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Lara peered at the terrain through the scope of her sniper rifle. Trees dotted the landscape. The only barren part was a dirt road winding up the mountain. No enemy soldiers were in sight, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. This was too easy.
Attacking a World Alliance medical facility was never easy.
She inhaled and let the breath out. Using her rifle’s scope, she scanned the area again. She was missing something. Her team crept up the mountainside through the thick brush, and she couldn’t help but wonder if they felt the same apprehension she did.
Her belly rolled and she fought the urge to vomit, forcing deep breaths through her nose. Maybe her trepidation came from being sick; she couldn’t wait to get back to base, so she could fall into bed and sleep it off. Since yesterday, she’d been plagued with steady cramping that only seemed to be getting worse. If she weren’t the best sharpshooter in the entire rebellion, she would have asked to be let off the mission. As it was, Gage, her sniper partner, was in the infirmary, even though he seemed fine. Her twin brother, Jack, was second in command on this op. This was dangerous work. She wasn’t going to let anything happen to her last surviving relative, even if she felt like crap. Her entire left side burned and if she didn’t know better, she’d think she’d been shot.
Movement in her peripheral vision took her out of her thoughts. She moved the scope, scanning the area. The familiar red-emblazoned uniforms of the World Alliance came into view. An entire contingent of two hundred men had rounded the sharp corner. They were marching down the road, heading directly toward her brother and the team.
“Oh shit,” she said under her breath as she turned on her radio. “Mac, it’s a trap. Turn around now, over.” Her heart slammed violently against her ribs as she watched from her perch and waited for her commander to respond. Using her lens, she monitored the group.
Mac stopped, motioning with his arm, and the entire team dropped to the ground. “What do you see, over?” Mac’s gruff voice crackled through the radio.
“An entire contingent, Mac.” She peered through her scope again. The troops were moving at a steady pace, but it appeared they still had no clue her team was there. Good. “I don’t think they’ve spotted you yet. You should turn around and abort, over.”
“We won’t get another chance at this, Eagle Eye. Over,” he said. She should’ve used his alias too. She only ever called him Mac when he was buried deep inside her and making her call his name, and now definitely wasn’t the time to be thinking about that.
She wiggled forward, whimpering when the cramping at her side became worse. Adjusting her scope, she looked through it again. He was right. They wouldn’t get another opportunity like this, and the rebellion desperately needed the supplies in those warehouses. “If it’s not an entire contingent of men, it’s damn close. They have three tanks, too. Over.”
“Copy that,” Mac said. “Meet at the rendezvous in five. Over and out.”
Lara closed her eyes and thanked the heavens that Mac wasn’t going to do something stupid. He was known for being a daredevil. It worked for him, but the team wasn’t prepared, or at a good vantage point, to take on two thousand men when there were only twenty of them, including her.
She peeked through her lens and canvased the area. Her breath caught in her throat when five trucks rounded a bend on the road coming up the mountain. The team was about to be blocked in.
She picked up the radio again. “St. Clair, I’ve got trucks inbound. Get off the road, over.”
Her warning hadn’t come soon enough. The trucks rounded the bend and halted, letting out armed men within a hundred feet of her squad. Her team dropped to the ground, finding cover wherever they could.
Lara rolled across the ground, doing her best to ignore the fire burning in her belly as she resituated and took aim. Loud pops echoed through the air and she grimaced as men on both sides dropped to the ground.
She peered through her scope and found her first target: a man hiding behind the safety of the truck. Squeezing the trigger, she watched as the bullet hit him between the eyes and he slumped to the ground. Her eyes narrowed as she sought out her next targets and took them out. She was searching for other soldiers who might be hiding behind the truck when two men hopped onto the roof and pulled back a tarp, revealing an automatic assault rifle.
Lara took aim, but not fast enough. Bullets cranked out in rapid succession. Her brother, Jack, collapsed on the ground. He’d been hit.
No. No. No.
Curling her finger around the trigger, she fired at the shooters. The gun went quiet. Another man tried to take his place, but she took him out too. She fired rapidly until the remaining men at the trucks were dead. Her brother crawled across the ground in an attempt to find cover.
He was alive.
“Everyone fall back,” Mac’s voice said over the radio. “Eagle Eye, where is that contingent, over?”
She cast her glance back to the approaching army. “They’ve increased their pace. You have three minutes, tops, until they’re on your location, over.”
“Copy that. Get to the rendezvous. Over and out.”
She pushed herself to her feet. Then slung her gun across her body with the shoulder harness, grimacing as pain sliced through her side. Dizziness washed over her, and she stumbled while blinking rapidly. What was wrong with her? She’d been sick before but never like this. Maybe it was the same flu that had wiped out half the population fifteen years ago. It could be resurfacing. Hadn’t that started with stomach cramps and dizziness? She shuddered at the thought before forcing it away.
It was time to get out of here. Jack was hurt, and that contingent of soldiers would be blocking her only way out in no time.
Lara sucked in a deep breath and set a steady sprint down the mountain. Her breath came in short puffs as she fought against the pain threatening to cut her in two.
The trees whizzed past while the world seemed to spin around her. Surely she wasn’t going to pass out because that wasn’t an option. Prisoners were tortured. Or worse, placed in the cyborg program where the World Alliance stripped away everything that you were and turned you into an emotionless, soulless, killing machine.
She blinked and pushed herself faster. As adrenaline kicked in, the pain in her side began to ebb away, and she gulped in larger breaths of air. She was nearly at the bottom of the hill.
Blurs of black raced through the woods. She smiled inwardly; glad to see her team was on the way. She scanned the forms, searching for her brother… and Mac. She’d never admit it, but she didn’t want anything to happen to him either. Their fighting was such a turn on and the sex — the sex was amazing. But she didn’t see either of them.
