A New York Times and USA Today Bestseller!
He Never Misses A Target
Jake "the Snake" Sommers earned his SEAL code name by striking quickly and quietly-and with lethal force. That's also how he broke Michelle Carter's heart. It was the only way to keep her safe-from himself. Four long years later, Jake is determined to get a second chance. But to steal back into Michelle's loving arms, Jake is going to have to prove he can take things slow. Real slow...
She Aims To Make Him Beg
Michelle Carter has never forgiven Jake for being so cliché as to "love her and leave her." But when her brother, head of the Black Knights elite ops agency, ticks off the wrong mobster, she must do the unimaginable: place her life in Jake's hands. No matter what they call him, this man is far from cold-blooded. And once he's wrapped around her heat, he'll never let her go...
Black Knights Inc. Series
Hell on Wheels (Book 1)
In Rides Trouble (Book 2)
Rev It Up (Book 3)
Thrill Ride (Book 4)
Born Wild (Book 5)
Hell for Leather (Book 6)
Full Throttle (Book 7)
Too Hard to Handle (Book 8)
Wild Ride (Book 9 — coming April 2017!)
Praise for Julie Ann Walker's Black Knights series:
"Walker is ready to join the ranks of great romantic suspense writers."—RT Book Reviews
A "first–rate thrill ride."—Publishers Weekly, stared review on Hell on Wheels
"Deft characterization, skillful pacing, touches of humor, and red–hot love scenes rev up this highly recommended roller–coaster." —Publishers Weekly, starred review on In Rides Trouble
About the Author
Julie Ann Walker is the USA Today and New York Times Bestselling Author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. She is prone to spouting movie quotes and song lyrics. She'll never say no to sharing a glass of wine or going for a long walk. She prefers impromptu travel over the scheduled kind, and she takes her coffee with milk. You can find her on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission. For more information, please visit www.julieannwalker.com or follow her on Facebook www.facebook.com/jawalkerauthor and/or Twitter @JAWalkerAuthor.
Read an Excerpt
High in the mountains of the Hindu Kush
"This is seriously messed up, guys," Preacher whispered as he kept the business end of his M4 aimed at the Taliban leader sitting cross-legged on the dry, shale-strewn ground. Al-Masri's mouth was covered with duct tape, but even so, it was hard to miss the bitter twist of his bearded cheeks or the undisguised hatred glowing in his black eyes.
Messed up. Jacob Sommers, aka Jake "The Snake," couldn't help but agree with that incredibly concise, if somewhat tame, assessment. Personally, he would've qualified their current situation as fucked up. Fucked up from the ground up, to be more precise, but that was the difference between him and Preacher. He cursed like the sailor he was, and Preacher was actually known to bust out with the occasional golly gee.
Of course, what you called it didn't really matter, because it all boiled down to their entire mission having been plagued by disaster from the get-go. Starting with their one and only satellite radio getting bashed to smithereens on the side of the mountain when its strap broke during their fast-rope insertion into enemy territory. Continuing after they'd snatched al-Masri from his bed in one of the tiny houses crammed in the valley below, only to be spotted by one of his men who'd chosen the unholy hour of oh-three-hundred to go take a piss. And ending with the Taliban leader's army boiling from the village to fan out across the valley, effectively cutting off Jake and his team's planned route of escape and causing them to miss their evac out of this godforsaken hellhole. As a result, they'd been forced to take cover in a tiny outcropping of trees clinging precariously to the side of one hellaciously sheer barren-ass mountain.
And to add a shiny turd on top of this crap sundae, the sun was coming up, slipping over the mountains to their east and spilling its disastrous light all around them.
"So whatchu boys wanna do now?" Rock asked in his slow Cajun drawl. Jake glanced at him briefly before turning his attention to the CO's scarred face.
"Kill 'im," Boss said, spitting on the ground like a visual exclamation point. "If we don't, we probably won't make it outta here. And if we try to take him with us, this douchebag will give away our position the first chance he gets. Intel says his army consists of between 80 and 120 fighters, which means at best that's twenty-to-one and, at worst, thirty-to-one. We're good, gentlemen, the absolute best, but those aren't odds I'm comfortable entertaining."
