From the author of The Farther I Fall comes an action-filled romance in which two lovers discover that the best thing about being lost is having someone find you...
CIA operative Lee Wheeler is glad to be back in the field, even if the assignment is at a backwater station in Colombia—what he considers punishment for crossing lines in an attempt to save his brother's life. Either way, he’s ready for action. But he never could have predicted the action he’s about to get...
Doctor Zoe Rodriguez is in charge of a clinic in a tiny town on the edge of the rain forest. She’s still dealing with a traumatic experience she had in Mexico—a trauma she wouldn't have survived if it weren't for Lee. So when they unexpectedly cross paths again, unresolved wounds rise to the surface, and their mutual passion flares to life.
But when a new threat reveals itself, Lee and Zoe’s reunion takes on echoes of the past that may ruin their chance for a future.
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About the Author
Lisa Nicholas is the author of The Farther I Fall. If she's not writing, she's feeding her story addiction any way she can: raiding Netflix, pillaging her local bookstore and library, and (most recently) tearing her way through the comics archive at Marvel.
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Also by Lisa Nicholas
The Farther I Fall
As Lost As I Get
InterMix Books, New York
AN IMPRINT OF PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE LLC
375 HUDSON STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014
AS LOST AS I GET
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Nicholas.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-19146-4
InterMix eBook edition / August 2015
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Penguin Random House is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity.
In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers;
however, the story, the experiences, and the words
are the author’s alone.
Outside Oaxaca, Mexico
Zoe knew her captors planned to kill her when they started leaving her hood off and let her see their faces. By now they’d figured out that her family couldn’t afford a ransom, and aid workers didn’t have much political worth.
She squirmed to find a more comfortable position. After three days, they still kept her hands tied behind her back, her feet bound at the ankles.
God, she’d been stupid. She knew the precautions, but she still fell into a routine, a regular route and a regular schedule. They’d probably watched her for days before pulling her off the street. Too bad they hadn’t done their homework on her. When they’d first shoved her into the tiny room, there’d been three other prisoners. One by one they’d all been released, and now she was alone.
Not for long. The door to her cell opened. Her captors shoved in a hooded man. She knew the two guarding her now. The shorter one had an endless supply of sweat-stained Hawaiian shirts. The taller one specialized in tight T-shirts that showed off his physique—he was the one she was most afraid of. The only talking he did was with his fists. He’d given her the bruise she had on her cheekbone when she’d moved too slowly for his liking. She’d seen his face twice now, and didn’t doubt she’d be seeing it in her nightmares for years, if she survived.
The man they shoved in front of them was built a lot like Talks With Fists, same height and similar musculature, but he was white. Expensive jeans and tennis shoes, same type of form-fitting T-shirt as the guard. Tourist, probably. The only question on her mind was whether they’d kill her before or after he was ransomed.
“Down, you dog.” The shorter guard pushed the new captive to the ground, crouching to bind his ankles. The man didn’t fight, but sat with his head bowed.
As soon as the guards left the room, the man rose to his knees and leaned over, shaking the hood off. He was definitely a tourist. His dark hair was cropped close and gleaming; she couldn’t tell if it was dark brown or black. He had the same expensive look as his jeans. His fair skin was clear and clean shaven with just a hint of shadow, and he had the sort of profile she’d only ever seen on a movie or television screen. He wouldn’t be here long. Either he had a family with money or he worked for a company that would want him back.
She realized he was giving her the same level of scrutiny, and felt a small rush of fear. They were both bound, so surely he couldn’t hurt her, but there was something dangerous in his eyes.
Which is why she didn’t expect them to soften the way they did. “Zoe Rodriguez?”
She was too startled to answer, but just nodded.
He glanced toward the locked door and pushed himself to a crouch, the movement oddly graceful. She fought not to flinch when he came over to her. “My name’s Lee Wheeler. I’m with the CIA. I’m going to get you out of here.”
The sudden lump in her throat caught her by surprise. She tried to keep her face schooled as she studied him. There was no trace of anything but sincerity in his blue eyes. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
“You don’t.” He flashed a quick, humorless grin. “I’m not precisely carrying my credentials at the moment.” Another careful look over his shoulder. “Trust me until we’re out of here, and I promise I’ll show you all the proof you need.”
Zoe’s throat ached and her eyes were stinging. She would not cry in front of a stranger, but the relief was threatening to overwhelm her. “Why?” she said. “I mean, I’m nobody.”
