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Authors: Emmy Curtis

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary Women, #Erotica, #Contemporary, #Fiction

Pushing the Limit (9 page)

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
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Flickering images at the back of his mind battled for head space. Visions of Iraqi soldiers overrunning their position in Basra. Determined young faces with guns as big as their torsos.

Dead faces, blood and red sand.

Chapter Twelve

Harry stopped in her tracks. “Are you all right? Are you
all right

What was wrong with him? He’d stopped in his tracks and was staring at the young men who had stood up when she had returned to the site.

“Matt.” She turned her back to the workers and took his hand, trying to urge a response from him. “What is it?”

His Adam’s apple bobbed as he blinked and met her gaze. “Who are they?”

“My workers. We just… We just spoke about that, Matt.” Her stomach clenched. What was going on? “Here. Have some water.”

He took the bottle and swigged. She watched his chest heave slowly, as if he was struggling for control.

“You’re scaring me. Are you okay? Do you want me to get someone to take you back to the hotel?”

“I’m fine,” he ground out in a voice that was anything but. He cleared his throat and looked at the bottle in his hand. He screwed the cap and handed it back to her. “Just the heat. I’m fine.

“So who cleared them to work for you?” he asked, nodding at the men who had gone back to their duties.

“This is a dig. No one has to clear them. They work for the sheik. And any antiquities we find here belong to him, so if he trusts them, then I do, too.” She swiveled her head toward them, trying to see what Matt was seeing.

“That’s not good enough. Not now,” he said as if the matter had been settled.

“It is good enough. I won’t put up with you interfering in my dig. Period.” If he hadn’t been so shaky a minute before, she would have been much more… vehement.

“There’s no need to get snitty. I’m just trying to keep you safe,” Matt said.

She needed to nip this in the bud. “Let’s get some things straight. First, it’s not your job to keep me safe. It’s Mueen’s job to keep us safe. Second, my workers are my concern. They are poor local people who desperately need the money that foreign archaeological digs bring to the area. They are hardworking, dedicated, and friendly. I simply won’t put up with you scaring them, scowling at them, or doing anything to make them think they are threatened. Trust me, they’ve had enough fear for a few lifetimes.”

She stood with her hands on her hips hoping that he would get how serious she was being. The first time she came to Iraq after the war, the people were so welcoming, and kind. She gradually came to understand that Iraqis don’t judge people based on their country, religion, or looks. They judge people on the way they behave. Quite rightly. They never blamed her, or even looked at her funny, because she was American, even though blown-up vehicles and tanks still littered the highways between checkpoints. There was no way she was going to let Matt treat them in any other way than as hard workers.

Matt said nothing; she couldn’t tell if he was looking at her or the workers over her shoulder because of the sunglasses he’d just put on. “Are we clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied almost mildly. “But I resent you thinking I would mistrust people because of their nationality. I mistrust everyone equally.” He walked around her and took off toward the trailer.

She scurried to keep up. “Did you find bugs in their rooms?”

“Nope. So let’s keep this quiet for now, okay? It could be nothing.”

Yeah, right. That’s why he’s all antsy
. A finger of trepidation scurried up her back. She wanted to get through this dig, then head off to Greece. She hoped and prayed that nothing would come of this. The money, the plane part. But frankly, the more she thought about it, the more logical it seemed that there was something unusual about this dig.

“Your workers are about twelve,” Matt said evenly.

“I know. Life is different here. The older adults are usually unable to work. Don’t worry, we look after them well. We feed them, let them play in the trailer a bit, and the sheik pays the family for their work. However, today, because we’re not doing any surface work, they’re kind of doing whatever they want for a while. A couple are being taught how to use the ground-penetrating radar, which will be super useful for other digs that might come to the area.”

“Who are you digging here for again?” he asked.

“The Megellin Foundation. I’ve surveyed for them before.”

“You just figure out if there’s anything interesting here, and then if there is, they bring a team of students to excavate?” he asked.

“Mostly. Sometimes they bring the students even if there’s nothing here. It’s a good exercise. Not every dig works out. They should get used to that early on in their careers. I did,” she said casting her mind back to fruitless digs. She wondered why he was curious about it, but she felt she couldn’t ask him without sounding suspicious. She sighed. He was hard work… sometimes at least.

