TRIBAL BLOOD #2
Apache Protectors: Wolf Den
He will always fight to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
In the throes of labor, Kasey Doka escaped her captors and their underground surrogacy ring to find Colt Redhorse. Though he’d sought seclusion on the Apache reservation for months, Colt and Kasey share something that goes deeper than tribal blood. Colt’s time as a marine left him with nightmares, but his training also gave him a certain set of skills. No one is taking this woman…or this child.
Excerpt from TRIBAL BLOOD - Apache Protectors: Wolf Den
Kacey Doka felt the warm gush of liquid surge down her thighs as her water broke. She knew what it meant, knew she must alert the guards. After eight months of captivity, she would be the first to see what happened next.
She didn’t know what frightened her more, the prospect of giving birth or what they would do to her when she was finished.
“Don’t tell them,” said her friend Marta, her eyes wide with terror. Marta Garcia was also nineteen and had been taken before Kacey. She was bigger around the middle, so all the girls trapped with Kacey in this dusty basement thought that Marta would go first.
“They are going to notice a baby,” said Brenda Espinoza, who was two years younger, was well into her second trimester and no longer able to deny the child that moved within her.
Brenda was the third to arrive. In May, according to their floor calendar, three months after Kacey.
“And that you’re no longer pregnant,” Brenda added. “How do you expect to hide that?”
She didn’t. Kacey knew that she had no alternative but to alert the guards. She glanced to Maggie Kesselman, the newest arrival here, just over a week ago. Kacey felt so sorry for her. Maggie was the youngest at only fourteen and still grappling through tears and disbelief at what had happened to her.
“Call them,” said Kacey.
Marta walked laboriously up the wooden steps from the basement to the metal door that opened exactly twice a day. Marta glanced back with wide, troubled eyes and Kacey nodded. Marta knocked and then retreated down the stairs. All the windows were covered from the outside and barred from within, so the only light was the single overhead bulb that never went out and that now cast Marta’s shadow before her as she descended. Marta hurried along with a heavy, rocking tread, gripping the banister for support, anxious to be back on the cold concrete floor before that door swung open because they didn’t like them hanging by the door when it opened.
Kacey did not know where they were being kept. But she did know that screaming for help brought only the guards. Vicious, heartless guards who spoke in a thick foreign accent.
“They’ll find us soon,” said Kacey to the other three. “They’ll come and rescue us.”
She kept saying it, believing it until the others believed it, too. Their families, their tribe, the authorities were all searching. They’d come for them.
“If I don’t come back, I’ll send help. I promise.”
Marta hugged her. Maggie started to cry again. Brenda stared at the floor with an unfocused gaze, her hands laced, locked and pressed to her mouth.
Kacey knew the guards did not like being disturbed between feedings. Whatever they were doing, interruptions resulted in blows.
The door banged open and two men descended the stairs with clubs. The girls screamed and fled to the corners of the large empty basement area. Only Kacey remained at the bottom of the stairs.
Their captors had provided them each with a blanket and mattress. They also had a sink and toilet behind a partition. The toilet smelled of bleach and soap, both provided, but the basement held the musty scent of wool, dirt and decay. An appearance of a new mattress always signaled the imminent arrival of a new girl. Yesterday, the fifth mattress had appeared. To date, four had entered through that metal door and none had left. Kacey was about to leave their prison.
Would they bring her to a hospital to deliver her baby? No, of course they couldn’t do that because she could speak to any of the medical staff and alert them that she was a prisoner.
“What is dis? Why you are knocking?” The one they called Oleg spoke to the group. His English was best but still difficult for them to understand.
The girls looked from one to the other, none willing to speak to Oleg because although his English was the best, his temper was the worst. Kacey’s insides seemed to have a will of their own and began squeezing so hard that she cried out.
“Her water broke,” said Marta, pointing to the wet spot on the concrete floor.
Oleg turned his pale blue eyes on Kacey. Then he glanced to the large pool of water darkening the concrete. He motioned his head toward Kacey, and the second man, Anton, stepped forward and captured Kacey by the arm, hurrying her toward the stairs.