“Médecins International doctor, working as an emergency surgeon in a refugee camp in Oaxaca—that doesn’t sound like nobody to me.” He started to say something else but froze, then threw himself over to where the guards had initially pushed him.
Talks With Fists came in with the filthy bucket that served as a toilet, then dropped it, cursing and yelling at Lee to close his eyes. Lee did, but the guard cuffed him across the cheek before pulling the hood over his head again.
Then he retrieved the bucket and went back to Lee. Zoe knew the routine. He’d haul Lee to his feet and yank his pants down unceremoniously, and leave him to use the bucket or not. She turned away and waited for her turn. It never came. When Lee was finished, the guard left.
It was too much to bear. This was how it started, the dehumanization and humiliation that would finally let them kill her. “Hey! What the hell?” she yelled.
“Zoe,” Lee hissed. She didn’t know if he understood much Spanish or not, but he had to recognize her tone.
“Come on, you son of a bitch.” The rage was spilling over and she couldn’t do anything about it. “Bring me the goddamn bucket!”
“Zoe, stop. Don’t antagonize them.”
Wordless, she started screaming, jerking at her wrists and ankles as if she could free herself with pure rage.
The door flew open and the guard came back. “Shut up, bitch.”
Zoe yelled louder. Wherever they were, she already knew it didn’t matter how much noise she made. Either there were no people nearby, or the ones who were refused to get involved.
“Shut up,” the guard repeated. He grabbed her by her shirt, popping stitches in the seams. When she didn’t stop yelling, he backhanded her across the cheek that wasn’t already bruised. The pain was a flare of fire over the entire side of her face. She pistoned her legs and tried to kick him as he shook her, cursing and shouting at her to be quiet. The next blow rocked her head to the side and the world went dark.
Her bed was uncomfortable. The pillow was too unyielding, and the mattress beneath her was cold. Where were her blankets? She tried to turn over and was stopped by a strong hand. “Hey. Zoe, wake up.” A man’s voice, a little familiar. “Come on, kiddo. Open your eyes.”
Her mouth was sticky and sour. “Don’t . . . call me kiddo.” She forced her eyelids open. The room was almost completely dark, with only faint moonlight shining through the cracks from outside. She wasn’t on her bed, or her pillow. Her head was in Lee’s lap, pillowed by one of his hands.
“What the hell were you trying to do, make him kill you?”
“He’s going to kill me anyway.” She struggled to sit up, but he wouldn’t let her. Her face and jaw ached, and a couple of her teeth felt like they might be a little loose.
“Hold still and rest for a minute.” He brushed a curl of her hair away from her eyes. “He’s not going to kill you because I’m not going to let him.”
Awareness was slowly filtering back. “Yeah, right. What are you going to do—” Then it hit her. “Your hands are free. How’d you do that?” Another realization. “My hands are free.” And her feet.
“Nothing gets past you, does it?” He smiled. “You didn’t think I was going to just walk in here unprepared to get you out, did you?” He shifted and reached into his pocket, pulling out a tiny penknife.
“They didn’t search you?” The dizziness was worse than before.
“Of course they did.”
“But then how did you—never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“You’re right, you don’t.”
“I think I have a concussion,” she said. “That was . . . not my brightest moment.”
Lee shook his head. “Not really, no. Gutsy, though. Did you really have to pee that badly?”
She wished he would stop smiling at her. “No. I just—” Suddenly she was acutely aware that she was lying in his lap, and tried to sit up again. This time he let her. She leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes, waiting for the dizziness to pass. “It’s the next step,” she said, keeping her eyes closed. “It’s been long enough that they know there’s no ransoming me, so next they start treating me badly, ignoring that I’m human.” She tried to force a smile and keep her voice light, but she couldn’t control the break in her words. “Makes me easier to k— To kill.” That’s when the tears started stinging behind her eyes. Damn it. She tried to force them back.
“Hey.” The softness in his voice made it hard to keep swallowing the tears. “It’s okay.” He put an arm around her and pulled her to his shoulder. The tears burned their way past her eyelids and dripped on her cheeks. “I’m going to get you out of here. Do you believe me?” She didn’t answer, and he tilted her chin up to force her to look him in the eye. He brushed away tears with the pad of his thumb, a careful, gentle motion that only made her cry harder. “Zoe. Trust me. You have to trust me.”
