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Down To The Wire
By Lyn Stone
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Corda never should have gone to Colombia in the first place, considering his past three assignments. He hasn't had more than five consecutive days off in the last three years. DEA's using him up." Holly Amberson tossed the classified folder she was holding onto the table, shook her head and clicked her tongue. "You'll have a dead body or a burned-out shell if you don't extract him now."
"Thank you, Holly," Jack Mercier said, appreciating her concern for a fellow agent she had yet to meet. If she had a fault, it was the fact that she wanted to mother them all, even though at twenty-eight Holly was the second youngest person in the room. But profiling was her main trick, so her take was very credible.
He looked around the circular conference table at the new team he was forging, a conglomeration of exceptional talent gleaned from major government agencies in an attempt to pool those contacts and resources for Homeland Security, its Terrorist Threat Integration Center in particular.
The concept was not unique, but the personnel present were. The team, named Sextant, Latin for the six segments of a circle, would have carte blanche to combat terrorist threats any way they saw fit, hopefully before any acts were implemented. Almost six months old, Sextant was a civilian special ops prototype meant to erode the rivalry that currently existed among the agencies of the government. Its success was essential.
He had given them Corda's file and they'd had overnight to consider what they thought should be done. Now he was addressing them in order of hire. Though Jack was the leader by virtue of appointment from his position at the National Security Agency, and had the final say, their ranks were equal and their opinions crucial in forming this and any other decision affecting the team. "Will, your input?"
"I say let Corda finish up or all he's done so far down there will be for nothing and he'll be mad as hell. Probably with you for pulling him out."
Jack gave only cursory notice to the playful, nearly concealed kick under the table Holly issued Will for disagreeing with her.
Camaraderie had formed already, amazing Jack with how well they all got along considering their diversity. And how accustomed they were to calling the shots in their former jobs.
Holly, his first recruit, had been Special Agent in Charge of an FBI counter-terrorism team based right here in McLean, VA. Will Griffin had distinguished himself with the ATF in Houston, rising to a supervisory position very quickly.
But there were the others to hear from on the issue of Joseph Corda and his final mission for the Drug Enforcement Agency. Clay Senate was formerly with the CIA in covert ops and would know more about Corda's actual situation than any of them. "Your assessment, Clay?"
"Make contact. Give him the choice. I agree with Will. Corda will turn his resentment this way if we yank him now."
"Clay's right," Eric Vinland said before being asked.
"Besides, if Corda's to be a member of this outfit, he's supposed to get a vote, too. Right?"
Eric's boyish smile flashed. Clay couldn't get over how young Vinland looked compared to the others, even Holly. And how deceptively naive he could seem. Yet he was a master player when it came to infiltration, blending with the enemy, as he had done for the Defense Intelligence Agency during the past six years.
"I'll go," Eric said, as if it were a done deal, the decision already made. He was good at reading faces and Jack suspected his own had just been read.
"No, not you. We'll contract this one out," Jack told him, watching for any sign of resentment or surprise. He purposely didn't give Vinland his reasons. Maybe it was unnecessary to keep testing them the way he did, but the overall mission of the team was vital. He needed to examine every nuance.
Instead of arguing, Eric shrugged, as if he had fully expected that answer. "Then I've got just the person."
Eric casually slid a file past the one empty chair at the table, the vacant place waiting for Joseph Corda to complete the circle and make Sextant complete.
By all rights, he should be dead as a doornail.
Joe Corda lay where he had fallen during the attack, his 9mm as empty as his soul, the last round spent. He surveyed the clearing full of bodies. Five, by his count, maybe another one over in the bushes.
They were new recruits, all of them, little or no training, couldn't shoot worth spit. Half of them probably shot one another. Some death squad. He had heard them coming for a quarter of a mile.
Joe felt the sting then. A ricochet must have caught him, or maybe a graze. The nick on his forehead oozed blood, already drawing flies. The whole blamed country was filled with flies. And damned mosquitoes the size of bats. He slapped at his neck, swatted the insects away and wiped the blood off on his sleeve.
Close call, he thought. Close, but certainly acceptable when this was practically a suicide mission to begin with. The chief hadn't called it that, but Joe had known going in that it would be worse than dicey. This was the fourth such assignment he had survived within the last couple of years. The third one to end on a similar note. This script was definitely getting old.
"Just ain't my time right now," he muttered. His own words, even spoken that quietly, rang clear in the silence around him. God, he had sounded almost disappointed.
Hearing what he'd said and how he said it suddenly tripped some trigger within him, alerting him to the fact that death no longer bothered him all that much. Even the flashes of precognition he'd had the night before hadn't upped his pulse rate. They came as he had hovered on the edge of sleep, two brief still shots. One, of the business end of an automatic staring at him like a big round eye about to wink out his life. The other, a quick glimpse of Humberto's woman looking scared to death.
Excerpted from Down To The Wire by Lyn Stone Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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