A hardened war hero, Gator Aid Rochambeau is on a collision course with fate. Retired Marine Raider, Gator Aid Rochambeau is now an Iniquus elite security operative. He's been assigned to the Davidson mission. As the job gets underway, he is unprepared for the psychic confusion that swirls through his system. New to his psychic experiences, he reaches out to fellow Strike Force member, Lynx, for information, only to discover she too is battling a strange vortex of information. The one thing they both understand is that lives are on the line.
Special ops pilot Christen Davidson receives her mission orders. Her day just went from horrifying to something far worse. Fellow operatives are in danger. Christen is desperate to fly a rescue mission. Instead, she's ordered to act as an asset in a high-stakes, international game. She didn't join the military to play dress-up, but she can't disobey, even though this assignment is far outside of her comfort zone.
For this mission, there is no place to run and nowhere to hide from the men who have their eye on a billion-dollar deal, and the only ones standing in their way is this improbable team. The gamble they're making could mean life or death, but the reward could be so much more!
Release date: January 2, 2018
Publisher: Fiona Quinn
Print pages: 427
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Tuesday, Forward Operating Base, Iraq
“Scramble. Scramble. Scramble.”
The PA system’s bright tinny voice yanked Lieutenant Christen Davidson from her curled-up sleep. She found herself standing on the unfinished planks next to her bunk before her eyelids could even pry open. As her feet hit the floor, she crisscrossed her arms and jerked her t-shirt up over her head. Her flight uniform lay draped over the headboard in such a way that there would be no fumbling as adrenaline, Christen’s drug of choice, shot excitement through her system.
She scratched her fingers through her short pixie-cut hair, the most she would do to make herself presentable. Vanity was a time suck. Christen’s time was spent piling special forces operators into the back of her heli and flying them into the fray. They depended on her. Missions and lives were at stake – they were her priority.
Perched on the edge of her cot behind the makeshift privacy curtain formed from a queen-sized striped sheet, Christen pulled on her clothes, yanked the laces of her flight boots, and quickly looped a bow. With a shove of the door, she shot herself into the daylight. The sun glared in her eyes as she ran full tilt toward the command tent to get her orders.
Christen wasn’t normally awake this time of day and didn’t normally fly in sunlight. She was a member of the Night Stalkers, the Army’s 160th. She was one of the only female pilots in what had been, up until very recently, the only special forces unit that allowed women to apply. She’d earned her place. Anything the male pilots could do, she could do too—maybe better, maybe not. Everyone had their strengths and their weaknesses.
Christen’s strength was flying low altitude flights in the black of night, hugging the terrain, glossing over its surface, scaring the hell out of the people below her while hiding her customers from any enemy eyes that might be scanning the midnight sky. She’d trained long and hard, year after year. She’d logged hundreds of hours — every hour she could possibly fly, any thing she could find to fly.
These last five years, she had flown in every kind of weather, terrain, and impossible-to-survive scenario her commanders at the 160th SOAR(A) at Fort Campbell could contrive. Before this last deployment, she’d received her change of status. She was fully mission qualified. She could go on any assignment required of her – bar none. But daylight? —Christen looked up at the sun as she reached to pull the command tent door open— that’s not what Night Stalkers did. This was odd, something was off.
Christen stopped short when she saw her commander barreling toward her.
“Let’s move it, Lieutenant.” The colonel growled as he strode through the door she held wide. He thrust a clipboard of papers at her, then pointed toward the Little Bird helicopter across the field getting fueled. The tanker truck was positioned far enough away that if an enemy combatant wanted to set it on fire, it wouldn’t explode the whole Forward Operating Base, situated just this side of enemy-held territory.
A line of Delta operators formed to her left, with their long hair and bushy beards. The “quiet professionals”—latent death and destruction. Each one laden with weapons, fully geared up in their battle rattle. Christen wondered when they’d flown in. They weren’t on base when she’d gone to sleep. The Deltas stepped, one at a time, onto a bathroom scale and one of their group noted each man’s weight on their clipboard. Weight mattered to the speed and the dexterity of a helicopter’s maneuvers. If they were being that precise, this wasn’t a taxi ride.
Christen looked down at her flight plan, and blinked. What the… “What?” She held a hand up to shield her eyes and read her orders again. She flipped to the waypoints marked on her map and the GPS coordinates she knew were already loaded into her flight computer system. Wow.
