Inspired by the Rescue Me Series
Nobody's Lost Novella
Ryder and Megan's Story
Will release by December 9th, 2014 maybe sooner
Ryder Wilson returned from serving multiple deployments but can't leave the hell of combat behind him. Frustrated and ashamed of his inability to function in the world as well as the veterans he served with, he retreated from the world, choosing to engage only with those he trusted. When retired Master Sergeant Adam Montague sends him on a mission to protect his sister from some unknown danger, Ryder's days of hiding out may be over. Can he fulfill his mission without failing again?
Megan Gallagher has two big brother Marines bent on protecting her from the evils of the world, but she's tougher than they think. When her brother sends one of his recon Marines to her doorstep in the wee hours one night following a break-in at her studio, she realizes Ryder needs rescuing more than she does. A friendship forms quickly, but unexpected passions run hot and complicate her resolve never to have a relationship, much less marriage, with a man. Then why are her body and her heart betraying her every time he comes near?
Can these two wounded people lower their defenses long enough to allow love to grow?
Chapter One (unedited)
Megan Gallagher surveyed the bare desk in her studio and fought the urge to scream. She balled her hands into fists. How dare someone break into her place and steal her property?
Two of Albuquerque’s finest had left ten minutes ago after taking her report. Apparently nothing but her computer was missing. Her studio props and lighting equipment stood where she had left them. No street value on those, she supposed. Reporting the crime was futile, but she had a duty to let the police and her neighbors know there were thieves in the area. She doubted anyone would be arrested and brought to justice.
At least her fireproof safe, which held her more expensive cameras, hadn’t been opened. She always kept a digital SLR in her car or with her, but these heavier cameras were used more often for her studio work.
She would have to call the insurance company in the morning, but couldn’t wait around for their check. She’d need a replacement computer immediately to do her finishing work on the photos she shot this past week.
The back door squeaked, and she swung around. No one entered, and she realized the door had moved because of the wind. She didn’t have what she needed to secure the door, but hated to leave it this way.
What if they returned for more? Suddenly afraid to be alone here, she grabbed her purse and headed for the back door before she remembered the broken doorjamb couldn’t be fixed until tomorrow. She glanced around and the only thing heavy enough to deter someone from walking in unimpeded was the safe. No way could she move that alone.
Would any home improvement centers be opened this close to midnight? She’d call Patrick. He knew about security measures from his time serving in the Marines. Her big brother would know of something she could do tonight to secure her studio.
But after three rings, her call went to his voicemail. A pre-arranged code word in his message alerted her he was traveling out of the country without alerting everyone who called to just stop by and clean out his house. Crap. What now?
Adam Montague? She’d met her long-lost half-brother for the first time last Thanksgiving. A Marine like Patrick, she knew he would do anything to help, but she felt odd calling him out of the blue to even ask. He had his hands full at the moment with his wife.
She sighed. No, she wouldn’t worry him. And worry he would.
She’d just run out to an all-night store and find something she could nail across the doorway to keep it from being opened. As she reached for the front door handle, her phone rang. She set her purse on a reception-area chair and pulled out her phone.
“Megan, is everything all right?”
Adam? How had he known...
“Is Mom okay?” The worry in his voice was palpable. He’d only just found their shared mother again after decades on his own.
She cleared her throat, knowing her silence would only make him worry more. “Yeah, she’s fine. So am I. How are you and Karla holding up?”
She’d taken some special photos of Karla a few months ago when the family had gotten together in Denver. Karla said she planned to surprise Adam with them. He was in for one heck of a surprise.
“We just drove back from a wedding in SoCal. She’s trying to get some shut-eye, but it’s not easy these days.”
“I can imagine. Give her a hug and kiss from me.”
“Listen, I just got a call from Grant—you remember her from the wedding, I’m sure.”
“Anyway, she told me to call you. Said you might be having some trouble down here.”
“How did—?” The woman had helped Karla track down his mom, but did she keep tags on Megan now, too? Or the Albuquerque Police Department?
“What’s going on?”
Someone just broke into my business and stole my computer.
“I’m having a problem with a door at my studio. I can’t get it to lock…”
…much less close.
“I was just on my way to the store to get a board to nail across it to keep people from coming in until I can get more permanent repairs made tomorrow morning.”
“A two-by-four bolted across the door would do the trick. Now you want to tell me how that happened to the door?”
Crap. How could he tell she was being evasive?
“Adam, I don’t want you to worry about anything. The police have been here and taken a report.”
“What the fuck happened? Are you all right?” The fear in his voice surprised her.
“I’m fine! I wasn’t even here at the time of the break-in.”
