Heroes Rising, Book #1
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They served their country well, but they had focused for so along on being SEALs that now they are without a purpose or commitment. Their dreams are filled with images of teammates torn and shredded in combat situations. They have learned to live with a mental toughness developed through strict discipline. Those without family to ground them are facing a life without direction. But former SEAL Alex Rossi sees in them the core of the sheriff’s staff he is building one block at a time. In the foothills of Montana’s Crazy Mountains they will find new purpose, build new lives and open themselves to love.
She’d only be safe if she got away…
Lainie Taggert needed to break away from her abusive relationship before it killed her, but Sonny Fitzgerald had all the keys to controlling her. Until she landed in the hospital with bruises and broken bones. And her friend, Drea Halstead, convinced her they had to spirit her away.
His life was in limbo…
Zane Halstead was rootless after three tours with the SEALs, medically discharged and not sure what to do with himself. When Sheriff Alex Rossi in Montana reached out to him with an offer to join his staff, he thought, what the hell? A house came with it along with two horses two horses he could work with. But then his sister pleaded with him to take a battered woman with him and keep her safe. How could he say no?
But the best laid plans and all that…
They never expected to fall for each other, Zane with his determination to stay single and Lainie with her nightmares and a vicious bully after her. And a rich one at that. But chemistry and emotions have their own plans, and when Zane gets word Lainie’s ex is on her trail, he realizes he’ll do anything to keep her safe…and for himself. With the help of Sheriff Alex Rossi, he is ready to take on the enemy for his woman.
A little taste
She was in a soft, warm, comfortable place, cocooned. Happy. She wanted to stay there forever, but a distracting voice kept talking to her.
“Come on, Lainie. Can you open your eyes for me? I want to check your blood pressure again.”
The voice was familiar but the last thing Lainie Taggert wanted to do was open her eyes. The pain would come back, along with the feel of his fists and his voice raging at her. Here, in this darkness, she was safe.
“Please, Lainie?” the soothing voice begged again. “Come on. Open those baby blues. Just for a few minutes. I promise.”
The voice was both familiar and nonthreatening, so Lainie gritted her teeth and forced her lids open. Well, at least one. And found herself looking at the face of Drea Halstead. The woman who had once been her friend, eons ago, before he had taken over her life and cut her off from everyone.
“There you go.” Drea smiled at her. “We have to stop meeting like this.”
“Drea?” Lainie tried to blink and realized she could only see out of one eye. “Is that really you?”
“Sure is. I only started here last month. Got a job offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“Oh god.” A tear rolled out of her good eye. “I’m not dreaming, right?”
“Nope. When I got your chart and walked into this room, imagine my surprise to find my friend lying in this bed.” Her lips curved in a hint of a smile. “I know we haven’t seen each other in a good while, but, really, you didn’t have to go to such drastic lengths to make it happen.”
Lainie tried to move, but pain surged everywhere in her body, including her left hand. And her left arm seemed to be restrained in some fashion. She wanted to close her eyes again and fall back into the soft place where none of this existed.
”Nope. Uh-uh.” Drea’s voice was both coaxing and demanding. “You have to wake up so I can talk to you.” She paused. “What’s going on, Lainie? I pulled up your hospital records. This has become a really bad pattern.”
“I know.” Lainie tried to hide her embarrassment, but she hurt too much to do anything but lie there. She knew she needed help, but where could she go? Who could she turn to? This time was the worst. Next time he might kill her. “Drea, I—I don’t—I‘m sorry.”
“Stop. Please. You have nothing to apologize to me for. But that asshole you live with, the one whose goon told me to get lost or else, is going to have to answer some questions.”
“Oh lord.” Lainie closed her good eye. “Please tell me he’s not here.”
“He’s not here. But, Lainie, you can’t go back to that house. I’m afraid he’ll kill you.”
“You’re right, but I don’t know what to do,” she whispered. “I have no one to go to, no one to help me, and I have to get away from him. God, Drea.” She closed her eyes for a moment then opened them. “I don’t know how a smart woman like me got herself into a situation that looks as if there’s no way out.”
“I wish I’d insisted you leave him when you had the chance. I’ve gotten so I can spot the abusers.”
