Danger Signs: Delta Force Echo
Kira al-Attiyah's hope for a bright future in the U.S. died along with her father. Now, royal family tradition demands she marry. Refusing? Not an option. Especially since honor killing isn't just urban legend. She knew what she had to do. She just never expected her intended to be a terrorist...
Delta Force operator Ty Newcomb's mission was clear. He needed to make Kira fall for him, then secure an invite to meet her fiancé. From there, gathering intel to take down the man who has been on the CIA high-value target list for over a decade would be easy. The hard part would be not developing real feelings for his beautiful target.
With lives—and love—on the line, can Ty find a way to get the bad guy and keep the girl? Or will the price of completing the mission be his happily ever after with Kira?
Danger Signs is the first novel of Quinn's newest series, Delta Force Echo, part of the World of Iniquus. Grab your copy of this military romance, women's action-adventure, and let's go!
Release date: March 9, 2021
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Danger Signs: Delta Force Echo
As soon as Ty heard D-Day’s high-pitched gasp, he knew they were in big trouble.
A nanosecond later, he sucked in his own gulp of air.
Sudden sharp pains snapped over his body.
Ty’s brain scrambled to understand their situation—to make sense of whatever was happening. And to find a way to survive it.
One minute they had been dangling peacefully from his parachute harness, floating through the night’s sky, and now—completely blinded in the pitch-black night—their situation turned dire.
Time slowed—what operators called vapor lock—the point where the brain knew for a fact that the situation was desperate and dumped adrenaline into the body’s systems, not only powering up muscle strength but focusing the mind sharply on the immediate threat.
Everything physical felt like pouring cold molasses; everything mental sped forward at warp speed.
Ty’s senses expanded, clawing the environment for information to tell him how best to endure the next moments. But in the darkness, Ty Newcomb—Tier One operator with Delta Force Echo—had almost nothing to go on.
It was zero-dark-thirty along the Kenya-Uganda border in central Africa.
Up until this moment, the jump had been textbook. Getting down was supposed to be a cakewalk for him, even if he was jumping tandem with D-Day attached to his chest straps.
Ty hadn’t been worried about getting them on-site for this mission. He’d steer for the IR illuminator that marked their landing zone with practiced efficiency.
When Ty had run off the back of the plane a few minutes before, with D-Day tethered to him, the only thing Ty had worried about had been the landing. Murphy’s Law meant there was a high probability for skidding along the grassy meadow only to discover he was dragging through some wildebeest excrement—or whatever herd of wild animals had grazed the grasses down.
After Ty’s parachute thwacked open, and he’d descended in the pitch black, there had been peace. Weightless, visionless, with a slight woosh of wind, heard through his helmet, Ty had split his attention between situational awareness and a moment of joy.
He imagined himself a space explorer, gliding into a worm hole to come out the other side on some strange new planet.
He’d enjoyed it.
A moment of indulgence, and he was back on task, focused on the Ugandan soldier ally below them, waving his red lights in sweeping arcs to give Ty a bull’s eye to aim for.
Ty began to repeat his list of landing protocols aloud to remind D-Day what she was supposed to do as they hit the ground. “Hands crossing the chest, legs lifted from the hips…”
A gust of wind suddenly dragged their canopy higher in the sky and blew them off course.
Way off course.
Past the field out beyond the range of the light source.
Yup, he’d been worried about buffalo dung.
And to say they were in the shits would be putting it mildly.
This was life or death.
They were slicing through a tree in the thick canopy of what Ty assumed must be Queen Elizabeth Park’s northernmost edge. If not, they’d blown into the Congo, and that would be a whole other SNAFU layer to be dealt with.
First, Ty had to survive the next thirty seconds.
The velocity of their descent pressed the smaller branches away only to have them whip angrily back in stinging rebuke, leaving vengeful welts on their skin as Ty and D-Day fell from the sky.
Ty tipped his chin down to his chest and protected his eyes in the crook of his elbow. “D-Day, cross your ankles, press your thighs together, soften your knees!” As he yelled out, he tried to maneuver his own body into this safer configuration.
Getting stopped by a branch between his legs would make the rest of this mission a nightmare.
That was if they survived this fall.
His head jerked backward as his night-vision goggles snagged and ripped from his combat helmet.
“Arms protecting your face!” Ty hoped D-Day could hear him bellow as they crashed past limb after limb.
The branches dressed in thick foliage grappled with his equipment, yanking at the closures and straps until the sheer weight and speed of the operators’ slide ripped them free of the branches’ grasp.
Down, down, down, they careened.