When she glanced over her shoulder, a sob got caught in her throat. The two were behind the rest of the group. Jack’s face was ghastly pale and Mac was practically carrying him. She turned to intercept them.
Her pulse thundered in her ears as she drew near. A large dark blot had formed over her brother’s chest. Blood seeped from his mouth. Jack had to be okay. Not only was he her twin brother, but he was her best friend. After losing their parents and baby sister to the flu, they’d promised to always take care of each other.
“Jack,” she said breathlessly as she caught up to them.
His eyes were glazed over.
She swallowed hard. Jack couldn’t even hold himself up: Mac was the only thing keeping him from collapsing.
“You should’ve gone ahead to the rendezvous,” Mac said as he met her eyes. She stared into his amber gaze with a frown. Like hell would she leave her brother. He knew her better than that.
“Not a chance,” Lara huffed as she tossed her brother’s arm over her shoulder and took some of his weight.
She’d inherited her petite frame from their mother; Jack had gotten the tall, muscular build from their father and easily weighed over two hundred pounds. His weight nearly knocked her over, and it did nothing to help ease the throbbing in her side. But she was determined to get her brother to safety. She stood straighter and pressed forward, meeting Mac’s rapid pace as they dragged her brother through the forest.
“You should listen to him for once, Lara. Get out of here,” Jack said, his voice barely above a whisper.
“I’m not leaving you. We’re getting you out of here.” She was stubborn. That was why she and Mac fought so much. She called his bullshit, unlike everyone else who kissed his glorified ass.
After losing her fiancé two years ago, she wasn’t going to lose anyone else she loved. It had to stop. There was only so much death one person could take, and today she wasn’t burying her brother. She’d drag him to the base herself if she had to.
“We’re almost to the cliff,” Mac said.
“My chute won’t open. It’s damaged. My pack got…” Jack’s words were cut off by violent coughing.
He pitched onto the ground and pulled her and Mac down with him. They landed in a heap on the terrain. Broken branches jabbed her knees and elbows as she pushed herself to a sitting position.
“I’m not going to make it.” Her brother drew in long, ragged breaths as he looked from her to Mac. “You two go.”
Mac got to his knees behind Jack and inspected her brother’s chute. Lara closed her eyes after he exposed a large tear in the bag that had cut all the way through to the silk fabric of the chute. There was no way Jack was going to be able to jump off the cliff safely with that.
“We can share a chute,” she said, opening her eyes. Her hands went to the pack on her back.
“No,” Jack said. He put his trembling hand on top of hers. “Our combined weight will be too much.” His sweaty palm clasped hers. “Go, Lara. Get to safety.”
“Not without you.” Her voice waivered as she glanced at her brother. “We can make it work. Mac, help me.” She tugged her hand out of Jack’s and started loosening the straps to take off her chute while watching Mac.
Sweat rolled in rivulets down his face. His chocolate colored hair was disheveled and he drew in deep breaths as he tried to control his breathing. The toll of carrying Jack was getting to him, but she was here to help. They could do it together.
“Don’t do it.” Jack shook his head, struggling to roll to his back. Mac helped him get into a sitting position so his back was against a tree trunk. “The max load for the chute is 250 pounds. I won’t put you in danger too, Lara.” He touched his chest and then held up his bloodied hand. “I’m dying anyway.”
“No, you’re not.” She shook her head as tears clouded her vision. There was so much blood. “We’re getting you out of here.” Her bottom lip trembled as she looked at Mac. Indecision flickered across his features. He had to side with her. Jack was his best friend, too. They’d known each other for fifteen years.
“I’m sorry,” Mac said. He patted Jack on the shoulder and stood up. Tears swam in Mac’s eyes, something she’d never thought she’d see, and then it hit her. He was going to leave Jack.
“No! Don’t you dare give up, you coward!” Her hands went to her parachute, fumbling to undo the clasps so she could strap it to Jack. Her hands shook and her fingers didn’t want to work properly. It didn’t help that she could barely see through the tears blurring her vision. She just had to get him over the cliff and hold onto him, then pull the cord. I can do that. I can hang on. We just have to get to the ground.
“She’s not going to see reason, Mac. Get her out of here,” Jack said. He reached for her but missed. “I love you, Lara.”
Warm arms wrapped around her, grasping both her hands and smashing them down against her body. Mac’s scent washed over her, and she fought the urge to scream when he lifted her feet off the ground.
“Get off me,” she said through clenched teeth as she kicked and thrashed. It was no use. Mac was at least a foot taller than her and easily had a hundred pounds on her too.
“I’m sorry, Lara,” Mac said, lifting her higher. “I’ll see you at the bottom.
She fought against him, but his grip was ironclad. It was pointless to fight him, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try. “Let go, please, let me go. We can help him. Please,” she said, squirming. Pain ripped through her abdomen and her vision darkened as she groaned.
Mac turned to the side, and he tossed her into the air. She blinked against the nausea curdling in her stomach. Blackness threatened to pull her under as she plummeted. The trees were rising up to greet her. She gasped and pulled the cord to release her chute.
It shot out and tugged at her shoulders as it caught her fall, slowing her descent. The pain continued to wash over her. Tears streamed down her face. They couldn’t just leave him there. Mac was going to save him. He had to.
The ground loomed below her and she tried to steer herself to safety, but every movement made her side scream. She hit the trees hard, the branches reaching out to smack her as she fell onto the ground. Her head collided with the dirt and she blinked.
A haze surrounded her. Then darkness.
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Bethany Shaw is the author of the following series: Werewolf Wars, Hunted, Times Journey, Wayward Wolves, Rainier Pack, and the standalone stories: The Best Mistake, Rescued by the Bear, and Claiming His Mate.