The Stronghold

The Stronghold

by Lisa Carter

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Overview

The Stronghold by Lisa Carter

Drug violence, revenge killings, and kidnapping are nothing new along the U.S.-Mexican border. But now teenage girls are disappearing from the Apache reservations of Arizona and New Mexico.

Apache tribal cop Pilar To-Clanny and FBI Special Agent Alex Torres have a long and tumultuous history. When someone close to them disappears, Pilar and Alex must risk everything to rescue the child, including facing the unresolved issues of the past, and venture into the no-man’s land of the drug cartels.

Can Pilar and Alex work together to stop a sadistic killer before he strikes again? On a quest to rescue those they love, who will rescue them?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426795480
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 03/15/2016
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 851,623
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Lisa Carter is the author of Carolina Reckoning, Beneath a Navajo Moon, Under a Turquoise Sky, and Aloha Rose. She and her husband have two daughters and make their home in Raleigh, North Carolina. A member of ACFW, RWA, and Sisters in Crime, when she isn’t writing, Lisa enjoys traveling, quilting, and researching her next romantic adventure. Visit her online at LisaCarterAuthor.com.


Read an Excerpt

The Stronghold


By Lisa Carter

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2016 Lisa Carter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-9549-7


CHAPTER 1

In the Sierra Madre a long time before

When the Mexicans — the Nakayé — came, she ran.

The Old One grabbed the rifle. "Do not let them take you, Ih-tedda."

She did not wait to be told twice. She darted toward the brush. Only then did the other children run, too.

Behind them, pounding hooves. Guttural cries of defiance from the old woman. Gunfire. Curses from the riders in their hateful tongue. Bullets dinged the earth.

She flew swift as the wind and called under her breath to the name Nana had taught her. The children dogged her heels. The little one whimpered. The Other panted for breath. Their legs were not as long as hers. They'd not trained as she had.

If they could make the tree line ... find the cave. Hide until the men grew tired of searching, of making sport ...

Almost ...

"Help me!" the Other cried. "We can't keep up."

Cursing her and the Nakayé, she slowed and scooped the little boy into her arms. The Other pointed to a clump of scrub brush. "There."

Dragging them both, she hunkered under the scant cover. The boy wailed as a thorn bush pricked his bare legs. The Other laid her hand over his mouth. Beads of sweat and fear dribbled the length of her nose. They stared wide-eyed at each other.

The boy tried to squirm free of their tight hold. Angry, Ih-tedda placed her hands around his throat.

"No." The Other tugged at her hands.

"We must not be taken. Last time, the Old One ..."

The Other shook her head. Sadness filled her eyes. She trembled.

Ih-tedda, too, quivered at the memory of the last time the men found their camp. How the last protector had sacrificed his life to give the women time to escape. How a girl child had been too frightened to be quiet. The old woman had taken the child's face between her hands and snapped her neck to stop the noise. And thus they'd escaped detection.

Her grip tightened on the boy.

"No," hissed the Other.

Voices shouted. She and the Other ducked their heads. They covered the boy with their bodies and prayed to the name for invisibility. She wished the earth would swallow them whole to protect them from discovery.

Her breath caught at the sight of the scowling, scar-faced rancher leading the posse. He hated her people, Nana said, with a fierce, scorching hatred that would only be extinguished when their blood soaked the ground and he'd exterminated them from the earth.

Blood vengeance she understood. She vaguely recalled the woman of his they'd taken after leaving him for dead on the road. The woman had not lasted long in their camp. Carrion or traded, Ih-tedda didn't remember which.

The boy twitched. Something in his hand rattled. The Other grabbed for him. But too late —

Scarface jerked his reins toward their hiding place. "Mira! Aquí!"

They'd been discovered.

Abandoning them to their fate, she dashed into the open and headed for the deer path. She scrambled from boulder to boulder. The Other heaved the boy from rock to rock.

Gunfire scored the cliff face. Dodging the flying chips, Ih-tedda climbed higher and higher.

Must not be taken, Nana's words pounded in her brain. Must not be taken.

With a cry, the boy latched onto her long skirt, hampering her forward progress. Cursing him, she pried his tiny fingers free as he sobbed.

"Help us," whispered the Other. "Do not leave us behind."

Ih-tedda reached for the boy. His small body, shaking in terror, slumped against her chest. "Be brave," she whispered in his ear.

And then jerking him away, she flung him over the rocks toward the mountain ponies who did not give up. Toward those who'd never give up until her kind were gone from the earth.

The Other screamed as his body bounced onto the hard-packed ground. The horses reared but stopped at the broken obstacle in their path. The Other grew as quiet as the boy lying in the pool of blood below. With a final glare, the Other descended from the precipice and lay beside the child. The men and their horses surrounded them, blocking them from Ih-tedda's view.