Reluctantly, she nodded. What choice did she have? “Sorry if I ruined your plans.”
“My plans are flexible.” He pulled her back to his shoulder and she let him, accepting the warmth of another human being. “Tell me what happens in the morning around here. Food again? How many guards have you seen since you’ve been here? Tell me everything.”
She recounted as much as she could remember. “I didn’t actually start seeing their faces until this afternoon, so I’ve only seen two. I’ve heard maybe . . . four different voices? I’m not sure.”
“That’s all right. Any weapons that you’ve seen?”
Talking about details helped calm her down. She swiped away the last of the tears. Her face was probably a dirty, streaked mess. “The men who took me had rifles. The guards only have handguns that I’ve seen.”
He nodded, and she was struck again by his eyes, now distant and thoughtful. “Okay. Try and get some sleep.”
“Will you sleep?” she asked.
“Good. Keep an eye on me. Make sure I stay responsive.”
“Zoe?” The tone of his voice made her look up at him. “I’m really sorry, but I have to put these back on.” He held up strands of rope. “And the hood. In case they come in.”
A surge of panic rose and it took several breaths for her to beat it back. She nodded ruefully. “Just when I was getting circulation back in my feet.”
“I won’t tie it as tight.” He was true to his word. She was still effectively hobbled, but the rope wasn’t biting into her skin. He did the same thing for her hands, then pulled the hood over her face.
“What about you?” she asked, settling back against the wall.
“Me too,” he said. “My feet, anyway. Get some rest.”
Zoe hesitated, then rested her head against his shoulder. “Thank you.”
He sounded amused. “Just doing my job.”
The woman asleep on his shoulder was remarkable. Lee had seen pictures as part of his initial briefings. He knew she’d be beautiful, but photos of her smiling at the camera didn’t do her full justice. A photograph showed her deep gray eyes and the warmth of her golden light brown skin. A photograph didn’t show the fierce intelligence in those eyes or the bright spark of her personality. Even here, after over three days in captivity, dirty and exhausted, she was a force of nature. When she’d started yelling for the guards he was equal parts terrified and awed. It could have been the end of his mission right there.
A solo mission like his was always difficult, but sometimes easier to pull off than something larger, with bigger political ramifications. If his cover was blown, he knew his higher ups would disavow any knowledge of him or his mission. He was, in government terms, a “deniable asset.”
He watched Zoe sleep, her eyes moving in REM. He’d have to rouse her soon. Getting her out of here was a little more complicated if she did have a concussion, but even concussed she still seemed sharp. So far the trickiest part had been getting kidnapped by the same group. A wallet of pesos and a promise of full immunity had netted them an informant inside the ring, and who Lee imagined was the one who suggested him as their next target. For his part, Lee had made a show of being a wealthy tourist. It was a lucky thing that another group of kidnappers hadn’t targeted him.
He couldn’t pinpoint their precise location on a map right now, but he bet he could get within twenty miles. The van they’d used to transport him was windowless, but he’d heard perfectly well. They were up in the mountains, but not so remote that a vehicle couldn’t get there. The road noise had changed significantly once they’d left the city of Oaxaca proper, and even blindfolded, he knew the smell and feel of the jungle close around them when they brought him into the house.
If what Zoe said was accurate, there probably weren’t more than two or three guards in place at a time. They were accustomed to meek prisoners waiting for ransom. The biggest unknown was how heavily armed they were. Zoe had seen more of them than he had—and she was right, between the removal of her hood and the sudden mistreatment by the guards, they weren’t planning to keep her alive much longer. He’d have to trust that her sense of observation was keen.
He turned his plan over and over in his head, looking for cracks. It wasn’t perfect, but no plan ever was. All that was left was to wait a few more hours, give the guards plenty of time to get drowsy and disoriented. Lee closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall, and waited.
It was dark when Lee woke her with a gentle shake. “Zoe.” His voice was low against her ear. “It’s time.”
She struggled up toward consciousness, blinking and wishing she could rub her eyes. Her face ached. Her cheek was hot and swollen. A black eye wasn’t out of the question. As she opened her eyes, she realized she was leaning against Lee, and sat up. “What do I do?”
He flashed her a quick grin that made her feel sorry for anyone that got in his way. “Play dead.”
