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BURNING HEART book 5 in the Air Force Fire Protection Specialist Series in Susan Stoker’s Special Forces Operation Alpha World!

I’m so stoked to share with everyone Becca and Declan’s story. You first met them in BURNING LIES (Brodie and Harper’s story) and now they have their own unique love story!

This book is a little different from the other ones in the series. It has a suspense element and is a race against time, so that’s right up my wheelhouse, however, this book touches on a topic I have never included in my books before. My heroine was born and raised a Mennonite and while she is no longer living that life-style, it’s still a huge part of who she is. My hero was born and raised in a strict Lutheran family, and while he’s stepped away a bit, he still also has strong traditional values, so when they find themselves in a bit of a predicament while searching for Becca’s missing sister, it forces them to really look deep inside themselves and explore what it is they REALLy want out of life.

Available at Amazon

Below is an excerpt. I hope you enjoy!

Becca stared at the stick she just peed on with the big, fat, fucking plus sign in the little window.

Pregnant.

She and Declan hadn’t talked about that possibility the two times they had a conversation about what happened a month ago.

Nope. The only thing discussed had been that it could never happen again and that her friendship meant the world to him.

It had taken them a couple of weeks of walking around on eggshells, making everyone at work look at them crossed-eyed, before they got back on track. Being friends became easy. Sort of. They were co-workers, and they worked incredibly well together, but it was outside of work that things got wonky and awkward.

However, in the last week, things had gotten back to normal. They could kick back, have a beer together, and not act like they hadn’t seen each other naked.

Only she couldn’t eat in her kitchen without thinking about that night and blushing.

She wrapped the stick in toilet paper and dumped it in the trash. What the hell was she going to do? In a couple of months, she’d have to tell the Air Force that she was pregnant, which meant everyone would know, and that meant she’d have to tell Declan.

Fuck.

Stepping from her bathroom, she avoided the kitchen and went straight to the family room. She stood in front of the liquor cabinet, itching for a shot of Jack, but that would be stupid. While she knew she could obviously have an abortion, it went against every belief system she had.

Besides, she wanted children.

Just didn’t want to do it on her own.

Nor did she want any man to feel trapped, and that is exactly what Declan would feel. While she was no closer to understanding what happened between him and his ex, she knew that Declan could never give his heart again.

But he was also an honorable man. He would want to do the right thing, and the biggest thing they had in common, besides their work, had been their religious upbringing. He’d been raised by a strict Christian family. He wasn’t overtly religious, like his family, but he did still believe.

As did she.

Only neither of them had the same bond to their families’ churches. It was if it had been rammed so far down their throats that it had been impossible to resist rebellion.

Her phone buzzed.

Great. Her mother.

“Hey, Mom, how are you?”

“Have you heard from your sister?” her mother asked with a tightness in her voice that she hadn’t had in a long time.

“Which sister?” She had two younger sisters and two younger brothers, though she suspected her mother was talking about Trish, who was about to turn eighteen, and not Lilly, who was eleven.

“Rebecca Elenore, please don’t get fresh with me.”

She shivered. There was nothing worse than being a grown-ass adult and having your mother call you by your full name. “I’m sorry, Ma, but I haven’t heard from Trish since she called all upset over the last fight you got in, and if you recall, I called you right away. I’m worried about her too.”

“Really? You ran out of here in the middle of the night the day after you graduated from high school. And your brother Edwin did the same thing.”

“Mom. Edwin went to college. With your blessing. He didn’t do what I did, and I thought we were past all this.”

Her mother let out an audible sob. “Trisha is gone.”

Becca bolted upright. “What do you mean, gone?” The last time she’d spoken to Trish, she’d been dating a boy that not only wasn’t on the approved dating list but was actually no good. Becca had always tried to be there for her siblings, even when she’d left the community, to guide them, help them navigate the outside world, and make good choices.

Edwin had also broken from the practice of being an Mannite, but he lived closed by, married a good Christian girl, and stayed away from trouble.

Trish, on the other hand, well, she made Becca look like a saint.

“She didn’t come home two nights ago and—”

“She’s been gone for two days, and you’re just now calling me?” More importantly, why hadn’t Trish called her? For the last few months, Trish had been bugging her every week about how to leave as soon as she graduated high school. Becca tried to tell Trish she needed a plan, and it would be better to get Mom and Dad behind it, versus taking off like she had.

Crap. She knew why her sister hadn’t called. She’d told her little sister to get her head out of her ass and grow up. That it was one thing to want to leave the church, but it was something entirely different to act out.

“Did you call the police?” Becca asked.

“They’re treating it as a runaway teen.”

Well, it wasn’t the first time Trish had run away.

“Is she still seeing that boy?” Becca asked, scratching her head. “What’s his name? Byron?”

“We forbade her to see him ever again,” her mother said with a gasp.

“Shit,” Becca mumbled.

Her mother broke out in prayer.

It might make her feel better, but it wouldn’t change the reality that Trish had most likely run off with this young man.

