New York Times Bestselling Author

Chapter One

 
Pierce “Midas” Cagle crept along the vast desert, all his attention on his targets. He and his SEAL team had been dropped by helicopter about three miles back, well away from where two hostages were being held. Their objective was to rescue the American and Danish hostages and kill or capture the kidnappers.

This would’ve been a fairly routine mission for Midas and his team, except for one thing.

He knew one of the hostages.

Midas had gone to high school with Lexie Greene. He hadn’t seen or talked to her in almost fifteen years, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t immediately remembered who she was when he’d read her name.

Lexie had begun attending his high school their senior year. Midas might not have exchanged more than two words with her except for the fact that they’d been paired together for an assignment in English class. She’d been funny, friendly, and smart. Much to Midas’s surprise, since she’d normally kept to herself and rarely met anyone’s eyes.

Midas, in contrast, had been outgoing and popular. He was the captain of the swim team and a state champion in the sport as well. And the ladies liked him, so he’d never had to work too hard to find someone to date.

After graduating, Midas had gone his own way, joining the Navy and becoming a SEAL, and he hadn’t thought twice about the shy girl he’d once known. Until he’d read the report about the hostages in the Somali desert.

Since realizing Lexie was the girl he’d known in high school, Midas had almost obsessively watched the videos the kidnappers had taken of her and Dagmar Brander, an auditor for Food For All, the international aid organization Lexie also worked for.

She and Dagmar had been walking out of the Food For All building in Galkayo, a town near the border of Somalia and Ethiopia, when they were thrown in the back of a truck and driven into the desert.

That was three months ago, and the kidnappers were demanding ten million dollars for the safe return of Dag and Lexie. At first it had been five, but when the money had quickly been raised by Dagmar’s brother, the kidnappers decided no—it was five million for each hostage.

Lexie and Dagmar had languished in the desert for months while negotiations continued.

But word had come down that Dagmar wasn’t well. He had heart problems, and in the last video, Lexie begged that the money be paid, as she believed her boss had experienced a stroke.

After hearing that, the United States and Denmark had agreed it was time to act. The SEALs were moving in with a Danish Jaeger Corps team. They were Denmark’s elite special forces, and their assistance was welcome.

Intel had said there were ten to fifteen men guarding the hostages in the desert, and satellite photos had given Midas and the other men the general layout of the crude camp. There were a few scraggy trees, which Lexie and Dagmar spent most of their time under. They didn’t seem to be tied up or otherwise restrained…because honestly, where were they going to go? It was at least ten miles to any kind of outpost, and even farther to get back to Galkayo.

Midas looked over at Mustang, who was indicating that he and Aleck were going to head to the right. Nodding in agreement, Midas pointed to the left and then to Pid. Mustang gestured to Jag and Slate and swirled his finger in the air.

The command to spread out and surround the camp was their agreed upon plan. The Danish special forces would do the same, staying back a bit farther, making sure none of the kidnappers managed to slip by the SEALs.

For the first time in ages…maybe ever…Midas was nervous about a mission. He knew it was because of his personal connection to the hostage.

He was also curious about Lexie after reading her file. She’d been working for Food For All for the last fourteen years. She’d traveled all over the world, lived in a dozen different countries…and yet, she somehow still had an innocent look about her in the videos. What she must have seen in some of the poorest parts of the world apparently hadn’t made her jaded or hard. Not like Midas felt his experiences had done to him.

It was ridiculous to think she was the exact same girl he’d known in high school, but still, looking at her photo in the report and seeing her on the videos the kidnappers had recorded, Midas had a feeling she hadn’t changed much. The thought of her being hurt or killed in the next twenty minutes was abhorrent.

He also wondered if she’d remember him.

It wasn’t likely.

Most of the time the people they rescued were strangers. Names on a piece of paper. Unfortunate men and women who’d gotten embroiled in dangerous situations, often through no fault of their own. But personally knowing a kidnapping victim was new for him. He’d been trained to focus on the job at hand and block everything else out. But he couldn’t stop thinking about the Lexie he’d known years ago.

