Chapter 1

Reaper

 

Standing on the ridge, I stared out into the night.

“Reaper.”

I held up a fist, and he lapsed into silence while I continued to recon the desert stretching all around us.

Behind me, the rest of my squad, all members of Seal Team 3, were gathered while we tried to salvage a mission that had been fucked up from the beginning.

Fucked, rushed, and if I ever got my hands on the son of a bitch who had insisted–

Stop! I told myself. Getting pissed about it now wouldn’t do me or the squad any good.

“See anything out there?”

I looked over at the lieutenant and shook my head. Big and lean, he ran the show out in the field, and I knew he had to be taking it personally, every last thing that had gone wrong. But if he could stand there and not look like he wanted to rip one of the scraggy little excuses that passed for a tree up from the earth and beat something with it, then I’d hold my temper in too.

He told me once that if I could get my temper under control, I might one day step into his position. I told him, respectfully, that I’d sooner step into a river full of piranha – bleeding and buck naked with a red target on my dick.

He laughed at me and said he could see my obituary.

Adam Dedman, known to his friends as Reaper, chose death by piranha rather than command. Those who knew him best weren’t surprised.

Under all my gear, I was tired, hot, and pissed off, but I managed a level voice as I said, “Nothing but night. Sand.”

“Lots of sand.” He clapped me on the shoulder and went back to the others while I continued to keep watch.

One recon unit was a little farther out, patrolling. The extraction team was still an hour out, and if we got pinned down, we were fucked.

We might just be fucked anyway. The lieutenant – we all called him Dog, short for Bulldog – had been in contact with command, speaking in low, barely audible tones, but we all knew what he was doing. The extraction point would be almost impossible to reach in an hour.

Especially considering how fucked up things had gotten.

“Aw…fuck…” The last word was rasped out in a low, hoarse cry that was more whisper than scream, and it raised the hair on my arms. I didn’t let myself look away though.

That was my friend back there on the ground, getting his tibia set by the medic. Rake broke his leg when our hostage had tried to take off running. Of all the dumb luck. He’d grabbed her and hauled her back just as she was about to fall down into a cave, deep enough to do damage, as evidenced by Rake’s injury. She was saved, but he’d crashed down into the dark hole and now the squad was effectively handicapped.

“Easy, Rake.” I heard Duke’s soft, steady voice, the cadence of the Carolinas heavy in his words as he spoke to his patient. “Okay, buddy. It’s done. You with me? Come on, don’t pass out on me, you pussy–”

“Fuck off,” Rake said, his voice thin.

The retort made all of us smile a little. He was still solid. Rake couldn’t use any of the painkillers, not with us being this close to the hot zone and this close to being extracted. We needed to get his leg stabilized and get him back on the move.

A low, whimpering sob rose in the air. “You killed them,” the woman cried. “You killed all of them.”

It was the ninth – no, the tenth time. I was damn tired of it.

“Look, cupcake, it was them or us,” Ice growled at her. “And if we died, you were probably next.”

Ice, a cold son of a bitch, and while I might not disagree with his statement entirely, he didn’t need to antagonize the woman we’d extracted just hours before.

“Ice, why don’t you take over?” I called out.

He gave me a lazy smile. “I’d be delighted, Reaper.”

We swapped out positions and I settled down on the rock closest to the civilian we’d been sent to rescue, one Kylie Hudson-Wallace. Kylie was pretty much what passed for royalty in America, the daughter of a senator and a former movie star turned philanthropist. She’d been visiting the Middle East on a goodwill mission – or so we’d been told. Personally, I had some doubts and I don’t think I was the only one.

She’d been pretty damn cozy with the so-called kidnappers and had started screaming, not just in terror, but in rage when we hauled her butt out of there.

One of them had charged after us, fury in his eyes, and all of them had very real weapons they’d been more than happy to use. They were all dead now, although the group of ten we’d been expecting had been more like thirty. Not bad odds for us, but the entire time we’d been getting shitty intel, and we needed to know why.

“You’re going home,” I said bluntly, staring at her tear-stained face. Mascara and eye shadow had run to form a messy mask, but she was still beautiful. “Your mother and father are anxious to hear about you. In a few hours, this will all be over.”

She stared at me, her lower lip trembling. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out when I lifted my hand and pointed a finger at her.

“You’ve already reminded us that we killed them. Trust me, I know. That was the job.”

Her face transformed into a mask of fury, and she swung out. I caught her hand before she could make contact.

“Don’t try that again,” I said softly, deadly, meaning every word.

She jerked back, rubbing at her wrist and glaring at me with a look that might have worked on her parents back home.

Over her head, Dog was staring at me. I met his eyes only briefly, but in that look, we both shared an entire, unspoken conversation. Something was seriously fucked up here. The woman gets rescued, and you’d think she’d be happy, nearly gushing with gratitude. Instead, she tried to slap the hell out of me.

 

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