Authors: Gabby Grant
“Good,” Tom said, “the time is ripe; the analyst scare
worked like a charm.”
Al Fahd bellowed a grizzly laugh across the Atlantic. “Thank
you for telling us where to find your nephew.”
,” Tom said, slamming his fist into his
desk, “keep our end of the deal.”
Tom had worked with Al Fahd and Sun-tzu involved
immunity for his nephew. If all went down as planned, the other two had
promised Joe wouldn’t get hurt.
Al Fahd coughed and, through the receiver, Tom thought he
heard the striking hiss of a match. “But, of course, Mr. Wolf. But, of
course... You just leave your nephew to me.”
Mark was sitting at the conference table, head in hands,
when Danny Maupin from security burst into the room. “Everything okay in here,
chief?” Danny asked, his eyes doing a clean sweep of the room. “Got a call from
downstairs that a camera blacked out. Something about no picture...”
Danny’s voice fell off as his eyes trailed to Mark’s suit
coat dangling from the surveillance camera.
“It’s alright, Dan,” Mark said, looking up. “Got everything
under control.” But that was the biggest damn lie Mark had told in his life.
His whole world was falling apart. He’d not only been unable to get a complete
handle on the intelligence scare, he’d most assuredly condemned his marriage by
acting precisely like the mad man Ana’d accused him of being. When all was said
and done, Mark needed to be fricking grateful to McFadden for pulling Ana out
of the rain-soaked forest. After two days of no food and water, coupled with
exposure to the elements, Ana might not have survived the night.
Danny, who was fiftyish but already a grandfather, gave Mark
a pensive look. “Sometimes it’s better to tell a woman how glad you are to see
her first, and save the probing questions for later.”
Mark felt a hot river flush from his
to his brow. Yep, he was a cool one,
As cool as a cucumber, and the DOS now had his whole stinking
vegetable garden on file.
“Don’t worry about it, son,” Danny assured him with a wink
from the threshold. Though he was only ten years Mark’s senior, his status as a
grandpa made him seem much older.
“There are ways to make that blackout occur about ten
minutes earlier. All the DOS really needs is the debriefing segment of your
Mark looked over at the compassionate older man, unsure of
how to thank him. Realizing that’s the sort of person he himself desired to be.
Worthy of Ana’s love.
only her love, but her confidence too.
And if she could no longer trust
him with her secrets...
“It will all work out,” Danny assured him, lightly thumping
the doorframe with his palm. “You’ll see.”
Mark only wished he could be so sure.
“Sir!” Colonel Roberts shouted, bursting into the room, “we’ve
Joe McFadden awaited his fate in the tiny four-by-four foot
cinder block cubicle. In spite of his dismal prospects, Joe tried to focus on
the positive. Like the fact that he had probably bought Ana Kane and the rest
of them a little more time.
The rest of them, as strange as
it would seem, including one First Lieutenant Carolyn Walker.
that had been her Army rank back in Panama. A hard-nosed soldier like Carolyn
was sure to have gotten promoted several times by now. Had surely made Major,
Whatever she’d been doing all these years, Walker hadn’t
changed a bit. Even in the abysmal din of the cabin as Joe worked to divert
Sun-tzu as the others scrambled to safety, Joe could sense that same green
heaven in her eyes. Carolyn Walker was a looker alright- in that
I can take care of myself,
way. But she’d
always been a strong one, always been intelligent, but not smart enough to
avoid getting tangled up with Joe, he supposed.
Back in those days, Joe had been a different man. A man who
had two concerns only, proving himself as a Marine and sanctifying that which
lay beneath his fly.
Though he hadn’t thought about her in years, Joe couldn’t
help but wonder how differently things would have played out had he met Carolyn
now. Next to Ana Kane, Carolyn was probably the most dynamic woman Joe had ever
known. Not that anybody could hold a candle to Ana. But Joe now understood that
precisely had been the problem. The Ana Joe had constructed in his
mind was more than the physical countenance of her could ever be- at least to
Joe. From the very beginning, in Costa Negra, he’d made Ana into some kind of
goddess. Someone untouchable he could only hope to hold, but never hang onto.
It had been a self-fulfilling prophecy, indeed. For just when her sorry-assed
boyfriend had gotten out of the way, in stepped Neal to prove he was the better
man. Better man for Ana at least. And, with grudging admission, Joe conceded
that perhaps he was.
The problem with Joe and Ana was that they were too much
alike in too many ways.
But even the
fiercest of passions needing grounding. Perhaps that’s what Ana had found in
Joe sighed and tried to scratch his beard stubble with his
tethered hands, but it was impossible. Ah well, all his miseries had company.
Might as well enjoy the fact that he even
fingers, while they were
still attached. Joe wondered if Al Fahd’s threat had been hollow, but
remembering the agonized screams of the others, doubted it sincerely. Severing
sequential digits was a common interrogation tactic. Not one that lived up to
the Geneva Convention, of course.
But common, nonetheless,
because it drew blood and hurt like the devil.
Plus, it was one of those
nasty little tricks that didn’t
the victim, only convinced him to
Joe squirmed on his haunches, trying to recall his combat
training. If he could remember to focus, he could strive to block out the pain.
was he kidding? Joe
McFadden didn’t like pain anymore than the next guy. But, Joe McFadden, he
reminded himself with a deep swell of air that inflated his chest, was and
always would be a Marine.
A Marine with a purpose.
purpose of serving the great US of A, the rest of the god-forsaken world
damned. And he would serve that purpose to his dying
breath- no matter how many fingers, toes... Joe swallowed hard past the tender
swell in his throat…or other body parts Al Fahd took off in the process.
Keys rattled outside his block and the cell door turned.
The graying Oriental raised his brows and peered through the
opening. “Mr. McFadden?” he queried with the cordiality of a nobleman.
