For my new daughter, Sabrina.

I love you very much and thank God for your being in my life!

And with thanks to the Oregon State Police for answering hours worth of questions and being so incredibly helpful with the details on this book. Any errors found within these pages are mine and mine alone.


Josie’s chest felt like someone had tied a rope around it and was pulling at the ends.

She didn’t want to disappoint Daddy. Not again. She tried to breathe shallow, to be quiet so he couldn’t find her, but he always did and he always told her what she did wrong so he could. She tried so hard to hear him moving among the trees, but she never could. He would just appear, and he would be frowning.

“You broke a twig on the other side of the tree.”

She jumped, even though she’d been expecting the sound of her dad’s voice. Spinning around to face him, she fell into the fighter’s stance he’d taught her on her eighth birthday.

His pale green eyes, just like hers, narrowed, and without any warning one of his feet shot out toward her. Leaping as high as she could, she avoided the kick. Bringing her fist down on his extended leg, she swung her own foot in a high arc to connect squarely with his side.

Air rushed out from his lips, telling her she’d made good on the kick to his kidney, the one he told her even a little girl could use to hurt an attacker.

His hand came up to where she’d kicked him as he stepped back from her before she could make another pass at him with her hand or foot. “Good job. You’re fast Josie-girl.”

Standing tall, his thin lips smiling, his eyes warmed, and the tight feeling in her chest disappeared.

“Thank you, Daddy.” She loved it when her dad smiled at her. “But how did you know I’d broken the twig? It could have been a deer, or something.”

He picked her up and squeezed her. “I just knew. You’ll learn to rely on your instincts, too, one day.”

She hugged him back, feeling happy and warm, but she didn’t think she would ever be as good a soldier as her dad. She tried, though. It made him happy, and since Mama died, there wasn’t much that did. She tried very hard not to think of Mama or how it felt to be tucked into bed with a gentle kiss and a bedtime story.

Mama had been soft, but Josie had to be hard. Daddy said so. He said she was ten years old now and too old for bedtime stories, but he let her read at night. Once a week he took her to the library in town at the bottom of the mountain and let her check out as many books as she wanted.

She liked the old fairy tales—the ones without pictures—but they were all wrong because the princesses never knew how to fight. Girls had to know how to fight. Daddy said so. Josie figured she could beat some of those evil knights and dragons easy, but she liked reading the stories anyway.

“It’s time for dinner, Josie. We’ll go back now.” Daddy set her down and ruffled her hair. “All right?”

She nodded and smoothed her hair with her fingers. It was short because he said all soldiers wore their hair short. She thought sometimes she’d like long golden hair like a princess, but her hair was dark, and she wasn’t a princess anyway. She was a soldier. Not as good as Daddy, but better than some of the men that came through his mercenary school.

She put her hand in her dad’s and walked beside him, trying to match her stride to his. “None of your men found me.” She was proud of that fact.

Daddy smiled again, squeezing her fingers. “No, they didn’t.” Then he got serious and mean looking. “They’ll hear about that tonight.”

She shivered, glad she was just his daughter and not one of the soldiers who paid him to teach them how to fight. Daddy might get mad at her for being sloppy, but he never yelled at her, or made her crawl face down in the mud, or march in the icy stream that ran behind the compound, like he did the men he trained.

She was going to be the best soldier that ever lived when she grew up, but she was going to learn how to do it before Daddy figured she was old enough to be disciplined like the other soldiers. By the time she was grown up, she was never going to make mistakes, and even Daddy wasn’t going to be able to find her when she hid in the forest.

Chapter 1

“So, why isn’t Josie taking on the partnership?”

Daniel Black Eagle didn’t like incongruities, and Tyler McCall’s desire to take on a partner for his mercenary school in the Oregon Coastal Range didn’t add up. Not when his daughter was more than qualified to run the school on her own.

Tyler ran his hand over his salt-and-pepper crew cut, a frown wrinkling his brow. “She’s not interested. Thought one day I’d leave the school to her, but she says she’s spent enough of her life living like a soldier.”

“You’re not ready to give it up.” And probably never would be.

Men like Tyler knew one thing, warfare. Whether training soldiers or fighting, they lived for combat and usually died the same way.

“Not yet. There are still some good years left in this old body.”

Daniel didn’t doubt it. The Vietnam vet was in better shape than a lot of Daniel’s contemporaries, and there was no arguing with the fact that he was still a damn fine trainer. “You’ve run the school for a long time without a partner.”

“Times change. Josie’s ready to move on, and I’m ready to let someone else do some of the grunt work.”

Daniel didn’t smile, but he felt like it. Kids would be out of school for a snow day in Hawaii before the man sitting across from him stopped training soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. “My specialty is explosives, not grunt work.”

“That’s why they call you Nitro.”

It wasn’t. Daniel had gotten the tag long before he learned how to build and diffuse a bomb, but he wasn’t about to explain what had prompted his Army Ranger nickname. It came from a time in his life he never talked about and wished he could forget.

“So, what does Josie want to do?” He couldn’t see her as anything but a highly skilled, highly paid warrior.

“She’s got some idea about becoming a computer expert, or something, working nine-to-five in an office like normal people.” The way the older man said normal people made it clear he didn’t think much of his daughter’s idea. “She took computer classes on-line for over a year. I didn’t even know about them. Now she’s moved to Portland so she can go to PSU and finish getting her degree.”

The man sounded baffled by such a plan.

“You don’t want her to move on?” Most fathers would be relieved, not upset, if they found out their daughters didn’t want to be professional soldiers.

But Tyler McCall was not typical in any sense.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never been all that excited about her going into the field.” For once the other man’s expression was easy to read. He looked haunted. “That’s not why I trained her like I did. I thought she’d teach soldiers how to fight, not go out and do the fighting herself. But this computer stuff is no better.”

“How so?”

“Josie wasn’t raised to fit into a normal environment, and maybe that’s my fault.” Tyler’s jaw hardened. “Hell, I know it is, but facts are facts, and my baby girl is going to fit in an office environment about as well as a forty-four

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