Bestselling Author Amy J. Fetzer
Bestselling Author Amy J. Fetzer
 

Excerpt - Chapter One

Hit Hard
Kensington Publishing Corporation
July 2006

Kalawana, Sri Lanka
2000 hrs

He looked like Genghis Kahn in a Corona tee shirt and khaki shorts.

Dark hair tied back and a stringy gray Manchu beard, Tashfin Rohki was as ugly as he was lethal.

But then, you couldn't tell the black hats from the white, anyway.

The fact that Sam Wyatt held a stolen Israeli Galil, and smoked a thin Cuban cigar was just for openers. In the small clearing near the river basin about twenty yards ahead of him, Riley and Max were the ones in the hot seat, working a deal to retrieve rough cut conflict diamonds that had found their way into the hands of the Tigers.

The feline kind would have been easier to deal with, Sam thought, but the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had been waging a terrorist campaign in Sri Lanka. The bastards wanted to create a separate state.

Damn selfish of them.

And down river, Sri Lankan Army troops waited for some payback. But not till Dragon One commandeered the stones.

From under his cowboy hat, Sam squinted through the soft curl of smoke as Riley bartered like a vender in the Souk. He had to hand it to the man, his Irish blarney was in full throttle tonight. The moonlit prehistoric look of the jungle and a half dozen grungy men surrounded by torches was a stark contrast to Riley and Max, the well-dressed diamond smugglers.

Sam swatted at a mosquito buzzing at his head. The motion drew the attention of the men circling the group. Weapons lifted a little higher, eyes narrowed. Sam smirked and gave his back the fuck off stare. Paranoid pigs. Anyone who'd kill innocent farmers to make a point no one got wasn't worth spit to him. A bullet, sure. He had a full clip. Hot and ready.

He didn't mind being the hired muscle tonight, well aware of his short fuse, mostly galvanized by stupid people. Ground level made Sam nervous. It took away control. In a jet, a chopper, he steered, attacked. Laid down cover fire. The enemy was a blip on a radar, a target to take out.

Now the targets surrounded his buddies dealing diamonds in the dark.

He listened, tried to translate, but his Hindi sucked and the distance distorted the rapid chatter. All Sam got out of the bits and pieces were there was a better price to be had somewhere else. Someone always had deeper pockets than the last guy, and the Tigers intentions were simple. Sell the stones, get cash, buy some nasty ass weapons, and hurt their own people.

Riley poured the stones back into the leather pouch and doubled his offer. Client isn't going to like that. Their assignment was two fold: get back the stones before they were faceted cut and flooded the diamond market, and second, find out what those rough diamonds were going to buy and stop it. Considering the company they were keeping, weapons were a definite. The proceeds could buy anything from explosives to shoulder mounted rocket launchers.

It'd taken weeks to track this cache of stones from the Congo. They'd changed hands so many times it was hard to keep up with this new crop of black hats. Sam's idea of shoot first, ask later was nixed by the team, but then, they still hadn't gotten a lead on the weapons and who had them to sell.

Insects hummed beneath the brim of his hat, annoying him. I must need a shower, he thought, sick of the jungle. All he'd done in the past weeks was inhale the little critters with every breath. He adjusted the shoulder strap of the assault rifle, less for comfort and more for checking his aim.

The conversation grew suddenly animated, and Sam could tell Riley was pissed. He and the Rohki were in each other's face. Not good. Yet Sam kept a watch on the men behind their leader. Specifically, when a short fellow with an old AK-47 took a step back. His expression didn't change, that's what alerted Sam. When you went backwards, you looked where you were going. This guy didn't.

Sam eased back, then rolled around the tree to his right, intent on canvassing the area and coming up behind the guy. Something was up. He cleared his throat, the sound he knew, vibrating in Max's earpiece. Max touched his shirt collar, indicating he'd heard. Riley caught the gesture and mimicked.

No one paid attention to him, all focus on Riley, the rebel leader, and how much money they'd get for the rocks. Sam didn't give a crap. It wasn't his cash, but letting this whole thing go belly up because of one chicken shit wasn't in the cards.

