By: Ann Major


Mezcaya, Central America

El Jefe terrorist compound

Lt. Col. Phillip Westin, burly ex-Marine, wasn’t dead.

Hell. He almost wished he was. Solitary confinement—it made you crazy.

Groggily, he chafed at the ropes binding his wrists and ankles. Beneath the restraints his skin burned from too much rubbing.

He tried to roll over but he was so weak he could only lie facedown in the dark, gasping. The windowless walls seemed to close in upon him. He wanted to scream…or worse…to weep. One minute he was burning up, the next he was shivering and whimpering on his cot like a baby. The cramps in his legs and arms knifed through him constantly.

Where the hell was he? Remember! Try to remember. His thoughts were slow and tortured. It took him a while to realize that he was lying on a dirty canvas cot deep in The Cave that served as the dungeon underneath Fortaleza de la Fortuna. The fortaleza was a terrorist compound in Mezcaya run by a particularly dangerous group of thugs who went by the name El Jefe.

Westin had been captured a few weeks ago shortly after he’d run Jose Mendoza, one of the terrorist ring-leaders, off a mountain road and killed him. Too bad Mendoza’s illegitimate son, Xavier Gonzalez, didn’t have a forgiving nature.

Westin blinked but couldn’t see a thing. The damned dungeon was blacker than the inside of an ape’s behind.

His head throbbed where Xavier had smacked him with a rifle butt yesterday. His throat was dry. He was thirsty as hell. Dehydrated probably.

Xavier and his unkempt dirty bunch of thugs had captured him and beaten him senseless and then gleefully trussed him like a pig for slaughter.

He was going to die. At dawn. A single bullet to the head, the final coup de grace. An hour ago Xavier and a couple of short, teenage captors reeking of body odor had strutted inside The Cave like a bunch of bantam cocks in a barnyard and kicked him with their black, muddy combat boots.

“Gringo. ¿Cómo estás?” They’d prodded him with their assault rifles and made cruel jokes in Spanish rather than in their Mezcayan dialect. They’d flipped coins to see who’d get lucky enough to pull the trigger. Xavier, the youngest and the most lethally handsome, had slid a .45 out of a black holster and dried it off on his sleeve.

“You kill my father, so you die, gringo. You have no right to be in my country.”

“Your drug and gun money was making inroads in my town, bastardo. My town.”

The kid was dark with a permanent Mezcayan tan. With one brown hand he’d lifted a cigarette to his pretty mouth; with the other he’d carefully centered the cold barrel on Phillip’s forehead.

“Your town?”

Xavier’s eyes were scarily irrational in his pretty-boy face. His finger had pulled back the trigger ever so slightly. “Bang. Bang, gringo. Your town is going to be my town.”

Before Phillip could argue, the thick, acrid cigarette smoke from the kid’s cigarette had made him wretch. Hell, maybe puking up his guts had saved him. Instead of firing his gun, Xavier had burst out into hysterical laughter and shrieked, “Cobarde. Coward.”

Then the bastardo had danced a little jig.

“Tengo sed. I’m thirsty,” Phillip had said.

Xavier had smiled that pretty smile. “So—drink this!” He’d pitched the cigarette into the vomit in front of Phillip’s face.

Bastardos. His death was a game to them. Phillip Westin, ex-Marine, had been handpicked for the Alpha Force. His usual style was spit-and-polish perfect.

He wouldn’t be a pretty corpse. He wouldn’t even rate a body bag in this hellhole compound that was hidden deep in Mezcayan mountains and rain forest.

There’d be no military honors at his funeral. No funeral, period. No beautiful woman to weep over his grave back home in south Texas.

Suddenly a blond goddess, no a witch, seemed to float above him in the misty black.

Oh, God…. Just when he was weak, wet, shaking and puking with fear, he had to think of her—the icy, trampy witch, who’d walked out on him. Usually, the witch was satisfied to haunt his dreams. When he was awake, he was disciplined enough to keep his demons and witches at bay.

But he was weak and cold…so cold and feverish a spasm shook him…and so scared about dying he could think only of her.

Anger slammed him when her sulky, smoky voice began to sing the love song she’d written about their doomed relationship.

He jerked at his ropes, and to his surprise they loosened just a bit. “Go away! Leave me alone!” he yelled into the steamy darkness.

The perverse phantom draped her curvy body against the black wall and sang louder.

Nobody but you/Only you.

“Shut up,” he growled even as every cell in his body began to quiver as he fisted and unfisted his fingers in an attempt to free his hands.

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