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CHAPTER ONE

I am so dead.

Danica Lorenzo took the stairs two steps at a time wishing she had her running shoes on, but even if she did, she was still going to be late for staff meeting.

So much for getting taken seriously by the boss.

By the time she got to the top floor of the Fort Collins Coloradoan offices, she was dripping sweat. She wiped it off with her sleeves and marched into the main cubicle area.

Dang. No one else was at their desk.

She could see, through the glass walls of his office, everyone already clustered around editor Grant Scott.

Danica had a perfectly legitimate reason for being late. Her mom called at the last minute, worried her stepbrother hadn’t video-called from the Philippines like he usually did. They’d had a standing tradition for Bong to call in weekly, even for a few minutes, to assure them he was okay. Maybe he was out rescuing people for the Coast Guard, Danica suggested. No doubt he was arresting smugglers or saving passengers from capsizing ferries. But Mom and Danica’s stepdad Eddie—Bong’s biological dad—were already freaking out over his uncharacteristic silence.

Of course, Grant wouldn’t understand. He was still single at thirty. Old enough he needn’t deliver a weekly report home.

Danica took a deep breath and opened the door. All eyes turned to her. She slunk to an empty chair and sank with relief only to spring right back up.

“Watch the trophies,” Grant bellowed.

The former Asia editor for Globetrotter Mag had been her boss for a year now. He had multiple SPJ awards, enough to fill a box which he couldn't be bothered to move off his chair.

Some people snickered. Danica seethed. She set the box of trophies on the floor and sat down. “Sorry,” she muttered.

“Well,” Grant said, pushing away from his gigantic desk that looked impervious to a nuclear attack, “now that Danica’s here, we can talk about assignments.”

Danica pretended to be engrossed in her notes, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

The staff went around the room, starting with Brad Baldwin and sports. Finally, it came to Danica, and she raised her head. Grant tapped his fingers on his desk impatiently.

“I have a feature on Jordan Matthews,” she said.

Silence. Grant looked very unenthused. Someone coughed nervously.

“You know,” she said, “the singer.”

“I know who he is,” Grant said. “The American Entertainer winner.”

American Star,” she corrected.

“Right. The fluff piece.”

Danica gritted her teeth. They’d had this debate already. He didn’t think a feature on Jordan Matthews was worthy of the Coloradoan. Danica thought she’d convinced him their readers would eat it up. Plus, she could certainly make it more heavy-weight, if given the chance.

He checked a sheet. “There’s an opening in tomorrow’s paper.”

“I’ll need a couple of days,” she said.

“Why?”

“I have to interview him in person,” she said, trying to leave the snark out of her voice.

“Can’t you do it by phone?”

“I’m taking a vacation day and interviewing him in Reno before his concert tonight.”

Grant folded his arms across his muscular chest. “I didn’t know we had a travel fund.”

Danica stiffened. “I’m paying for it from my own pocket.”

“Fine,” he said. “What else have you got?”

“That’s it.”

Grant consulted the sheet. “Did you submit the story on Senator Colin James and the arms bill?”

“Yes,” Danica said. “I already e-mailed it to you.”

“Good.”

She stood up. “May I be excused then?”

Grant frowned. “Staff meeting just barely began.”

“I have to catch my flight. To Reno.”

“File the story as soon as possible,” came his curt reply.

“I will.”

Danica’s eyes met the sport reporter’s sympathetic ones. “Have fun,” Brad mouthed.

“Thanks,” she mouthed back.

On the way out, she tripped over the box of trophies. Was it just her imagination, or did Grant Scott actually crack a smile?

CHAPTER TWO

Danica shoved open the glass doors of the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino and marched into the scorching Reno heat, her frustration boiling over.

She’d come all the way from Colorado to Nevada only to be told Jordan Matthews’ PR manager had not made arrangements for Danica with the front desk, as he’d promised. Danica explained to the clerk she was a reporter for the Coloradoan and needed to interview the singer before his concert that evening.

Danica had leaned over the marble counter, hoping there was some sort of mistake. “I was told there’d be an envelope waiting here for me with his hotel room number.”

