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By Alexandra ISOBEL All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Romance


Guarding Daria has been Mercury’s sacred spec ops missions since the day she was kidnapped while he was in the field. Tonight, even though they're relationship has changed and leaving her will gut him to the core, he'll get her safely to the evacuation helicopter or die trying . . .


Take Flight

Baccarat, Indonesia

Daria Hill’s eyes flew open as her bedroom door heaved and burst open. She bolted upright, a scream dead in her throat as she recognized the dark soldier in her doorway.

“Mercury?” Thank God it was him, and not the rebels making good on their threat to drive out Canadian nationals who remained in the embassy. “What—?”

“Get down! Get down!” Mercury turned and unleashed a thunderous round of bullets from his HK-MP5 down the hallway.

Daria scrambled from beneath her duvet and darted to the bulletproof closet beside the dresser, her embassy-designated place of security while she was a guest. Gunfire blasted on the other side of the wall before a horrible cracking explosion rumbled over the ground beneath her. She gripped the doorjamb as her heart smashed against her chest.

What the hell was—

Mercury ripped open the closet door. “Move! Move! Move!” He leaned down and yanked her out of the closet with one hand.

She had a single moment to inhale his familiar scent, feel the brief sense of security his presence always brought, before he kicked through the locked patio doors.

“Go! Go!” He pushed her into the inky black night. Pandemonium raged everywhere. Terrified embassy staff pushed and screamed as multiple rounds of gunfire blasted into the night. Bodies went down in screams of pain while other horrified people tripped and stumbled over the writhing and sometimes still forms, unable to stop in the panic stampede.

Daria froze, transfixed, her mind overloaded with the rush of bleak stimuli, until gunshots blasted just behind her.

“Go!” Mercury ordered, his big hand suddenly around her bare upper arm, the impact snapping her mind into emergency evacuation mode. She jolted forward as a deafening boom and hurricane force threw her against the patio flagstones. Her view of the yard twisted into a horrific kaleidoscope of bloody colors as pain ripped down her legs and something hard and heavy surrounded her body and anchored her to the ground.

Mercury. The edges of his equipment and body gear dug into her back and sides as he rolled them both to stand. She shook her head trying to right the world as he pulled her around his back.

“Stay behind me. Right behind me!”

Disoriented, she took off behind him, staying at his booted heels, her right hand within reach of his shoulder, her left clutched into the hem of her night gown, her bare feet pounding across the wide expanse of the manicured lawn. Explosions of dirt pelted her skin as flashes of orange and yellow light streaked out of the darkness with the continuous machine-gun fire. There was no time to scream or even react as people smashed into her or fell down beside her. Mercury reached back and grabbed her upper arm again, forced her forward, up and over bodies until she flat out ran beside him through the mayhem of the yelling and screaming and death fall cries.

The entrance gate and security house came into view and Mercury slammed shoulder first into the side wall. She stopped short against his body then tucked herself behind his back and against the side of the house. She held onto his muscled shoulder, the tactile connection he insisted on to know she was green—OK and good to go behind him. She turned and squinted against the stinging smoke that hung in the air, the acrid substance choking down her throat and into her lungs. She leaned over and coughed.

“Don’t look down there.” Mercury yanked her away from a dead body on the ground.

Vomit pushed into her throat as her mind registered that what she had seen was not a body, only body parts, blown from the person that lay just beyond her feet. A horrible rush of white noise crashed into her ears.

“Daria.” Mercury’s hands were on her face, his stony features suddenly blocking the view of the twisted body parts at her bare toes. “Eyes here. On me.” He forced her face to his. “Focus, D. Stay with me.” His dark eyes were steady, strangely calm against the nauseating swirl in her mind. “Remember the drill. You’re fine.” He gave her a once-over before he turned back to the corner of the security house.

She blocked her mind against the outline of other still forms in the grass, grass she had sat in just yesterday with her notebook and coffee, typing up her latest ideas for the humanitarian work she did for her mother’s international corporation. It was obscene to think that this idyllic space, once beautiful and plush green, was now an above-ground graveyard.

