Posted in Blogging, Short Story, Writer’s Unite!, Writing

Short Story Time

Dearest Readers,

Here is my short story of the month! Please be sure and take a look at the other wonderful authors on the Writer’s Unite! Blog. I hope you all enjoy, and, please, feel free to share/like/comment on here or my social media pages.

Thank you all for reading and your continued support! Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.

Trust Me, Trust Me Not

By: Amber C. Deck

Trust is never easy. It can be fragile – much like a delicate snowflake. It can also be as dangerous as the brutal winter cold.

Interpol Agent Alerra “Allie” Montague had always had trust issues – ever since she’d been abandoned as a baby. After twelve foster homes and one failed engagement, the thirty-three year old was done with people disappointing her. She’d learned that not trusting others led to less heartache, and it made her one good agent.

At least, it had made her a good agent until this case.

Allie’s assignment had been to escort a visiting government official back to his hotel from the agency’s office in Paris. It had been a routine assignment that she’d done countless times – only this one went wrong. Horribly wrong.

Now, here she was in the snowy woods outside of Berlin with a poorly covered knife wound to her shoulder. She was heading to the one place of the one person she’d swore to never ask for help – Eli Kastnen.

A loud knock on his cabin door caused Eli to reach for the rifle he kept in his coat closet. Peering out of the peephole he’d installed when he’d first moved in, he was surprised to see a woman standing there. Actually, he was more surprised at who the woman was rather than why she was pounding on his door at midnight.

Eli took a moment to glance over the trim, toned frame of the red-haired woman at his door. She was about five-foot-seven, which made her quite a bit shorter than him. Her fair complexion peeked through her bundled up attire, but, even with the layers of clothing, Eli could tell something was a bit off about her by the way she stood.

Golden eyes looked up into the peephole as if she knew he was staring at her. Eli froze for a moment – unsure if he should open the door or act like he wasn’t home.

“Open the door, Eli. Please. I need your help.” Something in her voice made him reach for the door handle. He unlocked the heavy wooden door and pulled it open – waiting until she was inside to shut and lock it again. “Thank you.”

Allie gently shook the snow off of her as she glanced at Eli. He still looked as handsome as ever. His intense blue eyes, dark-blonde hair, and muscular body were all too familiar to her – mostly since Eli was the one who’d called off their wedding. Had that really been four years ago?

“You look good, Eli. I must say that growing a beard works for you..” Allie eased her coat off before glancing at him. His beard was cut short and neat – just like his hair. Typical Eli. “It looks like leaving the agency suited you, too.”

“What are you doing here, Allie?” Eli crossed his arms over his chest. He wasn’t up to dealing with her nonchalant attitude after she’d just shown up out of the blue. “How did you even find me? It’s been four years since you went back home to Paris.”

“I only transferred because you dumped me a week before the wedding. I was heartbroken and scared about being abandoned again..” Allie tensed at the accusing tone in his voice – causing pain to radiate through her shoulder. She forced herself to relax as she looked up at him. She could tell her statement had bothered him by the way he shifted uncomfortably. “I knew you always planned to move out to your family’s cabin. That’s beside the point, Eli. I need your help.”

“I can tell.” A smirk formed on his face. “You kind of look terrible. Have you slept at all in the past four years?”

“For your information, I have slept fine,” Allie replied sharply. “I am only here because I have nowhere else to go. The assignment I was working on fell apart, and… and a member of the French government is in the hospital.” She eased the neckline of her shirt over – revealing the blood-soaked bandage. “The assassination attempt has the hospital on lockdown, which has somehow put me in the assassin’s crosshairs. I was attacked the minute I entered the parking deck at my apartment.”

Eli frowned. “Who knew about the route you were taking on your assignment?”

“Only a handful of people, Eli.” Allie saw the concern in his eyes as he looked at her shoulder. “Don’t worry about this. It’s just a scratch. I need you to help me, Eli, please. You’re still the best agent – even if you refuse to ever walk into an Interpol office again.”

“Yeah, and you already know what being an agent cost me.” Eli walked down the hallway and into his bedroom – emerging a few moments later with a first aid kit. “We need to properly dress that wound before it gets infected.”

Allie sat down on his couch as he took a seat beside her. Eli placed the kit on the coffee table and began taking supplies from it. Both remained silent as he started tending to the injury on her shoulder.

“I know you left the agency because of me, Eli.” Allie hissed lightly at the burn of the antiseptic before continuing to speak. “I have trust issues – I know that. Despite all of my fears in my personal life, I’ve always trusted you. You’re the only one I could think of to help me. I don’t know who to rely on at the agency right now.” She glanced at him. “Someone wanted a high-ranking government official dead, Eli. I stood in their way, and I’m the one they want dead now.”

Eli remained silent as he finished bandaging her shoulder. Allie tried to get him to look at her – to see what he was thinking. She sighed as she shook her head.

“You don’t have to help me, Eli,” Allie told him as she stood up. “I should never have come here and brought up old memories. I’ll figure out what to do on my own. I always have, haven’t I?”

Eli gently grabbed her hand as she turned away from him – careful not to hurt her shoulder. Allie turned to see him staring up at her with a mixture of emotions that clouded his deep-blue eyes. No man had looked at her like that in a very long time…

“You have always been too stubborn to see that you’re not alone anymore, Allie.” Eli stood up as she turned to face him. “It took years for me to figure out why you had such a hard time settling in one place. I just thought you didn’t want a rough-around-the-edges guy from Berlin, but I soon realized you weren’t used to staying in one place for long.” Eli released her hand. “I will always be here to help you, Allie. No matter if we ever make a relationship work again or not. I’ll always be here.”

Allie didn’t know whether to hug him or slap him for making her feel so terrible. She’d harbored quite a load of guilt since their broken engagement. She’d assumed Eli would have blamed her for everything and just forgot about her. Leave it to the agency’s former best undercover operative to keep such a big secret from her.

Before Allie could respond to Eli, a low alarm sounded from somewhere in the room. She watched as Eli’s reaction tensed before he grabbed his TV remote off the coffee table. Pointing it at the TV that hung over his fireplace’s mantle, Eli flipped the screen on to show several security camera feeds. Allie stared at the screen as she watched figures cloaked in white fatigues, moving carefully through the snow.

“They tripped my perimeter alarm,” Eli’s voice was almost a growl. “They are about a mile out from the cabin. I need to get you out of here and call reinforcements.”

“No, Eli.” Allie shook her head vigorously. “I can’t run anymore. About five guys are coming – according to the cameras. I think we can handle this.” She gave him a worried glance as he pulled out his cell phone. “I don’t know who I can trust at the agency, Eli.”

“Luckily, I do.” Eli grinned as he dialed his best friend’s number. Xavier Graffe picked up on the first ring. “X, this is Eli. Got a situation at the cabin. Bring reinforcements, but only people you trust with your life. I don’t know when these guys will take out the cell…”

The line went dead before Eli could finish his sentence. That meant these guys were coming in faster than expected. Eli knew it would take at least half an hour for back-up to get there. He just prayed that he and Allie could stay alive long enough for his former team to get there.

“They’re scrambling the cell signal now.” Eli walked over to the coat closet by the door and opened it. He pushed aside the thick coats to reveal a small assortment of weapons neatly hung on the back wall. “How much ammo do you have?”

“Just what is in this.” Allie pulled her 9MM Glock out from where she had tucked it into the back waistband of her pants. “I didn’t exactly get time to go by my apartment and pack a bag. I even rode here in the back of a moving van – not the best place to transport heavy artillery.”

