Hidden Heart by Lindsay McKenna
After being ambushed in Afghanistan, weapons sergeant Dan Taylor promises a fallen soldier he'll look out for his sister, Cait. But when Dan awakens wounded at a Pearl Harbor hospital, it's Cait, a physical therapist, who's assigned to his care. Now he must protect the woman he secretly loves from himself.
Desert Heat by Merline Lovelace
About the Author
As an Air Force officer, Merline Lovelace served at bases all over the world. When she hung up her uniform for the last time, she combined her love of adventure with a flare for storytelling. She's now produced more than 95 action-packed novels. Over twelve million copies of her works are in print in 30 countries. Named Oklahoma’s Writer of the Year and Female Veteran of the Year, Merline is also a recipient of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Rita Award.
Read an Excerpt
"I'm hit! I'm hit!"
Ben Moore's scream of surprise slammed into Sergeant Dan Taylor's earpiece.
It had been an ambush in an icy area where it had snowed.
The blackness of the early December Afghan night lit up as another Taliban RPG screamed into their previous ditch position against their enemy. His Special Forces A team, comprising twelve seasoned Army personnel, had fled to an empty Shinwari village, taking refuge in a few mud and stone huts. They were outnumbered and outgunned.
Dan cursed, digging the toes of his boots into the fine, silty dirt as he hurled himself around the corner of the mud house. Ben, who was like a brother to him, lay at the opposite corner, rolling on his back, his hands jerking around. He'd been struck down by a bullet!
No! God, no! Not Ben! God, please
As Dan skidded onto his knees, the night lit up with yellow and orange fire while another RPG landed in the house in front of them. He winced. Rocks, dirt and dust showered him, and he crawled rapidly on his hands and knees toward Ben. His ears throbbed, lost sound and then his hearing partially returned. In the light, he saw a black, shining flow spurting outward from Ben's neck. Oh, Jesus! He'd been hit by shrapnel or a bullet in the neck. With his gloved hand, Dan lunged forward, trying to cover the torn carotid artery that was spurting blood several feet into the air. His heart was pounding, sweat stinging his eyes, his breath coming in ragged, tearing gulps.
"Lie still! Lie still, Ben!" he pleaded hoarsely, knees near Ben's head and shoulder. Ben's eyes were wide with confusion and shock, no doubt aware of what had happened. Ben was one of their 18-Delta combat medics. Tears mingled with Dan's sweat, the tracks streaking down through the dust on his bearded face. Pressing his gloved hand against Ben's neck, his fingers continually slipped in the warm blood.
A bullet snapped past so near Taylor that he could feel the heat of it against his own neck. Ben was moaning.
"Ah, God," Ben rasped. "I'm hit bad Dan bad "
"Get your hands away from it!" Dan pleaded hoarsely, leaning close, trying to stop the artery from bleeding out. "Don't move! Dammit, don't move! Ben! Let me try to stop it!"
The burping ring of AK-47s filled the night air around them amid the deeper, more resonant sounds of the M-4 rifles used by the A team. Dan saw Ben beginning to lose energy, his eyes growing hooded, his hands dropping listlessly into the dirt. The human body contained approximately eight pints of blood. A wound like this could bleed a person out in two or three minutes if it couldn't be stopped.
"Hang on, hang on!" Dan cried hoarsely. He called Captain Jamie Curtis, but he didn't answer. Was he hit, too? Dan tried Warrant Officer Carter Jackson. No answer. Half their team was down and wounded. Help was on the waytwo Apaches were thundering toward their compromised position. Would they get here in time?
Dan screamed to the comms sergeant, Franklin, to get two medevacs in here. Frantically, Dan tried to pull a battle dressing from his cargo pants pocket while holding his other hand tight against Ben's neck. Son of a bitch! He yanked it free. Terror worked through him. The flashes from other RPGs fired in their direction made Dan feel helpless. It wasn't something he felt often, and he hated the sensation. Ben's blue eyes, now cloudy and less focused, met his, almost imploring. "D-dan "
"Shut up, Ben! Save your strength! Fight! Stay with me!" he rasped, quickly fitting the thick battle dressing against his neck. If Dan put too much pressure on the wound, he'd choke Ben to death. Pressure on a wound was always what stopped the bleeding, but the neck was the most vulnerable part of a human's body. There was no way Dan could put a tourniquet around Ben's thick neckhe'd asphyxiate him. Dammit! Tears blurred Dan's vision as he placed both hands around Ben's neck, watching how quickly the white of the clean battle dressing darkened.
