Carson “Bull” Rhodes walked slowly and silently toward the target building. He knew his fellow Delta Force teammates were close behind him. They had his back, just as he had theirs.
They’d snuck into Pakistan to find a high-value target (HVT) the Army had assigned them to eliminate. Fazlur Barzan Khatun, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorist group, had claimed responsibility for the ambush and killing of forty-seven American and British soldiers in Afghanistan the year before. The State Department had also learned the group was actively planning large-scale massacres in both the United States and France as well.
Khatun was at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Bull’s heart was beating double time in his chest, and he felt energized. He and the others were good at their jobs. They were the best of the best, which was why the Army hadn’t hesitated to send them undercover into hostile territory. The team had been dropped near the Pakistan border twenty-four hours ago and had reached the last place Khatun had been seen.
Bull motioned for Smoke and Eagle to take positions on the left and right of him. They’d cleared buildings like this more times than they could count. With Gramps taking up the rear, the four of them were a well-oiled machine, moving silently into the two-story building.
They could hear voices from above, and without a sound, the men entered the stairwell and started climbing. Holding up his fist to stop his team, Bull peered around the corner once they’d reached the second floor. Upon seeing no one in the hallway, he gestured for everyone to follow.
He paused outside a door, where they could all clearly hear a lively discussion taking place. They couldn’t understand the words, but that didn’t matter. Their job was to find Khatun, kill him, and retreat. Their body cameras would record the conversation, and linguists would later translate everything that was said.
After looking back at the best friends he’d ever had, Bull nodded at Eagle. He was the most important member of the team at times like this. He had the uncanny ability to recognize anyone after meeting them or seeing their picture only once. He had a near-photographic memory. If Khatun was inside the room, Eagle would know it. It wouldn’t matter if he’d cut his hair or otherwise tried to change his appearance, no one tricked Eagle. There’d been more than one op when Eagle had prevented them from killing the wrong person or had been instrumental in making sure the target didn’t get away with saying he was someone else.
Bull pointed two fingers at his own eyes, then pointed into the room. Eagle nodded and raised his rifle.
Looking back at Smoke and Gramps, Bull saw they’d crept up behind Eagle. The team was ready to breach the room. Taking a deep breath, Bull cleared his mind. The second they stepped into the room, all hell was going to break loose. Since he was leading the team, if the occupants were armed, it was likely he’d be shot first. But he couldn’t think about that. He was wearing his body armor and had a job to do. Namely, to kill Khatun.
Lifting a hand, Bull held up three fingers. Then he counted down.
Three. Two. One.
Bull kicked in the door, and he and his teammates burst into the room.
Chaos erupted immediately.
There were around ten men in the room and a handful of women. The men immediately stood up and reached for weapons that had been leaning against the walls around them.
“Don’t move!” Bull yelled in a tone that was meant to be obeyed. Of course, no one listened, so Bull did what he did best.
He aimed and fired.
Bull had received his nickname in basic training because of his ability at the shooting range. In his weapons qualification course, he’d had a perfect score. It didn’t matter what weapon he was using, he was perfect every time. Pistol, rifle, even the grenade. Wearing a gas mask on the night range? Perfect. Everyone had started calling him Bullseye, but over the years, it had been shortened to Bull.
And that was the reason he was leading the assault into the room filled with terrorists. He always hit his target. Always.
Taking his time, Bull shot the hand off one man who was reaching for a gun and immediately turned his attention to the man next to him and did the same. The shots were loud in the room, and the screams and yells only added to the chaos.
After what seemed like ten minutes, but in actuality was under sixty seconds, Bull held up his fist to alert the team to stop firing. The second the scene was secure, Gramps strode over to the nearest man and shoved him toward the others. Smoke assisted, and before long, all ten men were on their knees, all bleeding in some shape or form but not mortally wounded, glaring up at Bull and his team.
“Fazlur Barzan Khatun?” Bull barked, knowing the coward wouldn’t admit who he was but wanting to give him a chance to save the others anyway.
