Taking down a Mexican drug cartel was never on Callie's bucket list. But when a distraught mother came into the clinic where she worked, panicked because her little girl had been abducted by one of the deadliest drug cartels, Callie knew she couldn't turn her back on them.
Unfortunately, the cost of interfering was for her to forfeit the life she had come to love. Rescuing the little girl was the right thing to do, but rescuing herself when she became their captive instead, proved more difficult. But escape she did and with the help of a kindly priest Callie eventually made her way back to the United States.
Arriving back home and seeing members of the San Letas drug cartel lurking around her family home, she realized the danger she—and they—were still in. Seeking the help of a federal agency, she was quickly placed into witness protection. But after giving up everything that meant the most to her, someone within the agency betrayed her. Suddenly Callie was forced to run, knowing that the very people she was supposed to trust had turned on her.
Travis Johanson loved being a police officer. There was something to be said for the calm ins and outs of a small town police department. He had a wonderful group of friends and had met a woman he enjoyed spending time with...when she wasn't pushing him away. There was something about her, though, that drew him to her so he was willing to be patient and allow her to take things at her own pace.
Until Callie didn't show up for work one day and he knew that something was seriously wrong. Now he just had to track her down and convince her to let him help. But would she let him?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.51(d)|
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Gunfire pounded the ground as Travis crouched behind a large boulder. Glancing over to his right to see if he could find the shooter, he watched in horror as one of his teammates, a man he called brother, fell to the ground, blood pouring out of the wound in his neck. Reacting quickly, Travis crawled over the rough terrain to get to his buddy and reached to find a pulse. "Stay with me," he yelled to the man, anxiously watching his face.
The wound was too serious, though, so Travis sat beside him helplessly as he watched the life leave his friend's eyes, tightly holding onto his hand, offering the only comfort he could. "Damnit," he whispered to no one in particular when the man had taken his last breath.
Feeling the whiz of a bullet pass by his ear, Travis ducked lower and crawled back to his position. For the first time he allowed himself to acknowledge that they were in serious trouble. He and the other members of his unit had come under attack hours before and had been valiantly fighting off a small group of Taliban fighters. They were outmanned, though, and what ammunition they carried with them was just about depleted.
Turning his back to the rock, Travis wearily rested his head against the hard surface. What had started out as a simple reconnaissance mission quickly turned into a serious clusterfuck. Frustration beat down on him as he looked around to the other members of his team. By the looks on their faces, he knew that they had come to the same realization as he had.
"How's he doing?" Travis yelled out to his closest teammate, hoping to get an update. Devon Rossi, another member of their group, had taken a bullet when the fighting first broke out. The stubborn man, however, failed to let them know about the injury and carried on fighting until the loss of blood caused him to pass out. Unfortunately, the medic of their group had just been killed and the rudimentary medical knowledge that any of the others had was next to nothing. Their one hope of keeping Devon alive had just taken his last breath, so the chances of his surviving had diminished greatly.
"He's holding on," Ethan Shay yelled back. "But I don't know for how much longer. It's bad."
The Hindu Kush Mountains were not where Travis wanted his last days to end. He'd planned on being on a beach somewhere, lounging with a glass of scotch in one hand and a beautiful woman under his other. In a fucking mountain 278 miles north of Kabul in the godforsaken country of Afghanistan was not what he had in mind.
It was hard to imagine that just the day before he'd been wandering around the Babur's Gardens, the most beautiful and largest public green space in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Who knew that as he was admiring the scenery on his only day off in three months that it would be the last beautiful thing he'd see.
Checking his weapon for the final time, he looked over to his friends. They had enough ammunition for one more stand. The only thing they could do now was hope that before the end came, they would take as many of their enemy out with them as they could.
Travis moved his gun to his shoulder just as he heard a faint ringing noise in the distance ...
Jerking awake, Travis nearly fell off his couch. His heart was beating hard and fast and sweat dripped down his face as he sat upright. "Son of a bitch," he whispered, wiping his brow as he heard his phone ringing from the side table. That must have been what woke him, he decided, reaching out to pick it up. Looking at the handset to check his caller ID, he saw who it was and answered the call.
His mother, whom he loved dearly, never missed calling to check on him on this particular date and there was no way, no matter how tired or shaken he was, that he would not take her call. He knew she worried about him and there was no way he could not answer her call, most especially on August 20th. Five years later and she still never missed talking to him on this particular day.
"Hi, Mom," he answered with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. Margaret Johanson had this sixth sense where her sons were concerned and the last thing he needed was for her to pick up on the fact that he wasn't feeling well.
"Hi, sweetheart. How are you?" she asked softly. "You sound strange."
"I'm good, Mom. How are you doing?"
"Fine. Just fine."
"He's his usual pain in my ... well, you know."