Without the full canopy of their parachute capturing air and drifting them safely to the ground, they had no brakes, no control, and Ty had no idea how far they were from the ground.
If they continued to fall like this, they were going to die.
Up in a tree alive was better than down and dead.
Ty reached into the stygian night, not seeing even an edge of a solid object, completely blind to his surroundings. His knuckles grazed along the bark of a limb to his left. Ty flexed his hand to grab at it.
The weight of the two operators, their equipment, plus speed tore the branch from his fingers.
He tried again.
Each time their descent noticeably slowed.
Tunnel vision—especially in a pure black tunnel like this—meant he had no concept of what D-Day was doing below him. But she was a pilot for the SOAR 160th—an elite Army special operations unit. She was used to working in scenarios of sensory deprivation and high stress. Surely, she was doing something to help.
If Ty could just get their chute to tangle up in a branch that was strong enough to support their weight, or he could find purchase on a stout limb, they could survive.
Hoping to affect either of those options, with Ty’s next grab, he tugged hard to the side where he thought the trunk might be.
Their abrupt halt was teeth jarring.
“Hang tight,” Ty called down to D-Day as soon as his lungs were working enough for him to form words.
“As if I had a choice,” she choked out her response.
“Give me a minute to assess.”
“Yeah, you do that,” D-Day called up to him.
The last time Ty had seen D-Day, her helmet was just below his chin. Ty patted her head to see if she’d managed to keep her night vision goggles. His hand landed on her hair, cut in a short pixie style. She’d lost her whole helmet; that must have hurt like hell. But the only sound she’d made through all this was that initial gasp of surprise.
She was lucky that losing her helmet hadn’t snapped her neck.
Ty gave himself a moment to regroup.
It had been a while since Ty had parachuted with a human attached to his straps.
Typically when Ty jumped with Delta Force Echo, he had his Military Working Dog, Rory, in a pouch as they headed down to whatever off-grid mission Fort Bragg’s JSOC—Joint Special Operations Command—sent them on.
Rory loved to jump; it was like sticking his nose out the window during a long country car ride but on steroids. Rory was a K9 that could best be described as a dog on steroids. He was all go-mode when he was on a task but a dork when he was hanging out at the base.
Luckily, this time, Rory was left behind—asleep in his kennel.
Hanging out in a tree until an Echo brother could get them an assist, yeah, that could take hours.
Rory in a tree for hours, dangling from his pouch, mad, with his sharp teeth inches from Ty’s jugular?
If this had to happen on a tandem jump, selfishly, Ty was glad he had a human—who understood the concept of patience—strapped to his front.
Delta Force Echo missions were always high risk. Any damned thing could go haywire at any point. It was expertise built on training and experience that kept everyone operational.
But Ty had never landed in a tree before—with or without a tandem partner. And certainly not in a night so dark that it seemed to sponge up any possible trace of illumination. For him, this was all theoretical. Something they’d talked through in jump school.
Rule number one, stay calm.
“Well?” D-Day asked.
“Working the problem,” Ty said. He’d managed to keep his radio on him—small miracle. He adjusted the channel then tabbed the mic. “Echo-zero-two for Echo-zero-one.” He directed his communications to their team leader, Master Chief T-Rex Goodman. Since T-Rex was second out of the plane, Ty hoped he got down before the winds kicked up.
“Go for Echo-zero-one,” T-Rex’s voice came over his speaker.
“Echo-zero-two and D-Day are sitting in a tree.”
“K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” T-Rex sang.
“Funny,” D-Day muttered.
“I was wondering where the team took off to,” T-Rex said. “We had a designated landing spot. You didn’t get the memo?”
“Sorry, I must have been getting a coffee while you went over that part of the mission.”
T-Rex went through the Echo roster, using their team numbers to check on their situations. As it turned out, T-Rex and Nitro were the only ones with boots on the actual ground. The rest of Echo were up in the trees like a troupe of monkeys.
“Echo-zero-one to Echo-zero-two. Did either you or D-Day sustain serious injuries?”
Before Ty depressed the button to answer T-Rex, he asked, “How are you doing down there, D-Day?”
“Hard to tell,” D-Day answered. “It feels like I have most of my body parts.”
“This is Echo-zero-two. D-Day and I will need to assess once we’re on the ground. We’re both conscious.”
“We’ll take what we can get. Any idea how high up you two are?”
Ty’s mind spun through the situation. For sure, he had no idea how high they were up off the ground.
Five feet? Fifty?
And if it were fifty, would their chute hold fast?
