Are you reading to start reading Delta: Ricochet? It’s become our tradition to get started early!
I think that holds true especially when it’s a romantic suspense novel that closes in on 100K words! Colin and Adelia’s love story is filled with twists and turns you won’t see coming.
From New York Times Bestseller Cristin Harber comes a new standalone romantic suspense novel.
Two friends from worlds apart must face their toughest battles together.
Colin is battling to take command of his military unit.
Adelia is on the run from the motorcycle club that raised her.
They shouldn’t be anywhere near each other—except they fell in love.
Some relationships come with baggage. Theirs comes with a motorcycle gang hit, a secret underground network worth dying to protect, and an obsession to protect one another from their separate worlds.
DELTA: RICOCHET is a standalone romantic suspense and military romance novel.
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Bullets sparked like fireworks against the metal container ship above Colin Cole’s head. Rough waters churned as Delta team waited on the edge of the tactical raft, listening for the signal to drop into the Indian Ocean’s choppy black depths.
Adrenaline pumped. There was no telling how many men waited on the well-guarded cargo ship.
“Delta team, you have a green light to go.”
Even with the wetsuit, the frozen water wrapped around Colin at once, and he kicked forward, breathing into his mouthpiece. Again, the flash of machine gun fire sparked against the cargo ship.
“Get eyes on the target,” an unfamiliar voice from the partnering SEAL team crackled in Colin’s earpiece. “Neutralize all targets.”
Firepower sprayed. Cold water splashed as Colin kept pace as the cargo ship picked up speed as it left port.
“Delta’s in place,” Brock reported while Colin swam toward the breach point with his teammates as bullets rained, pelting too close. They sliced into the water, unseen except for sparks and pings against the carrier’s metal hull. “Eliminate the threat, or my team pulls back.”
The well-aimed shots had been unlucky. Their shooters had the equipment and the know-how to guard the cargo liner against a stealth assault.
Second by second, gunfire slowed and stopped. The salty water crashed in heavier waves from the cargo liner.
“Threat neutralized,” whispered in Colin’s earpiece.
“Delta, you’re a go,” Brock commanded.
Colin unharnessed his MP7 sub-machine gun with the rope and claw-end, double-checked the line was still attached to the carabiner on his utility belt, and angled back.
“Make it easy on me,” he muttered and released the trigger. His rappelling line flew through the chilly night, chasing the cargo liner until its sharp, clawed hooks snagged and jerked his torso. “Not easy.”
Colin pulled himself hand over hand until his feet found purchase along the side. The waves beat him as he fought to scale the cargo liner. His arms burned from fatigue, and he powered up the wet rope, lifting out of the cutting water. A quick glance to the side confirmed his team was on the move too.
One, two, three… Colin continued to count off the team hauling ass up the side of the vessel like they were sprinting up Mt. Everest: Luke, Trace, Javier, Grayson, and Ryder.
“All right.” All there. Colin yanked higher. Hand over hand, he walked up the side of the hull.
“Team two, you’re a go. Breach, breach.”
Delta team knew nothing about the second team, except—possibly—for Brock. This job had come from a confidential informant on short notice, and Titan Group pulled a special team out of nowhere to help. Delta would likely never see them again.
Colin pulled himself over the rails, crouching and searching the perimeter. The cargo liner was longer than three football fields, a significant reason why they needed backup. “On board, all accounted for.”
“Team two breaching.”
Their plans were simple. Delta would take command while the second team, whose commanding officer referred to as assholes once or twice, provided defensive coverage as needed.
But that was only to secure the ship. The real work would start after they took control of the vessel, but neither team had been told what that would be, despite their top-secret operational clearances.
“Team two on board and covering your asses, Delta.”
“Roger that.” Colin raised a fist as a signal to hold and watched for his team to find him.
“You’ve got a green light,” Brock said.