The clerk looked in a drawer and asked her fellow employee manning the desk if he’d seen one, but neither had.

Danica persisted. “Can you please look him up on your guest list?”

As the clerk checked the computer, Danica tried to crane her neck but couldn’t make out any of the names. “I’m sorry,” the clerk said, “he isn’t listed on our guest registry.”

“That makes sense,” Danica said. “He probably goes by a fake name.”

The clerk’s face turned into an expressionless mask. “Well, I don’t know what it is.”

Danica needed this interview. It would prove to her boss, once and for all, that she was a great journalist, despite only being twenty-three. She slipped a business card across the counter. “Can you please give him my number and have him call me as soon as possible?”

The clerk looked at the card like it was riddled with disease. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Forget this.

Danica gave her a steely glance. “I want to talk to your supervisor. Now.”

The clerk’s expression turned frigid. She looked over Danica’s shoulder. “Next person, please!”

Outside, Danica raked her fingers through her short hair. She could already tell that her fine, blond strands, which she’d spiked with pomade earlier that morning, had flattened in the dry heat. Coming from Colorado, she could feel the desert sucking the moisture from her skin.

Maybe she should just enjoy the concert and go back to cooler weather.

No.

If she didn’t get the interview, she’d miss out on a fantastic opportunity. Besides, she could already picture Grant’s gloating expression if she were to come back empty-handed.

The sun’s rays bounced against the hotel’s facade. Someone was suspended from ropes outside the mirror-like casino, a window washer jimmying his way across on his scaffolding.

Danica stared, fascinated.

Wouldn’t it be cool if she could climb like that and find Jordan? Too bad she was scared of heights.

“Is there something wrong, miss?” a male voice asked her.

She looked over her shoulder at a Filipino bellboy who followed her gaze at the hotel facade. He reminded Danica of Bong, who was of Filipino descent, with his lovely caramel complexion and polite demeanor. Like him, many of Reno’s employees and tourists were Asian. His tag said, “Arthur.”

“Actually, yes.” She hoped he could help her. “I’m trying to get a guest’s hotel number, but the front desk wouldn’t give it to me.” Arthur gave her a once-over, as though wondering if she was some sort of stalker, so she clarified, “I’m a reporter, and it’s for an interview.”

“Oh, nice.” He smiled. “That’s cool.”

Danica sighed. “It would be awesome if only I could get his registered name or even his room phone number. His concert starts in a few hours, so I don’t have a lot of time left.”

Arthur nodded and appeared deep in thought. “I know.” He brightened. “You can ask Cindy Chen!”

Danica wanted to hug him. “Great! Could you please take me to her?”

***

Cindy Chen, Arthur said, was the hotel’s tarot card reader and fortune-teller-in-residence.

“I don’t think she can really tell fortunes,” Arthur confided, leading her down the hallway which reeked of cigarette smoke. “But she gives people a good time.” He gestured to a closed door. “Go ahead and knock. If she’s available, she’ll let you in.”

Danica knocked. After a couple of seconds, a woman said, “Come in, come in.”

“Good luck,” Arthur told Danica. “I hope you get your interview.”

“Thanks so much,” Danica said.

He backed up with a smile and left her.

Danica entered. Cindy was in the middle of crushing a cigarette in an ashtray and slipping the whole smoking thing in a desk drawer. She was a tiny Chinese woman with a black bob and a stained smile that widened at the sight of Danica. “Well!” she said. “Who are you?”

Wading through a cloud of smoke, Danica approached the desk and shook Cindy’s hand. "I'm Danica Lorenzo,” she said, stifling a cough and tearing up, “a journalist from Colorado. I'm here to,” cough, see Jordan Matthews in concert."

"Oh, yeah.” Cindy gestured with both arms open wide. “Jordan Matthews has big concert tonight."

"Right. I need to interview him, and Arthur said you might be able to help get me his hotel number."

“Arthur so funny.” The woman cackled. "Impossible. Not now. Jordan asleep pro'ly. Getting beauty rest before concert. Yesterday, better."

Danica wished she had flown in the day before. Unfortunately, she couldn’t really change her flight. Besides, yesterday, she had to cover a press conference over the signing of a historic arms bill staged by Colorado's senior senator, Colin James.

