Come on, asshole, where are you? Show me your face so I can blow it the fuck away.
Beau Williams flexed the fingers of one hand, relieving the strain of holding them in one position for so long. They had been there for what seemed like hours, he and the other members of Delta Force Team Charlie, waiting for their high-value target to appear.
‘Take him out then get the hell out.’ That had been the order from their commanding office and it worked for Beau. If the murderous jerkoff would just get the fuck out of the tent where he was holed up.
He was disciplined enough to ignore the hard ground beneath him, the mountainous terrain and the unrelenting heat. When he’d been picked to join Charlie, one of the first things his teammates had told him was that Afghanistan was no picnic—it was considered one of the most forbidding battlegrounds in the history of war. It hadn’t taken him long to agree with that assessment. Bitter cold in the winter, hotter than an oven in the summer, there were few roads, water was scarce and only the hardiest of the hardy could survive the brutal environment.
They hit the nail on the head with that one.
But he and his teammates, led by Slade Donovan, were just such men, trained in every skill imaginable to fight in the war on terror. They were part of a unit in the legendary Delta Force—or 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment—which operated as part of JSOC—Joint Special Operations Command—in the on-going conflict with radical extremists around the world.
At the moment, the team was in the middle of yet another hair-raising mission in the Hindu Kush, an unforgiving mountain range that ran from Central Afghanistan to Pakistan. Almost a thousand miles long and two hundred miles wide, it ran northeast to southwest, most of it through Afghanistan, and divided the Amu Darya River Valley and the Indus River Valley. It stretched from the Pamir Plateau, near Gilgit, to Iran and had over two dozen summits of more than twenty-three thousand feet in height. Below the snowy peaks, the mountains of Hindu Kush appeared bare, stony and poor in vegetation. For centuries it had been referred to as the graveyard of foreign armies.
Beau could agree with that. This wasn’t the first time Delta Force Team Charlie had been on a mission in this soulless place, and he was pretty damn sure it wouldn’t be their last. They’d plotted and planned with as much care as they could, absorbing all the intel they’d received, but as many times as they’d been here, they knew planning could only take them so far.
Finding cover was difficult as always, but their recon man had spotted them a perfect place to sequester themselves until the target was visible. Good thing, since they’d been waiting two days and two nights. The one good thing about the endless wait, roasting by day and freezing by night, was the wind that had plagued them without end for most of that time had died down at last.
As the team’s sniper, Beau hated the wind. An errant one played hell with the accuracy of a sniper rifle, screwing with the trajectory. He’d been serving as a sniper for ten years and had learned how to compensate for nature, how to correct for almost anything up to gale force winds. But he liked it better when the air was still and his spotter could give him exact trajectory and coordinates. He’d still rather not have to worry about it. And up here in the Hindu Kush, the winds were very unpredictable.
Stretched out full length beside him was Trey McIntyre, the man who had been his spotter from the time he joined the team. By now, the two of them were so much in sync they almost had telepathic communication. Trey was motionless, staring through his field glasses at the small settlement below. It was little more than a collection of tents, with camels and donkeys staked out under a canvas ceiling. Their target was a tribal leader who had proven connections with a radical Muslim group and who made money stealing guns from the American military and selling them to other tribes.
Word had reached them that the man they were after would be visiting this outpost and would be more exposed than at any other time. This would be the optimum time to take him out before he could do any more damage. With their commander, they’d plotted the mission with great care, trying to cover every angle.
But damn it all, the fucker they were after was still holed up in one of the tents that made up the camp and hadn’t shown his face. Their four-man team had been dropped into place more than a mile away from where they now waited, the place where the helo would pick them up when their mission was completed. Getting more than one team in there—even a full team of their own—would be impractical. The more people who were dropped into a hot spot, the greater the chance of discovery. Lean and mean, as Slade always said.
The two days they’d been there felt like two weeks as they waited for their target to show himself, and subsisting on energy bars and bottled water which they used sparingly. It wasn’t as if they could run into the local Walmart to replenish their supplies. They had taken turns standing watch then taking light naps, something they’d been well trained to do, watching for signals of the arrival of their target. But the monotony of the activity below them hadn’t changed. The men in the camp rose at dawn, gathered in the central area of the yard for prayers, prepared their breakfast over a central campfire and ate as if they had nothing else to do. Which, Beau thought, seemed to be pretty much what their activity was for the rest of the day. At sundown, they prayed again, ate dinner and retired to their tents.
