Authors: Gennita Low
Liam shook his head. “No, just that Fitz had spent time in the training camp and would need an escort out of the area to a safe zone. I’ve escorted plenty of embedded reporters, including Sean, so didn’t ask more than the usual questions.”
Being a contractor meant having a different attitude when it came to jobs. There was less at stake because he was usually working alone, taking charge of the mission. After what happened to his friends, he liked it this way.
The women came over. Zainab appeared restless, her need to get moving obvious. He was sure Ella had been comforting her friend, perhaps telling her to be patient. He wondered if she’d really been deeply in training at the
camp. That would really be a new thing for a journalist. The way she’d been handling the situation had been damn impressive.
“We’re going in,” Liam said to them, “but you must tell us what happened in there. How many hostiles are there? Where were you imprisoned?”
“Yes, tell us what happened and how you got out,” Wolf said.
“Also, we can account for our weapons. We need to know what’s in the M-ATV,” Abe continued.
“And, why were they asking for you, Fitz?” Liam added. “Bringing you back there means a danger to your life. I can’t allow that, since you’re under my care.”
He liked the way she snorted at his statement.
“Pul-lease don’t play that card,” she said, “or I’ll kick your ass from here back to the checkpoint.”
Liam grinned. He really, really liked this woman.
* * *
lla glared at Liam. There was a reason she went by Fitz. She had found being a female journalist with a name like Ella Fitzgerald had sometimes been an obstacle in her chosen profession, especially when it came to lone assignments in dangerous areas of the world. Not that her bosses or male co-workers were deliberately being sexist, but she could feel the underlying concern, the need to protect her because of her sex. She understood, but didn’t like it. She had a minor in psychology and had decided to put it to good use. So she became Fitz.
Sean had thought that was funny when he interviewed her. Like everyone, he’d expected Fitz to be a man. Nonetheless, the meeting went well and it’d gotten her the job as his traveling companion to a war zone and, in the last two years, her work had given him enough different perspectives on certain topics that he was now immersed in a news project about the role of women in war zones. Hence her embedment in the
Now she had to show this man Sean had hired she didn’t need that kind of treatment from him. Under his care? Not in that way. But she wasn’t going to give these men the usual arguments either. She had no time to debate.
“I saved your asses back there. You guys owe me.” She crossed her arms. “Give me a plan and we women might let you in on ours if we approve. We aren’t the injured,
“Ouch,” Cookie said. “She got you there, Liam.”
“I was hired to protect her,” Liam retorted, even though a corner of his mouth quirked when she challenged him. “Sean left out certain...details. While I appreciate your having saved my ass, a two-month stint embedded in a training camp doesn’t make you a soldier.”
Before Ella could reply, Zainab interrupted. “She’s good. She’s one of the best shots in our group. Also, she showed us how to climb the ropes quickly during training. Even I did it.”
The last bit was said with pride, as if that was a hard task she’d accomplished. Liam could imagine the difficulty for some of the women because upper body strength was needed for rope climbing. He lifted an enquiring eyebrow at Ella. She shrugged.
“Hey, lots of trees where I grew up. My brother and I were very competitive. He’s also in the army now and we run together when he’s home, so I know about basic training. I’m in good shape.” She couldn’t help herself. She had to bait the guy. “I was also doing an article on pole dancing last year. Spent a whole month using my upper body in ways you guys could only imagine trying to do.”
The men chuckled. Liam gave her a look that made her shiver a little. He leaned a shoulder against the vehicle.
“Guys, I suppose that makes her combat ready,” he announced, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Okay, then. Tell us what went down at the checkpoint,” Wolf said.
Ella knew the other SEAL was playing peacemaker because Liam and she were about to argue again. She liked the commander and followed his lead.