“Do you have a number for him, by chance?” Danica asked.

Cindy squinted. "You got head as hard as coconut, eh? Show me the hand.”

Danica hesitated.

“Don’t worry,” Cindy said. “Free of charge.”

Well, in that case…

Turning Danica’s hand this way and that, Cindy set it down and stared into her eyes. “You need Jordan interview. This is part of adventure in your life. I get you in his room, you see."

“That would be so great,” Danica said, though she wasn’t very optimistic about Cindy’s celebrity-locating skills just as Arthur wasn’t about her fortune-telling.

“If you say code name, I give you number. The code name usually is important to person.”

"He had a brother named Lee," Danica murmured. "He died two years ago."

Cindy nodded. “Lee is good Chinese name.”

Danica craned her neck to look at the list. "Is there a Lee?"

"Yup, lots of Lees.”

Danica’s shoulders slumped.

“But only one Lee as first name,” Cindy said, waggling her penciled brows. “Lee Morgan.”

To herself, Danica said, “And he used to own a Morgan horse as a kid.”

Cindy grinned. "Try it,” she handed Danica the hotel phone. “3248.”

“Thank you.” Danica crossed her fingers.

The phone rang once, twice….

Please, please, answer.

On the third ring, Jordan Matthews’ groggy voice said, "Hello?"

CHAPTER THREE

Danica nearly dropped the phone, not expecting anyone, let alone Jordan Matthews, to answer. It was the Jordan Matthews, alright. His voice sounded even huskier on the phone. Absolutely gorgeous.

"I'm sorry," Danica said. "Did I wake you up?"

"It's about time I should anyway.” He yawned.

She felt dumb, but she had to confirm, "This is Jordan Matthews, right?"

"Uh-huh. Who's this?"

"Danica Lorenzo from the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Did your PR manager mention an interview with me by chance?”

“No, he didn’t.”

She took a deep breath. "I was wondering if I could interview you before your concert? I promise to not take up too much of your time.”

He didn’t answer right away.

“Please?” she said.

"How about if we talk in an hour?” he said. “That should give me time to get dressed."

After she picked her jaw up from the floor, Danica gushed, “Thank you, Mr. Matthews.”

“Call me Jordan. And you’re welcome. I'll send my assistant to bring you up. Meet him at the lobby elevator in an hour."

She ended the call and hugged Cindy. "How can I ever thank you?"

Cindy studied her fingernails. "Well, I always wanted to see interview done. I come up with you."

Danica stood stock still. "What?"

Cindy arched her nearly invisible eyebrows. "I just sit on bed. I watch you and Jordan talk. I promise, I be quiet. Maybe take picture or two."

"I'm afraid that's not how I do interviews,” Danica said, panicked.

"Here, take my number." Cindy handed Danica a sticky note and pulled her desk drawer open. "Call me when you go."

***

Danica hid behind a potted palm, expecting to see Cindy ‘round the corner any moment. Danica never did call her, and she kind of felt bad. Surely Jordan would consider her bringing an extra person unprofessional. Better to incur Cindy’s wrath than blow the interview.

The elevator dinged and a handsome black man in a sport jacket and jeans came out, sweeping the hallway with his gaze. Danica stepped from behind the plant like she did this all day and waved. The guy’s eyes widened.

“Hi,” she said. “Did Jordan Matthews send you?”

“Were you hiding behind that plant?” he asked.

“Just checking it for bugs.” She shrugged. “You know.”

The man looked at the note paper in his hand. “Are you Danica Lorenzo,” he said, enunciating the syllables, “from the Denver Post?”

“Yes, I’m Danica. But no, I’m with the Coloradoan.”

“Sorry,” he said, scratching his head. “I thought that’s what Jordan said.”

“It’s okay,” she assured him.

“I’m Billy.” He shook her hand. “And you’re alone? Good, good.”

Danica thought of Cindy, grateful she’d followed her instincts.

She started heading to the elevator, but he held up a hand. “Do you mind if I look in your purse?” he asked. “For security.”

While he looked, she glanced nervously over her shoulder. When Danica turned back to Billy, he was holding up a black cylinder. “Pepper spray, if I’m not mistaken?”

