Sunday, April 7, 2013

Prequel of Reckless Endangerment: Part 1

Prequel to Reckless Endangerment: Part 1
A permanent free read of the prequel to the bestselling romantic suspense novel, Reckless Endangerment. Links to following chapters are at the bottom of each post. 

Setting it up...
She's a network correspondent
He's a Colonel in the Marine Corps
Their love is forbidden
She doesn't obey orders
He likes that about her...until her reckless nature crosses the line into the danger zone

 Enjoy your introduction to Hope Shane and Colonel Michael Cedars. Theirs is an epic love story and this is just the beginning...

Part 1: Kabul, Afghanistan 

Hair covered with a green head scarf and eyes shielded by aviator sunglasses, Hope Shane weaved her way through a maze of bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and vendors selling everything from chickens to carpets. Women in burkas begged with their children on the side of the street. She wondered about the eyes that looked back through narrowed slits, wondered what stories they could tell.

“You’re not really going to follow through with this, are you?  It’s insanity.”  Peter, her producer and best friend, matched her stride for stride despite the chaos in their path.  

“Of course we’re following through with this,” Sally, another member of her production team, answered for her. “We’ve already done the groundwork, invested months of our time in pursuit of this. We need the ending.”

“It might be the end of us if we do this--as in career suicide or a death sentence. Don’t we have enough to go forward with the story?” Peter asked.

Sure, it would be dangerous to follow this next lead, but Sally was right. They needed an ending to a story they’d been working for weeks. The source they’d met had confirmed a meeting tomorrow at a remote town outside of the city. There she’d meet with Marishka, a former surgeon before the Taliban had taken control, who was now widowed with six children, supported by her deceased husband’s family while she fought for education for girls and women’s rights. Marishka had been forced into hiding after her eldest daughter had been executed two weeks ago. There was a target on her back, yet she'd risked being discovered by sending her son into Kabul today. Marishka wanted her story told, needed her daughter's death vindicated. 

Maybe Hope couldn’t save any of these children or women, but she could at least expose their struggle to the world. That’s why she’d become a journalist in the first place, to tell people’s stories, to shine a light on the truth.  

“This could be a trap. I didn’t trust that guy, he said he was her son, but how do you know it's true? None of us have met all of her children,” Peter said.  

She rolled her shoulders back and ignored the chill that shivered up her spine despite the ungodly heat shimmering across the chaos on land. 

“I didn’t trust him either, he had shifty eyes, but he knew things that only Marishka would know.  He knew to come to me, how to find me," she answered, her gaze continually scanning the crowd around them for any kind of threat as they walked. 

  "I believed him," Sally said, her shoulder colliding with Peter's as she jostled to keep pace with them.  "I vote we go. It's the last piece. We don't really have a choice but to go."

“All Western journalists are confined to the city. Do you honestly think that kid's going to be able to sneak us out safely? More to the point, do you believe we'll get back? C'mon, Shane. Think.”  Peter stepped in front of the two women and blocked their path.  His tall, skinny frame and Iowa-boy freckles looked out of place framed with a floppy hat drooping over his forehead and shoulders encased in a sand colored flak jacket.  

“It's one morning, that's all. We'll be out and back before anyone knows the difference. By tomorrow afternoon, we'll be editing and drinking rum. Relax," she said. 

"Relax? I haven't relaxed in months." Peter cleared his throat before gesturing around them. "Have you?"

Still looking at the women wearing burkas, she maneuvered around him without saying a word. An overwhelming need to return to the hotel propelled her feet forward. One word screamed through her mind: Retreat.  

Someone watched them, she knew that. Although she'd become accustomed to standing out here, this felt ominous. Fear trickled over the back of her neck like a million spiders scurrying beneath the red hair concealed by the scarf. The confines of the narrow street suffocated her. She'd walked through this market too many times to count, but this afternoon felt different. Everyone she made eye contact with felt like a threat. 

  She lifted her gaze to the hotel where the international journalists stayed. Its scarred exterior hinted at former glory. The setting sun turned the shabby tan colored walls to a light orange. Windows reflected the mountains on the horizon.  

Briefly, she thought of Denver, Colorado, and felt a brief wave of homesickness wash over her. It had been years since she’d set foot in her hometown. A yearning for brewed beer, cool Rocky Mountain air and an Avalanche hockey game stirred in her gut.  