Colin dropped his fist and gave the move-out motion. Delta climbed from the ship’s outer plating. Colin forced himself from the last one up to the first one forward, moving to assess the deck-side threats before his teammates could stare down the barrel of an assault rifle. Clear as far as he could see—nothing but cargo containers stacked end upon end. “Delta, we’re clear.”
They stayed low, switching their water gear for close-quarter weapons. Colin signaled to move for the bridge deck.
The ship was eerily perfect, nothing out of place. Too clean, too quiet.
Trace grumbled. “Where the hell is everyone?”
“Hell if I know.” Luke moved toward a tight corner, providing cover as they slipped by.
Colin took the next corner. “Home base, you hear this? No one is on deck.”
“Roger that,” Brock answered.
“Roger,” team two’s CO said. “My team? What’re you seeing?”
“Same. Like a ghost ship.”
“Quarterdeck ahead,” he apprised Brock.
Space was cramped. Grayson and Javier came forward while Ryder trained his weapon on the door. Luke turned to watch the Aussie’s back.
Colin nodded to his coverage. “Let’s do this.”
Javier knelt, ready to pull the door where captain and crew had to be.
“If Titan Group sent us on a ghost run, we’re having words, Brock.” Grayson angled high.
“Keep your eyes open,” their team leader said. “No one’s leaving this ship unattended.”
“That bodes well,” Javier mumbled.
Adrenaline-fueled blood thumped in Colin’s ears. A blind op with a team he didn’t know, an unfamiliar location with a green light to engage—what the hell was Delta team doing in the Indian Ocean on a cargo liner? Tracking stolen Mercedes or fake Prada purses?
“On my count,” Colin whispered.
Javier and Grayson nodded.
“Three, two, one, and—”
Javier yanked the door, dropping down with his weapon trained as Colin rushed through with no idea what was waiting on the other side of the windowless door.
Three men froze in place, two standing and one in his chair. A cigar smoked in an ashtray. Dinner and drinks sat on a table and bar.
“Hands up! Hands up!” Colin shouted, motioning with his gun. “Hands in the air.”
Grayson went right, Javier the other way, their voices loud and demanding the same thing: compliance or else.
In Colin’s earpiece, the second team’s words flew. Hostile fire. Heavy engagement. But they had Delta covered.
Colin surged forward, reissuing Delta’s orders. Two men had AK-47s within their immediate reach. One man stayed at his dinner with a steak knife and fork in hand.
“Drop the knife,” Colin ordered.
The man stood slowly, not dropping his utensils.
The other men didn’t talk, didn’t look at one another, but their faces were the same. Dead eyes. Parted lips. But their look wasn’t desperate. It wasn’t fear.
Javier shouted in language after language. Grayson layered orders for hands up with aggressive gestures. Taking anyone on the ship alive had been a direct request, but those weapons were too close.
“Update,” Brock questioned Colin quietly, relying on him to be his eyes because their live feed from the weapons cam had a significant delay.
Colin couldn’t explain the unmoving silence, how the three men were the living dead, smothering the tight space.
“We’re not here to hurt you,” Colin explained without lowering his weapon. “Hands in the air. We just want to talk to you.”
The man at dinner drove his knife into his own chest. An agonizing cry gurgled into a drowning cough.
Colin gasped. “What the—”
“Hell!” Grayson shouted.
The two men reached for their weapons, and Delta fired. Blood splattered. Heavy thuds of guns hit the ground before the men toppled, dead.
Colin’s lungs raced. “What just happened?”
“Report,” Brock snapped.
Colin took his finger off the trigger and glanced at his sides. Grayson and Javier stared, as dumbfounded as he was.
“Yeah.” Colin cleared his throat. “Clear.”
“I asked for a report, damn it.”
He ran a hand over his face and let his weapon hang. “Three tangoes down. One suicide. Delta accounted for.”
Both team leaders cursed. Orders had been to take anyone of value alive, if possible.
“Brock,” Colin asked quietly. The two men had been outmaneuvered and outgunned. Why had they reached after the first one killed himself? Made zero sense.
His team leader groused. “Yeah?”
