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Dear ,

Get ready to embark on a journey so thrilling, so nail-biting, so utterly spine-tingling that you'll need to double-check if your seatbelt's fastened. That's right, friends, I'm pulling back the curtain on my latest heart-pounding creation, The Hermit Kingdom, and you're getting the VIP sneak peek before the audio version drops!

Buckle up!

The World of Shane Riley

Set in North Korea, a place that's a strange mix of beauty and mystery, The Hermit Kingdom unfolds a story that will make your pulse race faster than a caffeinated squirrel. Our hero, Shane, is about to face a mystery so intricate, so diabolical, that even Sherlock Holmes would need… a moment.

But don't think for a moment that you can relax. Oh no. This thriller is filled with twists and turns that will leave you gasping for breath.

Meet Shane Riley, Your New Favorite “Retrieval Specialist”

Imagine Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Now add a dash of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy. That's Shane Riley.

But wait, there's more!

He's brand-new to the “retrieval” game, and he's got two rules:

  1. He doesn't retrieve people.
  2. He only works alone.

Now, aren't you dying to know more?

The Plot Thickens…

Shane stumbles upon a crime that's as puzzling as a Rubik's Cube greased with confusion: When diving off the coast of Australia, he's basically kidnapped and brought to a rich North Korean politician's home.

The man wants him to retrieve something of great value: his daughter.

Even worse… he wants him to break both his rules.

And, of course, there will be that classic Nick Thacker twist that you all know and love (and possibly curse me for later).

A Sneak Peek Just for You

Here's an exclusive excerpt to whet your appetite:

Shane was about 50 meters into his dive when he sensed movement above his head. He stopped, jerking his head around and peering toward the surface. A long shape appeared far above him, leading with a dark shadow. It was a boat, and he heard the high-pitched whine of its motor as it passed directly above him.

He turned again, checking his dive watch and realizing his bearings. The boat was headed straight toward his own boat, a small single-engine outboard he had anchored on the rocks. He swam upward a bit more, trying to trail the V-shaped and dark shadow ahead of it. The boat was small, larger than his, but certainly not a yacht or sailboat. He saw the wake begin to ripple as the boat slowed, and he saw the shadow of his own hull grow larger as he continued his ascent. He needed to check how deep he was to avoid the bends.

He unlatched the spear from his back and held it in his right hand. He pulled himself upward with his left, kicking to increase his speed.

The boat stopped next to his, and for a moment everything above and below was still. Shane didn't want to give away his own position in the water in case whoever these people happened to be were hostile and happened to glance down into the water.

He waited there for a minute, trying to listen for any sounds that might clue him in as to who these people were and what they were doing on his boat. Theft wasn't common, but it wasn't unheard of, either. Sometimes young idiots who liked to fancy themselves pirates looked for single-operation dive boats like his and waited for a while, ensuring the diver was well into whatever excursion they had planned down below. Then they would sneak onto the boat and take whatever things of value there were. Pawn shops up and down the coast were littered with dive gear, fishing equipment, and any number of ocean-related treasures that had been snatched from unsuspecting victims.

Shane would not be one of those victims. He kicked again, increasing his speed to rapidly ascend so that he would pop out of the water and halfway over the edge of his own boat. He aimed for the far edge, away from the new boat, putting his own craft between him and the intruders. In case they were armed, this would allow him to reassess, diving straight back down and letting them have their way with his gear.

He didn't take too kindly to thieves, but he also didn't want to be shot for something as petty as a couple of twerps hoping for a prize. He launched himself out of the water as planned, leaving his mask over his face but letting his eyes quickly adjust to his new surroundings. 

He saw two figures, still blurry as his eyes shifted, but also noticed they weren't imposing or threatening. In fact, they were sitting down, calmly parked next to his anchored boat.

He frowned, then pulled the regulator out of his mouth and the mask up and onto his head. He wiped his eyes with the back of his free hand, letting the spear be seen in clear detail as he hoisted it up and over the edge of his small fishing boat.

“And you are?”

There were two men, both seated, one at the pilot console and the other in the passenger chair next to it. It was a speedboat, the type often rented to tourists for day trips out on the water.

The man farthest away from him – the one driving the boat – spoke first.

“Shane Riley?”

“Who's asking?”

“Sorry to interrupt your day, sir, but we are here with a job offer. An opportunity.”

“I'm not interested in opportunity. I don't need a job, either. Sorry to disappoint, but I've got work to do,” he said as he pulled the mask down over his eyes and reached to shove the gag back in his mouth.

