I am so excited to share the first chapter of my new novel, The Captain (Griffin Force #2) with you! I can't believe its release is just over a month away! I really love this story and can't wait to hear what you all think about it!
Copyright 2016 Julie Coulter Bellon
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Captain Colt Mitchell pressed his back against a low mud brick wall baked hard after years of relentless summer days in Afghanistan. As he crouched in the darkness, he could still feel a bit of warmth coming from the bricks, as if they didn’t want to release their heat, even at night. The sun would be up soon, though, and the bricks would be fired in the scorching temperatures all over again.
Leaning forward a bit, he made sure to blend into the shadows, his black tactical gear and camo face paint like a second skin to him now. With one more look at the non-descript two-story house they’d been watching for the past forty-eight hours, he silently let out a breath. They had credible intel that Nazer al-Raimi was using this house as a hideout tonight. This was the first whisper they’d heard on the whereabouts of the AQIM terrorist leader in three months, so they’d jumped on it. And while Colt had wanted this man put away before, the attack on the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, made it personal for him. The sooner this guy was in custody the better, even if they had to come to the outer reaches of Afghanistan to do it.
Colt pulled back the Velcro strap covering the illuminated face on his military-issued watch. 0200 hours. The guards had changed shifts at midnight and they’d switch again any minute. That’s when they’d make their move.
“Check in.” Commander Jake Williams’ voice came over Colt’s comms and he quietly tapped his throat mic twice to signal he was in position.
Jake was intense and thorough, both things that made him a good team leader. It had been interesting to see how Jake’s Navy SEAL training was similar to Colt’s JTF2 training. Apparently Canada and the U.S. had very similar practices for their elite teams. In their hunt for Nazer these past months, though, Jake’s ability to root out details and make educated guesses had gotten them closer to Nazer than they’d ever been before. If all went well, tonight was the night they’d have him in custody. They had two minutes to get in, grab Nazer, and get out. The extraction site was in the foothills just outside of town and Colt was ready to get this done, especially if it ended with Nazer on a helo headed to whatever black ops site waited for him.
Colt took another peek over the wall. Even though it was two a.m., lights blazed from the front windows and five heat signatures still patrolled the house. Pulling back, he heard Jake’s voice in his comms. “Incoming.”
Colt pulled his tactical face mask down and got his night vision monocular in position. An SUV rumbled up the road and turned down the driveway toward the house. This was it. He watched as four men exited the vehicles. “I have a visual on our target.” His pulse picked up. The second man was definitely Nazer.
Their leader’s arrival caused some excitement in the house. More lights went on, and agitated voices carried through the night air toward them. “Hold your positions.” Jake said quietly.
His voice sounded strained and Colt could relate. They all wanted this to work. Nazer had hurt so many people, caused so much damage and heartache. All for what? A position in the ISIS leadership? Acting out some sort of vendetta on Westerners?
Nazer’s latest attack in Ottawa had killed one of Colt’s closest friends from his time with Joint Task Force 2, the Special Ops team in Canada. David Reeves was one of the bravest men he knew. They’d served together in some of the most dangerous countries in the world, but when David was ready to settle down, he took the offer to be on the security detail for the Prime Minister. Not two weeks later he’d been killed at the attack on the Parliament buildings and all the evidence pointed to Nazer being the mastermind behind it. Canada’s sense of security was shaken, his friend dead. Colt’s hand clenched around his semi-automatic. He needed Nazer to pay and he wanted to be the one to capture him.
The more he thought about what was at stake, the angrier he became and that wouldn’t help on this op. He used his tactical breathing― slow breath in, hold for four, then counting to four as he let the breath out. After a few times, Colt was focused.
The Griffin Task Force had carefully plotted out this op, and he needed to be calm and in control. No emotion. That was one thing he’d learned being part of JTF2. Execution was easier when your prep, training, and self-control backed you up. Of course he still felt a healthy surge of adrenaline on any op, but that was easily channeled into getting the job done.
A bead of sweat rolled down his back and he adjusted his position a little further away from the brick wall. Not even the warm breeze rolling in every now and then offered any relief from the suffocating heat. Colt rolled his shoulders to shake it off. For just a second he let himself imagine breathing in the chill air of an ice rink and lacing up his skates for a game. That was one thing he missed about his home country and was high on his to-do list when Nazer was taken care of and Colt was back home.
He brought his attention back to the task at hand. Two men were coming out of the front door, and Colt focused on the scene through his night vision monocular. Squinting, he leaned forward. It looked like they were carrying several laptops.
“You s-s-smell that?” Elliott’s stutter came over the comms, a bit more pronounced under stress. Colt sniffed the air. He did smell something. Smoke.
“They’re cutting and running,” Jake said in Colt’s ear. Colt turned to look at his team leader, waiting for that go signal. Jake’s hand cut through the air. “We’re moving in. Go.”
Colt pushed forward, staying to the left side of the perimeter. His job was to secure the back entry with Nate Hughes, his partner on this op. They were about six feet apart, both moving through the shadows, making sure they didn’t call attention to themselves. Smoke was starting to billow out of the house now and it covered their position even more. Their window of time to grab Nazer had always been short, but with the house on fire, it was even shorter. They hadn’t factored that into their contingency plan.
Just before they reached the rear entry, a window on the second floor shattered, and a chair landed with a thud on the ground near Colt. He raised his rifle to the ready, and looked up to see a woman leaning out, screaming, “Help me! Help me!” before being yanked back inside.
“I’ve got a woman screaming for help on the back side,” Colt said into his comms. No one had guessed from the heat signatures that they had a woman in the house. Where had she come from?
