THE PERFECT STRANGER
print edition
SG-5 Series Companion #1
April 2007

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The Perfect Stranger by Alison Kent

THE PERFECT STRANGER
digital reissue edition
SG-5 Series Companion #1
September 2016

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The jungle is the only place wild enough for a hotshot helicopter pilot and a renegade rich girl with one hell of an agenda...

Bachelor parties are fun, until someone slips you a Mickey and you wake to discover you’re the groom. Then there’s the wife you've never met who’s expecting, and if you don't go along to her village to meet the in-laws, the nice military police commander will be muy unhappy.

J. Jackson Briggs’s Smithson Group gig wasn't supposed to be dangerous, but the woman who drugs him, then knocks him out, then drugs him again certainly is. She also may or may not be a nun. She's definitely a lying, scheming, lethally gorgeous... American. Jack's not buying the story Jillian Endicott gives him about her noble cause in the sweltering wilds of San Torisco, but he knows one thing: he'll get the truth—and plenty more—from her, one way or another...

Being an Endicott of the Boston Endicotts taught Jillian plenty about the haves vs. the have-nots—and made it easy to choose sides. But there's nothing easy about her mission in San Torisco, and things only get harder when Jack Briggs is thrown into the mix. Six-foot-three of big Texas mouth and big... other things... Jack's pegged her as a bored little rich girl.

He can think what he wants, as long as he does what she wants. Jack pushes her buttons from the get-go—and the closer he gets to pushing her over the edge, the more she wants him to...

Now under the velvet cover of jungle nights, two rebels with a cause are going deep—and falling hard—for the perfect stranger.

Read an Excerpt

BOOKLIST

The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

Tequila and Mickey Finn.

A hell of a bachelor party guest list.

A jackhammer morning-after headache.

José Cuervo might be a sumbitch, but the bottle didn’t deserve the blame for the hangover that had Jackson Briggs pressing the heels of his palms to his eye sockets.

His spinning head was all about waking on a cold, concrete prison floor, an AK-47 five inches from his nose jumpstarting his day with a jolt.

The stumbling trip he’d taken at gunpoint—from his cell, down a dark corridor, into a military command center—had added the tang of terror to his nausea.

And now here he was, stuck holding his tongue because he wasn’t so backwater that he didn’t know not to piss off his host country.

He didn’t care that the charity-based Smithson Engineering crew had just signed on for another back-breaking, year-long stint in the jungles of San Torisco.

He didn’t care that the contentious nature of the military dictatorship characterized a nation on the brink of disaster.

He didn’t care that he was the only chopper pilot on site. He was ready to go home. To the States. And as soon as he was outta here, he was outta here. It couldn’t happen soon enough.

Irritation spilled down his back along with his body’s physical response to San Torisco’s tropical climate. Ninety-eight percent humidity and a new sheen of sweat drenched his khaki shirt.

He didn’t want to know what had dried in his hair, matting it in a crust to his skull. He didn’t want to know what constituted the brown stains on his green fatigues. He especially didn’t want to consider when or how his boot laces had been chewed through. All he wanted was out.

The coat of puke green paint slapped across the floor in El Comandante’s headquarters did little for his mood. Rocked back on two legs of a rickety chair, he eyed the machine gun five feet away on the battered metal desk. The additional distance gave the weapon a new perspective, one no less menacing.

From here, however, he could see the eyes of the uniformed man behind it. They were as cold as the floor he had slept on, as black as the darkness summoning him down.

He refused to look at the woman sitting in the chair three feet from his side.

Twisting the tight gold band around his left ring finger, Jack released a sigh at odds with the chemical churning in his gut. The burn up his throat told him there’d been more in his glass than the shot of tequila he’d sloshed there sometime before midnight. His buddy’s bachelor party had been in full swing at the time, and Jack had been lucid, sober, and still the best man.

Six hours later he’d come awake to find himself a prisoner.

And the groom.

He wondered who’d slipped him the Mickey, who’d added the wife.

Most of all he wondered why.