He swore again.
“Probably just some bored kids with too much time on their hands. Nothing was stolen but my computer.”
And my sense of security.
“Give me the address.”
“What are you going to do from Denver?”
“I’m going to find one of my Marines who’s closest to Albuquerque and ask him to get over there and check on things.”
Somehow she didn’t think he meant checking on the door.
“Look, Adam, I can handle this. Once I secure the door, I’m heading home. Really, you don’t have to—.”
“I don’t want you staying in there another minute if you can’t lock the door. Get the f…hell out of there. Hear me?”
Great. Now she had two overprotective, bossy brothers. What made her think she could get by either one’s radar? Adam would probably clue Patrick in, too, and he’d be on her doorstep the day he returned to the States. Heck, Adam might send an entire platoon.
Megan sighed in resignation and gave him her studio’s address before saying goodbye. After hanging up, she looked around to see what she should pack in her car. The equipment in the safe would be more secure there than in her car. She didn’t really see much of anything she wanted to take with her.
She picked up her purse again, checked the lock on the front door out of habit, and exited through the back. Pulling the trashcan in front of the door she could at least hide the fact that the doorjamb had been splintered. Adam’s Marine probably lived a couple of states away. She couldn’t wait around for him to swoop in and fix the problem. She would probably be home in bed before he even showed up.
But come he would. At Adam’s impromptu wedding, she’d witnessed how much the men and women who served under and with him adored the retired master sergeant. Any of them would move heaven and earth to please him.
With any luck, Adam’s man would see quickly she could take care of her own problems and soon be gone.
* * *
Ryder Wilson rolled over in bed, drenched in sweat. Fucking nightmares. He laid his arm over his eyes, but the images came back in living color. Vivid, but different than the one the other night.
Sergeant Miller’s lifeless body. Damian Orlando's foot blown off. Jesus, he’d fucked up that mission.
His cell phone buzzed. Not now. He didn’t want to speak to anyone until he had time to regroup. He tossed the sheet off and pushed himself off the mattress to his feet. A beer. That ought to take the edge off.
Before he could open the door to the fridge his landline phone rang. Whoever it was could leave a message. He wasn’t talking to anyone tonight. Even if it was Marcia. He’d called her back in an hour when he regained control of himself.
The answering machine kicked in and he waited for his sister’s voice.
“Wilson. Pick up the phone. Montague here.”
How the fuck did Top have his phone number? He must have been the one calling on the cell, too.
Had Damian Orlando mentioned to his former master sergeant that they had run into each other last year on a Patriot Guard ride in southern Colorado? He knew it was a bad idea to go, but the man being buried had served with him in Kosovo. To lay low during his funeral would have been disrespectful, and he damn well wouldn’t let any asshole protestor disrupt his buddy finally being laid to rest.
Another hero’s fucking suicide.
Ryder severed all ties to the past and had hoped Orlando would respect his request not to say anything to the others. He wanted to move on and put that behind him.
The flashback of the mayhem on the rooftop in Fallujah told him he wasn’t doing a very good job of that. He reached for the phone.
“Yes, Top. Sorry. I was…in the head.”
“Glad I waited. How are you doing?”
“Great. Got myself a nice place in the Jemez Mountains. Nice and quiet.”
Nobody bothers me and I sure as hell don’t bother anyone else.
“Sounds good.” Top paused a moment. “Listen, Wilson, my sister lives in Albuquerque and needs someone to check on her tonight. Sorry to bother you this late, but I sure am glad you were up. Would you mind running over to check on her? It would mean a lot to me knowing someone I trust has taken a look around.”
A mission. His master sergeant hadn’t given him orders in nearly eight years. Yet the desire to please the man who had brought home him and nearly every man from their deployment—all except Sergeant Miller—outweighed his penchant for drowning in his own shit.
“Sure, Top.” He reached for a pen and pad of paper. “What’s the address?” The address was for her business not her home. What would she be doing there this time of night? Ryder also jotted down her name—Megan Gallagher. Must be married since they didn’t have the same last names. Why wasn’t her husband looking in on her? Was he deployed military?
Ryder would help where he could, whether she was a military spouse or not. She was Top’s sister. That’s all that mattered.
After also taking down a couple of phone numbers where he could reach Top, he pocketed the paper and returned to the bedroom to grab a shirt and his leather jacket. It got colder than his mother when the sun went down here in the high dessert. Riding on a Harley didn’t help.
But he couldn’t stand being cooped up in a car or truck. Needed to be able to breathe—and have an unobstructed view of any potential attack.
