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Casey Shea shivered. It was ridiculous that she was cold. Costa Rica had an average temperature of eighty degrees with humidity levels hovering around eighty-five to ninety percent. She should be sweating her ass off, but several factors were working against her.
First, the darkness. The pit she’d been thrown into was pitch black. Whatever her kidnappers had used to cover it was absolutely impenetrable. Not even the smallest sliver of sunlight made its way through thedarkness.
Second, she was dehydrated and hungry. She’d been using her bra to try to filter the water that dripped down the sides of her prison, but the few drops weren’tenough.
Third, she was stressed.
She’d done everything her brother had taught her. She’d kept calm. Thought positively. And did her best not to give in to despair.
But she was getting desperate.
Casey forced herself to get up and pace the small prison. She knew exactly how many steps it was to get from one side to the other. Four. Four steps forward, four steps backward. Two steps wide. That’s it.
She’d tried to climb out of the hole, with no success. The sides of her prison were too unstable. She’d only ended up bringing more dirt down on her head. The top of the hole was only a few feet above her arms when she stretched them over her head, but the pit may as well have been forty feet deep, for all the good her efforts did. She couldn’t climb out, didn’t have enough wood planks to stand on to reach the top, and whatever they’d covered the hole with, it had taken the three kidnappers a long time to carefully conceal her tomb.
The smell of decay and rot had been overwhelming when she’d first been dumped down into the hole, but she was so used to it now, she barely noticed. This had probably been where the villagers had put the parts of the animals they didn’t eat or use when they were done with them. There were bones under the liquid at her feet, but since Casey couldn’t see them, she had no idea what kinds of animals they might’ve been from.
She didn’t know how long it had been since she was separated from her students, but it was too long. Before that, they’d been doing all right, keeping calm and rationing the food and water they’d been given. One of their kidnappers had told them they were being held for ransom, but Casey wasn’t sure she believed him.
Astrid might be ransomed—she was the daughter of a Danish ambassador—but Casey and the others? No way. She wasn’t anyone special. And she didn’t think Jaylyn or Kristina’s families had money either.
The girls had been doing great on the research trip. Getting along and excitedly waking each morning to head out into the jungle to find more bugs to examine. Not every school trip went so well. Differing personalities and dealing with the culture and climate of Costa Rica sometimes brought out the worst in her students. But not Jaylyn, Kristina, and Astrid. They all got along very well, considering their differences.
Astrid came from money, lots of it. Jaylyn was attending the University of Florida on a full academic scholarship. Kristina was more of a party girl, president of her sorority, and barely squeaking by Casey’s class with a B-minus average.
On the surface, they shouldn’t have gotten along as well as they had, but with Casey’s guidance and their busy schedule, they’d been doing well. But Casey’d had to step up her leadership game when they’d been kidnapped. She knew that, without her, things would have likely already gone south between the three women. There were signs of dissension before she’d been separated from them, and Casey prayed they were holding on, and remembering what she’d tried to teach them in the short time they’d had together after beingsnatched.
Casey stopped and looked upward. She couldn’t see anything, but that didn’t make her stop glancing up every couple seconds in case there was sudden light peeking into the hole. She was breathing hard after only ten trips back and forth across the small area. She eased back to the corner she’d been using as her sleeping space and sat on her butt. She’d been surprised to find a few planks of wood at the bottom of the hole, and she’d stacked them on top of one another, giving her a raised platform that was just above the water pooled all around her.
Her hiking pants were soaked. As were her feet in her all-terrain Gore-Tex boots. They were supposed to be waterproof, but standing in water twenty-four seven was no match for the material. It had been inevitable it would eventually fail, and her wool socks and nylon liners were now soaked.
Still, Casey tried to stay positive. Her brother would come. He was a badass Special Forces soldier. He’d always been protective of her. When they were young, they’d played soldier for hours together. When she got older and started dating, he was the one who’d warned her dates to treat her right. After he’d joined the Army and had gone through Special Forces training, he’d come home and taught her how to shoot, fight, and what to do if she was ever taken hostage.
