Here's a teaser of the new book I'm working on -- tentatively called Night Maneuvers -- and it's the second sequel to ON DANGER'S EDGE!
Thunder rumbled in the distance over the Colorado mountains. Tucked away in his family’s seldom used villa, Rick Hansen’s eyes fluttered open with uneasy thoughts. He stared out the window at the pitch black sky, thinking, knowing the visions in his mind were even bleaker. He pressed his lids shut. He needed sleep, yet his tired mind remained in that weird place between awake and total oblivion.
They were on point, he and his best friend Chas. Sweat coated Rick’s armpits. Without mercy, the Afghan sun beat hot against his body, the wind from the rugged, barren mountains around them burning his face.
“Yeah,” Chas Branford said walking next to him, his mouth cocked in that shit-eating grin he wore when he was pleased with himself, “the girl was a great piece of ass. Dark, smooth skin...whew.”
Rick snickered, smoldering under his Kevlar helmet and body armor, then nodded, not really liking the way Chas talked about women. But after so many years as friends, he found the banter easier to take if he agreed.
“You need to come with me next time.” His prep school buddy punched him in the arm. Rick eyed him through his peripheral vision wondering why he’d stayed friends with him for so long. He and Chas were nothing alike.
Chas droned next to him as Rick studied the sandy landscape of the valley they patrolled, ever vigilant. The enemy was out there, somewhere, and he didn’t want to get blown to hell by some rusty Russian IED that had long been forgotten after the Taliban’s victory over the old Soviet Union, a victory that could only be won with the help of the CIA. Rick snorted in contempt, wondering why we ever supported the same radicals that shook America’s eastern seaboard.
Then he grimaced, remembering the damage he’d seen from a hidden explosive when they’d first arrived. The guy had just made sergeant. Was his daughter’s birthday. He’d been yakking about his little girl when he stepped on the damn thing. Not pretty.
“Keep your eyes peeled, Chas. You don’t know what fucked up crap is out here.”
“Sheeeeiiittt. I’m doing that, man.” He removed his helmet and ran a hand through his short hair. When the platoon sergeant yelled at Chas, he plopped the Dome of Obedience back on his head and cussed. “Hell, I don’t know what we’re doing here.”
Rick snorted. “You mean what we’re doing tramping in the high desert looking for the enemy, or why we joined the army and came to Afghanistan?”
“Both,” Chas growled.
Rick cut his eyes toward his childhood friend. “Your father, remember?” Never one to suffer, Chas had quickly gotten sick of the army’s stark routine but Chas’ ego wouldn’t let them back out, even when Rick’s dad offered to pull some strings to get them released.
For a moment, Chas’ eyes grew cold and distant. Then he snorted and came back to reality. “Yeah, I know. But I wish I had the real bastards behind this shit. I’d put an IED up their a-holes instead of burning the hell out of my feet marching around the fucking desert after stupid rag-head grunts.”
Rick knew Chas thought they were too good for this. After all, the two of them came from money and good breeding. Rick huffed to emphasize his point. “Those guys’ are such assholes their butts are too huge for an explosive to stay in. That’s why we find the shit buried in the sand so often. They fall out.”
Chas laughed. His normally smooth patrician features crinkled in the sun-reddened skin around his eyes and mouth. “Yeah.” His voice dropped as he looked away and walked on. When the sergeant told them to keep their eyes peeled and spread out, Chas moved a few feet farther away. Rick kept tabs on him from the corner of his eye. He knew Chas dwelt too much on the events that brought them here. Right now, his friend’s mind wasn’t really in the game.
The deep rumblings of the storm in the far distance interrupted Rick’s sleep-induced vision like static on the radio. He tossed and covered his head with the pillow then fell back into his Morphean state, hoping to find sleep sometime tonight. Slumber eluded him lately—the deadened state where he didn’t have to remember grew fewer and farther between.
He closed his eyes as another flash lit the night sky.
Chas snorted again, loudly this time. “Hey, I wonder what Flabby Tabby is doing these days. Damn girl was ugly as sin, especially with those coke bottles on her eyes, but she was a smart one. She always had a thing for you.”
