Chapter One

Marlowe Kennedy jerked in surprise when one of the trustees yelled her name loud enough to be heard over the noise of the hundreds of sewing machines in the room.

Turning, she saw Yanisa scowling at her from just inside the door. She didn’t immediately move because the last thing Marlowe wanted was to get into trouble. Trustees were prisoners who’d been given a bit of power over their fellow inmates. One word from a trustee to the guards and a prisoner could find herself in solitary. Most of the women here were scared of the trustees, and Marlowe couldn’t blame them.

The ratio of guards to prisoners in this awful penitentiary in Thailand was something like twenty to one thousand. It was fear, or simply a lack of will, on the prisoners’ parts that kept them from uprising. Most of the women had been sentenced to life, Marlowe included.

It was unbelievable that barely a month ago, Marlowe had been an esteemed archaeologist working on a dig not too far from Bangkok. She’d been respected and considered an expert in her field. But now look at her. She was a convicted drug dealer, according to the Thai government, thrown away as if she was a piece of trash.

Her days were spent hunched over a sewing machine, stitching cheap blouses, and her nights sleeping in a room crammed with at least a hundred other women, lying shoulder to shoulder on a thin mattress that didn’t do a damn thing to cushion her from the hard concrete floor.

“Marlowe!” Yanisa yelled again, more impatiently this time. She gestured with her hand for her to come.

Standing, Marlowe made her way through the other women, who seemed not curious in the least why she’d been called out by the trustee. Or maybe they just knew better than to draw any attention to themselves by stopping what they were doing.

When Marlowe got close to Yanisa, the woman reached out and grabbed the front of her light-blue prisoner’s shirt and shook her. Marlowe’s first instinct was to smack the woman’s hand off her, to shove her backward, but if she did that, she’d go right back to solitary. It was forbidden for any of the other prisoners to touch a trustee. But of course that didn’t go both ways. The trustees could do whatever they wanted to the women in their charge. They frequently kicked, punched, and sometimes sexually assaulted others in the dark of night.

Such was life in this overcrowded and underfunded prison.

Yanisa turned, with a fistful of Marlowe’s shirt still in her hand, and started walking toward the administrative building.

Dread rolled through Marlowe. She didn’t like anything about the main building on the prison grounds. It was where the guards hung out. And where interrogations took place. Marlowe had spent more than enough time in one of the small rooms in the large brick building.

When she’d first been brought to the women’s prison from the archaeological dig site, she thought she’d be able to explain that the yaba pills found in her belongings weren’t hers. She thought she’d get a chance to explain her side, how she suspected her coworker, Ian West, of being the one to plant them.

But that hadn’t happened. Secured in a room in that admin building, she’d been yelled at for hours in Thai. She didn’t understand a word of what they were saying. She begged for an interpreter. For something to eat and drink. To use the bathroom. But no one seemed to care what she wanted.

She had no idea how long she’d been in the room, but finally a woman came in who spoke English. Marlowe had never been so relieved in her life to see someone she could understand, and who could understand her.

The woman explained that she was being charged with drug trafficking, and that she needed to sign an affidavit of some sort. Of course it was in Thai, and Marlowe couldn’t read it. She’d refused at first, and the woman insisted that if she didn’t sign it, she’d be found guilty on the spot and sentenced to death.

It had been a nightmare Marlowe had no idea how to get out of. She knew it wasn’t smart to sign anything without reading it first, but the woman had been so calm and reassuring. And by that point, Marlowe was hungry, exhausted, and terrified. She’d seen the way the male guards had looked at her during the long interrogation. She’d heard the horror stories of women being assaulted.

In the end, she’d signed the papers.

Then she’d been brought into a room, her clothes were taken away, and she’d been forced to change into the light-blue shirt and dark-blue skirt all the prisoners wore, and taken to solitary confinement.

So yeah, needless to say, she didn’t have good memories of the administrative building Yanisa was currently dragging her toward. At five feet, four inches, Marlowe wasn’t a large woman, and with the amount of weight she’d lost while she’d been incarcerated, she was even more slight. Generally, Thai women weren’t all that much taller than her, but Yanisa was an exception, which was probably part of the reason she was a trustee. She easily yanked Marlowe behind her as she walked, and it was all Marlowe could do to stay on her feet.

To Marlowe’s surprise, instead of taking her to one of the small interrogation rooms, Yanisa dragged her toward the visitors’ area.

For a brief moment, hope bloomed in Marlowe’s chest. Was Tony here? Had her brother finally been able to get through all the red tape to come see her?

