Tanya lay on the shore of the waterfall’s pool. She didn’t care that it was lumpy with river-pounded stone, she was simply glad to be out of the rushing water. And breathing.
“Well, that was an exhilarating ride, wasn’t it?” The man lay beside her.
She could only laugh. It had been. And if she never had to do it again, it would be much too soon. But it would make a very good story now that she’d lived to tell it. Not that she had anyone to tell it to.
It was too dark to see anything except the stars in the narrow slice of black sky exposed by the jungle river. She checked for her light pack, but it was gone so no NVGs.
“You are okay?” She had to shout to be heard over the waterfall.
“And now who is raising their voice inappropriately? The damn woman driver who got me into this mess?”
“Maybe I should inappropriate you once in the nose.”
“ ‘…one in the nose…’ is the idiom you’re after. And don’t you think that running me over was enough abuse for one evening?”
“And what of you dragging me out of the nice dry helicopter? This was not so very nice. I do not know why I even bothered trying to save such a lout. There I was, safely aboard the helicopter, right where I wanted to be, and you go falling out of it and taking me with you. I definitely owe in the nose two.”
She could see by his outline moving against the stars that he’d eased to an upright position. She sat up as well.
“Sorry,” she actually did feel bad about running him over. “Though I would not have hit you if my brakes had still worked. But they failed. Why did you step all of a sudden into the middle of the lane? All I was going to hit were some steel dividers behind the pilots.”
“To test your driving skills, of course. They suck, by the way. And I’ll just mention that your ‘middle of the lane’ was the middle of a helicopter.”
“I have already apologized and now I’m done. Maybe the next time, I will be hitting you harder. No easing off the gas.”
“Just like you,” Tanya snapped back. None of this was how her quiet night was supposed to have gone. No kingpin leaders taken out. Two people on her crew shot. And now she lay half-drowned along a roaring jungle with a macho jerk.
That earned her an unexpected laugh, “You got that straight, lady. Nice is something I’m very not good at. Not one little bit.”
“You are a bad man?” There was something familiar about him. His easy banter. His voice.
“Can be if you want me to. I can be very bad,” he whispered close beside her ear.
She almost had it. Several years back. Over the border in Bolivia? No! “Venezuela. Hostages on the top floor of a—”
Suddenly a massive hand had a tight chokehold around her throat.
She tried to breathe, but couldn’t.
“How do you know about that?”
He didn’t ease up enough to let her speak. She pinched the nerve cluster behind his thumb. He grunted as she peeled his hand back, then took a breath.
His punch headed for her kidneys, which she barely blocked in time. That wasn’t Spec Ops training, it was street fighting. Then she knew.
“Cut it out, Chad!”
He froze. Not all that many people outside of Delta Force knew his real name. And even fewer of those were women. “Clive” worked well for him when on the prowl—a contrast with his corn-fed, Iowa-farm-boy looks that made him more intriguing to women. He’d tried Dominic, like Vin Diesel’s hard-ass character in the Fast and Furious movies, but he couldn’t seem to get traction with it. Clive, like Mr. Chill Clive Owen, did the trick. And he always made a point of memorizing the local number for Chinese take-out in case the woman wanted solace when she tried to call him for another passage at arms. He’d always considered that to be a kind touch.
This time he reached out into the dark more slowly and brushed a hand over her hair. Fine enough that it was probably blonde. Smooth, with a sharp jawline cut that looked cute on a lot of women.
A kiss. He could always remember a woman by her kiss, but that didn’t seem like the right next step. She’d blocked his kidney punch, which only a top soldier could do.
A top soldier with her England-English slightly fractured by a vaguely German accent should be a clue, but it wasn’t. And it wasn’t exactly German either. He recalled a long time ago when his teammate Richie—their geek and linguist—identified just this accent as…Israeli. It couldn’t be!
“Say something. In Spanish.”
