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Wanted: Girl I Once Met by Sonja Gunter
WANTED: GIRL I ONCE MET
by Sonja Gunter

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Soul Mate Publishing

 
  Wanted Girl I Once Met by Sonja Gunter


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Can a promise made twenty years ago to someone still mean something?

Mark Christmenn, President and owner of his family coffee business, MAC Companies, thinks it will. Until his well-orchestrated life takes a turn for the worse when he agrees to help the police capture the drug cartel responsible for using his coffee bean shipments to smuggle drugs into the United States. His lonely life flashes in front of him when he’s shot in the middle of the sting operation. He realizes he can’t wait any longer and decides to find love.

Rane Schoen’s promise to marry the boy she once met on an airplane is long forgotten. Fate brings the two together with several twists, one being neither recognizes the other. But the attraction is strong between them. 

Will doubt, sexual attraction, and an ex-husband’s reappearance keep Rane and Mark apart?
Reviews

 "Gunter does have a keen eye for human nature, and I was impressed by her prose skills and how she captured the desires and yearnings of her characters in brief scenes and snatches of dialogue..."

3 Stars
Onlinebookclub.org

***

 

RT "Gunter's novel has a very Love Affair-esque romance plot. Great pacing keeps the romantic elements upbeat and fun, allowing Mark and Rane's relationship to develop naturally while alluding to, and eventually revealing, the various secrets that could potentially cause harm or at the very least, generate a great deal of excitement."
3 Stars

HOT
--Anne Dougherty, Romantic Times Magazine
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Not a good sign.

Mark Christmenn, owner-President of MAC Industries, sat in the comfort of his black limo, clenched his jaw, and tightened his grip on the door armrest. From the safety of his limo he watched FBI Agent Tom Nelson approach Hal, his personal pilot.

Agent Nelson had requested, no, demanded, that he meet him in one hour at the Flying Cloud Airport and have his plane, Dream Catcher, ready. The agent had been abrupt and hadn’t even given Mark a chance to ask any questions before hanging up.

Mark’s temper soared and his thoughts began to race dangerously. The moment the limo stopped, Mark opened the door. Philip, his bodyguard, sometimes chauffer, and best friend, joined him. Throwing back his broad shoulders and stiffening his arms so they wouldn’t swing, Mark took long and purposeful steps toward the waiting pair.

“Agent Nelson, what in God’s name is so urgent that you felt it necessary to drag me out here at two o’clock in the damn morning?” Mark asked with a tone of authority. “You’re lucky I recently moved my corporate jet from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International, Lindbergh Terminal.”

“Steven Massaro.”

Instantly, Mark took a step back and his hands clenched into fists automatically. He felt his eyes become hardened and filled with revulsion. He flexed his hands, hating the way his body reacted to the mere mention of the man’s name.

“Massaro?” Mark asked and cleared his throat.

“Yup, he just arrived in San Diego. We weren’t expecting him for another month or so, but we got word he’s meeting with several known Mexican drug cartels. We think Massaro is trying to get them to join forces with the Italian mob. Right under our nose, or so he thinks. The rendezvous is taking place tonight at the Grill Restaurant. We need

The roar of jet engines cut off Agent Nelson, and Mark moved closer to hear.

“We need you in San Diego today. All the previous plans have been pushed forward. Undercover agents will meet you at the airport with updates. We’re very optimistic your presence and the sting will hang it on him.”

“Hang what and on whom?”

“Oh, sorry. We hope to set Massaro up with you,” Agent Nelson said.

“Who do you want me to meet?” Mark yelled, as his eyebrows lifted and his temper flared to a withering fury. He hoped the roar of the engines hid his anger in his voice. “Are you insane? The man wants me dead!”

“That’s why it’s so important for you to go. We’re betting Massaro will confront you.” Agent Nelson paused. “Don’t worry, the FBI, along with the DEA special teams, will be taking extra precautions for your safety. Any questions?”

