This is Luke Harding’s story.
Six months in a desert hellhole taught Navy SEAL Luke Harding things he never wanted to learn about life and death. Only tender memories of the beautiful brunette he met a few weeks before his deployment helped get him through the torturous days and nights. Back in the States after a perilous rescue, physically and emotionally damaged, Luke’s about to plunge into a new kind of war. In a seemingly bucolic Idaho town, Sally Duncan faces real—and unpredictable—danger.
All Sally ever wanted was a safe place to raise her nine-year-old daughter. Her identity hidden behind a façade of secrets and lies, can she trust Luke—a man she barely knows—with the truth? Even as they give in to long-denied passion, a killer with a personal vendetta is setting an ambush that will leave them praying for a miracle and fighting for the future they may not live to see.
Praise for Dixie Lee Brown
"Dixie Lee Brown delivers all the goods in high style: romance, adventure and suspense-with a generous helping of sexy that will leave readers clamoring for more. The talented Ms. Brown writes the kind of story romance readers crave: sexy, fun and filled with adventure and suspense."
—Linda Castillo, New York Times bestselling author of The Dead Will Tell
"Brown will thrill readers who enjoy some spice." —Library Journal
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Heart pounding, Luke bolted upright, wide awake, as though a dose of adrenaline had shot directly into his bloodstream. The sound — no, more a feeling than a sound — came again, pulling him back from the edge of his nightmare — the same damn one he'd had last night and the night before that. The pain in his shoulders and arms was bad, intensified by his sudden movement. Yesterday's interrogation had been more brutal than usual. Don't think about it. It's only going to get worse. Focus. Something had jolted him from what passed for sleep these days. After nearly six months in this filthy, godforsaken POW camp, not much surprised him. Yet the strange vibrations that still pulsed in his nerve endings were somehow different.
Hell. What did he know? It wasn't exactly unusual to wake battling a gut-wrenching, hard-to-get-enough-air sensation that sapped his strength and made him want to scream to the God he was slowly beginning to doubt existed. With the dream fresh in his mind, how the hell was he supposed to distinguish reality from the warped images taking up residence in his fucked-up brain?
He lowered himself to his sleeping pallet and strained to catch the sound one more time. His gaze raked the shadows beyond the wire fence that segregated his two hundred square feet of Afghan sand and scrub brush from the rest of the compound. Within its confines, he was allowed to move around as much as he wanted. That was his one freedom, but his harsh captors provided little else. A frayed and rat-eaten tarp to keep out the rain and provide shade from the desert sun. Still, he could be grateful for the times he was allowed to stay inside his prison ... away from this ruthless and unpredictable terrorist group. Militant jihadists who'd spun off al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden was killed, they now claimed ties to ISIS and made his life a living hell on a daily basis.
It was unnaturally quiet in the compound, yet something lingered on the stillness of the night air. A sound so familiar it was as though, without it, he hadn't been complete. Shit. He was finally going crazy. Luckily, crazy was preferable to his other options.
A lone spotlight perched atop the locked gate at the north end of his stockade, interrupting the darkness. The moon, a mere sliver, was barely visible behind a thin veil of mist that would leave the ground wet with its touch before morning. The nights were getting colder. Late September or better. Fall already, with winter on the way. The seasons were the same as they were back home, except more extreme. Would his captors give him a blanket to fend off the freezing temperatures of winter? Would he survive long enough to worry about the weather?
Every nerve told him something waited in the dark just outside the fence. The skin on the back of his neck did that creepy-crawling thing he hated, assuring him he was being watched. Instinct screamed for him to stand and fight his unseen enemy, or at least defend himself. But fools perished quickly in this hellhole, and he wasn't fool enough to start a war he couldn't win. Attracting attention was never a good idea. For now, he would lie still on his worn sleeping mat, tucked beneath a shabby canvas lean-to in the darkest corner. His time would come soon enough.
