Authors: Gennita Low
Ella kept her attention on the meeting, even though she was very conscious of the lone figure standing out there, satellite phone to his ear. It wasn’t all because he was good-looking either—she was surrounded by some fine-hot SEALs here, for heaven’s sakes—but damn, he was her kind of fine specimen. Tall and lean, with broad shoulders. He was handsome without being pretty, a stubborn square jaw softening those full, sensual lips whose smile appeared to have woken up her ovaries.
This wasn’t good. He just didn’t look like the kind of man in whom she should be interested.
“We got grenades. That’s good. Let’s divide those up, along with the weapons. Quick thinking on your part, girls.”
Ella blinked, forcing her wayward thoughts back to the subject on hand. They’d counted and listed all available weaponry. These SEALs had said they’d left most of their weapons in their vehicle during the attack, but the amount of small weapons they took out of their individual pockets and holsters made her jaw drop.
The praise came from Wolf, who was organizing positions—point man, back up, etc.—and he was referring to her and Zainab’s snatching up the box of keys as well as the sack of ammo. They hadn’t known how much had been in it, and now that it was opened up, she was amazed at the cache. Grenades, cartridges, smoke bombs, stuff to make explosives, stuff she didn’t even recognize. Apparently, they were all good toys because the guys were making happy guy noises.
She gave a mental shake. She’d been training hard, learning battle maneuvers and weaponry, and she had not once made any happy noises like that at the sight of ammunition and guns.
“Right, Zainab, mark the entrances and exits in your map with red, then draw an arrow on top, so there will be no mistake when we’re checking the map.”
“Okay,” Zainab said. “We don’t have your helmets, so no mics to communicate with you once we’re separated. I think one or two of you have lost your helmets too.”
“Right,” Abe said, “but the two groups will need to have at least one mic’ed man each, so there’s communication if needed. I’ll teach the two of you a few hand signals to look for, in case we need you to move a certain way. Ella, you’ll be with the climbing team, since you’re good at that.”
Ella nodded. The thought of climbing the wall in the dark sounded a bit scary. She’d only done it in daylight. “Are you sure that thing is long enough?” She looked skeptically at the gadget Abe was holding. He’d earlier explained how it worked, a small grappling hook attached to a lightweight motor that would shoot it up and attach onto the wall. “Are you sure it would even hold my weight?”
“I’ve used it. It’s good,” Mozart assured her. “The hard part is the climbing. Nowadays, they use an ascender with a winch to hold your weight as you go up and down but that stuff is for sissies.”
He said that with a smile. Talking about good-looking, this one was absolutely gorgeous. Like the others, he was covered in dirt and bloodied from combat, but he was poster-boy perfect for the navy. Not her type, but definitely head turning. Not like—
“Not to mention the racket the machine would make to alert the enemy someone’s out by the wall.”
Ella turned at the sound of Liam’s deep voice. Her heart went pitter-pat on its own.
Not like him
. He had a leaner face, with dark eyes that spoke to her, eyes that had stories to tell. Watching him saunter up to where they were was like watching a sleek panther on the prowl. God, even his saunter was sexy to her. She really, really had it bad for the man.
“You don’t look happy,” she remarked, as he stopped beside her.
He slanted her a side-ways glance, his eyes searching hers, then returned his attention to the pile of weaponry the men had divided up. No smartass comment? Something was definitely up.
“Hawk has to check the whereabouts of some of his men,” Liam reported. “He’ll also directly contact Mad Dog to get us help.”
“But will it be on time?” Zainab asked. She frowned in worry. “All this planning. We’re running out of time so quickly.”
“Yes, but we know they don’t have any vehicles, or at least, enough vehicles, to move all the prisoners. They might take a few, but not all of them. They would need time to plan their next moves too because their two main ones have failed.”
“Two?” Ella asked.
Liam’s gaze returned to hers—direct, cutting. “To find the Big Four and you. And when that failed, to get a few SEALs for hostages. They want to make a statement. Leaving with one or two
prisoners won’t be enough, so they’re sure to be planning something bigger. Their thing’s to create news and make the headlines. One or two unknown hostages would scarcely make their leaders happy. The one question I have is, why are you so special that they know your name? What do you have on your laptop, Fitz?”
