ADVANCE TO THE REAR
STRIKE FORCE #3
It was supposed to be a romantic break between Delta Force missions- until an imminent terrorist attack turns their world upside down. When Marc and Nikki stumble on the plot aimed at San Antonio, Texas, they realize before they can contemplate a future of their own, they have to save hundreds of thousands of lives. As their Strike Force leads the mission, they know that failure is not an option.
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This was always the hairiest part. They had scant seconds to pull it off. Slade held up a finger to his lips to signal silence, then mouthed “US Army.” He and Marc pulled the hostages out through the back door, silent as ghosts. Trey had his gun out, ready to hit anyone who came through the door from the front of the house, and Beau was set to take his shots from his position on the roof. In seconds, they were all out in the alley behind the house where Ibrahim, good as his word, now waited in his cousin’s van. Seconds later, they were all inside. Down the narrow street and around the corner. They stopped only long enough for Ibrahim to get out and melt away. If he was caught driving them, he and his family would be annihilated.
Then Slade took over and they headed hell for leather out of town.
The hostages sat silent and petrified in the middle seat, sandwiched between Trey and Marc. They clung to each other as if that contact was their only salvation.
“I know you can’t figure out what’s happening,” Trey said, his voice soothing. “All you have to know is you are with American soldiers and in less than thirty minutes we’ll all be out of here.”
Still neither of them spoke. Marc could imagine the treatment they’d suffered, the way their captors had terrorized them. But at least they weren’t screaming and trying to run away from the team, or doing anything else to hinder their departure. Beyond a cursory examination to make sure the two were mobile and didn’t need to be carried, the team had not questioned them.
“Still all clear back here,” Beau said from the third seat. He was on his knees, his rifle pointing out of the window of the rear hatch door.
Marc knew he had one order to execute. If anyone came up behind them, shoot and keep shooting. Marc kept checking his watch, counting down to when the Night Stalker would be there. So far so good. They were out in the desert now, the driving slow going through the sand.
They were almost at the extraction point when Beau hollered back to them.
“Enemy vehicle on the horizon. Right on our tail.”
The MH-60 M Black Hawk zoomed in and hovered just past the van, skillfully handled by its Night Stalker pilot. Marc helped hustle the aid workers out of the van and into the chopper, handing them up to the two men crouched in the open doorway. Sand kicked up everywhere from the rotors, even getting into their eyes and teeth.
Beau was the last one in, crouched in the open doorway, positioned with his gun. Just as they lifted off, the four-wheel drive vehicle made it to the outskirts of Agadez and came plowing through the sand. The man riding in the rear began firing the vehicle-mounted machine gun while two others climbed out and started firing assault weapons at the chopper.
The pilot banked to the left, away from the line of fire, even as Beau fired steadily at the men below. Then they were out of range, rising higher until the desert was far below them.
Beau tumbled back into the cabin and Marc moved out of his way. Trey, their team medic as well as Beau’s spotter, was checking over the aid workers, giving them a cursory look to see if they needed medical attention at once. There were no seats in the cabin of the helo, so they sat on the floor, still looking traumatized but otherwise unharmed.
Marc sat back, leaning against the metal of the cabin wall, coming down from the adrenaline high he found himself on after every mission. Usually he just switched off, separating himself mentally from the team, and made his mind a blank. Today his mind was doing its own thing, with pictures of a petite doe-eyed blonde nurse flashing one after the other like a continuous slide show.