FORCED DISAPPEARANCE by Dana Marton Excerpt:
THE NEW GLENN WAS DEFINITELY NOT LIKE THE OLD GLENN, MIRANDA
thought as she woke in his arms at dawn, pressed against his wide
chest, soaking up the heat of his hard body.
He’d been a nerdy engineering student. Okay, they’d both been
pretty socially awkward. She’d had braces. He’d had thick, hornedrimmed
glasses. They met in Engineering Principles 101, bonded
over receiving the two highest grades at midterms.
They’d become study buddies first, then lovers after a few
months and a lot of awkward kisses and groping sessions in dark
corners. It had been the first time for the both of them.
“Good morning.” His rusty voice in her ear interrupted her trip
down memory lane.
As soon as he pulled away from her and rolled onto his back,
she missed his heat. Ridiculous. She didn’t need him. She briskly
shoved herself away from the platform. “Fire?”
He sat up and stretched. “We should dry off.”
The makeshift roof had kept most of the night rain off them,
but their clothes were damp.
She dragged out the dry wood they’d stored under the platform,
then grabbed a couple of cigarettes for tinder and started a
fire while Glenn got up and took off his shirt.
He shook off the leaves that had stuck to it, and a couple of
inch-long ants. She brushed off her own shirt, grateful to see that
the ants had left her alone. She blew on the fledgling fire, then
looked up at him.
He was stretching with his back to her, his arms above his head
as he bent at the waist to the right first, then to the left.
Holy mother. The new and improved Glenn had a body that
could have been in one of those firemen pinup calendars. Impressive
cords of muscles flexed under his skin.
“What do you do?” she blurted.
He turned, cocking an eyebrow. “I manage the family company.”
“No, I meant . . .” His sculpted chest distracted her, the faint
smattering of hair that started below his bellybutton and led into
the pants that were a size too large for him, held up only by what
looked like a bamboo rope belt. The waistband sat below his hips
and revealed enough for her to know he wasn’t wearing underwear.
She snapped her gaze back to his. “You look different. Do you
do sports?” Back in the day they used to make fun of the hotshot
football players. If he told her he’d turned into a jock since, she
might just faint into the fire.
He shrugged. “I swim. The pool is a good place to think. I don’t
have to pay much attention, just stay in my lane and keep going.”
“You didn’t used to be sporty.”
“The better health, the fewer sick days, the less time away from
Of course. All very logical, very much like him. Nothing geeky
about his swimmer’s body, though—flat abs, great pecs, wide
He stepped forward. “Are you okay? We should find some food.”
Her expression was probably off, but not from hunger.
She looked away from him, tossing another handful of
branches on the fire, and the flames grew. He came closer to hold
his shirt up to the heat. She shifted forward so her clothes would
dry too. She definitely wasn’t stripping.
The sky was still dim, but the fire provided enough light to illuminate
more than the impressive outline of his body. She could do
little but stare at the puckered scars that marred his skin, the rows
of burn marks along his collarbones.
She swallowed, anger rising swiftly. “How badly did they hurt
you?” He shook out his shirt one more time, then shrugged into it, sat
across the fire from her. His mouth tightened as he looked toward
his feet. “No permanent damage.”
“What about the burns? I’m sure they still hurt.”
His expression darkened. “Sometimes the commander smoked
cigars. He liked using me for an ashtray.”
Her stomach clenched. He was half a head taller and nearly twice
as wide in the shoulders, yet she felt her protective instincts take over.
She’d been a soldier, her job to keep America and Americans safe. She
doubted that instinct would ever go away. She wanted to . . . What? Hug
She wished she could have come sooner. Her heart twisted at the
thought of what he’d been through in the past few weeks.
She drew a deep breath. Regrets were a waste of time. She was
here now. She was going to do whatever it took to get them back to
the US safely. She popped to her feet with a new burst of energy. “We
should get going.”
“Right.” He brightened at the prospect of leaving the forest
behind. “Let’s do this before the soldiers get all caffeinated.”
She groaned. “Don’t bring up coffee.”
“Remember the wickedly strong espresso in the main hall at MIT?”
She threw a stick at him. “Sadist.” Then she kicked dirt on the
fire while he packed up, laughing at her.
As they moved out, a monkey screeched in the trees above
them, so close it startled her.
Glenn looked up. “Winky?”
“Who?” She followed his gaze.
“My old buddy. We were POWs together. He followed me
when I escaped.” Glenn grinned. “He goes off, then comes back. I
have no idea how he finds me.”
“He probably thinks you’re part of his tribe.” She shook her
head. “He came with you from Guri?”
“He was caged in the courtyard, target practice for the soldiers.
I couldn’t leave him.”
Okay, that was the Glenn she knew, the one with the big heart.
She felt herself softening, so she picked up her pace.
They walked a full hour, Winky following them, jumping from
tree to tree, before they reached the end of the woods. Only a dirt
road separated them from the nearest houses, little more than
hovels, on the edge of the city. Not a difficult distance, but two
guardsmen sat in a military SUV a few hundred feet to their right.