"Outlaw," came through his earpiece. "What the hell are you doing?" Logan.

Sam touched the throat mike under the bandana. "Hunting."

Logan was downwind near the river with a Sri Lankan army commander who was no more than twenty-two. The Tigers kept killing the more experienced officers, hoping to create havoc in the ranks for a coup. Bad move. Loyal and righteous, it just made them all more determined.

Sam continued through the Sinharaja rainforest, the air so heavy it soddened his shirt, produced rivulets of sweat down his spine. His boots sunk into the decaying underbrush, the musty odor rising up like fog. It was an island, for crissake, where was the breeze?

He paused, and through the trees and vines, barely made out the little man. He wouldn't be so interested if this wasn't the guy they'd used to set up this meeting. Where are you going, little traitor, he thought, taking several more steps, his gaze flicking to keep a bead on his buddies, then to catch movement, progression. The little guy was almost out of sight.

The diamond discussion grew heated and Sam turned sharply, taking aim. It faltered when beneath his feet, the ground vibrated, a humming that climbed through his body and shook his teeth. Earthquake? The ground wasn't rolling, but the vibration grew with intensity, like a pot about to boil over. His gaze jerked to the little guy, then back to his team. They felt it too. The runt was moving faster. Sam made a decision and followed.

He'd taken three steps when the explosion ripped through the darkness. Men shouted accusations, scattered. Muzzle flash lit up the darkness with weapons fire. Sam turned back to his teammates, offering cover fire and heading to the chopper, their only escape.

"Cutter? What the hell is going on?"

"Bug out! We gotta bug out! Holy shit. Get this thing in the air!"

Sam flung his weapon over his shoulder, batting away the underbrush as he ran full out. A fifty yards ahead, his newly souped chopper sat on a stone slab near the river like a bird perched on the edge of a cliff. "What's the deal? Turn the engine over." Logan was a field surgeon and an Ex-Navy Seal. He had skills aplenty, but flying wasn't one of them.

Sam burst out into the open, and froze, his eyes going wide. A wall of water thirty feet high rolled toward him, toward the chopper. Sam bolted, trying to outdistance the rush.

The Kukule Ganga dam. Shitty timing.

Logan was tossing in gear, and trying to raise a warning to Riley and Max. Sam threw himself into the seat, flipped switches, and turned over the engine. The rotor blades were slow to move.

The water wasn't.

"Come on, sweet heart, wake up, wake up." He gave it some juice, risking stalling the engines. The blades gained speed. Out of the corner of his vision, the water swiped the land, taking resort homes, docks, and Jesus, people. Soldiers not caught in the dam break ran to the hills. Water rushed over the riverbanks, covering the chopper's landing gear and sliding in over Sam's boots.

"Christ Sam, get it up!"

"She female, she needs foreplay."

"She's gonna get us killed! Riley, Max!" Logan shouted into his mike.

Then the blades hit the sweet spot and Sam glanced to his left in time to see the brunt of the water coming right at him. He pulled the stick, lifting the chopper off the stone in a sharp vertical climb. "Maybe you should hold on."

The water rushed beneath them, splashing the windscreen, and he banked left, speeding toward Riley and Max's last location.

Sam worked on his helmet with one hand, looking at the ground. The water was moving fast, nothing to stop it.

"That was too close," Logan said and Sam glanced down. The spot where they'd stood was engulfed in water, trees torn out of the earth and shooting like rockets down river toward the basin.

"You see them?"

"Not yet."

Flood lights on, Sam went lower, skimming the water, reducing speed, but the wind sheers in the valley rocked and bumped the chopper. But the cockpit was his comfort zone and he wore the chopper like his favorite shirt. He glanced at small GPS screen marking Max and Riley with a yellow dot. "Should be coming up on Max any second."

"Riley, Max, come in! Answer me, God dammit!" Logan pressed the headphones tighter, then shook his head.

