Bitten Under Fire

By: Heather Long

Chapter One

Bianca Devlin could be accused of many things: working too hard, never making time for herself, being crazy willing to go into dangerous places for good causes. It would go a long way toward explaining why the day before she had been sitting next to a crystal-clear swimming pool, drinking frothy concoctions from fake coconuts with little umbrellas, and today she stood in the middle of the jungle, still wearing her one-piece white bathing suit with its tattered sarong as she dug her own grave.

An unmarked grave in the middle of the jungle didn’t lend itself to an epitaph, but she liked to think they’d go with She meant well, she did her job. Too bad vacation killed her.

Just went to show all those vacation days she’d saved should have stayed in the bank.

“¡Andale!” The sharp shout from the pistol-wielding guard as he motioned for her to get moving roused her from her stupor, and she thrust all of her weight onto the heavy shovel and into the dirt. She’d barely reached a foot of depth. If they really wanted her to dig a six-foot grave, they might be here a while.

Funny, her life might be extended by her inability to dig. Of course, guerilla soldiers who kidnapped small children from resorts then took them by forced march through the jungle to the middle of nowhere didn’t seem to have a lot sympathy for the foolish woman who’d tried to stop them.

Another scoopful of dirt landed atop her paltry little pile. She tried not to grimace at the rubbing sensation of the handle against her slick, sore palms. Her hands were already scraped raw from falling several times during the hard march. Each time she’d shoved herself upward against hard underbrush, jungle growth, thorns, and sharp vines sliced at her bare skin.

Who knew how clumsy she’d have turned out to be in flip-flops? Of course, they weren’t designed for jungle travel. As much as she’d wrinkled her nose at the idea of frozen alcoholic beverages when she arrived at the resort, she’d sell her soul for one right now. Sweat soaked through her bathing suit and slicked her arms and back. She must have smelled absolutely delightful to the insect life fluttering at her constantly. At least a half-dozen bites irritated one of her legs, another nasty one on the inside of her wrist. They all itched horribly.

When the guard snarled something else to her in Spanish, she paused her haphazard digging to look at him.

“I don’t speak Spanish. If you want French, Russian, or Mandarin, great. And yelling at me isn’t going to make me dig any faster.”

With a menacing step toward her, the guard raised his weapon as though he planned to strike her. Her bravado only went so far, and she flinched. Another shout cut him off, thankfully. The guard had already struck her with the pistol once, and she had the bruised and bloody cheek to prove it.

That blow had been earned when she’d tried to shield Collin. The little boy’s tears had earned the ire of their captors, and the guard went to smack him with the weapon. She’d seen stars and tasted blood.

Collin had been terribly brave right up until the moment they separated her from the sobbing child. She had no way to communicate with her captors to tell him she wouldn’t interfere, just let her stay with the little boy so he wouldn’t go through this alone. They didn’t want to hear what she had to say or maybe, like her, they were trapped on the wrong side of translation.

Another man in dirty camouflage joined the first. He didn’t look any friendlier. They snarled and shouted at each other. Without the gun being pointed at her head, she didn’t feel any great hurry to get the task done.

Wearing a fierce expression, the second soldier marched over to her and suddenly jerked the shovel from her hand, gesticulating wildly at the first soldier. When their voices rose, she took advantage of the break to retreat from the two men. If they decided to shoot each other, she didn’t want to be anywhere near them.

Fieldwork in Africa, in the Middle East, and in the Asian subcontinent had made her all too familiar with how fast a poor situation could get worse. The argument escalated, and she warred with watching the two men and keeping her head down. This wasn’t her first rodeo with gun-wielding bullies—a lowered gaze reduced her threat level.

That her life experience included being threatened by everything from military juntas to scavengers, pirates, and rebels should probably tell her she needed a new line of work. At least, she’d had more than one friend suggest she went looking for trouble. Perhaps true, but it was also the downside of what happened when a person was invested in trying to save the world.

Maybe she couldn’t really save the world, but she could save people. She had saved them—inoculations, rebuilding decimated villages, transporting refugees, searching for survivors… And today? Today she’d held a terrified little boy’s hand so he didn’t have to face this nightmare alone.