Authors: Julie Ann Walker
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Copyright © 2015 by Julie Ann Walker
Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Dawn Adams
Cover art by Kris Keller
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourc
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Originally appeared in the anthology
Way of the Warrior
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
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United States Embassy
Harper Searcy’s eyes rounded as she grabbed the edge of her desk. It shook in rhythm to the rattle of the bulletproof windows in the large office across the way, and the wheels on her rolling chair chattered against the tile floor like teeth in a bony skull. For a moment, her brain blanked. Just…full stop. Nothing. A big, honking nada. And there she sat with her jaw slung open while the whole world did the shimmy-shake.
Then her synapses started firing—rapid-firing, more like—and she snapped her mouth closed, quickly glancing around the small anteroom that was her workspace as the secretary and all-around right-hand man…er…
…for the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. A loud
sound preceded the appearance of a huge crack zigzagging its way up the plaster wall to her right. It rained salmon-colored paint flecks onto the floor. The metal and glass in the overhead light fixture jangled ominously. Then the closed door leading from her office to the third-floor landing above the grand central staircase suddenly swung wide, its hinges creaking eerily as if opened by ghostly hands.
Her heart froze solid—no easy task considering the average temperature in Islamabad in July was 95°F.
The latter was certainly possible. The city was built atop five major fault lines. Yup, that’s right. Five!
gracious! Who the hell decides to construct a capital above somethin’ like that?
Of course, the question was purely rhetorical, and she didn’t bother answering it as she pulled open the bottom left-hand drawer of her desk and snatched her purse from inside.
phone, cell phone.
If she was about to be buried alive—
alive—under a mountain of rubble it would be good to have her cell phone on her, right?
“Sir!” she yelled in the general direction of her boss’s office as she kicked out of her chair. It slammed against the back wall, causing the framed photograph of the president of the United States to hop off its nail and the glass to shatter against the tiles. She didn’t give it a passing thought as she slung her purse over her shoulder. “Mr. Ambassador!” she called again. “We need to evacuate the building as quickly as—”
The words died in the back of her throat when the unmistakable sound of automatic gunfire slammed into her eardrums. It was then she realized the rattle and rumble had suddenly ceased. So…
an earthquake? A…bomb, perhaps? Was the embassy under attack?
Her heart was no longer frozen. The thing had turned into a hot fist pounding against her ribs, making it nearly impossible to breathe. Every single one of her hair follicles hoisted their charge upright—
—until she felt electrified from head to toe.
“Sir!” She scrambled around her desk, banging her knee—
—against the edge in the process. Then she was racing into her boss’s office.
And holy frick! The silly sonofagun was standing at the window, watching in wide-eyed horror whatever was happening out in the embassy’s courtyard. The constant
was more pronounced here. And as her dear ol’ Georgia born-and-bred momma would say, that man’s ’bout as smart as tree bark. The glass was bulletproof, but what were the odds it was also
“Get away from the window!” she yelled, ducking beneath the line of the windowsill and crouch-walking her way toward her boss. When he turned to her, his wrinkled face was slack with disbelief.
“That Intel from the Department of Defense was right after all, Harper,” he wheezed, his left eye twitching. “The TTP is attacking us. I never thought they wo
“Get down, Mr. Ambassador!” She grabbed his hand and yanked him into a stoop beside her. “We have to get to the panic room!”
“It’s too far away.” His aging blue eyes were wide and glassy as he shook his head. The soft yellow light from the overhead chandelier glinted off his cue-ball crown, and while Harper deeply respected Ambassador Douglas O’Leary for his diplomatic acumen, it was obvious the man wasn’t much when it came to quick, rational thinking outside the negotiation chambers and inside a life-and-death situation. The shock of the raid had already gotten to him. As if to prove her point, when he gestured out the window she saw his finger was shaking. Nope. Correction. His whole
was shaking. “We’ll never make it to the basement before we’re overrun!”
Chancing a quick peek above the sill, Harper’s breath whooshed from her lungs like she’d taken a one-two punch to the gut. The scene that pierced her eyes was pure chaos…
The high iron gate leading into the compound was completely obliterated, as was a good portion of the fifteen-foot concrete wall surrounding the embassy. What appeared to be the remains of a large truck, the armored kind used for hauling cash or gemstones or some other high-value whatnot, sat smoldering in the breach, nothing but an ugly heap of twisted, scorched metal. A mass of bearded men in pajama-like pants and sporting
hats swarmed over the rubble and through the thick black smoke like bloodthirsty locusts. Ambassador O’Leary was right. It
Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan
—the Pakistani Taliban—otherwise known as the TTP. And with machine guns held tight against their shoulders, they kept up a constant barrage of death-dealing fire while advancing on the outnumbered contingent of Marines tasked with guarding t
“Holy shiiiiit,” she rasped, ducking back beneath the window and swallowing the bile that burned up the back of her throat like sulfuric acid. If she’d been raised Catholic instead of Southern Baptist, she would have crossed herself.
“Harper.” Ambassador O’Leary grabbed her wrist, his palm cold and clammy. It left behind a wet imprint when he quickly released her. “I don’t think we’re getting out of this—”
“Nonsense,” she cut him off, hastily reaching into her purse, scrounging past her wallet and two plastic containers of wild cherry Tic Tacs to pull out her cell phone. “We just need to haul ass down to the panic room and wait for the cavalry to arrive.”
