Authors: Lindsay McKenna
A grin leaked through the hardened line of his mouth. He handed her a file folder. “We’ve been listening, Captain. Read along with me?”
Opening the folder, Morgan felt her spirits lift. Her emotions shimmered as she quickly read the one-paragraph synopsis on the mission. Looking up, she saw the General giving her a penetrating look. Morgan waited for him to speak, even though she wanted to tear through the rest of the assignment and read the details. She hoped like hell she had been assigned to it.
“You’re a part of Operation Shadow Warriors,” he began, opening the file. “Forty women volunteers from all the military branches were trained either in Rangers or Special Forces schools and are now in ground combat to prove women have what it takes to do the job in the field. We’re in the third year of a seven-year top secret experiment. I’m pleased to tell you, it’s going very well in showing women can handle combat.”
“Yes, sir.” Hope rose in her breast. Morgan had never wanted an assignment more than this one. Was General Houston letting her have it or not? She couldn’t read the man’s deeply tanned face.
“You’ve been very active and vocal about mounting a mission to take out Khogani. He’s an opium drug lord with the Hill tribe near the border area with Pakistan.”
“Yes, sir, I have.” She’d spoken to General Maya Stevenson, who had spearheaded women in combat, starting with the Black Jaguar Squadron down in Peru years earlier. Maya had put together a plan of an all-woman Apache combat squadron to halt cocaine shipments out of that country. It had been approved and had been a spectacular success. Then, Stevenson had organized Operation Shadow Warriors three years ago. It was a program putting women’s boots on the ground in various combat theaters.
Morgan wasted no time in pleading her case directly to the General to mount a mission. She wanted to even the terrible score over in Afghanistan. Morgan had been caught up in the battle along with a group of Green Berets, wounded and one of the few survivors of Khogani’s attack on a Shinwari tribe village.
Houston nodded. “You’re going to get your wish, Captain. You’ve been a SEAL trained sniper for three years now, and you’ve exemplified yourself in that department. You’ve been downrange with SEAL and Special Forces units for the past three years.”
“I have the background it takes to successfully complete this mission, sir.”
“There’s no question about that, Captain.”
“I’ve lobbied hard to get this op on the board, sir.”
Houston smiled a little at the brash woman officer. “If you could suffer a little more with me, Captain, let’s talk about the mission details?”
Chastised, Morgan relaxed against the chair. She saw humor in his eyes, as if he were putting up with a petulant, pushy child. “Yes, sir, sorry, sir. I’ve got a few guns in this fight.”
Houston nodded and sobered. He was familiar with SEAL slang. “A gun in the fight” meant the person had a personal, vested interest in the undertaking. Morgan had never gone through SEAL training. Instead, she’d been working off and on with them for years over in Afghanistan. Their slang and lingo were bound to rub off on her.
“I understand. General Stevenson and I are responsible for the inception of Operation Shadow Warriors. We took your request seriously when you submitted this mission to General Stevenson. We’ve worked with SOCOM, Special Operation Command, up and down the chain of command to ensure this mission, which is now called Operation Peregrine, is successful.”
“Thank you, sir. You don’t know how much this means to me.” Morgan held her breath as he slowly leafed through several pages of the mission. Would they let her be on the op? Just because they approved it didn’t mean she was assigned. They had to allow her to be a part of it! Never had Morgan ever wanted anything more in life right now than to go after SangarKhogani. She had two scores to settle with him.
At the same time, she knew Houston was well aware she was a sniper and a damned good one. She’d proven her skill out in the field many times over. Snipers weren’t supposed to be emotionally involved in the hunting of their quarry. They couldn’t do their job if revenge was upper most on their minds. Emotions clouded a sniper’s mind-set; something no one wanted in the field during an op. Morgan realized she’d revealed her personal and emotional need to have a stake in this op. A stupid move on her part.
And now, General Houston knew how badly she wanted Khogani. Would he overlook her passion? Or not? Unsure, Morgan forced herself to sit quietly and wait. After all, that’s what snipers did best. Patience was a virtue among the sniper cadre, and ordinarily, Morgan had the patience of Job. But Khogani stirred up violent, angry emotions in her, and there was no way around it. She wanted that bastard dead. His head on a platter. And she wanted to be the one who put it there.