Not waiting to learn their fate, she resumed her climb. Hand over hand, she pulled herself upward. Her bare feet scrabbled for placement. Rocks skittering, she turned to find Scarface, knife clutched between his teeth, climbing after her. Panic laced her heart. Her breath constricted, she hauled herself the last ten feet.

Wobbling, flailing, she edged as far as she dared until only nothingness yawned. And still he came, relentless as death. He removed the knife from his mouth and brandished it.

"Come," he beckoned. "Come to me," he crooned.

She'd heard the women talk. She understood what awaited her if taken alive. She'd heard of the slave markets.

Do not be taken, Nana had drilled over and over.

She swallowed and peered at the gorge beneath her feet. She swayed. Fear of the chasm assaulted her senses, numbed her heart, froze her reasoning.

He inched closer. She shrank until she could retreat no further.

One step and all would be over. Only darkness. Where was the name the old woman called upon now? Where had the name been when the men died, when the children were hungry and cold, when the soldados came?

She teetered. Her arms flailed. She righted herself.

And moved away from the edge.

CHAPTER 2

Arizona

Pilar To-Clanny had been murdered when she was about the same age as the dead girl lying face down in the shallow grave.

Only difference?

Pilar's body hadn't died.

Just everything else.

The wind whistled off the escarpment behind Pilar. She shivered and wrapped her arms in her uniform jacket. The sun had yet to make its way above the rim of the rugged mountains. Shadows engulfed Pilar and the makeshift burial site.

An inexplicable foreboding teased at the edges of her consciousness. She'd learned the hard way to always trust her gut. Tensing, she scanned the unspoiled wilderness of her people. Her eyes darted in the remote canyon for movement or any sign she wasn't alone.

Nothing.

And yet ... she couldn't shake the feeling of eyes. Of lingering malevolence. An eerie stillness hung suspended.

Her eyes flicked to the partially unearthed grave. To the bundle of skin and bones. A lonely, helpless place to die.

She wondered sometimes if the ground — blood-soaked since the Ancient Ones — somehow retained the essence of the violence perpetrated upon it. If the evil committed between the dark cliffs continued on — past the barbarism of the Conquistadors or the wickedness on both sides of the Indian Wars. If an unholy force yet preyed upon those unlucky enough to lose themselves in the forbidding ramparts of this mountain fortress.

Where were Special Agent Edwards and his team from Phoenix? Why was her heart pounding? Why was it so difficult to breathe?

Her hand flexed above her duty belt. She wasn't defenseless. Not anymore. Or as ultimately helpless against her fate as the girl rotting in the desert tomb.

Pilar had fought — and would continue to fight — to survive.

Never allow yourself to be taken was the mantra she taught the women at the tribal center self-defense class. The mantra by which she lived. Yet she also told them that, if taken, they must adapt quickly or die.

Buffeted by a gust of wind, Pilar huddled inside her jacket. An unearthly howl pierced the air. She flinched. Coyotes? A cougar?

Flipping off the safety catch, she drew her gun and whirled. The air pulsated with palpable menace. The harbinger of death, an owl hooted somewhere in the pine-topped ridge above.

And a memory too terrible for words forced itself to the forefront of her mind. Of another time and place. Of utter desolation.

Sucking in a breath, she squeezed her eyes shut.

Flashes. The smells. The terror.

This wasn't real. This wasn't happening again. She was better, stronger than this.

But sometimes retreat was the better part of valor. Her eyes flew open. Maybe best to wait for the feds at the road in the safety of her cruiser.

Adapt or die. Adapt or die.

Canvassing her escape route with her gun extended, she backpedaled across the scrub grass. Clambering across an arroyo, she struggled to regain control of the distorted images filling her mind. She hurried around a massive butte, desperate to push the horror once again into the black pit of nothingness. But unable to deflect the inexplicable panic, finally she just ran.

Out of the canyon. Toward the road. Toward sanity.

And the farther she traveled from the canyon, the farther the darkness receded.

Reaching the sanctuary of the tribal cruiser, she reholstered her Glock and gathered the carefully constructed shards of her numbness once more. Her breathing rapid, she willed herself to think of Manny. To remember her life now.

She scrambled inside the car and concentrated on taking even breaths to slow her heart rate. Slamming and locking the door, she cranked the engine. Pilar threw the car into drive and gunned the vehicle. Ten minutes later, on the cusp of the San Carlos rez, she parked off the graveled shoulder of the road.

As the sun rose over the dusky pink horizon, so too did the September temps. Loosening the collar of her uniform, she got out of the car to wait for the feds. Here in the sunlight, where you could see friend and foe coming for twenty miles, she felt foolish over her sudden terror in the canyon. Maybe not so over the PTSD as she'd hoped.

