Who Do You Trust?ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
He’d disappeared from her life for years,
and then reappeared like magic. Seeming so much like the Mitch she’d loved with all the depth of her romantic girl’s heart—yet a stranger. A man with edges of danger that excited her…secrets that scared the living daylights out of her. And an untamed sexuality she suspected she’d only glimpsed so far.
How could a man like Mitch, always on the fringes of risk, want her? At first, yeah, for the family he’d never had; she’d understood that even as she hated it. But now? Dare she believe him when he said he wanted her—only her? He seemed to be burning alive for her, but, as she’d found out over the past few weeks, nothing with Mitch was what it seemed.
And finding out the lies beneath the secrets would break her heart.
This month we have something really special on tap for you. The Cinderella Mission, by Catherine Mann, is the first of three FAMILY SECRETS titles, all of them prequels to our upcoming anthology Broken Silence and then a twelve book stand-alone FAMILY SECRETS continuity. These books are cutting edge, combining dark doings, mysterious experiments and overwhelming passion into a mix you won’t be able to resist. Next month, the story continues with Linda Castillo’s The Phoenix Encounter.
Of course, this being Intimate Moments, the excitement doesn’t stop there. Award winner Justine Davis offers up another of her REDSTONE, INCORPORATED tales, One of These Nights. A scientist who’s as handsome as he is brilliant finds himself glad to welcome his sexy bodyguard—and looking forward to exploring just what her job description means. Wilder Days (leading to wilder nights?) is the newest from reader favorite Linda Winstead Jones. It will have you turning the pages so fast, you’ll lose track of time. Ingrid Weaver begins a new military miniseries, EAGLE SQUADRON, with Eye of the Beholder. There will be at least two follow-ups, so keep your eyes open so you don’t miss them. Evelyn Vaughn, whose miniseries THE CIRCLE was a standout in our former Shadows line, makes her Intimate Moments debut with Buried Secrets, a paranormal tale that’s as passionate as it is spooky. And Aussie writer Melissa James is back with Who Do You Trust? This is a deeply emotional “friends become lovers” reunion romance, one that will captivate you from start to finish.
Enjoy! And come back next month for more of the best and most exciting romance around—right here in Silhouette Intimate Moments.
Leslie J. Wainger
Executive Senior Editor
Who Do You Trust?
is a mother of three living in a beach suburb in county New South Wales.
A former nurse, waitress, store assistant, perfume and chocolate (yum!) demonstrator among other things, she believes in taking on new jobs for the fun experience. She’ll try almost anything at least once to see what it feels like—a fact that scares her family on regular occasions. She fell into writing by accident when her husband brought home an article stating how much a famous romance author earned, and she thought, “I can do that!” Years later, she found her niche at Silhouette Intimate Moments. Currently writing a pilot/spy series set in the South Pacific, she can be found most mornings walking and swimming at her local beach with her husband, or every afternoon running around to her kids’ sporting hobbies, while dreaming of flying, scuba diving, belaying down a cave or over a cliff—anywhere her characters are at the time!
I wish to give thanks to my editor, Gail Chasan, for liking this book and thinking up its title, and to Gillian Hanna, for loving this book and giving pertinent suggestions, and also to Susan Litman for the same.
Thank you, ladies. Deep thanks once again to Andrea Johnston and Maryanne Cappelluti, my dear friends and trusted critique partners, who always tell me what I need to hear. And to my daughter Jaime, whose ideas on what a hero should be helped bring Mitch’s background and character to life. Finally, thanks to Deri Banez and Manuel Hanares, for sharing their knowledge of the Tagalog language with me.
And a very special thanks for this story must go to those who helped inspire it: to the refugees of the world, those suffering through war, so many helped, so many others merely unheard cries of protest amid the problems in more affluent countries.
To my very own Lissa. This book is for you. I love you. We will never forget. Your loving Aunty and adopted “Mum.”
Ka-Nin-Put Village, Tumah-ra Island, Arafura Sea
McCluskey pulled back on the throttle to lose altitude: eight thousand feet and falling.
Don’t go beneath ten thousand feet before the official UN nod to go, Skydancer. Strict government orders, McCluskey. The militia shoots first and won’t ask questions later.
Anson had known the orders were impossible when he gave them, which was why he’d sent him to this war-ravaged island. Mitch McCluskey, code name: Skydancer. Also known as the rule breaker.
His cover was perfect, bona fide work with the Vincent Foundation, doing food drops to war-torn towns and villages the world over. He handed out bags of grain and long-life milk, throwing extras at the militia to stop them from shooting pregnant women and hungry kids, snatching food to tame their aggressive corps. He had great footage—if you could stomach watching it—of Tumah-ran men torching buildings in their hometowns, shooting old people, dragging girls and young women away with them. Boys as young as ten destroying their neighbors’ homes and tearing friends’ families apart for the sake of the warped politics they’d been force-fed—in reality, for control of the oil-rich shelf below the coral reefs surrounding the little island, an untamed paradise until the hated strike of black gold.
