Authors: Gennita Low
When she’d shouted at the men, this one had smiled. It was a stupid thing to notice in the heat of a fire fight, but she would never forget it. That smile had the challenge of a warrior. Even now she could see the alert stance of his body, taking in the situation in the madness of sound and fury. She realized now that he could have killed her with one shot and that her words had stopped the probable outcome.
Now, even crouched down, he was big and intimidating. There was a glint in his eye, as if he was trying to figure her out. Of course, he just learned she was “Fitz” and he mentioned Sean, so he must be...
“You can call me Liam,” he told her. He cocked his head. “Why Fitz and not Ella?”
“It’s Fitzella, my grandpa’s last name. Long story. Fitzella Fitzgerald.” She wrinkled her nose at his smirk. Yeah. The man had one nice smile. “Why Liam and not Steve?”
“I like it that way,” he replied.
“Ha. That’s because all the men in his whole family are named Steve. Like George Foreman and his sons, except worse. Both your families are crazy, so it must be the southern heat,” Wolf said. “Fitz, before we get all friendly with names, where are we going?”
“The plan was to head back to the nearest checkpoint because there isn’t any place to go except the mountains. We needed a way to communicate and let the authorities know what’s happening. The reason why they took out your vehicle first was to prevent you from radioing out for help.”
“They would have gotten our entire team if Liam hadn’t asked to stop at the lookout bunker,” the SEAL who was wounded in the leg said.
Ella only knew two names. Liam, the one who nearly shot her, was also the one Sean had sent to escort her out. And the quiet guy with the injured arm was Wolf. She was sure that wasn’t his real name; she’d been around military guys long enough to know they loved their monikers. Men and their ridiculous nicknames for each other. One day, she’d write a humor piece about that topic.
She glanced at Zainab, who had been quietly driving. She knew the other woman was worried about their friends back there, imprisoned while the men were being beaten and tortured. She didn’t want to think of the possibility of rape, if they didn’t get help quickly. She took in a deep breath.
“So, why are you sure they won’t be giving chase?” Liam asked.
“They’re looking for me, remember? They kept asking for Fitz and nobody there calls me that. Our only hope to save them is to get to the checkpoint.”
Wolf nodded, his eyes thoughtful. “Then they’d be expecting to be attacked and will start a hostage situation.”
“Or they could leave right now with some prisoners and won’t be there when help arrives,” Liam pointed out.
The vehicle braked hard and bodies crashed into each other as everyone tried to stay upright. Ella, who was standing, couldn’t keep her balance, stumbled and fell into the nearest male lap. She grabbed at hard muscular arms as her face smashed into a harder chest.
She moved her head so she could breathe. Another jostle and two hundred pounds of muscle piled on top of her. “Ooooph!”
All around her, everyone was shouting at once.
A pair of arms encircled her protectively, hands cushioning her head, as bodies continued to jostle around.
“What the hell!”
The vehicle made a U-turn.
“What are you doing?” Ella heard Liam yell.
“We’re heading back! I can’t have my people being hauled off as prisoners! They’re women. Do you understand what Daesh would do to them?” Zainab, for the first time, betrayed stress. “I didn’t think they would leave before we could get help. We must go back!”
Ella squirmed under the weight and managed to pant out, “Zainab, calm down. It won’t help matters if you roll the damn thing over!”
Zainab had been chosen to go with her because the girl could speak good English, had a bit of combat experience, and could drive the M-ATV. She was certainly demonstrating her driving skill now as she executed her high-speed U-turn. The vehicle careened wildly as she changed gears. The men around her cursed like the sailors they were as things and bodies shifted like bowling balls.
Fortunately, her partner managed to get the vehicle back under control. Ella let out a breath of relief.
“Please stop, Zainab, just for a minute. We need to talk about this,” she told the woman.
“We have no time,” Zainab said, obstinately.
“We need a plan. We can’t just go back and get shot at, miss.”
Liam’s voice rumbled against her ear. She suddenly realized she was tucked under his chin and glancing down, she discovered she was practically on top of his lap. In the tight space, crammed between the other men, she was very aware of all of Liam’s male parts touching hers intimately. Shit. That meant he would be aware of it too.