The four of them, Navy SEALs from Bravo Platoon, had been tasked with snatching Hamza al-Masri—the local Taliban leader personally responsible for the barracks bomb resulting in the deaths of over two hundred good Marines—and bringing him back to face some old-fashioned American justice. But that outcome was looking less and less likely as the hours and list of what-the-hells mounted.
"Those aren't our orders," Jake murmured, pissed beyond measure at the entire assbag of a situation. "We were told to bring him in still breathing."
"Yeah?" Boss scoffed, his face full of derision. "And just who gave those orders, do you suppose? Some pencil-pushing prick in DC who wouldn't know his ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to how quickly things can go from sugar to shit out here on the battlefield, that's who. But what we're talking about here is serious, guys, something that could get us reprimanded at best, busted down in rank, or worse. I won't make the call. We all have to agree."
Jake knew Boss was right. He knew killing al-Masri was their best chance at surviving. And Lord knew, he certainly wanted the guy dead, had wanted his head on a spike ever since that bombing. But that was a big part of Jake's growing problem, now wasn't it?
"No one would need to know," Preacher mused. "We could kill him, bury the body, get the heck out of Dodge, and say we never saw him." But even as he said the words, it was obvious from the look of disgust that passed over his camo-painted face that the idea didn't sit real well with him.
It didn't sit real well with any of them.
Among patriotism and loyalty and honor, one of the characteristics most SEALs prided themselves on was honesty. Lies tended to stick in their craws.
"No. If we do this thing, we're doing it out in the open," Boss said, his jaw sawing back and forth. "We get back to base and say, ‘This is what we did because it was our only viable option.' And anyone who knows anything will understand that's God's honest truth. I'm not falsifying reports. I refuse to do that."
"Maybe we kill him, report it, and nothing comes of it," Preacher proposed. "They're going to give him life in Gitmo or string him up by his neck anyway, so what's the point? I think the brass will have our backs on this one."
Jake resisted the urge to glance overhead—just in case pigs were singing R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" while zooming past.
He liked Preacher, he honestly did—despite the fact that six weeks ago the guy had up and married the only woman Jake ever loved. Of course, given that whole pride and honesty thing, he had to admit Preacher's marriage to Michelle was mostly his fault. He had been the one to push the two of them together...
And was it really any surprise they'd hit it off?
Um, that'd be a big, resounding negative. Considering Michelle Knight was the finest, sweetest woman on the planet and Steven "Preacher" Carter was the nicest, absolute nicest guy Jake had ever met, it should've been a foregone conclusion they would be a perfect match.
And, yes, he realized that most people would consider labeling a guy who was philosophically discussing slicing open a man's jugular as nice was more than a bit bizarre, but besides being nice, Preacher was also one hell of a soldier.
He knew the score here.
Then again, if he really believed they could come out of this shit-storm of a situation totally unscathed, he should be voted mayor of La-La Land.
"Gimme a break, brohah," Jake growled, reverting back to the surfer lingo he'd grown up with, as he tended to do in stressful situations. "You know better than to trust the brass to have our backs. The good ol' U-S of A wants al-Masri as a prize, a warning to all the other fanatics on the planet that there's no place you can hide where we won't find you and bring you to justice. We'll be skewered if we kill him. No," he shook his head, "we have to take him back in one piece."
Although, if he was honest with himself, it wasn't the thought of being demoted or ripped a new one by the rapier tongue of the general that prompted his dissent. No, no. He didn't care about rank or any of that other bullcrap. It was the fact that his heart beat with a terrible, hungry rhythm at the thought of slipping his knife from its sheath and ending al-Masri's existence right there and then that scared the breath right out of his lungs. Because he wasn't supposed to have any particular feeling one way or another about his missions. He was supposed to remain cool and levelheaded. Detached. But lately that was becoming nearly impossible. Ever since the bombing, ever since the horror of sorting through all those bodies had planted a seed in him that'd steadily grown into a poison-fanged monster, he'd been struggling against a mind-numbing fury that obliterated all thoughts save those of vengeance.
