Yup. A little excited about this one...
Look for it right after Christmas.
Look for it right after Christmas.
“Confirm. Go, no go.”
“Assault team is a go.”
“I’m a go out here, Top.”
“I have eyes on the target. Go.” Tawni Bolten ignored the sweat dripping down her face in favor of keeping a line of sight on her target. As the rear guard for their SWAT team, she was charged with sniper duty. Yes, she was nearly a crack shot with the M14 sniper rifle, but. as the newest member of their team and the only woman, Tawni had the feeling they guys just wanted her out of the way.
They were going after a suspected drug lord in the city. The mission was to arrest all in the area, which intel said was only three, including the main target. If all went well, her services wouldn’t be required.
“Assault team is active.” Grayson Baker and Wyatt Johnson made up the assault team with Sebastian Cross being their scout. Bastian had confirmed the intelligence report on the number of men in the small house and also had the men covered with a long ranged riffle. Their leader, Nicholas Baker, or Niko, kept a close watch in a position where he was able to get to his team should something go wrong. All of them were top notch in the field. All of them were sexy as hell.
Tawni watched as the two men approached the house. Gray squatted underneath an open window while Wyatt secured the door. The back door was covered by Bastian while Tawni had a good view of the front where Wyatt now readied himself to kick in. Though none of the four men on the team were small by any means, Wyatt was the biggest of the bunch.
With one swift, hard kick, the door exploded inward accompanied by the shout of male voices. Wyatt could be heard over them all shouting, “Freeze! Police!” Naturally, that didn’t do one damned bit of good.
Tawni adjusted her grip on her riffle, making minor adjustments incase her talents were needed. Gray tossed a flash grenade through the window. The thing went off with a flash of light in the dark and a loud bang. More shouts and Tawni’s heart pounded. Gray and Wyatt entered the building.
“Police!” Gray shouted again. Before he could say more, however, the distinct “pop pop pop” of gunfire punctuated the night.
“Shots fired, shots fired,” Wyatt’s voice rang out over the radio. He sounded completely calm and in control, as if he did this every day.
“Return fire,” Niko responded, keeping it short. Tawni could hear the implied, “Don’t let those bastards get away,” but Niko didn’t say it. Dispatch was listening, as well as people throughout the city who had nothing better to do than listen to the police scanner.
Immediately, the distinctive sound of the assault team’s Berettas popped from the tiny house. Tawni wondered if the team had killed their targets or wounded them. The rule was, don’t fire unless you’re prepared to kill, but these guys were better than the average cop on the street. All of them, with the exception of Tawni, were former military. Special forces. They were good enough to completely take down a target without killing him if Niko told them to.
“I can take out lead target,” she intoned, trying not to sound eager or, worse, nervous, but she wasn’t sure she managed either. It wasn’t that she wanted to kill anyone, she just needed to prove her worth to these battle hardened men.
“Negative, Snipe. Hold.” Niko effectively called her off, obviously believing the assault team had it under control. Tawni took several deep breaths, trying to calm herself. The heat of the moment was definitely different from training. Adrenaline rushed through her veins with every beat of her heart. If she were honest with herself, it was difficult to tell if it were fear or excitement. Probably a little of both.
Scope firmly on the house, her target still in the cross hairs, movement to her left caught her eye. Immediately, she warned the team. “Top, movement on the ground to the left of the house. There’s a second target moving fast.” There was something familiar about the man moving to intercept her team, but she couldn’t place him. Tawni’s gut tightened. If Gray and Wyatt missed the man’s entrance, they’d be vulnerable.
“Bastian, do you have eyes on him?” Niko’s voice was calm as ever. How the hell did the man stay so fucking under control? Tawni wanted to scream, to run to their aid no matter what Niko said. The newcomer was an unknown. No one had a clue how he was armed.
“Negative, Top. I got nothing. Snipe, how far out is he?”