Forty minutes later, the lights of the Albuquerque valley spread out before him as he headed south on I-25. He preferred being alone in the house he rented on the pueblo from a high-school friend. Being around people wore him down.
Only for you, Top.
He hadn’t been in the city in nearly two years. If he needed anything, his friend Carlos took care of it for him. But Ryder prided himself on being self-sufficient.
If he’d truly gone off the grid, Adam Montague never would have found him. But his sister Marcia lived in Santa Fe. Top’s sister was probably a lot older than his was, but a man didn’t turn his back on his Marine family—no matter how fucked up he was.
Just let me keep it together in front of Adam’s sister.
The last thing he wanted was for his unit to find out how badly he was handling the aftermath of his years in service. He’d tried going to the VA, but they were too far away to be of much help.
Hell, why was he so screwed up? He’d come home. In one piece, even. Look at Orlando. He’d adjusted well to his amputation, from what Ryder could tell in the Alamosa PGR procession. If he didn’t seen with his own eyes that the man’s foot had been blown off by that grenade, Ryder would never have guessed the man wore a prosthesis.
Why couldn’t he put the past behind him?
The roar of the hog’s engine lulled him away from his anxiety. He had memorized the woman’s address. Central Avenue. Not the best of neighborhoods, but maybe it was coming back these days.
He took the exit beyond Old Town and began looking at building numbers. Couple blocks further. He got beyond the seedy area and things did look a little better. The near deserted streets helped him relax some, but there were too many fucking places to hide with all these buildings.
No one is aiming for you. Get a fucking grip.
He came up on a strip mall at about where the number he needed should be. Top said she was a photographer and he spotted a sign that read Captured in Time with a camera on it. Must be the place.
It was barely two o’clock in the morning. He had her home address, too, but Top told him to come here first. Easing off the throttle, he slowed and wound around the end of the building. After parking, he eased off his helmet. The sound of hammering coming from the back door put him on alert. Was it the woman…or another intruder? No one would hear the racket down here this time of night.
Ryder plastered his body against the side of the cement-block building and retrieved the knife from his boot. A month in the psyche ward at VA had him voluntarily surrender his sidearm and shotgun to Carlos. Last thing he wanted was to have one of those night terrors lead to him blowing his brains out, too.
But he could cause a lot of damage with his Bowie. Carlos’s people had taught him well.
The hammering seemed to be against the back door. Splintered wood protruded from the doorjamb, but whoever was hammering seemed to be putting up a barricade from inside, not trying to break in—or out.
A woman’s voice came through the door. He relaxed a bit. Probably Adam’s sister.
“Megan Gallagher? Ryder Wilson out here. Your brother Adam sent me.”
Did he hear her mutter “great” under her breath?
“I can’t let you in this way. Go to the front door. But I have everything under control if you have better things to do.” She didn’t sound happy about his being here.
No way would he leave without checking things out and giving Top a full report in the morning. “I’ll meet you out front.”
Swinging his leg astride the bike, not bothering with a helmet, he rolled the throttle and rode back to the front. When he reached the door, he found it locked. The blinds parted slightly.
“How do I know Adam sent you?”
Ryder removed his jacket and unbuttoned the cuff of his sleeve. Rolling it up to his elbow, he revealed a tattoo of the Marine Corps emblem on the underside of his arm. When that didn’t seem to convince her, he pulled his cell phone out of his jeans pocket and went to the recent calls screen.
He held it up to the glass door. “Recognize the top number?”
The still night air was split by the deadbolt unlocking and the door opened slowly.
“Sorry. My brother taught me to be careful.”
She nodded and extended her hand in greeting.
Holy fuck. The woman standing before him was years younger than Ryder’s thirty-six years. How much younger was she than Top? He’d expected her to be late forties or even fifties.
Her dark auburn hair spilled over her shoulders, long and thick. A man’s hands could get lost in those curls. She didn’t look anything like Top, who had dark hair and Lakota blood. No, she looked Irish or maybe Scottish.
He couldn’t make out the color of her eyes in the dim light, but they sparkled with life and humor. A tiny nose sprinkled with freckles and full, red lips adorned the most beautiful face he’d ever seen.
Man, what would it be like to kiss her?
He hadn’t kissed a woman since his ex walked out on him five years ago. He’d had sex, sure, just not with the kind of women who expected to be kissed.
Shit. What was he doing thinking about kissing her? This was Top’s sister. His little sister! The man would have his hide if he did anything inappropriate with her.
God, he hoped he didn’t fuck up with her. He owed his master sergeant his life.
He needed to redeem himself in Top’s eyes on this mission.
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