Authors: Trish Loye
© 2016 by Trish Loye
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, incidents, and places is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
the perfect advice at the perfect time.
“Just because the medicine tastes bad doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”
blew over Sergeant Dylan “Cowboy” Richards as he lay on the flat roof of a nondescript building and watched the street below. His team had tracked a target to ISIS-controlled Al-Hasakah, in northeastern Syria. Dylan suppressed a shiver and tried to absorb what little heat the roof gave off. Even though night had fallen hours ago, the stone still retained a bit of warmth from the sun.
He’d flown the E.D.G.E. team in low, under Syrian radar, and parked his helicopter at an abandoned farmhouse on the outskirts of town. He’d left his co-pilot guarding the bird and their exfil.
Tonight was all about stealth. They worked in their usual four-man unit. Jake “College” Harrison, the team leader, lay next to him with the night-vision scope as they waited for their contact.
“There’s been no movement for the last hour, College,” Dylan said. “Who gave us the intel?”
His gut clenched. “She’s here?”
Jake’s eyes flicked to him. “She’s our contact.”
Keep it professional. It’s what she’d pounded into his head each time they’d gotten together. “She’s got the exact location of the tango?”
“Of course.” He handed Dylan the scope. “Colonel Blackwell wouldn’t have chosen her if she wasn’t the best.”
Dylan scanned the area. Apartment buildings. Parked cars. Down the street, a dusty patch with a rusty swing set. Only a few streetlights weren’t broken. No one was out. Apparently, the people of Al-Hasakah took the ISIS curfew seriously. “How long until she gets here? I’m freezing my ass off.”
Jake huffed a small laugh. “Didn’t you grow up in an igloo or something?”
“Why yes,” he said. “All Canucks live in igloos. I lived in mine with my pet polar bear.”
Movement caught his attention and he signaled for quiet before Jake could respond. A person walked down the street, keeping to the shadows. The right height. Sarah was on the shorter side. At least compared to him. She’d almost made it to their position without Dylan seeing her. “College. Three o’clock.”
“I see her,” Jake said.
The muscles in his back tightened as he lay there watching her. Who had she been pretending to be this time in order to walk the streets of Syria without an escort, and wearing pants?
“What’s her cover?” he asked.
“A homeless boy.”
“Seriously?” How could she pull that off with her face and body?
Jake raised an eyebrow.
Shit. Had he used his outside voice?
“Right,” Dylan said grimly. “She’s E.D.G.E.”
And anyone granted operator status in the covert Elite Digital and Global Enforcement security unit had already proved themselves to be one of the best in the special operations community.
“Time to go,” Jake said.
Dylan keyed his mic to speak to Zach and Marc, the other two members of the team, who would stay on overwatch and cover their asses. “Doc. Spooky. This is Cowboy. Ghost in sight. Making contact now.”
Dylan threw the thin nylon rope over the side of the three-story building. Across the street, Ghost stopped walking and waited.
He got the all-clear from Jake before he rappelled down the building. Once his boots hit the ground, he brought his HK MP5 rifle up and surveyed the street while Jake followed. Ghost hadn’t moved.
They ran to her position. Dylan’s eyes widened when he got close to her. Dirt smeared her face, and her dark hair lay in a ragged chopped cut under a ratty
, the cloth skullcap men wore in this region. Her threadbare clothes hid her curves, and her scuffed sneakers were almost black. Except for the dirt, she looked cute, but how anyone could think she was a boy was beyond him. It was a long way from the last time he’d seen her, lying naked in his bed, her bronze skin flushed and her long hair spread over his pillow.
He looked away and took a deep breath. Time to focus and get all images of the luscious naked woman out of his head.
“The tango is visiting his uncle, so he has minimal security.” Sarah’s voice was quiet and calm. “Third floor, apartment on the back side of the building.”
“Let’s do this,” Dylan said.
Jake spoke into his mic, letting the others know the tango’s location.
Sarah led them to the side door of the building and pulled a set of lock picks from under her baggy shirt. Within seconds she’d picked the lock, then stood and slid the tool away. A gun came out from under the shirt. A Makarov PM pistol, Russian designed. Perfect for the region and her cover.
He couldn’t help but wonder what else she had hidden under her shirt.
