Hard Target (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1549)

Hard Target (Harlequin Intrigue Series #1549)

by Barb Han

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460375907
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 02/01/2015
Series: Campbells of Creek Bend Series
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 202,732
File size: 440 KB

About the Author

USA TODAY Bestselling Author Barb Han lives in N. Texas with her husband, three beautiful children and a spunky Golden Retriever/Poodle mix. She loves romance novels, thriller movies, and cooking. Her favorite hobbies include hiking, swimming, and skiing.


Read an Excerpt

Emily Baker pulled her legs into her chest and hugged her knees. Waves of fear and anger rolled through her.

A hammer pounded the inside of her head, a residual effect from the beatings. Her busted bottom lip was dry and cracked from dehydration.

"Move," one of the men commanded, forcing her to her feet.

A crack across her back nearly caused her to fall again.

The whole experience of the past few days had been surreal. One minute she'd been kayaking in a tropical paradise, enjoying all the rich sounds of the dense forest. The next she was being dragged through the jungle by guerrillas. She'd been blindfolded for what had to be hours, although she'd completely lost track of time, and had been led through pure hell.

Vegetation thickened the longer she'd walked. Thorns pierced her feet. The sun had blistered her skin. Ant bites covered her ankles.

A man they called Due o had ordered the men to change her appearance. They'd chopped her hair and poured something on it that smelled like bleach. She assumed they did it to ensure she no longer matched the description of the woman the resort would report as missing. Oh, God, the word missing roiled her stomach.

She'd read about American tourists being snatched while on vacation, but didn't those things happen to other people? Rich people?

Not data entry clerks with no family who'd scrimped and saved for three years to take the trip in the first place.

Men in front of her fanned out, and she saw the small encampment ahead. The instant a calloused hand made contact with her shoulder, she shuddered.

"Get down!" He pushed her down on all fours.

The leader, Due o, stood over her. He was slightly taller than the others and well dressed. His face was covered, so she couldn't pick him out of a lineup if she'd wanted to. "You want to go home, Ms. Baker?"

"Yes." How'd he know her name?

"Then tell me what I want to know. Give me the password to SourceCon." Anger laced his words.

How did he know where she worked? All thoughts of this being a random kidnapping fizzled and died.

"I can't. I don't have them." The night before she'd left for vacation, she changed them as a precaution. Her new passwords were taped to the underside of her desk at home.

"Fine. Have it your way." He turned his back. "Starve her until she talks."

Twenty-four hours tied up with no food or water had left her weak, but she couldn't give him what she didn't know.

He returned the next morning. "Do you remember them now?"

"No. I already told you I don't have them." Anger and fear engulfed her like a raging forest fire.

He backhanded her and repeated the question. When another blow didn't produce his desired result, he ordered one of the men to beat her, and another to dig a hole.

Fear gripped her as she was shoved inside the dark cramped space.

After dark, there were only three guards keeping watch. One drank until he passed out. She'd been working on loosening her bindings all day and had made progress. Maybe she could make a move to escape.

"I need to go to the bathroom."

One of the guards hauled her out of the hole, removed the rope from her ankles and then shoved her into a thicket. He looked at her with black eyes. "Two minutes."

He hadn't noticed the ropes on her arms were loose. Hope filled her chest for the first time since her capture. Immediately, she shucked the bindings from her arms, and then took off.

For two days, she'd carved her way through the dense vegetation, fearful. Any minute she'd expected the men to catch up, to stick her in another hole. Her punishment this time surely would be death.

Exhausted, feet bleeding, she made it to the edge of the jungle. In the clearing ahead, she spotted ships. Her heartbeat amplified as her excitement grew. She'd rummage around for something to eat, and then wait until dark.

Time stilled and the hours ticked by. The few berries she'd eaten kept her stomach from cramping.

When all commotion on the dock stopped, she checked manifests until she located one in English. The ship was heading to Galveston, Texas. She buried herself inside a small compartment in one of the crates. No matter how weak she was, she didn't dare sleep.

By sunrise, voices drew closer and the ship moved. The boat swayed, and she battled waves of nausea. Her stomach rumbled and churned, protesting the amount of time that had gone by without a meal.

How long had it been since she'd eaten real food? Five days? Six?

Hours had gone by and the air was becoming thicker. Her breathing labored. She swiped away a stray tear, praying she was nearing shore. All she had to do was survive a little while longer. The panels of the wooden freight box she'd jammed herself into seconds before the ship had left the dock were closing in on her, making it hard to move, or breathe. She couldn't afford another panic attack, or allow her mind to go to the place where she was in that dark hole being starved and beaten. A sob escaped before she could suppress it.

The ship had to be closing in on its destination by now. She was so close to the States she could almost taste her freedom.

Or was she?

