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is the most wanted woman in the world. She must prove she didn't sell out the
elite Special Ops team she sent into a Columbian village to rescue a little
girl, or her sister dies. Only one man can save them both. But he isn't who
Jesse thinks he is.
gunshot silenced jungle-chatter for a heart stopping instant. The bullet ripped
nearby foliage as Jesse vaulted over the decaying trunk of a fallen corozo
palm. She landed on the soft, sloping Columbian jungle floor and bolted to the
right deeper into the foliage—and away from where her informant Martinez had
been gunned down. She choked back anguish. He shouldn’t have run when
mercenaries burst upon their meeting place. He had a young wife and child who
would now have to go into hiding in order to avoid being tortured and killed by
the Columbian drug lords in payment for his having aided an American spy.
scrambled down the slope into a patch of dense undergrowth, pushed through
vines and spider webs, and finally emerged on the bank of a slow moving stream.
Sunlight streamed through a wide break in the canopy. Blue sky arched overhead
in backdrop to dark green foliage. A satellite signal might be possible through
the gap in the trees.
slowed to a crawl and concentrated past the red howler monkey screeches and
parrot caws for footfalls or leaves rustling to indicate Martinez’s killers slinked through the
foliage in search of her. Nothing.
dropped to her knees, yanked open a pocket of her camouflage fatigues, and
pulled out the secure satellite phone. She flipped it open, punched out home
base’s ten-digit number, then pressed the receiver to her ear and held her
breath until the first elongated ring began. By the third ring, her heart
pounded so hard, the thud echoed in her ears.
on. Pick up.” She tried to ignore the dribble of sweat trickling down the
valley between her breasts as the fourth ring began.
was wrong? HQ verified the source of incoming calls on the first ring and
picked up on the second. She jerked the phone from her ear and squinted at the
display. Five black bars along the left indicated a strong signal. She pressed
the phone against her ear and shoved aside a lock of hair which had worked free
of the brain numbingly tight ponytail. Why weren’t they—
please,” came the operator’s voice.
this is Blue Delta Four.”
four, eight, two, seven, golf,” Jesse replied in a low voice.
Delta Four. What is your status?”
am not at target. Must speak with Blue Leader.”
Leader is out of communication range.”
blue,” Jesse hissed. “Get me Blue Leader Five.”
click sounded on the line, a quick ring, then a male voice answered, “Delta
Four, this is Green Leader. What’s happened?”
froze. Green Leader? Why had Robert Lanton intercepted her call? “Where is Blue
Leader?” she demanded.
of communication range. What’s happened?”
is your status?” he asked.
silently cursed, but gave in. “We have a leak. The Columbians knew about the
then, “That’s impossible.”
Green Leader. Repeat, they were waiting. Abort Operation Hangman.”
is your source?” he asked.
heart thumped harder with memory of Martinez
lunging for the trees when the mercenaries rushed them. “M-2,” she replied with
did M-2 obtain his information?”
wondered the same thing. “I don’t know. Before he could confirm his source, the
Columbians shot him. But he was scared, really scared. The leak has to be high
up.” Anger, hot and hard, shot through her. Martinez’s life had been forfeit—and for
nothing. “If that little girl dies because someone at HQ leaked the mission,
your designation code,” Green Leader cut in.
She’d never been asked to verify her identity a second time. The control
operator had already verified her code. “Zebra, four, eight, two, seven, golf,”
Jesse counted off.
almost imperceptible pause followed, then, “That code is outdated, Delta Four.
Give me your current verification.”
Her mind whirled. “What the hell is this?”
verification, Delta Four.”
Blue Leader on the line right now, and put me through voice recognition,” Jesse
he replied. “Not without current verification.”
the director on the line—now! Don’t send in Green Team until you’ve verified
with him. The Columbians were waiting for us—they murdered M-2. They knew about
our meeting. That confirms what he told me. The
Columbians have intel on Operation Hangman. Our men will be slaughtered.”
line went dead.
yanked the phone from her ear and looked at the screen. Five bars of signal
strength held strong. She punched the direct emergency number to Blue Leader. A
fast busy signal resonated through the connection. She pressed the phone’s
display button. The display blinked unavailable.
