Blind Fury (Men of Steele Book 1)(2)

By: Gwen Hernandez

His job was to survive. Simple as that.

“Hey.” Rob grabbed Mick’s arm as a large armored vehicle rumbled past, leaving deep grooves in the mud. “Promise me one thing.” He looked way too serious for Mick’s taste. Even more serious than usual.

“What’s that?”

“If something happens to me, you’ll leave Claymore and take care of Jenna.”

Oh, hell no. They were not going to have this conversation. Not right before going outside the wire. He bounced his eyebrows at Rob and forced a smile. “Take care of her, huh?”

“Yeah, and that includes protecting her from guys like you.” Rob ran a hand through his close-cropped hair. “Come on, man. I mean it. I’ll feel better knowing that she wouldn’t be left alone.”

“We’ve been here for two years. Why are you asking me this now?” Mick wrinkled his nose as the wind shifted, bringing with it the pungent odor of the sewage treatment plant—aka The Poo Pond. “Did something happen?”

Rob glanced around and shook his head with feigned indifference that didn’t fool Mick for a second. “No, I’m just being, you know, superstitious now that I’ve given my notice. If I don’t leave any loose ends, then nothing will happen.”

He was full of crap, but Mick let it go. “Dude, you don’t even have to ask. She’s the closest thing I have to a sister of my own.” Except for the very un-brotherly thoughts he had about her. “But you’re the one who’s going to be there for her, so it doesn’t matter. You’re going to go home, find a job, get a dog, and meet a girl. In another year, I won’t recognize you. You’ll probably even own a minivan.” Mick pulled a face, like he couldn’t imagine a worse fate.

Rob’s shoulders visibly relaxed and the line between his eyebrows softened. What the hell was going on with him? He’d never been this tightly wound before.

“Thanks. I owe you one.”

Mick consulted his palm as if it were a notebook, and pretended to cross something out. “By my calculations, that makes us even.” He grinned. “Hell, if I’d known you were this easy to get square with, I would have offered months ago.”

Rob finally laughed, and the knot in Mick’s chest loosened.

“Hey, ladies. You ready to run the gauntlet?” Three of their crew trudged toward them, nine millimeters in their thigh holsters and M4s strapped to their chest rigs, always at the ready. Dressed in khaki pants and polo shirts, they looked like an army of muscle-bound frat boys.

Mick and Rob fit right in.

“As long as you brought your diapers this time, Beavis,” Mick called out, using the nickname the man had earned for his rat-like resemblance to the animated character. “I don’t want shit to get all over the seats if we take fire.”

Beavis flipped him off and they walked toward their armored vehicles to meet up with the rest of the group for the briefing.

Just another day in paradise.

An hour later, Mick dropped to his knees in the mud next to Rob. “No, no, no!” He tore at his friend’s mangled body armor and sticky, wet shirt and—oh God, no. He spread his hands over the ragged mess that used to be his friend’s chest, as if he could hold him together by magic. His skills as a medic were of no use to him with an injury this bad… All he could do was try to stop the alarming flow of blood. “Damn it, Rob, hang on for me. You’re going home, remember? Come on, come on.”

Fucking Murphy and his law. Rob should have known better than to announce that he was going home right before they went outside the wire. Everyone knew a convoy was an easy target for roadside bombs and insurgent attacks.

Today, they’d managed to find both.

This can’t be happening. Mick adjusted his position and pressed harder. Rob couldn’t die; he was one of the good ones. Jenna needed her brother.

Mick needed him.

“Jenna,” Rob whispered, clutching weakly at Mick’s arm. His look said he knew he wouldn’t make it.

Mick blinked against the burn of hot tears and nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll watch out for her until you’re on your feet again. Just stay with me.” But the blood wouldn’t fucking stop. It bubbled through his fingers, warm and sticky and relentless.

Rob closed his eyes and mumbled.

Mick leaned close to hear him over the noise of engines, men shouting, and the buzzing in his ears left by the ricochet of gunfire. “What’s that?”

“Don’t tell her.”

Sharp smoke stung his nose as Mick surveyed the carnage surrounding them. The barren ground was covered with lifeless figures slicked with mud and blood. He closed his eyes briefly to block out the images, but like so many other horrors he’d witnessed, the scene would haunt him forever.