Luke waited on high alert while minutes ticked slowly by. Nothing. No unusual sounds. No indication the fighters were any more vigilant than normal. Damn. It was probably the dream that had him imagining things. He'd have laughed at his paranoia, but his sense of humor had been the latest casualty of his months in captivity.
With an effort, he resisted looking toward the empty mat in the opposite corner of the lean-to. Before his buddy, Ian, had died, Luke at least had had hope. Since the chopper crash that killed three members of their team and stranded them deep within land held by the terrorists, they'd kept their spirits up by planning how they were going to escape. Admitting they'd probably die in the attempt, they'd agreed it would be worth it ... as long as they took a shitload of terrorists to hell with them. Yeah, revenge was sweet.
Now, every time he closed his damn eyes, he saw the sword fall again, heard Ian's scream turn to a gurgle as his body jerked and twitched in agony. Each time the death scene played out in his mind, Luke struggled against unseen bonds, to free himself and help his friend and fellow SEAL ... to no avail. It'd been nearly two weeks since Ian's death. And Luke was on deck. He knew that ... but he wasn't going out without a fight.
Slowly, moving only his arm, he reached beneath the edge of his sleeping mat and pulled a picture free. The meager light was barely enough to make out the image. Sally Duncan and her eight-year-old daughter, Jen. With his thumb, Luke gently stroked Sally's cheek in the worn photograph.
The smoking-hot brunette had captivated him, and the kid, Jen, had flat-out won his heart. They'd met three weeks before he deployed, and he'd instinctively known some bad shit had gone down in Sally's life at some point. Whatever had happened had made her skittish, especially with men, and he didn't have to be told he wouldn't last ten minutes if he moved too fast. He'd played it cool. Didn't rush her. Many a night he'd ended the evening alone in a cold shower because of the petite, sexy woman whose Mona Lisa smile always made him think she had a secret. And damned if he didn't want to know what it was. The night before he flew out, he'd kissed her — really kissed her for the first time — and asked for a picture.
Jesus! The guys in his unit would have laughed him out of the platoon if they'd ever found out what a wuss he'd been.
But that kiss and this picture had kept him sane through countless days of pain, depravation and intense hatred. She wouldn't let him give up. He had one purpose: to stay alive to see her again. To hold her and feel the warmth of her body against his, see the sparkle in her deep blue eyes as she laughed at one of his dumb jokes. Marvel at her appreciative smile when he did something nice for her. What he wouldn't give to sit with them again in their living room, Sally on one side, Jen on the other, while he held a huge bowl of popcorn on his lap and pretended to groan through some chick flick they'd picked to watch.
The faintest swish of something moving in his peripheral vision jerked his attention to the guard's platform towering over the desert floor a hundred yards to the east. And then he heard it again — the sound that had woken him. The whop, whop, whop of a Blackhawk, coming in low and fast. He sprang to a crouch, his heart thumping fast and loud.
The guards on the platform rushed to the far side, pointing and yelling. Then one of them hit the alarm, and its screech drowned out everything else. An instant later, a missile launched from the helo and streaked toward the camp barracks across the compound. The detonation knocked Luke on his ass and lit up the night sky. When the .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the bay of the Blackhawk opened fire on the guard tower and the few unfortunates who escaped the barracks, he decided it was best to stay down.
What the hell were they doing? They had to be Americans, but this was no high-value target. They didn't know he was here. They were just as likely to take him out, along with the dirty bastards who ran the place. It wasn't like he could take cover inside his open-air accommodations. What was he waiting for? There'd never be a better time to make his escape.
He scrambled to his feet, tucked Sally's picture in his pocket and ran for the gate. The barracks were all on fire. A few enemy fighters still fled the burning buildings, screaming and slapping at the flames that hungrily devoured their clothing, while trying to outrun the merciless onslaught of bullets from the chopper. The smell of smoke, gunpowder and burning flesh turned Luke's stomach and propelled him on. He had no sympathy for them, any more than they'd had a gnat's compassion for Ian as he died. Let them all burn in hell.