She glanced over her shoulder to see the girls coming together in the center of the room, huddling tight as they stared after her. Oleg grasped her opposite arm and she was thrust up the stairs before them and through the prison door.
On the floor above the basement, she saw an office with tight dark carpeting and three desks with computers and phones under harsh fluorescent lighting. A television had been mounted on the wall, and a mini fridge sat beneath it with a half-full coffeepot resting on the top. The shape of the room and the two doorways made Kacey think she was in a large house. The normalcy of the layout clashed with the terror below her feet where the others huddled in near darkness.
The windows furnished views of a busy road where cars buzzed past trying to make the light. Beyond that squatted a strip mall, housing a Chinese restaurant, nail salon and pet grooming. The sunlight seemed especially bright and she used her hand as a visor.
“Call the boss,” said Oleg.
Anton released her to move to the phone. The third guard, whom she had never seen, watched her intently as her eyes moved from Anton to the door and then to his face to see the wicked smile challenging her to go for it.
Kacey wrapped her arms around her squeezing stomach and clenched her teeth. Anton lowered the phone.
“The boss said he’ll call the doc.”
Oleg thrust her into one of the office chairs. Kacey’s eyes went from the computer to the phone as she calculated her chances of using either. The big unfamiliar guard stalked forward and sat on the edge of the desk. Then he folded his arms across his wide chest. He looked so smug and superior that instead of feeling defeat, Kacey felt rage.
“Not there,” said Anton. “She’ll bleed all over everything. Take her to the exam room.”
She was lifted by the upper arms with such force she momentarily left the floor. Kacey soon found herself in a small windowless room dominated by a short black examination table with two metal gizmos that reminded her of small riding stirrups. Her flesh began to crawl.
The pain ripped across her back and she doubled over.
“It hurt?” asked Oleg.
She nodded, blowing out a breath as sweat beaded on her forehead.
“Good, that mean baby is coming.”
The door closed but not before she heard Anton ask Oleg, “What about her?”
Oleg’s answer was not in English, but Anton’s reply was.
“Dump her or sell her?” asked Anton.
She could not understand the reply but did not need to. She had her answer. After the baby was born, she would be sold or killed.
Kacey held her throbbing middle. She knew the child she carried was not hers. But somehow it did not matter. She loved it and would protect it. That meant staying alive.
She pounded on the door. “I need to use the toilet.”
“Use the sink in there.”
“I can’t climb up on that sink!”
The door opened and Anton entered. He took her arm and hauled her up another flight of stairs to a very nice, clean bathroom with a claw-foot tub, white shower curtain, shampoo, conditioner, soap and clean towels. She scowled at the bounty as the anger built inside like lava. She and her friends had one bar of soap among all of them, worked down to a thin wafer. Meanwhile the guards had this. She glanced from the toilet to the small window.
“So go,” said Anton.
He wanted to watch? Fine. She drew up the sheath dress they had provided and sat. After several minutes, he urged her to hurry.
“I’m not done.”
“You better not have that kid in that toilet.”
She had her weapon. Kacey closed her eyes and pushed, crying out. She peered at her captor. He was glancing back toward the hall.
Kacey cried louder.
“Oleg! Get up here.” He stepped out of the door and vanished.
Kacey had the door shut and the bolt thrown in a moment. Anton pounded on the door as Kacey opened the window and scrambled out onto a flat roof overhanging the first floor. She ran to the edge and glanced to the lawn. It seemed a long way down. Then she turned back toward the house. How long did she have?
She threw one of her princess slippers off the roof. Then she threw the other one. The roof coating was so hot, it burned her feet. Kacey ran along the roof to the other side of the house, where she found a half-open window. She could see Oleg and the third man rush down the hall toward the bathroom.
Kacey was sliding the window open the rest of the way when she heard a crash. The bathroom door, she thought. Kacey slipped inside the house and down the stairs to the first floor as the men shouted from the bathroom. She hurried through the office and to the entrance hall. There on the stand beside a hat rack were three sets of car keys. She grabbed all three and was turning toward the basement door to release her friends when she saw Oleg through the dining room window as he passed by on the outside of the house. How had he gotten off the roof so fast?
