Authors: Trish Loye
opyright © October
2015 by Trish Loye
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, incidents, and places is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
ne year ago
Somewhere in Northern Iraq
ergeant Zachary ‘Doc
’ Grayson of E.D.G.E. Security lay hidden in the dark by a shrub, watching the village below him with his night-vision goggles. His partner, ex-CSIS agent Marc ‘Spooky’ Koven, crouched behind a boulder about ten feet to his left while the other pair on his team, Cat ‘Valkyrie’ Richards and Colonel ‘Hawk’ Blackwell, circled the village for a better vantage point.
“There’s been no movement in the last hour, Doc,” Marc said over the radio in Zach’s ear. He was Zach’s opposite in every way: lean to Zach’s muscled form, fiery to Zach’s iron control. He was a sarcastic sonofabitch whom most didn’t like to work with, but Zach appreciated his out-of-the-box thinking and his dry wit.
“Something’s off, Spooky,” Zach said.
“Then let’s go check it out,” Marc said. “I’ve got a party of beetles in my pants and I need to move.”
“Wait out,” Zach said quietly. His skin twitched between his shoulder blades. Why was it so quiet? If a major leader of Al Qaeda hid in the village below, there should be more movement. “I’m going down to check things out. Follow when I give the signal.”
Marc grunted. “Watch your six, Doc.”
“Wilco.” Zach may have been a big man, but he moved like a panther through the night. He barely had to use camouflage paint on his dark skin, unlike Marc with his pale-ass face that shone even on a moonless night. Marc had to be exacting with his camo, while Zach only used enough to break up the angles of his cheekbones and nose.
He crept toward their target, the largest shelter in the ten-hut village. It was the only one with a single guard outside. They had intel that Abdul Hassan, one of Al Shabah’s lieutenants, had holed up here.
Al Shabah was an Al Qaeda terrorist they’d been hunting for the last year, ever since an IED in an Iraq market had killed six American soldiers.
Al Shabah had been the organizer, but his second-in-command, Abdul Hassan, had been one of the main instigators. Zach wanted him just as much as he wanted Al Shabah.
He approached the hut from behind and listened. He could hear nothing, and no light came through any of the cracks in the mud walls. He circled to the front. The solitary guard breathed evenly, but white showed on his knuckles as he gripped his weapon. He held it as if he expected to use it at any moment. Or he was afraid.
Zach could wait no longer or he risked being discovered. He slung his rifle and pulled his knife, creeping up to the man. Launching himself at the guard, he grabbed his trigger hand first, digging into a pressure point to numb it so the guard couldn’t fire a shot and alert anyone. His other arm wrapped around the man’s throat and squeezed, making sure the man felt the knife’s edge against his neck. Zach stood at least six inches taller and easily overpowered him.
The guard struggled, and Zach eased the pressure on his throat. “Who’s inside?” he whispered in Arabic, giving the man a chance to redeem himself.
The guard cursed him and his future children before Zach cut off his air. He held him tight to his body until the guard’s struggles stopped. Then he lowered him to the ground.
“Geez, Doc,” Marc’s voice said in his ear. “What took you so long? Were you dancing with him?”
Zach held up his middle finger high above his head, in Marc’s direction, knowing Marc could see him with his NVGs. A soft snort came over the comm line.
“Stop playing around,” Colonel Blackwell said.
Zach signaled with his hand again. He was going in, and Marc had better get his ass down there. Zach should wait, but he couldn’t. They’d been close to Al Shabah three times in as many months, and each time the man had slipped away. Zach didn’t want to take any chances.
“Spooky, move your ass,” Doc whispered into the comm as he approached the door of the hut, bringing his HK416 assault rifle up. The door was unlocked. He eased it open.
Simple furnishings. A table and chairs stood near a woodstove. Two men snored on pallets on the other side of the room. Zach scanned their faces. Not Hassan, and no one had ever seen Al Shabah, but he didn’t think one of the leaders of Al Qaeda would be sleeping so peacefully while being hunted by special operations soldiers.
He walked over the dirt floor to the door at the far wall. It hung slightly ajar, the top hinge broken. If he could get to Hassan before anyone woke, he might even be able to sneak him out of there without alerting the whole village. He pushed open the door with the barrel of his weapon.
“Coming in,” Marc’s voice whispered over the line.