One of the hostiles ran by the outside of Luke's enclosure with a rocket launcher on his shoulder, dropped to one knee twenty feet away and aimed the weapon at the Blackhawk that was still picking off ground forces.
"Hell no!" Luke veered toward the corner of his yard, the closest point to the chopper, and waved his arms wildly over his head. "Get the hell out of here! Go!" A direct hit at such close range would drop the aircraft like a rock. It didn't matter why they were here. He had to warn them.
Not a chance they heard him — he could barely hear himself. It was even less likely that they saw him ... but somehow, they knew. The chopper lifted up and away at a steep angle, just as the rocket fired. Even then it only missed the underbelly of the craft by a matter of inches. The Blackhawk continued to move away, circled the blaze they'd created and disappeared behind some hills to the west.
Fucking A! They're safe. Now it was his turn. He swung toward the gate ... and halted abruptly. Abdul Omari, commander of this little resort, had apparently managed to hide his sorry ass and survive. He stood a few feet inside the wire, brandishing a pistol, flanked by two of his most depraved underlings with semiautomatic rifles. The only good news was the gate stood open behind them ... but Luke would need a miracle to reach it alive.
"Where do you think you are going?" Omari's sneer made his heavy accent even more pronounced.
Luke studied the three. He had no personal knowledge of the man on Omari's right, but he knew the other man too damn well. Ahmed Kazi returned Luke's stare. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, American born and raised, the turncoat was now an interrogator and assassin for the terrorist network. He obviously held a deep-seated hatred for his former countrymen and had brought that to bear with a vengeance on Ian and Luke.
He'd been one cold son of a bitch when the sword he'd raised over his head had ended Ian's life with a hollow thud. Luke would never forget Ian's murderer. How could he? The man's fucking face appeared in his dreams every night. Rage, as black as the pits of hell, burned just beneath the artificial composure he presented to them. His fingers itched to be around the bastard's throat, squeezing the life from him.
Omari spoke a few words in one of the regional dialects. As one, his men raised the barrels of their weapons and pointed them at Luke.
Well, hell. Apparently, there wouldn't be time to come up with Plan B. Out in the open with no cover, his only option was to fight. Seriously outgunned, his odds weren't good. All he had in his arsenal was the training provided by the Navy SEALs — which was considerable — but he'd have to get much closer if it was going to help him against three armed men. Then, if the planets aligned just right, maybe he'd have a chance. Still, going down fighting was better than dying where he stood.
Luke straightened to his full height and raised his arms, threading his fingers together on top of his head. He dropped his gaze in mock submission as he walked slowly toward his enemies. "Commander, you have many injured men outside. I've trained as a medic. Let me help them."
"You would have me believe you care about my men?"
"Hell no, but I wouldn't allow even an animal to suffer if I could help it." Luke lifted his gaze to take in the commander's skeptical expression. That's right. Don't believe me, you bastard. Just let me get close enough.
A handful of men rushed by the gate with weapons drawn, heading toward the west, the direction the helo had disappeared. Ahmed and the other guard returned to the gate, stepping outside to question the leader of the small group.
Omari turned his head for only a few seconds, but that was all Luke needed. He launched himself across the few feet that separated them, grabbed him from behind and applied just enough pressure to snap the bones in his neck before the commander could make a sound. When Luke let him go, his lifeless body slid to the ground. Seizing the Russian Makarov pistol the dead man had dropped, Luke opened fire on the two guards, while the group of men scurried for cover.
The heavily guarded gate was his only way out. Luke was as good as dead if he stayed where he was, so he might as well get in the game. Bending low, he raced a zigzag path toward the opening, ignoring the pain in his extremities from the cruel tortures he'd endured. He was counting on the notoriously poor marksmanship of the local recruits with the Russian-made AK-47. Three men outside the gate went down under his offensive, including Ahmed, before the pistol Luke continuously fired ran out of ammunition. He shrugged off a twinge of regret that Ian's murderer had gone down so easily. A slow, painful death would have been Luke's first choice.