“We’d tear apart this room, but—” Colin circled. “It’s barren. You want us to start searching now?”
“Yeah,” Brock muttered. “Let’s get a move on. Time is of the essence.”
All right. That wasn’t much to go on. Maybe something with a timer or a detonator. “What are we looking for?”
Brock’s long breath carried through the earpieces, as though he, too, were tired of their fight tonight. “Containers.”
“Got about a thousand of those,” Javier added. “Anything more specific when we look inside?”
“You’ll see people.”
“This is the one.” The second team radioed in. “We’ve found the container ID.”
Colin and the Delta team came to a standstill, listening to the report from the opposite side of the carrier.
“Roger that,” their CO responded. “Get Delta your location.”
“Second level, top side, deck grid 404.”
Colin circled his fist in the air, and they changed directions, eyes still wary and on the lookout. Given the Kamikaze situation in the quarterdeck and the amount of fire the second team had taken, he was taking no chances. They moved swiftly but with an overabundance of caution.
“Eyes up—fangs up.” Colin’s trigger finger remained ready as they advanced. “Keep your heads on a swivel.”
They hustled with light steps, but still their boots creaked on the metal ladder rungs. Old, metal catwalks moaned under their collective weight. Each rusty scrape drifted into the salty wind, warning any rogue crew of Delta’s whereabouts. “We’re thirty seconds out.”
And there was no telling what—or how—the inside of that container might be protected. What else could be on this ship? Were people worth that much money?
Delta rounded the corner, and Colin slowed, lowering his assault rifle as they approached. Sparks flew. Flame torches worked in tandem with the bolt cutters as they cut multiple locks on the container.
“Delta’s here.” But Colin shook his head, not wanting to report the obvious. The intel was dead wrong. Or the contents were simply dead because not a sound, not a cry for help, a plea, wail, or sob came from inside.
Delta had rescued enough human trafficking victims to expect panicked and cautiously hopeful bangs and kicks against the old metal walls. By now, the heartbreaking pleas of victims would wail, begging their saviors to stay.
The final lock fell, and the metal-on-metal clang bled so lonely into the gusty night that no one moved. They killed the flames, and the bolt cutters dropped. The metal clunk clamored in his ears, and he dropped his chin to his collarbone, slicing away a fraction of the airflow to his lungs. He didn’t want to watch, dreading what he should be hardened to. Colin steeled his mind to bear witness to another human tragedy.
“Hell, sir,” team two muttered. “Not sure if we’re here in time.”
“Open the door,” Brock ordered.
A man cleared his throat. “Roger that.”
His team stepped forward, the lack of energy and hope palpable. Delta closed in behind them as everyone prepared for a handful of dead bodies taken against their will and placed in the most absurd circumstances Colin had heard of: an ocean liner. It was un-survivable—inhumane and torture at best. Breathing and eating? The elements? Freezing or the heat? It would be unpredictable. They’d be cooked alive or frozen solid—no telling—depending on the surrounding freight containers and the shipping route.
“Here we go.” One man pulled off the final lock while another pried open the door assembly.
The rear door swung open—nothing but crates marked “imports.”
“Nothing here,” someone muttered.
A moment of relief pushed fresh oxygen into his blood. A high hit so quickly it felt like injecting a drug. But the diversion was a ruse. They’d seen obstacles’ deceptive appearances too many times before, though for now, they didn’t have the machinery to move pallets of warehouse goods and still hadn’t heard any signs of life.
But if there’s a chance… Colin eased next to the operative directing the second team, and they exchanged knowing looks. Both were of the same mindset. Colin clapped his hands. “Let’s go.”
Both teams appraised the rear-end and top-side frames and the sidewall and top panels, while others inspected the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, plastic-wrapped barrier, breaking into smaller teams to move pallets by hand or tear apart the metal container.
They grunted and unslung weapons, getting better grips on the cargo, tried again, and stripped off more gear. The two teams lifted a plastic-wrapped pallet of god-knew-what and pitched it over. The plastic-wrapped pallet cracked and splintered as building materials poured free, but with the gaping hole they’d created into the shipping container, a putrid stink rolled out in a cloud of filth.
