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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Strong Enough to Die

A Caitlin Strong Novel

Caitlin Strong Novels (Volume 1)

Jon Land

Forge Books


Chapter One

San Antonio, the Present

"But you made it," Rita Navarro, director of the Survivor Center for Victims of Torture, said from behind her desk,after Caitlin had left her story off with being felled by the second bullet.

"Barely," Caitlin told her.

"And the other Ranger, Charlie Weeks?"

"He didn't make it."

Navarro slid back slightly from the edge of her desk chair, checking the résumébefore her again as if in search of new information. The light in her cramped office, once a treatment room in the clinic that had formerly occupied this building, came from ceiling- mounted, overly bright fluorescents. But natural light wasn't an option since the room's windows had been frosted over by a thick layer of dust and grime. Sometime during the transition from clinic to treatment center, the building had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair requiring more funds to remedy than were available.

"I'm glad to have had the opportunity to meet you, Ranger Strong—"

"I'm not a Ranger anymore."

"—but what exactly are you doing here? We never advertised for a security specialist." "No, you advertised for a counselor and therapist. That's what I'm applying for."

"Oh," Navarro said dismissively, and flipped to the second page of the résumé. She was younger than Caitlin had expected. Her name suggested a Hispanic heritage, but Caitlin thought she detected some Native American, Commanche probably, in her peaked cheekbones, narrow jaw and straight dark hair that dropped to the midpoint of her back. She had an engaging smile that Caitlin had so far glimpsed only upon exchanging a quick handshake, finding Navarro's firm and slightly callused, evidence of a woman who liked to garden in her free time.

Caitlin crossed her legs, then uncrossed them. The stiffness of the wood chair forced her to hunch forward, leaving her shoulders tense. And she was beginning to regret her decision to swap her jeans for pressed light cotton slacks. The jeans did a better job of accentuating her curves and making her long legs stand out less. At five foot nine she had her father's height and grandfather's short torso, a model's body she'd often been told before adding substantial muscle to her frame with regular weight lifting workouts. Her wavy auburn hair was the longest it had ever been, tumbling just past her shoulders. Besides the hair, Caitlin looked no different than she had five years before. Maybe she was trying to freeze time going back to that night in the West Texas desert near the Mexican border. Do that and maybe she could figure out how to make it run backward too.

She still got out in the sun a lot, leaving her skin drier and tighter than she'd prefer. But her complexion was smooth and dark, the rosy cheeks she'd been teased about as a child staying with her to this day.

"After leaving the Rangers, I went back to college and got a master's in psychiatric social ser vices," Caitlin explained. "Got myself certified in crisis management and intervention. Nice complement to my undergraduate degree in sociology."

Navarro went back to the first page. "You were, let's see, seven years with the highway patrol before you joined the Rangers."

"You need at least that much service with the Texas Department of Public Safety before the Rangers will even consider you."

"I understand only one of every hundred applicants actually makes it." "Something like that. Since I was the one I didn't give it much thought."

"Family tradition, it seems."

"Yes, ma'am. My granddad was the last of the real gunslingers. Took down a gang that had robbed four banks in the street outside number five."

"By himself?"

"He happened to be having a cup of coffee in the diner across the way. My dad could hit the bull's-eye with his pistol from a hundred yards nine times out of ten. And my great- granddad and great, great- granddad took part in some of the most famous Ranger campaigns in history."

"The Mexican War being one of them."

"That'd be my great, great- granddad. He was there all right, fighting skirmishes on both sides of the Rio Grande. What makes you ask?"

Navarro tapped her desk with her index fingers, flashing a look that suggested she was leaving something unsaid. "I looked you up on the Internet. Seems like you were in the pro cess of making your own legend with the Rangers."

"Not really."

"But you took down the man they called the most dangerous in all of Texas. McMasters or something."

"Masters. Cort Wesley Masters."

"You didn't list that on your résumé."

"It was just an arrest. I made dozens of those."

"Only female Ranger ever, is that right?"

"There've been a few others, but it never quite worked out, ma'am."

"I imagine it could be a tough job for a woman."

"Well, truth be told, it's a tough job for anyone, but it's a lot to ask of a woman, especially, to ride into some Texas town been doing things a certain way for a long while and tell the elected sheriff that you're the resident Ranger on a case he thought he was in charge of."

"Didn't seem to bother you much with this Masters."

"I had some luck, ma'am."

Navarro let it go at that, passing Caitlin a faint smile that said she knew there was plenty more to the story. Caitlin was grateful, in no particular mood to rehash her near gunfight with the most feared man in the state. Today was about moving forward, not back.

Navarro studied the pages again, less cursorily this time, no longer feigning interest. "You received a commendation for what happened at the border, saving your partner and all."

"I didn't save him for long."

"Special Medal for Valor, it says here."

"I didn't deserve it."


"Because we got ambushed. Seems all wrong getting rewarded for being ambushed."

"You left the Rangers on your own?"

"I did, ma'am."

"Not on disability, it says here."

"I wasn't disabled."

"Six months after the gunfight in which you were wounded."

"There was the hospital stay."

"Two months," Navarro said, after consulting the pages before her, "to treat two primary bullet wounds."

"Something like that."

"Rehab cost you another two," Navarro read. "Then you rejoined the Rangers for two months, before leaving for good."

"You want to know what happened."

"I am curious as to the circumstances."

"How much you wanna hear, ma'am?"

"How much you want to tell me?"

Excerpted from Strong Enough to Die by Jon Land.
Copyright © 2009 by Jon Land
Published in May 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.