Authors: Gennita Low
Liam touched her arm lightly. “Okay?” He asked, his voice low against her ear.
She nodded. “Yes.” The weapons she was carrying were getting heavy but they didn’t have that much farther to go.
She was learning how important timing was in a special operation, especially when it’s a joint mission with some other group. They had to be at a certain location by a certain time so Hawk’s people could create the element of surprise. And then they had to scale that wall during the diversion.
She looked at it now and was surprised at her own nervousness. What if she got tired in the middle and needed a breather? It’s quite a long climb.
Liam’s low voice came again. “I’ll be right behind you, pushing you up, if you need it.”
“You reading minds now?” She adjusted her weapons so she could squat down behind a clump of bushes.
“All that bouncing around earlier made a connection,” he mocked back.
She rolled her eyes in the dark. Yeah, she was sure he felt
“Fourteen minutes,” Wolf said, quietly. “We’re dividing into two groups now. Those with the mics, check to make sure they’re activated. Follow the hand signals, Zainab and Ella.”
“Yes, sir,” Ella said. She heard Zainab’s same reply. Her friend was going with the other group.
“Aye, sir!” The men drifted to their positions.
The silence grew. She counted to a hundred, then backwards. She thought of what was over the wall, then stopped. Her imagination was too vivid and made her even more nervous.
“The waiting’s the hardest,” Liam said, his body a dark shadow next to hers. “Try to think of other things to pass away the time.”
“Bouncing. Ten minutes of bouncing.”
Ella grinned. If the man insisted, she’d play his game. “Ten minutes? That’s all you got?”
“The first time.”
That made her blink and shut her up for a few seconds. “If it’s all bouncing, then what’s in it for me? A girl’s got to have more than a bumpy terrain to enjoy the ride.”
A soft chuckle. “I’ll make sure of at least a few smooth laps around the course,” he promised. “You just have to let me find the right spot. You’ll definitely enjoy it then, I promise.”
Ella swallowed and blinked again.
“You guys know the mic is on, right?”
Whoops. She felt her face going red.
Liam gave a low, very male chuckle, and leaned close to her ear again. “Don’t worry. We talk shit over the mic all the time. It’s worse when the guys are alone.”
“Hey, we don’t do that with our female soldiers.” Mozart said. “You two civilians just have to learn to be as well-mannered as we are.”
“Did someone pffft me?” Mozart asked.
That someone replied with a profane comeback. Mozart affably returned the favor.
She heard Liam chuckle again and glanced at him. He was peering out through a small opening he’d cut out in the shrub. She was sure he had his full attention on the target wall of the fort, just as the other men were too, even as they bantered easily with each other. His whole posture was relaxed. How many times had this man done this, keeping watch and knowing imminent danger was near, with his fellow SEALs? Enough times to just reassume the demeanor even after a long absence. Enough times that he was able to seamlessly jump back into the skin of a team player
For herself, she realized her own journalistic skin was taking over, as she took in all these about the man beside her. She was interested in him. To the woman in her, yeah, he appealed to all her senses. To the journalist side of her, she saw depths in him she wanted to explore, needed answers for. His story called to her.
He turned back to her. “Almost time.”
“I’m ready,” she told him.
She crossed her fingers. Said a quick prayer.
Time for the Peshmerga side to take over, girl.
* * *
iam surveyed the dark landscape. A familiar calm had descended on him. Something that had been gnawing inside him for a long time stopped and it was as if a horrible migraine had suddenly ended. A relief. In a strange way, a joy too. He relished the sudden quiet, the deep sense of self-awareness.
He missed this.
The camaraderie. The easy exchange while under fire. The knowledge that those around him were competent people who would do their job. He had two unknowns here—Ella and Zainab—yet he could see they were following their training, keeping low and moving quietly when ordered. So far so good.
He’d been working alone all this time. He didn’t mind it. He’d designed his security company this way because he needed time alone, to find himself again. His new career had been demanding and the new challenges gave him a new lease in life when he had felt lost and angry.
