Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Run

BOOK: Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Run
6.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Abandoned as a child and desperate for the love of a family, Salt Lake City costume designer Tess Horton refuses to believe her newly discovered relatives are part of the Mormon Mafia—until they try to kill her. Plagued not only by assassins,
by prophetic dreams she doesn’t understand, Tess flees to Baja and stumbles upon CIA field officer Max Maxwell, who washes up on her beach, wounded and unconscious. As the mafia hit men close in, Tess discovers that trusting a stranger may prove to be her only means of escape, but at what cost?


Max is chasing terrorists during a storm on the Sea of Cortez when he runs into an ambush. He awakens in a strange cottage just as assassins arrive, but his injuries have given him temporary amnesia and he can’t remember who he is or what he is doing in Baja. Going on instinct, he helps Tess escape the killers, thereby gaining her trust, only to discover when his memories return that he must betray that trust in order to stop a terrorist attack that could rival Nine-Eleven.

Kudos for


Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Run
by Pepper O’Neal wasn’t quite what I expected. Not that I was disappointed because I wasn’t. But while it has a paranormal angle, in that the heroine has prophetic dreams, it doesn’t have shifters or vampires. What it does have is lots of action, adventure, and suspense. And two—count them, two—gorgeous hunks! Honestly, I had a great deal of trouble deciding which one I liked best. But that’s the best kind of trouble to have...As always, O’Neal’s characters are so well developed and feel so real, it’s hard to believe
fiction, and the dialogue makes you feel like you’re right there in the scene with them. The stuff about the CIA and the Mormons also had a ring of truth that tells me O’Neal did her homework.
Black Ops Chronicles: Dead
is one you’ll want to read again and again. –
Taylor, Reviewer


The story had some interesting twists, complicated by the fact that the main hero Max had a head injury at the start of the book and so for the first 24 hours, he had amnesia. I thought that part was very well done. O’Neal gave some good rationale for the amnesia, other than just the injury, like the fact that Max’s partner had been killed in the ambush where Max was injured, so Max didn’t want to remember, giving some added dimension to it. I liked the relationships between the characters, and I adored Levi, the secondary hero. He was really cool. I see on O’Neal’s website that this will be a series, so I am really hoping that the next book is about him. The characters were very well done, the action extremely fast paced. Throw in a few terrorists, the CIA, and organized crime, and I was riveted from the very first paragraph. I kept waiting for a good place to stop, but there just wasn’t one, so I ended up reading until 3 am. My kind of book! –
Regan, Reviewer






Pepper O’Neal




Copyright 2012 by Pepper O’Neal

Cover Art by Dawné

Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved

ISBN: 978-1-937329-60-0




All that stood between her and a bullet was...a kiss?


Over Max’s shoulder Tess saw two men turn the corner and head toward them. She whirled around, putting her back to his chest.

“Nick and Tony,” she breathed.


“Coming this way. Behind us.”

“Do you think they recognized you in this getup?”

“Not yet, but they will if they get close enough to see my face. And if we run, they’ll probably just assume it’s me.”

“Then we won’t run. We’ll duck and cover.” He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around. “Kiss me and they won’t see your face.”

She didn’t question him, just slipped her arms around his neck, rose up on her toes, and pressed her lips to his. He pulled her closer and changed the angle of the kiss, bending his head over hers, shielding her face.

Panic twisted her gut. Her legs trembled, and her skin grew clammy, sweat oozing down her back. Someone brushed past her. Bumped her shoulder. She smelled a familiar cologne and heard Nick’s voice say, “Get a room, for Christ’s sake.”

Scrunching her eyes closed as tight as she could, she clung to Max, expecting at any minute to feel a knife or a bullet in her back. Her knees buckled until his arms were the only thing holding her upright.

After what seemed like several lifetimes, he broke the kiss and moved his lips to her ear. “They’re gone, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop.”






This book is dedicated to the many people who were instrumental in its creation:


First to my critique group at Internet Writers Workshop, who stuck with me through endless revisions. Especially Amy, Barry, Beth, Carol, David, Deborah, Fiona, Greg, Holly, Jackie, John, Judith (both of you), Judy, Kathleen, Karen,
, Kristy, Laurel, Lauren, Mark, and Nicole. Thank you so much for all your help. I would have never gotten here without you.


And to my editors at Black Opal Books, Cora, Mike, and Faith. You guys are the greatest. Thanks so much for your marvelous insights. You made a big difference in the finished product.


And a big thanks to Phyllis Taylor
, who mentored me through this book, and to Judy W. for all your help with character development.


You all made this possible. I can’t thank you enough!


And finally to Max, Tess, and Levi. You gave me the story and helped me make it mine. Without you the tale would never have been told.