How she’d blushed shyly when he’d complimented her on having good ideas for their project.

How she used to scrunch up her nose when she was thinking extra hard.

How she’d stopped to help a boy pick up stuff he’d dropped in the hall one morning.

How Lexie had paid for a girl’s lunch when she didn’t have enough money, and then had to put back the sandwich she’d been planning on eating herself, since she was short the necessary cash.

The fact that Lexie worked for an international aid organization was proof that the kind girl he’d known was now a thoughtful and giving woman. And Midas wanted to make sure such a person lived to see another day.

His resolve hardening, he returned his attention back to the task at hand. Lexie and Dagmar had suffered enough. It was time to get them out of the desert and to safety.

* * *

Elizabeth Lexie Greene lay on her back under what she considered “her” tree and stared up at the stars. It was amazing how bright they were without any light pollution getting in the way. The desert was pitch dark when the moon wasn’t full, like tonight. Their kidnappers had lanterns and flashlights, but it was late, and most of the men guarding them were asleep.

There was a fire over by the men’s two trucks, but it had mostly burned down to embers. Dagmar snored lightly a few feet away, and Lexie turned to look in his direction. She couldn’t see more than a vague outline of his body on the ground, but she was reassured by the fact she could hear him breathing.

More than once she’d thought that he might be dying. He’d most definitely had a stroke at some point, as his words were slurred now and his left side was weaker than it had been. She hadn’t known the man very well before they were kidnapped. She’d been in Galkayo almost six months before Dagmar had arrived to do a review of processes and to make sure everything was running up to Food For All’s standards.

She was fairly used to the inspections. After years of working for the organization, Lexie was well aware that the board regularly sent in auditors to review the various operations around the world. Dagmar had been there for just a week, and they were heading out to inspect one of the organization’s gardens in a nearby neighborhood when they were snatched off the street.

It was the scariest thing Lexie had ever experienced. One second she was enthusiastically telling Dagmar about everything they’d done to help the locals and how well the garden was working out, and the next, she was thrown into the back of a truck and looking down the barrel of a rifle.

The first few weeks had been the worst. Trying to get used to living in the open desert, trying not to say or do anything that would get her beaten, and hoping against hope they’d be released.

But after hearing how much the kidnappers were asking for ransom, Lexie was slowly beginning to resign herself to the fact that it was likely she wouldn’t make it out of the desert alive. Dagmar might be able to convince their captors to let him go. He had money. Lots of it. And his twin brother had been doing everything in his power to get him released.

But Lexie? She was expendable. She was one of thousands of Food For All employees. And she had no family to speak of. No one was going to pay five million dollars for her. No way in hell.

She was shocked when the original ransom amount had been raised within days by Dagmar’s brother, but instead of letting them go, the kidnappers had gotten greedy. They’d changed the terms of their release, demanding five million for each of them—and declaring that neither would be freed until the entire ten million had been handed over. They’d obviously been confident that if five million could be raised so quickly, another five million would be easy.

They were wrong.

Lexie felt guilty as hell that she and Dag were both still in the desert after his brother had raised the original ransom. Especially considering Dagmar’s health. He needed to see a doctor. Needed a hospital. And instead, they were lying on the hard, sandy ground with only a dying tree above their heads to protect them from the elements, praying something would happen to make their kidnappers finally set them free.

A noise in the distance caught Lexie’s attention.

Normally, she wouldn’t have thought twice about odd noises, but she’d been in the desert long enough to know what was ordinary and what wasn’t. She lifted her head and stared in the direction where she thought the noise had come from, but because of the darkness, she couldn’t see much of anything.

Then suddenly, all hell broke loose.

What seemed like dozens of men began yelling all at once. Telling everyone to stay down. To put their hands in the air.

She even heard someone calling out her name, telling her and Dagmar to stay where they were.

“Oh my God,” she breathed.

It was hard to believe this was happening. She’d dreamed about being rescued just about every night since she’d been taken, but never actually thought it would happen. Since Dagmar was somewhat powerful in his country, her only hope had been that the Danish government might send someone to their aid.

But the voices she heard were definitely speaking English.

