Authors: Terry Spear
Copyright © 2013 by Terry Spear
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Cover design by Dawn Adams
Cover illustration by Juliana Kolesova
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To Donna Fournier who, for years, has sent me inspiration to write about wolves. She lives near the International Wolf Center and has been sending me articles about the wolves in her neck of the woods in Minnesota, along with wolf CDs so that I can tell which of my sexy wolves is making a call of the wild, as well as hunks she’s sure are some of my wolves—pictures of hunks, that is. And now she’s even getting into the jaguars! Thanks, Donna, for sending me so much inspiration!
Amazon Jungle, Colombia
Despite being deep in the jungle on a life-or-death mission, Bjornolf Jorgenson couldn’t rid himself of the refrain of “Jingle Bells” playing over and over again in his head. He’d just come from an assignment in snowed-in Minnesota where he’d heard the song. For now, he was shadowing his favorite retired SEAL-wolf team and one female operative in action, and Christmas should have been the furthest thing from his mind.
Their mission: rescue a kidnapped family. His mission: watch the team’s back.
were getting paid as private contractors.
was doing it as a favor to Meara. Neither her brother, leading the operation, nor her mate, serving as one of the team members, would appreciate that she’d asked Bjornolf to watch over them.
So he was serving in a covert way, which he preferred over any other.
Bjornolf was also doing this for Anna Johnson, who had intrigued him during their last hot encounter. Straight ahead of him, she was keeping low as she made her way through the jungle with the rest of the team.
It was dusk, and high above them in the canopy, the cacophonous cries of black howler monkeys sent a jarring noise through the trees, warning other monkeys that this was their territory. The air was heavy with moisture and the scent of fragrant orchids as moths fluttered around them.
Bjornolf crept close to the ground. He trailed the team unseen, blending in with the feathery ferns, hibiscus, mimosa, and bromeliads, one kind sporting sweet pineapples that he’d had a bite of earlier in the day. Massive spaghetti-like creepers of lianas crisscrossed the jungle floor underneath his boots where insects and lizards moved about.
Up ahead, Hunter Greymere led the group. A highly decorated SEAL team leader, he was also the alpha pack leader of the Oregon-coast gray wolves.
Finn Emerson, Hunter’s brother-in-law, and Paul Cunningham were to Anna’s left, and Allan Rappaport, now hidden from view, was somewhere off to her right. While all wolves, none of them were members of Hunter’s pack.
Bjornolf shifted his attention from the team to the jungle and, hearing no human sounds, he focused on Anna
Because of his enhanced wolf sight, he saw her in the twilight as clearly as if it were daylight. She was svelte and sexy, even when covered from head to toe in camo gear. She was all curves and hotness, her face painted in a pattern of greens, browns, grays, and blacks to hide her in the foliage. Anna had silky auburn hair tucked under a jungle hat, though straggles of it curled about her shoulders.
He admired her stealth, courage under fire, and resolve. He had to admit he liked watching her a lot better than the men. No matter how dangerous she looked, bristling with weapons, some hidden, she was still all woman. And one who could fight.
He listened again to the noises all around him, attempting to hear even a hint of human voices. Colorful yellow-crowned parrots and red and green macaws made their noisy cawing and chattering, frogs croaked as in a mating call, rather than higher pitched in distress, and insects rustled everywhere.
Then two men began speaking in the distance—complacent, unaware that highly skilled men and one woman were about to descend on them. The men spoke in Spanish, talking about the hostages, so Bjornolf knew the team was targeting the right people. The men appeared to be serving guard duty on the perimeter.
The odor of bitter smoke drifting to him told him the men were smoking.
Although Hunter’s team members were all in human form, they moved like a wolf pack, working together, moving slower now, more cautiously, determined to see the hostages freed without causing any casualties on their side.
A jaguar roaring in the jungle not too far away made the kidnappers’ chatter die instantly. The call of a second and then a third big cat’s roar rent the air.
Anna and the others paused mid-crawl… listening. They continued to stare straight in front of them—their focus on the mission. Allan moved up closer to Hunter and Finn.
Uniformly camouflaged like her, Bjornolf crept nearly parallel to Anna, far enough away in the jungle and slightly behind her so that he could keep an eye on her. He was effectively in her blind spot. He’d broken his cover the last time he’d been assisting the team, but he hadn’t needed to this time. Yet. He was half hoping he could get through the mission without revealing himself and half wishing he could let Anna know he had her back.
