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As the newest recruit at Search and Protect, Raul has a lot to prove. Luckily, he’s got the best friend and partner a man could ask for: a highly trained, fiercely loyal German Shepherd Dog named Taz. Together, Raul and Taz make an unbeatable team. But their first mission in Hawaii really puts them to the test when an international kidnapping ring sets its sights on the bravest woman Raul’s ever met . . .
Mali knows her latest job has put one hell of a target on her back. And on this small island paradise, there’s nowhere to hide. With a service dog like Taz, Mali feels safe. Sharing close quarters with a smoldering muscle-for-hire like Raul, she feels something else – an unexpected wave of desire. Raul feels it too. But when the kidnappers make their move, he’s got to turn that slow-burning passion into hard-hitting action – and save the life of the woman he loves.
PRAISE FOR PIPER J. DRAKE
“4 Stars! With an action-filled plot riddled with suspense and tension, Drake’s latest in her True Heroes series is the best one yet. Steady pacing, engaging storytelling and genuine, vulnerable characters (coupled with the endearing heroic dogs that protect and love them) make this romance shine.”
—RT Book Reviews on Absolute Trust
“The central romance was very strong, and I definitely count Absolute Trust in the win column.”
“This whole series is a great concept. If you’re an animal lover and want a hero story, this book is for you.”
—WritingPearls.com on Absolute Trust
“Top pick! I’m not sure what I can read next that will compare to Ultimate Courage!”
“If you’re looking for something sexy, strong, yet sweet at the same time, then Ultimate Courage will not disappoint.”
“I didn’t want to stop reading…I thought the characters, storyline, and tension were just about perfect. I give Ultimate Courage an A.”
“Drake’s sharp storytelling shines with an engaging plot that’s thick with tension…”
—RT Book Reviews on Extreme Honor
“Extreme Honor by Piper J. Drake is one sexy-as-hell romance novel. Readers won’t be able to stay away from this juicy yet well-written plot.”
“Overall, if you want a fast-paced romantic suspense with a military hottie who trains dogs and a heroine who is likable, this is a great choice. I am really looking forward to book 2!”
—TheBookDisciple.com on Extreme Honor
Tomorrow, I get coffee first.” Raul Sá fumbled with the keys he’d been given to the team house. “Some of us need caffeine to face the morning, even in paradise.”
Taz, Raul’s new canine partner, dropped his jaw and let his tongue loll out in a doggie grin.
“Yeah, I figured I wasn’t going to get much sympathy from you.”
First day reporting in to the new Search and Protect Corporation and he’d taken Taz out for a run immediately, before the tropical morning got too hot for the German Shepherd Dog, or GSD for short. Back and ready to get to the more onerous duties, he stared at the duty board on the wall. He was on kennel duty. All week. Great.
Well, he and Taz were the newest additions. He’d spent some time on the East Coast, training with Taz prior to finalizing the acquisition of the highly trained canine. And damn, the men at Hope’s Crossing Kennels trained some fine dogs. Now they’d both arrived ready to get to know their new team.
This time, he was going to build the most positive impression possible. This time, he wanted to be part of the team and not just a temporary extension of it.
“We’ll both get to know the dogs first,” Raul murmured to Taz. “Then we’ll do our best with the humans.”
Taz tilted his head up to regard Raul with a calm, dark-eyed gaze. After a moment, Taz uttered a quiet woof.
“Yeah, I like dogs better, too.” Raul headed for the stairs. Before he reached them, the smartphone he’d been issued sounded an incoming call alert. He pulled it out of his back pocket and swiped the screen with his thumb to answer. “Sá.”
“Who are you?” A woman’s voice was on the other end of the line, strained and wary.
“Raul Sá.” He pulled the phone away from his ear to glance at the screen. No traceable caller ID.
“I was calling the Search and Protect Organization.” The woman hesitated. “I’m looking for Arin Siri.”
She spoke his teammate’s name with the proper pronunciation, even getting the soft r that sounded more like an r and an l than the rolling r some Spanish or Latino speakers fell into. She’d added a lilting, tonal quality to Arin’s name, too—something Raul had learned to hear but had never managed to pronounce even after years of practice, even though he considered Arin his best friend and had put a lot of effort into getting her name right. So this person had been speaking Arin’s name a long time. “She’s working right now. Must’ve forwarded her calls to my line.”
