Authors: Sable Hunter
Text copyright ©2016 by the Author.
This work was made possible by a special license through the Kindle Worlds publishing program and has not necessarily been reviewed by Desiree Holt. All characters, scenes, events, plots and related elements appearing in the original The Omega Team remain the exclusive copyrighted and/or trademarked property of Desiree Holt, or their affiliates or licensors.
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Omega Team/Texas Heroes
The Past Is Always Present
Deacon - Jalalabad, Afghanistan
“I’m sorry you don’t approve, Sir. She’s the best I have to offer.”
Deacon cursed under his breath. The Marine battalion he’d been assigned to aid had requested help from an Army MP unit. Jalalabad was a hot area; they’d lost four SEALs in as many days. “A lot of bad stuff is going down, Major. I don’t care how short-handed you are; this hell-hole is no place for a woman.”
“I didn’t say I was short-handed, I said she was the best.”
Deacon was hard-pressed to believe what he heard. Lieutenant Annie Lynch was a very pretty, small, soft-spoken female. “Well, I don’t want her here. Protecting my men and completing the mission is difficult enough, having to worry about a female, on top of all of that, is too much.”
“Deal with it, Jones. This is the US Military; women are in these jobs with approval from Congress. If Congress wants your opinion, they’ll ask for it.”
“I’ll take her on a two-week trial basis, but that’s it.” Deacon stated emphatically.
“If you don’t take my best, I promise next time I’ll send you my worst, Commander.”
“Shit.” The Major hadn’t heard his disgust; the connection had already been severed. He stood up and paced around the Command Operations Center. “This man’s army has gone to hell in a hand-basket.” They’d have to make do for the time being…
About a week later, Deacon had to eat his words. Lieutenant Lynch proved to be a scrapper.
His platoon was pinned down and getting beat up badly. “All right, Lynch, let’s see what you got,” he barked through the headset. They could see the bad guys, now it was time to take them out.
In a small voice, she called for fire. Holding his breath, he waited to see what would happen. Generally, when a gunner called for fire, a round was sent and after it impacted a determination was made whether or not the next round needed adjusting. Usually it took three or more shots to get it right.
The next thing Deacon knew, Lynch’s voice sounded, “fire for effect,” which meant she’d hit the target. “Don’t you need to adjust?” he asked.
“No, sir. Fire for effect.” Deacon looked up from his cover just in time to see little Lynch’s shot hit its target. She ended up destroying the enemy with one shot and saving the entire platoon. After that, Deacon had no problem with her. He’d asked her about her accuracy and she’d been modest, explaining that her first shot had been SWAG, a scientific wild-assed guess. When the Commander flew out a week later and offered to trade platoon leaders, Deacon declined. “No, we’ll keep her.”
And they did.
She was great, the best shot in the whole platoon. Annie Lynch could do no wrong. Until she was killed in a damn RPG attack. She’d been twenty-three fucking years old and he’d felt responsible.
Deacon decided then and there - he’d never put another woman in harm’s way again.
Deacon – Salar Ban, Afghanistan
“Down, Grey, get down!” Deacon yelled at his friend just before the world exploded. Their team had come under fire right outside a dusty Afghan village where they were tracking down Intel on Fantasma, the Ghost. They’d lost Lucky on a previous mission, he didn’t intend to lose Grey Holden too.
“What do you see?” Grey asked, his voice sounding through the headset he wore.
“We’ve got a sniper, in the hills at ten o’clock.” He raised his head a few inches, took aim and fired. “Got him!” Deacon let out a war whoop.
“We’ve got to get closer,” Grey said, rising, moving on down the road, ducking behind parked cars as he could.
“Let me move ahead, I’ve got the better eye. I’ll cover for you.” Deacon surveyed the area once more before moving to the right and taking the lead.
There was no movement, no noise. “Something’s about to go down. I can feel it,” Deacon whispered to himself, but Grey heard.
“I’m afraid you’re right. This is too eerie. I’m afraid it’s a trap.” Deacon slowed down and Grey caught up with him. “Maybe we should abort.”
