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Never Surrender

By:Kaylea Cross

Never Surrender (Bagram Special Ops #6)
        Author: Kaylea Cross

Chapter One

Candace "Ace" Wentworth strode into the lobby of the grand resort's main building like she owned the place, which she guessed she kind of did. In a roundabout way, anyhow.

She could barely contain her excitement at being here again, because this was going to be a big week. Her husband was still overseas at Bagram, but in about fifteen minutes she'd be reunited with two of her former roommates from her deployments there-including her bestie, Maya-for the first time in a year.

Life might have taken all five of them in different directions, but they still kept in touch. Their time at Bagram and the things that had happened there had forged bonds that no amount of time and distance could break. Weddings had a way of bringing old friends together, and this particular one was going to be magical.

It felt good to be back here again, the first time since she'd enlisted. Located just outside the town of Surrender, Montana, The Hills resort was an exclusive property consisting of a sprawling collection of huge log cabin-style buildings built near the end of the nineteenth century. Ten years ago the owners-her grandmother included-had completely refurbished everything, restoring each building and the grounds to their original Gilded Age splendor.

Soft piano music drifted through the luxurious expanse of the lobby as she walked across the gleaming wide plank flooring, her high heels clicking softly. A warm glow from antique light fixtures more than a hundred and twenty-years old mixed with the natural evening light streaming through the wide, tall windows covering the exterior walls. Beyond them, pastures rolled like a green and gold carpet away from the buildings as far as the eye could see, the huge glass panes framing a breathtaking view of the surrounding hills and ranchland.

On the far side of the lobby, she turned left and followed the thick rug lining the center of the hallway that led toward the lounge, an exquisite room with wood-paneled walls and ceilings. It looked like the kind of masculine study that one of the Vanderbilts might have built at the end of the 1800s.

As expected, it wasn't hard to find her grandmother.

Candace spotted her instantly over at the long, polished bar in the corner of the room. The legendary Ruby Bradford sat on a high barstool nursing a rye, a cigarette dangling from the fingers of her other hand. Unfiltered, of course, because what would be the point of suddenly switching to filtered ones after all these years?

Given that it was almost seven, Candace guessed it was likely her grandma's fourth or fifth "drinky-poo" of the day. If not more.

"Hey there," she said.

Her grandma turned on the stool, exposing the length of her stocking-clad calves below the hem of her knee-length skirt, and raised an eyebrow. "Well, look who it is: my Candy Cane." She lifted an arm by way of invitation and Candace leaned down to hug her, trying not to cough at the cloud of smoke surrounding them. 

"Good to see you." She pulled away and sat on the next stool. "I guess this means the non-smoking thing doesn't apply to you?" she said in a wry voice.

Her grandma's pale green eyes twinkled with the mischief she was legendary for. Ruby Bradford was one of a kind, and a force of nature. Anyone who tried to get in her way got bulldozed before they even realized what was happening. "Oh, poo. We're the only ones in here, so it's not like I'm bothering anyone. I just needed a quick nicotine fix. What are they gonna do, kick me out of the place I own half of?" She snorted. "I think not." She swallowed the remaining half-inch of rye in her tumbler and signaled the bartender, who'd been at the far end polishing glasses. And probably trying to avoid the smoke. "I'll have another, please, Elliot."

Candace caught the way the man tried to smother a grin as he took the glass and poured another inch of rye into it. "So, when did you get here?" Her grandma had flown in from the Hamptons, where she'd been on vacation for the past month.

"Last night. Where's Ryan?"

"He's flying in the morning of the wedding. Unless something comes up." A strong possibility, given how busy his unit had been during this latest deployment. Combat controllers were in huge demand on the battlefield.

The heavy feeling in her stomach returned. Things hadn't been going the greatest between them for the last little while. It had been months since they'd last seen each other, shortly before she'd left Bagram. She missed him so damn much, she couldn't wait for him to get here.