Silk ripped easily, and their combined weight was a lot to ask for the fabric to hold. Ty was two-ten. D-Day was tiny. But she was also solid muscle. Looking at her, he’d guess one-ten, one-fifteen? But when he caught her under the arms and lifted her briefly up onto a platform back at the base, he’d say with her clothes and boots she was a good hundred and fifty.
Besides their personal weight, the tandem team had carried their share of equipment and provisions in their drop bag that weighed a hundred and forty-two pounds when Ty had put it on the scale.
The equipment bag hung between their legs on a twenty-foot cord with a bungee shock absorber. During a normal landing, the jumper detached the load before performing the parachute landing fall; this kept the bag from causing the jumper injuries.
Now, if a jumper saw they were headed into a tree canopy, the instruction book said to get rid of that bag lest the jumper lands in one tree and the equipment in the other.
Of course, if you kept it attached, it could provide an exit strategy. Tie the top in tight and simply climb down along the cord.
“D-Day, the provisions bag, does it reach the ground?”
“Nope,” she exhaled. “But I’d like to—”
Ty heard the rip of parachute fabric written large against the otherwise silent night. They dropped about six inches before Ty’s boot found a limb. His weight hung from the parachute ropes, but even having the tips of his toes on a surface made him feel better. He hoped his stomach would settle. Puking down D-Day’s back would make him the butt of bar jokes for years to come.
D-Day’s feet dangled over nothingness.
Ty could feel her weight dragging at him. Sweat formed on Ty’s upper lip and chest as his body processed their life-threatening situation. “We have to get that weight off. Moving very slowly, D-Day, can you unclasp the supply bag?”
“I believe so, let me just feel…Yup, got it.”
“Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to count down your release, then we’re going to listen for the bag to impact the ground. From that information, we’re going to take our best guess at how high up we are. Hopefully, you release the clasp, and the bag hits the ground. Twenty feet, we can work with.”
“Wilco,” D-Day said. “Three. Two. One. Release.”
As soon as D-Day freed the weight, the tandem partners flew a good foot up in the air. Ty landed back with his toes on a branch.
With the strain on his back somewhat eased, Ty reached under D-Day’s arms and tried to haul her up to the branch beside him. Even though she was positioned inches lower than he was in the restraints, he towered a good foot above her when they stood side by side on the ground. Here in the tree, her feet couldn’t reach the branch Ty stood on. He lowered her back to dangle from his chest rigging.
In this configuration, Ty had his boys pinched down tight. He needed to get the weight off. How exactly he was going to do that, he wasn’t sure. Getting castrated from the harness strap wasn’t on his happy list.
He wanted to be a dad someday.
Maybe even someday soon—if the right woman walked into his life.
Ty had been thinking about this just the other day, how suddenly the timing seemed right to form a family of his own.
It would suck if he had to explain to his potential future Mrs. Newcomb how his nuts got crushed in a parachuting catastrophe.
It would suck even more if this was how things ended for him, and he never got the opportunity to love a woman, commit his life to her, and know the depth of feelings that came with being a dad.
The longer the webbing was cutting off circulation, the more worrisome his situation became. Ty thought about going to his uncle’s farm and wrapping the calves’ balls with bands…
He remembered asking his uncle how long it took after he’d put the band around the bulls’ scrotum until the testicles fell off. As Ty remembered it, the amount of time depended on the size of the bull, but the testicles would fall off somewhere between ten and fifty days.
He had time before he castrated himself.
Yeah, maybe change the subject.
And all of those thoughts whipped through Ty’s mind before the supply bag crashed to the ground.
“Whew!” D-Day said. “That was a long way down. Did you hear it?”
“How far?” Ty asked.
“Going out on a limb here, he-he-he. I’m guessing we’re at the top of a very tall tree.”
Three stories up in the air that would be broken ankles and legs…if they were lucky. At forty feet—which was Ty’s best guess at their height based on the equipment bag’s thud—there was a fifty percent chance of death. Over fifty feet and that stat went up to a hundred percent dead—no shot at surviving.
He toggled his mic. “Echo-zero-one, Echo-zero-two is over twenty feet. Zero visibility. No light source or night vision available.”
“Are you lashed in?”
“We seem stable,” Ty reported.
“Echo,” T-Rex spoke to their entire team. “I have your GPS coordinates. Our forward team and I are headed your way.” T-Rex’s voice was staticky in Ty’s headset.
“Looks like the wind action we had hoped to avert was in play,” T-Rex continued. “The team was blown about three klicks off target.” Three kilometers—not quite two miles. That would have all been fine, except for the trees.
