Baby, Come Back by Zara Chase
“It’s goddamned suicidal.”
“Remember who you’re talking to, soldier.”
“It’s goddamned suicidal…sir.”
“It sucks,” Zeke said, his voice an angry hiss. “Sir.”
Colonel Pool glowered at Raoul and Zeke. Raoul and Zeke glowered right back, not giving a damn if their new commanding officer was pissed at their insubordination. Get used to it, asshole. As tough, experienced Special Forces Green Berets?the elite of the elite?normal military discipline didn’t apply to them. All members of the squad were encouraged to speak their minds about the dangerous missions they undertook in even more dangerous parts of the world. Now some highfaluting command task force comprising US and Israeli top brass had been put together, and they’d had Colonel Pool foisted upon them. Geez!
“Hamas extremists are out to kill the peace negotiations we’ve worked so hard to set up,” Lieutenant Colonel Hassan of the Israeli Defense Force said in a calm tone that only fractionally defused the tension. Hassan enjoyed Raoul’s respect. Pool, who was more a politician than a solider and put his own interests before those of the men under his command, did not. “We’ve been trying to infiltrate their ranks for months, with zero success.”
“You don’t need to tell us that.” Zeke growled.
Raoul and Zeke, with bearded faces and skin tanned by long hours of exposure to the fierce Palestinian sun as they tried to do the infiltrating, looked more Palestinian than American. Right now, in their Israeli headquarters, they had forgone the traditional Palestinian clothing that had become second nature to them in favor of jeans and T-shirts. Even so, Raoul was aware their communal stance projected power, strength, and an ever-present threat of danger, because that was the only way they knew. Pool looked wary of them, which showed he wasn’t completely clueless. Raoul could happily detach his head from his shoulders using just his bare hands. The jackass didn’t give a fuck about the lives he was putting in danger in his reckless quest for personal glory.
Raoul’s wife’s life, to be precise.
They knew when they shipped out to Israel that Cantara would be talking to some lethal individuals in an effort to bring all the Palestinian splinter groups to the negotiating table. That was the whole point of being here. But it had slipped her mind to mention that she’d agreed to act as go-between with this particular faction.
“It smells like a trap,” Raoul said adamantly. “And my wife ain’t gonna be the bait.”
“They’ve asked specifically for her,” Pool snapped. “Won’t speak to anyone else.”
Raoul ground his jaw, furious at Cantara for agreeing to the mission without speaking to him and Zeke first. Knowing why she hadn’t. If it was a genuine olive branch on the part of the extremists, it was the opportunity they had almost given up on. Cantara wasn’t stupid—far from it—and knew what this could mean for her troubled country. As always, she wasn’t thinking about her own welfare. But Raoul and Zeke sure as hell were. Someone had to.
“And you don’t find that ever so slightly suspicious?” Raoul asked, not bothering to keep the sarcasm out of his tone.
“Your wife is a well-respected moderate.”
“My wife is a woman,” Raoul snapped back. “Since when have those misanthropes ever talked politics with a woman?”
“You think they know she’s married to you?” Hassan asked.
“I sure as hell hope not. We’ve kept that knowledge under wraps. She doesn’t wear a ring or use my name, but the militants have as many spies dotted about as we do.” Raoul shrugged. “I wouldn’t bet against them knowing.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Zeke said, his voice a threatening growl that even Raoul found intimidating. “She ain’t going.”
“She’s already agreed,” Pool yelled, slapping his fist against his desk for emphasis. “And you are out of line, Orion.”
Raoul curled his upper lip derisively. Like yelling and table-slapping was going to intimidate men of their caliber. “And I can get her to change her mind, just like that,” he said, walking up to the colonel, crowding his personal space and snapping his fingers beneath his nose. The colonel actually flinched and took a step backward.
“We’ll make sure she has good backup,” Hassan said. “But we really can’t pass up on this chance, no matter the risks. Besides, your wife can handle herself.”
“If she goes, then Zeke and I are her rearguard,” Raoul said grudgingly, not trusting anyone else with his—their—wife’s back.
“That’s a negative, sergeant,” Pool said dismissively. “You’re personally involved, which will affect your judgment.”
“Damned straight it will.” Raoul continued to crowd Pool. “I don’t know how else to make you understand this…sir, but unless we’re there to watch her back then Cantara doesn’t go. End of story.”
“You’re making a big mistake, Washington, issuing me with threats.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but we don’t give a fuck about your ego, Colonel,” Zeke said, staring him down. “Our concern is for Cantara, and those are the only terms under which we’ll let her go. Take ’em or leave ’em.”
Hassan and Pool shared a glance. “Okay,” Pool said reluctantly. “You two can be part of her backup team.”
“Nope, we are her backup team,” Raoul said. “We’re the best you have, and you know it. The militants will be on the lookout for a tail, but we stand an outside chance of blending in. Any more than two of us, and the whole operation will be blown, to say nothing of Cantara’s chances of surviving.”
Pool glowered at Raoul and Zeke, clearly more concerned about saving face than saving Cantara. It was Hassan who broke the brittle silence.
“Agreed,” he said curtly.