His manner usually screamed cold professional. All business. But his cool-headed judgment took a flying leap over his new assignment, because all FBI special agent Caleb Davis wanted was to fold Megan Vance into his arms and kiss away the worry brimming in her stunning green eyes. When her son went missing, he yearned to protect the single mother from danger and bring her child home. Once he did this, maybe he could figure out how to become a permanent part of her life
As the clock ticked double-time, he fought like hell to save a little boy's life and reunite a family.
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Being a special operative was hard, dangerous work but he wasn't afraid to sacrifice for his country.
On his belly in the dirt, pitch-black darkness pressing in on all sides, Cameron Vance adjusted his night vision goggles and tried his best to get his bearings.
The goggles didn't really work well here in the deep mining tunnels and he could barely see where he was going, but he knew he'd been in this part before. He recognized the rusted old mine cart and the fork in the tunnel. He pulled out the small penlight and found the small white arrow he'd drawn with chalk on an earlier trip to point the way out.
By the muted sounds he could hear ahead, he knew he was close to his mission objective—infiltrating a hideout full of Tangos and then taking them down.
They weren't supposed to be there. For the last week, he had seen lights flickering up here on the mountain where there shouldn't be any. Finally a few nights earlier, he decided he would have to investigate. It wouldn't be easy. He would have to plan an elaborate deception, a daring escape, but he knew he had no choice.
It was his duty and obligation as a loyal soldier to look out for his country's interests.
He had a cover to protect, though, and knew he couldn't just come and go as he pleased. Finally, when he was sure everyone was asleep, he managed to slip out the window and climb carefully down. He had done it before, but those other times had just been practice. This was for real.
No one had detected his escape. He'd made sure of that. No one could have seen him leave the house or witnessed his careful hike up the mountain, his way lit only by the moonlight and his memory.
He moved to the fork in the tunnel, fueled by the adrenaline pumping through him and the deep certainty that what he did here would make the world a better place.
Others might find the heavy darkness inside the mine shaft a little scary. He knew plenty of guys who probably wouldn't have the nerve to come in here. But he was a Navy SEAL, a trained fighting machine, and he wasn't afraid of anything.
As he headed down the shaft, the light grew brighter and his goggles worked much better, casting a greenish glow on everything. He knew right where the Tangos were hiding—the large chamber he had found in an earlier exploration. It would be a perfect staging spot for whatever evil the terrorists might be planning.
It smelled strange here, something harsh and burning.
He hadn't remembered that before. Were they planning some kind of chemical attack? he wondered.
With renewed determination, he moved slowly toward the light, his heart pounding and blood pulsing through him.
He crawled the last fifteen yards on his belly, ignoring the dank stench and the rocks that scraped his skin.
The shaft sloped down into the large chamber, perhaps twenty feet across. He didn't have the best vantage point from up here, but Cameron didn't dare inch closer for fear they might see him.
He could hear them clearly enough, anyway. "I don't see the problem here," one said, his voice sharp and angry. "I kept my part of the deal. I've been cooking my ass off for two weeks, working in this tomb here. I'm doing all the work and I deserve a hell of a lot more than some lousy quarter cut."
Cameron frowned. Cooking what? "You're getting your fair share. Who's taking all the risks? I'm the one out there setting up all the deals, working all the angles. I got the ammonia, I made the Mexican connections. Without me, you'd still be in your Beavis and Butt-Head lab cooking your little nickel bags."
"And without me all you'd have would be a bunch of worthless chemicals."
"You really think you're so indispensable?"
The older-sounding man's voice was low and sent a chill down Cameron's spine as he crouched in the dirt. That voice seemed familiar, he thought. Where had he heard it before?
"I found this place for you, didn't I? Nobody's ever going to find this lab here. It's perfect. And you have nothing to complain about with the quality of my product. Pure ice, man."
The other man's laugh sounded rough. "Hate to break it to you, Wally, but good cooks are thick on the ground. Anybody who can follow a recipe can do it. Hell, my aunt Mabel could do it. And she might not have the very unfortunate habit of sampling the merchandise."
"Yeah? Well, why don't you just go drag your aunt Mabel in here to finish this batch? I'm out of here. And maybe I'll just drop a bug in the Mexicans' ears about your double-dealing? I doubt they'll be crazy to know you've promised the same shipment to two different parties."
A long silence filled the mine and Cameron thought about inching forward for a better look at what was going on, but he decided he would be wise to stay put for now.
"Surprised you, didn't I?" the one named Wally said after a minute. "You didn't think I knew about your little side deal."
Cameron listened to their argument with mounting confusion. They didn't sound like terrorists. What were they talking about? Whatever it was, he thought it would probably be best if he sneaked back out and contacted local authorities. He started to inch down the way he had come, but he'd only gone a few feet when he dislodged a rock. It went rolling down the slope and thudded off the bottom. He could swear his heartbeat sounded like thunder.
"What was that?" A flashlight beamed in his direction, but Cameron slid farther down the incline to avoid the light.
"Probably a rat," Wally said. "The place is lousy with them."