And, yo, wasn't that just dead-eye wrong? Wasn't it the exact same type of mentality terrorists employed to justify bombing buildings and embassies and marketplaces? Of course it was. But even though his rational mind might yell Dude, what the hell are you thinking?, the monster inside him seemed to be growing louder by the day. And it screamed one line over and over: Kill them all. Avenge your brothers...
He was ashamed to admit he'd nearly let the reins slip on that monster once. The thought of doing so again terrified him. Like right now? He was piss-his-pants scared that if he unleashed his need for revenge and killed al-Masri outside of his orders, there'd be nothing to stop him from doing it again. And then again and again and again...
"Ya really think it's possible we can get ourselves outta here before al-Masri's guys surround us, mon ami?" Rock asked.
"Check it," Jake said as he wrestled back the bloodthirsty beast growling inside him and the accompanying fear it evoked. Taking out the topographical maps and surveillance photos of the area, he motioned for his teammates to follow him a short distance away, out of earshot and eyesight of the Taliban leader, before spreading them on the ground. "If we go up the mountain and reach the plateau," he pointed at the map with a dirty finger, "our cell phones should be able to receive a signal. We can call back to base and request an airlift out. Let's say it takes us fifteen minutes to make the climb, two minutes to make the call, eight minutes prep time for the helo, and thirty minutes flight time for the bird to reach us. That's fifty-five minutes total. It'll take al-Masri's army at least forty-five to fifty minutes to climb up the mountain from the valley. That's cutting it close. But we'll have the high ground and can hold our position for those remaining few minutes."
It wasn't cockiness that assured him four guys could hold off 120. It was training, superior shooting accuracy, premium weaponry, and better positioning.
"All right then," Preacher said, nodding once, "you've convinced me."
"Rock," Jake asked, turning toward the Cajun, "what do you think, bro?"
Rock eyed him for the space of a few interminable heartbeats, and Jake knew his teammate was accurately reading the situation. Rock was there the day Jake had nearly done the unthinkable, and the ragin' Cajun had to know it was the flat-out, ball-shriveling fear of what he was on the brink of becoming that was driving Jake to make this decision right now.
"Oui, mon frere," Rock finally nodded, sliding him a look of...Please, God, don't let that be pity. "Let's try it."
Jake blew out an unsteady breath, and for the first time in his recent memory, nary a swear word left Boss's lips even though the big man must have thought they were making a colossal mistake. Instead, Boss took the vote in stride and simply walked back to al-Masri, pointing at him and motioning for him to stand.
The Taliban leader shook his head, his nostrils flaring. In answer, Boss grabbed the guy under the arm and yanked him up like a ragdoll, giving him a little shake before setting him on his feet and propelling him forward with a hard shove.
"Move out," Boss ordered.
In less than two seconds, they were all slogging it up the side of the mountain. The loose shale and rocky rubble gave way beneath their desert-tan boots, and for every two steps forward, it seemed they slid one step back. It didn't help matters that al-Masri fought them every inch of the way, slowing their progress until it seemed they'd never reach their destination. By the time they'd covered half the distance to the plateau, sweat streaked their camouflage face paint and dampened their clothes.
Jake was dying of thirst, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth. And just as he made a grab for the hydration tube on his CamelBak, the biggest, ball-twisting sight he'd ever seen manifested before his gritty eyes...
Taliban fighters swarmed the plateau like ants on an anthill. All armed with AK-47s. All with only one thing in mind: Kill the Americans.
Somehow they'd managed to climb up the backside of the mountain even though Jake's maps had shown nothing but a sheer cliff face...
Well, obviously his maps had been wrong. Go figure. Because that's exactly the kind of day he was having.
"Get him in front of us!" Boss roared as they shuffled in behind al-Masri, using him as a human shield, knowing the Taliban leader's men wouldn't risk opening fire on their esteemed commander. But as they began to inch back down the mountain, al-Masri stuck out his foot, tripping Rock who was directly behind him.