“I’m not sending you out on a Sunday picnic.” Colonel Martin stabbed a finger into her shoulder. “You’re our precision flier. Guts forged out of steel, I told ’em. And now, you’re going to make sure I don’t regret putting my reputation behind you.”
It was uncharacteristic of the colonel to point to any one pilot — to lift them up, or set them apart in any manner from the rest of the Night Stalkers. Christen didn’t like it. She was a team player, period. She didn’t seek out and didn’t want flattery or recognition. She just wanted to do her job.
And with or without any added pressure, this was going to be one hell of a trick-shot. Christen’s gaze scanned down the fuel calculations. With her tank filled to spill—depending on the weight of the Deltas, and the opposing wind speeds—she had a little over a two hundred sixty-mile range. With the calculated hover time... Yeah, this was shaving it close. She turned the page to find the weather read-out, then glanced up again at the bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. Of course, here in the desert that could change in the blink of an eye – no matter what the weather report said. Haboobs came when they wanted to. These violent winds carrying blinding dirt and debris could choke an engine and put a bird nose down in the sand quicker than quick. Sunlight, though, totally sucked. She wished they’d let her do this at night when she was in her comfort zone.
Like a vampire, Christen thrived after the sun went down. The 160th Night Stalkers loved the pitch-black of moonless nights. With their FLIR—forward looking infrared systems—and their night vision goggles along with some rad computer systems, she could sweep over the terrain, almost undetectable, to deliver her customers to the required spot, arriving on time and on target in plus or minus thirty seconds. It was the precision that her customers demanded. The Night Stalkers were the air support for the United States Special Operations units.
The 160th had flown the Osama bin Laden mission which had been planned and trained for to the Nth degree. Even with the technical problems, that mission could only be seen as a success of vital importance. The 160th had also been the team that zoomed their way into the Hindu Kush Region of Afghanistan when the call was made for an immediate extraction after a SEAL team came under heavy fire during Operation Red Wings. The Night Stalkers in their CH-47 Chinook helicopters took off without a gunship escort, hoping against hope to extract the team in time. The Taliban shot down one of the Night Stalker’s helicopters with a rocket propelled grenade, killing the eight Navy SEALs and eight special operations aviators on board. The second helicopter was forced to leave the scene. It was a soul-crushing horror of a day. It was the day Christen swore she’d become a Night Stalker, dedicating her work to the memory of those fallen warriors.
Christen chewed on her upper lip, reading over her orders to fly straight into the center of a populated city. She visualized the scene in her mind. This kind of challenge was exactly what she’d signed up for. She reached around and hooked a hand behind the back of her neck as she processed the schematics. The road width with the apron of sidewalks and parking lanes on either side was marked on the satellite photo as thirty-one feet five inches. Her rotor diameter was twenty-seven feet four inches. Could she trust these calculations?
Whew! This was going to be one hell of a hairy mission. She’d never trained for this. Never imagined it. Wasn’t completely convinced it was possible. But damned, she was glad she was given the opportunity to try.
Typically, they’d sit down and plot this out meticulously. They’d practice, practice, practice until go-time, working to find any holes and plug them. But this time, she didn’t get to sit down in the wooden chairs and participate in the mission planning. They were spooling up with the pressure of some undefined time constraint. Papers slapped into her hands. There must be an imminent threat. A small window of opportunity.
Christen turned as her stick buddy, Nick Campbell moved up beside her and read their paperwork over her shoulder. A low whistle blew between his teeth. “How many customers are we taking in our bird?”
“We have four. The Deltas are checking their weight now to make sure we’re well below the max takeoff load. The Black Hawk will have the rest of the customers and the heavier fire power.”
“I guess we’re glad they’ve got our backs.” His gaze scanned over to the Black Hawk. “I hope they have all the fire power they can cram on there. I have a feeling we’re going to need it.” He tucked his helmet under his arm and grinned. “It’s a good day to die.” He raised a hand toward their clients and went to do his pre-flight checks.
Tuesday, Forward Operating Base, Mosul Iraq
They were strapped in, waiting for the colonel to say the mission was a go. Christen hadn’t revved her motors yet, she was clinging to every drop of her precious fuel. Their four Delta customers patted themselves over, a final gear check. Nerves were sparking. Everyone champed at the bit anticipating their green light.
“I can’t help but think this is gonna get him killed,” Nick said.