“Yes,” she said, her stomach sinking. “For when I go for a run.”

“No biggie.” He put it in his pocket. “If you don’t mind, I’m just going to keep it with me until the interview’s done.”

That would be pretty funny, for Danica to make the evening news having pepper-sprayed Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor. “That’s fine,” she said.

The elevator dinged and opened. “After you,” Billy said.

Danica couldn’t get in fast enough. Just as the doors closed, Cindy rounded the corner.

***

Jordan Matthews sat behind a little round table, silhouetted against the window. He stood, blocking the view of the spare desert. Even in his simple outfit—a long-sleeved shirt, a Cubs baseball hat and jeans—he oozed charisma. Focused on her, his gray eyes were striking, as though cut from glass.

“Nice to meet you Danica,” he said, greeting her with an easy smile and a handshake, then took his seat again.

Danica took the chair next to him, nearly hyperventilating over the fact that her favorite singer was sitting just an arm’s length away. To calm herself, she noted details she could include in her story.

His polo shirt was open to the second button. His long, lean piano-playing fingers held a box of playing cards. His expression, under the baseball cap, was relaxed, well-rested from his afternoon nap. He had shaved but he still had a hint of a shadow on his squarish jaw.

She pulled her recorder, pen and pad out of her purse, turning to a fresh new page. Jordan Matthews, she wrote, underlining each word.

Jordan turned the deck of cards in his hands. "You know, I usually don't grant interviews on concert day.”

Danica’s hands stilled. "Then why did you grant mine?”

He shrugged. "I like to read people’s voices. There was something appealing about yours. You sounded young and polite. Maybe I was curious.” His glance skimmed over her face slowly, like a man admiring a painting. "You can't be more than twenty. And very pretty to boot."

She blushed. "Twenty-three."

“Really?” He raised an eyebrow. “Did you just graduate or something?”

“I graduated at twenty. I was in a hurry to get done, I guess,” she said with a little laugh.

“Well, that figures. To get through to my hotel room, you must be clever.”

With regret, she glanced at the clock above the bed, indicating ten minutes had already passed. They had better get going on the interview, even though she could have just happily shot the breeze with Jordan. Billy sat on the bed against a barrage of pillows, his eyes closed. Fooling no one. If she tried doing anything groupie-like, she was sure Billy would immediately turn ninja.

"Do you mind if I record our interview?" she asked, her finger poised over her device.

"Not at all," Jordan said, leaning back.

She lobbed a few easy questions, then asked, “How has your life changed since American Star?”

“I’ve certainly been blessed. There’s fame, of course. Contract offers.” He paused. “To be honest though, it’s not all it’s cut up to be.”

“What do you mean?”

He hesitated and didn’t answer for a long moment. Danica just waited.

“I…I’ve never felt lonelier,” he said. He looked flustered. “Hey, strike that, will you? Can I explain, off record?”

Danica hesitated. She never knew when someone meant being off the record or not. But she reached over and shut her device with a little click. “Let me know when it’s okay to go on record.”

“Thanks. It’s just…I don’t know.” Jordan exhaled a deep breath. “I’m sure my agent wouldn’t want that to get out. The big fakery.” He turned the cards in his hands. “It’s the anniversary of my brother’s death this weekend.”

“Lee’s?” she said.

“Right.” His eyes blinked fast, then looked away.

She knew how Lee had died—drug overdose. All the outlets covered it then with relentless morbid fascination. “I’m sorry.”

“Me, too. I wish I could have saved him.”

“They have to want to be saved,” she suggested.

Jordan took a deep breath and studied her. “Do you have siblings?”

“Yes,” she said, thinking of Bong.

“Then you’ll understand.” He shifted in his seat. “Lee and I used to be best buds. But when I became this overnight sensation, everything just went haywire. I hardly saw him.”

He slammed the cards on the table, startling her, and balled his fist.

“I saw fans all day and had no time for my own brother,” he said. “I showered him with money. But that’s not what he needed.” Pain contorted his face.

Danica ached for him.

“I’m so broken up inside, it’s not even funny,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” she said, once again.