Zach didn’t look back as he moved on silent feet into the sparse room. A man slept on a simple cot in the middle of the small space. His breathing rattled and chugged like a car with water in its engine.
Zach slung his rifle and drew his knife again. He put his hand over the man’s mouth and the knife to his throat. “Don’t speak. Don’t move,” he whispered in Arabic.
The man’s eyes were open and sweat beaded on his forehead. It was Hassan. He looked sick. Zach cursed. If the man was dying, he would be less likely to give up information.
“Where’s Al Shabah?” he demanded.
The man’s eyes crinkled and his lips smiled under Zach’s hand. He coughed, and Zach lifted his hand and wiped dark wetness from it. Blood.
Definitely dying. Dammit.
,” the man whispered. “You came, just as Al Shabah said you would.”
“Did you think I wouldn’t know who you were,
“Don’t call me that,” Zach said harshly. The name brought up memories he wanted to forget. “Where did Al Shabah go?” Zach pressed his knife harder into the man’s throat, until blood welled.
The man chuckled hoarsely. “He is taking the cause to you.”
Zach scowled. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“He has decided it is past time for you to die for your sins,
“Stop calling me that.” He pressed harder with his knife and blood trickled down the man’s neck.
“Do you think you scare me?”
A grunt from the other room pulled at Zach’s attention, though he didn’t look away from Hassan or ease up the pressure on his knife. “Sitrep, Spooky.”
“Sloppy work, Doc,” Marc said, stepping into the doorway. “You left two men behind you.”
“I knew you would take care of them.”
Marc nodded. “All clear. One tango down and the other is knocked out in case we need info.”
Zach nodded and pressed the comm link button on his rifle. “Hawk, we have Hassan.”
“No,” Hassan whispered. “You do not have me. I will join Allah soon.” His hands shifted limply under his blanket.
“Don’t move.” Zach ripped the blanket off so he could see the man’s hands. They covered a bloody bandage on his stomach. By the seepage and the smell, the intestines had been pierced and the man probably didn’t have long to live. But what made Zach curse was the C-4 packed all along his body, with wires running to a detonator in Hassan’s hand.
“Bomb!” he yelled as he sprinted for the door.
Marc cleared the door just in front of him. They ran hard, not bothering to be quiet. They’d managed about ten steps when the explosion threw them forward to eat dirt. Heat and light washed over them.
Zach sat up slowly. Fires burned on the thatched roofs of several huts around them. The hut they’d left had fallen in on itself and burned like a bonfire. A tinny ringing echoed in his head. Marc lay a few feet off to his side, still face down.
He shook his head as he stared at his friend, not understanding for a moment. That’s when he knew he was in shock. Marc should be moving. Zach needed to be concerned, but his thoughts were muddied, his reactions too slow. He pulled himself over to Marc.
“Spooky,” he said. He felt for a pulse. Nothing. His heart stopped for an agonizingly long second before he felt Marc’s heart finally beat under his fingertips. The scare brought his thoughts into clarity. Zach had to get them out of there.
Marc still wasn’t moving. Zach did a quick scan for injuries and found nothing but a bloody lump on Marc’s head. Knocked out cold. Zach had years as a special operations field medic behind him and wasn’t too concerned. Chances were Marc would wake up with just a nasty headache tomorrow, but Zach needed a real hospital to check him out fully.
An Iraqi villager ran up to them, waving a pistol and screaming something Zach couldn’t hear past the ringing still in his ears.
Villagers ran from the other huts. They began to form bucket lines to the well, but the man in front of Zach pointed his gun at him and yelled to the others. If Zach didn’t do something, he and Marc wouldn’t have a chance to escape.
He placed his right hand on his Sig Sauer P226 holstered on his thigh. He lifted his other hand to show the man it was empty while sliding the gun out.
The guy didn’t buy it. He shouted and aimed his pistol at Zach’s head.
Zach threw himself back and pulled his gun at the same time. The man fired and missed. Zach pulled the trigger as he fell and used the Mozambique drill: two rounds to the chest and finished with one to the head. The man dropped where he’d stood.
The ringing had started to lessen. Blackwell’s voice sounded in his ear yelling something, but Zach didn’t have time to decipher it. Other villagers had noticed the shootout.