She’d laughed at that last one, and had protested that she’d never be in a situation where she’d need to know the psychological tricks kidnappers tried to use, and how she could turn those tricks around on them, but Aspen had simply shaken his head and told her that she never knew what the future would bring.
Casey sighed and rested her head against the mud and clay behind her. Her hair was covered with dirt and probably well on its way to becoming dreadlocks. Every inch of her was caked with mud. She’d welcomed it at first, knowing it might keep the kidnappers away if they decided they wanted to sexually assault her, but now she’d give anything to be clean.
She longed to lay down flat. The only way she’d been able to sleep was sitting up. Her back throbbed and she’d been having weird dreams about her bed athome.
“I need you, Aspen,” she whispered, despite knowing the words were ridiculous. He couldn’t hear her. No one could. Her voice was useless; she’d screamed for help so long when she’d first been dumped in the hole, it was now ruined. The dehydration, unsanitary conditions, and humid conditions had all worked together to keep her almostmute.
As if her words had magic powers, Casey suddenly heard shouting high above her head.
And more shouting.
It was the first time she’d heard anything since she’d been dumped deep in the ground.
She quickly stood and looked upward, praying for amiracle.
“I’m here! Someone come and get me,” she croaked as loud as she could
It might have been minutes, or maybe hours, but eventually the gunshots stopped, as did the shouting…and Casey was left in her silent, dark tomb once again.
She hadn’t allowed herself to cry. Not once since the ordeal had begun.
But knowing rescue had been imminent, only to slip through her hands like the dirt when she’d tried to climb out of her hole, Casey sank back down on the planks of wood and sobbed.
No tears fell from her eyes, as her body didn’t have any extra fluid to produce them.
She was going to die there, and no one would ever find her body.
“I’m sorry, Asp,” she croaked between the heaving of her chest. “I’m so sorry.”
Troy “Beatle” Lennon’s entire focus was on the radio sitting on the table in front of him. Blade paced back and forth behind the table, too agitated to sit. The rest of the Delta team was either sitting or standing around the small room. They were in Costa Rica, but had been denied permission to head into the jungle to rescue Blade’s sister and the other women because the Danish Special Forces group, the Huntsmen Corps, had beaten them into the country.
Blade had wanted to say “fuck you” to the Costa Rican government, but Ghost had put his foot down and ordered the team to stand down and wait.
The Huntsmen Corps was the Danish equivalent to the Deltas. They’d been mobilized by the Danish government after Ambassador Jepsen had notified them about the kidnapping of his daughter. No one knew exactly when the group of students and their teacher had been taken, but by Blade’s estimate, it had been at least a week and a half ago.
The Costa Rican government had said they’d received an anonymous tip about four American women being held in a village deep in the jungle. So when the Huntsmen arrived, they’d immediately headed to the reported location.
The Deltas could do nothing but wait while the rescue attempt went down.
They’d been receiving regular updates from the captain of the Huntsmen, but it had been fifteen minutes since the last one, and everyone’s nerves wereshot.
The last they’d heard was that the camp had been found and they were moving in.
“Fuck,” Blade said, breaking the silence. “Why are we just standing here? We should’ve gone with them.”
“Easy, man,” Ghost said quietly. “You know why.”
“I don’t give a fuck about politics! My sister is out there, Ghost. She needs me!”
The leader of the Deltas looked up at his friend. “And she’ll get you. I know more than most how someone can be affected after being held hostage. She’s going to need your support, Blade. It’s better that you aren’t a major part of her memories in the jungle.”
Beatle clenched his hands into fists in his lap. He knew what Ghost was talking about.
“I thought Rayne was doing better.” Truck said what they all were thinking.
“She is,” Ghost said immediately. “But her counselor told me that part of the reason she doesn’t want to get married is because of what happened to her.”
“I thought she was resisting because she didn’t want to do it while Mary was sick?” Fletch asked.
“That was her original excuse,” Ghost agreed. “But when Mary got better, she came up with another excuse. Then another. It’s a trust issue. I don’t give a fuck if we ever get married. All I want is Rayne to know deep down in her gut that she’s safe. That I’ll keep her safe. She’s going to carry the scars of being kidnapped in Egypt for a long time. In a way, I think it would’ve been easier if I hadn’t been smack dab in the middle of it. Her bad memories of what almost happened to her are all mixed up with her feeling of relief when I showed up out of nowhere. I hate being connected in any way to that prick who almost raped her.”