And by cavalry she meant Michael “Mad Dog” Wainwright and his badass band of Navy SEALs…
For the last six months, ever since the DOD heard whispers over the airwaves of a possible terrorist attack on the embassy, Michael and six additional members of his SEAL Team had been tasked with providing the ambassador and his diplomatic officers personal protection. But after months of radio silence and zippo indication that an offensive would actually,
occur, the Navy decided they had more important things for the SEALs to do than sit around Pakistan twiddling their thumbs. So Michael and his Team had been given marching orders to report to the South China Sea—for God and JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) only knew what—on a two-week mission. That had been exactly fourteen days ago, which meant Michael was due back today—a fact she’d been lamenting ever since the embassy party when she’d recklessly engaged him in a round of drunken debauchery. Of course, given the quick left turn her afternoon had taken, now the man couldn’t return his fine ass to Islamabad quick enough to suit her.
Latching onto the ambassador’s sleeve, she broke into a hunched run, dragging the wiry old diplomat in her wake. She’d just made it out of the offices and to the top of the wide, sweeping stairwell when—
—another explosion rocked the place. She and the ambassador stumbled into the wall, bracing themselves against the plaster and each other. Luckily, this blast appeared to be much smaller than the first, although it was no less frightening—illustrated by the fact that Harper had to gulp twice, three times, in order to force her heart back down into her chest from where it’d lodged in her throat. Then acrid black smoke began to slowly, almost lazily, drift up from below.
Now on a regular day, the embassy would be teeming with staff. But it was the weekend—and a holiday weekend at that—so the landing was blessedly empty. The place was operating with what amounted to the barest bones of a skeleton crew.
me, O’Leary, and the Marines…
Which, on the one hand, was a point in their favor. It meant there were far fewer people the TTP could use as targets or hostages. On the other hand, it was a point against them. Because it exponentially increased her and O’Leary’s
odds of ending up as either…or both.
“They’ve penetrated the building,” the ambassador gasped from behind her, pressing himself against the wall like the floor might up and decide to fall out from under his cordovan-colored loafers.
“Then we take the back steps down,” she said matter-of-factly, surprised by the steadiness of her tone when her heart had gone all Carl Lewis on her, breaking into a 100-meter sprint. She’d been scared plenty of times in her twenty-eight years, but this was the first time she’d ever experienced pure, undiluted terror.
“N-no.” The ambassador shook his bald head frantically, inching along the wall back toward the offices. “There’s no time. We should lock ourselv
“We’ll be sittin’ ducks!” she screamed, the tiny cracks in her composure splitting into wide, steaming fissures. It was her job to look after O’Leary, to take care of his every need. But she couldn’t help the man when he was refusing to use his brain and save himself.
Lock themselves inside their offices? The Taliban had managed to overrun the Marines and blow up the front door to the embassy! Did he really think something as simple as a deadbolt would keep them out? Talk about being one or two sandwiches short of a picnic.
mean, come on!
The sound of heavy footsteps pounding up the marble staircase was joined by a bevy of raised voices speaking Pashto. She held out a hand to the ambassador, begging him with her eyes and her words. “Please, sir! Come with me. The panic room is our only hope.”
He shook his head again, stepping back into the office. Then, to her slack-jawed surprise, he slammed the door in her face. And even despite the pandemonium of sounds echoing from below, she could make out the ominous
as the lock slid into place.
She had a brief moment to blink owlishly and think
oh, no he di-int
before prudence, and straight-up heart-pounding, soul-sucking fear, dictated she make a run for the back stairs. In less than two ticks of the clock, she was across the landing and throwing open the door that concealed a narrow, winding metal staircase—she’d been told it was a servants’ passage back when the building was the mammoth residence of some hoity-toity sultan. Quietly closing herself inside the airless stairwell, she was instantly embraced by the warm, suffocating arms of darkness. She blew out a wheezing breath and took her first step down just as a barrage of pounding fists and shouting voices told her the Taliban fighters had made it to the third-floor landing and were demanding the ambassador open the door to the offices.
should’ve come with me, sir.
Although woulda, coulda, shoulda…there was nothing she could do for the ambassador now. But maybe,
, there was still something she could do for herself.
Descending as quietly and quickly as she could, she thumbed on her iPhone and brought up her recent call
There was his name glowing brightly on the screen. Twenty times in the past two weeks. Once for every time she had put him off with a
now. Let’s talk later
text, or a quick
Hello, are ya safe? Okay, good. Let’s chat when ya get back
, response, or—and, yup, she wasn’t too proud of herself for these—those times when, like a lily-livered ninny, she’d flat-out avoided him altogether.
Well, by God, you can bet your sweet bippy she wasn’t avoiding him now. Because while she may not trust him with her heart, she more than trusted him with her life. And since it was her
on the line, it was a good thing—as those twenty calls would suggest—that Michael “Mad Dog” Wainwright had absolutely no quit in him…
• • •
Minhas Pakistani Air Force Base
Fifty miles outside Islamabad
“Yo! Brad Pittstains! You wanna put away your phone and move your ass?”
Michael stared down at his iPhone’s irritatingly blank screen, trying—and
—for about the millionth time to figure that damned woman out. If she’d been any other dame, he would’ve chalked up the night of the embassy party to a simple wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. No harm. No foul. Just one hell of a rocking good time.
But this was
. The joke-texting
The ol’ fashioned, Southern born-and-bred, good girl
probably wasn’t even in her vocabulary. But that’s sure as shit what he was beginning to suspect had happened. Then again, the way she’d snuggled up to him, so close and tight, kissing him directly over his heart? Well…that certainly hadn’t
ya, wouldn’t want to be ya
. So what the hell was she—
Yo, Brad Pitts
“I heard you the first time, asshole,” Michael grumbled, sliding his gaze over to his friend and teammate, Bran Pallidino. “And first off, I happen to know you stole that insult from an episode of
. Secondly, I think you may have mistaken me for yourself. For the love of Christ, man, we’re barely wheels-down and you already look like a drowned Atlantic City sewer rat, which, in case you were wondering, are uglier than sewer rats any place else. Drowned or not.”