“Could be a trap. Stay on target,” Jake’s voice was firm. “We’ve got to get in and get out. Move inside on my count.”
Colt bit the inside of his cheek. He knew Jake’s order was best for the mission, but that woman’s scream was desperate and this house was going up in flames. Maybe once they had Nazer wrapped up, he could go after her.
“Three, two, one. Move!”
Colt and Nate moved in through the back door, and gunfire met them immediately. Colt kept low, which also made it easier to breathe with all the smoke coming from the front of the house. From a quick glance, it looked like they’d made a bonfire with furniture in the living room. Jake and Elliott were pinned down and under fire so Colt and Nate quickly shifted from room to room, looking to spot Nazer.
“Not on the main,” Colt said into his comms. “Heading upstairs.”
With Nate covering him, Colt led the way up the stairs. The crackle of the hungry fire was moving toward them, as if it knew what it wanted to devour next.
They needed to hurry.
The hallways were clear, but there were four closed doors. Colt started with the first, staying high while Nate stayed low. They opened the first door. Empty. Before they could go any further, a scream pierced the air. It came from the room at the end of the hall. With a nod to Nate, he headed that way. The door was locked, so Colt raised his leg and focused all his adrenaline to kick it open. The woman was being held, a gun to her head, and Nazer behind her.
“One step closer and the woman will die.” The smoke was obscuring Nazer’s face and the floor underneath them was starting to groan. Time was nearly out.
“Don’t let me die,” the woman sobbed in broken Pashto. “Please.” Her eyes darted between Colt and Nate as she pleaded between coughs.
“Let her go,” Colt ordered. “You’re coming with me.” He tried to catch Nate’s eye. Did he have a shot? Could they risk taking Nazer down with a hostage in front of him?
“Not interested in a deal?” Nazer crouched a little lower and looked out the window.
“No deal.” Colt inched forward.
“I’ll trade her for you.” Nazer smiled, an evil little smirk that made Colt want to punch it off his face. “I’d prefer Commander Williams, since we have unfinished business, but you’ll do.”
I’ll bet. Jake had been a thorn in Nazer’s side for too long and it was practically a vendetta for Nazer now, but there was no way he would get near him. Not if Colt had anything to say about it. “Just give us the woman and come quietly. I promise not to kill you.” Colt kept his gun trained on Nazer. If the woman would just move a smidgen to the left he’d have a shot.
“Don’t bargain with him, Colt. Get out of there. Retreat. Now.” Jake’s voice over comms was commanding, nearly angry, but Colt didn’t take his eyes off Nazer. Not now. Not when they were this close.
“Do you really think I’d be so foolish not to be prepared for your pitiful attempt to capture me?” Nazer moved slightly, making sure his victim was shielding him. He pressed his gun to her temple, his eyebrow raised as if he expected Colt to answer. The air in the room was being sucked out by the fire and the smoke swirled around their feet. When the floor underneath them started to hiss like a warning, Colt took a step forward. They didn’t have time for bargaining. This fire was coming for them.
“We’re on our way,” Colt heard Jake say, but it was too late. If the fire didn’t get them all, Nazer had the advantage in this standoff. If only the woman wasn’t between them.
The floor groaned again and Nazer straightened. As if realizing they were out of time, he raised his gun. In that split second, Colt saw an opportunity to at least wing the guy, and he pulled the trigger.
A scream rent the air as the woman twisted out of Nazer’s grasp and fell on the floor. She scrambled to the window and Colt felt a moment of relief that he hadn’t hit her. He rolled toward the door, finding a bit of cover behind a table, but not enough. A shaft of pain went through his arm. More gunshots popped through the air and he heard Nate’s cry of pain echoing through his ears. “Nate!”
His partner was on the floor holding his leg. Blood was everywhere. “I’m okay, Captain. Let’s get out of here.”
The woman was crawling around the perimeter of the room, trying to get away from the window and Colt could see why. There was a man silhouetted in the window frame motioning for Nazer. They must have a ladder for the second floor. “Nate, can you get her out of here?” he yelled to his partner.
Nate shook his head. “I’m not leaving you.”
Gunfire erupted again, both Nazer and the man at the window shooting at them like fish in a barrel. Colt returned fire. “That’s an order. Now! This whole floor is about to collapse. Get her out!” With his position, there was no way he could make it to the door on the opposite side of the room.
“I’ll cover you,” Nate said as the woman reached him. He pulled her to his side. “Come on!”
“I’ll be right behind you.” But Colt knew he wouldn’t. He was going to die in this room, but not before he took Nazer with him.
The moment Nate and the woman were through the door, Colt rubbed his bloody arm on his cargo pants to make sure he had a grip, then popped up from his cover position and opened fire. His arm was going numb and his shots were off, but it gave him some satisfaction when Nazer had to duck. He was starting to lose consciousness, his lungs burning from the heavy smoke, but he had enough juice to make one more shot.
This was it.
At the last second, Nazer did a bob and weave and Colt ended up shooting the guy at the window. With a grunt of satisfaction that he’d at least gotten one of them, he let his gun fall to the floor, his body following. The edges of his vision were going dark and he embraced it now. At least he’d provided enough distraction that Nate and the woman could get away. His death wouldn’t be for nothing.
He looked up, a little jolt going through him as he realized Nazer was standing above him. Colt lifted his chin. “Go ahead. Finish it.”
“Oh, I have plans for you.” Nazer hunched over him on the floor, his face inches from Colt’s. “And I think I’m going to enjoy this.”