“At your service,” Joe answered with a smirk.
The old man grinned, “Precisely what we’re counting on.”
“I want you to go and stay there,” Mark said to Carolyn, “at
least until January second.”
There was no avoiding it any longer. The trouble Colonel
Roberts had pointed to involved a major malfunction in the DOS operating
system. Security operations in all DOS facilities had been compromised. Armed
Green Berets had been posted at every critical location, blocking the
entrances, guarding the pathways to every floor. DOS headquarters had become an
Yet, it still
seemed too risky a place to keep their only daughter.
“Yes sir,” she said, looking uncertainly at Ana.
“I’m staying here,”
stepping in closer toward Mark. “Here, where I’m needed.” And it was true. No
matter what Mark said on the outside, on the inside he desperately needed Ana beside
him. She knew him far too well to be fooled by his enraged bluster. He was
afraid for them, all of them. This analyst scare was spiraling out of control
and Mark felt a personal responsibility to make it stop. Though none of it was
certainly his fault, Ana knew Mark blamed himself for not picking up the signs
of the impending threat earlier. Plus, he was understandably upset about
Though all Ana’d been
concealing was that one flaming embrace, Mark had sensed her minor infidelity.
He knew her too damn well.
Baby Isabel’s eyes grew weepy as she held out her arms to
her mother. “Ma-ma,” she whimpered through rose petal lips.
A tire iron twisted in Ana’s soul. “Better go,” she told
Carolyn, knowing full well if she took the baby back in her arms, she’d never
again be able to turn her loose.
Carolyn nodded and gently patted the baby’s head. “It’s
alright, Isa. We’ll be seeing Mama again in just a little while...”
The baby looked from Mark to Ana with pained comprehension
and burst into tears.
She wailed, trying desperately to squirm
out of Carolyn’s grip, her arms flailing towards her mother.
Mark made a motion with his hand urging Carolyn to make
blew the baby a kiss. “Be a good girl for
Daddy. We’ll come to get you soon.”
Carolyn carted Isabel from the room, diaper bag swinging
over her shoulder.
“They have protection assigned?” Ana asked, walking to the
window. “People who’ll be with them every step of the way?”
“A whole SWAT team, practically,” Mark assured her. “Your
father’s taking no chances this time.”
Ana nodded and bit into her bottom lip.
What then felt so rotten about this whole scenario? It wasn’t just her calling
to stay by Mark in his time of difficulty that tugged at Ana’s soul. There was
something more. Something more than the undeniable weakness she still felt for
the man standing beside her. Though she couldn’t sort through all her feelings
now, Ana knew she would in time, as would Mark. In the meantime, the two of
them had to stick together. They were a team, she and Mark. Together, they’d
made the beautiful baby daughter Ana’d just turned over to another woman’s
Then, with a lightening bolt of clarity, it hit her. The
tumult of emotions Ana was feeling had to do with more than just her family. In
sending Isa off with Carolyn and choosing to stay at the DOS, Ana had
sacrificed personal oversight of her child to a greater concern: her concern
of the nation and the safety of her
good friend Joe McFadden.
Ana breathed hard but was unable to release the pain
gripping her heart like a vise. It was worse than she’d thought: her concern
had become triaged. As much as she loved them, her family no longer came first.
The security of the nation was paramount. And those in the greatest danger were-
at this moment- the most deserving of any meager assistance Ana could offer.
Because, in so doing, in helping to eliminate the blight that
threatened them all, Ana stood the greatest chance of ensuring everybody’s
Mark came and stood
reading her eyes.
“We all do what we have to do, Ana. Isabel will be
. I’m sure of it.”
“But what I just did,” she said,
“goes against every instinct I have.
Against everything I’ve always sworn I’d be.”
Mark slid an arm around her shoulders, and she was glad for
his steadying warmth. “It’s only for a little while- until we get this thing
licked. Besides, you know as well as I do, that when she’s apart from us, baby
Isabel is less of a target.”
Ana looked down at the faded, government issue carpet,
knowing he was right, but still unable to reconcile that admission with the
badgering doubt hammering at her heart. “A long time ago, I swore-”
“None of us can see the future,” Mark said, enveloping her
in his arms.
That was for damn sure, Ana thought, grateful for his
embrace, thanking the heavens she’d not been left here alone to confront the
stark reality of who she truly was. For, if there was anything Mark had proven,
it was that he was a rock for her when she needed him. And she saw, in her heart,
she needed him now. Needed him desperately. Ana wrapped her arms around his
neck and pulled him close, as her life-long convictions started to crumble.
If anyone had told her three years ago what she someday
would become, she would have called him a fool.
Worse than a
The notion, even as she stood here staring it in the face now, was
Ana burrowed her head in Mark’s shoulder, not wanting to see
the wicked truth. But there was no escaping it. She was who she was and, from
this point forward, there’d be no turning back.
Ana Kane had become her father.
Albert Kane stared down at the report in his hands, hoping
against hope that whoever had transcribed it had gotten it wrong. This one
tidbit of information concerning Maria Gonzales Mark had failed to mention.
Yes, Albert knew about the blackmail and clearly connected
it to the gas lighting that had been occurring at the Neal house. And, indeed,
he’d imagined it connected to the larger scare mapped out in apparent accordance
with his, Tom and Au Yang’s old plan. But never in a million years did Albert
imagine one of the original three would have a hand in it. Not something so
utterly sinister directed at America.
Directed, for God’s sake, at my own
But it was right there in the report.
name of the man to whom Maria had funneled all her information.
she’d never seen more than his back, she’d been intimidated by his eerie
His unarticulated command of the situation, his
death grip on Maria’s spiraling-out-of-control existence.
never heard him speak, she’d heard the other man, the driver, refer to him, but
only by his code name.