She felt almost dizzy with relief. Tony would get her out of this. Her big brother had always been her protector. He had connections thanks to his work for a US senator. If anyone could figure this mess out, it was him.

Yanisa jerked to a stop and practically threw Marlowe into a chair placed in front of a chain-link fence. The setup for the prisoners to talk to visitors wasn’t ideal. She sat in front of the fence, and there was a second fence about eight feet away, behind which sat the visitors. There was absolutely no chance of them being able to touch, and in a room so large, with a dozen other women talking to those who’d come to see them, it was almost impossible to hear what anyone was saying.

“Five minutes,” Yanisa told her gruffly, then turned and stomped away.

No one was sitting in the opposite chair on the other side of the large gap, and Marlowe frowned in confusion. She looked eagerly toward the door at the side of the room when it opened, expecting to see Tony.

But the man who entered wasn’t anyone Marlowe had ever seen before. He stood out like a sore thumb from everyone else. He was tall. Had dark hair and a frightening scowl on his face, and was dressed impeccably in a white dress shirt, blue tie, and pair of khaki pants. He carried a briefcase, which he set on the ground as soon as he got to the space designated for her visitor.

He didn’t lower himself to the chair, though. He frowned at her through the fence.

After a beat, his lips moved, but Marlowe couldn’t hear what he was saying.

“I’m sorry, what?” she practically yelled.

His lips moved again, with what Marlowe thought might be a swear word, before he raised his voice. She could just hear him over the din. And English—American, unaccented English—never sounded so good.

“Marlowe Kennedy?”

She nodded.

“I’m your lawyer.”

Marlowe blinked. This man didn’t look like any lawyer she’d ever seen. Granted, she wasn’t exactly an expert, but he seemed too . . . rough, despite the pristine clothing. She wasn’t sure what gave her that impression. Maybe it was the anger in his eyes, or the muscles she could see bulging under his white shirt. But never in a million years would she have pegged this man as a lawyer.

“Did you hear me?” he yelled through the fence.

Marlowe nodded again.

“I’m going to get you out of here. Understand?”

She didn’t. Not really. But she couldn’t deny having someone on her side felt really good.

She nodded for a third time.

“You need to be ready,” he told her, his dark eyes boring into hers. She had a feeling he was trying to tell her something, but she had no idea what. “In the meantime, keep your head down, don’t bring attention to yourself. When the time is right, you’ll know.”

Marlowe tilted her head and studied the man across the gap. He hadn’t introduced himself. Hadn’t asked for her side of the story. Hadn’t pulled out any paperwork. Hadn’t done anything she suspected a lawyer would do when meeting a client for the first time. Of course, this wasn’t exactly a normal circumstance. It wasn’t as if they were meeting at a conference table where they could have a private and quiet conversation.

Suddenly, she needed to know this man’s name. She wasn’t convinced he could help her, didn’t think anyone could at this point. The Thai government was in a war against drugs that they couldn’t win, but they were more than willing to make examples out of anyone—foreigners especially—caught with anything, no matter how small the amount. It was why the prison was as overcrowded as it was.

But despite her lack of optimism, looking into this man’s eyes, she felt a deep-seated need to trust him.

She stood slowly, not wanting to alarm Yanisa or any of the other trustees or guards in the room with a sudden movement. She gripped the metal fence in front of her so tightly, her fingers turned white. “What’s your name?” she yelled.

The man stared at her for a beat before saying, “Kendric. Kendric Evans.”


It fit him. Marlowe hadn’t ever met anyone with that name before. His deep voice rumbled around in her brain as his name echoed within her. Kendric. Kendric. Kendric.

“How are you holding up?” he asked.

Marlowe shrugged. She knew better than to complain. She had no idea if Yanisa or anyone else could hear her over the noise in the room, but she wasn’t going to take a chance that they would.

Kendric frowned. “I just need you to hold on a little longer. Can you do that for me?”

Marlowe wanted to say yes, but the truth was, she wasn’t sure she could. This was the worst experience of her life, and after just weeks, she was already nearing her breaking point. The thought of spending the rest of her life here was terrifying to the point she’d do anything—anything—to get out. “Did Tony send you?” she shouted, instead of answering his question.


His answer was immediate, and the relief that swam through Marlowe’s veins made her light headed. “Is he okay? Is he here?”

“He’s fine. Worried about you. And no, he’s not here. He sent me,” Kendric said. His gaze moved slightly to her right, over her shoulder.