Ella blinked. She hadn’t really thought too much about the reasons behind the interest in capturing her. Of course she knew deep-down it had to do with her interview with the two female leaders, but there hadn’t been time since hearing her name on those men’s lips to truly analyze the situation.
“Just articles I’ve written as well as research for my current project. Nothing that would reveal any secrets.” Those were in her head and also uploaded to the cloud for later, when she had time to work privately. “Interviews.”
Liam raised a finger, as if he’d pinpointed the answer to his question. “With those leaders?”
Ella nodded. “Yes, but really, I can’t see what they’re after. Most of my questions pertain to female fighters as warriors. I wasn’t interested in the politics of the PKK or the history of their fight for freedom. I leave that kind of stuff to Sean. I was mostly trying to get them to let me be embedded as a trainee and our conversations were about women in combat roles, especially in a Muslim world.” She frowned, trying to remember the details of the hours of interview material. “Nothing big. I’m sure they weren’t going to impart any secrets to a journalist that they weren’t ready to reveal to anybody.”
“Hmm,” Liam said, his frown echoing hers. “I’ll have to think more about this as we head back to the checkpoint. There’s something we’re both missing, but we need to get going with the rest of the plan. Wolf, you filling me in?”
“Yeah. We’re good to go. Here’s your share of the available weapons.”
Liam looked and whistled. “Fitz, you done good.”
It was silly, but Ella really liked the way he made Fitz sound sexy. Logic told her it couldn’t possibly sound like that to anyone else but her. Still, coupled with the thought of that deep voice intimately calling her that while...oh, dammit, she was
going to think about bouncing up and down on his lap again. And yes, she remembered very well how his erection grew the longer she bounced and how it had slid intimately between her thighs as she tried to right herself during that crazy ride.
He gave her one of his side glances. How did he always do that? Catch her thinking about him? And he always looked as if he
what she was thinking of doing too. They hardly knew each other, yet the connection was there.
She pulled her hair back, securing it with a scrunchie, and his gaze followed. “Glad you boys like the toys,” she said. “I do have a question. How are we going to get close without the bad guys hearing the M-ATV’s engine?”
“We leave the vehicle behind when we get close and hike the rest of the way,” Abe replied.
That was a lot of hiking, but she’d trained hard enough and knew she was in good shape. “Okay. The element of surprise would be our strength.”
“Yes, and according to both you and Zainab, there are about ten or twelve of them. They could be busy setting up their next plan while a couple of them guard the prisoners,” Wolf said. “Or, they’re stripping the place of weapons to take with them. I’m betting they plan to leave at early light because they aren’t expecting anyone until afternoon, at least.”
Ella nodded. It made sense. They were close to the Iraqi border and the checkpoints were fewer in this area. The next one—codenamed Salamander—was seven hours away, with a couple of watering holes and too few troopers, if there were any, to help mount an attack. One thing she’d learned about security here was that the border was large swathes of unsecured land, porous to both sides at night, and filled with landmines too, from previous battles. It was difficult to traverse off the roads without a very experienced guide. Night travel was a risk to all sides.
Which meant unless this Hawk came to their aid, they were pretty much alone in this venture. She’d better come up with a good back-up plan of her own, in case things turned sour. She trusted these SEALs to do what they did best because, as a journalist, she’d seen them in action, but she knew there was a real chance she might get injured, or worse. Not going to think about that. Her brother had told her, if going into battle, never think about loss and pain. It was self-defeating, he’d advised.
She took a deep breath. Yeah, today, she’d somehow survived the battle without even a scratch. She wouldn’t call herself brave, but she hadn’t felt truly afraid either. Right now, she wanted the men and women at the fort to be safe too and there was no way she was going to just stand by the sidelines. However, she was also a journalist and had a responsibility to ensure the safety of her information.
“I’m ready,” she said, thinking of her fellow trainees. Some of them were her friends now.
“Me too,” Zainab said, adding something in Kurdish.
