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By Ann Major
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMezcaya, Central America El Jefe terrorist compound
Lt. Col. Phillip Westin, burly ex-Marine, wasn't dead.
Hell. He almost wished he was. Solitary confinement - it made you crazy.
Groggily, he chafed at the ropes binding his wrists and ankles. Beneath the restraints his skin burned from too much rubbing.
He tried to roll over but he was so weak he could only lie facedown in the dark, gasping. The windowless walls seemed to close in upon him. He wanted to scream ... or worse ... to weep. One minute he was burning up, the next he was shivering and whimpering on his cot like a baby. The cramps in his legs and arms knifed through him constantly.
Where the hell was he? Remember! Try to remember. His thoughts were slow and tortured. It took him a while to realize that he was lying on a dirty canvas cot deep in The Cave that served as the dungeon underneath Fortaleza de la Fortuna. The fortaleza was a terrorist compound in Mezcaya run by a particularly dangerous group of thugs who went by the name El Jefe.
Westin had been captured a few weeks ago shortly after he'd run Jose Mendoza, one of the terrorist ring-leaders, off a mountain road and killed him. Too bad Mendoza's illegitimate son, Xavier Gonzalez, didn't have a forgiving nature.
Westin blinked but couldn't see a thing. The damned dungeon was blacker than the inside of an ape's behind.
His head throbbed where Xavier had smacked him with a rifle butt yesterday. His throat was dry. He was thirsty as hell. Dehydrated probably.
Xavier and his unkempt dirty bunch of thugs had captured him and beaten him senseless and then gleefully trussed him like a pig for slaughter.
He was going to die. At dawn. A single bullet to the head, the final coup de grace. An hour ago Xavier and a couple of short, teenage captors reeking of body odor had strutted inside The Cave like a bunch of bantam cocks in a barnyard and kicked him with their black, muddy combat boots.
"Gringo. ¿Cómo estás?" They'd prodded him with their assault rifles and made cruel jokes in Spanish rather than in their Mezcayan dialect. They'd flipped coins to see who'd get lucky enough to pull the trigger. Xavier, the youngest and the most lethally handsome, had slid a .45 out of a black holster and dried it off on his sleeve.
"You kill my father, so you die, gringo. You have no right to be in my country."
"Your drug and gun money was making inroads in my town, bastardo. My town."
The kid was dark with a permanent Mezcayan tan. With one brown hand he'd lifted a cigarette to his pretty mouth; with the other he'd carefully centered the cold barrel on Phillip's forehead.
Xavier's eyes were scarily irrational in his pretty-boy face. His finger had pulled back the trigger ever so slightly. "Bang. Bang, gringo. Your town is going to be my town."
Before Phillip could argue, the thick, acrid cigarette smoke from the kid's cigarette had made him wretch. Hell, maybe puking up his guts had saved him. Instead of firing his gun, Xavier had burst out into hysterical laughter and shrieked, "Cobarde. Coward."
Then the bastardo had danced a little jig.
"Tengo sed. I'm thirsty," Phillip had said.
Xavier had smiled that pretty smile. "So - drink this!" He'd pitched the cigarette into the vomit in front of Phillip's face.
Bastardos. His death was a game to them. Phillip Westin, ex-Marine, had been handpicked for the Alpha Force. His usual style was spit-and-polish perfect.
He wouldn't be a pretty corpse. He wouldn't even rate a body bag in this hellhole compound that was hidden deep in Mezcayan mountains and rain forest.
There'd be no military honors at his funeral. No funeral, period. No beautiful woman to weep over his grave back home in south Texas.
Suddenly a blond goddess, no a witch, seemed to float above him in the misty black.
Oh, God.... Just when he was weak, wet, shaking and puking with fear, he had to think of her - the icy, trampy witch, who'd walked out on him. Usually, the witch was satisfied to haunt his dreams. When he was awake, he was disciplined enough to keep his demons and witches at bay.
But he was weak and cold ... so cold and feverish a spasm shook him ... and so scared about dying he could think only of her.
Anger slammed him when her sulky, smoky voice began to sing the love song she'd written about their doomed relationship.
He jerked at his ropes, and to his surprise they loosened just a bit. "Go away! Leave me alone!" he yelled into the steamy darkness.
The perverse phantom draped her curvy body against the black wall and sang louder.
Nobody but you/Only you.
"Shut up," he growled even as every cell in his body began to quiver as he fisted and unfisted his fingers in an attempt to free his hands.
I had to say goodbye ... but everywhere I go ... there's nobody in my heart ... only you....
Her husky voice had his head pounding. He dug his fingernails into his palms. Suddenly to his surprise, he jerked his right hand free of the ropes. "Damn you, shut the hell up!"
And yet I had to say goodbye, the witch crooned.
"Tramp! You're just a one-hit wonder. You know that, don't you?"
That shut her up, but she didn't go away. Instead, that sad, vulnerable expression that could tie him in knots came into her eyes, which shone brilliantly in the dark. Her golden hair fell in silken coils around her slim shoulders.
Hell. She looked like a little lost sex kitten in need of a home and a warm bed. His home. His bed.
Oh, God, all she ever had to do was look at him like that and all he wanted to do was to hold her and to protect her and to make love to her. What would he give to have her one more time before he died?
His gut cramped as he clawed his cot with his free hands. He remembered exactly how her hair smelled, how her skin smelled, how her blue eyes flashed with tears if he got too domineering. She'd had a fearsome talent for gentling him.
Escape. He had to escape.
His hands shook. He closed his eyes and tried not to remember how small she was or how perfectly she'd fit him.
Think of something else! Like getting out of here!
But when he swallowed, he tasted her. One taste, and he was as hard as a brick.
Somehow he got the ropes around his ankles loose, but when he tried to stand, the black walls spun and he fell back onto the cot. Weak as he was, his groin pulsed with desire. Hell. The proximity of death was the best aphrodisiac.
Damn Celeste Cavanaugh. He'd asked her to be his wife, to marry him. What a damn fool he'd been to do that. Hell, he'd picked her up in a bar. No. Damn it. He'd rescued her from a bar brawl. She'd been a nobody from the gutter, the prettiest, sexiest little nobody in the whole world with a voice like an angel.
He'd lifted her out of that life, given her everything, and treated her like a lady. She'd moved in with him and they'd played at love and marriage. Why the hell hadn't she bothered to tell him about her ridiculous ambition to be a country-western star? Why hadn't she at least given him a chance to understand it?
Excerpted from Shameless by Ann Major Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.