USA Today Bestselling Author
She was the job and off limits,
but his heart wanted so much more.
Heath Kubiak jumped at the chance when a Holt Agency job came up in the Apostle Islands. After years of working back-to-back missions all over the world, he longed to take some much-needed time off. He knew that area of Lake Superior extremely well. He’d take lead of the team this time, they’d find whoever was lost in the National Park, then he’d stay for a week or two, fishing and camping. Sounded like a perfect plan.
All Annali Frantz wanted to do for the summer was get away from teenagers, her parents, and Washington D.C. She loved teaching biology to high school students, but she also needed a break from them. When the opportunity arose for her to work at a research station—and get a full semester credit toward her second master’s degree—she couldn’t pack her bags fast enough. For the past two years, her mother had been on a mission to find her the right husband for when her father, the senator, made a run for the White House. Ali, who preferred her nickname, found trout more interesting than politics, the only subject discussed inside the Beltway. Avoiding boring first dates and spending time on the Great Lakes with other scientists and forest rangers was the perfect summer plan.
You know what they say about best laid plans. Will they work out right this time for Heath and Ali?
When Senator Jonah Frantz’s daughter doesn’t call in for her weekly check-in with her mother, he immediately tries to find someone in the park service to aid him. When he gets a video and then a call from the kidnapper, it’s his press secretary Susan who records the call. Her boyfriend works for the Vice President who had an issue with his son that was handled confidentially by a group in Indiana. Here begins our story.
The Holt Agency has been called in to find Annili Frantz, the problem is there are many islands, and many are isolated. However, Heath Kubiak grew up around the islands and his family still has a cabin there. That knowledge will prove to be invaluable. Afterward he plans to spend time at the cabin to regroup.
Annili Frantz was working on research in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior to complete her second master’s degree when she was taken. She’s currently chained in a small cabin with only enough leeway to reach the camp toilet and the food left in a cooler daily a few feet away from the door. She couldn’t even reach a wall to lean on. She’s figured out she’s being drugged and is trying to figure out what it was in, really hoping it wasn’t the water because she needed to stay hydrated. The cooler they left today had more food than usual, and it makes her wonder if they weren’t coming the next day. She decided to ration the food just in case.
Heath and his team arrive with not much daylight left and a storm on the way. Storms would make the Lake impossible to navigate. They’d have to be quick to check what they could and return to the mainland before the storm hits or find shelter where they are. They were splitting up to hit the ones Heath believed were the best to hide someone. Keene would set up a command center, while Kenner questions the folks at the research camp on Stockton Island before crashing. He had flown them in so rest would be necessary, this would have Heath searching this first day alone. Ryker and Xena would be checking Manitou Island and if there is time Otter as well. Heath would search Outer Island.
The storm moves in quicker than expected and the rain began to pelt down as he found the creek he was looking for and secured the boat as best he could. After gearing up, he hid his extra gear under a fallen pine tree to get later, only taking the necessities with him now. The cabin he was looking for was straight up this creek. There he hit the jackpot, he found her. They couldn’t stay there though and Keene lets them know where to go.
This is a favorite scene.
“Even though it’s raining like hell, I don’t want her to be here in the morning. Do you see any other huts or anyplace we could go?” He looked at her bare feet, dug out the pair of strap-on sport sandals and socks they carried on rescue missions, and handed them to her.
“There’s the lighthouse about a mile north but I have no idea if you can get inside it.” Keene was quiet, only mumbling, for the next several minutes. “It looks like there’s another shack, about the same size as the one you’re in, fifteen hundred feet south down the lake and up another stream about fifty feet. Given the trouble you had getting there, are you sure you want to try to get to this other hut?”
“I know I don’t want her here at sunrise.” Heath held her gaze. She had intelligent brown eyes and a girl-next-door face. None of his science teachers ever looked that pretty.
“I can make it. I sure as hell don’t want to be here when they arrive in the morning.” Ali had shocked him with her language. He figured a high school teacher, who was also the daughter of a senator, would be prim and proper, never swearing.
“That’ll give me a chance to check on the boat. It should be flatter walking down near the shore. Any chance this storm is letting up?” The storms on the lake he remembered from his childhood seemed to come in waves separated by lighter rain.
“Can you make it to the mouth of the creek in this downpour in forty-five minutes?” Keene sounded doubtful. “If so, it’s supposed to let up for about an hour. Still raining, but not this hard. Be sure you’re inside before the next one starts. It has steady winds at thirty miles per hour and gusts up to fifty miles an hour.”
Heath looked to Ali. “It’s about three hundred and fifty feet of slippery, steep creek bank. You’ll be hanging on to trees and limbs and anything else you can grab.”
“I’d rather be anywhere else but here.” She stood to make her point.
“We’re leaving now,” Heath announced. “Bravo team out.” Once again, he dug in his bag and pulled out a Frogg Togg suit for her. The lightweight, breathable material was one hundred percent waterproof. He’d guessed her to be a size small, but he had a medium in his bag just in case.
