7B2 Sequel and Novella
Ali Montero pushed aside her pride and accepted help from arrogant Ram Torres to help rescue her sister Cara from kidnappers. Now safely back at home with her family, Cara doesn’t feel safe without Ram nearby to protect her. He agrees to stay with Ali and her family until Cara recovers, but spending time around the boisterous Montero family makes Ram yearn for the one thing he has never had—a loving family. Ram wants to explore the connection he feels with Ali. But can he convince her to take a chance on such a flawed man?
Ali felt anxious and frustrated while trying to project calm to her younger sister, Cara. At age twenty-six, two years younger than herself, Cara shakily stood between their parents, trying to smile, but it was forced and brittle. She tried to look ”normal,” but that word would never apply to her again.
Ali watched as her parents, their arms around her sister’s waist, carefully walked down the steps from the Operations building. Her sister was still weak after having been a prisoner in Mexico for three long weeks.
Above them, two A-10 Warthogs thundered by. The family was now at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. Ali had helped rescue her sister, along with the Artemis Security team. Afterwards, the group had flown from Mexico to Tucson for a long, arduous debriefing with the FBI, CIA, DEA and ATF. Everyone was exhausted, but Cara looked pale and weak. Ali suspected her sister would head straight for bed as soon as she got home.
Cara had been kidnapped off a street in Tucson less than a month ago. A kindergarten teacher for Delos charity, she’d been walking home from the school, only five blocks from the home where she and her parents lived. She had been stuffed into a car trunk, tied up, duct-taped across her mouth and drugged. She was then driven into the Sierra Madre mountains in the state of Sonora, which butted up against the US border. There, she was thrown in with three female German tourists, also abducted by his men. The four women were kept in a mountain fortress belonging to a drug lord named Azarola. who planned to sell his captives to sex traffickers.
Cara found out that a container ship anchored at Puerto Nuevo on Baja’s west coast would be leaving shortly for Asia. She would be hidden in a truck and driven dockside, put on board the container vessel, and join over a hundred other kidnapped women from North and South America, as well as children as young as eight years old, promised to buyers awaiting them. Fortunately, their plan was foiled by Ali and the Delos security team.
Now, Ram Torres, Ali’s black ops partner on the rescue mission, came and stood quietly by her side. They traded brief looks with one another. Ram’s presence always calmed Ali as nothing else ever could. She could feel tension radiating off him, his green eyes narrowed upon Cara as the family slowly approached them. Ram and Ali had been working together for years in the military and she was highly sensitized to his feelings. Right now, he was feeling very protective of Ali, knowing that her sister would be leaning heavily upon her in the coming weeks after being rescued.
Cara’s forced smile made Ali’s stomach clench. Her sister was, as Ram had put it earlier, “a clam without a shell,” unlike Ali. They had always had very different personalities, even as children. Cara had always wanted to be a teacher, and had gloried in her job as a kindergarten teacher. All she’d wanted was to make a positive change in the lives of needy children.
Ali, on the other hand, had gone into the Marine Corps at age eighteen.
“Ali!” Cara said brightly, “Thank you for coming!” and her parents released their arms around her, allowing her to move freely toward her sister.
Swept up in her grief for her traumatized sister, Ali forced her own wooden smile, opened her arms and took Cara into her embrace. As her arms wrapped around Cara, Ali could feel her sister trembling, and Cara clung tighter and tighter to her, burying her face against Ali’s shoulder.
As they separated, Ali saw the worry in her parents’ eyes. They knew Cara had been shattered by the experience–who wouldn’t be? And afterwards, she’d been debriefed for three long days, trying to answer questions along with the German women who had also been captured. Authorities had asked them detailed questions about Azarola and his fortress in the mountains, where they had been kept prisoners.
Ali knew that each woman had undergone a thorough medical exam by a woman doctor on base, and then spent hours with an Air Force psychiatrist. All that debrief material would be sent to Artemis Security, the in-house firm for Delos charities. The top-secret debrief would also be sent to other security and law enforcement agencies worldwide who were dealing with this situation.
Ali was itching to read that report! As she released Cara, she saw that her skin was stretched tight across her high cheekbones, her black hair drawn into a pony tail, her dark brown eyes almost black with terror etched deep within them.
Ali knew her baby sister did not have the internal grit that she did. Cara had always been the “soft” one in the family, as her father, Diego, had once confided to her. Mary, her mother, once told her that Cara had been born without a protective shell and therefore, needed protection.
“Cara, I’d like you to meet Ram Torres, the man who led the Artemis team to free you and the others,” Ali said.
Cara turned to the tall, dark-haired man with intense green eyes. “Thank you, Mr. Torres,” and she stuck her hand out toward him. Her voice trembled. “Thank you for saving all of us…”
Ram managed a gentle smile, knowing that his hard, weathered face had been known to frighten women and children. He gently grasped Cara’s damp, cool hand. “You’re welcome, Senorita Montero.”
“Call me Cara,” she insisted, releasing his hand. Then, glancing at her parents, who stood nearby, she asked wearily, “Mama? Papa? Can we go home now?”
“Of course, sweetheart,” Mary said, coming forward, sliding her arm around Cara’s waist again. “Papa put our pick-up in the parking lot across the street. Come this way.”
Hesitating, Cara gave Ail and Ram an anxious look. “You’re coming with us, aren’t you? I don’t feel safe alone. I was told in the debriefing that Mr. Torres would be staying with us at our home for a while to make me feel safe. Is that right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ram said, speaking up. “I’m your personal bodyguard detail. Your parents have given me their guest bedroom and I’ll be in the house and accompany you whenever you go. You’ll be safe, Cara.”
Ali saw her sister’s face mirror utter relief hearing Ram’s words of reassurance. She knew he could project quiet strength to her sister and her parents. He was a wonderful anchor for someone to hold onto.
Ram had been right in his raw assessment of her younger sister’s state: she was traumatized to the point of being lost, unable to grapple with what had happened to her. Actually, Ali still wasn’t sure what had happened to Cara. She was eager to get her hands on the debrief report that Lockwood had.
“Oh,” Cara whispered, giving Ram a grateful look, “that’s wonderful. Thank you for doing this, Mr. Torres.”
“Call me Ram, and it’s my job—one I’m happy to provide, by the way. Just know that I’ll be with you for as long as I can.” He gestured to Ali, who stood nearby. “And remember, your sister is a trained operator, just like me. You actually have two guard dogs in the house protecting you. Ali is just as good as I am at being a private security detail.”
Cara gave her a grateful look. “I-I know. But it’s nice to have both of you so close. I-I worry that Azarola will send men back here to take me away again.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Ali told her.
“A-are you staying with us, Ali? Tell me you will, okay?” Cara begged.
“I’m staying for as long as you need me, Cara.” Ali reached out, briefly touching her sister’s slump shoulder. “You’re safe now. And there’s no way Azarola will come after you again. Ram and his team put a huge hole in their operations. They aren’t focused on you any longer. They’ve got their hands full with other issues they have to address, okay?” and she gave her sister a very confident look.
There was no way Ali was going to appear weak, unsure or hesitant around Cara. She knew what it took to make her sister feel stable again. She’d spent her formative years being Cara’s shield and protector, so it was easy to move into that role once more for Cara’s sake. Instantly, she saw Cara grow a little less frightened.
“That’s wonderful!” Cara wobbled. She reached out, gripping Ali’s hand. “I’m ready now. Let’s go home.”