The men crowding around the outside of the gate fired wildly in his direction, but Luke kept moving forward. An instant later, something slammed into his chest, stealing his breath and stopping him in midstride. Unable to move or even breathe, he hung there for a split second, while time stood still. His gaze locked on his goal, a mere half-dozen feet ahead, and he staggered backward, his efforts to stay on his feet ineffectual, until he sprawled in the dirt of his prison yard.
Damn! Get up! Pull it together! He tried to position his legs to stand, but his body wouldn't cooperate. Then the first wave of pain seared his nerve endings. He couldn't catch his breath. He'd been hit. Those lousy desert rats got in a lucky shot! The taste of blood filled his mouth. Panic seized him, but he refused to give it more than a few seconds. New objective — stay alive. Failure is not an option. The SEAL mantra had been drilled into him again and again during his training until it automatically followed fuck this in his vocabulary. One corner of his mouth curved upward in a half-assed grin, and he managed to draw a partial breath.
His gaze focused on the light at the top of the gate, he moved his hand upward toward the source of the pain, stopping when he felt the warm, sticky liquid that coated his shirt. He squeezed his eyes shut and struggled until another breath temporarily took away the ache in his lungs. Failure is not an option.
It sounded like a full-fledged war was being waged just outside his containment area. Every bit of his training demanded he get up and fight, but he needed a little more time to rest.
"Stay down!" someone yelled from not too far away in a pretty good imitation of English.
Who are they talking to? Does somebody need help? In a minute, I'll be strong enough to get back in the fight. Failure is not an option.
A sound close by forced Luke's eyes open, and he looked in to the gloating face of the remaining guard. Blood seeped from at least two wounds in his torso, but still he aimed his rifle at Luke. When the sound of the shot reverberated across the open desert, Luke's body jumped in anticipation of the slug tearing through his flesh. Instead, blood ran down the officer's chin, and he did a face-plant in the sand beside Luke.
Then there were people all around him, everyone talking at the same time — in English!
"Damn fine shot, Davis! Now, let's get our friends and get the hell out of here before reinforcements roll in." An American soldier, dressed in full battle gear, stood over Luke and talked into a small radio.
More unfamiliar faces appeared behind the first man, each yapping about something that seemed insignificant from Luke's position. He wanted to shout at them to shut up, but apparently there was no longer a connection between his brain and his mouth. Not that there ever was much of one. Oh, great — now I get my sense of humor back.
"Are you Petty Officer Second Class Luke Harding?" The man in battle gear knelt beside him.
As hard as he tried, Luke couldn't make a sound — or even nod his head. All he could do was stare until his eyes misted, and he squeezed his eyelids shut so he wouldn't fucking humiliate himself.
They know my name. Somebody knows who I am. Gratitude washed over him even as sorrow intruded into his momentary peace. Except for two short weeks, he could have celebrated with Ian.
The warrior reached for Luke's hand, gripping it firmly. "It's okay, son. You stay with me. You hear me, sailor? That's an order." He leaned over Luke, and there was understanding in his eyes. "We're here to get you home alive, and failure is not an option. You copy that?" Luke would have smiled if he could have. Did the guy know the phrase he uttered so effortlessly was the only thing holding Luke together?
Excerpted from "Heart of a Seal"
Copyright © 2018 Dixie Lee Brown.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The title of this book drew me to it, and since it was by an author I was not familiar with, I decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did!! Former Navy SEAL Luke Harding and single Mom, Sally , met a few weeks before deployment. Neither foreseeing the horror Luke would endure as a POW in Afghanistan. When he returns to a hospital in the USA almost dead, he refuses to see Sally. Devastated, she left thinking she would never see him. They meet again when Luke goes to check on her , and ends up rescuing her from a date gone wrong. Along the way, danger follows them . These two have lots of baggage. Luke due to the results of his imprisonment and Sally because she has secrets . It was an engaging story with strong , complex characters. A plot filled with suspense , bad guys as well as honorable Navy SEALS . At times heartbreaking, but also heartwarming. In addition to a story that holds your attention from page one, it was also a reminder that we need to honor and thank the courageous men and women who are willing to sacrifice their lives to keep us safe, not only abroad but also at home. For that , kudos to the author. I foresee future story for the other former Navy SEALs that were part of the plot. I was gifted this copy by Netgalley. The opinions expressed are solely my own.