He holstered his gun, and with a grunt slung Marc over his shoulder. He grabbed his rifle and ran for the exfil location.
Blackwell and Cat appeared on his sides, silent and watching his back as he carried Marc up the steep hillside where they’d meet the Blackhawk that would carry them out.
After a kilometer, he no longer heard any shots and knew they’d made it. But he didn’t feel relief. They’d failed in their mission.
Al Shabah was still out there—and he knew who Zach was.
etective Alyssa Harrison
held her Glock 19 in her right hand as she ran up the stairs to the third floor of the dilapidated building. She kept her breathing even, and her mind focused on what waited for them. It was the rare moments like this when she finally felt alive again.
She keyed her radio. “Bravo team, report.”
“Almost in position,” Detective Riley Castor replied.
Alyssa checked behind her. Detective Drew Patton, her tall, lanky partner, his brown hair flopping in his eyes, ran behind her. Eight members of NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit followed after him. Riley, an intense officer with a Latino background, led a similar team on the opposite side of the building.
She wasn’t taking any chances today.
At the door to the third-floor hallway she stopped, and keyed her mic twice in the predesignated signal to Riley’s team. Drew opened the door and Alyssa swung into the hallway, her Glock up and pointed ahead. A woman standing in the corridor with a basket of laundry squeaked.
Alyssa used her left hand to point to her badge and then brought her finger to her lips. The woman’s eyes widened, but she nodded. Drew shuffled her aside. Alyssa kept moving to apartment 314, while Riley and his team crept down the hall toward her from the other stairwell.
They met in the middle at a plain white door with gold metal numbers. Cigarette smoke made her nose itch and, from inside, a TV competed with music.
Someone was home.
Alyssa held up three fingers. An ESU officer stepped up to breach the door with a metal battering ram.
He struck the door just below the knob. Splinters flew and the door burst open. He stepped back. Alyssa entered the cramped apartment followed by Riley and Drew. She took it all in quickly as she moved past a small closet, the dirty gray carpet muffling her footsteps.
The galley kitchen held nothing but a few day’s worth of dishes on its counters. In the main room, a skinny Asian man sat bolt upright on a saggy couch. He held a cigarette in one hand and a TV remote in the other. The TV blared a baseball game in front of him. A fire escape blocked the view of the open window behind the couch.
Alyssa stepped in front of the TV. The man dropped the cigarette and jumped up.
He threw the remote at her and leapt for the window.
She dodged, lowered her weapon, and pulled her Taser. She aimed for his back and pulled the trigger before he’d even touched the window frame. The man jerked and a small whine came from him as the Taser snapped. By the time the five seconds were up, she’d holstered her gun and snagged a set of cuffs. She jerked his arms behind his back, cuffed him, and tossed him to the floor. She nodded at one of the ESU officers. “Frisk him and keep him quiet.”
She pulled her weapon again and moved to the bedroom door. Drew and Riley met her there. A thumping bass beat escaped the room, but no other sounds could be heard.
“You ready to take down this asshole?” Alyssa asked.
“Let’s do it,” Drew said.
Alyssa studied the door. It had a lock. She stood in front of the door and shifted her weight.
“Seriously, Al?” Drew said. “Do you really need to—”
“Hell yes,” she said, and slammed her foot into the door. It burst inwards with a satisfying crunch. She rushed in with Drew and Riley right behind her.
Screeching guitars assaulted her ears. A long-haired man worked over a table by the light of a desk lamp.
“NYPD! Hands up!” she shouted.
The man whirled, his eyes wide. He held a soldering iron in one hand and a circuit board in the other.
Four pressure cookers still in their boxes stood by the wall. Wires, blasting caps, and detonators littered the rest of the table. The smell of homemade black powder overwhelmed the cigarette smoke from the other room. The acrid mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate smelled like a chemical solvent. Four large canisters of it sat by the table.
Her heartbeat sped up. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead as she imagined the damage this amount of black powder could do. Maybe as much as the bomb in the souq.
No. Don’t think about that.
The iPod and speakers still blared music by the door. She kept her weapon on the man and signaled Drew. He shut off the music. The sudden silence was cutting.
She swallowed hard, wishing she’d let someone else take the lead. “Walter Pike?”
He shook his head. “My name is now Mujahid Nassar.”
