“Any luck yet?” Ethan asked Talon as they walked out of Grinders, the local coffee shop. They’d just gotten back from an overnight search and rescue.

“No. But I’m getting close.”

Ethan studied him, and Tal pretended not to see the concerned look his friend was shooting his way. “Have you ever considered that she might not want to be rescued?”

Tal sighed. He took a swallow of the hot black coffee, then looked over at one of his best friends. Ethan had literally saved his life. He’d been well on his way to drinking himself to death when Ethan had contacted him and asked if he’d be interested in moving to the United States and joining a search and rescue team he was putting together.

At first, Tal wasn’t interested. But the more he thought about the offer, the more it appealed to him. He’d gotten out of the Special Boat Service, the UK version of the Navy SEALs, after a mission went not only sideways, but upside down and backward as well. He’d been struggling to find his way, and flying halfway across the world seemed like a great alternative to despair.

Tal loved Ethan like a brother, not only because he’d given him a purpose again, but because he hadn’t pried. He’d given Tal the time he’d needed to heal.

But nearly six years after arriving in Fallport, Virginia, and joining the newly formed Eagle Point Search and Rescue team, Ethan was apparently done giving him space.

Tal figured his current nosiness was probably also because he was so deliriously happy with his wife, Lilly. His pregnant wife. And Tal had no doubt Lilly was also worried about him, and had probably asked Ethan to check on his state of mind.

All of his friends knew about his quest to find the mysterious woman in the woods, the one who’d helped save Finley and Brock when they’d been snatched in the forest by two drug dealers determined to get information out of Finley. The woman had appeared as if out of thin air, throwing dirt into the face of the guy who’d been holding a knife to Finley’s throat and allowing Brock to make his move, getting them away from the threat.

From the first moment Tal had heard about the woman—barefoot, wearing a shabby brown dress, with red hair past her waist—he’d been hooked. He was determined to find her. To thank her. To see if she needed help.

And of course she needed help. It was late December in the Appalachian Mountains and the woman was running around without any shoes. But despite his experience, both in the military and with the search and rescue team, so far he hadn’t found a trace of where she was living.

Something within Tal wouldn’t let him stop looking, his quest becoming an obsession. He hated the thought of her being in the forest alone and vulnerable. He could barely sleep with his need to find her. At most, he was getting two or three hours of restless sleep a night…before the nightmares started. The ones he’d thought he’d gotten over a few years ago.

For his own sanity, and the mystery woman’s safety, he needed to find her.

“Tal?” Ethan asked with a frown. “Talk to me.”

Mentally shaking his head, forcing himself to pay attention to the conversation, Tal turned to Ethan. “Like I said, I’m getting closer,” he told his friend.

“Really? How do you know?” he asked.

“I cheated,” he replied without a shred of remorse.

Ethan raised an eyebrow.

Tal’s lips twitched as he took another sip of his coffee. “I put out trail cameras,” he admitted. “Ever since she took the first bag of stuff I left for her, I’ve been tracking her. I’ve tracked her northeast. I’m guessing she’s somewhere between the Eagle Point Trail and the Eagle Rock Trail.”

Ethan whistled. “That’s not easy terrain to navigate.”

“It’s not. But it’s also not too far from where that cult used to live, maybe a mile or two. I figure it’s an area she knows well. Especially if she really is Heather Brown, and has been living with those assholes since they kidnapped her twenty years ago.” Tal felt his blood pressure start to rise just thinking about an eight-year-old little girl being snatched off the street near her home here in Fallport, only to be raised in a cult called The Community, forced to live according to their rules.

From what he’d learned from Simon Hill, the chief of police, The Community had stuck to themselves, didn’t cause any problems, and lived a hippie kind of lifestyle. They’d been checked out when little Heather was kidnapped, but no sign of her had been found in the group. Eventually, with the passing of time, and when her parents moved out of the area, the kidnapped girl had been largely forgotten. Most people figured she’d been murdered within hours of being taken.

But Tal couldn’t stop thinking about the description of the woman Brock and Finley had seen in the forest. Of course, many women had red hair. That didn’t mean this woman was the long-lost Heather Brown, but deep down, Tal couldn’t help but think it was. Somehow, miraculously, she’d survived being kidnapped and whatever else she’d endured in the last twenty years.