The second man spoke. “Mr. Riley, this is an extremely important request.”

“Depends on whose definition you go by, I suppose.” He let his thick Australian drawl ring clear over the water. In other parts of the world, he downplayed it, sometimes even hid it altogether, taking up an accent of a local dialect.

That life was mostly behind him now. He didn't have to fake anything, didn't have to operate as if everyone was trying to kill him at all times, didn't need to blend in. Now, he was who he was, and that was that. He wasn't interested in these guys or their “important” mission.

“If you don't mind, we've been charged with asking you to come with us.”

“I do mind.”

He waited then, feeling out the situation. If these men were going to be hostile, now was the time for a show of power – perhaps a not-so-subtle wave of a pistol that had been previously hiding on one of the men's laps or even standing up and pulling out a weapon from a concealed holster. Kneeling, neither option transpired. Instead, the second man looked at the driver and then back at Shane.

“Look, we're not here to threaten you or hurt you. We've been told that would be a bad idea. But this is a matter of importance to our boss, which means it could very well be a matter of importance to our nation.”

Shane squinted through the bright strands of afternoon sunlight. A matter of national importance. “What nation?”

He knew these guys were hired guns, and trying to judge their background and nation of origin would be challenging at best. And it wouldn't tell him anything – they could be working for any number of governments who needed to hire someone with a matter of plausible deniability.

“Mr. Riley, if you could just –”

“Gotta say, I expected a little more persuasive tactics. I'm in the middle of something here, and it really can't wait.”

“Looking for your wife can't wait?” the boat's pilot asked.

Shane narrowed his eyes further, pulled himself up the side of his boat, feeling it rock against him as he did. He chewed his lip for a moment. That information was not something most people were privy to. It wasn't exactly classified that he had lost his wife a year ago, but it did imply that these men were telling the truth. They were working for a government entity of some sort.

More than that, though, it intrigued him. Who was the person behind these men? Who was pulling the strings? And why had they opted to collect leverage on Shane? Most people wanting to hire him simply told him how much they would pay and what they needed found. There was little reason to coerce him.

“Mr. Riley,” the second man said, “we are prepared to pay you $10,000 — US currency — just for coming with us, on our boat. It's not a trap. Our boss is just willing to pay you well for your time.” 

The first man spoke again. “Hear us out. Our boss wants to have a conversation with you to convince you to help him. You don't even have to say yes.”

Ten thousand dollars was an absurd amount of money for ‘just a conversation.’ He didn't trust these men, but they didn't seem like soldiers or mercenaries. They genuinely appeared to be some sort of assistants, lackeys who could be sent on an errand without threatening whoever they were meeting with. Either the boss had deep pockets or had a very big prize he wanted to acquire. It didn't matter.

Shane wasn't exactly looking for work, but it seemed like easy money. He had a decent stash of cash back at the small bungalow and even more in a safety deposit box, but cash always seemed to find a way to run down to a trickle. 

And the first man's implication wasn't far off. His wife was down there, somewhere. But she wasn’t going anywhere. She had already waited a year. Eventually, her bones would settle, the car and body reclaimed by the ocean. Algae and dirt sediment would set in. A new coral system would form, animals would move in, and the circle of life happening beneath the waves would be in full effect.

But he had time. At least another six months, possibly even a year before the car became unrecognizable and his wife drifted away to dust. Even then, he could still visit her. Her body might not be there anymore, but the car would be a shrine to her memory. Once he marked the location, he could visit her resting place whenever he wanted.

Most of all, though, he was intrigued. He dropped back down into the water, thinking for a moment. He had left the spear lying between the two plank seats. It would be a final test of their hostility. If they reached for it, or even looked at it suspiciously, he would have his answer.

He bobbed in the water near his motor for another few seconds. They waited calmly, watching him.

Finally, he swam around the stern of his small craft and grasped the handles of their ladder. He popped his flippers off and tossed them back onto his own boat. Next, he rolled the tank off his back and let one of the men help him out of the water with it. He stood there on the back end of their boat, dripping wet and eyeing each man as they watched him.

“I'm just supposed to leave my boat here?” he asked.

The pilot smiled. “I'm thinking ten thousand dollars will be enough to replace that little guy.”

The (Audio) Countdown Begins

The Hermit Kingdom Special Edition Audio will be hitting virtual shelves on September 1, but who likes waiting?

Not me, and I hope not you. That's why I'm offering a special one-time offer to my readers.

Check out the details here.

Until next time, keep those pages turning and your wits about you.

Thrillingly yours,

Nick Thacker