As he thought, none of the men indicated they were who the team was looking for.
“Third from the right,” Eagle said in what some people might’ve thought was a bored tone. But Bull knew better. His friend was deadly serious. There was no discussion or questioning Eagle. If he said the man was Khatun, the man was Khatun. Bull and the others had no doubt whatsoever.
Without hesitation, and without giving the man time to deny he was the FBI’s most wanted terrorist, Gramps lifted his rifle and shot the man between the eyes.
The man swayed on his knees for just a moment before falling backward, his eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling.
The other men immediately began wailing. Bull wanted to roll his eyes at the commotion, especially considering they were probably Khatun’s most trusted advisors and neck deep in blood they’d shed themselves.
They’d successfully completed their mission, but Bull wasn’t about to exit without making sure they didn’t leave behind someone who was just as deadly and ruthless as Khatun. “Eagle?” he asked, knowing the other man would understand what he wanted.
As the remaining men glared at him, Eagle stepped forward and studied each of their faces carefully. He pointed to the last man in the line. “Nabeel Ozair Mullah.”
If Bull hadn’t been looking directly at the man, he would’ve missed the look of surprise that crossed his face. But he didn’t miss it. It was as clear as day that Eagle had correctly identified the man.
Mullah was also on the FBI’s Most Wanted terrorist list. He was currently ranked at number six, but with Khatun now dead, the entire team knew he was next in line to take his place in the terrorist organization.
“No! I not him. I Muhammad Amir. Servant,” the man said in surprisingly good English.
Eagle snorted. “And I’m the king of England.”
The man moved surprisingly fast, getting the drop on all four Deltas.
He leaned over and grabbed the arm of a young woman who’d most likely been serving the men before the meeting had been interrupted. She shrieked and struggled against Mullah but was no match for the man.
Gramps, Smoke, and Eagle turned their rifles on the other men, yelling at them to stay where they were, while Bull’s attention stayed focused on Mullah and the now-crying woman. She was desperately tugging on the arm around her throat, trying to get free and probably to get air into her lungs.
“I kill!” Mullah threatened, and Bull knew he could easily kill the young woman with his bare hands.
“Let her go,” Bull ordered, dropping his rifle to hang around his torso and pulling out his pistol. He had no fear that one of the other terrorists would shoot him. His teammates had his back. His only job right now was to take out number six—now five—on the FBI’s list, preferably before he broke the young woman’s neck.
Mullah shook his head. “You not allowed in Pakistan,” he said.
“And yet, here we are,” Bull said calmly.
“US pay for sticking face where it not belong!” Mullah protested.
“You and your cronies shouldn’t have killed our countrymen,” Bull told him.
“They deserve. Should not have come,” Mullah sneered. “They die like coward. Crying like baby!”
The teenager in Mullah’s arms had closed her eyes, and Bull could see that she was on the cusp of passing out. He had no more time to listen to this asshole’s disparagement of the brave men and women he’d had a hand in killing. Mullah was using the woman as a shield, but there were plenty of places on his body that weren’t hidden behind her.
Bull fired his weapon, taking off Mullah’s ear.
The man shrieked, and as Bull had thought he’d do, one hand flew up to immediately cover the bleeding mess on the side of his head.
As Mullah moved, Bull shot again, taking off several of Mullah’s fingers. His grasp on the woman loosened, and she did the sensible thing by dropping to her knees and crawling away from her captor.
And that left Mullah without protection from Bull’s lethal bullets.
Taking three shots in a row, Bull hit the ruthless terrorist twice in the heart and once in the forehead. Mullah dropped like a stone, face-first to the floor.
The other men didn’t make a sound. It was almost eerie how quiet the room was. It was as if everyone recognized they were one word, one movement away from having the barrel of Bull’s gun zeroed in on them.
“Incoming,” Smoke said quietly.