“Just that. Lie still, try to hold your breath. You shouldn’t have to for long.” He nudged her away from him and onto her side. She let her mouth fall open and tried to make her muscles go slack. “Good,” Lee murmured, then she felt him loosening the ropes around her hands. “Stay down until I tell you it’s safe.”
“What are you—?”
“Shh. Dead.” No sooner had she settled than he raised his voice. “Oh God, oh my God. Guards! Hello? ¿Por favor? The girl, I think she died!”
“Quiet in there!” She recognized the guard’s voice, one of the slower, duller ones.
“¡Ella es muerto!” Lee’s accent was terrible—was it deliberately bad?
The doorknob rattled then the door swung open. Lee spoke in broken first-year-of-high-school Spanish. “He hit the girl hard. Too hard. The girl is dead.”
The guard grunted and his footsteps came closer. Zoe held her breath. She didn’t have to wait long. The guard touched her neck and there was the meaty sound of a punch, followed by a strangled yelp. The guard’s hand went away. The two men scuffled on the floor next to her and the urge to open her eyes was overwhelming. Lee was right though: as long as they thought she was already dead, they’d ignore her.
At the sound of a gun cocking, she gave in and cracked her eyes just enough to make sure it was Lee with the gun. He kept over the fallen guard, gun in hand. The other guard appeared in the doorway and Zoe snapped her eyes shut again.
There were two flat bangs, and the sound of a body hitting the floor. Who shot first? After a third shot, the urge to call out Lee’s name was almost a physical pain. She took the chance of opening her eyes again—neither of the two bodies on the floor was Lee’s, but he wasn’t in the room. Panic grabbed her fully by the throat. He’d left her. He wasn’t who he said he was, he saw his chance and ran, and now she was here in the room with two dead kidnappers. Her heart slammed against her ribcage like it too was trying to escape. The vision of him jumping into whatever vehicle was outside and driving away was so clear she thought she heard the ignition roar.
“Zoe! All clear!” Lee appeared in the doorway, gun still in hand. He tucked it into the back of his jeans and knelt by the first guard, feeling for a pulse. “Toss me your ropes,” he said. “He’s still alive.”
She scrabbled at the ropes around her ankles, but it took her three tries to get them loose with her shaking hands. She tossed them to Lee and tried to stand under her own power for the first time in three days. Climbing to her feet with the help of the wall, her muscles were shaky and weak, and the pins and needles started in her feet immediately. Limping to the doorway, she gave the bodies on the floor a wide berth.
“What now?” she asked.
“Now we get out of here and find a clearing so we can catch our ride.” He pulled an ancient cell phone from his pocket. “Luckily, one of our boys charged his phone. There’s a car out front. Neither of them is carrying keys, but I’m not taking the time to search the house. Come on.” He took her by the hand and pulled her toward the door.
“So we walk out of here?” Zoe shook free, but followed him. Her head was throbbing worse than ever.
“Oh ye of little faith.”
The car was a tiny Nissan that had seen better days. A long time ago. He pulled open the driver side door with a complaining screech of metal and folded himself into the bucket seat. She hadn’t realized before just how tall he was. Through the passenger side window she could see him busily stripping wires under the dashboard with his penknife. She was about to climb in when she heard the rumble of a vehicle. “Shit. Someone’s coming.”
His head popped up as he listened. “Get in.” With a spark of wires, the ignition caught and stuttered to life. “Hang on.” He threw it into reverse and spun the car around in the small space in front of the house—which now she could see was really not much more than a hut in the middle of the jungle. He didn’t turn on the headlights, and Zoe had a moment to hope like hell his night vision was better than hers. Headlights flickered through the trees ahead. The road was too narrow; there was no way they could pass whoever it was. She stole a glance at him and could just see the set of his jaw: determined. The seat belt was as battered as the rest of the car, but she pulled it on and fastened it anyway, then held on to the door handle.
Lee gunned the sewing-machine engine, and they rounded a turn to see a pair of headlights coming right at them. “Lee.” Her pulse pounded heavy and thick in her skull.
“We’ll get past.” He flipped the headlights on and laid on the horn, a rusty screeching honk. The van swerved at the last second, honking its own horn. The tires of the small compact car spun and found purchase on the soft dirt of the road. Zoe could have reached through the window and slapped her palm on the van without stretching, but they got past, horn blaring.
