As the extractions expert for A-Tac, an elite CIA black ops unit masquerading as faculty at an Ivy League college, Drake Flynn knows how to survive behind enemy lines. But he’s about to meet one adversary he can’t subdue . . . or resist.
A RACE FOR SURVIVAL
Stranded in the Colombian jungle after a mission goes bad, Drake has only one objective: evade the mercenaries hot on his trail and deliver “the package” to U.S. officials. But “the package” has a mind of her own, and she has no intention of trading one set of captors for another. Madeline Reynard is beautiful, headstrong, and hell-bent on escape after years as a crime lord’s pawn. She’ll risk everything for freedom, even if it means deceiving the dark, handsome soldier who now holds her life in his hands.Drake has been burned too many times to let a woman manipulate him, especially a secretive one like Madeline. Even so, they cannot deny the attraction between them. Now as enemy forces close in, Drake and Madeline must trust each other with their lives—or face certain death
San Mateo Prison, Serrania Del Baudo, Colombia
Madeline Reynard squinted in the bright light. After three days of total darkness, the dappled sunlight hurt her eyes. She flinched as the guard shoved her forward, losing her balance and careening into the exercise yard.
“I’ve got you,” Andrés said, his voice raspy, his English heavily accented as he steadied her. “I’ve been worried.”
“They put me in solitary,” Madeline whispered. “I have no idea why.”
“Sometimes there is no reason,” Andrés shrugged. “The main thing is that you’re out now. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. It’s getting easier.” This was third time she’d been relegated to the dank, windowless cell in the far recesses of the prison. “I just try to think of somewhere else and let my mind carry me away.” She’d spent a good portion of her childhood locked in a closet only slightly smaller than the solitary cell. Her father had clearly believed the adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’. But the experience was not without value. If Madeline could survive living like that, she could survive anything. Even San Mateo.
A place for political prisoners, the prison lacked creature comforts. In point of fact, it lacked most everything. Which meant that days loomed long, the only bright spot, the minutes spent outside under the canopy of trees. The surrounding jungle reminded her of the cypresses back home, their gnarled arms curving downward into gray-green umbrellas of whispering leaves. The bayou had meant safety. And now the Colombian jungle offered the same.
“It’s best if you find a way to separate yourself from the reality here,” Andrés was saying. He nodded toward the people scattered about the yard. It was nearly empty, this hour relegated to women and the infirm, her friend falling into the latter category. It had been a long time since she’d had a friend. There’d always been too much to hide. Too much to risk. But now—here—her past didn’t matter.
“Are you sure they didn’t hurt you?” Andrés asked, his voice colored with worry.
“I told you I’m fine,” she reiterated as they walked slowly across the yard, her muscles protesting the movement even as her mind rejoiced in her newfound freedom. “I’m just a little stiff that’s all.”
She’d met Andrés on her second day in the yard. At first, his matted hair and filthy clothes had been off-putting. But after almost a week in this hell hole, she’d been desperate for human contact.
When he’d spoken to her in his halting English, it had felt like a gift as her Spanish was limited to schoolgirl verbs and useless nouns. Which didn’t matter when she was alone in her cell, or being leered at by the guards. It didn’t take a vocabulary to interpret their catcalls. But real conversation, without English, was impossible. And it was conversation that kept the mind sharp. She’d come to need Andrés as much as she needed food and water.
Madeline closed her eyes, shutting out the small, barren exercise yard, its occupants wretched in their filth.
“You need to keep moving,” her friend said, his hand warm against her back. “It’s important to stay strong.”
“I know you’re right, but sometimes when I think about spending the rest of my life here, it doesn’t seem worth it.”
“You won’t be here forever,” he said, his tone soothing. “Someone will come for you.”
Madeline laughed, the sound harsh. “I killed a man. There’s nothing anyone can do to change that.”
“But there were extenuating circumstances.” He frowned. “That should count for something.”
“Maybe in a fair world.” She shrugged, shivering as memories flooded through her. Her sister’s screams, her fear cutting through the haze of the drugs. The big man pinning her to the wall of the flophouse in Bogotá, one hand gripping her wrist as he tore at her clothes. Madeline had acted without thinking, the gun in her hand an extension of her anger. She’d told Jenny to run, and then checked the body, cringing as she touched his lifeless skin. Then she’d tried to follow, but it was too late.
