Second Chance, the next book in my Griffin Force series, is coming out in just over two weeks and I'm so excited to share the first chapter with you today. This book has been such a labor of love. I can't wait to hear what you think of it!
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Augie Taylor had criss-crossed the world with Griffin Force chasing terrorists, but this would be his first time in Libya---well, it would be if they actually made it out of Libyan airspace and onto Libyan soil.
He peered out of the tiny airplane window, but he couldn’t see much. A few flares were the only light on the ground to guide the pilot of their six-seater plane. There appeared to be some sort of struggle between the pilot and the elements, though, since the airplane was catching air and getting farther away from the lights instead of closer to them. Were they going to overshoot the landing zone? His stomach twisted into knots and he thought he might throw up. Don’t think about it.
He took a deep breath and tried reciting Abel’s Binomial theorem to himself. Anything to distract him from thinking about the statistic that almost half of fatal crashes happened on final descent or landing.
Nate reached across the aisle and patted him on the arm. “Try to relax."
Augie gave him a smile, hoping it didn’t look as weak as he felt. The plane bobbed a bit more and Augie gripped his armrests. “Abby, what did you say your contact’s name was?" Maybe if he concentrated on the reason he was going to Libya, he could take his mind off of the nausea roiling through him.
She glanced back, her eyes full of sympathy. “Malek. He’s meeting us as soon as we land. We'll be at the safe house in no time.” The plane took a final lurch before it touched down and rumbled over the uneven ground of the field. "See? We made it," Abby said, grinning over at him.
Augie took a breath. “Sure did.” When the plane finally stopped, he nearly jumped from his seat. Grabbing his laptop bag from the floor, he straightened. The doors weren’t open yet, but standing in a stationary plane felt much better. Colt was stretching in the seats near the front and hadn’t noticed Augie’s distress. That was the only good thing about sitting near the back. He didn’t want Colt to think there were situations he couldn’t handle in the field.
Colt, Abby, and Nate were first to exit the plane. They all quickly walked to the front and helped offload their bags and equipment. When they were finished, the group moved back as the pilot readied to take off again. Augie watched him go, the plane climbing higher into the sky before disappearing into the night. They were safely on the ground. Sort of. How safe was anyone in Libya, really?
The others had already begun walking toward the van that shone its headlights at the edge of the field. Augie caught up and kept pace with Abby. “I’ve been monitoring all the usual channels, but so far no new chatter on Atwah.”
“I think we would have heard whispers if he'd left Libya," she said. “But my contact will have the latest.”
They walked toward the man who was leaning against the hood of a small van, his arms folded. Dents marred the van’s front bumper and, if Augie had to guess, it hadn’t been washed in at least a year. There was barely enough clean space for the driver to see out of the windshield. But it was hard to tell anything more when there were only headlights, the moon, and dying flares penetrating the darkness.
Abby held out her hand. “Malek, it’s been too long.”
He took her hand and bowed over it slightly. “We have much to discuss, but we can’t linger here. Let’s get you to the safehouse.”
She nodded and Nate opened the van’s sliding door. It was then that Augie noticed the driver, a young man wearing a long white shirt and vest, as well as a keffiyeh. He met Augie’s eyes for just a moment before he looked away. Augie got into the van and sat down on a stained and torn seat right behind the driver. The faint smell of old gunpowder filled his nose. This van had seen some action at one time or another. Juggling his laptop bag on his legs, he shut the door.
Malek and the driver spoke quietly to each other in Arabic before the van started up and got moving. The driver’s voice had an odd timbre, like he’d been caught between puberty and manhood. Not low, but not high, either. He kept glancing at Abby, too. What was that about? Augie watched the back of the driver’s head, wishing he had a view of the guy’s face. Maybe he should run a background check on him. Abby knew Malek, but how much did she know about the driver?
Filing that on his mental to-do list, Augie turned to watch the shadowy scenery flashing past him. They’d made it to a paved road with soft edges broken by a few trees. It didn’t take long until they were passing storefronts, most that were little more than a shell with a wall or two surrounded by rubble.