They made eye contact and he shouted to the others, breaking into a run. She glanced to the locked basement door. If she went that way, he’d have her.
Kacey made her decision and charged out the front door. She descended the porch stairs, hitting the unlock button on one of the car fobs. A car beeped. But that one was trapped behind the others. She tried again, reaching the drive as Oleg made it to the walkway.
The next car was the one she wanted. It looked new and fast. More important, it was closest to the road. She dove into the car as Oleg pounded both open hands on the hood, denting the metal.
She pressed the lock on the fob as his hand slipped onto the latch and tugged. Kacey looked for a key, but there was none. Just a button beside the steering wheel that said START. She pushed it and the engine turned over. There was no gearshift, just a knob. She rotated it to R as Oleg shattered the driver’s-side window with his fist.
“I rip dat baby from your belly!” he bellowed.
His hand extended toward her, his fingers forming a claw. Kacey screamed and threw herself sideways across the console. Then she jammed her foot down on the gas. The car sailed backward down the drive, over the curb, hitting something that flew over the roof before she righted herself. She could barely reach the pedals because the seat was so far back, but she managed to get the car into Drive and turn the wheel so the tires were back on pavement as she raced away. She saw Anton running after her in the street. She thrust her arm out the open space where the window had been and extended her middle finger, giving him a gesture of farewell.
She had all their keys and she knew where they were keeping her friends. All she had to do was get to the police and tell them what had happened.
But Marta told her that she had heard Oleg say the police were on their payroll and that they knew about the house and did nothing. Not the police, then. Her tribe—tribal police. She had to get home to Turquoise Canyon.
Where was she? Sweat beaded on her forehead and her stomach muscles cramped. She slowed as she made a turn onto a strange road. The landscape was familiar. She looked around and then into the rearview at the way she had come. She knew they hadn’t taken her far from home because of the amount of time she had ridden in the back of the van. Soon she had herself oriented.
She was in Darabee, Arizona. And everyone in her tribe knew that Darabee was the police force who had set the stage for the Lilac Shooter to be assassinated right in the station. The investigations were ongoing. The police chief had been replaced, but she believed what Marta had told her. This police force could be on the Russians’ payroll, so she was not going there under any circumstances. Kacey was halfway to her home in Turquoise Canyon when she realized that this would be the first place they would look.
Her mother couldn’t protect her, assuming she was even there. And going there would only put her brothers and sisters in danger. Her best friend, Marta, was still a captive. Kacey needed to get the girls out of there before they did something terrible to them all.
The tribal police, she trusted them. They could find the house. She drove to Piñon Forks, past the activity at the river, construction mostly, with dump trucks, bulldozers and backhoes. She ignored them as she drove to tribal headquarters. The parking lot was eerily empty. There were no police cars and no tribal vehicles. She drew up to the fire lane in front of the station, peering at the dark empty building.
Something was very wrong.
She craned her neck. Why were there no pickup trucks on the road? She had passed no one and seen not one soul since arriving on the rez. The town looked deserted. Where was everyone?
A car appeared in her rearview and she jumped. Was it Oleg?
The man who stepped out of the vehicle was white and wearing some sort of uniform. Her heart hammered as she considered fleeing before he reached her. But she needed information.
He approached from the driver’s side. Kacey prepared to shift her foot from brake to gas. He stood before her window. She meant to lower it only a crack, but the window was gone, leaving her vulnerable. Her heart pounded in her throat.
“You looking for tribal headquarters?” he asked.
“Yes.” Her voice sounded strange to her ears. Barely a squeak.
“They moved,” he said.
What? Why? That didn’t make any sense at all. “Where?” Her voice was all air and very little sound.
He cocked his head and gave her an odd stare as if she should know this.
“Up to Turquoise Ridge.” He glanced at her distended belly. “Oh! Clinic is up there, too. They’re in trailers, one beside the other. Can’t miss it. You need me to drive you?”
