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Authors: Dana Marton

Rogue Soldier

BOOK: Rogue Soldier
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He was the devil's own—but she was glad he'd come.

Tessa pulled back the gun and licked her lips to make the tingling go away. The past had slammed into her, knocking the breath out of her the moment she'd seen him. The power he had over her scared her spitless, so she'd gone on the offensive and attacked him. The only other choice she had was to collapse into his arms, and she couldn't do that. She couldn't give him a toehold—nothing. If she did, he would take everything and leave her empty again.

They were so close, she could smell his tangy scent, feel his breath feather her cheek. She crossed her arms tightly so she wouldn't reach out to him in the darkness….

R
OGUE
S
OLDIER
D
ANA
M
ARTON

This book is dedicated to Allison Lyons
for all her wonderful help.

With many thanks to Anita Staley and Jenel Looney
for their help and support. And with much appreciation to
Carmen Bydalek, Carla Gingrich, Jean Fassler and Rose Notti
of Alaska for setting me straight on a number of details. Many
thanks as well to the Nome Public Library.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dana Marton lives near Wilmington, Delaware. She has been an avid reader since childhood and has a master's degree in writing popular fiction. When not writing, she can be found either in her garden or her home library. For more information on the author and her other novels, please visit her Web site at www.danamarton.com.

She would love to hear from her readers via e-mail: [email protected].

Books by Dana Marton

HARLEQUIN INTRIGUE

806—SHADOW SOLDIER

821—SECRET SOLDIER

859—THE SHEIK'S SAFETY

875—CAMOUFLAGE HEART

902—ROGUE SOLDIER

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Mike McNair
—Member of SDDU, a top-secret military group. When he finds out that the only woman he's ever loved is kidnapped, he goes AWOL to rush to Alaska and rescue her.

Tessa Nielsen
—Tessa does not appreciate Mike's return. But as they fight for their lives, she begins to wonder just how much he's changed over the last few years.

SDDU
—Special Designation Defense Unit. A top secret military team established to fight terrorism. Its existence is known only by a select few. Members are recruited from the best of the best, SEALs, FBI and CIA agents, elite military groups.

Brady Marshall
—Mike's old nemesis at the CIA. But what does he have to do with Tessa's kidnapping?

Tommy Cattaro
—A.K.A. Shorty. He used to be one of Mike's best friends and is now the only person who can help Mike and Tessa out of this mess.

Tsernyakov
—An elusive arms dealer, wanted on three continents. Although results of his work are well known to the authorities, his identity isn't.

Colonel Wilson
—Mike's boss. He's the leader of the SDDU, reporting straight to the Homeland Security Secretary.

Chapter One

Of all the stupid things he'd done in his life, this might take the cake. He didn't even know for sure that she was still alive. All he had to go by was a partial sentence in a two-page report he wasn't supposed to have seen: “team was unable to recover the second body.” Not exactly a beacon of hope, considering that the other researcher had been found half-eaten by bears.

Mike McNair crept across the snow, each step placed with care. He didn't want to crunch the icy mess underfoot. The sled dogs were upwind so they couldn't smell him. He had to make sure they didn't hear him, either, now that the squalls had died down and the afternoon was shrouded in the absolute silence that existed only in the farthest reaches of the world.

The enemy was inside, all six of the men. He hoped Tessa was with them.

A gun would have come in handy under the cir
cumstances, but his rifle lay in the snow on the bottom of an inaccessible ravine, next to his backpack of supplies. It could have been worse—he could have been killed when the ledge gave way under him.

He hadn't been. He'd made it, and he would get Tessa back, no matter what it took. Then he would do the best damn fast-talking he'd ever done in his life and convince the Colonel to overlook this little adventure.

Fat chance of that. Wake up, buddy, and smell the court-martial.

People didn't go AWOL from the SDDU every day. The Special Designation Defense Unit, a top-secret military team founded only five years ago, consisted of elite soldiers, the best of the best.

Mike moved forward in a crouch, inch by inch until he reached the silvery white, steel-reinforced mobile research vehicle that was designed to house two scientists and their lab equipment and was strong enough to withstand a polar bear attack. Snow partially obscured the CRREL logo on the side—Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

The bitter cold made his eyes water. Couldn't be more than twenty degrees this morning. The pilot who had dropped him in three days ago told him it was the best weather they'd seen at this time of the year in a long time. He hoped Tessa and he would be out of here before the temperature dropped.

He blinked as he turned and walked back to the edge of the Alaskan alders where he'd trampled the snow into an unrecognizable array of tracks earlier. Careful to place his boots exactly in the first set of prints that led to the vehicle, he returned to it and looked back to examine his handiwork—footwork, really. It looked good.