“What?” Dagmar asked, startled awake by all the commotion going on around them.

“Stay down!” Lexie whispered loudly, sidling over to where he was lying nearby. “I think we’re being rescued!” she told him excitedly.

“Please, God, let it be true,” Dagmar whispered.

Over the last three months, Dagmar had become more and more depressed. He wasn’t used to roughing it in any way, shape, or form. And being sick hadn’t helped. At first he’d been optimistic, sure they’d be released within days. But with each week that went by, his attitude had changed for the worse. Lexie could hardly be upset with him for becoming despondent; she’d had her share of bad days. And it wasn’t his fault he’d been born rich, never having to struggle for anything in his life.

As their kidnappers awoke amid all the shouting, they didn’t do as they were ordered. Instead of putting their hands up and surrendering, they immediately grabbed the automatic rifles they kept by their sides day and night. They fired indiscriminately into the darkness around the camp.

Lexie squealed and buried her head in her arms and tried to make herself as small as possible. The sound of gunfire was loud in the otherwise quiet desert, and all she could think about was how much it would hurt to be shot. She wanted to curl up into a ball, but figured it was better to stay flat.

The sound of gunshots echoed in the desert, sounding loud in the quiet of the night. The kidnappers were yelling at each other and trying to figure out who was shooting at them, and from where. Lexie’s heart was beating a million miles an hour. She was terrified that at any second, one of the kidnappers would haul her or Dagmar up and use them as human shields to try to escape.

She couldn’t tell the difference between the bad guys’ and good guys’ bullets, had no idea if she and Dag were about to be rescued or if their kidnappers would win the battle. If that happened, they wouldn’t be happy about the ambush…would maybe even kill her and Dag.

She knew she was breathing too hard but couldn’t calm herself. She kept her eyes squeezed shut as the sounds of gunfire slowly tapered off. She could hear men yelling to each other in English, and prayed that was a good sign.

“Lexie?” a voice called out.

Lexie slowly lifted her head. She winced as a beam of light nearly blinded her. She squeezed her eyes shut.

“Sorry,” the deep voice said from much closer. “Are you all right?”

Lexie lifted her head once more but made no move to get up. She was so used to having to get permission to do anything, she didn’t even consider sitting up or standing. Even when the person talking to her wasn’t yelling and didn’t sound pissed off.

She couldn’t make out the features of the man standing above her, but she could see he was wearing a desert camouflage uniform. He had on a vest with all sorts of gadgets attached to it. Lexie’s neck hurt from craning to look up at him, but again, she wasn’t going to move until she was given permission.

“Lexie? Were you hit?”

That’s right. He’d asked her a question. “No. I mean, I don’t think so,” she said softly.

“Can you sit up?” the man asked.

Lexie nodded, even though she wasn’t sure she could. She’d never been as scared in her life as she’d been in the last few minutes. But not one to shy away from doing something difficult, Lexie did her best to shift so she was on her knees, sitting on her heels.

“How are they?” another man asked as he walked over to them.

“Lex is good. Not sure about Dagmar.”

Dagmar!

Lexie quickly turned toward him and saw he was laboriously rolling onto his back and blinking rapidly. His right hand was massaging his left chest, which wasn’t a good sign.

“Shit,” the second man swore, then turned his head and whistled. Before she knew what was happening, three more men had approached their little tree and were crouching next to Dagmar. She could hear them talking to Dag in Danish…but he wasn’t answering.

“Come on, Lex, let’s get you out of the way,” said the man who’d first approached her, reaching down and putting a hand under her elbow. She let him help her stand, leaning on him as he walked them a little bit away from where she’d been peacefully watching the stars a short time ago.

“Are you really all right?” the man asked.

Lexie glanced up—and realized for the first time how tall the man was. She’d never really felt all that short; at five-seven, she was a fairly average height for a woman, but this guy towered over her. “You’re really tall,” she blurted, and immediately scrunched her nose at her inane statement.

But the soldier merely chuckled. “I am. Six-four. It’s a pain in the ass being tall when trying to sneak up on someone. I don’t exactly blend into my surroundings.”