“Have you been inhaling some of the drugs you’ve confiscated? Because it sure seems like it. You want me to be in the same room with a known killer. The same man who has issued a hit on me. This is a no brainer. No. No fucking way. I’m out of here. Come on, Philip, drive me back home.”

Mark turned on his heels and made his way back to his limo.

“Mr. Christmenn, calm down,” Agent Tom Nelson grabbed Mark’s arm to stop him. “You have to understand, I wouldn’t have asked if I thought for a moment you’d be in harm’s way, and you did agree to help us fight this scum.”

Mark shook his head and ran his hand through his thick, black hair. Was his company’s reputation worth dying for? Or, was he willing to die? This wasn’t what he’d agreed to.

Mark ignored Agent Nelson and motioned for Philip to move closer to him.

“This isn’t what the original plan was! We were to interview some new coffee brokers. Place a large order so the FBI could watch the incoming shipments for drugs.”

“I know, I know,” Philip said.

“I didn’t agree to see the man who wants me dead in person!”

Mark shook his head. The FBI wanted hard proof, so what? He’d agreed to a very plain and simple plan. Now they wanted him to actually be in the same fucking room with Steven Massaro!

Sweet deal for whom? Not for him! The question was, did he want to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life?

“You have to trust the FBI and the DEA. If these guys are taking payoffs and are responsible for placing the cocaine in your shipments, we need to stop them,” Philip said.

“What if?”

Philip cut Mark off. “They’re no ‘what if’s’. Either we do this or we don’t. It’s up to you.”

Tense lines formed on Mark’s face and he shoved his hands into his pockets in defeat. He stepped back to the waiting Agent Nelson.

“All right, I’ll agree under one condition.”

“I’m not here to make deals,” Agent Nelson said.

“If you want me, then I want Philip as part of the undercover unit,” Mark stated as he felt a cold expression appear on his face. He motioned to Philip to join them again.

“I can arrange that. I think that’s a great idea. Your actions here this morning and tonight are really appreciated.”

Agent Nelson reached forward and shook Mark’s hand.

“Before I change my mind, is there anything else you need to tell me?” Mark inquired, suspicious of the agent’s motives. Too much had gone unsaid, too much had been taken for granted.

“There is one thing. We’ve arranged for you to meet with one of our agents, Harvey Johnson. The coffee world knows him as a buyer of exotic coffee beans. We’ve used his cover before which is what led us to the coffee brokers,” Agent Nelson explained as they headed to the Dream Catcher.

“You’re positive Massaro won’t suspect anything?” Mark’s voice rose over the drone of the engines.

“Yes. The Coffee Houses know both of you. It wouldn’t be unusual for the two of you to be seen together. I have to finish a couple of things here before I head out. I’ll meet with you later this afternoon,” Agent Nelson shouted and held out a file. “Take this file. You’ll want to read it.”

Mark nodded and accepted the file, even though he was tempted to throw it back in Agent Nelson’s face and walk away.

“The other part of my team will be at the San Diego Airport when you arrive. They’ll take you to a secure location until I arrive. Mark, Philip, have a nice flight,” Agent Nelson said, then left.

Mark tucked the file under his arm and stepped up the stairs into Dream Catcher. Philip followed with their luggage.

“Are you okay with all this?” Philip asked once inside the plane.

“No! I mean, yes, I want to get on with my life, run my businesses, and put this damn nightmare behind us. We’ll be fine,” Mark added, more to assure himself than Philip.

He didn’t want Philip to worry any more than he already was. He sure as hell hoped they’d be okay. With Philip as extra protection, nothing could happen, could it?

Once in the air, Mark used the time to open the agent’s file and quickly read the reports. He wasn’t a cop or an FBI agent and here he was about to embark on some sort of mission. Guns, being wired, a bulletproof vest, and an earpiece; it all seemed unreal.

Eyes closed, Mark pretended to be asleep when he saw Philip approach. He didn’t want to talk, and he sure as hell didn’t want to argue. He sensed Philip pass by him and then heard the cabin door shut again. So many thoughts about his life, his lack of relationships, and the business empire he was running came and went as he waited for the three-hour flight to end.

