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As a mercenary, Jake Randolph had faced danger and walked away unscathed. Yet, as a man, he'd confronted love?and lost much more than his heart. But his latest assignment, locating beautiful Shah Sungilo Travers, reminded Jake of what was missing in his own life.
Shah had traveled to the Amazon to escape unwanted male attention. However, Jake's determination to keep her safe was quickly wearing down her resolution to lead a secluded life. Jake claimed the jungle was no place for...
As a mercenary, Jake Randolph had faced danger and walked away unscathed. Yet, as a man, he'd confronted love—and lost much more than his heart. But his latest assignment, locating beautiful Shah Sungilo Travers, reminded Jake of what was missing in his own life.
Shah had traveled to the Amazon to escape unwanted male attention. However, Jake's determination to keep her safe was quickly wearing down her resolution to lead a secluded life. Jake claimed the jungle was no place for her, but would Shah be any safer in his arms?
Wiping his eyes, Jake Randolph smiled tiredly as he got off the elevator that led directly to the main office of Perseus. "Hi, Marie." He moved slowly across the thick rose–colored carpeting toward her desk. "Got something you've been wanting."
With a smile, she took his report. "Handwritten, no doubt?" "Yeah. You know me—I can't type to save my soul." He stretched and yawned. "I'm taking that two weeks off. I'm beat."
"Not so fast," Marie murmured apologetically. "Morgan left word for you to come directly to him when you came back."
"Yes. I'm afraid he's got another assignment, and you're the only person available to take it."
Jake frowned. "Listen, I'm wiped out from that Peruvian fiasco." "I know you are. Just go in and talk to Morgan, will you? There's a gentleman in there with him. They've both been waiting for you to show up."
Groaning, Jake rubbed his face, which needed a shave. "Okay, but I'm turning it down."
Marie smiled understandingly and pressed the button on the intercom that sat on her desk.
"Jake is here, Mr. Trayhern. Shall I send him in?"
Jake opened the door to Morgan's spacious office and entered. Morgan looked up and nodded to him.
"Come in, Jake. Meet Ken Travers. Ken, this is Jake Randolph. Jake's our Brazilian specialist. He knows Portuguese, the language of the country, and he's been there on assignment a number of times in the past few years."
Travers leaped from the couch like an overwound spring and held his hand out.
Jake sized up the lean, restless–looking businessman, takingan immediate dislike to him. It was an intuitive thing, Jake thought as he extended his hand to shake Travers's manicured one. Intuition had saved his life on a number of occasions, and he wasn't about to dismiss a gut feeling.
Jake turned to Morgan, whose face showed no expression. Not unusual, Jake thought—Morgan knew how to keep his feelings hidden until the proper time. Jake noted Travers's expensive suit, his perfect haircut, the gold watch on his wrist–and his arrogance. Hiding a wry smile at the thought, Jake realized that he must look like a country bumpkin by comparison. He wore jeans, rough–out boots and an off–white fisherman–knit sweater. November in Washington, D.C., was cold, and there was a threat of snow today.
"Have a seat." Morgan gestured to a wing chair positioned to one side of his desk.
Jake nodded, his attention still on Travers. There was a feeling of electricity in the air, and it was coming from him. Jake had learned a long time ago to say little and observe a lot. Travers was pacing like a caged animal, his hands behind his back and his brow furrowed. His full mouth was set in a line of decided aversion. But aversion to whom? Morgan? Him? Probably both of them, he surmised.
Marie, dressed in her tasteful and conservative navy suit with white piping, came in moments later bearing a silver tray that contained coffee and a plate of cookies for the three men. She set it on the coffee table in front of the couch.
"Please call my wife," Morgan told her, "and tell her I have to cancel my luncheon date with her."
"Yes, sir. Shall I order in the usual lunch from the restaurant?" Marie asked.
Morgan glanced over at Jake. "Would you like something to eat?"
"No, thanks. My stomach's still on Peruvian time." Morgan grinned. "How about you, Ken? Hungry?"
"Just bring me the usual," he told his assistant.
"Yes, sir." Marie gave Travers a deadly look, turned and left.
Jake was fascinated by Travers's snappish mood. He was like a pit bull waiting to eat someone alive. Fighting jet lag, Jake got up and ambled over to the coffee table, where Morgan was already helping himself to a cup of coffee. He needed help keeping himself awake. Originally he'd planned to drop his report off at Morgan's office and then make his way home to his condo in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from the office that he used only when necessary. Jake's real home was located in Oregon.
