Man with a mission, p.1

Man with a Mission, page 1

 

Man with a Mission
 


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Man with a Mission


  She was beautiful.

  Without thinking, Jake rose to his feet. It was part of his officer’s training to stand in the presence of women, despite his feeling that no woman was up to the job that lay ahead of him.

  “Are you…” he began awkwardly, holding out his hand toward her. Somehow, he wished she wasn’t his team partner. She was too beautiful, too feminine looking to be qualified for such a risky venture.

  Ana smiled shyly. “Jake Travers?” His gaze assessed her as if she were stripped naked before him. Girding herself, she tried to cooly return his arrogant gaze.

  Jake felt his skin tighten at the sound of his name on her lips. He managed a curt nod. “Yeah, I’m Jake Travers.” He sounded as snarly as he felt.

  “Well,” she asked lightly, “do I meet with your approval?”

  Jake scowled. “That remains to be seen….”

  Man with a Mission

  LINDSAY MCKENNA

  To my editor, Lynda Curnyn. Thank you for all your

  help, your support and belief in my plots and characters.

  Books by Lindsay McKenna

  Silhouette Special Edition

  Captive of Fate #82

  *Heart of the Eagle #338

  *A Measure of Love #377

  *Solitaire #397

  Heart of the Tiger #434

  †A Question of Honor #529

  †No Surrender #535

  †Return of a Hero #541

  Come Gentle the Dawn #568

  †Dawn of Valor #649

  **No Quarter Given #667

  **The Gauntlet #673

  **Under Fire #679

  ††Ride the Tiger #721

  ††One Man’s War #727

  ††Off Limits #733

  ‡Heart of the Wolf #818

  ‡The Rogue #824

  ‡Commando #830

  **Point of Departure #853

  °Shadows and Light #878

  °Dangerous Alliance #884

  °Countdown #890

  ‡‡Morgan’s Wife #986

  ‡‡Morgan’s Son #992

  ‡‡Morgan’s Rescue #998

  ‡‡Morgan’s Marriage #1005

  White Wolf #1135

  ◊Wild Mustang Woman #1166

  ◊Stallion Tamer #1173

  ◊The Cougar #1179

  ΔHeart of the Hunter #1214

  ΔHunter’s Woman #1255

  ΔHunter’s Pride #1274

  §Man of Passion #1334

  §A Man Alone #1357

  §Man with a Mission #1376

  Silhouette Shadows

  Hangar 13 #27

  Silhouette Intimate Moments

  Love Me Before Dawn #44

  Silhouette Desire

  Chase the Clouds #75

  Wilderness Passion #134

  Too Near the Fire #165

  Texas Wildcat #184

  Red Tail #208

  ΔThe Untamed Hunter #1262

  Silhouette Books

  Silhouette Christmas Stories 1990

  “Always and Forever”

  Lovers Dark and Dangerous 1994

  “Seeing Is Believing”

  Morgan’s Mercenaries: Heart of the Jaguar

  Morgan’s Mercenaries: Heart of the Warrior

  Harlequin Historicals

  Sun Woman #71

  Lord of the Shadowhawk #108

  King of Swords #125

  Brave Heart #171

  LINDSAY MCKENNA

  is a practicing homeopath and emergency medical technician on the Navajo Reservation. She lives with her husband, David, near Sedona.

  THIS MONTH

  you’ll find bold adventure and passionate romance

  in Silhouette Special Edition

  as

  Lindsay McKenna

  continues her popular series,

  MORGAN’S MERCENARIES: MAVERICK HEARTS

  Morgan’s men are born for battle—

  but are they ready for love?

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter One

  “Hey! You can’t go in there, Captain Travers!”

  Morgan raised his head at the sound of his assistant’s voice. He was in conference with Mike Houston and Pilar Martinez, both of whom had flown in from Peru, and was going over some February reports with them when the door to his office was pushed open. A tall, scowling, dark-haired man, around age thirty, strode into the war room, with tiny, blond-haired Jenny Wright tugging on his right arm in a futile attempt to stop his progress. Morgan’s assistant looked like a gnat attacking a massive Cape buffalo.

