Two soldiers, former lovers, each think they are saving the other from a South American drug cartel, all the while rehashing their broken relationship.
Green Beret Shane Cullen has been undercover for the DEA with a South American drug cartel. Eighteen months into his assignment, and unbeknownst to Shane, the cartel's number two man is captured by the U.S. Marshals and starts to talk. Shane's mission becomes endangered. His Special Forces commander calls in a favor and pulls in Shane's former lover and teammate Elliott Hutchens for an extraction.
Elliott hasn't seen Shane in almost two years, since his lover walked out on him. But Shane's in trouble and doesn't know it, so Elliott can't refuse the mission. Getting himself captured by the cartel in order to force Shane to rescue him is the easy part. The hard part comes when Shane discovers he's the real extraction, not Elliott. Shane's bad temper ended their relationship once before. Will it get in the way again or can these two soldiers work through their issues and find their way to a happy ever after?
Elliott stared at the beam that ran down the center of the garage ceiling and wished his captors had hung him by his feet from it. With a sigh, he pulled at the duct tape that bound him hand and foot to the wooden chair he sat on. Feeling the duct tape loosen, he resigned himself to the fact that they hadn't even made this a challenge for him.
Despite the mild torture he'd endured, Elliott's internal snark hadn't been silenced. He had some bruises, scrapes and minor cuts, the worst one being on his temple. The blood had dripped down onto his olive drab T-shirt, creating a big dark splotch. It looked worse than it was. They'd tried to waterboard him, but obviously had no clue how to go about it. In the end, they hadn't really hurt him, other than the kicks and punches which were nothing to a Green Beret, and he'd been mildly amused by their Keystone Cops version of torture.
They couldn't even manage to tie him up properly. He wistfully eyed the ceiling beam again. While duct tape did have the advantage of being incredibly sticky, if he wiggled his wrists and pulled hard enough, he could stretch it a little. Enough to eventually get his hands free. After that, getting his feet free was a no brainer. His captors hadn't even bought the real duct tape. It stretched so easily he figured it for a bargain brand. It barely pulled at the hair on his arms. He shook his head and let out another sigh. Pretty amateurish stuff.
After three days being held by the cartel's henchmen, he'd almost given up being rescued. The low-level goons who'd captured him had no real clue how to torture a person, most of them being villagers who'd been forced to work for the local drug lord aka the corrupt local government. It was the local guy's garage he'd been left tied up in. Like many others who'd worked their way up the cartel's ladder, Rodriguez showed off the spoils of his career by building a fancy house, buying fancy cars and surrounding himself with beautiful women and a wall of bodyguards. The fancy cars had been taken out of the garage in order to house Elliott. God forbid the henchmen got his blood on their patron's cars.
Elliott worked on the duct tape for a while, pondering his chances--slim to none--of being traded for the cartel's second in command, whom he knew the U.S. government had caught right before he'd been sent to this miniscule hell hole of a South American country. The place was so small if you blinked your eyes, you lost it on the map. It had been a growing hot bed of drug activity for the past four years, ever since the government had been taken over by the cartel. Every man, in every government position in the whole stinking, tiny country belonged to the cartel. Which is why the U.S. was so happy to capture the man who reportedly held the second highest ranking within the group. Elliott didn't stand a chance of being traded for that guy. And it wasn't his mission to get traded anyway. If the cartel found out the U.S. had their number two guy, all hell would break loose.
With an eye roll, Elliott started to pull one hand out of the sticky tape binding him. Before he could get it free, he heard a scratching sound at the door and froze. Moments later, the door swung open slowly and silently. A Five-seveN semi-automatic pistol preceded the silent entrance -- really a graceful, liquid slide -- of a dark clothed man.
Heart thumping like a bass drum, Elliott watched the other man quickly assess the garage. Dark hair, plastered to his forehead by sweat, clung to the man's well-shaped head as he turned it from side to side, checking all corners of the murky, humid space. When he finished, the man moved toward Elliott and their gazes met.
Some things never change, Elliott thought wryly, his heart thundering even more as he tried desperately to keep his face devoid of emotion. The man frowned fiercely and Elliott had a fleeting, momentary spike of panic.
"Are you here to kill me or rescue me?" he murmured, his voice a barely there sound.
"Fuck you, El," the man growled in an equally quiet whisper.
Elliot pulled his hands free of the duct tape, wincing slightly as the tape caught the hairs near his wrists. He reached down to tug at the tape on his ankles, where he was bound to the wooden legs of the chair. "Been there done that, remember?"
