Book 1 in the WAR Series
He's been trained for war. No one prepared him for love.
Black ops agent Max Lansing believes a powerful official within the United States military is protecting international arms dealer Heinrich Dietrich. Determined to make Dietrich pay for the attack that injured his younger brother, Max vows to hunt Dietrich down, even if it means going rogue.
Adrift after an attack destroyed her career and her self-confidence, former principal ballerina Emily Iwasaki has come to West Africa as part of a dance tour to raise money for war orphans. The tour is her best chance at regaining a sense of purpose.
With only twelve days to stop Dietrich from recovering a missing weapon of mass destruction and selling it to a vicious group of West African rebels, Max doesn’t have time to play babysitter. Yet when rebels attack Emily’s tour group, he steps in and saves her. As the days tick down to the arms deal, and all of Max’s attempts to get Emily to safety fail, they end up racing through the jungle steps ahead of the rebels.
Keeping Emily safe messes with Max’s timeline…and his revenge. But when it comes down to saving the day or saving his girl, there’s really only one choice.
- MEET THE CHARACTERS INTERVIEW
The United African Republic
Peering beneath his blindfold, Max Lansing saw Ansgar Ziegler’s hand moving toward him holding a long, thin needle. Max braced himself against the wooden chair and tried once again to break his rawhide bonds. But he was trussed too tightly.
Sweat trickled down his spine as the needle touched the skin at the base of his neck. Max clenched his teeth and vowed not to scream this time, no matter how much pain the acupuncture needle inflicted as it triggered his nerves. He—
The door slammed open. Ziegler dropped his hand and spun toward the sound.
“Herr Ziegler, the scout reports that the boss’s helicopter is fast approaching,” one of the guards said in African accented English.
Ziegler cursed in German. “Rest up, Max,” he muttered. “We shall finish this later.”
“Can’t…wait,” Max said.
“Remove him,” Ziegler ordered as he braced his case of needles with his deformed, scarred left hand and zipped it closed with his undamaged right hand.
Max felt a spurt of satisfaction knowing Ziegler had received those burns in a fight against him and his team. Of course, if Ziegler hadn’t been injured, he wouldn’t be torturing Max out of revenge. Instead, Max would have been turned over to Ziegler’s boss, Dietrich, who had his own axe to grind with Max.
One of the guards untied Max from the chair, then two sets of hands captured his arms and dragged him into the hallway. A moment later they threw him into the tiny room that served as his cell. Pain rocketed through him as he hit the packed dirt floor and he almost blacked out. In addition to using needles, Ziegler had viciously kicked Max’s torso and legs with the steel-reinforced toes on his loafers, damaging one of Max’s ribs and leaving his whole body aching.
By the time Max’s senses stopped swimming, the guards had tied his feet to a stake in the ground and left.
Max spat a hunk of his long blond hair out of his mouth and took a shallow breath, trying not to jar his ribs. Then he waited for the sound of footsteps in the hallway to disappear. This was the first moment in two…three… Hell, he’d lost track. The first time since he’d been captured that he didn’t feel groggy from drugs.
He had to escape. Now.
He rubbed his cheek on the small piece of wood sticking up out of the dirt floor until his blindfold slid down his face. Not that he could see much more without the filthy rag covering his eyes. A trickle of light slipped through a crack up by the ceiling to reveal a room approximately six feet by six feet. The walls were standard for this part of West Africa, plastered concrete with a corrugated metal roof.
The most important detail? He was alone.
He exhaled in relief.
His hands were bound behind him, but not staked. He raised them to his waist and fumbled with his belt until he was able to slip the buckle around to the back. Then he pressed the mechanism to release the spring-activated knife. Sloppy of Ziegler’s men not to do a thorough body search. Just because Max had quit Unit 3 and gone off on his own didn’t mean that he hadn’t brought some of the team’s toys with him to Africa.
The blade sprung free. He rubbed his bindings across the blade’s edge, keeping an ear out for approaching footsteps.
But all he heard was the approach of a helicopter.
Good. It would keep Ziegler and company distracted.
The rawhide gave slightly and Max increased the pressure until the bindings snapped. He made quick work of the bonds at his ankles, then gingerly moved his body—yeah, definitely at least one cracked or severely bruised rib—biting back groans of pain. Once he made it to his feet, he stepped around the congealed pool of vomit that marked the spot where he’d been sick the first night they brought him here and walked a few times along the exterior of the room to get circulation back in his arms and legs. Then he removed his belt and knelt down. Using the buckle as a trowel, he traced the outline of the trap door underneath the dirt.
