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Seven Days To Forever
By Ingrid Weaver
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOut of the hundreds of tourists who had passed by his post in the past hour, why should Flynn notice this one? Even if he wasn't on duty, he shouldn't have noticed her. Sure, she was attractive enough, in a compact, earth-mother type of way. Soft-brown hair, eyes the color of caramel, a hint of freckles on the tip of her small nose and a quick, coiled-spring energy to her movements. But she was the kind of woman who would want to meet a man's parents. She had probably picked out a china pattern and two names for her firstborn. She was the kind of woman who usually made Sergeant First Class Flynn O'Toole of Eagle Squadron, Delta Force, break out in hives.
A spot just under his left shoulder blade developed a sudden itch. Flynn rubbed his back against the wooden bench. "I don't think she's our target."
He barely moved his lips as he spoke. His words wouldn't have been audible to a person sitting beside him, but the microphone under his collar had no problem picking up everything he said.
"She would be a good decoy." The voice of Captain Sarah Fox, Eagle Squadron's intelligence specialist, came through the pea-size receiver in his ear. "I wouldn't underestimate her."
Sarah had a point, Flynn thought. The brunette with the freckles would make an excellent decoy, since no one would suspect someone who looked that wholesome and innocent to be involved with a group of terrorists who were dedicated to the overthrow of the Ladavian government.
Then again, no one would expect a group like the Ladavian Liberation Army to be using the National Air and Space Museum for a ransom drop in the first place.
The woman hurried past the bench without giving Flynn a second glance. She headed straight for a pair of boys who were paused under the biplane that hung from the ceiling. For a moment all three of them craned their necks, gazing at the Wright Brothers' 1903 Flyer with expressions of delighted awe. Then the woman herded the boys toward a group of more than a dozen chattering, fidgeting children.
Evidently, the woman hadn't come to the museum alone, she had brought a classroom worth of kids with her. Unless the LLA had dropped their height requirements and were recruiting fresh-scrubbed seven-year-olds now, it was unlikely that the woman was involved. She was probably exactly what she seemed, a teacher on a field trip.
"Heads up. Vilyas just passed the front entrance." The warning came from Flynn's friend, Master Sergeant Rafe Marek. He was positioned outside where he could observe the approach to the building without attracting undue attention-Rafe's scars tended to spook people who didn't know him.
Although his posture didn't change, Flynn's senses went on high alert. Ambassador Vilyas was carrying the ransom himself, as the terrorists had demanded. The man was adamant. He would do anything for the safe return of his son.
If it had been any other case, the FBI would have handled it-Delta Force normally didn't operate on American soil, and when they did, it was in the role of advisors to other law enforcement agencies-but this was no run-ofthe-mill snatch.
Absolute secrecy was vital. Not only was Vilyas the Ladavian ambassador, he was married to the niece of the Ladavian king. If a child with royal blood was killed here, the delicate negotiations that were already underway to bring democracy to the strategic, oil-rich Balkan nation would be derailed. And if the media caught wind of what was happening, they might as well put on their silver suits because the political powder keg of Eastern Europe would blow.
So Ambassador Vilyas had demanded the best. He had insisted on nothing less than the legendary hostage-rescue expertise of Delta Force and the president had agreed. Which was why Flynn and the team of highly trained commandos from Eagle Squadron were spending the day scattered around one of the most visited museums in Washington, D.C., dressed in civvies to blend in with the tourists. The mission was straightforward: recover the Vilyas boy unharmed, hand the terrorists over to the Ladavians and keep the entire operation completely secret despite the few hundred bystanders with cameras who were wandering through the target zone.
Oh, hey, piece of cake, right?
A small, balding man Flynn recognized as Anton Vilyas walked past his bench. His features were sharper than they had appeared in the briefing photo. Exhaustion did that to people-the man reportedly hadn't slept since his kid had been taken three days ago. Poor bastard looked to be near collapse. The top of his head gleamed damply and his fingers were white where they curled around the strap of the green canvas backpack he carried.
How heavy was twenty million dollars? Flynn wondered. Even in the large denominations the kidnappers had demanded, the weight would be substantial. He'd heard the entire amount of cash had been provided by the U.S. government, an indication of how vital they considered Ladavian goodwill ... and the mission of Flynn's team.
Vilyas reached the designated spot and stopped. It was hard to tell whether he intentionally dropped the pack or whether it simply slipped through his sweaty fingers. It hit the floor with a quiet thud, wobbled briefly, then slumped against the base of a trash can. The green backpack stuffed with twenty million dollars lay discarded like someone's forgotten lunch. The ambassador walked away without a backward glance, just as he'd been instructed.
"All right, people. Stay alert."
Flynn heard Major Redinger's voice and grunted an acknowledgment. Mitchell Redinger, the team's commanding officer, was stationed at the temporary base they had established in a vacant warehouse. He was monitoring the feeds from the surveillance equipment that was positioned around the target zone, watching everybody's backs. When this went down, it would go down fast.
And that's just the way Flynn liked it. He felt his pulse pick up. It didn't race. He was too disciplined for that. No, it was a steady, solid rush of blood to well-conditioned muscles that hummed in readiness.
He didn't know what the target would look like, or how many there would be. He didn't know what direction they would come from or how long he would need to wait. The odds of following the kidnappers without their knowledge, of assessing the best way to free the hostage, of bringing the whole incident to a quiet, successful conclusion weren't good. As a matter of fact, they were abysmal.
But Flynn's team had pulled off missions that had been far worse. When they did, there was never any recognition. No medals or official commendations, because the government wouldn't even admit that Delta Force existed. The hours sucked, the stress was incredible. He had to be prepared to go anywhere in the world on a moment's notice. His home was whatever base he was stationed at, his family was the soldiers of Eagle Squadron. He was expected to accomplish the impossible, continually challenging his brain and straining his body to the limit.
Flynn pressed his lips together and exhaled slowly through his nose.
Damn, he loved this job.
Excerpted from Seven Days To Forever by Ingrid Weaver Copyright © 2003 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.