“What did she say?” Mozart asked.
motto,” Ella told him. “Those who confront death.”
* * *
iam exchanged grim glances with the two SEALs standing closest to him, Wolf and Abe. Coordinating a rescue mission took time, something they didn’t have. The Kurd
army had a reputation as one hell of a fighting force, but he’d never fought with them, so wasn’t familiar with their playbook. The Kurds had been warriors for centuries, though, and their female
fighters were feared by their enemies.
The fanatic militants feared and hated them because they didn’t want to die at the hands of women warriors. This, according to their beliefs, would prevent them from entering their heaven when they die. An eff’ed up interpretation of their religious edicts, as far as Liam was concerned, since one would imagine their constant raping, demeaning and killing of women had probably precluded them from the promised land in the first place.
He’d read up on the
women fighters and was intrigued by them. However, Ella and Zainab were, by their own admission, just trainees, unfamiliar with the war theatre. Until today, they’d never really fought anyone before or even been in a truly dangerous situation. Today, the two of them escaped an armed compound. Today, they fired weapons at human beings and saved his and his friends’ lives. Tonight, they’d be mounting a rescue operation with SEALs. Talk about trial by fire. He wondered if they truly had any idea what they were facing.
They were needed, though. They both spoke Kurdish, knew the inside so there would be no messing around with a map. They would lead the way to the imprisoned women, or they could take charge of that part of the operation while the men took care of the hostiles.
After the run-through of the plan, everyone gathered up their things. The SEALs checked their new weapons. Zainab asked for a minute for a quick prayer session and the others were fine with that. She wandered off behind the clump of shrubs. Liam watched Ella walking toward and climbing into the M-ATV, probably to get more bandages for Abe. And, although it’d slowed, Cookie’s bleeding hadn’t stopped and that worried him a little.
“Well, that’s one hell of a motto,” Wolf said, quietly, as he walked with him.
“Yeah,” Liam agreed. “’Those who confront death’ definitely has our motto beat.”
The SEALs’ was “the only easy day was yesterday.” They were honed to be fighting machines through BUD/S, an extreme boot camp that included a ton of sand and surf. Thousands failed, and the remainder became SEALs—warriors who specialized in Sea, Air and Land. During BUD/S, as each test of skill became more difficult and as each man was pushed to the limit of his endurance, the phrase was shouted to them, over and over. There would be nothing easy coming. The only easy day was yesterday. If they wanted to stay, they’d better remember that.
There was a bell. All one had to do was to walk or crawl over there, ring it, and it’d be over for him. No one would fault any individual who couldn’t make it through BUD/S.
Liam had been one of the few who had refused to give up. It didn’t matter how much sand was in his eyes and clothes, how much sea water he swallowed, how little sleep they gave him before sending him and the others back out into the water. He would stay with those guys and they would give each other encouragement through the day.
God, he loved his SEAL brothers. How he missed them.
Don’t think of them. Shut. That. Door
“Hey, you okay?” Wolf interrupted his thoughts. “I know it’s been a while since you left the teams, but you know we can handle this. Even with the two women. If they follow my instructions, our plan will work, with or without Hawk’s men.”
Liam cocked a brow at him. “I haven’t forgotten how SEALs fight. Or all the stuff we say to each other, like, ‘we could take them with one arm tied behind our backs!’ Or, ‘we’d be done with the job once you finished reciting the alphabet backwards!’ All very well, brother, but we have to protect those two women.” He nodded toward the M-ATV, watching as Ella slipped out, her long legs moving gracefully in the desert’s evening light. “Whatever you think, they’re amateurs. We don’t know how they’ll react when the real shit hits the fan.”
Wolf followed his gaze. “I could make some snide comment about your hard on for a certain redhead that’s making you overly cautious,” he noted, slight amusement in his voice. “Don’t look so startled. It’s pretty obvious Legs, as you have muttered several times, has a thing for you too.”
Liam looked away from Ella. “I didn’t think it was that obvious,” he muttered. “She might not like it, but I’m being paid to protect her, and this ‘letting her play
warrior’ isn’t getting my job done. Those fuckers are after her too, if you recall.”