Greetings! Wow, two releases within a week. It has been a roller-coaster ride of excitement. I wanted to share the first chapter of Saving Sarah with you. This book releases on Thursday, 7/21/16 (or maybe late Wednesday). I had a blast writing Ranger and Sarah's story and I hope you love reading it. Here's chapter one.
Gaston "Ranger" Boudreau stared at the encrypted message displayed in bold capital letters on his laptop screen.
He'd barely had a chance to plop down on the sofa, having climbed out of his pirogue only moments earlier. Walking into his camp, which was little more than four walls, a tin roof, and a floor, he'd paused long enough to toss the freshly caught fish into the metal sink, ready to be cleaned and cooked for his lunch.
Then his damned gut instinct told him to check his messages.
He wished he could've ignored that antsy feeling which forced him to cut short his fishing and head back to his tiny cabin deep in the bayou. But he didn't—because he knew better.
The encoded message was brief but succinct.
HOW'S YOUR DOG TANGO?
That was it. Four words that caused a gnawing hollowness deep in the center of his stomach that had nothing to do with hunger—no, it engendered an impending feeling of something momentous about to happen. Like that subtle buildup of pressure when you're sitting on the edge of the deck watching an electrical storm approach, see the flashes of lightning arc across the clouds, smell the ozone waft on the breeze, and hear the deep growl of thunder, and you expect the lightning to strike precisely where you're sitting. Yeah, that feeling.
Wolf wouldn't have contacted him if it wasn't an emergency, and Ranger owed him.
Matthew "Wolf" Steel had saved his life. He was forever indebted to the man, though if you asked Wolf, he'd say he was simply doing his job. After the hell he'd been through in Afghanistan, Ranger had made a solemn vow to repay that debt—now Wolf was calling in his marker.
He tried to not dwell on that dark time when he'd almost lost all hope, sitting in a bombed-out shell of a house on the outskirts of a crap-hole in Afghanistan, waiting for an extremist faction of the Taliban to execute him. Instead, he did his damndest to put it behind him.
Except in my nightmares.
Still, it looked like Wolf planned on calling in the chip he owed him and his team. One he'd pay, no matter the cost. He owed them, and a Boudreau never shirked his debts. Gator Boudreau, his daddy, taught him and his brothers from the time they were knee high to a grasshopper that you always pay your debts. Otherwise you're no better than a coward and a liar.
Frowning, he pulled up the encryption program Tex had installed in his e-mail browser and shot a reply back to Wolf. It didn't matter what the man wanted, he got it. No questions asked.
Within seconds, he heard the ping of the answering e-mail.
Must have been waiting for my response.
The only words in Wolf's reply were a date, time, and address in the French Quarter. The simple fact it was in his neck of the woods had Ranger more than intrigued. What happened to bring Wolf to The Big Easy?
Born and raised in Orleans Parish, Ranger knew both the city and its surrounding bayous and parishes like he knew his own name.
He wouldn't ask the man outright, though. As a fellow Navy SEAL, Wolf played his cards close to the vest, and would tell him what he needed to know when they met up. Glancing at the corner of the screen, he noted the time. Per Wolf's instructions, their meet-up would take place in just under four hours at a local bar on the backstreets of the French Quarter.
Not a bad place to meet. Wolf could play up the whole tourist angle without raising any suspicions, and keep a low profile at the same time.
Since he'd come home after the FUBAR in Afghanistan, Ranger kept mostly to himself, out at his camp hidden in the depths of the swamp. Stayed isolated. Except when his busybody family decided he'd been alone too long and showed up unannounced and dragged him back to civilization. Lately that seemed to mean just about every Friday night, playing and singing on the street corners in the touristy section of the French Quarter. Man, his daddy loved making music. Didn't matter who was listening. Music fed something in his soul, he always said.
Ranger stood and stretched, heard the audible clicks as his joints popped. Yeah, he'd been cooped up far too long. An afternoon down in The Quarter might be just the ticket to ease his boredom.