Arin had known he’d arrived late last night.
“You’re a…coworker?” There was hope in that voice, but still a thread of fear.
“Yeah.” Raul considered for a minute. “And a friend. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.”
“A friend?” Suspicion remained.
He was losing patience. Honestly, he had work to do, and no matter how menial it was, it was the next step in making a good impression. But something about the strain in the voice on the line made him offer one more reassurance. “The kind of friend who knows the origin of Arin’s last name, her full last name.”
Arin Siri was first-generation American, like him. His family had come from Portugal. Her parents had come from Thailand. Thai names weren’t often so short and easy to pronounce, especially not the surnames. Upon coming to the United States, Arin’s parents had made the choice to shorten their surname to something more easily accepted by English speakers. Still, many cultures placed deep meaning in names. Arin’s was derived from an older dialect and carried meaning that continued to have value to her, so she had always held her full surname close. It wasn’t something she shared with any but very close, trusted friends.
He was one. The person on the other end of the connection might be, too.
There was a long pause. “This is Mali, Arin’s sister. Please help me.”
How can I help you?” The man on the other end of the call didn’t laugh or crack a joke in response to Mali’s request for help. Honestly, it’d come out as a plea, and she’d been half expecting him to dismiss it. He didn’t ridicule her or tell her he’d get her sister to call her back when she returned.
He was paying attention, and he was absolutely serious.
She swallowed against a fear-parched throat, relief and hope trickling in past the constriction in her chest. “There’s someone—several people—chasing me. I think I lost them in the crowds at the big shopping center.”
“Are you safe where you are?” His tone was calm but managed to convey urgency, too, and it helped her focus.
She glanced around her. “Maybe? Probably not. I walked fast, but I walked, didn’t run. So they might not have seen me leave the mall area. I tried to blend in with the tourists.”
The moment she’d seen her pursuers, a childhood memory of her sister’s voice played through her head, telling her to never run from immortals—or predators in the real world—because running attracted their attention. So she hadn’t. Random, maybe, but here she was with a chance to evade some very scary people. She’d take advice in whatever form it came.
“Can you get to the Search and Protect office building?”
She laughed, the sound harsh to her own hearing. “That’s why I was near the Ala Moana Shopping Center. I was trying to get there.”
God, had she even said the name of the place right? She was so not a local. This guy didn’t sound like one either. Would he even know how to find her?
Taking a deep breath, she fought for calm. “I took a taxi there first, trying to get close to the office building. But then I spotted the people chasing me waiting nearby and left.”
They hadn’t been standing right out in the open, but they’d been dressed in suits. In the heat of the day, not even the office workers actually wore full suits as far as she knew. Not on Oahu or any of the other Hawaiian islands. It’d set off alarms in her head, and she’d veered off, falling into step with tourists headed from the mall to the other shopping areas.
“Okay.” His calm acceptance helped her settle. “If you walked away from the mall and stayed with the crowds, are you near the beaches now?”
“Yes.” Hurry. They both needed to communicate faster. “Around the big hotels. I figured there’d be more security near them.”
“It’s mid-morning, still cool out. Good time for shopping until people get hungry and start looking for places to eat lunch.” His words were coming quicker, too. “There’s always catamarans over there, launching from the beach for a sail out to deeper water. Vendors sell tickets to tourists all up and down the streets. They go out for an hour, maybe two. Do you see any signs for those? You can buy tickets right on the beach.”
“Yes.” Once he’d told her to look, she spotted one or two right away. “There’s one right between two of the big hotels with boardwalks.”
“Good. I know where that is.” His tone took on a crisp quality, full of confidence. “Get on one of the catamarans. Don’t drink much but do what you need to, to not stand out. That’ll take you out of reach until I can get to you. I’m headed there now. When you get off the cruise, I’ll be at the ticket booth waiting for you.”
“How will I know it’s you?” She’d never seen any of her sister’s friends, not from the military or whatever Arin did now.
