“Look at me,” a harsh voice demanded.
Tearing his gaze away from where his arm disappeared under the metal of the Army vehicle, Dane Munroe brought his gaze up to the man kneeling at his side. He was huge and menacing looking, but it was his piercing brown eyes, surprisingly filled with compassion, that made Dane relax a fraction.
“Don’t look away from my face again. That’s an order. Understand?”
“Yes, Sir,” Dane croaked. He knew his body was going into shock, but the order gave him something to concentrate on other than the excruciating amount of pain he was in. He kept his eyes on the other man’s face as he knelt over him.
He knew his teammates were gone. When he’d first came to and looked around, he’d seen body parts everywhere. To his right was Quiz, half his head missing. To his left was Bear, his legs simply gone. His friends. The men he’d have gladly given his life for. They were gone in an instant.
Everything had happened so quickly. One moment he’d been sitting in the Humvee, on the lookout for hidden explosives, and the next he was lying on the desert floor, one arm trapped beneath the tangled mess of metal that used to be the vehicle he’d been riding in. Dane had no idea how he’d survived when carnage was all around him.
More importantly, why.
The man at his side and his comrades had appeared out of nowhere. The air had been silent and Dane’s ears were ringing from the explosion, and suddenly the other men were there. They weren’t wearing uniforms, instead dressed in black from head to toe. Their hair was longer than was acceptable in the Army and they all had beards that partially hid their facial features. Dane would’ve been worried he was about to be kidnapped by ISIS again, except for the fact the man kneeling over him had a distinct American accent. He knew as soon as the man spoke, they were like him. Delta Force. The good guys.
“Fletch, Hollywood, get on this side. Blade and Coach, the other. I need you to lift slow and easy, no sudden moves. Beatle and Ghost, once the truck is off, pull him out fast, but controlled. Got it?”
All six murmured their agreement and got into place. The man who’d taken charge leaned over Dane and looked him square in the eyes. Dane briefly noticed the big-ass scar on the man’s face, but he was in too much pain and shock for it to really register. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I think you know we’re sitting ducks here, so we need to change venues. We can’t do that with you takin’ a nap under the truck though.” He grinned, as if they were shooting the shit in a bar back in the States. “So we’ll get this Humvee off, then package you up and get the fuck outta dodge. I’m not gonna lie. It’s gonna hurt. Like a motherfucker.”
“What can I do to help?” Dane asked, gritting his teeth.
“Honestly? The only thing you need to do is keep quiet. Me and my team will take care of everything else.”
Dane swallowed hard and nodded once. He didn’t like it, but at the moment he was useless. There was no way he was getting out of there without them. He didn’t know where they’d come from, but in his line of work, you never looked a gift horse in the mouth.
“What’s your name?” Dane croaked out.
Dane couldn’t help the wry grin that spread over his face. “Appropriate.”
The right side of Truck’s lips quirked up in a lopsided grin. The man had a full beard like his teammates, but the large, gnarly scar along the left side of his face was still clearly visible. Facial hair wasn’t growing over the scar, and it left a large swath of skin showing through the beard. “Yours?”
“Fish,” Dane told him through gritted teeth.
“Well, Fish, you think you’re gonna be able to stay quiet? I’ve got some morphine and can knock you out if you don’t think you can do it. It’s your call.”
“I won’t make a sound, but a bit to take the edge off wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Dane said. He’d never been in as much pain as he was right now. Not even when he’d spent a few days as a guest of ISIS. They’d beaten the shit out of him and his teammates, but that had been a walk in the park compared to this. As much as he wouldn’t mind being drugged to the gills so he wouldn’t have to deal with everything, he’d much rather know what the hell was going on around him. If these were going to be his last moments on Earth, he wanted to be awake and aware. Probably a stupid move, but he’d never claimed to be the smartest man around.
Truck didn’t waste any time or question him more, he simply nodded and turned to one of the others and gave him a chin lift. A dose of morphine was quickly injected into Dane’s body and the team moved themselves into their assigned positions to lift the Humvee.
Instead of looking around at what the other men were doing, Dane kept his eyes on Truck’s face, as ordered.
“Ready?” the large man asked quietly.
Dane nodded, pressing his lips together, preparing for the pain he knew was to come as soon as the vehicle was lifted off his arm.
It took every ounce of will Dane had to keep from screaming in the next few moments. He’d never felt such extreme pain in his entire life.