Travis laughed hearing the exasperation in his mother's voice. His parents had a somewhat combatant relationship but beneath it all, it was clear how very much they loved each other. Since his father's retirement, his dad was a constant companion for his mother, one that he knew got on her nerves at times. "What's he done now?"
"He painted inside the garage blue. And when I say blue, Travis, I tell you it's the most disgusting shade of god-awful, dark blue you can imagine. I tell you, he never even said a word to me. Went right out and bought the paint just as happy as you please. Painted the damn thing while I was staying overnight with your aunt. Seriously, who paints the inside of a garage? I swear, every time I pull into the driveway and hit the door opener of the garage and it lifts up, I see that horrible color and it makes me want to scream. I drive in and close the door as fast as I can. God help me if the neighbors see what he did. I'd never live it down."
"I'm sure it's not that bad, Mom. Maybe you could hang some things around so it hides some of the color."
"Maybe," his mother said thoughtfully. "Wouldn't it just serve him right if I went out and bought some decorative fabrics to hang up? Now that you mention it, I could get some sheer white curtain panels and drape them around. Now that could work," she finished excitedly.
"I was sort of thinking of a picture or two but whatever makes you happy," Travis chuckled.
"Leave my damn garage alone, Margaret," Travis heard his father yell from somewhere in his parents' house.
"Oh dear, now he's riled up," his mother laughed. "Now tell me, dear, how are you really doing?"
"I'm fine, Mom. I spent the day today with the guys. We had a cookout at Ethan's house as kind of a celebration for Devon's birthday. It was a good day so stop worrying."
"Well, I'm glad you were all together," his mom answered wisely. "I like that you all still have each other. Look, honey, your father is standing in front of me with his hand out like a two-year-old. I think he wants to talk to you so I'll hand you over to him. You take care and I'll call you later this week, okay?"
"Sounds good. I love you, Mom."
"I love you too, sweetheart," she answered quietly before handing the phone over to Travis's father, mumbling what he thought was a here you go, you old goat.
"Hi, son," Christopher Johanson said gruffly.
"Did she call you an old goat?" Travis laughed.
"It's one of the nicer nicknames she has for me," he chuckled. "So tell me how you are," he encouraged.
"I'm fine, Dad. Like I told Mom, I spent the day at Ethan's house with the guys. It was a good day."
"I'm glad, son. I know the memory of what happened on this day never goes away. How's work going?" his father asked, quickly getting off the subject of what happened in Afghanistan.
Travis smiled into the phone. His dad, while proud that his firstborn son had become a police officer, always worried about him. "Things are good, Dad. You know that the town of Palmer doesn't have a high crime rate. It's pretty safe here."
"So you keep telling me."
"So how's the house coming? You and Mom finally have all the boxes unpacked?" Travis asked. His parents had moved to Ocala, Florida, almost a year ago and the last time Travis had gone down to visit them, there were still boxes sitting in the garage.
Travis spoke to his dad for another few minutes before he was able to finally hang up. He was touched that they never forgot the significance of the date but sometimes he felt bad that they too had been affected by it. It couldn't have been easy to get that call from his commanding officer saying their son was injured in another country. Bad enough the nightmares he endured. He hated that his parents had suffered as well.
Travis had gotten home earlier after spending the afternoon with the guys. He loved spending time with his friends but the party seemed to take everything out of him. He hadn't been feeling very well and wasn't in the mood to socialize, a fact that Bella, Tessa, and Hailey quickly picked up on. Damn the observant, interfering women of the men he called friends.
It was nice to have something to celebrate, though. Where before August 20th was typically a day he and his friends simply tried to endure, today it had become a celebration for Devon's birthday — which in the past they kept to just cards at his request — and Ben's solving the Whitaker case.
Not that anything he and his closest friends did would ever erase what had happened. As members of the Army's elite fighting force, they were used to dealing with the ravages of war. But when they came under a surprise attack in the mountains of Afghanistan on that fateful day, what should have been a simple fact-finding reconnaissance mission quickly deteriorated into mass chaos as several members of their unit were killed and the remaining five left to come to terms with the fact that they were surely going to die that day.
It was by the grace of God, and their commander's quick response, that help arrived just as they were about to be pinned against the unforgiving rock formations, with little ammunition and nowhere to run.
Not one of them had come out of the attack unscathed, but Devon had been injured the worst. It was touch and go for quite a while on whether or not he would even survive. This made celebrating his birthday today all the more of a special event and the reason that Travis made an appearance, even though all he wanted to do was to sleep his day away.
Resting his head on the back of the couch, Travis sighed heavily. The exhaustion that had been weighing him down was starting to annoy him. As a police officer for the town of Palmer, Massachusetts, it was imperative that he was clear-headed while he was on duty. But whatever bug his body was trying to fight off was making it difficult to be as focused as he needed to be.
Deciding that sitting on the couch wasn't getting his laundry done, Travis got up, wincing at the pain in his side, and glanced around his living room for any dirty clothes strewn around the place that might need to be washed.