They had a three-day window, but that time was about to run out. The Apache gunship that had dropped them off wouldn’t hang around beyond the target date. Too dangerous. Even now, they all hoped the pilot had managed to find a place out of sight, maybe in one of the many desolate canyons.
Beau was happy they had found this little niche to conceal themselves. Slade and their recon expert, Marc Blanchard, were stationed behind them, scoping out the area and covering their backs.
Looking at Beau Williams when he was not in mission mode, most people would have dismissed him as a surfer dude, and often did. But he was one of the most well-trained snipers in Delta Force, one hundred percent focused on every mission and with a growing kill book. The carefree surfer look he wore like a suit of clothes camouflaged a man who was very controlled and lacking any deep emotion.
Now, however, stretched out on the rocky ground, his ears tuned to every sound, he looked every bit the top-level sniper—cold and efficient. He cradled his very effective .50 caliber Heckler & Koch SG1 almost as if he was holding a baby. The lightweight, super-efficient semi-automatic sniper rifle had lethal accuracy and a large magazine capacity. Its soundless bolt-closing device made it ideal when absolute silence was required, as it was with almost all of their missions.
As the hours crawled by, Beau’s training took over, keeping him and the rest of the team alert and ready. Every two hours, they changed watch shifts, although for Beau even Afghanistan and their mission couldn’t drive away thoughts of the leggy blonde he’d met in Texas who had pushed all his buttons.
Hanging out at Slade’s ranch during downtime had given them all a chance to work the kinks out of their bodies and enjoy some relaxation.
“Don’t forget the party tomorrow night,” Slade had reminded them, as they’d all gone off to shower. “Barbecue tonight, party tomorrow night.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Beau had paid lip service to the invitation but parties weren’t his thing. A cold beer and a hot body took care of all the relaxation he needed.
But twenty-four hours later, as he’d stood next to a hot, sassy blonde, he’d had to rethink that. She had a body that wouldn’t quit and gorgeous sun-streaked hair he wanted to run his fingers through, and he’d wondered how fast he could get her out of there and into bed.
Megan Welles had been a treat and a half. Sexy, smart, with a sassy tongue and a body that had made his cock stand up and beg and beg and beg.
“Lucky asshole,” Beau had told their team leader when Megan went off to the powder room. “You hit the jackpot tonight.”
Slade had laughed. “But I had to wait five years for it to happen. I’ll never be that stupid again.”
But Beau had thought it stupid the man had carried a torch for five years to begin with. To his way of thinking, no woman was worth that. Not to him for sure. Love ’em and leave ’em was his motto.
But then Megan was beside him again, and something inside him had made him wonder if he wasn’t about to change his mind.
Remembering it now, Beau had to acknowledge that party had been a petri dish for the entire team. Mouthwatering, feisty Megan Welles, a sports reporter for an online magazine, had pushed every one of his buttons. The sizzle that had sparked between them had lit up the room and they’d spent that first night together enjoying some of the most erotic sex he’d ever had. By the time morning had arrived, he’d been shocked at the connection he’d felt to her.
Megan had given him a week to remember, one of the best in his life. He’d soon discovered she also had a strong side to her personality, which had added more spice to the sex they enjoyed. He’d spent every minute of his leave with her when she was available, hating it when they’d had to return for their next assignment.
Beau had never been one to get himself tangled up with a woman for more than a few nights. Neither his family experience nor his career as a sniper had made him open to people. Most women didn’t like the prospect of a long-term relationship with someone whose emotions were so closed off. The few people he connected with were the members of Team Charlie and that was the way he liked it. He did his best to ignore Slade’s remarks about all of them getting older and needing something solid in their lives. His something solid was his sniper rifle.
But ever since he’d left Texas, he’d woken up more than once with his hand wrapped around his dick, sweating from dreams about the things he and Megan had done together. He’d just been damn lucky nobody had been watching at the time.
In his mind, there had been no mistaking the link between the two of them, one that was both emotional and physical. He’d never had that before. Never wanted it. He’d always believed that relationships were destructive. He’d never had one that wasn’t. Until Megan.