The men lifted the truck as if it was made out of plywood instead of metal, and hands closed around his ankles and quickly slid his body away from the wreckage at the same time that Truck grabbed hold of his arm and clamped down—hard. Dane’s back arched at the immediate, excruciating waves of agony that radiated from the man’s grip on what was left of his mangled arm.
Words swam around him, but Dane didn’t understand any of them. Concentrating on the scar on Truck’s face that twisted and moved as the man spoke to his teammates, and clenching his teeth together, Dane refused to pass out. If something went wrong, and the terrorists moved in, he wanted—no, needed—to be able to protect himself. Something he couldn’t do if he was unconscious.
Eventually, Dane realized they were on the move. He was slung over the shoulder of one of the men, and Truck walked next to him, his large hand still clutching his mangled arm with a firm grip.
“Am I gonna lose it?” Dane asked, keeping his eyes on Truck.
The other man didn’t sugarcoat the situation and knew Dane was talking about his extremity. “Probably. You right- or left-handed?”
“Bummer,” Truck commended dryly without a hint of pity.
“Why haven’t you bandaged it up? Wouldn’t it be easier and leave less of a trail if you wrapped it?” Dane put out of his mind the fact he might lose part, or all, of his arm. He concentrated on Truck’s eyes as ordered, not caring at the moment where they were going. Asking questions kept his mind off the pain…somewhat.
Truck shrugged. “Can’t. I’ve got your radial artery between my thumb and forefinger.”
“Hey, it’s all good. No worries. I got this.”
Dane snorted, then pressed his lips together, shutting off the sound almost as soon as it escaped. He knew the radial and ulnar arteries were connected to the brachial. And if the brachial artery was busted, he’d bleed to death in minutes. The large man so calmly walking next to him was literally holding his life between his large fingers.
Remembering the other soldiers from his platoon, including the man who’d been added to their group as a top-secret last-minute addition, Dane asked, “The others?
Truck gave a quick shake of his head in response.
Dane closed his eyes and said a short prayer for the soldiers who apparently hadn’t survived the IED.
“Where are we going?” Dane asked quietly.
“Over a couple hills, about two clicks, there’s a small town. We know some villagers who will take you to the American base nearby. You’ll be safe.”
“Will it compromise you?” Dane wasn’t an idiot. Regular soldiers wouldn’t be hanging out in small villages, helping injured Americans who were hurt in the line of fire. The last thing he wanted was for them to get in trouble or to have their position or mission compromised because they’d helped him.
“No.” Truck’s answer was short and succinct.
Dane struggled to keep his eyes open. The pain radiating down his arm was increasing with every step they made. His head hurt from being upside down and he was on high alert as they prowled through the desert. There was a lot he didn’t like about the situation he was in, but he had to trust Truck and his team to get him out alive. He literally had no other choice at this point.
As they trudged on, Truck’s fingers didn’t budge. Even slippery with blood, they kept a firm hold on the artery inside the ripped flesh and bone that used to be his arm, keeping his lifeblood from draining out onto the desert floor beneath them.
After what seemed like hours, but was probably only thirty minutes or so, they entered a village, keeping to the shadows. The seven men moved as one, in complete tandem. If Dane hadn’t been in the middle of them, he knew he wouldn’t even have known they were there.
They entered a small hut and Dane felt himself being lowered to the ground. Truck’s grip never faltered as he kneeled on the floor next to him. The others were constantly on the move, and while Dane heard them speaking in the background, his eyes stayed glued on Truck.
“You doing okay?” Truck asked in a low voice.
“You’re going to be fine. You’ve done the hard part.”
“What’s that? Letting you guys do all the work?”
“Living,” Truck returned immediately.
Dane shrugged with his good shoulder. “Not sure that’s looking all that good at this point.”
Truck’s jaw got tight and he narrowed his eyes. He leaned into Dane and growled, sounding pissed off, “Don’t do that. Don’t fucking do that. I haven’t spent the last forty minutes holding your damn life in my hands for you to go and give up now. You better get your shit together and fight. I couldn’t save your platoon, but I sure as shit will save you. I swear to Christ, I’ll reverse haunt your ass if you even think about dying on me. I’ll do séances and get out the Ouija board and call your spirit back to earth and harass you for the rest of eternity if you die. Got it?”
Dane knew he had a choice to make, and it started right here. In the middle of the desert, enemies all around, this stranger’s fingers keeping him alive. He wasn’t happy about anything that had happened, and knew what lie ahead would be harder than anything he’d ever done in his life.
