About the Book:
Embark upon a danger-laden mission within the pages of Ronie Kendig’s riveting Wolfsbane. Demolitions expert Danielle Roark thought escaping from a brutal Venezuelan general was a challenge. Now she’s charged with espionage and returned to the jungle where a new nightmare begins. Will Dani survive or become just another political pawn destined to be lost forever? Former Green Beret Canyon Metcalfe is disgusted with the suits on Capitol Hill. Still wrestling with the memories of a mission gone bad, he and Nightshade launch a mission to find Dani. Can Canyon rescue Dani, armed with nothing but raw courage?
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Judicial Building, Virginia Beach
Blood dripped into his left eye.
No. Not blood. Sweat. Hands tight against his hips and fists balled, Captain Canyon Metcalfe blinked away the sting. Another salty drop slid down his temple. Eyes ahead, he focused on his reflection in the massive mirror. Between it and him sat an eight-foot table harboring a panel of three Army investigators from Criminal Investigation Command sent for his one-year evaluation. More like interrogation. And he knew they weren’t legit. Nobody got a review once they were out. This wasn’t about legitimacy. This was about them insuring he’d kept his mouth shut.
Canyon watched his reflection as a bead skidded over his forehead and nose. Felt warm and moderately sticky. So much like. . .
It’s not blood. Not blood.
“Captain, do you have anything to add?” Major Hartwicke lifted the inches-thick file in her manicured hands and stared at him.
“You understand, Captain, if you reveal anything about what has happened here, you will face a full court-martial and dishonorable discharge.”
The voice from twenty-one months ago forged his response. “No, sir.”
Behind the one-way mirror a ghost of a shape shifted. Or was that a shadow? No, he was pretty sure he’d seen the human outline. So, there were more eyes monitoring this so-called review. They’re testing me. No surprise. As a matter of fact, he’d expected them to drag him out of bed in the middle of the night, haul him into the woods, and try to beat a confession out of him.
Innocence didn’t matter. Justice didn’t matter.
Only one thing mattered: silence.
Hartwicke pushed her chair back from the table and stood. “Captain, I don’t understand.” She motioned to the two investigators with her. “We’ve told you the CID believes there is enough. . .ambiguity in the charges and proceedings from thirteen March of last year to question the guilty verdict.” She tilted her head. “In fact, this panel believes you may be innocent.”
“You are not innocent in this brutal crime, Captain Metcalfe. No matter your role, you are guilty. As the officer in charge, you bear that responsibility. Do you understand?”
The eyes of the government held no boundaries. They saw everything. Knew everything. One way or another. Always waiting to throw him away for good. Just as they’d done with the villagers.
Her shoes scritched against the cement floor as she stepped nearer. “Why are you doing this?” she whispered. “Why would you throw away your career?”
Throw away his career? Was she kidding? It’d been ripped from his bloodied hands in a colossal mistake twenty-four months ago. Canyon ground his teeth together. Do not look at her; do not respond. She didn’t deserve a response if she thought this was his choice.
A chair squawked, snapping his gaze to the second investigator who moved from behind the table, his gaze locked on Canyon. What did they want from him? He’d kept the dirty little secret. Lived with it. Relived it night after painful night. Living when she died.
Brown eyes cut off his visual escape. “Captain Metcalfe,” Major Rubart said in a low, controlled voice. “I don’t know what they”—he rolled his eyes to the side to indicate the one-way mirror—“told you or what they used against you as a threat in retaliation for talking, but I think you know something.”
Despite his every effort not to, Canyon looked at the mirror.
“You know the truth about that fateful night, don’t you?”
The words yanked his eyes to Rubart’s. Did this officer really want the truth? Or was this another test? What Canyon wouldn’t do to tell, to right the wrong, to relieve the burden. . . But that’s just what they wanted him to do—relieve his mind and prove they were right, that he could be coerced into talking. That he was weak.
He flicked his attention back to the glass and the shadow moving behind it.
“You disappoint me, Captain.” Air swirled cold and unfeeling as Rubart eased away. “Your sister says you’ve not been the same since you returned from that mission.”
“My sister puts her mouth before her brain.” And for that, Canyon would have a long talk with Willow.
“Do you understand what your silence means?” A bitter edge dug into Rubart’s words as he glared at Canyon, who stared through the man.
“What I understand is that you’ve abused a relationship with my impressionable sister to extract information for the military.”
Rubart’s lips tightened. “Your silence means the people of Tres Kruces receive no justice.”
The thick-bladed words sliced through Canyon’s heart.
Quiet tension tightened the air.
“Willow says you’ve wanted to be a Green Beret since you were twelve.”
“Ten.” Canyon bit his tongue on the automatic correction. He wouldn’t do this. Wouldn’t cave under the pressure. He’d endured far worse.
“How can you let them rip it from you? Everything you love and worked for with blood, sweat, and tears?” After several slow, calming breaths, Rubart gave a single nod. “Enough evidence exists to open a full investigation that could reinstate you with full honors, full rank. Just give us one word, one inclination that you’ll work with us, and it’ll be as if you never left.”
