Renowned chef Elodie Winters’ dream job, private chef to a powerful family in New York, quickly becomes a nightmare when her employer turns out to be the head of a notorious mob family. Now on the run, she thinks she’s finally safe, having landed in the middle of the Arabian Sea, cook on the Asaka Express cargo ship. When the ship is taken by pirates, she can’t believe her bad luck…but it’s about to take a turn for the better.
Scott “Mustang” Webber is pulled from his current mission, along with the rest of his SEAL team, to prevent an act of piracy in the Middle East. They’re all surprised when the first person to radio for help is a woman. He soon senses “Rachel Walters” is hiding something, and offers his help. He’s both shocked and pleased when she actually comes looking for him in Hawaii months later. He’d felt a connection with her on that cargo ship…one he’s looking forward to exploring further.
Keeping Elodie safe in Hawaii turns out to be easy…until it isn’t. Long days in paradise have a way of making one complacent. Now Mustang is working against the clock and the elements themselves, as he faces his greatest mission ever—finding Elodie.
** Finding Elodie is the 1st book in the SEAL Team Hawaii Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.
Release date: April 13, 2021
Publisher: Susan Stoker
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Attention. Attention. This is Captain Conger. The ship is under attack by pirates. This is not a drill. Repeat, not a drill. Do what you can to hide, but do nothing to put yourself or anyone else in danger. The authorities have been notified. If you have access to a radio, and it’s safe to do so, use the emergency frequency to talk to anyone who might be listening and can help. We know this ship better than they do. Hunker down and if you’re the praying sort…pray.
Elodie Winters, known to the crew on the Asaka Express as Rachel Walters—or simply Chef—was moving before the captain had finished his announcement over the loudspeaker. The entire crew had been briefed a few days ago that they were entering the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden, near Somalia and Yemen. She’d been scared enough to wear her clothes to bed. But deep down, Elodie hadn’t thought it would truly be a concern.
The cargo ship she was working on had hoses on the deck that could spray an insane amount of water down on anyone dumb enough to try to approach, and it had been years since she’d heard of any large ship like theirs being taken hostage. She had no idea if the hoses had malfunctioned or how the pirates had gotten onboard.
But here they were.
Her heart pounded a million miles an hour as she moved around her room in the bowels of the ship. The engineers and higher-ranking officers had rooms on the upper floors, but Elodie hadn’t minded being lower down in the ship. She liked being near her kitchen.
When she’d come aboard, she’d been surprised to learn that everyone had their own room; she’d been expecting to share. But then again, there were only twenty-two workers on this ship, unlike cruise ships, which had hundreds of crew and thousands of guests.
In theory, Elodie knew why pirates attacked the large ships that went through the Gulf of Aden, but the reality seemed impossible. She’d seen the movie on the takeover of the cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, and had been surprised at how easy it seemed to be for the pirates to get aboard. The Asaka Express was about the same size as the Maersk Alabama, but Captain Conger had reassured everyone that the safety measures put into place since that hijacking were much improved.
It seemed there was room for even more improvement.
Elodie took time to put on the boots she had by the side of her bed and grabbed her emergency radio. All the employees had been issued one. She could talk to the bridge with it, and access additional frequencies if needed.
Gripping the radio like a lifeline, she quickly opened her door—and let out a small shriek in fright when she almost ran into someone in the hallway.
“I was just coming to make sure you were awake,” Manuel said, the terror easy to hear in his tone.
Elodie was the chief cook onboard. She had one assistant, the second cook. Manuel reported to her and was responsible for the pastries and serving the crew and officers. The rest of the employees hired by the shipping company were engineers and officers. She was the only female onboard, and she’d thought that might be weird at first, but most of the men were respectful and didn’t pay her much attention.
There was one officer, Valentino, who thought she’d jump at the chance to join him in his bed, and when she’d politely declined, he’d gotten offended. She’d learned to avoid him.
“Rachel?” Manuel asked, and Elodie shook her head, trying to concentrate on the disaster at hand. “What should we do?”
“What we’ve been trained to,” she told him. She regretted not choosing a name closer to her own, but then again, she hadn’t exactly had a choice. She’d had to settle for the identity on the fake documents she’d bought.
