Authors: Kimberley Troutte
“Sorry.” Charlie’s goofy grin was still in place. “You must have rocked the skiff.”
“Did not, asshole. Hey, you’re bleeding,” Willy said and promptly tore off a strip from Charlie’s T-shirt and tied it around his wounded shoulder.
“Stop!” Charlie yelled and slugged his brother. “This is my favorite shirt.”
“Not anymore. You stained it.” Willy slugged him back in the non-wounded shoulder.
“You two morons finished playing around? I’d like to get this done so we don’t have to dive after bodies.” Tavon started up the skiff and they headed toward the sinking boat.
“Be careful,” Amber whispered again and went to find Jenna. The shrieking had stopped. She found Mack, Ty and Jenna in the bridge.
Mack was sitting on the floor next to the helm with his back against the wall. He held Jenna in his arms and slowly rocked back and forth. The utter raw expression on his face broke Amber’s heart.
“It’s okay, babe. Shh, I’ve got you. Nothing’s going to hurt you. I won’t let it,” he whispered over and over as he rocked.
Jenna’s eyes were squeezed shut. She whimpered softly.
“What’s wrong with her?” Amber asked Ty. “Should I do something?”
Ty shook his head and wiggled his finger for Amber to follow him away from the bridge. He closed the door behind him, leaving Mack and Jenna alone, before he answered her question.
“She’s in shock. When the shooting started she hit the deck, curled into a little ball and started shrieking. Flashbacks, most likely, from what went down in Colombia. She shouldn’t be here, but Mack didn’t have the heart to leave her alone. Plus, she wanted to come and rescue you. She promised your dad she’d bring you home and Jenna is dogged about keeping her promises.”
Amber frowned. “What happened to her in Colombia?”
“What didn’t? She took it very hard that her clients were kidnapped and wanted to bring them home alive. She forced herself onto the rescue team.”
“You’re talking about the Harmonds, right? I read about the rescue in the
Hong Kong Daily
a couple of weeks ago. That was you guys?”
Ty nodded. “And Jenna. She shouldn’t have been there, either. Instead of trusting us—a team of highly-trained SEALs—she made bad judgment calls that got a group of men killed.”
Amber gasped. “I didn’t know about that.”
“They weren’t SEALs. And they didn’t know what they were doing. Too many rookie mistakes in the field means people die.”
“It was. And then our Miss Jenna wandered into an ambush and got herself kidnapped and tortured by guerrillas. Mack was almost killed trying to rescue her. We could’ve lost them both, but Charlie took an impossible kill shot and saved the day. Jenna learned the hard way to trust us and in the end we worked together to save your dad’s clients.”
Amber shook her head.
“Jenna is paying the price now. It’s a steep one. PTSD is no joke. If Mack could, he’d send her home. But we’re all stuck out here until we know who’s after us. The jet isn’t safe, nowhere is.”
Amber sank into a bar stool. “This is my fault.”
Ty put a hand on her shoulder. “My advice? Trust the team. We know what we’re doing. Don’t wander off like Jenna did and hopefully we’ll all get home safely.”
But then what?
She didn’t ask. Getting home safely meant she’d be that much closer to a highly-publicized trial, conviction, and possible execution. She felt like a woman on death row waiting for her final supper.
Wandering away seemed like the only way to stay alive.
The skiff returned and Charlie was the first one to jump off. He tied the rope to the junk. Once they were all aboard, Ty started up the engine and the junk was moving again. Fast. The plan was to get to the planned coordinates as quickly as possible. With any luck, they’d out-run the next group of hostiles who were sure to come after them. There was a never-ending supply of bad guys. Charlie went off to find Amber.
She was asleep backward on a barstool with her arms propped up on the backrest. Her legs dangling. It was amazing to come back from a mission to find a girl waiting for him. Even a short mission out to gather intel from a sinking boat. He could get used to this. He kissed her soft arm, nuzzling the bend of her elbow, committing her scent to memory.
“Charlie?” She kept her eyes closed. “Is that you or am I dreaming?”
“Dreaming. Keep sleeping.” He kissed the nape of her neck. Lightly, nibbling.
“It could be the best dream ever.” Willy’s voice came from behind the stool followed by his hands rubbing up her thighs.
“What the—? Willy!” Her head jerked up, fully awake now.
Willy laughed and ducked when Charlie threw his punch. “I swear, Charles. You need boxing lessons.”
“Stay away from her,” he growled.
“Lady’s choice.” The dimples in Willy’s handsome face deepened, his green eyes flashed mischievously. “Last I heard, she hadn’t decided.”
“Um, that’s not entirely…“ Amber began. Charlie’s shoulder pain long forgotten, he finished for her by throwing another punch, this one connecting to Willy’s chin with a loud thud.
Willy wiggled his jaw. “
more like it. Keep practicing and soon you’ll be punching like a big boy.”
Charlie lunged for him. Willy spun quickly and locked him in a bear hold. “Say uncle.”
“Never!” Charlie grunted.
“Guys, stop. This is not helping anything,” Amber said.
Charlie heard big-man footsteps coming up behind him.
. He was about to get his brains scrambled. But Tavon passed, stumbled once, because the
was really flying, steadied himself by putting his hand on Charlie’s shoulder and kept going. Apparently, the mass of muscles, flying fists, and grunting men didn’t concern him.
“Stop them, they’ll hurt each other,” Amber said.
Charlie glanced up to see if a meaty fist was heading his way.
Instead, Tavon lifted his humongous hands in mock surrender. “No way. I’m not getting in the middle of this.” Tavon sat in a chair next to Amber to watch the show.