She pulled in a breath that shuddered down her throat, that acrid smoke still heavy in the air. It set her airways on fire all over again. Remember the drill, Daria. Treat this like a drill. She repeated the mantra until the sounds of panic, shouts, screams and machine-gun fire faded. She centered her mind and concentrated on Mercury’s back, his arrow-straight hair line and the slight bend to his broad shoulders beneath his heavy gear. When he turned, she focused on the stress lines that slashed across his brow, the way his short black hair dripped with sweat, and the way the permanent scar on his right temple pulled tight as he assessed her.

This was Mercury. He must have fought hard to get to her bedroom. There was so much gunfire and panic everywhere. Embassy staff, soldiers, rebels, civilians shrieking when caught in deadly crossfire—and the ground kept shaking with volatile eruptions. Everywhere she looked something was on fire. What the hell had happened? The night had been so calm. The city had been peaceful after the week-long parliamentary discussions. The military, rebels, and politicians had shaken hands. Her mother had been ecstatic because the end of the rebel fighting meant the restart of production for her.

Daria kept her eyes on Mercury, inhaled then exhaled through her nose as she grit her teeth. She would get through this. She would not be a victim or hold Mercury back. She looked at the locked gates and the streets beyond, ominous and dark as they emptied of frantic people chased by rebel warriors with machine guns repeating.

“Where’s my mother?” She looked back at Mercury, her thoughts falling hard over a load of dismal possibilities. Her mother was always a target: the foreign woman without a husband, a woman with too much power, too much position, who owned the biggest local factory.

“Townsend’s got her. He’ll get her to the rendez-vous. The rest of my team are already on exfil.” He pulled a pair of night-vision goggles from his cargo pants and scanned the smoke-filled grounds and dying street. The gunfire faded, but still echoed in the distance.

Daria rubbed her arms and looked at the fires that burned around the embassy. “How are we getting out?” She looked up hoping to see a helicopter even though she knew one could never chance landing in the middle of this mayhem, or on the burning embassy roof. The rebels would undoubtedly storm it, or use an RPG to bring it down.

Mercury shoved the goggles back into his pants leg. “Helo at the north end of the city. We go underground if they haven’t closed it off yet.” He looked at her nightgown-clad body and tightened his lips. “Get ready. Up and over.” He gripped her upper arm and knee and tossed her up against the compound’s seven-foot stone wall. “Grab the rung!”

She clawed and grabbed for the metal pegs Mercury had installed and made her practice on for just this purpose. Her braided ponytail swung across her face as she gripped and Spider-Man climbed up the pegs embedded between the stones. In seconds he slid up beside her. “Stay flat and—” He threw his knife into the shadows. A machine gun fired before a body hit the ground. “Go—No, wait!”

An incoming sound buzzed through the air and Daria’s heartbeat ascended to her throat as the wall beneath her exploded and gave way in a clap of thunder. The world let go and her body flailed before she landed hard on the street with Mercury.

“Christ.” He looked down at her.

She tried to move but her body was numb. She couldn’t feel anything. She opened her mouth and choked on a mouthful of dirt. “My… arm…” Was that her arm? On fire? She turned her head, and her arm wasn’t on fire, but ripped up with severe road rash.

Mercury looked at the crumbled compound wall as men’s shouts and heavy footsteps pounded on the pavement. “Hold.” He slid their bodies beneath a nearby truck, tucking them in close to the double set of wheels at the rear. She bit her lip until she tasted blood against the searing pain in her upper right arm. He clapped a hand over her mouth as the sound of running feet grew louder and the shouts came closer. Tears gathered in her eyes then slid across her face but she didn’t dare breathe. She squeezed her eyes together as an intense wave of pain gripped her arm, her ribs, then reluctantly passed.

The footsteps stopped. Voices growled before the footsteps diminished, the deep voices now yelling again. Mercury rolled to his side and looked at her before he gripped her arm. “This’ll hurt.” She bit back a yell as he pulled something sharp from her shoulder. Aftershocks of pain raced down her arm and into her chest before a maelstrom of intense heat shot through her body—this time in her side when he pulled out what looked like a shard of glass.

“You’re lucky.” He pressed his hand into her bleeding skin.

She grit her teeth. “Lucky?”

He half smiled. “Missed your face, princess.”