The reason why she was using a pseudonym was a concern for another day. Right now, she needed to get somewhere safe, and her room definitely wasn’t. They’d been warned in safety-training sessions that pirates would most likely ransack the individual rooms looking for valuables and money. And the last thing she wanted was to be found. She felt relatively safe amongst the men on the ship, but she had no idea what pirates would do if they found a woman onboard.
“Go down to the engine room,” Elodie told Manuel.
“What about you?” he asked.
“I’m headed to the galley. I can fit inside many of the cabinets if I need to. You can’t. Besides, with the vegetable room, the freezers, and cold room, there are plenty of places for me to hole up. We also don’t know how long this will last. You guys will need food if the pirates decide to stay. I can use the dumbwaiter to send food down to the engine room if necessary. It’s safer if we aren’t wandering all over the ship while the pirates are onboard.”
“But if those pirates are here for very long, they’re gonna come down here. They’re gonna need food and water too,” Manuel said reasonably.
Elodie knew he was right, but the place where she felt the safest was her kitchen. Besides, the captain said he’d gotten ahold of the authorities. She didn’t know who he’d managed to contact, but she had confidence that the hijacking wouldn’t last for weeks.
“They’ll be busy elsewhere for a while,” Elodie told her assistant.
Manuel looked like he wanted to protest. Wanted to insist she come with him, but the sound of a door closing from the stairwell nearby clanged loudly in the hallway, and Manuel looked over his shoulder, his eyes wide with terror.
“Go,” Elodie ordered.
He moved without any more prodding, running in the opposite direction from where they’d heard the noise. Elodie had no idea if the pirates were already running around the ship or how many there might be, but she wasn’t going to stand in the hallway and wait for them to find her.
She hadn’t come all this way, escaped what she had in New York City, only to fall prey to a random pirate now. Still gripping the radio, she jogged for the stairwell. The engine room was four decks high, and there was an entrance on this level, but the galley was two floors above where her room was located. She needed to move.
“Manuel will be fine,” she said softly. She’d always had a tendency to talk to herself, had tried to break it, to no avail. Because much of her life had been spent alone, she’d started talking to herself to break the monotony.
“Walter has this under control,” she muttered as she cautiously opened the stairwell door. The captain had asked everyone to call him by his first name, and while it seemed weird at first, she’d gotten used to it. He was in his early fifties, had gray hair, and was always smiling. He was down-to-earth and treated everyone with the utmost respect. She respected him back and felt safe with him at the helm.
John and Troy appeared in the stairwell above her and raced past with barely a glance. They were engineers and obviously headed down to the engine room.
She heard other footsteps heading toward the upper decks and assumed it was officers going to the bridge. Elodie ran as fast as she could to the floor where the galley was located.
She hadn’t lied to Manuel, there were lots of places to hide in the kitchen complex. She’d already scoped them out, but not because she was afraid of pirates.
She was scared of Paul Columbus.
The man had said more than once that the only way out of his employ was in a pine box, and she believed him. She hadn’t known he was the leader of one of the most dangerous mob families in New York when she’d accepted a job as his personal chef. She’d just been excited for the opportunity to get out of the restaurant business. The money had been hard to turn down too.
At first she’d been utterly clueless as to how the Columbus family made their millions. She was happy to stay in the kitchen, minding her own business, creating delicious food for Paul and his frequent guests. But eventually she was clued in that the man she worked for was beyond evil. He didn’t care who he hurt, as long as he found a way to make money illegally.
Everything she was surrounded by in his home had been purchased with dirty money, even the food she used to find such satisfaction in preparing.
Knowing she didn’t have time to reminiscence over all the mistakes she’d made in her life, Elodie entered the officers’ mess room. All the rooms in this part of the ship were connected in one long horizontal line. First was the officers’ mess, then the officers’ pantry, the galley, the crew pantry, and then the crew mess. There was a door in the galley that led to a hallway containing the food storage rooms. There was a general freezer, a fish freezer, three refrigerators, and several pantries for dry food storage.