: the back of the boat toward the rear or stern of the boat.

: the middle of the boat, halfway between the bow and the stern.

: a Muslim saying that means God is

: stands for area of operation and usually refers to the place where a battle or tactical event takes place—where the mission is carried out.

Black Ops
: short for black operations—covert mission
that are highly clandestine and often outside of standard military protocol, or even against the law
. They are called black operations because they are carried out in great secrecy, usually with no official records of the mission being kept.

: the front of the boat.

: when a boat rolls completely over so it’s upside down in the water.

CIA Chief of Station
: the person in charge of the CIA mission at foreign embassies, equivalent to a KGB Resident.

: someone who smuggles people into the U.S. from Mexico across the border between Mexico and the U.S.

: a small boat carried on a yacht and used for travel between the yacht and the shore or in places where the water is too shallow for the yacht to go.

: in nautical terms, founder means to fill with water and sink, as when a ship founders.

: pronounced foo-bar, is an acronym for “Fucked
Up Beyond
All Recognition,” often used by the military personnel to describe a blown mission.

Gilly Suit
: a camouflage suit designed to resemble foliage and primarily used to hide snipers and
special forces
soldiers in combat situations.

: pronounced gunnel, is the top edge of a boat’s side. It’s called a gunwale because in the past guns were mounted on it.

: when a boat heels, it tilts to one side away from the wind.

: the wheel or rudder that controls the course or direction the boat goes.

: the main outside, v-shaped body or skeleton of the boat that rides in the water.

: short for intelligence, refers to information pertaining to the mission.

: in nautical terms this is a unit of speed equivalent to one nautical mile (usually nautical miles per hour as in speed rather than distance) which equate to a car going 1.15 miles per hour on land.

: when a boat leans over or careens to one side or the other.

Low Ready
: when a weapon is at low ready, it is cocked with a bullet in the chamber. The weapon is held at waist height or just below, the safety is off, and the muzzle is pointed toward the ground.

: the ammunition storage chamber that attaches to a pistol or rifle and holds the ammunition—also called a clip.

.: stands for
Modus Operandi
a Latin term meaning “
mode of operating.
” The term is often used by police or military to describe someone's manner of working, their method of operating or functioning.

: a spy, or an insider, who is giving information to the other side.

Murphy’s Law
: the name military personnel commonly give the saying, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Point Man
: the man in front, scouting out the mission and relaying information back to the rest of the team. The point man is usually some distance from the rest of the team.

: the left side of boat when facing the front or bow.

: A salon on a boat is the main cabin area, like the living room in a house.

Six or Your
: Directly behind you. Also, meaning “your back” as in “I’ve got your six.”

: the right side of a boat when facing the front or bow.

: a code, mostly used in hospitals, meaning immediately.

: the rear of the boat.

The Farm
: CIA training facility near Williamsburg, Virginia.

: refers to the flat panel at the stern of a boat

: when a boat yaws, it swerves off course.






Tuesday, February 12
, 5:53 p.m., Mexico’s Sea of Cortez


They were
screwed. Max didn’t need the roar of the automatic-weapons fire chasing the boat through the storm to tell him that. The howling wind and bellowing sea had already clued him in. Alone at the helm of the CIA’s forty-foot Bayliner,
Bold Venture
, he tightened his grip on the wheel, cursed, and braced himself.

slammed into a wall of steel-gray water. She shuddered. The force of the impact echoed through her hull and rattled the deck.
The word reverberated in Max’s head as the vessel trembled beneath his feet.

Creaking like a rusty hinge, the cruiser lumbered up the crest of the swell, plunged down the backside, and plowed into another wave. Max cursed again as the portside running lights were ripped off their stanchions and hurled into the sea.
Jesus, baby
don’t fall apart on me now

A sick shade of pale green, David staggered topside and sank onto a bench facing the captain’s chair. He started to say something then suddenly grabbed hold of the rail, his eyes widening, his breath hissing out between his teeth. “Shit! Bogies closing on our six!”

Max shot a glance behind him.
! No matter what he did, the damn terrorists kept gaining. Now their bullets nearly encroached on
’s wake.

Stifling a wince, he hollered over the screams of the storm, “Don’t panic, kid. All they’re doing’s wasting ammo.”

“Maybe so,” David yelled back. “But knowing them, they’ve got plenty to spare.” He drummed his feet on the deck while repeatedly clenching and releasing his hands. “We’re not gonna make it out of this, are we?”

Max hesitated. Mission SOPs demanded complete honesty between partners, and he believed in playing by the rules. But the terror etched on David’s young face made him reconsider. If an innocent white lie or two eased the kid’s mind, what the hell could it hurt? “Sure, we will. We just have to stay ahead of their bullets.”