Then the GPS area came into view. Rapids of fast moving water, wood, even concrete from the shattered dam.

Logan rushed to put on a harness, hook up. "Where the hell are they?"

"Got Max, nine o'clock." Sam steered toward the area.

"I see him." Logan already had the yoke snapped to the cable.

"Wait till I get over him. Can't chance debris hooking that yoke and taking us for a ride."

"Hurry, man, he's hanging onto the top of a tree and it's not going to be there much longer."

Sam couldn't look. He had to use the GPS marker as a judging point.

"Riley?"

Sam's gaze searched the green grid. "His marker's gone." Oh man. He swooped low and daring, over the waves of water breaking down the valley like strip mining. Land broke away, trees tumbled into the current, twisting up, spinning, nearly colliding the underbelly of the chopper. Sam jerked the stick and the chopper rose short and fast like a bucking bronco.

Logan let off a string of curse, gripped the straps, then poised at the door of the chopper, his feet braced wide. "Thirty yards, there he is. He looks okay."

Sam flipped the switch and the cable whined, lowering the yoke toward the water.

"Get lower!"

"Negative, the trees are spiking! They'll take us out." He heard the rush of the water all around him as it battered anything stationary. Keeping his attention on the terrain, Sam couldn't see anything in the dark except the glare of his searchlights.

Logan directed him. Below, Max cling to what was left of a tree, the charge of water rushing past in a hard flow of jungle debris, old farm equipment, and corpses. Sam couldn't save them all, but he wasn't letting his buddies die.

Max hooked his knee over a broken tree limbs, his body twisted to reach out to the yoke. The chopper jolted and Sam cursed, the hot wind sheer driving it upward. He struggled to get back in position and could hear Logan's voice inside his helmet.

"God damn wind. Okay, okay, right there. Shit, that's it for the cable!"

Sam had to get lower. The water splashed in thick foaming waves. One clip by debris and they were toast.

"Good, good. That's it. Come on Sam."

"This thing isn't amphibious, dammit."

Below, Max strained to reach, but the yoke swung like a pendulum, weighted and heavy.

"Shit, missed him, too far to the right."

"I'm coming in again, get ready." Sam made another pass and dipped the chopper as low as he could, hovering. "Logan, get him the fuck up, it's coming!" He could see it, another roll of water and matchstick trees.

"We got him. Up, up! Go! Go!"

Sam hit the cable switch, then pulled the stick back, lifting the chopper out of the water's path. A huge wave crested, sped past as the cable whined at the swinging strain, rolling in and bringing Max to the edge of the chopper.

Feet braced on the door ledge, Logan grabbed what was left of Max's shirt and yanked hard, pulling him inside. "He's in, he's in."

Sam glanced back. Max's face was shredded with cuts on one side, and his finger looked dislocated. "Where's Riley?"

"Down river," Max gasped. "We got separated at the first blast of water." The dismal look on his face said he didn't think he'd survived.

Sam was having none of that shit. He hit the thruster and the redesigned chopper shot over the water like a first-strike launch.

Logan unhooked the harness, shoved a cloth at Max, then took the night vision binoculars to search for Riley.

Sam swooped low and slow, hovering, leaning for a visual, passing the search lamp back and forth. Looks like bubbling stew. All they saw was what the moon reflected. He couldn't be this far out, he thought. Debris slid weightlessly, roofs, tractors, entire walls off buildings bobbed on the surface. Then he saw him. "There, two o'clock!"

Riley rolled with the flow of mud and water. His dark clothing and the mud hid him, only the flesh of his face and hands visible and popped through the surface. Like a leaf, nothing stopped him, nothing held him above water.

Logan directed Sam into position over Riley, Max on his knees at the door of the helicopter. "He stopped!"

Sam shined the spot light. Riley was like a rag caught on a roof top, his body flung back, water rushing over him. Hold on buddy, posse's coming. Sam dipped the chopper nose down, the wind making it rock. Logan put on the helmet and clipped the harness. At a thumbs up, Sam hit the cable switch. Logan lowered over the side.