Slivers of light and dots of black quivered across her vision. She was going to pass out. Unbelievable because she had just gotten an actual nod of approval from Mercury. Was this the way she would prove herself worthy of the rare moment? By passing out? She pressed her eyes shut as he tore a piece of material from the bottom of her nightgown into strips. He wound the strips around her arm as best he could in the narrow space.

“It’s not much, but you won’t bleed out.” He grabbed his weapon. “Let’s go. Head toward—”

Machine gun fire tore into the truck above them. Glass crashed down over her back as she slid from beneath the muffler.

Mercury moved past her and fired down the street. “Jeromme Alley—Go!”

Shit! She jumped away from the hot bullet casings that rained onto the pavement before she sprinted down the dark street. She remembered to stay low and focus on a target as she turned into the abandoned alley. The door straight ahead. That was her target. She darted for the uneven stone stairs that led to the doorway before she turned to look for Mercury—a forbidden thing to do he had drilled into her—but she needed to know he was OK.

She held her breath when he came around the corner and slammed backward into the alley’s brick wall before he fired down the street. He pulled an ammunition cartridge from his pocket then looked at her. “Go!” He jabbed a finger down the stairs as he braced a foot against the side wall and fired down the street again. She grasped the metal handrail, flew down the steps, and forced her way through the door in the wall.

Silence. She stood in the tomb-like space with its pitch-black darkness for a long moment before machine gun blasts came from above, the sound now deep and hollow inside the cavern. This tunnel was part of the city’s ancient sewer system, loved in the old days by bandits for smuggling contraband and criminals out of the city. Now, it was a series of dead-end concrete blocks. Years ago, as a deterrent, the government had blasted the tunnels, leaving the fallen rocks to block off main arteries thus forcing any interlopers into the jungle and toward certain death.

The door burst open and she jumped. She caught a fleeting glimpse of Mercury’s face, full of fresh cuts and blood, before the door slammed back closed.

“Clear?” His voice was rough as it came through the darkness.

“I think so.” She couldn’t see him, but knew he was pissed even before he lit up the space with his penlight.

“You hesitated.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry is the fastest way to wake up dead.”

She could barely see him, but felt his eyes hard on her.

“Don’t do it again.”

Shit. She exhaled and slid down the wall. She willed herself to get control by wrapping her arms around her legs. She put her head against her knees and breathed through the throbbing in her arm. She had to get control, pull herself together and keep her mind checked. Her mother, wherever she was, and under whatever conditions, was undoubtedly calm, cool, and completely in control of herself.

Daria tried to be like that. She’d spent a lifetime trying to be like that, her mother’s daughter, and a good little soldier to her military father.

Shit. Daria inhaled and used Mercury’s drill technique of centering her thoughts on someplace other than her current situation. Think, Daria. Think. Count backwards, or think backwards and breathe. Always breathe. She drew in a long silent breath, but when she released it her thoughts rolled over last night.


Her. Mercury. Nigel’s proposal. Heat threaded through her stomach and brought her memory to acute life. Her bedroom. Mercury. More heat flowed through her abdomen and wound around her thighs. Mercury making love to her for the first time. She closed her eyes and brought to life the way his hard naked body had demanded absolute surrender. The way he had barely said anything, though his hands and body spoke essays when he finally touched her, held her, pinned her body down until she stilled then rippled beneath him. He was so bold and determined, completely overwhelming in the way his strong calloused hands gentled her thighs apart and held them in place while his tongue slid through her soft open folds, and pressed into her firm nub until she rode against his lips in outright abandon.

A distinct sexual vibration threaded through Daria’s system as the memory crested then retreated in her mind. She opened her eyes and heaved a deep breath. Maybe she should think of something else if she wanted to calm herself down. Last night had been tumultuous and had changed things between them, though if she really thought about it nothing had changed at all. No promises were made. No deep revelations provided. Mercury was still a soldier and she was still his duty. They had spent last night together, but the last two years mostly apart. He left and came back. She soldiered on. She had no idea what he did when away, but as a soldier’s daughter she knew not to ask. At the embassy he was keenly professional and seemingly assigned to security, but when he went away did she really want to know what the Hell he did? He always came back roughed up and moody, distant to the point of remote. Whatever he did was darker than combat. Her father had been a combat soldier. Mercury soldiered deep and came back scarred and edgy.

