By: Brenda Jackson


“You wanted to see me, Dil?” Brisbane Westmoreland asked, walking into his eldest brother Dillon’s home office.

The scenic view out the window was that of Gemma Lake, the main waterway that ran through the rural part of Denver the locals referred to as Westmoreland Country. For Bane, this was home. This wasn’t Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, which meant he didn’t have to worry about booby traps, enemies hiding behind trees and bushes or the boat dock being wired with explosives set to go off the second someone stepped on it. Westmoreland Country was a place where he felt safe. All in all, he was glad to be back home.

Thanksgiving dinner had ended hours ago, and keeping with family traditions, everyone had gathered outside for a game of snow volleyball. Now the females in the Westmoreland family had gathered in the sitting room to watch a holiday movie with the kids, and the men had gone upstairs for a card game.

“Yes, come on in, Bane.”

Bane stopped in front of Dillon’s desk. He knew Dillon was studying him with that sharp eye of his, taking in every detail. And he could imagine what his brother was thinking. Bane was not the same habitual troublemaker who had left Westmoreland Country five years ago to make something of himself.

Bane would be the first to admit that a lot in his life had changed. He was now military through and through, both mentally as well as physically. Since graduating from the naval academy and becoming a navy SEAL, he’d learned a lot, seen a lot and done a lot...all in the name of the United States government.

“I want to know how you’re doing,” Dillon inquired, interrupting Bane’s thoughts.

Bane drew in a deep breath. He wished he could answer truthfully. Under normal circumstances he would say he was in prime fighting condition, but that was not the case. During his team’s last covert operation, an enemy’s bullet had nearly taken him out, leaving him flat on his back in a hospital bed for nearly two months. But he couldn’t tell Dillon that. It was confidential. So he said, “I’m fine, although my last mission took a toll on me. I lost a team member who was also a good friend.”

Dillon shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Me, too. Laramie Cooper was a good guy. One of the best. We went through the academy together.” Bane knew Dillon wouldn’t ask for specifics. Bane had explained to his family early on that all his covert ops were classified and linked to national security and couldn’t be discussed.

Dillon didn’t say anything for a minute and then he asked, “Is that why you’re taking a three-month military leave? Because of your friend’s death?”

Bane eased down in the leather armchair across from Dillon’s desk. When their parents, aunt and uncle had gotten killed in a plane crash over twenty years ago, Dillon, the eldest of the Denver Westmorelands, had acquired the role of guardian of his six brothers—Micah, Jason, Riley, Stern, Canyon and Bane—and his eight cousins—Ramsey, Zane, Derringer, Megan, Gemma, the twins Adrian and Aidan, and Bailey. As far as Bane was concerned Dillon had done an outstanding job in keeping the family together and making sure they each made something of themselves. All while making Blue Ridge Land Management Corporation, founded by their father and uncle, into a Fortune 500 company.

Since Dillon was the eldest, he had inherited the main house in Westmoreland Country along with the three hundred acres it sat on. Everyone else, upon reaching the age of twenty-five, received one hundred acres to call their own. Thanks to Bailey’s creative mind, each of their spreads were given names—Ramsey’s Web, Zane’s Hideout, Derringer’s Dungeon, Megan’s Meadows, Gemma’s Gem, Jason’s Place, Stern’s Stronghold, Canyon’s Bluff and Bane’s Ponderosa. It was beautiful land that encompassed mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and streams.

Again, Bane thought about how good it was to be home, and safe here talking with his brother.

“No, that’s not the reason,” Bane said. “All my team members are on leave because our last operation was one from hell. However, I’m using my leave for a specific purpose, and that is to find Crystal.”