Travers paced while the two men got their respective cups of coffee and sat down again. Jake saw amusement in Morgan's eyes, and he realized the look was for him alone. With a slight nod, Jake spread out his long legs in front of him. Holding the dainty gold–edged white china cup in one of his large, scarred hands, a cookie in the other, he leaned back and relaxed.
"Ken, why don't you start from the beginning?" Morgan suggested, sipping the black, fragrant Brazilian coffee.
Agitated, Travers came to a halt, his hands planted imperiously upon his hips. "I just don't like having Mr. Randolph here. This is strictly private."
"Mr. Travers," Morgan told him, his voice a deep rumble,
"if you want Perseus to help you, we need to know the facts. Furthermore, I'm not sure we can help you. You're in luck that Jake is here, because, if we decide to take your case, Jake will be the man sent on the mission. So why don't you sit down and start from the beginning?"
Jake watched as Travers vacillated. The man acted as if he were going to explode.
"Very well." Travers strode to the couch and sat down, his spine as rigid as the rest of him.
"My daughter, Shah Sungilo Travers, is down in Brazil. She's thirty years old, and a damned fanatic!"
Morgan tipped his head. "Fanatic? In what sense of the word?"
Grinding his closed fist into the palm of his hand, Travers snapped, "She's a damned ecology fanatic. She's down there in the midst of all the hell breaking loose about the Amazon Basin trees being cut down. Global warming, and all that scientific garbage. Shah could be killed!"
"How long has she been down there?" Morgan asked.
Jake raised his eyebrows. "And you're just getting around to asking for help?"
Travers scowled, and his gaze dropped to his expensivelooking black leather shoes. "I didn't know. I–Oh, hell, I'm divorced from Shah's mother. I happened to be in Rapid City, South Dakota, on business, and I decided to drive out to the Rosebud Sioux reservation to visit Shah, who lives with her mother. But she wasn't there. That's when I found out she'd galloped off on another damned windmill–tilting adventure. Only this time it's to Brazil, and it could get her killed."
Travers stood up, his voice tight. "I want her out of there. She's in danger. It's that Sioux blood of hers. She loves a fight. She sees herself as a protector. A steward, she says."
Jake sat up, his interest piqued. A woman with Sioux blood and an unusual name like Shah interested him. But the picture Travers was painting didn't sound quite accurate. He gave Morgan a searching look.
"You can ask him anything you want," Morgan said, reading the question in Jake's eyes before he could voice his request.
"Mr. Travers, if your daughter is thirty years old, she's old enough to realize if she's in danger or not," Jake pointed out.
Travers gave him a withering look of pure disgust. "You don't know my headstrong daughter, Mr. Randolph. This isn't the first time Shah has been in the thick of things. Her mother named her Shah Sungilo, which means Red Fox in the Sioux language. She's got a temper to match any fox's red coat, and she's as clever as the damned animal she's named after." And then, with a snort, Travers added, "You'd think she would pick some worthwhile cause, and not put her life on the line for some lousy trees in Brazil!"
"What's her educational background?" Jake asked, realizing he wasn't going to get many facts from Travers under the circumstances. The man was clearly fit to be tied. But who was he angry at? Shah? Jake could understand a father being concerned about his daughter possibly being in danger, but where was this anger coming from? His gut told him there was a hidden agenda here, but could he get it out of Travers?
"Although she was born on the Sioux reservation, my daughter has had the finest education my money could buy. She has a master's degree in biology from Stanford University in California. I tried to persuade her to go after her Ph.D., but she said there was no time left, that Mother Earth was dying. Hell!" Travers raked his fingers through his hair again.
"She's got her mother's firebrand temper and stubbornness. She's bullheaded and won't listen to anyone!"
He turned away and stared out the windows at the distant city. "Shortly after I divorced Shah's mother, I went to court to have my ex–wife pronounced an unfit mother. I didn't want my daughter raised on a Depression–level Indian reservation. Unfortunately, my ex–wife won. Shah spent the first eighteen years of her life on a damned reservation. What kind of place is that? They're backward there. Shah's mother is a medicine woman, and she forced Shah to live the old ways of her people. She was raised a heathen—never baptized. I should have—"
"Your daughter is a biologist down in Brazil," Jake said impatiently. "Is she on an assignment?" "Yes. For a television station in Los Angeles that has paid her to investigate the destruction of the tropical rain forest in Brazil. Shah is an environmental activist. She thrives on confrontation." He shook his head. "She just won't back down."