“Hey, mister, watch out!” A small child’s voice speaking with a thick accent caused them to both turn their head–just in time to see a grenade land a few yards in front of Grey’s feet.
Time stood still.
“Not on my watch!” Deacon yelled, falling on the grenade.
“No!” Grey screamed, but Deacon never heard him.
* * *
Deacon - Bethesda, Maryland
Deacon struggled to sit up. He groaned. “God, my head hurts like a bitch!”
“Don’t try to move, the morphine’s wearing off. I’ll call for the nurse.”
The light was too bright. Deacon squinted, trying to see. “Sylvia, honey, is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“What’s wrong? Where am I?” And why did her voice sound so empty.
“You’re at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.”
“Maryland? Why? What’s wrong with me?” He began to take a mental accounting of his faculties. He could see. He could hear. He felt of his face–it was still there. “Come kiss me, let’s see if my lips still work. I can’t wait to go home. I want to get started on a family, you know I can’t wait to have a daughter with you.” Deacon’s eyes met those of his beautiful wife. She was a former Miss Texas, lovely daughter of a former state senator, as good in bed as she was on the tennis court. “What’s wrong?” Her expression was sad, resigned. She didn’t move to come to him. His eyes raked over her beautiful body, then he followed her gaze to his own.
Deacon stared at the foot of the bed for a minute, not seeing what was wrong. “What?” And then his world crashed down, pulverizing him beneath the weight of a horrible reality. Where there should be two feet–two legs–he only saw one. His right leg disappeared into nothingness just below the knee. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he breathed. “That damn grenade got me.”
“What did you expect? Were you trying to be a hero or were you just stupid?”
Deacon didn’t know what hit him the hardest, the fact that he was now disabled or that his wife was looking at him like he was the biggest freak in the world. “I didn’t think, I just reacted.”
“Then stupid is the right answer.” Sylvia stood up, a tall willowy blonde, with eyes now as cold as ice.
“Where are you going?”
“Away from here,” she said coldly. “I’m going home and when you get out, don’t join me. I’ll pack up your things and send them wherever you say.”
“You’re leaving me?” He knew the answer, Deacon just wanted to hear her say it. Guess he could add masochist to stupid in the list of words to describe him.
“Yes,” she shivered, slapping a folder onto his chest. “Here’s the divorce papers. I don’t want to be married to a cripple. You’re just half a man now. There’s no way I could ever stand for you to ever touch me again.”
Deacon snorted, throwing the sheaf of papers to the ground. Laying his head back, he closed his eyes. “Thanks for clearing that up, toots. Have a nice life.”
“Oh, I intend to. I’d wish the same for you, but I don’t think that’s possible now.” She sashayed to the door, waving her hand good-bye. “Ciao, Deacon. Good luck.”
“Thanks, I’m going to need it.” He balled up his fist and hit the bed as hard as he could. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Sylvia was right, his life was over. What could he do? Where would he go? Hell, he just wanted to get somewhere safe and hide for the rest of his life. A place where he touched nothing and no one touched him.
* * *
Natasha - Chernokozovo, Russia
“So, little one, do you think your father will come for you?”
Natasha Levin turned her head, unwilling for the one-eyed monster to see her cry. “Yes, he will. And when he does, you’ll be sorry.”
Her adamant confidence made Vlad Sokolov laugh uproariously. “Oh, I tremble with fear.”
Natasha didn’t respond, she couldn’t. If she opened her mouth, a sob would escape and she didn’t want to appear weak.
“We shall see. I hope he comes. I would much rather have him lying on this table. You are a very small, poor substitute for the great warrior, Mikhail Levin. Yet…I am sure with your help, we can bring him to his knees.”
To Natasha’s horror, Sokolov removed a knife from his belt, a very sharp knife. “Have you ever heard of a death by a thousand cuts?”
“No…” Her voice shook. She wanted to scream. She wanted to plead. But she would not. Her father thought strength was one’s greatest treasure.
“Since you are so small, we shall have to improvise or you won’t last long enough to serve your purpose. Now, tell me where he is!” His voice was slick, hissing like a snake.
“Very well. Let’s see if I can convince you.”