Nodding, Bull holstered his pistol and reached for his rifle once more. In tandem, all four men took a step backward toward the door to the room.
No one spoke. No one moved.
Bull knew Gramps would’ve taken the necessary pictures to prove they’d eliminated two of the most evil terrorists the world had ever known. They hadn’t been tasked with killing Mullah; they’d just been lucky to find him there. Two ruthless terrorists had been eliminated rather than just one.
The four quickly headed back down the stairs and out of the building. They could hear sirens in the distance, but because of the time of night and the upper-class neighborhood they were in, no one was lurking about.
As the team disappeared into the Pakistani night, Bull felt proud of what he and his team had accomplished. When he’d joined the Army, he hadn’t thought he’d ever look forward to killing another human being, but after seeing firsthand what men like Khatun and Mullah were capable of, the destruction they left in their wakes, he had no problem killing to protect his country and all the innocent lives at stake.
He had no illusions—innocent lives were at stake. Killing the two men tonight wouldn’t be looked at very favorably, but it probably set back any terrorist plan to attack US citizens on American soil at least a decade. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen would have to regroup, put new leadership in place, and that could take years. The infighting and power struggle within the organization would be immense and would cause chaos for the group.
Bull grinned. Yes, he and his team had dealt the terrorist organization a blow they wouldn’t easily recover from tonight. And even though few back home would ever know about it, even though their actions would never be praised on the nightly news, they’d done their patriotic duty.
* * *
Bull stood at attention next to Smoke, Eagle, and Gramps, trying to comprehend what the fuck was happening.
How had they gone from being high on their success a month ago to standing in what amounted to an Article 15 hearing now?
Instead of being thrilled with the outcome of their mission, their commander had been livid that they’d killed Mullah. It made little sense, and the more Bull and the others had tried to explain the importance of the man’s death, the more upset the Army brass had become.
Apparently, one terrorist ending up dead was acceptable, but two at the same time? In a country the US wasn’t supposed to be in? That was suspicious. Accusations from the Pakistani government that the United States had deployed spies into their country had flown, and the president wasn’t happy that he’d had no idea what was happening.
Personally, Bull thought the man was simply pissed he couldn’t take credit for both Khatun and Mullah being dead, but that was purely speculation on his part.
As a result of their actions, Bull, Smoke, Eagle, and Gramps had been brought up on charges of disobeying a superior officer and had to defend their actions from the mission in Pakistan.
It was utterly ridiculous, and Bull was beyond pissed.
“After reviewing the body cam footage of your actions, it’s been decided that while you successfully completed the original mission honorably, you subsequently made decisions that were detrimental to the overall safety of this country. You killed a man you were not one hundred percent sure was a terrorist and jeopardized international relations between the United States and the Middle Eastern nations. It will take years before any of the governments in that area of the world will trust the US Army again.”
Bull ground his teeth together and forced himself to stay quiet. Everything the general was saying was bullshit. Everyone in the room knew it. They needed a scapegoat, and he and his team were the logical targets. Everyone was fucking thrilled Mullah was dead, but they couldn’t admit it publicly. He forced himself to pay attention as the general continued speaking.
“Because the man you eliminated was Mullah, it’s been decided that you will not be punished by a reduction in rank or being chaptered out of the Army.”
Bull inwardly breathed a sigh of relief but stiffened when the general continued.
“But as a result of your actions, it’s been decided to break up your team. You will all be given a permanent change of station to different bases. You won’t be allowed on any Delta Force teams in the future and will be integrated into various infantry units. You will report to the captains in charge of your new teams, and while we aren’t stripping you of your ranks, you will be under a suspension of favorable actions and will not be allowed to reenlist once the end of your current term in the US Army is over. Any questions?”
Bull could barely believe what he’d just heard. They were splitting up him and his team? Was this a joke? He didn’t care that they’d be forced out of the Army; after everything that had happened, he wasn’t inclined to stay in anyway. But separating them from each other was a huge blow.
