Resolution: Without having to expose his mission on Bali, can trust fund prodigal Rand convince Air Force pilot Ciara he’s not an idle womanizer?
One summer, at a time when both were vulnerable as teenagers, Ciara Ryan and Randall Mathew McAllister III crossed paths in Crystal Rock, Wisconsin, supporting each other through some traumatic family issues.
Now an Air Force Lieutenant and pilot, Ciara is vacationing in Bali with two of her friends when she runs into none other than Rand McAllister, who’s residing on Bali, seemingly living the life of luxury because of a family inheritance.
Ciara knew that Rand was there on Bali, and she’s never been able to reconcile the womanizing trust fund prodigal she’d heard he’d become with the boy she’d known as a teen. Especially since she’d discovered that Rand had also attended the Air Force Academy a few years ahead of her and had apparently excelled. Sparks fly from the moment they meet again.
Unbeknownst to Ciara, Rand is also a first Lieutenant, an AFSOI agent working as a government liaison with the U.S. Embassy, while unofficially assisting the anti-terrorism unit in Indonesia.
Their worlds collide on Bali during a tropical storm evacuation when a terrorist bombing threat is exposed.
Amidst tragedy, Ciara sees a side of Rand she never knew existed. She’s suspected from the start that his life on Bali is not at all what it seems.
When Rand is discovered to be on an ISIS hit list, he’s forced to disappear.
Rand vows that he and Ciara will have a future together, but will it be too late when the assassin uses Ciara to draw Rand out?
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Saturday, November 19, 2016
“Not a chance,” she answered with no hesitation, turning away and reaching for her drink.
Randall Matthew McAllister III blinked, before clearing his throat. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been shot down by a woman.
He cleared his throat, looking at her quizzically.
Well, Rand tried to catch her attention, anyway. She’d already returned to conversing with the woman sitting beside her at the bar, who was obviously a friend.
When she continued ignoring Rand, all he could do was shrug, before strolling back to the table where he’d been sitting in a booth with a few of his buddies.
Jack was laughing loudly as Rand slid back onto his seat.
Nick, who was settled across from Rand, smiled widely before he spoke. “Watch the operator at work, huh?”
But Rand was oddly irritated. When the stunning redhead had walked into the bar, his eyes had immediately been drawn to hers. Not only had there been an instant attraction between the two of them, but he’d been strangely overwhelmed by a surge a recognition as well as desire. There’d been an open invitation in her eyes.
In fact, he’d been sure of it.
Reaching for his beer mug laying on the table, he took a sip and quickly changed the subject.
“It’s nice that you guys finally made it back this year,” Rand muttered. “What’s it been—over two years since you were here last? I’ve made quite a few friends, but I still get treated a little differently.”
“It probably has something to do with the fact that you live in a mansion,” Nick answered dryly.
Rand rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but I worked side by side with everyone I hired when I had it built.”
“That was immediately after you moved here. Wasn’t it?” Jack leveled him with a stare. “The natives probably took offense to that and thought that you didn’t trust them to do a decent job of it.”
Rand grimaced. “I guess I never really thought about it like that.”
At that moment, a pretty Balinese girl appeared at the table. “Hi, Rand. Can I get you more to drink?”
“Hi, Ni Luh,” Rand answered, feeling slightly uncomfortable.
“How about another pitcher?” Jack asked, sitting up straighter.
Ni Luh kept looking at Rand until he spoke.
“Sounds good,” Rand answered, refusing to meet Ni Luh’s gaze.
“Alright,” she answered, her voice sounding flat.
After she scooted away with a tempting sway of her hips, Nick stared at Rand accusingly. “I thought you decided to play it safe by keeping your hands off the island girls?”
Sometimes, Rand really hated the pretense he had to keep up in order to maintain his cover, but, ruefully, he hung his head. “I have been, since I broke it off with Ni Luh. We didn’t do anything but go out for dinner a couple of times. Everyone just assumed there was more going on than there was.”
“Why stop dating?” Nick asked. “I notice the islander families are incredibly close. Maybe her father expected you to do the honorable thing?”
“No,” Rand muttered. “She knew from the start that I wasn’t going to make any promises.”
Both Nick and Jack looked relieved.
“But her brother got on my case anyway,” Rand continued. “The island girls are very easily swayed. Apparently, some of them consider dating as a prelude to marriage, no matter how much you try to convince them that it doesn’t work that way in American culture, so I’ve only been dating tourists now. There are less complications that way.”
Just then, Rand noticed the stunning redhead looking his way, wearing a look of definite disapproval on her face. Something about her expression made him realize they’d crossed paths before.