Natasha’s eyes widened in horror when he took the tip of his blade and scored a mark from her shoulder halfway to her elbow. At first, she thought he’d just raked her, but then blood welled up and she realized she’d been cut. Her breath froze in her throat. There was little pain, but the sight of him waving the knife in her face filled her with terror.
“That didn’t hurt!” she threw the words at him. At thirteen, she might be small for her age, but her father said what she lacked in stature, she made up for in courage.
“Oh, really? I’m sorry. Let me try harder.” Like the serpent she’d compared him to, he struck. Grabbing her hand, he pulled it out on the bare flat surface. Pressing it down, he took the knife and with an evil glint in his eye, sliced off her little finger.
Natasha never knew the scream she heard had come from her own lips.
Eagle’s Nest - Near Johnson City, TX on the banks of the Pedernales River
“Grey, you have got to be kidding me. I thought we were friends.” Deacon stood on the precipice of the cliff overlooking the river. His home stood behind him, a veritable fortress he’d built with his own two hands. From a distance, Eagle’s Nest blended in with the rock surrounding it. No one could surprise him, no one could ambush him. No one could even come near, without him being aware. He had cameras and sensors everywhere. A lighthouse stood nearer the riverbank like a lonely sentinel. Deacon had restored it, equipping it with every technological intelligence gadget he could legally get his hands on–and some he acquired not so legally.
Yes, he was right where he wanted to be, the highest point in the county. He might not be the friendliest fella in the world, but at least he got good cell phone reception thanks to his own tower. For years after his accident, he’d prided himself on being an island. He touched no one and no one touched him. But now–hell, some would say he was thawing out. Recently he’d ventured out and joined the VFD in Stonewall. Chief Logan Gray was the type of man he could appreciate, an upstanding guy who didn’t take bullshit from anyone. He hadn’t been able to make every call, but he went when he could. Fighting fires gave him something to do besides writing SEAL team training manuals or fielding the occasional request made by Omega Team Leader, Grey Holden. Of course he always had his hobby–repurposing toys, especially ride-on toys for handicapped children. This was close to his heart because the toys weren’t only easier for them to maneuver, he also engineered them so they provided the precise physical therapy the child needed.
This particular request from Grey wasn’t sitting well with him. He didn’t mind tracking down an occasional perp or guarding a few Hollywood starlets here or there–but what he was asking now went far beyond the call of duty. It wasn’t that he didn’t keep up with his training, he did–rigorously. He also could recognize potential in another, which was the reason his former comrade in arms was calling. But this–he just flat out didn’t want to do it.
“We are friends, Deacon, that’s why I’m asking you to do me this favor.”
“I think you’ve got this backwards, I think you owe me.” Deacon shifted his weight, anchoring himself on his good leg, giving his knee above the prosthetic a rest.
“Yes, you saved my life. I will forever be in your debt and that’s why I’m doing this. You need to stay busy, feel useful. Besides…I need you. This rookie could be a real asset to our team, I just need for you to run a battery of tests. Evaluate the candidate’s ability and tell me what you think. You’re the best and that’s what I need right now.”
Deacon slowly made his way up the hill. The path was steep and strewn with rocks. No matter. He could sprint up the incline and take pride in the fact that his disability didn’t slow him down. “I’m not one of Athena’s projects, Grey. I stay busy and I feel useful. Hell, I’m not on the town council or anything, but I did join the Volunteer Fire Department. I’m not a damn hermit.”
“No one said you were, Deacon. But you don’t have to be so careful anymore, all of your old enemies are dead.”
Snorting, Deacon kicked a rock off the edge of the cliff, watching it bounce down before finally landing in the water. He couldn’t hear the splash from where he stood. “I’m not so sure about that. Besides, I’ve probably made new ones. Why aren’t you evaluating this candidate yourself? I’ve trained some of your protégé’s before, but since when do you farm out your personnel duties?”
“Well…” Holden paused as if considering what to say. “Athena is pushing for this new hire and if the candidate isn’t a good fit, I don’t want to be the one to disappoint her.”
“So, you’re giving me the dirty work. You don’t think you can be objective?”
“Something like that,” Grey breathed out a sigh.