If Ziegler had checked with the locals before choosing this building as a holding cell, he would have learned that this was a smuggler’s storeroom. Max had figured it out the first time they threw him into the room. He’d hit the dirt and the corner of the trap door had poked into his cheek. Lucky for him, the trap door was on the far side of the room. The guards had tossed Max in, then advanced only far enough to tie his feet to the stake. They’d never stepped far enough in to feel the trap door beneath their feet.
Max’s hands hurt from being stomped on and slashed at, but nothing was broken, so he kept scraping the dirt away with the belt buckle. It took him several more agonizing minutes to completely uncover the door.
“Herr Ziegler, you were not supposed to damage the prisoner. He is mine to hurt. To kill. Mine alone. Do you understand?”
Max froze at the angry voice speaking German with a faint Austrian accent. So familiar. So hated that his pain vanished under a wash of sheer fury.
Dietrich was alive.
Every instinct in Max urged him to race to the door. Break out and confront the man who’d been responsible for the attack that took his brother’s lower legs and killed dozens.
His heart pounded. His hands shook with the need to bring Dietrich to justice.
Here is a short playlist of songs that are connected to WAR: Disruption:
- "Fall Down or Fly" by Lindi Ortega makes me think of Emily and her struggle to find out what she wants to do next with her life.
- Tchaikovsky ballet music, also for Emily.
- "My Life" by Billy Joel. Max has been kind of living in this stubbornly individualistic mindset for a while.
- "Desperado" by The Eagles. Because Max needs to learn to let people into his life again.
The below interview with Max was conducted for the Meet the Characters feature on Jennifer Lowery's blog. It...uh...got a little out of hand. 😉
What are your favorite scenes in your book: the action, the dialog or the romance?
MAX LANSING: (Scowls) The romance. Because as much as I like action scenes, I wasn’t at peak fitness and—
KRISTOFF WREN: (Butts in) What my best friend means is that he was tortured and almost died.
MAX: Who asked you here? Get lost. It all worked out, didn’t it?
KRIS: If you hadn’t been determined to play Lone Ranger then you would have had backup and—
MAX: Oh, stuff it, already. I freaking apologized. And I was trying to keep you and the others safe.
KRIS: Blah, blah, blah. Heard this all before. Not—
EMILY IWASAKI: Boys! Can you please let it go already? Kris, Max is sorry he cut you and the rest of the team out of his life. Max, Kris is your best friend. He loves you like a brother—
WIL LANSING: Who Max also shut out of his life, by the way.
MAX: What the—?! Was everyone in the damn book invited to this interview?
KRIS: Nah. We pretty much just decided to crash it.
WIL: To make certain you didn’t gloss over the important parts.
KRIS: What he said. Rene was going to come, but he had to rush off to treat a patient.
KRIS: C’mon, admit it. You know you missed being part of the team.
MAX: (Grumbles) Maybe. (Puts his hand over his mouth to hide his reluctant smile.) Next question!
What do you do for a living?
EMILY: I was a principal ballet dancer. Now... Well, we’re still working through the details.
MAX: I’m a—
WIL and KRIS speak in unison: Rogue black-ops agent!
MAX: (Scowls at them.) Not any more. But if the two of you don’t lay off me, then I’ve got no problem going back out on my own.
KRIS: Max, what happened to your sense of humor?
WIL: (Mutters.) Max always takes things too seriously.
MAX: Ha! Neither of you workaholics should talk. I bet—
EMILY: (Lets out a shrill whistle) Wil. Kris. Time for you to say good-bye. Max needs to finish this interview. Alone.
KRIS: Aw, Emily. You’re no fun.
EMILY: Kristoff, behave!
KRIS: (Laughing) All right. Message received. Over and out.
WIL: Later, bro.
EMILY: Sorry folks. Max, carry on.
MAX: Ah. Next question?
What word makes you the happiest?
MAX: (Curses.) What kind of question is that?
EMILY: Max, we’re trying to show people more about you. Just answer the question, please.
MAX: (Thinks a moment) Emily.
MAX: The word that makes me happiest is Emily. Now you answer.
EMILY: (Blushes. Then leans in and whispers in Max’s ear.)
MAX: (Clears his throat.) Is this interview over yet?
EMILY: Not quite. There’s one more question.
What’s your favorite animal?
MAX: You’ve got to be kidding me.
MAX: (Huffs out a breath.) Fine. Whatever. Elephant.
EMILY: Really? Why?
MAX: (Stares at her in exasperation.) No. Of course not really. I just said the first thing that came into my head because... (He finishes the rest of the sentence for Emily’s ears only.)
EMILY: Oh! (Ducks her head.) Okay, folks. Interview’s over.