How much did she really know about this man, except that last night he had made love to her like a demon? His body had completely claimed hers, like a junk yard dog with a bone. He had caged her and spread her, then taken her so long and hard, he left her marked as exhaustively his. It was what she had always wanted, and more than she ever could have asked for.

“D, ya with me?”

She blinked at him through the darkness. “Sorry, zoned out. Trying to get focused.”

He leaned over and fixed his eyes on her. “Just stay with me. Stick to the drill and you’ll be fine.”

She grit her teeth when he checked her bandages.

“Suck in—” He made short work of securing the knots.

She clenched her stomach muscles and forced her mind away from the dull pain that spread over her ribcage and arm. She would be fine. She’d get through this. Mercury wasn’t going to let anything happen to her, and she was not going to let herself be a victim again. He had saved her once from vicious kidnappers, and had made her feel safe again by training her to be prepared, she would not fall down this first time out of the gate. She would do him proud if it killed her.

She breathed through more pulses of pain then averted her eyes from Mercury’s intent stare. This rebellion would force them apart, even after last night he’d be gone first thing in the morning. He didn’t say it, but she knew it. The army took him wherever it wanted him, and only returned him when they were done. Nothing would ever change that, not even the way he had held her between his hands last night.

And here she had thought that Nigel, the British ambassador’s son, would be the ultimate wedge between them. That, she had planned for, had decided to risk and gamble on so she could counteract anything that he or her mother had planned.

Last night, when Nigel proposed, like a true protégé of his career in international trade, he had reacted to her blunt refusal as he did in all his business deals. He had snapped the ring box shut, pulled out his Blackberry to run his thumbs over the keypad while murmuring something about sweetening the deal before they met in London to discuss it again. Maybe France would be more fitting? She had always liked Paris, correct? He had left the embassy conference room mumbling and shaking his head, giving a brief nod to her mother as his entourage trailed after him.

Her mother had received the news with her usual stoic grace. She remained quiet until they left and then screamed like a scalded dragon before hollering at her aides to begin damage control. Her daughter, with a careless and selfish‘’ “no,” had just screwed up an international financial empire match, five years in the making. This was all before she unleashed an icy lecture about family duty, levelheaded business sense, and a good daughter’s responsibility to suck up personal feelings and remember her pedigree.

Wearily, Daria had turned from her mother’s furious tirade and screeching incensed exit to find Mercury propped in the north entrance doorway. His hair had been wet, glittering black but straight, and his jaw held a rare five-o’clock shadow. His off-duty clothes, fatigue pants and standard green t-shirt, looked like he had just pulled them on, along with his gun holster. He was barefoot and armed, his wrists crossed but ready near his waist, his dark eyes steady and concentrated on her.

He nodded at the spot her mother had just vacated. “She’s pissed.”

“How long have you been there?”

“Long enough to know that Mr. England’s been rejected and your mother needs a fire extinguisher.” He studied her for a long moment before he uncrossed his arms and tucked the gun into the holster beneath his arm. He looked at the security panel beside him. “I don’t like breaches, Daria. Why didn’t you reset the alarm in here?”

She looked at the panel where the telltale red security light glowed in silence. She held his steady gaze as he leaned over and punched a series of numbers into the keyboard. The indicator lights went out.

“What did you just do?”

“Shut down the live feed.”

“Great.” She leaned her head against the fire and bulletproof door behind her. “No witnesses while you rip me another one.” She held up her hand. “FYI. I don’t need another lecture tonight. I already know I’m a reckless, careless, selfish, and undeserving daughter.”

Mercury didn’t blink. “We have a rule, you and me.”

“I know.”

“I always know where you are, and you know if a red light stays on in your location, I’m there in seconds.”

“I— know.”

His jaw tightened. “This is not a game. I can still hear you crying—choking on that bastard’s weapon.”

Her stomach tensed but she forced herself to remain still. “You’re going to keep this all about security, aren’t you?”

“It’s always about security. Your security.”

She shook her head. “Duty and obligation. How romantic. I feel so special tonight.”

“You should feel protected. I take your protection very seriously.”