Eli couldn’t hide a grin at her remark. Allie could always make him smile at the worst possible times. Like when they were surrounded by five armed guys who wanted her dead.

“Here, take this.” Eli handed her another 9MM Glock as he grabbed his Ruger 45-caliber handgun. He inserted the clip and grinned at her. “Ready to make some noise, baby?”

Allie smiled and nodded as she cocked her guns. Taking cover behind the sofa, she watched Eli flip over his solid-oak dining table. He grinned at her again as he knelt behind it. Now, it was time to wait…

The front door flew open after one of the intruders gave it a few swift kicks. Four men entered the room – slowly sweeping their weapons from side-to-side as they walked.

Rookie mistake. Eli thought as he nodded at Allie. Time to show these guys who they’re messing with.

Both Allie and Eli raised up slightly behind their hiding spots and fired two shots apiece. The four masked men went down instantly – with each howling in pain. Crimson stained their white fatigues as the men clutched where the bullet went in below the kneecap.

Eli stood and rushed over to the four men – kicking away their weapons. Thankful that he’d remembered to grab the zip-ties before the men arrived, he flipped each one over and secured their hands behind them. Each man groaned in protest as pain shot through them.

“Wait,” Allie said as she stood up from her spot behind the couch. “There’s only four of them. Where is the fifth guy?”

“Slipping through a window in the kitchen as all of this went down.” A female voice with a noticeable French accent came from behind Allie. She spun around to face the fifth masked intruder- gasping as the person removed their face covering. “Surprised to see me, partner? Or, should I say former partner?”

“Claire LaRue.” Allie eyed the handgun that was aimed at her chest. Her former partner stood about the same height as her, which gave Allie clear visibility to the hatred in the blonde woman’s dark-brown eyes. “I’m not the reason you got fired, Claire. You chose to destroy that evidence – not me.”

“Allegedly. I allegedly destroyed evidence.” Claire spoke through clenched teeth. “You were my partner, Allie. You were supposed to have my back – no matter what. That’s what partners do.” Claire spotted Eli moving toward her. “That’s far enough, Kastnen. Any further and I put a bullet in your long lost love.”

Allie eyed the gun in Claire’s hands. She clutched the two she held in her hands. If she could only get off a shot first…

“Don’t even think about it, Allie.” Claire glared at her. “Toss your guns over toward the kitchen – both of you.” She grinned as they both did as they were told. “Excellent. Now, we’re just going to have a little chat. One that ends with you confessing to destroying the evidence and me getting my job back.”

“No one would ever believe that,” Eli spoke to her in a calm tone. “Allie is as by-the-book as they come. Not one agent would believe your lies.”

“Shut up!” Claire yelled. The gun in her hand wavered slightly before she steadied it. “They will, too – by the time Allie’s body is found with her heartfelt confession and apology.”

Eli felt his blood run cold. “I won’t let you get away with this, LaRue. I’ll hunt you down and make you pay.”

Claire cackled. “You’ll be dead, too. Poor Eli Kastnen. The former fiancée of a corrupt agent. Allie came to you for help in covering up her crime, but you refused to help the woman you left years ago. In a crime of passion, she shot you before deciding to end her own life.”

“You have thought of everything, haven’t you?” Allie’s mocking tone caused Claire to glare at her. “I do have one question. Why go after a government official first? Why not come directly after me?”

“I needed a diversion, Allie. You taught me that.” Claire gave her a sarcastic smile. “I just had to be a little more extreme in my plan. You can’t always apply your specific methods to everything. How would spilling a drink on my dress make everyone take their attention away from you?”

“How did you get information about the route we were taking? That plan was made weeks after you were terminated from the agency.” Allie was more curious than afraid or angry now. She had to identify any leaks in the agency.

“That was easy.” Claire waved her free hand in the air dismissively. “A group I helped out owed me a favor. They had a hacker, and I needed a way into Interpol’s servers without detection. I was in and out with the information I needed before anyone knew even knew it.”

“I take it that this group is the same one you allegedly destroyed the evidence for?” Eli’s voice had taken on a hardened tone – as if something had him on edge.

A slight movement in the kitchen caught Allie’s attention, but she kept her expression neutral. She had to be careful not to tip-off Claire. It looked like the Calvary had arrived just in time to save them.

“Enough talking.” Claire gave Eli a look full of hatred before turning her focus back on Allie. “It’s time for you two to play your part in my plan. To make things extra special for you, Allie, I’ll kill him first while you watch.” Claire gave Eli an evil grin. “She never stopped loving you, Kastnen. She’s horrible at telling people anything or sticking by them, but she always loved you.”

“I still love her, too.” Eli’s statement caused Allie to turn her head to face him. “That’s why I am calling the shots on this mission… and I always call for back-up.” He started moving toward Allie. “Allie, get down!”

Eli dove for Allie and knocked her to the floor – pinning her underneath him as a shot rang out. Silence followed, which sent a wave of fear through Allie.

Eli isn’t moving. Has he been hit? Allie thought as her mind race to catch up just happened. Please, Eli. Please be okay.

Footsteps came from the direction of the kitchen – stopping in front of the couple. From her position, Allie couldn’t see who the person was. She was hoping they were on her and Eli’s side.

“Uh. Are you two just going to lay there?” A gruff voice with a German accent asked them. “The threat has been neutralized.”

Allie could feel Eli chuckling as he moved away from her. She gave him a fake scowl as he stood up and extended a hand to her. She glanced briefly at Claire’s still body lying nearby – blood pooling around her as she laid face down on the floor. Allie quickly turned her attention back to Eli.

“I should hit you for that,” Allie told him as she accepted his help in getting up off the floor. “I thought you had been shot.”

“I’m going to let you two sort this out.” The man who’d helped them said – a bit of humor was in his tone. Allie remembered him as being Xavier – Eli’s best friend. “It’s good to see you, Allie. I wish I could stand around and catch up, but I have to call this in. Your team will want to know your safe, too.” Xavier handed her his spare satellite phone. “Use this to call. We haven’t found the scrambler yet. Bound to be on one of our lively friends over there.”

Allie thanked him as she accepted the phone. She stared at it for several minutes before Eli placed his arm around her waist.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Eli asked her. “Your team is probably worried sick about you.”

“I’m just trying to think of a way to tell them that I am not coming back to the agency.” Allie looked up at Eli and smiled at his shocked expression.”Do you know you haven’t called me ‘baby’ in over four years? I’ve missed it.”

Eli bent down and kissed her before replying. “You better get used to it then… Baby.”

Allie grinned at the man she trusted and loved more than anyone in the world. She knew trust was dangerous, but she had been in more danger by not trusting someone to accompany her on the assignment.

It only took a familiar cabin in snow-covered woods to help her realize that trust made her stronger than ever before.

Posted in Blogging, Writer’s Unite!, Writing

A Holiday Story

Dearest Readers,

I’m a little late posting the December short story to my blog. I apologize for this, but I have been quite busy preparing for my next chapter in life – pursuing my Ph.D. In Criminal Justice-Homeland Security. I start this journey on January 18th, so any positive thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

Aside from that, I promise that I will keep writing and working on my novel(s). As promised, here is my contribution to Writer’s Unite!’s December prompt. Please be sure to check out their page to read some of the awesome stories from other writers!

Enjoy, and thank you for reading and your support!!

(Follow GatorGirl’s Writer’s Nook on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.)