“Are you, Danica Lorenzo?” His eyes bore into hers, searching. Angry. The vehemence of his expression scared her. And then it softened. “You know, I do believe you are. Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For listening with your heart.”

She inclined her head. “You’re welcome.”

He glanced at Billy, whose eyes were still shut. Jordan chuckled. “He can sleep anywhere.”

They exchanged conspiratorial smiles. Her breath stilled as Jordan’s gaze fell to her mouth. She cast her eyes down and saw the recorder.

Danica needed to finish the interview. She put her finger on the record button and gave him a questioning glance.

“Go ahead,” he said.

***

Danica rode the elevator to the main lobby, floating on air.

As they parted, Jordan had teased, "How long have you been a journalist? Since you were twelve?" When she said three years, he looked at her with admiring eyes and said, "You're very good." To top it all off, he had kissed her cheek on her way out.

She'd been a journalist three years officially, but she’d had several years of unofficial training for the scrappy world of journalism throughout junior high. That was when her parents divorced and they moved around before finally settling in Colorado, where her mother remarried Eddie, an immigrant from the Philippines. That’s how her stepbrother Bong, five years older, entered her life.

In the lobby, Danica turned her phone on. Its cute Muppet ringtone played and as usual, it made her smile—until she saw who was calling.

Grant Scott.

She thought about just letting voicemail pick up, but then she'd have to remember to call him. Just as she answered, Cindy Chen turned the corner.

Danica ran behind a potted giant cactus and whispered, "Danica speaking."

Grant’s voice boomed in its usual blunt fashion, without so much as a hi or hello. "I've been trying to reach you for the last few hours," he said. "Where have you been?"

"I'm in Reno, doing a profile on Jordan Matthews, remember?"

"How could you be in Reno when there's a major story breaking out here? And why are you whispering?"

"Laryngitis. Anyway. What's going on?"

"Senator James has just been caught with his pants down, literally. He went straight from that arms bill press conference to celebrate with one of his interns."

"Ick," she said. "What a creep."

"I had to assign your beat to Baldwin."

"Lucky him."

"Listen," Grant said, "when you return..."

"Can we talk later? I have a concert to get ready for."

"Get me that article pronto."

With immense satisfaction, she clicked her cell's off button. In just half an hour, she would be in Jordan's concert. She looked around, made sure Cindy was nowhere in sight, then stepped out to the lobby.

"Hello, miss."

Danica suppressed a scream, and turned around.

Arthur the bellboy rubbed the back of his neck. "I’m sorry.”

"Oh, no, you just surprised me. I thought you were..."

Her words came to a halt as she caught the image of a Filipino man on TV in a lounge several yards away. She walked closer to the sofa.

Below his photo scrolled, "Breaking news: Philippine Coast Guard station commander kidnapped by smuggler."

Danica felt light-headed.

Arthur said, "What's wrong, miss? Would you like to sit down?"

Nodding, Danica let him lead her to a sofa.

The reporter said the Coast Guard had come upon what looked like an abandoned vessel at sea, when in fact, it turned out to be a trap from a smuggler known as Lazarus. Later, the boat was found drifting, with a bound and gagged crew, except for the captain. Authorities believed he’d been taken to a location on land.

Captain Rodolfo “Bong” Lorenzo's smiling, handsome mug flashed once again across the screen.

Arthur hovered. "Do you know him?" he asked.

"Yes," she whispered. "He's my brother."

CHAPTER FOUR

Danica immediately called her stepdad, Eddie. He and Danica's mom had just barely been notified by the Coast Guard themselves. Danica wanted to know what she could do to help, and Eddie had suggested, "Pray. Just pray for now."

"I feel guilty going to a concert now," Danica told her mom.

"There's nothing you can do," Mom said, "other than wait. Turn off your cell and enjoy yourself. If we hear anything new, we'll leave you a voicemail."

So Danica went to the concert, took her seat among the faithful, who screamed and got hysterical when Jordan went down into the crowd. Then the front row parted and looked at her, because Jordan was standing there, extending a hand so Danica could join him on stage. He sat her on a velvet chair, held her hand and sang his latest love song to her on bended knee. A song that could also be about relationships, about brothers and sisters. By the time the song ended, she was sure her makeup was ruined from the tears that fell, but he only squeezed her hand and told her—off-mike—she was beautiful.