Colin gagged. Both teams recoiled, cursing and gasping, and their boots shuffled away. “Holy shit.”
Death stained the air they’d breathed, and he didn’t blame those who choked on its foulness.
“Report,” Brock ordered.
Colin didn’t want to take the breath needed to give a report. His eyes watered as more than one man donned a facemask. “Rancid decay.”
“Survivors?” the second team’s CO demanded.
“Not possible.” At least he hoped not. Colin wiped his eyes and spat the taste of bile from his mouth.
Colin didn’t know was why they weren’t given a heads up on this assignment. This was nightmare inducing, the type of scene that would stop an operative in his tracks. What could be so confidential that they’d risk two teams going in blind to find intel or for a simple enough rescue had anyone been alive?
Colin turned around, following one of the many escaping from this gate of hell—
His mind processed the scared, unknown whisper before his boots stopped moving. His ears tingled. The man to his right froze as well, and Colin cocked his head, hearing nothing but the crash of angry waves and the clomp of disgusted operatives stealing down metal catwalks to anywhere but here.
His skin pricked. The hollow metal wheezed in the frigid wind. Colin pivoted, as did the man next to him.
“Delta, hold up,” he hesitantly said.
The other team’s commander offered the same.
But no one advanced, wary of what had to be the impossible: that Colin had heard the quietest cry for help whispered from the black hole of hell.
Certainty surged through Colin, and he pulled his facemask up and grabbed his mag light off his hip. With a prayer, he hoisted himself into the container, crawling on top of the bottom crate and crawled toward the darkness. “Hello?”
“Hww-llo?” a young voice mimicked.
He carefully aimed his flashlight toward the ceiling then at the sidewall panel. If they hadn’t seen a bright light in days, it would hurt. “My name is Colin. I won’t hurt you.”
“Hang tight,” Brock said. “Parker tried to pull that audio and may’ve got it. He sent Nicola an audio clip.”
Nicola Garrison, on Titan’s main team, could pick up a language and dialect faster than most people could use Google Translate. A minute later, thanks to Parker and Nicola, Colin was repeating very poorly spoken Arabic variations of, “I’m a helper. Here to help. A good person. Will rescue you,” before allowing his light to fall into the container.
His stomach turned with the first pass of his flashlight. Unsure he could find his voice, Colin let his nausea pass before he admitted, “This is bad, boss.”
“We’ve seen bad. You guys will get through this.”
“Not like this.” Only a few young ladies were still standing. There were enough dead on the ground that they stacked on top of each other, and when all had been alive, they had been packed in like cattle—literally, like animals. His flashlight followed the top of the container where a metal rigger looked as if it held a water supply that could be accessed the way his grade-school gerbil had in its cage. “We’ll do what we have to do.”
Colin reached into hell to save the first soul, lifting a woman so weak she couldn’t grip him, passing her behind until they’d found every survivor and confirmed the deceased were dead, different from those just dying.
Bodies lined the deck. Survivors awaited medical transport inside, and Colin walked to Ryder who had been quiet for the last part of the op.
“You okay?” He leaned against the rails that Ryder perched on. The sky had turned purple as the faintest sliver of the sun threatened them with the break of dawn.
Colin nodded. Ryder’s wife, Victoria, had been trafficked years ago when she fell into a dire situation while working a private investigation job. “You will be.”
“I know.” Ryder nodded slowly. “I just want to get home and wrap my arms around something good.”
“Soon enough.” Colin hadn’t had that kind of special bond. The job always held that role in his life, giving back to him as much as he sacrificed. But Ryder had it right today. Colin couldn’t imagine what could soothe today’s misery. The job he relied on had been nothing more than a wicked sadist.
“Did you touch base with Javier?” Ryder asked.