“If there are no questions, you are dismissed.”
Bull turned without saluting the man—fuck that, he didn’t deserve his respect—and filed out of the room. He looked at his friends and saw the same disbelief and shock he was feeling reflected back in their eyes.
“Fuck,” Smoke said under his breath.
“I won’t do it,” Eagle swore.
“We don’t have a choice,” Gramps replied with a sigh. “None of us is up for reenlistment. We’re at their mercy until we can get out.”
Bull wanted to say something positive, to lead his team as he’d done for as long as they’d been together, but the words wouldn’t come. He couldn’t imagine not seeing these guys every day. He trusted them with his life and knew he’d never have that kind of bond with any other team. As far as punishments went, what the general had done was worse than stripping their ranks and making them work extra duty . . . and the bastard knew it.
Doing his best to pull himself together, Bull took a deep breath. “Tonight. Meet at Hank’s. We need some time to process, then we’ll discuss our next steps.”
The other three nodded, and with chin lifts goodbye, all headed for their own cars in the parking lot.
* * *
Four hours later, Bull, Eagle, Smoke, and Gramps sat in a dark corner of Hank’s Bar and Grill near Fort Hood. It was a crappy bar in a crappy part of town, but it was private, and they wouldn’t run into anyone they knew from the base. The bar was actually off limits to Army personnel because of the number of fights and drug busts that had happened there, but Bull and his team didn’t give a shit. They needed to discuss their future, and this was as good a place as any.
“This is such bullshit,” Eagle said in disgust.
“They can’t do this to us,” Smoke agreed.
“Unfortunately, they can. And did,” Gramps said, then took a long swig of his beer.
Bull wished he could tell them he’d come up with a plan in the hours between when they’d learned their fate and now, but he was still at a loss. They all knew within a day or two they’d get their PCS orders and be sent to opposite corners of the country. And being put in ordinary infantry units was a step down. Since they were under a “suspension of favorable actions” reprimand, they weren’t permitted to take leadership positions and would end up serving in minor staff slots.
While the infantry were badass in their own way, they weren’t Deltas. It was like sending a professional flutist to play in a high school orchestra.
Bull opened his mouth to say something, he wasn’t sure what, when a voice interrupted. “May I sit here?”
All four men looked up to see a man standing next to their table. He was wearing a pair of black slacks and a white shirt buttoned almost all the way up. Only the top button was undone. He had on a shiny pair of black shoes and actual cuff links. The man looked as out of place in the seedy bar as a homeless man might’ve looked in a fancy country club.
“Who the fuck are you?” Gramps asked.
The man didn’t seem upset at his tone and merely raised an eyebrow and nodded to the empty seat at the table.
Bull smirked. He had no idea who this guy was, but he had to give him credit. He had some balls. Bull kicked the chair out and nodded.
“Thank you,” the man said and sat, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He placed his drink on the table in front of him—whiskey, if Bull had to guess—and leaned forward.
“So,” the man said. “Heard you didn’t have the best day today.”
Bull frowned. Their hearing wasn’t a matter of public record. Because they were Delta Force soldiers, anything shared in that room today was supposed to be for those who had the highest security clearance only. And the fact that this man seemed to know what had transpired was intriguing . . . and alarming as hell.
Knowing better than to offer up information, Bull merely shrugged.
The man nodded, as if pleased by his reticence, and pinned him in place with a gaze. “What if I were to offer the four of you a way to stay together? To be able to do what you do best without the government hovering over your shoulders and watching and judging your every move?”
“I’d say you were full of shit,” Bull answered without missing a beat.
The man chuckled and took a sip of his drink. “A cynic. I’m not surprised.”
“Look, you either need to get to the point or get the fuck out of our faces,” Eagle said.
The man turned to him. “Ah, the Eagle Eye doesn’t know who I am. I suppose I should be pleased about that.”
With every word out of the man’s mouth, Bull was more and more intrigued. He obviously knew who they were, including their nicknames and individual skills.
