New York Times Bestselling Author

Deserving Reese

May 30, 2023

Having a crush on one of your brother’s friends is so cliché. But Reese Woodall isn’t too worried…it’s not as if she’d ever have a chance with the former Delta Force Operative. For one thing, he lives in New Mexico, and she’s in Missouri. For another, since Woody and his team chaptered out of the Army several years ago, she hasn’t seen Gus even once. She’s free to lust after him from afar…but with her brother currently missing, Reese has far more important things to worry about.

Gus “Spike” Fowler doesn’t think twice before heading to South America when he learns his old Army buddy has disappeared—and his younger sister has gone to Colombia to find him. Though he hasn’t thought much about Reese in the last five years, he certainly remembers her. The curvy, sexy, stubborn engineer is hard to forget. He liked what he saw years ago. And now? After she surprises him in the best way during a high-stakes bid to rescue Woody from a drug cartel? He likes her even more.

Safely back at The Refuge, the sparks Reese and Spike experienced in Colombia quickly ignite, and they both find everything they’ve ever wanted in a partner. But they might lose it just as quickly…when the trouble they escaped in South America crosses the border.

CHAPTER ONE


Gus “Spike” Fowler frowned in irritation as he adjusted his large body in the too-small airplane seat and tried to calm his dark thoughts. Ever since he’d gotten a call from Bubba, a former Army teammate, asking if he’d heard from Woody, another member of their unit, Spike had harbored a bad feeling in his gut.

Spike missed his teammates, but not the shit they’d done as Delta Force Operatives. They’d put their lives on the line more times than anyone could count and it had been a relief to put all of that behind him and join Brick and the men at The Refuge.

But when Bubba called, telling him that Woody had gone down to Colombia after hearing from a woman who’d been a translator for them on a mission—and hadn’t been heard from since—the hair on the back of Spike’s neck had stood up. That feeling of trepidation still plagued him.

And it only got worse when he’d learned that Woody’s younger sister, Reese, was thinking of heading down to South America to find her brother.

Spike had always admired the relationship between the two siblings, even if he didn’t completely understand it. He wasn’t close to his own family. He hadn’t seen them in years, and the last time he’d gone home for the holidays, he’d regretted it. His parents didn’t know why he was “hiding out” in the backwoods of New Mexico, and he and his sister had absolutely nothing in common and therefore little to talk about.

Jack Woodall and his sister were extremely close, however. She was two years younger than Woody, who was overly protective of her. During down time on missions, he’d entertained their team with stories about Reese, and the pride in his voice when he’d talked about how great she was doing after she’d graduated college was easy to hear. For her part, Reese had constantly emailed her brother when they were out of the country, and when possible, she’d travel to wherever he was stationed to welcome him home from missions.

When he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, after getting out of the Army, Reese followed.

Spike envied the bond Woody and Reese shared. He’d also met her a few times, and had definitely been impressed by the woman personally. She was tall; only a couple inches shorter than his five-eleven. Her blonde hair was usually up in a messy bun and she always had a smile on her face. Her curvy body definitely made her stand out. She was friendly and bubbly and passionate about her work…and he had a feeling she likely brought the latter to the bedroom, as well.

She was gorgeous, inside and out. But Spike had never given any indication that he was attracted to the woman—nor had his teammates—out of respect for both her and Woody. Not that Woody would have minded if one of his friends dated his sister; it was more that their jobs had been so uncertain. As Deltas, they were deployed more than they were home, and they all knew any kind of serious relationship would be extremely challenging, both for them and their significant others.

Besides…when they were on missions, the team talked. About the women they’d dated, sexual conquests, the things they’d done, the things they wanted to do. Given everything they’d revealed to each other during long nights in the trenches, it would be extremely awkward to date any teammate’s sister.

Still, he’d thought about Reese a few times in the years since he’d gotten out of the Army. Wondered if she was still living in Kansas City near her brother. If she’d gotten married, had any kids.

Apparently, the answers were yes, no, and no. After talking with Bubba, Spike learned that she was still single, still in Missouri, still very close to her brother.

Which was why he was currently on his way there. To meet with Reese, find out what he could about where Woody had been headed, and any other information she had, before reassuring her that her brother was most likely just fine and enjoying spending time with Isabella, the translator he’d apparently never been able to forget.

But deep down, Spike was worried. It wasn’t like Woody to go off the radar like he had. And that he’d not kept in contact with his sister just made Spike’s concern worse.

“Stop worrying,” Tiny said from the seat next to him.

Looking over at his friend and co-owner of The Refuge, Spike sighed. “I can’t help it. And for the hundredth time, you didn’t need to come with me.”

Tiny shrugged. “I did. Tonka and Brick weren’t going to leave their women, and we’ve had a lot of the same special forces training. If something is wrong, we can work together to find your friend and get him home safely.”

Spike couldn’t deny that having Tiny by his side would be welcome if he had to head down to Colombia. While Tiny had been a SEAL, and he was Delta, he wasn’t wrong that they’d had similar training.

“Tell me more about Woody, the translator he went down to see, and the sister,” Tiny ordered.