Jake and Boss made a grab for their teammate as Preacher scrambled to secure the Taliban leader, but they were too late. Somehow al-Masri managed to snag Rock's KA-BAR from the sheath around Rock's waist and, in the blink of an eye, he'd driven all seven inches straight into Rock's shoulder. A heartbeat later, he ripped out the blade and aimed it straight for Rock's carotid artery.
What happened next was like something beyond reality.
This is the man who's responsible...
It was a fleeting thought, but it was enough. Because no sooner did he have it than Jake lost his grip on the thing inside him. Rage poured through his system, hot and violent.
This man, this evil man has killed and injured enough of my comrades. It stops. Now!
Then it was if he'd been catapulted from his own body. With an odd sort of detachment, he seemed to watch himself. Watch as he raised his weapon, aiming it at al-Masri's turbaned head. Watch as he pulled the trigger.
Blood sprayed from the Taliban leader's skull in a terrible arc of crimson gore, and Jake was suddenly slammed back into his body just in time to feel a delicious sense of justice right before he realized what his impulsiveness...what his bloodlust may have cost all of them.
Oh, shit! What have I done?
"Fall back!" Boss roared as the first volley of rounds sprayed around them, biting into the shale, kicking up razor-sharp flecks of rock that turned one projectile into fifteen.
Fall back. Yo, Jake didn't need to be told twice. And fall was the operative word.
He tried turning and getting his feet under him so he could at least attempt to snake his way down the mountainside, but if he thought going up was difficult, going down was impossible.
At least, it was impossible to manage with any sort of control...
He slipped and slid, his thick-soled boots skidding on the loose shale as he occasionally turned to fire behind him.
SEALs were trained to make their rounds count, so while al-Masri's men wildly sprayed the side of the mountain, Jake and the guys only fired when they had a target they could hit. By the time they'd slipped back into the relative safety of the little copse of trees, he could see the bodies of at least seven Taliban fighters littering the steep slope.
It wasn't enough. Not nearly enough. Especially since more of al-Masri's men rushed over the brim of the plateau. The intel they'd received on the number of fighters the Taliban leader commanded was clearly off.
He'd bet his left nut there were at least two hundred hard-faced militants closing in on their position.
"This is bad!" Preacher yelled from behind a small tree trunk as he continued to acquire targets and fire. He was trying to protect their left flank while Jake covered their right. Boss quickly dispatched anyone stupid enough to come at them head-on, and Rock picked off anything that managed to slip by all three of them.
"We've got to get off this mother-sucking mountain!" Boss yelled, his suppressed M4 quietly spitting rounds uphill as more Taliban fighters breathed their last.
The acrid smell of cordite perfumed the air around them as hot rounds bit into the trees behind which they took cover. Jake's particularly weak, little sapling wasn't going to last much longer under the barrage.
"If we can make it to the valley, take over one of those houses, we can hold our position until help arrives!" he yelled, slamming in another clip.
They had the ammo; they had the weapons. The plan just might work.
Of course, making it down to the valley was going to be the tricky part and, yeah, he couldn't deny the fact that it would've been a whole helluva lot easier for them if they'd still had al-Masri to use as a shield and bargaining chip.
What the hell have I done? Again, the question blasted into his head, and waves of guilt and recrimination washed through him, compounded by the adrenaline coursing through his veins.
"Fall back!" Boss shouted and, once again, fall was exactly what they did.
The mountainside below the outcropping of trees was even steeper—if that was possible—and controlling their descent proved hopeless. Soon, all four of them were rolling and tumbling like clothes in a dryer. Sharp rocks and debris grabbed onto straps and gear, snatching it away, and all the time bullets rained down from above.
They landed in a giant heap of screaming muscles and tangled limbs at the foot of the mountain beside the tiny village houses. Boss and Rock both made for one helluva hard landing spot, but Jake figured Preacher, who'd ended up on top of the pile, would say something similar about him.