“But I didn’t see it then,” Lainie reminded her. “I still had blinders on.” She swallowed back tears that were a combination of pain and humiliation. “I can’t believe how stupid I was.”
“Not stupid. Men like Sonny Fitzgerald are great con artists.” Drea studied her.
“More than that,” she whispered. “They’re evil.”
Something she hadn’t discovered until too late.
Drea studied her for a long time, and Lainie wondered if she had bad news to tell her. She wasn’t sure she could take any more.
“What?” she asked at last.
“Listen,” Drea went on. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot while you were being treated and lying in here. Lainie, I have a way out for you, if you’re willing to take it.”
Lainie stared at her. A way out? Was it even possible? “Like what?”
“What if I could make you disappear? Not only from the hospital. I mean from the city. And without Sonny Fitzgerald knowing how or where you’d gone to?”
“I don’t know how you could do that.” Lainie swallowed, although her throat was so dry it hurt. “He’s going to find out where I am. He finds out everything. I had to use my cell phone to call for the ride here. I meant to get rid of it after that, but—” She caught her lower lip between her teeth.
“A cell phone I have in my possession, without a battery or sim card.” She grinned. “I watch a lot of television. I’m talking about making you disappear from here.”
“You can do that, even with my injuries?” Lainie was almost afraid to hear the answer.
“It’s not as bad as it could have been. Your right eye is swollen shut, your face looks like a painter’s palette fell on it, your left shoulder is sprained, which is why it’s in a sling, and two fingers of your left hand are broken. The doctor taped them together to stabilize them.” She paused. “And the rest of your body is sprouting brises like flowers in a garden, but all that will heal. We’ve got to get you out of here so this doesn’t happen again.”
“When Sonny comes to pick me up, which you know he will, if I’m not here he’ll pitch a fit.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “Drea, I learned something I wasn’t supposed to know. That’s part of the reason he went berserk last night. Teaching me what would happen if I opened my mouth. He’ll be insane to find me. What will you tell him?”
“We’ll get to that in a minute. Look. We’ve been friends for a long time. We’re still friends, despite the fact that asshole has cut you off from everyone but him and his people.”
“I know, and I’m so sorry.” She felt like crying, but this was no time for tears. She had to be strong.
“Forget that. This is your fourth visit here this year,” Drea went on. “Honey, why didn’t you ever reach out to the medical staff? They would have called the police and taken you to safety.”
She wiped away a stupid tear with her good hand. This was no time for that. “He’d have found me, Drea. It wouldn’t have been pretty for me or the people shielding me.”
“But the police—”
“Can’t always do what you want them to.”
“He won’t find out anything. I promise you. But, according to Rick, the other times Sonny brought you, he insisted that you fell, or some other half-assed answer. It was obvious he got you to go along with it or the police would have been called.”
“You have no idea how angry that made him, that they wanted to report my injuries. If not for Geoff Miller, his driver/bodyguard, pointing out to him that if he made things worse, he’d be all over the news and possibly be arrested, he might have killed me when we got home.”
Lainie could still remember the rage.
“But this time,” Drea pointed out, “however you managed it, you got here by yourself. It’s the perfect time for you to do a disappearing act.”
“I know.” The nausea came roiling back, and she swallowed again. “Could I have some water, please?”
“Of course.” Drea held the paper cup with a straw up for her to sip. “Slowly, please.”
“It’s a damn good thing you aren’t married yet.” She stopped and looked at Lainie. “You aren’t, right?”
“No. I just—”
“Never mind. I’ve been thinking about this while you were getting patched up and drugged to make the pain a little easier to bear. I have a way out for you, and you need to take it if you want to stay alive.”
Lainie tried to shift in bed, only everything hurt even worse whenever she moved.
“But what? How? I’m desperate enough at this moment to do anything, but what? Where can I go? No one will take me in, knowing what Sonny would do if he found out. I don’t want to endanger them, anyway.”
“Got it taken care of. I have someone who won’t be afraid of Sonny and can get you out of here before that man even knows you’re gone.”
Lainie was almost afraid to hope. “Who would that be?”
“Remember I mentioned my brother, Zane, when we were still able to spend time together?”
“I do. The SEAL, right?”
