The Price of Valor (Global Search and Rescue #3) - Susan May Warren


AS LONG AS HAMILTON JONES had breath in his body, nothing, not even tooth decay, would hurt his little girl.

“Seriously, Ham? It’s cotton candy, not meth. Let the poor girl taste a cloud of pure sugar.” Jenny Calhoun looked at him with one eyebrow raised, amusement in her expression.

He couldn’t look at Aggie staring up at him with those pretty blue ten-year-old eyes. “Please, Daddy?”

Shoot. Agatha Jones had employed the lethal Daddy kryptonite, a name she’d been using with devastating regularity for the past month.

Ham dug into his pocket for a couple George Washingtons.

Aggie jumped up and down, clapping, her blonde braids whipping around her head. She’d lost a tooth just last week—one of her primary molars—and it had completely freaked him out.

He’d googled it, taken her to a dentist, and discovered that apparently kids lost teeth until they were twelve. So maybe getting a little sugar decay wasn’t the end of the world, but . . .

“Just this once,” he said as he slapped the dollars into her hand. She grinned, a gap in her gums, and took off for the cotton candy stand.

Next to him, Orion laughed. “Ham. You’ve said that five times today.”

He glanced at his teammate, and especially at the oversized stuffed moose Ry carried under his arm. Ham had won it for Aggie at a sharpshooting booth. Ham would be carrying it, but he already carried the dolphin he scored for her at the balloon-dart booth.

So he turned into a pansy when his amazing, beautiful little girl smiled. But sheesh, he’d only recently discovered that he was a father. He had ten years to make up for.

The night was cool, the crispness of early autumn spicing the air. Overhead, stars fell across the horizon, but the bright lights of the county fair and carnival blurred them out. Ham and Aggie had spent the day watching piglets, petting lambs, climbing on pretty green tractors, eating mini donuts—another of his fatherly fails—listening to country music, and figuring their way through a hay maze.

All that remained was the midway.

No. As in all caps. N.O.

The last thing he wanted was his daughter losing her gray matter on one of those spinny rides gone wild. He’d heard horror stories of seat belts failing and kids launching from the twirling cups of poorly maintained traveling carnival rides.

Besides, he’d made promises to . . .

Nope. Not thinking about her. Except, shoot. Signe was always with him, there, in the back of his head, haunting him. “Don’t try to find me.” Her last words to him, right after she’d left Aggie in his care.

Right. Ham had been struggling with his response for three months now. He didn’t do “sit around and wait” easily. Not when someone he loved needed him.

Except, maybe Signe didn’t need him. Had never, really, needed him.

Yeah, he’d been all kinds of foolish when he married a woman who so easily walked away from him.

“I want to go on the Ferris wheel,” Jenny said as she looped her arm through Orion’s. She wore her blonde hair pulled back into a long braid, a jean shirt, and a pair of leggings. Orion found her hand and braided his fingers through hers. He barely limped anymore from his recent knee surgery, and just last week, he’d started instructing a new ice-climbing class at Ham’s GoSports Minnetonka location. He wore a T-shirt and a pair of cargo pants, his Alaskan blood always hot down here in the Lower 48.

Ham followed Orion’s glance at the Ferris wheel. The ride had romance written all over it, lights glittering against the Minnesota night sky.

Ham knew that on this weekend’s agenda, this little getaway to Jenny’s former foster family’s winery in midwestern Minnesota, was Orion’s hope of proposing.

“Hand me the moose,” Ham said, and Orion grinned at him.

Ham stood there, one animal under each arm as Orion and Jenny left to get on the ride. It looked safe enough—each seat formed to look like a balloon with a basket and an arched roof.

“You must be a sharpshooter to nab such big prizes.” A man stood nearby, looking up at the Ferris wheel, then at Ham. Dark complexion, dark hair. He had a hint of an accent. His face was reddened with a fresh scar on one side, as if he’d been in a terrible accident.

“Naw. Lucky shots,” Ham said.

The man looked back at the Ferris wheel and waved. A number of children in the array of baskets waved back, so he couldn’t be sure which kids were