“Are we in Benghazi?” Augie asked, leaning forward.
Malek turned slightly. “Yes. I have a safehouse here that gets electricity several times a day. And I’ve rigged up an old satellite dish and a generator in such a way that we can get some reliable internet.”
Augie had been told of the outages and spotty internet, but had hoped his intel was wrong. He was used to having the internet at his fingertips anytime he needed it on an op, but this one was going to be old school. They’d all have to rely on their field skills more than ever.
The driver pulled up in front of a small unit that looked like a gated garage. Houses on either side of it looked deserted and had several large gouge marks, as if the buildings had survived small mortar fire.
"Here we are,” the driver announced, turning to look at Abby once more. She nodded and opened the door on her side. Augie did the same and waited for Colt and Nate to get out as well.
Malek led the way up the small walk and unlocked the gate. He seemed in a hurry to get inside and ushered them all through the front door before walking inside himself and turning on the light. They were in a small living room with three large wooden chairs and a worn sofa against one wall. The driver kept moving to the window, pulling back the heavy curtain slightly to look out. Was he making sure no one saw them?
“It's not much, but it will have to do." Malek shrugged and turned to Abby. “I know you’re probably tired, and since there’s only a few hours until sunrise, I’ll come back once you’ve rested a bit and we can discuss why you’re here.”
Augie was listening to what was being said, but he was more focused on the driver. He’d come away from the window and arranged it so he was in the corner with a good vantage point for watching everyone, yet in the shadows where he might not be noticed. He was acting so strangely, it made Augie suspicious. He walked over and stood near him, trying to get a read on what he might be after. Could he be trusted? Should Augie say anything to Colt?
Abby shifted closer to Malek. “Thank you. For the safehouse and for getting us into the country. This mission is time-sensitive and with all the military checkpoints and curfews across Libya, we couldn’t have gotten here in time without your help.” Abby looked at Colt. “Before you go, I’d like to introduce you to Captain Colt Mitchell. He’s the head of Griffin Force.”
Malek nodded toward Colt, but quickly returned his gaze to Abby. “I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this is a very delicate time for our country. We have the opportunity to build a peace accord between General Saleh and Prime Minister al-Masli. Having foreign operations going on while we prepare is very dangerous. For you and us. I need to know what is going on.” He flicked his glance to Colt. “Tomorrow, as we agreed. And then you can leave as quickly and quietly as you came.”
Colt walked over to stand in front of Malek. “I understand what you’re saying. And I support the peace talks. But we have reason to believe Atwah is in Libya. If that’s true, Atwah will do all he can to destroy any steps toward peace.”
Malek immediately shook his head. “No. Atwah is not here. General Saleh would have been informed.”
“Maybe he was informed and didn’t choose to loop you in.” Colt glanced at Abby before returning his gaze to Malek. “How close are you to the general?”
“I’m one of his advisors.” Malek rubbed a hand over his face. He lifted a hand and motioned to the driver. “And by way of my own introductions, this is Rian Dahmani. He’s a runner for the Libyan National Armed Forces, but moonlights for anyone who can pay. Not much happens in Benghazi without Rian knowing about it.”
Rian bowed as well. “Thank you. I’m happy to help with whatever you need while you’re in Benghazi.”
Augie was fascinated by the man’s accent and couldn't hold back his curiosity any longer. "Where are you from?” he asked, trying to keep his tone casual. “I can’t place your accent.”
The driver glanced at him, but didn’t answer. Abby stood and put her hand on Augie’s shoulder. "I think we’re all tired. Before we break for the night, can you go see what kind of internet connection we can expect? The sooner we get our communications set up, the better."
Augie frowned. Something was going on with the driver. He didn’t know what it was, but he was determined to find out. He’d let it go for now, though.
“Okay," he said. He walked back the twenty paces to grab the duffel bag that held all their electronic equipment. "Which room is the best place to set up in?” He looked at Malek.
