Authors: Hilary Storm,Kathy Coopmans
Copyright © 2016 Hilary Storm
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under
U.S Copyright Act of 1976
, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover Models: Dylan Horsch and Tessi Conquest
Cover Photography: Furiousfotog
Paperback Cover: Designs by Dana
Editing: Julia Goda
Printed in the United States of America
I can hear her in my ear as they pull away. The sound of her voice screaming keeps me fighting until I don’t have a choice but to let them drag me from where I fell to my knees. There are too many of them. I can lie here and take their brutal attacks all fucking day, because I know she’s safe. I’ll play their games as long as it takes. I’ll either die this way, or I’ll kill a few of these motherfuckers and find my way out of here and back to her.
I feel the scrape of the gravel across my skin as my body is dragged to god knows where. My eyes are both swollen shut from some asshole’s steel-toed boot to my face. I have no clue where I am; I only know there are tiny fucking pebbles digging into my flesh. My skin is on fire, and the reality of this hell begins to settle deep within my soul.
These brutal fucks are about to eat me alive, and I know this is only the beginning of the torture I’m bound to receive.
I feel at least five sets of hands grip my body and throw me in the back of a truck like I’m a bag of trash. The landing only intensifies my already bruised ribs, but I welcome the pain. It means I'm still alive.
I focus on the noise around me, trying to memorize every single fucking sound. There’s nothing but the harsh whispers of the night. I’ve been proficient in knowing every bit of my surroundings when a dangerous situation arrives, until now.
My focus shifts to the loud cawing scream coming from above. I can hear the vulture circling as if there’s something here to feed off of. I refuse to believe that's my fate and silently will that fucker to choke on the next rotting flesh it preys on.
The rumble of the engine starting reminds me of the truck we were moved in earlier, but it's slightly smoother. I imagine an old farm truck with a similar bed as I'm flipped to my face, so some dickhead can tie me up tighter. The restraints are tight, and I'm trying my hardest not to fight back. I need the element of surprise on my side, and I'm positive having two eyes to see with will be a great start.
I focus on the movements of the truck as I'm being manhandled. The further away we get, the harder it is to swallow. I know it'll be hard as fuck for my team to search for me now. My only hope is to stay alive long enough for my guys to find me when they do return. They're the best at what they do, and they will find me. I'm just not sure how long it will take them. Their first priority is to get the target back to the States under any condition, and if any of them falter from that, I'll personally kick their asses myself.
The sound of the truck braking pulls me back to the reality of the nightmare I'm living. I'm lifted to my feet by the ropes I'm bound by and shoved face first off the back of the truck. My knees crack, and a sharp splinter of pain hurls up my leg when I hit the ground. I
kill these motherfuckers the second I'm free. I can smell their fucking filth everywhere and will never forget it.
The feeling of my body scraping against the ground again emphasizes the pain I'm trained to deal with. It doesn't make it any easier; in fact, knowing what is possible is far worse than being surprised about any torture coming my way. My body is fucking killing me, and I'm fighting the urge to vomit as they drag me into a wooded area. The rustling of dried leaves crunching under their boots on what I can imagine is a gravel road burns into my memory. I’m trying to focus on everything I can. Every single one of my senses is on high alert; it's vital I pay attention and focus on each one of them. I hope like fuck I'll need this information in the near future.
The voices speaking Spanish ring in my head long after I’m tossed into some sort of cold-cemented cell. The metal door is slammed, sealing me to my fate for now. These men have no idea who they have fucked with. I’ll build my strength in here, if need be. My mind begins to run a race of its own. Time means everything in love and war. I refuse to believe my love ends here, so I use the memory of her to fuel me.
I roll over and spit out the blood that's pooling in my mouth and try not to think about anything but her. She's stolen my heart, and I know she has to be battling her own kind of internal war over the way the mission ended.
Jade’s beautiful skin lights up my memories, and even through this fucking hell, I can feel her. I know she's mad as fuck and won't stop until she gets to me. This should be comforting to me, but it scares the fuck out of me. I can handle anything they do to torture me, but if they lay one fucking finger on her, it'll feel like I'm being gutted. It will absolutely devastate and destroy me.