“Look for the guy with the service dog. I’ve got a GSD.”
“A what?” Even as she asked, she hurried toward the ticket booth and fumbled for her tiny change purse where she kept her cash, one credit card, and ID. She struggled to juggle it and her phone while she tried to keep aware of her surroundings. The thing was cute but it was a pain in the ass to get what she needed out of and back into it.
There was a sigh on the other end. “German Shepherd Dog. He’s big, black and tan, a lot like Arin’s partner. We probably won’t blend in with the crowd.”
That was okay though, right? Once he came to get her, she’d be safe. No one was going to just grab her with some badass mercenary.
“It’ll be okay. Get on the catamaran.” His voice was soothing and sounded so good. She wanted to know what his lips looked like shaping those words.
“I’ll get a ticket.” And maybe she could take the time on the waves to reassemble her scattered mind.
“Go ahead, Mali. I’ll be there as fast as I can.” He ended the call.
She tucked the phone into the back pocket of her shorts. When she reached the small booth, her heart plummeted. The catamarans went out at the top of the hour. She had at least a forty-minute wait. Buying a ticket and a floppy hat to protect her dark hair from the sun’s heat, she tucked the ticket into her change purse and tried to maintain a casual attitude as she scanned the area around her.
Suddenly, being between the big hotels didn’t seem like such a good idea. The streets between them were more like alleyways, shadowed by palm trees, with lots of random doors and archways to get pulled into. There was nowhere to run on the narrow boardwalks, and it wouldn’t be easy to jump over the waist-high walls into the private pool areas. Maybe a hot action movie star could vault those retainer walls and sprint across the hotel grounds to lose his pursuers, but she was a skinny postdoc who could at best be described as vertically challenged.
She’d left the sidewalks along the street thinking it’d be harder to grab her and stuff her into a car, but was the beachfront area so close to the hotels much better?
Every man walking past her seemed to be staring at her through his sunglasses. Every woman seemed to be looking the other way. The women who did look in her direction could’ve just as easily been after her, too.
She rubbed her palms together. It was the beach, though. She’d spot suits a mile…
Cold fear washed through her, and her stomach twisted hard as the distinctive black fabric of men wearing ridiculously hot suits appeared at the far end of the boardwalk. They were so far away that they were barely more than dots but they stood out in stark contrast to the sane people wearing light colors and airy warm weather wear.
They were still trying to find her. They had to be. They couldn’t know exactly where she was because they’d have made more of an effort to sneak up on her. Wouldn’t they? If she could see them coming so easily, she still had a chance to fade away before they spotted her.
Time to walk in the opposite direction. Removing her light-colored hat so it wouldn’t catch the eye as she moved, she held it close at her side. She forced herself to move at the pace of the people in front of her, only passing tourists on the narrow boardwalk when others were. There were the occasional picture takers halting to capture a memory here and there. She slipped around them and counted each as one more obstacle between her pursuers and her.
Her heart raced as she tried to catch sight of the people behind her in any reflective surface. Suddenly, every person wearing sunglasses was a rearview mirror. She didn’t dare bring attention to herself by looking over her shoulder.
Her memory of her big sister’s advice came back to her again, echoing in her ears over the harsh sound of her own breathing. She even remembered the childhood movie that’d inspired her sister. The lesson had been simple. There’d been two things to remember. Don’t run. Don’t look back. These weren’t immortals and she wasn’t a unicorn, but they were definitely predators, and she didn’t want to attract their attention if they hadn’t spotted her yet.
The boardwalk ended, and the beach spread out in front of her. Too many people stood idle on the path ahead. Her thoughts crystallized almost painfully as it occurred to her that the men behind her could be dressed so conspicuously to drive her into an ambush ahead of her. It’d been a miracle no one had grabbed her yet.
She couldn’t keep walking. They might have others ready to meet her where the path led back to the street. Getting shoved into a car would end her chances of being rescued by Raul Sá and his GS— whatever.
He’d told her to do what was needed to keep from standing out.
Her gaze passed over the beach dotted in sunbathers. The awesome thing about Waikiki was the way some people came prepared with towels and beach bags, but others just showed up on a whim and laid out on the sand using nothing but their shirts.
