When highly classified military parts go missing from Libby Aerospace Technologies, Dana Porter is sent to
Wyoming to resolve the
issues and negotiate a new contract with the United States Navy Defense
contractor. But first, she’ll have to figure out why the parts are
disappearing. The further Dana digs, the more dangerous things become, and when
an ex-employee ends up murdered, she suspects someone is illegally exporting
Despite General Manager Nick White’s resentment of Dana’s presence, he cannot afford to lose the contract and knows she is his best bet in making sure that doesn't happen. He left
Indiana over a year ago
to get away from her. Now, she is scrutinizing every aspect of his business,
finding inconsistencies he can’t explain and awakening old feelings he thought
Together, they will race against time to stop the illegal exports and secure the contract, but with hearts and lives on the line, not everyone will walk away unscathed.
Khartoum’s New Islamic Alliance Military Compound
Zufar was dead.
The words like a mantra repeated in Rustan Hasan’s head, mocking his very existence.
Zufar was dead. Zufar was dead.
It should have been me. The thought roared through him like a freight train, the painful truth suffocating. Not Zufar.
The pressure in Rustan’s chest built, closing off the air in his lungs as the commander of the Khartoum’s New Islamic Alliance fraction told them of the attack against the United States. Blood had been spilled in accordance with the Quran. But Rustan, with his heart breaking, did not care about advancing Islam, about Allah’s law or the overall goal of the mission. He wanted to drop to his knees and scream out the rage tearing at his insides.
His legs trembled, and his stomach convulsed. A loud howling filled his head drowning out the words of his commander, but not the pain. The thought of his mother and sister pierced his heart. His shoulders shook beneath the olive green of his military uniform as his mind flipped back in time of two skinny boys playing along a dirt road. Makeshift swords of long twigs gripped in their hands as they fought an imaginary foe.
“One day,” nine-year-old Zufar had claimed. “I will fight and kill the real enemy.”
Rustan pulled away from the memories, snapping his shoulders back to quiet the trembling. He would not humiliate Zufar’s memory by falling apart in front of his comrades. He would not disgrace his family.
Zufar had been brave, and the Muslim Brotherhood would glorify his actions. Allah would reward him in the afterlife. Zufar had lived and planned for the day he would commit jihad against their enemy. His day had come, but to Rustan, it was without victory. The enemy had won. They had succeeded in killing a great man—his beloved brother.
Trinity, Indiana USA
The thrashing and groaning tugged Dana Porter out of a deep sleep. She bolted upright with the realization that her husband struggled with a muscle spasm. She jumped out of the king size bed and circled around to Ted’s side. His eyes squeezed tight against the pain, his fist clenched in a seized state. His sweat-slicked body scented the air with bitter pain. He tried knocking her hands away as she worked to roll him onto his stomach.
“Leave me alone,” he forced out between clenched jaws.
A part of her wanted to leave him to writhe in agony until he begged for help. But he would be stubborn, and she couldn’t allow the pain to go on that long.
She positioned herself, one hand at his shoulder, the other at his waist. Mentally, she counted to three, then lifted, and shoved at the same time. He screamed out as he rolled onto his stomach.
Tears stung her eyes.
“Okay, it’s almost over.” Climbing on the bed, she knelt over him and began to knead the knotted muscles of his back with the heels of her hands, ignoring the ache moving up her arms.
Dana consoled herself with the knowledge that things weren’t as bad as they had been right after the accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The spasms had come weekly then, but over time had diminished to every six months.
He resented her help, but didn’t fight her with the enthusiasm he once had. Oh, he remained emotionally shut off, almost proudly so.
“That’s enough, Dana. The spasm’s gone,” he murmured, tugging her back to the present.
She climbed from the bed and helped him onto his back. The spasms always left him weak and unable to manipulate his way out of bed. He would need help, and the need would piss him off.
She pulled the blankets up to his waist and thought, as she often did, what a magnificent chest he had. His arms and upper body thick with rope-like muscles from years of dragging his lower body around. She had told him once how beautiful his body was, running her hands over his chest. He had looked at her in disgust and pushed her hands away. The memory kept her from touching him now, kept her from looking into those ice blue eyes.
“Do you want to get out of bed or sleep a few more hours?” She asked, bracing herself for his harsh response.
“What are you going to do?”
She glanced at him, confused by the quiet reply. “I’ll go ahead and get my shower, maybe head into work early.”
“I’ll just lie here a while longer.” He grabbed her wrist when she turned away. The voluntary touch surprised her. “Thank you, Dana.” His words stunned her.
She faltered. “You’re welcome,” she mumbled and then retreated behind the bathroom door.
