Romantic Action/adventure/suspense Novel
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Men and women who have sacrificed their personal identities to live in the shadows and uphold justice for all–no matter the cost.
Rebel Porter is a man on the edge. His wife was killed to silence evidence he uncovered on a dangerously corrupt man of power. Now Reb is in hiding, and he’s as afraid to lose someone else to the bounty on his head as to lose his heart to another woman.
Corrupt head of Network operations, Giles Jameson has gone MIA. As a boy, he’d been brought in with the choice: join or die. Giles joined, vowing secretly to bring down the Network. Working with an organized crime ring, Giles had killed a senator. The son of that senator was Rebel Porter, who grew up to be an investigative reporter who spent his life searching for Giles and the covert organization he believed he headed. When Reb disclosed his findings on public radio, Giles covered up the breach and silenced Reb by arranging to have his wife killed. Now 16 years later, Giles has begun his life-long mission to destroy the Network for good.
Network operative Natalie Francis goes undercover, posing as Reb’s former lover–investigative journalist Adrienna Kelly–to find Reb and his evidence against Giles Jameson and the Network. Together they uncover a conspiracy that could upset the wrong people and silence both of them for good. And, when Natalie realizes she’s fallen for the man she’d been protecting, she considers the impossible–escaping the Network.
Awards & Honors:
The Romance Studio’s Sweetheart Award winner
5 flags from EuroReviews
5 stars from Sime~Gen
5 stars from Harriet Klausner
5 hearts from The Romance Studio
5 stars from ReviewYourBook
5 stars from Huntress Reviews
4 ½ delightful divas from Dark Divas Reviews
4 stars from Romantic Times
Bounty on the Rebel’s Heart Excerpt
© Karen Wiesner
The rural farmhouse was exactly where she expected to find it—smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. The yard had all the requisite junk cars and spare parts she’d anticipated, with multiple barking dogs sending up their warnings as soon as she came into sight in her compact car. She sensed eyes gazing on her from the house as she got out, and she looked around without hurry. Tense excitement—that it was about to begin—filled her.
Calming the dogs with a soothing greeting, she let them sniff her before she petted them. Then she proceeded, unhindered, to the cluttered porch. She could see stained and tattered curtains drop back inside as she knocked on a door in desperate need of new paint.
When the door opened, her gaze moved from the height of the adult she’d anticipated seeing down to a kool-aid-moustached, freckled and cowlicked boy peering up at her through the screen. The scent of fried chicken, buttery biscuits, and fresh corn made her realize suddenly just how hungry she was. But she needed information more than food. Besides, she wasn’t sure she’d be welcome.
The matriarch—matriarch according the files she’d read about the family—appeared suddenly. Jolie Porter was a short, plump, older lady. She wore her graying hair in a messy bun at her nape.
“Can I help—” Jolie started to say, and then recognition flooded into her reddened face. “Adrienna? Adrienna Kelly?”
Adrienna jumped back to avoid the screen door, which flew open inches from her face.
“Well, gosh, we never expected…Come in! I can’t believe it’s you. It’s been so long, and look at you. Just the same as always.”
Engulfed in Jolie’s arms, Adrienna intuited the hug was as much about relief as welcome.
Adrienna, as she wished to be known, walked into the kitchen.
“Jolie, I’m looking for Reb. I’ve searched everywhere, and he’s all but dropped off the face of the earth. Yours is basically the only place I haven’t looked. Have you seen him?”
Jolie waved away her question. “There’s time for that later. You look famished. Come in and sit down. Have dinner with us first. Then we’ll talk.”
The no-nonsense tone of Jolie’s voice made her aware there was no way she was getting out of the place until she’d been sufficiently stuffed with Porter hospitality. Figuring it was the quickest way to get what she wanted, she made no argument.
Reb’s aunt eased her inside the house, into the massive dining room where the family ate dinner.
“Everyone, look who’s here. Rebel’s old friend Adrienna Kelly. Remember the summer she spent with us years ago?”
The faces were familiar from the files she’d read. Jolie’s husband—Reb’s uncle—looked like he’d spent every single day of his life working his fingers to the bone. The oldest daughter—someone who would have known Adrienna—was present with two teenage boys, a teenage girl, and the little boy who’d opened the door. Three farm workers were also at the huge table.
Overwhelmed by their warm, almost giddy welcome, she felt a little dizzy as Jolie bustled out and back into the room, gently urging her into a chair before laying down a place with another plate, utensils and a glass.
During the delicious meal she found herself devouring eagerly, she kept reminding herself why she was here as she handled the flood of questions about what she’d been up to in the past twenty years.
At one point, Jolie mentioned it was a pity Reb didn’t talk about her much anymore. The fact that no one seemed uncomfortable with her presence was curious to her. Clearly, they knew nothing of her bitter parting with Reb.
