No matter the risk to herself and despite a certain Navy SEAL’s efforts to hold her back, environmentalist Madison Scott work to protect frontiers like El Chaco, Paraguay, from her family’s aggressive oil company. Lt. Sam Sasseville is just as determined to protect Maddy from the dangers she invites—not just because he can’t get her out of his mind, but because her selfless commitment to improve the world reminds him of his own.
The Mark V-1 Special Operations Craft slid with a hiss onto a deserted strip of moonlit shore. Lurching to a stop, it delivered a four-man fire team of Navy SEALs at their insertion point on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River. Lt. Sam Sasseville stripped off his night ops jacket and stuffed it into the gunwale locker. Giving his teammates the go-signal, he leaped ashore with a lightweight pack, confident that his three teammates followed. Even with the added weight they carried and the mud sucking at their boots, he could scarcely hear their footfalls.
Beneath the jackets they’d discarded, they were dressed to resemble civilians. Wearing dark cargo pants with pockets full of extra ammo and baggy black T-shirts to conceal an arsenal of weapons, they melted into the darkness. A Gerber blade splinted Sam’s right ankle. His backpack, like every other man’s, contained a helmet with NVGs attached, several MRE’s, baby wipes for keeping clean, and a fresh T-shirt. Sam’s pack also carried an LEO satellite phone.
Sweeping jungle-green eyes over the flat, scrubby terrain, he assessed their location. A steady drizzle dampened waves of dark hair he’d inherited from his Cuban grandmother. A compliment of tan skin simplified his infiltration into the Mexican province of Tamaulipas.
Sam’s three teammates didn’t have it so easy. Bronco, Haiku, and Bullfrog had all slathered their bare skin in bronzing lotion. Bronco wore a floppy hat to cover his sun-streaked hair, while Bullfrog and Haiku, both brunettes, went hatless.
The lapping of water muffled the SEALs’ trek across the mud flats to their predetermined location. As the K50S water jets on the Mark V-1 carried the craft silently back to the Gulf, the squad rallied, squatting amidst the marsh grass. They wouldn’t need the delivery vehicle again. If everything went as planned, they would exfil via helo.
Sam checked his watch before shrugging off his pack and grubbing inside for his satphone. A simple three-digit combination put him in touch with headquarters.
“Home plate,” answered the ops officer, Lieutenant Lindstrom, who sat before a computer monitor at the Spec Ops Headquarters back in Dam Neck, Virginia.
“Heads up, home plate,” Sam replied, having fun with the baseball lingo they’d decided to use to encode their progress. “Tampa Bay Rays are at first base now, waiting for the ump to show up.”
“Play ball, Rays,” Lindstrom said, with a snigger on his end.
“Here he comes now,” Bronco stated, apparently spotting the “ump” through the high powered scope on his sniper rifle. “Right on time.”
Over the patter of rain, Sam detected the purr of an approaching engine. Twin beams sheared the tops of the tall grass that hid them. The so-called umpire was a DEA officer who’d volunteered to help out. He would escort them into Matamoros, the lawless town situated across the U.S. border from Brownsville, Texas. There, the SEALs would initiate a forty-eight hour reconnaissance, monitoring the movements in and around the site, before sweeping in to recover their target. If all went well, they’d drive to the exfiltration site and fly off on a Navy Seahawk.
Easy Day. Sam simmered as he slipped the phone back into his pack. This whole goddamn op wouldn’t be happening at all if the idiot daughter of oil magnate Lyle Scott had left Matamoros when the U.S. embassy issued a mandatory evacuation for all U.S. citizens. If not for her, Sam and his men would be headed for Malaysia on the warpath to killing the arms smuggler who’d injured one of their fellow teammates last year. Instead of Lt. Tyler Rexall’s debilitating injury and lost career, Sam had to play nursemaid to a global environmentalist who didn’t have any sense of self-preservation. The silver spoon stuck in her mouth must have interfered with her deductive reasoning capabilities. He’d christened this mission “Operation Dumb Broad” in her honor.
“That’s our guy,” Bronco confirmed, lowering his weapon. The vehicle came to a squeaky stop and dimmed its lights.
“Go,” Sam ordered.
Bullfrog, their medic, darted out of hiding first, providing cover for Haiku and then Bronco, who leapfrogged his position. Sam brought up the rear and was the first into the rust-colored taxi, taking shotgun, as was his due as the officer in charge. His three companions squeezed into the back seat, grunting at the tight fit. Cigarette smoke filled the car’s interior. The car boasted plastic-covered seats and a working meter.
The DEA officer tossed his Marlboro out the window and turned his head to glance at Sam. “Welcome to hell,” he rasped, his eyes glinting in the dark. Engaging the meter like he meant to charge them by the kilometer, he hammered the accelerator, flinging them all back in their seats as the taxi took off.
Beyond the swinging crucifix that hung from the rearview mirror and the slapping windshield wipers that ticked like a time-bomb, the glow of Matamoros beckoned them into danger.
Sam’s resentment bubbled. The spitting sky, the time of year—late spring—and the circumstances of this op reminded him of an incident in high school, one that had formed his opinion of wealthy individuals, women especially. Back then, the source of his torment had been beautiful Wendy—daughter of a real estate tycoon, prom queen, and the biggest tease in the twelfth grade. If he’d known the outcome of his heroics, he would have let her suffer the consequences of her flirtatiousness. Instead, her hoarse screams coming from the bedroom at an after-prom party had awakened his protective instincts and sent him flying to her rescue.
Streetwise, with a private crush on Wendy, Sam had thrashed her two male companions within an inch of their lives. He’d expected her to at least thank him, but she hadn’t. Those boys had been her friends, after all. And when her father demanded an explanation for her bruises, she had offered up Sam as a scapegoat.
He’d suffered a month in prison while his stepfather scrounged up the money for a decent lawyer. But even then, being Latino, from the wrong neighborhood, he’d been cast into the role of criminal, and no one would see past the stereotype, so he’d left that life behind and joined the Navy.
Since then, he had broken every stereotype into which he’d been cast, never quitting, until he’d become a warrior worthy of every man’s respect—a U.S. Navy SEAL.
Yet, here he was, as a Navy SEAL, putting himself and his teammates into peril for what?—to extricate the precious daughter of the CEO of Scott Oil Corporation? She’d gotten herself into this mess; she ought to have to figure her own way out.
What the hell was she still doing here in Matamoros when drug lords ruled the city? Or was she just too pampered, too used to being coddled to realize what could happen to her in this lawless realm?
He supposed he was about to find out. Right now, the only certainty was that if he failed in this mission to extract Lyle Scott’s foolish daughter from this corrupted city, his career would be over—just like that. He could feel it in his bones. Everything he had fought so hard to accomplish could be stripped from him as if it had never happened. Why? Because the CEO of Scott Oil Corporation obviously had friends in high places, or this ridiculous waste of his time would not be happening.
As water droplets on the windshield grew brighter, Sam’s stomach knotted with the fear that history was about to repeat itself.