Then he’d returned to Darwin and traded the official DC-10 for his own Maule bush plane, on recon work for the Nighthawks, a select bunch of expert international troubleshooters. Answerable only to Nick Anson, an ex-CIA hotshot who’d made it his business to stop military takeovers in small nations from becoming bloodbaths. Only the cream of the top brass had even heard of Nighthawks. The heads of governments of the world only used them when they had to make public denials of involvement. If the rebel flyboys, ex-Navy SEALs and one-time Special Services or Green Berets were captured in hostile territory, they were on their own.
He wasn’t gonna get squat on film this high up, with this dark, turbulent band of monsoon cloud beneath him. He had to drop lower. After Bosnia and East Timor, the world wouldn’t invade another disputed territory unless there was compelling evidence of human rights abuse by the ruling junta.
Which was today’s job description. Survey the hot-spot island, make a lightning check of the land for incinerated pits or half-hidden, telltale pockmarks, and bring back footage to give the government—and the media, if those in power didn’t want to know. Give the disaster-hungry rumormongers the irrefutable proof of what the world didn’t want to know about.
Mass graves of the militia’s victims.
Like the ones he’d found and filmed in thick forest close to the Albanian border. The ones that still gave him nightmares. The dead faces still wearing looks of terror—begging for help that never came. Pleading for their lives as they were mercilessly gunned down, old and young, women and babies—
But not the young girls. They had a worse fate.
Damn, I’m getting too old for this.
He lowered the plane by the nose through clashing, roiling clouds, until the altimeter hit four thousand feet. No weapon possessed by Tumah-ra’s cheap, gung-ho militia boys could bring him down from this high; but just one photo of an Australian plane here would destroy any chance of a peacekeeping force in Tumah-ra. The recent spy charges against the two Aussie CARE workers in Bosnia left the bloody taste of suspicion in the minds of paranoid dictators. The militia, the real rulers of Tumah-ra now, would jump on their current puppet boys in government to get rid of all international interference, and more innocent people would die.
So go in fast, get the shots and fly out faster.
But the weather and Tumah-ra’s roughneck terrain shot his ambitions to hell. Lightning flicked around him. Rain pummeled the wings. Wind slapped the plane in the face, jerking it back, up and to the side. Clashing storms between hills, half-torn jungle and the sudden rise of slumbering volcanoes turned the flight into a crazy game of dodge-ball hide-and-seek.
What was the bloody use of killing himself, staying at this altitude? He had to drop right down, even if the local crazies started taking potshots at him—and they would if they saw his gray kangaroo mascot on the tail. After East Timor, Aussies were about as welcome in rebel-run Tumah-ra as a dose of black plague.
Let ’em try to kill him. He wasn’t about to die now. This was his last Nighthawk mission.
With a little smile, he pressed his fingers to his lips and touched the picture taped to the panel. A nearly three-year-old photo of his precious Matt and Luke, the last time he’d seen them. “I’m coming for you, kids. Hang in there. I’m coming home.”
Rain pounded on the wings. A clap of thunder hit right over the plane. Down and forward he pitched like a bat out of hell—and another volcano loomed in front of him. “Damn!” He pulled back on the throttle and circled the clouds—and he all but ran into a long hill standing above the streaming jungle like a dank bald head, at an altitude a slingshot could pick off. If some half-baked sniper in the jungle aimed at his fuel tank—
But he had to take the risk. For on the eastern end of the hill, half-hidden by a canopy of trees outside the thatched-hut village of Ka-Nin-Put, he found it: the best footage op he would ever get. He pulled on his special goggles, similar to night-vision lenses, so he could see clearly. “Oh, my sweet godfather,” he breathed.
It was worth a Pulitzer Prize. The UN would have to send in a peacekeeping force after seeing it. He didn’t want to take the shot—wouldn’t if he had his way—but he had no choice. Circling the hill for the best angle he got a clear view, aimed out the powerful, high-tech digital camera built into the underwing, and started taking footage that the world would soon see.
A child standing on the edge of a gaping hole: a rough manmade crater half-filled with broken bodies.
She couldn’t be more than four. Her dress was ragged, filthy, hanging from a malnourished body covered in sores and scratches. Mud poured in from the torn lip of the crater as the torrential downpour dissolved the earth around her. She stood still, wailing the same words over and over—probably cries for the dead parents who lay in that hole beneath her.
Within minutes she would fall in and join the body count.