“Woody’s a few years younger than I am, but he was a damn good Delta. Always ready to do whatever it took to get the mission done. Sometimes he was impulsive, but we could usually rein him in.”

“So you aren’t surprised that he headed down to Colombia when he heard the translator might be in trouble,” Tiny remarked.

Spike shook his head. “No, but it’s not because of his impulsive nature. He and Isabella had a connection from the start. We all saw it. But they both did their best to keep things professional. The mission we were on down there wasn’t especially dangerous. We were working with the National Army—specifically, their special forces branch, AFEAU—on a joint mission. Isabella was assigned to our group to translate when necessary. When we left the country, they exchanged information. As far as I knew before now, that was the extent of it.

“But now, Bubba tells me that they’ve been keeping in constant contact since then. Said Woody’s been studying Spanish, and he and Isabella always planned on meeting back up at some point. I guess when he heard she needed help, he didn’t hesitate to head down there.”

“Help with what?” Tiny asked.

“I’m not sure. Bubba didn’t know either, and apparently Woody didn’t tell Reese exactly what was wrong. Just that Isabella asked for his help on getting her and her brother out of the country,” Spike said.

“That doesn’t sound good,” Tiny said with a shake of his head. “How old is her brother?”

Spike frowned as he tried to remember. “I’m not sure, but I think eighteen or nineteen now.”

“So not a kid.”

“No, definitely not a kid. He was a young teenager when we were in the country, but I don’t remember Isabella saying much about him, other than she was raising him after their parents died.”

“So if she was translating for your team while you were in Colombia, she has to have some pretty high connections. The AFEAU is very secretive. Could she have gotten on the bad side of their government?” Tiny asked, keeping his tone low so no one would overhear. Not that it was likely. The seats around them were empty, since the plane wasn’t packed, which was a relief.

“Anything’s possible. I’m more concerned about the fact that Woody hasn’t contacted Reese. There’s no way—and I mean no way—he’d purposely worry his sister. They’re extremely close.”

“Yeah, that’s definitely not a good sign,” Tiny agreed.

They fell silent as they continued to make their way toward their destination. Until eventually Tiny asked, “So, what’s the plan?”

Spike shrugged. “Talk to Reese. Find out what Woody told her, if anything. Determine if she’s overreacting, maybe ask Tex to see if he can find the translator’s address and, if need be, head to Colombia to see for ourselves that Woody’s all right.”

He wasn’t surprised when Tiny simply nodded. “Does Reese know we’re coming?” he asked.

Spike sighed. “No. I got her number from Bubba, but she didn’t answer when I called. She knows me, though. We’ve met a few times.”

“She’s probably gonna think you’re there to bring her bad news,” Tiny warned.

Spike frowned. Shit. He hadn’t thought about that. The last thing he wanted to do was cause her any angst. It simply felt…wrong that someone with her sunny personality should ever feel even a moment of fear. “In that case, the first thing out of my mouth will be reassurance that we aren’t there for a death notification,” he decided.

The two friends quieted once more, and Spike couldn’t help but let his mind wander back to Woody. Where was he? Was he in trouble, or was he simply enjoying time with the woman he’d gotten to know over the years? Spike couldn’t decide and figured it could be either option. He didn’t think Woody would be inconsiderate enough to worry his sister, but if he and Isabella were making up for lost time after being apart for years, it was possible the rest of the world just dropped away…or he didn’t feel the need to talk to his sister about his love life.

But given his bond with Reese, Spike’s gut insisted that wasn’t the case.

The plane ride seemed to be taking forever. And the longer they were in the air, the more stressed Spike became. The more scenarios went through his brain about why Woody wasn’t communicating with Reese and his friends.

By the time they landed, Spike felt jittery and off-kilter. It had been a long time since he’d felt nerves like this, and he didn’t like it.

When he first became a Delta Operative and started going on missions, he was even-keeled and nothing much rattled him. But with each mission, and given the death and destruction that came with the majority of them, he’d slowly changed. His steady nerves began to fray and with each assignment, all he could think of more and more was all the ways things could go wrong.

He was assured by two different therapists that what he was feeling was normal…but it didn’t feel normal to constantly picture his teammates blown to hell, or wonder how it would feel to step on an IED. When he couldn’t shake the negative thoughts, and when his body literally began to break down on him before missions—shaking, vomiting, unable to concentrate—Spike knew it was time to get out.

He hated to quit. He hadn’t been raised to be a quitter, but the last thing he wanted was his mental state affecting the lives of his teammates. When he finally sat down with them to explain, he was surprised to learn they were all dealing with some of the same things. They weren’t experiencing the physical symptoms, but the reality of being a Delta and constantly being deployed and putting their lives on the line had taken a toll on the entire team.

They’d all gotten out of the Army around the same time, and while Spike didn’t keep in touch with his former teammates regularly, when he did reach out, he was happy to hear how well they were doing.

Spike took a deep breath. He needed to keep his shit together. For Woody. He needed to make sure Reese saw nothing in him to be concerned about. That she’d trust him to figure out what happened to her brother.

This wasn’t a Delta mission. He could do this. He didn’t have a choice.