Sneak Peek Wednesday: Gone To Dust by Lilana Hart [Giveaway]

Gone to Dust
(Gravediggers #2)
by Liliana Hart
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication Date: June 20, 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense

The Gravediggers aren’t exactly what they seem. They’re the most elite of the world’s fighting forces—and all they have in common is that they’ve been betrayed by the countries they’ve died for. Because they are dead. To their country, their military, and their families.

Sometimes the dead do rise….

Miller Darling is one of the most popular romance novelists of her time. Not bad for a woman who doesn’t believe in romance. She’s as logical as they come, and she doesn’t believe in happily-ever-afters. What she does believe in is family, so when her brother disappears, she doesn’t think twice about packing her bag and her laptop and heading out to find him.

Elias Cole lived and breathed the life of a Navy SEAL. Now he’s “dead” and his hero’s honor tarnished. The only thing keeping him sane are the men who are like him—The Gravediggers—and the woman who makes his head spin. He’s never met anyone like Miller Darling. Her smart mouth and quick wit keep him on his toes, and damned if he doesn’t find that appealing.

When Miller receives a package from the brother who abandoned her asking for help, it’s clear she’s in over her head with the mess he’s gotten himself into. She needs a professional, and Elias is just the man for the job. Only her brother is a former SEAL—the man who left his team to die—and Elias is more interested in vengeance than saving his life.

 

 

Excerpt…

“I’ve never changed my identity before,” she said once she’d gone through both bags. “This is so empowering. There was this kid Chad when I was in high school. He drove a Corvette and he was the man, if you know what I mean. He sold fake IDs to all the kids. Made a fortune. And then all the kids with fake IDs would head into Dallas and try to get into the clubs.”

“A real entrepreneur,” Elias said dryly. “Wonder what he’s doing today?”

“He’s a deputy at the sheriff’s department. They always say criminals make the best cops.”

“Who says that?” he asked skeptically.

“I read it somewhere,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “That’s not my point, though.”

“I didn’t realize you had a point.”

She growled and watched his smile grow. Aggravating man. He was doing it on purpose, and she was falling right into his trap. But she couldn’t seem to help herself.

“I can’t remember my point now,” she said. “You got me off track. I was only saying that I can see why it was so popular. There’s something exhilarating about getting to become someone else for a night. To let go of any worries or stress and pretend your life is something completely different. To let your inhibitions go and just be free.”

“You’d want to pretend your life is something completely different?” he asked. “You’re not happy?”

“Of course not,” she answered immediately. “I have an amazing life, and I’m incredibly blessed to get to do something I love to do, even when it brings me stress and worry. But I can see the appeal of escape and fantasy every once in a while.”

“Isn’t that what you do with your books?” he asked, really stopping to look at her now. She wasn’t sure when the conversation had turned so serious, but the tone was different now. Something had shifted along the way, and her footing wasn’t steady. “As the writer, you get to escape into these fantasies that you create. Seems pretty cool to me.”

“That’s very perceptive,” she said. “And yes, it’s exactly like that. It’s part of the reason I write romance. In my head, they can go on any adventure. They can conquer any challenge. And they can overcome any obstacle, no matter how big. And they get to do it together. In four hundred pages, I can make reality disappear and give my readers the possibility of love and hope in any situation. There are no disappointments in the end. But there’s love, and a hope for the future. How many people really get that in real life?”

“Not many,” he said softly.

She watched the expression on his face turn blank and flat, and she realized his hope for a future was locked into being a Gravedigger, and never knowing if he’d survive one mission to the next.

He cleared his throat and she diverted her gaze to give him a minute.

“All I’m saying,” he said, “is that this isn’t a vacation. You seem much too excited about all of this.”

She took a deep breath and decided to get things back on track. Emotions were running high, and something had changed in Elias since he’d woken her from the casket. It was time to get back in control. They were going to be in very close quarters for the next few days at least. There was no need making things harder than they were already going to be.

She smiled as she put the clothes they couldn’t use back in the duffel bag. “Every adventure is an opportunity for great research.”

“Yes, until you die,” he said. “It’ll be hard to write those pages from six feet under.”

“Isn’t that why you came along?” she asked. “To keep me alive?”

“No,” he said. “I’m just not fond of relaxing vacations where I can lie in a hammock and do nothing but drink beer and watch the waves roll in for two weeks. That’s boring. I’d much rather be doing this.”