“No habla Español,” she denied with a perfect accent. Her Spanish had always been flawless.
“Tanya Zimmer!” He remembered a lightning-filled sky on Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo. A lake where… “You b***h! You walked away from me. We were doing so good, then just like that...” He tried to snap his fingers, but they were too wet. “s**t, woman!”
“No, I drove away in a stolen police boat.”
“We had something.”
“We did,” her voice was unaccountably soft, but he knew all of the tricks women used and that was definitely one of them.
“Well, you’re not getting me back that easily.”
“As if I’d want you,” she didn’t even have the decency to hesitate in her answer.
He’d thought about her a lot since then. Nothing serious of course—she was just another woman, after all. But he’d casually watched for her when they were undercover in some crowd, taking down a cocaine lab, or something else that left him time to look around.
He never, ever missed a woman, but…
“Do you have a radio?” Tanya needed to change the topic and change it fast. People in their line of work couldn’t afford attachments. They weren’t ever real anyway. Definitely not with a man like Chad or, she had to admit, with a woman like her. Being an operative for Israel’s Mossad elite counterterrorism unit, Kidon, didn’t exactly make for a predictable homelife—as if she’d want such a thing.
She shifted her butt, trying to find a comfortable position on the river rock without luck. Thankfully the night was warm, so the river water evaporating out of her clothes was only a little chilly.
But happy homelife was what most guys saw in her for reasons she could never fathom. They took one look at her blonde hair and bright blue eyes, then decided she’d make the perfect housewife. Not a chance. Guys might think she was the fantasy lover with the secret family—like Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air—which she really had to see someday as so many people thought that’s who she was. So very not.
She wouldn’t fit in with some family of her own any more than she’d ever fit in the one with her dark-haired, brown-eyed parents. And her father had certainly never forgiven her or her mother for wherever Mom had gone to find those blonde-and-blue genes. Not that she blamed Mom. Dad had been an abusive asshole, very expressive with his fists, right up until the moment he’d “accidentally” stumbled off the sidewalk in front of a truck. She still couldn’t find it in her to feel bad about that. Their lives had improved for a little while until Mom found another man just like the last one. It made no sense. That’s when Tanya had given up and moved out. She’d finished her last three years of high school while living in the corner of an abandoned Tel Aviv warehouse with some other like-minded teens.
After a brief silence, Chad responded, “Feels as if my radio was smashed against some rocks. Of course, so do I, so I can totally empathize with it. How about you?”
“Mine was smashed in the face of a drug lab’s guard just before I breaked his neck. But we should be moving away from this waterfall,” the mist in her face was thick and was finally chilling her despite the warm night in central Colombia.
She rose to her feet, but all that came from Chad beside her was some tumbling of small rocks and then a low curse that sounded like pain.
“Are you okay? You said you were okay.”
“Apparently my knee has other ideas. A sprain, I think. But I won’t enjoy walking on it.”
Tanya listened to the sound of the water rushing through the rocks close by their feet. The river was still moving fast. Rapids or maybe another waterfall lay ahead. She had studied all of the escape routes before her mission, but she hadn’t bothered to learn the river a mile downstream from the pickup point, two miles from the drug lab. A mistake she wouldn’t make again.
“I am certainly not going to be swimming anymore.” She reached out until she found his shoulder and tapped twice. At her gesture, he offered a hand and she helped him to his feet.
They slipped their arms around each other’s waists. He felt strong and gloriously familiar. There had never been any doubt about the explosion-hot s*x between them, but she knew that explosions never lasted past the initial heat.
“You Delta are far more trouble than you are being worth.”
“Says the woman with the driving problem.”
She loosened her grip as if she was going to dump him to the ground. He hung on a little tighter. By his hard lurches and ragged breath, his injury was much worse than he was letting on. No less than she’d expect from him.
“So, what trouble have you been up to lately?” Chad asked kindly enough, then finished it off with a low curse as she stumbled badly.