The man snorted and knelt down, brushing Elliot's hands away and cutting swiftly through the tape with a Ka Bar pulled from his combat boot. The scent of citrus and sweat and something indefinably masculine reached Elliott's nose and he stiffened. The instant the tape was cut, the other man stood and Elliott did too, but more slowly. He silently shook his arms and legs to remove any stiffness from having sat in the chair for so many hours. The other man backed away from him, still holding Elliott at gun point.
Staring at the barrel of the gun, Elliott decided that maybe his commander hadn't thought this thing through very well. His heart sank as he flicked his gaze up to the diamond hard navy blue eyes of his rescuer. Maybe neither he nor the commander knew this man any longer. After all, the commander hadn't spoken to him in over eighteen months and for Elliott it had been almost a year longer. And that meeting hadn't gone very well at all.
"I need to piss," he whispered, hoping to defuse the situation a little. "I've been here for hours since their last attempt to water board me."
"Hold it," his rescuer advised in a growl.
Elliott sighed. No love there.
The dark haired man turned his back and walked swiftly to a door next to the biggest of the automatic garage doors. Elliott strolled after him thinking that at least the turned back was a good sign. A sign of trust. Or maybe it was just expediency in this case. After all, the guy knew Elliott wasn't armed.
One black clad arm came up, halting Elliott's forward motion. The man leaned against the door, which Elliott surmised led outside since it was next to the big garage doors. He reached into the back of his black jeans and pulled out a Glock 19, holding it out to Elliott without looking at him.
Elliott took the gun and clicked the safety off. He checked to ensure the magazine held the full complement of fifteen rounds. It did, and Elliott found himself mildly surprised. His own sidearm, a Sig Sauer P226, had been confiscated at his capture. He hadn't figured he'd ever get it back. It had been sacrificed for the good of the mission.
Elliott moved closer to his rescuer, who seemed to be listening to the sounds outside the garage. After long minutes of silence, the other man turned the door knob and cracked open the door, just a sliver. He peered out, then pushed the door wide and motioned for Elliott to go out first.
For a split second, Elliott wondered if a firing squad awaited him. Of course, it was a ridiculous thought considering the fact that his rescuer had armed him. He blinked in the bright sunlight, his gaze scanning the area as best he could while partially blinded. The door shut silently and his rescuer led him between the rows of exotic cars to a plain black Jeep without a canopy. Elliott jumped in as the other man got behind the wheel. The dark haired man put the Jeep in neutral and let it roll down the driveway.
Once out of view of the house and outbuildings of Rodriguez's compound, the lush jungle encroached on either side of the gravel drive. As they rolled through a curve, Elliott's rescuer turned on the Jeep and gunned it. Elliott reached for the roll bar and hung on. He also clung to the Glock, resting against his thigh.
His rescuer glanced over at him and then motioned to the back of the Jeep. "There's an assault rifle there. In case we need it. Help yourself."
Elliott looked back and spotted the carbine, then pulled it closer. "Fuck, Shane. You had me worried a little, you know," he admitted with a half-smile.
"So what else is new?" his companion grunted. "You piss me off. I worry you."
"So you're pissed at me." Elliott didn't even bother to make it a question. He damn well knew his former team mate was pissed off.
Elliott watched as Shane Cullen sped through the jungle, continuously glancing back to ensure they weren't being followed. Elliott knew how meticulous Shane could be. No one was better at extractions than Shane. Except maybe for himself. He'd felt Shane's anger from the moment he'd pulled his hands free of the duct tape on his own. Shane had known he could've escaped and hadn't.
"It's a hundred miles or so to the border. Keep the rifle handy."
Shane's curt tone told Elliott he had some explaining to do once they were out of danger. The brevity was pure Shane. His former lover had always been a man of few words in and out of bed. In the beginning, when they'd first met, Shane's silence had unnerved Elliott. Now, he understood it and accepted it.
They sat in silence as Shane drove them toward the border. The little country of Quichua lay situated between Columbia on the north, Ecuador to the west and Peru to the south and east. A spare few hundred miles across in any direction, it had been carved out of Columbia originally although Peru had sought to claim it too. The natives had been fiercely independent and had their own dialect. That is, until the cartel moved in. Fear of repercussions had made the villagers compliant, but Elliott knew from the intel he'd received before he set off on this mission that they hated the cartel.
"Where are we headed? Peru or Ecuador?" Elliott tipped his head back, trying to see the sky through the thick foliage. He couldn't see the sun so he had no idea the direction they were headed, but knowing the location of the compound they'd just left, he figured they were headed south into Peru.
Shane just grunted. Again, no love, Elliott thought, resigning himself to Shane's anger. It didn't matter that his heart thundered with joy at seeing the only man he'd ever loved. He'd messed up Shane's mission, causing him to break cover in order to rescue Elliott. And then he'd discovered Elliott didn't exactly need rescuing. If the combat boot were on the other foot, Elliott would probably be a little pissed too.