Like a wolf stalking its prey, Anna crept toward one of the two guards. To her left, Paul matched her careful pace. The last time Bjornolf had seen him, Paul wore a scruffy blond beard, but now he was clean shaven. Wiry and thinner than Bjornolf and Finn, Paul was quick in his movements, an economy of force to be reckoned with.
Bjornolf was torn between wishing he was in Anna’s place so she didn’t have to risk her neck taking down the guard, and wanting to replace Paul so he would be the one at her side.
Him, a ghost.
He was known throughout the SEAL community as a super-wily deep undercover operative who never revealed himself to anyone. For years, body counts would add up during a mission that no one else could account for, all attributed to him, whether he was in the vicinity or not.
So why was all of his damnable interest in the she-wolf’s welfare now potentially blowing the carefully concealed part of his business-as-usual attitude?
She was fully capable of handling herself just fine.
When she was close enough, she popped up from the jungle floor like a woodland sprite, framed by massive trees, twenty feet in diameter and reaching toward the heavens like skyscrapers. She whipped out a
and threw it. The stainless-steel, five-pointed throwing star slid through her fingers, heading straight toward the guard’s forehead. Without making a squeak, he collapsed with a thump in a cluster of vines and ferns.
Before the other guard could react, Paul had him in a chokehold, jerked his head to the side, and snapped his neck, then dropped him where he stood.
Hunter and the others hit the camp just as two relief guards headed for Anna and Paul. Not normally impulsive, Bjornolf was having a devil of a time curbing the urge to intercept the man targeting Anna, but he knew to keep his attention focused everywhere else—anywhere that someone might be hiding with dark intent.
Anna moved forward in attack mode as gunshots rang out in the camp. A woman screamed and kids shrieked as Anna dropped the relief guard with a rapid barrage of bullets. Paul took down the other man with a burst of gunfire before the guy could retaliate.
Mission accomplished, Anna and Paul raced toward camp, running at a crouch.
Without warning, a man jumped out of the brush, his rifle raised to shoot Anna. Bjornolf leaped from where he’d been running and slammed into the man’s back, taking him to the ground. Startled by the surprise attack from behind, the man yelled out. Bjornolf slit his throat, then jumped to his feet. He looked up to see Anna watching his back, her gun ready, mouth pursed in annoyance.
“You could have let us know you’re with us,” she said, her voice hushed. Her green eyes narrowed as she sent him a caustic glare.
He gave her half a smile and a small salute. “You’re welcome,” he said quietly back.
She turned slightly, aimed her gun as fast as she could, and fired off a round. Before Bjornolf could turn and see what she’d shot, a thump sounded as a body fell from a tree. He stared at the dead man, bullet hole in his temple.
“We’re even,” she whispered to Bjornolf.
He could read her plainly and smiled. They would never be even.
After confirming there were no more surprises waiting for the rescue team, Bjornolf followed Anna into camp where the rest of the team had gathered.
“Look what Anna dragged in,” Paul said, his brown eyes widening. He gave Bjornolf a small smile.
Last time Bjornolf had observed him, the SEAL had just arrived on the Oregon coast from Florida, dressed in blue jeans and a Hawaiian shirt with hot-pink palm trees and green flamingoes that was the most god-awful thing he’d ever seen. If Bjornolf hadn’t witnessed Paul in action before, he would have wondered if the guy could handle any kind of a mission. He was less muscled than Bjornolf, but he was quick on his feet and where Hunter’s sister, Meara, was concerned, Paul had been protective and wary of Bjornolf before he knew him.
So he chalked that up as good points in Paul’s favor.
Hunter and Allan glanced his way, both checking the rescued family over for injuries, both smiling a little at Bjornolf.
William Wentworth III and his brother, wife, and five-year-old twin daughter and son were dirty, disheveled, gaunt, and tired, but otherwise unharmed. Mom and the kids were crying, and Bjornolf wanted to slap the husband for bringing his family here. Sometimes rich folks had more money than sense.
All the family members had raven hair, their eyes varying shades of blue. The two men looked similar, except that the brother was a little taller and a little skinnier. All wore jeans, the guys attired in Western shirts, the woman in a once-clean white shirt, now stained green and brown. At least they were wearing boots. Deadly venomous snakes could cause fatal consequences for humans who weren’t properly dressed out here.