Lexie wished she could see better. There was something about the man that seemed…familiar. But that was crazy. They were in the middle of an African desert. There was no way she knew this guy. “I don’t know,” she said. “No one in camp saw you or your friends until you yelled at them.”

“True. It’s good to see you again.”

Lexie frowned. “I’m sorry, do we know each other?”

“Sorry. Yeah, we did at one time. I’m Pierce Cagle. We went to the same high school our senior year.”

Lexie blinked in surprise. Talk about a blast from the past.

Even if it wasn’t dark, and she wasn’t in the middle of the desert, she didn’t think she’d have recognized him. This wasn’t the halls of their old high school, and he was the last person she’d ever expected to see again. Especially on the other side of the world.

“Midas!” one of the other men called out. “Chopper’ll be here in five!”

The man in front of her gave his teammate a chin lift, then looked back down at her.

“You still go by that nickname?” she asked. There were so many things she should be asking right about now, but that was the question that popped out. She remembered the kids at school called him Midas because of all the gold medals he’d won when he was on the swim team.

He chuckled, actually looking a little sheepish. “Yeah. My mom thought she’d be funny and send me a package when I was in boot camp, addressed to me by my nickname. It stuck.”

“Too bad there’s no water around here for you to show off your swimming skills,” Lexie mused inanely, then immediately regretted it. She was such a dork. Always had been.

But amazingly, Midas just grinned. “Got plenty of that back in Hawaii where I’m stationed.”

“You’re in Hawaii? Really? I’ve always wanted to live there,” Lexie said.

Midas reached for her elbow again and pulled her out of the way of the three men who were carrying Dagmar.

“I can walk,” he complained weakly.

“Yes, sir,” someone said in a Danish accent. “But why walk when we can carry you just as easily?”

“Where are we going?” Dagmar asked.

“The best option would be to go straight to the ship waiting off the coast of Somalia,” one of the other soldiers said. “But your brother paid for a doctor to be flown to Galkayo. He’s been there for a month, waiting for you to be released. Your brother was adamant that you go to the hospital there as soon as you were rescued, to be checked over. Especially after he heard you weren’t doing well.”

“Perfect,” Dagmar said. “Yes, that’s better. I want to see my doctor. Not some stranger who doesn’t know my history. I’m sure Magnus knew the moment I started feeling poorly. Twin connection and all…” he explained.

Lexie knew all about Magnus and Dagmar’s connection. He’d talked about it several times over the last few months. She would’ve preferred to go straight to the ship, but then again, if she was as sick as Dag, and had someone who cared enough to send a doctor just in case she was released, she’d probably want to see them as well.

“Are you okay to walk?” Midas asked her.

Lexie nodded. “Yeah.”

He stared at her for a long moment.

“What?” she asked.

He shrugged. “You’re just really…calm.”

“I’m not really,” she countered. “Inside, I’m a mess. My legs feel like jelly and I’m having a hard time believing this is real. I’ve had dreams like this, you know. Where we were rescued. But I always woke up and was still here, under that tree, trying not to get fried to a crisp in the sun.”

“It’s real,” he told her.

The whirring of a helicopter sounded in the distance, and Lexie turned to look in that direction, even though it was still dark out and she couldn’t see much. She glanced back at Midas. “Are they all dead?”

He didn’t pretend not to know what she was talking about. “Yes. We had hoped to capture at least one of them to interrogate, but that didn’t happen.”

Lexie swallowed hard. When she and Dag had first been taken, she’d tried to not hate their kidnappers. She remembered hearing one talk about his family…about his newborn daughter. And how another was the sole support for his elderly parents. Her kidnappers were human, and many times circumstances drove people’s actions. Poverty, hunger, and feeling hopeless were all too common in the places she’d lived over the years.

But as time went by, and especially after they’d doubled the ransom amount, she’d had more difficulty feeling even a small bit of empathy for the men. Desperate or not, nothing gave them the right to hold her and Dag against their will and terrorize them for months.

“It bothers you, doesn’t it?” Midas asked.