Not all the time, though. Sometimes he was easy. She took a deep breath and blew cool air up her face. It was pretty hard not to see him and visualize him naked. High semi-sleeve tattoos on his upper arms, either side of his torso, and across his back, covering, yet showing, the muscles beneath. She really wanted to take time to look at all of them. She wondered if she’d ever get that opportunity again. He seemed… convinced it was a bad idea. He was probably right.

Molly looked up from the little laptop that deciphered the images sent back by the GPR. “Jason has walked the perimeter on the west side. Nothing unusual so far.”

“Can you get him back for a minute? I’m going to fast-track this. I’d like to intersect the site diagonally in a cross pattern, to get a general idea of the layout down there, if there is one. Then we’ll examine areas of interest in further depth,” she said.

Molly called Jason back over the crackly radio, leaned back in her chair, and folded her arms. “What’s going on? You never do that.”

She sighed but was relieved she’d asked. It was good to have a legitimate reason for the weird stuff that was going on. “Matt wants to know if there is plane wreckage here. If there is, it’s his job to figure out if there are any human remains that can be repatriated. I just thought we could give him a head start. Also, if there’s nothing here, he can head back home.” At least that had been the idea this morning, but every time she saw him, she wanted to drag her feet and keep him in Iraq with her.

“Fair enough,” Molly said, looking solemn.

Jason, who seemed to be on his best behavior since this morning, was doing a great, detailed job sending electromagnetic pulses into the sandy earth. He refused to stop for water, and in the end, Harry made Molly take some out to him.

When lunch arrived with one of the cooks from the hotel, everyone stopped and sat under the awning that popped out from the trailer. It wasn’t an awesome lunch by any means, certainly not to Ain’s standards, but it was welcome by the time the midday sun had come around. Cans of tuna fish, crackers, and rice. In the heat, not too many people were hungry, but they all took the opportunity to get out of the sun and sit awhile.

From experience, Harry had known to bring large plastic ziplock bags for the local workers, and most of them put the extra rice and cans of tuna into the bags to take home to their families. As the chatter and eating died down, people started to wander back to work. Some site managers ruled the workday with an iron fist, but that wasn’t Harry’s style. She preferred having happy workers, and feeling confident when she left a country that she had done a little to improve the lives of the people living there.

She kept a close eye on Matt. After his admission that he mistrusts everyone, she was interested to see how he mitigated that. But she saw no evidence of suspicion, or unease, other than normal. So strange how people could hide what they were feeling. She wondered if it somehow destroyed their souls, keeping negative thoughts and feelings inside.

“Look. What do you think that is?” Molly asked over her shoulder from her position sitting on a cooler and peering at the small computer. “I’m getting some weird static here. I’m going to start the program, okay?”

“Sure.” Harry hustled to her side and looked. Before there were programs to decipher the lines of static that came from the ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists had to figure out what the images meant themselves. Harry was old-school.

The image flickered across the screen like a radar image they show in movies. Then the composite pieces could be put together to make…

that?” Molly said, craning her head to the side, as if that would help figure out what they were looking at.

Harry could see what it was. It was a perfectly rectangular void about the size of a sofa. The void meant that the GPR had picked up an area where there wasn’t any sandy soil. It had to be something man-made, because of the perfect angles on it. But it could be a vault, or tomb, or a brick structure. It certainly didn’t seem like wreckage, which she presumed would be random-shaped structures strewn about.

Matt was at her shoulder looking at the tiny screen. “What could that be?” he asked, and she repeated the thoughts she’d had.

“Man-made, you say.” He stood up and looked out to the site.

“Yes, but I don’t think it’s part of a plane. At least not wreckage.” She wondered if that made him feel better.

“Can you estimate its size?” he asked, digging in his backpack for something.

“Roughly. I’d say ten feet by, maybe, five or six feet, and I can’t really tell the depth of it because the further down in the soil you get, the less accurate the measurements become.”

He nodded and walked to the other side of the trailer. She heard him say, “Commander Jenks please,” before he passed out of earshot.