“What’s your plan if you do find her?” Ethan asked. “You think she’s just going to agree to come back to Fallport with you after living who knows how long on her own in the woods?”

Tal shook his head. “No, I don’t think that. She’s not going to trust me. And why should she?”

“So? Your plan?” Ethan repeated.

“I don’t have one,” he admitted.

Ethan stared at him in disbelief. “You always have a plan,” he said.

His friend wasn’t wrong. Tal did always have a plan. He was allergic to not having a plan A, B, and C. But the woman he was searching for was an enigma. She didn’t do anything he expected. He’d been tracking her with game cameras, but when he figured she’d go west, she went east. When he thought she’d camp next to one of the many mountain streams, she steered clear of water. Which was smart. While being near water was convenient, it was never good to camp too close because of the threat of wildlife.

The woman frustrated and intrigued Tal. She was very wilderness savvy, light on her feet, and if it wasn’t for the cameras he’d hidden along the routes he thought she might take, he wouldn’t be as close to finding her as he felt he was now.

“What do you need from me?” Ethan asked.

Tal took a deep breath. He couldn’t have a better friend than Ethan Watson. “Nothing. I’m good.”

“Seriously, Tal. What do you need? You know we’re all willing and eager to help. We want to find her too. Especially Brock.”

He knew that. “You know as well as I do if she feels the least bit threatened, she’ll disappear, possibly for good. She doesn’t trust me, even though she’s accepted two more bags of supplies. She’s like a feral cat. Willing to take the supplies to make her life easier, but she’s so far from trusting anyone it’s not even funny. If she’s confronted by men she doesn’t know, she’ll run.”

“When are you going out again?” Ethan asked.

Tal was relieved when his friend didn’t try to convince him to take anyone else along. “This evening, after I work a shift. Harvey’s been cool with the amount of time I’ve taken off lately, but I don’t want to push my luck.”

Tal worked part-time at the barbershop on the square. It wasn’t exactly a dream job, but it kept him busy between searches. And money wasn’t an issue. Tal had saved more than enough to live on during his previous career, especially since he wasn’t a man who desired a lot of stuff. He had an apartment not too far from the square, a TV, a couch, a bed…and that was pretty much all he needed. He ate out more than he cooked and spent his free time with his friends…although, over the last year or so, that had tapered off significantly since Ethan, Zeke, Rocky, Drew, and Brock had all gotten married or moved in with their girlfriends.

“Well, we’re all here if you need anything. And I mean anything,” Ethan said.

His support meant the world to Tal. “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone,” he said. “I’m close, I know I am, and that big snowstorm is forecasted for the end of next week. I can’t…” He took a deep breath before continuing. “I want to find her before it hits, and that means I could be gone a while,” he finished.

“Rocky’s wedding is in six days,” Ethan reminded him.

Tal sighed. “I know. I want to be there, but…” His voice trailed off.

“But she’s more important,” Ethan finished.

“It’s not that,” Tal protested.

“I get it,” Ethan said with a small shake of his head. “If I knew Lilly was out there somewhere and a foot of snow was coming, I wouldn’t let anything get in my way of finding her and getting her to safety.”

“I don’t know this woman though,” Tal said.

Ethan merely shrugged. “Maybe not, but there’s something about her that’s captured your attention. Maybe finding her is the key to finally exorcising those demons that have you in their grasp.”

Tal pressed his lips together. It was true that events from his past were a large part of why he was so obsessed with finding the redheaded woman. But it was…more than that. He couldn’t explain it, so he didn’t even try.

“I have one request before you go,” Ethan said.

Tal looked at him expectantly.

“I need you to call me at least once every day.”

Tal smirked. “What am I, ten?”

“No, you’re a grown-ass adult, but you’re also my friend and I worry about you. You’re going deep into the woods, by yourself, to look for a woman who most likely doesn’t want to be found, and no matter what you might think, she could turn on you. If you check in every day, I’ll make sure the others don’t come after you, because you know as well as I do they aren’t going to be happy you headed out on your own with a storm pending.”