Colin nodded. They watched out for their own, and Javier had spent more of his life fighting human traffickers than most. His sister, Adelia, had been trafficked. It wasn’t until many years later that they’d found her—in the middle of a gunfight. Funny, how a crazy memory at an awful time could bring a half-hearted smile to his face. “He said something about Sophia, and my mind cut him off after that.”
Ryder chuckled. “I’d probably do the same thing if that crazy, tattooed fucker was my brother-in-law.”
Colin smiled, almost unsure how it was possible to do so on this hell ship after what they’d just seen. “Kinda love the guy though. Crazy family or not.”
In the distance, three choppers appeared as dots in the brightening sky, one double-bladed Chinook flanked by two Blackhawks. That was their ride back to the States and a sure signal that the medical team should arrive any minute by boat.
Colin checked in with the second team. They planned to stay with the recovered women, and while Delta normally would see an op through, one the men from Titan’s main team had a bachelor party on the agenda. They’d all be there to support Jax and his soon-to-be wife Seven, and Delta would be stateside in less than twenty-four hours.
The helos appeared larger over the ocean, and Colin caught sight of what had to be a medical ship. Would he be in the mood for Jax and Seven’s pre-wedding party? It wasn’t as if their wedding was this weekend. The idea of crossing the globe, heading home, getting shut eye, only to wake up and head to Iowa… He grew more tired thinking about it.
Then again… Where there was Seven, there were her friends—not the Mayhem Motorcycle Club people that hung around her but Ryder’s wife, Victoria, and Javier’s sister, Adelia. There was something he could appreciate about women who could shoot or had shot at him, Victoria being a trained investigator, and Adelia trying to blow his brains out the first time Colin had met her.
“What about you?” Ryder asked. “Don’t forget you’re not infallible.”
“I won’t, and it’ll screw with my head too.”
“Who’s going to fix yours?”
Adelia. He shook his head, almost laughing at the idea. He didn’t know her. Not really. The idea of spending time with his sister’s husband’s sister sounded far too close to home. Her name popped to mind because of the timing of his thoughts and Ryder’s question.
Colin dragged in a deep breath to forget about the woman who’d caught him off guard but was reminded of the stench he couldn’t clear from his nostrils.
“There’s a face I haven’t seen before.” Ryder swayed against a rusted wall. “I wouldn’t blame you. After a job like this, everyone needs someone to come home to.”
“My team.” He knocked Ryder on the shoulder and laughed. “I might not like to cuddle, but I’m still kinda cute.”
Ryder laughed too. “You’re really married to the job, aren’t you?”
Yeah, he really was.
The debriefing room at Titan HQ awaited Delta team, but first they had to unpack and shower off. The process, from the time Delta was wheels down, loaded into their transport vehicles from the airstrip and brought to headquarters, where they filed into the locker room, cleaned up and then headed upstairs to sit around a conference table, was needed as they transitioned from hell to civilian life.
One table was strewn with tactical gear bags and unloaded weapons clips. Other tables were covered in sub-machine guns, side-arms, and breaching shotguns for tight-quarter conflict. They needed cleaning, as did their dirty clothes that required more than one go-round in the laundry. But it wasn’t the rank air that stank worse than a football locker room or the salty smell of the Indian Ocean from half a world a way that Colin couldn’t get out of his nose. It was the heinous memories they brought home.
Those had nothing on the grit that had dried in their hair, leaving a film over their skin. Delta had seen a lot over the years, and never once had Colin seen humans packaged as cargo on a container ship with no hopes of seeing light or humane conditions for weeks.
“Hey.” Grayson’s straining voice broke the heavy silence. “Who’s getting excited?” He clapped twice then slapped Ryder on the back. “Bachelor party, here we come.”
Ryder lifted his chin, grinning like a sport. “It’ll be fun, mate.”
Colin rubbed his hand across his forehead. The salty, gunpowder-heavy grime itched under his fingers. “So long as he smells better.”
“Think we all need to hit the shower, or Victoria will turn us away,” Ryder added.