Marlowe turned her head to see what he was looking at, and saw Yanisa headed her way. She gripped the fence tighter. She didn’t want to go back to the sewing room. She wanted to stay here, talking to Kendric. He was a link to her brother. To freedom. And she didn’t want to lose it. She had the sudden suspicion that if she lost sight of Kendric, she’d fall right back into the pit of despair she’d been living in for what seemed like years instead of weeks.

As if he could read her mind, Kendric yelled, “Look at me, Marlowe.”

She immediately turned her gaze back to him.

“I’m getting you out of here. You have to be ready. For anything. When the time comes, I’ll be there. Understand? You just have to be brave enough to move.”

Marlowe had no idea what he was talking about.

Yanisa grabbed her upper arm and said something in Thai.

Marlowe held on to the fence, not wanting to go. Not wanting to leave Kendric.

“Can you do that?” he asked.

There was an undercurrent to his question that Marlowe didn’t understand.

“Marlowe!” he called again, as Yanisa pried her fingers off the fence. “When the time comes, be like Forrest Gump . . .”

He said something else, but the words were lost in the noise of everyone else yelling to be able to hear their visitors in the room.

Marlowe was so confused. Kendric couldn’t have said Forrest Gump, could he?

But he had. She knew it.

Looking back before Yanisa pulled her out of the visitors’ area, Marlowe saw Kendric standing right where he’d been before. He hadn’t moved. He was holding on to the fence much as she’d been, staring at her as Yanisa manhandled her out of the room. The last glimpse she had of him, the man mouthed something.

The door slammed behind her, and Marlowe was once more being yanked along the grounds toward the sewing room. Yanisa was mumbling under her breath, and Marlowe was actually relieved she couldn’t understand what she was saying. When they arrived back at the sweatshop, which was how Marlowe saw it, Yanisa shoved her toward the door.

Not expecting the violent movement, Marlowe flew forward and hit the door hard, barely avoiding smacking her face against the metal.

“Get work!” Yanisa growled.

Moving as fast as she could, Marlowe scrabbled for the knob and managed to get the door open. The air inside the room was stifling, and the familiar smell of body odor assaulted her senses.

It wasn’t until she was once again seated at her sewing machine, fumbling with the material and trying to get the stitches straight, that Marlowe realized what Kendric had mouthed at her when she was being hauled away.


Was that the reference to Forrest Gump that he was trying to make? It made sense . . . but then again, it didn’t. Run? To where? There wasn’t anywhere to run to. And while there weren’t a lot of guards at the prison, the walls were high and covered in barbed wire, and the bullets in the rifles of the men guarding the walls were as real as they could get.

She must’ve read what Kendric was trying to tell her wrong. She supposed it didn’t really matter. Her brother was doing what he could to help her, and she had to have faith that eventually she’d be released. Someone would figure out that the yaba pills in her belongings at the dig site weren’t hers.

She frowned. Shoot, she didn’t get a chance to tell Kendric to look into Ian West. He was the reason she was in prison. She was sure of it. But if the man was smart at all, he’d be long gone from Thailand by now.

A sharp pain in her side made Marlowe grunt. Turning, she saw another of the trustees standing next to her, yelling and pointing at the sewing machine. The woman had kicked her because she was staring into space instead of working.

Lowering her head, Marlowe did her best to concentrate. She remembered what Kendric said. Not to bring any attention to herself. She had no idea what he was doing to free her, but she wasn’t going to do anything to mess that up. Not when her freedom was at stake.

She could survive for a little while longer. She just hoped it wouldn’t be months before Kendric and Tony could work through the red tape and get her the hell out of here.

The Hero

New York Times Bestselling Author

In this thrilling romance from New York Times bestselling author Susan Stoker, an ex-military man is on a mission to rescue a wrongfully imprisoned archaeologist—and to make her rightfully his.

Any soldier who gets out of the service with his life should be happy to leave danger behind. Though his army brothers are content running their new business in Maine, Kendric “Bob” Evans isn’t ready to give up the fight. He’s been supplementing his hours with covert rescue missions organized by the FBI. But his latest charge may be more than he bargained for.

Marlowe Kennedy is on a routine archaeology dig in Thailand when she’s arrested for drug trafficking. She has suspicions about the true culprit, but even when she’s rescued from prison, there’s nothing she can do about it without proof. Her protective bodyguard’s only objective is to keep her safe until they cross the border into friendly territory.

The best way to do that? Travel as man and wife.

After returning to Maine, as Bob and Marlowe navigate this treacherous terrain with the help of their friends, they face vengeful authorities, a vindictive frame job, and perhaps most important of all—turning their fake marriage into something real.