Charlie elbowed Willy in the gut and forced himself out of the hold. Soon the tables had been turned. Charlie smiled. That didn’t happen too often. Willy fought dirty and was stronger, and tougher than he was.
say it!” Charlie ordered.
Willy choked, “Not gonna… say…uncle.”
“He said it. Let him go, Charlie,” Amber demanded.
Charlie lifted his head to gaze at her. She chewed her lip with concern. For him, or Willy? Not knowing pissed him off. He squeezed harder.
With his gaze pinned to hers he said, “Say, ‘Amber is Charlie’s girl.’”
“Not…until…” Willy’s face was bright red, the air being choked out of his lungs. Not much longer and he’d pass out. Still he fought, pounding his elbows and fists into Charlie’s abdomen. “She…says…it.”
Amber’s eyes flew open in surprise.
Shit, shit, shit.
Charlie should have expected something like this. Willy always fought dirty.
“Amber is Charlie’s girl,” she said. “Now, let him go.”
Charlie had that goofy grin on again when he let Willy go. The two of them bent over at the waist and sucked in gulps of air as if they’d just run a marathon, instead of beating each other half-to-death. No one had ever fought for her before. It would’ve been cute if it wasn’t so stupid. She shook her head.
Mack opened the door from the bridge. His expression was stretched thin, sad to the bone. It was the first time Amber felt sorry for him.
“Speak. What did you find?” Mack barked.
The Handly brothers rose to standing.
“They didn’t have any identification on them, but they were Chinese. Triad tats,” Tavon said.
“With high-grade military weapons.” Willy added. His green eyes were serious, his dimples gone. “One shithole had a HK XM25. An airburst grenade launcher. It’s supposed to have a super high kill rate. We’re lucky we got them before they got us.”
Amber’s heart sank. What if they hadn’t gotten them first? They’d all be dead right now.
“Damn it to hell. The SEALs have them, but I didn’t know the XM25’s had been released from field training yet.” Mack ran his hand through his dark hair. “How’d the Chinese get one of those?”
“No idea, but I’ve got a theory,” Tavon growled.
Mack nodded. “The bad guys are working together.”
“And some of the bad guys are ours,” Willy proclaimed. “Or they were before, you know, they went over to the dark side.”
“Why didn’t they use the grenade launcher on us? Why shoot when you can blow stuff up?” Tavon asked.
“Good man, Big T. That’s my kind of question. They either had to wait for authorization or they worried they’d blow up something important. And I don’t mean us.”
“The memory card,” Amber said softly.
Willy grinned. “Bingo.”
“They know we still have it,” Tavon said.
Charlie nodded. “They suspect it. They want that data. They kill us, come aboard to snatch it, and blow the
sky high.” He cast his gaze out toward the water. “We haven’t seen the last of them. There’ll be others.”
No one said a word. The engine sounds and the splashing of water against the side of the
Amber was sick to her stomach.
There had to be a way out of this mess.
“We still don’t know who we’re dealing with. Is Triad 14K calling the shots, or not?” Mack said impatiently.
“I might be able to find out, Mack,” Charlie said. “So far, they’ve been careful on comm., quiet on the radio, and they are not using cell phones. I thought maybe they had untraceable phones, but their pockets were clean. They must have known we’d be listening and able to trace them. But they contacted each other somehow or they wouldn’t have found us. The radio was blown to hell and the computer system wasn’t functioning, but I retrieved the hard drive off one of the computers.” He held up a drive. “Whatever is on here is probably encrypted but maybe I’ll get lucky and find a back door. With enough time I can find out who they are.”
Charlie’s statement gave Amber an idea.
She had a plan.
But the thought of what she’d have to do, made her sick inside.
“I could use your help.” Charlie smiled at her.
The last time a guy had asked for her help, she’d landed in this mess. But Charlie wasn’t like Jacques. Charlie was straightforward and loyal. Two things she loved about him.
“Okay,” she agreed.
Hacking into the hard drive was right up her alley. This she could do for the team. Maybe once they knew who they were dealing with, the admiral would send more SEALs and the entire fleet—a whole slew of good guys to wipe out the bad. But she had another plan. Once she hacked inside the computer’s hard drive, she’d secretly send out a message of her own.
“Great. Let’s take this to the comm room,” Charlie said. “I can monitor radio transmissions to see if a mayday was sent out before Willy blew the hostiles to hell.”
“I’ll meet you there. But first—” she rose. “I need to go talk to Jenna.”
“That’s a good idea,” Charlie said.
Yes, it was. If anyone knew how to get away from the team, it was Jenna. She’d done it successfully in Colombia. It would break Amber’s heart to leave Charlie behind, but maybe if she disappeared, the creeps with RPGs, XM25s and other high-powered equipment would stay away from the team. All of this crap was her fault and she wasn’t going to let another person get blown up because of her mistakes. She never wanted anyone to get hurt—not Mr. Lee, not Jenna, and especially not Charlie. Suddenly, being convicted of treason didn’t matter so much anymore. Her priorities had shifted. She was terrified the men after her would kill Charlie. She couldn’t let that happen.
Amber is Charlie’s girl.
She’d meant it. With all her heart.
Now her chest burned with sadness. No matter how much it would rip her heart to shreds, she would protect her boy, even if it meant never seeing him again. Apparently, she was wired for love after all. Funny time to figure that out. But her feelings for him cemented in her mind what she had to do. She’d send out a bogus message that she had the memory card and it was for sale.