She’d scoped out all the cabinets she could fit in, and even how she might be able to get to the elevators and stairwells undetected if she had to. She wouldn’t have the first clue where to hide down in the engine room, which was another reason she wanted to come here. This was where she was comfortable. She knew if the pirates decided to stay for any length of time, they’d make their way to the galley, as Manuel had said. While that made things more dangerous for her, she would also do what she could to make sure their trips to the galley were as short as possible.
Keeping the radio tucked into a large pocket of her cargo pants, Elodie worked as fast as possible. She moved three bundles of bottled water into the main kitchen area, where they’d easily be seen. Then she took out several boxes of crackers, a few loaves of bread, and bags of potato chips, and strategically placed them around the galley and both crew pantries. Generally, the food was stored in cupboards, secured so the boxes and cans wouldn’t go flying in rough seas. She wanted the food to be readily accessible for the pirates but at the same time, she didn’t want it to look like anything had been left out intentionally. She wanted the pirates to think they’d hit the mother lode with the food in plain sight, and not bother to dig much deeper.
Elodie ran her arm across her brow. She was sweating and hated not knowing what was happening high above her head in the bridge. Were the pirates onboard? Had they gotten into the bridge? Were they hurting the captain and the other officers?
And most importantly, what did they want?
The radio she’d stuffed in her pants squawked, scaring the shit out of Elodie.
“Holy crap!” she exclaimed, putting one hand over her racing heart and using the other to pull out the radio. The voices were muffled, but she could hear heavily accented males yelling, and Walter trying to placate them.
Confused about what she was hearing, Elodie stood in the middle of the galley trying to decipher what was going on. It took a minute, but she finally realized that someone had activated a radio up in the bridge, and it was broadcasting everything that was happening to the others onboard.
Chills raced up her spine as she listened to Walter doing his best to calm the pirates. It was hard to figure out how many there were, but it seemed as if it was more than a handful. Her stomach clenched in fear. The more pirates there were, the easier it would be to control the ship, to leave some up with the captain and the officers on the bridge and send others to prowl the decks, looking for crew and anything of value they could steal. The last thing Elodie needed was to be held for ransom. Her face would be plastered all over the news…which meant Paul Columbus could use his extensive mob network of soldiers and associates to find her.
“Where is the safe?” one of the pirates asked loudly.
“Not here. It’s downstairs in one of the chart rooms,” Walter told him.
“You go, get money.”
“You can have all the cash we have, then you’ll go,” Walter said.
“No go,” another man said sternly. “You take ship where we say. Our men come on. You open containers.”
“That’s…it’s not safe,” Walter stammered.
“No care. We open. You drive!” the man shouted.
Then Elodie heard scuffling and more shouting. A gunshot went off—and she held her breath, waiting to hear who, if anyone, had been hurt.
“Stop! Okay, okay! We’ll open whatever containers you want, but don’t shoot that thing again!” Walter yelled desperately.
The pirates merely laughed.
“We shoot when and where we want. We shoot you if you do not give us what we want. No hostages, too hard to get money. But if you don’t do what we say, we kill,” one of the pirates said.
“You can’t shoot Walter,” Elodie whispered. “We need him to drive this damn thing.”
As if the captain could hear her, he said, “If you kill me and my officers, this ship will run aground. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is tricky as hell to navigate.”
“I am fisherman. I can drive boat,” one of the pirates said, unconcerned.
Elodie snorted. Driving a super ship like this one was way different than the skiffs the pirates were probably used to.
“We know there are others onboard,” someone else said. “We will find and start killing them if you don’t do what we ask.”
“Nobody needs to get hurt,” Walter said quickly. “We’ll do what you want. Just don’t hurt my crew.”
There were more scuffling noises and the pirates began to talk amongst themselves in a language Elodie couldn’t understand.
Things were getting out of hand, and she was terrified. But Walter had said he’d called the authorities. Someone would come to help them, wouldn’t they? Didn’t the US Navy have ships in this part of the world? It was unfathomable that these pirates could just steal a huge cargo ship like this one.
