Release date: June, 2019
Genre: Contemporary paranormal
My Story in this Anthology is LIFELINE
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Blurb: When Army Ranger Lieutenant Mike Caldwell goes missing on a secret assignment in a country far away, his desperate comrades call in the one person who has a real shot at finding him. Sheila Scranton was once engaged to Mike, but he couldn’t deal with her ‘gift,’ her ability to read minds. Now that ability represents the only real chance to find and rescue him. Sheila reluctantly agrees to use her talent to locate him. She succeeds, only to have him reject the contact. He doesn’t want her to share the grim experience as his captors attempt to extract information from him. To keep him going under horrible conditions, she works on diverting his attention, first by reviewing their history together, then with an assortment of sexual fantasies she thinks he’ll enjoy. When she promises to try those out on him, it helps him decide he needs to survive long enough for rescue. He’s had second thoughts about their earlier breakup and wants to give their relationship another chance. Sheila’s not sure she’s ready to trust that, but she’s leaning toward giving it a try. Those rescuers better hurry, though. His mind might be willing but his body can’t take much more.
“The general’s waiting for you, Miss Scranton,” the secretary said. “Go on through.”
Sheila drew a deep breath, struggling to calm her pulse as she nodded to the secretary.
“Thank you.” The words barely made it past the constriction in her throat. It’s probably just another assignment, she told herself.
Yeah, right. Since when did “just another assignment” start with a request to come to the office of General McKinley himself? You didn’t get called into a general’s office to be fired, did you?
She wasn’t aware of any complaints about her work, so what could it be? Surely not another assignment like Madrid. They wouldn’t do that to her. Would they? Only one way to find out. She pushed the heavy door open and went in.
The general stood up behind his desk. “Thank you for coming so promptly, Miss Scranton. Please have a seat.” He nodded to the chair opposite his. The small grin around his mouth and eyes held no smugness. Rather, it shared with her recognition of the irony of his words. When you were a government employee, a request from a general was simply a more polite sort of order.
“Yes, sir,” she said, and sank into the nearest chair.
“Miss Scranton, I―” He stopped and looked down at his desk. The grin had faded completely, leaving his expression tense and unhappy. He swiped a hand over the few strands of gray hair clinging to his skull and drew a deep breath. “I don’t know how to say this any way other than flat out. Your country needs to ask a very big favor of you.”
“Sir?” Her stomach clenched. Not again. Please, not again.
“Before I start, I have to ask a couple of very personal questions that you’re probably not going to want to answer. I need those answers, however. They’re very relevant.”
Sheila twined her fingers together in her lap. “As you will, sir.”
“At one time, you had a very close, personal relationship with Major Michael Caldwell. You were lovers, were you not?”
She flinched. She didn’t want to think about Mike. It was over, but that piece of her heart still burned. “Yes, sir.”
“Why did you break up?”
That spot was even sorer. She hesitated.
“This isn’t idle curiosity,” the general said.
“A lot of reasons, but it mostly came down to my talent. He wasn’t comfortable with it.”
“He was afraid of you invading his mind?”
“Not everyone believes I won’t do it just because I can. He was right, too, even if he didn’t know it.” She heard the bitterness in the words and clamped down on it. “And in his case… I think he was afraid I couldn’t handle what I’d learn. That might’ve been true, too. There were corners of his soul he found very uncomfortable.”
The general was silent a moment before he inclined his head. “I dare say that’s true of anyone who’s been in the field as long as he has. But it comes down to motive, doesn’t it?” He shook his head. “How do you feel about him now?”
“Sir? What is this about?”
“Just that one question, please.”
Sheila drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t hate him, if that’s what you’re worried about.” She stared at her hands, where her fingers had clenched around each other. “Love doesn’t die, but it fades when there’s nothing to feed it. I love him, but it’s dimmed.”
“Is there still some kind of link between you? If you tried to read his mind now, could you? I know you usually need a physical link, but since you were once lovers, I thought it might still be possible.”
“It’s been two years since I last saw him. I don’t know where he is.”
The general sighed. “We don’t either. That’s the problem.”
“Oh.” She didn’t want to dwell too long on the possibilities, given what Mike did. “You want me to try to contact him?”
“If you can. And let us know where he is, how we can reach him.”
“Where was he operating?” she asked.
The general’s face closed up and his eyes went hard.
“Sir,” Sheila said, “I understand he was probably in covert and it’s need-to-know only. But if I’m going to have a chance to contact him, I do need some idea of where he is. It would also help to have something of his, something he’s recently worn or touched. Worn would be better.”
The silence went on a few moments longer before the general sighed and said, “He was in Zebrekestan. He was supposed to rendezvous with some local forces there. We lost contact with him two days ago.”
“He may be…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it.
“Maybe, but we don’t think so. No body, and they generally try to leave them for us. More likely captured by the enemy.” He paused and stared at her for a moment. “If we could make contact with him through you, we might be able to locate him and get there in time to save him.”
“As well as get valuable information about the enemy. Even if you don’t save him.”
“We’ll do everything in our power to get him back alive. I promise you.”
“I can’t promise you anything, sir. It’s been more than two years since I last saw him, and he’s on the other side of the world.”
“You’re his best chance. All I ask is that you try.”
Sheila wondered if this was a good idea. What would happen if she did make contact? Mike might refuse it and keep himself closed off from her. What if he were dead? What would that do to her?
“You have doubts about using your talent that way after the Madrid conference?” he asked.
“But Mike’s not a psychopath or a sadistic killer like that vice-premier you linked with there.”
“I know, but…”
“You’re still wary of trying to link to someone again. Understandable. It took you weeks to get over the shock of Madrid. For a while I wasn’t sure you would. And we promised we wouldn’t ask you to do that again. But this is different. Mike was someone close to you.” The general leaned back in his chair. “If you don’t want to try, I’ll understand, but I think you’re our only chance of finding him.”
Sheila’s hands clenched in her lap. There were only a few people she’d be willing do this for. Mike was one of them.
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