Ethan wasn’t wrong. Thinking about what his fellow search and rescue teammates would say when they learned which area he’d be searching, Tal nodded. Brock, especially, was not going to be happy.

“And even though you might be in the middle of nowhere at the time, I want you at my brother’s wedding, even if it’s just via phone. Bristol’s gonna cry on her wedding day—and not in a good way—if she thinks you’re lost in the wilderness during her ceremony. Not to mention the other women will all lose their minds too. So…call at least once every day, and if you can’t get back in time, I want you on the phone when Rocky and Bristol say ‘I do.’ Deal?”

“Deal,” Tal said without hesitation. “For what it’s worth…I’m gonna do everything in my power to get back in time for the wedding.”

“I know you will. I want you there, and I know Rocky does too. I’d say he’d probably postpone if you’re not back, but…nothing is gonna keep my brother from making Bristol his.”

“She’s already his,” Tal said.

“Very true. Fine, nothing is gonna keep him from making Bristol his, legally. Not even an obsessed friend.”

“They’re cutting it close with that snowstorm,” Tal said, ignoring the “obsessed” comment.

Ethan nodded. “Agreed. I suggested maybe they should move it up a day, but he doesn’t want to stress Bristol out more than she already is. They’re willing to take their chances. They don’t care if they’re the only ones there. But I’ve already bribed one of the guys who plows the roads around here, and he said he’d bring the officiant to Rocky if need be.”

Tal smiled. He didn’t doubt Ethan in the least.

Ethan put a hand on Tal’s shoulder. “Be careful out there. You have enough supplies?”

“Yeah.” He’d already loaded up his larger backpack. It had room for a small tent, his butane camping stove, freeze-dried food to last two weeks, and filters for his water bottle.

But most of the bag was full of things for the woman. A pair of boots he was praying would fit—he’d had to guess her size based on a footprint he’d found in the dirt, near where he’d left the last bag of things for her—another one of his old sweatshirts, more leggings and socks, a pair of cargo pants—again, he guessed at the size—an old copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe he’d found in the used bookstore, a deck of cards, several bars of chocolate, a bottle of lotion that smelled like lemon and sugar, a brand-new pocket knife, a set of cutlery, an unbreakable bowl, plate, and cup, a pot, another flint, a brush and comb, bottle of shampoo and conditioner, and some hair ties.

“If at any time you need assistance, all you have to do is say so,” Ethan reminded him.

Tal nodded again.

“I also feel the need to remind you that as long as you keep your phone on, I’ll be able to track you.”

“I realize that,” Tal said.

“No complaints?” Ethan asked.

“None. Look, I know what I’m doing is crazy, especially with that storm moving in. But I’m so close, Ethan. I know I am. I have no idea what’s going to happen when I find her. She might tell me to fuck off, that she doesn’t need or want my help. That she’s not this Heather girl and she’s perfectly happy living how she is. But I need to know. If she’s not happy with her situation, I can help her.”

“What would be crazy is you not going out of your way to help her,” Ethan countered. “But know that you aren’t alone. Even if you’re going out there by yourself, you’re never alone. Got it?”

It felt great to have Ethan and the others watching his back. It had been one of the best things about being in the military. Knowing no matter how badly a situation might go sideways, he could always rely on his fellow soldiers. He nodded at Ethan.

“Right. Then go on. Get to work. I’ll wait until you’re gone to tell Rocky that you might not make the ceremony.”

Tal winced. “Shit, he’s not going to be happy.”

“Nope,” Ethan said. “And Bristol will be sad too. But I’m thinking all will be forgiven by the crew when you bring the mystery woman back here to Fallport, so Lilly can fawn all over her and bring her into the fold.”

Tal chuckled. “She is kind of like a mother hen, isn’t she?”

“Wouldn’t have her any other way.”

“You’re a lucky man.”

“I know,” Ethan said with a grin. “Call me every day, Tal. I mean it. If you don’t, I’m coming after you…and I won’t be happy.”

“Got it. Any particular time?” Tal asked.

“Preferably not when I’m making love to my woman,” he joked.

“Shit. So not in the mornings, and not in the evenings, and not in the middle of the night. Oh, and not around lunch, because there might be a quickie going on.”