She looked up and met amused light brown eyes. Forgetting he had his arms around her, she struggled to get up again, only to find herself bouncing back down, one sensitive part grinding on his...equally sensitive one. The bad condition of the road kept her bouncing...up, down, up, down. She softly muttered a descriptive curse that didn’t help the situation. His brows lifted slightly and his gaze turned very male. He didn’t loosen his hold of her.
She glared at him.
Bounce, bounce, grind, bounce.
“Come on, Zainab,” Liam continued, even as he kept his dark gaze on Ella, “we need a few minutes to strategize. Rescue is all about planning. Your friends back there would be expecting this from you.”
That seemed to get Zainab’s attention and to Ella’s relief, the M-ATV came to a slow halt. Thank God the
stopped as well.
“Let’s not park right out in the open,” Mozart muttered from up front. “The clump of trees over there. Park there.”
A minute later, Zainab pulled in between two trees. There was immediate relief from the desert heat under the branches.
“Let’s get out for a minute. Assess damage and see what we have for weapons,” Wolf ordered.
Ella saw him pass a warning look at his team, conveying the message across not to say anything about Zainab’s driving. As they all moved to get out of the crammed space, Liam’s arms were still around her. She ignored his slight smile.
“Didn’t you hear the order?” she asked.
“I’m assessing damage,” he told her. “It was a rough ride. I could be injured.”
“If you don’t let go immediately, you’ll definitely be injured,” she said, sweetly. “All that blood pooling in a certain area will be very embarrassing.”
“Ouch.” He released her. “All the shooting back there has made you bloodthirsty.”
Ella choked a little at the obvious teasing. Was he flirting with her? Of course he was.
She untangled her legs from under some fallen bags and scooted off Liam’s lap. She kept her eyes off his pants. Nope. Not looking.
“Clear out here, everyone,” one of the SEALs out of the vehicle told them.
While the vehicle cleared, Ella was able to retrieve the first aid kit under the seats. She wasn’t afraid of bloody wounds but hope there wasn’t any real serious injuries. Liam was closer to the door than she was, so he got out first before turning to offer her a hand down. She jumped off without his assistance, still refusing to look at him.
“Zainab?” She peered back to see her friend climbing out of the driver’s seat. “Come join me over here. I have the first-aid kit.”
The man in charge was obviously the SEAL named Wolf. She went to him first, pointing at his bloody sleeve.
“The bullet grazed me,” he said. “Probably shrapnel. The bleeding has slowed down. Take care of Cookie first.”
“I can’t take care of him, Ella. You do it,” Zainab said. “He...he’s shot back there.”
Ella nodded, hearing the unspoken request. Zainab was Muslim and although she was trained as a fighter, she’d prefer not to see or touch a man’s bare ass. She grinned at the SEAL leaning against the door.
“Guess I’ll have to suffer your indignity, SEAL boy. It’d be nice to have a name before we get so familiar, though. I’m Ella.”
“Cookie,” he said, “and you don’t have to do anything. Mozart here will take care of it.”
“The hell I would. I’m busy doing guard duty, see? Guarding your fine ass.”
Ella rolled her eyes. “You’re telling me you’re shy? Come on, I promise not to tell anyone you wear Batman underwear.”
She heard Liam coughed beside her. She finally looked up. Damn it. The man had the sexiest smile. He came a little closer.
“SEALs don’t wear underwear, sweetheart,” he murmured.
Ella sighed. Normally, it would be no hardship to look at a cute guy’s naked butt but she was in the middle of the desert with a Muslim woman who would be thoroughly scandalized.
“No worries,” Cookie said, reassuringly. “One of the guys will patch me up.”
“I’ll take care of it.” Another man came forward. “I’m Abe, by the way.”
Relieved, Ella handed him the kit. “Thanks.” She turned to Liam. She couldn’t resist a little taunt. “You didn’t offer. Squeamish about blood? Still injured from the ride?”
It was a ridiculous taunt, of course. Anyone Sean sent would be capable of taking care of wounds and such. She’d seen him out there defending the injured SEAL like he’d done it many times before. It was just that...she wanted to see that smile of his again. Like now. It was 100 degrees out here and her shirt was damp from perspiration. Yet, that raffish grin made her shiver inside.