The network—satellites, ground stations, handsets—had never, ever been
unavailable. It was designed and built by the best to be always available. HQ
had scrambled the access code.
heart went stone cold. Green Team was headed straight into the arms of the
two hours ago, she gave the go ahead to move in and rescue Maria Hamilton,
Senator Hamilton’s daughter. Jesse hadn’t spotted any guerrillas hidden among
the villagers, but she now knew they were there, just as they’d been there when
she met with Martinez.
slight breeze wafted past, cooling the sweat soaked shirt that clung to her
back and sending a chill down her spine. She was Blue Team—recon—working solo.
She should have smelled the trap. Yet she’d sent her team in to be
Jesse drew a deep breath to slow her heart rate while
visualizing the map of coastal Columbia.
The village sat three kilometers to the south over a small but treacherous pass
jungle pass. Forty people lived in the village, farmers—or so she’d thought.
How many were mercenaries employed by Amadeo Perez, the
powerful drug lord in Columbia,
and the man responsible for kidnapping Senator Hamilton's daughter?
Probably every last one of them.
minutes later, the nearby staccato rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire sounded in
pumped her legs faster, thrashing and clawing through thick foliage. Another
on, Green Team,” she urged. “Kick some drug runners’ ass.”
burned with the final effort to reach the summit overlooking the village.
Branches whipped and tore at her face as she flew through the foliage and burst
into the open above the village. She fell to her knees, fumbled the compact
binoculars from a thigh pocket, and forced her shaky hands steady enough to
scan the village as she dropped to her belly. Armed mercenaries danced in drunken
celebration in the village center. Relief tightened her chest at sight of two
men wearing U.S.
fatigues, hands tied behind their backs and kneeling within the circle of
Green Team was comprised of six men. Where were the other four? Her heart
surged. They had to be hidden in the jungle, preparing to rescue their
teammates. If she could find them—several mercenaries near the two men swung
their rifles heavenward and fired bursts.
Stay calm, Jesse mentally urged the two Americans.
scanned the village perimeter. No eyes, glint of metal, or shadow out of place.
Dammit, until Green Team wanted to be seen she wouldn’t detect so much as a
leaf flutter. She swung the binoculars back to the village center and counted
forty-two armed men crowding the small square. Between herself and the four
remaining Green Team members, they could—one of the men who had fired his rifle
into the air swung the weapon downward. Jesse realized his intent and pushed to
her knees as she yanked the 9mm Beretta from her thigh holster. The rifle
barrel halted an inch from the nearest Green Team member’s temple. He lunged
for the mercenary. The second Green Team member shoved to his feet.
fired in unison with the boom of the mercenary’s rifle. Blood gushed from the
hole blown in the first Green Team member’s head. Jesse’s stomach lurched as he
dropped to the ground. She fired again. Pandemonium broke out. The second Green
Team member staggered back under the onslaught of AK47 bullets. Jesse aimed the
Beretta on the man shooting at him and fired three shots. Then she froze.
gap had opened between the mercenaries at the north end of the village. On the
ground behind them, four ops-clad bodies lay piled atop one another. The hand
holding the binoculars shook so badly the bodies looked as if they bounced in
the throes of an earthquake. She couldn’t tear her eyes from the blood stained
fatigues. Green Team dead? It wasn’t possible.
pulse jumped. Senator Hamilton’s daughter.
streamed down Jesse’s face. She yanked open a vest pocket and pulled out the
sat-phone. Blood roared in her ears. She redialed Blue Leader Headquarters at Langley. This time, there
was no tone, no click of a connection. Nothing but static. She pushed the
display button on the sat phone. Unavailable
blinked as it had earlier. The code had been scrambled. She'd been locked
out…and the mercenaries had murdered Green Team.
inside the Office of Internal Affairs had sold out the U.S.