The Secrets of Mistletoe Canyon

 Amber C. Deck

Ana Garrett sighed as she chained her bike to a metal stand in front of her bookstore. It had been two years to the day since her ex-fiancé had walked out on her — leaving the bike as the only memory of him.

Well, a bike and a whole lot of hurt. Ana ran her hand over the cold blue metal between the handlebars. At least you won’t leave me for my former business partner.

Ana frowned as she walked to her shop door and unlocked it — stepping inside as a cold winter wind blew by. She sighed again as she turned on the lights and flipped the sign to OPEN. It was still early morning in the sleepy little town of Mistletoe Canyon, which was why she knew no one would be by as she tossed her things in the office. Mistletoe Canyon was predictable in that way — even at Christmas time.

The faint jingle of the bell above her shop door caused Ana to look up from the coffee station near the register. As the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, Ana glanced around a table of current bestsellers to see who had entered the small bookstore. To her surprise, she saw two men standing there — both looking out of place in their three-piece suits.

Ana approached the men cautiously. She was unsure why two professional-looking — and rather handsome — men would be in her shop. She wasn’t the only place open in town this early. Plenty of shops on Main Street had been open for at least an hour now.

“Welcome to Mystic Mistletoe Books, gentlemen,” Ana said to them. She tucked a strand of long, wavy, dark brown hair behind her ear. Two pairs of vivid green eyes met hers — causing her own dark brown eyes to widen. The duo had to be brothers — with one slightly shorter than the other. They both towered over her, but that was to be expected when one was five-foot-five. “Can I help you with something?”

The shorter one — who probably stood a little over six feet — was the first to speak. His jet black hair was cut short, while the taller one had shaggy, light brown hair. Both were very fit, which is why Ana assumed the two meant business. Whatever that business was, of course.

“Are you Ana Whitmire?” The man’s voice was gruff. His stern expression made her feel uneasy.

“Who?” No one had called her that in years — 200 years, to be exact. She had left that name behind when she left England — and her grandfather. It had been his advice to change her name and eventually adopt an American accent. It was to keep her safe. “I do not know of anyone by that name.”

“So, you’re not Ana Whitmire? Should I instead ask if you are an 800-year-old sorceress or the granddaughter of Merlin?” The sarcastic tone in the man’s voice caused a flare of anger in Ana, and he could see that. “Relax. Merlin’s still alive and kicking in London. He’s got more guards to protect him than most of Europe, I hear.”

“Cut it out, Cal,” the taller man said. He smiled reassuringly at Ana. “We are not here to hurt you or your grandfather. You have both been through enough with losing your entire family in one day during the war of 1224.” He took a step closer to Ana, who instinctively stepped back — causing her lower back to hit the table behind her. “We’re not going to hurt you. We need your help.”

“I don’t know who you are talking about, gentlemen.” Ana tried to make herself sound stronger than she felt at the moment. “My name is Ana Garrett. I’m from Mistletoe Canyon, and I own this bookstore.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Garrett.” The taller one smiled at her. He was undoubtedly the more handsome one of the two — if she had to pick. Something in his eyes made him seem sincere and… trusting. “My name’s Bradley Sloane, and this is my brother.”

“Cal.” The man’s gruff voice confirmed. “Listen, you can go by whatever you want. We know who and what you are. It’s our jobs, and we’ve been searching all over town for you.”

Hunters. That single word caused fear to grip Ana. She’d seen the work of the Sloane brothers plastered all over the supernatural media sites she followed. She should have recognized them by the description from some of her non-human friends. Well, those that had survived meeting the two.

“You’re hunters,” Ana whispered as she tried to back up more. The table full of books was blocking her potential escape route. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve not used any major magic — only a few healing remedies to help some people in town. You don’t have to kill me.”

“Whoa, Miss Garrett. Calm down. We are not going to hurt you.” Bradley spoke in a calming tone. “We need your help. Our dad recommended you. He said you helped him years ago when he got attacked by something. His name is Dylan Sloane. Remember him?”

Ana nodded slowly. “He was injured after a wendigo attacked him. It surprised him as he was laying a trap for it. Luckily, I was gathering berries for a remedy for a person in town that day.” Ana eyed the two men cautiously. “I heard him yell and helped him destroy the creature. I treated his wounds afterward, and he promised to keep my secret. That was the only time I used big magic, too. That was almost thirty-five years ago. He still remembers me?”

“You bet.” Cal grinned at her this time. “You helped him get home to his wife, a two-year-old, and a newborn. Right, little bro?”

Bradley looked slightly embarrassed at being called the younger brother. Ana thought the endearment was rather cute, and it made the two hunters a little less scary to her.

“Well, how can I help Dylan’s two boys?” Ana walked back to the register that sat on a tall wooden counter. Cal and Bradley followed her closely. “I owe him for keeping my secret.”

“It’s a bit complicated, Miss Garrett.” Bradley ran his fingers through his hair. “It has to do with a curse — much like the one that killed your family.”

Ana froze. That curse was supposed to have been destroyed years ago. Merlin had decreed that it was to be removed from all spell-books immediately. The curse had driven the kingdom mad — affecting only humans who entered its path. Both armies couldn’t stop tearing each other apart until Merlin broke the curse. By then, only he and Ana remained in the Whitmire bloodline.

“That spell was outlawed after the war of 1224.” Ana’s eyes locked with Bradley’s. “If it has returned, that means the true originator of the curse has as well. They are the only one who could remember the curse without a spell-book.” Ana motioned for the men to follow her to the office behind the counter. The three entered the room, and Ana shut the door before walking to a bookcase on the far wall. “What I am about to show you hasn’t been seen by mortal eyes — ever.”

Ana removed a book and felt behind it. A soft click sounded, and she quickly replaced the book before the large bookcase slid to the side. A staircase was slowly revealed as the massive structure slowly moved out of the way. 

Ana walked up the stairs as the two men followed. Lights flashed on as they ascended the stairs, and she heard the bookcase slide back into place as they reached the floor above her shop. She waved her hand over the heavy wooden door in front of her — hearing it unlock before opening it. The trio stepped inside, and she could see the look of amazement on the two men’s faces as she closed the door behind them.

“This room holds all of the memories from my past.” Ana walked by the two brothers as she spoke. She approached a large wooden trunk nestled between two tall bookcases — both filled with ancient-looking books written in Latin. “My ex-fiancé never even knew about this room. Of course, I never got to tell him who I truly was before he left me.” She felt Bradley and Cal standing behind her now as she knelt in front of the trunk. She whispered a few words in Latin before the trunk popped open. “I guess I didn’t need to use magic to make him run away. My former business partner was already pushing me out of the picture.”

Bradley knelt beside her and placed his hand on her arm. “I’m sorry about what happened to you. It was probably a good thing this guy never realized who you were, though. He could have tried to hurt you.” He grinned at her as she nodded in agreement. He topped his head toward the open trunk. “Now, how about you show that jerk what he lost while helping us save the world?”

Ana smiled at him. “Alright, I’ll help — since you put it that way.” She glanced at Cal, who had knelt beside her as well. She cleared her throat as she reached into the trunk and pulled out a thick, leather-bound book. “This belonged to my grandfather, but he gave it to me when he decided to advise for the current royal family. I honestly thought I would never have to use it, but Grandfather told me that I might need to one day. He always knows these things…”

The sound of Cal clearing his throat startled Ana. It was clear that he was getting annoyed with her trip down memory lane. She glanced over at Bradley and saw him giving his brother a sharp look.

