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Her Hero After Dark
Cindy Dees

Her Hero After Dark
Cindy Dees

Jefferson Randall Stanley Winston. The name didn’t fit him at all. He ought to be called something like Gorilla Man.

Or Jungle Giant. She snorted. Or Sasquatch. Aloud, she asked, “Did the Ethiopians hurt you?”

He frowned as if he wasn’t exactly sure how to answer that.

She rephrased. “Did they torture you?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

What the heck did that mean? “Care to elaborate?”

“Nope.”

She tried a different tack. “Your grandfather arranged for your release. He’s been very worried about you.”

That elicited a completely indecipherable grunt from him. Could be disgust, could be gratitude. No way to tell. Sheesh, talking to this guy was like conversing with a brick wall. She gave up. If he wanted to talk, he would clearly do it in his own time and on his own terms.

She watched him through slitted eyes as he leaned back in his seat once more and seemed to all but pass out. Exhaustion, maybe? Except it looked more as if he was bearing incredible pain in stoic silence. What was up with that?

What was up with everything about this man? What in the hell had happened to him?

Dear Reader,

It’s always fun to write a story for (and hopefully to read about) a character who’s shown up in a number of previous books. I don’t know about you, but it gives me a deep sense of relief to make some poor, unloved soul happy at last. Hence, it is with great joy that I present you Jennifer Blackfoot’s story. She’s had to watch most of her colleagues run off and find their happily ever after, but now it’s her turn. And might I add, she finds love in a most unexpected place!

For his part, Jeff Winston is fully yummy enough to deserve a woman as awesome as Jennifer. Furthermore, as I close down H.O.T. Watch Ops for now—and in rather spectacular fashion if I do say so myself—it’s really exciting to let Jeff introduce you to a whole new set of heroes and heroines who will sweep us off our feet, whisk us off to exotic locations and plunge us into love and danger.

I hope you enjoy reading the climax of the H.O.T. Watch series as much as I enjoyed writing it. Buckle your seat belts and hang on tight because the adventure continues …

Warmly,

Cindy Dees

About the Author

CINDY DEES started flying airplanes while sitting in her dad’s lap at the age of three and got a pilot’s license before she got a driver’s license. At age fifteen, she dropped out of high school and left the horse farm in Michigan, where she grew up, to attend the University of Michigan. After earning a degree in Russian and East European Studies, she joined the US Air Force and became the youngest female pilot in its history. She flew supersonic jets, VIP airlift and the C-5 Galaxy, the world’s largest airplane. During her military career, she traveled to forty countries on five continents, was detained by the KGB and East German secret police, got shot at, flew in the first Gulf War and amassed a lifetime’s worth of war stories.

Her hobbies include medieval re-enacting, professional Middle Eastern dancing and Japanese gardening.

This RITA

Award-winning author’s first book was published in 2002 and since then she has published more than twenty-five bestselling and award-winning novels. She loves to hear from readers and can be contacted at www.cindydees.com.

Her Hero After Dark

Cindy Dees

www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk)

Chapter 1

Jennifer Blackfoot climbed out of the air-conditioned Land Rover into a muggy night echoing with the maniacal laughter of hyenas. She jumped as something screamed in the dark nearby. Whether it was a howler monkey or maybe a big cat, she couldn’t tell. Nuwazi, Ethiopia, was about as far removed from the New Mexico homeland of her people as a person could get.

The African mercenaries with her were nervous, swinging their AK-47s from side to side like they expected a lion to leap out of the bush at any second. It was not reassuring that even the natives were unsettled.

A broad strip of dirt road stretched before her, thick with underbrush on both sides. “You’re sure this is the place?” she asked her driver.

“Aye, Missy. ‘Dis de place.”

She glanced at her watch. Ten minutes till midnight. Her counterparts from the Ethiopian government still had a few minutes before they’d be late for this clandestine rendezvous.

American entrepreneur Leland Winston was one of the wealthiest men on the planet if the rumors were true. His fortune supposedly extended into the hundreds of billions of dollars. She snorted. It was enough, apparently, to buy her personal services as a CIA field agent.

