It was hot as hell. The temperature was already in the 90s and steadily rising, the sun, a big yellow ball in the middle of a cloudless sky, radiating waves of heat. Sweat stained the front of Thomas Becker’s camo T-shirt. Not even the gust of wind hitting the chopper could cool him down, and the four other men inside seemed to be experiencing the same discomfort.
“Man, I hate South America,” Carson Scott remarked, raising his voice to be heard over the sound of wind and rotors.
“It’ll get cooler when we’re in the jungle,” John Garrett said with a shrug, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.
Carson sighed. “I hate the jungle too. Monkeys freak me out.”
Next to him, Ryan Evans, the youngest and rowdiest member of Team Fifteen, hooted. “Does Holly know what a wimp you are?”
“Naah, I bet he tells her a bunch of stories when he gets back from overseas,” Matt O’Connor chimed in. “Painting himself as the hero in each one.”
“Oh, I’m definitely Holly’s hero,” Carson shot back, wiggling his eyebrows. “She’s always the damsel in distress when we role-play. Except for that one time, when I got to be a weary, injured traveler and she was the virgin nurse who tenderly nurtured me back to health.”
The men in the chopper laughed. Becker cracked a smile, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Not that he didn’t like the other guys, or find them entertaining, but the four of them had worked together for years. He was the new guy. Well, technically, he was their new superior. As a Senior Lieutenant, he now headed up the SEAL team, but for the past five years, he’d led a team out on the east coast.
He’d moved to California six months ago, after his wife—now ex-wife—landed a modeling campaign that required she relocate to the west coast. Her career was everything to Alice, and like a good husband, he wanted to support his wife. Two months later, he was signing divorce papers, and rather than go back east, he’d decided to stick around for a while. He’d been assigned to Team Fifteen, whose members were legendary around the base. Not just for their impressive mission success records, but for their success with the ladies. Players, other SEALs called them.
Garrett was married now, and Carson had been in a long-term relationship for a couple years, but the other two, Ryan and Matt, apparently kept the reputation alive by prowling the club scene and hooking up with warm, willing females.
Becker didn’t get the lifestyle. He was only thirty-two, but he’d been in a committed relationship since he was eighteen years old. Sure, that relationship had died a fiery death four months ago, but even now, divorced and single, he couldn’t picture himself doing the casual sex thing.
Lately, he hardly thought about sex at all. He much preferred going out on missions, even in scorching-hot parts of the world like Colombia. At least when he was stealing through the jungle he didn’t have to be reminded of Alice.
Looking down at the map in his hands, he studied the area they were going to be dropped at. It was at least half a day’s hike from their target, but they couldn’t land any closer to the rebel camp, not without alerting the enemy.
“That’s where she’s being held?” Matt said, leaning in closer for a better look.
Becker nodded, then pointed to a ridge on the map. “I say we separate there. Split up, approach from two directions.”
The other men offered their opinions, but it didn’t take long to formulate an extraction plan. Elizabeth Harrison had been a hostage of the rebels for three days now, and during that time, the SEALs were able to get satellite images of the camp, detailed notes about the terrain, as well as the locations of the twenty or so armed guards.
Becker wondered how Elizabeth was holding up. It had been seriously shitty luck on her part, being captured during an assignment in the neighboring village. She was a photographer in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she was lucky that the government gave a damn about her. A lot of people up on the chain of command were anxious to see the American journalist brought to safety.
Which put a lot of pressure on Becker and his team to make sure they got her out safe and sound. Fortunately, Becker was damn good at his job.
As he rolled up the map and tucked it in the pocket of his camo pants, he gave each man on the chopper a stern and somber look that had them squirming in their seats.
Then he clapped his hands together and said, “All right, boys. Elizabeth Harrison needs rescuing. Let’s not keep her waiting.”
Jane Harrison lingered in the doorway, unable to take her eyes off the man across the large workout room. As far as faces went, his was nothing extraordinary. No Brad Pitt or anything. Average features, eyes an unremarkable shade of brown, a dark buzz cut. Handsome, sure, but nobody who would make you freeze in the middle of a busy street with your tongue hanging out. Yet, that’s exactly what she was doing, wasn’t it? Half-drooling as she stared at him. It was the body. She’d never seen anyone so ripped, so masculine. He was about six feet or so, with broad shoulders, a chest that looked rock-hard, and a trim waist that led to a taut backside.
He wore a light blue T-shirt, and his biceps flexed and bulged each time he lifted one of the weights in his hands. A tall, brown-haired woman stood next to him, frowning, and even from across the room, Jane heard the woman tell him to take it easy. But Jane knew this wasn’t the kind of man who took anything easy. Intensity rolled off him in waves.
She’d planned on approaching him here, in the brightly lit gym at the physical therapy center, but she hesitated by the door. Liz hadn’t mentioned how commanding this man was. Or what a great body he had. Then again, Liz had probably been too busy getting shot at to notice what her rescuer looked like.
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