Everything in Canyon wanted that back. Wanted the career he’d felt called to, the adrenaline rush of battle, the humanitarian work of helping villages after a tragedy or an insurgency. . .
Screams howled through the fires. He glanced back. Where was she? How had they gotten separated? He spun, searching the debris and crackling embers.
A scream behind him.
He pivoted. Two feminine forms raced into a hut. “No,” he shouted. “Not in—”
His body lifted, flipped as he sailed through the taunting flames and grieving ashes.
Canyon blinked back to Major Rubart.
“Just give us some indication you’ll help. We’ll mete out the details later. Just don’t let it go at this. You know this is wrong. Don’t let them win.”
Irritation clawed its way up Canyon’s spine, burrowing into his resolve. He saw through the tactic. “Are we done, sir?”
Rubart’s cheek twitched. “You’re going to walk away?”
“In a three-to-one decision, you are hereby discharged. Your actions will be mentioned in limited detail in our final report to the congressional oversight committee. Should you speak openly about this again, you will find yourself in a federal prison for the rest of your life. Do you understand the ruling, Captain Metcalfe?”
“I cannot express this enough—this favor we are extending you will be revoked completely if you ever again speak of Tres Kruces.”
He met Rubart’s gaze evenly. “Decision’s been made.”
“You can’t mean that.” Hartwicke’s voice pitched. “Think—”
“Dismissed, Captain,” the third investigator barked from his chair at the table.
Canyon saluted, then pivoted and strode out. He punched open the door. As he stomped across the parking lot, he wrangled himself free of the dress jacket. He jerked open the door of his black Camaro and snatched off the beret. Flung it into the car. Slammed the door shut. Shuffled and kicked the wheel.
Voices behind pushed him into the car. Letting the roar of the engine echo the one in his head, he peeled away from the curb. Screaming tires fueled his fury. He accelerated. First gear. Second. He sped down the streets. Third. Raced out of Fort Story as fast as he could. He shifted into fourth.
They’d stolen everything from him. What did he have now? The last twelve months had been a futile attempt to plaster meaning to the disaster of a thing called life. Can’t serve. What was the point? They had him on an invisible leash. Shame trailed him like the dust on the roads.
As he rounded a corner, a light glinted—yellow. Speed up or slow down?
Slow down? I don’t think so.
Canyon slammed into fifth and pressed the accelerator. The Camaro lunged toward the intersection. A blur of red swept over his sunroof as he sailed through and cleared it.
Ahead, a sign beckoned him to First Landing State Park. The beach. Something inside him leapt.
He glanced in the rearview mirror and growled. Banged the steering wheel. One more violation and he’d lose his license. Two seconds of fantasy had him on his bike screaming off into the sunset.
Yeah. Right. A high-speed chase. Wouldn’t his mother love that? She’d give him that disappointed look, and in it, he’d read the hidden message—“what would your father have said?”
His foot hit the brake. He eased the gears down and brought the car to a stop along the pylons that led to the beach. Less than a mile out, blue waters twinkled at him.
He eyed the mirror as a state trooper pulled in behind him. Lights awhirl, the car sat like a sand spider ready to strike.
Canyon roughed a hand over his face. This was it. Career gone. License gone. He gave his all for his country, and all of it had been systematically disassembled in the last two years.
Hands on the steering wheel, he let the call of the Gulf tease his senses. He should’ve taken a swim instead of unleashing his anger on the road. He was a medic. He knew better than to endanger lives. How stupid could he get?
What was taking so long?
He glanced back to the mirror, only. . .nothing.
Huh? Canyon looked over his shoulder. Where. . .?
An engine roared to the left. A Black Chrysler 300M slid past him with a white-haired old man inside.
But where was the cop? Again, he double-checked his six.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
With more care and attention this time, he pulled back onto the road and drove to the ocean. He parked and stared at the caress of the waters against the sand that lured him out of the Camaro and to the warm sand. Rolling up his sleeves, he made his way down the beach.
On a stone retaining wall he stood and watched a couple of surfers ride a wave. Canyon squatted. Hands fisted against his forehead he struggled through Rubart’s promise—they’d give him his career back if he ratted out the very people who’d made the nightmare go away.
He wanted to. Wanted to set the record straight. Knew they’d done wrong, but blowing this thing open meant they’d pin every drop of blood and blame on his shoulders. He’d go down in a blaze of disgrace. It was bad enough he’d had to tell his mom he was put out of the military for “medical” reasons. She didn’t buy it. She was smarter. But she didn’t press him.
Maybe. . .maybe he should let the panel dig into the tsunami-sized disaster and find the truth.
But he couldn’t. They’d promised to make his life a living hell.
That happened anyway. Everything that felt right and just died. Just like her.
Canyon closed his eyes against the pull of memories and allowed his mind to drift. To everything he felt for her. To all the things he’d done wrong, could’ve done better.
Lot of good that did. She died.