“I’m sensing sarcasm in that statement,” she said.

“Huh,” he said. “And I thought I was hiding it so well.”

Elias stood in front of the rows of weapons, carefully making his selections and placing them on the table. She wondered how they were going to carry them all.

“Make sure you get one for me too,” she told him. “I’m not going anywhere unarmed.”

“Can you shoot?” he asked. “Or am I going to have to worry about a bullet in the back?”

“If I shoot you,” she said sweetly, “it’ll be in the front. You don’t have to worry about that.”

“That’s good to know.” He took down a Sig P229 that was just like the one she had at home, grabbing a couple of extra magazines to go with it. “Good thing you don’t hold a grudge.”

“Isn’t it?” she agreed.

Being in the same room with Elias for this extended period of time was taking up more energy and concentration than she had. Her brain and her body were warring back and forth between jumping his bones and giving him a swift kick to the backside.

When he’d helped her out of the casket earlier, just the simple act of his hand touching hers had her heart fluttering like a teenager in love for the first time. The shock wave of a binding connection shot through her body, and she’d tried desperately to look everywhere but at him, afraid she was the only one who felt it. And how pathetic would that be? The man had already made up his mind. If a man could stop that close to sex, he must really not want it. The sting of rejection was harsh, but she could deal with it. She’d always dealt with it.

“Don’t think about it,” she muttered under her breath.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Nothing. What were you looking for when you said I could change hair and eye color? I don’t want to wear a wig. Seems like it would be a pain in the ass to keep up with the whole time if we’re going to be schlepping through the jungle. And hot.”

“Simple changes are best. Hairstyle, makeup, eye color . . . things like that. And dress and pack appropriately. You’ll want to dress in layers. The weather is odd. The Pacific waters are cold, but there will be a few hours in the day where it’s hot, and then the Pacific winds will blow in with the rain and drop the temperatures drastically. They’re volcanic islands, so there are areas that are also completely barren.”

“Probably not something they like to promote on their tourism brochures.”

“It’s not Hawaii or the Virgin Islands. We’ll put it that way,” he said. “The train will stop in San Antonio. Then we’ll charter a flight to the islands. We’ll take the cash and I’ll have our new names printed on a couple of the credit cards.”

“Man, working for the government is awesome,” she said. “It’s like free money everywhere.”

“Think of it as your tax dollars at work.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t make it near as fun. I pay a lot of taxes.”

“And now you finally get to benefit from it,” he said. “That’s if Eve decides she wants to let this scenario play out and not cut off all our funding or try to have us pulled out of the country. She could make things very interesting for us there. The last thing we would want is to end up in an Ecuadorian prison run by the drug cartels. The bullets in your gun would be better used putting us out of our misery.”

“Well, that’s something to look forward to,” she said. “I’ll make sure to leave that part out of the book. Not really happily ever after material.”

“Not much of this job is,” he said soberly. “She made certain of that.”

“You really hate her,” she said. “Eve, I mean. What’d she do to you?”

“She killed me and brought me back to life,” he said, the bitterness evident in his voice. “She should’ve just left me dead. You’d better get ready. We’ve got a few more hours on here, and we still need to do some recon.”

“Oookay,” she said, guessing he didn’t want to talk about it. “I don’t suppose there’s a bathroom on this train?”

“Press that green button behind you.”

With that, he turned back to his weapons cache. Despite her anger and resentment over the way he’d treated her, it was impossible not to hurt for him. Not when hurt poured from him in waves at the very mention of Eve Winter’s name. And as much as she wanted to harden her heart toward him, seeing his very real pain and not even knowing the circumstances of it made her soften.

She must be a glutton for punishment. Elias Cole was going to break her heart, and she could see it coming a mile away. Miller took the things she’d selected from the duffel bag and hit the green button on the wall. A door slid open silently and she was greeted with a perfectly roomy bathroom, complete with everything a woman needed to change her identity.

She caught sight of herself in the mirror and winced. Casket traveling hadn’t been kind to her. And maybe Elias had a point about her hair. It was out of control, and needed more than a simple brush could do.

“I can fix that easily enough,” she said, dumping the things in her arms on the table next to the sink.

She stripped down to her underwear and then found a brush and worked it through the snarl of tangles. She hesitated only a second at grabbing the scissors. It would always grow back, and it had been a while since she’d shaken things up with her hair.

“No time like the present.”