The four of them managed to untangle themselves only to fire and retreat, fire and retreat, leapfrogging each other as they raced toward the village.
Thankfully, they weren't met with any resistance from the village's inhabitants. It seemed all the guys with guns were on the side of the mountain.
Well, mahalo to the Big Kahuna in the sky for small miracles.
As Jake, Preacher, and Rock laid down covering fire, Boss planted one of his big boots against the door of a little mud-brick house and, two seconds later, they all stumbled inside.
It was blessedly empty.
Again, Jake took the right, Preacher the left, and Boss held steady smack dab in the middle while Rock covered their six. They kept plugging away at the approaching army, acquiring targets and squeezing their triggers. During a small lull in the action, Jake felt for his cell phone and came up empty-handed. Damn! He must've lost it somewhere on the long tumble down the mountain along with two extra clips, his M203 grenade launcher, and his pack.
"I lost my phone!" he yelled, and watched from the corner of his eye as Boss, Rock, and Preacher started patting pockets, searching for their phones, their one and only chance of making it out of this god-awful situation alive.
Both Boss and Rock came up with a big handful of nada. Thankfully, Preacher hit the jackpot.
He held up the device triumphantly, but Jake could tell by the look on his face, they were too close to the side of the mountain to get reception.
"Cover me!" Preacher yelled.
Before any of them could stop him, Preacher raced through the front door and down the packed dirt street. Bullets slammed into the road all around him, kicking up great puffs of dirt as he serpentined his way toward the open poppy field at the south end of the village where his chances of acquiring a cell signal would be the best.
It was the bravest thing Jake had ever seen, but he didn't have time to watch the heart-wrenching spectacle because he had to keep shooting, keep disposing of as many of the men operating those AKs as he could so Preacher could make the Hail Mary call back to base.
He didn't know how much time passed. It seemed like days but was, in reality, probably only about fifteen minutes.
Then, the most delightfully welcome sound he'd ever heard came thundering down the valley. A couple of U.S. Air Force boys in stealth fighters began dropping twelve-hundred-pound bombs on the side of the mountain beyond the village in a beautiful, tightly packed barrage of fire and death.
The blasts were beyond belief, the concussive effects loud enough to render everyone deaf for long moments afterward.
In their little house, the three SEALs warily eyed the roof as one entire mud wall cracked and splintered like shatterproof glass. The ground beneath them heaved in a series of rolling waves but, thankfully, the roof held. And when the bombardment finally ceased, they peeked from the door and windows.
The main body of al-Masri's men was obliterated. Nothing left but gaping, charred holes where previously whole groups of men had been firing. Only a few Taliban fighters, dazed and wounded, stumbled upright to try and continue the battle.
Jake took aim and started picking off the survivors. They needed to finish this and find Preacher.
The guy had been gone too long. Outside. Exposed.
When no more fighters popped up to aim rusted-out AK-47s in their direction, they abandoned their cover and hoofed it down the dusty road toward the poppy field. They pushed into the middle of the field just in time to see one of al-Masri's men jump up and take aim at Preacher's unprotected back.
"Preacher!" Boss and Rock yelled at the same time Jake shouted, "Steven!" They raised their M4s, but not before the gunman squeezed off two rounds.
Preacher spun as the scorching lead slammed into his body, and Jake freight-trained it toward the Taliban fighter, screaming like a berserker as he plied his trigger again and again.
The man jerked as round after round tore through his flesh, but even after he'd fallen to the ground, Jake didn't let up. He continued to riddle the body with bullets.
His monster was free for the second time today...
When he got close enough to see the man's face, he squeezed the trigger one more time, putting a round right between those evil, sightless eyes as he spit on the corpse and cursed the bastard to hell.
Of course, the person he should be cursing was himself.
If only he hadn't been such a chicken shit, so scared of the thing he was becoming that he couldn't make the tactically sound decision—which would've been to kill al-Masri on the side of that mountain—they could've made it to the plateau before al-Masri's army, and from their superior position, they might've held off the fighters until an extract team arrived.