“You said that this curse could only be brought back by the person who created it.” Cal was trying to hide his annoyance as he spoke. Ana could tell he was an “all action, no thinking” type of guy. “So, we’re looking at an ancient dude who’s bored?”

“Cal…” Bradley warned as he gave his brother another stern look.

“It’s alright, Bradley. I can handle this.” Ana readjusted herself to where she was sitting cross-legged on the floor. She opened the book and turned several pages before laying it on her lap. “Cal, this ‘ancient dude’ you so casually speak of nearly destroyed two kingdoms during one war. In that same war, I lost my parents and siblings. The only reason I survived is because I was in the castle with my grandfather. He had created a magical barrier to prevent the curse from reaching the rest of the royal family. Sadly, the Queen did not survive the war after the King became cursed on the battlefield.” Ana stared directly into Cal’s eyes. “I was four years old and lost almost my entire family. If I hadn’t been born with powers, I could have fallen to the curse just as easy as my siblings did.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Garrett,” Cal muttered as he looked down at the floor.

“It’s okay. I’ve made my leave with everything that happened back then.” Ana took a deep breath. “Please call me Ana — both of you. Miss Garrett makes me sound like an old librarian. I’m only 800 years old, not 8000.” She gave a small smile as they grinned at her. “Now, let’s get back to the curse. The sorcerer who created this curse is not a sorcerer. She’s a sorceress, but she only uses dark magic. At least, she has for as long as I’ve known her.”

“Okay… Why would she be back now?” Bradley asked. “Didn’t Merlin destroy her in 1224?”

“No.” Ana shook her head as she pointed to a page in the book. Both men leaned closer to look at where she was pointing. “He stopped the curse, destroyed all copies of it, and prohibited its use in the magic world. The sorceress was imprisoned in an underground cell protected by runes and spells. This prison is also underneath the deepest part of the ocean — buried under twenty feet of sand and rock.” She pointed to a picture in the book. “Here is a painting of the sorceress. Grandfather used a spell to shrink it to fit into this book.”

Bradley’s eyes widened as he looked at the petite brunette in the portrait. “Is she standing beside Merlin in that painting?”

“Yes, and, before you say it, Cal, I know she looks like me.” Ana sighed. She had to tell the brothers who they were dealing with — even if she didn’t want to expose yet another secret. “This is Morganna — Merlin’s sister and my great-aunt. If she’s back, then she’s back for two things: revenge and this book.”

“Why would she start a curse for that?” Bradley gave her a curious look. “Why wouldn’t she come directly after you and Merlin?”

“I’m more concerned with how she got out of an underground prison that was supposed to be protected,” Cal grumbled.

“Morganna is very powerful, Cal. She has had centuries to find a way to escape. It was only a matter of time before she found that way, I guess.” Ana rubbed her forehead with one hand. “As for the curse, she craves chaos. It makes her stronger. The curse will hit here and soon — if she finds me.” 

Ana flipped through a few pages in the book on her lap before stopping. She spoke a few words in Latin and then placed her hand on each man’s chest for a few seconds. Both of them looked at her in a combination of surprise and shock.

“That will protect you from the curse,” Ana told them as she shut the book and stood up. Bradley and Cal did the same — watching her as she waved a hand over the trunk. It closed with a soft thud and locked. “I now need to hide this book before Morganna finds it…”

“You would keep a treasured family heirloom from your dear Aunt Morganna?” A silky-toned voice with an English accent caused the trio to spin around and face the door. “Hello, Ana. It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. You’ve grown up so much!” She sneered at the two men with her. “I can’t say I like the company you are keeping, but your parents were mortal. It makes sense you would have a soft spot for these creatures. Just like my dear brother does. He did marry one, after all.”

Ana gripped the book against her chest. “Don’t you dare speak about my grandfather like that. He has a good heart, where you have nothing but darkness in your soul.” Anger flashed in Ana’s eyes, but she managed to keep her tone calm. “I know why you created the curse again, Morganna. You cannot have this book.”

“Oh? Who is going to stop me from prying it away from your lifeless body?” Morganna gave her an evil smile. “These two mortals? They are hardly a match for me.”

“No, Morganna. I’m going to end this. Permanently.” Ana opened the book about halfway and spoke a few sentences in Latin. She pointed her right index finger toward Morganna as she repeated the sorceress’s name. “There, that should do it. Check with your father, Cal. See if the curse is over.”

Cal nodded and dialed his father. Bradley looked over at Morganna to see her standing there with her mouth open. When Cal confirmed the curse was over, the woman collapsed on the floor.

“What have you done to me, Ana?!” Morganna wailed as she looked at her hands. Her skin was beginning to wrinkle rapidly in front of her eyes. “I feel… I feel…”

Ana interrupted her. “Grandfather prepared me for this day — should it ever happen. He told me of the only spell that would stop you from ending the world.” Morganna met Ana’s gaze as her hair started graying. “I made you mortal, Morganna. Now, you will know how it feels to be completely human — even if just for a few moments.”

Ana, Bradley, and Cal watched as Morganna opened her mouth to scream at them. No sound escaped as the rapid aging process continued. It only took a few more minutes before Morganna was nothing but dust on the floor.

“That was… interesting,” Bradley stated as he shook his head. He watched as Ana returned the book to the trunk. “Are you okay, Ana?”

“Surprisingly, I am fine,” Ana replied as she rejoined him and Cal. “Morganna was given a just punishment. I will call Grandfather later and inform him.” She grabbed a broom and dustpan that was leaning against a wall. “For now, I’ll just clean her up and get back to work.”

“Let me help you,” Bradley said as he reached for the broom and dustpan. He gently took them from her grasp and started sweeping. “It’s the least I can do for you helping us.”

Bradley glanced over at Cal, who now stood by the door. His brother never wanted to help out after a job. Typically, Bradley would just follow him and head back home. Meeting Ana today made him want to stick around for a few more hours.

“You go on home, Cal, and give Dad our report.” Bradley glanced at Ana before looking back at his brother. “I’m going to stay here with Ana for a little bit and help her out.”

“Uh-huh.” Cal raised an eyebrow and grinned. He opened the door and started down the stairs.

“We’re just in the next town,” Bradley told Ana. “I can get a ride later.”

“I can take you home.” Ana smiled. “Only my bike is here, but sorceresses have other ways of traveling.”

Bradley laughed along with her. It would be good to know a sorceress, and Bradley planned to make this relationship personal — even if she was 800 years young…

Posted in Writer’s Unite!, Writing

Short Story Time!

Dearest Readers,

I once again have broken out of my comfort zone and walked into the welcoming embrace of the Writer’s Unite! Group. Below is my short story for the November prompt, but please be sure to check out the Writer’s Unite! Blog for other short stories by fantastic authors. You never know – you just might find your next favorite writer!

Road of Memories

Amber Deck

ROAD CLOSED… Those two words sounded so simple as Dr. Sparrow Malone read them to herself. She knew otherwise. Active homicides were never easy.

Sparrow looked up from the weathered road barrier — now entwined with crime scene tape — to see Detective Zane Travers walking her way. Shaggy brown hair framed the man’s handsome face, which currently showcased a grim expression. By the time Zane reached where she was standing, Sparrow had to tilt her head up to look into his hazel eyes. At five-foot-five, she looked tiny standing next to Zane’s toned, six-foot-four body.

“Thanks for coming down here, Sparrow.” Zane gave her a small grin. He lifted the crime scene tape and gestured for her to step under it. He waited until Sparrow was beside him before he continued speaking. “I know you typically don’t help out with active homicide cases, but we need you on this one. It has us puzzled.”

