Authors: Gwen Hernandez
Tags: #romance, #military romantic suspense, #supsense
For my boys.
You make me proud to be your mom.
ALEXA LOWERED THE TREMBLING GIRL into the crawl space beneath the clinic and shut the trap door. She yanked the braided rag rug to cover it and stood. Soldiers would be here any—
The exam room door smashed open and a rangy man in a striped rugby shirt aimed a rifle at her chest. “Hands up!”
Heart hammering, she stepped onto the rug and raised her arms.
The last time the island’s rebel fighters had raided the Hygiea clinic in Terre Verte, they’d stolen everything—right down to the mattresses on the beds—and left one of the nurses dead. The mother of nine-year-old Flore. Flore, who should be safe at the orphanage next door by now.
As long as the stress—and the dust under the building—didn’t bring on another asthma attack.
“Just tell me what you need and I’ll get it for you,” Alexa said, her voice shaky.
Rugby kept his weapon trained on her. “Come with me.”
Her stomach jackknifed, but she followed him into the tiny waiting area where two other men stood guard.
He snagged her wrist and spun her into the front wall. “Do not fight me and you will live.” His lilting island tones didn’t match the menace in his voice.
A tremor ran through her body as he trapped her against the wall. Just last month a French aid worker in another village had been kidnapped and repeatedly raped until her family produced a ransom. Would they take Alexa because she was American?
The man drew her hands together behind her, sending her into panic mode. She knew how much rape could devastate a person. She’d witnessed it firsthand with her sister. No way would she go down easy. Not as long as she had any fight left. Alexa kicked back, connecting with her attacker’s shin and eliciting an enraged howl.
” he yelled, calling her a bitch. He knocked her feet out from under her and she slammed to the ground, hitting her cheekbone and hip on the solid wood before he landed on her.
She bit back a whimper and flailed like a madwoman. All of the self-defense moves she’d learned were useless now that she was down.
“No more moving.” Rugby ended her fight with a knee to her back and shackles around her wrists and ankles.
Shouts came from the storage room that doubled as her sleeping quarters. She turned her head to see Garfield in the doorway, a rifle trained on him from behind. His lip was split and bleeding, and his dark eyes blazed with anger when he spotted her.
Hands out, palms up, he stepped forward. “Why do you fight us? We’ll let you take whatever you need. We’ll treat your men. No need for violence.”
Rugby stood. “You’ll let us take her.” He kicked Alexa in the ribs and she hissed in pain.
“Stop!” Garfield lunged toward her.
A soldier in a yellow shirt jumped forward and plunged his knife to the hilt in Garfield’s side, then pulled away. Blood ran through her friend’s fingers as he gripped the wound and sank to his knees, his eyes wide.
“Garfield!” Alexa jerked against her restraints. “
Let me help him.
” Her voice turned shrill as Rugby gripped her under the arms and tossed her over his shoulder, setting off a firestorm of pain in her ribs that left her gasping.
Her captor strode to the door, pausing to call directions to his crew, who appeared in the doorway of the back room with their arms full of medicine, blankets, and syringes.
Then he stepped outside into the moist Caribbean air, and Alexa watched through the doorway—absolutely powerless—as Garfield’s blood drained from his body, sliding into the cracks between planks in the scuffed wooden floor.
Alexa winced as the van Rugby had thrown her into barreled over another pothole. Every bounce against the hard metal floor of the cargo hold added another bruise to her battered body. If she had to guess, she was sporting about thirty minutes’ worth.
But Garfield has it worse.
Her throat closed and she blinked back tears. That old companion, helplessness, stole over her the way fog crept over the mountains back home in Seattle.
Please, let him and Flore be okay.
She rolled forward until the small locket tucked inside her sports bra pressed into her left breast. The oval trinket—and the pictures inside—had become a talisman of sorts over the years, getting her through the tough times. The memories of the people whose photos rested inside were both treasured and painful, but they fed her resolve to stay alive, to escape.
Despina, her beautiful, blonde twin. Shy, intelligent, caring. And dead. They were best friends, but Alexa had failed her in the worst way.
And Dan Molina. Mesmerizing hazel eyes, lean muscles, and soft lips that had devastated her as surely as the recent hurricane had stripped St. Isidore’s eastern shores. He was smart and honorable, and far better than she had deserved, even for a few weeks.
The van jerked to a halt, and sunlight cut through the dim space as the back doors were wrenched open a few seconds later. “Come,” Rugby said, slicing through the rope at her ankles before dragging her to her feet on the spongy earth.
Alexa squinted against the brightness as she stumbled through a forest of lansan trees, palms, and vines, the branches and leaves slapping her unprotected face.
Local traders had scarred the trunks of the lansan repeatedly to capture the resin, prized for use as incense. It didn’t take much thought to find a metaphor for St. Isidore’s people there. Subject to frequent abuse, but still standing.
After several minutes, the tall trees and wild undergrowth gave way to a grove of papayas planted in neat rows. The heavy pear-shaped fruits hung in clusters from delicate trunks that didn’t look strong enough to support their burden.
Sweat trickled down her sides and back as they approached a modest plantation house with two dormers and a wraparound porch. White paint peeled from the siding, and the steel roof had turned to rust.
“Oy!” Rugby called as he shoved her up the dirt drive to the questionably sound front steps.