Zoe said, “That was the van—”
“Yeah.” He looked in the rearview mirror. “Same one. They’ll come after us.” Keeping one hand on the wheel, he pulled out the cell phone and handed it to her. “Call this number,” he said and gave her a U.S. number.
“Hand it to me.”
She handed it over just as she heard a crisp female voice say, “Mazatlan Imports, how can I help you?”
“Good to hear your voice, Lieutenant. This is Prodigal Son, looking for a ride out of here for me and a friend.” She turned to look out their rear window while listening to his side of the conversation. “Yeah,” he said. “I think we’re about thirty miles southwest of Oaxaca . . . Oh, you do. Good. Got a clearing for me?” He listened intently and nodded even though he was on the phone. “I can get there in about ten minutes. Listen, we’re going to have company here pretty quick. Can we put a rush on this?” He grinned. “I’ll do what I can. Thanks.” He clicked the phone closed and handed it to her. “We’re on our way to meet our ride. There’s a clearing not far from here.”
“How far behind us do you think they are?”
“Depends how far they had to go before they could turn around. If we can get to a turnoff before they get in sight of us, we’ll be home free. Should be— Damn it.” He saw it the same time she did, then, a pair of headlights a little ways behind them.
His answer was to step on the gas, making the little car fishtail in the dirt. Zoe stared behind them, watching the headlights creep gradually closer. “They’re catching up.”
“Of course they’re catching up, they’ve got an eight-cylinder engine and I have a lawnmower. Shit.” He slapped his hand on the steering wheel. “Hang on.” He pushed the car harder, the engine starting to whine like a mosquito. “Come on, come on, come on,” he muttered. “I don’t suppose you know how to shoot.”
“A gun? No,” she said. Her fingers curled into the ripped plastic upholstery of the seat back. They were going to catch up to them, and when they did, they were going to kill her. Probably Lee as well. Her breath came in shallow sips and she tried to force deeper breaths.
“We’re going to get through this.” He curled his fingers around her free hand. “Listen to me. You still trust me, right?” She met his eyes as he looked between her and the dark road in front of them.
“. . . I trust you.” Her chest loosened and she was finally able to take a deep breath.
“All right. I want you to get down onto the floorboard. You’ll have to take your seat belt off.” He smiled and let go of her hand. “Just in case. They’re not close enough to get a shot at us yet, but better safe than sorry.” She slid out of her seat and crouched on the filthy floor of the car. “Good girl. The turnoff for the main road is up ahead. We’ll beat them there, and once we’re on pavement we’ll be able to get farther ahead.”
Zoe rested her head on the car seat and closed her eyes. Her world narrowed to the buzz of the engine and the stink of fear and motor oil. All she could do was hang on and breathe. With a thump, the sounds changed, the wheels rolling on pavement instead of dirt.
“We should be there in five more minutes. We’re going to make it, Zoe, I promise.”
She wanted to believe him, but the tension in his voice was unmissable. She opened her eyes and looked up to see him watching the rearview mirror, face set in grim determination.
“How close are they?”
His shoulders slumped a little. “Close. We might have a fight on our hands when we get to the clearing.”
The first shot blew out the rear window with a crash and a shower of safety-glass fragments. Zoe flinched and yelped, covering her head with her arms. “Hang on,” Lee said, and spun the steering wheel. The road changed to dirt again, and the jarring bumps rattled her teeth. “We’re almost there. When I say so, get out of the car and stay low behind one of the tires, okay?” She didn’t answer at first. “Zoe! Be ready to get out and crouch behind the car. Are you with me?”
After a few twists and turns, Lee slammed on the brakes with a screech and the car spun to a stop. “Now! Behind the tire.”
Zoe scrambled for the door handle and crawled out of the car. She knelt behind the rear tire, fighting the urge to look and see what was happening. Lee followed her out of the passenger side and slammed the door shut. The gun was in his hand, and with a single quick motion, he popped the clip and checked the ammunition. “Our ride should be here any minute.” He squeezed her shoulder and moved to crouch at the front of the car, peering over the hood. She heard the van screech to a halt and a door open. Lee fired a shot then moved back behind cover. From the cursing, he must have hit someone.
“Shit. There’s more of them than I have bullets.” He growled in frustration. “What the hell, did they stop and get reinforcements in the middle of the night?”