He attached a barely visible, motion-activated camera in the corner that faced the door. It would feed video directly to their satellite phones and to the Holt Agency computers back in Indiana.
Over the past three years, they’d done so many kidnap and human trafficking rescues that they had refined their list of necessities to carry. Since they had information about her ahead of time, they’d estimated her to be a size small. Unfortunately, they didn’t have anything waterproof for her feet.
Barefoot, Ali went to the cooler provided by her kidnappers and grabbed the two gallon-sized plastic bags, tossing out the ice cubes. She returned to the dry spot on the floor and using the blanket, wiped off her feet before she slid on the socks. She put the plastic bags over her socks then strapped on the shoes, making sure the Velcro held tight.
Genius. Heath made a mental note to add plastic bags to their growing list of rescue mission necessities.
She slid on the thin waterproof pants. They were a bit long until she tightened the Velcro on the bottom hem. It helped seal the plastic bags covering her feet. She winced as she tried to slide her left hand down the jacket sleeve, so Heath helped her.
“Your left shoulder is going to be sore from where you tugged on the chains. When we get to the other cabin, I’ll give you a topical lotion to rub into it.” Heath knew how painful her body would be from being restrained. He’d spent three months as a POW of rebels in Ethiopia.
“Thank you.” She eagerly zipped the jacket and secured the hood.
He could tell she was anxious, so he grabbed his backpack, slid the waterproof rain cover over it, and hiked it to his shoulders. “Hang onto my belt. Grab what I grab. Step where I step.”
“Got it.” When she latched onto his belt, the surprising warmth of her fingers as they wrapped inside his pants at the small of his back sent an unexpected shiver through him. He’d personally rescued dozens of women and given them the same instructions, but no other woman had the same effect on him as Ali.
“Let’s go.” As soon as he opened the door, the wind shoved at them both. He leaned forward and stepped onto slick, rain-soaked grass. He had to make it fifteen feet through horizontal rain that felt like tiny needles jabbing at his exposed cheeks before they reached the woods where they had saplings to hang onto. They slid with each step but soon learned to walk in sync, steadying each other. When they reached the woods, he was able to use the trees to help balance and move much faster. His goal was to reach the lake by the time the rain eased. The best path back was close to the rushing water, which was now waist deep, looking more like rapids than a creek.
He and Ali were working exceptionally well together, making very good time when her left leg slipped during a large step.
She let go of him, grabbing at the surrounding small trees. Most were too large for her to hold onto.
She slid into the gushing creek. “Fuck!”
Heath jumped forward, grabbed a strong sapling, and held out his free hand. Flailing in the whitewater, their wet hands brushed but neither could get a good grip.
“I’ll meet you downstream,” she yelled as she maneuvered her body, feet first, arms crossed over her chest, hands fisted under her arms, chin on her chest.
She knew exactly what to do and had the wherewithal and strength to move into the correct position.
I wonder if she whitewater kayaks? Or enjoys river rafting? Very few people know what to do if caught in a fast-moving river.
It took Heath, moving as fast as he could now that he was alone, almost twenty minutes to reach the lake. Ali sat on the southern bank just inside the woods.
“Are you okay?” he called from the other side of the creek.
She grinned ear to ear. “That was one hell of a ride. I’m wet, but not too cold. It is easier to get to this side closer to the lake.”
“Stay there. I have more bags to retrieve,” he yelled above the crashing lake waves. It wasn’t until then that he looked up the shore and saw nothing but waves.
His boat was gone.
The ragged ends of the ropes he used to tie it to two trees rode the white froth of waves a few feet offshore. Waves taller than a room rushed toward the shore, curling over onto themselves before they flattened out on the thin strip of sand. The water was immediately sucked back into the lake with the same power that created the next huge curl.
As a SEAL, Heath had spent a lot of time on, in, and under the oceans all over the world. The Great Lakes could whip up the water to rival any ocean storm with waves over twenty-five feet tall. More than three hundred and fifty sunken ships, some buried under thirteen hundred feet of water, were a testament to the rage of Lake Superior during a storm.
“Looks like it’s letting up.” Ali stood as Heath approached, huge duffel bags over both shoulders. “There’s a game trail that runs along the shore about ten feet into the woods.”
“Thanks for scouting that out, but you really shouldn’t have moved once you reached safety. Had you fallen into the lake, I wouldn’t have been here to rescue you,” he chastised.
“Yeah, that would’ve sucked. That undertow is a killer.” She smiled up at him, her face glittering with small raindrops that fell vertically. “I can’t thank you enough for the waterproof flashlight. It came in real handy when I got close to the lake.” She glanced toward the woods. “And when I explored while waiting for you.”
“You’re welcome.” Heath glanced over her. “Were you hurt? That water was really moving.”
“No. I’m fine.” She grinned. “I believe the depth of the water kept me above the rocky bottom. I floated on top and kept to the center. I knew if I got close to the shore, it would scrape me across those trees.”