I need to do everything I can to keep her in my mind, where it's safe. Whoever the hell is behind all of this can’t know about her. She’s my fucking weakness and my stone-cold strength. Right now, she's giving me the courage I need to get through this, no matter what my fate might be. I know my team won't let anything happen to her, so I just need to focus on getting myself out of here alive. That’s all I can do for now. I'll let her be my angel in this hell, the woman I’ve fallen in love with, and she'll be the power behind my force and the reason I need to survive.
I hear more voices outside the door and work to translate their disgusting words that are barely audible to my ears. My knowledge of how this works should have me shitting myself in fear, but I'll be fucking damned if these assholes will ever smell fear coming from me.
I wish they'd come in here, untie me, and let me have a fair chance against their bullshit. Chicken shit motherfuckers. I know how this works. Most likely, I'll be left here to die unless they find a reason to keep me alive. In the grand scheme of things, that isn't likely. They can do whatever they want to me. I can spend the last few days of my life knowing I succeeded. I never once failed my country, and given the chance to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.
There's only one thing I'd do differently. I would have stayed away from her if I had known this was my fate. How was I supposed to do that though? She drew me in the instant I knew about her. I can't change it now, and even if I could, I'm not sure how I could have stayed away.
A tiny tear slips out of my eye and across my nose as I think about the way it should be. I was so close to having everything. My heart is still full, and even though I'll most likely never feel her soft skin again, I swear I can smell her right here and now. I swallow hard and acknowledge the reality of this situation. The odds of me making it through this are very slim. I can only hold on to the memories and die with a vision of her in my head.
Their voices get louder, and I translate a few of their words. They’re coming in soon to attempt to get me to talk.
I will never talk. I swallow around the large lump in my throat and begin to accept my fate.
I'll die soon with only one regret.
“Harris, let me go. I swear to God, I’ll kill you.” I pull out my pistol and set it right on his temple. He looks at me with a sadness that matches my own. I'm hurting so fucking deep I can hardly breathe, and I want nothing more than to kill someone. If I thought for a second it would bring Kaleb to me, I'd do it right fucking now. My hands are shaking. My finger rests on the trigger, while my eyes pierce through Harris’.
What the fuck am I doing?
This isn’t right. Nothing about any of this is right. We can't leave Maverick. Not after I fell in love with him. I’m pointing my gun at my best friend’s head while my heart crumbles.
"Elliott. Stop. I'm on your fucking side. We're in this together, so put your damn gun down. The second we can separate from the team, we will. I'm going back to get him and so are you. You fucking know we have to get Al-Quaren back to the States, and we can't do that if we're acting on goddamn emotions. We did what we fucking had to do. Check yourself now, Jade. Right the hell now." He’s right. I’m a mess, and yet here I am, still not able to put my gun down.
We both stand there in the same position as the thumping of the helicopter continues to move us. My head feels like it's about to explode and so does my heart.
How is this happening?
I start to lower my gun, and he pulls me into his arms while the gun dangles in my hand. I'm dying inside, and the last thing I want to feel is the warmth of a man who is not Kaleb.
I slam the gun into my leg holster and push away from him, moving over to the monkey straps that bound me in earlier. I fight with everything I have not to kill every single one of these guys and try to fly this motherfucker back myself.
How could they lift off without him?
"Ice. I'm working on a plan, and when we get to the drop, I'll take you myself." Jackson moves closer to me and talks loudly over the whipping of the helicopter blades.
That's three of us going. It sure doesn't feel like enough though, but with the rage I'm carrying, I don't care if there’s an entire army waiting for us out there. I’ll go in by myself if I have to.
"We have to play it safe, Ice. I can see crazy in your gorgeous eyes, and I can't let you go back in unless you reel that shit in. Do you fucking hear me? You’re more of a danger to him and to all of us until you pull your goddamn shit together." Bullet is in my face, reminding me who's in charge here. The pounding of the helicopter blades literally matches my heartbeat, and I'm surprised I could hear his yelling over the noise in my head.