“Want to check out my injury?”
She snorted. “What, then you’re going to say you’re a SEAL too?”
“Only one way to find out.”
She couldn’t help it. His quip made her
ou’re lucky I like assholes.”
Liam watched her stalk off. It wasn’t just adrenaline making him horny. That was half an hour ago, forty minutes tops. It wasn’t all that bouncing either, although he did like having her up close and personal. Legs had sass. And a lot of spirit too. He liked a woman with some bite to her.
She gave the kit to Abe and then went off to join Zainab, who had gone behind the bushes. Mozart continued to keep watch, making sure all was safe. He went over to give Abe a hand.
“Looks like she really hates you, dude,” Wolf said, as he joined their small group.
“Shakespeare said, ‘Women speak in two languages—one of which is verbal,’” Liam quoted, as he rolled up his sleeves.
“Hawk did tell me not to pay attention to your penchant for quoting Shakespeare. He said they called you Player when you were with the teams because you knew all the plays by heart. Is that right?”
Liam nodded. “Yeah, but it’s been a while since I’ve been called that.” Not since he left his SEAL team, in fact. “But hey, at least I wasn’t called Catnip, like he sometimes is.”
He missed being with the SEALs. They had a special camaraderie that wasn’t easily duplicated.
“I bet yours confused the ladies,” Abe chimed in. “They were probably expecting a different kind of player.”
“Hey, women get into those love poems, dude,” Mozart said.
“Sonnets,” Liam corrected.
“Whatever,” Cookie cut in, his voice muffled because he was lying face-down. “Will you guys quit dicking around and just patch me up?”
Liam grinned. “I can recite a sonnet about your beautiful moon while Mozart looks at it.”
Cookie groaned. “I’ll never hear the end of this.”
“I’m hurrying, dude,” Mozart said. “You do have a cute ass for an ugly face. Now it’s going to be all scarred up.”
“From the looks of it, you’ll need a thorough check up when we get to a hospital,” Liam said. “You’re fortunate you didn’t get shot higher or lower. As it is, we’re going to have to figure out a way for you to move around during the rescue operation.”
“It does look very raw,” Wolf remarked. “Maybe he should just stay still in the vehicle.”
Cookie squeezed his eyes shut. “I’ll make it. Just hurry and patch me up, will you, Abe? I can’t take much more of the four of you standing around admiring my ass.”
“What’s the game plan?” Liam asked. “Do we have the ammo to mount an attack?”
“Our advantage is they think we’re heading to get help, so they won’t be expecting us,” Wolf said. “The bad thing is, our gear is in our own vehicle, so other than the mic coms, we can’t radio for help or quick reinforcement.”
“We’re SEALs, man. We don’t need any outside help,” Mozart said, his amusement turning into anger. “If we have to save the
fighters and retrieve the dead on our own, so be it.”
Everyone was silent for a few moments. Liam knew they were thinking about the Canadians. It was small consolation that their deaths had been quick. The enemy militants had a history of torturing their prisoners before slowly killing them.
“I have a satellite phone on me,” he told them, quietly. “I could call Hawk to see if there are any nearby teams to help out. Time is of the essence, though. We can’t wait for long or those bastards will disappear into the desert with the female
. We’ll never get them back, then.”
He had a small list of numbers, none of whom could mount a team quickly enough to join them. His cousin’s SEAL team was the only option. They were black ops, their work very hush-hush, and he wasn’t even sure if they were nearby, but Hawk had connections, and perhaps there were some special ops teams close enough to give some fire power help.
Wolf nodded. “The rest of my team isn’t close enough or I’d have tried to communicate with HQ and call them to join up. Are you decent enough to get the women over here, Cookie?”
Liam turned, “Yo, Fitz!” He hollered. Ella’s head popped out from behind a shrub. “You and Zainab can come join us for our pow-wow now.”
She gave him a thumbs-up.
“What are you going to do with her?” Abe asked. “I know you thought you were escorting a male journalist out of the area.”
“The task is still the same,” Liam replied, “but she also said they were after her, looking for her by name. I wonder why.”
“Didn’t the journalist who hired you tell you she’s in danger?”