  Mike Houston automatically rose, unsure who the man who had crashed their conference was. He went on guard, his hand moving to the holstered pistol he wore beneath his dark blue blazer.

  Morgan sat back, his gaze sweeping the stranger’s tense, hard features. The look of desperation and apology in his assistant’s wide blue eyes told him everything. Holding up his hand, he murmured, “It’s all right, Jenny. Let him go.”

  Jenny released the stranger’s arm. She was breathing hard. Diminutive compared to his bulk and height, she glared up at him, her hands set petulantly on her hips. “I’m really sorry, Morgan. I tried to stop him. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m really sorry….” She brushed several strands of gold hair from her gathered brows.

  Morgan turned his narrowed eyes upon the young stranger, who was dressed in camel-colored slacks, a matching blazer and a white shirt open at the collar. There was casual elegance to the man’s attire, but Morgan detected an obvious military bearing in the way he squared his shoulders and stood, feet slightly apart, hands at his sides, as if waiting for a counterattack.

  “And you are?” Morgan asked in a deep tone.

  “My name is Captain Jake Travers, Mr. Trayhern.” He turned to Morgan’s assistant. There was apology in his low, strained voice. “I’m sorry, Ms. Wright. I have to see Mr. Trayhern. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

  Jenny scowled up at him, her jaw set, her full lips thinned. “The world wants to see Mr. Trayhern! What makes you think you are better than anyone else and can just bust in here like this? The nerve!”

  Morgan squelched a smile. Jenny, the young woman he had hired when his old assistant retired a year earlier, was only five foot two and barely a hundred pounds soaking wet, but she was fiercely protective. Like a willful, loyal terrier, once she latched on to something with her teeth, she didn’t let go. The tiny dynamo had dreams of being a mercenary someday. Morgan hated to break the news to her that she’d never be one. Jenny had no military or police background. But she had a wonderful, romantic side to her, and Morgan sensed that in her dream of dreams, she’d like to be a heroine like the women he already had in his employ at Perseus. Jenny idolized all the mercenaries. She loved working at Perseus, and if the truth be known, she was the best assistant he’d ever had. “It’s all right, Jenny. Why don’t you bring us some coffee? Mr. Travers here looks like he could use a cup.”

  Jake nodded hesitantly. “Yes, sir, I could use some coffee about now….” He gave Jenny another apologetic glance. “I’m very sorry, Ms. Wright…I hope you can forgive me?”

  Jenny looked at Morgan. “Okay,” she muttered with defiance, “I’ll get the coffee.” She jerked her tiny chin up at Jake. “And no, I don’t forgive you!” Then she turned on her heel and stalked out, shutting the door firmly behind her.

  Morgan felt Mike move from h
is tense position, though he never took his eyes off Jake Travers. Pilar, who was on his right, was studying the intruder intently, too.

  “Well, Captain Travers, now that you have our full, undivided attention, would you like to come and sit down over here,” Morgan said, pointing to a chair near where they were sitting, “and tell us what’s so important that you breached all my security to get here?” There was amusement in his tone.

  “I’m no longer a captain, sir.” Jake stood watching the wary-looking man to the left of Morgan Trayhern. He knew him. He was Major Mike Houston, a legendary figure in the U.S. Army, a special forces officer who had made a big difference in Peru by chasing down and stopping the drug cartels in that country.

  “Oh?” Morgan said mildly.

  Jake opened his hand. “I resigned my commission yesterday, sir. The army wouldn’t let me go after my sister, who has been kidnapped by a drug lord in Peru. I told them to go to hell. I’ll move heaven and earth to find her…and I need your help….”

  “Whoa, slow down, Son,” Morgan said. “Come on, sit down. Let’s talk this out.”

  Mike relaxed once he realized Jake Travers was an officer in the U.S. Army, just as Mike himself had been at one time. A lot of people had a price on Morgan’s life, which was why the head of Perseus kept his main office hidden deep in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. No one, except for this petulant upstart of an army officer, had ever found Morgan, or been able to get through all the tight security set up for Perseus employees who worked at the Philipsburg office. Until now. That said something about Jake Travers’s cunning and abilities. He deserved time with Morgan based upon his daring.