He closed his eyes for the first time since Truck had ordered him to look at his face. He took a deep breath then opened them again.
Looking up at the serious countenance of the man who’d saved his life, Dane nodded. “Got it.”
Truck nodded. “Good. Here’s what’s gonna happen now. We’re gonna knock your ass out, I’ll tie off this pesky artery enough so it’ll last until you can get into surgery, then you’ll most likely be delivered to the American base in Germany. They’ll patch ya up and do what needs to be done and by the time you wake up, you’ll be well on your way to recovery and home to the US.”
“Will I hear from you again?”
“What’s your name?”
Truck nodded once. “You’ll hear from me again, Fish. In fact, you’ll probably get tired of me. I saved your life, and I don’t take that lightly. There are too many soldiers I haven’t been able to. So yeah, you’ll hear from me again. Remember this conversation, ’cause I’ll be pissed if you don’t take my call.”
“I’ll take your call.”
“Good. Ghost? He’s ready.”
Dane’s eyes moved from Truck to his right side, seeing one of the other men kneeling next to him, holding a syringe. “You ready?” the man who was obviously Ghost asked, wanting to hear confirmation from Dane’s lips.
Ghost nodded, then leaned over and injected something into the vein in his uninjured arm. Then he put his hand on Dane’s shoulder. “I’m not gonna lie, the next few months are gonna suck. Hard. But you’ve made it this far; there are good things waiting for you back home. I know it. Don’t let Truck down.”
The last thing Dane remembered was turning back to Truck and seeing the gnarly scar on his face as the world faded away.
Dane glared down at his cell phone as it rang. He considered ignoring it, but dismissed the thought as soon as it formed. He knew Truck would just keep trying until he finally picked up. There’d only been a few times he’d ignored his calls in the last few months…and Truck had let him know in no uncertain terms that if he did it again, he’d find not only Truck, but his entire team on his doorstep. Not knowing whether to believe the man or not, Dane decided to err on the side of caution; he wouldn’t put it past the man to do just that. He sighed, clicking the phone on.
“Hey, Dane. It’s Truck.”
Dane rolled his eyes. “I know. What’s up?”
“Whatcha doin’? Am I interrupting anything?”
There was a brief moment of silence before Truck commented, “You still fighting that demon, huh?”
“It’s better.” Dane hadn’t talked about what was going on in his head with many people. But Truck was one of the very few who knew that what happened in the Middle East was still affecting him.
The man hadn’t shied away from talking about it. Truck called all the time. Labeled it “forced therapy” or some such shit. Dane had other friends, but none like Truck. None who understood exactly what it was like. None who had literally saved his life.
He’d had them at one time, his teammates, and he’d thought he’d lost that forever. But spending time recuperating in Austin, and getting to know Truck and his team of Delta Force operatives, had gone a long way toward healing him. But it hadn’t made his PTSD go away.
Being in crowds, around people, was tough. Intellectually, Dane knew it was highly unlikely someone would ambush him from behind. Or that there would be a bomb hidden in a parking lot full of cars. But emotionally, it was a different story. He could handle fireworks, gunshots, blood…even the phantom pains from his hand that wasn’t there any longer didn’t faze him. But being around people, and the occasional thunderstorm, was something he was still fighting to overcome. It had gotten worse ever since Kassie, his friend Hollywood’s woman, had been kidnapped a few months ago.
He’d moved to Idaho hoping to finally find some peace, but his paranoia was getting worse, not better. It was much easier to get any errands done in the middle of the night, when there were less people around.
“You haven’t started drinking blood or anything, have you?” Truck teased.
“Not yet,” Dane drawled. “You call to ask if I’ve turned into a vampire?”
“Shit,” Dane drawled. “I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Good, ’cause you’re too fucking old for one.” Truck never missed a beat.
Movement to his left caught Dane’s eye. He turned his head and saw one of the employees of the store stocking shelves. He narrowed his eyes in irritation. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen this particular woman. Every time he shopped, she seemed to be following him around the store. She never really looked straight at him, but stayed at the end of whatever aisle he was in, pretending to straighten the shelves. He was working on overcoming his paranoia, but knew he wasn’t imagining her following him.
Dane didn’t turn his back on the woman, but sidled up against the shelves and side-stepped away from her. “Look, something’s come up. I gotta deal with it.”
Truck’s voice lost its easygoing, teasing tone. “Sitrep,” he demanded.
