NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Author
What started as an adventure, soon became hell. Piper Johnson’s thrilled to spend time in Timor-Leste with her best friend, a Peace Corps volunteer…until civil unrest erupts throughout the countryside, including an attack at the orphanage the women were visiting. With the aid of a SEAL team sent to extract the government employee, Piper flees with the only other known survivors—three young orphan girls. Piper wasn’t able to save her friend, but she’ll be damned if she leaves the girls to the mercy of child traffickers in the country’s impoverished capital. However, taking them with her to the States requires something drastic, something crazy…something she can’t do alone.
What started as a mission, soon becomes fate. Since nearly dying on a previous op, Beckett “Ace” Morgan has no time for regrets. Life is far too short. So when he learns the brave, beautiful, selfless woman he’s rescued has a better chance of getting three orphans out of the country if she’s married, he doesn’t hesitate. Ace marries her then and there, instantly gaining the family he’s always wanted. With time, he knows his respect for Piper can grow into love, and meanwhile, he’s saved both her and their new daughters from a fast-spreading rebel incursion.
Protecting his girls on foreign soil turns out to be the easy part of the team’s mission. Protecting them from a threat waiting at home may be the biggest fight of Ace’s life.
From the very first page this book had me on the edge of my seat.
Piper’s friend Kaylee is serving with the Peace Corp in Timor-Leste, a small island country near Australia. Needing to do something out of the ordinary for her, Piper agrees to visit.
With the threat of rebellion, Piper is nervous but Kaylee eases her fears and they are at an orphanage a few miles from Kaylee’s home when the rebels decide the time is right to strike.
Hidden in a crawl space with three of the orphans, Piper is scared yet determined to keep the girls safe. Filled with uncertainty she’s trying to formulate a plan to get away from the orphanage when American voices signal the answer to her prayers.
For Ace and his team the discovery of Piper with the three orphan girls definitely throws a wrench into the plans. Expecting to only rescue Piper and Kaylee now they have the children as well, but no Kaylee.
Phantom finds Kaylee, but it’s to late for her and they are forced by the approach of the rebels to leave without her body.
Not a usual extraction as they have to traverse the mountain and get to the capital on foot.
This is a favorite scene when they stop the first night.
Bubba’s grin faded and he stepped toward her. He didn’t stand quite as close to her as Ace had, but he definitely definitely entered her personal space.
“You’re doing great, Piper. I know Ace already told you that, but he wasn’t kidding. The best thing you could have done was keep yourself safe and alive. You and those girls. And you haven’t panicked. We’ve seen so many people who have died in situations much like yours, simply because they couldn’t keep themselves calm. So thank you. Thank you for letting us find you alive. All of us will do whatever it takes to keep you that way.”
Then he nodded at both her and Ace, and turned to walk back toward the others.
Piper glanced at Ace in confusion. “He was thanking me for being alive?”
Ace nodded. “We’ve had our fair share of missions where we weren’t successful in getting the targets home alive.”
“Like Kalee,” Ace confirmed.
“Is that the only reason Phantom’s so upset?” she asked.
Ace shrugged. “I think so, yes. The thought of leaving someone behind, even if they aren’t alive, is abhorrent to us. Kalee’s not a SEAL, but she’s an American. And…” His voice trailed off.
“And?” Piper asked, putting her hand on Ace’s sleeve.
“And Phantom doesn’t like to fail. He’s extremely hard on himself, probably because his dad expected perfection from him when he was growing up.”
“Oh. Yeah, I can imagine how frustrating it would be to not be able to do the job you were assigned.”
Ace’s finger went under her chin, and he brought her eyes back up to his own. “Phantom doesn’t hate you, Piper. He’s just frustrated. He knows as well as the rest of us that it’s more important to get you and the girls to safety than to bring Kalee’s body back to the States.”
“It’s not fair,” Piper said quietly.
“It’s not,” Ace agreed.
Licking her dry lips, Piper said, “We should probably help get things set up for the night.”
“Nah, the guys have things under control.”
Piper gave him a small smile. “Still. It’s not a good example to show the girls.”
“True,” Ace agreed. Then he did something that completely flustered Piper. He ran a hand over her filthy, mussed hair and murmured, “Beautiful. Even covered in dirt, tired, and out of your element, you’re beautiful.” He dropped his hand slowly, and then turned to gesture to the group. “After you.”