Adrienna pondered on the issue as they all ate and talked. Are they just friendly, or do they consider me to be a part of the family after my single stay here long ago? Or do they see me as someone who might be able to help Reb? Something like relief radiated strongly in their enthusiasm toward her.
The family and workers dispersed after apple pie, and Jolie began cleaning up.
Now was the time to strike.
“Can you tell me anything about Reb? Have you seen him? Do you know what’s happening?” she asked as soon as they were alone. She picked up a pile of dishes and followed the older woman into the kitchen.
“No. Only that Reb doesn’t wanna be found. You’ve probably already guessed that since you haven’t found him in all the places you said you looked.”
It was the answer she expected, but she couldn’t leave it at that. “I know, but I really need to see him.”
Jolie glanced at her, her pale gray eyes filled with concern. “Why? Is there more trouble following him?”
“I think there may be. I know he asked you not to tell anyone where he was, but will you do it for me, Jolie? You know I’d never do anything to hurt him.”
While she couldn’t be sure Reb hadn’t told his aunt certain things, she had a feeling he’d kept his private relationship with Adrienna to himself. Jolie wouldn’t be anywhere near as friendly to her if she knew all the bad things that’d happened between them in the years following their break.
Turning the water on and squirting in dish soap, Jolie began to fill the sink. She talked as she worked, rattling plates busily. “He needs a friend right now. Maybe you can help him. Lord knows I’ve done all I can, with no headway.”
“So is he hiding here?”
Jolie sighed. “None of us have seen him for some time. He told us not to go to him. He comes to us if he runs out of supplies. I just don’t know how he survives out there…”
When she put a hand on her shoulder, Jolie looked back at her helplessly. “Please, Jolie. Tell me where he is. I think he’ll want to see me.”
“I think he’ll want to see you, too, honey, but it’s so dangerous. He told us not to tell anyone. That he’d shoot any visitors who came close. How can I let you risk it?”
“I can take care of myself. And I can help Reb.”
The distress Jolie felt was plain on her weathered face. But Adrienna could see the decision there before Reb’s aunt slammed off the water and reached with wet hands for the keys hanging near the door. “I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing, but I’ll take you to him. Let me go get a shotgun.”
It was obvious that no one in Reb’s family knew Adrienna Kelly had died in the September eleventh tragedy of 2001. Maybe Reb would accept her cover without question, too.
“Follow the directions and you won’t get lost in the woods,” Jolie said, parking the truck near the edge of the fence at the boundary of one side of her property. Dusk was almost upon them—maybe ninety minutes of light left.
Natalie Francis couldn’t mention she knew the precise location of the cabin within the woods. She’d watched it on Network satellite surveillance for the past week. The problem was, Rebel Porter hadn’t emerged from the cabin even once during that time. The Network couldn’t be sure he was even there anymore. Or if he was alive. For that reason, Natalie had come here, her appearance altered surgically and cosmetically to look like Adrienna Kelly. Jolie had confirmed he’d been at the cabin recently. If he was alive, Natalie couldn’t help but wonder at his mental state. He’d been isolated and alone for quite some time, hiding out with the evidence he’d gathered on the Network and its former second-in-command.
The Network was the world’s most covert organization with underground headquarters in Chicago. Just weeks ago, the corrupt second-in-command of Network operations, Giles Jameson, went MIA. As a boy, Giles had been brought into the Network with the choice: Join or die. Giles joined, vowing secretly to bring down the Network when he took power. Working with Michael Terranzo’s organized crime ring, Giles had killed a senator sixteen years before. The son of that senator was Rebel Porter, who grew up to be an investigative reporter. Reb and his partner, Raven Harris, had spent their lives searching for Giles and the covert organization they believed he headed. When Reb and Raven disclosed their findings on their public radio program, exposing Giles and the Network, Giles had covered up the breach and effectively silenced the journalists by arranging to have Raven’s nine-year-old son and Reb’s wife killed in what were perceived as accidents. Sixteen years later, Giles had begun his life-long mission to destroy the Network for good. A team had been sent in to protect Raven Harris and her husband from their seemingly invisible enemy. Two years earlier, Reb Porter disappeared with all the evidence on Jameson and the Network, and the Network had found him in short order once they started their search. Natalie’s mission was to retrieve the evidence in order to maintain structural integrity of the organization.
Just as she started to get out of the truck, Jolie handed her the shotgun she’d brought along. Natalie started to protest, but the older woman shook her head. “You need to be able to protect yourself. Reb hasn’t come out for so long…well, we can’t be sure of anything. Take it. We’ve plenty of others back home. Go ahead.”
