THE CONSPIRACY by Kat Martin
Harper Winston’s brother has disappeared. Pursuing his dream of sailing the Caribbean, Michael hasn’t responded to texts or emails in days. When even the Coast Guard can’t find him, Harper is forced to take desperate measures. Which means going to Chase Garrett, once her brother’s best friend, now the only man she can trust…or so she hopes.
As the successful owner of Maximum Security, Chase has learned to trust his gut. He knows Harper’s father is mixed up in a deadly business, and suspects there’s more to Michael’s disappearance than meets the eye. Getting involved again with the Winstons goes against everything he stands for, yet old loyalties die hard. As the case draws him closer to Harper and deeper into the Winstons’ snarled crime family, he is forced to put everything on the line to keep Harper safe…and both of them alive.
The sounds of the rainforest surrounded him, the hum of insects, the shrill cry of a monkey, and the rustle of leaves as a wild animal moved through the undergrowth not far away.
In the blackness of night, Michael Winston leaned back against the thick trunk of an eighty-foot Kapok rising up from the damp, mossy floor of the rainforest. His wrists burned from the plastic ties biding his hands behind his back. The white Bermuda shorts his captors had allowed him to put on when they had boarded BUZZ Word and found him sleeping naked next to Pia in the master cabin were gone. Replaced by khaki fatigues more suitable for their trek into the jungle.
Huddled on the ground beside him, hands also bound, Pia rested her head on his shoulder, her long mahogany hair teasing his cheek. She was petite, no more than five foot-three, with big brown eyes and smooth olive skin. Even with her makeup gone, her baggy fatigues damp from the afternoon rain and sticking to her lush curves, she was beautiful.
Every time he looked at her, guilt and fury washed over him. Fury that he was helpless to protect her from what might be in store for them. Guilt that if he hadn’t convinced her to go sailing with him she would be safe back in Aruba.
He could only pray that their captors would continue to obey whatever orders had apparently come down from their leader, which seemed to be not to hurt them.
At least no more than they had already happened during the fight to subdue them that night on the boat. His jaw and cheek were bruised and his ribs acted from the blows he had taken. He would have kept fighting if one of the men hadn’t pulled a gun and pressed it against Pia’s head.
That had been days ago. What day was it now? He tried to count backward, remembered making incredible love to Pia for the first time after a night of gambling at the Trade Winds Casino. Both of them had won a little money, enough to have them smiling when they returned to the boat and ended up in bed.
He remembered Pia falling asleep in his arms. Remembered the deep, satisfied sleep he’d drifted into himself, a rarity with the heavy work schedule he’d been under.
Sometime later that night, two men, big, burly and tough, had boarded the yacht and taken control, forcing him to sail out of the marina into the open sea. For the next two days, Michael had been certain the men’s intention was to pirate the yacht, kill them and dump their bodies in the ocean.
If it hadn’t been for Pia, he would have made an attempt to overpower his captors, but the men were heavily armed and well-trained, and he wasn’t willing to risk Pia’s life unless there was absolutely no other choice.
Eventually, the boat had sailed into a quiet cove on a deserted stretch of beach several hundred miles from Curacao. If his mental calculations were correct, they’d arrived somewhere in Colombia.
They’d been imprisoned two more days before soldiers had arrived to take charge of them. By then, Michael had been certain the motive was ransom, a demand for millions from his mega-rich father in return for his son’s release. But he was no longer sure.
Not since the soldiers had forced him and Pia to begin this grueling trek into the rainforest that covered the steep sides of the mountains. They had hiked all day in ill-fitting boots provided by their captors that rubbed blisters on their feet.
At dusk the soldiers had stopped the march and begun making camp. Exhausted, Michael had slumped against the tree and Pia had eased down beside him. He had no idea how long they’d sat there while the men ate and drank between raucous bursts of laughter.
They’d been brought water and a little food, which they’d been released just long enough to eat, given a bathroom break, then been tied up again and left beneath the tree.
Equally as wet, numb and cold as he was, Pia shifted and raised her head to look at him. “How many more days, do you think, till we reach wherever they’re taking us?”
They hadn’t arrived at their final destination–he was sure of that. “I heard some of them talking. My Spanish sucks, but I was able to make out some of what they said. If I got it right, they’re planning to reach the main camp by tomorrow night.”
Which meant another long day of hiking through the harsh, wet, mountainous tropical landscape. Pia spoke far better Spanish than he did, but she’d been careful not to let them know. She was extremely smart, which was one of the reasons he’d been attracted to her in the first place. Not to mention her beautiful face and fantastic figure.
“Do you think they’ve sent word to your father?”
He had told her his ransom theory mostly to keep her spirits up, told her his father was worth millions of dollars and that he would surely pay for the safe return of his only son and the girl who was with him.
Though Michael had never been able to live up to his father’s expectations and they rarely spoke these days, it didn’t change the fact they were blood. His father would pay the ransom demand and Pia would be part of the bargain–Michael wasn’t leaving without her.
“They’ve probably sent word by now,” he said. “They’ll want to be paid in cash. It might take my father a while to get the money together and get it down here.”
And his sister would be looking for them, he was sure of that. He hadn’t called her in days, as she had made him promise to do. Harper would know something was wrong and she would be doing her best to find him.
New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing in Missoula, Montana with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, Kat has written sixty-five Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels. More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Her last novel, BEYOND CONTROL, hit both big lists … NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST as well as the USA TODAY BEST-SELLING BOOKS LIST. Kat is currently at work on her next Romantic Suspense.
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For January, Kat Martin is giving away a signed hardcover edition of Book 3 in the AGAINST series, AGAINST THE SUN to celebrate the release of THE CONSPIRACY on Jan 22nd. NOTE: THE CONSPIRACY is not part of the prize.