Roberto had the city on lockdown.
Miranda gestured toward the men with her head. Glenn nodded,
and they silently retreated a hundred feet.
“We’ll go around them, then try again in a little while,” she said.
The authorities couldn’t have enough people to circle the entire city,
He followed when she moved on.
They didn’t talk much. Better not to be overheard if there were
soldiers in the woods. And the going required their full attention.
They had to watch where they stepped, what they grabbed.
Since they were moving as quietly as possible, they heard the
people up ahead before the people could have heard them. Miranda
raised her right hand, her fist in line with her ear.
Though he’d never been in the military, Glenn seemed to get
the signal because he immediately stopped.
She turned back and mouthed, “Soldiers.”
Even as he nodded, they heard laughter and a woman’s voice,
too faint to make out what she was saying.
They crept forward slowly, carefully, crouching in the cover of
a thick stand of bushes once they reached the path. Twenty or so
tourists were walking through the woods, escorted by two guardsmen.
The tourists wore backpacks, looking prepared for a full day
“Are you going up in the plane to see Angel Falls tomorrow?” a
tall, aristocratic-looking woman asked in a British accent.
Her partner, a pudgy, red-headed fellow, shook his head. “I
think I’ll stay back at lodgings to download the photos and sort
through them a bit.” He was snapping pictures even as he spoke.
“Do you think the guards are necessary?” the woman asked.
The man shrugged as he moved on. “They’re worried about
the two fugitives the tour guide told us about this morning. Better
safe than sorry.”
The guards trailed behind them, bringing up the rear.
Miranda flashed Glenn a questioning look. If there were
guardsmen with the tourists, then they had to be all over the city.
How many National Guards had Roberto called into Santa Elena?
Her stomach growled. Glenn had to be hungry too. She
looked after the small group as they disappeared from sight on
the winding path. The nearest food was in those backpacks. And
maybe a phone too. If she could call Elaine at the office, they
might yet be saved. The general could enter some kind of diplomatic
negotiations if he had proof that two US citizens were here
She nodded after the tour group and whispered, “Breakfast
Glenn’s lips stretched into a grin.
God, that grin could do things to her. She swallowed. Could.
As in the past. Definitely not now.
They followed the group at a distance. The monkey screeched
now and then, but the sound wasn’t out of place, blending in with
birdcalls. Nobody turned back to investigate.
The tourists fawned over every new plant, snapped photos of
every leaf and bug. Miranda kept close to them, but out of sight.
At some point, the group would have to stop to eat and relieve
themselves, if nothing else. Sooner or later, those backpacks would
come off and be set on the ground. And a clever hand reaching out
from the bushes might come up with something useful then. She
just had to wait.
So they did, for two full hours, before the boisterous group
stopped at last in the middle of a clearing. Backpacks did drop to
the ground, but nowhere near where one could be raided.
The tour guide stood on a stump to gain everyone’s attention.
“We have the third-highest woody bamboo diversity in Latin
America.” He spoke in English with a soft accent, beaming with
pride. “About ten genera and sixty species. Among our states, the
southern states have the greatest diversity of woody bamboo.”
One of the tourists raised a hand as if in school. “Could you
tell us more about the different species?” he asked in a heavy German
“Certainly.” The man on the stump smiled even wider. “Most
of the bamboo are Myriocladus or Chusquea. The rest are from
the genera Rhipidocladum, Atractantha, Guadua, Arthrostylidium,
Neurolepis, Elytrostachys, Merostachys‚ and Aulonemia.” His chest
puffed out. “We have more Guadua diversity than any other country
An excited twitter ran through the group. Miranda flashed
Glenn an unimpressed look. Apparently, they’d run into botanists
“Does bamboo play a major role in the economy?” a young
woman wanted to know, her lilting accent decidedly French.
“Unfortunately, no. Not yet,” the guide answered. “Other than
the bamboo spoons and bowls and other souvenirs you see in the
gift shops, our bamboo resources are underutilized. But the government
is conducting studies on how we could better use bamboo
as a natural resource.”
He paused before he went on. “Of course, the indigenous people
and the peasants build houses from it. It’s also used for drying
racks for tobacco. But bamboo-based organic textiles are becoming
popular. And bamboo flooring is catching on. Unlike hardwood,
bamboo is an easily replenished resource.”
He went on about that for another twenty minutes before the
group moved on. His last words were, “I’ll point out species and
genera as we go.”
Oh, jeez, let’s get the party started, Miranda thought. But the
tourists looked positively titillated, while she and Glenn exchanged
snarky expressions. Back at MIT, there’d been a friendly rivalry
between the engineering and life sciences departments. They’d
enjoyed outdoing each other in the Nerd Olympics.
The tourists soon came into an enormous stand of bamboo.
They followed a man-made path, but off the beaten track, the stalks
grew too close to each other. In places, Miranda and Glenn could
barely squeeze through.
When forward movement became impossible, they waited
until the group progressed far enough ahead, then they fought
their way to the path and followed behind, out of sight.