“This isn’t busy work you’re throwing at me because you think I’ve lost my perspective on life or something, is it?”
Grey laughed. “Well, if I can kill two birds with one stone, I’d say I have pretty good aim.”
“Ass. All right. If I say yes, what’s this going to entail?”
“I want you to put her through the paces. Make sure she’s as good as she thinks she is. Test her. Show no mercy. You’re in charge. If you say she’s onboard, I hire her. If you say she’s not fit, I send her on her way.” Grey chuckled. “And you’ll be in Athena’s doghouse instead of me–good thing you’re a big bad SEAL.”
Deacon heard what Grey said, but only one word stuck.
“Yes. Natasha Levin. She’s the only child of former Russian KGB/FSB agent Mikhail Levin. Supposedly, he trained her himself.”
“You know how I feel about dealing with women!” Deacon exploded.
“Watch it, you’re on speaker phone and Athena’s in the next room.” Grey’s voice dropped to a near whisper.
Deacon knew how much Grey loved his woman, but Grey knew Deacon equally well. “You know how I feel about women in combat. I just spoke out loudly against it in a letter to Congress. We shouldn’t have to change our standards to accommodate their weakness.”
“Nice come-back, Jones. Too bad I can see through your protest. This has more to do with Annie Lynch than anything.”
Watching a hawk sail on an air-current down the limestone cliffs, he tried to block out the image of the explosion. “She was my responsibility, Holden. If I’d sent her back to the Army, she’d probably still be alive today.”
“Little Lynch died serving her country. She understood the risks. It wasn’t your fault.” There was a moment or two of silence. Finally, Grey let out a long breath. “I know where you stand. Still, I’m asking you to do this for me. Don’t cut this one any slack, but give her a chance. She might have something to offer and my sexy partner is bugging the hell out of me about it.”
“What’s their connection? I’d ask if they were in the same sorority or something, but I happen to know Athena doesn’t travel in those circles.”
“No, you’re right. Athena met her on the job a while back, before I came into the picture.”
“The Russian’s a cop?”
“No, there was a rash of breaking and entering in a trailer park just outside of Tampa. The cops couldn’t get a good lead and the problem escalated when an elderly woman was killed during one of the burglaries. One night, another call came, but this time the situation was a little different. The woman who phoned in had the perps in custody. When Athena got there, Natasha had them subdued and trussed up like Christmas turkeys. She interviewed Taz and discovered her, shall we say…unique abilities. It was an odd pairing, but they became friends and bonded over television. While Athena likes telenovelas, Taz loves old movies.”
“Can we trust her or will I get a knife blade slipped between my ribs while I’m sleeping?”
Grey laughed. “I didn’t suggest you take her to bed, Jones.”
Deacon growled. “When does this fiasco start?”
“She’s parked at your gate. I’d appreciate if you’d release the lock and let her in.”
“Goddammit!” He ended the call and stomped into the house, his tread so hard he could feel the pressure on his bum leg all the way to his hip.
Climbing the stairs to his outlook, Deacon saw an RV that had seen better days waiting for entrance. “Only for Grey Holden.” He picked up the remote and flipped the switch, muttering under his breath, “Don’t think this is going to be easy, lady. If you’re not Omega Team material, I’ll have no trouble kicking your ass to the curb.”
Down below…the sound of the gate opening brought Taz out of her reverie. She didn’t mind waiting. The delay gave her time to review her plans. Working with Athena and the Omega Team would give her an outlet for all the pent-up energy simmering inside. She’d tried to be a normal woman, gone to an American university and made American friends. The classes were fun, but the idea of sitting behind a desk every day for the rest of her working career was intolerable. Her father was gone now, but since the day he’d rescued her from Sokolov’s horror chamber, he’d set out to teach her every trick in the book–how to survive–to fight–to win.
Now, she needed a place to put those skills to good use. No police academy would touch her. No governmental agency would give her a chance. Despite passing the citizenship test. Despite pledging allegiance to her new country–she was suspect. All because of her father. She didn’t understand. He’d defected, knowing he would face a firing squad if he’d been caught and returned. Not even the details of what she’d suffered at the hands of a madman made a difference. So, this was her big chance. This job would give her life purpose. Athena assured her that Deacon Jones was the best. She’d told Taz he was a man’s man, tough but fair. Her heart beat rapidly anticipating the chance to learn from a master, to show him what she could do.