Deciding her best bet for now was to lie low, Elodie exited the galley and went into a dry goods pantry. There was a cabinet at the back of the room she knew she could fit into. She squeezed herself into the cramped space, moving large bags of potatoes and other goods back in front of her. It wouldn’t fool someone if they were really looking for people hiding, but she thought it should be good enough if someone merely opened the door to glance inside.
She held the radio in her lap and stared down at it. She couldn’t really see in the dark, but the lights on the device calmed her. Mentally, she began making notes on what she was hearing. She didn’t know if they would be of any use, but maybe after they were rescued, she could help recount what had happened.
Elodie didn’t do drama. She was a chef, for goodness sake. How could one person get into so much trouble in one lifetime? Paul Columbus had already vowed to kill her for refusing to do his bidding, and now she was hiding from pirates on the high seas.
All she’d ever wanted was to live a quiet life. Maybe find a man and get married, have a kid or two, and cook food for a living. Now she was thirty-five years old, and somewhere along the way, her simple life plan had been seriously derailed.
This cargo ship job had seemed like such a blessing. She could get out of the country and away from Columbus and his network, who were trying to eliminate her. What could be better than being isolated on a ship in the middle of the ocean? She’d be perfectly safe.
“Yeah, perfectly safe,” she mumbled, closing her eyes and resting her temple on the back wall of the cabinet. She had to believe this would be over soon. Walter would do what the men wanted and they’d get whatever valuables they could find in the containers they could reach and open, then they’d go. Back to wherever they came from, letting her and the rest of the crew get on with their lives.
Right. That was how it would happen in a Hollywood movie, but this was real life. And with how things were going, she’d probably end up being taken hostage and forced to marry some African tribal chief.
* * *
Scott “Mustang” Webber glanced over at his SEAL team. Midas, Aleck, Pid, Jag, and Slate were completely focused on the paperwork in front of them. They’d been on a mission in Pakistan when they’d been notified of a change in plans. They were pulled from the desert and flown by helicopter to the USS Paul Hamilton, a guided-missile destroyer currently undergoing joint Naval operations in the Arabian Sea. There were several other vessels—the USS Lewis B. Puller, USS Firebolt, USCGC Wrangell, and the USCGC Maui—in the area as well. His team had arrived onboard and immediately been taken to a conference room, where the admiral onboard had brought them up to speed on their current mission.
Apparently, a medium-sized cargo ship had been boarded by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. The captain had put out a distress call saying he was currently being boarded by an unknown number of pirates and that he needed assistance ASAP. Since then, there had been no communication with the captain or the pirates.
The USS Paul Hamilton, along with the other ships, were headed that way, but as of right now, they had no information to work with.
Mustang remembered hearing about the Maersk Alabama incident, and how Navy SEAL snipers had taken out the pirates who’d hijacked the captain and forced him into one of the cargo ship’s lifeboats. Mustang and his team weren’t snipers, and frankly, he hated close-quarter rescues, such as on a lifeboat. He’d much prefer to have the run of the cargo ship itself. There were plenty of places to hide and take out the pirates one by one.
“What’s their heading?” Midas asked.
“Right now, they look like they’re on their scheduled course,” the admiral said. “Due west toward Djibouti. They’re supposed to turn northward and go through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and dock in Port Sudan.”
“That’s a pretty tricky strait to navigate,” Aleck observed.
“It is,” the admiral agreed.
“Do we have any idea what nationality the pirates are? Or what their plan is?” Pid asked.
“Unfortunately, not as of yet. We’ve been trying to reach them, to get someone to talk to us, but either their comms are down or we’re deliberately being ignored.”
“Shit,” Jag swore under his breath.
Mustang agreed. Without information, it was almost impossible to come up with a plan.
“So, we’re going in blind?” Slate asked.
Mustang couldn’t help but smile. Slate was usually the first to volunteer for a dangerous mission. He always wanted to get the show on the road, so to speak.
“Unless we can get someone to talk to us…yes,” Mustang answered before the admiral could.
It was just lucky they were already in the area and could be taken off their previous mission. The team had been on a few cargo ships in the past and knew they were full of corridors and nooks and crannies. As much as he hated that the crew members onboard the Asaka Express were probably scared out of their minds, he was looking forward to the challenge of finding, and taking out, each and every pirate.