Everything seemed very far away. She was dimly aware of Lee firing the gun, of shots hitting the car, bullets flying overhead. Men were shouting in Spanish and English, and there was a roaring noise overhead. It got bright as daylight and gusts of wind buffeted her body, nearly knocking her from her crouch. It took far too long to register the helicopter above her, then landing in the clearing. More gunfire, more screaming. Everything sounded far away, as if her head were underwater. Something so distant couldn’t possibly hurt her.
Then Lee was shouting her name, pulling her to her feet. When she couldn’t run, he picked her up.
It wasn’t until he’d buckled her into the helicopter seat and they’d taken off that she fully realized what was happening. For the second time since her kidnapping, Zoe started to cry, this time in great, racking sobs. She let Lee pull her out of her seat and cradle her like a child while he murmured to her. “You’re safe now. It’s over. We’re going home.”
It was over.
Two years later
Inírida, Colombia, near the Venezuelan border
Zoe Rodriguez heard shouting in Spanish through her office door. “My grandson. You must help my grandson!”
Emergencies weren’t unheard of in their tiny clinic, but most people went to Inírida’s small hospital for urgent problems. She could hear Jacira’s calming voice—the local woman had been an administrator for the Médecins International clinic since its inception, and would be there long after Zoe moved on to another assignment.
She hurried to the waiting room to see a familiar face. The staff had taken to calling the wizened old woman La Abuelita because of her many “grandchildren.” They came in all ages and colors; most of them were probably street children or other foundlings that she had rounded up and taken in.
The boy she was carrying now lolled against her shoulder, bleeding from his temple, his dark brown skin ashen.
“Jacira, exam three.” Zoe pulled on a pair of latex gloves and stepped forward to give the boy a quick exam while Jacira prepped the exam room. The boy’s breathing was even.
He woke up as Zoe started her full exam. She helped him sit up. He seemed steady, no shaking or wobbliness. The exam made it more obvious the boy had been struck in the temple by something, a rock perhaps. “Hey, there,” she said in Spanish. “I’m Zoe. Can you tell me your name?”
“Hugo,” he said, all big eyes.
“Can you tell me what happened, Hugo?”
He cut his eyes to La Abuelita. “I don’t know.”
If he really didn’t remember, that was a bad sign. “Did you know that doctors all make a special promise, Hugo?” She looked him in the eye, with as much reassurance as she could manage. “If you tell me something, I can’t tell anyone—”
Another commotion kicked up outside. La Abuelita stood in front of the boy as if to protect him.
She wasn’t wrong to do so. The exam room door flew open to reveal a tall, ebony-skinned man in a military uniform. Behind him, Jacira had eyes like thunder at the breach of protocol. If the man had any sense, he’d be more worried about what was behind him than what was in front of him.
“There you are,” he said to La Abuelita—or the child, Zoe couldn’t be sure which.
Zoe pushed forward between them. “I’m sorry, you’re going to have to wait outside. I’m in the middle of treating a patient—”
“You’re in the middle of treating a criminal,” the man said, his voice deep and resonating in the small room.
“He’s lying!” La Abuelita cried.
“Either way,” Zoe said, a sense of calm descending, “he’s my patient, and you’re going to have to wait until I’m through with him.” She gave him her best “I am a doctor and you do not mess with me” smile and herded him back toward the door. “I promise you, I won’t let them run out the back door when I’m finished.”
The man resisted briefly, then gave in.
“Jacira,” Zoe said, “please show this gentleman to our waiting room?”
Zoe shut the door behind them. “Now, what was that about? Tell me quickly.”
“He lies, Doctor. He’s a terrible man,” La Abuelita said.
Zoe ignored her in favor of Hugo once again, who had gone pale. “Hugo, like I was saying, you can tell me anything at all, and I can’t tell anybody else, not even the man outside. If you remember, it’s very important that you tell me, so I can make sure you haven’t been hurt badly.”
He looked down at his feet where they were kicking at one leg of the exam table. “A man in the market threw a rock at me.”
“That wasn’t very nice of him. Why would he do that?”
“He thought I stole some arepas.” The kid wasn’t much more than skin and bones; she couldn’t fault him much if he was stealing food.
“That still wasn’t very nice of him.” She checked his vitals, did a neurological exam. He stayed clear and responsive the entire time, and barely flinched while she bandaged the cut on his temple. “All right. You wait here. Your abuelita will be back in just a minute.” She took the other woman into the corridor.
“He should be fine,” Zoe said. “There’s no sign of brain injury. We should be able to send him home with you, but you’ll need to keep a close eye on him.”