“Like I said, there was this new recruit last week. He didn’t seem to know the place was just a checkpoint and we were there temporarily. He asked questions and wanted to speak to the
leaders, which I’d thought very strange. Our trainers apparently did too because they told him he didn’t need to see any leaders until he’d been properly trained. During a break, I overheard him asking some of the women for the names of the female leaders.” Ella exhaled. The next memory was tough. “At first, I didn’t think much about it. We were just there for a quick training session, to learn how a checkpoint function as a border defense. One of the women told the guy to go talk to Medhi, our leader. The next night, while going off to look for a quiet spot to write, I overheard voices. It was dark and at first, I wasn’t paying attention until I heard the punches and the groans. I peered through the window blinds and saw four men beating up on Medhi. They kept asking him the same questions. Where are the Big Four sleeping? Where is the American named Fitz?”
She paused. The feeling of guilt of not being able to help Medhi sat on her mind a lot. The men surrounding her didn’t say anything, letting her take her time. When she resumed, she found herself hurrying through the action.
“I must have made a sound when I heard them say my name. One of the men looked up in my direction and ordered another to go check the windows. I backed away and fled back to the sleeping quarters, telling the women to get up, that the new recruit was a traitor. There wasn’t time. I knew those men were coming for us. The girls insisted I hide because, with my twang, I was very obviously American and they volunteered Zainab to go with me.”
She paused again. The memory of Medhi’s face and broken body as the men dragged him into the quarters threatened to overwhelm.
“We hid,” Zainab continued for her, stoned-face. “While they beat up on Medhi some more we both remained unseen. They wanted to frighten the women but we were trainees. We knew nothing. So they killed Medhi in front of us. They then led all the women away, except Ella and me. We’re their only hope. We can’t leave them in the enemy’s hands.”
“Who’s the Big Four?” Liam asked. He had gone very still
“They’re the four women leading the PKK Peshmerga branches. I interviewed two of them before getting permission to be embedded,” Ella told him.
“Is that why they’re after you?”
Ella shrugged. “Not sure. That’s the only connection I could think of at the moment. The trainees don’t know that I’m called Fitz. Only Zainab, because I told her.”
Wolf nodded thoughtfully. “I wonder why they didn’t give chase with the other vehicles if they were so desperate to get hostages.”
That made her grin. “Well, that would be tough,” she drawled, “since I have all the vehicle keys in the M-ATV right now.”
* * *
hat sort of broke the tension in the air. The men chuckled. Liam had to give the woman points for quick thinking. There was that sass again too.
“I like her,” Cookie said. “I think she’s proven she can hold her own.”
“Agreed,” Abe said. “Let’s just lay out a plan ASAP. Liam, you need to contact Hawk and see if we have any help nearby. At least, there will be word out of something going down at the checkpoint.”
“Couldn’t we just call the other checkpoint?” Zainab asked. “Aren’t there other soldiers in that area besides this Hawk?”
“Hawk has more contacts than most of us boots on the ground,” Liam explained. “He has direct access to Mad Dog.”
“Mad who?” Ella asked, confused.
That had rolled off his tongue out of habit. “Sorry,” Liam said. “Admiral Madison. We call him Mad Dog Madison.”
“Hawk has a direct line to Mad Dog?” Mozart asked, and whistled. “Okay, then, that’s the best way to go.”
“Why?” asked Zainab. “I don’t understand.”
“In our world, we don’t have direct access to anything,” Wolf told her. “If we call some higher-up, they’ll send off a message to someone even higher up, who would then contact DC, and...well, it takes too much time, Miss. Admiral Madison has a reputation of making things happen fast. If Hawk couldn’t directly help us, he could get the Admiral to send us the aid we need.”
“Not that we can’t take care of those bastards ourselves,” Cookie said.
“It depends on what weapons we have,” Liam said. “You guys make the list while I try to call Hawk. Ella and Zainab, you have to draw a map of the inside—where the other women would be held, as well as the weapons those bastards would have under their control. Agreed?”
Everyone voiced their agreement. Liam winked at Ella as he passed her.
“Is that what they call it now?” He murmured. “Pole dancing?”