She caught him watching and her eyes narrowed. “Seriously, Cowboy? Getting a bit desperate, are you?”
He couldn’t stop his wink. She turned away, but he’d glimpsed a tiny smile.
Jake caught his eye and the sternness in that expression made his humor drain. They had a mission and he couldn’t let this woman keep distracting him. She distracted him enough when they were back in Montréal at E.D.G.E. headquarters. He was new enough to the team that he still felt the need to prove himself. He had to stay on target. One misstep and they could all die. He clenched his jaw. He would not be the one to make that misstep.
Jake nodded at him and then tapped Sarah on the shoulder. The signal to move. She went inside and they followed as she ran up the three flights of stairs silently. Dylan took middle, with Jake behind him. She cracked the door to the third floor and peered down the dark hall. She motioned them to wait and then slipped through.
Their tango was Yusef al-Basri, a vicious leader in the ISIS regime. He was responsible for more beheadings than anyone else. They called him al-Jalad.
Moments later, the door opened and she slid through.
“Someone’s home,” she said softly. “The lights are off, but I heard talking. Male voices. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. It’s most likely the tango and his uncle.”
Jake nodded. “Could be they’re having a late-night chat. Stay frosty, Cowboy.”
“Roger that,” Dylan said.
“Let’s do this.” Jake opened the door and went first down the hall, Dylan right behind him. A quick glance showed Sarah on his heels. He signaled her to stay back. She only had her Makarov, and he was pretty sure that she didn’t have any body armor on under that baggy shirt. One stray bullet to the chest and she was dead.
She cocked an eyebrow and just motioned him to move.
He frowned briefly before turning away. She was a grown woman and an E.D.G.E. operator, not some homeless waif, no matter how fragile she looked at the moment.
At the door, Jake stepped back. Sarah quickly stepped in and knelt, again reaching under her shirt for her lock picks. In less than thirty seconds, she stood and stepped to the side.
Time to work. He pulled down his NVGs and nodded his readiness. Jake opened the door silently. Dylan made his breaths even, even as his heart thudded in his ears. He moved into the apartment first, ready to defend himself. Jake followed him in while Sarah waited in the hall.
It was a standard box layout, with the kitchen lining one wall and two doors on the other. One was open and showed a toilet and sink. A saggy couch sat in the middle of the room, facing a TV. A dirty glass balcony door showcased the apartment building next door.
He and Jake cleared the room and moved as one to the closed bedroom door. Before they could open it, a scuffing alerted Dylan. His heart rate spiked and he swung around, rifle pointed at the person moving into the apartment.
Shit. He lowered his weapon. Sarah dragged in a man with a long beard. She now had an AK-47 slung across her body. Dylan signaled her with his hand, asking whether there were any more.
She shook her head and laid the man down so he didn’t thump. Dylan wasn’t sure whether the guy was dead or just out. Jake pointed Sarah to watch the main door. Dylan stepped up to the side of the bedroom door again, and turned the knob slowly.
A muffled thud from the other side made him pause with his hand still on the knob.
“Down,” he shouted, diving for the ground. The door exploded outward, smashing into where he’d been standing.
He stood and located Sarah, crouched by the front door. She gave him the thumbs-up. Dylan nodded and then stalked into the bedroom. Someone moved in the clearing smoke from the blast. Metal glinted.
“Gun!” Dylan raised his and shot. The person fell with a heavy thud.
“Cowboy?” Jake stood beside him scanning the rest of the room with his rifle raised.
“Clear,” he said.
An old man lay behind an overturned bed, a Makarov pistol by his outstretched arm and a bullet hole in his forehead.
“What the fuck?” Jake looked down at the body.
“Ambush,” Dylan replied. “He tipped the bed to protect himself from the backblast, but he blew the door a moment too soon.”
“Where the hell is al-Basri?”
“Maybe he went off the balcony,” Dylan said. They both strode back into the main room, where Sarah stood by the balcony doors, not in full view, watching the street below.
“He’s gone.” Her hands clenched around the AK-47. “Shit. I’m sorry.” Her shoulders slumped. “He must have known I was following him.”
Dylan didn’t like her looking so despondent. He’d much rather she be glaring at him. He shook his head. “Not your fault.”
