Captured, p.1
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       Captured, p.1

           Jasinda Wilder
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Captured


  Contents

  Title

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Epilogue

  Sneak Peek

  Also By

  CAPTURED

  By

  Jasinda & Jack Wilder

  Copyright (c) 2014 by Jasinda Wilder and Jack Wilder

  CAPTURED

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Cover art by Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations. Cover art copyright (c) 2014 Sarah Hansen.

  Once again, this book is dedicated to all the men and women of the armed forces of the United States of America, past, present, and future. Thank you for your service, especially those who went boots down and didn't make it home in one piece, or at all. You are not forgotten.

  PROLOGUE

  THE LETTER

  Thomas, my love.

  I'm writing this in our bed. You're lying next to me, sleeping.

  There's so much I wish I could say to you, but I know time is short. You ship out tomorrow. Again. I can't say it doesn't bother me. It does. Of course it does. It hurts every time. I act brave for you, but I hate it. I hate watching you lace up your boots. I hate watching you pack your bag. I hate watching you straighten your tie in the mirror. I hate how goddamned sexy you look in your uniform. Most of all, I hate kissing you goodbye, hate watching you turn around, your broad back straight as you disappear down the jetway. I hate that your eyes are dry when mine are wet.

  I hate all that. I know I signed up for it when I married a Marine. I knew from the very beginning that you'd go into combat. I knew it, and married you anyway. How could I not? I loved you so much from the very beginning, from the first time I saw you, all those years ago.

  You remember? I was visiting my brother at Twentynine Palms, and I saw you running with your unit. You looked right at me, and I knew in that very instant we were going to be together forever. You dropped out of rank, ran over to me. You kissed me. Right there, the gunnery sergeant yelling at you, in front of half the damn base. You didn't even ask my name. You just kissed me, and rejoined your unit. You got in a lot of trouble for that stunt.

  I never thought I'd see you again, but you found me. You knew my brother, who was with me at the time. You asked him who I was a few days later. He said he'd let you have a shot with me if I was willing, but if you broke my heart, he'd break your face. You showed up at my hotel room dressed in civvies. You took me to Olive Garden, and we got drunk on red wine. We made love that night in my hotel room. You remember that night? I sure do. I remember every single moment.

  Just like I remember every other moment of our lives together. Eight years. Did you know that? You ship out tomorrow, and tomorrow is the eight-year anniversary--to the day--of the first time we met, when you kissed me.

  God, Tom. You know why I remember every single moment? Because for most of our eight years together, you've been deployed. Three tours in Iraq, and you are just about to ship out for your third tour in Afghanistan. I miss you, Tom. Every day, I miss you. Even when you're home I miss you, because I know you're always going to leave again.

  But this time? This ship-out? It's been the hardest. It's so hard I can't take it. Can't stand it. I can't, Tom. I can't watch you leave again, knowing you could die. Knowing you might not come back.

  You didn't say much about what happened with your friend Hunter, from your unit, when he went MIA, but I know it was painful for everyone. He came back, thank god, but you were a mess. You called me from the base. You were going crazy with worry. You thought he was dead. Your friend Derek had been injured, too. I remember all that. And I just...I don't think I could handle it if that happened to you.

  Especially not now.

  I've gone in circles over this a million times in my head. I've nearly told you so many times. But I just can't. It would make it harder for you to leave, and I know it's hard enough as it is. It would make it harder for me if I told you in person. You're going to be mad at me for not telling you. I know, and I'm sorry. But this is the only way that makes sense to me.

  I'm pregnant, Tom.

  I'm going to have your baby.

  I wasn't sure at first. I thought maybe it was just the stress of knowing your leave was ending that made me miss my period. But then I took a test. Three of them, actually.

  I'm pregnant. God, I'm pregnant. I'm going to have a baby.

  Please come home to me, Tom. Come home alive. No matter what, you have to come back. I need you. Our baby needs you.

  I love you so, so much, Tom. More than I'll ever be able to say. You'll be fine. You'll come back to me. To US.

