Bad Attitude (BAD Agency Series #1)by Sherrilyn Kenyon
BAD agent Sydney Westbrook must find the perfect sniper for a risky counter-terrorism mission. J.D. Steele, a military sniper whose attitude problem landed him in prison, seems a good candidate. But as they're dragged into a secret world of freelance killers, Sydney begins to discover the man of honor and passion beneath Steele's arrogant fa�ade. It's a man even… See more details below
BAD agent Sydney Westbrook must find the perfect sniper for a risky counter-terrorism mission. J.D. Steele, a military sniper whose attitude problem landed him in prison, seems a good candidate. But as they're dragged into a secret world of freelance killers, Sydney begins to discover the man of honor and passion beneath Steele's arrogant fa�ade. It's a man even Steele didn't know he could be -- and a man whose mission will risk the life of the only woman he's ever loved...
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There wasn't anything on earth much hotter than the desert in August. Steele lay in the hole he'd dug in the sand under his tent to keep him sheltered in case of a mortar attack, trying to remember the cool, honeysuckle-scented breezes that used to ease the hot summers of his childhood.
If he lay here long enough, he could almost block out the sounds of Army operations in the background. The sound of trucks moving, soldiers calling out to one another. The smell of blood, sweat, and fear. The feel of the hard, hot rifle biting into his side as he kept it tucked in beside him.
God, he just wanted to go home again.
His thoughts turned to Brian, who up until two days ago had shared this tent with him, and winced.
Maybe he didn't want to go home after all.
He could still feel the sting of Teresa's words after he'd called her to see how she was doing.
How do you think I'm doing, asshole? I just had to go tell my six-year-old son that his father is dead. I hate you, you worthless bastard! You swore to me that you'd keep him alive. You're the one who should be dead, not him. No one would even care if it were you.
The worst part was, he knew she was right. Brian wouldn't have even been here if Steele hadn't talked him into enlisting with him after college. They'd been childhood friends together, and Brian had worshipped him. Teresa had wanted Brian to go into the corporate world, but stupid him, he'd talked Brian out of it.
"C'mon, Brian, I'll take care of you. It'll be just like it was when we were kids. Remember how we'd play pretend soldier with our BB guns? It'll be great. Just the two of us, watching each other's backs. No one can touch us."
Now he was paying for that arrogance.
It should have been him who'd died no one would give two shits if it had been. Teresa's hatred was irrational, but then a lot of Army wives went through that when their spouses died. Even though they knew the risks, the reality of it was hard to swallow and even harder to live with.
Maybe in time she'd forgive him.
He let out a slow, tired breath, which was halted as two men came into his tent, carrying Army footlockers.
"Sergeant," the two privates said in greeting.
If he were an officer, they would have saluted him. Steele had to force himself not to roll his eyes at the thought, which, given their current surroundings, could get someone shot. But their CO had determined that even if it meant a bullet in the head from a sniper, military protocol must be followed....
Unless it was the good captain. Then "proper channels" took on a whole new meaning.
Steele frowned at them. "What are you two doing here?"
"Captain Schmidt told us to pack Corporal Garrison's things. There's a new man coming in later today to replace him."
Steele narrowed his eyes at their words. He'd known it wouldn't be long before Brian was replaced, but damn...
This was too soon. He wasn't ready. He needed more time to come to grips with the gaping hole inside him that ached every minute of every day for the friend no, the brother he'd lost. There would never be anyone who could replace what Brian had been to him.
Heartsick, he watched as the two privates started going through Brian's things and placing them in one of the lockers. There were stacks of pictures from their home in Fort Benning that Teresa had sent of herself and Cody. Pictures Cody had colored and drawn in his class. A small pillow Teresa had sent, scented with the perfume she always wore.
Images of Brian holding that pillow to his face before he lay down to sleep at night went through him. Brian had loved that woman more than anything. They had met as sophomores in college at a Laundromat and had fallen in love instantly. Teresa had been the first thing Brian had talked about in the morning and the last thing he thought about before he slept.
Brian had died with a picture of her and Cody in his pocket.
Steele frowned as he saw one of the men tearing pages out of Brian's notebook, where he kept a diary of their days in hell. Brian had been extremely proud of it. "One day, Cody will want to know what his dad did while he was away. This way, he'll know exactly how many times I thought of him and his mother."
"What are you doing?" Steele asked the private.
"The captain said to confiscate anything that might contain classified material so that the platoon sergeant could go through it later."
Steele glared at him. "Those are diary entries for his wife and kid."
"They could compromise us."
Now that was funny as hell, coming from their captain.
