Tehran wasn’t half bad. It sure as shit wasn’t what I had expected it to be like when I’d first deployed. Imagine the surprise of that bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid straight out of BUD/S training when we landed, not in some war-torn shithole but in a thriving modern city.
As a country, Iran was actually surprisingly easy on the eyes. Snow-capped mountain peaks rose above the city in the distance. The house in front of me had to be some kind of architectural wonder, and giant old trees lined the streets outside.
The people were pretty cool, too. I even had a suit guy here now. I’d been coming here on missions for seven years. Obviously, I had a suit guy. I also had a tea guy. I couldn’t get enough of his stuff.
Fuckers like the one inside the modern marvel of a house, however, were the ones giving this place a bad rap. Eden and I were camped out on his street, miles away from the next nearest neighbor.
The man lived up in the hills in a nice part of town. Due to years of conflict and hardship, many Iranian citizens would never even see this part of their own city.
Dawn had broken about an hour ago, and the air still had that quiet quality to it. It was that part of the day before traffic really started up and people piled into the street.
Too bad the quiet in the neighborhood was about to get broken in the worst way possible.
Because despite the serene swaying of the treetops in the breeze and the peaceful atmosphere, the man who lived in the house was a terrorist. A real, live terrorist who was currently holding seven American hostages.
Eden lifted a pair of sleek black binoculars to his eyes. “The target is on the move. I repeat, the target is on the move.”
Our lieutenant’s voice rang out into the speaker lodged in my ear. “Wait for my command. Don’t move forward until I say so.”
“Yes, sir,” Eden murmured. “I’ve still got a clear view of the hostages. All appear to be unharmed.”
“Let’s keep it that way,” the lieutenant commanded. “Wait for my order, boys. Don’t move in yet.”
My hands clenched around the magazine of my gun in frustration. Those poor people had been with that lunatic for six days now. We might not have been able to see any physical injuries from our distance away, but getting them out felt more urgent than ever.
Eden’s jaw tightened, but he gave a sharp nod at the order we’d received. “Got it, sir. We’re holding our position.”
His finger dropped away from his ear, and he let out a soft sigh. “How long do you think they’re going to make us wait?”
“It doesn’t matter. We know the plan.” I shrugged, darting a glance at him before returning my attention to the house. “As soon as there’s an opening, we’re making our move. Fuck waiting for orders. We can see what’s going on. They can’t.”
“The lieutenant isn’t going to be happy about that,” Eden mused, but he didn’t disagree. We’d met in basic training and had stuck together since.
I knew he would follow me if I went in. Orders or not.
My friend didn’t always agree with the so-called reckless side of my personality, but he trusted me. Just because I had a slight problem with authority didn’t mean I made wrong calls on the battlefield.
Eden scraped his palm over the white-blond stubble on his jaw. He squinted into his binoculars before his spine shot ramrod straight. “Were you serious? The target just left the room where the hostages are. This could be our window.”
I tapped the earpiece. “Lieutenant? The eagle has left the nest. The eggs have been left unprotected.”
Our sour stickler-for-the-rules leader hated my colorful ways of reporting back, but he’d understand the message.
“Copy that,” he barked, the expected hint of irritation in his voice. Other than that, the radio remained silent. No order to go ahead followed.
“Keep your eyes on the target,” I instructed Eden. “Where’s he going?”
Moving his head slightly as he tracked our guy, he suddenly grinned. “It looks like he’s headed to the back garden. He’s on the phone.”
I mentally ran through the floor plans we’d committed to memory on the way here. “Any other baddies in there?”
“Not in our path,” he replied, not needing me to verbalize where my mind had gone. “There’s one patrolling. He might intersect with us.”
“Might is a hell of a lot better than will.” I flicked the safety off my gun and jerked my head at the house, smirking at my friend. “You coming?”
“You know it.” Rising silently while he spoke, he waited for me to lead the way.
As I started the stealthy approach, weaving my way through the shrubs and hedges lining the property, I felt the familiar spike of adrenaline coursing through my veins. I fucking loved my job.
Everything inside my body vibrated with the thrill of the mission while at the same time, my mind became calmer than ever. Pure fucking magic.
This, right here, was what I lived for. The rush, the clarity of mind, the sense of control, and the knowledge of impending danger. It was like a drug to me, and like the addict I was, I craved it every second I didn’t have it.