  Always, always yours,

  Reagan.

  P.S.: I hope it's a boy. I want him to look just like you.

  CHAPTER 1

  DEREK

  Eastern Afghanistan, 2007

  The Humvee stinks of sweat and tension. I've got "Where the Green Grass Grows" stuck in my head. Some asshat had a Tim McGraw album on repeat for about two hours before I threatened to shove my fist down his throat if he didn't turn it off. He shut it off real quick, but the damage was done, and that goddamn song has been running through my head for the last three motherfuckin' days.

  So now, rumbling down some dirt track through the middle of nowhere, I still can't get that song out of my head. I'm even humming the damned thing, and the guys keep ragging me about it.

  I don't even like country music.

  Barrett is sitting next to me in the back, and Lewis is driving. McConnell is up front riding shotgun. Our Humvee is the third in line out of four. We've been going across some of the flattest, driest country I've ever seen, but that's changing as we climb into a mountain range. Things are about to get hilly and serpentine, and that's when shit could get hairy. Which explains the tension.

  It's the kind of gut-churning anticipation that, in my experience, always precedes something shitty and severely gnarly. You ain't got dick to do but stare out the window, and, this being Afghanistan, nothing's out the window except brown hills, brown dirt, and the endless blue bowl of the sky. And it's always right in the middle of this mind-numbing boredom that you get yanked back to reality.

  I feel the Humvee tilt and hear the engine groan as we hit an incline.

  "Look sharp, fuckers," Lewis barks. "This here is ambush country."

  I thumb off the safety. My heart hammers. My stomach is a chasm with a river of adrenaline roaring at the bottom. Barrett is leaning back away from the window, hunched down to get a line of sight on the ridge rising around us on either side like the serrated edge of a rusty knife. I assume the same lookout posture, my finger resting outside the trigger guard.

  Here in the foothills we're surrounded by naked rock, which is absorbing the sunlight and reflecting it back as ba
king heat. Higher up there'll be vegetation, but down here, it's just rock, bare stone thrusting up out of the hard-packed dirt. The ridges climb and fold into each other, shove together and knife apart, providing a myriad of little nooks and crannies, caves and caverns, places where a man with an RPG can lie down and be invisible from our vantage point. Which is exactly what I was told to expect. It's what the lieutenant expected when he got the orders to send us up to visit a couple of villages on the other side of these hills. He bitched up the chain about the mission, but the fuckin' brass knew damn well they were sending us through an area known for ambushes. They sent us anyway, and denied our requests for backup, air support, or any heavy armor. In and out, they said. Just check out the reports of enemy activity in the area and come on back.

  Right.

  The roiling of nerves turns to cold sweat despite the heat inside the vehicle. My chest is throbbing, my hands shaking.

  "Lewis?" I say.

  "What?" he barks. Lewis always barks. It's his natural state: aggravated, sullen, petulant.

  "I got a bad feeling about this."

  "Yeah, me, too," McConnell says, smirking at me.

  "Can you pencil-necked dweebs quit quoting Star Wars for one goddamn second? I think I've got contact." Barrett's low, gravelly voice cuts through our chatter.

  "Where?" I say.

  He points out the window, high above our location. "Two o'clock. Way up there. It was just a flash of movement, but I know I saw something."

  Lewis keys his mic. "Possible contact. Two o'clock high."

  A voice comes back in our ears, Addison in the vehicle immediately ahead of us. "Roger that. I saw it, too."

  I count the next sixty seconds individually--they pass like molasses in January. We drive past a low scrub bush on the edge of the road, a puff of wind-borne dust skirls, tires crunch, McConnell charges his M4, Lewis mutters "fuck" under his breath.

  "CONTACT!" The scream comes over the radio, shrill, panicked. "GO! GO-GO-GO! He's about to fire--"

  Whooooosh...BOOM!

  RPG. Shitshitfuck. I hate that goddamn sound.

  I feel the shockwaves of the RPG detonation in the ground beneath me, and--CRUMP--our entire Humvee is rocked by a second explosion, an IED.