“You’ve been quiet, Smoke,” the man said with a head tilt. “Nothing to say?”
Smoke merely shrugged.
“And you, Gramps? Although, for the record, the fact you got that name merely because you’re the oldest of your crew is ridiculous.”
“I still want to know who the fuck you are,” Gramps said.
The man nodded, and Bull could swear he saw respect in his eyes. “My name is Gregory Willis. I work for the FBI. Intelligence. And before we go any further, I have to say, on behalf of all of us in the FBI and Homeland Security, job well done with Khatun and Mullah. We all worked our asses off to get information on Khatun’s whereabouts to you, and we were fucking thrilled that Mullah was dumb enough to be there at the same time. Good shooting, Bull.”
FBI . . .
Bull didn’t even want to know how the man had found them in a seedy bar in Texas. They hadn’t decided to go to Hank’s until after their hearing.
“You’re going to sit there and tell us you’ve not only seen our body cam footage, but you’re responsible for getting the intel we needed for that op?” Eagle asked skeptically.
“Well, not solely responsible, no. That would be pretty damn conceited of me, wouldn’t it? But yes, I’ve seen the footage, and yes, I assisted in getting the info. I will admit, however, that it was my idea to include the dossier on Mullah with the intel about Khatun that you received before you left. Pretty damn lucky, huh, Eagle? You wouldn’t have known that asshole was there if you hadn’t seen his picture and name.”
Bull sat back and observed the FBI agent. He was average height and had an ordinary countenance. If he hadn’t stuck out like a sore thumb because of the clothes he was wearing in the dive bar, he probably would’ve blended in, and no one would’ve taken a second glance at him. He had a feeling this Willis guy had dressed that way on purpose. The intelligence in his eyes was hard to miss.
“You have our attention,” Bull told him.
“Good,” Willis said, and the humor faded from his expression. He took the time to look each of them in the eye before he continued. “I’m here to offer you a chance to keep doing what you’re doing, but not for the Army. It’s obvious you have a connection that can’t be faked. The way you worked together on the Khatun mission was nothing short of beautiful. You barely spoke ten words to each other, and yet each of you knew what the others were going to do before they did it. Bull, your expertise with a weapon is impressive as hell. Eagle, your skill with facial recognition is something I’ve never seen before and should not go to waste. I know Smoke’s the ghost of the group, who can appear and disappear. And Gramps, every team needs a peacekeeper. Bull might be the leader, but you’re the glue that holds you all together.”
“Yeah, it’s obvious you’ve done your homework,” Smoke growled. “Get on with it.”
“Right. The Army is going to deliver your PCS paperwork tomorrow. Bull, you’re going to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Eagle, you’re assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington. Smoke, you’re headed to Fort Carson, Colorado, and Gramps, you’re slated for Fort Benning, Georgia . . . as an assistant instructor for Ranger School.”
“Fuck that,” Gramps muttered.
Willis went on, as if he hadn’t just shocked the shit out of the four men sitting in front of him. “I’ve been authorized to get you out of the rest of your Army commitment. If you agree, you’ll be free to go where you want, when you want.”
“What’s the catch?” Eagle asked.
“Patience,” Willis said with a smile. “As I said, if you agree, tomorrow you’ll be free to go where you want and do what you want with your life. Smoke, I believe your uncle recently passed away—my condolences—and he left you his garage in Indianapolis. Called Silverstone, is that right?”
“You know it is,” Smoke answered suspiciously.
“And not only that, he also left you more money than you’d ever be able to spend in this lifetime. Around a hundred million dollars.”
Bull knew his eyes were huge, but he couldn’t help it. “He did? Jesus, Smoke, why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Because it doesn’t matter,” Smoke replied. “I wasn’t going to quit the Army and leave my team.”
“Damn, dude,” Gramps said.
Smoke glared at Willis. “What’s your point?”