Her hair was thick and a general pain in the ass, and it took forever to blow dry, so she didn’t mind making her life a little easier. She snipped away until there was nothing left but a short cap that fringed around her face. It made her eyes look bigger and her cheekbones a little sharper, and if she said so herself, she didn’t do a half-bad job. It was always good to know she could have a career to fall back on if writing didn’t work out.

Everything in the duffel bags had been top-of-the-line, and she didn’t recognize the style or brand of hair color. Must be government issue. She said a little prayer and applied it, hoping government issue didn’t turn her hair green, and then she took care of other necessities.

She gave the hair color a good half hour of processing time before she checked it and decided it needed more time. Her hair was dark and bleaching the color out wasn’t going to be easy. But she’d done it before, so she knew the outcome should be okay. And it was a lot easier to bleach such a small amount of hair.

She showered, enjoying the multiple jets and the steam before she got to the business of scrubbing. And when she got out of the shower and looked in the mirror, she was stuck between complete awe and a sigh of relief that she didn’t look like an orangutan. It was always a crapshoot when going from brunette to blonde, but her hair had always held up, no matter how much torture she put it through. And much like the fake IDs and endless supply of cash and credit cards, government-issue hair color was pretty much the best thing ever. Her hair didn’t even feel like straw. It was nice and soft.

She’d only found a couple of items of clothing in her size, and she tried them all on just to make sure. A pair of capri jeans and a red-and-white striped shirt worked, as well as a pair of black yoga pants and a ridiculously soft hoodie in pale blue she hoped she could keep.

The makeup case was ridiculous and had more options than she’d ever seen in her life. And she didn’t know how to apply half of it. She was a pretty basic kind of girl—powder, blush, eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick. And not a whole lot of any of it, otherwise she started looking like she belonged in the circus. She didn’t see a point of wearing any makeup at all other than a quick swipe of tinted moisturizer. No one she knew would’ve recognized her at first glance. She doubted a bunch of cartel members with a photo would be able to either.

She eyed the contacts with curiosity and decided she’d try those later. No point putting them in and having them irritate her eyes for the rest of the trip. Now she just had to face Elias and see what he thought.

When the door slid open, he turned to face her. His body tensed and his expression went unreadable. She didn’t know how long they stood facing each other in silence.

“What do you think?” she finally asked. “Will this work?”

“I think it will more than work,” he said, his gaze slowly roaming from the top of her head down her body. She went warm all over, as if his hands were touching every place his eyes landed.

“I definitely like the blond.”

“It’s going to take some getting used to. I scared the hell out of myself when I got out of the shower.”

He’d gone stock-still, and his body was fraught with tension. She couldn’t even tell he was breathing. But there was nothing he could do to hide the erection that pulled the front of his BDUs taut, and he didn’t bother to try and hide it.

Her body reacted, like an animal sensing her mate. Her nipples hardened to tiny buds and chills broke out across her skin. She crossed her arms over her chest and hoped he didn’t notice how he affected her.

“What’s the plan?” she finally asked, breaking eye contact. She moved so the table was between them, trying to ignore the tension that seemed to be building at an alarming rate.

“We’ll fly into Baltra as a couple on vacation,” he told her. “That’s the only airport that will allow private aircraft. In the last decade or so, the cartels have started using the Galápagos as a transport location. They’ll bring big loads of cargo in and divide it up into smaller aircraft. Then they’ll fly off to various locations and drop the drugs. The drug trade there is growing at an alarming rate, and no one has figured out the best way to shut them down yet. There’s a lot of politics and red tape involved. There are pockets of safe areas where most of the tourism takes place, but outside of those areas can be very dangerous.”

“Let me guess,” she said. “We’re not going to the tourism areas?”

“I doubt your brother is sitting by the pool drinking a mai tai.”

“I’d be happy if he was sitting anywhere,” she said. “As long as he’s alive. He’s the only family I have left. And he’s the only one who knows where Mama and Daddy’s plane went down. He said he found them. We never got their bodies back for burial. There were just two empty coffins and a room full of mourners. As a child, it was easy to pretend that they’d come back someday. That they weren’t really dead, but living out a life of secrecy for one reason or another. My imagination kept that hope alive with scenario after scenario, until one day, I finally realized they were never coming back. It’s time there was closure. Closure in a lot of areas of my life.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” he promised her. “Even if something has happened to Justin, I’ll help you locate where your parents went down. Twenty years ago, these were still very deserted islands. There are regions that are mountainous and still uninhibited. I promise you I’ll do whatever it takes to find them so you can have that closure.”