Even if she was dreading the talk they had to have once he did.

"I'm sure it'll all be fine." Grandma tapped her cigarette over an ashtray to knock off the ash, took another drag, then blew a stream of smoke out of the corner of her mouth-away from Candace, her attempt at a concession for her granddaughter being a nonsmoker. "The bride and groom here yet?"

Erin was a former army nurse, and Wade, a former CIA clandestine service officer, who had met back at Bagram. Their love story was intense, and one of the most romantic Candace had ever heard of. They'd been placed in a safe house together in Virginia for their own protection, which turned out not to be safe at all. Wade had eventually killed the terrorist he'd served for several years while undercover, but had been unable to locate the dirty bomb they'd been hunting for in time. After the blast he'd pulled Erin from the rubble on his own in spite of the risk of radioactive contamination, and refused to leave her side.

If that wasn't romantic, Candace didn't know what was.

Since Erin was from Montana, when she'd approached Candace about the possibility of getting married here at the resort, Candace had been more than happy to do what she could to make it happen for her old roomie. "Yes, and one other couple as well."

"What about the others?" Grandma tamped out the cigarette, and Elliot discreetly removed the ashtray to behind the bar so she couldn't light another.

"They'll all be here before the wedding." Hopefully.

"Good. I'm told the chef's got chateaubriand on the menu at the grill tonight." She took a sip of her drink and faced Candace. "So, you've got everything planned out, I assume?"

Erin had tasked Candace with setting up a few things for everyone in the days leading up to the wedding. "Yep, got it all listed right here." She pulled out her phone and brought it up. "Nothing too structured. A few group meals, a couple of activities planned. On Thursday us girls are going to the spa for the day, while the guys go out and do … whatever it is they plan on doing out in the mountains. The next night will be the welcome dinner, when Wade's and Erin's families get here."


Grandma made a face and swirled the rye around in her glass. "I think I'd rather spend the day with the guys than go to the spa."

Candace shot her a frown and nudged her with an elbow. "Don't be like that. It'll be fun." The other girls all got a giant kick out of her grandma, and Erin had insisted Candace invite her along for the day.

She raised her eyebrows. "You ever seen a woman my age get a massage? All that loose, wrinkly skin sliding all over the place?" She grimaced and shook her head. "Bah. I'd rather go drinking and shooting with the men anytime."

Yeah, because the guys would love to have her high-functioning alcoholic grandmother running around with loaded firearms in the middle of their bachelor party. Good God, Grandma really was terrifying sometimes. "So then get a facial and a pedicure instead of a massage."

Grandma made another face, though she refrained from commenting this time.

"There she is," a familiar, slightly Spanish-accented female voice said from behind her.

She swiveled on the stool and let out an excited squeal when she saw two of her roomies and their men heading toward them, Maya in the lead. "Hey!"

Grinning from ear to ear, she rushed over and grabbed the former Air Force Security Forces officer in a crushing hug. Maya was shorter than her, but still all muscle and attitude. Always badass.

Some things never changed, even though there was more of a feminine softness to Maya than there used to be. "It's so good to see you guys!" Candace said.

"We wouldn't miss it," Erin, the bride-to-be, joked behind Maya. Green eyes sparkling, she spread her arms wide for the next hug.

"You look fantastic," Candace told her, leaning back to run a hand over her shiny brown waves before shifting her gaze to the tall man behind her. "Definitely prettier than the groom."

One side of Wade's hard mouth tugged up at the corner, his eyes shaded by the trademark wide-brimmed black Stetson he favored. "Well, thanks for that."

"Just calling it like I see it." She turned back to Maya. "I can't get over you! So polished."

The matron of honor grinned and fluffed her sleek chin-length, chocolate-brown bob, her pretty sea-green eyes dancing with humor. The simple black sheath dress fit her athletic body like a glove and showed off the killer muscles in her bronzed arms and legs. "I know, you still expect to see me in ACUs all the time."