Where to land? Damn it, why didn’t Anson get him a Harrier, or at least a chopper? A jet or bird could V/STOL—do a vertical short landing and takeoff in almost any weather conditions—in seconds. Even in this tough bush plane, his chances of landing safely were almost zip in this downpour. If the ground collapsed, he’d take the kid out instead of saving her.
“Holy Hannah, this is suicide!” But he looped the hill in a mad circle for the approach, like a kamikaze on a death mission.
The hill was a strange, bare swathe about a mile long and two hundred feet wide. If the plane were bigger, he’d never be able to land or turn for takeoff. In this rain the only way to do it was to land at the other end and make a run for her, hoping like hell the militia were hiding somewhere out of the insane weather.
He patted the console. “C’mon, Bertha, we can do it!” He released the throttle, eased the wheel forward, pulled out the landing gear and flew straight over the child, touching ground a scant twenty-five feet from her. The wheels skidded on the sodden ground. He had only one chance at this. “Work! Come on, Bertha, work!” He pulled back on the throttle, easing the brakes to stop the plane fishtailing.
The trees rushed to meet him. He needed turning space—oh, God, Matt and Luke, his precious boys—he couldn’t die now, not when he finally had the chance to have his kids with him again—
Then a tire tripped on a lump of rock; Bertha slowed with shocking suddenness, and Mitch hit the brakes too hard in reaction. His body slammed against the wheel; he heard a crack in his lower chest, then felt stabbing, searing pain.
Forget the pain. No time to think! He scanned the land. Fifty feet turning space, max. He locked the brakes, grabbed his assault rifle, a coil of rope and ran.
With every step more ground dissolved beneath his feet. Holes and jagged cracks appeared. He fell, got up and stumbled on, dragging in ragged breaths of agony.
As she saw him, a big-built man in fatigue greens—damn Anson for insisting on the khaki fatigues and dark face paint for jungle cover like the militiamen!—coming at her with a rifle, the child cried, “Ima! Tatay!” and scrambled away. The lip of the crater imploded with the impact, and she toppled into the hole in a shower of mud and rocks.
Throwing the rifle back, Mitch dived toward her, landing on the fast-decaying lip. He threw the rope to the wailing child, cowering near a pile of bodies. Dear God, what if this happened to his boys? Had Matt and Luke cried out for help on a forsaken Sydney street after they’d found their mother’s lifeless body? Who had been there for them? “Take it, little darlin’!”
Big, almond-shaped eyes looked up at him. Her hands reached out to the rope, then fell. A river of mud showered over her head; she started to sink beneath its weight. “Please, darlin’, let me help you!” he cried desperately.
She just stared. Her teeth chattered under the onslaught of cold mud and constant rain. The ground shifted beneath him. He had seconds to gain her trust before they both died. Damn, why hadn’t he learned to speak more than the most basic Tagalog for this mission? But then, those who’d done this to her spoke her native language—they were her own people. “Australia,” he called down, thudding his throbbing, burning chest. “Me. Australian.”
She blinked, slipped further. Her head tilted sideways.
“I know I don’t look it; my face and hands are painted, and I’ve got brown skin, anyway, God knows from who. But I’m not one of them!” He knew his babbling was downright stupid, since she couldn’t speak English; but he said it again. “I’m not one of them. I’m Australian!” He controlled his voice to as soothing a pitch as she could hear. Yelling wouldn’t make her understand him better if she’d never heard the word; it would only remind her of the half-assed genocidal jerks who’d taken her family from her.
The child stared unblinking; then her hand moved to her lips, mimicking eating, a questioning look in those lovely dark eyes.
“Yes, darlin’, that’s it. The people who fed you last week!” Cudgeling his brain, he could think of only one way to convince her. He sang, “‘Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.’”
She slowly smiled, and started humming the national anthem the Vincent Foundation workers had taught her.
Mitch shook the rope. “C’mon, darlin’. Let’s get outta here.”
She looked down into the hole. “Ima. Tatay.” A sad little chant; a baby’s farewell. Then, thank God, she grabbed the rope.
He half slipped into the hole pulling up even her slight weight. Wrapping the rope around his waist, he crawled back along the crumbling earth, taking her with him inch by excruciating inch. The rain poured down, and the mud kept sliding on top of her, half drowning her tiny body. “Don’t let go of the rope, little darlin’. Hang on!”
A sudden scream; Mitch toppled backward with the lack of weight on the rope, and he knew he was out of miracles.
Three times, handhold by foothold, he inched back, giving her the rope, moving back. He couldn’t even lean forward far enough to show her how to loop the rope over her wrist; his weight would collapse the hole on her.
The fourth time, when he’d all but given up hope, a tiny head appeared above the rim; then her shoulders; then, like giving birth, she slid from the gaping maw headfirst into his hands.