Six months in a desert hellhole taught Navy SEAL Luke Harding things he never wanted to learn about life and death. Only tender memories of the beautiful brunette he met a few weeks before his deployment helped get him through the torturous days and nights. Back in the States after a perilous rescue, physically and emotionally damaged, Luke reaches out to Sally Duncan, the woman whose memory helped him get through torture. Unfortunately, he refused to see her when he was injured in the hospital so now he must hope she will at least hear him out. The beginning started ok, but from the moment Luke shows up for Sally, I didn’t really like their interactions. I had a problem with both characters, which made it hard for me to be able to like this story at all. **I voluntarily read and reviewed this book
4.5 Stars This fabulous book one in the Hearts of Valor series features Luke Harding and Sally Duncan. My heart broke for what Luke went through but did that give him the right to push her away? Probably not but it’s a male pride thing. She had every right to move on. He’d hurt her and Jen. I love that Sally is a strong woman. I think Luke’s a great guy, a hero, but I’m glad she didn’t make any of it easy for him. I love this book! The story flow smoothly and completely. No holes! Characters are amazing and I can’t wait to read more of their stories.
Oh my Dixie lee Brown has done it again created a story with romance and suspense and everything else you could want in a book!! Outstanding I highly recommend this book
Wow! I could not put this book down! I was completely glued to this book from the start to the very last page! This book kept me fully engaged and entertained the entire way through! I love a good romantic suspense book and this book totally fits the bill! First off, I have to mention the extremely well-developed characters! Luke and Sally were genuine, likable, and relatable. They were easy to picture as a couple – the ones you’d go to for advice, cheer for, and even want to join for double dates. Luke and Sally’s chemistry just sizzled and sparked right off the page! I really enjoyed following along on their adventure and couldn’t get enough of their story! Over the course of the book it is revealed that both Luke and Sally have gone through some very difficult trauma’s. This only makes them even more realistic and their shared damages seem to bring them closer together. I love these kinds of books that don’t make character’s lives seem “perfect.” Since no one’s real life is ever like that. I like the messy parts and Ms. Brown gives her readers just that. This book is jampacked full of action, adventure, and suspense! There is so much going on and I completely got sucked into the story and could not put the book down! I just had to know what was going to happen next! There were some really good surprising twists that I totally didn’t see coming and it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat! I like that this book touches on many topics such as love, romance, friendship, second chances, determination, morals, courage, resilience, setting goals, dedication, overcoming obstacles, and so much more! This book has an excellent storyline that flows, terrific writing style with detailed scenes, fantastic characters, is fast paced, and keeps you completely entertained through the last page! This book is book one of the Hearts of Valor Book Series. All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book and would absolutely recommend this book to all romantic suspense readers! **Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book and have voluntarily provided an honest, and unbiased review in accordance with FTC regulations.**
When I read Rescued By Ranger, a previous, standalone book by the author, I was intrigued by Garrett's brother, Luke. And Luke and his heart-wrenching story do not disappoint. The story is intense with the danger and threats coming from several different, unexpected sources. It is touching and heartbreaking, the depth of the emotions taking my breath away. The despair and pain Luke faced as a prisoner of the war, the threats, danger, and attacks Sally had lived with most of her life, the feelings they had for each other, the pain they had cost for each other, it all was poignantly touching and went straight to my heart. I am not ashamed to admit, Luke's destiny had me sobbing by the end of chapter one. It is a rare occasion that a story, at that early point, have such a strong connection to my mind and heart. Sally, Luke, and the family and friends surrounding them, are in for a fight for their lives. It is intense, vigorous, and violent. The enemies and people wanting to use them and harm them seem to be coming from every possible direction. It is constant, it is scary, it is menacing, each