"I'm beginning to figure that out," the other one said in a strange, hard-sounding voice.
Cameron started to slip farther down the slope, intending to make his way back carefully when he heard a strangled cry from the chamber.
"What the hell is this?"
"You're the smart one. You tell me."
"What, you going to shoot me now?" Wally's voice was filled with a panic Cameron suddenly shared.
"Come on, man. Put it away. Twenty-five percent of the cut is fine. I was just dicking around with you."
"That's your mistake," the other man said. "I never had much of a sense of humor."
Suddenly Cam heard a loud bang and then a scream that was cut off abruptly by another bang.
He gasped and instinctively scrambled down the slope, forgetting all about stealth and making far more noise than a good Navy SEAL should.
"Who's there? Anybody there?"
So much for concealing his presence. He groaned to himself, his stomach in knots. He'd blown it, big-time. He could hear the killer making his way up the incline toward him. He had to hide. He couldn't make it to the entrance without exposing his location.
Another shaft led off to the left, but he'd never gone that way and didn't know what he might encounter. He had no choice, though. The man had already killed once. Somehow Cam knew he wouldn't think twice about doing it again.
He made his way cautiously down the tunnel, careful to make as little noise as possible until he was far enough away that he thought it would be safe to run. He moved as fast as he could, until the night vision goggles were useless and the batteries had faded.
He slid down the side of the tunnel wall into the dirt, his breathing ragged and his heart still racing. He couldn't think like a Navy SEAL now, on a secret mission to save the world from the bad guys.
For now, he forgot all about his dad, about terrorists, about pretending to be something brave and heroic.
As he stared through the blackness, he could only be what he was—a scared nine-year-old boy who suddenly wanted his mom. 2:00 a.m.
Megan Vance arose with a jerk, not sure whether the echo of screams in her ears had been real or imaginary.
Fear knotted her insides, every muscle was contracted, and her breathing came harsh and fast. For one wild, panicky moment she was consumed by a single overwhelming need—to check on her children.
She listened intently but heard nothing except the summer rain clicking against the glass of her bedroom window.
After a moment, she sagged back to the pillow, embarrassed at herself. It was only a nightmare, nothing to send her into a panic. She forced herself to relax her muscles one by one and deliberately moderated her ragged breathing until it was slow and even.
She hadn't had one of those in a while. Though already the details had mercifully faded and she couldn't remember what had left her so terrified, she knew by the sick feeling still lingering in her stomach it must have been a bad one.
She sat up, scrubbing at her face while the last tendrils of the nightmare uncoiled from around her chest. After Rick had died, she used to have them nearly every night—gruesome, twisted journeys through her subconscious, full of monsters and demons.
She could remember a few of the more vivid dreams and they usually involved the horrible deaths of everyone she knew and loved.
Little wonder, she supposed. She had already lost so much. The roll call of people she had loved and lost seemed to grow longer all the time. Her mother—cancer when Megan was twelve. Her father—a cop killed in the line of duty a year later. Her baby brother Kevin—a New York City firefighter killed on 9/11 in Tower One.
Last month had marked two years since her husband's death. She wondered when she would stop expecting his phone call in the middle of the night, telling her his SEAL team had been called up to some trouble spot or another.
I'll be back soon, babe. Love you.
Oh, how she had dreaded those phone calls.
She had lost much but not everything. She still had Cam and Hailey, the joys of her life.
She rolled over onto her back and thought about them. Her children. Hailey, funny and sweet and girlie but with a tough streak that always took Megan by surprise. And Cameron, smart and stubborn and courageous even when he had to endure things no child should have to face.
They had saved her these last two years. The normal routine of mothering them—the car pools and soccer games and doctor's appointments—had taken the wild edge off her grief and given her something else besides herself to focus on.
She sighed, praying again that moving them away from San Diego to the wilds of Utah had been the right decision for all of them. Her children needed family. She needed family and a support system, and her sister Molly was all she had left.
Moving closer to her and her noisy brood and strong, kind husband had seemed like a stroke of genius, in theory. Her job as a CPA was mobile, and she could find work anywhere helping small businesses with their payroll and accounting.
Rick used to tease her about her obsession with numbers. To a man who jumped out of airplanes and climbed every mountain he could find, she supposed it was an obsession. But Megan enjoyed what she did and was good at it.
In only the few short months they had been in Moose Springs, she had already built up a nice client list. Everything seemed to be working out just as she hoped.
Still, Megan couldn't help worrying. Oh, Hailey seemed to be adapting all right, but Cameron had been angry about leaving behind all his friends, his soccer team, the climbing wall Rick had built for the children inside their San Diego home.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting story of a boy's longing to follow in his deceased father's footsteps by pretending to be a Navy SEAL. He finds himself lost in an abandoned mine where he witnesses a murder. When his mother finds him missing, a massive search brings community together as well as a romance between the FBI agent in charge and the mother. I would have liked to see the "bad guy" have a little more character development, but the hero did a fine job protecting the little family he fell in love with (rather quickly, I might add). Nice job.