“It’s even worse,” Hugh said simply, wearing a white T-shirt with his camo pants. “The devastation is intense. The death toll has risen into the thousands.”

Jocelyn forked spaghetti up slowly. “I would like to help, but it sounds dangerous. We have to be careful, three women out here alone. Although I’m thankful to have my nieces for company.”

She reached to pat the hands of the two women on either side of her.

Courtney had been married to a well-connected husband who also had a quick temper and quicker right hook. He’d ruptured her spleen and bought his way out of prosecution seven years ago. The auburn-haired soccer mom had opted to leave Atlanta and relocate anonymously with her son to keep him safe. She had been with Jocelyn ever since.

And Erin? The former Oklahoma cheerleader was on the run from her high school sweetheart-turned-stalker. Nearly three years had passed since the underground network had brought her here.

Now they helped her with a deep loyalty since she’d rescued them from certain death. And they had a deep empathy with the other women and children she saved, understanding the way a hellish background could scare some people away from making the right decisions for their future. Courtney and Erin understood that frightened victims of abuse or neglect sometimes needed prompting to do the right things for themselves.

Something Jocelyn hadn’t realized until long after she’d made the break from her oppressive background.

She’d married someone her parents approved of, someone in the family business. She’d turned a blind eye to what her drug-running family—what her drug-running husband—did to pay for her big house, pretty clothes, and nice vacations. All had seemed idyllic.

Until she’d confronted him about selling to junior high kids. That wasn’t right, she’d told him, something she’d realized then from the perspective of a prospective parent. Her husband had beaten the crap out of her. She’d lost her baby girl, and the chance to have any more.

Her brother had killed her husband, but still she’d known she had to get away from the whole business. She’d spent the first thirty-four years of her life trying to make everyone happy, make everyone love her. She’d even married the pasty-faced blue blood everyone expected her to. The nineteen years following his death? She was living her life her way.

She’d left Miami for the vacation home in the Bahamas to take up residence, increase the sugarcane business. And when a friend had sought sanctuary at her house to hide with a child from an abusive husband, Jocelyn had found her way. She used her profits to help other women relocate. And she saved babies, since she hadn’t been able to save her own. She funded international adoptions, ones not tied down by red tape, ones that placed children quickly so they didn’t languish in already-underfunded, understaffed orphanages.


She used her money to help others. She wasn’t like her family, damn it, not anymore.

At the opposite end of the table, Hugh pushed his empty plate aside. “You’re right to be careful, to stay here. While we appreciate that you saved us, that was really risky, picking us up.”

Hugh Franco was a tough one to read. He’d kept quiet and observant. She’d only seen a flicker of emotion on his face once. When he’d walked by a guitar hung on the wall, he’d stroked the strings lightly, almost automatically, as if he didn’t realize what he’d done.

“You’re welcome and you’re correct, Sergeant Franco. My husband would have worried about us out here too.” Jocelyn twisted her gold wedding band on her finger, worn as a reminder of what not to do. “He died in a boating accident nineteen years ago. My life and work here fills my time now. Amelia, will you keep working, now that you have the baby? And what was it that you do?”

“I’m a lawyer.” She spooned another bite into Joshua’s Cupid’s-bow mouth.

Interesting and possibly problematic. Especially considering she already had a solid family lined up for Joshua. She’d heard from Tandi that she’d located the perfect baby for a family that had two adoptions fall through and wanted to go a different route to reduce the emotional trauma of another adoption abruption. With their political connections, she had hopes of easing channels in the future. She’d already used her satellite phone to alert them.

She was torn. Joshua had a caring family now, even if she knew the overly cautious aunt Amelia chose to lie about her connection.

“Your parents must be proud of you. What kind of law do you practice?”

“I’m a county prosecutor.” She answered simply, flexing her bandaged hand carefully.

“Good for you, hon.” Jocelyn toasted her with a water bottle. “Stand up for what’s right. You have to live with yourself at the end of the day. People think I’m all about the money and I have to confess, I appreciate the power this money gives me over my life. But it gives me the power to make choices.”

Soldier man cleared his throat. “And speaking of power, when will you have access to more fuel and communication?”

Jocelyn toyed with her dinner knife, spinning it on the table. “I’ll know more in the morning. All my vehicles are out delivering supplies, but they should return by the morning.” Long enough for her to decide what to do about the two of them. “We can take you to your unit, Sergeant. And Amelia could stay here with the little one. He will be more comfortable here.”

Hugh glanced up from his meal. “Or I can put Amelia right on a plane to the States.”

“Ah, you’re the protective kind. One of those men who takes alpha to a whole new level.” She twirled her fork in the spaghetti. “But you haven’t figured out how tough Amelia is yet, have you?”

He cocked an eyebrow at her, but stayed diplomatically quiet.

“Forgive me for being presumptuous. Let’s eat and get some sleep. There’s nothing more we can do until the truck returns in the morning.” She lifted her water bottle. “Another toast, to having life restored to normal. Now let’s clean up before it gets dark.”

