NY Times, USA Today & Wall Street Journal
For a Mountain Mercenary and a desperate woman,
love becomes a dangerous refuge
in New York Times bestselling author
Susan Stoker’s novel of
Mountain Mercenary Hunter “Meat” Snow has a mission: eliminate the human traffickers scouring the barrios of Lima for vulnerable prey. But it’s Meat who’s taken down. Separated from his team and beaten within an inch of his life, he’s left for dead. When he wakes, it’s to the intimate care of a beautiful stranger who knows all about survival.
Zara Layne was a child when a brutal murder left her orphaned and abandoned in Peru. Ever since, she’s fended for herself on the streets, outrunning its predators. Trusting men is not in Zara’s blood…until it warms to the exhilarating touch of the wounded hero who promises deliverance. As each other’s rescuers, they return to Colorado for a new normal.
But when Meat disappears, Zara discovers how ruthless the past can be. With the help of the loyal Mercenaries, she’s drawing on her own skills of endurance to find him. And for Zara, there’s no danger great enough to come between her and the man she loves.
Zara has been masquerading as a boy since she realized it was safer than being a girl in Lima’s barrios. It’s been fifteen years since she witnessed her parents murder and long ago she gave up on ever being found and embraced her fate, concentrating only on surviving.
The Mountain Mercenaries were on a mission in Lima, they had intel on kidnapped children and were set to rescue them and put a few kinks in that branch of human traffickers. Unfortunately things went sideways and Black and Meat were severely beaten.
Zara was with the group Mags ran that tried to help the women and children and saw the guys get taken down. Unfortunately they were only able to get one of the men away.
Zara took him to Daniela a doctor who helped them when necessary, she does patch him up a bit under protest but Meat realizing his situation does behave.
This is a favorite scene.
Zara froze. She wasn’t ready to talk about herself. Hell, she never talked about herself. It was safer that way. But she didn’t want to get up and walk away either. For some reason, she felt comfortable with Meat.
It made no sense, really. But then again . . . she was tired. Tired of constantly looking behind her. Of having to scrounge for food. Of trying to stay under the radar. She was way too practical to live her life wondering “what if,” but at the moment, talking to Meat, she felt her guard lowering.
She still wasn’t going to talk about herself. Not yet. She’d only known this man for hours. But she could put his mind at ease. “I went back to the barrio and found out about your friends today.”
His eyes widened and he sat up straighter. He leaned toward her eagerly. “Yeah?”
Zara nodded. “Mags said that right after I left with you, the Americans came and got the man you’d been with.”
Meat sighed in relief. “Thank God! Did you get a chance to tell them I was all right?”
Zara bit her lip and shook her head.
At his expression, she found herself wanting to explain. “The Special Forces Brigade members are still with them. We can’t risk talking to the Americans. It would bring attention to ourselves. Bad attention.” Zara wasn’t sure Meat understood. “The best thing is to not be seen,” she said. “If they see us, they’ll start asking questions, and we won’t be able to help others like we do now.”
Meat looked at her for a long moment before he finally nodded. “I understand.”
“Mags said she would try to get a note to them. But hopefully you will be healed enough to leave soon, and it won’t be necessary.”
“I wondered where you had gone today,” Meat said. “I hadn’t expected you to do that for me.”
“You were worried about them.”
“I was. But still. How far did you have to travel to get back to the barrio where you found me?”
She hesitated. The last thing she wanted was to get Daniela in trouble, or for Meat to get too curious. The less he knew, the better.
Before she could think of a good answer, he spoke.
“Never mind. I’m learning that there’re a lot of things I’m better off not knowing, right?”
“Have I thanked you yet?” Meat asked.
Zara looked at him with what she knew was probably another shocked expression.
“I guess I haven’t. It’s obvious you know this area much better than I do. Black and I weren’t expecting to be jumped like we were. I appreciate you and your friends stepping in to help us, especially considering the amount of danger it obviously put you in.”
Zara licked her lips and said nothing.
“You haven’t asked what we were doing there.”
She already knew about the boys they’d found, but shrugged anyway.
“My friends and I are part of a somewhat secret group. We’re called the Mountain Mercenaries. We’ve made it our mission to rescue women and children from those who would do them harm. The wife of our leader, Rex, disappeared years ago, and he suspects she was kidnapped into the sex trade. He’s never stopped looking for her. In the meantime, he’s dedicated dedicated his life to helping others like her, who are taken from their homes and families.
“We were working with the government on a human-trafficking sting. We were told there were several boys on the verge of being sold into the kind of life no child should ever know exists. Our intel was good . . . but when we got here, things got all fucked up. We should’ve pulled out of the mission immediately, but decided to go ahead with it. That was our mistake.”
Zara stared at Meat. She and the others had already deduced the Americans were there to try to save the children, but they hadn’t known anything about their motives. They’d wondered why a group from the United States would care about what happened to a bunch of poor barrio kids. And it was obvious that Meat did care. He cared about a bunch of children he’d never met.
For just a moment, Zara wondered what her life could’ve been like if Meat and his friends had been around when she’d needed them.
But the second she had the thought, she dismissed it. She didn’t know how old Meat was, but fifteen years ago, he probably wasn’t in the same line of work he was in now.
Stoker, Susan. Defending Zara (Mountain Mercenaries) (pp. 29-31). Kindle Edition.
Slowly Meat gains Zara’s trust and she tells him her story when he says that his group is from Colorado. Ironically that’s where she was originally from as well. In that moment Meat knew he wasn’t going to leave this country without her.
Oh the many surprises this book has in store for you! I couldn’t put it down which also means I got very little sleep.
Full of suspense, family drama, romance and just enough sizzle.
5 Contented Purrs for Susan!
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Susan Stoker is a New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Her series include Badge of Honor: Texas Heroes, SEAL of Protection, Delta Force Heroes, and Mountain Mercenaries. Married to a retired Army non-commissioned officer, Stoker has lived all over the country—from Missouri and California to Colorado and Texas—and currently lives under the big skies of Tennessee. A true believer in happily ever after, Stoker enjoys writing novels in which romance turns to love. To learn more about the author and her work, visit her website, or find her on Facebook. Links below.