When Malichai Fortunes attacks a problem, he does it full force—a habit that earns the GhostWalker a painful injury and a forced vacation in San Diego, California. With nothing but physical therapy on the horizon, Malichai is starting to get restless...until a striking blue-eyed blonde makes all his senses come alive.
Amaryllis is kind and warm and sees beyond Malichai’s rough exterior, but he can tell there’s something she’s hiding. Her innate healing abilities indicate she might be a GhostWalker—albeit an untrained one. Malichai doesn’t think their paths crossing is anything more than coincidence, but he can sense that one wrong word could send Amaryllis running.
When strange events at his temporary retreat put Malichai on high alert, he knows he won’t be able to deal with the threat and keep his woman safe in his weakened state. But calling in his brothers means telling Amaryllis what he really is, and revealing that he knows the truth about her too.…
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We're taking heavy enemy fire.
Like they all weren't aware of the helicopter lurching from side to side as they came in low trying to put down where the wounded soldiers waited for transport. Malichai Fortunes kept one hand on his medical kit and the other on his rifle. He could shoot the wings off a fly with that rifle.
You're up, soldier, Joe Spagnola, his team leader, said. Want you back in one piece.
Roger that. Malichai jumped without hesitation, landing in the snow and moving out of the way just in case Rubin Campo, another GhostWalker teammate, landed on top of him.
They both were dressed in white with splotches of gray to better blend into the environment around them. The moment they were on the ground, the helicopter was up and away, skidding sideways through the sky, dodging the deadly fire from three or four bunkers, with heavy artillery shooting continuously.
The moment Malichai saw that the helicopter was out of target range, he was up and running in a crouch, toward the coordinates of the small group of soldiers who had been shot down and were now pinned on top of that very cold mountain, surrounded by the enemy, with no supplies or medical aid and low on ammunition.
A hail of deadly machine-gun fire ripped across the mountaintop and zigzagged in a pattern up and down, seeking to find them and the wounded soldiers.
"Coming in," Malichai called out, hoping his own soldiers weren't going to shoot him.
He and Rubin leapt over the ring of rocks and landed just inside the circle the soldiers had made for themselves. Other than the rocks, there was little cover, and the men were freezing. Malichai had seen some pathetic setups, but this was one of the worst. Added to the fact that the soldiers were all wounded, the rocks didn't make the best fortress. The enemy had enough firepower to blow those large boulders forming their stronghold to kingdom come.
Five men with various wounds lay in misery, but with their weapons ready. One attempted to sit, but Malichai waved him back down. They were all shivering continuously. The snow was stained red in places.
"I'm Malichai, that's Rubin." Deliberately, he left off any mention of rank. "We're here to pull your butts out of the frying pan. Give me your assessment of each patient," Malichai added to the one obviously assuming leadership.
"Jerry Lannis took the worst hit. His leg and arm. They were launching mortar fire and grenades. He shielded the rest of us when one of the grenades landed close. We did the best we could to help him . . ." the soldier trailed off as he indicated a man lying in the most protected spot the small space had.
Rubin immediately went to Jerry and uncovered the man's body. He glanced up at Malichai with a slight shake of his head. If he makes it, he'll lose both the arm and the leg.
Get started on him.
Rubin glanced around at the other soldiers, all looking at him with hope. He ducked his head over Jerry's arm, looking for a vein.
Rubin was a GhostWalker, enhanced psychically as well as physically. He was one of the ultra-rare-a psychic surgeon. If his assessment was that Jerry was going to lose his arm and leg, then no one could save those limbs. Rubin would do his best, and that meant Jerry would most likely live, but there was little chance he would live with all four limbs intact.
"We've got supplies. Not a lot, so you'll need to ration." As he spoke, Malichai tore open the thin packets with the blankets in them that would provide enough warmth to survive in the time they had to wait for extraction. He examined each man, making quick assessments.
The appointed leader went on with his report. "Jack Torren has two bullets in him. One caught him on the hip and the other along his ribs. Ribs are broken. Hip's intact. We're not sure how."
Jack sent Malichai a faint grin. "I guess I'm too mean to die. I tell them I have superhero bones."