Once she got her guests settled for the night, she could slip out to check on her charges. The first three would be smuggled out of the country on a departing C-17 tonight as the children of three of her staff. That still left the eleven orphans in the guest house. At least a dozen more would be coming in later tonight in the trucks delivering “supplies,” children ranging from newborn to eight years old. Their well-being rested on her getting them out of the country as quickly as possible so she could accommodate the others that would need her. She’d never dealt with placing such large numbers at once.

She’d never been needed more than now.

If these two surprise guests presented a risk to her operation, then she would be forced to deal with them, just as she’d been forced to deal with Oliver. Joshua would be safe either way.

But she could not allow anyone to stand in the way of getting these children to safety.


“Do you get the feeling we’re staying at the Hotel California?”

Amelia’s softly spoken question smoked through Hugh’s focus as he checked out their quarters. He turned on his heel toward her. She sat on the bed with Joshua, mosquito netting draped on the thick four-poster.

She leaned forward, snapping her fingers. “Hugh? Don’t you agree? Hotel California?”

The Eagles classic echoed around in his brain until his fingers tapped along the top of the rocking chair.

“Uh-huh,” he said as he stared outside at the pitch-black nothingness.

No lights, which didn’t mean no people, just no power, or others conserving their generators. Even if Amelia and Joshua weren’t depleted, trekking back with them in pitch-black wasn’t safe. Alone, he could find his way, but alone wasn’t an option. He couldn’t—he wouldn’t—leave them behind here. So they would stay until the morning, resting and recouping, and then head out in the morning.

Could they trust Jocelyn Pearson-Stewart? Hell if he knew.

At least the woman hadn’t questioned their request to share a room so he could stay near Amelia and Joshua. The room wasn’t large, but it had a private bath and a nook with a crib. Jocelyn had given them everything they could need, including clothes and toiletries, all with perfect explanations for why she had extra on hand, nieces and nephews who wore the same size as him—and Amelia and Joshua.

His fingers strummed along a small chest of drawers with their clothes and a guitar resting on top. Interesting that Jocelyn had picked up on a single moment when he’d admired the guitar on the living-room wall.

She was watching them every bit as closely as he was assessing her and the house. That could be natural behavior for a woman who’d been on her own so long in a remote corner of this island. But what if she had a more ominous reason to be that vigilant?

The bedroom wasn’t packed with other furniture, just the rocker and sofa. And of course, that big bed draped with thin mosquito netting.

Amelia cradled the drowsy kid in her arms. “Come on, kiddo, go to sleep, go to sleep so I can wash my hair three times.” She cooed softly to the little guy. “And if you don’t go to sleep I’m going to start singing, and you do not want to hear my voice.”

She swung her feet off the mattress and started walking the floor, patting the baby’s back until his head settled on her shoulder. “Looking for anything in particular?”

“Just checking the lay of the land,” he said.

He wasn’t ready to talk, and right now, finally, there wasn’t a rush. They had time. They had tonight, here, together, while she and the boy rested. And while he pulled together a plan for what to do next.

While he hated to lose the breeze, keeping the doors closed and locked was wisest. With her bandaged hand, Amelia cradled the back of Joshua’s head as she carried him to the nursery nook Jocelyn had set up. She’d said she had a nephew who came over from Miami with his family to visit sometimes.

A plausible explanation.

And yet “Hotel California” kept playing through his brain.


He slumped back against a bedpost, watching Amelia with the baby. She was good with the kid, a natural. Careful not to wake the sleeping little one, she lowered him onto the duck-patterned sheets.

Scratching over the tightness gathering in his chest, he watched the too-sweet mother and child image play out. Joshua squirmed for a couple of seconds before settling on his belly, his sleep deep and exhausted. Amelia rubbed soothing circles along his back even though he’d long ago given up fighting bedtime.

She traced a finger down his nose, then over his perfect shell ear. “On the plane trip here to the Bahamas,” she said softly, “I was so envious of my brother and Lisabeth, and now I feel as if I’ve stolen their future somehow.”

Her voice cracked on the last word, yanking him out of his own thoughts. He charged across the floor and pulled her back against his chest. She sniffled and he turned her toward him, gathering her in. Her shoulders shook as she buried her face in his neck. He backed out of the nursery nook, still holding her close. Keeping one arm locked around her, he reached to unhook the ropes holding the curtains back and let them slide together, sealing off Joshua’s room for the night.

Looking up, she blinked fast, a tear sliding free. “Aren’t you going to offer me platitudes about how my brother and his wife are still alive?”

“You wouldn’t believe me and it wouldn’t help.” He squeezed her shoulders.

“That flight seems forever ago, a world away, like it happened to a whole different person. We’ve gone through so much together in such a short time.” Her fingers moved restlessly over the nape of his neck. “This is all crazy. Sometimes I wonder if all this is even real.”

He looked into her eyes and medic training kicked in, telling him Amelia was about to have a meltdown. He skimmed his hands up and down her back, searching for ways to soothe her, calm her, do anything he could to take the tears from her eyes. “It’s all real and way too much for one person to deal with.”

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