Sound, too, traveled far over the desert floor. Her breath whooshed out in relief at the red haze preceding the feds' arrival. She shaded her eyes with her hand and watched the dust cloud kicked up by the tires as the black SUV drew closer. Typical fed vehicle.

Took them long enough. Always a federal case when a major crime occurred on the rez. Special Agent Edwards wouldn't be pleased to find "his" crime scene already tampered with.

And as first responder for the tribal police, she'd be blamed for the trampled evidence. She blew out a breath. As if anyone, much less the tribal archaeologist from the college, had expected to find a fresh corpse amid a nineteenth-century Apache campsite.

The SUV braked and shuddered to a stop. She closed her eyes as the dust cloud billowed. Voices emerged from the vehicle. Male and female. Car doors banged shut.

Out of habit, she kept her elbow against her ribcage. Her hand hovered within easy reach of her Glock. She coughed to clear her throat. She opened her eyes.

And when the dust particles dissipated, he — not Edwards — stood not six feet away from her. Plus two blond women, one on each side.

Pilar blinked to clear the grit from her eyes.

It couldn't be — her stomach muscles tightened. A mirage. The dust and sun playing tricks on her mind. Conjured by her subconscious, as happened so often in the years since she'd seen him.

But then he tilted his head in that way of his.

And her heart raced.

His eyes lit as the air cleared between them.

Alex was supposed to be on assignment out of the country. Not here. Not close enough to — She ground her teeth.

Where was Edwards? Why was Alex here? How —?

Her mouth tightened. Abuela.

Abuela knew everything. And Pilar recognized an ambush when she saw one. She'd deal with Alex's grandmother later.

Pilar took a step back. "Still a blonde on each arm, eh, Alex?"

The warmth in his eyes seeped away.

Alex — Special Agent Alex Torres — lifted his chin a fraction. "Is that, too, a crime on the rez these days, Officer To-Clanny?"

She met his glare with an unfriendly glower of her own. "If it isn't, maybe it ought to be."

An uncomfortable silence ticked between the members of Alex's team. Five, including Alex. The two blondes, an Asian man, and a real Indian — the ones Columbus had been looking for when he stumbled upon her people's continent.

"Where's Edwards?" Pilar widened her stance. "Why are you here?"

A muscle pulsed in Alex's jaw. "We're working a serial. The description your tribal archaeologist gave of the body matched another case we caught. So they sent me. Deal with it."

One of the blondes disengaged from the pack. "I'm Dr. Emily Waters, a forensic anthropologist." She extended her hand to Pilar.

"Don't," Alex barked. "She — they — Apaches don't like to be touched."

Emily Waters stopped mid-stride and dropped her hand.

The look Alex threw Pilar seared her flesh. "Isn't that right, Officer To-Clanny?"

She quivered as the memory dangled between them, taut as a bowstring. Across time and distance. The caress of his hand against her cheek as real as if yesterday.

Emily Waters's gaze ping-ponged between them. "I take it you two already know each other?"

The connection between Pilar and Alex snapped.

Adapt or die. Adapt or die.

Folding his arms across his blazer, Alex leaned against the hood of the SUV.

Pilar's lips twisted. "You could say that."

She gave them a nice view of her back as she pivoted toward the trail where the corpse waited. "A lifetime ago, when we used to be married."


* * *

Alex jerked and straightened.

His forensic specialist, Emily, threw him an uncertain glance.

Alex fought to remind himself of his purpose here.

Pilar nudged her chin toward the butte. "You'll need to follow me in the rest of the way." She gave him a look. "If you think you can keep up."

"I'll keep up." He broadened his shoulders. "I'm not as easy to get rid of as you think."

Uncertainty passed over her face before the aloof Pilar regained control. "You can try."

His hands gripping the steering wheel, he ate the dust of Pilar's tribal car as they hurtled toward the crime scene. She veered off the main highway and onto a gravel road, which led nowhere as far as he could tell.

Emily, a brown-eyed blonde, fanned her face. "This red dust." She coughed. "It's everywhere."

"Yeah." He angled. "Welcome to Arizona." His teeth rattled as they bounced over a cattle guard.

Pilar swerved south onto what amounted to little more than a washed-out arroyo. The hard-packed trail jolted the occupants of the SUV. Emily grabbed hold of the dashboard to steady herself as the car lurched forward. The rest of his team — Charles Yao, Sidd Patel, and Darlene White — muttered imprecations in a varied mixture of their mother tongues — Mandarin, Hindi, and Texan.

Typical Pilar. She never slackened her speed over the rough places, just charged ahead. Alex set his jaw and accelerated, determined not to allow her to lose him.

He pulled in alongside Pilar's vehicle behind a clump of junipers at the mouth of a box canyon. He and the team exited the SUV.