As soon as the opening was big enough for her to drive through, she entered, pulling up to a garage-like entrance. In a few moments it opened and she eased into the dim interior. There was no one waiting for her, so Taz shut off the engine and opened her door. “The stairs are around the corner.”
“Very well.” The voice might have been human, she couldn’t tell. It had robotic characteristics as well. Hearing the doors close where she’d entered, Taz presumed there was no need to lock anything up. It would take a tank to get into a place like this and she really didn’t have anything worth stealing. Opening the heavy door, she began to climb the stairs. Three flights. No windows. Wherever she was going was quite high in elevation. At the top, there was a door, but no knob or lever. Taz waited a few seconds and it swung open. She glanced up in the corners, searching for a camera. “Ah, yes.” There it was. She resisted the impulse to wave.
In his control room, Deacon watched Natasha Levin. For some reason, he’d expected a bigger woman, taller with obvious muscles. There was nothing intimidating about this auburn haired sprite. She didn’t appear strong enough to open a mayonnaise jar, much less handle a gun. And hand to hand combat? Maybe if they were competing for the best nail color.
He smiled. This wouldn’t take long. By the time she reached the final security checkpoint, he was waiting.
Taz pressed the only button she could see. “May I come in, please?”
The big metal door slid open and she found herself face to face with a big man. Shoulder length blond hair framed a face which was now contorted into a frown. Taz couldn’t help it, the sight struck her funny. A tiny giggle erupted from her mouth before she caught it, pressing her lips together.
“Something amuses you?”
This handsome man wanted to intimidate her. Even though Taz respected her superiors and would bend over backwards to please him, she didn’t scare easily. Not after what she’d been through. Standing up as straight as she could, she looked him in the eye. “Yes, sir.”
Her answer surprised him. “What?”
“You. You look like you’ve been sucking on a lemon.”
Her explanation just made him frown more. “Follow me.” Turning his back to her, he walked off, apparently expecting her to fall in line.
She did and when he abruptly stopped, Taz froze in her tracks, her nose mere inches from his broad back. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Honestly, he didn’t quite know what to do with her. She was way too pretty for his peace of mind. He started walking again, turning to the right and leading Natasha into a big room with plate glass windows overlooking the river.
Deacon gestured for her to sit in an oversize leather chair near the fireplace and he chose one across from her. “Yes.”
“What are you afraid of?”
Her question surprised him. Little thing was ballsy. She reminded him of Annie, which bothered the hell out of him. At that moment, Deacon decided he wouldn’t like this woman. He couldn’t afford to. “Nothing.” What haunted his dreams at night was none of this woman’s business.
“Everyone is afraid of something, Mr. Jones.”
When she raised her face to him emphasizing that determined little chin, he couldn’t help but count the freckles sprinkled across her cheeks…thirteen. “Really? What keeps you awake at night, Miss Levin?” With her tendency to say whatever she was thinking, he assumed it wasn’t a man.
Without hesitation, she said emphatically. “Memories.”
Deacon could tell by the set of her mouth she didn’t intend to elaborate. “So, Grey tells me you want to be on the Omega Team.”
“Yes, sir. I am qualified to be a bodyguard, carry out rescue missions, even train soldiers for counterterrorism efforts.”
Her brash, enthusiastic self-confidence gave him a headache. He bent his head, resting his face in the palm of his hands. “Give me strength,” he prayed under his breath.
“Don’t worry, while I’m here, I’ll be your strength.”
Her words seemed to shock him, he jerked his head up and glared at her. “I don’t need protection.” She reminded him of Ariel. All she needed was a bikini top and a fish tail. Damn, he shifted on the cushion, pulling his pants leg down to adjust his swollen package. Hell. Maybe he did need protecting…from her.
She shrugged. “It will be good practice.”
The last few words she uttered held the only trace of an accent he’d heard. “You’re here for me to evaluate your abilities. That’s all.”