“Sorry to interrupt, Sir,” a lieutenant said as he stuck his head inside the door.
“What is it?” the admiral asked.
“We have communication from the Asaka Express.”
“Thank fuck,” Midas said.
“Can it be patched through?” the admiral asked.
“Yes, Sir. Just a moment.” The lieutenant disappeared from the doorway once more.
Mustang and his team waited impatiently for the connection to be made to the cargo ship. When the sophisticated radio in the middle of the table finally squawked, Mustang blinked in surprise at the voice on the other end.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
“Yes, ma’am, you’ve been connected. Please tell the admiral what you just told me.”
“Um…okay. I’m on the Asaka Express and there are pirates onboard. We need help.” The woman’s voice was shaking, she was obviously scared, but she was keeping her composure.
“This is Admiral Light, I’m in charge of the USS Paul Hamilton. We’re headed in your direction. What is your name?”
“El— Um…Rachel Walters.”
Mustang looked over at Jag, who raised an eyebrow at hearing her response. Most people didn’t stumble over their own name. Even in an extremely stressful situation like the one Ms. Walters had found herself in.
“And in what capacity do you work onboard?”
“My job? I’m the cook.”
It wasn’t unheard of to have females onboard the large cargo ships that constantly sailed through the waters in the Middle East, but it was still rare enough to be interesting.
“What can you tell us about the situation?” Admiral Light asked.
“Right, um, well, I can only tell you what I’ve heard. I—”
“What do you mean, you heard?” Mustang asked, interrupting her.
“Oh, uh…there’re more than just the admiral there?” she asked.
“Yes,” Mustang answered. “My SEAL team is here and we’re going to come help you, but we need as much information as you can give us before we do. How many pirates are onboard?”
“Here’s the thing,” Rachel said. “I haven’t actually seen any of them. They have pretty thick accents and it’s hard for me to understand them. Walter…er…Captain Conger told everyone onboard to hide, so that’s what I did. I’m in the galley…well, not the galley, but in one of the pantries nearby. I’ve got a radio, and one of the officers must’ve turned on a radio on the bridge, because it’s been broadcasting. I can hear everything that’s going on up there, but again, it’s hard to understand. I can’t see what’s happening.”
“How many crew are onboard?” Aleck asked.
“Twenty-two, including me,” Rachel answered without hesitation.
“What channel were you listening to the bridge on?” Pid asked.
“And what channel are you on now?” Pid asked.
“Um…five, I think. I was just changing channels and seeing if anyone could hear me when you guys answered.”
Pid reached into his pack on the floor and started rummaging around. He was the team’s electronics expert, and Mustang knew he was going to try to tap into the radio frequency Rachel was using and listen to what was happening on the bridge of the Asaka Express himself.
“If you had to guess, how many men would you say boarded the ship?” the admiral asked.
Mustang heard Rachel sigh. “I don’t know,” she said. “We were all sleeping when it happened and woke when the captain made an announcement, telling us what was going on. But I think it’s more than just a handful. There was talk of searching the ship earlier, and I’m not sure they’d do that if they only had three or four people, but I’m not an expert on forcefully taking over a ship, so I don’t know for sure. They want money, and for the captain to open the containers. They said something about more men coming onboard when we got somewhere and that they didn’t want hostages.”
Not wanting hostages could be good or bad. It could mean the pirates really did just want money and valuables. After the Maersk Alabama incident, when the pirate in charge had been taken back to the States and thrown in prison and his comrades had been killed, hostage-taking by pirates had fallen out of favor. But not taking hostages could also mean the lives of every single one of the crew were in danger. It was easier to shoot to kill than to try to wrangle two dozen men.
And Mustang really didn’t want to think about what they’d do to a woman if they found her onboard.
“Oh, crap…I hear something!” Rachel said.
“Stay quiet, turn down the volume on your radio, but don’t disconnect,” Mustang ordered.
“Okay…um…can I ask your name? I just…it feels more personal.”
“I’m Mustang,” he told her. “And my team is all here. Midas, Aleck, Pid, Jag, and Slate.”
There was silence for a second, then a slight huff of breath. “I had to ask,” she muttered.
