Karl Patterson and seven other SEAL Team Six men are deployed to Paris to raid a Le Marais duplex believed to be a terrorist hideout. Finding it abandoned and rigged with explosives, the sailors barely escape. After they return to their hotel anticipating a night of rest and awake to an explosion and raging inferno, Karl and his teammates realize they are one step behind the Red Queen. Not only is she still alive; she’s also hell-bent on vengeance and plans to unleash terror the city won’t soon forget.
Journalist Jamie Phillips awakes to the sound of an explosion and rushes to the window in time to see the perpetrators fleeing from the blackened skeleton of their van. Rushing to escape engulfing flames, she nearly succumbs to the overpowering smoke and falling debris, but is suddenly rescued by a drop-dead gorgeous man she suspects is Special Forces.
Attraction between Karl and Jamie burns hotter than the flames consuming the du Luxembourg hotel. Karl struggles to wipe Jamie from his mind and refocus on the Team’s mission. But heading to the hospital and forgetting Karl aren’t part of Jamie’s plan. Thanks to her keen journalist observational skills, she picked up on key information that just might help SEAL Team Six stop the terrorists.
May 13, 2014
A woman wearing night vision goggles swept the heavy dark curtains aside and peered out the window of her Le Marais apartment. Manic laughter escaped her lips. Several uniformed men carrying bulky weapons crept around the perimeter of a two-story apartment across the street.
The American government must have deemed the Red Queen’s followers to be a major threat to send DEVGRU.
The best of the best of the SEALs or not—the men didn’t stand a chance. They had erroneously concluded that the Red Queen was dead and the leaderless insurgents had lost their edge.
The people who will scrape up what remains of their bodies will soon learn that I’m very much alive.
The SEAL team would raid the apartment to find it empty—well, almost empty, actually. She had planted a little gift for the American sailors that would blow them into a million bloody pieces.
She made a mock explosion sound and then laughed, thinking about her upcoming attacks that would make headlines in the next twenty-four hours.
She tugged down the hem of her tight black velvet dress, which clung to her stockings. Her blood-red stilettos clicked across the tile floor as she walked toward the marble-topped bar. She pulled a glass from a shelf above the counter, uncapped the bottles of gin and vermouth and stirred herself a strong martini, topping off the cocktail with an olive she had plucked from a jar in the small refrigerator.
She raised the glass in the air and extended her arm as if preparing to make a toast with an invisible person.
“To death,” she said in a Russian accent before tipping the clear crystal glass toward her lips. The first swallow rocketed through her bloodstream, making her feel pleasantly light-headed.
“Ahhh.” She gazed into the rectangle of mirrored glass that decorated the back of the bar, admiring her reflection. Flawless white skin scrubbed smooth every morning, long dark hair that gleamed with healthy radiance from hourly daily brushing and blood red lipstick that had become her new trademark once she had started impersonating her sister. Confusing people about their two identities had played a major role in her plan’s success.
They’ll be so shocked tomorrow when the body count soars.
She took another deep swallow of the potent drink, relishing the way the prisms hanging from the crystal chandelier and the oil paintings in gold leaf frames appeared to bob like floating objects on the sea as she walked back to the window.
Strong drinks are so invigorating. Almost as much as blood and death. She raised her glass in the air for another toast.
Crouched outside a seventeenth century duplex on Rue Charlot in Le Marais, Karl Patterson gripped his weapon tighter to secure it in his sweating palms. His night vision goggles illuminated his surroundings in eerie green hues.
Two draped statues, perched on the stone molding above the door, peered down at the observant warrior. The brass knocker on the wooden door reminded him of Scrooge’s entrance in A Christmas Carol. Karl’s mind had a knack for numbers, constantly calculating, analyzing, and storing information in the recesses of his brain like a powerful computer.
The narrow street on the Seine River’s Rive Droite had been thrown into blackness the instant the DEVGRU team dismantled the street lanterns. Karl and the six other men had rigged doors and windows with explosives and waited for their highest-ranking enlisted man on the mission Petty Officer 1st Class, Darryl Jennings, to give the order to detonate the explosives and raid the apartment.
While Karl waited, his tensed muscles ready to react in a millisecond, the cool and damp night air wrapped around him.
Temperature approximately fifty-eight degrees Fahrenheit or fourteen degrees Celsius. Humidity fifty percent plus.
A barking dog broke into the sleepy silence. The hollow, eerie sound of the lone animal echoed through the corridor of old stone buildings, all interconnected and some sheltered with awnings. Only a scanty line of trees protected the men from view. Moving silently and out-of-sight was imperative. The nearby shops had been closed for hours and the unlit windows suggested the residents were tucked away in their beds. But it only took one insomniac peering outside and shouting to blow the entire operation.
Karl glanced at his watch. Four minutes and ten seconds had passed and still he waited. His thigh muscles burned from squatting low for so long and he bit down on his lip to distract himself from the discomfort.
Karl’s uniform clung to his sweaty body as if he were crouched inside an overheated sauna instead of surrounded by cool night air. His clammy palms slipped across the steel handle of his weapon and gripped it tighter as he huffed out a sustained exhale.
We’re prepared for anything. He and his team had trained long and hard to face the most adverse situations. Hell, they’d raided dozens of compounds in Afghanistan and Pakistan and even rescued a journalist held hostage in Somalia. In the remote villages, they’d been hard pressed to get a sip of clean water. On more than one mission, he had battled intestinal distress as well as the enemy.
Karl thrived on the thrill of danger and uncertainty. Conquering individuals and organizations that threatened national and international security had become an obsession ever since Kelsi’s death. His commitment to excellence had paid off and he’d become a vital member of a top-notch team.