"Yes, Sir," I say loud enough for him to hear. Yet my tone is telling him I’m not really listening. I know what they're saying is vital and of the utmost importance, but I'm struggling like I've never struggled before.
I'm well-trained and knowledgeable about what can go wrong in a mission, but nowhere in all my life could I have ever prepared for the way I feel right now. They may as well have me, because I'm feeling every single fucking hit he's more than likely getting. I feel all of it. Straight to my heart.
"I'm killing the mics now. They have his helmet, and we don't need them listening in. We only have a few minutes when we drop. I want us all to board that airplane and regroup. It's the only way we know we're safe."
"Not on your fucking life, Kase." Harris comes in behind him and speaks before I have the chance to.
"Goddamnit. He'll have my ass if we don't do this right. We can't just start splitting up and fucking lose everyone. Seriously. Use your heads. Both of you.”
"And you know time is of the essence in a situation like this. We have to split up. Half of us take this piece of shit in and the other half stay behind and blow off heads until we get Fire,” Jackson speaks his mind. He seems to be pushing to stay behind, and for that I like this guy more by the second.
“You're fucking crazy if you think they haven't moved him. You're also an idiot if you go back there tonight. An army will be waiting to blow
fucking heads off.” Kase is logical. I know he is, but right now, I don't want fucking logic. I want Kaleb back where he belongs. With me.
Kase continues to talk, and I try to hear him. But my mind is spinning with chaos, and my body is filled with so much hatred and adrenaline for those bastards that took him, I can't comprehend anything else.
“Who do we have here in Mexico we can trust?” Thank god for Harris right now. He's asking questions that line up with what I need to know. All my mind wants to do is betray me of the years of training I’ve had, while my heart screams louder than any drill sergeant ever has.
“The two men who helped us tonight, but you fucking know we made a lot of noise and we’re not out of here yet. Who’s to say the whole fucking Mexican Cartel doesn't know our allies by now. That's why we get in and get the fuck out. No questions.” Kase looks at me as he talks. It's as if he’s willing me to agree to leave Mexico and Kaleb behind. I shake my head. No way. I refuse. I will never leave him in this country. Not without me.
I feel the helicopter begin to slow just slightly. I knew the ride would be short, the drive over in the truck was as well.
Why does that seem so long ago?
I can feel panic begin to flow through my veins. My body is shaking, and I look at Harris while he yanks his helmet off and analyzes me. I see so much stress in his eyes as I watch them adjust to the fact I’m barely hanging on. He starts to speak to me calmly and with strength behind his voice.
“It's your call. I'm with you on this.” He moves to me roughly and wobbly as the chopper works to land. I look down and try to comprehend what my mind is saying versus what my heart is screaming. “Elliott. I need you to fucking promise you won't do one damn thing without me. Don't get any fucking crazy ideas to run and try to save the fucking world by yourself. Do you hear me? I'm with you on this. Just say the motherfucking word.” Harris touches my arm as he talks, and I try to comprehend what it is I want to do. I don’t know what we're supposed to do. All I do know is, I have to go get him.
Kase pushes in next to Harris and starts to push his point even harder. “I have access to the best equipment in the fucking world. Not to mention insiders who can help. You two gringos will stick out like goddamn tourists, and not a person in this hell will give you information. We will go get him. I swear to you on my fucking life. But I refuse to tell him when I find him that I let his woman do some stupid bullshit, and now I can't even find her. Let me do what I do best. Then I fucking promise I’ll let you help me blow these motherfuckers into an oblivion when I do locate him.” He has no clue how much I want to believe what he’s saying.
Is it wrong of me to want to go back there and try to save him now? I refuse to believe it is. I’ve let a man in. I’ve fallen in love and I can’t give up on him this easily, no matter what it costs me.