They drove in silence for over an hour until Elliott figured they were nearing the border. Shane had taken backroads and dirt tracks the entire way, which Elliott had fully expected. The country didn't have much in the way of infrastructure and it had only one modern highway that stretched from north to south. If they were being chased, chances are that road would be blocked.
Finally, Elliott asked, "Do you think they're after us?"
With a sigh, Shane glanced at him. "I don't think they're awake yet."
Elliott blinked. "You drugged them?"
Shane barked out a short laugh. "They drugged themselves. I just helped them pass out quicker and for longer than they normally would."
Surprise held Elliott silent. Drugging Rodriguez and his entourage of girls and guards seemed a bit extreme to him, but he didn't know the dynamics of the place the way Shane did. After all, Shane had been here more than a year.
"It was just Rodriguez and his guards," Shane admitted, as if he'd heard Elliott's thoughts. "They were partying anyway. They just got a shipment in and none of them can resist trying the product. They're usually out of commission for a couple hours afterward. I just helped that along. The girls and the staff hate Rodriguez. They wouldn't do or say anything to help him or his guards. I told them to tell him I threatened to kill them."
"Will he hurt them?" Elliott knew how dangerous some of the cartel could be. The dimwit who'd held him captive might turn out to be a killer although as easy as they'd gone on him, Elliott thought not.
Shane just shrugged and sped up as the road went from dirt to gravel to asphalt. Elliott spied a wooden sign in the distance and realized it must be the border. He began to relax a little, but still kept his free hand on the butt of the carbine.
"Better relations with the U.S." Shane shot a sideways glance his way. "Which you know."
Elliott found himself nodding absently, his gaze on the shimmering asphalt ahead. Could it really be this easy? How had his mission turned into a damned cakewalk? He'd expected to have to fight his way out of Rodriguez's compound. But Shane had come along and basically waltzed them both out of the clutches of the cartel. How had that even been possible?
"Are you gonna tell me..."
"No." Shane cut him off.
They crossed into Peru without issue. The single lane asphalt road finally widened to two lanes and within another half hour or so, they pulled off the road onto a dirt airstrip. A small twin prop airplane sat on the runaway, ready to take off. Elliott's sharp gaze took in the tall, lean form leaning against the fuselage. Cargo shorts, a faded, baggy T-shirt advertising beer and a Yankees ball cap made the pilot appear casual and laidback. Elliott knew differently.
The Jeep came to a halt and Elliott rolled out, stuffing the Glock in the waistband of his pants and grabbing the rifle. Shane came around the front of the Jeep and they strode in tandem toward the pilot.
"Long time no see, Hutch!" The man grinned at Elliott, his green eyes crinkling at the corners.
The sound of his nickname on the pilot's lips put Elliott right at ease. He hadn't realized how tense he'd actually been since Shane showed up in that garage. He reached out and shook his former teammate's hand. "Webb! You old fart! How's the ball and chain?"
Webster Duchene's grin got wider. "Still prosecutin' the bad guys in Florida." He clapped Elliott on the back. "I heard you mustered out, Hutch. Left before I got back from leave even. What the fuck, man? Retired?"
"I did." Elliott glanced over at Shane who stood there with a scowl on his face. He figured it might be time to fess up, just a tad. "Well, sort of."
Webb's brows rose. "Sort of?"
Elliot gave his former teammates a half smile. "I'm National Guard now. Special Forces unit."
"What the actual fuck?" Shane exploded. He pushed away from the plane's fuselage and took a step toward Elliott. "Why the hell didn't you tell me that?"
This time, Elliott was the one who shrugged. "You didn't ask. You asked if I was out and I said yes, because I was."
"Uh, guys?" Webb pointed toward the road where a cloud of dust rose into the air.
"Shit," Shane hissed. "Time to go."
They clambered into the plane and buckled in. Elliott slid open the small window next to him and shoved the muzzle of the rifle out of it. Two dirty green Jeeps came racing toward them just as Webb began to taxi down the dirt runway. Dust rose around them as the Jeeps chased after them. A couple of shots rang out and Elliott squeezed the trigger of the carbine, getting off a volley of shots aimed at their pursuers. He heard a muffled scream and a few more shots and then the plane rose into the air, banking away from the cartel henchmen who still raced down the runway far below.
"Well, fuck me! Ya'all pissed them motherfuckers off but good!" Webb laughed. "Just like old times!"
He held up a hand and Elliott gave him the obligatory fist bump. Shane turned away with a grunt.
"Not quite," he grumbled to Elliott's dismay. "Not quite."