I would never give this up. Not for anything in the whole wide world.
If it wouldn’t have given our position away and placed the hostages’ lives in danger, I would’ve let out a whoop. That was how good I felt.
My boots crunched on the hard, icy ground. Small white puffs of air left my lips with each breath, vanishing into the early morning as we walked right on through them.
I tucked my chin close to my chest, only vaguely aware of the crisp bite licking at the exposed skin of my face. Combat gear covered every other inch of me.
Eden and I made it to the building without being seen. I held my fist up to stop him once we were there. Flattening myself against the exposed brick, I risked a peek around the corner to make sure we were still alone.
Only after confirming that I wasn’t about to lead my friend and partner into a surprise firefight did I give the signal to go ahead. Our footfalls were soft thuds against the concrete walkway surrounding the house.
I kept my eyes wide open, but I couldn’t see any of the guards I knew were around. Hoping they were holding their positions where Eden had spotted them before, I jogged to the back door.
From it, we had a straight shot up the stairs and into the room on the second story where the hostages were being held. Stopping once we reached the unassuming wooden door with slatted glass panes set in it, I strained my ears and squinted to see if I could make out any movement on the other side of it.
The doorjamb was made of solid brass, and it gave easily when I tested it. My brows jumped up in surprise. I shot Eden a glance, but he just shrugged and shook his head from side to side.
These guys must have been pretty damn confident about the location of their safe house if they hadn’t even bothered to lock the door. Their loss was our gain since it allowed us to keep the element of surprise even longer.
“We’re going in,” Eden murmured quietly, his pale green eyes holding mine as he delivered the update to our lieutenant and the rest of our team.
They were going to be pissier than Eden’s devout Catholic ex had been after finding out he’d gone to that strip club, but we’d have to deal with it. There was no other way.
Before there was a burst of activity over the speaker and the Lieutenant threatened my poor innocent balls, I shut the sound off. Those hostages weren’t going to save themselves, and I would be useless to them if I didn’t stay in my zone.
Eden ripped his earpiece clear out, letting it hang by its cord over his shoulder as he nodded at me. “I’m ready.”
“Stay behind me.” I dipped my chin, grinning over my shoulder at him as I slowly twisted the doorknob and aimed my gun. “Let’s go raise a little hell.”
A thick carpet absorbed the sound of my boots stepping into the house. Eden closed the door behind us with the softest of clicks. Neither of us communicated as we crept to a wide, sweeping staircase in the center of the room. We didn’t need to.
Ascending the stairs as fast but quietly as we could, we ran into the first sign of trouble on the landing. One of the guards had his back turned to us as he stared out of the window with a lit cigarette stuck between his teeth.
He hadn’t seen us yet, but he would. If he turned around, the automatic weapon he cradled like a newborn fucking baby in his arms would be in our faces in no time.
Signaling to Eden to stay put, I moved up behind the guard with the determination of a lion stalking its prey. I briefly considered putting a bullet through the back of his head, but the sound of a gunshot would be like announcing our presence using a megaphone and a marching band. Even with a silencer, it would be a dead giveaway that they had company.
No, subtlety is better for now.
As I stepped up behind him, I spun the gun in my palm and slammed the butt into his skull. He dropped like a sack of rocks, but I caught him under the arms before his enormous body hit the floor.
Out cold, his tongue lolled to the side as I brought him down to the carpet. I stomped the cigarette out with the heel of my boot next, then dipped into a quick bow for Eden’s benefit before resuming my focus.
He rolled his eyes at me but also mimed clapping his hands. I knew people thought I didn’t always take the job seriously because of antics like this, but they helped me stay focused. No one took being a professional badass more seriously than I did. I just did it my way.
Motioning to the corridor that led to the room where the hostages were being kept, I turned and stayed close to the wall. Eden and I made steady progress to the door.
Finding it, too, unlocked, I frowned at my brother-in-arms. This was almost too easy, and it was making me suspicious. Even so, I pressed on. There was no time to fall back and reevaluate the plan.
As the door swung open, an armed gunman came racing from the direction of the stairs. Uh oh. He must have found his fallen comrade.
The man’s eyes were black as night, wide and wild as he let out a feral scream. And there goes the element of surprise.
In a matter of minutes, all the guards would be on us. Since it no longer mattered if they heard gunfire, I raised my arm and popped off a shot. It hit its mark, and the threat was eliminated. There was no time to waste, though. The others would be here any second.