But first, he needed to shower because he was rank. Grabbing the fish he'd caught earlier, he made quick work of gutting them before tossing the filets into the small generator-run ice chest beside the sink. Barely big enough to keep his beer cold, it would handle the three fish until he got home to cook 'em.
A short time later, he'd showered and shaved, electing to pull his hair back with a piece of leather. It had grown out a lot since leaving the military and the rest of his SEAL team behind. The dark length came in handy when he didn't want people staring at him or the long jagged scar decorating the right side of his face. Angling toward the dim light, he studied the scar running from the edge of his eyebrow, where it bisected his cheek, and ended right above the corner of his lip. He'd been damned lucky not to lose his eye.
Should he stop at Gator's place on the way? If anything was brewing in the area, chances were good his daddy would have the heads-up. The man knew everybody, from the fat-cat politicians to the homeless vets living hand-to-mouth down on the waterfront. If even a whiff of something was going down in New Orleans, word always got back to Gator Boudreau.
No, he'd wait. Talk to Wolf. The SEAL would provide the intel needed to get the job done—whatever it was. But that burning, insistent pinging in the corner of his brain, the one he associated with trouble coming? It had been building for days and now blared like a red alert siren.
Steering his boat to the rented dock space he kept handy year round, he climbed out, tied off, and headed for the rendezvous point Wolf had picked. The bar he chose wasn't dead center of all the activity and nightlife. Instead, it was a place frequented mostly by locals, though a few tourists sometimes ambled through its doors looking for local flavor. They didn't hang around long. Lucky, the owner, set them straight pretty quick.
Taking a deep breath, he absorbed the unique smells of the city he called home. A myriad of scents assaulted his senses. The over-arcing brine of the Mississippi flavored everything, like a layer of salt coating the back of the throat. Ever present, always in the background, as familiar as his favorite pair of jeans.
Then there was the yeasty smell of the bakery at the end of the block. Fresh French bread baked to order all day long, along with croissants and fancy pastries. Floral notes from the flower shop blended into the mix. Exhaust fumes from the busy streets and the docks never seemed far away.
Smells like home.
Weaving in and out of the pedestrian traffic got a little trickier the farther he walked. Tourists congested the sidewalks at the outer edges of The French Quarter, and he maneuvered around them with predatory ease. When his path got too obstructed, he detoured around a corner and took an alleyway between buildings. It wasn't long before he stood at the back door of Lucky's, the hole-in-the-wall bar that was today's rendezvous point.
Lucky's bar wasn't some chic New Orleans hot spot. It wasn't on any list of tourist attractions, though it had been around for decades. Nope, it was the kind of place men like him frequented when they wanted a cold beer and a distinct lack of conversation.
The bar's scarred and pockmarked wooden floors had seen customers come and go for the last ninety years. Though gouged and rough in spots, the golden brown patina felt warm and welcoming. Huge plate glass windows heavy with painted advertisements fronted onto the street, where people strolled past, intent on seeing the sights of the touristy part of The French Quarter. Lucky's didn't broadcast its location with fancy neon lights or huge signs trawling for customers. Lucky claimed the garish neon was too pretty for his place.
Ranger looked around the half-empty bar, scoping out the dark corners for Wolf or any of the other guys from his SEAL team. He'd met them all during the rescue, except Tex, though he'd talked to the man several times since he'd been back stateside. Another SEAL, Tex had stayed behind and coordinated the extraction of him and his teammates. Ranger respected each of the men who'd helped save their lives, and brought home the ones who hadn't been so fortunate. Not a single member of Wolf's squad was here in the nearly empty bar.
Knocking his knuckles against the huge wooden bar top, he got Lucky's attention and within seconds held a longneck bottle in his hand. With a practiced ease that came almost second nature, he checked out the smattering of tables spread out throughout the right half of the bar. Some held bikers wearing leather jackets and a lot of attitude, but they kept mostly to themselves and weren't causing any trouble—yet. A couple of dock workers sat at another table, nursing longnecks, and one couple doing their best Hoover imitation rounded out the motley crew.
He eased his tall frame into a chair in the farthest corner from the front door, his back against the wall, leaving a clear line of sight to both the front and back entrances, and twisted off the cap of his beer.