“No. Thanks.” She did not wait for a reply before accelerating away.
They’d moved? Why would tribal government ever leave their main community for the rough mining settlement of Turquoise Ridge?
The women's health clinic was right next to the police station, looking just as deserted. But she couldn’t go to the clinic, even if it were open because the Russians would probably look for her there, because someone there had done this to her. She and the other girls had compared memories. They had all been to the tribal health care facility shortly before capture. But what had happened there was a yawning blank, for her visits and theirs. Why couldn’t they remember?
She had to get word to tribal police.
It was several minutes before Kacey became aware of her surroundings again. She was already in the tribal community of Koun’nde and heading for Turquoise Ridge. She should turn around.
And go where?
Where could she go where she would be safe and where they could not find her? Somewhere she could find help for her friends but not endanger her sisters and brothers?
And then she knew. She would go to him, the boy who had promised to go away with her and instead left her behind. Kacey knew he was scheduled to come home from Afghanistan. His brother, Ty, had told her so and that he was changed. He had been discharged after something that had happened over there. Ty said that Colt had been captured with comrades in an insurgent attack and then recovered.
Afterwards Colt had spoken to Ty from Maryland and said he wasn’t ready to come home. Ty talked him into coming back anyway. Colt agreed but only if he could live up in the family’s claim off Dead Horse Road beyond the community of Turquoise Ridge.
Ty had told her Colt wanted to see her after he got his act together. But she’d been taken before he came home. She knew Colt’s plan had been to make over an old cabin. Colt had shown it to her once. She knew where it was. It was a good place to hide and if Colt was there, he could help her rescue her friends.
What she didn’t know was if she had the physical strength to reach it. Her middle began to squeeze again and she bucked back in the seat, swerving dangerously. She had to reach him before her body forced her to stop, before the men pursuing her captured her again.
I rip dat baby from your belly.
She shivered at the memory of Oleg’s words. The tears she had held for months now poured down her cheeks, blurring her vision. But she ignored the tears and pain in her middle and the ache in her heart as she pressed down on the gas.
Time had become the enemy.
Colt Redhorse heard the screeching of brakes and the slide of tires on gravel as someone made the turn leading to his cabin way too fast. His brother Ty was known to drive like that in his youth, trying out the various cars he was improving. But lately he always approached Colt’s retreat slowly and with proper notice. Often he sent his dog, Hemi, in first as envoy.
So it wasn’t Ty.
Colt collected his rifle. The pistol was always on his hip or beside his head on those few occasions when he slept. He didn’t sleep much. Too many ways for his enemies to reach him in dreams.
He moved between the trunks of the trees quickly and without much sound. Whoever it was would not hear him coming. He was like death itself—silent and without mercy.
Since he’d returned from Afghanistan, Colt’s emotions boiled down to only two—fear and fury. Right now, it was just fury. No one came up here uninvited. His brother Jake had tried more than once. Colt hadn’t shot at him, but it had been hard hiding while Jake violated his personal space. The mining cabin belonged to all of them, as did the claim. But the way he figured it, it was his by occupation and because he just couldn’t stand to be around anyone yet. His skin itched like that of a junkie coming down from a high. He checked to see if a bug was crawling up his arm and saw only smooth brown skin.
He wasn’t back in Afghanistan anymore, he told himself. He was home. This was Apache land. Safe land. This settlement lay tight against the turquoise-bearing ridge from which the town got its name.
Turquoise Ridge, the most remote of the three settlements on the Turquoise Canyon Reservation. Most folks here were miners. Living up on the ridge required a person to tote water and live without electricity or plumbing. Other than the miners. there were a few recluses, like him, he supposed. His closest neighbor was a Vietnam vet, former army, who went off the rez hoping to be a code talker like the Navajo and came home as crazy as Colt felt he himself was rapidly becoming. Randy Hooee hung tinfoil around his cabin to keep the CIA from listening to the thoughts in his head. As far as Colt could tell, it seemed to be working.