He hopped off the wall and strolled to where the waters stroked the sand. He let out a long breath and ran a hand over the back of his longer-than-normal hair. He’d tried to leave the tragedy behind. Move on. But who could move on after something like that? Even the government was scared of Tres Kruces. Nice PR disaster with the whole world as witnesses.
Canyon drew out the small vial. Shouldn’t do this. The back pain was gone. The heart pain permanent. He popped two pills into his mouth and swallowed.
His hand closed around the Emerson in his pocket. Canyon drew it out and eyed the gleaming metal. He’d used it to cut her tethers the first night his team had come up on the backwater village. Flipping the blade to the ground, he tamped down the fireball in his gut. He saved her that night only to end up killing her thirteen months later.
She was gone. His career was gone. The government had a shackle around his neck. What was there to live for?
He retrieved it and swiped the sand from the blade on his rolled cuffs. The silver glinted against his forearm. He pressed the metal against his flesh. Wouldn’t be the first attempt. Maybe he’d succeed this time. Drew it along his arm—
“Never did understand how they stand up on a piece of wood.”
Canyon jerked at the deep voice. He returned his Emerson to his pocket and eyed the old man a few feet away. Looked like the same man from the 300 earlier. What was he saying? Something about wood. . .?
Canyon followed the man’s gaze to the water, the surfers. Ah. Surfboards. “They’re not wood.”
“Polyurethane and fiberglass or cloth. Depends on the board.” He might be off-kilter, but he wasn’t stupid. The man had a military cut and bearing. “What’s your game?”
A slow smile quirked the face lined with age. White hair rustled under the tease of a salty breeze. “Recycling soldiers.”
Why wouldn’t they leave him alone? Believe he’d keep his trap shut when he said he’d keep his trap shut? “Sorry, I don’t have anything to say.”
“Yes, that was quite apparent.”
Hesitation stopped Canyon from trudging back to his car. This man had been at his evaluation? Where. . .? “You were behind the mirror.”
“While you said little, your actions said much more, Captain Metcalfe.”
A knot formed in his gut. “In case you missed the point, I’m no longer a captain. Go back to your leeches and tell them I’m done.”
“Is your career worth cutting your wrists, Captain?”
The knot tightened. “My career was everything,” he ground out. “It’s who I am.” He swallowed. “Was.”
“Yes.” The man smiled. “You wanted to finish what your father started.”
A blaze scorched his chest. “Who are you? What do you know about my father?” Who did this guy think he was?
“Major Owen Metcalfe lost his life trying to free his spec-ops team from a POW camp during Vietnam.”
Canyon jerked his attention back to the water. Focused on the undulating waves. The way they rolled in, rolled out. Just like breathing. In. . .out. . . “How. . .how do you know about my father?” The only reason Canyon knew was because the government tried to use it against him in his trial.
Slowly, the man turned toward him, his smile growing.
Only then did Canyon recognize him. “General Lambert.” He took a step back. “I didn’t. . . You’re out of uniform.”
“Yes, thank goodness. I’ve put on a few pounds since they issued the last uniform.” Lambert laughed and pointed. “Walk with me, Captain.”
What possessed Canyon to indulge him, he didn’t know. But he found himself walking the quiet beach, curious that the general would seek him out. Was it yet another trap?
“So that you will understand me, I have read the full file on Tres Kruces.”
Of course. He’d fallen right into the general’s trap, hadn’t he? “This conversation is over.” He pivoted and started back to his car.
“If my memory serves me correctly, the vote was three to one.”
Canyon hesitated. Cursed himself for hesitating. Just walk away. That’s what they’d done to him.
“What would you say the value of that single dissenter is worth?”
“Nothing. I still lost my career, everything.”
“What if that dissenter held the power to change everything? What would you say it was worth then?”
Eyeballing the man, Canyon tried to think past his drumming pulse. “My life.”
Lambert grinned. Nodded. “Good. . .good.”
Good? How could he say that? What use was a dissenter now anyway? But that unflappable grin and knowing eyes—this man knew something.
“You.” Canyon stumbled back as if hit by a squall. “It was you. You were the dissenter.” He slid a hand over his head and neck. “General, I— It has to stay buried. Or I go down hard and fast. I’m not playing with this fire.”
Hands in his pockets, Lambert smiled up at him. “I am not here in any official capacity related to the U.S. government.”
Dare he hope that this nightmare was over?
“How do you like working as a physical therapist?”
Canyon shrugged. “Not bad. It’s work. I help people.” He hated it.
“That’s what’s important to you, helping people, is it not?” When Canyon shrugged again, Lambert continued. “Thought so. I have a proposition for you, Captain. One that will get you back in your game.”
Wariness crowded out hope. “What game is that?”
“The one you do best. The one that allows you to serve your country, use the medic skills crucial to saving lives, and be part of a winning team.”
“They benched me, said I was done, no more or they’d—”
“What do you say?”
A wild, irregular cadence pounded in his chest. “I’m ready to get off the bench.”