Knowing she was probably blushing again, Piper walked ahead of him toward the others.
Two hours later, the sun had fallen below the horizon and the jungle around them was pitch dark. Piper and the girls had crawled into a space between two large tree trunks to try to get some sleep before they got started toward the capital again in the morning. The SEALs all huddled together nearby for about fifteen minutes or so, leaving Piper to talk to the girls.
“Rani, are you okay?” she asked.
The little girl nodded. She was curled up against Piper’s side and had her head resting on her shoulder.
“I’m okay,” the seven-year-old told her. She was on the other side of Rani, curled up in the dirt as if it was just another night for her. Piper didn’t like that the girls were way more comfortable sleeping out in the open jungle on the ground than she felt they should be.
Turning her head, Piper said, “Kemala? Are you good?”
A faint mumble was the only answer to her question.
Sighing, Piper said, “I know this isn’t what you expected when you crawled under the floor with me. I’m sorry Kalee’s not here and it’s me instead. I’m doing my best to keep you all safe…and I know you’re upset with me for some reason. Talk to me, Kemala. I’ll do whatever I can to make you feel better.”
In response, she felt the teenager turn over, giving Piper her back.
Frustrated and depressed, she sighed again. “I don’t mind that you won’t talk to me. I’m still going to do whatever I can to make sure you’re safe,” she told Kemala.
A small light came toward them, and Piper turned her attention to the men approaching.
“It’s us,” Ace said softly. “Me and Bubba.”
“Hi,” Piper said inanely. She knew it would be the two of them because after they’d eaten dinner—more MREs—Ace had informed her of the sleeping arrangements and how the men would be taking shifts, staying awake to make sure no one was able to sneak up on them in the middle of the night. It made her feel better knowing they wouldn’t be ambushed.
He’d told her that he and Bubba would be sleeping near her and the girls, just as an extra layer of protection. It had hit her in that moment how the SEALs were truly putting their lives in danger to make sure they got to the capital safe and sound. It humbled and awed her. Piper wasn’t sure she was worth the effort they were putting into her rescue, but the little girls certainly were. They hadn’t had a chance to live yet, and nothing that had happened had been their fault. They were all caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Scoot over, Piper,” Ace said as he carefully stepped closer.
She did as he asked, and moved herself and Rani to the right. Sinta scooted as well, until her back was up against the tree on one side of them. Kemala had turned over and was watching Ace closely.
He sat next to Piper and immediately lay down. He reached over and effortlessly pulled Piper up and over his body, until she was lying full length on top of him. Then he held out an arm and gestured to Rani. “Come here, little one.” Rani immediately snuggled up against his side. Sinta curled up behind Rani again, one arm around the little girl, her hand touching Ace’s side.
Then Ace turned to Kemala and put his other arm out. “You too, Kemala. I know you’re too old to need snuggles, but it’s been a long time since I’ve slept in the jungle, and I could use some reassurance.”
Piper had no idea if Kemala understood all of what Ace had said, but surprisingly, she giggled slightly and moved closer to him.
Piper pushed her chest up and off Ace, propping herself up on her hands, and whispered, “What are you doing?”
“I promised to try to keep the creepies away from you,” Ace said matter-of-factly.
She simply stared at him. She could only see the outline of his head, and not much else because of the darkness, but she was stunned. “I’m okay,” she told him.
“I know you are. Now come down here and relax,” he ordered.
Slowly, Piper lowered herself onto his chest and put her cheek over his heart. Ace as a makeshift bed wasn’t exactly comfortable, as the hard armor and the lumps and bumps from whatever he had in all the pockets on his uniform poked into her, but she’d choose to sleep on top of him any day of the week if it meant she wasn’t on the jungle floor.
Stoker, Susan. Securing Piper (SEAL of Protection: Legacy Book 3) (pp. 63-68). Stoker Aces Production, LLC. Kindle Edition.
There are several trials and tribulations as they make their way to the capital.
Once there, so many issues come up and the solutions will surprise and delight you.
More than one interesting turn of events and the lead in to the next books will have you begging for more!
5 Contented Purrs for Susan!
Click the Cover for Buy Links and More!
New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author, Susan Stoker has a heart as big as the state of Tennessee where she lives, but this all American girl has also spent the last fourteen years living in Missouri, California, Colorado, Indiana, and Tennessee. She’s married to a retired Army man who now gets to follow her around the country.