She raised her eyebrows as she looked at the underweight, pale-skinned man, whose sparse facial hair competed with his acne. She’d let the feds sort this one out.
“Walter Pike, you’re under arrest for conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. Put down the tools and stand up.”
The acrid scent continued to bite the inside of her throat. She needed water. Dust seemed to coat the inside of her mouth and throat.
No. There was no dust. No heat. It wasn’t real.
Dr. Martinez said she needed to focus on another sense. She could do this. She was here in the apartment with a scumbag who wanted to blow people up.
“Alyssa,” Drew said in a low voice. “You with us?”
The gun grew heavy in her hand. A trickle of sweat rolled down her back. She fought to control her breathing. She couldn’t let this happen. Not here. Not now.
She nodded. Pike held his now-empty hands above his head. Shit. She’d lost some time there. “Get some cuffs on him.”
“Hey!” he said. “I didn’t do anything. It ain’t illegal to have any of this stuff.”
Drew holstered his weapon while she and Riley kept a bead on him.
“What kind of fucking idiot are you?” Drew said. He wrenched the guy’s arm down and spun him before slamming him onto the worktable. He ratcheted the handcuffs onto the suspect before handing him off to another officer.
“Aren’t you supposed to read me my rights?” Pike asked.
“I don’t have the stomach for it,” Drew said, handing him off to a uniformed officer, who started to recite the Miranda warning before Pike could protest further.
Alyssa stared at the table’s contents. Enough supplies to double the damage of the Boston Marathon bombing. A hand appeared in her vision and forced her gun down. She blinked. Fuck. She hadn’t lowered her weapon.
Riley watched her with his dark, intense gaze. “You okay, Al?”
No. She could hear echoes of screams in her head.
She took a deep breath. That was a mistake. She coughed out the sharp odor of black powder, but at least she snapped back to the present.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I just need fresh air.” She left the room. All the triumph of an investigation coming to a head had dissipated like smoke in the wind.
Drew followed her, of course. She holstered her gun and forced a smile. “We did it,” she said.
He just stared at her. His brown eyes narrowed. “Want to talk about it?”
Fuck no. “Talk about what?” She wasn’t sure if she was pulling off the innocent act.
“The way you froze in there.”
Nope. Not pulling it off. Fuck it, then. She scowled. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine.”
“Leave it alone, Drew.”
He crossed his arms. “We all have our shit, Al. If you’ve got a trigger then you’ve got to tell us.”
“I told you, I’m fine.” Her radio beeped.
“Harrison,” she answered.
“The captain wants your team for an urgent briefing,” dispatch said. “Return to CTB. Briefing in thirty.”
“Copy that,” Alyssa said. She motioned to Drew and Riley. “ESU can take it from here. The captain wants us in.”
“For what?” Drew asked.
“No idea,” Alyssa said, making her way past the swarming ESU officers. “But it must be something big if we’re being called off our case.”
The three of them belonged to the Counterterrorism Bureau of the NYPD. They’d been working the Walter Pike case for two months, so for their captain to call them in at this moment meant something big was coming down the pike. It made her pick up the pace as they trotted down the stairs. Drew and Riley stayed right with her.
As she drove their car back to CTB headquarters far north of Central Park, they had time to rehash the case.
“Do you think the captain is calling us in to give us an award?” Drew asked.
Alyssa looked over at him in the passenger seat. “You’re not serious.”
Drew laughed. “Hell yeah. I freaking deserve a medal. We all do, for dealing with the scum of the earth every day.”
Alyssa shook her head. “If you wanted recognition, you should have become an actor.”
Riley snorted from the backseat. “He couldn’t be an actor—he’d break the camera with his face.”
Drew ignored him and continued. “I’m serious. The captain is making us all attend that ball that’s coming up—”
“The Hero’s Gala,” Alyssa supplied.
“Yeah, that. I think he’s going to award us a medal or something.”
Riley cuffed the back of Drew’s head. “You’re out of your mind, man.”
“Listen, asshole, no one’s talking to you,” Drew said. “So why don’t you just sit there and look pretty.”
Alyssa shook her head and tried not to smile. “The captain wants us to go because it’s our unit’s turn to show up and represent the NYPD. The gala is for the military guys and the vets. They get the medals. Sorry, Drew.”