Another two hours passed by the time the group stopped
again, on the other side of the endless stand of bamboo, where a
zip-line course waited for them in the trees. Miranda and Glenn
went around them, stayed in cover as the tourists dropped their
backpacks, climbed a rope ladder to a large platform twenty feet off
the ground, then to a second platform twenty feet above that, then
a third platform twenty feet higher yet.
While they lined up for their next thrilling experience, the two
guardsmen stayed on the ground.
“I distract the guards, you grab some food and a cell phone,”
Miranda whispered to Glenn.
“I’ll distract the guards.”
Seriously? He needed to exert his male dominance now? She
rolled her eyes and skirted the clearing, moving as close to the
bags as possible. Then she waited until she heard some stomping
and branches cracking across the clearing in the woods.
The guardsmen grabbed their rifles and ran toward the sound.
She waited until they disappeared into the bushes before she
sprinted forward. One second. In the first bag she found a large,
empty Ziploc bag with crumbs, probably the remains of somebody’s
Nobody was going to miss an empty bag. She grabbed it. Two
seconds. She looked for opened bags of food—pretzels, nuts, bitesize
nutrition bars, raisins—and grabbed a handful from each,
dumping her loot into the empty bag. At least half a minute ticked
by, but by the end she had at least two pounds’ worth of trail mix,
and in such a way that nobody would miss anything.
She was elbow deep into a fancy black backpack when a tourist—
the young Frenchwoman—climbed down the rope ladder and
nearly caught her.
Heart pumping, Miranda jumped behind the tree, the trunk at
least three feet wide, enough to hide her.
She peeked toward the bags. Oh, man. The flap on the fancy
black backpack lay open. She hadn’t closed it. She pulled back into
cover since the woman was heading straight toward the pile.
Would she notice?
Would she stay down here?
Miranda held her breath. If the woman stayed and the guardsmen
came back . . . They’d notice her. If not immediately, then
when the rest of the botanists returned to the ground and began
milling around. She could stay on the opposite side of the tree
from one person. It’d be impossible with twenty people spreading
Were the guardsmen authorized to shoot on sight, or had they
been ordered to bring the fugitives back? Either way, she suspected
the end result would be very similar.
The woman sat on the pile of backpacks and drank deeply from
her water bottle, even as Miranda could hear voices in the bushes
where the guardsmen had disappeared. The voices grew louder as
the seconds ticked on. The men were coming back.
She glanced toward the woods. If she ran now, the woman
would see her. She’d probably scream. The guardsmen would be
after Miranda the next second. Poised to flee, she pulled out her
weapon, hoping Glenn was smart enough to run in the opposite
direction and save himself once gunfire erupted.
But the Frenchwoman stashed away her drink at last and hurried
back to the ladder, climbing back up with agility.
The guardsmen were still shouting to each other in the bushes.
So the second the French tourist was on the first platform, Miranda
dashed back to the backpacks. She wanted a cell phone, desperately.
She closed the bag she’d left open earlier, then searched the
outer pockets. Nothing there, but she found a phone in the second
bag she checked. As she tugged it out, her sleeve caught on
the zipper of a pink hygiene kit. Would the owner notice if it
went missing? Possibly not until she got back to the hostel. Most
likely, she would think it had fallen out during her trek through
Miranda grabbed the kit and dashed back into the cover of the
woods, not a moment too soon. The guardsmen were returning, all
muddied up and swearing, talking about a stupid monkey.
She hurried back to Glenn, feeling a hundred percent better
about their chances.
They had food and they had a phone. They were as good as
About the author…
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Dana Marton has thrilled and entertained millions of readers around the globe with her fast-paced stories about strong women and honorable men who fight side by side for justice and survival.
Kirkus Reviews calls her writing “compelling and honest.” RT Book Review Magazine said, “Marton knows what makes a hero…her characters are sure to become reader favorites.” Her writing has been acclaimed by critics, called, “gripping,” “intense and chilling,” “full of action,” “a thrilling adventure,” and wholeheartedly recommended to readers. Dana is the winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, the Readers’ Choice Award, and Best Intrigue, among other awards. Her book, TALL, DARK, AND LETHAL was nominated for the prestigious Rita Award. DEATHSCAPE reached the #1 spot on Amazon’s Romantic Suspense Bestseller list.
Dana has a Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction, and is continuously studying the art and craft of writing, attending several workshops, seminars and conferences each year. Her number one goal is to bring the best books she possibly can to her readers.
Keeping in touch with readers is Dana’s favorite part of being an author. Please connect with her via her web site (www.danamarton.com) or her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/danamarton).
Having lived around the world, Dana currently creates her compelling stories in a small and lovely little town in Pennsylvania. The fictional town of her bestselling Broslin Creek series is based on her real life home where she fights her addictions to reading, garage sales, coffee and chocolate. If you know a good twelve-step program to help her with any of that, she’d be interested in hearing about it!
***Visit Dana’s website to read the first chapters of her books!
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