“Who is it, Zane?” Sparrow’s gray eyes stared up at him. Zane was making her nervous by hesitating on the case details. Sparrow gave him a playful smile. “I’m a Criminal Psychology professor, not a mind reader. I skipped that class during grad school at Oxford.”

Zane chuckled. “Really? Portland PD makes that our first class at the academy.” He ushered Sparrow to an unoccupied area as he lowered his voice. “Remember how I told you that you never had to tell me about your past?”

Sparrow’s smile faded. “I remember. It was during our first date.”

“Yes, that’s exactly right,” Zane confirmed as he took a deep breath. “Sparrow, you don’t have to share anything with me that you don’t want to. I just want you to be prepared.” He could see the multitude of questions swimming in her dark gray eyes. “The victim had your name written on a piece of paper in her coat pocket. Sparrow, does the name ‘Diona Pianza’ sound familiar?”

Sparrow froze as Zane spoke the name of a woman she hadn’t seen in years. Yes. She knew her. Diona was the daughter of a retired federal judge in Portland. She was wealthy, beautiful, and Sparrow’s identical twin. She hadn’t seen Diona in three years — since she and their mother slammed their overpriced house door in her face.

“Sparrow?” Zane took one of her hands in his. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Zane — just shocked at who the victim is.” Sparrow tucked a strand of long, black hair behind her ear. “I know her, that’s for sure. When I moved here from London three years ago, I was on a mission. Father had just passed away, and he informed me that I had family here in Portland.”

“Diane Pianza.” Zane’s eyes widened at the new information. “Then that explains why…”

“Yes. Diona and I are identical twins.” Sparrow sighed as tears formed in her eyes. “I was ecstatic to know that I still had family left. After all, Father was the only family I had in London. Boy, was I in for a surprise.” She knew Zane was not liking the way this story was going by the way his body tensed. “I arrived at Diane’s door, eager to meet my mother, and was promptly informed that she’d never wanted two children. Both have since called me a gold-digger, attention-seeker, and who knows what else. Diane even threatened to place a restraining order on me if I contacted them.” Sparrow felt tears rolling down her cheeks. “I never felt more alone than at that moment. Well, until a certain Detective Travers strolled into one of my class lectures.”

Zane pulled her into his arms and hugged her. “I’m sorry that happened, Sparrow. You don’t have to help with this case. I’m almost done here, and then I’ll take you home.”

“No, Zane.” Sparrow shook her head as she looked up at him. “Diona may have been a cold-hearted person, but she was my sister. I need to know what happened to her. I need to know why she had my name on her.”

“Stubborn, aren’t we?” Zane grinned as he released her. He took her hand in his as he led her toward the tarp-covered body. “Let’s get to work, then.”

It was more than two hours later before they left the closed-off section of the highway behind. Zane admired how calm she had been as the Medical Examiner gave them the preliminary cause of death — strangulation.

Zane was, however, concerned with how Sparrow was going to handle seeing Diane Pianza. She had insisted on going with him to do the notification.

“I can still take you home, Sparrow.” Zane glanced over at her. “You don’t have to put yourself through this.”

“Diane might know something, Zane. She might know why Diona had my name on her.” Sparrow sighed and looked out the passenger window. The afternoon sun was slowly starting to peek through the clouds. “I have to help. I need this closure.”

Zane nodded. “Alright, but we’re leaving the minute she makes you feel uncomfortable. I’ll carry you out of that house kicking and screaming if I have to.”

A small smile formed across Sparrow’s face. “You’re always there to rescue me, Zane. One of these days, I really could need protecting from something.”

Zane chuckled and shook his head. He knew Sparrow was joking with him, but there were strange details in this homicide that were starting to gnaw at him. Something about how this crime scene was “displayed” didn’t feel right, and Zane was praying that it was just his over-protectiveness working overtime. The only issue with his bad feeling was that he was sure this case wasn’t only about Diona.

“We’re here.” Sparrow’s voice was barely a whisper, but it managed to bring Zane out of his thoughts. “Time to face my demons.”

Zane gave her a sympathetic smile as he turned the car toward the judge’s address at Victory Lakes. Sparrow remained silent as he brought the car to a stop in front of the enormous metal gate that blocked the community’s entrance. Zane flashed his badge to the guard that peered through the doorway of a small building nearby. The guard nodded as he opened the gate — waving them through. Zane nodded to the man in response.

“Have you seen or heard from Diona lately??” Zane asked as he navigated through the neighborhood. “I just figured I might need to ask — you know, in case Diane assumes that…”

Sparrow knew why Zane wouldn’t finish his last statement. “In case Diane assumes that I killed her. I expect that she might think that, too, since I’m the daughter she didn’t want.” Sparrow sighed. “I never wanted money from them. My father made sure I was very well taken care of — even after he passed. The only thing I ever wanted was a mother.” Tears threatened to form in her eyes, but she quickly blinked them away. “Plus, you knew where I was at her time of death. I was giving a lecture to seventy-five students.”

“I know that, Sparrow.” Zane turned into the Pianza’s driveway. “I just don’t want her blaming you.”

“I’ll be fine, Zane.” Sparrow smiled as Zane brought the car to a stop. She turned to face him. “I haven’t seen or spoken to Diona in three years. I’m sure Diane thinks I’ve gone back to London by now, anyway.”

Zane gave her a reassuring grin as they both got out of the car. The two-story brick house was lit up with various outdoor lamps and security lights. It wasn’t surprising that the door was open by the time the couple arrived at it.

“Can I help you?” A petite woman in her early twenties stood by the door. Her dark-brown hair hung in a low ponytail — the color matching her eyes. Sparrow didn’t remember seeing her before.

“I’m Detective Travers, and this is Dr. Malone.” Zane took his badge out of the inside pocket of his jacket. “We need to speak with Diane Pianza. It’s an urgent matter.”

The woman stared at him before glancing at his badge. She looked at Sparrow, briefly, before turning her attention back to Zane. The young woman sighed as she moved out of the way — allowing them to enter.

“Maybe you can help us with our recent Diona dilemma.” The young woman closed the door behind the couple before leading them to the large sunroom at the back of the house. “My sister has decided to disappear again… Can you believe it? Only a week until her wedding, too!”

The bitterness in the woman’s voice would have made anyone suspicious — if she hadn’t just dropped the bombshell of being Diona’s sister. Sparrow was sure she had heard her wrong. Diane had only wanted one child — no more.

“Excuse me. You’re Diona’s sister?” Sparrow asked as they walked. “I wasn’t aware that Diane had two daughters.”

“That’s because Diona takes all the spotlight. I’m Dana.” The woman smiled at them over her shoulder. “I’m her half-sister. Our mom and my dad are divorced. I mostly stay in New York. I’m a senior at NYU.” Dana stopped and faced Sparrow. “I know who you are, Dr. Malone. I just can’t believe how much you two look alike, but, then again, identical twins means identical — right?”

Sparrow nodded. “Yes, but raised worlds apart. You can call me Sparrow, by the way. Dr. Malone is what my students call me.”

“Thanks, Sparrow,” Dana replied as she smiled at her. “I’m sorry about what happened last time. If I hadn’t been off at school, I would have loved to have met my other sister.” Dana motioned for them to continue following her. “One of my friends is taking your Criminal Psychology class this semester, and she is just raving about her awesome professor on Facebook.”