Maybe he was deluding himself, but he wanted the chance to find out if that connection was real or imagined. If she felt it, too. If, as unexpected as it was, he’d found someone he could think about for more than just the moment, shocking as it was to him.
And if he could trust the situation. Where his social life was concerned, Beau was a loner. Things just worked out better that way for him. He didn’t trust the commitment level of women. That was just part of who he was. The Army was his mistress, his lover, his commitment.
Not to mention the fact that he never knew when he’d be home or how long he’d deploy for. He was more than aware, however, that a career like his didn’t quite help the situation. He’d seen too many relationships fail due to the stress of constant separation and the inability to settle into a normal pattern during downtime.
What do I bring to it, anyway? Sixteen ways to kill someone? He wasn’t sure women found that romantic.
But you’ve seen others succeed, too. Like Slade and Kari. And if Slade is willing to take a chance, maybe it can work.
And maybe not.
Despite the fact that Megan had agreed to spend time with him when he had leave again, there was always the chance she’d meet someone else while he was off playing soldier. God, he hoped not. Because Megan…well, Megan is different. Isn’t she? When his cock had been buried deep inside her, he’d felt something he’d never felt with any other woman.
He kept in touch with her via text and email, a strange aberration for him since he almost never connected with women after the fact. He was once and done. But the moment they landed in San Antonio again, he was heading for her townhouse. For the first time in maybe ever, he wanted to see where a relationship could go.
He shifted, trying to get comfortable in his position. This was no time or place to be thinking about down and dirty sex. He needed to use his big head, not his little one. He had serious work to do here.
“Tangos at three o’clock.”
Trey’s whisper was so soft that if not for his acute sense of hearing, Beau might have missed it. It jarred him out of his thoughts. He blinked to clear his vision and sighted through the scope, a dual-illumination system that had an automatic adjustment, and an aiming-point brightness for existing lighting conditions. Yup, there they were, sharp and clear—two Jeeps lumbering like slow-moving animals across the rocky ground into the camp. The guards stationed at either end of the camp went on full alert, rifles at the ready, scanning the surrounding area for any sign of movement as the Jeeps moved into the center of the encampment.
But Delta Team Charlie was like a wraith, a phantom that faded into the background, so silent they couldn’t even hear their own breathing. They all waited, patient, Beau more than any of them, for the men to exit the vehicles. The target was easy to spot, the one that every single man bowed to and who was distinguished from the others by his colorful clothing. His chapan, a robe of vivid purple and green reflecting the moonlight, was worn over a peren, the typical baggy cotton trousers, and a tunbun, a cotton tunic. The headdress he wore designated him as a person of some note.
The Taliban leader stood erect as he accepted each man’s homage and allowed himself to be embraced for a brief moment by what appeared to be the two primary guards. The greetings out of the way, the group began to move in slow motion toward the largest tent set just to the side of the central yard. It had flaps enclosing it all the way around. As they walked, the men were talking, gesticulating. Beau was sure none of them expected enemy invasion in the unforgiving landscape.
In a moment, they would separate, just an infinitesimal amount, and he would have his shot.
Wait for it. Wait for it.
Next to him Trey began whispering the wind velocity, the range to target measured with his spotter’s scope, the angle of descent. A spotter was trained to memorize formulas for range, wind, elevation, temperature and target movement and be able to make calculations with or without a calculator. And Trey was one of the best. Beau trusted him without reservation.
Wait for it.
Beau held himself still as he tracked the tribal leader with his rifle, aiming at the dead center of his forehead. The moment would present itself. He just had to be patient. He drew in a deep breath then let it out in a slow stream, his finger ready on the trigger, Trey continuing to feed him information.
The target separated himself just a little from the other men while one of them lifted a tent flap for him to enter. For a moment he turned a little in Beau’s direction.
He squeezed the trigger, just the right pressure. And the .50 caliber bullet streaked through the night air to pierce the forehead of his target. There was no sound except a slight puff from the suppressed instrument. He knew Trey was tracking the round by the slight vapor trail it left, already recalculating in his head in case by some wild-assed chance Beau had missed. But as always, Beau was right on target. They watched the man jerk then crumple to the ground.