Winston’s grandson, some kid named Jefferson Randall Stanley Winston, was in trouble with the Ethiopian government and needed extraction from the East African nation. Why Leland couldn’t have just bullied the State Department into collecting the kid was beyond her. Repatriating American citizens fell under the State’s formal auspices, not the CIA’s. Although this wasn’t exactly a normal repatriation. In point of fact, it had turned into a prisoner trade.

To that end, she gestured at the hired muscle with her to remove her prisoner from the backseat of the Land Rover. He was an Ethiopian national who went only by the moniker, El Mari. Big surprise, it meant The Leader in Ethiopia’s primary language, Amharic. The guy looked and acted like a warlord of some kind. Although he’d been mostly silent on the ride here, an annoying gloating quality clung to him.

Whatever. Her job was to get Winston’s grandson and bring him home. She seriously doubted Rich Boy was worth turning loose the man now standing beside her on the good citizens of Ethiopia. But it wasn’t her call to make.

Headlights came around a bend in the road at the other end of the long clearing. A big flatbed truck with bare metal ribs arching over the cargo bed came into view. The mercenaries arrayed across the road at her side tensed, pointing their weapons at the vehicle.

“Stand down, gentlemen,” she murmured.

They relaxed only fractionally, as if they knew something she didn’t. Her tension climbed another notch.

The truck stopped about a hundred yards from her Land Rover. Green-camouflage-clad Ethiopian Army soldiers swarmed from the truck in a flurry of activity. She watched, perplexed, as they used a motorized lift on the back of the truck to lower a large wooden crate to the ground. Its side was pried open with crowbars and a dozen machine guns pointed at its contents.

Jennifer gasped as a tall, muscular man staggered out of the box. He was filthy, bearded and long-haired, and looked more like a wild animal than a human being. What in the world had they done to Rich Boy?

As the American stepped away from the crate, her shock intensified. He was wearing some kind of heavy leather collar around his neck, and four soldiers wielded what looked like long broomsticks attached to the collar. They wrestled him forward between them toward her. The American’s hands were cuffed with metal bracelets to a chain around his waist, and his ankles were shackled. Just how dangerous was Rich Boy?

Unaccountably, the prisoner beside Jennifer laughed. It was a deep, full-throated thing that resonated with cruelty.

“It’s not funny,” Jennifer hissed. “How would you like it if we’d done that to you?”

He scowled over at her. “I am not crazy son-of-bitch.” He lifted his chin toward his American counterpart and muttered in disgust, “Mwac arämamäd.”

The hired guns around her surreptitiously held up their hands, making tribal warning signs against evil. Mwac arämamäd? Dead Man Walking? Her Amharic was rudimentary at best, but she was fairly sure that was what it meant. She glanced back at Rich Boy as one of his guards warily unshackled his ankles. Greasy strings of hair obscured his face as he staggered forward. He did look pretty close to dead at the moment. Or at least pretty savage. Nothing that a shower and a shave wouldn’t correct, though. No one had told her Jefferson Winston was that huge and strong. The guy was over six feet tall and looked like a walking muscle. Alarm skittered across her skin. Was she taking custody of some sort of violent psychopath?

“Let’s go,” she ordered her prisoner.

She walked forward slowly with El Mari beside her. The closer they got to the American prisoner, the more appalled she was by his condition. His eyes were unfocused, and his lips drew back from his teeth in a feral snarl. Even the man beside her seemed to cringe a little at the sight of Rich Boy. Dead Man Walking, indeed.

The cluster of soldiers around Jefferson Winston stopped not quite halfway between the two vehicles. At a nod from the Ethiopian Army officer who appeared to be in charge of his side of the swap, she turned to her prisoner. El Mari held out his wrists and she unlocked his handcuffs. They fell away and she stuffed them in her pocket. Oddly, though, the Ethiopians didn’t turn Rich Boy loose. Rather they gestured for her men to come and take positions on the collar poles.

Her men moved forward hesitantly.
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