“Left of the front of the house. Thirty meters out and closing fast.” Tawni’s heart pounded in her ears, her breath came in shallow gasps. Sweat continued to trickle down her face, dripping off her eyelashes, but she refused to take her eye away from the scope to wipe her hand across her forehead. “I’ll have a clear shot for a couple more seconds and that’s it.”
“I’m ready for him, Top,” Gray’s voice came over the radio over yells and the occasional chorus of gunfire. “Let him inside so we know who we’re dealing with.”
Tawni ground her teeth. Was he fucking kidding?
“Copy that,” Niko said. “Hold position, Snipe.”
Tawni hated that they called her “Snipe.” They’d said “Tawni” was too girlie to use over the radio, laughing as they’d insulted her. Oh, they hadn’t been condescending or actually meant to be insulting. They were teasing. Like they constantly ragged Wyatt calling him Erp. Still, it grated. She was well aware they were all physically bigger and stronger than she was. It was something they just loved pointing out on a daily basis calling her Shrimp, or Short Stuff. Their sizes were part of their appeal to her. All in all, even if she didn’t like it, she supposed Snipe was the better alternative.
From the day she’d met them, started training with them, she’d tried to view them as one of the guys. Part of her team. Instead, she’d developed a very unhealthy attraction to all of them, secretly loving it when they manhandled her, tossing her to the top of a training wall or pinning her beneath them when they trained in weaponless combat. Now, watching them move from a distance, she had to wonder if they were taking advantage of her skill as a sniper or simply getting her out of their way while the "men went to work."
As if sensing the trap, the newcomer changed direction, heading into the tree line next to the house. The cover was dense there, the woods thick in the mountains on the outskirts of the Appellation city.
“He’s headed for cover. Into the woods,” Tawni advised.
“Let him go for now. Concentrate on the house, Snipe.” His command was sharp. Cutting. Like he expected her to drop her scope and run after the unknown man.
Gritting her teeth, she replied, “copy,” again adjusting her grip.
There was radio silence for several long minutes. The occasional yell or curse from the house echoing in the night, but no more gun fire. Gray and Wyatt shoved their prisoners out of the door, hands behind their backs. Three men, all subdued. Only one appeared to have been injured in the shootout, favoring his right leg before dropping to his knees on the ground with his companions.
“All present and accounted for, Top, including Mr. Messer.” Gray tipped a two fingered saluted in the general direction Niko kept watch over his team.
“That’s good work people,” Niko praised, the radio clipping his voice with slight static.
Immediately, Tawni swung her scope to the tree line, looking for the man who’d fled, needing to get a line on him. If she could find him, she could prove how valuable an asset she could be to them. All of the men had been in the military together. She had no idea which branch or what they did, only that they’d been friends for years. Had been together, watching each other’s back for years. Niko had always led, the others willingly followed his lead even though all of them could have had their own team.
They had set up the city’s SWAT team after a particularly nasty bank robbery where several people had been injured and three killed. There had been a question as to whether or not such a highly trained, expensive team was needed in the area, but since all four of them were already trained, the chief had agreed to let Niko hand pick police officers to add to their unit. Tawni had narrowly made the cut only months before, and she got the feeling the only reason she was there was because of her academy recommendations.
Then she saw him. A shadowy figure moving her way. If he continued in the same direction, he’d pass between her and the woods.
“Top, I’ve got the other guy. He’s headed up the hill to my left. I can intercept him.”
“Negative, Snipe, negative!” Niko said instantly.
Before he could finish ordering her to stay, the guy stopped, pulled out his own rifle and took aim at the team below her.
“Shooter!” Tawni yelled over the radio, catching the attention of the attacker. Pulling her Beretta from her hip, she scrambled to her feet, aiming as she went. “Police!”
