Authors: Cindy Gerard
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense
Thank God for Nolan and a filthy rich father-in-law with a G-5 Gulfstream. Even now, the jet was en route from Manila, where they'd deplaned, to the Zamboanga International Airport, where, if all went as planned, they'd fly out of here in a few days. Without the generous use of Darin Kincaid's luxury jet and the willingness of his pilots—all three former U.S. Air Force and totally up for a break from flying CEOs to board meetings—they'd still be switching commercial flights and waiting out layovers.
Allocation of the Huey, however...
"You never did say how you got ahold of the bird." Ethan spoke into his headset mike and watched as a grin broke over Nolan's face.
Dallas, Ethan's middle brother, glanced at Ethan. "
could tell you—"
"But then I'd have to kill
Nolan warned with a notch of his chin toward Dallas, his grin taking the bite out of his threat. "Let's just leave it at some questions are best left unanswered."
Fine. The fact was Ethan really didn't care what methods Nolan had used to procure the Huey. All he cared about was the end result—although he did have a few ideas on how his brother had come by the bird. Given that the U.S. military had donated a flock of UH-1H Hueys to the Philippine military a few years back, it would be just like Nolan to figure that "borrowing" one back for a little while was a "tit-for-tat" issue. And given the rough situation on the islands these days and that Philippine military aviation assets were pressed into service for VIP transport at a moment's notice, it wouldn't be a stretch that Nolan could have simply
the rotary bird perched near some high-profile government building in Manila.
Nolan was resourceful that way. Ethan couldn't even guess how, in addition to getting his hands on the Huey, he'd also come up with the two full Aux fuel bags. Without the extra four hundred gallons of fuel, they'd never have made it the six hundred miles from Manila to Jolo, since the Huey's fuel tank range was less than half of what they needed.
Ethan had no doubts that even though Nolan could have pulled in a few markers from some of his Special Ops buddies who were stationed on the islands and wangled a Blackhawk with a longer range, he would have tapped them only as a last resort.
Farther back, sitting on the floor, Dallas was dressed in his salad suit and wearing face paint like Ethan and Manny. Ethan watched as Dallas, carrying a full combat load of ammo and a bandolier with extra magazines, was busy double-checking his gear. Although it had been a couple of years since Dallas had separated from the Marines, his thoroughness and precision told of his experience in Force Recon.
Marines. Christ. All these years later, Ethan still couldn't believe that Dallas had broken family Army tradition and joined the Marines. Hell, as a rule, a set of legs wouldn't so much as unzip his fly if a Marine was on fire and he could piss on him to put him out— and vice versa. But there was that blood thing.
And that pride thing,
Ethan thought, feeling it well up in his chest as he watched Dallas attach an M-203 grenade launcher to his M-4, adding, in Dallas's words, "some boom to his bang-bang."
The middle son of Wes and Susan Garrett was a stickler for details. Dallas had calculated down to the last flare, fragmentation grenade, claymore, and round of ordnance what each man would need for the mission. And then he'd somehow
it along with the M-4s and Manny's Barrett sniper rifle, like Nolan, Dallas was resourceful. Ethan wouldn't even bother to ask about Dallas's methods.
Ethan shifted his gaze to Manny Ortega just as his friend kissed the St. Christopher's medal he wore around his neck, then tucked it safely inside his shirt. Manny was Nicaraguan born, but he was a U.S. citizen now, recruited by Uncle while he'd been fighting the Sandinistas during the Contra wars. Manny had been Ethan's friend since they'd made Special Forces back in '89. They'd both been eighteen and as green as their berets, fueled by adrenaline and testosterone and seduced by the allure of being cultural chameleons in foreign lands. Since then, they'd saved each other's asses more times than Ethan could count.
From the far side of the Huey, Manny—also known as Little Rambo to those who had dared needle him about his movie star good looks and gung ho attitude—flashed his perfect white teeth in a smile that said he was geared to go. Ethan hadn't even had time to brief him. All he'd had to do was call Manny in Boston, where he'd recently made detective on the Boston PD, and say he needed him.
The only question Manny had asked was, "Where and when?" and he'd put in for two weeks' vacation. Because Manny had to catch a commercial flight straight from Boston, they'd connected at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila only five hours ago, pulled their gear and weaponry together, and Manny still hadn't asked what was up.
"We're going black, boys," Nolan said, giving them all a chance to fix their night-vision goggles before he killed the interior lights.
Ethan folded up his map after double-checking the coordinates for the agreed-upon drop zone at the leeward side of the heavily forested island.
Less than five minutes later, it was time.
"I believe this is where you bail, heroes." Nolan's voice sounded distant and tinny through the headset.
Dallas kicked the coil of rope out of the open cockpit door; then all four men made a quick SAT phone and GPS check. Satisfied, Dallas grabbed the three-inch-thick nylon rope in his gloved hands, backed out the door, and disappeared into space.
"Long way down," Manny said offhandedly as he peered over the side of the bird where it hovered above the beach at about thirty feet.
His statement finally made Ethan grin. He'd seen Manny single-handedly take out a six-man assault team in Afghanistan, outmuscle and outthink a king-pin's handpicked team of bodyguards during a drug sting on the Peru-Colombia border, and win the hearts of the most ruthless women north or south of the equator. Yet the man was scared shitless of heights.
"Look at it this way," Ethan yelled so Manny, who'd already ditched his headset, could hear him above the chopper's roar. "If the height doesn't scare you to death, the fall could still kill you."
