Authors: Andrea Domanski
Gina Ankte wandered through the almost deserted forest of
their new, borrowed home. The Yavapai had been staying on the southern tip of
the Navajo reservation for months. Although she understood the generosity of
the Navajo’s gift to them, it didn’t go unnoticed that they were placed as far
from the other tribes as geography would allow.
Being ostracized was something Gina was accustomed to. Her
tribe had been looked down upon for over a thousand years. If the legends were
true, they’d deserved it back then. Much to her dismay, in the centuries since,
they’d done nothing to earn back their rightful place. Their anger and
bitterness, passed down from one generation to the next, kept them focused on
revenge instead of rebuilding.
And I’m doing the same thing.
Alienating herself from
her tribe for the last five years hadn’t been a conscious decision. She’d
allowed her own anger and bitterness to consume her until it was all she had
And now I’m here again.
Coming back to the canyon was the last thing Gina wanted to
do. She’d argued against the move since it was first discussed almost a year
ago but, as usual, her opinion was ignored. Her tribe, like many others, was a
male-dominated society. Women, although not considered outright inferior, were
relegated to specific roles. Making decisions that affected the entire tribe
was not one of those roles.
Their healer had insisted they return after having another
one of his ambiguous visions. He assured their chief that this time Tochapa
would reward them with the shape-shifting power they deserved. That once and
for all, they would have their revenge.
It didn’t seem to matter to the chief that those same words
had been spoken by their healer more than a dozen times in Gina’s lifetime.
They’d followed every one of his plans, mostly to the detriment of their tribe,
and ended up with nothing. Five years ago, when one of the healer’s plans
included her, she’d lost everything she’d ever cared about in one horrific
No. I’m not going to dwell on that anymore. I’ve spent the
last five years trying to put it behind me and I refuse to let that pain take
That, of course, was easier said than done. Just being back
at the canyon had caused all of those feelings to come flooding back. She’d
even imagined seeing Carter at the airport yesterday.
If there was one person on this earth that she didn’t want
to see, it was Carter. After what he’d done…
A loud grunt to her left pulled her thoughts back to the
present. She’d assumed she was alone out there at the edge of the reservation,
but the curse words that wafted through the trees told her otherwise. She took
a few hesitant steps toward the unknown voice, her curiosity getting the better
of her. As she rounded the trunk of a particularly large tree, she saw the
source of the noise.
A tall man wearing a baseball cap was dragging something
heavy through the woods. He was obviously not strong enough to carry it by
himself. Grateful for the interruption of her thoughts, Gina started forward,
intending to offer her help.
Then the heavy bundle moved, rolling on its side. The man in
the cap reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a needle.
Gina’s jaw dropped as the reality of the situation in front of her sunk in.
“Hey!” she yelled as she ran forward. She had no weapon but
couldn’t allow any harm to come to the person splayed out on the ground. Any
harm, at least. “What are you doing?”
The man started to turn toward her but stopped before his
face was revealed. He took a quick look at his captive, then ran off through
Although Gina wanted to follow—if for no other reason than
to find out who he was—she knew the person he left behind needed her help. She
moved slowly, not entirely sure this person hadn’t deserved their fate. No
fate. It was definitely a man. He was turned away from her but the
muscles in his back were obvious through his shirt. As she closed to within a
few feet of him, she saw his long black hair trailing across his face. Only his
slightly parted lips were visible. Lips that looked just like Carter’s.
What is wrong with me?
Shoving all thoughts of Carter aside, she placed her fingers
gently on the man’s neck. His pulse was steady. He’d either been knocked
unconscious or drugged. Although neither was going to keep him under for much
longer. What began as a low growl in his chest, turned into incoherent
“Hun,” he said, then, “Jackie.” Perhaps the
girlfriend. The closer he got to consciousness the more agitated he became. She
reached down to push his hair from his face, hoping to lend some comfort.
His move was so sudden she gasped. His hand shot out and
grabbed her wrist then pulled her over his prone body until she lay inches from
his now uncovered face. Her heart leapt into her throat, choking her. “Carter?”
“Gina?” He sounded as surprised as she felt. “What the hell
have you done?” He threw her off as he stood on shaky legs.
done?” She could feel her cheeks redden
as her anger increased. Five years after he ruined her life, he shows up and
attacks her. While she was trying to help him, no less.
“I should have known you’d be a part of this.” He swung
around, looking in all directions. “Where the hell am I?”
Gina crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a stern
stare. “Outside my village, where you are most unwelcome. So, why don’t you
just go away?”
Carter’s gaze turned quizzical before flaring into
full-blown anger again. “Seriously? You go through all of this just to tell me
to leave? Where are Han and Jackie?”
Han? Not Hun?
Try as she might, Gina couldn’t stop
the speck of warmth that invaded her heart as she realized he hadn’t been
mumbling some term of endearment earlier. “I don’t know what you’re talking
“They were with me on the trail when you shot us.”