For two hours, she let the concert distract her from her bigger concerns. She may have just imagined it, but Jordan seemed to turn towards her direction whenever he looked up from the piano keys at the audience.

When the lights went up, she turned her cell phone back on, but there were no messages. Still, her stomach clenched with anxiety. Eager to check in with her family, she began to turn towards the exit, when she felt a hand on her arm.

It was Billy, Jordan's assistant. "You are invited to a private dinner tonight." He lowered his voice. "Just you and my boss."

Danica's eyes widened. "I'm very flattered, but I have a flight to catch later tonight."

Billy looked skeptical, too, obviously flummoxed by his employer's whims. "Maybe you can at least talk to him?"

***

The black limo whooshed to a stop at the curb where Danica stood. Under different circumstances, Danica might have been able to fully appreciate her fortune that evening. As it was, everything felt like an out-of-body experience, her mind trying to stay numb from the pain and worry over her brother's disappearance. Her family had nothing new to report, and she had to stop her imagination from taking over.

The chauffeur stepped out and walked nimbly to open the back passenger door. Danica ducked and entered a muted, elegant cabin. Jordan sat on the middle of this long seat, an arm thrown carelessly along the back. He had changed to a silver polo shirt and dark slacks, his complexion a burnished hue in the dimmed lights, looking completely relaxed and beautiful.

“I believe this is yours,” he said. He handed her the pepper spray.

She stared at the cylinder in surprise. She’d completely forgotten about it, between Jordan’s concert and the craziness after that. “Thanks,” she said, tucking it in her purse.

In the whole scheme of things, with her brother held by killer thugs, her pepper spray almost seemed inconsequential. Pathetic.

Jordan cocked his head. "I hope you don't mind. I took the liberty of arranging a flight for you on my private plane."

"Pardon me?" she said.

"It's on stand-by," he said. "Just waiting in the wings, so to speak. Say the word, and when you're ready, I'll personally escort you to Colorado."

"In your private plane."

"Well, technically speaking, it's a friend's private plane, but it's at my disposal during my tour."

Danica leaned back and stared. "You're not playing fair."

He arched an elegant eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"You grant me an interview. You serenade me at your concert. You pick me up in a limo so we can go to dinner. To top it all off, you will personally fly me to Colorado. Am I supposed to be impressed, or something?"

"Or something," he said, chuckling as he opened a cabinet. "Are you?"

"Getting there." She smiled to herself as she smoothed down the skirt of her black dress.

"Something to drink?" he offered, pointing at the selection of liquor.

"Just water would be great,” she said.

He poured himself some wine and handed her a glass of water. "I thought you were running away tonight like Cinderella,” he teased. “Billy said he had to chase after you.”

“Sorry,” she said, sipping from her glass. She looked out the window, watching night streets flash by. “My mind was elsewhere tonight.”

“Oh?”

She cradled her glass, wondering if she should confide in him. Even though she knew a lot about him, he was practically a stranger. Then she thought of his raw honesty about his brother. And now, their shared pain.

Her voice wobbled. "Right before your concert, I found out my stepbrother had been kidnapped."

His hand froze in the act of taking his goblet to his lips. "What?"

"My stepdad is Filipino and his son—my stepbrother—lives in the Philippines. He’s a station commander with the Coast Guard, and smugglers took him captive."

"Wow." He set down his drink. "I am so sorry."

She began to tremble, willing herself not to cry, but failed.

He slid closer. "Hey," he said, putting an arm around her.

She relaxed against him, the tension of the last few hours ebbing momentarily as she listened to his soothing voice. His warmth, musky cologne scent, his maleness made her head swim. He was no longer Jordan Matthews the celebrity. He was a flesh-and-blood, caring and gallant friend.

"I'm going to ruin your shirt,” she whispered.

"Shh," he said, stroking her back. Then he caressed her hair and the side of her face, the movement hypnotic and sensual. "What is your brother's name?"

"Rodolfo Lorenzo. But everyone calls him Bong."