Even though he could only read Manny's lips, Ethan grinned, recognizing the words Manny muttered in Spanish as a close cousin to "Fuck you."
After crossing himself, Manny grabbed the rope and set his feet. Then he sucked in a bracing breath and roped down to join Dallas, who should already have boots on the ground on the tiny beach.
"Kick ass," Nolan said just before Ethan removed his headset.
With a clipped nod and brief eye contact, Ethan mouthed,
and grabbed the rope.
"You bet your ass I'll see you later," Nolan shouted over his shoulder, and Ethan rolled out.
Nolan, Ethan understood, was still a little pissed that he wasn't in on the land assault. Couldn't be helped. His little brother had a baby on the way back home, and Ethan had promised Jillian that he wouldn't let anything happen to her hubby. Besides, they needed Nolan to haul their sorry asses off the island later— provided there was enough left of their sorry asses worth hauling.
They'd counted on the cover of darkness and a strong tropical wind to carry away the sound of the chopper. They'd gotten it. The wind and rotor wash whipped palm fronds into a frenzy and set even the sturdiest trees in the coconut groves along the outer fringe of the rain forest swaying. And as Ethan fast-roped down, undetected by the bad guys—no shots fired equaled no discovery—it was so far, so good. That, he knew, could all change in a heartbeat.
He hit the tide-and-rain-soaked sand only seconds after bailing out, then gave Nolan an all-clear signal with a brief flash from his light. Wasting no time, Ethan adjusted his NVGs, tugged his boonie cap out of his pocket, and settled the floppy-brimmed camo cap on his head. Then he headed through the coconut palms rimming the beach and into the jungle on point.
Crouched down, Camelbak full of water beneath the improvised ALICE packs and hopefully all of them carrying enough firepower to take out any tangos they came up against, Dallas and Manny followed right behind him. Within seconds, the three men disappeared into the undergrowth, indistinguishable from their surroundings as the Huey rose above the clouds and headed back to Zamboanga.
They were on their own now. And to a man, they knew time was running out for Darcy. If it hadn't run out already. It was pushing thirty-seven hours since Ethan had received her message.
think I might be in some trouble here.... Maybe some bad trouble.
As Ethan climbed a ridge, then skidded down the other side with the help of a trailing vine, Darcy's words caromed around in his head like a pinball, a constant reminder that she was counting on him. When he'd returned her call, his heart had been pumping like rounds from an automatic weapon. But he hadn't reached her at the number she'd left him. So he'd called Sandy Jankowski in London. Sandy and Darcy had started their embassy service together. They kept close tabs on each other. And sometimes, when it was just too hard not to, Ethan kept tabs on Darcy through Sandy, whom he counted on not to give him away.
"I'm scared, Ethan. Really scared," Sandy had said when he'd told her about Darcy's message. "Darcy and I e-mail each other once, sometimes twice a day. It's a pact we made years ago. A fail-safe so we'd know if we should be worried. Her last e-mail was Monday afternoon. That was two days ago. She'd been about to leave for Zamboanga."
"Did she say anything else?"
"God ... yeah, let me think. Something about a secretary at the embassy passing her some information that she'd found by accident. Darcy was kind of blowing it off, you know. Kind of a cyber head-shake because she didn't have the time to mess with it."
"This secretary? Was her name Amanda Stover by any chance?"
Silence. "How did you know that?"
Ethan knew because as soon as he'd gotten Darcy's message and couldn't reach her, he'd gone online and searched the news sites for the Philippines, specifically Manila. "Amanda Stover is dead, Sandy."
"Oh my God. Ethan—"
"News media is calling it a hit-and-run accident."
Silence rang on both ends of the line. "But you don't believe that, do you?" Sandy asked finally.
Ethan hadn't bothered to answer. "Same media source also states that an unnamed embassy employee has gone missing while on business in Zamboanga. No details available."
Sandy's sob had been audible. They both knew who that employee was.
"Do you know why Darcy was in Zamboanga?"
"Not specifically," she'd said, her voice breaking. "She just said she'd been sent down there on some embassy business. She makes regular trips, so it didn't seem unusual at the time."
Well, it was unusual now. Now that Ethan knew, with certainty, that Darcy had been abducted. It had only taken a couple of phone calls—one to the hotel where he had spoken to a concerned desk clerk who had talked to Darcy just before she'd left the hotel around midnight. The clerk had become alarmed when she hadn't returned two hours later. The other call had been to one of Ethan's contacts in a Special Ops team stationed at Camp Navarro, AFP Southern Command Headquarters at Zamboanga. According to his source there'd been a lot of tango chatter on the airwaves and in cyberspace all of a sudden. Talk of an abduction planned.
And, evidently, pulled off.
There was only one direction to point a finger these days when someone was abducted in the islands. An extremist Islamic terrorist network under the command of Chieftain Kaddafy Janjilani. This particular splinter group, known as Abu Sayyaf, specialized in kidnapping. Ransom was their main source of revenue. And Abu Sayyaf made camp in the jungle on Jolo.
The bastards didn't know it yet, Ethan thought, ignoring the sting of insects and the slap of wet leaves against his face as he humped over another ridge that was green tinged and daylight bright through his NVGs, but they'd just kidnapped the wrong woman.
He moved steadily forward. He hadn't seen Darcy since the divorce. He didn't talk about it. Didn't talk about her. Had never admitted to anyone except himself that he'd never gotten her out of his system.