She rubbed the heel of her palm against her forehead. This was bullshit. The whole evening was pure bullshit. She had lost her heart to Mercury ages ago. It had happened sometime after the moment she’d woken up to him untying her bound arms, then lifting her from within those floor boards and carrying her away from the captors that lay dead in the mud and dirt. She couldn’t even speak then, her throat had been ripped and raw from where the gun had been shoved down it. Mercury stayed with her after that, every moment and every minute until she felt safe again, then after she recovered he’d trained her in self-defense and personal security, so she would feel confident and secure even when he was gone.

Now she inhaled against the iron set to his face. He was ticked. She got that, but she ’hadn’t reset the system because she knew that that red light would bring him here, and she wanted him to hear her refuse Nigel’s proposal. Maybe then he’d finally get it, realize he was what she wanted, the only one she wanted and would ever let inside her body. She wouldn’t be with anyone else. She only wanted him.

She returned his steady gaze. “I’ll never be anything more than your duty, will I?”

He narrowed his eyes, but remained frustratingly silent.

Gawd. Why did she even bother? He was impossible. Freakin’ bloody impossible. Gentle when protecting her, a complete bastard when training her, a goddamned unfeeling soldier right now. She may as well go after Nigel, tell him she’d made a mistake, and assure him she could be the perfect hostess and wife that he needed to advance his career. How different would that empty life be to the one breaking her heart right now?

She flicked her gaze toward the south exit doors that Nigel had recently left from. She could play the perfect wife. She had been groomed for the role her whole life, learned it at her mother’s knee and been reminded every day since, from preschool to finishing school, that she was meant to be the perfect wife. Why not just embrace it instead of fighting this uphill battle? “I should have just let him take me away to London.”

Mercury’s eyes didn’t waver from hers. “I’d have put two in his head for trying.”

She blinked as he uncrossed his arms. “Wh— What?”

“It’s a dangerous game you’re playing.”

“I am not playing games.”

Mercury pushed away from the doorjamb and stood tall and looming. “Think I don’t know what’s going on in that head of yours? Weighing. Manipulating. Trying to look down every avenue, working things out in that pretty little head. So determined to be nothing like your mother, hating it when life forces you to be just like her.”

Daria’s stomach dropped. “You’re crazy.”

“And you’re a walking contradiction. Even for a typical introvert. Love your creature comforts, love your little cave, scared to death of what’s out there, petrified of life because you have no fucking idea how to handle that wild heart.” He nodded toward her chest.

She snorted. “So you’re a philosopher now? Seems your talents are endless.”

“Don’t need talent to know you through and through.”

She folded her arms and raised her chin when he stopped in front of her. “I am not my mother’s daughter.”

He lifted the corner of his mouth. “You have no idea what you’re doing—groping around in the dark, trying to figure life out from behind a glass wall.”

She opened her mouth then closed it. Did she just open Pandora’s box?

“You don’t know what you’re asking for—or what you’ll get if you keep pushing me.”

“I’m a big girl, Mercury. I know exactly what I’m doing.”

He put his finger under her chin. “We’ll see.”

Then he was in her bedroom, next he was in her bed and she was surrendering everything he wanted, everything she had all through the night. She had gotten past his defenses and now had every hard inch of him, every delicious sliver taking them to a whole new forbidden level.

And he was so right. Did he ever know her. He knew just where to touch her, everything she liked, everything she craved, this man knew exactly how to love her, how to make her pant, how to make her body beg.

“Mercury…” She couldn’t catch her breath as his hands circled her waist, moved to cup her ass before he brought her hips close to his mouth, his thumbs strong on her hip bones before he dragged one rough pad down across her skin, exposed her hard nub and rubbed in gentle circles. She arched toward his mouth and moaned his name again.

She had never done this before but she trusted him completely. This was Mercury her protector and he’d take care of her or die trying. He’d look after her every secret and take care of her every trust. So when he slid his tongue out of her body and said, “Just relax, honey, and give it to me,” she did what he asked, her heart racing like never before, her fingers grabbing at his hair, her heels pressed deep into the mattress as his lips against her skin teased her into a bursting climax. Her body pulsed around his tongue as his fingers held her nub and tamed it down from the intense release between his two strong fingers.

“He will never fucking have you.” His eyes became black with intensity as he covered her body with his, his legs and abs tight and hard against her softness, his forearms engaged and pressed down into the mattress on either side of her head. “No one will but me.”