“Oh thank God,” La Abuelita said. “It’s my fault he stole. He heard me tell one of the older boys this morning that I was worried about our garden. It’s not growing well. Now the soldier will want to take him away.”
“Let me worry about that,” Zoe said. “You go back and wait with Hugo. If he seems to get dizzy or sick to his stomach, you get one of us right away.”
As much as she hoped otherwise, the uniformed man was still waiting for her, looking hopelessly out of place in the waiting room, an overdressed rooster among a bunch of guinea hens. She approached him with a warm smile and her hand outstretched. “I’m sorry, we weren’t properly introduced,” she said, as if he hadn’t barged into her exam room shouting. “I’m Doctor Zoe Rodriguez. I’m in charge of the clinic here.”
“Santiago Vargas,” he said, executing a short bow over her hand. His manners were courtly, but the look in his eyes was anything but as he looked her over. Good. She wasn’t too proud to take that interest and use it on behalf of the clinic if she needed to.
“Let’s talk in my office,” she said, and led the way.
Once she’d invited him to sit, he said, “I apologize for my behavior earlier. Street crime is a problem here.”
Zoe sat down behind her desk and kept smiling. He was remarkably handsome. She knew his type. “I didn’t know the Ejército Nacional de Colombia dealt with street crimes, Colonel.” “Colonel” was a guess, as was his specific branch of service. If she was right, he’d be flattered, and if she was wrong, he’d enjoy correcting her.
“Doctor Rodriguez, I’m impressed that an American knows our uniforms.” Flattery it was then. “We do what we can. I happened to be there when the boy took off running.”
“I’m so glad,” Zoe said. “I think a terrible crime was committed.”
Colonel Vargas sat up straighter. “He confessed?”
“Someone assaulted an eight-year-old child by throwing a rock at his head. He could have been severely injured, or even killed, Colonel.”
The smile he gave her was politely condescending—it was one she’d seen before. He was about to tell her how as a foreigner she couldn’t understand what happened. “You will forgive me, Doctor, but you cannot trust what these street children say. They are trained from the cradle to tell whatever lies benefit them best.”
“I have been in the field with Médecins International for over four years,” Zoe said. It wasn’t exactly a lie. Even though she wasn’t overseas for two of those years, she was still doing some clinic work in Miami. “I have had experience with all kinds of children. And I know someone threw a rock at his head because of his injuries. They’re very distinct. He’s lucky to be alive.” She leaned across her desk and powered up her smile. “You seem like a good man, Colonel Vargas. I’m sure we can count on you to deal with the sort of man who would threaten a child.”
“The child is a criminal, and I’m afraid I must insist you give him to me—”
“The child has a head injury, and he won’t be leaving my clinic until I decide he’s stable.” She softened her words with another smile, as guileless as she knew how to make it. “We have very strict protocols for head injuries. Especially where children are concerned.”
Vargas opened and closed his hands, and his mouth tightened around his smile. “Of course. You must make certain of his well-being.”
Zoe stood up and extended her hand across the desk. “I’m so glad you understand. You’ve saved me the paperwork of having to go to our people in Bogotá to explain why the Colombian government was failing to cooperate with our mandate to treat her citizens.” Back off, or I will make this an international incident.
He shook her hand, although there was no smile in his eyes anymore. “Doctor Rodriguez.” He dipped his head.
She showed him out, and when she turned back, Jacira met her with an anxious expression. “Well?”
“I don’t think I made a friend,” Zoe said, “but I think he’ll leave La Abuelita and her kids alone. For now.”
CIA Station Chief’s Office, Bogotá, Colombia
Lee Wheeler looked at the folder in front of him, memorizing the details. Will Freeman, account manager for International Frontier Industries—the folder contained all the information and ID he’d need to take on a new life in Bogotá.
Colombia was punishment for his sins in his old life.
“So I’m a friend of the Ambassador’s, then?” he asked.
“An old friend,” Wishnevsky said with a grin. “His Excellency knows who you are, of course.” Old enough to be his mother, Janet Wishnevsky looked a good fifteen years younger than she was, and what she didn’t know about espionage in Latin America wasn’t worth knowing. “There will be several minor Colombian bureaucrats at the fund-raiser. Keep an eye open for a potential recruit.”
Despite everything, it was good to be back in the field, even if it was a punishment detail in a relative backwater CIA operation.