He cocked his head to one side. "How do you get Bong from Rodolfo?"

"It's a Filipino thing with nicknames." She smiled, then sobered again. "I could kick myself. Just the other day, I was talking to my mom about his social media page. She had asked how he was doing, and I just flippantly said, 'Oh, you know, he's out rescuing people, as usual.' It's like karma, and it's come back to haunt me, because now he needs rescuing himself."

Danica was acutely aware of Jordan’s hand on her waist, caressing a wider swath, his thumb brushing against her sensitive ribcage. "Of course your words didn't cause this."

"I know." She sighed. "I guess anyone could have seen this coming. If anyone had a score to settle, it was Lazarus."

"Lazarus?"

"The smuggler who captured him."

"Oh."

"Lazarus and my brother go way back. They were classmates in the Philippine Military Academy. He went by Lancelot Ruiz then."

Jordan winced. "I can see why he'd want to change it to Lazarus.”

“Personally, I like Lancelot. It’s more romantic. But he’s pure evil, so it’s good he didn’t sully that name. He's like a cat with nine lives, that's why they named him Lazarus later, when he went out to the field. They had an uneasy friendship, both intelligent and good in sports, recognizing the one needed the other in certain operations, but very competitive. They had a falling out when Bong got the girl they both wanted."

"Ah, I see. A rivalry.”

“Yes. Though between you and me, Bong wins hands down. He always has.” Her voice turned fierce. “He will this time!”

“I don’t know Bong at all,” Jordan said, “but I believe you.”

Danica blinked. “Sorry.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. I totally understand. On a slightly different topic, I probably should tell the limo driver where we’re going. Are you still up for some dinner?”

She bit her lip. “Frankly, I don’t feel like eating. But I probably should eat more than airline pretzels.”

“I fly in style, I will have you know. We serve chocolate-covered cinnamon bears.”

She smiled. “That’s a step above pretzels, I agree.”

It felt good to smile, but the oppressive feeling soon returned. She gazed out the window, thinking of her brother, imprisoned in a treacherous Palawan jungle.

“Let’s get you to Colorado, shall we?” Jordan said.

Danica turned to look at him. “If you could, that would be great.”

“We can always dine on the plane. How does Chinese takeout sound?”

“I like it, but I might not eat a lot,” she reminded him.

“That’s okay. I love leftovers for breakfast. Cold chow mein, yum.”

She crinkled her nose. “You’re cute.”

He gave her a lopsided smile. “Funny, I’ve been called many things, but never cute.”

“It’s the cinnamon bears.”

His eyes danced. “That’s it.”

“What do they call you?” she asked, curious.

“Gorgeous, sexy, hunky, Bedroom Voice. I can keep going.”

She chuckled.

“What?” He gave her a sidelong glance.

“My mother would agree.”

“Your…mother.” He laughed. “I’m flattered.”

“She’s a big fan of yours.”

“Is she?”

“Uh-huh. In fact, oh!” She slapped her palm onto her forehead. “I forgot to have you sign some CD liner notes for her.”

“I’d be happy to. How about if we take it one step further?” He looked mischievous.

“What?” Her eyes narrowed.

“How about if I drop you off at her doorstep?”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Jewel Allen is an award-winning journalist, author and ghostwriter who grew up in the Philippines and now lives in Utah, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from Utah State University. She loves traveling to interesting places in the world and using them as settings for her romantic stories. When she isn't writing, she takes tons of photos, cooks elaborate Sunday dinners, and listens to sappy 80's love songs.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
Having worked as a journalist for over two decades, I wanted to write a novel with a journalist as the main character who falls in love while trying to rescue her brother in the Philippines. When I visited the beautiful islands in Palawan, Philippines, I knew I wanted to set my story there.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
I love the mix of danger and romance, especially in exotic settings. I like feisty heroines who tangle, then bond, with ruggedly imperfect heroes in challenging situations, where good triumphs over evil.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
While doing research for this novel, I traveled to the Philippines, island-hopping in Palawan and hiking the rice terraces in Banaue; took a refresher course on gun safety; watched Youtube videos on jungle survival; & learned about fresh water sharks and luxury private planes. I love this job.

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