Lexie shrugged and let Midas lead her away from the patch of sand she’d called home for the last few months and deeper into the desert. “They weren’t exactly nice, but they didn’t hurt me. Didn’t rape me.”

“They just held you against your will, belittled you, and made you feel as if you were worthless.”

Lexie stumbled, but Midas made sure she didn’t fall. “How did you know that?” she asked quietly.

“I know the type,” Midas said dryly. “When they got the first five million, they could’ve let you both go. Instead, they got greedy. Probably told you that it was your fault you weren’t already free. That if you were a better employee, if you were more important, the other five mil would’ve already been paid. Even made it seem as if it was your fault that they were greedy assholes who wanted more money.”

Lexie kept her eyes on the ground as they walked across the sand, toward where she guessed the helicopter would be landing to pick them up.

Midas wasn’t wrong. She’d been thrilled when the ransom was raised so quickly, had thought they’d be released. When they were informed that the price on their heads had increased, Dagmar had been furious. He’d lost his cool for the first time, lashing out, demanding that they let him go at least, since his family was the one who’d raised the five million.

Their captors just laughed at him.

And Lexie had felt terrible. Because he wasn’t wrong. It was her fault he was still stuck in the desert.

“Don’t,” Midas said.

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t let them get into your head. It didn’t matter where the money came from or how much it was. Once they got anything for their demands, it was only going to make them want more.”

Lexie supposed that was true. But she still felt guilty.

“When the chopper arrives, close your eyes so sand doesn’t get in them,” Midas ordered.

“How will I be able to get to it if I can’t see?” Lexie asked.

“I’ve got you.”

The longing those three words invoked was immediate and intense…and surprising.

She’d always been a loner. Perfectly happy moving from place to place, country to country, all on her own. She didn’t have close friends or family.  Hadn’t had a serious boyfriend in years. She liked being single. Liked being able to travel the world.

But after what she’d been through in the last three months, Lexie fully understood just how alone she was in the world. Her dad hadn’t been the best father, and he was gone now. They’d moved around too much when she was growing up to build any close friendships. She hadn’t gone to college, and the people she’d met through Food For All were great, but they were busy moving around and helping others, just like she was. And she was fine with that.

Therefore, over the years, she’d forgotten what it felt like to lean on someone.

Maybe she’d never known the feeling.

But those three words coming from Midas made her long to experience it.

“Lex?” he asked.

“Sorry, yeah, I heard you,” she told him quickly, doing her best to throw off her melancholy. As soon as she got a shower—and drank a dozen huge glasses of cold water—she’d feel more like herself. “But if I trip over sand, I’m gonna be mad at you.”

Midas chuckled. “I seem to remember you being very even keeled. Have you ever been mad at someone in your life?”

Lexie was amazed all over again that this man remembered anything about her. He’d impressed her in high school. He was popular back then, but he hadn’t been an asshole about it. He’d never looked down on other kids and he’d stuck up for them when they were being bullied. He was friendly…and had even mostly hid his disappointment when he’d been paired with her for a project.

She shrugged. “Being mad doesn’t really help the situation.”

“True.”

It was shocking how one second they were standing in the dark desert, chatting about nothing in particular, and the next it was like they were engulfed in a wind tunnel. A helicopter appeared as if out of nowhere, its rotors sending sand flying in all directions.

Lexie immediately closed her eyes against the onslaught and couldn’t help but lean into Midas. She felt his arm go around her back as she huddled closer to try to keep from being pummeled by the sharp grains of sand. She had no idea how he was able to see, but when she felt him move forward, she didn’t hesitate to shuffle alongside him.

“Hold your hand up,” Midas said loudly in her ear after a minute or so.

Keeping her eyes squeezed shut, Lexie did as he ordered. Immediately, she felt her hand being grabbed by someone else. Before she could adjust, she felt as if she were flying through the air—and then the sand was gone.

She squinted her eyes open and saw that she was inside the chopper, and Midas was climbing in behind her.

A man dressed exactly like Midas pointed to the other side of the helicopter, and Lexie immediately went to where he’d indicated. She slid to her butt and watched as Dagmar was loaded and half a dozen other soldiers climbed onboard.