Next time, maybe they’d plan a normal trip for a couple of five-year-olds this close to Christmas. Like a vacation at Disney World where the bad pirates wouldn’t threaten to kill them if someone didn’t pay a ransom. Bjornolf would have felt sorry for William Wentworth III, but the adults should have known better. Not only that, but their ignorance had also put the team in danger, just to bail them out.
“Who are you?” William asked.
Hunter said, “Special ops contracted to take you out of here safely.”
He didn’t explain any more than that; he didn’t need to. The man nodded. The woman sagged a little with visible relief. Brows furrowed and looking pensive, the brother glanced at William.
Bjornolf watched the interaction between the two. The brother, Jeff, was younger, the follower, he could tell from their nonverbal actions. But something else passed between them. A guarded communication. Worry. Doubt.
“Seems Bjornolf can’t stay away from us. Maybe we ought to make him one of the team, Hunter.” Paul sounded like he was half joking, half hopeful, maybe getting used to the SEAL joining them on missions without Hunter’s approval.
Bjornolf working for someone else and with a team now that he’d retired? Not likely.
He did find some appeal in the way the team worked together. After they arrived at a safe destination, they’d share beers or tequila, whatever was easy to obtain, thanking their lucky stars that they made it out alive after another difficult mission. They’d joke and let down their hair, commiserate, blow off some steam.
While he went his own way. They never even knew he’d shadowed them on another mission, taking down the bad guys they hadn’t realized were after them. He meant to revert to his old way of doing things. As a loner on his own, no family to worry about, no pack obligations.
A team like this would soon become family. He didn’t need or want the distraction.
The problem was that he couldn’t have taken out the guard who targeted Anna without her seeing him do it. So he was stuck being part of the team this time around. Just like the last time.
“Glad you could join us,” Hunter said to Bjornolf, his expression mostly somber because of the still precarious situation they were in. His dark brown eyes studied Bjornolf, judging him. Bjornolf could almost see the wheels in Hunter’s mind working furiously through the situation. Did Bjornolf want to be part of the team now? “We can certainly use your help in getting the family out of the jungle and safely home.”
“Couldn’t have my favorite SEAL team, and
,” Bjornolf said, making a point to slide his gaze Anna’s way, “come to harm.”
She cast him a quizzical glance over her shoulder, their gazes locking.
Unable to stop himself and amused at her reaction, he winked at her. He swore she had to be blushing under all that jungle paint as she gave him an annoyed look and continued on her way to provide security with Finn.
Catching sight of Bjornolf’s reaction to Anna, Allan snorted and folded his arms. “More likely Anna’s got his attention.”
Yeah, he was ready to spar again with the woman to prove to her that one alluring she-wolf would never get the upper hand with a SEAL. He’d wanted to kiss Anna ever since he’d met her during his last mission, gotten the best of her, and tied her up with her pantyhose, but he couldn’t make himself do it.
He shook his head at Allan. The man had a boyish charm. When he turned ninety in human years, he’d probably still have that look—wide-eyed innocence, dimples, raised brows. The look was totally deceiving. Under that charming appearance, he was all hardness like the rest of them.
“I don’t know about the rest of the guys, but I missed you, Bjornolf. Good to see you’re still kicking.” Paul clapped him on the shoulder, then crouched down and talked to the five-year-old boy. “What’s your name, son?”
“Jimmy.” Tears left a path of white streaks through the dirt on his face and his lower lip was trembling, but at least the question stopped his and his sister’s bawling.
“I’m going to give you a lift as we move through the jungle, okay? Piggyback ride?” Paul asked Jimmy.
The boy looked at his dad, who nodded. As dehydrated and fatigued as the dad and his brother appeared, Bjornolf knew they would have a hard enough time keeping up and staying on their own feet without having to carry a couple of kids.
Allan didn’t offer to transport the little girl. Finn safeguarded them from some distance away, leaving the others to decide how to handle the logistics of the situation. Hunter was in charge of the operation, so he needed to keep his hands free and his thoughts on the team and the freed hostages and couldn’t haul the girl himself. Anna didn’t seem to be into kids, but even so, she couldn’t carry a child that far without the effort putting a real strain on her.