"D-dan listen " Ben whispered. He tried to raise his hand, but failed. "Listen."
"No!" Dan snarled. "You're going to make it, Ben! Just let me keep the pressure on it! Don't talk!" His throat ached with pain, a lump so large, he thought he was going to choke on it. Dan saw Ben give him that look. He'd seen it hundreds of times since they'd joined the Army at age eighteen. It was that amused look, that patience he had by the truckload, as if he was a father putting up with a petulant child. In this case, him.
"Listen " Ben whispered, forcing his fingers around Dan's wrist. "Cait."
Dan squeezed his eyes shut, his head falling downward toward his chest. Ben's voice was thin weak. God, Ben was bleeding out and he couldn't stop it from happening. Another sob of desperation tore out of Dan and he stared through his tears at his friend. He seemed at peace now. There was no more terror in his eyes, the fight bled out of him.
"W-what?" Dan rasped, watching the clean, white edges of the now-slippery battle dressing disappear as Ben's blood soaked through.
"T-take care of Cait for me? Don't let her marry a military guy. Protect her? She needs your help, Dan. Be there for her" Ben's fingers weakened on Dan's wrist "b-because I won't be able to "
Dan saw the life flicker out of Ben's staring eyes. He sobbed, throwing the battle dressing away, dragging Ben into his arms, holding him, cradling him in the middle of the firefight. Dan couldn't stop crying and calling out his best friend's name. Ben was dead. Oh, God Cait Ben's younger sister they were so close so close His heart felt as though it was being torn into bleeding pieces within his chest.
He dragged Ben's lifeless body back against the wall of the partially destroyed house. Somehow, and Dan didn't know how, he managed to get Ben wedged in between the two broken mud walls in order to protect his body. A team left no man behind. Hearing shouts in Urdu coming toward him, he turned, grabbing his M-4 out of the fine grit and dirt, swinging it around. Rage filled him.
He screamed into his mic to Franklin that Ben was dead. Bled out. In two and half minutes a fine, damn brave manhis best friendwas gone.
Shadowy figures moved around other destroyed mud houses toward his position. All Taliban. Above him, he heard the thick whumping sounds of two Apache combat helicopters swiftly racing toward them. They were the team's only hope of getting out of this alive.
Dan wasn't going to leave Ben's side. He'd make his stand here. He'd fight to keep his best friend from being taken by the Taliban. They'd strip his body, hack him up and then behead him. It wasn't going to happen. Kneeling near where Ben lay, Dan raised his M-4 and sighted. Sweat stung his eyes, his heart torn apart by grief and adrenaline. They could all die here. The M-4 jerked heavily against his shoulder. The acrid, burning smell filled his flared nostrils.
He saw a shadow fall to the ground, screaming, his AK-47 flying out of his hands. Teeth clenched, snarling a curse, Dan partially hid between the thick mud walls, holding his M-4 steady, taking out one, two, three more Taliban troops out of the firefight.
His team was getting overwhelmed. Dan had no idea the size of the force they were facing, but it wasn't small. His earpiece was exploding with screams, orders and calls from his brother operators. They had been ambushed! This was supposed to be a quiet night, moving along in their two Humvees and a supply truck. But it had turned into a nightmare and they were now fighting for their lives.
Dan had no idea how many others were dead or wounded. He could pick out other M-4 rifles being fired at different points around the small village. They had spread out into a diamond formation, protecting their flanks, not able to move from their positions without opening up a flank the Taliban could pour into and kill all of them.