Ghost paused, then looked at Blade. “All I’m saying is, when the Huntsmen get her out of the jungle, you can be there for her in a way that isn’t tainted with the actual kidnapping. You can be her rock. You know as well as I do that sometimes when a victim’s family sees them when they’re at rock bottom, it doesn’t go well in the long run.”
“Fuck!” Blade swore again and resumed his pacing.
The radio crackled on the table and all the men’s attentions were immediately focused on the small blackbox.
“Hunter One to base.”
“This is base. Continue Hunter One.”
Beatle held his breath. They weren’t authorized to use the secure channel, and could do nothing but listen as the outcome of the raid on the kidnappers’ lair was finally revealed.
“Three packages secured. Repeat. Three packagessecured.”
If possible, the tension in the room increased tenfold with those words.
“Confirmed,” the voice with the Costa Rican accent said. “Location of the fourth package?”
“Unknown at this time,” was the response from the Danish Special Forces soldier.
“Come on,” Beatle said under his breath. “Who’smissing?”
“ETA on your return?”
“Twenty-four hours,” the soldier said. “Packages are in bad shape. Our speed will be compromised. Two casualties on our side as well. Verify rendezvous?”
“Dammit,” Hollywood said harshly, pounding a fist on the table. “Ask who’s missing.”
As if his words were heard by base operations, the next question made every Delta Force soldier around the table hold his breath.
“ID on the missing package?”
There was a long pause before the Danish solider answered. A period of time where the United States soldiers listening in the small room each felt as if they’d aged ten years waiting for the answer.
“The oldest. The packages said it was removed from the area a week ago.”
Before Blade could react to the news that his sister was still missing, Ghost stood and headed for the door. He turned to look at his team. “Politics be damned. One of our own is missing, and we aren’t leaving this country until we get her back.”
Beatle followed his teammates out of the room, all the while his mind spinning. The only picture he’d seen of Casey Shea had been the one Blade had shared with the team. It was a couple years old, taken at Christmas.
She’d been standing next to Blade and had him in a headlock. The soldier had obviously let her get the drop on him, because at over six-three, there was no way she’d be able to actually overpower him. It was the absolute joy in Casey’s eyes that Beatle couldn’t get out of his mind.
She was smiling so big, he thought for sure she’d been laughing when the picture had been taken. She wore a pair of jeans that were molded to her long legs. The shirt she was wearing had dipped over a shoulder, exposing the red bra strap underneath it. Her feet were bare, her toes painted the same bright red as herlingerie.
Her dirty-blonde hair was bunched on top of her head in a messy bun, making it impossible for Beatle to tell how long it really was. Her green eyes were staring straight at the camera…and she looked absolutelyadorable.
Beatle didn’t believe in love at first sight, but he couldn’t deny he’d felt a jolt in his belly after seeing that picture. He was immediately attracted to not only her looks, but what he imagined was her carefree, happy personality as well.
And that was what worried Beatle the most. They’d rescued plenty of people in the past, and the thought of the happy woman in Blade’s photo being changed by the violence she’d experienced ate at him.
Casey Shea didn’t deserve whatever had happened to her. Not that anyone did, but the cheerful, laughing sister of one of his best friends definitely did not.
Hold on, Casey, Beatle thought. We’re comin’ for you. Just hold on.
One minute Casey Shea was minding her own business, doing her job, teaching entomology to college students, and the next she was in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle fighting for her life.
Troy “Beatle” Lennon had watched his friends fall head over heels in love, but never thought it would happen to him. Until he sees a picture of one of his teammates’ sisters. That was it. The absolute joy in her eyes calls to him in a way he can't understand.
But that joy is currently being threatened by an unknown person who’d had Casey kidnapped and hidden deep in the jungle. It’s up to Beatle to find her and keep her safe until the threat against her can be neutralized. Surviving the dangers of the jungle turns out to be the easy part…staying ahead of the killer is much more complicated…and deadly.
**Rescuing Casey is the 7th book in the Delta Force Heroes Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.
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