Home > King's Ransom (Tall, Dark & Dangerous #13)

King's Ransom (Tall, Dark & Dangerous #13)
Author: Suzanne Brockmann

Chapter One

 

 

Timeline: King’s Ransom (TDD #13) is set both in the pre-pandemic present day, about a year after SEAL Camp (TDD #12), and about two and a half years after the end of Night Watch (TDD #11). Please embrace the time warp!

 

 

Sunday


He came to with a gasp and a splash, coughing and hacking brackish water out of his lungs as he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees.

He was in a ditch.

Icy rain pounded down around him and on his head, his bare shoulders, and back. He slipped in the mud—his arms were ridiculously weak—and went down, face-first, into a rapidly growing puddle.

This time he rolled to get out of it—drowning in two inches of water was not even close to a proper death for a U.S. Navy SEAL. Not that he had plans to die any time soon.

Except...

He’d been certain that he was going to die.

He remembered that clearly, even though he didn’t remember much else. An assault rifle aimed at his face as a voice screamed—No!—before the world went painfully dark.

Not again!

He remembered thinking that—Not again!—but nothing about this place was familiar.

He reached up to touch the throbbing back of his head as he lay there, still choking and coughing, on the side of that ditch. Rain streamed down his face and onto his bare chest and...

What the hell...?

He was naked.

And he’d definitely been hit from behind. His hand came back red with still-fresh blood.

They’d stripped him of his sidearm and his clothes, whoever they were, before rolling him into this ditch, no doubt hoping he’d drown when the skies opened up. It could’ve been worse. They could’ve left him with a double-pop to the head. There’d be no coughing that out of his aching lungs.

Why they hadn’t killed him outright, he didn’t quite know and...

Tasha!

Thomas King sat up fast, and the world spun around him, even as he scrambled up and out of the ditch to look at the road.

The road was empty—he was alone.

It was Tasha who’d screamed no, right before he’d been hit.

Not again...

But she was as gone as the car—a black SUV—they’d been riding in.

As gone as the roadblock that had stopped them.

As gone as she’d been that distant, long-ago day, back when they were both still kids, before he’d joined the Navy, before he’d gone through BUD/S and become a SEAL. He hadn’t been able to protect Tasha then, either.

Not again!

Today’s clusterfuck rushed back to him then, in herky-jerky bits and pieces.

Tasha, a grown woman now, laughing at something he’d said—some joke he’d made to try to cut the tension as they sat together in the backseat of the SUV. The brightness of her quick smile; a flash of her golden-red curls...

Riding with Tasha Francisco, not quite ninety minutes into the three-hour trip from the remote airfield in northern New Hampshire to the even more remote mountain enclave in western Maine where the crown prince and his family were spending the week, skiing on artificial snow because the month was unseasonably warm.

Thomas shivered now. The forecast had been unusual for winter in New England, with lows in the mid-fifties, which felt far less warm in this cold, soaking rain, without his jacket or pants or boots.

The helo they’d been scheduled to take from the airfield to the resort had been in use for a medical emergency.

Allegedly in use. He had to add that, now.

The backup helicopter had had a rather massive mechanical failure—also allegedly—so he and Tasha had opted to just get it over with and make the long, slow, winding drive up into the mountains.

Three hours in the small space that was an SUV backseat would’ve been a challenge for anyone.

Tasha had been arguing with Thomas as they’d rounded one of the many curves along the mountainous road.

What else was new?

She was still embarrassed. Despite his jet-board attempts to smooth things over by going point-blank. Or maybe because of his attempts.

Tell me about Ted, he should’ve said. Tell me you’re happy. I just want you to be happy.

Instead, she’d been questioning his authority as her bodyguard, starting immediately after the sound of an explosion penetrated the high-end vehicle’s cone of silence. It had to have been relatively close—or massively large—for it to have been that loud.

Tasha had been in the middle of leaving a voicemail for Tedric, but after that boom she frowned at her cell phone. “That’s weird. I just lost all bars.”

Thomas immediately looked to their driver—white, mid-thirties, receding hairline—a man whose picture ID blandly claimed his name was Robert Johnston. The man’s brown eyes met his in the rearview.

“We’ve got some granite quarries in the area,” Johnston said in his curiously accent-free voice. Most of the locals in this part of New England sported heavy accents, but he didn’t. “Maybe they’re blasting again.”

On a Sunday? That was clearly bullshit—that, and the fact that Thomas’s own device, a military-grade dual-mode satellite phone, wasn’t able to get a cell connection either made him say, “Pull over as soon as you safely can.”

“Oh, God, please, no.” Tasha groaned.

“My cell’s out, too,” he informed her.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” she pointed out. “Service is spotty.”

“Which is why we need to stop and make sure I still have satellite access.”

She was from a career-military family—her uncle was an admiral who’d come up from the Teams—and she knew as well as any Navy SEAL that a SAT phone needed a direct line-of-sight to the satellite. That was close to impossible do in a moving vehicle, in the mountains.

Still, she rolled her eyes. “Thomas, come on, this is Maine, not Afghanistan. And you’re really only here because Uncle Alan is overprotective and probably a little insane—”

Thomas cut her off. “Why I’m here is irrelevant. I’m here. You’ve gotta let me do my job.”

She exhaled her exasperation heavily. “Unless the noise we heard was your satellite crashing to earth—hashtag, it wasn’t—”

“Look, I’m just following protocol.” Which meant that Thomas now had to confirm he still had access to communication.

“Again,” she said, “this is Maine, not—”

“I’m aware of that, thanks.”

“And if you can’t get through...?”

“We’ll need to find a landline,” he informed her.

“We’ll find a landline if we keep going,” Tash said. “At the ski lodge.”

“We’ll find one sooner, at that gas station we passed,” Thomas said.

“That was nearly an hour ago!” Tasha wasn’t happy.

He leaned forward as the driver passed a patch of open shoulder that would’ve been a perfect place to stop. “Something like that would’ve been good,” he told the man.

But the driver’s eyes were now glued to the road as the SUV’s engine worked to take them farther up the mountainside. They were actually accelerating. Clearly, the man didn’t want to piss off Tasha.

But Tasha wasn’t in charge. Thomas added volume plus some SEAL lieutenant to his voice. “Pull off. Over there.”

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