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Worth the Fall(7)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor



“Hey,” Angie said, offended. “There’s nothing wrong with that if you turn the TV up loud enough.”

Abby made a noncommittal sound. She wouldn’t know anything about having hot, spontaneous sex. All she knew was cool, subdued, and only when convenient.

“You’re still meeting us at the water park on Thursday.”

It wasn’t a question. “Yes, I’ll be there.” Four kids at Raging Rapids would be a true test of endurance.

“Oh shi— shortstop,” Angie said. “I’ve been found. Sorry. Gotta go, hon.”

“No problem. We’ll talk later.” Abby hung up, dunked another cookie, and popped the whole thing into her mouth.

Savoring the softened chocolate, she thought about Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome. He’d been so sweet playing with Jack earlier, but when she’d put it together, who he was with, she’d felt a strange disappointment. Stupid. Why would she care who he was with? She certainly didn’t need him to be with her.



Matt stood in the kitchen of his condo and pulled a beer from the fridge. Nice freakin’ vacation. He walked onto the balcony, the woman’s face burned into his mind.

He could almost hear his best friend, Teddy, laughing at him for getting all sappy over a girl.

You don’t even know her name.

So.

So? T mocked. You want her.

Shut the hell up.

Just like so many conversations they’d had, sitting in bars, tossing back beers. T would’ve had a lot of fun with a ballbuster like Kimmi. And no doubt he would have said something to get his balls busted.

Matt smiled as he sipped his beer and stared out at the beach. How many dark beaches had he and Teddy crawled across? How many black oceans had they bobbed in, talking shit, keeping each other moving when it seemed impossible?

How many latrines had they cleaned thanks to Teddy? More than the rest of their hall combined. T had gotten them into trouble faster than Matt could get them out.

But it had worked. And it’d been damn fun.

After months of live-fire SEAL training, their first mission as part of Team 2 had been a hell of an initiation. He and Teddy had sat, backs pressed against rough stucco walls. Two against twenty. Not the best odds, but not the worst. It replayed in his mind, crystal clear. Like every mission.

Bullets flying; dirt and rocks kicking up, stinging his skin. Matt took inventory of his remaining arsenal. His night-vision goggles were the only reason he was seeing anything in this dark-as-shit night. The six-man detachment had already retrieved the hostage and were making their way to the extraction point.

Matt looked at T, who read his unspoken question. What do you got?

T gestured to his handheld grenade launcher and held up three fingers. He pointed to the three main buildings surrounding them. Matt gave him a thumbs-up. That’s all they needed.

Matt counted off and rolled, laying down a river of cover fire. T hit the first building in an explosion of plaster and men. Matt picked off anything still moving while his friend hit the next one.

A lull in the enemy firepower told them it was time to haul ass. Matt pushed against the stucco building and took off. His boots dug into the half-sand, half-grass terrain. The blessed whomp, whomp, whomp of the waiting Black Hawk called them home like the mother ship.

At ten yards he could make out Decker and Rocky braced in the cabin door, M4s in hand, fingers on the triggers. Matt hit the opening at full speed. The rotors whirred, the bird on the verge of liftoff.

Ping! Ping!

Fuck. They were taking fire from the hills. Not the way they’d just come.

The pilot’s voice came through Matt’s comm as he took the helo off the ground. “Get their asses in here!”

Matt spun around on his knees, ready to give T an extra hand, while the boys lit up the hills. What the fuck?

Stupid son of a bitch. Their ride hovered a foot off the ground and T stood there loading a fourth grenade he must have pulled out of his ass.

Ping! A bullet hit two inches from the fuselage, flinging an orange spark. Another hit the windshield, and the bird raised another foot.

“Get your cowboy on board!”

Matt almost smiled at the panic in the man’s voice. Pilots were damn testy about their babies getting hit.

Teddy let loose with the grenade and turned as the mountain exploded behind them. He dove toward the opening now hanging six feet off the ground and rising. Matt stretched over the edge, reaching both arms as far as he could. He grabbed T’s arm while Deck and Rocky continued hitting the mountainside and Mason provided cover to the west.

T finally got one arm in far enough to hook on to Matt’s belt, his lower half still hanging in the wind. The pilot banked right. If T went out that door, their pilot wasn’t making it back alive.

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