She treasured those words growled from deep within his throat. “Mercury…” She had one hand in his hair, the other around his upper arm, her body still reeling and thrumming with the sensations of her climax. She should have been winding down, but the raw power that radiated off him kept her body unsettled and wanting more. Her every fiber yearned to have him inside of her. She closed her eyes and savored his closeness and lifted her shaking hips to him.

“Eyes on me, honey.” His fingers were strong but gentle against her face. “No words. You know I hate them. But I want your body to tell mine.” She knew this about him. He believed in deeds not words.

“Tell me with your body. Look me in the eyes and spread your legs. Show me right here and now that you want my body in yours.” His voice was so rough, his eyes focused all on hers, his own body was restrained above her, tight, waiting until she parted her thighs in invitation.

He leaned down to her mouth and chased her tongue with his own while his knee spread her legs farther and he covered her completely, his face buried in the hollow of her neck, his voice thick and deep in her ear. “Don’t ever forget this, Daria. Don’t ever fucking forget that you belong right here, spread out on your back with me fucking deep inside of you.”

“I won’t.” She lifted her hips to emphasize her promise.

He looked down at her again, his eyes dark and possessively fierce as his hips jerked one rugged motion right after the other until he was hot and stiff inside of her.

His skin pricked intense friction against her sensitive nub, and she felt herself rise toward another beautiful end. “Mercury—”

He kept fucking inside of her until he buried himself to the root, his elbows dug in deep, her body pressed down beneath him. He pressed and circled his hips until she moaned and completely accepted him, relaxed with his long hard presence, but also coiled in wanting more.

“Fuck, Daria.” Her name rumbled from within his throat before he pulled up and slid back inside, this time a long powerful stroke that forced her down into the bed. He circled his hips again, pressing down and teasing her nub until she was undulating beneath him, arched up and pressing against him. She moved in time with him now, learned his growing pace, and captured each of his thrusts until he reached between their bodies and slid his finger over her knot. He stroked her while he drove into her, then whispered against her lips. “I want it again, Daria. I want to feel you squeeze my dick like you just did my tongue.”

And that was it for her, she went over the edge again, his name forced from her throat as he titillated her clit then drove into her in a continuous rhythm. His hard strokes pushed her up and toward the headboard of the bed before he tensed and released himself with a string of rough grunts.

“You are fucking mine.”

She wrapped her legs around his hips and accepted every drop of him inside of her. This was what she had waited for, it was her whole heart’s desire.

“D. You with me?”

Daria looked at Mercury through the tunnel’s darkness.

He frowned. “You good?”

“Yes.” She jerked her mind away from last night, though he continued to study her. “I think I just need to go home, wherever home is anymore.”

“Home’s wherever you drop your shit and sleep.”

She sighed. “I remember.”

He turned off his flashlight and she listened to him pick up his weapon before he sat completely still. For a long moment it was like he was alone and she wasn’t even there. She knew he was in that zone where no one could touch him. Not even her. He’d been like that after the kidnapping. She’d wake up to find him in a chair, sitting completely still, silently staring at a distant point. Then one morning he was gone, called into the field, not gone really long, but he came back relaxed. That was when he started her personal training, self-defense, defensive driving, and personal security.

She pressed her lips together. “I can handle this, you know.”

“I know. I trained you.”

“No. Not this extraction. I mean—”

His body tensed. “I know what you mean.”


“And nothing.”

She swallowed. “Nothing?”

“Nothing, Daria. Leave it alone.”

Leave it alone? After last night? She frowned. “You bastard.”

“I have parents.”


“My old man’s in jail for murder one. My mother OD’d after he went to lock-up. I found her the morning of my twelfth birthday.”

She blinked as she processed his words, her heart beating into her throat. “You never told me that before.”

“You never called me a bastard before.”

She pushed onto her knees and put her hand on his weapon. She intended to just move it, but he transferred it to his other hand before she could. Though his fingers were soft on her skin, his hand stayed firm on his weapon. That was Mercury, one hand on her, the other on the military. The man served two masters. She put her hand on his shoulders and looked at him through the darkness, but he spoke before she did.

“We come in from the field wrecked, often in a way that cannot be fixed.”

“I’ve seen you in from the field. I know what to expect.”

“You’ve seen me only after I’ve defragged and dried out for a long while. That isn’t always possible and you have no idea about—” He looked up and set her aside.