“We can’t. Not at the rate they’re gaining.” His eyes bleak, David stopped clenching his hands long enough to adjust a strap on his life vest. “Can’t you make this fucking tub go any faster?”

“Bad idea. Engines are redlined. Running hot.” Max checked his gauges then his six again. Jesus, the kid was right. Their lead just kept shrinking.
On second thought
...Shoving both throttles to the stops, he coaxed another half-knot from the boat’s tired diesels.
protested with each new wave.

A spear of lightning illuminated the sea, making him curse again.
Why now, for Christ’s sake
? It wasn’t light he needed at the moment, but more of the red-rimmed, black clouds currently spewing out across the storm-bruised sky. Resembling a blood-soaked blanket, they smothered the glow of the dying sunset and cut visibility to less than a quarter-mile. He rolled his eyes heavenward.
Look, I don’t expect you to bail us out of this fucking mess
but can’t you at least hold off the damn lightning another fifteen minutes?

shuddered. David trembled.

“We’ve only got to outrun them a little longer,” Max yelled—unsure which one he was trying to console—and jerked his chin toward a slight break in the shoreline. “As soon as it’s dark enough, we’ll jump in the dinghy and haul ass for that cove.”

David shot a glance at the coastline, looked back at the terrorists, and shook his head. “They’re too damn close. Without a diversion, they’re bound to see the dinghy.”

“We’ll have to scuttle
Sorry, baby, no choice
. Max’s fingers ached from their death grip on the wheel, but he didn’t dare relax them—not with
fighting the helm so hard. “We can fire the fuel tanks. Blow her up. With any luck they’ll think we went down with her.”

David blanched. “You’re serious?”

“Yeah. Since I don’t feel much like dying today.”

Swallowing hard, the kid shifted on his bench. “Almasi knew we were coming, didn’t he? Those bastards were waiting for us. Had their ambush all set up.”

“Sure looks that way.”

“Murphy’s Law? Or a mole?”

“Feels like a mole. Mission was blown before we ever got to Baja.”
Which meant the terrorist leader had known
too much for it to be a coincidence.
A dark, feral rage seared Max’s gut, the bile bubbling up to scorch his throat. Gritting his teeth, he swallowed, forcing down both the vomit and the anger. Deal with one FUBAR at a time, he reminded himself as
they climbed another swell. Retribution would keep until he found out who the traitor was.

The wind died down a little and
began to make some headway. He sighed in relief. Maybe, they’d get out of this yet.

“At least now we know for sure the woman’s a part of it,” David mused. “She’s got to be. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have walked into an ambush the minute we got close to where she’s supposed to be hiding.”

Though it was the only logical conclusion, Max shook his head. “Maybe. Maybe not. She could be just an innocent bystander with shit for luck.”

“Oh, come
, Max. No one’s luck is
bad. If the bitch really is a psychic like her file says, she knows we’re after her. I’d lay odds she’s on a yacht in the Persian Gulf right now, sipping margaritas and laughing her ass off.”

“Jesus, kid, you don’t really believe all that psychic bullshit, do you?”

“Then how do you explain the note in her file?”

“She probably made a lucky guess on something or other, so somebody started spreading nonsense.” Max shrugged. “I imagine the Company investigator included it just to cover his ass. But I didn’t see anywhere in the file that
claims to be a psychic. Trust me, kid, she’s just what she seems—a small-time costume designer.”

Max didn’t know why the hell he was defending the woman. Other than a grainy photo in her dossier, he’d never set eyes on Tess Horton and didn’t know her from Adam. But her file didn’t read like that of someone involved with terrorists. She had no religious affiliation or criminal record, not even an overdue library book. What possible reason could she have for throwing in with a bunch of Middle Eastern radicals?

Still, she
run from FBI custody—to the very area where Almasi and his goons were reported to be hiding out, planning an attack on the US. And, as David had pointed out, the timing of the ambush was highly suspicious, coming just as
neared the stretch of the coastline where Horton’s cottage was said to be hidden.

So why did his instincts insist things weren’t as they appeared? Frustrated and annoyed by the conflict between what the evidence suggested and what his gut told him, he shoved the problem aside and forced himself to focus on their current clusterfuck.

He muscled the wheel back to port, struggling to keep the boat
upright while maintaining the highest possible speed. The whole scenario sucked, he decided as the wind picked up again and
lost ground. Not only was he numb with fatigue, his life vest, clothes, and hair—soaked with saltwater—felt thick and gummy. His skin, gritty. Chilled to the marrow, he could only cringe as another wave crashed over the gunwale and exploded in his face.
Jesus H. Christ
Enough already

“God, that’s foul shit,” he growled. The water tasted like diesel-flavored salt. It stung his eyes, blurred his vision. Blinking his sight clear, he spit out what he could then rubbed his mouth on his shoulder to wipe the brine off his lips—and caught a quick glimpse behind him.