Too soon for comfort, Mark saw the flashing yellow lights signaling their approach into the San Diego Air Force Airport and wished he had more time. But he’d never hid from anything in his life and he wasn’t going to start today.

When Mark and Philip disembarked a group of men were waiting. A man with black hair and sunglasses stepped forward.

“Welcome. I’m Agent Johnson from the Narcotics Division Special Services. Thanks for agreeing to help us.”

“I can’t say I’m pleased, but I’ll do whatever it takes to get this guy out of my life,” Mark said.

“I understand. We’ll get you to the hotel right away and meet with you later in the afternoon. It shouldn’t take long to get you wired and into the bulletproof vest. If you think of any questions, I’ll be able to answer them at that time,” Agent Johnson assured him.

The new information, along with the knowledge that the Narcotics Division was now involved, calmed some of Mark’s fears. The division was known for monitoring narcotics. They had their own vice enforcement team that worked closely on organized crime problems specializing in narcotics. They’d been the ones that had found the cocaine in one of his shipments last year and had set this nightmare into motion.

“Do you think he’ll try to kill me?” Mark asked Agent Johnson.

“We’ve gathered some rather interesting information that confirmed him as a very, ah, should I say, just a little bananas about the foiled hit on you last fall. We’re betting that Mr. Massaro will attempt to take you out. We’re very confident his Italian temper will get the better of him and we can bust him.”

Mark felt his nostrils flare and his eyes grow cold as he masked his anger. “Just who is betting on my life?”

“No, no it’s not like that. Sorry, bad choice of words on my part. The waiters and the food staff are the Cavalry. Sorry, undercover agents. Actually, everyone but Mr. Massaro and his guests will be agents with the exception of the chef and owner.”

“Isn’t Massaro going to suspect something if he doesn’t recognize the staff?” Philip asked.

“It’s all part of the sting. When our informants told us they were using this restaurant as a meeting place, we moved in several months ago. The owner has several violations pending, which we used as leverage, and he was more than happy to allow us to step in,” Agent Johnson said.

“That’s reassuring to know, unless he tries to double-cross you. I hope I’ll be able to act this out for you. I don’t want to let anyone down,” Mark said, his sarcasm clear.

“Don’t worry, you’ll do fine. Agent Nelson has told us a lot about you. We’re done here. If you don’t have any more questions, we’ll take you to the hotel now.” Agent Johnson signaled to a waiting black SUV Cadillac.

Mark blew out a breath. His churning gut told him something about the plan was way off. He’d have to stay focused.

“One last thing,” the agent continued. “A special taxicab will pick you up and bring you to the restaurant. I’ll keep in touch if we have any last-minute changes. Try to relax this afternoon.”

Adventures were something Mark had never really enjoyed, even as a kid, and this one was now on the top of his list of what things not to do.

“Mark, you nervous? Because I sure am,” Philip said once they were alone inside the car.

“Hell, yes. It’s not as if we put our life on the line every day. Well, I should say, I don’t, but you do. I can’t handle this much stress,” Mark replied, and wiped his sweaty hands on his pants. Normally he wouldn’t confess weakness to anyone, but he’d known Philip for years and literally trusted the man with his life.

“You don’t have to do this. We could back out,” Philip said.

“No, I have to. I can’t say I don’t have a bad feeling, but on the other hand, I can’t sit by and allow scumbags like Massaro and other drug cartel leaders to attempt to import drugs into the United States by shipping them concealed in imported goods. I’m not going to live my life in fear of them or their organizations. I have to do what is necessary to protect my companies and their reputations and help other importers.”

“I want you to know that if I thought there was even a slight chance I couldn’t protect you and you might be killed, we wouldn’t be here right now.” Philip turned to Mark and saw the tension on his friend’s face. “Want to play a couple of hands of blackjack once we get to the room?”

Mark rubbed his fingers over his tired eyes, somewhat comforted by Philip’s words. “Philip, I am fine. You’re worse than Mrs. Weber. I just want to lie down. I need to be by myself.”