All her hopes were riding on a journey across the Gulf of Mexico, but the truth was she could be anywhere. She reminded herself that she'd read the manifest, and prayed she'd understood it correctly.

Emily bit out a curse at the men who'd made her feel helpless and kicked at the walls of the crate, withdrawing her foot when she blistered it with another splinter. Her soles were already raw. She'd need to make sure she cleaned them up and found antibiotic ointment when she got off this horrible boat.

She'd already collected splinters in her elbows and thighs. Escaping the compound in a swimsuit wouldn't have been her first choice, but she'd grasped her first opportunity to run. There'd been no time for debate. Her chance had presented itself and she'd seized it, not stopping until long after the men's voices had faded.

She repositioned herself in the crate, grateful she could almost stretch her legs. She'd survived so far by doing mental math calculations, flexing and releasing her stomach muscles, and tightening her abs.

No food left her weak.

The minutes seemed to drip by, and her body cramped from being in such a small space. She had no watch, no cell phone and no purse.

None of which she cared about as much as her freedom.

She could get the rest once she got out of the crate and off this boat.

The resort area had been paradise when she'd first arrived, but nothing sounded better to Emily than home, a hot bath and her own bed.

Holy hell. She couldn't go home. If they knew her name and where she worked, they had to know where she lived, too. A ripple of fear skittered across already taut nerves.

She pressed her face against a crack in the crate. Darkness. Nothing but darkness behind her and darkness in front of her.

The man who'd helped her onto her kayak had told her to stay close to the ocean side and not the jungle because of the risk of running into alligators. Now she wondered if maybe they'd known about the rebel groups scouring the edges all along. They hadn't warned her about men with massive guns, and bandannas covering their faces, leaving only black eyes staring at her, coming to take her. She would've listened to that. She wouldn't have ventured off, following a monkey in the canopy. And where had the monkey gone?

Onto one of her kidnappers' shoulders.

She'd initially hoped the resort would send security once it discovered she hadn't returned to her room. She'd held on to the hope for two days in the jungle. With no shoes, her feet had been bitten, cut and aching after the daylong walks and nights of camping. And hope had retreated faster than the sun before a thunderstorm.

There'd been shouting, too. It had scared her nearly to death. At first she feared they would rape her, but no one had touched her.

Extortion? Drugs? Ransom?

Nope. None.

He'd asked for her passwords.

A sense of relief had washed over her. If she'd had to rely on her family, she'd be dead for sure. Her family wasn't exactly reliable, and they were broke. Even skilled trackers like these would have trouble locating her mother. The Bakers had split faster than an atom, and left similar devastation in their wake. At least the ones she knew.

Emily had always been the black sheep. She'd moved away, worked hard and put herself through college. Her mom had refused to allow her to take the SAT, saying it would only train her to be some corporation's slave, so she'd researched a grandfather clause in a North Texas school, did two years at a community college, and after another three years, graduated from the small university.

She'd come to North Texas solely on the promise of affordable living and an abundant job market, figuring she could build the rest of her life from there. And she had. She'd gotten a job as a data entry clerk at a computer company and was working her way up. Her boss was due a promotion and she'd been promised his job.

There were rare occasions when she heard from her mother, although it was mostly when she needed money. Turns out free love didn't pay all that much. Watching her mom wither away after her dad walked out, Emily had made a vow. No one would take away her power. Ever.

Being resourceful had gotten her through college, and landed her first real job. She'd pulled on every bit of her quick wit to escape her captors. Once back in the States, she could locate a church or soup kitchen, and get help. No way could she find a police station. Not after overhearing her abductors talk about bribing American border police. Her body trembled. They'd hand her right back to Due o. She'd be dead in five minutes. Not happening.

Once she was on dry land, she could figure out a way to sneak into her town house. She needed ID and clothes. There was a little money in her bank account. She could use it to disappear for a year or two. Wait it out until this whole thing blew over. Dread settled over her at the thought of leaving the only place that felt like home.

She thought about the threat Due o had made, the underlying promise in his tone that he had every intention of delivering on his word. The way he'd said her name had caused an icy chill to grip her spine.

The ship pitched forward then stopped. Had it docked?

Emily repeated a silent protection prayer she'd learned when she was a little girl as her pulse kicked up a notch. She had no idea what she'd find on the other side of the crate.

Her skin was clammy and salty. She was starving and dehydrating. But she was alive, dammit, and she could build from there.

There were male voices. Please, let them be American. She listened intently.

At least two men shouted orders. Feet shuffled. She couldn't tell how many others there were, but at least they spoke English. Her first thought was to beat on the walls of the crate, let them find her and beg to be taken home. But then, she was in a shipment, beaten and bruised, illegally entering the country with no ID.

Would the men call police? Immigration?

There were other, worse things they could do to her when they found her, too. A full-body shiver roared through her.

She couldn't afford to risk her safety.