Jake cast a look at Morgan, who was listening intently. "In a businessman, those attributes are often applauded," he noted mildly.
Travers glared at him. "Believe me, I tried to force my daughter to follow in my footsteps, but she didn't want anything to do with real estate. I tried to tell her it was about land, which she's so close to, but she said no Indian would ever sell the land, because it isn't ours to sell. She asked me one time, 'How can you sell Mother Earth? We're her children. All we can do is steward, not greedily buy and sell it." Can you imagine? My own daughter calling me greedy because I buy and sell land?"
"Sounds like a cultural difference of opinion," Morgan murmured.
Jake liked Shah's attitude. He didn't particularly care for greedy people, whatever their business. "What makes you think your daughter's in trouble?" he asked.
Travers snorted and came over to them. He put his hands on his hips. "Shah goes out of her way to get into trouble. This isn't the first time, you know. She married that no–good halfbreed Sioux when I told her not to—that it was a mistake. Well, it turned out to be one hell of a mistake. Shah's divorced from him now, but she had to be put in the hospital by that alcoholic husband of hers before she came to her senses." He nailed Jake with a dark look. "My daughter lives for confrontation. Being physically attacked doesn't bother her. It's almost as if she expects it. Well, I've put too much money into her education to let her waste it, or herself, on some damned trees in the Amazon!"
"Calm down, Ken," Morgan ordered. "Do you know what her exact assignment in Brazil is?"
"No. As I said, I just found out from my ex–wife that Shah left a month ago for Brazil."
"And what do you want us to do?" Morgan asked quietly.
"Bring her home! Get her out of there!"
"If she has a valid passport, approved by the Brazilian government, and she wants to stay, there's nothing we can do," Jake pointed out.
"Kidnap her, then!"
Morgan grimaced. "Mr. Travers, we're not in the kidnapping business. We're in the business of providing protection and help to those who ask for it. But in this case, your daughter isn't asking us for help, you are."
"I can't believe this! I'll pay you any amount of money to bring her out of Brazil! Shah should be home!"
Ordinarily, so soon after returning from a mission, Jake would be falling asleep in his chair, but this time he wasn't. He liked what he heard about Shah—a woman who evidently believed deeply and passionately in something beyond herself. It was too bad more Americans didn't have that kind of commitment.
"Maybe," Jake said, glancing over at Morgan, "I could go down there and be a bodyguard of sorts." He turned to Travers.
"I won't bring back your daughter against her will. Kidnapping is against the law in every nation in the world. What I can do is be there to protect her if she gets into trouble."
Morgan nodded. "Okay, that's what we can do, Mr. Travers. Jake is ideal for the mission, and I don't see a problem in him being a bodyguard for your daughter. What I want you to understand is, Jake won't haul her out of Brazil unless she wants to go."
Looking defeated, Travers spun on his heel. "I guess it's better than nothing," he muttered. He halted and turned his head in Jake's direction. "But I want you to do your damnedest to convince her to leave Brazil as quickly as possible. Can you do that?"
With a shrug, Jake finished off the last of the coffee and cookie. "No promises, Mr. Travers. Your daughter is an adult, mature and educated enough to know what she's doing. All I can do is wage a diplomatic campaign to try to get her to see your side of the issue."
"Then," Travers said unhappily, "I guess that's what I'll have to settle for." He took a photo out of his wallet and handed it to Morgan. "That's my daughter. You'll need to know what she looks like."
Morgan got up and came around the desk. "My assistant will have a number of papers for you to fill out and sign. She'll take you to another office to complete them. When you're done, we'll talk some more."
Jake watched Travers leave. Marie entered with Morgan's box lunch and set it on his desk. When she'd left, Jake stood up and placed his coffee cup on the silver tray.
"That guy has problems," Jake began seriously. He returned to his chair by Morgan's desk. Curiosity was eating him alive as he leaned forward to look at the small color photo of Shah Sungilo Travers.
Posted May 19, 2013