After collecting everything and starting his first load, he went back out to the living room and sat on the couch, slouching down into the cushions. He had just closed his eyes when his cell phone started ringing. No doubt it was his younger brother, George, calling from California to check in as well. He loved his family but they seriously needed to stop worrying about him.
When Travis reached for his phone, he was surprised that the caller ID showed that it was his boss's number and not his brother.
"Johanson," he answered briskly.
"Sorry to bother you on your day off, Travis, but I need you to come in."
As much as Travis wanted to settle in and take a long nap, he knew there was no way he could decline to go in. It was rare that Captain Joel Parker interrupted any of his officers' down time so whatever was going on, it had to be important. "I'll be right in," Travis answered before hanging up.
Grabbing his keys from the bowl in the entryway, Travis wearily went out to his car and drove the short distance to the station.
Callie Alvarez stepped behind the nurses' station and slid the patient's chart into the holder. Sitting in the chair, she began typing information into the computer, updating the newest stats into the system.
Rubbing her eyes, she stared blearily at the screen. This was the second time in the last week that she had had to pull a double because one of the other nurses reported off. And she was exhausted! At some point the hospital administrator was going to have to fire the new hire and bring on someone who was willing to actually come in to work. As much as Callie preferred staying busy, there was a breaking point, and she was fast reaching hers. It seemed like all she did lately was work, sleep a few hours, and work some more.
The hospital where she worked was a small seventy-four-bed facility. Callie liked that it wasn't a huge place. The other nurses she worked alongside were all hard-working professionals for the most part. The doctors on staff treated the nurses as equals, which in Callie's experience was extremely rare. At the last hospital where she'd worked, the doctors on staff walked around as if they were God's gift to the world. Callie had a hard time dealing with how horribly they treated the nursing staff. It took everything she had to keep her mouth shut whenever she had been the brunt of some snide comment from the white-coated males who looked down at the lesser humans who carried the heavy load of actually caring for the patients. Unfortunately, it was imperative that she keep a low profile and not bring attention to herself, so she kept quiet and learned to go for long walks when frustrations hit her.
The transient life she was forced to adopt was not an easy one. It was becoming more and more difficult picking up and moving whenever it felt as if she were gaining the attention of a colleague, neighbor, or patient. She understood full well why her life as a loner was necessary but it didn't change the fact that it was getting more difficult to deal with. Staying busy and not dwelling on the memories that haunted her or the loneliness she lived with was the best solution she could come up with. If she was too exhausted to think, sleep wouldn't evade her as much.
"That man is going to be the death of me," the nurse Callie was working with huffed as she walked around the desk and set a cup of medication on the counter. "Old man Calahan is refusing to take his pills. Can you give it a try, Callie? He seems to like you better."
"You just need to be firm with him," Callie said as she got up from her chair and snagged the medication before heading to her patient's room.
When she walked in, Mr. Calahan was sitting in his bed, arms crossed stubbornly across his chest as he watched Callie approach his bed. "I'm not taking any damn medication, young woman, so you can just turn right around and head back out the door."
Callie ignored the man's surly attitude and walked over to his bed, setting the medication on the rolling tray in front of him. Reaching for his wrist, she checked his pulse before setting his hand back on the bed, continuing to hold her hand over his in a soothing, gentle manner. "Is the pain very bad?" she asked quietly. "You know your daughter would be upset to know that you were hurting and chose not to take anything for it. Is she coming in for a visit later?"
"Maybe," he answered gruffly.
"Wouldn't you rather take the medication so when she gets here you can enjoy her company? You know it would bother her to see you like this."
"Can't an old man just be left alone?" he huffed.
"Not if he has family around that loves him," Callie answered as she picked up the cup and urged it into his hands. "Please, Mr. Calahan. I promise to leave you alone to rest once you've taken it."
"You know ... you're kind of pushy for such a young woman," he groused as he put the pills in his mouth and took the cup of water Callie held out to him. Handing the cup back, he rested his head on the pillow and waved his hand in Callie's direction. "I took your damn poison. You can go."
Callie straightened the blankets on the man's bed, tucking them around his chest. Squeezing his hand gently, she turned the light out that was above his head and turned to walk out of the room. "Have a good rest," she whispered quietly. "Use the call button if you need me." Before exiting the room, she glanced at him one last time, catching the smile that lifted his lips.
Mr. Calahan was one of her favorite patients. He was a gruff elderly man, frustrated by the fact that his mind was as sharp as a tack but his body was breaking down on him. He intimidated the other nurses but Callie understood why he was so difficult. The pain that riddled his body would get to anyone, especially to a strong, independent man like him. The one saving grace for Callie was knowing that he had a loving family who stood by him, even when he made it difficult. They, like Callie, understood that his intent wasn't to be mean; he was just at a loss as to how to deal with the changes his life was taking.
Excerpted from "My Only Chance"
Copyright © 2017 P. L. Byers.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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