Long minutes passed with only the occasional straggler coming through Lucky's front door. If he hadn't had that itchy feeling at the back of his neck, he'd have chucked it all after the first hour and headed home.
But he didn't. Couldn't. Something big was headed his way—that damned psychic connection of his was buzzing, though he hated when it didn't give him anything concrete. This lousy ephemeral woo-woo crap was for the birds. Give him solid, concrete, hold-it-in-your-hands proof and he was a happy camper.
Still, he couldn't discount his gut instincts, or whatever anybody called it. They'd never let him down. And the one time he hadn't paid attention, he and his entire team ended up in a bombed out hovel, surrounded by Taliban gunmen. He didn't plan to make the same mistake twice.
A flash of light shone on the worn and gouged wooden floor of the bar as the front door eased open, but that wasn't what caught his attention. It was the gorgeous brunette framed in the battered wood opening that held him mesmerized.
Dressed in ragged jeans and a faded AC/DC T-shirt, there wasn't anything extraordinary to make her stand out from the crowd. Except he knew, with a deep down, positive-to-the-bone certainty, she'd come to Lucky's to meet him.
She slid off the dark glasses shading her eyes, and plunked them on top of her head. From this distance, he couldn’t tell what color they were, but strangely found himself certain they'd be blue.
Ranger watched her scan the room. Yep, the woman definitely had a specific target in mind, and he had a sinking feeling he knew exactly who she searched for. When their eyes met, he was positive.
Wolf isn't coming. Instead, he'd sent this raven-haired beauty. Although casually dressed, she didn't seem the type to visit seedy biker bars. Lifting the beer to his lips, he took a long pull, his eyes never leaving her. Noted the second her eyes spotted him, partially hidden in the darkened corner.
With determined steps, she strode across the floor, marching in a direct path toward him. He couldn't help noticing the enticing sway of her hips as she crossed the floor. An unconscious, sensual movement as she walked in his direction. He found his eyes wandering upward, pausing on the lush breasts outlined by the old rocker T-shirt.
When she reached his table, she stared without saying a word. He knew what she saw, though he admired she didn't flinch when she noted the scar. A lot of people weren't so diplomatic.
"Are you Gaston Boudreau?" Her voice held a husky tone, and sent a curl of need straight to his gut. Damn, he'd been out at his cabin too long if he got turned on simply by hearing a woman speak.
"That's me." He motioned to the chair across from him. She slid onto its hard surface with an elegant grace that definitely didn't match the normal clientele of Lucky's.
"Matthew Steel sent me." She dug into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a folded envelope, creased and a little worn, though he noted the seal was intact.
"I…this explains everything." She laid the envelope on the scarred tabletop, sliding it closer to him. His name was scrawled across the front in bold black letters.
"No. Before I open that," he pointed to the envelope, "I want to know why me?"
She drew in a deep breath and he found his eyes locked on her breasts again. And some damn fine ones they were too. Full and round and most definitely not silicone enhanced. Leaning forward, she placed both hands on the tabletop and stared into his eyes.
He'd been right—her eyes were a startling ice blue, a striking combination with her midnight-dark hair. A nimbus of light surrounded her in a haloed effect, the dappled sunlight streaming in through the large front window silhouetting her in golden rays.
His stomach knotted until it felt like he'd taken a punch to the gut. Not a physical blow, but a metaphysical one, because he knew as surely as he knew his name she belonged to him. No doubts, no questions.
Love at first sight was for suckers and losers, and he didn't believe in it for one damned second. But a single word circled around in his brain, echoing over and over until he didn't hear anything but it.
"Mr. Boudreau, I've documented everything inside that envelope. It explains precisely why…"
"I'm sure it does, but I want you to tell me. Why are you in New Orleans, and what in the hell do you need with me?"
Her blue eyes met his head on, no evasion, no pretense. "I need you to save my life."
RELEASING 7/21/16 at Amazon.com. This is an Amazon exclusive, part of Susan SToker's Special Forcers: Opeartion Alpha Kindle World. Link to the book will be posted as soon as it is "live."