“Marishka’s been in hiding ever since her daughter was executed, she must be desperate to reach out to us,” Sally said. “She’s taking a big risk. Think about it. She has more at stake than any of us do.”

“We’re going tomorrow, first thing, unless I’m outvoted. I won’t go alone and I won’t do anything you two feel is reckless. What’s it going to be? Are we all in this? Her daughter’s execution fueled her resolve, not dampened it. We’re her only hope, she trusts me.” She stopped at the threshold to the hotel and faced her partners in all things.  “Everyone around here is shifty, including us.Think about it. Sometimes we need to take a risk.”

“Sometimes? More like every damn day," Peter muttered. 

        "We're either united in this decision or we call it off. That's how it's always been." She looked between them both before smiling. Of course they were all in agreement. That's why they worked so well together, they were the modern equivalent of the Three Muskateers.  

        "C’mon, Superstar, let’s find the bar.” Peter laughed as he pushed open the door for her.

“Does that mean we’re all in agreement?” she asked, her gaze settling on Sally who nodded. “Peter?”

“Oh, you know I’d follow you anywhere. How bad could it be? We’re just three Americans headed into Taliban territory seeking a woman who’s on their most wanted list. Sounds like a day in the park,” he said.  

“Smartass,” she said with a smile.  

“Are you telling your big badass Marine?” Sally asked with a knowing gleam in her dark brown eyes.
“He's not my anything." She glanced around her to make sure they weren't being overheard by anyone before lowering her voice to a whisper, "What do you think? Not in a million years. He'd have us all locked up without giving it a second thought.” 

Hope pulled off her sunglasses and blinked while her vision adjusted to the dark interior of the hotel. Most of the reporters she knew lounged on worn sofas in the bar area. Soldiers guarded the doors. Heavy red curtains had been pulled over tall windows, but some of the setting sun streaked in through holes in the fabric.  

Peter slapped a mutual friend on the back as he edged up to the bar to grab them a few drinks.  

Tension ran high in the room following a suicide bombing that had taken place forty-eight hours ago, killing twelve Americans. She sank into the corner of one of the sofas and pulled the head scarf from her hair. The strained energy in the room pulsated through the room like an electrical current. She’d spent most of last night doing live reports for New York and then most of today trekking through Kabul.  

“What’ve you three been up to?” a journalist from a competing network asked.  

“Following up with a source.” She nodded when he held up a stack of cards. Being a war correspondent meant endless hours of waiting, but she wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Despite the danger, she enjoyed being at the center of the action. “Any news of a briefing from Colonel Cedars?”

“Silence from Colonel Hard Ass, " another reporter answered. “They’re really playing this close to the vest, but it’s obvious something’s brewing.”

Peter handed her a glass of rum and coke, which she downed in one gulp. When wasn’t there something brewing in this place?   

“Colonel Hard Ass,” Sally repeated with a laugh. “That sums him pretty well.”

“Yeah, he really seems to hate you, Shane. What’d you do to get on his bad side?” the colleague asked with a sympathetic grimace.  

She grinned without answering. The Marine in question walked through the door, standing a head taller than anyone else in the room. Every step he took demanded attention. Leaders like that were hard to find, men who had that certain something that commanded respect without uttering a word. A layer of brown dust covered his normally chocolate-colored hair and streaked his face. All eyes immediately lifted to where he talked with his men in the corner. 

       "He looks dirty, and I do mean that in a good way. The man is too hot for his own good, damn," Sally whispered, "I don't suppose you know where he's been all day?"

      "Nope."  She smiled at her secret husband from across the room, knowing he would ignore her. If word got out that a commanding officer had his wife close by, she'd be a target for kidnapping or worse.

Peter and Sally knew, but they could keep a secret better than a CIA operative. She had met the Colonel in this exact lobby a year ago. They'd hated each other on sight, she'd never been fond of authority figures and he detested loud-mouthed reporters. Despite that--or maybe because of that--they'd started a secret affair that led to a spontaneous marriage while he'd been on this...secrets, kisses, caresses and whispers in the night.  

      "He definitely looks dirty, though, doesn't he?" She bit the rim of the empty rum and coke glass while wondering if she'd get the chance to clean him up in the shower later...scrub his back...etcetera. 

* * * * 

       She made it too easy. Michael smirked at the memory of how flustered she'd been during the press briefing when he purposely ignored her raised hand for as long as possible. The fire in her eyes had matched the color of her hair. He liked getting her riled.