But where in the hell had he met her? Someone like her he wouldn’t usually forget.
He shook his head dazedly, listening to the tail end of Nick’s reprimand.
“You know the womanizing was bad enough when we were back in school, Rand, but aren’t you getting a little old for one-night stands? I mean, don’t you want more out of your life? You seemed to be getting a lot out of the Air Force, when you enlisted. I can’t figure why you decided to opt out after all that intense training you were telling us about, even though you turned twenty-five, and supposedly gained control of your inheritance. Sitting around on the beach and drinking the day away when you’re retired is one thing, but is that what you’re planning on doing for the rest of your life? Squandering your great-grandmother’s inheritance? Do you actually even own the house you built? Won’t you forfeit it if you don’t live here on Bali year-round? It seems to me that building here was a really stupid idea if you’re planning on leaving eventually.”
What would Nick say if he knew what was really going on? But, geez, Nick was really getting on his case today—at least much more than usual—so Rand studied him thoughtfully before he answered, “What would you say if I told you I have been thinking about the future and actually planning ahead as well?”
Nick looked taken aback.
“I can’t tell you much about it now, but I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching during the last three years. Just because Dad didn’t think enough of me to make room for me in the family business, doesn’t mean I can’t succeed on my own. Let’s just say, my inheritance is funding an excellent cause.”
“Sorry, man. I don’t know what’s gotten into me, lately.” Nick ran a hand over his face.
“Tell him,” Jack said softly, looking at Rand. “He’s not going to say I told you so.”
Nick sighed heavily, leveling Rand with a steely stare. “Marissa broke off our engagement.”
“Shit,” Rand answered. “You should have told me. I’ve been wondering what’s been going on with you this week.”
Nick shrugged. “That’s kind of why we’re here. Jack talked me in to taking a break and getting away from Virginia for a while.”
Rand nodded agreeably, reaching over and giving Nick a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. “This is a great place for getting away, that’s for sure. And hey, I never said I didn’t like her. I just thought she was thinking too much about getting ahead and not enough about you.”
Plus, one weekend, Marissa had made a pass at Rand. It had taken all his willpower not to let Nick know about it. Instinct told Rand that the situation might definitely be misconstrued, since Rand had found himself in similar situations in the past. Although Rand would like to think this magnetism he appeared to exude to women was because of his good looks, he knew it was mainly because of the amount of money his family had.
It wasn’t a secret that Rand had inherited a small fortune from his great-grandmother’s trust fund and had gained control at twenty-five years old.
Jack grinned. “Being invited to stay in a luxury home built on the oceanfront doesn’t hurt either.”
“I can’t believe you’ve added an infinity pool since the last time we were here,” Nick mumbled. “I love that.”
“I do too,” Rand admitted. “I use that pool every day.”
Rand stared across the Indian Ocean’s rolling waves, where they had a clear view of the beach from the Oceanfront Bar. Because of its location, as well as the delicious cuisine, it was one of Rand’s favorite hangouts. There were several luxurious restaurants and bars spread across Bali, along with some incredibly hot night spots, but there was something so relaxing about being able to sit outside while eating and drinking with friends, staring at the spectacular view of sand, surf and tropical landscape. This place had more of a down-home feel and was a favorite drinking hole for both Aussie and American tourists.
Besides, it was a little more run down, so it was less crowded here, and easier for Rand to meet with his island contacts and let them know when trouble was brewing. In direct response to Bali’s antiterrorism agreement signed with the U.S. in 2002, terrorists had set off a bomb in front of the American embassy, killing 202 people, including 6 Americans and 88 Australians.
Formed in the wake of the Bali bombings in June 2003, and building to full operational status two years later, Indonesia’s Detachment 88 had been established as one of the world’s best counter-terrorism units, exceeding all expectations given its origins.
The success of Detachment 88 was the result of excellent intelligence work, but no agency has perfect intelligence. And just like every counter-terrorism team in the age of ISIS, Detachment 88 was also dealing with ten times as many persons of interest, making its work even more difficult.
ISIS had proven to be a consistent threat, with far-reaching influence that hadn’t disappeared with the deaths of its self-proclaimed leaders in Syria and Iraq.
Since 2002, the U.S. had also decided to put some precautionary safeguards in place. So, technically, the U.S. wasn’t interfering with the Indonesian anti-terrorist unit, but they were offering covert assistance with the presence of a few highly skilled military operatives, such as Rand, who had been working during the past three years off the radar amidst the tourists, gathering information and doing background checks on questionable individuals, when possible.