Ty called down to D-Day. “T-Rex is one of our fastest runners. It’s only three kilometers. He’ll be here soon.”
“Soon would be awesome.”
Kira was halfway up the brick stairs to her porch when she saw the brown-paper-wrapped box leaning against the front door of her little Cape Cod-styled home. She stalled as she took in the Arabic writing at the top left, fluid and beautiful. Colorful Qatari stamps covered the top right. And in the center in block letters, less sure and comfortable, “Shakira al-Attiyah” was written atop of her Durham, North Carolina address in the Latin alphabet.
Kira had been waiting expectantly for this box.
“A treasure,” she whispered to Princess Beatrice, the King Charles spaniel who sniffed at the thick bank of ruby-red geraniums that lined her walkway.
Beatrice was her friend London Davidson’s dog. Kira was working for London this summer—the time between walking across the stage to collect her doctoral diploma and the beginning of her next chapter. Her summer job was not so much about the need for money—Kira had inherited from her father and didn’t need to work at all—it was more about quieting her family’s concerns.
Kira was an unmarried female, and her father was dead. While she lived in America—she was, in fact, born and raised an American—the whole of her surviving family lived in Qatar, where by tradition, her life would be defined by her male protector.
Since her father’s death, there was no male head of household who took responsibility for Kira in the United States. This traditional duty landed on her father’s oldest brother’s shoulders. Uncle Nadir had told Kira that as long as she was enrolled at the university, she could continue along her educational path. Qatar held education in high regard, and even among females, most everyone in the small peninsular country, jutting like an egg into the Persian Gulf, had a college education.
Her family obligation to follow the dictates of her uncle was ultimately why Kira had obtained her Ph.D. It was sort of like the men during the Vietnam era who stayed in school for as long as possible to dodge the draft and thus dodge Viet-Kong bullets.
The bullet Kira dodged, for the time being, wasn’t as obviously lethal.
But with her graduation, her Uncle Nadir had called Kira back to Qatar, where Kira’s widowed mother now lived with her deceased husband’s family. Her mother, Hamida, too, was under the “protection” of Uncle Nadir.
The difference was that Kira’s mother was happy for the arrangement, and Kira most decidedly was not.
Stepping into Kira’s melodrama was Kira’s friend London. London was able to give Kira a little more time to make up her mind—would she move to Qatar and do as she was told? Or, would she refuse and thereby give up her relationships with her mother as well as her beloved aunts and cousins?
Family or Freedom?
The choice had tormented Kira since she was eighteen, and her dad’s freak slip on the ice, the blow to his head in the fall, and his ultimate death when no one realized he was outside in the winter storm for hours.
Looking at her life, Kira could say that there were many times when fate seemed to step in and change her future’s trajectory—even if fate was working one degree away from her.
London Markle was a perfect example.
London had been Kira’s randomly assigned roommate freshman year at Duke. The two women had always gotten along and had lived with each other through undergrad. When Kira went to visit her family in Qatar, London often accompanied her there. Together, London and Kira had enjoyed the fantastic museums, the cultural foods, art, and music, the tableau of international glittery people.
During their last visit to Doha, Kira introduced London to Uncle Nadir’s friend William Davidson, an energy industry billionaire—a man who was easily as old as Kira’s dad would have been had he lived.
That age difference didn’t matter to London; when she met William, she was agog. If Cupid had been flitting around and shot off his arrows, that was the only way to describe what Kira witnessed. When London shook William’s hand, her eyes stretched wide, and she stared at him as though her brain had stopped processing. London shook herself free, but the spell had been cast.
Love at first sight?
Kira hadn’t believed in it. She had thought London merely star-struck, or maybe that she’d eaten a bad oyster, and it was making her hallucinate.
But no, London was smitten.
It was a May-December romance. Though London was younger than William’s Army-pilot daughter Christen—which was gross—and this was actually William’s fifth attempt at conjugal bliss, London and William decided their love was fate. After a three-month whirl-wind romance, they tied the knot.
Kira had been fascinated by London’s stepdaughter Christen, her ability to thwart the family’s expectations and desires for her to be a pampered socialite. Christen simply did what she wanted, going off and joining the Army to become some hotshot pilot with the radio name D-Day.
Kira couldn’t imagine wanting to be in danger—going out and looking for dire situations, flying helicopters into the deadly scenarios. Though, there was the perk that Christen flew with special operator teams—the best of the best of hunky heroes. Kira wouldn’t mind having her own hunky hero—the kind she’d read about in her novels.
