★★★★★ “…great read…” ~ Lynn, Goodreads reviewer
Man Hunt, SEALs of Shadow Force, Spy Division, Book 1
© 2018 Misty Evans
Hazardous operating environment
Jaeger licked a red popsicle at the small table in the kitchen. At his feet, the dog—Mite—made quick work of an orange one.
Sweat trickled down Mia’s hairline behind her ear. At least she’d called that right. What kid didn’t love a popsicle in ninety degree weather? She was ready to take the remaining ones and rub them all over her body.
The SEALs were outside guarding the cabin, but she needed to get Ryker moving. Regardless of the fact other people were looking for him and could show up any minute, Kaiser would only be in Monte Carlo for another day or two according to Beatrice’s intel. That was the perfect spot for their little undercover operation to take place, she just had to convince the man sitting across from her that it was time for Gaspard Manafort to rise from the dead.
Ryker tousled Jaeger’s hair as he finished his popsicle. Ryker’s gun sat on the tabletop to his side, out of the boy’s line of sight, but still visible for Mia’s benefit. A Self-Destructive Behavior Club T-shirt outlined his generous pec muscles and seemed to be a statement as much as clothing. “Hit the bathroom and wash your face, Jaeg. Then it’s up to your room to finish packing for the trip.”
The five-year-old licked his lips and smiled at Mia. “We’re going on a walkabout!” He glanced down at the dog, whose ears we’re perked. “But Mite can’t come. Do you think I could leave him the rest of the popsicles?”
The kid was cute and pulled her heartstrings. She remembered when Chloe had been that age. “They’re yours to do whatever you wish.”
Jaeger hopped down, patting the dog’s head. “Did you hear that, Mite? The rest are yours!”
As the boy ran from the room, Mite took off after him, a game. Mia covered her nose, the dog’s odor wafting over her as he scampered out of the room.
A tense silence descended and Mia looked back at Ryker. His eyes were deep pools of something she couldn’t quite fathom. He was good at hiding emotion, but it wasn’t hard to guess what his flat gaze was covering—anger being at the top of the list. “You never saw the final report about our mission that night. I know you have questions, and I probably don’t have all the answers, but I’ll tell you what I do know. Everything.” She leaned forward and tapped a finger on top of the table. The wood was stained and scarred. “But it would be best if we had this conversation once we’re out of here. Beatrice was able to find you quickly because of some very high tech software and her instincts. It may take longer for Kaiser to get his hands on the same intel and track you down, we need to be long gone before that happens. We need to get ahead of this, and I have a plan we can discuss in detail once were in the air.”
He seemed unfazed by the threat. “Before I put my life, and the kid’s, in your hands, I need to know who tried to kill me that night. Was it the Agency?”
Mia sat back. “Why would they want to kill you?”
“Been asking myself the same thing the past nine months. They thought I went off the reservation, that I was in love with Petra and had blown my cover with her. I became a liability.”
Mia scanned her memory. “I don’t remember anything being said about that.” She eyed him more closely. “Were you? Did she know you were CIA?”
“No and no. Her husband was the worst of the lowlifes, still is, and she wanted out, but there was no way he’d let her walk away, especially with the kid. He beat her on a regular basis, threatened to kill her if she even thought of cheating or leaving him. The kid was caught in the middle and Petra wanted to escape, but more than that, she wanted to save Jaeger and get him away from his father. I was trying to make that happen—save them both. Petra was an asset to the CIA—she had oodles of intelligence on Karl. My handler agreed to cut a deal for her, get them out in exchange for the intelligence she had on Kaiser’s organization and network. People, shell companies, his black market dealings—she knew about all of it. Can you imagine what a coup it would be to not only wipe him out, but all of his business partners?”
One of those was Senator Hinch. Not on paper, of course, but under the table the two helped each other on a regular basis. Mia had gone digging on Hinch after that night with Chloe. It hadn’t been all that hard to find the trail that led to Karl. Hinch made sure the Department of Defense gave Kaiser contracts for arms in two out of three bidding wars, while Kaiser donated money to the senator’s campaigns through various legal organizations every four years.
“Are you suggesting the CIA didn’t want Karl and his cronies wiped out? That they would kill one of their own to keep that from happening?”
Ryker looked at her as if she were dense. “You have to admit things are fishy when it comes to that mission. My handler turns up dead, the exfil for Petra is denied, and the next thing I know, the explosion and fire happen that night at the party. If I’d arrived on time, I would’ve been dead. In the confusion, I was able to rescue Jaeger and get him out of there.”
The final report had listed the cause as a gas leak. A note had been made that perhaps one of Kaiser’s enemies had orchestrated it, but no evidence pointing to that had turned up.
From what she’d learned coming in late to the mission, it was not out of the question Kaiser had created the explosion himself. At that time, Ryker’s previous handler noted multiple times the man was unstable and controlling with his wife. If Kaiser had any hint she was leaving him, and he wanted to eliminate that chance, it was possible he’d stop her by any means necessary.