She began unbuttoning hers.
In moments, she’d slipped up close to a scattered collection of local girls, all laying out. Some had shirts, some didn’t. They were all gorgeous. The best Mali could do was be thankful she’d always tanned easily and had been on the island long enough to develop summer color. Her Southeast Asian heritage gave her dark brown skin with golden undertones, not quite the same but similar to the local islanders. She wouldn’t stand out as tourist-pale among them.
Wearing a bikini under her clothes had been a regular thing for the last several days as she and her fellow postdocs took advantage of the locale to enjoy the beaches every bit as much as their research. She was leveraging the habit to hide in plain sight.
Dropping her shorts, she laid them out and spread her shirt over the sand. She stretched out on her belly quickly, hiding her dark hair under the floppy hat, and watched the feet of passersby. Hopefully, people couldn’t see her trembling.
* * *
“Damn.” Raul fumed at the delay as he and Taz threaded their way through the crowds on the sidewalks. Even in late morning, traffic headed into the Waikiki area—or “town,” as locals called it—was insanely slow. On the island of Oahu, it seemed like it was tourist season year round, and Waikiki was overrun by them.
He headed down the side street he thought would bring him out at the beach closest to his destination. It was a risk because he was going by memory from a vacation years ago. He hadn’t had time since he’d arrived to refresh his knowledge of the area.
Hopefully, Arin’s little sister was going to see him coming and give him a sign or he was going to be screwed trying to spot her right away. Hawaii, especially Oahu, had a huge number of Asian visitors and locals with some Asian ancestry, so it wasn’t as if the woman was going to stand out in the crowd just based on physical features. He could spot Arin in a heartbeat, even in a crowd, but Arin had told him that she and her sister didn’t share a strong physical resemblance. It was a family joke. Beyond that, Arin didn’t talk much about her family besides how incredibly smart her sister was. Intelligence didn’t help when Raul was trying to recognize her on sight. And considering the places he and Arin had served in, neither of them had carried pictures of family or those close to them.
His best chance had been looking in the hallway closet. He’d traded instant messages with Arin the night before, the way they did a couple nights a week. Arin had told him how she’d met with her sister for dinner. How it was funny her sister was on the island for some sort of research thing and Arin hadn’t known ahead of time. Mali had simply texted her out of the blue. Mali had forgotten her jacket at dinner, and Arin was holding onto it, expecting to meet with her again.
There’d been one jacket in the closet that looked like it belonged to a young woman. It was more of a lightweight hoodie in teal. Arin rarely wore anything outside of a monochromatic black and white color scheme so Raul had grabbed it, guessing it belonged to her sister. The rest of the core members of their team were male, and Miller’s wife was of a completely different build. No way did the hoodie belong to her.
As he and Taz came out on the beach, Raul headed straight for the catamaran booth where tickets were sold. The catamarans came back up on the beach in right about the same place. To his left and right, big chain hotels rose up and towered over the beach.
No one else was waiting around the booth. The next sail wouldn’t go out until just before sunset. A quick scan up and down the boardwalks extending in either direction revealed no suspicious characters. Of the people out and about, he and Taz were actually the most conspicuous. Then again, there weren’t a lot of big dogs on the island, and Taz was wearing a service dog harness.
Stealth wasn’t one of his objectives today. In fact, if his presence scared off whoever was after Mali, all the better.
There were a bunch of women wandering past. Several of them glanced at him with interest, but there was no flash of recognition. None of them approached him. Just about every female in the area was with a partner, friend, or group of friends. No lone woman anywhere, much less one looking nervous or waiting for someone.
His partner looked up at him immediately, ears forward and ready to work. If they’d been working alone, he wouldn’t even need to use the dog’s name. But here, in a crowded place, it was best to make it clear he was addressing Taz.
Raul retrieved the baggie containing her hoodie from the small backpack he’d slung over his shoulder. He held the plastic bag open for Taz, showing him the scent article inside and allowing his partner to sniff it liberally. “Zoek.”
Track. Taz was trained to respond to Dutch commands, one of the standard languages used to train working dogs, and this was his primary skill set: finding people.