"Barry Clarke has a broken arm and hand. Arm on one side, hand on the other."
"Nice," Malichai said. That was at least two mobile, if Jack's hip was really fit enough to allow him to run.
"Tim Barrens went down with a shot to the head. He's been in and out for some time. Mostly out, but when he comes to, he knows he's a soldier and he's with us and has to stay quiet, so he's comprehending things around him."
Malichai was already working on Jack, cleaning him up and setting up a bag of fluids to hydrate him as quickly as possible. He would need some of these men on their feet, fighting and willing to keep going, although they'd dug in and defended themselves so far in the face of an enemy outnumbering and outgunning them.
"You were a very welcome sight," the leader continued.
"Tell me about your wounds," Malichai instructed.
"Name's O'Connell. Braden O'Connell. I took a hit, a through and through, on my thigh. I was lucky, it didn't hit anything that's killed me yet, although I'm very weak."
That alarmed Malichai. He cursed under his breath. Would the kid have lasted so long if the artery was nicked? Regardless, he was probably bleeding internally.
"I wasn't certain but didn't want to move around too much just in case. I see to everyone as best I can, but I'm no medic."
"When are they coming for us?" Jack asked.
Immediately there was silence. Even the guns of the enemy had fallen silent. Malichai felt the eyes of the soldiers looking at him. Trusting in him. He sent them a small grin and continued to finish cleaning up Jack before moving on to Barry.
"Well, Jack, the deal was, I jump out of the helicopter and fix you up so you could get your superhero ass in gear and carry us all back home."
The others grinned but no one pointed out he hadn't answered the question. No one asked again. As far as Malichai could tell, Barry's left arm had suffered a clean break. Someone, most likely Braden, had splinted it. He'd done a good enough job that Malichai wasn't going to mess with it. He examined the wrist. There was a lot of bruising and swelling. Again, Braden had splinted it, but it was obvious Barry had continued to use it in an effort to help defend their position.
Malichai stabilized it and then wrapped it. "You're going to need fluids as well, but we'll set up after I've examined the others." Barry wasn't too bad off as far as life-threatening injuries went. He'd lucked out.
Tim lay quietly. Too quietly. Malichai swore under his breath and put his hand over the man's open eyes, slowly lowering the eyelids. Tim was dead. The headshot had quietly killed him, probably in the late evening hours and no one had been aware, leaving him to "sleep." He turned to look at Braden. Braden knew. He saw the gesture and the way Malichai had dropped his head down and briefly closed his own eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, mostly to Braden. The soldier had tried to keep them together and alive since their team leader was gone. The helicopter carrying these men had been shot down during their extraction. The other one carrying the rest of their team had thankfully gotten away.
"He was a good soldier. A good man," Braden said, emotion crossing his face. He struggled to contain it. "And a very good friend."
The others looked over at Tim and then at each other. "How's Jerry, Rubin?" Malichai asked deliberately, wanting to keep their attention on the living. "Full name, by the way, is Malichai Fortunes, and that's Rubin Campo. Just dropped in to see how you boys were doing and get you ready to come home."
Heads swiveled toward Rubin. Rubin had always been a man of very few words, and he lifted his gaze to Malichai, giving what amounted to a death stare. Malichai gave him a faint grin in return.
"He'll be ready to travel in a couple of hours. He needs a transfusion and he's badly dehydrated. I've already got lines into him and am giving him the blood we brought for him."
"What about his leg and arm?" Jack asked.
Rubin shook his head. "A better question is, what about his life? We've got the enemy coming straight at us in the morning. The helicopters will have to set down right above us on the ridge. We have to be able to get him up there without losing him. We'll need all of you."
"No way can a helicopter land up there," Braden said. "You see those bunkers on your way in? They have heavy artillery. I mean heavy. They'll take out the helicopters every time."
"That's where we come in." Malichai took pity on Rubin. "We're going to make certain they can't shoot down our birds as they come in to get you."
There was a small silence. Braden let out his breath. "That's suicide. I'm serious. They've got every kind of weapon known in those bunkers and experienced fighters handling them."