Rick bit the inside of his cheek before he said something that would make Chas take aim at their childhood friend, cutting her in absentia with his caustic remarks. A year younger than him, Rick swallowed thinking of the tomboy he and his buddies had grown up with. “Tab” she liked to be called. After all, Tabitha was too foo-foo sounding for a boy. Rick smirked, remembering. She’d been his best friend until high school and a damn good shortstop. Tab’s father, an ex-navy seal, had been the family bodyguard. The man raised Tab himself after her mother died. Too young at the time to remember Mrs. Wellbourne, Rick had come to respect Nolan, Tab’s dad. The man was like a second father to him. Something he needed, especially with his own father gone so often on business. Nolan Wellbourne taught Rick everything he knew about surviving in the wilderness and how to defend himself—how to be a man. In turn, Rick’s mother kind of took Tab under her wing, trying to teach her to appreciate the finer aspects of being feminine. He remembered his mother, after finding Tab crying from a skinned knee, teaching her to play the piano. Rick recalled many an occasion finding Tabitha alone in the music room playing. Caught, she’d insisted her practicing was only to please his mother. But she grew good at it.
He smiled. He could still see the intense look on Tabitha’s face when she played. Closing his eyes a brief moment, he imagined the lilting sound of the Moonlight Sonata in the background.
A sudden blast deafened Rick and yanked him from his musings. He grabbed his head as a sharp pain lanced through his eardrums. Warm blood dripped down the side of his face from the soft flesh that pelted him. A sick feeling twisted his gut.
He opened his eyes and stared where Chas had stood. Chas’ blue eyes glared back at him a few feet away. His friend’s chest rose from his mangled torso as he sucked in a breath.
Smirking, Chas huffed. “Tell...mom...I’m sorry.”
His head dropped in the sand. His eyes dead to the world.
A boom cracked near the window. Rick bolted up, his nude body drenched in sweat. The light flashed. He stood and wiped a hand over his face to get his bearings. It was just the storm. Inhaling, he worked to steady his breathing as he shoved the curtain aside to peer out the windowpanes, reassuring himself he was still in the family getaway between Snowmass and Aspen.
In the courtyard to the untended garden outback, someone jumped from the hot tub. Someone naked. The sinewed, willowy body wrapped a towel around herself then stared at the three-quarters length window where he stood.
It was her. Tabitha. How did she get here? Or was he dreaming?
The ethereal form stared a moment longer then dashed into the rain.
Rick shoved the window open and yelled for her but in moments the vision vanished into the mists.
Cold wind and rain buffeted him. Rick straightened and ran a hand through his hair. He had sworn that was her. But she’d looked so different. Sleek instead of full-figured. Yet, she had to have recognized him. Was it her? Or was he still dreaming?
He shook his head. His mind played tricks on him again. That had to be it. Damn, the dreams were getting worse. He rubbed his temples. Thank God, his team finally got to rest. He needed a break to recover.
Closing the window, he eased under the sheets, thinking as his body shivered from the cold. The new housekeeper that had greeted him on his arrival had told him no one else was here. In fact, the only reason the housekeeper had been there was to ready the place for his parents arrival. That’s what she’d said. There was a lot to do. His dad, too busy to rest, had closed the house years ago, but since Rick was stateside for a while, his parents had decided to do a family get-together in a few weeks. So no one else should be there. Yet he’d seen someone—a female, of that he was sure.
And it wasn’t the housekeeper.
Uneasy with his thoughts, he decided on the only thing he could. Tomorrow he would search the house and find out for himself. He was too tired to do it now. He needed rest. But he also needed to reassure himself. If the intruder was Tab, he’d want to know why she ran from him. If it was someone else, he wanted to know what the hell the woman was doing here.
Closing his eyes, he felt his sex harden at the sensual site he’d witnessed. He’d seen the woman’s fully exposed body, the small, darkened patch of hair at the junction of her legs emphasizing her sex. He’d just come back from another mission to Afghanistan, part of the rotation all the Special Forces teams were taking, even though his team generally worked in South America. He hadn’t had a woman in a while. Swallowing, he tossed onto his side and shoved a pillow between his knees, hoping to still the need for someone to hold. Unbidden, the memories of taking Tab in his arms, feeling her lush body under his, haunted him. He forced the thoughts away, knowing that after the embarrassment he let her suffer for his ego years ago, he had permanently alienated her.
Mumbling a curse at the stupidity of his past, he punched the pillow to hollow out a hole then let his head drop against it.
Soon, he fell into an uneasy slumber, the storm punctuating his nightmares.