Neither of them said anything else during the remaining ride to the hotel. When they arrived, an agent escorted them to their room.

Mark picked up his own bag without saying a word, strode into the bedroom, closed the door, and threw the bag onto the only chair. Fully clothed, he plopped down onto the bed, placed his hands behind his head, and stared at nothing.

What in God’s name was he doing? He could be dead in a few hours. Then what? The end? No! He wasn’t going to die this way. He had to stop thinking that way.

He focused on the shadows on the ceiling, letting them take on shapes. They formed into what resembled a Chinese dragon. Mark watched the image dance and move around.

Dragons were his good luck charm and all through his life whenever one would turn up in his dreams something good always happened. He’d even gotten a dragon, with wings outstretched and green eyes, tattooed on his back right shoulder. Most of the women he’d dated loved it and had given him the nickname Dragon. Could this be a sign that everything was going to be okay?

He closed his eyes and willed sleep to come to quiet his roaming thoughts, but it never did. He lay there for a couple hours unable to relax. A knock on the door kick started his heart.

“Mark, the agents are here,” Philip called out.

“Okay, I’ll be out in a minute.”

Show time. Ready or not.

***

As the Grill Restaurant came into view, waves of acid welled up in Mark’s throat from his belly. To calm himself, he thought of the mission as one of the Play Station games he’d played years ago where he’d held the main controller and was in charge of everyone. The winning move: Find the bad guy and walk away alive.

Simple.

Painless.

He peered over his shoulder to eye the car following them, encouraged by the fact Philip was in such close proximity. As promised, Agent Johnson had assigned Philip a position outside in front of the restaurant in case of trouble.

That would place Philip near the action and close enough to come to his aid, if needed, but far enough out of harm’s way. The mere thought of Philip getting hurt if this all went down bad caused Mark’s chest to tighten. He couldn’t lose his bodyguard and close friend over a loser like Massaro. Not to mention the media hype of a civilian involved in a shoot-out.

Quicker than Mark had expected, the parking valet opened the car door. The games were about to begin for real. With one foot placed confidently in front of the other he moved up the stairs and through the double-wood doors. Right now, he felt like the avatar and someone else was holding the remote controller.

“Welcome to the Grill Restaurant,” a pretty redhead in her mid-to-late thirties with a wide smile and friendly eyes greeted.

Mark stared at the hostess for a moment, cleared his throat, and willed his heartbeat to slow.

“Hi, I’m meeting someone. I’m not sure if he has arrived.”

In one swift glance around the room, he spotted the clean-shaven, dark-haired Massaro and froze. Mark’s adrenaline kicked into high gear.

Shit. Now what?

He swallowed dryly, ready to turn and run when their eyes locked. To Mark’s relief, Massaro was the one who shifted his glance away first but not before giving him a murderous glare.

“Your party is already seated. Please follow me,” the hostess said.

Mark wrestled to reel in his racing thoughts while his mind screamed for focus. He needed to stay alert, but he was so damned uncomfortable. And he was sweating like a damn pig. The bulletproof vest they’d made him wear was heavy and he could feel the sweat trickling down from his armpits to his hips.

“You’re doing great, Mr. Christmenn. We’ve got his attention,” a voice in his ear said.

Mark flinched at the volume. Trying not to look conspicuous, he said under his breath, “You’re too loud.”

“Sorry. How’s this?” the agent asked in a softer tone.

“Better,” Mark said coolly.

A deep breath helped settle his nerves as he followed the hostess who led him right past Steven Massaro’s table. It was all part of the plan. The agents had wanted to make sure Massaro knew he was in the restaurant.

Who were they trying to kid?

As they cleared Massaro’s table, the sounds of curses and glass breaking caused Mark to slow. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stir and was tempted to glance back.

Was he a dead man walking?

Inhaling deeply, he stiffened his back, focused on Agent Johnson’s face, and continued toward the table certain things were going to happen sooner than everyone thought.

The vacant chair across from Agent Johnson seemed to be yards and yards away. When he reached the table, he sank into the welcoming seat, grabbed for the glass of water, and drained it.