Colt’s breathing slowed and his skin now only buzzed with adrenaline, not the flesh-crawling fear that threatened daily to have him hanging out bits of tinfoil, as well.
He had a purpose. Find the identity of the intruder.
He resumed his operation, moving close enough to see the road. The car was black and unfamiliar. A sedan, dust-covered with a dented hood. Parked at an odd angle and stationary now as the dust continued to settle back to earth. The tinted windshield showed him nothing. His eyes narrowed.
Why didn’t they all just leave him alone?
The door opened and a hand appeared on the top of the driver’s side window. Small, slim and gripping hard as if the driver had to haul himself out of the car. Colt lifted the rifle, using the scope to aim at where he knew the center of the driver’s torso would be in just a moment. Should he kill the bastard or just shoot out the windshield beside his head? He shifted between his two targets. This or that? That or this? A smile twisted his lips. He’d learned a lot from the US Marines but even more from the insurgents who had held him for three days.
And then the target’s head popped up above the door frame like a fox leaving its den. Colt’s hands went numb and he dropped his rifle.
It had been eighteen months, but he knew he would never forget that face. That was his former girlfriend, Kacey Doka. She’d tried to convince him not to join up after he graduated. Not to leave her behind. He had explained that if she wanted to get off the rez, this was their way. He hadn’t wanted to go because he loved it here, couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But Kacey could and he loved her enough to try to give her what she wanted. It had cost him, deeply.
He had planned to give the signing bonus and his pay to her, but she wouldn’t take it. She wanted them to go together, but he had committed himself. How had he messed that up so badly? She had not answered his letters. When he’d finally made it back home on a psych discharge, her home was the only place he’d stopped before coming here. Kacey had left, her mother said, months ago. She hadn’t been back, wasn’t expected back. But she sure was back now.
Kacey glanced up the hill toward his position, the sunlight highlighting her black hair blue. Colt flinched. Had she heard him drop his rifle? He watched her glance back the way she had come. From here, he could not see much of the road because of the trees. But she would have a clear view.
What was she doing here after all this time? He’d been home for months. Had Ty called her? That thought made his stomach flip. The only thing worse than being a walking basket case was having Kacey Doka know about it.
“Colt?” she called to him.
He pressed his back to the flaking bark of the ponderosa pine and squeezed his eyes shut.
Go away, Kacey. Please.
“Colt, it’s Kacey!” She was shouting now. Judging from the sound, she was cupping her hands to her mouth to amplify her voice. “I need to see you.”
No, you don’t. Not like this.
Ty had sent her. Damn his meddling older brother. Colt had told him he didn’t want to see anyone. That he wasn’t ready. Had Ty given up hope that he was improving? But he was. He made it through more than one day without a panic attack. But the nights were very long. He knew his lack of sleep wasn’t helping. But he wouldn’t take anything that Ty had offered.
“I’m in trouble, Colt. Please, please answer me.”
Colt’s eyes opened as he pushed himself off the tree. What kind of trouble could she be in?
Was this a trick?
Despite her mother’s neglect, Kacey had done well in school, missing only when her mom took off, leaving Kacey to take care of her siblings. Ty told him that Kacey had been accepted at Phoenix University and planned to use her Big Money for as long as it lasted. Big Money was what they called the allotment of the tribe’s revenue distributed annually, but kept in trust for members under eighteen. The distributions often went for vehicles, something big and flashy. Colt noticed that there never was another new truck after that first one. He knew thirty-year-olds still driving that Big Money truck. So he had not spent his on a vehicle. Instead he kept his for them, him and Kacey. He figured his pay, his bonus and Big Money could get them a house right here on the rez.
He was certain that if he could get them their own place and provide her a real home, she would change her mind about leaving. To do that, he’d enlisted in the marines. That was when she’d ended it between them. When Ty told him she’d gone, Colt had been expecting it.
Had she used her Big Money to run away?
She’d loved him once. He knew that. And he had loved her, which was why he wasn’t going to let her see him now. It would kill those feelings she’d held as surely as a snake crushes a baby bunny.
But he could see her. He’d give himself that at least. Just for a minute and then he’d go.