Anxiety, typically a barely noticeable undercurrent reminding him not to let his guard down, short-circuited in his nervous system. For the first time ever, he experienced an emotion resembling fear. Karl wasn’t a worrier. He was the thinker who analyzed and crunched numbers in his head. He disciplined his mind to tune out extraneous background noise—emotions, superstitions and intuition.
I belong here. What the fuck is wrong with me?
Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Brooks would have led their team had he not been on medical leave. On May second, a gunman had infiltrated Bagram Air Force Base. The intruder, who had downloaded confidential information from mission control, had launched a grenade to foil his pursuers and bolted. Another soldier had been killed and Nathan had suffered a serious shoulder injury while Karl and female Air Force Captain Baylee Stiles had escaped with only scrapes and bruises.
SEAL Team Six had been deployed to Paris less than twenty-four hours after CIA agents intercepted a series of suspicious telephone calls. The threat of multiple terrorist attacks was imminent, Master Chief Drake had said, and DEVGRU had to act fast to try to avert a massive loss of life.
Chief Drake had even ordered Darryl Jennings to cut his Prague vacation with his girlfriend short to lead this urgent mission. Darryl had proposed to Olivia the night he’d received Drake’s urgent call. Darryl could have met his team in Paris in a sour mood, spewing out frustrated expletives—he must have wanted to after the romantic night with his fiancée had been interrupted. But that wasn’t Darryl’s way. He always gave the team his all and that included a pleasant, upbeat attitude, no matter how unpleasant or disappointing the circumstances.
In addition to the phone intel, the CIA had contacted Drake with an anonymous tip. Terrorists were hiding out in a Le Marais duplex.
So here we are…
Yeah, with very little to go on. Karl grappled to regain his composure.
Stop this shit.
Undisciplined thoughts continued to race around in his brain until he wondered if this was all really happening.
Over beers the men would share their off-the-wall nightmares and howl with laughter. Ones where night vision goggles malfunctioned and they couldn’t see a damn thing or they burst into a building unarmed or even naked. Those rare, light-hearted evenings had never felt so far removed.
Karl battled the negative chatter with rational thoughts. We’re on top of this. Darryl’s a competent leader and we are some of America’s best men.
Karl couldn’t tell 1st Class Petty Officer Jennings that his brain had gone haywire and that if they didn’t call off the mission, he would piss his pants. He needed to regain his focus so he could work side-by-side with his team to avert the danger humming in the air.
Darryl’s order to enter the building pierced Karl’s eardrum through his headset. After activating the explosives that blew the wooden door into splinters, he burst into the dark tunnel of the hallway holding his weapon tight onto his shoulder. Despite the night vision goggles, he could barely distinguish the details of his surroundings through the powdery debris rising around him.
Knowing his teammates Chris and Jared were right behind him, Karl stealthily stepped across the marble-floored hallway, his body pressed to the wall, his senses on high alert for movement. He had to know in an instant if whoever he encountered was man, woman or child and if they were armed so he could make a split second decision to kill or not to kill. His other urgent task was protecting fellow members of his team. He was ready and willing to sacrifice his own life to save any one of these men who were like family to him.
Darryl and four other TEAM members roped their way up onto the apartment building rooftop and planned to enter from upstairs windows. After checking the two bedrooms, they planned to rendezvous with Karl and the others in the living room downstairs. Every DEVGRU man on the mission had the layout of the nine hundred and fifty square foot duplex etched firmly in his mind. They’d pored over copies of the original architectural drawings during their flight.
“No one on the second floor,” said Darryl’s voice in Karl’s earpiece. “No furniture, clothing or anything else either. Whoever was here must have vacated. We’re descending the stairs now.”
After perusing the kitchen area, where the polished stone counters were bare, Karl jerked around a corner and lunged into the living room, continuing to curl his index finger around the weapon’s trigger so he could fire in a millisecond.
His gaze swept around the room and the wooden floorboards creaked as he stepped slowly across the floor. A lone crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. Instead of a couch, chairs and the other furniture Karl expected to see, the floor shone bare and nail holes dotted the walls where paintings had once hung. Every trace of the previous tenants had been removed. There wasn’t even a scrap of paper or a paperclip lying on the floor.
The only sign that the apartment had been recently occupied was the odor of a strange perfume and something else. Karl sniffed the air again to see what the sweet and leathery scent masked. Explosives. His gaze darted across the floor, spotting a faint outline of a detonation cord following the woodwork around the room’s perimeter. In several places, charges had been hooked in. Fuck.
“The building’s rigged. We need to get the hell out of here,” Karl shouted into his headset. Across the room, he saw Darryl and the other men crouched behind him.
“You three head for the front door,” shouted Darryl. “We’ll vacate through the upstairs windows.”
In an instant their mission escalated into panic mode. Karl jerked around, pushing Chris roughly forward and shouting for him and Jared to run. Their pounding footsteps and labored breaths echoed through the empty apartment as the three men sprinted down the hall toward the open door. Karl’s lungs burned from the sudden exertion as every fast-twitch muscle in his body fought a desperate battle. The instant Karl’s fast footfalls struck the pavement just outside the duplex an explosion erupted into the night.
The vibration and onslaught of debris from the first blast dropped Karl to his knees. Fortunately, Jared was free and clear. Orange flames from the destroyed building illuminated the street. Chris, still running, looked back toward Karl. Another loud explosion pierced Karl’s eardrums, shaking the ground under his feet.
Fuck. Karl waved his hand frantically toward Chris. “Don’t stop. Get the hell out of here.”
Grunting to ward off the knife sharp pain in his knee, Karl pushed himself back up and resumed a loping run.
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