His partner went to work. The big dog ranged back and forth in front of Raul, sniffing first the ground and then lifting his nose to catch additional airborne scents on the breeze. Taz proceeded forward once he’d systematically checked everything within the current grid, from the sand to the side of the booth to a nearby retention wall. In a few minutes, Taz froze, his stillness deliberate.
He’d found a trail.
“Braaf.” Even as he praised the dog, Raul’s heart pounded. Just because Taz had hit on the trail didn’t mean Mali was safe. It just gave them something to follow to her, so long as the trail remained clear and wasn’t disrupted farther ahead. Raul also didn’t know if Mali had left the area of her own free will. If she’d been taken or if she’d had to run, there was no way to tell from the ground around the booth. The loose sand and the passersby left no hints. All he knew was that the woman he’d come to help wasn’t where she was supposed to be, and his partner had a trail that might be hers. He needed to assume the worst and hurry as best he could. “Zoek.”
Excited by the trail, Taz surged forward to the full length of the six-foot lead. If this had been a sanctioned search and rescue in coordination with local law enforcement, Raul would’ve let Taz off leash. In this case, he kept the GSD tethered. If they were stopped by police or other security, he wanted to be with the dog when they approached so he wasn’t mistaken as lost or without a handler. But considering the urgency, Raul let Taz set the pace.
They moved at a fast walk. Taz followed the trail along the narrow boardwalk past the huge hotel. Despite the heavy foot traffic, the big dog proceeded with confidence. He was locked into working mode and wasn’t allowing anything else to distract him. They paused once or twice as Taz sniffed the ground and the railing before continuing.
She must’ve paused in each of those places.
A few minutes later, they were moving out onto the broad expanse of Waikiki beach. It was getting to the hottest part of the day, and Taz was panting now between sniffing the air to catch scents. Heat rose up off the hot sand.
Raul called Taz to a halt and gave the big dog a quick drink, making sure his nose got good and wet. The water served two purposes. Taz’s well-being was paramount. A handler always thought of his dog before anything else. The second reason was the impact of the harsh sun on the bare sand of the beach. As the area dried out from the morning, scent particles would be harder to catch unless the dog was well-hydrated. Taz’s panting, the increased saliva, and a wet nose maximized Taz’s ability to keep and follow the trail.
It took only moments and Taz was back on the trail. The dog veered away from the path. Mali must’ve decided not to go back toward the street. It was a smart choice, but where had she gone? Raul saw nothing but sunbathers and tourists lounging out on the beach.
His partner wasn’t relying on sight, though. Taz weaved his way through tourists and locals.
“Don’t touch the dog, please.” Raul smiled to diffuse the disappointment as people sat up or leaned toward Taz. “He’s working.”
Even with a service harness on, there were a lot of people who tried to pet a working dog. Though a decent number of people scooted away when they caught sight of Taz, too. At around eighty-five pounds of muscle, he was a good-size canine. His mostly black face, with only hints of tan, was intimidating.
Despite the reaching hands, Taz remained focused on his task, nose to the ground here and lifted to the air there. It was Raul’s job as his handler to run interference so Taz could do his job.
They had a lady in distress to find.
In moments, Taz approached a group of girls. Raul hesitated, keeping his eyes on his dog, but Taz was all about the trail. The big dog sniffed right up to a petite sunbather with an amazingly shapely, tight behind and poked his nose right into her golden bronze hip, then sat, looking back at Raul expectantly.
“Taz.” Raul was scandalized. Jesus, the hoodie must not have been Mali’s. Instead, they’d ended up molesting some random girl…
The bikini-clad, dainty woman stirred and peered up at them from under a bright white, floppy hat. The face…
…was a ghost of Arin’s, about five years younger, with a more delicate jaw and rounder cheeks. The biggest difference was in the eyes; the skin folds of the upper eyelids covering the inner angle of the eyes. Maybe most other people didn’t see the resemblance, but he did.
Taz leaned toward the woman’s face, sniffing, and then gave a soft bark.
- On Sale
- Apr 24, 2018
- Page Count
- 336 pages