The gunman swung his rifle in her direction, squeezing the trigger as he did. The gun fired with a loud boom, the bullet kissing Tawni’s arm with fiery lips. She cried out in pain, squeezing the trigger of her own gun. The shot went wide and the man sprinted for the woods. Tawni ran after him, aware of Niko ordering her to stay put but ignoring him. This bastard was not getting away from her.
Smashing through the dense underbrush, the man was easy to follow. Tawni ran headlong after him, never taking her eyes from the shadowy figure in front of her.
Which was probably why the second guy was able to crack her skull with a tree branch, sending her sprawling to the ground. Stars swam before her eyes, threatening unconsciousness. Instinctively, she brought her gun hand up in a wide arch, looking to drive the butt into someone’s leg, arm, or face. She connected with something, evidenced by the loud swearing, but she had no idea what.
Dimly, she was aware of her team headed to her. Bastian and Niko by the sound of it. The earpiece had stayed put somehow, even though she’d been whacked hard. In front of her, the first guy came back to her, his form silhouetted by the dim moonlight. He raised his weapon, aiming the rifle right at her.
Somehow, Tawni managed to swing her gun around, firing two shots as she did. Both connected with the man’s leg and he went crashing to the ground with a sharp, shrill scream. That was when Niko’s heavy footfalls became apparent as he charged through the woods after her.
The second guy swore under his breath, but took off, running faster than Tawni would have thought possible in the dark. Man obviously knew the territory well.
“What the fuck were you thinking, Tawni!”
That would be Niko. Pissed as hell. No surprise there. He always got that way when someone disobeyed a direct order.
“He was about to shoot down on the team,” she offered weakly, trying to sit up, her head swimming.
“You hit?” Bastian’s voice was calm where Niko’s was barely controlled fury.
“My arm,” she managed.
“What about your head?” Bastian had a flashlight and seemed to be shining it directly into her face on purpose. Fingers gently touched a spot on her forehead. Tawni gasped and flinched back when pain seemed to explode through her head.
“Son of a bitch!” She gasped. “Don’t do that!”
“Pump knot,” Bastian said, switching off the light. “She probably has a slight concussion, but I won’t know until I can examine her.” Bastian had been a field medic during his military stint. Probably why it had been him who joined Niko in the hunt.
“Get her back to the others,” Niko growled. “We’ll wrap this up then take her to the ER.”
“I’m fine –“
“Do not cross me, Tawni,” Niko snapped. “I’ll deal with you after you’re patched up.” His movements as he cuffed the injured assailant were jerky, hard. The guy actually yelped more than once as Niko secured him.
Tawni bit back tears of frustration. Would he kick her out of SWAT? “If I’d been a man, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You’ve never held the others back.”
“If you were a man, I’d kick your ass right now!” The anger in Niko’s voice was all too apparent. If it hadn’t been, the smoldering look in his eyes as he got all up in her face certainly did. “The reason I don’t hold the others back is because I know what they are capable of and that they know when not to push their luck. If they try to do something I think is too risky, I reign them in. You, on the other hand, are green as goose shit. You’re may have had a couple years on the force, did exceedingly well in Police Academy, but you have exactly zero combat experience. Until I know damned well what can and can not do, you will do exactly what I tell you or you’re gone.” He was nose to nose with her now, his voice that of a drill sergeant. A none too happy drill sergeant at that. “Are we clear?”
“As crystal, Top,” she answered.
“Did you get a look at the second guy?”
“No. He hit me before I knew there was someone else near. After that, he stood between me and the moon. All I know is he’s a big son of a bitch. Tall. Broad shouldered. Not hardly as big as Wyatt, but damned big just the same.”
“Can you walk?” Sebastian helped her too her feet. Unsteady as she was, she still wasn’t about to admit how dizzy she felt.
“Like hell,” he said and scooped her up in his arms. Tawni protested Sebastian’s handling of her, but when Niko growled, she shut up, not willing to push her luck any more with him tonight.
This was so like her. Not only had she not proven herself to the four men, but now she was being carried home like a child. Could this night possibly get any worse?