Keeping his eyes lowered, he wiped the perspiration from his forehead. The vest was beginning to suffocate him, and the tape they’d used to secure the wires was beginning to itch.

The voice in his ear addressed him again. “Great job. You can now start to talk business. Talk loudly so Massaro will be able to hear.”

Mark’s nostrils flared and his pulse roared in his ears. He couldn’t talk. His mouth had gone dry. Not wanting to show his panic, Mark turned his head and hoped Agent Johnson would start up the conversation.

“Mr. Christmenn, I hope you had a pleasant flight. I’m glad we were able to meet tonight. I’d like to discuss combining our coffee bean purchases. This, I’m sure, will benefit both our companies. When will I be able to take a tour of your company’s processing plant?”

His uneasiness subsided as he concentrated on Agent Johnson. However, when he answered what came out was barely audible.

“I . . .

“Mr. Christmenn, you need to calm down and start talking,” the voice in his ear demanded.

Mark glanced around for something else to drink. He took the only thing left on the table, a glass of wine, and drained that.

He could do this, dammit. He was a multi-millionaire with a successful business. Massaro and his deadbeat gang weren’t going to have the last bang.

“How about tomorrow, Mr. Johnson? I’ll give you a personal tour and I’m confident you’ll be very pleased with my processing plant,” Mark said, pleased that his voice became stronger the more he spoke.

“Good. Good. Keep talking,” the voice in his ear said.

With this encouragement, Mark was now able to do what he needed to do. What he did every day to keep his business thriving. He kept up a lively conversation and even laughed to bring the attention to their table, surprising himself. He felt as if he was watching and doing things from outside of his body. Just when he was beginning to feel confident, an uneasy feeling came over him. Wanting to turn his head to look at Massaro, he fought the urge and remained facing Agent Johnson. Agent Johnson’s face was a mask, revealing nothing about what was going on behind him.

The meal came and went with no interruptions from the other tables or the damn voice in his ear. He’d worried this had all been for nothing. Massaro wasn’t taking the bait. Did he suspect it was a set-up? Would Massaro come after him another time because of this?

The voice spoke again, startling him. “Change of plans. Now in place, Plan C.”

Mark groaned inwardly. Plan C was for him to walk by Massaro’s table as they exited. He was to stare at Mr. Massaro the entire time and promptly exit the building.

The Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad he’d just eaten turned sour in his stomach.

Where was his Zantac when he needed it?

Agent Johnson began talking more about the roasting process of coffee beans before giving the signal to leave.

“Okay, everyone’s in place. Take your time. Walk slowly,” the voice instructed.

Right! Walk. Run was more like it and never look back. The man behind the voice was going to die when he did make it outside.

“That would be great. I, um,” Mark stumbled over his words as he watched Massaro push back his suit coat to reveal a shoulder holster gun. “I could arrange for the plant to stay open longer. We run several public tours on the weekends.”

They reached the front of the restaurant without incident and proceeded out to the waiting cars. Mark located Philip a few feet from him. He wanted to leave ASAP. Nothing had happened. The whole damn trip had been a waste of time.

Mark turned to Agent Johnson when the voice sounded one last time in his ear. “Take cover!”

Instead of ducking as told, Mark instinctively turned to see what was going on. As if in slow motion, he saw Steven Massaro standing at the top of the stairs with his gun drawn and pointed right at him. Mark saw the bright flash, heard the gunshot, and felt the bullet whiz by him. Then to his utter shock, the next bullet hit him in the chest sending a wave a pain unlike anything he’d ever felt through his torso.

He’d been shot. He knew it. Just like that. His dismal life flashed before him, all his dreams, and all his unfinished plans.

“Shit, I’ve been shot.”

The power behind the bullet knocked him backward. He landed so hard on the pavement that it knocked the wind out of him, and his head hit the ground. A black haze slowly took over, while the gunshots, shouting, and Philip’s yell for him to stay down, all went unheard.

CHAPTER TWO

Monday, day two hundred thirty-seven, in looking for a new job. Interviews eighteen and nineteen, bombs. Where have all the good jobs gone?