       But now she'd gone too far...or was about to from what he'd heard. He hadn't planned on getting away to see her tonight, but there was too much at stake not to take a chance.  
       He closed the door as silently as he'd opened it before sliding his gaze over the dimly lit interior of the room. A laptop screen glowed from where it'd been left open at the center of the bed. An open bottle of water had been propped against a pillow. Clothes were scattered across the foot of the bed as if she'd been in a hurry.  

        The sound of the shower was followed closely by her humming a tune as far off key as humanly possible. He sat down on the edge of the bed and indulged in the solitude for a moment. These four walls had been their oasis in the midst of hell. Closing his eyes, he grinned when her humming turned into singing lyrics so far removed from right that only she would find them logical.  

        The grin faded when he thought of why he'd come here tonight. He'd seen the surveillance pictures of her talking to a suspected terrorist this afternoon. Secret wife or not, he needed to warn her that she was headed down a treacherous path. No, he couldn't tell her everything...and knew she wouldn't tell him anything...but that pretty much summed up the delicate dance of their relationship.  

       He glanced back at the computer and noticed some scrawling on the back of an envelope. He picked it up without hesitation. From what he could make out from the scrawl, she was headed back to New York in a few days. His heart twisted abruptly at the idea of her headed away from him while his mind reacted with relief that she'd be safe. 

       "Tsk, tsk, Colonel. Snooping is off limits." Hope stood in the bathroom's doorway, her robe untied as she toweled off her hair. Her green eyes snapped with anger. "Way to blow me off at the briefing. Do you know that calls more attention to us? People start to wonder how I passed you off."

        "Your rules, not mine."  He smiled at the flush on her cheeks. "New York? Weren't you going to tell your husband that you're leaving for the States at the end of the week? Why are you going? It's because of the story you're working on, right? You need to be out of the Middle East when it I close to the truth?"

     She grabbed the envelope from his hands, the rope gaping to reveal her still wet body.  "This hard ass attitude at press briefings is doing the opposite of what you intend. You need to ease up. Everyone wants to know why you hate me so much."

        He grabbed her hips and held her still. "I love you, Hope Pain-in-My-Ass Shane. I can't wait until I can tell the world that you're my wife. You know that."

        She folded the envelope in two before meeting his gaze. "I haven't been able to contact you for days. My travel plans are a new development. Peter's idea."

       "He's always looking out for you." He stood, his hands moving over her body beneath the robe.  "So I'm right? You're airing a story that could endanger you? Are you coming back? Shouldn't I know these things? Not only am I your husband--a minor fact to you, I guess--I'm a commanding officer in a war zone. If you have information that could help us, you need to tell me."  

       "Why have you been unreachable for days? Why has this hotel turned into a prison?  Have you even been in the city? You said I'd be able to get to you through McGee if I ever needed you, but that was a roadblock, too." Not touching him, she stepped away, but he followed until her back pressed against the wall.  

       Damn, she had a way of making him forget logic. From the moment he'd met her, he'd craved her kind of trouble. Even though her head only came up to the center of her chest, her presence dominated the room.  

       "Stop looking at me like that." Hands firmly at her sides, she looked away from him and grinned.  

       "You needed me?" He propped his palm on the wall behind her head and watched the gold flecks in her eyes. "What'd you need me for?"

       "You're ridiculous. You have everyone fooled you know.They think you're some mean, by the book Marine yet here you are sneaking into my room in the middle of the night."  She surveyed him through narrowed eyes. "We're breaking all the rules."

       "You love that about me, that I do whatever the hell I want when I want. Who's the guy you met with in the market today?" He slid a finger down the side of her neck without taking his gaze from hers.

       "Spying on me?" She pushed against him, but he pressed into her.  

       "I have pictures of you, Peter and Sally meeting with a suspected terrorist. I could lock you up, you know. Question you." He lowered his head to a breath away from her lips. "Why were you meeting this man?"

       "I can't tell you." Hands on her hips, naked body exposed from the loose robe, and wet hair snaking over her shoulders, she oozed resolve and sex appeal. 

       In sudden need of a shower, he grabbed her by her ass and carried her into the bathroom. What he needed was a good dose of Hope Shane, some body heat. When she started protesting, he kissed the words away.  