Mustang hadn’t thought twice about sharing his team’s nicknames, but he’d forgotten how weird they’d sound to a civilian. “Scott,” he said quietly. “My name is Scott.”
“Scott. Okay,” she whispered, then inhaled sharply as a loud bang sounded through the connection.
All six SEALs leaned forward, as if that could somehow help keep the woman on the other end of the line safe from whatever was happening. Admiral Light sat tense in his chair as he listened as well.
They could all hear raised voices in the background. Mustang closed his eyes and tried to distinguish what language was being spoken. He wasn’t a language expert, but it sounded like a mix of Arabic and French to him.
“Stop pushing me!” a man’s voice said in English.
Rachel’s breathing was loud and fast. Mustang wanted to comfort her. Tell her to slow her breathing before she passed out, but he didn’t dare say a word in case it would give away her hiding place.
“There’s no one here,” said the man speaking English.
“Men will regret not show themselves,” a man said, obviously one of the pirates by the sound of his accent.
“Where more food?” another man asked.
“There are a few freezers in this hallway,” the crew member said, “and more storage, but the best bet for stuff that can be eaten quickly, without having to cook it, is in the pantries on either side of the galley. That’s where the snacks and things are kept. Back here is mostly flour, sugar, stuff like that. Things the cook uses to make the meals.”
“Show us these pantries. And no try anything.”
“I’m not,” the officer said. “I’m doing exactly what you’ve told me.”
“We come back for water and food,” one of the pirates said. “We look more for money now.”
Everyone in the conference room strained to listen for footsteps retreating, or for more conversation, but all they could hear were Rachel’s terrified breaths.
“You’re okay,” Mustang said softly after a long moment, not able to keep quiet any longer. “They didn’t find you.”
“I know,” she whispered back in a voice so low, everyone had to struggle to hear.
“Who was that?” Midas asked.
“I think it was Bryce…he’s one of the officers who works with the captain on the bridge.”
Mustang saw the admiral writing the name down, though he was sure someone was working on getting a list of every crew member onboard the Asaka Express.
“Had you heard either of those two pirates before?” Aleck asked.
“I don’t know. I’m sorry. God, I wish I was better at this,” she moaned.
“You’re doing fine,” Mustang reassured her.
“I’m not. So far I’ve told you nothing you probably didn’t already know,” she said.
“Other than the original distress call, you’re the first communication we’ve had from your ship,” Mustang countered.
“I am?” Rachel asked. “That’s weird. I mean, we’ve all been trained to use the radios to call for help.”
“Are the others in the engine room or in the bowels of the ship?” Pid asked.
“Probably both, but I’m guessing most are in the engine room. It’s loud down there and easier to hide. A cough or movement can more easily be masked by the noise of the engines,” Rachel said.
“And being lower in the ship, surrounded by all the steel, makes it more difficult for radio transmissions to get through on a handheld radio,” Pid told her.
“I guess that makes sense,” Rachel mused.
“Why aren’t you in the engine room?” Mustang couldn’t help but ask.
“I’m the cook,” Rachel told him, as if that explained everything.
“And?” Slate asked.
“And depending on how long the pirates are here, the guys are gonna need food and water.”
Mustang shook his head. He was impressed with Rachel’s dedication to her job, but she was putting herself in danger. Someone should’ve realized that, besides the captain, Rachel was probably the most vulnerable on that ship. The pirates could use her to force the other crew members to do their bidding.
He didn’t even want to think of all the other ways they could use and abuse her.
“I’m in,” Pid said triumphantly as he nodded to the radio in front of him.
“Already?” the admiral asked.
“He means, what took you so long?” Aleck corrected with a chuckle.
“You’re in?” Rachel asked.
“I’ve patched into your radio frequency. We’re listening to channel ten now.”
“You are? Okay, good,” Rachel said. “So…does this mean you’re still coming?”
“Yes,” Mustang told her. He wanted to tell her that they’d be there soon, but unfortunately, nothing worked that fast in the Navy. They needed to make plans, prepare the Zodiac and, most importantly, wait for night to fall…which was still too many hours away.