“I can buy you a medal if you want,” Riley said from the back. “I’ll even make sure it says Number One Cop.”
They were still laughing when she parked in the lot next to a nondescript building. Looking around, it was a place no one would suspect of housing the elite counterterrorism unit. Inside, the officer guarding the entrance buzzed them through interior steel doors.
They headed for the large conference room, past the main cubicle area and down a short hall. Officers packed the room. She found a spot against the wall and waited for the captain.
Captain Marin charged into the room, officers giving way. Alyssa always got a mental picture of a grizzled pitbull defending its territory when she saw him. On the shorter side, he was dense with muscle. His buzz cut glinted more silver than brown in the overhead lights.
“Okay, people, a new message was sent out over the black net an hour ago.”
“The terrorist Al Shabah has surfaced again. It’s been six months since we’ve seen any activity from him and he’s come back with a vengeance.”
Alyssa straightened, every muscle tensing in her body. He was back.
Captain Marin’s gaze found hers. “Detective Harrison is our resident expert on Al Shabah, and will be leading the task force.”
She took a step forward and all eyes turned to her. “What did the message say?”
“That Al Shabah is coming to the United States. I don’t need to tell you that New York City is one of the prime targets for assholes like this. We need to be ready, people.” He focused on Alyssa again. “Pick your task force.” He let his gaze roam over the rest of the officers. “Everyone is to give Detective Harrison what she needs. This is our primary focus. Find Al Shabah and stop him.”
Within fifteen minutes, Alyssa had a dozen men and women with her as they began to set up their strategy. This is what she’d trained and joined the department for. She’d sworn to hunt Al Shabah down and kill him for what he’d done.
And that’s exactly what she was going to do.
into the conference room now dubbed the war room by Dani, the newest IT tech at E.D.G.E. Security. He liked her snarky attitude, though he wasn’t sure Colonel Blackwell, the head of E.D.G.E. operations, had yet come to terms with it.
He’d been called in for a mission brief by the colonel. His eyebrows rose when he saw both Alpha and Bravo teams there as well. This could be interesting.
He grabbed a seat just as Blackwell strode in carrying his ever-present laptop. “Okay, people. This takes top priority over any other training.”
Everyone straightened and turned to Blackwell, who stood at the head of the long table. He tapped a few keys on his laptop and then activated the virtual screen. It came to life on the white wall behind him. He wore a special glove that allowed him to use hand movements to flick through the data onscreen.
A video began to play.
A man dressed in black from head to toe, his face wrapped to disguise his features, began speaking in Arabic.
“Soon all of America will know my name. I will no longer confine my war to the poor countries the West continues to invade time and again. Like the United States, I will take my own brand of terror to their streets, to their homes, to their children.”
Zach stiffened, his hands clenching into fists. “Al Shabah.”
Blackwell nodded. “He’s taking his war to the United States. The FBI are on full alert. All major cities are possible targets.”
“What else do we know, sir?” Jake asked.
“Not much,” Blackwell said. “CIA have their operatives in the Middle East on alert for any information. Sarah.” Blackwell turned to the petite brunette with bronze skin. “We’re sending you back to Iraq. Gather whatever intel you can.”
“Copy that, sir,” she said.
“We have a team covering the West Coast already. Cat and Rhys, you’ll go to Washington to coordinate with the FBI agent in charge there. Zach and Marc, you’ve got—”
“New York,” Zach said.
Blackwell’s eyebrows raised, but he nodded. “You’ve got a theory?”
“Hitting the White House or the Pentagon would be ideal for Al Shabah, but it has too much risk of failure. Too much security. He’ll want to go for New York. Something he can show the world: No matter how much America rebuilds itself, he’ll be there to tear it back down.”
“Those are my thoughts too,” Blackwell nodded. “Bravo team will back you up from here. They’ll be on call to deploy as soon as you have something. You’ll be coordinating the search with Special Agent Masters. He’s due to arrive in theatre tomorrow.”
Rhys leaned his long frame back in his chair and eyed the screen. “Can this Al Shabah even get into the States?”
Zach answered for Blackwell. “This guy has gotten into numerous Western countries, even after he’s given them warning. He was responsible for the bus bombing in Germany and the Underground one in the U.K. I don’t know how he’ll do it, but we’ve got to be prepared for him. He’ll make it to North America.”