It was obvious their teammate was uncomfortable with his secret being brought to light, but Willis merely grinned. “My point is that you can all move to Indianapolis, make a go of Silverstone, and work for yourselves . . . with the FBI’s assistance, of course.”
“Doing what?” Bull asked for what seemed like the hundredth time. He was getting tired of Willis beating around the bush. He couldn’t deny what he was suggesting sounded good. Damn good. Much better than going to fucking Fort Bragg without his team.
“Exactly what you do now. Finding and eliminating HVTs.”
His words seemed to float in the air around the table. They were both shocking and expected at the same time. That is what they did now. They tracked down and killed terrorists that were hell bent on killing anyone they could to get their warped agendas across to the world.
“Who would we work for?” Gramps asked.
“Well, that’s somewhat tricky. Technically, you’re on your own . . . which is where Smoke’s money would come in handy. However, the FBI would like to be informed about which missions you take on. We’re willing to assist in intel gathering and of course getting you in and out of the country if your target is outside the US.”
“So we’d go from working for the government to working for the government, but we’d have to pay for everything,” Gramps summed up skeptically.
“Yes and no,” Willis said. “You wouldn’t be working for us but rather working with us. There’s a difference. We hope you’ll help us track down the men and women on our Top Ten Most Wanted list, but it’s not a requirement for us to help you. Obviously, you can’t go around killing anyone who looks at you cross-eyed.”
“So, you want us to be assassins,” Eagle said.
Willis merely shrugged. “I don’t care what you call yourselves. All I care about is finding and eliminating the sex traffickers, terrorists, and serial killers of the world.”
“What’s in it for us?” Gramps asked.
“You get to stay together,” Willis answered swiftly. “You do what you were obviously born to do—use your skills to make the world a little safer. If not legally, at least with the support of the federal government. We can use our clout to get you in and out of the country with whatever firepower you need. We can give you intel. And most importantly, you’re not susceptible to the whims of the political climate and the Army.”
“We’d want complete immunity for anything that might happen while we’re on a job,” Bull said, his mind going a million miles an hour.
“You’ll have it . . . to a point,” Willis said. “I was authorized to make this offer because of the Department of Justice’s special ‘black’ budget. The money spent from this fund is untraceable and unreported. As far as immunity goes, there are a few rules you’ll have to follow. There has to be a positive ID through fingerprint and/or DNA collection of any target you wish to eliminate, and we’ll practice plausible deniability if you’re captured outside of the country.”
“So if we find ourselves up shit’s creek without a paddle, you’ll deny our existence and leave us to our fate,” Gramps said dryly.
Willis nodded once.
“That’s not too different than being Delta,” Eagle replied with a shrug. “We all knew we were pretty much on our own.”
Everyone nodded. They’d known the score going into each mission.
The four men stared at Willis for a long moment, each lost in thought.
Then Bull said, “This sounds too good to be true. Why should we trust you?”
Willis had relaxed back in his chair at some point in the conversation, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. But at Bull’s question, he leaned forward, and his expression turned dark. “My wife and daughter were killed in France a few years ago. They went out shopping while I stayed at the hotel to do some work. They were kidnapped and held hostage for two weeks, their bodies ultimately found dumped in a back alley. They’d both been tortured and repeatedly raped. And for what? Because some asshole thought it was fun and wanted to hurt Americans. He didn’t care that Molly was only thirteen years old. And he didn’t give a fuck that my wife was diabetic and didn’t have her meds and was suffering.
“It took two years for us to track him down, and when we did, we had to treat him with decency and turn him over to the French government so they could put him on trial. It was a fucking joke. He was sentenced to forty years in prison—they don’t have the death penalty—and for the last year, he’s been living a happy and healthy life behind bars. It’s like Club Med for him. He deserves to die for the blood that’s on his hands, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure the man pays for what he’s done. And not only to my family, but for every life he’s ruined.”
Bull nodded. This was something he could understand. The man had been wronged and wanted revenge. That kind of motivation seemed more genuine than anything else he could’ve told them. “We’ll need to discuss it,” he told Willis.