Fine. It was fine. Lee had had his share of dangerous and exciting ops. After so many years in the field, he’d found that his taste for adrenaline had died a little. “What are we offering?”
“The usual,” she said. “You know the routine.” She stood, signaling the end of their briefing. “Six PM tomorrow, sharp.” Wishnevsky leaned across her desk, a gleam in her sharp eyes. “I hope you have a decent tux.”
“I can make do,” he said. She knew who he was, who his family was. Tuxedos weren’t a problem.
As if she read his mind, she asked, “How’s your brother?”
“Better,” he said. “The trial’s over, and Lucas is back on tour.” Lucas Wheeler, bad boy rock star. Lee still sometimes wondered how they were related, much less twins.
“That was a hell of a thing you did for him.”
A hell of a thing that cost him a cushy D.C. analyst position. “It was all his fiancée, Gwen,” he said. “She did all the work of keeping him safe. I just pulled some strings.” Too many strings, and strings he shouldn’t have pulled. He’d do it again. With Lucas refusing to take the threat of a stalker seriously, all Lee could do was make sure Gwen had a weapon and anything else she needed. That, and a few extra-curricular background checks on Lucas’s staff. Those were what had landed him in hot water. “Still, they’re both safe, and things have settled. It was time for me to get back in the field.”
“I’m glad to have you.” She let him pretend the choice had been his. “Bill McKenzie’s loss is my gain.”
“Believe me, he doesn’t think so.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Independent reviewer for Archaeolibrarian I Dig Good Books. 5/5 (Exceptional) *I received a copy of this book from Barclay Publicity in exchange for a fair and honest review.* I absolutely adored this story. The epilogue really grabs you and sinks itself into you! You really can’t help but love a story that starts out with an incredible rescue that leads to a chance meeting again several years later. It’s a thrilling love story that starts with the incredible rescue to save a woman’s life. There are twists and turns that will leave you guessing, and second guessing that theory, and still leave you wondering what’s going on. This author did a great job with detail and description in this story. These details really make you fall for the leading couple, Lee and Zoe. They really make the story leap off the page and play out in front of you. The story flows very smoothly and with ease. It’s not a struggle to read or to grasp the concept. There is some sitting on the edge of your seat action and some hot and heavy bedroom scenes. I think these are like the whipped cream cherry to your sundae. The story was great before those but stepped to a whole new level. I absolutely recommend this story to you! It’s a great read and the story is just phenomenal!
Fast paced action from the page one, that took a hold of me, and kept the interest through the story. The prologue is filled with intense feelings of fear and desperation. It sets a tone for the story, with heart racing jittery. When there was not anxiety and dread from the militia, there was a medical emergency of some kind. The scare and uneasiness keep the constant hold. The connection between Lee and Zoe from the start is difficult, even though the attraction is there on both sides, their careers take them on the opposite sides of the world, not to mention the emotional reminder of when they first met. The relationship takes time to develop, it is realistic, and delicate. The love scenes are passionate, and detailed. Zoe seems to be a magnet for trouble and danger, Lee is there every time to rescue her, until the tables turn. There's action, suspense, torture, and several dangerous escapes, the exhausting life in the clinic with the medical personnel, and sweet affairs of the heart, making it strong entertainment ~ Four Spoons
4 - "How do you lie for a living?" Stars! As Lost As I Get is the first book I have read by Lisa Nicholas, and I have to say I was really impressed with it, the storyline, the characters, everything came together perfectly and offered up a really distinctive and engrossing read. ”The most important thing is that you stay safe.” Second chance love is a trope that I usually get on really well with especially when it is delivered up with a little twist on the norm, add in a unique environment, a unusual back-story for both our main characters, and a plot that twists, turns and keeps you on your toes from its beginning and this was a book that I eagerly devoured. Zoe and Lee were a great pair of characters, both independent, strong and stuck in a life threatening situation together, you would think that their connection would be tenuous and of the fleeting variety due to the highly stressful circumstances they are going through, but with the fact they have a past between them, it just makes everything they go through and the feelings that they are rediscovering for each other even more stronger. This is a book that took me completely by surprise, and in a very good way. I like my romance to be offered up a little different and the author really excelled in that area. I will definitely be looking to read more from Lisa Nicholas in the future. ARC generously provided by the publisher via Barclay Publicity, LLC, and it was my pleasure to provide the above honest review.