Impassive and remote as the jagged mountains surrounding them, Pilar leaned against the clicking, cooling engine of the tribal car. She pursed and jutted her lips, Apache-style, toward the blue tarp-covered grave in the distance. "Have at it, Torres."

His jaw tightened. Time to assert his jurisdiction and exert control over this crime scene. Over Pilar? Fat chance of that.

Since the day they met as children, to the best of his knowledge, no one had ever managed to rein in Pilar from doing exactly what Pilar wanted to do. Not her brother, Byron. Certainly not Alex.

"I'm going to do an initial walk-through first." He motioned toward the shade of a cottonwood. "Let's establish a command post over there, Em."

He felt rather than saw Pilar stiffen. In for a peso, might as well go in for a pound as Abuela would say. "Walk with me, To-Clanny."

Pilar clenched and unclenched her hand.

She wanted to smack him. Even after all these years, he could still feel the sting of her hand across his cheek. Best to keep things professional.

For now.

She stalked alongside him, struggling to match his long strides.

He assessed the canyon surrounding the crude grave. Desolate. Forsaken.

Alex repressed a shudder. Squatting, he peered beneath the tarp someone had rigged to keep out the elements until his team arrived on site.

"You'll find out who did this to her?"

He rested his hands on his thighs. "How do you know the vic is female?"

"It's usually a her, isn't it?"

He lowered his eyes to the grave. "How long since the body was unearthed?"

At his deliberate tone, she uncoiled a notch. "Late afternoon yesterday. Dr. Chestuan didn't realize the remains were fresh" — she searched for a more palatable word — "from a more recent homicide until he uncovered a cell phone tossed in the grave underneath the shoveled dirt."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Stronghold by Lisa Carter. Copyright © 2016 Lisa Carter. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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.

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The Stronghold 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
GrandaddyA More than 1 year ago
Lisa Carter is a new author to me but I will be watching for more books from her. I was caught up in the story from the beginning. Stories about Indians have always held my interest, especially when they are cast in a positive light. The heroine of the story, Pilar To-Clanny, is an Apache who has experienced some terrible atrocities but she is strong in her desire to help others. The book is very suspenseful, and rather intense at times, but there are lighthearted moments as well, particularly during the flashbacks to the past when Pilar, Alex, and her brother were kids. After all that had happened to her, the heroine deals with some major trust issues regarding God and men and struggles greatly with unforgiveness. I sensed an overshadowing of spiritual warfare when the law-abiding characters talked about The Wicked One and his stronghold. The descriptions of his characteristics were very realistic and reminded me of the devil. I recommend The Stronghold to more mature readers who enjoy suspense. If you like mild, sedate romance novels this one may not be for you although there is a thread of romance through the book. I totally enjoyed the story.
LilacDreams More than 1 year ago
Lisa Carter's latest is an edgy suspense. Pilar, an Apache and reservation policewoman, and Alex, a Latino FBI agent from L.A., immediately clash when they meet at a crime scene. And no wonder. Years ago, they had been married. Something bad happened. Pilar keeps the wounds of the past bottled up. Instead of confronting what happened, she suffers in silence. Bitterness and revenge keep her going. Peace and lightness elude her. Alex longs to talk with her about the incident. He finally gets his chance when they search for missing people in Mexico and are themselves being hunted. Pilar blames herself for what happened. Alex insists she could have done nothing to prevent it. She must forgive herself for what she thinks she did to deserve it. Holding onto shame only perpetuates the evil. The monster they seek derives pleasure from making her ashamed, in addition to the physical power over her. I enjoy Lisa Carter’s books. This one was a little too dark or edgy in places for me. Lisa paints a hauntingly realistic picture of the evil that has been dogging Alex, Pilar, and the people they love.
lsnlj More than 1 year ago
To be honest this book was hard to rate, It is not the typical Christian Romance novel. In fact some of the content may not be suitable for all ages and people. This novel deals with kidnaping of young girls, rape, murder, cutting and the after effects of them all, some things are given very detailed information. There is a lot about the American Indian culture and Mexican cartel as well. That being said this is a christian romance novel woven throughout all the drama and American Indian culture. It is not easy reading, in fact I was lost during the first part of this book. It does all come to light before the end of the book, but it is a bit confusing. There is surprise, mystery, heartache, secrets, forgiveness and love throughout this novel. Pilar To-Clanny has been through much in her life, while trying to solve a crime with the least expected man she ever expected to see again, she must learn to face her past to be able to embrace her future. Pilar is a very determined, strong willed Apache woman filled with heartache and secrets. She has been through more than anyone should have to face but will she have to endure more just to save the ones she loves? FBI Special Agent Alex Torres must come face to face with his past and help solve a crime all while trying to keep the one he loves the most safe. Will Pilar ever be able to forgive him and will he be the testimony that she needs or will his faith be tested more than he can endure. I was given a copy of this novel from net galley for my honest opinion.