And just like that, it was as if a switch had been flicked off inside the other man. His shoulders relaxed, and he sat back in his chair once again. He picked up his drink and took another sip. “Of course. I understand.”
“This better not be a trap,” Eagle said. “As you know, I never forget a face. Gregory Willis might not be your real name, but if you fuck us over, I’ll find you . . . and you’ll pay.”
To his credit, Willis didn’t even flinch. “I know you will, and this isn’t a trap, and I have no intention of fucking you over. We all know there are people in this world who are pure evil. Who need to be stopped. If there was a group like yours in the past, maybe Hitler wouldn’t have been able to kill as many Jews as he did. Maybe Stalin wouldn’t have risen to power. Maybe Pol Pot wouldn’t have destroyed Cambodian civilization. Osama bin Laden wouldn’t have killed over three thousand people on September eleventh.”
And with that, he pulled out a business card and put it faceup in the middle of the table. He brought his drink to his lips and drained the glass. Then he nodded at the card. “Call me when you’ve made a decision. I can have the paperwork to get you out of your Army commitment on the general’s desk tomorrow . . . instead of your PCS paperwork. You can be in Indianapolis and working at Silverstone next week. It’s up to you. Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure meeting you. Again . . . good job on the Khatun and Mullah deal.”
And with that, Gregory Willis stood up and strode toward the door. But Bull saw him far differently now, after hearing his story. He’d lost his family, and that loss was weighing him down significantly.
Strangely, not one person harassed the out-of-place man as he made his way toward the exit. No one called out to him, made fun of him, or otherwise made a move to fling the nerdy-looking man across the bar.
And Bull knew for a fact it wasn’t because the men in the bar right now weren’t capable of doing so. They were. He’d seen it happen. It was something about Willis himself. Some sort of palpable aura of danger that surrounded the man. Even in slacks, his white shirt, and fucking cuff links, the man oozed a “hands off” vibe. And everyone respected that.
The second the door closed behind Willis, Bull turned his attention back to his team. “Well?”
“Did that just happen?” Eagle asked with a shake of his head.
“I want to talk about Smoke’s hundred million dollars,” Gramps said, staring hard at his friend.
Smoke held up his hands in capitulation. “I know, I know, I should’ve told you. But honestly, it means nothing. I wasn’t going to leave the Army or the team. What did it matter?”
“It mattered because we’re friends. Teammates. We don’t keep secrets from each other.”
Smoke nodded in agreement and apology.
“Tell us about Silverstone,” Bull said. “If we’re even going to consider this insane idea, we need to know what we’re getting into.”
“Honestly, I don’t know a lot about it. You know that my uncle raised me after my parents were killed. I knew he wasn’t hurting money-wise, but we never talked about it. We lived in a large house with a ton of acreage, and I knew he worked in a garage, but I was too interested in my own shit to pay much attention.”
“So anyone know anything about automotive stuff?” Bull asked.
No one said a word.
“Kind of hard to operate a garage without knowing anything about fixing cars,” Bull said dryly.
“As far as I know, the garage has been closed since my uncle died,” Smoke admitted. “I didn’t see the point in keeping it going after he passed away. I helped the employees find other jobs, and I sold off most of the equipment.”
“So . . . you own a garage that isn’t a garage,” Eagle said with a snort.
They were silent for a while, then Smoke said, “What if we reopened? Not as a garage, but something similar.”
“Like what?” Gramps asked.
“A towing company?” Smoke suggested.
“How’s that different from a garage?” Eagle asked.
“Because we wouldn’t actually be working on cars. We’d just tow them from accident scenes to the junkyard or a service station of the client’s choice. If people have a flat tire, we could help with that, but not with any mechanical issues. We’d just tow them where they wanted to go. We could buy a couple tow trucks and start from there.”