Steele shot to his feet with his rifle habitually in his hand, but he knew it wouldn't do any good to attack these men; they were just following orders. "Brian didn't put anything in there that would "
His words broke off as he saw the other private sorting through pictures. He was pulling out anything that showed Brian in uniform, which was almost all of them.
Those pictures and Brian's letters were all Teresa and Cody had left of the man they'd both loved.
This was bullshit! His anger burning through him, he grabbed the notebook out of the private's hand and headed for their illustrious captain.
With every step that Steele took, his temper mounted. What they were doing wasn't right. Brian hadn't been a replaceable cog. He'd been a man with a future. One with a family who loved and needed him.
You're a soldier. You know the life.
Steele was from generations of soldiers. Men died in war. It was to be expected.
And yet he couldn't get over Brian's death that easily. He'd been too close to the man. Brian hadn't been just another soldier to Steele.
He'd been a brother.
Steele paused as he neared the captain's tent. He could hear him speaking on the phone. "No, sir. I'm not sure how the men got lost." The captain actually laughed. "You know how the desert is. It's not exactly teeming with landmarks. Accidents happen, and out here, they happen a lot."
Steele felt a tic starting in his jaw.
"No, sir. They were only to scout out the lay of the land. Sergeant Steele wasn't supposed to engage the enemy. I'm still trying to figure out what happened myself."
Bullshit. That sonofabitch had sent them out with a clear objective. It had blown up in their face the enemy had known they were coming, and now the bastard was trying to say that he had no knowledge of it....
Steele gripped his rifle even tighter as the captain continued to make light of the whole affair that had cost Brian his life.
After a few seconds, the captain hung up.
Before Steele could get a handle on his emotions and enter the tent, the captain came outside.
"We were lost?" The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
The captain, who hadn't even realized he was there, stopped dead in his tracks and turned to face him. His brown eyes narrowed dangerously on Steele. "Is there something bothering you, Sergeant?"
"We weren't lost " He waited deliberately before he added, "Sir. We were right where you ordered us to be. And we did exactly what we were ordered to do."
He could tell by the captain's body language that he was pushing the man too far. But he didn't care. The man's stupidity had killed Brian, and he wasn't about to let him get away with this.
Not about to allow him to laugh this off.
The captain moved forward in that age-old military method of trying to intimidate. It might have worked better had the man not been five inches shorter than Steele.
Then again, Steele had been immune to that tactic since he'd grown up with his father trying to use it on him constantly.
The captain spoke in a low, deadly tone. "You will never speak of this event again with another living soul. Do you understand me, soldier?"
Steele ground his teeth as rage whipped through him, and he kept his mouth closed to prevent himself from saying something that was guaranteed to get him into trouble.
"Do. You. Understand?"
The captain nodded. "Good. You will be assigned a new spotter this afternoon. At sixteen hundred hours, report to my tent for your next assignment."
Steele knew to keep his mouth shut, but he couldn't stop himself. "Is this another mission where we get lost, sir?"
The hatred in the man's eyes was tangible. "Don't mess with me, Sergeant. You know weapons malfunctions happen to even the best of us. Be a damned shame for a man with your talents to have a defective rifle when he needed it, wouldn't it, Sergeant?"
Now the bastard was threatening him? It was all he could do not to punch him straight in that smug face. But he knew better than to try it. All it would get him was arrested.
"Yes, sir," Steele said from between clenched teeth.
The captain spent another three seconds glaring at him before he withdrew. "You will do what you're told, soldier, and you will remember who is in charge here."
Steele watched as the man made his way toward the south end of the tents, but with every step he took, Steele's rage increased.
That cocky fucking bastard had no business being in charge of anything.
He looked down at the notebook in his hand and saw the neatly written words.
Another note from Dad. I was thinking of you today and missing you like crazy. I know you're taking good care of your mom for me...
Brian's face flashed through his mind...followed by the sight of his death.
Even now he could feel Brian's warm, sticky blood as it splattered across his face.
"Malfunctions happen to even the best of us..."
That threat was more than he could stand. Dropping the notebook, Steele lifted his rifle and took aim.
Before any rational thought could waylay his emotions, he squeezed off a single round.
The helmet on the captain's head went flying. It landed with a thump against the sand as it sprayed particles around it. Total silence descended as everyone tried to figure out if it'd been a shot or a backfire they'd heard unexpectedly.
The only two who knew what had happened were him and his target.
And as the captain pissed his pants there in front of everyone, Steele's satisfaction was mitigated by one single thought.
That was without a doubt the dumbest move of his life.
Copyright © 2005 by Sherrilyn Kenyon
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