“The crew channel is three,” she told them. “When you get here and kill the pirates, you can let us all know it’s safe to come out on that channel.”
“Bloodthirsty thing, isn’t she?” Jag said under his breath. “I like her.”
“Thanks for telling us,” Mustang said, ignoring his teammate. He wasn’t surprised, anyone who worked on a cargo ship had to be pretty rough around the edges. He pictured a stereotypical ship’s cook…an older, tall, overweight woman wearing a stained apron and covered in tattoos, with short hair and a bad attitude.
Then he felt like a douche for even thinking about her looks. That didn’t matter in the least. Besides, from the sound of her voice, he guessed she was probably around his age, mid-thirties or younger, and she didn’t seem to have a bad attitude in the least. She was doing her best to stay calm and give them any information she could. “You just stay hunkered down, no matter what, okay?”
Hearing his given name felt a bit odd. It had been a long time since he’d heard anyone call him that, but Mustang said, “Yeah?”
“What if they threaten to kill some of the officers if we don’t show ourselves? What should we do?”
“Fuck,” Slate said softly.
“You stay where you are,” the admiral said sternly. “Under no circumstances should you or anyone else put yourselves in danger.”
“I’m not sure I can sit here and listen to them kill the men I’ve become friends with,” Rachel answered.
“I wish I had a better answer for you,” Mustang told her. “I wish I could tell you that the pirates would be bluffing and they won’t actually kill anyone. I wish I could say that if you, or anyone else, went up to the bridge, they’d not follow through with their threats, but there’s no telling what those men will do.”
“And I’m a woman,” Rachel whispered.
“And you’re a woman,” Mustang agreed. “We’re coming,” he assured her.
“I don’t know how the pirates got onboard,” Rachel said, “but there’s a hole in the very front of the ship. Not a hole, but like…an access port. Shoot, I don’t know the official word for it. Where chains and stuff can be used without putting them over the railing. But when we got a tour, Walter joked that it was big enough for someone to fit through. With the bridge being at the back of the ship, and the containers stacked high, no one would see you if you came aboard that way.”
Mustang saw his teammates smiling. They weren’t making fun of her, it was obvious the woman was scared yet still doing her best to try to help, which was appreciated. But it was also obvious Rachel hadn’t thought through the logistics of what she was suggesting. Getting onboard a moving vessel through the very front of the ship was dangerous as hell, and there wouldn’t be very much cover on the forward deck.
“Thanks for the suggestion,” Midas told her diplomatically.
“Stay on this frequency,” Pid told her, “so we can communicate with you.”
“But, then I can’t hear what’s going on with Walter and the others on the bridge,” she said.
Mustang nodded at his teammate. It was a good suggestion. If the shit did hit the fan, none of them wanted her to hear it. “We can,” he told her.
“Oh, right. I’d forgotten. Okay. Will you— Never mind.”
“What?” Mustang asked.
“What?” he asked more forcefully.
“I was just going to ask if you could come onto the radio now and then and let me know that you’re still out there and still coming to help? I’m terrified, and knowing someone is coming makes me feel a lot better.”
“Yes,” Mustang told her. “We’re going to be in constant contact because we need to know what’s going on below decks where you are.” That was only partly true. Since Pid had patched them into the channel one of the officers had opened on the bridge, they had a direct line to the most important room on that ship. But that wouldn’t help them if the pirates split up.
“Okay. Thank you for coming. And be safe. These guys sound really…angry.”
When was the last time someone had told them, a notoriously badass Navy SEAL team, to be safe? How about never? “We will,” Mustang told her. “Try to relax, and you be safe too.”
“I’ll try.” There was a slight pause, then she asked, “What now? Do we say over and out or something?”
Midas chuckled softly.
“No need. We’ll be in touch,” Mustang told her.
“Right. Okay. Um…bye for now then.”
Mustang shook his head. Damn. She was adorable. And it was completely fucked up that he was thinking that about someone in the middle of a damn op.
Then he didn’t have any more time to think about Rachel Walters as Pid turned up the sound on the radio channel he’d tapped into on the bridge. They had intel to gather, a plan to make, and a ship of almost two dozen crew members to save.
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