She sighed noisily. “Come on, Princess Bea, time to go in.” She gave a gentle tug on the lead, which Beatrice ignored. “Spoiled thing.” Kira smiled at the pup with a bit of indulgence and a bit of impatience. Kira wanted to open her box. But Beatrice looked like she might potty. That would give Kira some time between the constant in and out, in and out of Beatrice’s routine.
Kira moved into a shadow to wait and think. Yes, Kira had spent long hours thinking about London’s step-daughter Christen. It was brave of her to strike her own path through life. Was she happy? And did Christen have a price that she paid for her choices? One that hurt, like Kira’s would?
London had made her life’s choices, too. And she paid a price for them; London got a fair amount of blowback being called a trophy wife, a gold digger…
Kira was selfishly glad for London’s union. The fact that William and Uncle Nadir were in business together was the single reason why Kira had this tiny little wiggle room in her uncle’s proclamation that she should return to Qatar following her graduation, where he would find Kira an acceptable husband.
Kira would push the inevitable decisions out as far as she could into the future.
William Davidson had told Uncle Nadir that he would tuck his “dear wife’s friend” under his wing and act as Kira’s protector this summer.
Granted, Kira was twenty-eight years old.
She was quite comfortable on her own and had been since she graduated from Patrick Henry High ten years before.
Kira felt no reason whatsoever for her uncle to pressure her the way he did.
If Kira was to stay in America, unwed and without “male protection,” she would bring shame to her family. Her family was part of the extended royal family. She was part of the royal family and could prove a “diplomatic challenge” should anything go wrong.
Uncle Nadir was playing hardball using Kira’s close relationship with her mother, aunts, and cousins as a cudgel. Did she want to bring dishonor to her family? Make her cousins unmarriageable in the view of polite society? Because, just like in the 19th-century novels that Kira studied, the morality of an individual reflected on the entire family. Brought disgrace to the whole family. And that shame would have to be punished.
Kira didn’t think it would go that far, but it was always a possibility that she could be disposed of by honor killing. Dozens happened every year right here in the United States. The borders wouldn’t protect her.
A shiver raked Kira’s body, and she quickly looked over her shoulder and up and down the street.
For now, for today at least, as long as Kira worked for London, she had a reprieve.
And working for London meant doing fairly mindless tasks like dogsitting Princess Beatrice the Spoiled.
“Come on, Bea.” Kira tugged at the leash once Beatrice lowered her leg and started nibbling at the flowers.
Beatrice disliked change and had been rather punitive toward Kira in both big ways and small. That had been tolerable up until Princess Beatrice spun around at Kira’s command and saw the package at the door. The spaniel darted up the stairs ahead of Kira and lifted her leg toward the box.
Kira plunged forward and snatched the package up. “Are you kidding me right now, Bea? You would do that? You just went.”
Princess Beatrice pouted while Kira inserted her key into the deadbolt lock. “I’m going to tell London that you’ve been extra destructive since you’ve been here. You know,” Kira said as she pushed the door open to the cool dark interior of her entry hall. “Your momma is heading to Tanzania. And in Africa, there are lions.” She elbowed the door shut, clicked on the hall lights, and moved inside, glad to be out of the intensity of the July sun and North Carolinian humidity.
Beatrice toddled along behind her.
“Lions are huge cats. As big as…oh as big as my couch. And a lion would eat you as a snack, lick its chops, and search for another bite to eat.” Kira placed the package on her entry table, clanged her keys into the key bowl, then bent to unhook the lead from Beatrice’s collar. “So you should be grateful that I let you come here as my house guest. And you should be more considerate about where you pee and what you chew up. If it wasn’t for my willingness to take care of you, you’d be heading out on safari and fending off the wild animals.” She scooped Beatrice up, tucking the furball under her arm, and walked toward the kitchen. “I’m going to put you in your kennel and let you think about your bad behavior and how you can improve.”
Beatrice actually loved her crate, loved the soft blankets, loved her chew toys. And she loved to nap.
Kira gently closed the door and flipped the latch. “I’ll come back and get you at dinner time.”
Butterflies flitted in Kira’s stomach as she stood. She rubbed at the goosebumps on her arms. “This is so exciting!” she told the robin sitting on the bird feeder outside of her kitchen window.
Two months ago, a cousin of her Aunt Fatima in Qatar had written her a letter. “I have a friend who found something in her grandmother’s trunk that you might be interested in studying,” it had begun.
Kira’s specialty was rare book collections and, more specifically, women’s writing from historical times and from geographical locations where it would have been improbable for women to be writing anything at all.