The sawlike growl of the Gatling gun being fired from beneath the Apaches began. The rounds were dangerously close! Dan ducked, watching the .50-caliber rounds chunking through the empty mud homes, dirt and rocks flying into the air in all directions, now shrapnel. He heard the screams of the Taliban troops struck by them. Satisfaction soared through him.
And then Dan caught movement near the house where he knelt. The next thing he knew his right leg was collapsing beneath him. Shocked, he twisted around, lifting his weapon, firing at the enemy soldier who had fired at him. Son of a bitch! The soldier was slammed backward by the bullet from Dan's M-4.
Dan watched the man fall like a puppet into a heap. The vibration of the Apaches told him they were immediately above him. His whole body vibrated with the sound of the combat helicopter drifting overhead, hunting the enemy. The Gatling guns on the two stalker helos were pointed away from them. The pilots had the Special Forces team identified on their TV monitor, and they now had a bead on the enemy, cutting them down like a scythe slicing through a field of ripe wheat. Dan now noticed that his leg was numb. Lowering his M-4, he slid his left hand across to his right thigh. Blood met his exposed fingers. He'd been hit!
The vibrations of the Apache's blades pummeled his entire body like invisible fists. Dan leaned back into the wall. How bad was it? His mind swung between shock and watching for enemy. The combat helicopters were rapacious predators, hunting down the enemy with onboard infrared, sighting and killing them.
I'm bleeding out.
Dan almost laughed. Hysteria jammed into his throat. He grabbed for the tourniquet on the left epaulet of his cammies, jerking it free. He had to get it around his right thigh, above the bleed. It was an inky-black night except for flashes of light from above like bolts of lightning spewed from beneath the bellies of the hunting Apaches. Dan saw the bleed. It, like Ben's, was spurting out like a geyser. There was no pain. Cursing, he dropped his M-4 beside him and yanked the tourniquet around his leg. They'd all been taught how to apply a tourniquet to a bleeding limb, tightening the strap enough to stop the flow.
Dan called Morales, the other combat medic, letting him know he was hit and had a tourniquet in place. He didn't know if Morales was alive or not. Every Special Forces A team had two 18-Delta combat medics. Ben was dead. He called hoarsely for Franklin, giving him his location, the type of wound he had and his present condition.
Dan jerked the tourniquet tight. His teeth clenched as the pain ripped up into his thigh and raced raggedly into his torso. The bleed was lessening. He tightened the tourniquet more, the strap in his dirty, grimy gloved fists, slick with Ben's blood and his own. Tighter! Tighter! Or he'd bleed out just like Ben.
And then who would take care of Cait? For a moment dizziness assailed Dan. He blinked through the sweat that leaked into his eyes, his breath raspy, black dots dancing before his eyes. No! He couldn't faint! Not now!
The spurting had stopped.
Dan felt momentary relief. He slumped against the mud wall with Ben nearby. Keeping his gaze roving around him, he saw no more enemy in the area. The Apaches were hovering above their diamond pattern, invisible watchdogs in the black sky above them, loud, the thumping vibration continued to rhythmically beat against his body. They'd stopped firing. The powerful vibration jammed like fists through him, and was all Dan could hear and feel.
He called hoarsely for Morales once again.
How many of his team were left alive? Were they all wounded? How many had died?
The pain drifting up his leg became nearly overwhelming. Dan closed his eyes for a second. He saw Cait's face, her shoulder-length red hair, that riot of freckles across her nose and cheeks.
He had met her when he was eighteen years oldhe'd come to Hawaii for training. She and her brother, Ben, had seen him on the beach where he was learning to surf. They'd struck up a conversation and, for Dan, it was like meeting old friends once more. He couldn't admit it to Ben, who was six feet tall like himself, but he was drawn to Cait's clean, natural beauty, her wide green eyes, the color of the Pacific off the coast of Oahu. She was so full of life.
He cursed softly as his gloved hand slipped on the tourniquet. Opening his eyes, he could tell there was no more bleed. It slowly dawned on him that something white was sticking up and out of the torn cammie fabric across his thigh. What the hell was that? And then, in the next minute, Dan's slowing mind recognized it as his thigh bone, the femur. It was broken and jagged-looking, sticking up out of his flesh.