To anyone but the most trained observer, the two sets of tracks looked like someone had come over to the trailer, then gone back to the woods. He counted on the element of surprise, that the men would focus on finding out who was out there spying on them, and wouldn't notice that the tracks leading to the vehicle were a millimeter or two deeper than the ones leading away.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the greasy paper he had collected that afternoon, along with a handful of other garbage the wind had blown from the trailer into the grove of trees. He rolled everything together then lit the end with one of his few remaining waterproof matches and held the smoking mess up to the vent hole.

No sound came from inside.

If Tessa was alive and unharmed, he would be content to take her and leave the men to the CIA. If she'd been hurt in any way, all bets were off.

A couple of minutes passed before he heard the
door slam open on the other side. Play time. He leaped around the corner and dove under the vehicle, rolled to the middle. Four pairs of legs came around in fur boots.

“Where's the fire?”

“Ja nye znau.”
The response came in Russian.
I don't know.

The boots stopped at his tracks.

“What the hell is this?”

The Russian called something back to the men in the trailer, then the four headed off toward the woods.

Mike ducked out on the other side, pulled his white parka over as much of his face as he could and banged on the door.

“Pahchemu tu—”

The door opened, and his mind registered the two men inside, Tessa tied up on the floor in the corner. She had a dark bruise on her face. And just like that, his plan of not doing more damage than necessary to her captors was forgotten.

The man standing in the doorway didn't have a chance to finish his sentence.

Mike crushed the guy's windpipe with one well-aimed strike a split second before the other man went for his gun and he had to jump him. He brought the guy down, shoved his index finger behind the trigger to make sure the weapon couldn't
be discharged. He didn't want the others coming back in a hurry.

“Who the hell are you?” The man was gasping for air, his voice hoarse but recognizably American.

At least one of the four outside was a local boy, too. A joint operation? None of it made any sense. The man pulled a knife from somewhere with his free hand, but Mike finally got a good grip on the guy's head and heaved. The neck broke with a small pop, like cracking knuckles.

He paused to listen for anyone coming from outside, then a second later he was pulling the rags out of Tessa's mouth. She swallowed, ran her tongue over her dry lips, pushing her bound hands toward him.

“I should have gotten here sooner, honey. Are you all right?” He crushed her to his chest for a heart-stopping moment. She was alive. He hadn't been too late.
She was alive.

He set her away to look at her and free her from the ropes. They had to get out of here fast.

“You bastard,” was the first thing she said to him, her voice as hard as her eyes.

He stared at her for a second, a little hurt by the obvious anger on her face. Hell, she wasn't still mad at him, was she?

“Good to see you, too, hon. If I get these ropes off,
you're not gonna hit me, are you?” He was cutting as he spoke. They didn't have any time to waste.

Tessa didn't seem to realize that. The second her hands were free, she socked him in the jaw with full force.

He teetered back. “Damn. What was that for?”

But she was already collecting the two rifles from the dead men and shrugging into a parka. Then she was out the door.

The woman moved fast.

He rushed after her, scanning the woods, but saw no sign of the men. They were probably searching for him farther in the forest. With a little luck, they'd keep at it for a while.

He caught up with Tessa by the pair of sleds—one metal, one wood—two crates on each. He figured explosives, from what he'd seen in that report. The dogs were harnessed and ready to go, jumping and yipping as they greeted her, but she silenced them quickly. She got on the metal sled, and he went to cut the leather harness on the other.

What the hell?

Her dogs were moving, leaning into the work. The sled broke loose of its snow bed with a jerk then slid forward smoothly. She meant to leave without him.

He had to run to jump on. “Come on, you can't
still be mad at me.” He shoved off one of the crates to make room for himself, and almost tipped the sled, sending the dogs into momentary disarray.

“Haa!” She snapped the whip above the animals' heads, her ice-blue eyes locked onto his face.

She looked exactly as he'd remembered her—magnificent with her generous lips and all that red hair escaping from her hood. The sight of her was like a sharp elbow in the chest.

Damn, he should have looked her up sooner.

“I went past mad a couple of years back, McNair. I'd just as soon shoot you as look at you.”

She wasn't kidding. The fierce emotion on her face would have knocked a lesser man on his ass. Where had that come from? He hung on as the dogs picked up speed.

“Could we—” The rapid gunfire coming from the woods cut him off.

She tossed him one of the rifles. “Make yourself useful.”

He did, spraying the edge of the forest. A moment of silence passed before response came.

They were out in the open, no place to take cover, and if he was correct, they were sharing the sled with some serious explosives—a hell of a target. He moved to shove the second crate off, then stopped. They were going pretty fast now. If he tipped the sled,
if the dogs got tangled—if they slowed at all—they were as good as dead.

They would only have to make it the next few hundred feet to be out of range. If the men were stupid enough to leave the cover of the woods and come after them, he could pick them off one by one.

“Haa!” Tessa urged the dogs faster, and they gave her everything they had as if sensing the humans' desperation.