“Once more, Señor Briggs. And this time be warned. My patience grows thin.” Comandante Mosquera pushed the parchment document across the scratched and dented desk then sat back and swiveled his tattered vinyl chair side to side. “Is this, or is this not, your signature?”

Jack brought his own chair down hard and snatched up the paper. Elbows on his knees, he forced himself not to sway to the maddening squeak-squeal, squeak-squeal of the Latino’s chair for fear he’d tumble to the floor.

Instead, he focused one bleary eye on the Partida de Matrimonio. Certificate of Marriage. The real McCoy. One-hundred percent. Eighteen karat. Sure as shit—

“Señor Briggs!”

“Yeah, it’s mine,” Jack bit off. With a flick of his wrist, he spun the parchment back onto the desk. No one did that backward left-handed scrawl like J. Jackson Briggs. He’d recognize it in a heartbeat.

“Bueño. Muy Bueño.” Comandante Mosquera dried his forehead in the crook of an elbow, the sweat stain one more service medal decorating his olive-drab uniform. Adjusting his beret over his slick black hair, he tapped his desk with a length of bamboo cane.

A sharpened length of cane, Jack ruefully noticed.

“You . . . you . . . Americanos.” El Comandante spit out the word with great disgust, gesturing in the air with the crude weapon. “You come to our country. You treat our homeland like your own. Selfishly, you take what you want. Never do you give thought to the burdens you leave behind when you go.”

“Look.” Jack raised his palms in a gesture of false concession. “You’ve got the wrong guy. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to do a job at the request of the Sabastiano government. Your government. Carlos Sabastiano himself is picking up the tab. The way I figure, you owe me?”

Whack!

Bamboo cane hit metal desk and snapped. Three inches of pointed stick landed at Jack’s feet. He glanced up. The lethal looking blade now protruding from the hollow rod wasn’t crude at all, and only slightly more intimidating than the malevolence in the Latino commander’s eyes.

Comandante Mosquera spiked the blade into the desk’s wooden top. The cane quivered with the backlash. Jack swallowed hard.

“Why you are here does not concern me, Señor Briggs. What you do while you are here you will answer for.”

“Look. Sir,” Jack forced himself to add, when the commander’s nostrils flared. “All I’m doing here is working on the road the Smithson crew is cutting from Ciudad Torisco into the mountains.”

The Latino’s eyes narrowed dangerously. He eased to his feet, skirted the desk, stopped directly in front of Jack’s chair. With his feet planted shoulder width apart, the commander made an intimidating tower.

“You deny that you American men find our San Toriscan women to your liking?” Mosquera asked, smoothing down his thick mustache with forefinger and thumb.

At the change in conversational direction, Jack hooked his thumbs in the belt loops of his fatigues and leaned back. “The scenery’s been great, yeah. Why do you ask?”

A keening sob rose into the air, a sound so awful Jack wondered whose grave he’d stepped on. Before he could so much as turn toward the screeching woman—his screeching wife—the AK-47 gouged the bridge of his nose.

He gagged back the bile shooting up his throat, closed his streaming eyes, and tried to pray. Now I lay me down to sleep . . .

“Your wife seems to find your little . . . what do we say . . . disregard for the situation most inappropriate.”

Jack licked his dry lips and managed to croak out, “What situation are we talking about here?”

El Comandante answered with a growl and a sharp twist of the gun barrel.

Searing heat shot to the top of Jack’s head. He bit his tongue; the metallic tang of fresh blood seeped into his mouth. His face beat like a tom-tom, burning hotter with each pulse of blood. And then, just like that, the pressure vanished.

Jack pitched forward. He caught himself before hitting the floor, then blinked, blinked again and sneezed.

He wiped his nose with the back of his hand, then dried it on his pants, leaving behind equal parts mucous and blood as he focused a furious gaze on the man across the room.

Comandante Mosquera sat on the edge of his desk. The gun dangled from his fingers like an extension of his arm. “In our country, Señor Briggs, when a man takes pleasure with a woman he is no longer a free man.”

He picked up the marriage certificate and studied Jack’s scrawl. “Our women are taught their obligations from the day they are born. They are instructed by their own mothers to care for their future mate. To provide him children. To provide him a home. To provide him loyalty and service. In doing so, they honor our ancestors.