These women shared the commonality of women’s struggles worldwide. Their fiction intrigued Kira, the bittersweetness of family life—being a mother, wishing more than anything that they could be a mother, the people they loved, the devastation they survived. It was all so raw on the page when a woman thought that no one would ever see the stories she’d created.
The strength and honesty of these women, Kira believed, should be honored and elevated.
And she was the one to do it.
Kira moved to her little guest bathroom and thoroughly washed her hands and arms, dried them, and went back to her office.
Imagine, she thought, putting such a rarity in a box and sending it across the ocean as if it were a sweater that she’d bought online.
Kira took the package from the entry hall to her office to unwrap the covering and pull open the cardboard top. With the end of a clean paintbrush, she gently lifted the tissue paper and peered down at the nineteen-thirties-styled photo album. The padded white satin on the cover was rusty and yellowed with the acid of aging materials. Dapples of mold marred the bottom corner with ugly dark gray splotches. “Our Wedding” was written in Arabic across the top in navy blue.
Kira had been told that the wedding album was used to hide the secret writings from male eyes.
She pulled open her desk drawer, full of snowy-white cotton gloves. She pulled on a pair before touching the treasure, protecting this artifact from any oils or dirt that might remain on her hands, lest it further degrade the book.
Tenderly lifting the album from the box, Kira moved the gift to her work table.
She took a deep breath and opened the cover.
“How many Russian helicopters have you stolen in your lifetime, D-Day?”
“This is a first for me.” Christen Davidson—known by the call sign D-Day—with her massive flight expertise, had attached to Echo to figure out next steps on their mission. They were tasked to sneak into Uganda at the northern tip of Lake Edward and steal the latest in Russian helicopter technology.
“I’ll tell you what, Ty,” D-Day said, “you break my legs on this jump, and no one is flying out of here on that bird.”
“Wind is wind, ma’am.”
“I hear you.” D-Day reached behind her, grasping at Ty’s arms as a gust blew her out over the abyss. Her cry of distress was held back behind clenched teeth.
Briefly, Ty considered unclasping D-Day; they’d both be more comfortable. But then, she’d have nothing tethering her to the tree. She’d be on her own if she were to lose her grip.
D-Day was his tandem jumper. Ty was responsible for her safety.
It would suck if Ty broke her on the way to the big event.
This was only step one of their mission. Get on the ground, then hoof it fifteen kilometers through the wilderness along the Congolese-Ugandan border to the strip of meadow and the helicopter.
Why had Russia abandoned its helicopter?
Could be it was out of fuel.
Could be that it had a major malfunction.
Or the pilot had been killed or captured. Maybe he fell in love with a local girl and decided to live in a round hut and herd cattle.
Maybe the pilot just decided fuck-it-all and walked off into the horizon.
Or maybe—and this was Ty’s bet—Russia had tucked the helicopter away for some upcoming event… Oil had been found under Lake Edward, and there was an international scramble turned to massive unrest around the rights to that oil.
Already big oil out of England was making the locals’ lives miserable—damaging Lake Edward’s waters and causing the already difficult existence of those who survived on its shores for food, hydration, and sanitation that much more challenging.
Echo certainly didn’t want to get swept up in that.
Sure, Echo had the permission of the Kenyan government to fly over their airspace. And yeah, Uganda had specifically rung up the Pentagon with an invitation for the United States to come and take the abandoned helicopter away as quickly as possible, pretty please, before the tribal factions discovered it.
The reason these two governments had called on America to show up and take over the situation was the need to preempt any number of less-than-optimal outcomes that could manifest on the world stage by leaving the heli in place.
JSOC absolutely did not want the Unit to run into any Russian operators. “Keep a tight lid on this mission, boys.”
Yep. America had stepped warily into the situation. If Echo got this right, they’d have their hands on the latest and greatest technology that Russia was employing. The engineers could study the systems and decide if any of the features were useful in updating America’s fleet. It would also show America where the Russian ‘copters weak spots were and how they could best be exploited.
That sounded like a win.
But if they were caught red-handed by tribal leaders or failed at remaining covert… The Somalian FUBAR mission Black Hawk Down came full-blown to Ty’s mind. Yeah, their being in Uganda could piss off a bunch of people who might just want to turn this into a geo-political crisis.
It might even spark a war.
Stealth in this situation had been Echo’s go-to crisis management tool.
When the jump plane took off an hour ago from a Kenyan military base, it flew through a thick bank of clouds that blanketed the sliver of new moon light.
