One look at Captain Taylor Jackson at a Career Day at Spring Hill College and wealthy coed Lexie Carter knew he was The One. In six months they’re engaged and the wedding set for after graduation. When Taylor is reported killed in action in Afghanistan two months before their wedding, Lexie is devastated, her hopes for a family of her own crushed. Can she survive a future without Taylor or will she succumb to her grief?
Army Ranger Taylor Jackson falls in love at first sight with young Lexie Carter. While on a mission in Afghanistan, he is captured by insurgents after taking his brother’s place on patrol. When Taylor escapes and returns home on what should have been their wedding day, Lexie has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Can he find her in time to rescue her from her fate?
A cute blonde coed lounged at a table on the other side of the cafeteria and stared at him. She turned to her girlfriends, whispered something, and then giggled. Her friends checked him out, giggled some more, and then one of them pushed her toward the recruiting table. She shook her head but didn’t take her eyes off him.
Taylor regretted he’d volunteered for the Hometown Recruiter Assistant Program. He’d wanted a long visit with his family, but he’d been away from Mobile for too long. After graduating from Murphy High School, he’d attended West Point, been assigned to the Infantry, completed a few rotations in Iraq, and then attended Ranger School. He’d found his home there. Several challenging courses and a couple of missions later, he’d become all that he could be—a well-trained agent and killer, one of the best. He didn’t belong at a Career Day at a Catholic liberal arts college in southern Alabama surrounded by innocents.
The girl stood up and walked across the room toward the recruiter’s table, her long golden-blonde hair swaying with each step. She was petite, but had some nice curves. Her expensive clothing and jewelry screamed high-maintenance. Not the kind of girl who sought out men like him.
Captain Jeffries, the recruiter, smiled, mumbled his standard greeting, and held out a brochure. She walked past Art as though he didn’t exist. She only had eyes for him. She stopped inches away. A man coming that close would have been on the floor, but she was either fearless or clueless.
She looked up a foot and more and batted her leaf-green eyes at him. “I’m Lexie. What’s your name, Captain?”
He was speechless, captured by a pixie half his size. She would be his—and no one else’s—forever.
A kick in his ribs awakened him.
The stale bread, his usual morning fare, landed on the filthy floor beside him. Hussein, the bearded, middle-aged Afghan farmer who’d been his captor for the last two months, slammed and locked the door.
Hussein walked into the main living area. “We’ll soon be rid of the dog.”
Lexie pulled Taylor onto the terrace, but something set off an alarm and he stopped dead. He caught Lexie who still held his hand before she hit the ground. He surveyed the area, but couldn’t detect an intruder. He would keep his cool, but stay alert. “So far I haven’t seen anything that qualifies as a down side, unless it’s maintaining the house and grounds.”
Lexie smiled. “I think you’re about to.”
Two middle-aged men materialized out of the shrubbery. They were both dressed casually in khakis and short-sleeved pullovers, worn un-tucked. Their bearing was unmistakably military and those un-tucked shirts probably concealed weapons. Neither appeared friendly, and he was unarmed.
Lexie stepped between him and the two men. His hackles went up. Both were over six feet tall and in peak fighting condition for their age. The mean-looking one with the ponytail was built like a tank and could probably take out a dozen fighters by himself. The pretty one with the fashionably long blond hair was several inches taller. Taylor knew the type. He could easily find work as a model or an assassin. Heavily muscled with almost no body fat, either of them could kill Lexie in any number of ways. Then, the tank glanced at Lexie. Taylor breathed a sigh of relief. The man loved her. He hoped he was a close relative. It explained a lot.
“Taylor, meet Ely and Todd, my guardians. They are employed by a real estate LLC out of Delaware that owns this property. Ely,” she touched the tank’s arm, “maintains the outdoors. Todd does the inside. When Ely’s in a good mood, he cooks for us.”
Taylor couldn’t imagine Ely in a good mood, but they weren’t a threat to Lexie. He nodded to them. “Green Berets?”
They looked at each other, looked him up and down, and nodded.
“What was your unit?”
Again the exchange. Ely spit on the ground.
“We were in the 12th Special Forces Group,” Todd muttered.
Up their ages to approaching fifty. The 12th had been deactivated after the Gulf War.
Lexie squeezed his hand. “After they left the military, they went into private security. That’s how we ended up here.”
He let that go for now, but folks didn’t pay the kind of money Ely and Todd could earn for house sitting.
Todd walked over to the small refrigerator that was part of the outdoor cooking area. He tossed a Heineken to Ely who caught it midair, twisted off the cap, and took a long swallow. Lexie linked arms with Ely and they headed toward the kitchen, leaving him with alone with Todd. “They won’t be long. Ely did most of the cooking this afternoon. How about a beer while he and Lexie finish dinner?”
Taylor nodded. Todd handed him a beer and pointed to a chair. Rather than piss off his host, he sat down and twisted the cap off the bottle. Todd took a seat in the chair beside him, within easy reach.
“Lexie’s never brought home a boy, much less a man. She hasn’t dated a lot. Said she wasn’t interested. Said she’d know the one when she met him. You’ve impressed her.” Todd sipped his beer. “Of course, we checked you out. Top ten at West Point, tops in all your schools, outstanding performance evaluations, fluent in five languages. You’re on track for an exceptional career” Todd glared at him, almost a challenge. “Doesn’t make you the best choice for our Lexie.”
Damn, Todd was direct. “Can’t say that I agree with you. You’ve learned a lot about me in a short time. You still have contacts, pretty high up. West Point?”
Todd nodded. “Class of ’87.”
“I bet your friend never saw the inside of West Point.”
“Ely?” Todd looked into the kitchen where Ely was busy preparing dinner. Lexie sat on the counter talking animatedly. He softened. “He was enlisted. A well-known troublemaker, but the best search and extraction specialist around. On a weekend I was Officer of the Day, we received a complaint about a soldier tearing up a club not far off the post. I was sent to investigate. I found Ely sitting at a table drinking a beer. A couple of dozen men were laid out on the floor around him and the bar was in shambles. He didn’t have a scratch on him. The man was a damned force of nature. We looked at each other, I paid the bill, we walked out together, and have been partners ever since.”
Todd and Ely, partners? Like a couple? Lexie’s guardians were gay? She should have mentioned that. “You couldn’t stay in the service. You went into private security and ended up with Lexie. Damn! I should have realized who he was sooner. That man in there is Mad Ely. The old timers—the senior NCOs—still tell stories about him. None with happy endings. How could you allow him near Lexie? You knew his reputation.”
In the kitchen Ely laughed at something Lexie had said. He touched a finger to her nose. She pulled away, wiped off the speck of potatoes, and licked her finger. They both laughed, and then returned to work.
“You don’t know shit about us, Taylor.”