"Christ," Max said. "He doesn't look good."

A chill tightened his skin.

"Hold it steady."

But the control stick jumped in his grip, the wind trying to push them out of the sky. Sam knew if he didn't get some altitude under them, they'd go down.

"Lower, Sam, lower."

"Christ."

Max gripped the edge, gave him a play by play. "He needs to get some footing to strap him in."

Jesus, they weren't going to make it, Sam thought, ears tuned to the engines, the beat of the blades like it was a part of his body. He lowered another foot, his gaze flicking to the surface he could see through the clear nose windows, the mirrors showing the flow behind them. The water just kept coming.

"Logan's down, keep it steady."

Sam's muscles strained on the stick, the chopper like a living being wanting to rest. He made to land on the water, gear up, knowing that was his only choice to get close enough.

"He's got him! They're locked. Man, he's bleeding!"

Sam's stomached clenched. He couldn't think of Riley dead. He refused to let it sink into his brain. He smacked the button and the cable rolled in. Instantly he lifted higher, fighting the hot air meeting cold water beneath the chopper in the valley. The weight of the two men made the small craft unstable. The wench groaned under the stress.

Max reached for Riley, pulling him in before Logan. The pair fell on the floor of the chopper and Sam went turbo, speeding toward land.

"Is he breathing?" Sam said.

They said nothing

"Is he breathing!"

"I don't know!" Logan yanked off the helmet and grabbed his medical gear strapped to the hull. Max rolled Riley over and water spurted out his mouth. But he didn't choke, didn't stir.

Sam radioed Sebastian at Dragon Six. "Coonass, all aboard. We need an ambulance. We have wounded."

Logan pressed a stethoscope to his chest. "He's alive, barely." Then he put a mask over Riley's face, turned on the small oxygen tank, moving it into his lungs and brain as Max ripped open his shirt. "He's been shot, those bastards!"

Sam almost looked, yet kept his attention on getting them beyond the broken dam and land. The force of water from the country's major water sources was still ripping trees out by the roots and tossing them like kindling.

Logan slapped a pad over the wound, and Max held pressure while Logan fought to keep Riley alive. The chopper shot over the land like a bullet in the sky, sleek and black. She was state of the art and all new, since some piece of shit a year ago loaded his last chopper down with C-4 and blew his baby to hell. He hadn't worked the kinks out yet. Now was the time.

"Hold on, we're coming in hot and fast." Sam banked hard to the left, and quickly set the helicopter on the flight deck near Dragon Six. The giant black cargo plane was the only craft out this far.

Sebastian was waiting with a body board, and rushed forward. Behind him, an ambulance barreled down the narrow landing strip toward the jet. Sam unhooked his helmet mics and rolled from the cockpit to the rear, helping them lift Riley onto the board.

"He looks bad," Sam said.

"He's unconscious," Logan said. "Dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs, a bullet hole, but I think he's slipped into a coma."

For a second, they all went still. Logan checked his vitals as the ambulance halted just beyond the rotors. Sam worked off his helmet, spitting mad and helpless as they put Riley and Max in the ambulance and with Logan, then sped off.

The blades were still moving as he dropped onto the edge at the open door and cradled his head. My fault, he thought.

*

Thirteen hours later

Rohki breathed slowly, the pain jolting up his chest as he limped along the walkway outside the airport. People jolted him and he clenched his teeth and smothered the urge to retaliate. Attention was not what he wanted. He felt the strong fingers circle his arm an instant before the gun at his back. The jerk of his body drove a surge of pain up his spine again as he looked up, staring into strange black eyes surrounded by swarthy skin. Zidane. Around them, Taxi's took on fares, airport guards chatted instead of watching their posts, tourist loaded with baggage rushed to catch flights out of the flood torn area. No one paid them any attention as the tall man ushered him away from the crowd.

He jerked his arm free, then regretted the move.

Zidane only gestured to the small jet on the runway, guarded, engines running. "Quickly."