sharp turn in the plot giving the story a new edge their barely hang on to. No matter where they go, how deeply they hide, who is protecting them, it seems like the malice has an all-knowing arm with an ability to reach them in any and all circumstances. Luke is a man of integrity, honesty, and loyalty. He has a kind and generous heart, he is resilient, smart, and a man of action. The terrors he has faced, the evilness of the men who captured him, they tried to break him down, nearly succeeding. The beam of light, and hope, that kept him going were Sally and her daughter, and the connection they briefly had before he was deployed. Sally was a mysterious character. The more I got to know her, the more insights into her life were revealed, the more my heart ached for her and for the trials and tribulations she had had to face. The connection between Luke and Sally is a tangible force. After all the turbulence between them, Luke's honesty with his feelings for her was refreshingly sincere and true. There is passion, compassion, adoration, and admiration between them that develop into something rare, something special, something to be treasured and cherished. If only they will survive to see another day arise. The brutally raw action and emotions, the desire for each other and to outlive the attacks, the battle for survival and holding on to the beam of hope and happiness that seems to be slipping away with each assault, all these elements intensify the story, making it strong, sharp, harch, and fierce. There are the rough and raw aspects of the tale, as well as the delightfully cute, elated, and joyful ones, that mixed together makes a story that held me captivated, on the edge, and cheering for the hero and heroine to find a way to survive and thrive. A well written, twisted and thrilling story of suspense, mixed with a vehement tale of soulmates overcoming the biggest obstacles in life and still daring to have faith to take the leap for love. ~ Four Spoons with a teaspoon on the side
3.25stars The only thing that is keeping Luke alive in his darkest hours of a SEAL is thinking about Sally. But he makes a mistake and pushes her out of his life. After healing and seeking help, he comes to ask her for forgiveness. There are secrets around Sally's past and the night that they make a decision about talking push them into running and hiding. In all the drama Sally comes to the conclusion that she still has strong feelings toward Luke, but enemy comes knocking on the door and they have more than to fight for their love but for their life too. The story was ok, interesting and I like that it wasn't predictable. It just for me the special spark had been missing in the whole story. Both Luke and Sally were ok characters but I didn't fell in love with them, especially Sally was not convincing to me. The story just didn't blow me away, but it was ok to read I read even worse. I volunteered to review an ARC of this book for Netgelly
Both Luke and Sally are highly damaged people. We know all about Luke's trauma, as the book opens with that. But Sally's is a secret that is slowly revealed as the story progresses. The two of them only knew each other for a few weeks before Luke shipped out again, but the they still managed to fall in love with each other and held on to the promise and dream of that love while they were separated. When they're finally reunited, the fit hits the shan in Sally's life. Luke grabs on to her and her young daughter Jen and takes them on a ride to save their lives. Their rapid relationship progression almost seems implausible. Yet dramatic situations can draw people together and somehow they do save each other. There's a lot of drama as Sally's past catches up to her. And a couple of the plot twists may take you by surprise. I was given a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.
Eh, this book started out well enough, with Luke overseas and then coming home and not wanting to see Sally, which we get in backstory and how he comes to see her finally when he feels like he's ready. The man went through hell. A photo of Sally and her daughter were the only things that kept Luke going during his days as a POW. When Luke comes back to see Sally that's when the story kind of dipped for me and continued sliding down that slow slippery slide from there. The plot was overdone, there wasn't enough chemistry between Sally and Luke. I felt the relationship between her daughter and Luke was better than Luke and Sally. Sally has a secret, or two. Too much... the dialogue was nil, they hashed over the same things all the time. It got old. It is enough to say this book just wasn't for me. I love a good SEAL story, this one just wasn't for me. **arc from NetGalley and Publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.