Besides, the man who'd had her kidnapped had been clear. She'd been his target. If she surfaced now, she'd most likely be recaptured or killed. Neither was an acceptable prospect.

Could she figure out a way to slip off the boat while the deckhands unloaded the other boxes?

If she wriggled out of the crate now, she might be seen. The only choice was to wait it out, be patient until the right opportunity presented itself. This shipment had to be loaded onto something, right? A semi? Please, not another boat.

Painful heartbeats stabbed her ribs. She tensed, coiled and prepared to spring at whatever came next.

A voice cut through the noise, and everything else went dead silent.

The rich timbre shot straight through her, causing her body to shiver in the most inappropriate way under the circumstances.

She listened more closely. There were other sounds. Feet padding and heavy breathing.

Oh, no. Police dogs.

Their agitated barks shot through the crate like rapid gunfire, inches from Emily's face. In the small compartment, she had nowhere to hide. The dogs' heated breaths blasted through the cracks. If her odor wasn't bad enough, this certainly wouldn't help matters. Now she'd smell like dirt, sweat and bad animal breath.

Emily's heart palpitated. She prayed an officer would stop the dogs. From the sounds of them, they'd rip her to shreds.

"Hier. Komm!" another voice commanded. Emily made out the fact the officer spoke in another language. Dutch? German? Damn.

She was about to be exposed. Her heart clutched. She had no idea how powerful the man who'd kidnapped her was. One thing was certain. He had enough money to buy off American border police. Was she about to come face-to-face with men he had in his pocket?

She shuddered at the thought of being sent back to Due o, to that hell.

Her left eye still burned from the crack he'd fired across her cheek when she'd told him she didn't know the codes.

Maybe she could tell the officers the truth, beg them to let her go.

If they were for real, maybe she had a chance.

Voices surrounded her. Male. Stern.

She coiled tighter, praying she'd have enough energy to fight back or run. She'd have about a half second to decide if they would send her back to that hellhole, but she wouldn't go willingly.

A side panel burst open and Emily rolled out. She popped to her feet.

The officer in front of her was tall, had to be at least six-two. His hair was almost dark enough to be black. He had intense brown eyes, and he wore a white cowboy hat. He was built long and lean with ripples of muscles. Under normal circumstances, she'd be attracted to him. But now, all she could think about was her freedom.

He had a strong jawline, and when he smiled, his cheeks were dimpled. His eyes might be intense, but they were honest, too.

She held her hands up in the universal sign of surrender. "Help me. Please. I'm American."

"You're a US citizen?" Reed Campbell had taken one look at the curled-up little ball when he opened the crate and felt an unfamiliar tug at his heart. He pushed it aside as she shot to her feet. Her face was bruised. She had a busted lip. Even though her hair was overly bleached and tangled, and she could use a shower, her hazel eyes had immense depth—the kind that drew him in, which was ridiculous under the circumstances. It had to be her vulnerability that stirred the kind of emotions that had no place at work.

"Yes." She spoke in perfect English, but American citizens didn't normally travel home in a crate from Mexico. It looked as if standing took effort. "You can sit down if you'd like."

She nodded and he helped her to a smaller crate where she eased down. He asked an agent to grab a bottled water out of his Jeep. A few seconds later, one of his colleagues produced one.

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Hard Target 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Tina-Brimlow More than 1 year ago
I don't know how Barb does it, but she is amazing. Every time I read her books I fall more in love more and more with her stories. I just love Emily Baker. She is a strong woman. I do not think I could have survived or even be brave enough to have done what she had done. When she escapes she hides in a crate. Once open she faces a man named Reed Campbell. Reed is now my favorite Campbell. (I licked and bit him so he is mine). At the beginning he believes her story is false. (Trust me read the book and see if you'd believe her to). But he ends up finding out she is telling the truth and fights to protect her. This is seriously my favorite book of 2015 so far. I can not wait to see what she has in store for future books.
Guitarmomma19 More than 1 year ago
Emily Baker was trying to enjoy the only time she had had off in two years. The beaches of Mexico were beautiful. But she didn't know the dangers lurking there. Kidnapped and paraded through the jungle, her only hope of survival is escape.  Border patrol agent Reed Campbell can't believe his eyes when he finds the woman hiding in a crate. Seeing her beaten and claiming kidnapped touches on his protective instincts. And something just doesn't add up. Trust, never his strong suit, is hard to come by. As he is trying to keep her safe, more and more things become clear. She is telling the truth, and the worst drug lord in Mexico is out to kill her. With cops and agents on the payroll they can't trust anyone but Campbell's.  Emily has her trust issues as well. Only able to depend on herself, she finds it hard to lean on Reed when she needs to. Can they break through their barriers and learn to trust in each other and their feelings? Can Reed keep Emily safe and have all they have ever wished for