“The back bedroom closest to the satellite dish.” Malek glanced at Rian. “Go with him and show him the way. Then we’ll head out.”
Rian obeyed, walking past Augie and continuing on down the hall. He was wearing the traditional long white shirt and baggy pants and moved quickly, like a cat. Augie quickened his step, adjusting his hold on the duffel.
The back bedroom was a small square room with two barracks-style cots, a chest of drawers with one drawer missing, and a wooden table near a window. The window was covered with a heavy blanket, making the gray walls seem even more shadowy. Rian showed him where the electrical outlets were and how to connect to the system they’d jerry-rigged to get internet. It didn’t take Augie long to have everything set up.
“How did you figure out how to get internet service that wasn’t state-controlled?” Augie kept his voice casual. He wanted to know more about this driver so he’d have something to go on when he did a background check.
“Malek is actually very talented in that area.” Rian stood back a step to look at the table where the monitors and laptops were all buzzing to life. “Looks like you know what you’re doing as well.”
“How did you meet Malek?” Augie did a few checks of the bandwidth and strength of signal. Everything looked great, considering the position they were in of not having the normal infrastructure for internet.
“We’ve both been involved with the resistance from the beginning.” Rian started to move toward the door, but Augie stepped in front of him.
“You look a little young to have been part of the resistance for the last decade.” Augie waited until Rian met his eyes. “Were you recruited to the cause or coerced?”
Rian’s jaw clenched and he glared up at him. “Do you think to rescue me? You know nothing of what is going on in my country or what we need.” He pulled away and stalked to the door. “You would do well to keep your opinions to yourself.”
“Is that a threat?” Augie met him at the door, anger bubbling in his chest. “Who are you, really? Because I think you’re hiding something.”
If Augie hadn’t been so close, he wouldn’t have noticed Rian’s quick intake of breath, as if his words had hit a nerve. Rian recovered quickly, though, and lifted his chin. “Be very careful. One whisper from me into the right ears and you might find yourself in a situation you and your men won’t like.” His words were soft, yet deadly.
Augie leaned in, using the two inches of height advantage he had. “Should we talk to Malek or Abby about that? Do they know how easy you would find it to betray us?”
“What’s going on here?” Colt’s voice cut the tension that had built between them. Augie stepped back. He clenched his fists and kept an eye on Rian. He knew the guy was hiding something. His body language was screaming it. But he had to be careful.
“Nothing’s going on. I was just getting to know Rian better.” Augie lifted his brows, daring Rian to contradict him.
Rian said nothing and pushed past Colt, heading back to the living room.
Colt watched him go, then stood in front of Augie. “That didn’t look like nothing.”
Augie waved a hand. “Something’s off with that kid. He’s hiding something and I’m going to find out what it is.”
Colt rubbed his chin. “You think we can’t trust him?”
“That’s exactly what I think.” Augie glanced at the door, then lowered his voice. “He said that one whisper from him could put us in a situation we wouldn’t like.”
“What brought that on?” Colt moved past Augie and put his duffel on a cot.
“I asked if he was recruited to the cause or coerced.” Augie held up a hand. “I just want a little more information on this guy so I can do a background check.”
“I’ve never seen you react so strongly to anyone.” He furrowed his brows. “We’ll keep an eye on him and I’ll mention your concerns to Abby. Maybe Malek could give us some background on the kid.”
Augie nodded. “We did manage to get our communications set up. And there’s a small generator in the house that we can use in case of an emergency and the electricity is out.”
“That’s good to know.” Colt walked back to the door. “We’ve got a lot of work to do on this op if we’re going to capture Atwah.”
The sick feeling Augie had been fighting on the plane returned. They needed everyone on deck and all the skill and luck they could muster if they were going to catch Atwah. And they didn’t need a little driver with no loyalty to ruin all of that.
Augie couldn’t let that happen. He was going to be watching Rian carefully. The kid wouldn’t have the chance to betray them if Augie had anything to say about it. And that was a promise.