  “Yes, sir.” Jake gave Mike and the woman a penitent glance as he moved toward the long, oval table and the chairs surrounding it. “I apologize for my lack of manners and appointment.”

  Chuckling, Morgan gave Houston a bemused look as Jake sat down. Jenny entered with a tray bearing white china cups, a coffee dispenser, cream, sugar, and cinnamon rolls for the four of them. She set it down near Travers. Giving him a dark look of disapproval, she quickly poured everyone coffee, then left.

  Morgan reached for one of the small cinnamon rolls, which were baked on the premises every morning for himself and his employees. When he saw Travers giving them a longing look, he said, “Have some, Captain? You appear a little hungry around the edges.”

  Jake didn’t hesitate. He was starving. “Thank you, sir. And, as I mentioned earlier, you can dispense with my title. I’m no longer in the army…I’m a civilian now.”

  Houston folded his hands and watched the young officer. “You’re a ranger, aren’t you?”

  Jake looked up, startled. “Is it written all over me, despite my civilian clothes, sir?”

  Houston smiled a little. “It takes one to know one. Your stance. The way you carry yourself. Your alertness.”

  Jake gobbled down three of the small cinnamon rolls, then sheepishly drank most of his coffee and poured himself more.

  “I think Señor Travers needed this breakfast,” Pilar noted, smiling gently. “How long has it been since you’ve last eaten?”

  Jake felt heat moving up his neck and into his face. The three of them were studying him with kindly looks; they weren’t laughing at him. Sitting back, the delicate white cup decorated with purple and yellow violets looking tiny in his massive hands, he muttered, “About twelve hours, ma’am. I left Fort Benning, Georgia, and have been patching together transportation across the U.S. to get here.”

  “You were with the 75th Ranger Regiment?” Mike asked mildly.

  “Yes, sir, I was.” He sipped the hot coffee with relish, his gaze darting from one to the other. Jake had no idea how he would be received. Morgan Trayhern, the man he had to see, seemed slightly entertained by his impromptu entrance. Houston was more assessing. And the beautiful black-haired woman, whose cultured voice had a distinct Spanish accent, had a look of compassion in her sparkling eyes. Still, his stomach was knotted and tense.

  Mike nodded. “Good outfit. So why’d they let you resign your commission to come out here and see us?”

  “Sir, it’s about my sister, Talia Travers.” Jake sat up, his back rigid with stress. Setting the cup aside, he said in an emotional, strained voice, “You’ve got to help me find her. Please…”

  “Slow down, Son,” Morgan murmured, wiping his hands on a linen napkin. “Start from the beginning, will you?”

  Chastened, Jake nodded. “My sister, Talia—Tal—is two years younger than me. She’s a hydrologist. She looks for water and tells people where to dig a well, basically. She’s one of the best and brightest out of Ohio State University. She’s always wanted to help the poor and the underprivileged. Last year she quit a very high-paying job with a U.S. firm and took a position for one-quarter of the money, with the Wiraqocha Foundation.”

  Mike’s brows rose. “I know of them.”

  Morgan glanced at him. “Oh?”

  “Yeah,” Mike murmured. “They’re a legit nonprofit organization out of California that works with the Que’ro Indians, the last of the Inkan bloodlines, up in the mountains of Peru. Last I heard, they were sinking water wells up in the Rainbow Valley area, which is about a hundred miles northwest of Cusco, near the gateway to Machu Picchu Reserve.”

  Relief flooded Jake. “Yes, sir, that’s them. That’s who my sister went to work for. She just went down there on her first assignment, to find six places to sink wells, at different Que’ro villages in that region.” He was so glad someone knew the area.

  “Go on,” Morgan murmured.