Ella’s face flushed. Her gaze went straight to his groin. Yeah, he was thinking about earlier, when she was bouncing around on his lap. He wanted her to think about it too. He had no idea why he was baiting her. It wasn’t like him at all. The last eighteen months, he’d just been focused on his new career, if being a contract security agent wandering around hell-hole countries could be called a career. Life had been exactly the way he wanted it—away from teamwork, old friends, and yes, his old self.
And here he was going into a battle, with a team of SEALs, and of all missions, to rescue a group of prisoners. It was exactly the gung-ho “we would get the bastards and complete our mission” attitude from which he’d been trying to get away. He had no quarrel with those who wanted that way of life. For himself, he couldn’t do it any more, not since he’d lost his teammates.
The sudden somber direction of his thoughts startled him. Being around this group of guys was getting to him.
As usual, when the memories started to sneak in, Liam drew a mental curtain. He’d taught himself to do that. Shakespeare had written life was a stage. He’d used that image to move on, to end that scene and start another. It was how he’d dealt with his life the last year and the half. Moving on with his new career. Being alone and making sure he got the job done. And alone. Always alone.
He took out his satellite phone. It’d taken his start-up contractor business a year before he could afford a good one, and even so, his current service wasn’t the top provider he wanted. For that, he’d have to earn substantially more than he did now to pay the fees.
One day, he would ask Hawk about his satellite phone. His cousin’s was nothing he’d ever seen on the market and he knew a SEAL’s pay check wouldn’t cover a fraction of its cost. Hawk knew things and people, though, moving around with different black ops outfits gave him access to the latest tech toys.
From Liam’s own sources, he’d heard Mad Dog had started working a few select teams with other fringe outfits because of what had happened to Liam’s team. That was good news. He’d always had tremendous respect for the Admiral, but that multiplied tenfold when he’d found out what had happened to his team wasn’t going to be swept under the carpet.
Several clicks in his ear. His line finally connected.
“Hawk here,” his cousin’s familiar voice sounded clear.
“It’s Liam,” he said.
Of course Hawk knew something was wrong. “What, I can’t call for a chat?”
“You can’t afford the rates, unless you just want to say hi and bye. What do you need?”
“Fire power. Man power.” Liam gave a quick briefing on what had transpired. “We’re going in no matter what, so if you’re unable to get us any aid quick enough, I know you’ll at least let the right people know what happened.”
Hawk had listened quietly, only asking two or three questions. He already knew who was in their group. He commented that the presence of the
trainees was “interesting.”
“So you have seven in your group, two of whom are injured,” Hawk summarized. “I’m assuming the women you mentioned could handle a fire fight, since they did save your group. Five SEALs and two
aren’t too bad a fighting force. Are you sure you need me?”
It was just like Hawk to be laconic about an urgent situation, but that was what made him a great team leader. Always clear-headed, he’d take a group of hotheads into battle with a well thought-out strategy.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m gonna owe you a fucking beer,” Liam told him, adopting the same tone.
“I can’t personally come to collect on the debt,” Hawk said, “but I can check to see if four of my men are close enough. They were sent there to pick a local boy up for an interview and if they’re still there, you’ll have four more SEALs. I’ll also call Admiral Madison to see what kind of big noise he could make.”
Liam hadn’t known it, but he exhaled, freeing a bit of the tension inside. “I’m doing this because of the women. You know what could happen to them.” Of all his friends, Hawk understood his reasons for working alone and had even given him the encouragement to start his life anew. He added, “I don’t want to lose any men, Hawk, even if they aren’t my teammates.”
“Fucking snap out of it. Those SEALs are your teammates now. You’re part of a team, whether you want it or not,” Hawk said and even though Liam couldn’t see his cousin’s face, there was a hardness in his voice that wasn’t there before. “I’ll call again when I have more details. Start your mission and keep me informed. And oh, welcome back, Player.”
He rang off, leaving Liam staring out into the sky, glaring at the unseen satellite that had connected the call. Fucking shit. Hawk was right. He
now in a team. Fucking damn-it-to-hell shit.
hat was it about him? Why was she getting all hot and bothered thinking of having body contact with the man when she should be feeling tense about the upcoming mission?