Hunted:A Stepbrother Romance Novel(6)

By: Olivia Long

“So,” Keenan said overhead. I was back in the jungle again, far from the comforts of La Casa de Miel. “What do they need?”

“I allowed the loan of your Spanish cabinet,” Marco confessed. “But it will return on its circuit to you within six months. They just want to stock it with the bricks and take it across the border without arousing suspicion.”

“That cabinet has served us well,” Keenan agreed to the transaction. “I’ve sold it a dozen times, yet, like the monkey’s paw, it keeps finding its way back to my doorstep.”

One of my men must have given away his position nearer to the gates—I suddenly heard a smattering of gunfire and winced. Even if the fire was from our own weapons, the illusion of stealth was ruined now, and so, for that matter, was my military career. Shit. Shit! It was happening again! And, with that same twisted, sick helplessness of a nightmare, I was moving too slowly, everything was wrong. I couldn’t do anything. I heard the groans of death and the increased gunfire of a battle breaking out across the property. So many men lost, and I knew I couldn’t save them from here.

“What do we do, Corporal Davenport?” Seth pled.

“Did you say tonight?” Keenan asked Marco.

Marco’s brow was furrowed. “Yes!” he hissed. “Tonight!”

“Then who is that?”

The spatters of discharge reached a fevered pitch, and I knew that the conflict was going to burn itself out and leave nothing but scorched earth in exchange. There would be no one left standing.

“Prepare to retreat, Private Beakman,” I’d finally answered Seth’s question.

The two men filtered down onto the property, weapons drawn, and I knew that this was the time. It was either them—or us. Smoke rose up in the distance where a fire had broken out at the entrance to the property, where one of my men had likely been spotted. Shit ... we were in so much trouble. If these two didn’t kill us, our own sergeant certainly would.

I watched in stilted slow motion as their eyes moved over the property; it wouldn’t be long before they found us, fatigues or no, hunkered down into the grasses at the periphery of the fence. This was so stupid. We shouldn’t have come here. We’d been told not to, and at the same time, begged to, and we had listened to the Guatemalan police instead of our own commanders ... who must have known that it was not our job to lose our lives in stemming the drug traffic of this region. They had been clear on this: the mission was to provide support, and not to spearhead a revolution. We were supposed to be the eyes—not the hands.

“I’ve got the ugly one in my sights,” Seth said, and I looked over my shoulder to see him, still trembling, with his gun up and at the ready. I blinked hard and, in the next moment, Seth was gone. He was just ... gone. Of course, in my conscious mind, I knew where he was. He was sprawled in the grass, dead. But in this distorted dream world, he simply vanished, as my subconscious mind fought to assimilate its own truths with those of the physical world.

Even though I was not authorized, and even though it was not self-defense, I leveled my firearm and caught Marco in my sights. Maybe it was petty—after all, we had been told not to come—but I wanted revenge. I squeezed the trigger and blew Marco away. When I lowered the gun and scanned the land, I didn’t see him anymore. Like Seth, he was just gone.

And ... Keenan was gone, too.

Keenan was gone, even though I’d seen no gunfire befall him.

I stood and lowered my weapon to the ground. Unchecked fires raged in the distance. The white stallion had galloped away and was somewhere in the wild brush over the far fence. But Keenan—where was Keenan? It only made sense to finish this mission that was already so ruined ... but he was gone.

I tentatively approached where the two men had been. In my memory, Marco was there, bloodied and fallen, proof of my successful shot—but in this dream reality, there was nothing but dirt and a fallen pack of bitter tobacco cigarettes. The only thing that Keenan was going to let kill him.

I leaned down and picked up the crushed carton, inhaling it deeply. So sharp and acrid, so distinct, it was almost as if I was really holding it, almost as if I could feel the cellophane slide beneath my fingertips...

I lunged upright in bed and clumsily catapulted myself out of the sheets tangled around my thrashing ankles, slamming into cool tile. Soaked in sweat and gasping for breath, I drew my knees up to my chest and massaged my temples, trying to calm my racing heart using the tricks they had taught us in boot camp. Focus. Focus. Focus.

Slowly and steadily, the dark room around me settled and sharpened, becoming less fragmented and jumbled, less of an array of senseless shapes. I recognized this place. I wasn’t in Guatemala anymore. I was in my dad’s pool house. I was home—kind of. I’d never really lived here before, but I’d visited a few times a year. It was the house Dad had bought and shared with Irene Vaughn, Chloe’s mom.