* * *

“Sergeant?” the commander said. “Thank God.”

Matt’s adrenaline went into overdrive. He could feel the flash as it hit his heart and stomach. Fight or flight. He clenched a fist. “What is it, sir?” He almost laughed at how calm his voice was.

“I’ve got the classified file from a… old acquaintance in the Pentagon. Are you on a secure phone?”

“I’m using the satellite phone that I got when I arrived, so probably not.” Satellite phones were notoriously easy to hack.

“Did you find anything there?”

“It seems so,” Matt replied evenly.

“I thought so. People are already talking about it.”

“Only the team here knows.” Matt frowned trying to think if anyone had reason to talk about the find. “No one else knows. No one should have been able to get information on the find back to the U.S.”

“Then someone there is not… friendly to your mission,” his commander said carefully.

“Copy that, sir.”
Cluster. Fuck

There was a pause at the other end. “Okay. Everything’s fine. This is easy. It’s on a par with Columbia. Your mission is to recover two pilots and a tech sergeant. I’ll e-mail you the details to your personal account.”

“Copy that, sir. I’ll look for the e-mail.” He pressed the disconnect button and turned slowly to look at the people working the site. Who was the enemy?

Columbia was the most dangerous mission he’d been on while in JPAC. His team had roped down from a helo on a mountain, and then had to rock climb to another point to try to recover a pilot from a transport plane that had gone down in the ’60s but only recently been found. Unfortunately the drug lords hadn’t got the memo and had assumed Matt’s team was coming for them. The team, which included a former pararescuer, an archaeologist, and a special forces guy, fought off around fifty guerillas for two days before help came. With, thank God, no casualties except sunstroke and insect bites.

So he guessed he knew what to expect now. Shit.

He had to let Harry know. Give her the opportunity to get out of here before the shit hit the fan. He mentally accounted for all the firepower. The .22 on his waist, the gun that Mueen always seemed to have on him, although God knows whose side he was on. He called for Harry, and then beckoned her over when she looked up. No sense having this conversation with everyone else around.

“What’s up?” she said.

“Can I access my Gmail account on your Blackberry?” he asked, stowing the sat phone again.

“I guess.” She handed it over. “If you can figure it out, you can do what you want with it. All my e-mails just seem to be impatient ones from the foundation. They’re badgering me for a report I haven’t put together yet. So feel free to delete mine if you need to.” She rolled her eyes adorably.

“What’s your password?” he said, looking at the screen.

She didn’t say anything, so he looked up. She had a pained look on her face. Oh.

He typed in
, and the screen sprung to life. The twist he felt in his stomach was just the thought of another Columbia mission, nothing else.

Eventually he got his e-mail loaded. Commander Jenks had sent the e-mail from his own private e-mail, too. This didn’t bode well.

The e-mail consisted of just four links and no commentary. The first link went to a Wikipedia page about the $6 billion in cash lost during the Iraq war. The next went to a
Washington Post
article from 2011, explaining that a lot of the cash had been found, but not all of it. The third and fourth links went to the obituaries of three servicemen: two officers, Lieutenant Colonel Grant Mathers and Captain Doug Carpelli; and one enlisted man, Technical Sergeant Mike Ranger; all killed in action, allegedly in separate enemy attacks.

So basically, this crew was on a black ops mission, maybe with the lost cash, which amounted to somewhere between $55 and $100 million—give or take Wikipedia’s accuracy. Frankly he had no wish to stand in front of anyone who wanted that money. People kill for a fraction of that every day.

“What is it?” Harry asked. “You look concerned.”

He wanted to laugh. He’d be “concerned” about a water leak in his house. “Concerned” if he accidentally missed a meeting. “Concerned” didn’t exactly cover it.

He handed the phone back to her and told her to read the links. She sat on an upturned bucket and scrolled through the information.

When she looked up at him, she was pale, and her chin trembled a tiny bit. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and whisk her away from all this. Take her to his house in Hawaii and let her wander the beaches in safety. He owed it to Danny to keep her safe. Owed it to him for what he’d already done. He would pay that debt, or die trying.

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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