“Nothing good,” she thought bitterly of her latest mission. “Parts of this country have improved wonderfully since the crushing of the worst of the cartels. Other parts…Oy vey! How about you?”
“Well, there’s this nice pair of restaurants I could take you to in Medellín. Right up in the barrios of Comuna 13 that might give you some hope. Amazing food. We swept the streets a little while I was there.” Meaning that some drug gang or cartel was hurting bad if they’d drawn the attention of Chad’s Delta Force team.
“Are you guys still together?”
“Lot of changes since you rode with us, but, yeah, the core team is the same. Kyle and Carla, of course.”
“Of course.” The team leader and the Wild Woman—wholly unpredictable in a very good way. Tanya had been almost as sorry to leave her behind as she’d been sorry to leave Chad. Interesting that Kyle and Carla were still a couple and yet continuing to serve in the same unit. It didn’t sound like the American military—who were as prudish as their Puritan roots—but it did sound very like Kyle and Carla.
“Richie and Duane have both gone down.” They hobbled under the cover of a large oak. By the sound of it, the river had widened and slowed, but she still wasn’t willing to get back in the water.
“How were they killed?” A shame. She’d liked them, what little she’d known of them.
“Killed?” Chad lurched hard to one side as a rock clattered aside and tumbled down the step bank to plonk into the rushing river. It seemed to echo off the canyon walls despite the thick jungle to either side. She barely kept them both from going down. “Never said killed. They both fell for that happily-ever-after crap.”
“Spec Ops and a civilian. Since when has that ever worked?”
“Never,” Chad agreed. “But their ladies are both on the team. Not sure I’d dare mess with either of them any more than with Carla. They’re not like her—but they’re both dangerous in their own way. And the three of them together are just f*****g lethal.”
“What about you?”
“Oh, like I believe in that marriage bullshit. Gotta stop and rest. Maybe find a crutch or a passing ambulance.”
She helped ease him down at the base of the first tree, a ceiba by the feel of the great flat vertical planes of the roots.
At least they agreed on the nonsense of marriage. She’d take a lover any day, especially one as fantastic as Chad. But long term? He’d said it right—pure bullshit.
Chad spotted a familiar shape against the stars. Reaching out, he touched a banana. A bunch of them pulled away easily without mushing. He handed a couple to Tanya and they chowed down together.
He missed the feeling of her against his side. Despite all of her heavy gear, Tanya Zimmer was a whole lot of woman. Slender and built. Sexy and lethal.
But he was in no condition to take advantage of it even if she was offering—which, he was chagrined to notice, she wasn’t. He’d been awake for four days, not daring to sleep so close to the drug smugglers’ camp. And with each minute he didn’t report in, his hard-won information was aging. They could have changed patrol strategies, added new booby traps on the approaches, or even have pulled camp and already be on the move.
Being on the verge of the staggers and hallucinations from sleep deprivation wasn’t being helped by his knee stinging like a mess of bees each time he took a step. The hallucinations he could deal with—at this point just distant gunfire. He often dreamed of that anyway. Sometimes echoing down the Detroit back alleys of his childhood, sometimes the soft spit of his sniper rifle. As long as they were distant, he didn’t care if they were real or just in his sleep-deprived imagination. What he cared about was his heartbeat counting out the seconds one by one—each one aging his knowledge toward a colossal waste of time.
A hot woman like Tanya was beyond anything he could deal with right now. Some women were easy to keep happy. A little foreplay, some hot action, and then let them snuggle to their heart’s content afterward, dreaming of long-term s**t that was never going to happen.
Some women required more attention.
Tanya had required his full attention. Her body and the woman who lived inside that lovely skin had demanded it like no one else before her. He’d be glad to drift off if it meant hallucinating a few more things about her.
He banged the back of his head against the tree trunk a few times. It hurt. That was good. It staved off the sleep his body so desperately craved for another few minutes.