Under the hot spray of the shower, she let the tears scald her cheeks while painful, silent sobs ripped through her body. Three years and it still broke her heart at how cruel fate had been to Ted, how brutal it had been to their love.
One month later.
Trinity, Indiana, USA
Dana stared at the computer screen, but didn’t see the spreadsheet displayed. She was thinking back to earlier that morning. She and Ted had made love, if she could call it that. It was the first time in ten months. At twenty-eight years old, she was lucky if it happened twice a year. And Ted was capable of more but the need had to build to the point of breaking before he would touch her or allow her to touch him. Even then, he only tolerated her climbing on top of him to complete the act.
No kissing. No hugging or words of affection.
On some level, it made her feel dirty. On many levels, she wondered what was wrong with her, why her husband didn’t want her? Was he no longer attracted to her?
Dana rubbed at her eyes to push back the tears.
A meeting reminder pinged as it popped up on her screen. Dana grabbed a pad of paper and pen, glad for the distraction, and headed down to the conference room.
Nick White’s face lit up the minute she walked in, lifting her spirits. She circled around to sit next to him.
“You look pretty. That’s a good color on you.” His eyes lingered. “Is that a new top?”
Pleased that he noticed, Dana felt the warmth glide over her cheeks. “Yes. Thank you.”
“Are you going out with us Friday after work?”
“I’m planning on it.”
A group of them made a point to go out a couple times a month. Most of them single and still hitting the party scene, but Dana enjoyed spending time with them away from the job. They kept her feeling young.
Paul Nickels, the production control manager, rushed in at the last minute. “Sorry folks for the delay. I know we’ve all got a lot on our plates, so let’s get working on this month’s sales and manufacturing plan.”
The day flew by.
It was after six when she pulled into the driveway at home. The housekeeper they had hired to cook and clean three days a week was still there, which was odd. Mrs. Hodges normally left by five thirty to get home to her own family. Thinking something might be wrong with Ted, Dana rushed into the house and was greeted by laughter.
Setting down her purse, Dana followed the sound of voices to Ted’s office. She stopped outside the open door and listened.
“Ted, these are fabulous. When did you take them?”
“The summer between high school and college. A buddy and I where on a rock climbing mission, to climb as many mountains as we could. I took pictures everywhere we went that summer.”
Dana heard the smile in his voice and the wistfulness.
“You loved the photography as much as the climbing,” Mrs. Hodges stated matter of factly.
“Yes. I did.” Ted chuckled. “Look at this one.”
Dana leaned against the wall and squeezed her eyes closed against the burning tears and the ache in her chest. He was sharing something good, his happiness with Mrs. Hodges.
Why won’t he share that with me? Anger simmered below the surface.
“That bag up there, could you get that down for me. It has my old camera in it.”
Dana stepped into the doorway as Mrs. Hodges reached for the bag on the second shelf of the closet—one Dana could have easily reached for him.
“I could have gotten that for you,” Dana said.
Ted turned his head to look at her, the smile vanished, and the coldness slithered into his eyes. He put the lid back on the box of photographs.
Mrs. Hodges set the camera bag down beside Ted’s wheelchair. “Oh, Mrs. Porter, you should look at some of these photos.”
“No,” Ted said sharply.
Silence filled the awkward space.
Dana watched Ted. His jaws clenched as he refused to look at her.
Mrs. Hodges clasped her hands together. “I should be going. Dinner is warming in the oven.”
Dana turned away and walked down the hall to the bedroom. She changed clothes then forced herself to the kitchen where Mrs. Hodges had already set out plates and utensils. Dana removed the food from the oven and placed it on the table. Ted wheeled himself into the room and took his place.
They ate in silence as they always did.
On Friday evening, Dana met up with the group from work at the local watering hole. Nick was nowhere around. She shook off the sense of disappointment as she sat and ordered a beer.
She and Paul were in the middle of a debate about the Indianapolis Colts when Nick showed up. Her lips lifted when their eyes met. He grabbed a chair from a neighboring table and made no bones about asking everyone to scoot down so he could pull up along side Dana.
“Sorry, I’m late. My dad called to inform me that he and my mother are coming to visit next weekend.”
Despite the roll of his eyes, Dana could tell the prospect of seeing his parents made Nick happy.
“You can’t wait.”
Nick laughed. “No, I can’t.” He lifted his hand to get the waitress’s attention and ordered them both another beer. “I wish you could meet them. You would like my mom’s sense of humor.”
“Who are you most like?”
And as they talked, one by one the others left. Before Dana knew it, she and Nick sat alone talking and laughing.