She led him to the animal trail, and he took the lead. She slid her hand around his belt this time. He missed the warmth of her fingers through his shirt and T-shirt.
“Do you whitewater kayak or raft?” he had to ask as he started down the well-worn trail.
“Both.” She gave him that grin again when he looked over his shoulder to check on her. “I did a summer internship a few years ago in the Great Smoky Mountains. One of the guys on our research team paid for his undergrad by guiding on the Pigeon River during the summers. The first time he took me down the river on a raft, I fell in love with whitewater. He taught me how to kayak and that summer we did the Ocoee, Hiawassee, and the Nantahala— that’s a cold river I’ll never do again. I joined a water rafting club at school, and we did the Snake River in Wyoming, Gauley River in West Virginia, and the Rogue River in Oregon before I graduated. As a graduation gift, Dad and I did a rafting trip on the Colorado River.” She turned the tables on him. “Do you whitewater?”
Heath chuckled. “If it’s water, I do it. You don’t happen to scuba dive, do you?”
“I love to dive. Even my mom dives. We used to take two weeks at Christmas and go someplace with sunshine up. My grandfather loved the Caribbean.” There was warmth in her voice as she spoke.
“Did he teach you how to dive?” Heath knew their conversation kept her mind off the misery of the rain and her lack of real shoes.
She giggled and he thought it was the most wonderful sound in the world. “No. Dad insisted we all learn at the local YMCA from a certified master diver.”
“Smart man.” Over the years, he had met more than his share of people who claimed to be instructors and were extremely dangerous underwater. He was very careful now who he went down with.
“Every dive was a science lesson. Grandpa Frantz taught earth science at the University of Michigan so every time we went down, I either got a lesson in fish, coral, or geography” Ali sighed.
“Do I need to slow down?” Heath was afraid he was walking too fast, so he turned to look at her.
“Heavens, no.” She gave him a small smile. “I just miss my grandpa. He and I did a lot of things together when I was young.”
Heath turned and continued walking. He kept an eye on the time. Provided the cabin was where Keene said it would be, it might only be another fifteen minutes. “What kind of things do you and your grandpa do together?”
“Everything. We used to, anyway. He passed away in my senior year of college. But we used to have the best time. When we lived on the Upper Peninsula, he and my grandmother had a small cottage on Lake Superior. Grandpa had a sailboat and he and I used to take it out on the lake. He also had a fishing boat and he taught me to fish… after I dissected my first worm.”
“I take it you weren’t one of those queasy little girls.” Heath was so proud of how she was keeping up. They were going to make it to the other shed a few minutes before he’d planned, given that it was exactly where Keene had said it would be.
“No way in hell.” She giggled and it touched his heart.
What a woman. Here they were, tromping on an island during a huge storm, basically running from kidnappers, and she could find something joyous.
“I couldn’t wait to get back home and dissect the fish we caught,” she continued her story. “That’s what Grandpa called it. Dad informed me I was cleaning the fish so we could eat it for supper.” She giggled again.
He liked a woman who could laugh at herself.
Heath could see a much smaller creek ahead and turned upstream. They hadn’t gone far before he found the small clearing and the fishing hut.
“Stay here, hidden in the woods,” Heath ordered.
Ali gazed up at him as though he were crazy.
“It’s the middle of the night and we don’t know if anybody is in there. This might be where your kidnappers are staying.”
KaLyn Cooper. Liberated – KaLyn Cooper (Kindle Locations 599-684). Kindle Edition.
Once safely in the cozier cabin they Heath once again contacts Keene. Verifying the cameras were working properly at both cabins and the knowledge they would be stuck for at least another 24 hours due to the storm stalling. There is more than a little attraction between these two and staying professional is becoming difficult for Heath.
There is much yet to come as they narrowly escape without being seen by the kidnapper but were unable to identify him because of a mask. Still Annili refuses to return to DC insisting on completing her research for her degree.
Heath becomes her bodyguard as this story continues to ramp up with intrigue and potential suspects.
There is laughter and fun intertwined with the tension of the situation as well as a romance that will not be denied.
I can’t wait for the next book in this series!
5 Contented Purrs for KaLyn!
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KaLyn Cooper’s romances blend fact and fiction with blazing heat and heart-pounding suspense.
Twenty-two years as a military wife has shown KaLyn the world, and thirty years in PR taught her that fact can be stranger than fiction. She leaves it up to the reader to separate truth from imagination.
She, her husband, and Little Bear (Alaskan Malamute) live in Tennessee on a micro-plantation filled with gardens, cattle, and quail. When she’s not writing, she’s at the shooting range or on the river.
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2 thoughts on “Liberated – Holt Agency Book 4 by KaLyn Cooper”
Carol, THANK YOU for the great review! And for ALL the support you have given me over the years. ❤ Always,~ KaLyn USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHORwww.KaLyn Cooper.comBringing Warriors the Love they Deserve
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