I've been posting today over at the Amber Heat Readers Group on Yahoo. But I want to see more traffic here to our neat blog too so I am directing folks back and forth. I'm featuring my two romantic adventure novels today, The Man in Black and Back to Tomorrow.
The Man in Black by Gwynn Morgan, www.amberquill.com/ManinBlack.html
Excerpt: (Prologue--11 years before the rest of the story)
Canto de Brisas, Dorado, Central America; February
Captain Lawton Kane crouched in a tangle of jungle-thick foliage. He trained the powerful telescopic sight of his modified M-14 rifle on the single, dimly lit window of a thatched hut some four hundred yards below. With his partner, he’d watched that hut for over eight hours, since well before dark. Finally, a figure appeared, silhouetted by the glow. Two rifles cracked, almost as one. Abruptly, the flickering light died.
"We got him, I know we got him."
Lawton shared little of his partner’s jubilation. "Maybe. Let’s go find out."
He kept his tone matter-of-fact to convey a minimum of emotion. As he spoke, he shifted, easing away from the thorny shrub that had gouged into his back ever since he’d settled in the one spot providing the view he needed. What a relief to stand up and stretch, even though his joints protested. I’m getting too old for this stuff.
Since he and his partner both wore faded camouflage, Lawton knew they were virtually invisible as they slipped from their cover. With practiced skill, they picked their way down the steep Central American mountainside. Lawton ignored the stifling weight of the humid air, the ever-present cloying stench of rotting vegetation and the cacophonic medley of bird, beast and insect. He’d known jungles from Vietnam to Venezuela.
Moments later, they eased inside the shack. Near the edge of the village of Canto de Brisas, Dorado, it had probably been a cantina in better, more peaceful times. Now, it only served as a meeting place for the impoverished peasant ‘mules’ the Dos Sabados drug cartel used to transport north to the United States the white powder which was their gold.
Lawton watched his partner, Sergeant Eric Landis, take a blue-lensed blackout flashlight from one pocket and shine it around the single dirt-floored room. He could see little in the way of furniture and nothing else except one man, sprawled awkwardly on the floor. If there had been others, they’d fled. Although the man appeared harmless now, Lawton approached him with caution. The thick bubbling of the man’s labored breath sounded thunderous in the near-silent room.
Lawton swore softly as he sank to his knees, drew out his own flashlight and examined the neat punctures in the man’s chest. He’d seen enough wounds to know these would prove fatal. Eric, after he peered over Lawton’s shoulder, seconded that opinion.
"Can’t help him now, Sir. He’s as good as dead."
The wounded man came to and began cursing in sibilant Spanish. Recognizing the accent, Lawton glanced up at Eric, wordlessly sharing a revelation. In spite of their victim’s rough clothing, his untrimmed hair and beard, he was no half-breed peasant. No question about it—he had to be Jorge Santiago, the man they sought. The man they’d been sent to kill.
Clearly, he had only minutes to live. Each gurgling breath pumped blood from a punctured lung while his furious speech only hastened the inevitable. Still, he glared up at Lawton in venomous defiance.
"You! We know your face, my brother and I. You will pay for this, slut’s son of an Americano. I will not live to see it, but you, too, will die." He paused, gasping, to claw at his chest with a shaking hand. "You, gringo dog, will die slowly and with much pain." His body jerked and went still.
Lawton straightened slowly, swallowing the sour taste of disgust. The dead man had been ruthless and immoral, causing harm to many, but still he was dead and not by choice—without even a chance to defend himself.
Though Lawton knew he’d only done the job his government had sent him to accomplish, the fact no longer provided comfort. The death of one minor drug lord should not trouble him. Was it simply one killing too many? At that moment, he promised himself there would be no more. Whatever he had to do, there would be no more.
Some slight sound alerted both Lawton and Eric. They turned, scanned the dark corners of the room, instinctively moving to stand back-to-back. There. A narrow doorway. Perhaps leading to a storage area. First the rustle, then a whine or whimper. The sound seemed to come from beyond the portal.
Lawton strode across the room and shone his flashlight into the cubicle. Although he felt sure only a rat or other wild creature stirred beneath the tattered blanket, the whimper had sounded oddly human. Stooping, he pulled the blanket away.
A child. A skinny child with raggedly cropped dark hair. At first glance, he took it for an Indian. Then, he recognized the swarthy skin tone resulted from a mixture of dirt and blood smeared from myriad scratches, insect bites and festering sores. Though minimal clothing hid little of it, he couldn’t see a square inch of unblemished skin. When he felt Eric crowd up behind him, Lawton shifted aside to let his partner satisfy his curiosity.
"It’s gotta be that kid, Captain," Eric whispered. "You know, the girl kidnapped on Cozumel at Christmas?"
Only half listening, Lawton drew his knife and slashed the rough ropes binding the child’s twig-thin wrists and legs. Beneath the bonds, where her skin wasn’t bloody, it looked milk white. The sight stirred a sick twist in his gut. What is the world coming to, making war on kids?
"But what in hell is she doing here?" Eric continued. "I thought the Way of Light guerrillas had her."
Lawton shrugged. "Aren’t they led by the other Santiago, the one who calls himself Generalissimo? Not that it matters. We’ve got to take her out with us."
At that instant, she opened chocolate eyes, dull with fever and fear. Shrinking down against the dirt floor, she gave a pathetic little sob. When he lifted her, she whimpered again and struggled feebly. Since she felt little heavier than a toddler in his arms, it cost him no effort to subdue her.
He gentled his touch and spoke in low, soothing tones. "Don’t fight me. You’re going to be all right." The slight body went limp before he could tell if she’d understood or not.
He’d only held her a moment before he realized she blazed with fever. Poor kid had to be deathly sick. Rage washed over Lawton, erasing all trace of guilt. If Jorge Santiago bore the responsibility for this, the bastard deserved to die.
"Easy, little one. We won’t hurt you. We’re going to take you home."
Lawton could not explain the protectiveness he felt, but he carried her the whole twelve hours it took to reach their contacts on the coast. Through the long night and the next steamy morning, he talked to her until his voice went hoarse and ragged. Bathing her fiery face and fragile limbs with precious, clean water from his canteen, he prayed they could get her to medical help in time.
After all that, Lawton never actually learned whether or not she survived. Weeks later, he received the letter and check from his commanding officer, who explained it was the reward offered by the girl’s father.
Lawton only glanced at the impersonal, typed letter before he tore it to shreds. Then, he signed the check over to the new anti-drug task force without hesitation. He had no time for rich, arrogant men who thought their money could fix everything, whether their names were Santiago or Hartford.
He hadn’t brought the child out for a reward, damn it. As if her life could be bought and paid for! He buried the whole incident in the farthest corner of his mind along with too many other bitter memories.