Moving to Bali had required planning by both himself and his grandfather, an Air Force General who had spent a lot of time here with Rand’s grandmother off and on through the years. Although the inheritance was real, the ruse had been cooked up when Rand was still going through training in the Air Force Special Operations Pararescue Unit. It was difficult gaining permission from the Indonesian government to place an operative in their midst. The only reason Rand himself had been accepted was because of his distinguished grandfather, who was a well-respected friend of a highly influential Indonesian official.
But, soon, as an AFOSI agent, Rand would be reassigned. His superiors were concerned he was becoming way too recognizable to be useful much longer, and they were worried about his safety as well.
Truthfully, it was kind of a relief. As much as he loved it here, Rand felt like he was living his life in limbo. He rarely had the opportunity to travel, and because he needed to reinforce his ruse as a wastrel trust fund prodigal, he was feeling rather lonely, no longer having regular contact with family members.
Unfortunately, Rand’s split with his father was real. Or, rather, it had happened at the moment he’d been born, when his mother had died giving Rand life.
Supposedly grief stricken, his dad had handed Rand over to his maternal grandparents straight from the hospital. It was only supposed to be temporary.
But that hadn’t been the way it had worked out. Rand barely knew his father. He’d attempted halfheartedly to bond with him on his visits to Crystal Rock, Wisconsin, but his father had never gone out of his way to spend any time with him. Rand had spent some quality time with his stepbrother, Alex, but the best thing about Crystal Rock had been the friends Rand had made while he was there during the summer at his grandparents’ cabin.
Rand’s dad, Randall Matthew McAllister II, had grown up in Crystal Rock, where he’d met Rand’s mom, Andrea Duvalier, when she’d been visiting her parents during the summer. With a degree in business management and another in accounting, she’d been working a couple years as an assistant for a real estate developer in Atlanta.
Her father had hired his mom to work for him, and two years later they’d been married. Apparently, his mom had been responsible for the success of Rand’s father’s struggling land development company, encompassing northwest Wisconsin.
Just then, Rand noticed a woman discretely attempting to get his attention from across the room, signaling she’d be heading along the path leading away from the bar.
Rand slowly stood up. “I’ll be back in a minute, guys. The food should be here shortly.”
“Alright,” Nick muttered, shaking his head.
Rand had a feeling both of his friends were wondering why he’d been leaving them alone periodically during the week. But Rand couldn’t risk being left out of the loop; he was afraid with all the talk around the island, something terrible might be going down soon.
Rand strolled across the patio and made his way down the wooden staircase, heading toward the beach.
“Trish,” Rand muttered, hooking his thumbs over his front jean pockets after joining her near the water’s edge. “How’s it going?”
“Alright, for now,” she murmured. “For you?”
“Fine,” he answered, studying her closely.
She seemed unusually distracted today.
Trish Braeden was an attaché of the American Embassy, assigned to alert the U.S. government of potential security threats for American citizens in Indonesia, as well as their allies. Although she had limited access to the U.S. government security data base here in Bali, they preferred to keep it that way, because of potential issues with hackers.
Rand continued, “What’s up?”
“We’ve got positive confirmation about what we heard last week. We’re considering issuing an American travel advisory because of another multiple bombing threat.”
Rand pulled his hands from his pockets, standing up attentively.
Reaching into her pocket, Trish pulled out a keychain with a USB device attached.
“I’ve got a list of individuals living or visiting here in the area for you to check out, and possibly do some surveillance, to see if any of them could be involved.”
“No problem,” Rand murmured, reaching for the keychain and slipping it into his own pocket.
Although, the American consulate kept their database activity at a minimum to prevent any potential breach of security, Rand had alternate options available.
“What about your friends?” she asked, glancing back at the restaurant.
Jack and Nick were both watching.
“They’re heading home in a few days.” Rand shrugged. “If anything, it’ll be easier scoping out locations right away if it looks like I’m showing them around the area, so I’ll probably drive them around during the next few days.”
Trish nodded her agreement. “Well, get back with me when you can.”
As she began walking away, she hesitated, staring beyond Rand’s shoulder at the beach. “Hopefully, the redhead who’s been watching us is someone you know?”
Redhead who’s been watching?
Rand blinked, glancing over his shoulder. “Yeah. I know her from somewhere, alright.”
“Maybe you’d better check her out,” Trish murmured, continuing on her way.
Turning and studying the woman who’d rejected him earlier, Rand agreed. Although she was walking further along the beach in the opposite direction, it was rather odd.
Since she was alone, Rand decided it was his opportunity to pin her down again. Besides, he was sure she was following him.