Delta Force Echo had waited three days for these near-perfect weather conditions for the mission.
They’d been jazzed by the circumstances. Now? Ty tipped his head back as he heard the parachute silk rip—not so much.
“Don’t move,” Ty gasped out, tightening his grip on the branch above him. He tried to stop their swaying to get a new foothold. He’d guess that they just slid another ten or fifteen feet before he could once again get the parachute lines tangled and supporting their weight.
“That’s not me. That’s the wind.” She didn’t sound like she was freaking out.
Ty had been on a couple of missions where D-Day was the pilot. She seemed to be the one JSOC sent in when they needed someone to white-knuckle fly a bird mere feet off the ground, at high speeds, and even higher external pressure of enemy attention.
A blink of the eye could leave the heli and all the passengers in a ball of fire.
D-Day had ice running through her veins.
She liked to be balls to the wall. And she liked control.
Hands on the stick, managing a situation was a far cry from their present circumstance.
“Yo, D-Day?” A voice boomed from about twenty yards to their five o’clock.
“Is that you, Nick?” Nick of Time was D-Day’s copilot. “Are you okay?”
“When they said they wanted my expertise in the air, I had no idea I’d be here hanging around like a banana on a tree.”
“Don’t talk about food,” she called back. “I’m starving, here.”
“You’re always hungry,” he said with a laugh.
“We should probably exercise noise discipline, ma’am.”
Once again, the night turned silent. It was eerie to be in the jungle with no sounds around them, save for the rustling leaves.
“Since we’re hanging out,” Ty wanted some quiet banter to take his mind off the pain from their second brutal fall. “Anything exciting happening in your life? You still stationed in the sandbox?”
“I’m heading stateside after this mission.”
“My wedding and honeymoon.”
“Yeah? Anyone I’ve run across?”
“Gator Aid Rochambeau? He’s an operator for Iniquus’ Strike Force. Retired Marine Raider.”
“Yeah, I know the guy. A few months back, he had a mission inside Fort Bragg and did the Unit a solid. We’ve got his back.”
“Good to know. Hey, I think I figured out a way to get down.”
“Ma’am, we’re hanging about four stories over the ground.”
“Yeah? Maybe. I think that last slide took us considerably closer to the bottom of this tree. Look, I’ll go first, and then if it turns out okay, you can follow me down.”
“D-Day, ma’am, I’m responsible for your safety. And,” he stopped to chuckle, “as ridiculous as that sounds, given our predicament, you’re considered our VIP at this time. None of us can do what you can. If you’re out of the game, the game is over.”
“If I lose my legs because the straps are as tight as a tourniquet, I’ll be useless, too.”
“All right, just for giggles, how about you talk me through how you’re going to get down.”
“In daylight, I’d just unstrap and go down. I’m a parkour champ.”
“I heard you did that. Matter of fact, isn’t that how you met Gator? The bar story I heard was that your dad hired him to be on your protection detail, and you weren’t down with the intrusion into your personal space. So you Spidermanned your way up the side of a building and ran the roof lines?”
“That was the day I met Gator, yes.” Her voice was tight.
“Seems like it didn’t rub his ego the wrong way. You’re getting married and all.”
“Was he laughing when he told you the story?”
“Chest puffed out with pride, ma’am. But I had no idea you two were a couple. He was just telling a story.”
“What was the topic, most onerous security details?
“I believe it was a time when he got outmaneuvered. He said he went out with his principals for a jog, and you ran to an apartment and three stories up the wall. He’d seen it on YouTube but never imagined someone doing it in front of his eyes.”
“Yeah, well. Jogging’s a bore.”
“All right, listen, in that it’s dark as sin out here, this is my plan. You release your emergency chute and let it fall toward the ground. I get myself out of my rigging, wrap my leg around the parachute cords and crawl down. Boom. Simple.”
“Which would be fine, ma’am. But even hanging from that and jumping down, you’re still only about halfway to where you need to be.”
“Did Gator tell you I dove off the roof of that building, tucked, and flipped to disperse energy, hit the ground—”
“He said when you came off that building even though you somersaulted to disperse your momentum, that his second surprise that day was how much energy was in play from that dive.”
“A body in motion…physics is a big part of success.”
“He said when he tugged your hand, you sprang into his arms—”
“And straight into his heart.”
Ty threw his head back and laughed. “Now that part, he left out.”
“Natural born storyteller, possibly a tad of hyperbole in his word choices.”
“In this case?” Ty asked.
“Nah, that’s how it happened.”