Even as the men in the encampment shouted, bending over their fallen leader, scanning the surrounding countryside, aiming their rifles and firing burst after burst toward shadows, Delta Team Charlie was already up and on its way. It took Beau eight seconds to break down his rifle and stuff it into his backpack. Slade, already speaking into his radio, led the way as they moved like ghosts to the exfiltration site.
They waited, crouched in the sparse scrub surrounding the landing zone, Glocks in their hands just in case, until they heard the distinctive whump! of the rotors. Then the big Apache helo pulled up over a tall outcropping and hovered over the landing zone, low enough for them to get on board. Even from the distance of the camp, the shouting voices of men carried on the now still night air. Beau knew before long they would be combing the rocky landscape looking for the intruders. And the sound of the helo was impossible to disguise. They needed to get the fuck out of there now.
Hands reached out from the bird to help pull the team members into the cabin and they were lifting off even as the last two men were still scrambling to get inside. A fast exit was always best in situations like this. No telling how soon the men from the outpost would be up there looking for them.
Beau leaned back against the cabin wall, legs outstretched, and closed his eyes. One more for his kill book. One more bad guy eliminated. One day closer to a week of leave and time with Megan.
He looked over at Slade, who grinned through the black grease on his face. He nodded and gave Beau a thumbs-up then did the same to Trey. Using his sat radio, he reported in on the success of a mission then he, too, let himself relax. The noise of the rotors and the open doors prevented any real conversation so they all just bumped fists and settled back until they landed at the base. As they headed toward their barracks, Slade answered a call on his cell phone. When he finished, he looked over his shoulder at his men.
“It’s a fluke, but we’ve got transport day after tomorrow, a military flight to Fort Sam. You guys all ready to rock and roll? And Teo will pick us up and take us to the ranch, just like the last time.”
Fort Sam was Fort Sam Houston, one of five military installations in and around San Antonio. Not as comfortable as a commercial flight, but a hell of a lot cheaper. There was a chorus of yesses and hoorahs as they walked across the tarmac. Slade’s ranch was just south of San Antonio, a small spread by Texas standards but it was well run and appeared to be profitable. A good place for them to unwind. Beau in particular thought it was great, since if not for that last visit he’d never have met Megan.
Trey cleared his throat. “So the big day’s all set, Mister Getting Married?”
Slade laughed. “Kari’s got everything set for two days after we land in Texas. That way she and I can have some time together before we’re wheels up again. Bring your uniforms.”
Trey frowned. “You guys are going the whole big, fancy route for the wedding?”
Slade shook his head. “No. Kari wants to keep it small. Neither of us has parents still living, sad to say, so it’s just going to be our closest friends. Maybe some of the people she works with. That’s it.” He looked from one member of his team to another. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t want this to be very special for her. She’s gone all out on her dress and I want to make this a day she’ll remember forever. She’s an exceptional lady.”
“You can count on us,” Marc assured him.
Beau glanced over at him, surprised he’d even commented. Marc still carried the baggage of a disastrous marriage and the results had turned him into a silent, gray presence with an invisible wall around him. Beau and Trey had wondered if they’d have to pound him to get him to the wedding. Good for him for stepping up.
“And you know,” Slade added, “while I’m honeymooning with my bride, you guys can hang out at the ranch if you want to. Teo will have everything at your disposal. But…” He looked from one to the other. “Am I right in assuming you’ll be hooking up with the women you met?”
“Does the sun come up in the morning?” Trey joked.
“Not even a question,” Beau added.
Marc said nothing, although they all knew he’d met someone, but everyone was afraid of jinxing things if they opened their mouths.
“You know Kari sent each of them invitations,” Slade said.
Except Marc, Beau thought, since no one knew who the hell the woman was and Marc was not sharing.
“That’s very nice of her,” Trey said.
“She enjoyed meeting them the weekend we were all together at the ranch,” Slade told them. “She’s happy they said they’d be there.”
“Great.” Beau winked. “As long as it’s not catching.”
“You never know. I sure didn’t expect it.” He checked his watch. “Okay. I’ll go make my report and afterward we’ll have a couple of days to debrief. Then we’re outta here.”
Beau knew the first thing he’d be doing as soon as he showered off the dirt was texting Megan. Already his cock was swelling in anticipation.