Ethan grinned. “When you knock up your woman and she’s got all these hormones running amok in her body, making her horny as hell, you’ll understand.”

Tal rolled his eyes, but deep down he couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy. He was happy for Ethan that he’d found someone as amazing as Lilly. But the lonely future he saw looming ahead for himself made Tal wish for things he’d probably never have.

He was too…old fashioned. Women today were very independent. They didn’t necessarily want to be taken care of. And Tal longed for a woman who would let him do just that. He wanted to provide for someone. Didn’t like the thought of his woman paying half a mortgage, using her own money to buy groceries, buying her own car, traveling by herself.

Most women would consider that overbearing and controlling, but it really wasn’t that he wanted to control someone’s every move. He just wanted to see to his woman’s needs, make sure she was safe.

He was definitely born in the wrong era. The few women he’d dated in the last decade had let him know in no uncertain terms that what he wanted in a relationship was unrealistic.

Forcing himself back to the present, Tal held out his hand. Ethan shook it. “I appreciate you guys taking up the slack on any searches I’ll miss. I’ll make it up to you all.”

“Whatever,” Ethan said. “I’m sure I’ll miss my share once my son or daughter arrives. No one’s keeping track of hours worked. That’s not how any of us operate and you know it.”

“I do,” Tal said, dropping his hand. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not keeping an internal tally. And if you tell me you aren’t, I won’t believe you.”

Ethan chuckled. “We’re all so alike, it’s scary. Good luck, Tal. I have a good feeling about this search.”

“I hope you’re right.” He nodded at his friend and headed down the sidewalk toward the barbershop. He really didn’t want to work, but he had taken a lot of time off lately and was about to take more. Fortunately, Harvey was a cool boss. Spent more time chatting with his clients than worrying about how fast he cut hair or how many people came in and out of the door. The laid-back atmosphere was just what Tal needed. He’d worked a high-stress job for long enough, making a vow when he got out of the service that he wouldn’t ever subject himself to such pressure again.

Cutting hair wasn’t the most stimulating job, but surprisingly, Tal liked it. Listening to the everyday lives of the men, and occasional women, who sat in his chair was a refreshing change from the political and military talk he’d been immersed in before moving to Virginia.

He had a full schedule for the day, but Tal’s mind was already on the evening. When he’d leave, how far he might get on the trail before stopping, and what he’d do if he did find the woman he was searching for.

As he entered the barbershop, the bell over his head ringing, Tal couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing right that moment. Was she cold? Hungry? Scared? Could she tell a storm was coming? Was she prepared?

All he had was questions and no answers. But hopefully soon that would change.

She’d lost everything once, and now that she’s found herself, and a man she trusts to be by her side, she refuses to let it all be taken from her a second time.

Ever since hearing about the mysterious woman in the woods who’d rescued his friends, Talon Ross has been intrigued. Who is she? Why is she there? Is she cold? Hungry? Scared? He can’t rest until he’s found her, made sure she’s all right. But when he finally manages to track her down, that difficult task turns out to be the easy part—now he has to earn her trust. The more he gets to know her, the more he wants to know, and the more vital that trust becomes. And there’s an even bigger mystery surrounding the wary redhead, one he wants to solve so she can reclaim her life…possibly with Talon by her side.

Sunset Meadowblossom had known nothing but degradation and fear her entire life, until the fateful day she mustered the strength to escape the only family she’s ever known. Living on her own in the forest is a dream in comparison, until a man she’d previously spied in her woods finds her makeshift home. Talon treats her with care and kindness, which is surprising—and confusing. Sunset’s always been warned away from Fallport and its citizens, but this man is making her want things she never considered…and giving her the courage to claim them.

Sunset soon learns Fallport has secrets—including the fact her name isn’t Sunset at all. It’s Heather…and she’d been stolen from her real life years ago. As a whole new world opens up around her, as Talon and her new friends help her to learn and trust and grow, Heather has no idea someone from her past is lurking, outraged by her disobedience. Waiting to take back what he considers rightfully his. And when he strikes, it’s up to Heather to save herself yet again…and to fight not only for her life, but the love she’s found with Talon.

Searching for Heather

New York Times Bestselling Author