“Not our call.” Christen was of like mind. She couldn’t figure out what the hell command was thinking. An American, John Grey, had been captured. Yes, he should be rescued. Yes, she was willing to die trying. But this? Surely, the colonel had weighed the importance of this man against the lives of everyone on her bird and possibly everyone on the Black Hawk, too, not to mention the civilians who would be in their general vicinity. This had disaster written all over it. But Christen turned a blind eye to the writing on the wall. Honestly, it didn’t matter. Her creed dictated that she took the missions no one else would try. And she lived her creed. Happily.
Listening to the Deltas talking in their low tones, Christen got the impression John Grey was a CIA operations officer in deep shit with some very big secrets that Uncle Sam would prefer not be wrestled out of him through torture sessions. Everyone had their breaking point. Everyone. Still, this move didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense.
With a thumbs up and a salute, they were in play.
“Here we go.” Christen snapped her helmet into place, revved the motors, and maneuvered the helicopter into the air, heading for the hills and toward their target.
Soon, they soared over the flat roofs of the city. The trip was just long enough that it could encourage complacence. Christen knew better, even a moments inattention could turn them into a fireball. Every cell in her body was on high alert.
The prison lay just ahead. Nick leaned out the open door as Christen lowered her bird toward the street. He gestured information to her. When she reached eight feet of elevation, she flew them down the road like she would drive to church. She scared the bejezus out of the lone donkey galloping and bucking below her. All the humans had fled inside.
The helicopter wash kicked up a debris storm that filled the air between the buildings, dancing particles off the hard surfaces, boxing in the air. With nowhere to expand, and the downward thrust of the rotating blades roiling and churning up a dust cloud, visibility dropped to almost nothing. Everyone knew they were there. There was no stealth involved, which meant they’d soon have company.
The Black Hawk was above them and to the rear. She knew the Delta operatives back there would be dangling from the runners, their rifles aimed and ready, sucking up a lungful of crap.
Christen didn’t need a clear line of sight as she negotiated the tight space; she flew night missions after all. But her sensors weren’t happy that the blades were so close to the walls on her left and right. She wasn’t thrilled about it either. Micromovements. Firm hands. Laser focus. Christen brought the heli flush to the northwest wall.
Nick counted the windows as she edged their bird forward. “Seven, eight, steady steady, eleven!”
Christen breathed in a stabilizing breath as she held her stick firmly and, with a practiced hand, maneuvered to lift them straight up.
“Second floor. Third floor. Fourth. Five. Here. Here. Here,” he called into the comms.
They hovered until they saw a head behind the bars, peeking out. An American face pressed forward, his hands splayed wide against the window glass. Nick looked down at the photo then back at the man. “We’ve got him!”
Christen didn’t turn her head to look, though she desperately wanted to. Her focus was steady on her instruments. Christen felt rather than saw Nick give Grey a wave before she edged forward a few feet, waiting for a tap on her shoulder, telling her she was lined up. She let air blow in a stream through her pursed lips. Flaring her nostrils and sucking in more oxygen, she worked to calm her adrenal glands. She’d trained for this level of stress. There was no room for error. Inches, not feet, were in play. Her hazard alarms were doing their job warning her. She was well aware that she had only the smallest amount of wiggle room before her blade caught on the side of the buildings. She just needed to keep a cool head. And keep her hands steady.
Nick reached over and pressed the button on their stop watch. Now their precise mission window was in play.
They were all in danger, but none so much as the Delta operator who pushed a ladder between the window sill and the open door, forming a bridge between the building and the helicopter. He was tethered in so if she took off he’d take off, too, dangling below her runners. Christen could hear the screech of metal against metal as their helicopter shifted about, rubbing against the ladder. Nothing she could do about it. There was no such thing as holding this beast perfectly still. Front and back, possible up and down micro-sways might be okay. But the prison window sill they’d latched their ladder to couldn’t be more than three or four inches wide. She hoped the Deltas were sitting on the back end of their rigged-up bridge because the side to side shift would surely be wider than the width of a hand. Not her problem, Christen reminded herself. They handled their end of the mission, and she handled hers. Straight. Even. Steady. That was the mantra she chanted.
Over the comms, she could hear the customers talking. With a Delta brother on either side holding his ankles, they handed out the tools. This operative, it seemed, was suited up in welder’s gear.
“I need the plasma torch,” the guy on the ladder called.