The door unexpectedly opened, and the weighty pound of boots followed. Jared Westin powered through the room, picking his way around their dropped gear without acting as though he noticed they’d made the way impossible.
“And that’s why the dude runs Titan,” Grayson said, half-laughing.
Javier tossed an empty go-bag at his chest. “If you’re impressed that the guy didn’t fall on his ass walking down a hall, you needed more sleep on the way back.”
“Think I can’t hear you, assholes?” Jared boomed before the door at the end of the locker room slammed.
A round of “ah shit!” erupted, and Javier threw his arms up, surrendering to his screw-up. “All right, all right.”
“Why’d he come down here?” Luke leaned against a wall covered with motivational posters—but Titan Group style—as if Delta team needed a reminder that if they fucked up at work, they’d have to kill or be killed. A little different than most workplaces’ teamwork swag.
Colin flicked a gaze toward the office where Parker Black, who manned Titan’s war room for ops, had met Brock. They didn’t bother to head upstairs to any of the conference rooms.
“Maybe there’s another team upstairs using the conference room for pre-wedding activities.” Luke pushed off from the wall. “Someone’s surprising Jax upstairs.”
Grayson scowled. “With what? Strippers?”
Ryder’s face twisted. “Yeah, that’d be a good idea.”
Trace snorted. “If Seven ever heard—”
“Would they care? Or be…” Javier shrugged. “Never mind. I don’t want to find out.”
“Can you imagine if one of them walked out of an office, and saw that?” Trace snorted again. “I’d pay more to see their reaction more than I would for a stripper. Nicola and Beth? Sugar?”
“You think they’d have a problem with strippers?” Grayson asked.
“No.” Colin shook his head. “I think they’d have a problem that we were dicking around at work. Like right now. We gotta clean up and debrief.”
“He’s right,” Javier agreed, slapping him on the back. “Because we’re headed to Sweet Hills, Iowa to party.”
Laughter grew from the team, and Colin closed his eyes, knowing they needed to joke around as much as they needed to get away. He had to shake off what they had seen or Seven and Jax’s weekend would be ruined. It wasn’t a bachelor party, but a joint bachelor-bachelorette throw down. And he had no idea how it would go. Jax’s “side” was military and all-American wholesome, and Seven was neck-deep in a notoriously powerful gang, Mayhem Motorcycle Club. But she was also a mom and baked muffins like no others he’d ever tried.
For all Colin knew, the weekend could end nothing more than a trap to round up one side of the wedding guests by the other side. Or it could be a lovely, raucous affair. To be determined.
“I’m going to get some more sleep on the way out there.” Colin grabbed what he needed to shower off.
At the end of the locker room, just out of sight, the office door opened, and heavy footsteps worked their way toward the team. Brock and Parker flanked Jared, and he paused, giving their team a once-over.
Boss Man’s dark gaze studied them. “You ready for this weekend?”
“Counting the minutes for some R and R.” Ryder’s Australian accent came out thicker than normal.
“Good answer.” Jared turned his humorless visage once more on the team. “I don’t care what you saw or how tired you are. I will see you in Iowa.”
“Like we’d miss it, Boss Man,” Colin offered for the guys.
Jared took that as all the proof he needed before leaving without a word. Brock and Parker eyed Colin as though he were in the middle of a test. This had been the nightmare when he was at school: damn near down to his underwear and didn’t know what the questions might be.
Their hard assessments broke—finally—and they followed Jared, leaving Colin knocked down a few notches.
“What the hell was that about?” Ryder muttered.
Colin ran his hand over his face, deliberately missing the question. What was that about… “Yeah, I don’t know.”
Trace chuckled. “Colin fucked up and doesn’t even know what he did. Sucks to be him.”
“Dude, shut up. If that could happen to Colin?” Grayson shook his head. “We’re screwed.”
There was a compliment in there somewhere. Colin knew what Grayson meant, but he also could tell that the whole team saw what he felt. Jared, Brock, and Parker had just put him on notice. They were watching him—for something—and he had no idea what he’d done or how to fix it.
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