“They know nothing of the choices your American women have.” El Comandante ended his lecture with a snort.

Jack gingerly tested the split skin on the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, well, it’s not called the land of the free for nothing.”

He heard a tiny snuffle at his side, then a chuckle, no, a cough. Knowing he could avoid the bad news no longer, he peered between two fingers to get a good look at his wife.

From the look of things, he’d bagged himself a winner.

Worn brown fabric, drab and inclusive, enveloped the woman, from the top of her head, down her shapeless form, to the pink toenails at the end of ragged rope sandals. A tendril of dark hair peeked from beneath the head covering, giving him a clue that she was—

Wait a minute. Wait just the hell a minute. Pink toenails? Pink toenails? Uh-uh. No way was he sitting still for this scam. Jack pushed to his feet. “Whatever’s going on here isn’t going any further until I talk to someone from the American Embassy.”

“Señor Briggs. I am not taking orders here.” El Comandante raised his gun-toting arm. “You, on the other hand, will do exactly as I say. Unless you wish to face the consequences.”

He released the safety, flexed his trigger finger, and sighted Jack’s throat. The barrel loomed closer. Tasting gunpowder and metal and his own mortality, Jack considered his options only for the length of time it took the other man to pick up the caned blade with his free hand.

“What is it I’m supposed to do?” Jack asked.

“First, you will sit down.”

Jack was slow to respond, slow enough in fact that he caught a brief flare of indecision in the other man’s eyes before the cold blackness returned. Good. He’d made his point. The chair he sat in might be unstable, but he wasn’t.

Comandante Mosquera arched one thick brow then gave a brief nod of approval. “Muy bueño. Now, Señor Briggs. Your wife is in need of your escort. She must journey to her family home in a mountain village.”

Jack straightened. The chair swayed. “I’m the only chopper pilot Smithson’s crew has. We’re laying fifteen hundred feet—”

El Comandante brandished the cane point and cut off Jack’s sentence. “Once you are there, your wife and her family will make the final decision on whether or not you will be a worthy husband. Because of this questionable course of events, if she wishes an annulment she will be granted one.”

Jack perked up. A quick trip up the road might not be a bad idea. Especially if he came back a free man. He pretended to ponder El Comandante’s proposition when, in truth, he wondered why the San Toriscan military was meddling in personal matters.

How much backup did this guy have? Or was he an elite member of the Sabastiano private Policía, answering to no one but the big man himself?

Jack swore succinctly, but silently. Everything about this deal stank of hidden agendas. “I don’t have any say in the matter?”

“You have a say in nothing.”

His palms pressed to his thighs, Jack stood, wincing at the dizzying rush of blood that swept through his skull to the center of his face. “Then, let’s go.”

One corner of Mosquera’s mustache lifted. “Señor Briggs. What is your hurry?”

“I’m under deadline. Hank Smithson doesn’t have time to waste looking for me.”

“Do not worry. We will inform your . . . how is it you say . . . your foreman at the Smithson compound where you will be for the next month.”

Jack needed a shovel to pick up his jaw. “The next month?”

“Of course, Señor Briggs.” A sneer greased the Latino’s lips. “You cannot return until the baby is born.”

The baby? The baby? Jack’s heartbeat signaled a situational slip from bad to worse. He whooshed in a serious breath and slanted a glance to the side . . . and his wife.

“What baby?”

She stood then, his burlap sack, and turned his way. Jack never saw her face. He never got past her figure. Past her belly that had to be at least eight months gone.

He remembered well the changes that developed between seven and nine months. He’d measured Mandy’s waistline every week until Justin had been born. But that was forever ago. In a limbo sort of time and space he’d tried to forget.

All he knew right now was that playing handball didn’t make a baby, and that was as close to getting any as he’d come the last year.

Stunned, Jack sat. His butt cracked hard against the wooden chair. The legs cracked out from beneath him. His head cracked against a piece of standing concrete block, and the last image that lingered as he fell to the ground was Comandante Mosquera’s smug crack of a smile.