No one had run that idea by Christen. Her eyes stretched wide, as she thought about sparks and bright-hot metal shards flying so close to her fuel tanks. Well, today might very well be a good day to die.
As that thought bubbled to the surface of her consciousness, a spark landed on her thigh, which was only somewhat protected by her flame retardant jumpsuit. She had to work at not jerking her leg, not taking her hand off her control stick. Nick flicked the metal off before it seared her skin too badly. Christen made a mental note to thank him later. Eyes forward. Breath paced. Focus sharp. Hands sweaty, sure. But steady none-the-less. This is why Night Stalkers trained for every possible scenario under every possible condition. Ready for anything. This one was new, though. Christen never trained for a jail break in the middle of a city street in the full glare of the midday sun. Fun times.
Time did the adrenaline dance, making everything seem to take much longer than it actually did. According to the stopwatch mounted on her console, it had been twenty seconds. Was that possible?
Suddenly, pings sounded below them. Even with the engine noise bouncing and echoing off the buildings, Christen could make out that specific sound of metal on metal in a staccato beat of bullets flying from a finger exercising the trigger of a semi-automatic weapon. After every so many rounds, there was a short break. The shooter probably changing magazines.
“He’s out our left side aiming for the fuel tanks,” Nick’s voice was as calm as a summer day fishing. More guns were added to the fight on the street, trying to take her bird down. Or maybe just trying to get the Delta off his ladder bridge. Surely, the guards in the prison were racing toward Grey’s cell. Would the Delta’s chase through the window after him if Grey was suddenly yanked from the room?
One of the Deltas lay on his stomach out the left door, shooting his rifles downward with his own strafe of fire power to force the shooters behind cover. One of the militants’ bullets must have found her fuel tank. She watched her fuel gauge needle slide toward E. Much longer, and she’d get fuel-critical for making their return flight.
Of course, that would mean nothing if the idiot below them detonated her fuel tank with a grenade or other incendiary device. That was actually a problem she didn’t need to deal with. Either it wouldn’t detonate, or she’d be in a million pieces so fast that she would be alive one second and mist the next. Focus.
There was a clang then a second clang to her right. Christen assumed that noise was the jail bars being tossed into the cell and hitting the cement floor.
A third clang.
Forty-two seconds in.
She wondered if the shooter might get up under them and shoot Grey as he was being pulled to freedom. The wash, though, was strong, the debris thick. That might be enough to keep the guy safe.
The Deltas were shouting. “Pull him through! Grab him! Get him on!”
Christen battled curiosity. She forced herself to keep her head straight, even, and forward facing.
There was a massive clang and a tap on her helmet. Fingers in her right periphery signaled her forward. She’d be happy to comply. She waited a nanosecond for Nick to turn, count heads and confirm. The Night Stalker creed said that she would not/could not leave a comrade to the enemy.
Up, up, up she climbed, banking hard right.
Sixty-seconds, the time allotted to get her customers out of the street. Damned, those Deltas were good!
The militants had manned their heavy guns, and Christen thought it was insane that opposition forces were shooting at her in the middle of the city. She moved to get between the enemy and the sun, so she would be lost in the glare. There was no cheering. No congratulations. Even if Grey couldn’t hear her over the comms, telling the Black Hawk she was in dire straits, the Deltas could. Things were about to get hairier.
She zipped her bird into the hills, then brought the heli down to ten feet and slowed her motors, trying to conserve energy. She glided over the terrain, undulating the bird up and down following the curves of Mother Earth. Her objective was to get as far as she could from the militants.
Just then, her fellow Night Stalker, Shawn Promin, better known as Prominator, called out. “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. We’re hit. They got our tail rotor. We’re going down.”
She hadn’t seen the RPG in the air. Hadn’t heard the explosion. She could hear the whistle of the Black Hawk as it spun in place. Christen wrenched her bird in a tight circle, bringing herself around. The Deltas’ guns blasted from the Little Bird’s open doors. The operatives pulled out their own launcher and the air brightened with a flash of light as they hit some explosive target in the distance.
Christen found a patch of what looked like even ground for her to set down.
A hand slapped her shoulder. “No, ma’am, we have to get the precious cargo back to base.” The Delta called into the comms gesturing forward. “We have to deliver Grey.”
“You don’t understand,” Christen replied. “We’re out of fuel.” She tapped the gauge. “We were never going to make it back. That Black Hawk was our ticket home.”
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