“Go to page four, Captain. This entails the guts of the op.”
Morgan’s gaze went to page four. There were two names chosen for the op. One was her, which sent a giddy emotion of joy through her. When her eyes dropped to the second name, her heart plunged with disbelief. Gulping, she snapped a look up across the desk at Houston. Struggling to speak, she rasped, “But—sir, I’m assigned to this op with Lieutenant Jake Ramsey?” For a moment, she felt as if someone had hit her with an armor piercing round to her Kevlar vest, sucking the breath out of her.
“That’s right.” Mike Houston said. “General Stevenson and I want this to be a SEAL mission. You’ve worked well with them in the past. We needed a SEAL sniper who could be sniper leader on the op.”
Morgan swallowed her disappointment. “Yes, sir,” she barely mouthed. There would be no way in hell she could voice protest over Ramsey being assigned. On top of that, he had been designated as lead sniper. In the sniping business, they were both equally qualified, but one sniper would be the leader, the final decision maker. And it would be him
The ramifications of the assignment whirled like a nightmare around her. Obviously, these generals did not know their long personal history. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Morgan was sure she’d never have been assigned to the op if General Houston realized what she and Jake had once been to each other.
Lifting her head, she said, “Sir? What led you to choose Lieutenant Ramsey?”
Mike sat back in his leather chair and said, “His name was spit out by the computer, Captain. Any problems with that?”
“None, sir,” she lied, her voice husky as she carefully closeted her roiling feelings. That was why she’d met Jake in the parking lot.
“General Stevenson is interviewing First Lieutenant Ramsey as we speak. If she feels he’s the right man for the job, we’ll be setting up the briefing tomorrow at 0900 here in this office. We’ll all go over the details of this op at that time.” He picked up a voucher and handed it to her. “You’ll both be staying at this hotel located near the Pentagon. I know you just came out of Afghanistan, flying for almost twenty-four hours to make this meeting, Captain. Get a hot meal under your belt tonight and get a good night’s sleep. I need you a hundred percent tomorrow morning. Understand?”
Quickly coming to her feet at attention, Morgan said, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Morgan forced herself to turn and walk to the door. Emotions clashed within her. She felt a little dizzy. As she left the office, she was grateful not to see Jake Ramsey. She kept walking toward the front doors,, trying to deal with this new development. Closing her eyes for a moment, she dragged in an uneven breath, forcing all those feelings down into her once more. It didn’t work.
Morgan fought the deep jet lag. She’d only been able to grab some sleep aboard the C-5 that had flown her from Bagram air base in Afghanistan to Rota, Spain and then on to Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington, D.C.
Pushing herself, Morgan left the Pentagon, glad to be in out the warm May sunlight once more. The breeze reminded her she was home, if but for a little while, not in the harsh desert mountains of Afghanistan with a hunter-killer SEAL team. Aiming herself at the rented SUV, Morgan looked at the voucher. She was so damned tired, she was weaving. Houston was right: she needed a hot shower and then bed. If she woke up sometime this evening, she’d get dinner to fortify herself. Because the turnaround on this op was immediate. The schedule had them leaving within twenty-four hours, headed back into Afghanistan.
As she opened the door to the SUV, Morgan wanted to check in to the hotel and make a call to her parents in Gunnison, Colorado. And even more, she wanted to talk to her two-year-old daughter, Emma. Just thinking about her family buoyed Morgan. She tried to force her thoughts away from Jake Ramsey. What did he think of the sniper pairing on this op? He had to be feeling like an IED had exploded beneath him. Morgan knew without any doubt, the last woman Jake would ever want on a mission with him would be her. Correction, he’d never want any woman on a mission with him, believing they were incapable of operating in combat.
All hell was about to break loose….
This is the revised text of a work first published as HOLD FAST ’TIL MORNING by The Berkley/Jove Publishing Group in 1982.
Copyright © 1982 as HOLD FAST ’TIL MORNING by Beth Brookes Copyright © 2013 as WHEN TOMORROW COMES by Lindsay McKenna Excerpt from DOWN RANGE
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