But he had years and years spent as a member of a well-oiled fighting unit. The old mantle wasn’t something easily discarded and tonight proved how much he missed having friends. Maybe Hawk was right, maybe he needed to expand his company and allow people in his life again.
Talking about Hawk, that diversion he promised should be. About. Now.
Sound traveled through the desert space like waves crashing on the beach. Everyone immediately came to live.
“Exact time, just as planned,” Liam said into his mic. “Ready! My side goes first.”
“Copy. My side will follow on the count of three to give you the running start,” Wolf said.
“Copy,” Liam said.
They heard shouts from a distance, as the people behind the wall reacted to the explosion and hopefully, more distraction from Hawk’s men.
“Now!” Liam said. “Ella.”
“Right behind you.” Her voice was steady.
They ran toward the target. He could feel her following his lead, moving in a zigzag fashion, until they came close to where it all began—the bunker outside the check point. Their vehicle was still there. He knew the fuckers couldn’t move it because they’d blown out the tires. He wondered if the Canadian troopers’ bodies were still out here on the ground or if they’d retrieved them. He couldn’t see them when they reached the vehicle. He tapped on his mic.
“Bravo, Vickers and Wilson’s bodies can’t be found,” he said.
“Copy, Alpha. We’ll look for them inside,” Wolf replied.
Wolf and Zainab were heading to where Ella and she had crashed through the earlier with their M-ATV. The gate wasn’t secured properly then, but might be now. The plan was to use explosives on them this time so Cookie could drive through.
“Charlie, you ready?” Liam asked, as he signaled to Ella to follow him towards the wall.
“Waiting for Bravo’s orders,” Cookie confirmed.
They reached the bottom of the fort-like structure. Liam knew, from previous visits to similar American-built structures, the wall facing the Syrian border was the highest and the opposite wall would be the lowest. There were two towers on the tall side and one on the other, usually manned by snipers. Hawk said the convoy would be approaching the two towers, so most of the militants would be stationed there to keep a lookout for it. The explosions right now would have brought most of them over there.
He lifted one arm and aimed for the top of the wall. Pressing on the button attached to the gadget in his hand, a rope attached with a grapping hook shot out like an arrow and flew over the wall. The rope had knots for leg and hand holds, allowing the climber to use a variety of climbing styles.
After securing the rope, he beckoned to Ella. She didn’t hesitate. They already had their special climbing gloves and he watched approvingly as she shimmied up like a pro, using the wall with her long legs in between each pull to create momentum. Damn, but those legs were strong.
This time, he followed, SEAL-style, using his reach to help him go further and faster. He pulled his legs up to his chest and heaved up with his thigh muscles, while his hands grabbed for the highest point again. Rinse.Repeat. He got right below Ella as she reached the top of the wall, and just as he’d instructed, she immediately put her feet on his shoulders and used him to make that final pull to the top of the wall. She hadn’t questioned whether he’d be able to support her weight; she just did it in one quick, graceful move.
He really, really liked those long legs.
He joined her on the parapet. She shot the flare gun, announcing to the others on their side. Of course, that brought some enemies’ shouts from inside the barricade, but he saw their being so busy watching the giant fire from the explosions from the furthest wall had put them at a disadvantage. They had a few seconds.
Liam readied his weapon, putting himself in front of Ella. Here was hoping Hawk’s team saw it too and was ready for the second distraction.
“I thought you said there were ten of these guys?” he asked as he looked down, doing some math. “There are at least 2 dozen of them.” He flicked at his mic so the others could grab the information. “At least 2 dozen hostiles. And I’m not counting those standing at the north wall looking at their lost convoy, over. Take caution.”
“Affirmative,” Wolf replied in his ear.
“I’m heading that way and will cover you two as you head down,” Mozart said as he assessed the best nook to set up his position.
“Okay,” Sean agreed. Mozart would be the lookout for any snipers or hostiles coming their way from the opposite direction.
“Zainab and I saw ten. I counted ten or twelve,” Ella looked below. “Oh, God. So many. And only six of us.”