The Colombian police had found her. The man was a prominent politician. Jenny was a drug addict. No one believed Madeline’s story. Her sister disappeared, and Madeline had wound up here at San Mateo. But if she had it to do over again, she’d do the same. Her mother had made her promise. With her last breath of life.
“Take care of your sister, Maddie. She’s not strong like you.”
Madeline had only been ten, but she’d promised. And she’d kept her word. She sucked in a breath, pulling her thoughts from the past. Jenny was safe now. She had to believe that. It’s the only thing that kept her going.
“Anyway, even if it would make a difference, there’s no one to come,” Madeline said “What about you? You told me you have family. Why aren’t they trying to help you?”
“They think I’m dead.” Andrés shrugged.
“How horrible,” she said, shuddering at the thought.
“Believe me, it’s better this way.” His expression was guarded. “For them. And for me. Sometimes the truth is better left buried.”
“I suppose you’re right.” She nodded as they stopped by the far wall of the yard. “Anyway, we have each other now, right?”
His smile was gentle. “You have been a good friend. But I’m afraid all good things must come to an end.”
“Why would you say that?”
“I’m a marked man,” Andrés sighed. “My days are numbered.”
Madeline dipped her head, tears filling her eyes. She’d heard the shots fired late at night.
“The only reason I was allowed out here with you is that I was so sick. But I am better now, and that means I will be returned to my original cell. I overheard the guards,” he said. “I’m being moved back. Which means this is my last time in the yard.”
“No. I won’t accept that.” She shook her head, panic mixing with dread. “Maybe you can pretend to be sick again. Something, anything that might keep you here—with me. I…I can’t make it without you.”
“Of course you can,” Andrés said. “You’re much stronger than you know.”
“Señor?” A guard called from the doorway, his machine gun held at the ready. “Ven conmigo ahora.”
Madeline turned to the guard, then back to Andrés, heart pounding. “What does he want?”
“He wants me to come with him.” Andrés shrugged. “It’s time.”
“No. You can’t go. I can’t do this on my own.” She waved at the yard, and the guards.
“Yes, you can.” His smile was gentle, his teeth white against the dark growth of his beard. “You’re a survivor. Never forget that.”
The guard moved impatiently, his lips curled in a sneer. “¡Apurate!”
“Uno momento,” Andrés said holding up a hand. “Here, I have something for you.” He reached into his pocket and produced a grimy card. “Take this. It may be of help to you.”
She took the card, the battered face of the Queen of Hearts staring up at her. “I don’t understand.”
“If you can get this to the American Embassy, they’ll help you. No questions asked.”
“But it’s just a playing card,” she shook her head.
“Trust me,” Andrés said, closing her fingers around the card. “And keep it safe.”
“But if this truly does have some kind of significance, shouldn’t you be the one using it?”
“Señor, ahora,” the guard called, his eyes narrowing with impatience.
Madeline ignored him, her gaze locked on her friend’s. “Andrés, tell me. Why not use it yourself?”
“Because it is too late for me. I have accepted my fate. And it gives me pleasure to think that perhaps I can be of some service to you. No matter what you have done, you don’t belong here.”
“Neither do you,” she whispered, her voice fierce now. “Keep the card.”
“It is yours, my friend. I give it freely. Now I must go.” He shook his head, waving a hand toward the guard. “Use the card to find your way home, Madeline. And then forget this place ever existed.”
“I can’t do that,” she said. “Because if I did, that would mean forgetting you.”
Tears slid down her face, the first she’d shed since landing at San Mateo. She wasn’t the type to get sentimental. Andrés was right. She was a survivor. But something about the man had touched her heart. Reached a place she’d thought long dead.
And now they were taking him away.
When he reached the guard, Andrés stopped and turned, lifting a hand to say good-bye. Madeline’s heart stuttered to a stop, her breathing labored as she clung to the wall, watching as her friend disappeared into the prison.
She sank to the ground, her back sliding against the rough hewn stone of the wall, and opened her fingers, the mottled face of the Queen staring up at her. It was just a card. Unless of course she’d somehow fallen down the rabbit hole. A bubble of hysteria washed through her.
San Mateo wasn’t Wonderland. And she was no Alice. She was simply a woman who’d run out of options. Life wasn’t fair. It was as simple as that. Angrily, she dried her eyes. There were two kinds of people in this world. The ones who survived. And the ones who did not.
She’d learned that lesson long ago.
Excerpt from DARK DECEPTIONS by Dee Davis, Copyright ©2010 by Dee Davis. All rights reserved. Reprint only with permission from author. Please contact .