Niki Garat tolerates her job and the city, but she lives for her summer vacation with her grandfather at his sheep camp in the stunning Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming—until this year.
New Release! Discover why reviewers love Kim McMahill!
When the U.S. comes under attack, including an aggressive attempt by foreign invaders to locate nuclear missiles hidden throughout remote western lands, the serenity of her mountain refuge is shattered. As area ranches are commandeered, neighbors and friends, including Deuce, her childhood infatuation, band together.
Throughout their struggle to stay alive, Niki begins to understand what came between her and Deuce, but before past mistakes can be corrected they must endure a terrifying manhunt and a desperate fight for survival.
5 Stars! "With all the suspense and close calls I was on the edge of my seat desperately trying to read faster and faster just to find out what was going to happen. The author has really created two characters who not only are cohesive and charming but who have depth and personality that bounces off the pages. The supporting characters, from their friends, family and the other victims really hold solid in their characterization which all together forms a very solid, sensual romance with a hot streak of suspense that will keep you on your toes!" Brande, Book Junkie
Praise for Kim McMahill, on her story Marked in Mexico:
5 Hearts! "This spine-tingling story kept me enraptured until the very end. The only reason I didn't read it in one sitting was that it was 3:00 a.m. I picked it up again the next morning and finished it, wishing it would go on and on. The author did a wonderful job of creating the characters." The Romance Studio
"This is a book filled with adventure, betrayal, love, abuse, kindness, sickness, sadness, trust, friendship, loyalty and some righteous violence. This story is sticking with me. I would highly recommend this clean read." Tifferz, http://tifferzbookreview.blogspot.com/
Copyright 2012 Kim McMahill
A heavily-armed man in uniform shoved Deuce out the back door of the barn in the direction of the shed. He stumbled into view, his hands tied behind his back. When his head came up Niki could see that his eyes were nearly swollen shut and blood ran down his face and soaked his hair and shirt.
The man kicked Deuce hard in the small of his back and shoved him to the ground. Deuce struggled to rise to his knees, swaying, but keeping his balance. The soldier slung his automatic weapon over his shoulder, backed away several paces, pulled his pistol from its holster and raised the weapon, leaving no doubt in Niki’s mind of his intentions. Deuce was about to be executed.
Niki didn’t think, she reacted on instinct. She stepped out of the shadows of the shed, raised the rifle to her shoulder, sighted in and pulled the trigger as methodically as if she had trained her whole life for that one shot. The muffled sound startled her, but as the man dropped, she knew she had hit her target, and most of the sound had been dulled by the bottle nipple and the rest drowned out by the noise of the helicopter.
Before her mind could register what she had just done, Deuce stumbled into the sheep shed, shouldering her inside, out of view. The motion would have sent Niki to the ground if she hadn’t fallen back against a feeder bunk. The collision knocked the wind out of her and she gasped for breath, staring up at the beaten and bruised man towering over her.
“Cut the rope,” he demanded.
His deep, familiar voice seared through the fog in her brain and she quickly retrieved the pocket knife she had just stowed. The blade was dull, but she sawed frantically until the rope fell to the ground.
Deuce grabbed Niki, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her hard to his chest. She was too shocked by what had happened to cry or seek comfort in his arms, so she stood stiffly in his embrace without uttering a word.
“I guess you could pull the trigger if enough was at stake,” he mumbled as he gently stroked her hair, easing her head back until he could look into her eyes.
“What?” she asked, her focus returning to the man embracing her.
Deuce stepped back and released Niki. “Is your grandfather with you? Where are the horses?”
“Papa is badly injured. I came alone for help.”
“He may have broken his back. He couldn’t feel his feet. Sally threw him yesterday after being spooked by a helicopter. It’s a long story. I’ll fill you in later, but right now we need another horse and we need to get out of here. Storm is tethered in the trees out of sight, but he can’t carry us both. I’m not even sure how fast he can carry me alone. I can’t push him any harder until he gets more rest.”
Deuce gave her a confused look. The gelding was big and strong and Niki’s weight would be negligible to the muscled horse. He’d used Storm often when Niki wasn’t around and could never remember wearing him out. But after everything that had happened over the past few hours and by the look in her eyes, he had no doubt Niki’s beliefs were rooted in something very real and frightening, so he wouldn’t question her judgment.
“I’ll explain after we get out of here,” she replied, reading his confused expression. “How widespread is this? I’m assuming with that bird in the sky, there’s no way a civilian medical helicopter will fly in or an ambulance can reach anywhere near here?”
“Doubt it. I’ve seen a number of helicopters I can only assume have commandeered other ranches in the area. I tried to call Sarah Stephens and warn her to evacuate, but phone service is out. I had hoped to alert all the neighbors and call the sheriff, but we’re on our own. We can’t count on help. The soldiers are Iranian and they’re flying Canadian helicopters. Apparently Canada wasn’t enough and they’ve come after us, or more likely to make sure the U.S. can’t use its missiles scattered around here to disrupt whatever plans they have in mind, which is the only reason I can think of to explain why they would invade such an unpopulated area.”
Deuce grabbed a thin rope and a bundle of used baling twine and handed it to Niki. He quickly scanned the shed, but found nothing else he thought might come in handy.
“Traveler’s in the barn and still saddled. I had planned to ride the fences this afternoon, but then the helicopter landed. When I was forced from the barn just now, there were no more soldiers inside, so if no one heard the shot, I can probably get back in without being noticed. Go to Storm and get ready to ride. Hopefully I can make it to Traveler and sneak him out of the barn without being seen and meet you in the trees. We’ll make it back to your grandfather, do what we can for him and then figure out our next step. But if I don’t reach you in ten minutes, ride like hell and get as far away from here as possible.”
Niki nodded, but doubted she would be able to leave Deuce behind so saw no point in arguing about it now. She bundled the rope and twine under her arm and peeked out the door. No one. The helicopter still hadn’t lifted off and its continued noise would hopefully provide plenty of cover in which to flee the ranch. She crouched low and jogged to the row of vehicles. Once hidden behind a tractor she glanced back. Deuce gave her a thumbs-up, so she looked around again and dashed for the trees.
She was relieved when she reached Storm. The horse looked as if he had fully recovered from their morning of hard riding, but she feared her assessment might only be wishful thinking. Niki quickly coiled the rope and tied it to the back of her saddle, while shoving the baling twine into her saddlebags. She mounted and waited, rifle across her lap. As the minutes ticked by, she prayed for Deuce’s arrival.
The sound of the helicopter continued to dominate, drowning out the slight gurgling of the stream. She hoped Deuce could reach his horse and make it back before the chopper took off. Once the helicopter was airborne, they might be heard by the soldiers at the ranch or spotted from overhead.
From the cover of the trees Niki couldn’t see the barn, but she heard a horse rapidly approaching. She crossed Storm’s reins over his neck, flipped the safety off and raised the rifle to a ready position in case it was anyone other than Deuce. Her arms began to shake from the weight of the rifle, but she held firm and waited. Niki didn’t want to kill another man, but now knew she could if faced with no other option. She had gone too far to turn back now. She wouldn’t leave without Deuce and she refused to die before getting help for her grandfather.