“Don’t lose your shit,” Dane warned in a low voice, knowing he needed to calm Truck down before he called in reinforcements. He didn’t know where the other man was at the moment, but knew without a doubt that he’d be able to get assistance to him all the way out to bumfuck Idaho in fifteen minutes or less if the need arose. It was the bone-deep knowledge that the man, and his team, had his back that helped Dane keep himself together. “It’s a chick who has been following me.”
There was silence on the other end of the line for a beat. Then Truck asked incredulously, “A chick?”
“Fuck me. That’s awesome.” Truck’s voice lightened and even sounded excited. “Don’t scare her away, Dane.”
“It’s not like that. She’s been stalking me.”
Truck’s voice had warmed again, and didn’t lose any of that warmth with Dane’s pronouncement. “If she’s interested, you need to go for it. Break that dry spell you’ve been on.”
“Did you not hear me, you prick? She’s stalking me.”
“What’s she look like?”
Dane sighed in exasperation. Truck wasn’t going to let it drop. “Not that it matters, but she’s about a foot shorter than me, ugly as sin, and creepy…since she’s been following me around the store every time I’ve been here.”
“Sounds like she’ll fit against you perfectly. Trust me, there’s just something about having a woman against you who’s smaller that makes you feel as if you’re the only thing standing between her and the world.”
“Fuckin’ A, Truck. She’s goddamned stalking me.” Dane knew the man had a thing for the best friend of one of the other men’s women, but trying to get him hooked up with someone who was stalking him was ridiculous.
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“This conversation is over.”
“Call me tomorrow and let me know how it goes,” Truck ordered Dane.
“Prick,” Dane murmured and clicked off the phone. As much as he liked the other man, he could really be a pain in the ass sometimes.
Thinking over the last few weeks, Dane realized exactly how often he’d seen the grocery clerk…without actually seeing her. It shouldn’t have been too surprising, considering how little he’d changed his routine since moving to the small town of Rathdrum, Idaho. It was a tiny community outside of Coeur d’Alene. Small enough that he didn’t panic when he had to get out and do business, but not as large as the nearby city. He could still get lost, but not feel as if he had to watch his back every second of every day.
But he didn’t like the feeling crawling up his spine now. The slip of a woman had managed to fly under his radar. Was she the reason his senses had been in overdrive? Even as he pretended to look at the shelf in front of him, he saw the clerk turn her head to look down the aisle at him. She had a serious look on her face, one filled with compassion.
Fuck that. He didn’t need pity from anyone. Never mind someone as nondescript as her.
Dane hadn’t lied to Truck. She was a tiny thing, at least compared to him. Her hair was brown and pulled back into a long, low ponytail on the back of her head. She was wearing a pair of jeans and the sneakers on her feet had seen better days. A brown apron with the store’s logo on the front was wrapped around her waist and tied in the back, the strings hanging down to almost touch the floor. She had on a long-sleeve navy-blue T-shirt. Dane couldn’t tell what kind of body she had, as the apron hid any curves she might have.
He was a ways from her, but if he had to guess, he’d say she was probably at least a foot shorter than his six-one.
He probably shouldn’t be as weirded out as he was, it wasn’t as if she was an actual threat to him at her size, but she made him feel uncomfortable, and the sudden realization that she’d been lurking around every time he’d been shopping brought back all the times while deployed that he’d felt watched…and hunted.
Making a decision, he clenched his teeth and turned toward her, walking quickly down the aisle. He’d nip this in the bud right here, right now. No one stalked Dane Munroe. Not anymore. Not ever again.
The loss of his Delta brothers—and his arm—has Dane “Fish” Munroe still struggling months later. He’s moved to Idaho, where an isolated lifestyle is making things worse, not better. Not that there’s anyone left to care.
Actually, Bryn Hartwell cares. In fact, she tries to surreptitiously make life just a little easier for the mysterious man who comes into the grocery where she works late at night, only to get a tongue lashing for her trouble. Still, he’s obviously hurting; someone has to worry about him, spurring Bryn to nurse Dane when he hits a particularly low point.
Intrigued by the quirky, kind, socially awkward woman, Dane allows himself to get close to someone for the first time in ages. A potentially epic mistake—because when her interest in the prepper lifestyle puts Bryn in the hands of a homegrown terrorist, losing her could put Dane’s mental recovery permanently out of reach.
But once a Delta, always a Delta. And there’s a team in Texas who are ready to have Dane’s back at a moment’s notice.
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