Home > Untamed (Long, Tall Texans #46)

Untamed (Long, Tall Texans #46)
Author: Diana Palmer

1

    It took forever to get anywhere, Stanton Rourke fumed. He was sitting at the airport on a parked plane while officials decided if it was safe to let the passengers disembark. Of course, he reasoned, Africa was a place of tensions. That never changed. And he was landing in Ngawa, a small war-torn nation named in Swahili for a species of civet cat found there. He was in the same spot where a small commercial plane had been brought down with a rocket launcher only the week before.

    He wasn’t afraid of war. Over the years, he’d become far too accustomed to it. He was usually called in when a counterespionage expert was wanted, but he had other skills, as well. Right now he wished he had more skill in diplomacy. He was going into Ngawa to get Tat out, and she wasn’t going to want to let him persuade her.

    Tat. He almost groaned as he pictured her the last time he’d seen her in Barrera, Amazonas, just after General Emilio Machado had retaken his country from a powerful tyrant, with a little help from Rourke and a company of American mercs. Clarisse Carrington was her legal name. But to Rourke, who’d known her since she was a child, she’d always been just Tat.

    A minion of the country’s usurper, Arturo Sapara, had tortured her with a knife. He could still see her, her blouse covered with blood, suffering from the effects of a bullet wound and knife cuts on her breast from one of Sapara’s apes, who was trying to force her to tell what she knew about a threatening invasion of his stolen country.

    She was fragile in appearance, blonde and blue-eyed with a delicately perfect face and a body that drew men’s eyes. But the fragility had been eclipsed when she was threatened. She’d been angry, uncooperative, strong. She hadn’t given up one bit of information. With grit that had amazed Rourke, who still remembered her as the Washington socialite she’d been, she’d not only charmed a jailer into releasing her and two captured college professors, she’d managed to get them to safety, as well. Then she’d given Machado valuable intel that had helped him and his ragtag army overthrow Sapara and regain his country.

    She did have credentials as a photojournalist, but Rourke had always considered that she was just playing at the job. To be fair, she had covered the invasion in Iraq, but in human-interest pieces, not what he thought of as true reporting. After Barrera, that had changed.

    She’d signed on with one of the wire services as a foreign correspondent and gone into the combat zones. Her latest foray was this gig in Ngawa, where she’d stationed herself in a refugee camp which had just been overrun.

    Rourke had come racing, after an agonizing few weeks in Wyoming and Texas helping close down a corrupt politician and expose a drug network. He hadn’t wanted to take the time. He was terrified that Tat was really going to get herself killed. He was almost sweating with worry, because he knew something that Tat didn’t; something potentially fatal to her and any foreigners in the region.

    He readjusted the ponytail that held his long blond hair. His one pale brown eye was troubled, beside the one wearing the eye patch. He’d lost the eye years ago, in a combat situation that had also given him devastating scars. It hadn’t kept him out of the game by a long shot, but he’d turned his attention to less physical pursuits, working chiefly for K. C. Kantor’s paramilitary ops group as an intel expert, when he wasn’t working for a covert government agency in another country.

    K.C. didn’t like him going into danger. He didn’t care what the older man liked. He suspected, had long suspected, that K.C. was his real father. He knew K.C. had the same suspicion. Neither of them had the guts to have a DNA profile done and learn the truth, although Rourke had asked a doctor to do a DNA profile of his assumed father.

    The results had been disturbing. Rourke’s apparent father had been K.C.’s best friend. Rourke’s mother had been a little saint. She’d never cheated on her husband, to Rourke’s knowledge, but when she was dying she’d whispered to the doctor, Rourke’s friend, that she’d felt sorry for K.C. when the woman he loved had taken the veil as a nun, and things had happened. She died before she could elaborate. Rourke had never had the nerve to actually ask K.C. about it. He wasn’t afraid of the other man. But they had a mutual respect that he didn’t want to lose.

    Tat was another matter. He closed his eye and groaned inwardly. He remembered her at seventeen, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his entire life. Soft, light blond hair in a feathery cut around her exquisite face, her china-blue eyes wide and soft and loving. She’d been wearing a green dress, something slinky but demure, because her parents were very religious. Rourke had been teasing her and she’d laughed up at him. Something had snapped inside him. He’d gathered her up like priceless treasure and started kissing her. Actually, he’d done a lot more than just kiss her. Only the sudden arrival of her mother had broken it up, and her mother had been furious.

    She’d hidden it, smoothing things over. But then Tat’s mother had taken Rourke to one side, and with quiet fury, she’d told him something that destroyed his life. From that night, he’d been so cold to Tat that she thought he hated her. He had to let her think it. She was the one woman on earth that he could never have.

    He opened his eye, grinding down on the memories before they started eating him alive again. He wished that he’d never touched her, that he didn’t have the shy innocence of her mouth, her worshipping eyes, to haunt his dreams. He’d driven her into the arms of other men with his hatred, and that only made the pain worse. He taunted her with it, when he knew it was his own fault. He’d had no choice. He couldn’t even tell her the truth. She’d worshipped her mother. She had passed away from a virus she’d caught while nursing others. Now Tat was alone, the tragic deaths of her father and young sister still haunting her months after they’d drowned in a piranha-infested river on a tour of local villages.

    Rourke had been at the funeral. He couldn’t help the way he felt. If Tat was in trouble, or hurt, he was always there. He’d known her since she was eight and her parents lived next door to K.C., who was by that time Rourke’s legal guardian, in Africa. Since Tat was ten years old and Rourke was fifteen, and he’d carried her out of the jungle in his arms to a doctor, after letting her get bitten by a viper, she’d been his. He couldn’t have her, but he couldn’t stop taking care of her. He knew his attitude puzzled her, because he was usually her worst enemy. But let her be hurt, or threatened, and he was right there. Always. Like now.

    He’d tried to phone her, but he couldn’t get her to answer her cell. She probably knew his number by heart. She wouldn’t even pick up when he called.

    Now she was here, somewhere close, and he couldn’t even get information from his best sources about her condition. He remembered again the way she’d been in Barrera, bleeding, white in the face, worn to the bone, but still defiant.

    The steward walked down the aisle and announced that the rebels who held the airfield were allowing the passengers to leave after a brief negotiation. He even smiled. Rourke leaned over and unobtrusively patted the hide gun in his boot. He could negotiate for himself, if he had to, he mused.

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