NY Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today Bestselling Author
A missing woman leads the alpha heroes on their boldest mission yet in New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker’s searing Mountain Mercenaries novel.
It’s been ten years since Rex’s wife, Raven, disappeared from a Vegas casino. Never losing hope, he even formed the Mountain Mercenaries to help find her—and other missing wives, sisters, and children. Now Rex and his fearless team are following a lead to Lima, Peru, where the rescue operation is greater than they imagined.
A day at a time. That’s been Raven’s motto for a decade. Once held captive by an elusive sex trafficker, she has an indomitable will to survive. But Raven’s not ready to leave Peru. She can’t. Not yet. Because her liberation from the barrios comes with devastating consequences. One wrong move and all hope will be lost to an unimaginable hell.
For the Mountain Mercenaries, the stakes have been raised. The threats are escalating. But Rex hasn’t searched this long, risked so much, and come this far to lose Raven all over again.
Once again Susan Stoker had me up all night reading although I can probably put some of the blame on Amazon for the book showing up on my kindle just as I was heading to bed.
The entire team and Zara are headed back to Peru. Zara is going to help Daniela set up a real clinic and also act as a translator for the team. She also knows the Barrio like the back of her hand so navigating it will be much easier.
One of the most poignant moments in this book is when Dave first lays eyes on Mags, his Raven. It is also one of my favorite scenes.
Mags looked back at Dave . . . and once again couldn’t breathe. He hadn’t taken his eyes off her. It was as if he was drinking her in. But instead of his gaze comforting her, she felt exposed. Naked. She felt as if he could see straight through her to her deepest, darkest secrets. Things she’d never speak of. Not to him or to anyone. They were her shame to carry.
Zara was acting as a translator, but Mags couldn’t even hear what she was saying with the rushing sound in her ears.
Dave didn’t get off his knees. He stayed on the floor, looking at her intently. Mags knew if she had to endure it for one more second, she’d go stark raving mad.
“Raven,” Dave said softly. “I wanted to believe Zara. Wanted to believe that the woman she knew as Mags was really you . . . but I also didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. I’ve been disappointed so many times, I knew I couldn’t handle it again. But it’s you. It’s really you.”
Mags stared at him without blinking.
“Can I . . . Are you all right?”
She wanted to snort at that. Was she all right? No, of course she wasn’t.
“It’s a lot to process, Dave,” Arrow said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You need to give her some time.”
“I can’t leave,” Dave said, his voice breaking. “I just found her. I can’t go!”
Mags stiffened. He couldn’t stay. She had to make him understand. “I don’t want you here,” she said in as hard a voice as she could muster. Unfortunately, it came out more like a plea than a demand from the in-charge woman she’d had to become over the years.
She was shocked when tears formed in Dave’s eyes and spilled over his cheeks. He didn’t reach up to wipe them away, simply continued to stare at her.
“Ten years,” he said softly. “Ten years, twenty-two days, four hours, and thirty-six minutes. That’s how long you’ve been missing. And I’ve been searching for you for every single second of that time. I’ve prayed to hear your voice again . . . and the reality is so much better than my dreams.”
His words both soothed a hurt she didn’t know she’d harbored and stung like a thousand bees. Dave had obviously suffered. The man she used to know never would’ve cried. Especially not in front of others. She couldn’t talk through the lump in her own throat.
“You should go. Just for tonight,” Zara said. “Mags needs time to process everything.”
Dave opened his mouth to protest, but Gray spoke before he could.
“That sounds like a good idea. We can come back tomorrow.”
“You’re not staying here,” Meat told Zara.
“I’ll be fine,” she told him gently.
Mags approved of Zara’s man. He was protective and obviously concerned about her safety. As much as Zara was a product of the barrio, it wasn’t safe. Not even for her.
“Maybe they can all come to the motel with us?” she asked.
“If we’re gone too long, Ruben or someone else might take over our house,” Maria said.
Zara’s shoulders drooped. “Yeah.”
“We’ll come back first thing in the morning, and we’ll bring food,” Meat reassured both Zara and the other women. “If there’s anything else you can think of that you need, we’ll go shopping again tomorrow and get it for you. We need to visit Daniela as well.”
The women all agreed, and Mags knew they were anxious to go through the bags of supplies the men had brought them and talk about exactly what was happening.
“I don’t want to go,” Dave argued.
Meat put his hand on Dave’s shoulder and squeezed. “She needs time,” he said quietly.
No one said anything for a long moment.
Then, from his position on his knees in the doorway, Dave said, “I love you, Raven.”
Mags braced herself to look at him again.
“I love you. I know enough about what happens to young women who get taken without their consent to know your life has been hell. But I’ve found you—and I’m going to do whatever it takes to prove you’re now safe. That my love for you hasn’t stopped simply because you’ve been gone.”
“People change,” she said softly. “I’m not the woman you once knew.”
“And I’m not the same person you married,” Dave countered. “I’m harder. More stubborn. A hell of a lot less trusting. But one thing will never change, and that’s how much you mean to me, and how much I love you.”
“I don’t love you anymore,” Mags lied.
Dave didn’t even flinch. “You will.”
Frustration rose within her. She needed him gone. Why wasn’t he getting mad? Leaving? She had too much to lose if he didn’t go. “My life is here in Peru,” she said as sternly as she could manage. “I’m not leaving.”
Dave eyed her for a long moment, and Mags refused to squirm under his scrutiny. Then he slowly stood, and Mags forced herself to stand her ground and not cower from the intensity of his gaze. The tears had dried up, and a very determined man stood in front of her now.
“I didn’t tell your parents that I was coming to Peru. They’ve had their hopes raised too many times and dashed just as many. And my parents have suffered right along with me. But they don’t matter. No one matters but you. My life is wherever you are,” Dave said without a trace of irritation or insecurity. “If I have to move to Lima in order to be with you, I will.”
At any other time, Mags would’ve thrown herself at her man and begged him to take her away from the barrio. From Lima. From Peru. But she couldn’t.
She was in hell. This was like being offered everything her heart desired, but she knew if she dared reach for it, she could lose something else she loved just as dearly.
Stoker, Susan. Defending Raven (Mountain Mercenaries) (pp. 39-43). Kindle Edition.
Like everything else in life this gets far more complicated than just talking to Mags and bringing her home.
The bullies in the Barrio learn a few lessons from this dedicated team, lessons that start making life for the residents a bit better. The horror of del Rio’s mindset had me both cringing and crying as Susan takes a horrific part of human trafficking and intertwines it with a love story for the ages.
So much suspense as Dave breaks down the walls Raven has erected to maintain her sanity. Her reason for needing to stay in Lima, while shocking to Dave only cements his determination to bring her home.
Some laughter, lots of tears, and an ending you won’t soon forget.
This is the last book in this series and I will miss these characters. Thank you, Susan it’s been a wild ride.
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.