Her throat went dry and she struggled to get a grip on the tears that wanted to fall. “Thank you,” she said, hoping he didn’t noticed the quiver in her voice. She needed to toughen up her armor. They had a long trip ahead of them.

“I . . . umm . . . am done in the bathroom. I can put the contacts in now if you need them for the passport photo. Otherwise, I’ll wait. I’m too tired to mess with them.”

“Just leave them,” he told her. “It’d be a shame to cover up your real eye color.”

Her brows rose in surprise and she felt heat rush to her cheeks. Good grief. Her hormones must be wonky. She was acting like an idiot just because he gave her a compliment.

“I’ll only be a few minutes cleaning up,” he said. “They don’t know me, so it’s not as important I change my appearance, but I’ll let my beard grow the next few days. You need to start going through your brother’s letters. There’s a pad and pen there on the table. Write down anything you think he might be trying to tell you in some kind of code. We’ll do the best to match everything up to the map.”

“How long do you think we can hide out as vacationers before Cordova’s men figure out who we are?”

“Hopefully, for a few days at least. If we’re lucky, more. We’ll be staying on a boat, so that will give us some freedom. The islands are still small and sparsely populated, so there are only so many resorts. A big part of their tourism comes from renting boats for people to stay on.”

“Boats,” Miller said, feeling the bottom drop out of her stomach. “I hate boats.”

“I remember you mentioned that,” he said. “I don’t want to be insensitive, but you should probably conquer that fear pretty quickly.”

“Sure, no problem,” she said. “Hell, I’m thirty years old. That’s a pretty full life, right? I mean, a couple hundred years ago I’d be ready to die of old age.”

He rolled his eyes and said, “You’re being a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

“No,” she said stubbornly. “Just make sure you have the mop and bucket handy for cleanup.”

“You get seasick?” he asked.

“ ‘Seasick’ is too kind a word for it. You’d be better off just throwing me overboard to feed the fish.”

“When was the last time you were on a boat?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.

“1998,” she said. “I was on a Girl Scout trip and they had to bring me back to shore and rush me to the hospital. The boat captain said he’d never seen anyone throw up as much as me.”

“You haven’t been on a boat in almost twenty years. What kind of boat were you on?”

“A fishing trawler,” she said.

“Seriously?” he asked. “Popeye would get sick on a fishing trawler. It’s time to give it another chance. You’re going to be on a yacht that’s more expensive than a Manhattan apartment. Try being dropped into the middle of a turbulent ocean from a helicopter and then talk to me about seasickness.”

“Considering that’s your job and not mine, thank God, I don’t have to worry about it.”

“Modern medicine is amazing,” he said. “You’ll love it. And I won’t have to throw you overboard unless you deserve it.”

She narrowed her eyes. “I wish I could tell if you’re kidding.”

He smiled, but didn’t say anything as he went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

She stared after him a few seconds and let out the breath she’d been holding. “This must be some kind of test. I did something horrible, and now I’m being punished. Though I have no idea what it is I could’ve done. I’m mostly a decent person. I give to charity. I hardly ever flip anyone the bird when I’m in city traffic. And I talk to myself when I’m alone, so I know I’m a great conversationalist.”

She didn’t see how this could possibly end well. He drove her crazy, and still, all she could think about was getting him naked. And now she was going to be thinking about it even more because he’d made the prediction that’s how they were going to end up.

“Gah!” she said, throwing up her hands and heading to the box he’d placed on the table.

Miller looked around for a place to sit, and realized there were stools efficiently tucked beneath the table. The letters were filed in the box according to date, not that there were a whole lot of them. Seventeen in all. When Justin had been a SEAL, all of the envelopes had been exactly the same—small and rectangular, and of fairly good quality.

She brushed her fingers over the tops of the ivory envelopes until she reached the one she wanted. She pulled out a single-sheet letterhead from the Hotel Coronado. It wasn’t a hotel she was familiar with.

Miller,

I’m letting you know I’ve retired from the service with full honors. I’ve actually been retired for a while now, but it takes some adjustment returning to civilian life, so I’ve spent some time out on my own. I hope you don’t mind some company for a little while. I’m hoping to come home within the next couple of months, but there are some things I have to settle first. I don’t want to intrude if now isn’t a good time, or if you don’t want to see me. I understand if you don’t. I’ll be at this address for the next few weeks, so write me back and let me know if I’m welcome.