And, as if of that wasn't bad enough, then when they'd actually needed al-Masri, he'd gone and lost control and killed the guy. Now, because Jake had screwed up on every level possible today, Preacher was lying in an expanding pool of dark blood.
He ran to where Boss and Rock knelt beside Preacher and choked when he saw the gaping hole through Preacher's chest and its twin through his lower abdomen. Amazingly, Preacher was still conscious, still clutching his M4 in one hand and his open cell phone in the other—the same phone that'd called in the airstrike that had saved their lives.
Jake fell to his knees, helping Boss and Rock apply pressure to those gruesome wounds as blood pumped hot and heavy between his shaking fingers.
"Hang on, man," he whispered, glancing up as Boss stood and whipped off his shirt. They'd lost their field medical gear in the headlong plummet down the mountainside and had no bandages or QuikClot. Their clothes were the only things they had to try and staunch the life-taking river of fluid pouring from Preacher's body.
"Helo on...the..." Preacher choked and coughed, foaming blood oozing from both corners of his mouth, "...way," he finally finished.
"Yeah man, yeah," Jake murmured, not trying to fight the tears streaming down his cheeks as he ripped the shirt Boss handed him in two, pressing each half into Preacher's wet, ragged wounds. "You did one helluva job," he said around a heart that was sitting and throbbing in the back of his parched throat. "Gave those Air Force boys perfect coordinates. They obliterated al-Masri's guys."
"Good," Preacher choked, and Jake had to resist the urge to throw his head back and shriek his grief into the hot Afghan air.
No way was help arriving in enough time to save Preacher's life.
"I'm going to go look for our medical gear," Boss said.
"I'll go with ya," Rock murmured, blood oozing from the deep gash in his shoulder to slide down his arm and drip from his fingers into the dark soil of the open poppy field. "Fours eyes are better than two."
Jake nodded and numbly watched his teammates race back toward the side of the mountain.
"S-Snake?" Preacher coughed wetly, and Jake knew that sound. Most folks referred to it as the death rattle.
"Sh-Shell," more coughing, more awful rattling. "She's..." Preacher's eyes flew open, and the coughing turned to choking.
Jake could do nothing. Nothing to help his teammate, his fellow soldier, his friend as the Grim Reaper hovered overhead. He felt that bastard's presence like a cold, wet blanket, and knew if the sonofabitch were corporeal, he'd blast him full of holes before sending him back to the stinking black abyss from which he'd sprung.
"She's..." from somewhere Preacher found the strength to finish, "pregnant."
Pregnant? Dear God...
"C-congratulations, bro." He choked on his tears, hoping Preacher didn't know the extent of his feelings for Michelle, or about that night in the bathroom of the Clover Bar and Grill when he'd almost let things get out of hand with her. The same night he'd shoved her into Preacher's arms.
Of course, at the time, he'd never dreamed she'd go and do the smart thing and actually fall for the guy...
With one last mighty heave, Preacher tried his best to fight Death.
But in the end, Death was too strong.
And Jake could do nothing but sit, crying and cradling the lifeless body of one of the finest men he'd ever known.
He refused to let go of Preacher even after Boss and Rock returned, empty-handed, from the mountain and sank down beside him, tears streaking their faces. He refused to let go when the Night Stalkers arrived and loaded them all into their Chinook. He refused to let go until it was time to clean and prepare Preacher's body for transport back to the states.
And all the while he was thinking, This is my fault. This is all my fault...
What People are Saying About This
"This series is fast growing one of my all-time faves. I love Walker's bikers and how she crafts a story; a little bit of humor, a whole lotta lovin'." - Where's My Muse?
"Immense dramatic tension. This couple is irresistible... Walker's characters are one-of-a-kind. " - Joyfully Reviewed
"The scenes are vivid and realistic, the sex is sensual, yet hot, the love is endearing, and the action if fierce. Rev It Up is a fantastic story... " - Black Raven Reviews
"Suspense and romance in one book is always a good thing, but when Julie Ann Walker writes it, I want to jump for joy. " - My Overstuffed Bookshelf