  “Tal went down there two weeks ago. We spoke just before she left from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to hop a flight down to Lima. She was really excited. She was to head up a team of hydrologists and other water experts from Peru, who were going to meet her in Cusco and make plans to put in the new wells. You see, sir, sixty percent of the children in those villages die because of bad water.” Jake shook his head and frowned. “Sixty percent, sir. Well, Tal has a big, soft heart, and when she found out little babies and young children were dying at those rates, she went to the Wiraqocha Foundation and offered her services to try and turn those numbers around. I mean—” he opened his hand helplessly “—if it was your child that died because of bad water…”

  Morgan nodded. “I understand,” he said softly. “Your sister is to be commended for her courage in helping those people.”

  “Yes, sir.” Jake swallowed hard. “The Wiraqocha Foundation just contacted me to tell me my sister had gone missing and they suspect kidnapping. The last time I heard from Tal was last week. She called from Cusco to say she was going out in the field, near what she called the Inka Trail. There’s a village located nearby, and that’s where I believe she was when she was kidnapped.”

  “The Inka Trail,” Mike told Morgan, “is an ancient route about a hundred miles long that connects the Rainbow Valley to the temple site at Machu Picchu. It’s about a thousand years old, paved with stones that were laid by the Inkan people so that runners from the empire’s main temple at Cusco could send messages to different sites in the valley, all the way to Machu Picchu.”

  “And today,” Pilar added, “it’s considered one of the most beautiful and challenging trails in the world. People from around the world walk it just to say they did it and survived.” She smiled a little. “The trail goes from fourteen thousand feet down to six thousand. And it’s not for wimps.”

  Houston chuckled. “No joke.” Then he became somber. “That area you’re talking about has never had drug activity—until now. Did your sister know of any activity before she went down there?”

  Shaking his head, Jake muttered, “No, sir. She didn’t say anything about it, and frankly, I didn’t think about it, either. This foundation has been working in Peru for over a decade and never heard of drugs being traded through Rainbow Valley. They are just as shocked and upset over Tal’s disappearance as my parents and I are.”

  Houston nodded. “Drug lords
move around. They never stay in one spot too long. They keep alive by remaining on the move.” He got up and went to a wall map of Peru, which had a number of small red flags pinned to it. He picked up the flag near the Rainbow Valley region. “Just as I thought,” he muttered, reading the tag, “the last report of drug activity we received from this area implicates a small-time drug lord who’s trying to enlarge his territory.” Mike pinned the flag back on the map and came over and sat down.

  “By any chance is it Javier Rojas?” Pilar asked, looking up at Mike.

  “Yep, that’d be my bet,” he answered. “A mean little snake with tiny, close-set eyes and a personality to match. He’s well known for kidnapping foreigners and then demanding money for them. It’s how he does business, getting more money to set up his little drug-smuggling kingdom.”

  Jake scowled. “There’s been no word from anyone on Tal’s disappearance. The Wiraqocha Foundation has received no demands for money for her release, either. And neither have my parents. Is that bad?”

  Morgan heard the carefully concealed terror in the young officer’s voice. He saw it in his pale blue eyes, in his huge black pupils. Jake leaned forward, his hands balled into fists on the table, the desperation and worry for his sister obvious.

  “Look, Son, I think Pilar and Mike will agree with me that when you’re dealing with a small fish like Rojas, a phone call or demand for money at this point may be a bit premature.” Morgan looked to his people. “Am I correct?”

  “That’s right,” Pilar said. She reached across the table and patted Jake’s hand gently. “You must remember, señor, that Peru is not like Norteamérica. In Peru we do not have superior roads.”

  “No roads at all, most of the time,” Mike added wryly. “A lot of llama, alpaca and cow trails, though.”

  “Sì. And telephones are a luxury. Especially anywhere outside of Lima, the capital, or Cusco, the second largest city in our country.”

  “Translated,” Houston growled, “that means that Rojas doesn’t have an iridium satellite phone, which he could use to call anywhere in the world, because he can’t yet afford one. He can’t use a cell phone up there in those mountains, either. So he’s got to get back to Cusco, would be my guess, to get to a phone to make a call. Which—” Mike smiled a little “—can be difficult at best. If he’s the struggling little upstart of a drug lord I think he is, he doesn’t have the money, the means or the people to do this. It’s probably too soon to expect a call.”

 
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