A loud explosion followed by another hit yet another side of the fort. Dust spewed from that direction as more yells erupted from below them. Part of that wall ruptured like the belly of a concrete beast, mortar and cement flying out in pieces before landing on top of equipment and people below.
“Not any more,” noted Liam with satisfaction.
Hawk’s men had arrived just in time.
“But that’s only four more! They don’t know there are so many Daesh militants!” Ella looked stricken. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see this many, I swear.”
“It’s fine, sweetheart. There are two SEAL fire teams and your very own big SEAL right here. That’s a whole lot of fighting power. Come on. We’re going to do our thing so Wolf and Zainab can get to the women. The sooner we accomplish our goal, the faster we get more help.”
Her blue eyes caught his. Her expression changed. “Hey, you’re forgetting two
-trained fighters who saved your ass.” Her back straightened. “Let’s go save the prisoners.”
They rounded the corner where a narrow staircase had been built to access the parapet. Below, the sounds of fighting were growing louder. Liam pulled Ella in against him with his free hand and gave her a hard kiss.
“You’re indeed a warrior, but Fitz, do not get hurt.”
* * *
lla felt the stamp of possession in his kiss. She wanted more, so much more. Could a kiss be that quick and say so much? It was ridiculous how a direct order like that sounded so male and possessive.
She gave a thumbs-up and turned. “Down and left. The first four doors lead to storage rooms. The fifth one is a meeting room, and where I overheard they’ve kept the men.
She followed Sean as he descended two steps at a time. He paused once to make sure there wasn’t anyone around a corner before continuing. Along the way, she heard his short conversations with the other team. She couldn’t hear what Abe or Wolf were saying but she got the gist of what was happening.
“Heading down toward our rescue target.”
“Mozart’s in position.”
She winced at the huge barrage of gunfire ricocheting from the walls as they moved. They peered through some openings in a breezeway. There was a massive battle going on in the main courtyard.
All she could see were people running, using machinery and anything available down there as shields as they shot at each other. Shouts in Arabic and English splintered the air. A few were using the huge weapons on top of the vehicles to shoot back at the new group of SEALs who had stormed in, forcing them to retreat. Almost immediately, the roar of a charging engine crashed through the rest of the rubble around the hole, scattering bodies like fire ants. The vehicle came to a stop in front of the SEALs. She suddenly caught sight of Cookie’s head and shoulders on top of her M-ATV, gunning down the enemy.
The fierce roar of male voices came together in battle-cry. It all happened in minutes, as they ran down the stairs toward their goal.
“Cookie’s in,” Liam informed Team Bravo. “We’re almost at the bottom. Where are you?”
They raced past the doors. A guard hiding behind a pillar and shooting toward the courtyard turned, spraying bullets, one narrowly missing Ella as a shot came from beside her. The guard fell. She turned, heart in mouth, to see Liam aiming and firing, then turned and did the same to the door, breaking it apart.
The men inside burst out, as if they had been waiting. They were her friends and teachers. A fire lit up inside her. They were still alive.
“Ella!” One of them called.
She nodded and lobbed her sack at him. “We brought some weapons. Distribute.”
Liam did the same and while the men tossed the weapons to each other, he kept guard, shooting out into the courtyard. Howls of pain filled the air.
Without preliminaries, the freed
men gave a battle cry and charged out into the arena, heading toward the enemy, and moving into battle formation.
“I like these Kurds,” Liam muttered, as he reloaded. “Hey, where are you going?”
“I’m fighting with my team,” she told him, and ran after the
warriors. This was her battle too.
iam stared after the ruby hair and long legs dashing off. Then he sighed and flicked at his mic.
“Can’t join you, Bravo. Change of plans. Legs got the battle fever and ran off into the fray so I’m going in. Have to signal Hawk’s men not to shoot the wrong people.”
He checked his ammo and started running after the group.
“Same problem here, Alpha,” Wolf replied on the intercom. “We freed the women and they flew out like bats from a cave. Very angry bats. Zainab stayed, though, because a few of her friends have been beaten up and she’s tending to them. Fuckers did a job on them. I pity those out there facing the same women with the ability to fight back now.”