That warm speck was immediately extinguished. “When I—? Aah!
You are the most selfish, self-centered, arrogant man I have ever met. How dare
you?” Words couldn’t express her fury as she stomped around in circles. “This
is what I get for getting involved in other people’s business. I should have just
stayed at home today instead of coming out here and saving your ass.”
By the time she looked up, Carter’s demeanor had changed. He
was now standing with his arms folded over his muscled chest, watching her. One
corner of his mouth was upturned in wry grin.
“What? You think this is funny?” She wanted nothing more at
that moment than to wipe that grin off his face. Preferably with her fist.
“So, you didn’t shoot me with a tranquilizer gun this
morning?” Carter had almost forgotten how feisty Gina was. Almost.
“Of course not, you bastard. I just chased away the guy that
was dragging you through the woods. You’re welcome, by the way.”
“Oh. Sorry. Did you happen to see who the guy was?”
Gina rolled her eyes then stared him down. “No, I didn’t.
But if I had known it was you lying there, I would’ve left him to it. You
undoubtedly deserved whatever he was going to do. You obviously still haven’t
learned that your actions have consequences.”
Carter’s grin faltered. “My actions? After what you did, you
have the gall to say that to me? Pot, meet kettle.”
“Um, Carter? Is everything okay?”
Han’s unexpected voice came from just over Carter’s
shoulder. When he turned around, he found not only Han and Jackie, but also
most of the Omega Group standing a few yards away. “I’m fine.” His anger mixed
with embarrassment, then confusion. “How’d you guys find me?”
Myrick looked amused. “We just followed the screaming. It
was actually a lot easier than we expected it to be.” He looked over Carter’s
shoulder. “And who might this lovely young thing be?”
Carter glanced behind him at the girl with the white flower
above her ear. The girl he’d once loved more than anything in the world. The
girl he gave up everything for.
“She’s nobody. Let’s get out of here.”
On the walk back to their rented vehicles, Myrine filled
Carter in on what happened to their jet.
“And everyone’s okay?” he asked.
“Yes. Thanks to Steve’s training and Mirissa’s powers. The
flight crew is spending the night at the hotel here, but they’re booked on a
commercial flight home in the morning. As for us, we’re here for the duration.”
That was one thing that Carter really loved about his team.
When one of them was in trouble, they circled the wagons. His brief kidnapping
caused every available agent to drop what they were doing to come to his aid.
He was honored, but also a little embarrassed.
“Here’s what I don’t get,” Carter began.
“There’s only one thing?” Han joked.
“Why kidnap me? It doesn’t make any sense.”
The silence that followed showed just how few answers they
really had. Myrine said simply, “You must have hit a nerve somewhere in your
investigation. Maybe you were closer than you thought. When we get back to the
hotel we’ll go over everything you’ve done since you got here. The answer is in
The vehicles were parked in a clearing just off of Highway
64, outside the small town of Cameron. They were two identical black Chevy
Tahoes that screamed
“Why not hang a sign saying FBI or
CIA?” joked Carter.
“I told you,” Mirissa blurted out.
Myrine smiled. “I know they aren’t ideal, but we needed
something with off road capabilities on short notice. This is what we got.”
They split into two groups and climbed into the spacious
SUVs. Carter and Han sat on either side of Mirissa in the back seat of the
first vehicle while Steve and Myrine took the front. The rest loaded into the
“Don’t start the engine!” Mirissa yelled.
The terror in Mirissa’s eyes told Carter everything he
needed to know. Scrambling from the vehicle, he ran to the car behind them,
shouting Mirissa’s warning. Myrick, just about to turn his key in the ignition,
pulled back his hand like it’d just been burned. Everyone piled out of their
vehicles, with more care than they’d had getting in, and waited for Mirissa to
“I don’t know how I know this, but there’s a bomb
under the car.”
Carter had seen firsthand how accurate that girl’s intuition
was. When they were at the safe house a few months ago back in Jacksonville,
she’d known someone was watching them even when their state-of-the-art security
system hadn’t. He knew better than to question a statement like that from
Mirissa. Lowering himself to the pavement, Carter peered under the chassis.
“She’s right. Shit, that was close.”
“Same back here,” called Myrick. “He shimmied himself out
from under the rear vehicle. “No timer. Looks like it was rigged to explode on
ignition. Hi-tech stuff, too. This thing wasn’t thrown together in someone’s
“If everyone moves to a safe distance, I can try to dislodge
them and throw them in the woods. Telekinetically, of course.” Mirissa said
with a grin.
Myrine shook her head. “No. It’s too dangerous. We don’t
know how big the explosion will be and, besides, anyone could be walking
through those woods. We’ll need to disarm them here.”
The team members looked to one another as if to say, “You do
it. No, you do it.” Apparently, no one had any more experience with disarming
bombs than Carter did, and he had exactly zero.