Smoke’s idea had merit, and Bull couldn’t help but feel a spark of interest. “You’d probably be fronting the bill for a while until we could make it work,” he warned.
Smoke merely shrugged. “I don’t need that money. I’d never be able to spend that much dough. If it can help us not get shipped off to the four corners of the country and have to answer to some newbie captain, I’m all for it. Besides, can you see Gramps spending the rest of his career training wannabe Rangers? What a disaster.”
Everyone chuckled. Gramps’s childhood had been tough, and he wasn’t one to keep his mouth shut when he had something to say.
“Are we really going to trust the FBI to have our backs? I mean, not if we’re caught going in or out of a country that isn’t thrilled we’re there; he already said we were on our own,” Eagle said. “But to give us accurate info and to help grease the wheels when we need to bring weapons or other supplies into a foreign country?”
“Honestly? I don’t know. But as long as Willis is involved, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance,” Bull said.
“Are we okay with being assassins?” Smoke asked quietly.
Bull shook his head. “We aren’t assassins,” he said emphatically. “We’re the owners of Silverstone Towing.”
“Who just happen to take extended trips overseas now and then,” Eagle said with a laugh.
“What happens if any of us find women we want to spend the rest of our lives with? What do we tell a woman who wants to know where we’re going and what we’re doing?” Smoke asked.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Bull said with a snort. “We haven’t exactly had women knocking down our doors as it is.”
“It’s a valid question,” Eagle countered. “I can’t imagine a girlfriend being okay with us acting all secretive about where we’re going or what we’re doing. She’ll assume we’re cheating. We can’t exactly tell anyone that we’re killers.”
“No, we can’t. At some point, we’ll have to be honest,” Bull said. “I, for one, am not ashamed of what I’ve done as a Delta. We just eliminated one of the worst terrorists the world’s seen in ages. I refuse to be ashamed of that. When and if any of us find someone we want to spend the rest of our lives with, we’ll just have to be honest. If she can’t deal with it, then it’s not meant to be.”
“So you’re saying if you love someone, and she can’t deal with the fact that you go around killing people, you’ll just let her go?” Gramps asked skeptically.
“Yes,” Bull returned without hesitation.
The four men eyed each other for a long moment, then Smoke said, “I’m in. I’ll use the money my uncle left me to get Silverstone Towing up and going. If I’m honest . . . I’m kind of excited. We won’t have to look over our shoulders and second-guess what we’re being told to do. We can choose our own marks. I have faith that we can make this work.”
“I’m in too,” Eagle said. “But before we let Willis know, I want to scour the internet and see if I can’t find him, make sure he is who he said he is. And I’ll check out the story about his wife and daughter too. That should be easy enough.”
“I’m in,” Bull said simply.
All three looked at Gramps.
He sighed and nodded. “I can’t let you three yahoos go at this alone. Someone’s got to keep watch over you.”
Bull held up his beer in a toast. “To Silverstone Towing. And a hell of a new adventure.”
“To Silverstone Towing,” the other three said in unison as they clinked bottles.
New York Times Bestselling Author
From bestselling author Susan Stoker comes a sizzling new series about four former military operatives who rid the world of the worst of humanity while fighting to protect the best part of their lives: the women they love.
Former military operative Carson “Bull” Rhodes hasn’t dated seriously since he and his teammates left the army. Since then he’s opened Silverstone Towing—which is a front for his other job: hired killer. When kindergarten teacher Skylar Reid calls for help while stranded on the side of the interstate, the attraction is instant. The problem is Bull’s career has jaded him. Skylar’s innocent, and he wants to keep her that way.
Cautious by nature, Skylar never expected to fall in love with her tow truck driver. Even so, once Bull reveals what he really does for a living, she’s not sure she can handle it. When Skylar faces threats that have nothing to do with Bull’s job but are just as deadly, the stakes are higher than ever.
With the help of the Silverstone team, Bull will use everything he’s learned over the years to bring the woman he loves home—because the alternative is unthinkable.
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