"We have the intel," Malichai assured. "It's the only way any of us are getting out of here. We knew that when we volunteered to haul your butts out." Deliberately, he sounded cocky, but even though both men were enhanced, the bunkers weren't going to be easy to take down-and they had to be down, or they'd just keep losing helicopters.
"Your job is to get stronger. Get warm. Hydrate. Start getting those muscles to work," Rubin added to fill the silence as the others looked at them as if they were insane.
"It isn't the first time, you know," Malichai added. "That's what gave us the idea. A SEAL did something very similar on a different mountain a few years back."
"Weapons change all the time," Braden pointed out. "I'm telling you, that's suicide. I tried getting close to them, and they unleashed hell on us."
"We think they're going to sneak up on us and take us out," Jack added. "We're taking shifts, trying to stay awake, but they could kill us just about any time."
"You're too valuable to them right where you are. They know we're going to keep sending more troops in to try to bring you home," Malichai explained. "You're the bait."
The team exchanged looks. They didn't like that.
"I can help out," Braden offered.
"I could probably get up and running," Jack offered as well. "Barry can watch Jerry for us. I'm a damn good shot. You brought us some ammunition, right?"
They had, but they weren't taking the wounded with them on what amounted to a suicide mission-not to mention, being enhanced was classified. They weren't to expose others to those enhancements if at all possible.
"Your job is to make certain you're ready for a run up the mountain to the clearing just above us. The helicopter will set down there. If we clear the bunkers, we'll have help getting up to the extraction point. if not, it's all on us."
"We aren't leaving Tim behind," Braden said decisively.
The others murmured their agreement, all nodding and looking at Malichai as if he was challenging their firm statement. Malichai had no intentions of leaving Tim behind if it could be helped. The man was a soldier for the United States. He belonged home, not here, where his life had been taken far too young.
"No, we're not leaving him behind," he stated quietly, hoping everything went as planned and there would be no need to go back on his promise. No matter what, the living came first.
He looked across the small space to Rubin, who was still working on Jerry. It didn't look good, not with the way Rubin was so gently and meticulously working on the man. That was another body they might have to transport out when the time came. He hoped not.
Jerry had saved the others at a great cost to himself, but he could live without a leg and an arm. He could have a decent life. Malichai didn't want to think too much on what that life would be like. He had to keep telling himself that at least Jerry was alive. Tim was never going to get that chance.
"Braden. I'd prefer that you stop moving around until you absolutely have to. I think you're losing blood internally. It's best if you just stay as still as you can and hydrate. I'm going to set up a transfusion for you as well."
Rubin, when you have a minute, will you check him out? I've got a bad feeling.
Rubin didn't look up, but he nodded.
There was a small gasp that seemed to go around the little encampment. Braden wasn't their commander, but he'd taken command when he had to. He'd been the one to dole out the supplies and ensure that the wounded were cared for. He'd done it by crawling from man to man. He'd defended them when they'd taken heavy fire. He'd risked everything crawling around the bunkers at night to get intel on the enemy.
"The transfusion will help get you home. You're fine, but we just want to be more careful." Malichai said it more for the other men than for Braden.
Braden shrugged. "Save the blood for the others. Especially Jerry."
Malichai flashed him a smile. "You don't all have the same blood type, Braden. We brought a supply for each of you because we weren't certain what condition you were in. They're jamming communications."
Braden glanced at his watch. "Won't be long and they'll launch their nightly show of force, warning us, I guess, to stay put. They know we're sitting ducks here, but they just keep throwing ammo at us and then leaving us alone."
"What do you do?"
"We just have to hunker down and take it. I tell everyone to treat it as a Fourth of July fireworks show. We can't waste any more ammunition returning useless fire. We're not going to hit anything. They could blow us up right here if they really wanted to."
Malichai didn't like that, but it was the truth. They were alive because they were being kept alive in the hopes that more helicopters would come to rescue them.
The whine of a lone bullet was their first warning. Then all hell broke loose. Machine-gun fire erupted from three different locations, the sound and sight insanely beautiful in the cold, crisp night. The incoming looked exactly like fireworks, long white streaks spewing into the air, small white starlike dots filling the dark sky and then the occasional explosion of red and orange roaring flames.