  My ears ring.

  Hackhackhackhackhack--an AK-47, high. Two of them. Three. Fourfivesix separate reports.

  Heat, someone screaming. Crackcrackcrack...crackcrackcrack--an M4 carbine from ahead and to my left. I smell smoke, and the horrible, unmistakable scent of charred flesh.

  I throw myself out the door, land on my knees, and crouch behind the open door. Barrett slithers out of my door and hunkers down beside me as bullets thunk and plink and pitpitpit into the metal of the Humvee and the glass and the dirt. Ahead, a plume of gray-black smoke rises angrily, lit by flames. The first truck in the convoy hit an IED, and the last in line was blasted by an RPG, trapping the convoy in place.

  Absurdly, I hear myself singing Tim McGraw under my breath, "corn poppin' up in rows...."

  "Shut the fuck up, West," Barrett snaps at me. "I hate that fuckin' song."

  "Me, too."

  "Then why are you singing it?"

  "It's stuck in my head, okay? I can't help it."

  Lewis is beside us. "Cut the chatter, you two." He points ahead of us where Abraham, Nielsen, Martinez, and Okuzawa of Echo Company are crouched behind their as-yet undamaged truck. "We gotta get a line of fire up on that ridge. Get over to Echo and lay down some covering fire so Nielsen can get his SAW planted."

  "Sir." I peek up through the window, see a flash of muzzle flash, wait for the firing to die down, then scurry forward to the edge of the truck.

  I peer around the Humvee. Barrett is behind me, then McConnell, then Lewis. I'm always point, Lewis always last. I count...one--two--three...and then swing around the hood and bring my rifle to my shoulder. It jerks, and I barely hear the crackcrackcrack as I fire at where I saw the flash. The other three in my squad roll past me, Lewis hanging around the ass-end of Echo's Humvee and laying down fire. Abraham is firing over the hood, and Nielsen is unfolding the legs of his bipod, slamming down on the hood and drawing aim on the ridge where the contact seems to be heaviest. Bullets walk up the dirt toward Nielsen and hit the truck, and then he rolls around and drops to a crouch beside Abraham. I send half a dozen rounds flying, and then I hear a grunt, and watch as the muzzle flash stops abruptly.

  "West, Barrett." Lewis points at each of us, and then at the burning wreckage ahead. "See if anyone's alive in there. Nielsen, cover them."

  The SAW rips and echoes in short bursts, and Barrett and I run for the wreckage. It's burning from the front end. I slide to a stop in a low crouch, peer into the driver's side window. Nope. Blaskowski and Allen are both raw reddened messes. I leave them for now. Barrett is firing from around the ass-end, so I jerk open the passenger door. Silva is alive, bleeding from a gash on his forehead, and Glidden is moaning and clutching his stomach. I sling my rifle around my back, grab Glidden beneath his armpits, and pull. He hits the ground and screams.

  "Sorry, buddy," I tell him. "Gotta get you clear. Can you move?"

  "Ffffuck." He strains, his heels dig at the dirt. "Trying."

  I pull him backward through the dirt toward the rest of Echo and my guys from Foxtrot. He's heavy, two hundred pounds plus full gear, but I get him behind the intact Humvee and leave him for Lewis to look at. I scramble back to get Silva, jerk him roughly from the Humvee. His head lolls on his shoulder, blood and dirt smeared on his face. His eyes are open but glazed, unblinking.

  I shake him. "Silva!"

  He blinks. "D? The fuck?"

  "Ambush, buddy. You okay?"

  He doesn't answer right away. "Head. It hurts. Can't hear." He stares past me, and something flickers in his gaze. He fumbles at his side for his rifle, brings it up, and fires. The barrel is less than six inches from my ear, and I'm deafened by the report. I clap my hand to my ear and scramble aside. Bullets snap and buzz, and I watch as Silva is hit: shoulder--neck--face. He goes down in a spray of blood, but the bullets stop, telling me Silva's bullets found an insurgent.

