by T.C. Archer
A 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 Colombian jungle floor and bolted to the right, plunging deeper into the foliage—and away from the trap where her informant Martinez had been gunned down. She choked back anguish. He shouldn’t have run when mercenaries burst upon their meeting place. His young wife and child now had to go into hiding. Jesse shuddered to think about how the Colombian drug lords would torture and kill them in payment for Martinez having aided an American spy.
She 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.
Jesse slowed and concentrated past the red howler monkey screeches and parrot caws for footfalls or leaves rustling, indications that Martinez’s killers slinked through the foliage in search of her. Nothing.
She 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.
“Come on. Pick up.” She tried to ignore the dribble of sweat trickling down the valley between her breasts as the fourth ring began.
What 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 that had worked free of the brain numbingly tight ponytail. Why weren’t they—
“Designation, please,” came the operator’s voice.
“Control, this is Blue Delta Four.”
“Zebra, four, eight, two, seven, golf,” Jesse replied in a low voice.
“Confirmed, Delta Four. What is your status?”
“I am not at target. Must speak with Blue Leader.”
“Blue Leader is out of communication range.”
“Code blue,” Jesse hissed. “Get me Blue Leader Five.”
A click sounded on the line, a quick ring, then a male voice answered, “Delta Four, this is Green Leader. What’s happened?”
Jesse froze. Green Leader? Why had Robert Lanton intercepted her call to Henry Neilson? “Where is Blue Leader?” she demanded.
“Out of communication range. What’s happened?”
“What is your status?” he asked.
She silently cursed, but gave in. “We have a leak. The Colombians knew about the meeting.”
Silence, then, “That’s impossible.”
“Negative, Green Leader. Repeat, they were waiting. Abort Operation Hangman.”
“What is your source?” he asked.
Her heart thumped harder with memory of Martinez lunging for the trees when the mercenaries rushed them. “M-2,” she replied with effort.
“How did M-2 obtain his information?”
She wondered the same thing. “I don’t know. Before he could reveal his source, the Colombians open fired. 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, I’ll kill—”
“Verify your designation code,” Green Leader cut in.
What? 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.
An almost imperceptible pause followed, then, “That code is outdated, Delta Four. Give me your current verification.”
Outdated? Her mind whirled. “What the hell is this?”
“Current verification, Delta Four.”
“Get Blue Leader on the line right now, and put me through voice recognition,” Jesse ordered.
“Negative,” he replied. “Not without current verification.”
“Get the director on the line—now! Don’t send in Green Team until you’ve verified with him. The Colombians were waiting for us—they knew about our meeting. The Colombians have intel on Operation Hangman. Our men will be slaughtered.”
The line went dead.
Being an agent revoked her license to love . . . until she met the man sent to kill her.
Jesse Evans’ most recent mission turns deadly when Colombian mercenaries ambush her and her informant. She races across the jungle to warn the Special Ops team she sent to save an American Senator’s young daughter, but arrives just as the team is slaughtered by drug runners.
Within the hour, branded as the traitor who leaked the mission intelligence, Jesse Evans is now the most wanted woman in the world. She must prove she didn’t sell out the team or her sister dies. Only one man can save them both, but that man isn’t who Jesse thinks he is…and she can’t afford to fall in love with him.