Steve got down on his hands and knees to take a peek. Before
he could give any opinion, another SUV pulled in behind him. Leaving the engine
running, two young men exited.
“Is everything all right here?” The driver, a little shorter
than Carter but sporting biceps the size of tree trunks, casually strode toward
them. His companion, another behemoth of a man, joined him.
Carter didn’t need Mirissa’s intuition to know these guys
hadn’t just happened upon them. Although they were dressed like a couple of hikers,
they were anything but. “We’re all good. Just a little car trouble. Nothing to
concern yourselves with.”
The driver let a smile cross his face. “You must be Carter
Mockta. I’m Sergeant Gale and this is Sergeant Campbell. We were assigned to
keep an eye on the Yavapai.”
“Assigned by whom?” Myrine asked, showing she had the same
uneasy feeling that Carter did.
“General Persaud, ma’am. Since Mr. Mockta’s visit, he felt
it prudent to find out if they posed any kind of threat. That’s why we were
here. We saw a couple of them hanging around your vehicles. We tried to
apprehend them for questioning, but lost them in the woods. We decided to come
back and make sure they hadn’t done any tampering.”
Carter relaxed a little. He should have guessed the General
would start his own investigation. His research facility was top secret for a
reason. If the wrong people got their hands on his work, bad things would
happen. “Either of you have any experience with bombs?”
Both men raised their eyebrows at the unusual question, but
didn’t hesitate to answer. “We both do, sir.”
While Campbell grabbed the tools they’d need from their
truck, Gale called in their situation to the general. Carter couldn’t help but
smirk at the man’s obvious discomfort. He was getting a strip torn off him and
Persaud’s voice was loud enough to force the poor guy to move the phone away
from his ear. Though he couldn’t make out the words, Carter got the meaning
loud and clear.
They’d royally screwed up.
When he hung up the phone and unclenched his jaw, he looked
over to Carter. “General Persaud will be here shortly.”
Although meatheads were usually guys that Carter enjoyed
seeing raked over the coals, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. “This
wasn’t your fault, you know. There’s no way you could have known those guys put
bombs on our cars.”
The large man let out a breath and gave Carter a weak smile.
“Thanks, but the general is right. We shouldn’t have left your vehicles
unattended. If you hadn’t seen those explosives when you did, things could’ve
been really bad.” A puzzled look came over his face before he continued. “How
you see them, by the way?”
Carter hesitated a moment, trying to think of an excuse, but
was saved by Han’s quick retort. “Believe it or not, I dropped the keys. When I
bent down to pick them up, I saw it. Crazy, huh?”
“You were definitely lucky.” Gale joined Campbell beside the
front Tahoe and they both went to work.
Myrine knelt beside them. “Can you guys do
a favor and keep the bombs as intact as possible? I’d
really like to see if we can trace any of the components.”
“Not a problem, ma’am.”
When General Persaud arrived a short time later, his
sergeants were packing away the last of their tools. Unlike the last time
Carter saw him, he was dressed casually in khakis and a button-down shirt. It
was then that Carter realized, other than the two men who picked them up at the
airport, he hadn’t seen anyone in military uniform outside of the research
They take their secrets seriously.
“General Persaud, it’s good to see you again.” Carter shook
his hand and introduced him to Myrine and the rest of the team.
“Your men have been most helpful. Thank you,” Myrine said.
“Not helpful enough, ma’am. I apologize for their lack of
foresight and will see to it they don’t make a similar mistake again.” Although
he was speaking to Myrine, Carter got the impression his message was meant for
Gale and Campbell. Judging by their hunched shoulders and downcast eyes, they
thought the same thing. “This was the Yavapai’s doing?”
“Looks that way, General.” Myrine said. “Your men were able
to give us detailed descriptions of the two they saw with our vehicles. We
shouldn’t have much trouble finding them.”
General Persaud motioned to the open cargo hold of the rear
Tahoe where both disarmed explosives lay. “Would you like me to dispose of
those for you?”
Myrine gave him a lopsided grin. “Actually, General, I was
hoping I might ask for a small favor. Do you have people at your facility that
can pull fingerprints and serial numbers? Without our jet, I’ll have to use a
commercial service to send anything back to my headquarters.”
General Persaud finished Myrine’s thought for her. “And
bombs aren’t something they would easily accept, disarmed or not. I’ll have my
people take care of it. It’s the least I can do after my men’s carelessness
almost got you killed.” He turned to his men, who seemed to shrink a few sizes
under his pointed stare. “Take those to the lab, then wait for me in my
Sergeants Gale and Campbell gathered the explosives and
trudged to their SUV, giving each of the Omega Group members a half smile and
nod as they passed. Carter could see the guilt in their eyes as they approached
him. They’d made a mistake leaving the vehicles unattended, but, in his mind,
they’d more than made up for it. “Thank you, again. You’ve been a really big
help.” Carter’s lame effort to make them feel better seemed to fail miserably
as the men cast their gazes down and left without another word.