Read an Exclusive Excerpt From A.J. Tata’s Next Thriller, ‘Dark Winter’

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This fall, Jake Mahegan returns in Dark Winter, the explosive and timely new thriller from former Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata. 

Following last year’s Direct Fire, Tata’s fifth Mahegan book features a ripped-from-the-headlines plot that sets Jake on a collision course with a group of anonymous hackers who hold the fate of the world at their fingertips. . . setting up his most high-stakes, high-concept plot yet, all told with the kind of been-there-done-that authenticity that Tata is known for.

If you’re a fan of Brad Thor, Mark Greaney, or Brad Taylor, you’ll love Tata, who has quickly turned his series into one of the best things going in the military thriller genre right now. While Dark Winter won’t hit bookstore shelves until October 30th, Book Spy followers are getting an exclusive first look at a two-chapter excerpt.

Pre-order your copy of Dark Winter here, then scroll down to read the free preview!





JAKE MAHEGAN KISSED THE SCAR ON CAPTAIN CASSIE BAGWELLS BACK as the sheer curtains fluttered inward from the southwest sea breeze on Bald Head Island, North Carolina. He ran a hand from her bare shoulder along the taut contours of her back, heard a slight moan escape her lips, and continued running his fingertips along her hip and leg.

“Been a week,” she whispered, her head turned toward the open patio sliding door. “No phone calls.”

Mahegan concentrated on the task at hand, which was pleasing Cassie. Plus, phones didn’t ring when they were turned off. Ignoring her comment, he brought his hand back up and firmly traced the muscles on either side of her spine, starting just below her clipped blond hair near her shoulders. He found a few knots and worked the kinks out. He’d learned that she carried her stress between the scapula bones. He rubbed the lateral muscle of each for a few minutes, feeling her body let go of a little more anxiety.

Every day had been the same. Make love. Rest. Sleep. Eat. Make love some more. Walk on the beach, which was just over the dunes beyond the fluttering curtains. Swim in the Atlantic Ocean. He furrowed his brow as he recalled the worry on Cassie’s face yesterday when he had swum a mile out to sea and a mile back. An easy swim for him. Something he had been doing most of his life, especially during his rehab from his combat wound.

He had grinned walking up the beach, spotting her cut body in the flimsy bikini. His smile slowly faded, though, as he noticed the concern etched in her countenance. Fixed gaze, doubting look, full but straight lips, arms crossed.

“Don’t do that again, Jake,” she warned.

“I just swam, like I always do,” he replied.

“You were . . . gone. I couldn’t see you—” She stopped, covering her mouth. A full tear slid from her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

He had hugged her and pulled her tight, his feet on either side of hers in the sand. She had slowly relented and wrapped her toned arms around his large mass. Mahegan was nearly six and a half feet tall and a former high school heavyweight wrestler. All muscle, no fat, Cassie was five feet ten inches. She rested her head on his chest and shoulder. He felt the tears continue to flow.

He had asked himself, isn’t this what you’ve always wanted? A good woman to love and to love you?

At that moment, he realized Cassie was precisely who he wanted. Never considering himself fortunate enough to find his person, she’d suddenly become a fixture in his life.

Now, this morning, he looked from Cassie’s bare back to the sun rising over the dunes and said, “I won’t.”

Cassie turned her head on the pillow slightly and then rolled toward him, pulling him toward her.

“You won’t what?” she asked.

She had a dreamy smile on her face as if Mahegan had spent the last hour finding every spot of pain and pleasure on her body, which was exactly what had transpired.

“I won’t do that again,” Mahegan said.

The smile faded and then grew into something more deep and meaningful. Her eyes opened a bit, green irises radiant as blazing emeralds. A tear fell off her cheek, the first of the day.

“I’ve been trying to hold back, protect myself from being hurt, but I can’t any longer, Jake,” she whispered. “Loving you is worth the risk.”

Mahegan said nothing. He let his heart receive her love, something that perhaps he had been incapable of doing before. Ever self-reliant, Mahegan had enjoyed the company of other women, for sure, but the mission always seemed to come along and nip any budding relationship before it had a chance to bloom. Still, the others had been different. Maybe it had been fate just clearing the way for Cassie. She was unique. And they’d shared dangerous combat action together, not in the sandbox of Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria—though they had both served in those locations—but in North Carolina.

“Are you just going to stare at me with your blue eyes and square jaw?” Cassie asked. She ran a hand along the fresh shaved sides of his head. Two days ago, he had gone to the town barber, a former Marine from Camp Lejeune just up the coast, who convinced Mahegan he needed a Ranger high and tight. Ten bucks later, he looked good as new.

“Pretty much,” Mahegan said. “View of a lifetime right here.” More tears. Her fist pounded his shoulder.

“Don’t you dare do this, Jake Mahegan. Don’t make me love you,” Cassie said.

Mahegan frowned but understood. They had all been through too much combat, too much loss to ever risk the pain of having this connection and losing it. Dull and muted emotions were more manageable than the highs and lows of plumbing the depths of love. Solitude enhanced decision making. There were no other factors to consider. He could die a hero instead of growing old—as the Croatan saying went—without the worry of hurting someone else. The ultimate selfless sacrifice: don’t love, don’t hurt, don’t feel. Pure execution. In thirty years of life, he had lost his mother, father, and best friend in the worst possible ways. What good was love if it was just going to be snatched away from you?

“Don’t give me that puppy dog look, damnit,” Cassie said, sobbing.

He kissed her forehead and then her lips. She kissed him back, opening her mouth, pulling him deep.

“Don’t let me love you, damnit,” Cassie said, pulling away briefly and then diving back in for more.

Mahegan let his actions do the talking, taking them both for another physical and emotional ride that ended on the floor, the sheets wrapped around them like a shroud. A rectangle of sunlight spotlighted them. The end table lamp lay askew on the floor and two pillows were scattered around them.

“Oh my God,” Cassie said, laying her arms flat on the floor. She looked outside and then back up at Mahegan. “I just hope you can keep up.”

Mahegan smiled. He was beginning to wonder, as well. Cassie was relentless in bed. At first, he’d chalked it up to her working out aggression or past issues, but now he believed something different.

She loved him. No question. And she was giving herself to him. Every bit.

The helicopter blades chopped in the distance. Mahegan reared his head like a German Shepherd sentry. His instincts had been muted, lost in the moment. This was what love did.

He rolled off Cassie, placing himself between her and the patio window, protecting what he held dear. Then there was a loud pounding on the front door, like a battering ram.

“My gun,” Mahegan said, turning his head.

But he never had time to retrieve it.


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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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