“I’m coming up there. Don’t you shoot me, Colt Redhorse, or so help me I will tell your mother.”
His mother liked Kacey and she was worried about him. Ty had said so. And his mother wasn’t well. Why didn’t Ty tell him that Kacey was back? He could have used a little warning to prepare.
He heard the crunch of her footsteps as she crossed the gravel on the road. Her tread was slow and heavy. And she gave a cry as if she was in pain. Colt popped his head around the trunk of the tree. What he saw made his jaw drop.
Was Kacey pregnant?
She was! Very, very pregnant and she was holding her swollen belly as her face twisted into a mask of pain. His eyes widened. He’d seen that same expression on his mother’s face when she went into labor with his little sister, Abbie. He’d only been six, but the fear made the memory stick.
Was Kacey in labor?
That was impossible. You’d have to be crazy to come up here to deliver a baby. He craned his neck to see her as she momentarily disappeared from view behind the trees. She was heading for the trail they had used to climb up to his family’s cabin. She knew the way.
Kacey had been a part of his family, had spent more time living in his house than in hers. Not that he blamed her. But she’d go home when her sister Jackie or Winnie would come and tell her that their mom was gone again. Running drugs for the Wolf Posse, Ty said, taking her cut in either money or product.
Colt moved parallel to Kacey as she walked along the road toward the trail, catching flashes of Kacey between the tree trunks. She looked thin, despite her swollen belly, and pale as if she had not been in the sun in months. Her gate was a scurry that combined the side-to-side rocking motion of a woman far along in her pregnancy with a girl in a hurry. She held both hands under her belly. Why did she keep looking behind her?
Kacey stopped, hunched and turned toward the road. What could she see that made her eyes round and her mouth swing open like a gate? Kacey ran now. She ran to the woods and rock outcropping with a speed he would not have believed possible.
“They’re here! Colt, do you hear me? They’re going to take me again.”
Oh no, they are not.
Colt didn’t know who they were or why they were after Kacey. What he did know was that they wouldn’t succeed in reaching her. He had the high ground, a rifle with extra rounds and the will to kill anyone who threatened Kacey. He might be a mental mess, but he remembered what it felt like to be in love with her. But now that memory only made his chest ache and his breathing hitch. Whatever part of him that understood how to love a woman had died back there in the Afghanistan. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t protect her. He would, with his life.
Colt moved to a position that gave him a good vantage of her car and waited as the second vehicle approached. Colt lifted the rifle, pressing the familiar stock to his cheek and closing his left eye. The crosshairs fixed on the gray sedan.
He felt centered, calm, relaxed.
The first shot sent a bullet at the driver’s side of the windshield. The glass should have shattered into tiny cubes but instead remained intact. The second shot went to the passenger’s side. If there was a passenger behind the windshield, he should now have a bullet in his head, but instead the glass showed only a tiny nick. Colt was using .38 long-range ammunition. That windshield should be compromised. But it wasn’t and he knew why. The glass was reinforced.
“Bulletproof,” he muttered.
He had not seen that since Afghanistan. This was a very expensive vehicle. From within the luxury auto, someone shifted the sedan’s gears and the car reversed direction with a spray of gravel.
Colt marched down the hill. When he reached the road, the car was turning around. He got two shots into the side of the vehicle with nothing but damage to the paint. He missed the shot at the rear tire. The next shot pinged off the rear window of the retreating sedan. Who the heck was after her?
Whoever it was, they had money—lots of money.
He put a hole in the license for no reason except as a final farewell and a good riddance. If they came back, he’d use a hand grenade on their asses.
Colt turned to the woods, where Kacey now stood beside the outcropping of rock she had used for cover. She bent forward at the hips, clutching her belly with one hand and the boulder with the other, eyes pinched shut. Colt had a sickening feeling that while he had been up here brooding over Kacey’s departure and collecting the bits and pieces of his mind, Kacey had been in real trouble. He was equally afraid she was going to have that baby right here and right now.
Excerpt TRIBAL BLOOD ©2018 – Jenna Kernan