Zane chuckled as he glanced over at Sparrow — who was trying to hide her embarrassment. She never complimented herself, and she looked so adorable when others did so. That was one thing he loved about her.

“Diona!” A loud male voice boomed through the spacious sunroom as the trio entered. Sparrow looked around Dana to see a man rushing toward her. Even though he stood a few inches shorter than Zane, he was rather handsome with short, jet-black hair and blue eyes. The man grabbed Sparrow and hugged her close when he reached her. “We’ve been so worried! You were just going out for the day. You can’t just disappear like that when we’re getting married in a week!”

Sparrow managed to push herself away from the man’s crisp, dark-gray suit. The aggressive move appeared to shock him — causing his gaze to drift from Sparrow to Zane. Zane’s expression caused the stranger to drop his arms from around Sparrow and back away.

“What is going on? Who is this?” The man looked from Sparrow to Dana. “Oh, is this Dana’s date to the wedding? Isn’t he a little, um, older than you, Dana?”

“You have got to be kidding me, Greg. You can’t be that dumb. I honestly don’t believe what Diona ever saw in you.” Dana sighed and rolled her eyes. 

“Be nice, Dana.” A sharp voice came from behind Greg. “Everyone, come take a seat.”

Sparrow and Zane followed Dana to the middle of the sunroom. She led them to a bright yellow sofa before joining her mother on the loveseat across from them.

“It’s been a while, Sparrow,” Diane said calmly. “I’ve heard that you have made quite a name for yourself at the local university.”

“Yes, I have,” Sparrow answered coolly. She gestured at Zane beside her. “I also help Portland police with cases. This is Detective Zane Travers.”

Diane glanced at him and nodded. “Hello, Detective Travers. I assume you have news regarding Diona?” She sighed as Zane nodded. “I had a feeling that something was wrong. Do I need an attorney present for this conversation?”

“Only if you believe you do, Mrs. Pianza,” Zane informed her. “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but we found Diona’s body this morning. She was murdered.”

If Diane was shocked or saddened, the woman was doing an excellent job at hiding it. Sparrow had never seen a person with such a flawless poker face. She found it odd that Diane was acting nothing like the woman who’d thrown her out three years ago.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m not surprised to hear this.” Diane’s voice was steady and quiet. Beside her, Dana broke into silent sobs. Greg gently helped her out of the room. “Diona had always been a handful. She’s made enemies, bad decisions, and who knows what else. I knew this visit would come one day.” Diane sighed again. “Last year, I had a heart attack. I had to retire from my career, so I told her to grow up. She decided to get engaged instead.”

“That explains Greg,” Sparrow mumbled. She winced as Diane nodded. “I’m sorry, Diane. It’s not my place to judge…”

“No, Sparrow.” Diane shook her head. “You have every right. My heart attack made me rethink how I talked to you. I have been so ashamed since then. I didn’t even think about you having no one but us. I only learned last year that Albert had passed three years ago, but I do not doubt that you tried to tell me that night you came here. I just acted so….”

Sparrow smiled at her. “I forgive you, Diane. That’s all in the past, but we do need your help. Detective Travers needs to ask you some questions.”

“Mrs. Pianza, do you know your daughter’s plans for yesterday?” Zane took out a notepad and pen from his coat pocket. “Was she meeting anyone in particular?”

“Please, call me Diane.” The older woman gave him a small smile. “She said that she was running errands then drinks with her friends. When she didn’t arrive for her dress fitting this morning, I called her friends. They said she never showed up last night.” Diane thought for a moment. “Every call went straight to her voicemail.”

“We didn’t find a phone on her or at the scene,” Zane informed her. “We found Sparrow’s name on a piece of paper in Diona’s pocket. Was she looking to reconnect with Sparrow, too?”

Diane nodded slowly. “As much as I love Diona, I raised her terribly. She is — was — spoiled, and she always saw Sparrow as a threat. When I wanted to apologize to Sparrow, Diona got very angry. Unless she was planning something, I cannot understand why she would have Sparrow’s name on her.”

Zane nodded as he wrote everything down. He glanced at Sparrow to see how everything was affecting her. He was amazed at how strong she remained throughout this whole conversation.

“How about her relationship with Greg?” Sparrow asked. “He was quick to think that she was having an affair.”

“Diona was Greg’s world — even though she called off their engagement multiple times to have flings.” Diane frowned. “He would always take her back. I never understood why, but I guess he loves her.”

“Correction… Diona was my world.” The sound of Greg’s irritated tone floated through the air. As the trio swiveled in their seats to look at the sunroom’s doorway, Zane’s hand immediately went to his gun at his hip. “I must admit that I strung her along for longer than I meant to, but she had tortured me enough in our previous relationships. I figured there would be no harm in keeping her around to get what I wanted.”

“What do you want, Greg?” Zane remained calm as he spoke to Greg. The man was unarmed, which meant Zane could reason with him better. “Was she spending too much money?”

“No!” Greg exclaimed with a scowl. “It’s your fault, Detective Travers. You’re the reason Diona’s dead.” The surprised look on everyone’s face made him grin. Greg faced Sparrow and walked a few steps closer to the couch. “You see, Sparrow, I thought Diona was cheating on me — you were right about that. So I followed her one day — or, at least, I thought I followed her. It turns out that I was following you. I got so angry when I saw you with the detective, but then again, I thought you were Diona. So, I followed you to the University to confront you. I realized my mistake when I listened to your lecture. I wrote your name down so I could go back to another one.”

“That is why you murdered my sister?” Sparrow’s eyes widened. A combination of shock and anger swimming through them. “You liked my lecture?”

“I liked more than that.” Greg grinned. “Diona had gone through my jacket before she left to run errands. I don’t know what she was looking for, but she found where I had written your name down. We had a huge fight, and I just snapped.” He scowled at Diane. “You knew that your daughter was a terrible person. She was going to confront Sparrow and make her miserable. I couldn’t allow that.”

“So, you killed her?” Sparrow stood up — balling her hands into fists. Zane stood up beside her. “She was just spoiled, and your best solution was murder? Tell me this: did you purposely leave my name on her to lead me here? Is that why you left her body out in the open?”

“I think that you can answer those questions better at the precinct.” Zane stated intensely at Greg — keeping his tone low and direct as he spoke. He could see Greg tensing up at his suggestion. “Let’s just relax, Greg. You don’t want to do anything that will…”


Before Sparrow could blink, Greg was on the floor. Dana stood behind him with a silver platter in her hands. The petite woman glanced from Greg to Sparrow and Zane.

“He has a gun in his waistband. I saw it under his jacket.” Dana leaned over him and flipped up the bottom of his jacket. She waited as Zane came over and retrieved the small handgun from against Greg’s lower back. “I heard someone yelling. When I got here and heard him confess, I… I knew I had to help. He was going to hurt you.”

“It’s okay, Dana. We’re all okay.” Sparrow hugged her sister. She glanced over at Diane — motioning for her to join. The woman gladly accepted the invitation. Sparrow glanced at Zane as he handcuffed Greg and stood up. She smiled at the grin Zane gave her. “We are all just fine now.”

“Let’s start over, Sparrow,” Diane told her after their hug ended. She glanced at Zane. “I would like to get to know my daughter’s boyfriend after all this.”

Sirens blared in the distance — signaling the arrival of the backup that Zane had called minutes ago. He propped a groggy Greg against a wall and put his arm around Sparrow’s waist.

“I’d like that… Mom?” Sparrow’s smile widened as her mother smiled in approval. She snuggled closer to Zane as the sirens came closer. “I think we’d both like that quite a lot.”