“The difference being, you were on a grass slope, clear of obstruction and most importantly, lots of sunlight so you could tell what you were doing.”
She huffed a breath.
“I get that. Believe me. I am as uncomfortable as you are.”
“Probably more so. I don’t have balls in a vice.”
“Yo!” A voice called from below them. “Anyone need an assist?”
Maintaining light discipline, T-Rex assessed D-Day and Ty’s position in the tree through his night-vision goggles. He determined that D-Day’s suggestion about climbing down the reserve chute was a good one. Holding the line taut, T-Rex talked D-Day down. Followed quickly after by Ty.
“Congratulations, Ty,” D-Day said as she moved to pick up her helmet and pulled her own night vision into place. “You were able to execute that landing without a single cuss word.”
“I’m not saying I wasn’t thinking them, ma’am.”
D-Day spotted Ty’s night vision goggles laying in a pile of debris and retrieved them. “But you had a lady dangling between your legs?” she asked with a laugh.
“Not touching that,” Ty said. “No derision affixed to being a lady. I get that you’re a pilot in the field and a woman when off duty. Just…”
Nitro went over both of them with the red-beamed flashlight. “One head and four limbs each, no blood, I’m saying good to go.” Nitro slapped Ty on the back and moved on to check on Nick, who dropped from a bottom limb on his tree.
Ty adjusted his goggles. “Old habits, ma’am. If we get to the place where I’m cussing in front of a female, let alone an officer, I think we can pretty much conclude that things have spiraled out of control.”
They were late checking boxes on this mission. The wind had blown them further off course, and soon the sun would brighten the horizon. At first light, they were supposed to be standing beside the Russian helicopter.
Echo put the supplies on their backs, and they were hot footing it behind their Ugandan counterparts who had done the original recon and set up the team’s intended landing zone.
D-Day had asked to take some of the weight, but she’d been turned down. They were the beasts of burden, and she was the talent. That, from T-Rex, hadn’t made her happy.
She wasn’t even winded from their run.
Nick fell in beside them. “You do a full body check?” he asked. “You good?”
“Good enough. I might have some interesting bruise marks around my thighs on my wedding night.”
“She’s hitching up with Gator Rochambeau,” Ty clarified.
“Good man. Echo owes him a debt,” T-Rex said. “If you’re planning on still being bruised, seems there’s a clock ticking on you being single.”
“There is, indeed. I need to go ahead and steal this heli, then jump a commercial flight back to Washington D.C. in time to slide into my wedding dress and traipse down the aisle. It’s planned for the end of this month. And since you all seem indebted to my betrothed for whatever reason, I’m just going to say, no dicking around. He wouldn’t be very happy to be left at the altar.”
“Hard to plan a wedding from the other side of the world. Is Gator putting it together?”
“Gator’s mom and sisters are planning the wedding and the reception. My stepmother London was ticked that it was going to be a family and close friends-only event, so she’s planned some shindig for that Thursday to invite my father’s people. If y’all can keep me tucked tight so I miss that one, well that I wouldn’t mind so much.”
“London Davidson? That’s your stepmom?” Nitro asked. “Christen Davidson, that was you? I’m used to calling you D-Day, so I didn’t put it together.” He let out a low whistle.
“You saw in the paper.” D-Day’s voice turned cold.
“It said there was a hunting accident, and you shot your brother.”
“Hunting, yes. The only accident was with the angle of my shot. I could only get a clear bead on his leg.”
“Huh. Dangerous woman to know.” There was a smile in T-Rex’s voice.
“Damned straight,” D-Day said.
“Your brother must have deserved it. I’ve flown enough missions with you now to know butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth,” Nitro said. “You’re cool under pressure. Ice in your veins.”
“I have a warm heart,” D-Day said. “How about we find a more interesting subject.”
“You shot your brother in the leg, and now he’s an amputee. You don’t think that’s an interesting story?” Nitro asked.
“Sure, you want the story of family dysfunction? I’ll share. My dear old friend, Johnna White of the CIA, dragged me away from our mission—the one when we were saving her colleague John Grey from his prison—because she wanted to use my connections to overhear a conversation at my father’s party. I found out my brother was going to kill my father, so I shot him,” she said matter-of-factly. Her shrug didn’t break her jog pace.
“Oh, is that all?” Ty asked.
“Shit happens,” Nitro said.
“Amen to that, brother,” Ty said. “Speaking of—” He slowed to a stop then bent to put his hands on his knees and catch his breath. He pointed with the blade of his hand at the monstrosity looming out in the distance. “There’s the heli in all its glory.”
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