He grabbed her, snatched up the rifle and ran for the plane, stumbling through holes, sliding in mud, holding her safely in his arms, taking the falls on his knees and back.
Three hundred feet to go—two hundred—one-fifty—
A jagged streak of lightning touched ground between him and the Maule.
Oh, my God, not now—Matt, Luke, my beautiful boys, I’m so sorry! So damned stupid, taking risks with his life now! But what choice had he? How could he leave this suffering child to die?
But the fork of lightning hit water, riding on the stream away from him. “Thank you, God,” he breathed, knowing how close they’d both come to being a charred heap of ash and cinders. He stumbled into the Maule, put the child in the passenger seat and buckled her up. She cringed and whimpered, shivering violently. “It’s okay, little darlin’!” He threw a thermal blanket over her, tucking it in tight. “That’ll keep you warm till we get above this freak-show weather.” He rummaged in his backpack, found a half-eaten Snickers and handed it to her. She stared in amazed delight, then shoveled it into her mouth as if afraid he’d snatch it back. Once she’d swallowed it, she gave him a timid smile. “Go for it, little darlin’. There’s plenty more where that came from. C’mon, let’s sing.” Though he dredged his brain for what few songs he’d learned in his stark childhood, only one came to mind. “D’you know this one? ‘Doh, a deer, a female deer…’”
There was only one way to get skyward in this hellhole of lightning, mud and water. The grave. The pit of death, which probably held the kid’s own family, was their only chance at life. If he could get enough speed up, he could use the hole and the falling slope of the hill as a pathetic sort of launching pad. Like a glider, they might just take off. Or not.
Only a psychopath would attempt this liftoff…or Mitch McCluskey. He grinned to himself. They won’t believe it, not even at work. Crazy Skydancer does it again.
The rain pounded down. The lightning kept streaking in jagged paths all around them. The sound of crashing thunder filled the cockpit. The child screamed, covering her ears. Mitch gritted his teeth and propelled the Maule forward, trying to avoid pits and puddles. The needle moved like a slug around the speedo, but he couldn’t afford to go faster in case he buried them in mud. Twenty-five knots. Forty. Forty-five…halfway down the crumbling runway…62…64…68. Water swirled around the plane in flying fountains from beneath the spinning wheels—but thank God, they kept moving, not digging in deeper in a self-made hole.
Moving. Still moving—
“Come on, Bertha, we need 79. We can get there!” He patted the console again in grim encouragement as they hit the three-quarter point. Seventy knots. “Come on, baby, we can do it…73…74…”
A fickle swirling wind hit the plane in front, propelling the craft up. Mitch pulled the throttle and wheel back, sweat running with rain down his face. “Go, baby. Go!”
The plane lifted a bare three feet from the hole, but in the grab of a sudden twister, they jerked skyward. He lost control of the instruments, and they were flung and tossed like salad with the freak winds. Please, God, don’t let us die! Don’t let me die when I’m going home to Matt and Luke. Not when I finally have a chance to see Lissa again. Please, Bertha, just don’t roll!
All he could do was hang on and wait.
The wind released its captive; the Maule wing-dived groundward. Mitch hit half throttle, sailing with the wind until he found an updraft. He leveled off and climbed above the storm, thanking God for his Air Force training, and for the bizarre twist of fate that had stopped the craft from rolling.
He flicked a glance at his tiny charge, wondering at her calm quiet during their life-and-death situation. Cuddled in the thermal blanket, worn-out with cold and shock, she’d fallen asleep. Her chocolate-and-mud-smeared face rested against the door, her matted hair stuck to the handle. “Sleep well, little darlin’. You’re safe now.” He caressed the slimy bob of hair. He turned the craft southwest toward Darwin.
He’d done it. The baby girl who’d seen death too young was safe now. So what if he had to face the music over the child’s illegal entry into Australia? That was small potatoes compared with the crazy hell his life had been the past few years since he’d lost the boys.
The nightmares that chilled his soul had finally gone. Matt and Luke were alive and safe—and they were with Lissa.
Soon, very soon, he would be, too. He’d have his sons with him again, where they belonged—and he’d see Lissa for the first time in twelve years. Delicate, haunting, gray-eyed Lissa with hair like a waterfall of shining honey, an unspeakably gorgeous mouth and a smile as beautiful as the home and hearth he’d never had. He’d ached to see her every single day of the past twelve years. To touch her. Craving the peace of soul he’d only known when he was with her. She was the only woman he’d ever wanted or thought of as becoming his wife. The only woman who’d ever held his heart in her hands. But she was another man’s wife—and not just any man’s wife. She was Tim’s wife. Tim, his one-time best friend, who could offer Lissa everything: a home, a family, a real name. All the things he’d never had and would never have.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî