A former Army sniper must fall back on her special ops skills when a friend's death uncovers a global nuclear threat in this electrifying series debut.
Special Agent Alexandra Martel has put her days on the battlefield behind her.
Charming and disarming, relentless and lethal, she earned a reputation as one of the most renowned and decorated Army snipers in the service before stepping away. But when Alex, now an FBI special agent on loan to Interpol, learns that an old friend, an MI5 officer, has been killer
under mysterious circumstances, she’s pulled back into the dangerous world she left behind: a world where some people fear her, some want to recruit her, and everyone seems to want her dead.
Following a trail of clues left behind by the dead woman, Alex pieces together a terrifying conspiracy that only escalates when a nuclear warhead goes missing.
Dodging death at every turn, she reluctantly joins forces with a CIA officer,but he has plans of his own for her—and will stop at nothing to achieve them.
Chasing the truth through the streets of London and bustling Turkish markets to the underbelly of Paris, Alex is unrelenting in her pursuit of justice. But as the clock ticks down and the world edges closer to doom, she must fall back on her special ops skills to stop the unthinkable. She thought
her life as a sniper was over—but with stakes this high, she must use whatever means necessary to render the world safe.
Release date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 368
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TERLET AIRFIELD, NORTH OF ARNHEM, THE NETHERLANDS
The figure lying on the ground wasn’t shivering, but she wasn’t far off. The cold had seeped through her outer layers, chilling her as she lay motionless on a mound of dirt and damp moss. Though the rain had stopped at dawn, the sun’s warming rays hadn’t yet reached her.
Water dripped from leaves, producing a quiet, up-tempo beat tapped out on the forest floor around her. She inched her way forward through the underbrush to adjust her sightlines. Like an apparition, her body blended in with her surroundings, her ghillie suit and face camo breaking up the lines and patterns that could give her away.
Special Agent Alexandra Martel was, quite literally, hiding in plain sight.
A voice in her earbuds broke through the silence.
“All units stand by.” It was the soothing baritone voice of Chief Inspector Nils Van Dijk of the Dutch National Police Corps.
Seven minutes earlier, a midsize cargo van pulled into a secluded area off a runway at the airfield, accompanied by two dark sedans on either side. Men piled out—seven in total—and gathered around the vehicles. All of them were armed. She ranged the closest at 260 meters. Like three of the men with him, he carried a semiauto carbine slung over his shoulder in the low-ready position as if preparing to engage his shadow.
The chief inspector’s voice came through her in-ear headset again.
“Sierra One, report.”
Alex had settled into her overwatch position shortly after dawn. It was now approaching ten. Peering through her rifle scope, she came up two clicks, settling the crosshairs over center mass of the man closest to her. Then she laid the weight of her shooting hand on the stock of her rifle, chambered in .308 Winchester, and rested her finger outside the trigger guard, lightly in contact with the cold metal. The rifle was braced by a bipod in front and a sand sock below the buttstock.
“Sierra One—Special Agent Martel—do you copy?”
She keyed the push-to-talk pad clipped to the MOLLE straps of her vest with her support hand. “Targets acquired. Seven subjects in all.”
Her muscles were relaxed, allowing her skeletal frame to support her weight, averting the fatigue that could induce a tremor. She pulled the rifle butt into the pocket of her shoulder and welded her cheek to the gun, just as she had done a thousand times before, in preparation for what might happen next.
The man she sighted in was leaning against the front of the van, a cigarette nestled between two fingers. A pistol was visible in his waistband, a cell phone in his other hand. He looked gaunt and unkempt, with messy blond hair standing straight up and a week’s worth of stubble, but it was clear to Alex that he was in command. That earned Spike the honor of being designated her primary target. He looked down at his phone and answered a call. While he listened, he took a drag off his cigarette, nodded, then clicked off and shouted something to the group of men gathered nearby. She couldn’t hear the exchange but assumed it meant the rendezvous was about to go down.
Van Dijk’s voice came over the radio again. “Second target package approaching.”
Just as he had outlined to her and the team in the predawn briefing.
* * *
DUTCH NATIONAL POLICE HEADQUARTERS, THE HAGUE, 0400 HOURS
Chief Inspector Nils Van Dijk led the briefing in front of twenty officers gathered to prosecute the mission. While uncommon for a high-ranking officer to lead such an operation, this was an unusual situation, and Van Dijk a highly proficient commander. He was a senior officer with real-world tactical and military experience.
As Alex scanned the room filled with her colleagues, she noticed a man standing in the corner off to her left. He wore his wavy chestnut-brown hair a little longer than she preferred and wasn’t particularly handsome. But dressed in the somewhat clichéd unofficial uniform of paramilitaries everywhere—khaki 5.11 Stryke pants, an untucked black polo shirt, and a pair of black-and-gray Salomon mid-height tactical boots—he communicated an air of confidence that made him attractive anyway. He carried no visible sidearm, which made her suspect he was from British or American intelligence with a military special operations background. If anyone introduced him as an advisor, she reckoned, it was a done deal—spook for sure. In fact, no one introduced him at all, which only confirmed for her his intelligence-community pedigree.
Chief Inspector Van Dijk began the briefing. He advised that the arrests they were about to execute were part of a more extensive investigation. Then he continued with a formal review of the situation and mission.
“Our targets are two groups conducting their criminal enterprise on Dutch soil,” he began. “And the commodity they are exchanging is special nuclear material.”
Alex sat up in her chair. “Fissile material? As in nuclear-bomb-making material?”
“Correct,” replied the chief inspector. Someone else whistled. “Twenty kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Enough to construct several bomb cores.” He nodded toward Alex. “Interpol caught wind of the pending sale to a jihadi group called the Islamic Levant Front and notified Dutch intelligence that they were looking to transact their business here in the Netherlands.”
The room turned toward Alex. She was an FBI special agent on loan to Interpol and Interpol’s liaison to the Dutch National Police for this mission.
“Don’t look at me,” she said. “First I’m hearing of it.”
Van Dijk nodded toward the mystery man in the corner. “Western intelligence services have also been monitoring chatter about a bomb.”
“Do we have any sense of a target?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Special Agent. But since world leaders will be in Paris for the Peace Summit in only a matter of days, security agencies are understandably on edge. The priority of our mission is the recovery of the nuclear material. We cannot afford to have this package go missing.”
“Can we track it if it does?” she asked.
“The Americans flew a Nuclear Emergency Support Team out of Joint Base Andrews in Maryland into Volkel Air Base here yesterday. NEST is on alert and will be nearby. Lady and gentlemen, you are authorized to use lethal force to prevent these special nuclear materials from going missing.” He paused to make sure everyone was listening. “Let me repeat that: the SNM must be recovered at any cost. This mission has been dubbed Operation Valiant Angel, and the interagency team assembled in this room is Task Force Angel. Special Agent Martel has call sign Sierra One and will be on overwatch. I will maintain incident command from the TOC, but she is the tactical lead once the targets are in play. Watch your fields of fire. Maintain trigger and muzzle discipline. We don’t know what the transport vessels for the nuclear material will be, and the last thing we need is a stray bullet or distraction device creating a major radioactive spill.”
Alex met the gaze of the man in the corner. His eyes were focused and calm, but she could see their stillness belied a troubling disquiet within.
Terlet Airfield, north of Arnhem, the Netherlands
Task Force Angel had deployed, and Alex, like its guardian angel, was on overwatch.
Her headset came alive with Van Dijk’s voice from the tactical operations center—the TOC. “All units, status check.”
“Alpha team ready.” Alpha consisted of three two-person strike teams, waiting together in the back of a black up-armored van hidden in the forest four hundred meters south of her position.
“Bravo team ready.” Bravo was a duplicate of Alpha team. They sat in an identical van inside a hangar that housed gliders six hundred meters to her north.
“Charlie en route.” Charlie element, made up of eight surveillants in four cars, were shadowing the target vehicles to the rendezvous point.
“RIT team ready.” Six operators from the Koninklijke Marechaussee— the KMar— made up the rapid intervention team. They belonged to KMar’s Special Security Missions Brigade, known as BSB, and were loaded up and waiting on a Bell Huey helicopter at Deelen Air Base, three kilometers southwest of Alex’s position. The RIT team was there to provide air-borne support to cover the ground units if the mission went sideways during the arrest phase.
Alex depressed the push-to-talk pad at her shoulder. “Sierra One ready.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to clear her mind.
In, out, rest, two, three.
When she opened them again, the focus of her variable-power scope was still crisp, its illuminated tactical milling reticle on target. With her next draw of breath, she flicked her rifle’s safety into the fire position and waited.
Van Dijk and other senior officers were in the TOC, set up near the KMar unit. His voice spoke through everyone’s earbuds.
“When Sierra One confirms the cargo is present, we execute. Wait for her signal.”
“On me,” Alex said.
A moment later, two black vans and a dark sedan appeared over a rise five hundred meters in front of her and lined up facing the first group of vehicles. A ten-meter gulf of open tarmac separated them. Six dark-skinned males dismounted.
Thirteen targets to track, plus the nuke material.
“Both groups are heavily armed,” she said. “I have eyes on carbines, SMGs, and handguns.”
She watched through her scope as one of the newcomers walked into the no-man’s-land dividing the two groups. The man she had christened Spike walked toward him and stopped ten feet away. Both were careful with their gestures, making no moves that might alarm the other side as they spoke. They kept their hands at their sides, plainly visible.
Spike turned to his men. One of them moved to the rear of the cargo van and opened the doors. Another man joined him, and together they lifted a large trunk-like box to the ground.
“Subjects have removed a Pelican case from the rear of one of the vehicles.”
“Is it the cargo we’re looking for?”
“Unclear. Stand by.” It would be nice if the case were covered in radiation warning stickers. “All units hold.”
One of the men wheeled the case out to the two in the middle. Both sides faced off across the ad hoc demilitarized zone. Despite their measured movements, neither was shy about presenting their weapons for the others to see. This had all the hallmarks of a mushrooming shit show.
Two of the new arrivals entered the DMZ. One held what Alex recognized as a radiation survey meter, used to detect and differentiate types of radioactive materials. Still, its presence was only presumptive evidence of the existence of the fissile material.
The wheeled case was opened, and the man with the survey meter stepped forward, scanning its contents. Five seconds later, he nodded and stepped back, and the lid was closed.
Alex depressed the PTT pad at her shoulder. “Attention, all units. Cargo confirmed. Execute, execute, execute!”
At her command, Alpha and Bravo teams launched from their respective positions. Both vans converged at high speed on the two groups standing in the middle of the disused runway. As soon as the targets grasped what was happening, they started shooting. Some of their rifles had been converted to full auto, but the shooters’ muzzle and trigger control were poor, spraying bullets indiscriminately. The tactical teams had anticipated the gunfire and began to dismount behind the protective ballistic shields they carried, but they were met with a heavier barrage than expected with few opportunities for solid cover.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” came the urgent radio call from the Alpha team leader.
Alex kept her scope fixed on Spike and drew in a breath as he swept his weapon from side to side.
Focus on the reticle, she recited to herself like a mantra.
She exhaled and squeezed the trigger steadily until the firing pin drove forward into the primer, propelling the bullet almost three football fields downrange. It caught the man at the base of his throat, and he crumpled to the ground like a heavy sack, his finger still clamped down on the trigger, his rifle continuing to empty its magazine. One of the bullets struck a confederate in the head, killing him instantly.
Her team needed the helo and they needed it now. Alex spoke calmly through her bone mic. “RIT team, deploy.”
“RIT team en route,” came the response from the BSB team leader.
She retracted the bolt of her rifle and ejected the spent casing, then pushed it forward, locking another round into the chamber. She aimed the rifle to the right and lined up a figure moving fast, zigzagging as he fired at one of the arrest teams as they dismounted their van. With another squeeze of the trigger, she released a round that found its mark in the man’s pelvis. He dropped but kept firing, pain and panic written on his face as he continued shooting wildly. She worked the rifle bolt and fired another shot, catching him in the temple. The gun fell out of his hands as the contents of his skull sprayed across the tarmac.
“Charlie, where are you?” Van Dijk’s voice was calm.
“All Charlie units arriving on scene with Alpha and Bravo.”
Alex caught sight of four vehicles approaching fast from her right. Eight operators from Charlie dismounted and fanned out to flank the group.
Two of the bogeys grabbed the black case and ran back to the van under cover fire laid down by three others. Alex took out one of the shooters first, choosing not to shoot at the men lifting the case of nuclear material into the vehicle.
As she chambered another round, she heard the unmistakable sound of a Huey on fast approach. One of the men on the ground took aim at the helicopter, and she put a round into his chest for his troubles.
She keyed her mic. “They’re loading the case back into the van.”
“Do not let them get away with that cargo!” ordered Van Dijk.
She looked to her right and saw members of Bravo team holding multiple tangos at gunpoint while cuffing them on the ground. Two officers from Alpha were running toward the men with the case but quickly came under fire. Alex targeted one of the shooters and felled him instantly.
The KMar operators fast-roped out of the helicopter just as the van’s rear doors were closed. They immediately came under fire and took cover in a shallow ditch that ran alongside the old runway before reengaging. Alex shot at and missed the man scrambling into the passenger seat of the van. She quickly swapped out her magazine with a fresh ten-round mag and jumped up off the ground. Slinging her rifle over her shoulder, she drew her Glock from her thigh rig and broke into a run coming out of the trees, effortlessly shedding her ghillie suit on the fly.
“Bring the bird to the west tree line!” she called into her radio.
The machine banked slightly, its nose dipping almost to the ground as it turned to line up with her, kicking up a cloud of dust and forest debris. She was in an all-out sprint as the van full of radioactive material raced in the opposite direction. The man in the passenger seat held an AK-47 out the window and fired a few bursts in her direction.
“Fuck!” she shouted as bullets struck the pavement nearby, peppering her with chips of asphalt. She dove and rolled, her rifle jettisoning from her shoulder into the tall grass. She felt a sting in her calf and came up in a shooter’s crouch, but she was too far away from the fleeing van to lay down effective fire with her Glock. As the gunfight continued, she holstered her pistol, retrieved her rifle, and ran for the Huey. The pilot turned the aircraft sideways for her to hot-load aboard through the open starboard door. Tires screeched behind her, and she expected to be plowed down by a car. She drew her Glock and spun in the direction of the sound, leveling her sights at a man running toward her.
She recognized him as the quiet one—the one she presumed was a spook—from the morning briefing.
“What the hell?” she shouted over the roar of the helicopter.
“I’m with you,” he yelled as he ran past her and jumped aboard the hovering machine.
“Like hell you are! Who are you?”
“Quick! Get in!”
She looked at his outstretched hand, then back over her shoulder at the van with the radioactive payload disappearing into the distance. She unslung her rifle and handed it to him, jumping onto the skid of the helo. Before she was even through the door, he was shouting to the pilot to go after the van. She scrambled into a seat and buckled up, leaving the sliding door clipped wide open.
“Here,” he said, handing back her rifle. Her new companion strapped in beside her.
She wiped grass and dirt off the front of her scope and quickly inspected it for signs of damage.
“You’re bleeding,” he shouted over the noise of the rotors.
He pointed to her leg. She touched her calf at a tear in the heavy fabric. It was warm and sticky, and her hand came away coated in blood.
“Just a flesh wound,” she yelled back, grinning. She wiped her hand on her pants.
“Caleb,” he said, holding out his hand, still staring at her leg.
“Alex.” She fist-bumped his palm with her bloody hand.
Who is this guy?
He pointed up. She reached for the green noise-attenuating headset with a coiled cord that hung above her seat. It fit comfortably over her earbuds, allowing her to continue monitoring the comms chatter from below as the helicopter rose above the trees.
The Alpha team leader had taken over coordinating the movement of ground assets and the situation was being contained. Ambulances and other resources were being summoned to the airfield. From the TOC, Van Dijk advised that NEST was being scrambled to the airfield to stage. Then he radioed Alex.
“Sierra One, what’s your location?” Van Dijk asked.
“I’m in the Huey going after the van.”
“Alex, don’t lose that cargo!”
Copyright © 2023 by Steve Urszenyi. All rights reserved.
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