Drea nodded. “Former SEAL. He’s been medically discharged because of injuries from his last mission, but he’s still in pretty good shape. Well, he’s going to Montana to some rural area to get his act together. I’m going to get him to take you with him.”
“What?” Lainie gasped. “But he doesn’t even know me. Why would he do that? And what happens when we get there. Is he just going to leave me on my own? I can’t—”
“Don’t panic.” Drea took her uninjured hand. “He’ll make sure you’re set up there, and he’ll protect you, at least until you can make some decisions for yourself.”
“He’s not going to want to take a basket case like me with him.” But god, on its own, a little hope wriggled through her.
“He will,” Drea assured her. “I promise you he will. SEALs are big into protecting people. US Navy SEALs are the most elite combat unit in the world, and they carry it into their personal lives.”
“And what about when Sonny comes looking for me here, like he always does?”
“Rick will handle it while I make myself scarce. As far as that asshole Sonny Fitzgerald is concerned, you merely walked out of the hospital and no one saw you leave. Rick and I have it all worked out.”
“You don’t know Sonny,” she protested. “He can turn on the charm one minute and cut your throat the next.” She grimaced. “Too bad I saw only the charm until it was too late.”
“We all do stupid things,” Drea assured her. “Sadly, yours turned out to have danger attached to it. But you don’t worry about Sonny Fitzgerald. Dr. Carvallo can more than handle him and give him plenty of misdirection. And he made sure my name doesn’t appear anywhere on your treatment chart, in case he remembers we’re friends.”
“Listen.” How could she phrase this? “You should be aware of this. Sonny did something really terrible. Worse than just hitting me because he feels like it. If he finds me, I know he’ll kill me.” She stopped to take a breath. “And he could easily kill anyone who helps me.”
“What did he do?”
Lainie squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn’t tell Drea. It would put her in jeopardy, too.
“I can’t tell you. But if it gets out—Anyway, I had a tiny window of opportunity, and I took it. But I have to get away. This is way more than his usual stuff.”
Drea’s mouth tightened, but then she squeezed Lainie’s hand.
“Then it’s a good thing I have a fearless SEAL for a brother to take care of my friends.”
“Are we?” she asked. “Still friends?”
“Honey, we will always be friends, no matter what. So. How about resting here for a few. I’m going to call Zane.”
“He won’t want to get involved with this,” she protested. “I’m a stranger.”
“Not to me. Now lie there and rest while I work things out.”
“I—I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Letting me get you out of here is thanks enough. When I come back from my phone call, we have to get your stuff together. Then I want to give you a pill for the pain so you can handle the shifting around and walking out of here.”
“I can pay him,” Lainie said quickly. “I’ve been hoarding money, and before I managed to get out of the house this morning, I stuffed all of it into the pocket of my jeans. Will you check—”
“Already got it.” Drea pulled an envelope thick with bills from her pocket. “And I can tell you he won’t take a dime. But Jesus, Lainie. How long have you been squirreling this away? And how did you do it?”
“Six months.” Lainie closed her good eye. “Pretty pathetic, right? Sonny didn’t stop me from going to the grocery store, and I always got cash back. Not enough to raise his eyebrows when he checked the account.”
“Lord, Lainie. Why didn’t you drive to a police station? Or come to me?”
Lainie sighed, the effort hurting her chest. “He always had someone following me. And do you think the cops in this city would go against the great Sonny Fitzgerald? He’s an icon. People fall all over themselves to curry favor with him. I still don’t know how you’re going to pull this off, even if your brother is stupid enough to agree to it.”
“My brother is far from stupid, and, like I said, he’s a former SEAL. Protecting people is their first order of business.” She let go of Lainie’s hand, placing it on the sheet. “Let me go make that call. Then I’ll be back to get things rolling.”
“W-What are you going to tell Sonny? I know he’ll show up here when he discovers I’m gone.”
“We’re going to tell him you walked out of here and we have no idea where you went. Period.” She handed Lainie a gel pack. “Meanwhile, hold this on your bad eye.”
Lainie lay back against the pillows, trying not to think about the pain and her dangerous situation. After his temper tantrum last night, Sonny had left her alone to crawl upstairs to their room. He hadn’t even bothered to ask how she was in the morning, just told her she’d better heal herself because no more hospital visits. Then he dressed and left for his office. Thank the lord she was able to call an Uber and get out of the house before he came back to check on her.