Kind of stupid if you asked her. Mia had wondered why a man would destroy his home. If he wanted to kill his wife, surely there were easier ways. This new theory by Ryker warranted consideration. “So, you think in order to keep damaging information about, say, a US senator from surfacing, the CIA not only refused to pull Petra and Jaeger out of Berlin, but they actually staged the explosion and subsequent fire that killed her and might have you as well?”
“A senator?” He cocked his head. “You do know more than you’re telling me. Who is he?”
She’d acted like she was speculating but he’d grabbed that nugget of information like a dog with a bone.
Before she could figure out a way to answer, he leaned forward. His voice was demanding. “Who is it?”
She wasn’t ready to share that yet, but pieces of the puzzle were tumbling around in her brain. “I was using that as an example. For all I know, Karl might have damning information about the president or another high-ranking official. My point is, why would the Agency send you undercover to get the goods then pull the plug and try to kill you when you got them?”
“They didn’t know all of the things I’d find out. I was sent in to befriend the man and get intel on a new buyer out of North Africa unloading black market ammunitions. Some sheik. What I found was a lot more.”
She knew the directive of the mission. Remembered the buyer Ryker had been looking for. “There could be some truth to your suspicions, but at this point, we can’t prove anything. They may very well be part of the reason Beatrice didn’t hand the information about your whereabouts over to the CIA. What we can do is go after Kaiser again. Raise Gaspard Manafort from his grave and get him back in touch with Karl. Make him believe you had nothing to do with Jaeger’s disappearance and you’re back in the arms market. Advanced weaponry he’ll see the profit in.”
“Dream on. He thinks I’m dead, that I was there the night of the explosion.”
“There were multiple bodies that were never identified. All you have to do is convince him you weren’t on site, you never showed up. You only heard about it later. I have the perfect backstop story for you.”
“Why does Bianca—Beatrice—want Kaiser so bad?”
“I’m not privileged to that information, but it’s not hard to guess. She doesn’t do anything that isn’t for a good reason, and eliminating Kaiser would benefit the world at large, don’t you think? Our new boss is in touch with the big picture—one we can’t even imagine, nor do I care to delve into it.”
He was silent, unmoving for a long moment. Still as a cat about to jump on his prey. Why did Mia feel like she was the prey?
“What’s in this for you?” he finally asked.
“Beatrice claims she can get my job back at the Agency.” There was no reason to tell him the specifics, so she didn’t. “I need that position.”
He shook his head but stayed quiet a moment. Then, “I can’t do it. I owe her but…I can’t leave the boy alone or risk either of our lives. If I get caught, end up dead or in prison? There’s no one to raise Jaeger.”
“We can protect him—Beatrice can, anyway. She has a kid of her own now, and fights pretty damn hard for the underdog from what I can see. She won’t let Jaeger end up with his father.”
“Papa?” Jaeger’s voice floated down the rough wooden stairs. “I’m all done!”
Ryker stood, slipping his gun into his waistband. He pointed a finger at her. “Whatever’s in this for you, I’m sorry, I can’t help. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I know you can show yourself to the door.”
After he left the room, she rolled her eyes, then checked the new phone Rory had given her. No messages, although there was a clock on the screen counting down the minutes.
Perfect. No pressure there.
I can’t give up. I have to make this work. She wondered how the three men outside were doing, what orders they had if she couldn’t get Ryker to willingly come along. They all had codenames and looked like some of the meanest, baddest guys she’d ever ran into. Ryker fit right in with them.
But they all had soft spots—everyone did. Would the SEALs help her kidnap the boy, force Ryker to help her?
Do not threaten Jaeger, she heard the little voice inside her head say. That’s the one thing that’ll make Ryker kill you instead of help you.
She smelled the dog before she heard Ryker’s stealthy footsteps behind her. He had a duffel in one hand, a rolled up sleeping bag in the other. Jaeger followed dutifully behind. “You’re still here.”
Pointing at the duffel, she felt hope rise. “You changed your mind? You’re going to help?”
“Hell, no, but now we definitely have to move.”
“But where will you go?”
“None of your concern.” He motioned to the door. “Out.”
Her phone, still in her hand, buzzed. Beatrice. Staring Ryker down, she almost ignored it, but she was out of options. The man was as stubborn as a mule. “Yes?” she asked, answering her boss’s call.
“Get out, now! There’s incoming!”
Incoming? Mia’s blood froze. Instinct had her pick up the boy. “Move! Get out!” she yelled as she sprinted for the door.
The afternoon heat hit her like a wall and things went into slow motion. Jaeger yelled for his papa, the dog jetted past her toward the Jeep, barking as if this were a game. SEALs appeared from every direction, and she sensed Ryker coming up fast behind her.
Strong arms grabbed her and Jaeger at the entrance to the nearby forest, and she was thrown down, air whooshing out of her lungs. Heavy weights landed on top of her, her face smashed into the ground, the laden scents of earth and dry undergrowth filling her nostrils.
Before she could catch her breath, the world behind her exploded.
★★★★★ “Evans writes spies so incredibly well.” ~ Reader review
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