by Jack Wilder
Ex-Navy SEAL Stone Pressfield has a bad feeling about the proposed church missions trip to Manila, Philippines. The college-age church group plans to go to Manila and help victims of the sex-trafficking industry. Stone's lingering nightmare memories about the sex-trafficking industry have him warning church leaders that the trip is a bad idea. He knows all too well that it could end in violence, and those involved aren't to be trifled with.
When beautiful Wren Morgan goes missing, he has a sick feeling that he knows exactly who took her, and for what purpose. The problem is, Wren isn't just any other student. She's someone he's close to, someone he cares about. Now she's in the hands of cruel, evil men, and Stone is the only one who can rescue her before the unthinkable happens.
Jack Wilder—aka Mr. Wilder—is one half of the writing team "The Wilders." You might know his wife, Jasinda Wilder, as the author of bestselling books such as Falling Into You, Falling Into Us, Stripped, and Wounded, among many others. The Missionary is Jack's first solo work, but you can bet it won't be the last. The Wilders live in the suburbs outside of Detroit, Michigan with their five kids, a dog that vaguely resembles a coyote,and a manny.
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THE MISSIONARY TEASER
The stench woke her. It was a thick miasma of rot and garbage and death, laced with something acrid and almost sweet. The next thing she noticed was the heat. And then, the pain. Everything hurt.
Something with too many quick legs skittered over her foot.
She couldn’t open her eyes; either that, or she was in a darkened room. Memory was a foggy thing at best. Thought was difficult, as if her brain was sluggish.
What’s my name?
Where am I?
She couldn’t summon the answers to those questions. The pain made it too hard to think. The pain, and the smell. And the heat. She tried to open her eyes again, and this time, she felt like she was successful. She was blinking, she felt the shuttering of her lashes against her cheek. She turned her head, or tried to. Something went skritch under her scalp, and she felt the tug of her hair catching, so she knew she’d achieved some kind of motion.
Her fingers wiggled, behind her back, pinned underneath her body. She tried to bring them around in front of her, but she couldn’t. She strained, pulled: pain sliced into her wrists. She was bound. Tied by sharp, thin wires of some kind. A test of her feet revealed that only her hands were bound. Blink again, strain against the darkness. Nothing. Was she blind?
She focused on her physical senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. She could see nothing, not even shadows within shadows. Smell…the stink around her was so thick, so powerful it was nearly a taste in her mouth. Touch? The surface beneath her was uneven and hard and gritty. Dirt perhaps. There were sounds, now that she focused. The distant caw of a seagull, the faint, amorphous din of a city: horns honking, the rumbling of a diesel engine, voices speaking rapidly somewhere immediately above her. She couldn’t understand the what was being said. One voice sounded angry.
Then there was a sixth sense. Or, perhaps it was emotion, or memory.
Not just the simple too-fast thumping of her heart and clenching stomach. No, this was far more. Deeper, powerful beyond comprehension. This was pure, unadulterated terror. She couldn’t summon the reason for the terror, but it was there, tainting everything. It was why she didn’t call out, ask for help. She was tied up in the darkness, in pain, and some instinct told her to stay quiet. Avoid attention.
Don’t be noticed.
Don’t let him know you’re awake.
She wasn’t sure who him was, but the terror increased to a hammering, nauseating level at even the nebulous idea of him knowing she was awake, seeing her, coming back. He’d caused the pain, she knew that much.
Then, a flash of memory.
A hard palm across her mouth, another around her throat, cutting off her ability to breathe, much less make a sound. Being dragged backward, away from her friends. Away from the street. Away from the light, into an alley. She thrashed and fought and tried to scream, to kick, to elbow and bite. A fist or something hard bashed into her skull, sending stars skittering across her vision. Words rasped harshly in her ear, not English. But the meaning was clear: SHUT UP. She thrashed all the harder, and then something sharp was jabbed into her bicep. A needle.
She fought it, the coldness washing through her like ice snaking through her blood. She couldn’t fight it, though. It was futile. She was at once heavy yet light, her body drowsing and drowning until she felt weighted down by irons at her arms, yet her mind floated up and away, swirling and skirling and twisting.
She noticed, dully, absently, as the cracks of blue sky visible through the slabs of corrugated iron of the shanty roofs were replaced by the low roof of a van or truck. Door closed, a sliding slam signifying something, a van? She was floating, weightless, unable to move. Unable to want to move. A face hovered over her, round features, narrow eyes. Hard, cruel. He grinned, showing cracked and rotten teeth. He spoke, and the sound was distorted.
“Not so tup now, American?” his voice slithered over her like a snake wrapping its coils around her brain.
Not so tup? What did that mean?
Tough. Not so tough.
She somehow translated his thick accent, but the drug he’d injected her with made it hard to think, to remember.
He pushed her face to one side, almost an affectionate nudge to see if she would respond. She couldn’t. She wanted to. She didn’t like him. She didn’t like his touch. She summoned willpower, and when he touched her again, she snapped her teeth at him, trying to bite. It was all she could do, but she missed. He laughed, said something in his language—her hazy, muddy, sludgy brain supplied an answer: Filipino—and then slapped her across the face so hard it rocked her entire body to one side. She couldn’t cry or whimper, but a tear trickled down her cheek.
Then he hit her again, this time with a closed fist, and all went dark.
Her mind felt as thick as treacle, but she knew something had happened to her. She’d been kidnapped.
The girl fought for clarity.
Wren. Her name was Wren.
She need to speak, to say it, to remember. “My name…is…Wren.” Her voice was sandpapery and rough from disuse and thirst. “My name is Wren Morgan.”
A voice shouted from above, spitting out rapid-fire Filipino. Hinges creaked, and a square of light emerged over her head, illuminating a hard-packed dirt floor, concrete walls. Feet clomped on wooden stairs, dirty feet in green plastic flip flops. The face from her memory appeared in front of her, smiling.
“Need more?” He held up a syringe filled with clear liquid. “Yes, I tink you need more.”
“No…” She tried to scramble away from him, but only managed to kick at the floor with her feet. “Please, no more.”
He only laughed and crouched beside her. She drew deep and forced her body to roll over, nearly dislocating her shoulder in the process. He grabbed her by the hair and jerked her back. He was thin and wiry, but brutally strong. She thrashed, knowing somehow what was coming. Fear cleared her mind, and she suddenly remembered everything.
The missions trip. Manila. Getting lost. Doug and Aaron and Emily. Hands on her, cutting off her scream before it could erupt.
She fought, and fought. But someone else came, held her right forearm in a vise grip, and the needle slid into her vein. The plunger went down slowly, inevitably, flushing the cold high through her, making her heavy and weightless and warm, making her forget all over again.
The drug didn’t mask the pain when he kicked her in the ribs.
Green plastic-sandaled feet tromped up the stairs, and the square of light vanished, leaving Wren Morgan lost and alone in the darkness, afraid, but unable to remember what he was afraid of, except that she was beyond terrified.