in hell, the cheating bastard. No one knew that.
No one. And Mary Grace wasn’t going to share her humiliation
with anyone. Especially DJ.
“They had to have said more.” DJ glanced in the rear
view mirror, saw the ride close in. Christ, they were a determined
“Nothing about why they took me.” She slapped a hand
on the dash when he swerved to avoid a dog.
“And my Spanish is a little more than passable.”
They were going to send her back in pieces and that they hadn’t
blind folded her told DJ they never intended to trade her for a
ransom. But he didn’t point that out. She looked scared enough
and he wondered if they’d brutalized her, but didn’t
have time to ask. He’d want to turn around and do some damage
on them if they had.
He drove for another mile, cut right, took a dirt road, then slid
the car behind a strand of trees. He killed
the engine and motioned for her to hunch down in the seat.
Mary Grace slid to the floor, yet DJ remained as he was, dumping
the hat on his head, and looking like he was taking a nap, his eyes
slitted. It was painfully quiet, no truck, no people, just the hot,
humid wind coming through the shattered window. Without much movement,
DJ cocked his weapon, his finger on the trigger. Then his gaze flicked
His lips quirked. “How’s it going, Mare?”
He was the only one who called her that. She wouldn’t let
anyone else. Even her late husband. “I didn’t know you
were stationed here.”
“Two years.” DJ just looked at her, thinking that even
dirty with bruises on her jaw, her pinned up hair falling and still
stuck with dead flowers, she was still beautiful. And got to him.
DJ wanted nothing more than to pull her into his arms and go from
there. She’d probably beat the shit out of him if he did.
Yet the past two days made him realize that the thing he had for
Mary Grace had never died. Though he’d tried his best to kill
It just wasn’t easy to see the only woman you ever wanted
in the arms of another man. Even if DJ had pushed her there. Even
if neither of them deserved her.
“Just what is it you’re doing in Panama?”
“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”
“How very bad ass of you to say.” Mary Grace rolled
her eyes. “And still playing it close to the vest, I see.”
He stared out the window, not wanting to have this conversation.
He’d kept his feelings for her locked up tight for years,
and he wasn’t about to break silence now. “Makes life
“For you maybe.” A tense, bittersweet silence stretched
between them, gazes locked. DJ read a jumble of emotions in her
eyes, curiosity, pleasure, and lastly a sadness that ripped at his
heart. “I almost wish it wasn’t you, DJ,” she
A sigh deflated his chest. “I know.” They’d been
on the edge of ‘something’ for years. The edge of desire?
The edge of need? All he knew was that being near her for however
long would lay nothing but a straight shot to mind blowing temptation
in front of him.
“But I’m glad it was a familiar face.”
He offered a half smile, yet as she pushed a loose strand out of
her view, her hand shook almost violently. DJ realized while this
might be common place for him, it wasn’t for her.
She exhaled slowly, then said, “I didn’t think I’d
get out of there. Thank you.” She stared at his profile.
“I know what it took for you to do this.”
She had no idea. Mary Grace was the one big regret of his life.
She’d been an ungodly craving under his skin since he laid
eyes on her. But he’d never let her know that. She’d
been young and wild, and the only person to offer friendship to
a kid from the low side of town. She’d ignored his rebellious
mean streak, his hand-me-down clothes and brought him to her life,
her house. He’d never wanted to lose that, so he never once
touched her the way he wanted. Which was explore every delectable
inch of her.
DJ shifted on the seat, propping his elbow on the window as if the
inches of distance would make a difference. It didn’t. The
erotic images played hell on his mind and to distract, he popped
out the ear piece.
“Too far out of range, we have the radio.” He opened
the first couple buttons of his shirt, then pulled out a thin black
wire with a flat little box on the end.
MaryGrace sighed, resigned to the change of subject. What did she
expect? For DJ to admit his feelings for her, feelings she knew
he had. A man didn’t look at you as if he knew what you looked
like naked and not feel something. Every time she got this close
to him all she wanted was to feel his mouth on her, his hands on
her body, but he used to be her best friend and he’d made
it clear years ago that’s all he wanted with her.
Mary Grace wanted to believe he was lying through his teeth, but
that was her fantasy, not his. She smoothed her hair, rubbing the
bruises on her jaw. “What now?”
He peered over the dash board. “We wait.”
“For them to come to us, that’s not a good plan.”
Under the Panama hat, he arched a brow. “What would you suggest?”
“I’m trying not to cause an international incident.”
“Kidnapping me isn’t?”
“You’re the sister-in-law of the ambassador, not the
“True enough. But still, I’m an American citizen kidnapped
by right wing fascists, or whoever they were.”
“That gets you four Marines. And this is touchy, we’re
in the middle of cocaine country.”
Fear skated across her features. “I always wanted to visit
there, but it wasn’t on the tour maps.”
His lips curved. “Toss a coin in any direction, you’ll
hit a factory.” All the way to Colombia, he thought, then
frowned. Since Panama had no military, only a national defense force,
the Ambassador was brokering a deal with the Panamanian government
to let DEA in to help stop drug movement into the
US. He’d bet his best pair of combat boots that was why they
snatched her. For leverage.
“The ambassador and his wife are back in country, by the
She sighed hard. That cut short their second honeymoon to Barbados.
“So much for the renewal wedding of the century going off
without a hitch.”
“I think they’ll forgive you.” He started the
car, motioning her to get up as he pulled onto the road. He drove
fast, but not at the teeth cracking speed as before.
He reached across to the glove box, pulling out what looked like
a palm pilot. With his thumb he punched in codes. The little glowing
screen lit up. A soft blinking tone that sounded like a submarine
ping filled the car.
“And that is?”
“I don’t speak Marine, DJ.”
“Global positioning system. Tells me where we are by satellite.”
“And that would be?”
“Coming up on the lake. And a safe house.”
“Why not just go back to Panama City?”
“It’s a hundred and fifty miles away.” Her eyes
flared with shock. “And those men are still looking for us.
This car isn’t exactly hard to spot in the hills.”
They passed a man leading a donkey with a horse cart. “I
see what you mean.”
“We’ll have to hide out till its clear.” He checked
the GPS, then slowed the car. “We’ll ditch the ride
Though she’d been tied to a chair for two days, and would
love to walk to get blood in her muscles, she had a feeling DJ wasn’t
talking about a short stroll in the woods.
He pulled the car to the left, under some trees, then turned off
the engine. “Out.”
She climbed out, and he opened the trunk, removed black pack and
a duffel, then a murderous looking machete. Without explaining,
he dislodged something from the engine, then cut branches and covered
He shouldered on the pack, picked up the duffel, then nodded to
the north. “That way.”
She looked. “In case you didn’t notice, DJ, there isn’t
“I’ll make one.” DJ pushed past her and started
hacking a path into the woods.
“My my sir,” she said with a deep Carolina accent,
“I didn’t know you were so handy to have around.”
He paused, glanced back and gave her one of those long studying
looks that turned her knees to jelly and said, “Its been three
years since I’ve seen you, Mare, a lot has changed.”
“With me too, DJ.”
DJ’s brows knit for a second. That sounded more miserable
than pleased. Was she still mourning Paul?
“Then we won’t lack for conversation tonight.”
She moved behind him like a recently resurrected zombie, thinking
about the prospect of spending the night in the jungle, alone, with
the one man who’d stolen her heart--and never gave it back.
Nor gave up his in return.
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