A plump woman with graying cornrows pulled into a bun slammed open the screen door and urged them forward. “In the kitchen,” she said in the local kweyol.
Alexa couldn’t always understand the blend of French and English that reflected the island’s history of colonization, slave trading, and war, but she got the gist.
Her captor pushed her ahead of him into a dark foyer, then across a creaky wooden floor into the kitchen. She caught an impression of green walls and sixties-era appliances before the man at a small pine table stole her attention.
She’d seen only old pictures of him as a politician in his thirties. He hadn’t been photographed in almost twenty years. His hair was grayer and thinner now, his face lined but unmistakable with a thick scar that ran from his left earlobe to his chin.
The name left a sour taste in her mouth and made her twitch with the need to run away. In her wildest nightmares, she’d never imagined coming face to face with the founder of the St. Isidore Resistance—referred to as SIR by the locals.
“Untie her,” Frederick snapped in English, his voice carrying the cultured tones of a British education atop the island accent.
Rugby cut her bindings, and she rubbed her wrists reflexively. Could he tell she was shaking?
“What is your name?” Frederick asked. Sweat glistened on his dark brow, despite the efforts of the ceiling fan and open windows.
“Alyssa Drake.” The lie rolled off her tongue with ease. She’d been using the name for so long it was more real to her than the one on her birth certificate.
“You are a nurse, yes?”
Alexa fidgeted with her watch, then forced herself to drop her hands. “Yes.”
“Good.” He nodded.
Was that why he’d brought her here? “We treat everyone at our clinic. Your men didn’t need to attack us to get help.”
Behind her, Rugby’s sneakers scuffed the floor.
. “I could not risk going to Terre Verte. Desmarais has spies everywhere,” he said, referring to the country’s president.
Ironic, considering that this man had plenty of his own spies in the village. And in nearly every other fishing village, resort, and plantation town across St. Isidore’s twenty-five miles of jungle.
And then the meaning of his words sank in. “
She narrowed her eyes and scanned what she could see of him, but found no obvious injuries. He was tall and lean with broad shoulders that filled out his black linen shirt, and an intense gaze that apparently made true believers out of the disaffected and unemployed.
“Caught the wrong end of a blade,” he said, lifting his left sleeve to expose a large piece of gauze taped to his upper arm and soaked through with blood. “I’d like you to fix it.”
Her blood turned hot. Alexa could still see the panic on Flore’s face when she realized rebels were approaching the clinic. Frederick’s men spread terror and death everywhere they went. They’d gravely wounded Garfield, kidnapped Alexa, and stolen the clinic’s supplies and now he wanted her help?
“Fix it? My friend Garfield—a nurse that the village desperately needs—
caught the wrong end of a blade
when your men attacked our clinic just now.” Her voice rose, even as some part of her screamed at her to stop talking. “I don’t even know if he’s still alive, because your men dragged me away before I could help him. Are
going to fix
His eyes widened. He was probably used to people bowing at his feet, begging for mercy. In a minute she might be one of them, but everything she’d been feeling since his men killed Flore’s mother Rashelle three months before—hell, since encountering his resistance forces the first time she was stationed here three years ago—came spilling out like bile. Unstoppable.
“There will be a line of people at the clinic this afternoon. People who need care that we won’t be able to provide because you’ve taken the nurses out of commission and stolen our supplies. Again.” Sweat trickled down her sides at the growing menace in the man’s eyes, but the words kept coming. “You claim to care about the people of St. Isidore, but all I see you doing is terrorizing them and those who would help them. You deny them access to food, clean water, and health care. Those are not the actions of a leader who puts his people’s welfare first. How are you any better than the government you vilify?”
“Enough!” Frederick cut her off, jumping to his feet. “You understand nothing about this island. About
people.” He slapped his chest. “
provide homes for the children whose parents can’t feed them.
provide food and shelter and work for men who would have none, whilst the government gives them nothing. Everything I do is for the greater good of St. Isidore and her people.”
Alexa’s breath came hard and fast, but she didn’t look away from his hard gaze. Even as her muscles trembled, she straightened her spine and clamped her jaw shut to keep herself from responding.
Rustling noises came from behind, but the leader shook his head and the sound stopped.
“Do you refuse to treat me?” he asked, his deep voice calm again.
“No.” She wouldn’t refuse anyone medical care. Not even him.
From here on out, she had to do whatever it took to survive. To get back to Garfield and Flore and the people of Terre Verte. They needed her more than she needed to argue with a wannabe dictator whose ambition had blinded him to the devastation he wrought.
At Frederick’s command, Alexa washed up and examined his wound while Rugby went to the van to fetch supplies. She shifted into professional mode, shutting off the part of her brain that registered who this man was and all of the atrocities he and his army had committed. Right now, he could only be a man with a two-inch laceration in his left medial deltoid. A man who needed stitches.
“You should go to a hospital for this. They’ll have anesthesia and a better selection of sutures.”
She nodded, not expecting a different answer. Thirty minutes later, she wiped the sweat from her brow and tried to rotate some of the tension out of her shoulders as she studied her handiwork. A neat row of knots marched across Frederick’s upper arm, barely visible against his dark skin. She ran through the wound care protocols as she applied antibiotic ointment and covered the site. “If you notice any signs of infection, I urge you to see a doctor. And someone will need to remove the sutures in about a week.”