“Son of a
!” With their larger, faster Gulf Craft, the terrorists had gained another twenty feet.

“Feel sick.” Clutching the guardrail, David retched over the side.

Max winced in sympathy, knowing the kid’s stomach rebelled as much from the danger as it did from the heaving sea.

David collapsed back onto his bench and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Not much good to you, am I?”

“Don’t sweat it, kid. Been there, done that, and got the T-shirt myself.” But his fourteen years as a CIA field officer had hardened both Max’s stomach and his nerves. He had no doubt David, too, would toughen with time.
If I can just keep him alive

Gunfire barked over the wail of the storm. A hail of lead slammed into the waves off the port side, amidships. Too close.
too close.

“Return fire,” he ordered, jerking the wheel as far to starboard as he dared while measuring the deepening dusk.
Almost there
. “Keep them busy. Buy us some time.”

“I’m on it. Just get us the hell out of here.”

David wrenched an AK-47 assault rifle from its cradle under the bench. He flipped the selector switch to auto and jammed the gun against his shoulder. Taking barely a second to aim, the kid squeezed the trigger and discharged a full clip, adding the burnt-sulfur smell of gunpowder to the scent of diesel and saltwater. He yanked out the empty magazine, spun it around, and rammed in the full one duct-taped beside it. “Christ, this wind’s a bitch. I can’t hit a fucking thing.”

“Adjust your aim to compensate, goddamn it.” Max torqued the wheel again as enemy bullets tore through the transom. “Come on, kid, focus for Christ’s sake. Remember your fucking training.”

David aimed, fired. “I’m trying, damn it. But just in case, tell my folks—”

The side of David’s head exploded. His body crumpled to the deck in a heap.

“No!” His mind hazed with grief and guilt, Max abandoned the wheel, rushed to David’s side, and checked his pulse.


“Goddamn it,
!” The boy was only twenty-three—too damn young to die. “Jesus, kid, I’m sorry.”

Left to herself,
started to founder. Max lunged for the wheel again. He lost his footing on the flooded deck, landed on his ass, and bit his tongue. Spitting out the blood, he glared at the Gulf Craft bearing down on him. “I am
dying like this. The fucking mission’s not over.”

He struggled to his feet. This time he managed to grab hold of the wheel. Another round of slugs shredded the stern. Impotent—for the moment—he could only shake his fist. “You bastards won’t get away with this. I swear I’ll see you in hell first.”

Bracing himself against the captain’s chair, he yanked the wheel around as far as it would go. “Come on, baby, back to port now. Stay afloat just a little longer.”

shuddered and listed to starboard, resisting the helm.

“Goddamn it, I said, ‘back to
,’ you worthless piece of shit!”

She bucked, pitching David’s body into the sea.

“Christ, kid, I’m so sorry,” Max whispered. Someday, somehow, he vowed, he’d avenge the boy.

Before he could steady her,
yawed broadside on the crest of a violent wave, heeled hard to starboard, and capsized. Catapulting across the deck, Max remembered his parents had wanted him to be a doctor. Maybe he should’ve listened.

As he plummeted toward the sea, his head struck the gunwale with the force of a pile driver. Intense pain ripped through his skull and bright lights exploded behind his eyes. Then the world dimmed to black.

Switched off.




Wednesday, February 13
, 7:41 a.m., two miles outside the village of El Nopal, just north of La Paz, on the coast of the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur



With a blast of alarm, Tess jolted out of the dream and snatched the snub nose .38 revolver from under her pillow. Eyes closed, ears straining, she held her breath and listened but heard only the surf kissing the shores of the cove.
Must’ve dreamed the noises
. As the terror faded, she exhaled and waited for her heart to stop slamming against her ribcage.

Sunlight filtered through the tattered curtains.
Looks like the storm’s over
Thank God
. Off in the distance, a rooster crowed. She glanced at the clock on her nightstand. Shit! She’d overslept again. Tossing aside the covers, she sat up on the edge of the rickety bed, reached over to put the gun back under her pillow, and—froze.

Muffled thumps came from somewhere in the cottage. She hadn’t dreamed them after all, she realized, as icy fingers of dread skittered up her spine. It was too late to run. If Nick’s men had gotten this close, she’d have to fight. Struggling not to panic, she cocked the gun, eased off the bed, and crept from the room.

Cold sweat crawled over her skin and she shivered, imagining the pain of a bullet smashing into her body. Did shock and adrenalin really keep it from hurting too much? God, she hoped so.
Stop it
Don’t think about that now

BOOK: Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Run
6.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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