       It had been exactly five days too long since they'd seen each other. He couldn't wait for a time when they could be together every day, every night.  

       Within a minute, her hands collided with his in a desperate attempt to get him naked sooner rather than later. He didn't know how the water turned on and didn't much care.  

        Her foot slid up the side of his leg, thighs parting just enough to invite him closer. She nipped at the side of his neck while her hands slid over his erection. Ready. Guiding. Eager.

       He pushed her against the tiled wall as water showered their bodies. He lifted her up while she wrapped her thighs around his hips. He slid his hands over her breasts.  Squeezed. Teased. There was no time for slow, not when he'd craved her body for days.

      They'd do slow later...a few times...before dawn. Like usual.  

      She bit his shoulder as he thrust into her. Fingernails sank into his back as he lost himself inside of her. She licked his neck, muttered against his skin. 

      Water trickled between their clinging mouths. Urgency pumped through his veins, stronger than it ever had before. His heartbeat drummed in his ears, almost drowning out the sound of her moaning his name.  

       He knew things....dangerous things...and tonight might be the last time they saw each other for a long time. But he couldn't tell her his secrets and she wouldn't share hers. He ground his hips against hers, smashing out his frustration at their circumstance and driving out his worry, until she sagged against him.  

The sound of their heartbeats, heavy breathing, and water dancing along the tiled walls filled the space around them. 

He buried his face into her hair, never wanting to let her go. 

She wrapped both legs around his hips, linking her ankles at the back of his thighs, and clung to his shoulders while her lips moved across his shoulder. 

       "Now...about you having McGee follow me..." she whispered after a long after the water had chilled to freezing.  

      He lifted her higher in his arms. "I love you so much. So much."

      She inched her way higher and pressed her forehead against his. "II don't want to leave you, not even for a little while. Even if I don't see you for days, I know eventually you'll show up here. I'll be back eventually, you know. New York suddenly seems like another planet."

     "Maybe it's for the best if you don't come back. We won't need to keep us a secret anymore if you stay away. You'll be safe."

     "I'd rather keep us a secret and see you every week then Skype you from thousands of miles away." She slid down the length of him, turned off the water and exited the shower without waiting for him.

     He thought of the man in the market, the flight to New York, and wished they could simply be straight with each other. Instead they kept conversations...personal. No work talk, that had been their agreement. His idea. Dumbass. They talked about families, college, where they'd travel to once they were back home, where they'd live. But they never crossed the certain boundaries. Secrets always stirred between them no matter how intimate they tried to be.  

     She'd scooted to the center of the bed, naked beneath the sheet, hair spread out on the pillow as she blinked at the ceiling. "You're not staying are you? You need to go?"

      "Not right away." He crawled over her, the sheet separating their bodies.  "Don't do anything reckless, babe. I can't protect you twenty-four-seven."

      "Can I see you tomorrow night? Maybe we can have dinner in the room? Talk more about New York, make a plan like a husband and wife not a Marine and a reporter." She kept her eyes trained on a spot on the ceiling. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you, but not now, not when we both have other things on our minds."

       He rolled to her side, pulled her close and looped his leg over hers. "It's a date.  Tomorrow night, just you and me. I'll make sure I get away, no excuses."

       He briefly thought of the early morning mission, but then shrugged it away. 

       "He's not a terrorist, the guy in the market," she whispered against his chin. "Trust me on that. He's not. He's trying to do a good thing."

       He closed his eyes and remained silent. The problem with Hope Shane is that she thought everyone had good intentions. He couldn't figure it out.  As a war correspondent, she'd seen her share of tragedy; yet her optimism for the human race transcended her horror.  He both loved and hated that about her.   


       "Hope?" He grinned with his eyes still closed. 

       "Whatever happens tomorrow, it matters to me that you know I wouldn't do anything that I didn't feel mattered."

        His grin faded as he opened his eyes to look into hers. Marine instinct told him to lock her and her team up for an indefinite time period. His heart felt sick for reasons he couldn't explain. 

She rose up on her elbows until their noses touched. "I need you to trust me."

"Don't go. Whatever it is you're planning, I want you to postpone it, cancel it, whatever. It's not about trust--"

"Twenty-four hours from now we'll be having dinner and talking about good news." Her lips skimmed his. "Just let it be. I know what I'm doing."

That's what worried him the most. 

Read on with the chapters below

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