Thank you all for reading and your continued support!! Please follow GatorGirl’s Writer’s Nook on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

Posted in Novel, Writer’s Unite!, Writing


Dear Readers,

I will be posting my stories from Writer’s Unite! on here as well. I hope you all enjoy them as you await my novel’s reveal!

Through the Diamond-Coated Lens

It was typical of him to do this. He was a world-renowned photographer – known for his breathtaking landscape and wildlife photographs. He’d been there on the front lines with the troops to photograph the danger of war. He had been praised in every journal and magazine around the world for the last decade, which gained him worldwide fame. Never had any danger stooped him or even slowed him down.

Until now, that is… Will Kraithe was missing in one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

White-Collar Crimes Agent Lexi Kraithe knew something had happened to her twin brother. He never let anyone use his beloved camera, but here it was now – sitting on her desk at the FBI’s San Francisco field office. All that had come in the box was that precious camera he loved and an ominous note he had scrawled out on a scrap of paper. His terrible penmanship had proved it was his writing – at least to Lexi it had.

Lex. Develop this film. Please hurry. I need your help. I love you, big sis. – Will

Will never called her that unless something was wrong. She was only four minutes older than he was, but he didn’t like to be reminded of it. That is how she knew something was wrong, and she had to help him – somehow.

“Agent Kraithe?” Penny, a young lab tech, approached her desk. She laid a blank folder on Lexi’s desk. “Here are the photographs from the film you sent to the lab, including the negatives. Do you need anything else?”

“No, Penny. Thank you.” Lexi smiled and waited for her to walk away before opening the folder.

Lexi opened the folder slowly – taking out the negatives and setting them to the side as she did. Glancing through the first few photos, she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. A herd of zebras, a pride of lions, a crocodile, and a group of American mercenaries with machine guns guarding a truck.

“Wait. What?!” Lexi exclaimed. She looked around to see if anyone heard her outburst. Luckily, no one seemed to notice. “What have you gotten yourself into, Will?”

Lexi sighed as she leaned back in her chair. She knew who she had to call – if he would even help her. They hadn’t ended on the best of terms, after all. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a choice. She needed the expertise of a Navy SEAL. She needed Damien Hawke.

It took thirty minutes for Lexi to get to where Damien wanted to meet. A small bar near the bay – owned by his best friend. Lexi should have known he would only go someplace where the drinks are free.

“Agent Lexi Kraithe. To what do I owe this pleasure?” Damien said, grinning as she approached his table. He motioned to a wine glass in front of him. Its contents were a deep red. “I ordered your favorite.”

Lexi scowled at him as she sat down across from him. No one knew about her choice of drink – except herself and her brother. After working one case with Damien, that had changed.

“You’re looking good, Lex.” Damien continued talking as she sat there in silence. “It’s been what? Five years?”

Lexi eyed him warily. Damien was a smooth talker, and she knew that. He was tall and good-looking – with intense green eyes, broad shoulders, and short, brown have that she loved to run her fingers through. Correction: she used to love to run her fingers through it.

“Still angry with me, Lex?” Damien cocked his head to the side and looked at her – frowning. “I thought I explained everything.”

Lexi held up her hand. “I get you were trying to find a mole in one of the agencies during our investigation. I understand that even I was a suspect. What I still don’t get is why you didn’t plan to tell me about Gia.”

“That relationship was already over with. The only thing I had left to do was break the engagement. I had to wait until after the investigation was complete. I couldn’t blow my cover, and I didn’t want to lose you.” Damien sighed. “I messed up, Lex. Maybe you can eventually forgive me. I guess, right now, it’s time to get down to business.”

Damien knew this meeting would have been easier if Lexi had changed in the past five years – even just a little. From her long Auburn hair to her big blue eyes, she was the same. His team often joked about how it was that a petite woman like her could make a six-foot man back down with just a glare. They didn’t know her feisty side like he did…

“Did you hear me, Damien?” Lexi was glaring at him with one raised eyebrow. She sighed as he shook his head. “I thought so. Will is missing. He sent me his camera with a note that said to develop the film. That’s why I called you.”

“Why haven’t you told anyone about your agency about this? Was Will involved in something?” Damien knew Lexi’s brother could be a bit careless at times. “Stop looking at me like that, Lexi. Sometimes Will has a knack for being in the wrong place.”

Lexi shook her head. “No. Will is a good person, and you know that.” She pulled a file folder from her leather tote bag beside her chair. “Here are all of the pictures on the camera. I’m sure you’ll know the ones of concern.”

Damien took the file folder from Lexi as she slid it across the table. He flipped through the various photographs of animals and landscapes until one photo stopped him. Will was in trouble, alright. If he wasn’t already dead…

“When and where did you last speak to Will?” Damien continued looking through the photos – putting several to the side as he did.

“Five days ago, Will called me on his satellite phone from his camp in northeast Nigeria. He was traveling to Sierra Leone to do some landscape photography work for some nature magazine.” Lexi closed her eyes briefly before looking at Damien. “That is the last I heard from him. I wasn’t concerned about his lack of communication. That’s normal. The arrival of his beloved camera is what worries me.”

Damien furrowed his brow. He picked up the photos that he had set aside and placed them side-by-side in front of her.

“Before I tell you what I know, I need to know the truth.” Damien stared directly into her eyes. “Why me? You and I both know that you have enough pull with the Bureau to have a team go after your brother.”

Lexi let out the deep breath she had been holding. “You’re right. I can get a team full of agents together in a matter of hours, but that is not going to help me track down Will. You have been in situations like this, Damien. You know how to get people out of them – alive.”

Damien had to struggle to hold back a grin. That was as close to a compliment as he was going to get from Lexi.

“Alright, Lex.” Damien pointed toward the photos. “The first photo is a military-grade delivery vehicle. Armored siding, reinforced locks on the cargo door, and bullet-proof glass indicate that this truck is ready for anything. The guys carrying around the heavy artillery are ex-Navy.” Damien tapped his finger on the second photo. “My team met these two in Baghdad. They were already working for a military contract company at the time. Their contract was abruptly terminated after that mission.”

“Who are these people, Damien.” Lexi kept her tone low.

“The one on the left is Zane Bresk, and the one on the right is Josh Frank,” Damien told her. “They work for a man named Isaiah Mischa. Isaiah proves difficult to find information on, but Zane and Josh have records. Both were dishonorably discharged for inappropriate conduct, including assault. The MPs even suspected them in several thefts. No evidence of that was ever found.”

“What do I do, Damien? It’s clear that Will stumbled onto something these guys were doing.” Lexi rubbed her forehead with her hand before looking at him. She was desperate to get her brother home safe. “Will is the only family I have left.”

Damien was one of the few who knew about Lexi’s parents. They had kicked the twins out when each refused to work for the family law firm. Their parents’ ultimatum had been to leave or attend law school. The two decided on the former.

“Damien?” Lexi was looking at him with concern. She was afraid he was going to tell her to take a hike. “I have already contacted the Director and got my time off approved. I’m going to the airport tonight to get a flight. Are you coming, or did I waste your time?”

“I need to get my team together for this, Lex,” Damien told her. “Two of us aren’t enough for this operation. It’s just too dangerous.”

“I don’t want to get your NCIS team involved,” Lexi informed him. “It’s too risky. What if someone leaks something to your boss or mine?”

“I don’t mean that team, Lex.” Damien grinned at her. He turned toward the bar. “Troy! Come over here!”