Her lips twisted. “Whose then?”
Dylan pointed at the guy she’d dragged into the apartment, still out cold on the floor. “His. They must have been waiting for him. It was just bad luck that we were here too.”
Raised voices from other apartments could be heard. The bomb blast and bullets had woken the neighbors.
“Time to go.” Jake headed for the door.
Dylan followed and glanced back to see Sarah staring at the man on the floor. “Ghost,” he said. “Time to punch out.”
She shook her head. “I need to find al-Basri.”
Jake signaled from the door. “We leave now, Ghost.”
She nodded and they raced back down the stairs and into the side alley. Sirens could be heard heading in their direction. They jogged down back alleys, Sarah leading the way, taking them farther and farther from the apartment. Zach and Marc had an alternate route to the exfil.
Jake took over the lead and within a few blocks led them to a quiet alley. “Wait here,” he said. “I’m going to appropriate a vehicle.”
“Wilco,” Dylan said. He and Sarah hid in the shadows of the alley, back to back, watching their respective streets for any movement.
“I need to stay,” Sarah said softly. “I can do good here. I can find him again. We need to stop him. He’s a monster.”
He spared her a glance. Her brows were drawn together and she bit her lip, though she didn’t look at him as she continually scanned the area.
“Are you nuts?” he asked. “The guy is in the wind. It’s time to come home.”
“Home?” she said softly, and something in her voice sounded off to him. As if she didn’t understand the concept. She shook her head and her voice hardened. “This guy needs to be brought down. If you’d seen some of the shit he’s done, you’d be begging to stay and finish it.”
“We’ll get him, Sarah. Just not today. And besides, you don’t know if your cover was blown or not. It might have been you they were waiting for.”
She frowned at him. “I thought you said it wasn’t my fault.”
He shrugged. “What the hell do I know? I’m just a rotor-head.”
She bared her teeth. And he let his grin out. “There it is.”
Her scowl deepened further. “There what is?”
“The prettiest frown I’ve ever seen.” It’s what she’d shown him the first time they’d met on the Nigerian op his sister Cat had organized.
Jake chose that moment to drive up in a truck. “Doc checked in. The route is clear,” Jake said. “Time to move.”
They were back at the clandestine base in eastern Turkey before they spoke again. He’d powered down the helicopter and was doing a post-flight check. He walked around the outside noting bullet holes, when Sarah walked up to him.
It must be later than he thought. She’d already showered and changed into clean BDU pants and a v-neck tee, her damp hair brushed back off her face. No makeup or fancy clothes and she still took his breath away.
Her low voice whispered of sex. His heart beat hard in his chest. She didn’t back away when he closed the distance between them, but gazed into his eyes. His dick twitched and he had to clench his fists not to yank her into his arms for a kiss. This woman was a major distraction. Thank God the op was over.
She bit her bottom lip and her brow wrinkled. Her armor cracked just for a moment and the insecurity he saw in her eyes tugged at his heart.
She nodded as if she’d been assessing him, before she smiled. “We have thirty minutes before debrief.”
He pulled her into his arms, whirling and putting her back against the helicopter. His mouth found hers and heat scorched him. Being with Sarah was like trying to fly in a hurricane: a wild ride, but something he wasn’t sure he’d survive.
He pulled back and stared into her heated eyes. “No more rules, Sarah.”
She leaned toward him without acknowledging what he’d said. He held her back, though his body craved her lips, her touch. “Did you hear me?”
“My rules are simple,” she said. “No strings. I thought a guy like you would love them.” She shifted as if to leave.
He tugged her back into his arms.
Then he frowned as her words hit him. “What do you mean, a guy like me?”
She quirked an eyebrow, but didn’t make any further move to get away. “You’re a player. You have a different woman hanging all over you every time you’re out.”
He brought his hands to her face and cradled it, keeping eye contact with her, wanting her to see the truth. “There has been no one but you since we met.”
They’d met on an off-books operation his sister Cat had dragged him into—the first mission he’d ever done with E.D.G.E.; not even his superiors at the Canadian Special Operations Regiment had known about it. They’d rescued some Nigerian schoolgirls. It had made him proud like few things ever had in his life. It was also when he’d first met Sarah Ramirez—code name Ghost.