“Mom, I’ve got some friends who know how to find people. Let me get in touch with them, and I’ll call you back.”

A few sniffles echoed through the phone. “Thank you,” her mother said humbly. “Your father and I tried to talk to her about college. We’re open to the ways of the new world, to a certain point. We are proud of you. You know that, right?”

She sucked in a deep breath and closed her eyes. She wasn’t sure her mother had ever said those words, but she’d honestly felt them the day her parents had come to the first base she’d been stationed at. “Yeah, I know.”

“I only want what is best for my children.”

“I’ll be in touch. And Ma?”

“Yes, dear?”

“If Trish calls or comes home, don’t lecture her or toss bible verses at her. Just hug her. Tell her you love her and wait a day before having a serious conversation.”

Her mother let out a dry laugh. “Someday you’ll make a great mom.”

If her mother only knew she was with child, out of wedlock, she might not utter those words.

Becca clicked off the phone and stared out the window. The entire team had seventy-two hours off, which meant Ace, Hunter, and Jax were all spending time with their families. Brodie and Harper were doing baby things, getting ready for the birth of their twins. The rest of the crew, those that were single, were gathering tonight at Declan’s.

She couldn’t wait until tonight.

Slipping on her flip-flops, she made her way out the front door and down the path toward Declan’s house. The sun shone bright in the Florida sky. A warm breeze ruffled the treetops. Knowing him, he’d be out in his garden tending to his plants, herbs, vegetables, and berries. God, that man loved blackberries.

He also made the best blackberry cheesecake known to man.

As soon as she stepped onto his property, she could hear the country music playing in the backyard. Had she not taken that damn test, she wouldn’t be so hesitant.

She pushed open the gate and followed the sound of the music.

Bent over a couple of bushes, wearing only a pair of loose fitting jeans, Declan flexed his muscles as he pushed dirt around. Perspiration beaded down his tanned skin. She could stand there forever and watch him work effortlessly. He was all man, but he had such a sweet and tender side to him that made it impossible for her not to have fallen in love with him over the last year.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Something she had to accept.

He glanced over his shoulder. “Hey, you,” he said with a smile, brushing the sweat from his forehead.

“Hey, yourself.” She took a moment to look him over from head to toe. His dark hair always looked like he should be a model in some hairstyling book. Chunks of his hair went in different directions, but all by design.

“Shall I turn around, give you a better look?” He smiled and winked.

“I just want your hair,” she mused.

“I’ll never give away my secret.” He took a few steps closer. His gazed scanned her body.

They did this dance all the time. The attraction to one another was as strong as ever, only he just didn’t want to do anything about it.

“What brings you by?” he asked. “Dinner’s not till six.”

“I need Tex’s contact information,” she blurted out, seeing no need to beat around the bush. Tex Keegan was a buddy of her captain, Ace Anders, and also a close friend to Mozart, the man who helped Harper bring closure to her sister’s murder. Both had been at Harper and Brodie’s wedding, and both were good men.

Though, Tex’s specialty was finding people and right now, she didn’t know where else to turn.

“Why? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“My mom called, and it seems Trish might have run away.”

“Might have?” He took a beer from the cooler on the deck and waved it in her direction.

“Water, please.” It wouldn’t be long before people started asking why she wasn’t drinking. Not that she drank a lot, but she generally enjoyed kicking back with the gang on a night off.

Declan tossed her a bottle. “Your sister has been majorly rebelling for a while now.” Over the last year, long before their one night of wild, crazy sex, she and Declan would discuss their religious upbringing and their families. He’d always been a good listener, never judging, and understood her plight for freedom, without the burden of guilt.

“She’s been gone for two days and last I spoke with her, she’d been dating this guy that sounded like bad news.”

“What kind of bad news?” He waved to a chair on the deck as he settled in the one next to it.

God, she wanted a beer right about now. “Drinking, drugs, that kind of bad. My parents tried to lock her away, so she couldn’t see him, but that obviously didn’t work.”

“I take it this kid’s not a Mennonite?”

“I really don’t know. My parents have been trying hard to have an open mind since Edwin got married and I turned out not so horrible, but ever since Trish met this guy, she’s been ten times worse as before, and I don’t blame them for being upset.”

“You have the name of this young man?”

“Byron Richards. But that’s all I know.”

“All right. Well, let me shower while you call Tex.” Declan tossed her his phone. “We’ll take my plane to Ohio, talk to a few people, and find your sister.”

Her mouth fell open. “I wasn’t asking—”

“I know. But I’m offering. We’ve got three days off. Might as well make good use of them.” He chugged his brew before standing.

“What about the party tonight? You’re hosting.”

“Not anymore. Besides, a lot of people had made other plans, so it was going to be small. Passcode on my phone is 232225.” With that, he disappeared into the house.

One thing she knew about Declan was that when he said he was going to do something, he did it.

And maybe over the course of the next couple of days, she’d gain the courage to tell him she was going to have his baby.

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