A tall man with jet black hair and blue eyes walked around the bar towards them – pulling up a chair to join them at their table. He smiled at Lexi before scanning his eyes over the photos in front of her. A flair of recognition shown in his eyes as he landed on the picture of the two men.

“What you need, Damien?” Troy asked as he looked over at his friend. “It looks like you two have stumbled on to some trouble.”

“We have a rescue mission. Lexi’s brother, Will, is missing. Those are the last photos he took in Sierra Leone.” Damien gestured to the photographs. “Can you round up the guys and have them meet us at the airport in an hour?”

“Sure thing, Commander.” Troy nodded as he got up from his seat. He smiled at Lexi again before heading back behind the bar.

Damien picked up the photos – placing them in the folder. “I’m assuming you are already packed, so we’ll need to stop by my place to get a few things. Follow me there, then we’ll take your car to the airport.”

Lexi nodded as she got up and grabbed her bag before following Damien out of the bar. She knew her brother was still alive. She could feel it. Lexi just hoped that feeling didn’t go away as they looked for him…

Several long hours later, Lexi, Damien, and his team were in Sierra Leone. Damien had introduced her to the rest of the team during flight. Despite just meeting her, the team seemed to consider her as one of them within a few minutes. It wasn’t long until they were all joking with Lexi – trying to make her feel better.

“We’ll find them, Lex.” Cal Johnson – the “tech guy” – told her with a reassuring smile. He was a tall, muscular, African American man with a deep voice, but his light brown eyes gave away his kind nature. “I’m sure your brother is just fine.”

“Yeah, he’s probably hiding out – waiting for his sister to come to his rescue.” Sebastian Cartwright chimed in as he ran a hand through his shaggy, dark brown hair. As the team medic, he always tried to see the positive in a situation. It helped him get through his job a little easier. A humorous glint shown in his dark brown eyes as he continued speaking. “Where do we start, Commander?”

“For the last time, Sebastian, we are not in the SEALs anymore. Call me by my name.” Damien chuckled as his friend nodded and saluted him. “Let’s ask around and show Will’s picture. We might get lucky.”

Lexi was really hoping Damien was right because the knot in her stomach was growing. She chalked it up to worry and slight terror at being in the proximity of highly trained killers. Lexi glanced over at Damien as she followed him – watching him as he showed various people Will’s photo. She was surprised when they got a promising lead in less than two hours.

“Yes. I saw this young man.” A tall, pretty woman informed him at the local hotel. “He was staying here until yesterday.”

“Did he say where he was going when he left?” Damien asked her gently. She was eying him warily – unsure if he was with the mercenaries that were occupying the city. “We are not here to hurt him. This is his sister. She is looking for him.”

Lexi stepped forward as the woman’s eyes widened – a smile appeared on her face.

“Yes, yes! Will told me about you. His twin sister – Lexi, right?” The woman’s smile grew as Lexi nodded. “My name is Cheyla. Your brother left right before two terrifying men came looking for him. These men – they are no good. They terrorize our city.” Cheyla reached behind the counter and pulled out a folded sheet of paper – handing it to Lexi. “Will said to give this to you when you arrive. He said you would come. He knew you would!”

Lexi thanked the woman and turned around – walking over to the seats in the hotel’s lobby. She sat down as she opened the note and read what her brother had hastily scribbled down.

Lex. I hope you get this message. I am hiding in a village about five miles outside of town. Please hurry, Lex. I don’t know how long I will be able to stay here. Ask for Lenji at the produce stand near the entrance to the village. They will know what that means. I love you, big sis. – Will

“Everything okay, Lex?” Damien was looking down at her from where he stood beside her. “Did Will leave us any clues?” He glanced over the note that Lex handed to him. “Alright. Looks like we’re heading out.”

Fifteen minutes later, Troy had located the produce stand on the outside of the village. After a quick conversation with the owner, Lexi had the location of the house of Lenji Aboudi. It took only a few more minutes for the small group to pull up in front of a small home surrounded by a chain-link fence.

“Can I help you?” A tall, slim African man asked them from the front yard. He narrowed his eyes as he squinted against the afternoon sun. “What business do you have here at the Aboudi household?”

“Are you Lenji Aboudi?” Lexi got out of the beat-up jeep – meeting the man at his fence. “I’m Lexi Kraithe. My brother left me your name on a note in the village. His name is Will – Will Kraithe.”

“Come with me.” Lenji opened the gate, letting the group into his yard. He continued speaking as they followed him to the house. “I assume that these are people you trust, Miss Kraithe, which is why I am allowing you all inside. Will is here – hiding from people who wish him harm.” Lenji stopped at the front door and turned to face her. “Will saved my son’s life. Kai got too close to the camp of some diamond searchers. They are ruthless people – these men. They threatened Kai, and Will heard them. He took photos of what they were doing, and he told them that the photos would be sent to the authorities if the men tried to harm anyone.”

Lexi could feel her heart pounding in her chest. Will was never one to back down from helping someone in need. The fact that he put himself in danger to help a little boy made sense. Now, it was up to her to save her little brother from trained killers.

Lenji opened the door – motioning the group inside. “You’ll find a trap door under the rug beneath the kitchen table. Will is hidden in there. Once I received word from Kovi that someone asked for me, I had him hide until I knew you could be trusted.”

“Thank you, Lenji, for keeping my brother safe,” Lexi told him before entering the house. The man nodded before shutting the door behind the group. It only took mere minutes to uncover the trap door in the kitchen, but it felt like an eternity for Lexi. “Will? Are you down there?”

“Lex?” A voice came up through the wooden door on the floor. It was followed by the sound of a lock sliding and the door being pushed open. Eyes the same color as hers greeted her as Will climbed out of the hole. “I knew you would come, sis. I can always count on you to bail me out of trouble.”

Lexi didn’t know whether to punch her brother or hug him. She decided on the latter – taking her brother in a fierce, protective hug. When she released him, Will ran his fingers through his shaggy auburn hair and shook the dust from his clothes.

“I should strangle you for getting yourself into this, but I can’t.” Lexi placed her hands on her hips. “Your heart was in the right place, Will. I would have done the same thing.”

“Thanks, sis.” Will glanced at the group she had brought with her before his eyes landed on Damien. “I see you brought a whole rescue squad to find me. Did you bring the photos?”

“No, she didn’t,” Damien answered. “We turned them over to a special team that has been trying to locate Isaiah for a long time. Your evidence will help them find him and put him away for a long time.”

“Well, that is good news.” Will put his arm around Lexi’s shoulders. “How about we go home them, Lex? I could really use a nice long shower and about three weeks of sleep.”

Lexi laughed at her brother. “I agree. Let’s go, Will.”

During the long plane ride home, Lexi was able to find out that Isaiah and his team has been found. Luckily, the entire operation was going to be shut down for good – with each member facing multiple charges. She had to admit that Damien had proved himself during this entire operation, which meant that it was time for her to finally forgive him.

“Damien?” Lexi turned to face him after her brother had fallen asleep in the seat beside her. “I am sorry that I held our past against you for so long. Can we start over?”

“Does this mean you forgive me?” Damien grinned as she nodded. “Then, sure. We can start over, Lex. On one condition.” He chuckled as she gave him a curious look. “Have dinner with me when we get back, Lex.”

“Okay,” Lex replied with a smile as she leaned her head back on the seat.

Damien had helped her rescue her brother, and he hadn’t thought twice about the danger it would put him in. She could do a dinner – or two. After that, only time would tell…

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