Bullets sprayed the snow around them, sending up powdery puffs of white. Just a little more. He did his best to get the men, but it was hard to take out people he couldn't see. All he could do was aim in the general direction where he figured the men were hiding behind trees and snowdrifts.

Then he glimpsed one who stepped out too far, and took aim, squeezing off a round at the same time as the man. Mike watched him fold slowly onto the snow as he heard a loud yelp from one of the dogs and the sled jerked sharply, the huskies slowing and tangling the line.

Which dog? He was in the snow on his feet, ignoring the bullets that kept coming. It was the black female husky with the light stripe across her shoulders—red spread on her hind leg, staining the snow.

He grabbed the dog and sliced the leather that
bound her to the harness, picked her up and jumped on the sled with her on his lap.

“Haa!” Tessa yelled to the rest, straightening the line.

The dogs listened to her and picked up speed again.

“That's Sasha. How's she doing?”

The dog yipped at him as he probed around the wound. “Easy, girl. I'm going to take care of you. Nothing to worry about.” He talked to her in a soothing voice, petting her, allowing her time to get used to his scent. “Went clear through,” he said to Tessa. At least they didn't have to worry about the bullet.

He let the dog lick the wound for a few seconds before he pushed her head away and slid his scarf off his neck to use as a bandage. He barely got it tied when the dog bent to pull it off.

“Sasha.” Tessa's voice was firm.

The dog stopped pulling at the scarf, but was now trying to squirm out of his hold and get off the sled.

“Stay,” Tessa said.

And Sasha finally lay her head on his lap with a pitiful whine of protest. Man, he felt bad for her. That bullet had been meant for him.

“Take it easy, girl. You'll be fine.” He scratched her behind the ear.

The sled flew over the snow. They were out of firing range, but the men were still shooting, wasting
bullets. He pressed his palm against Sasha's wound, hoping the pressure would stop the bleeding.

“How bad?” Tessa asked.

“She'll live if we don't run into any more trouble and can get help soon.”

Tessa nodded and kept a good pace, calling to the dogs to spur them on, ignoring him for the next couple of miles.

“Where is your base camp?” She switched to a lower pace once the huskies tired.

“I don't have one.”

“Your supplies?”

He shook his head, annoyed that he was embarrassed. He had tracked her down in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, rescued her from a group of terrorists. How in hell did she manage to make him feel as if that were insufficient?

“So you came to get me because you didn't want to starve and freeze alone?” She flashed him a look of contempt as only Tessa could.

God, she was gorgeous.

“They would have killed you.” He rubbed Sasha behind the ears.

“Did it occur to you that I might have had a plan?”

No it hadn't. He'd heard that her research station had been attacked by some nutcases who were planning to blow up a chunk of the Alaskan pipeline,
and he'd rushed after her against explicit orders that the SDDU was to stay out of this one since the CIA was handling the case.

He'd been lucky to dig up as much information as he had. He'd never seen a case more hushed up. The Colonel about had a stroke when Mike had asked to be allowed to get involved whether the CIA wanted him or not. Apparently, the agency's director had been making a bid to bring the SDDU under his supervision. One wrong move from anyone in the Special Designation Defense Unit, and the whole group could cease to exist as they knew it.

A fat snowflake floated onto his nose, then more and more came, chasing each other down from the endless gray sky. For once he didn't mind. Snow would cover their tracks.

“So what was your plan?” He pulled his hood closer to his stinging cheeks, as the wind picked up and the clouds began dumping their loads in earnest, reducing visibility to a few yards. He shifted to shield Sasha from the elements as much as he could.

“Have them drive around in circles until fuel ran out, then take the dog teams and leave them stranded,” she said.

“Could have worked.”

“Whoa!” She pulled on the reins and brought the team to a slow halt. “Let's give them a little rest.” She
stepped off the back runners and came straight to Sasha, knelt in the snow and buried her face in the dog's fur, murmuring words of reassurance he couldn't understand.

“Come on, let me see you,” she said as she lifted the dog off his lap and took her into her arms. “You're such a good dog.”

She checked the bandage, and he was happy to see no fresh blood gush forth when she pulled up the edge.

“Why don't you set that up?” She nodded toward the jumble of furs he'd been sitting on.

“They'll catch up with us.”

“Not yet. You cut the harness on the other sled. None of them can mush dogs worth anything, anyway. The weather is turning for the worse. We're better off letting the huskies rest now so they'll be ready to cover serious ground when the snow clears out.”

She made sense. He yanked at the furs. They were all connected, a patchwork that made a good-size cover, at least ten by ten or so, the large polar bear fur in the middle surrounded by wolf pelts. He spread it and crawled under it, held up one end to let her in when she came back with the dogs. The shelter was pretty low, supported by their heads as they sat on the sled, uncomfortable.

BOOK: Rogue Soldier
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