  "Fuck." I glance at his dead body, and I'm frozen for a second.

  Barrett is oblivious, his focus trained on the opposite ridge, adjusting his aim and firing, shift, fire, shift, fire. I register the sound of his rifle: crackcrackcrack--crackcrackcrack...crackcrackcrack.

  The sound of Barrett firing brings me back to the present, and I plant my back against the door of the truck, chest rising and falling frantically, panic bubbling in my gut. It's an all-too-familiar feeling. Anyone who says they aren't scared in combat is a dirty fucking liar. I've been in combat more times than I can count, and I'm scared shitless every single goddamn time. Like right now. Silva was my boy. We pumped iron together all the time, sparred together, swapped dick jokes. Now he's fucking dead, and so are Blast and Allen and who the fuck knows who else.

  Get it the fuck together, Derek. I shake myself, check the load on my magazine, and slam it home. Roll out, scan for muzzle flash, find a target, roll back. Pause. Swing out, fire. Bam, he's meat.

  "WEST! BARRETT!" Lewis shouts.

  I give him my attention. He signals for us to cross over and try to get up and around, giving the same orders to Martinez and Okuzawa for the opposite direction. He does a descending five-count on his fingers--five...four...three...two...one--and then the SAW is barking and echoing and ripping, Abraham and Lewis and McConnell all pouring fire onto the ridge. Barrett and I lurch out and scramble across the road, flatten against the rock face. Dirt crunches in my teeth. I pant, summon saliva, and spit the grit from my mouth. Barrett examines the terrain, and then points to a section where it might be possible to clamber up. He kneels and points his M4 up the ridge, and I sling my rifle on my back, heart hammering. I make it up about a dozen feet, and then the hill levels off enough for me to press back in a crouch, lean out, and wave Barrett up. I hear him huffing and scrambling, and then his head pokes up and I
wait until he's on top of me.

  We're two big men in full combat gear sharing a scrap of rock barely four feet wide, so we're forced to hug each other to stay balanced. Barrett grins, dirt on his face. "Kiss me, and I'll shove you off this rock, you pussy," he says in a low voice.

  I put a foot on the escarpment and lever myself up. "Who the hell would kiss your ugly fucking face?"

  "The hottest woman in all of Texas, that's who."

  "Good point," I say with a laugh, because god knows he's telling the truth.

  Reagan Barrett is fine as hell. She hosted a unit send-off party at their house outside Houston before we left for this latest tour. I'd suffered through years of Barrett's endless nattering about how beautiful and amazing his wife was and thought, like most guys, he was full of shit. I came to find out he was understating the case, if anything. But she's my buddy's wife, which means she's as off-limits as a woman can get.

  Barrett nails my bicep with a sharp punch. "Hey, fucker. That's my wife."

  "I was just agreeing with you, that's all."

  "Well, don't."

  "Fine. She's ugly as sin. You got a paper bag?" I'm glad for the banter, because it keeps my mind off the fact that I'm climbing up a rock face, essentially helpless, right into the waiting arms of the enemy.

  "Asshole," Barrett mutters. "You know what I meant."

  I'm out of sight at that point, and the sound of AK fire is getting louder. We're close now. This is a bad, bad idea. I could literally climb right into their laps, and my rifle will be slung behind my back. I hear Barrett climbing up behind me. Glancing up, I see that the rock angles in again. I climb up carefully, slowly. Peek over, see a lip running off into the distance. We're about fifty feet up at this point, and, by the proximity of the sounds, I can tell we're about to have a good old time with these Taliban fuckers.

  I flop onto my belly, roll against the wall, rise to a crouch, and bring my M4 around. Barrett is up beside me, replacing his magazine and pulling the charging handle. We exchange glances. I nod and move forward as quietly as possible, which is stupid, since the sound of gunfire is loud enough to cover any sounds we might make, but it's habit at this point. The hill face bends away in a curve, and I crane my neck to see around it. Bingo. I do a quick count, turn back to Barrett, and hold up six fingers. He nods.

 

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