“Let’s go,” I barked to Eden, gripping my gun as I ran into the room. Thick rope bound the hostages around their ankles and wrists. Their heads, however, snapped to face us as one when we barreled into the room. “My name is Lincoln Dobbs. Ensign Eden Phillips and I are with the SEALs. We’re here to bring you home. Anybody got any objections to that?”
Various emotions ranging from shock, to fear, to elation crossed their expressions as we jumped into action. I crouched beside the man farthest from the door and unsheathed the knife strapped to my calf.
“What’s your name?” I asked as I sliced through the bonds on his ankles. He looked to be around my age. If memory from our briefing served, he was called Dan or Dave or something like that. An engineer with the Defense Department, if I wasn’t mistaken.
“Dirk,” he said, his voice was rough from disuse.
I nodded, snapping the fingers of my hand not sawing through the ropes on his wrists. “Right. Dirk. You any good with a weapon?”
“I’ve done the training,” he rasped out, rolling his freed hands out for only a second before reaching out to me. “I can handle myself. What have you got? How can I help?”
I slapped a spare pistol into his waiting palm, smirking even though I knew I was digging my hole deeper and deeper. “Cover the door while we free the others. Stay on the side when we’re moving out. Phillips will bring up the rear.”
Dirk gave me a firm nod and stumbled to the door once I’d helped him to his feet. He moved like a geriatric alcoholic who’d been out on the town all night, but at least he made it to the door.
Lord only knew when last these people had moved around. It made sense that his limbs would be a little stiff.
Eden and I cut people free, working our way from the ends of the line to the middle. When my knife slid through the last thread of the last hostage’s ties, I jumped to my feet.
“Get ready to move, people,” I called as I heard footsteps thundering up the stairs. It had taken them longer than I’d thought to react, but we’d officially run out of time. “Is anyone too injured to walk by themselves?”
I asked as a formality, but no one answered in the affirmative. My boots clicked together as I rushed to Dirk at the door, then raised my arm and circled a hand above my head.
Our group burst out of the room and was met by five guards armed to the teeth, as well as the Terrorist in Charge. He stood at the center of the corridor and opened his arms like he was about to kick off an orchestra.
His men surged out from behind him, and the next few minutes were absolute bedlam.
“Get down,” I bellowed as the first shots rang out. The hostages hit the floor immediately.
Eden and I took out a few of the attackers, though I nearly took a bullet in my shoulder. Thankfully, Dirk proved to be pretty damn useful. While we were covering the group, he managed to usher them out of harm’s way.
Debris from the firefight rained down on us. Walls and trinkets exploded as bullets mowed into them. It was total chaos, but eventually, we made it out.
“Is everyone okay?” I asked as soon as we were clear of the house. I turned to face them, breathing hard as excess adrenaline burned through me.
Other than a few scrapes, bumps, and bruises, no one had been injured. Dust and bits of rubble covered our clothes. Eyes were shiny and too wide, but I knew the hostages’ shock would wear off.
“Okay.” I nodded, shooting a thumbs-up at Eden who was keeping watch on the house. “Let’s move out. The rally point isn’t far from here.”
Only once the hostages were safe and loaded into a van to get them back to the base did Eden sidle up to me. His gaze was firmly fixed on our lieutenant. The man might as well have had a thundercloud on a leash for the storm that brewed in his eyes when he glanced over at me.
“Shit,” Eden muttered. “This isn’t going to be good.”
“Relax. I’ll deal with him.” It wouldn’t be the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. “Go. Check on the hostages or something. Just get away from me.”
He tried to protest but did what I asked a minute later. The lieutenant marched up to me with a hard, glacial expression that never slipped. “You didn’t wait for my order.”
“We saw a window of opportunity, sir. The radio went silent, so we took it.” I held his gaze. “Which led to the safe recovery of all the hostages. The mission was a success.”
He harrumphed but kept his calm. “You and I are going to have a talk about this little stunt once we get back to the base.”
After staring me down for another minute, he shook his head and walked away when someone called out his name. Eden appeared beside me again, not succeeding at hiding his smile.
“There’s going to be hell to pay when we get back.”
I shoved my shoulder into his, grinning as I watched the lieutenant retreating. “Yeah, but what can they really do? We got the hostages out, didn’t we? Fuck the orders. We got the results, bro. That’s all that matters.”