I look forward to seeing you in person instead of on the back of your book covers. You look just like Mama.

Justin

Miller caught a sob in her throat and slapped her hand over her mouth. She knew she looked like her mother. But it was somehow different when Justin said it. She took a deep breath and shook her head, refusing to let her emotions intrude on the task at hand.

“Ecuador,” she said. Justin’s return address was in Ecuador, but the address didn’t match that of the Hotel Coronado, where he’d borrowed the stationery.

She wrote down his last address, thinking maybe whoever he was staying with would know something. Or maybe he’d made friends or spoken to someone about his plans.

Researching was her life. She knew how to dig for information and read between the lines, so she quickly reread Justin’s letter that had arrived with his finger and copied the passages she thought important.

I could hear y’all a mile away, and see your wide eyes through that crack in the rock. You were always a horrible spy.

He’d mentioned the Triangle Islands and her use of them in one of her books. That was one of her earliest books, when money for travel and research had been scarce, so she’d not been to the places she’d described. Google had been her best friend during that book.

In your book, you call them the Triangle Islands, but I’ve seen them for real. They exist by another name, and everything is just as you described it, right down to the waterfall.

What she remembered about the Triangle Islands was that the terrain changed from one side of each island to the next. One area might be volcanic and rocky, and the other might be lush with thick green jungle. There were a multitude of waterfalls on the islands, so that really didn’t help pinpointing a location of where Justin or the rest of Solomon’s treasure might be.

Do you remember the miniature replica of the temple we built that summer? I’d have much rather been outside playing, but every day, like clockwork, Dad would have us gluing those little pieces together and following the diagram. Remember how hard it was to place the pillars just right? They kept falling over, and I think the one on the right eventually stayed that way.

“Well, that could mean anything,” she muttered.

The bathroom door opened and she looked up to see Elias. He wore another pair of black BDUs and a dark gray T-shirt that showed a well-defined chest and arms. Maybe he’d been right to initially refuse the mission. Being alone with him was hard. Because she still wanted him.

What she had to figure out was why she was still so angry over what had happened weeks ago. No, not angry. Hurt. She’d always had the attitude of letting people go their own way. Of not holding a grudge. But, dammit, he’d hurt her.

Either way, if she could put the hurt and anger behind her, maybe they could get naked without any cares or worries and put the sex behind them so they could move on.

 

 

Meet the author…

Liliana Hart spent five years teaching music in the public education system. She molded America’s youth, busted kids for smoking pot in the restrooms, and broke up illicit affairs behind the stage on a regular basis. (Liliana’s Addison Holmes Mystery Series, about a small town teacher who gets into a whole lot of trouble, is somewhat autobiographical, but she won’t confess to which parts).

Liliana began reading romance novels with all her new found free time, and when she ran out of things to read, she decided to write her own novels. The result was a 150,000 word thriller—a dazzling adventure—where the heroine was a thirty-year-old virgin assassin (Yes, you read that right). She couldn’t imagine why people weren’t knocking down her door to read it, but she persevered and began writing a second book. She finally got the hang of things, and eventually learned that losing one’s virginity wasn’t all that romantic after all. All of her books involve some kind of suspense (she just can’t help herself), laughter, and a lot of steamy sex.

Since the failure of her first attempt, Liliana’s books have won awards such as: The Daphne Du Maurier, The Suzannah, The Linda Howard Award of Excellence, The Maggie, and many others. Her affiliations include Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America.

Liliana loves to cook, and is addicted to reading, Internet Boggle, kickboxing, and Bones. She lives in a big, rambling house in Texas with a couple of cats to keep her company. She loves to get emails from readers.

Website | Twitter | Facebook

 

 

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6 Thoughts on “Sneak Peek Wednesday: Gone To Dust by Lilana Hart [Giveaway]

  1. This is the second review for this book that I’ve read and it sounds really interesting and different.

  2. Thank ya for the sneak peek 😀

  3. I almost got this thinking it’ll be some dark fantasy. Too bad I’m not feeling romantic suspense or suspense period for now. If you’re reading this, I hope I regret skipping it

  4. Eerie cover! I need to check this one out I think. I’ve enjoyed others from her 🙂

  5. What a nice and creepy cover! Nice excerpt as well 🙂

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