The shock settled in. He was in serious condition. He called for Morales, giving him more info about his condition.
Finally, Franklin came back.
"Dan, only five of us ambulatory. We'll get to you in a second. Two medevacs just landed. We're coming for you and Ben hang on."
Dan tipped back his head, feeling tiredness seeping through him like a slow, black, moving river. He closed his eyes and acknowledged Franklin's transmission, telling him that he'd lost a lot of blood. And that Ben was dead.
"Not sure I'll be conscious " he muttered, his last transmission. The rhythmic whumping of the Apache's blades comforted him as he closed his eyes. They were on guard above them. They'd protect them, and the medevac Black Hawks were now on the ground and would save the wounded.
As he thought of Ben, he felt as if his heart had been torn out of his chest. They were both twenty-nine years old. They'd been together for five years on this Special Forces team. They were tighter than fleas on a dog. They were supposed to rotate home in another week. Back to Honolulu, Hawaii, for a well-deserved thirty-day leave. They'd see Cait, go surfing together and have beach picnics, laughter, good times and fun.
Tears leaked out of his tightly shut eyes. He felt weaker, knowing that the bleed was staunched but not stopped. He could still slowly bleed to death. Where was Morales? He needed a medic. Dan had to stay alive to tell Cait and her family what happened to Ben.
Ben's family was so tight. A good family, unlike his own. Ben's mother was an ER doctor at a civilian hospital in Honolulu. His father was a retired Marine Force Recon colonel. Cait was a physical therapist working over at US Army Tripler Medical Center, helping soldiers who had been wounded get their limbs working again.
All of those memories flowed through Dan's short-circuiting mind. He wasn't worried about his mother, Joyce, who lived in Honolulu. She was an embittered woman, angry at the world. His father, an alcoholic, was dead. Tears leaked down his bearded cheeks. Dan felt suddenly cold, felt the iciness moving up from his feet and into his lower legs. Was this how Ben had felt as he was bleeding out? It must have been. Oh, God, was he dying?
Cait! Behind his eyelids, Dan saw her oval face, that stubborn chin of hers and that wide, smiling mouth. How many times had he entertained kissing that lush mouth of hers? How many times had he ached to make love to her? But he never had. He never would. She was Ben's little sister and Ben had asked Dan to guard her, make sure she stayed away from military guys who wanted her for only one thing.
Dan never told Ben that he coveted Cait for himself. She was so fresh, innocent and happy. He always felt better around her. Whether she knew it or not, she lifted Dan, made him feel good about himself. She was the optimist. He was the brutal realist. He'd harbored dreams of telling her he loved her. But Ben would have lost it and their friendship would have been destroyed. So Dan said nothing. And now, as he lay slowly bleeding out, Dan felt grief because he would never be able to tell Cait that he'd fallen in love with her at eighteen and held a torch for her in his heart until his dying day.
That was the last thing Dan remembered thinking before he lost consciousness.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Their small Texas hometown became a well known spot on the map when 6 high school football players called the Sidewinders won the championship. After graduation they all ended up serving our country in various branches of the Military. This 3rd book addresses the final 2 ‘brothers’ - Dan Taylor and Pete Winborne. In Lindsay McKenna’s HIDDEN HEART, Special Forces Sergeant Dan Taylor sustained life threatening injuries in Afghanistan. He recovers stateside at Tripler Medical Center under the guidance of highly competent Physical Therapist Cait Moore. She just happens to also be his dying Battle Buddy Ben’s sister. They have not acknowledged their attraction to one another for over a decade but finally have the courage to reveal what has always been hidden in their hearts! The sixth Sidewinder, Master Sergeant Pete Winborne, appears in Merline Lovelace’s DESERT HEAT. He is called upon to rescue kidnapped opera singer Riley Fairchild. He poses as her husband in order to protect her and get the job done. Here you’ll enjoy reading and discovering whether or not the desert heat of Oman or the HOT attraction developing between them is greater…