Natalie hoisted her oversized, waterproof backpack—stuffed with as many supplies as she could carry—on her back. Then she took the shotgun and checked the load.
“Be careful, honey. Even if things are safe there, Reb hasn’t seen anyone for a long time. He might be so paranoid, he’ll fire at anything that moves.”
Jolie would return to the house, the way they’d discussed. She wouldn’t return, as she’d promised Reb and now had also promised Adrienna.
Nodding, Natalie thanked her and then headed for the fence. As soon as she climbed over it, she moved into the dark woods. She walked for more than an hour, checking all sides to see if Reb had set up perimeter defenses, but she didn’t find anything.
Finally, she came to a clearing and saw an old cabin through the trees—a place that could only be described as a shack. Standing at the edge of the trees, she could hear a dog barking wildly inside that cabin. A minute later, the front door of the shack flew open, and the biggest German Shepherd she’d ever seen ran straight toward her. The dog was white, gray, and black and shockingly thin beneath its thick fur—she could see that even in the fading light.
Quickly, Natalie slipped back further into the woods, behind a large oak tree. Not a moment too soon either. Gunfire flew around her. The shots were so randomly-placed and rapid, it was a miracle the dog wasn’t hit. Instantly, she registered that it was an automatic or sleeve-action shotgun. And firing heavy loads judging by the impacts she could hear on the trees.
He’s reloading again.
Then, more short-spaced ‘boom’ sounds came, quite different from the sharper crack of a rifle or the asthmatic stutter of a machine-pistol.
She kneeled down with her back against the tree trunk, hearing the panting dog approach. The dog’s sharp sense of smell drew him right to her. His teeth bared as he came closer, ears forward, fur ruffled, crouched slightly in a ready-to-attack position.
“It’s okay, boy. I’m not gonna hurt you,” she said in a soft, soothing voice.
She could see his confusion, and she kept talking to him, slowly holding out her hand to him so he could sniff her. His ears settled down some, and his fur relaxed slightly. He came to her cautiously.
“That’s right. I’m your friend. I won’t hurt you. Good. See? Are you hungry?”
He whined at her question, and she got out several treats she’d put in her pocket just in case Reb had a guard dog. He ate while she petted his shaggy head, murmuring praise.
Natalie stood up and gunfire scattered around her again. Offering more treats, she eased the dog further behind the tree with her.
“Reb?” she called out, as loud as she could over the shots. “Reb, it’s Adrienna Kelly. Hold your fire!”
A fresh spate of shots met her request. The dog barked at its owner now, a seeming attempt to explain she was a friend.
Natalie couldn’t help worrying if Reb’s mind was so gone he didn’t remember his old friend.
As soon as the reports silenced, she called to him again, “You remember me, Reb—Adrienna Kelly. We were friends in Chicago. We went to school together.”
She waited a few minutes, but no more shots came. Taking a deep breath, she stepped boldly out of the protection of the trees with the dog right beside her.
“Reb, I’m going to come out in the open now. Jolie gave me a gun, but I’ll set it on the ground as soon as I’m in the clearing. I’ll be unarmed. Please don’t shoot.”
Slowly and carefully, she strode out into the open. There, she set the shotgun down. Moonlight was all the illumination she’d get. She could see very little of him in the growing darkness, but she recognized him in a heartbeat. He stood on the porch in front of the railing, just watching her approach. His dog ran to him when he called, and she wondered if she’d lost her only protection against Reb. No recognition lit his face as she came closer.
He was definitely Rebel—Reb—Porter. She recognized his badly-in-need-of-a-haircut, shaggy black hair falling around his face and dark eyes from the publicity shots he’d done for his radio show years before. He wore only jeans, half unbuttoned. His chest and feet remained bare. He’d lost a considerable amount of weight, which made him look both gaunt and taller than his file specified.
“Reb, it’s me,” she said in a comforting tone, continuing slowly toward him. “You know me, don’t you? You know me. Remember me. Please. I’m your friend.”
She’d almost reached the porch now. His expression changed in the light from the porch, eyes narrowing. His confusion seemed to make him lower his gun uncertainly. “Ad?” He pronounced her name as “Aid.” Growing sureness filled his tone. “Is it really you?”
“I’m here, Reb. I’m really here.”
She took the first step onto the porch. He swung toward her, and she stopped short. But he didn’t raise his gun again.
“How did you—?” he started. “Never in a million years would I have expected you to come.”
“I had to when I found out the truth.”
Starting forward again, she noticed he hadn’t simply lost weight. He’d become almost frail. Despite his Mexican heritage, he was pale as a ghost. He had to be sick.
Close enough to touch him now, she waited while he made up his mind about what to do with her. It quickly became clear he wasn’t capable of making any decisions when he swayed on his feet, his eyes wild with delirium. And then he collapsed into her arms.