When she’d first gone to work as Sonny Fitzgerald’s paralegal, she couldn’t believe her luck. She’d spent ten years at two law firms making herself the best paralegal possible, looking for a big break. And the same amount of time looking for her dream man. She’d been drawn to Sonny like a magnet. He seemed to have it all, the things she’d been searching for all her life—big successful law firm, money, a place at the top of society, good looks. She basked in his attention, thrilled when he offered her a job working for him, and even more excited when he started asking her out.
Before she knew it, he’d asked her to marry him and insisted she move into his house. She was ecstatic, thinking she’d plucked the gold ring from the merry-go-round. But when her new role turned into a tool for him to woo clients and polish his image, she realized that once again her antenna had been off and she’d made a mistake. If only she’d known what was hiding behind that public mask and the hell she was descending into. By that time, however, she’d been trapped, desperate to find a way out.
Especially when she discovered his anger had a brutal side to it.
Of course, it wasn’t as if she had the best history when it came to picking men. She’d begun to think there was something wrong with her, that men who either cheated on her or left her hanging were the ones she seemed drawn to. Good looks, smooth personalities, a sense of power—those had been on her unconscious to-do list. At least the others hadn’t had anger issues.
Now here she was, lucky she wasn’t already dead, and wondering how Drea thought someone could sneak her out of the city without a trace. And then what? Sonny had a history of getting rid of people who could do damage to him. Could Drea’s brother protect her from that?
She was lying there trying to will the pain away and ignore the swelling in her left eye when Drea came back into the room with something folded under one arm and slid the glass door closed. She set a little pill cup on the nightstand, pulled the lone chair up to the bed, and leaned close.
“Okay, my friend, it’s all set. Zane will be here in fifteen minutes. In a second I’m going to give you this pill to help the pain. Rick won’t give you a shot because it would knock you out too much, but he’s getting enough meds to take with you for the next couple of days.”
Lainie tried not to get too excited. She might actually be getting out of here and away without Sonny’s knowledge?
“Your brother will do it?”
Drea nodded. “He’s a very good guy, and he’ll keep you safe. This is going to work, Lainie. I want you to listen to me. I cleared it with Rick and Maggie. As far as anyone will know, you said you were leaving and that was that. We can’t prevent you from doing that. The only way we could stop you is if you had psychiatric problems.”
Lainie sighed. “Some people might say that’s my problem. Otherwise ,why would I have stayed with Sonny all this time?” She looked up at Drea. “And thank you for not asking.”
“That’s because in my illustrious career as a nurse, I have too often seen how one person can exert control over another so insidiously the chance to leave is gone before the person realizes it.”
“So, you do understand. Thank god.”
nodded and held up a pair of scrubs. “This is your exit wardrobe. You’ll merely be another ED employee to anyone who sees you. We keep extras of these around here in case patients’ clothes get ruined or whatever. And I managed to snag a set. We’re so busy today no one’s going to give you a second look anyway.” She held up an employee badge and waved it in front of Lainie. “One of the idiot orderlies dropped this somewhere so, lucky me, I found it and can attach it to your clothing.”
Lainie looked at her friend. “I don’t know how to thank you. Even after I walked away from our friendship—”
“As far as anyone up here will know, you got up and walked out of here. You weren’t forced. Period. Sonny Fitzgerald won’t be able to prove any different. And speaking of walking, you’ll have to move semi-decently until we get out of here. Can you do that?”
“I’ll make myself do it,” Lainie answered, her voice fierce. She wasn’t going to blow this one chance.
“Good. Take this pill first. It usually starts to work at once and will dull the pain enough to help you move. Come on. Let’s get you into scrubs. Then we’re going to get you to a back entrance where my brother will pick you up. I know where all the security cameras are to avoid them. We only have to get to a rear door. Can you do it?”
Lainie nodded. “I can do anything to get me away from him.”
“All right, girlfriend. Let’s get it done. Here. Take this pill.”
Lainie swallowed the meds then let Drea help her into the scrubs. Was this really going to work?