“What? What is it?”

He sprang to his feet. “They’re coming.” He gripped her arm and pushed her into a run as the tunnel door slammed open and a battery of shots ricocheted off the walls.

She ducked and grabbed her head as bullets sliced by her ear. “Where? Where’s the—”

More bullets forced her against the wall. She spun around and stumbled into a run. Heavy footsteps gained on her. She couldn’t see anything so she concentrated on running straight ahead, as if this were the drill she had completed a dozen times before.

Routine. Routine. Don’t think. Just do it.

Water splashed around her. Damn. There shouldn’t be water yet. She’d made a wrong turn, back when she had thrown herself against the tunnel wall. She had somehow gotten turned around.

“Daria!” She turned just as the ground dropped out from beneath her.

A gush of water forced her down a slope, her body uncooperative as it twisted and turned and slid in too many unmanageable directions. She tried to grasp onto something, anything, until she flew over an edge and landed on her stomach. Water rushed over her head as she floundered in churning water while trying to push herself onto her knees.

“What the hell are you doing?” Mercury’s voice was suddenly there.

“Drowning,” she coughed as he pulled her up to a standing position. She spit out a mouthful of rusty tasting water. “I don’t know what happened. I— Are they up there?” She turned to see that she had fallen through some old railing and down into Baccarat’s idea of a sewage drain.

Vomit pushed into her throat for what seemed like the tenth time that night.

“They’re done.” He tugged her upper arm until she ran beside him. “Stay with me this time.”

Stay with him.

Her lungs protested and her stomach heaved against the pace they maintained through several passages, Mercury’s flashlight and compass at hand until he shouldered his way around a final corner. “The end grate is right there.”

She rounded the corner to the most blessed sight and sound. The steady whoop whoop whoop of the extraction helicopter coming down just beyond the tunnel’s metal grate. Mercury kicked it open. “Stork will set it down just beyond the ravine and— Fuck!” He turned and tackled her just as an explosion blew the tunnel exit apart. Rocks, metal, and flying chunks of cement fired past her eyes. Most of the fragments landed on Mercury who grunted and heaved above her.

“Mercury!” She tried to get up when the debris stopped falling.

“Don’t move ye—” Another explosion blasted through the tunnel. She buried her head between the ground and Mercury’s chest, trying to curl into a ball beneath him.

Her ears rang to the point she was sure her skull would shatter. Muffled machine-gun fire rattled through her head. Mercury rolled away from her and he dragged her to a standing position. He held her upper arm and half ran, half dragged her out of the tunnel and into the ravine. She caught glimpses of other soldiers, crouched low and firing into nearby bush or outward from the chopper. Flashes of more gunfire streaked up and out of the ravine.

“Stay down! Keep your head down.” Mercury kept his hand on her head as they ran to the helicopter, the gale-force wind unbearable in strength as they got closer. Everything was so loud she couldn’t hear any one thing, just constant deafening noise overwhelming all her senses.

Mercury suddenly swung her around and held her steady against the chopper while he shouldered his weapon. “We go wheels up after this. Helo into the next mission. Our extraction chopper will be here in three.”

She could barely hear him even though she knew he was yelling. The ground beneath them shook so hard she had to grab his upper arms to keep from falling. He forced his hand against the chopper to anchor them steady, then he grabbed his dog tags and pulled before he reached into his knee pocket and used a pair of pliers to snap off an extra ring.

“Captain—” The soldier beside them jumped up into the helicopter.

Mercury leaned into her and slid his dog tag ring onto her ring finger. “Do not go to London.” His eyes held that same intensity, extreme, from last night before he gripped her waist and lifted her into another pair of hands that pulled her into the chopper.

“Go!” Mercury’s eyes stayed steady on hers as the helicopter lifted into the Baccarat night sky.

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263Adder: Okay so I adore this story. I only knocked one star off plot for historical inaccuracies because I'm a bit of a stickler for that. The ending broke my heart though, considering you already changed history couldn't you (SPOILER) change it a bit more and have them together!!!! I want an alternative...

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Julia Summers PA: Reading this now. It's fun, hilariously fabulous yet taste of what you desire in a unusual read. I will post an actual review when I am finished. But so far loving the flow and the story seems to keep me drawn

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