Someone handed her a headset and she slipped it over her ears, sighing in relief at the immediate silence.

Midas came over to sit next to her, and he adjusted the mouthpiece closer to her lips. “Can you hear me?”

Lexie nodded.

He smiled at her. “Good.”

She wanted to ask where they were going and what would happen next, but suddenly she was incredibly exhausted. The adrenaline that had coursed through her veins when the shooting had started was waning and she was finding it hard to keep her eyes open.

When Midas put his arm around her shoulders and tugged her closer, she went willingly. Her head landed on his shoulder and she sighed. She heard the soldiers talking to each other through the headphones. They were concerned about Dagmar’s condition and were discussing the stop they were going to make in Galkayo.

But Lexie only vaguely listened. Once the door to the chopper closed and she felt the huge machine lift off, it was as if her body and mind completely shut down.

She was safe. Her kidnappers were dead. Nothing else mattered.

* * *

Abshir Farah watched from his hiding spot about a half mile away, teeming with frustration, as the two helicopters rose into the night sky. He’d left the camp to hunt at just the right moment. He knew without a doubt that his friends and comrades were dead. He’d heard the shots and came running to assist, but by the time he’d gotten close to camp, it was obvious the soldiers had already killed everyone.

They’d waited too long to get rid of their captives. They should’ve taken the five million dollars and released them. But instead, his comrades had insisted they could get more.

Anger filled Abshir. He needed that money. His family was starving. Living in filth. He’d been counting on the cash to get them out of the slums and into a proper home. His wife was pregnant with their sixth child, and there was no way he’d be able to feed one more person without that money.

But maybe there was still a chance to get their captives back…

The helicopters were headed toward Galkayo. If he was lucky—and he was obviously lucky, since he was still alive right now and not lying dead in the sand with his friends—they’d go back to where it all started.

He’d heard the rumors that the Danish man’s family had flown in his personal doctor. There was only one hospital in town, and if they took him there, perhaps Abshir and some of the others could get him back. And this time, they’d take the five million dollars.

It was worth a shot.

Abshir knew time wasn’t on his side. He needed to get to camp and see if one of the trucks was still working. He had no idea if the soldiers had disabled the vehicles or not. If possible, he would go back to town and tell the others what had happened. They’d want to avenge their friends, and his dead comrades’ families wouldn’t be happy that foreigners had come into their country and killed their loved ones.

Yes, with luck, they’d have both the man and woman back in their grasp, and this time they’d be smarter about their demands. Smarter about where they hid. Maybe they could beat on the woman a bit and see if they couldn’t get the American government to pony up some money for her as well as get the five mil for the man.

They had a second chance to salvage this operation, but Abshir had to work quickly. Spread the word about what had happened.

Deep down, he knew what he was doing was wrong. But his world was every man for himself. And Abshir needed money to feed his family. If that five million disappeared, they were all screwed.

Lexie Greene hasn’t thought about Pierce Cagle in years. So when the popular boy she knew in high school shows up in the middle of the Somali desert, part of the SEAL team rescuing her and a coworker from kidnappers, she’s more than a little shocked. But her surprise turns to awe, then awe to respect…and attraction…when he saves her not once, but twice before they make it safely back to a US Naval ship. Before she can blink, he’s gone from her life again, but not before an emotional goodbye and a promise to keep in touch.

Pierce “Midas” Cagle hasn’t thought about Lexie in years. Though he’s not surprised in the least to learn that the shy, kind girl he knew is now an international aid worker, serving the poor both at home and abroad. His attraction to the woman she’s become, however…that’s definitely unexpected. He hates leaving her behind after his mission, but Midas is more thrilled than he can say when she chooses the Hawaiian branch of Food For All for her next assignment.

Their chemistry is just as strong as it was in Somalia, and neither Lexie nor Midas has ever been so happy. Nor could they possibly suspect someone is outraged that Lexie made it out of the desert alive.

** Finding Lexie is the 2nd book in the SEAL Team Hawaii Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.

Finding Lexie