“What if it's too late? What if he's dead? What if he's being tortured while we sit here and talk about what we can and can’t do? Bullet, I'm a doer. I don't talk about shit, I do it. If you think I'm going back to the States so we can get around some goddamn table and map shit out, you're the fucking crazy one. Get on your shit here and figure this out. Find us a fucking hole to hide in and work from here. Because if you think I'll let you fly me thousands of miles away before I kill your ass, you’d better think again. I'm not leaving him. He'd never leave me.” I point my finger at him. My eyes never once ceasing the deadly, truthful glare I give him. He stands fully once we hit solid ground, taking in my words. Harris stays lowered in front of me, and I look to him for what, I have no idea. For strength? For approval? For fucking guidance? I have no clue.
“I knew your ass had to be stubborn to land Fire.” Jackson leans forward to get my attention.
“You nailed that shit on the head.” Harris turns to add his input, and I ignore them all as I work to move from this confined space. I’m torn and deflated, but I'm so close to begging them all to go back with me.
“Alright, let's move.” Steele turns his head around from the cockpit and yells at the team. I snap my head in the direction of Ace and Vice yanking Al-Quaren up by his restraints and pushing him to the doors. His slow energy pisses them off, and they start to walk him faster once their feet are on the ground. I’d like to shove my gun in his face and demand for him to talk, but I know damn well I can’t. My hands are tied in every possible way.
Kase starts talking to the old man who's always helping while Harris never leaves my side.
“Elliott. What's the plan?”
“To find Kaleb,” I say and continue to walk to god knows where.
“How do you plan to go about this?” He stops our progress by grasping a hold of my arm once we’re barely inside the hangar. Harris spins me toward him, and I watch out of the corner of my eye as another pilot takes off in the helicopter, and the loud sound of the blades starts to move out of earshot as I think of my answer.
“Harris, I don't fucking know,” I scream, trying to jerk myself free.
“We need these guys. Please tell me you see that.” His eyes plead for a reality check from me. His grip is firm and yet somehow reassuring.
“I know.” My thoughts are interrupted before I can continue. The airplane begins to move just as I see Kase and Jackson running toward us. The plane slowly rolls out of the hangar and into the night air.
“Thank you,” I whisper once they reach us. My hands haven’t stopped shaking. Harris’ hold on me is long gone, and Jackson nods while Kase ignores me. My temper drops, and now I can actually say my mind is aware of the actuality we are going to find him, so I listen.
“Alright, we need to get the fuck out of here. Ricardo here is going to move us southeast a ways. He has a small house we can hide in until we get our shit together.” Kase won’t look at me. You know what? I don’t care. He damn well knows I’m right or he would have never stayed behind with us. And finally, I have a name to the man who we already owe so much to.
I follow them into an old, nasty van while Ricardo cranks the engine. “Thank you,” I say sincerely. God, I could kiss him. He has guts. I’ll give him that.
“My pleasure.” He nods before he puts the vehicle in drive, and we ride for what feels like forever on the roughest roads I've ever seen. Potholes have my ass hurting with every jar of this piece of shit van. My grip is tight on the torn leather seat, and I’m barely able to contain my own strength as my knees knock together with all the bouncing. The cool material rips from my stronghold, and I feel exhaustion wash over me from everything that’s happened the past few hours.
Someone buy this man a decent car, for god’s sake.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this place is in a very isolated area. I had no idea Mexico had such an area full of trees. It’s a damn forest out here, all secluded and dark. I’d be scared as hell if I was out here by myself.
The harsh sounds of the night do nothing to calm me as we move rapidly from the van into the tiny house. Ricardo speaks quietly to Kase at the door after he lets us in, his English broken but understandable. He only gets a few sentences out before he turns right back around and leaves us to the empty house.
Kase slams the door, and we all just look around the floor at the evidence of someone living here. From the looks of it, I imagine a very old woman. There are old, faded afghans as well as stained doilies draped over the rickety, wooden furniture. The place is small and clean, and I’m not complaining one bit about the shelter it provides us while we decide what our next move will be.
“He said there's a closet in the back bedroom on the right that has some sort of trap door. There's room for all of us and our shit back there. We keep it all there unless we’re wearing it. If we hear anyone coming, we go in lockdown. He's going to help the others find us when they get back tomorrow. Until then, we work on a fucking plan of attack.” His voice is angry, and I know he’s irritated that I pushed to stay.
Maybe one day, he’ll understand why I could never leave.