Read an Excerpt
A Marriage Of Majors
By Elizabeth Ashtree
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMAJOR ANTHONY GARITANO stepped forward and surveyed the captives. There were twenty-six of them kneeling on the hard, dry earth with their hands clasped behind their heads - just the way he'd told them to. Dust swirled around them, and the hot, parched wind danced with their loose clothing and the dangling ends of their turbans. The prisoners were tired, hungry, thirsty and defeated. Anthony took no pleasure in their misery. Yet this successful capture brought him and his team of Army Rangers one step closer to leaving this hellhole for some much-needed R and R. One more series of caves to clear out, then they'd be heading home.
For a split second, his mind drifted to thoughts of his wife and the daughter he'd not yet met. But then his training kicked in and he shook his head, forcing himself back to the moment. This was a dangerous place and he couldn't afford to lose his concentration.
"Where's that truck, JJ?" he said as he touched the activation button on the communication device at his throat.
"Four miles south, moving at a snail's pace, sir."
"It'll be dark before we can turn over the prisoners to the relief soldiers. Weasel, give these people some water."
"Yes, sir," came the instant reply into Anthony's earphone from SergeantWalter Grim, better known as Weasel due to his ability to squeeze himself through the most unlikely openings. After a pause, Weasel's voice squawked over the radio again. "Which people, sir?"
Anthony looked up, spotted the Sergeant among the others across the clearing, and glared at him. "The prisoners, Sergeant."
"Yes, sir. Right away." Weasel took two steps toward the canteens. Then a shrill cry split the air, halting him in midstride.
Instantly on high alert, Anthony snapped his attention back to the captives. One had raised his face to the sky and delivered the battle cry. Out of the corner of his eye, Anthony could see that Master Sergeant "Scopes" Spiro already had his fifty-five-millimeter weapon raised to his shoulder with a bead on the disruptive prisoner's forehead. But then an answering cry resounded through the superheated afternoon air, turning Anthony's blood cold. This other voice echoed down from the high ground to the left.
Everything happened at once then. Scopes raised his sight up into the rocky hills from which the second cry had come, but he also backed up rapidly until he was behind the remains of a crumbling mortar hut. Training kicked in and the other members of the team also went to ground, hitting the dirt behind gear and outcroppings until they were invisible from the high ground. All except Anthony. He simply went down on one knee, making himself a smaller target as he raised his M-4 to his shoulder and scanned the area through the weapon's sight. He would rather be shot at than let a single one of these terrorist scum escape.
Thank God for Kevlar vests, he thought as he coolly inched his focus across the landscape searching for the target. An abrupt vip slashed the air - a rifle shot whizzed past his head and a chunk of dry earth leaped upward, just a few feet past him. Anthony didn't flinch. His life, and the lives of his men, depended on his steadfastness.
A flash of light reflected off something angular. He aimed, squeezed the trigger, absorbed the recoil into his shoulder, and aimed again. What appeared at this distance to be a Russian-made AK-47 rifle completed a couple of somersaults and hit the ground near a large boulder. Bingo! Anthony's single bullet had taken out at least one enemy weapon.
"Watch out, Scopes! Tiger's gonna steal your job," someone said in hushed tones, using Anthony's nickname.
"Cut the chatter," Anthony ordered quietly as he watched the Russian rifle slide down the slope a few feet before it lodged in a crag. One rifle out of commission, but Anthony had no way of knowing whether the target had other weapons.
Apparently not, if he could tell anything from the string of Arabic, French and English curses that rained down on them, all in the same voice. A single figure scurried backward and up in a desperate attempt to escape. Three of his men - JJ, McCool, and Billy - ran toward the target, leaping rocks and scurrying up the hillside faster than most men could run on flat pavement.
"Scopes, take out a leg or something," Anthony ordered his sharpshooter.
"Our guys keep drifting into my sight, sir. You want I should try and take a shot anyway?" Scopes said through the tiny speaker lodged in Anthony's ear.
"No. Only if you get a clean bead," Anthony said, frustration lashing at his insides.
One of the prisoners lifted himself off one knee and before another blink of an eye, Anthony had him sighted along the short barrel of his M-4. "Down!" he ordered with a gesture. The man complied instantly, but now Anthony needed to remain focused on the prisoners, lest one of them make another attempt to escape.
"Target's out of range," Scopes declared. "Sorry, sir."
"Cover the prisoners," Anthony ordered. And the instant he heard the dull click-clack of his shooter shifting the position of his weapon to sight on the kneeling men, Anthony lowered his own rifle and ran full speed up the hill himself.
He stopped in his tracks ten yards into his mad dash when he saw the target turn and leap atop a wide rock. Hands raised into the air, the man gave his battle cry again. There seemed to be something wrong with his right hand, but the only truly important fact was that there were no other weapons in it.
"I am Taaoun," the man cried in surprisingly good English. Then he added, "I will hunt you down and kill you. Your children will die, too. I will wipe your stink from the earth. I will find you, Garitano, you vile American follower of Satan." His dark beard and gray turban made his English words and American accent seem completely wrong. Some quirk of the hills made them echo down to the Army Rangers with perfect clarity despite the distance. "Do you hear me, Garitano? I will kill you!" Then the gunman jumped backward and disappeared from sight behind the rock.
Less than a minute later, JJ scrambled to the spot. The radio brought his words to Anthony's ear a nanosecond before the wind did. "There's an opening here. We'll need Weasel to follow him down this hole."
"Weasel, get up there," Anthony said into his mike.
"McCool, go back down and help Scopes retain control of the prisoners." Major Anthony Garitano, newly marked for death by a terrorist who spoke perfect English, continued up the slope.
"Sir, come have a look at this," said Billy Brinewater. The young Lieutenant had been the first to dub Anthony Sir Tony the Tiger.
Anthony veered left toward where Billy stood looking down at the ground. A few paces more and the pair of them stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing at something in the dirt. "What the hell is that?" Anthony asked.
Excerpted from A Marriage Of Majors by Elizabeth Ashtree Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.