Rane Schoen ended her post on Facebook with a sad face emoticon. She set her laptop off to the side and Thor, her rather sizeable white ragdoll cat, soon took the empty spot.

“Thor, what am I going to do? I only have one more interview, tomorrow.” She rubbed her face to Thor’s. “But I have a good feeling about it.”

Meow, meoweee.

“I know, I had good feelings about all the others, too.”

Rane pushed the power button on the remote, scrolled down, and then up to find a movie or some TV show to watch. Before she’d picked something, ping sounded from her laptop, followed by several more, ping, ping, ping.

“That didn’t take long. I’ll bet you a catnip treat there’s one from Val.”

Thor yawned. He could be finicky at times but he was always there for her.

Rane started reading.

I guess they’ve gone to the Black Hole in space.

You’re not alone.

Hang in there, girl.

And the best post of all read:

Why work at all? Less stress. Just find a man to entertain you nightly. You’ll be too tired to work.

Rane laughed so hard Thor got up and lay on the couch. The last post had come from Val, though, which meant she owed Thor a treat. Without thinking, she clicked on Skype.

The screen said ‘Calling’. Then Val appeared on the laptop screen.

“Hey, I knew you’d be calling,” Val said. “I don’t have much time. So it didn’t go so well, huh?”

“How’d you guess? The last man who interviewed me kept looking out the window. Didn’t give me the time of day, said I was over qualified,” Rane understated with attitude. She moved the laptop screen to get a better picture of Val, who kept moving in and out of the camera.

“It’s okay. Don’t you have another one set up?”

“Yea, in the morning, with the MAC Company. Will you stop moving around and sit down?”

Val laughed, did what Rane had asked, and said, “Just for a moment! I have a big meeting with Mr. R.”

“Which one is he? I’ve lost track.”

Val, her best friend since grade school, was an attorney and worked for a huge law firm, with a client list that would have any star-struck fan in awe. They ranged from professional athletes from the Minnesota Twins, the Vikings, and the Timberwolves, to actors and actresses living in the area. The players were forever being sued for the stupidest things, which was lucky for Val and the firm.

“You know I can’t say, but remember what my-ex used to watch?”

“Oh WWF-Really? Who is it? I bet it’s the Hulk.”

“Right and wrong. Have to go. Sorry about the interview. We need a movie night when I get back.”

“Betcha, I think it’s your turn to pick. Text me later.”

“Okay, really gotta go.”

“Bye.”

Rane clicked ‘end call’ and the screen went blue-green. Her smile disappeared, replaced by a frown. Being single had its advantages but finding the right man wasn’t easy. She didn’t want another one like her ex-husband, David Moore.

Right after her divorce, things had been great, but now with her new mission and outlook on life she wanted a man. Not just a man like Val had suggested. One who would treat her special and maybe want to have a baby.

Having to start over at thirty-two was not her idea of being successful. It was because of David, her deceitful, unfaithful ex-husband she was out to better herself. This time she was going to do it right.

Step one: interviewing. Step two: dating.

Her newly received Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing wasn’t helping. The degree was getting her foot in the door but then she’d been told they had several applicants. She just wanted someone to give her a chance. Once she got a job, she’d be able to work on her next goal, which was finding a meaningful and lasting relationship.

She wanted a man who’d love her, who’d spend time with her, and who wanted children, lots of them. Her biological clock was ticking and she couldn’t turn it back. She was childless because David hadn’t wanted any. He’d insisted she take the pill, saying they didn’t need to establish a family while in college.

Ping!

She touched the shift key, which bought her screen to life. Another post.

Maybe her mother was responding.

She grabbed the laptop with a little excitement.

Baby, you don’t need to work. Come back to me!

Rane stared at the words in horror. A sudden chill hung in the air. David. Why was he bothering her? Now, of all times. She felt the color drain from her face as alarm and anger rippled up her spine.

 

Copyright 2012, Sonia Gunter - DO NOT REPRODUCE


Copyright 2012-13, Sonja Gunter
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