Together they descended the short ramp and walked toward the plane. Heat rose in waves, blistering his scalp. As he mounted the first step, he felt underdressed for such a luxurious jet. Then he was grabbed back, a curved knife suddenly near his eye.

"The stones."

"Of course, but they aren't cut."

That didn't seem to concern Zidane and he warned, "You have already tried to sell them once."

Rohki paled. How had he known?

"There's no turning back. Betray him and I will see your eyes in a jar." He released him, pushed him up the steps.

Rohki gave up on fighting his bruised body. A short man with Slavic features stood at the top of the gangway.

"Search him, thoroughly," Zidane said.

The Slav inclined his head and he stepped inside. He wasn't underdressed. While the outside of the craft was pristine, the inside was a dark hole, only a few seats. A heavy curtain separated the rear section. He started to sit when two more men approached him, and without speaking, yanked him off his feet and tore off his clothes. He stood naked inside the jet, humiliated with the body search. He stared straight ahead. After what he went through last night, this was inconsequential.

One man wore an amused smile as he grabbed his dick, lifted, and cut the leather sack laced under his balls, nicking him.

"So that's your preference, eh?"

The man sneered, spilled the contents into his palm, rolling the large stones. The other threw his clothes at him. Rohki dressed as the man spoke to Zidane in an unfamiliar dialect. Congolese?

Zidane's dark gaze flicked up, pinning him. They couldn't know one was missing, Rohki thought, staring back. He held his hand out for the sack and stones. The guard eyed him, refilled the pouch and returned it. Rohki tucked them into his pocket, wondering when he could conceal them again before the final stop, and if the buyer was powerful enough to skirt customs there too.

The doors closed, the engines whined louder as he lowered gingerly into a seat and exhaled. The aircraft moved, shaking everything inside. He glanced around, pausing on the shifting curtain. Shock jumped through him when he saw shackles and chains anchored to the wall.

And they were occupied.

*

Sam stood outside the ICU unit in Colombo, staring through the glass.

Logan had set Riley's shoulder, removed the bullet, and stabilized him as best he could. Then Sebastian ordered Riley on the jet and with several locals who needed intensive care in Colombo. The Teams cargo plane, Dragon Six lifted off as a hospital jet. Surgery had taken hours and Logan assisted the government surgeons. Riley hadn't regained consciousness.

A coma. Logan tried to convinced him it was the body's way of healing itself, but seeing him hooked up to tubes, with a machine pushing air into his weak perforated lung, looked doubtful.

Sam wanted him to just wake the hell up.

The vigil felt weakened without the missing members. Dragon One's leader Killian Moore was off with on his honeymoon, and typical of his former CIA wife, they didn't tell anyone where they were. Sam didn't blame them, if this was the news waiting for them.

He didn't see Max nudge Sebastian, motion to him. The man stepped out and closed the door. Sam continued to stare through the glass.

"He survived Belfast, he'll be fine."

"Sure, he's just itchin' to rip off those wires and go dancing."

Sebastian Fontenot was silent for a moment. "It's not your fault."

Sam tensed, Sebastian voicing his feelings. "I went after the runt, if I'd stuck closer--"

"--the dam would have broken anyway."

"I was his back up. I left it unguarded."

"He didn't get shot in the back, either. That hit was at point blank range. Intentional. And if the dam hadn't caved, you and Max were next."

Sam's lips tightened and he fingered his hat, then suddenly turned away.

"Where are you going?"

Sam didn't break stride. "To find a bar, or the bastard that shot him. Which ever comes first."

"He's miles away or probably dead."

"He better hope so."

Sebastian muttered a curse. "Wait, take this."

Sam stopped, half turned, eyeing Sebastian's approach. He held out a palm sized grayish white rock. "Riley's fingers were locked around this so tightly it cut into his hand."

Sam plucked it, holding it up. Prisms of light shot through it. A conflict diamond. Uncut, blood stained.

And from the look of it, the biggest puppy the market had seen in a while.

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