Susan Mallery

Surrender in Silk

© 1997


Two rescue helicopters swooped down and broke the silence of the night like noisy birds of prey. Spinning blades kicked up sand, dirt and debris, swirling them into a blinding tornado. The powerful military engines were loud enough to wake the dead.

Worse, they would alert the enemy, but everyone expected that.

Zach Jones crouched behind an abandoned shack, his automatic weapon ready to fire. He squinted against the darkness and the cloud stirred up by the choppers, then made a beckoning motion with his left arm.

“Now,” he called to the dozen men waiting behind him. “Get going.”

They moved as one. A low, dark shape-men hunched over to provide a smaller target-slipping like a snake toward safety.

The first burst of gunfire came from the north end of the compound. Zach spun in that direction and pressed his finger on the trigger. Instantly the gun jerked to life, spitting bullets faster than the eye could see. His men sprinted quicker, lower, then broke ranks when one of their own was shot. Zach couldn’t see who had gone down. Damn. They’d already lost too many men on this mission.

“Grab him and get moving,” he yelled, still firing toward the enemy, giving his men protection as they scooped up their fallen companion and continued their escape.

The first helicopter had nearly reached the hard-packed earth, with the second close behind. The deafening noise had a life of its own. The power of the engine, the whipping of the blades, and the sharp, staccato bursts now coming from the tower at the far end of the compound.

“Dammit all to hell,” Zach muttered. He’d known there would be trouble on this mission. He’d planned for it. Just not well enough. Their intelligence information had underestimated the size of the enemy force by nearly a hundred. They’d had to abort and call in the helicopters early. His group of sixteen men had already been reduced by two. He glanced at the injured man being carried toward the first helicopter. Make that by three.

He touched the radio transmitter in his ear. “All right, Albatross, how bad is it?”

There was a brief scratching of static, then a voice said, “Bad. Three trucks of reinforcements just pulled up. I’ll do the best I can from up here.”

“The hell you will.” Zach stepped out of the protection of the shack and sent a quick burst of gunfire toward the tower, then ducked back to safety. “Get down here now. The choppers are going to be leaving pronto.”

“I can take out at least one of the trucks.”

Zach swore. “They’re bringing in Stinger missiles. If they aim one at the choppers, we can kiss our ride home goodbye. Albatross, move it. Now!”

“Yes, sir.”

But Albatross never made it. Seconds later the southern wall where Albatross had been hiding exploded in a brilliant flash of fire and heat. Zach turned away, as much to protect himself from the blast as to save his night vision. The smell of helicopter exhaust, sand, dust, ash and burning wood flooded him.

He spared a quick glance at the first helicopter. All the men were inside. He pressed another button on the transmitter. “Get the hell out of here,” he said.

“Yes, sir.” The first chopper lifted off immediately and quickly climbed into the night.

There were more bursts of gunfire, followed by muffled shouts. The enemy was organizing. Zach eyed the distance to the second chopper, then wondered how many bullets he would take between here and there.

“Sir, we’ve got you covered,” a voice from the chopper said in his ear. “Anytime you’re ready.”

“Now,” Zach said, and took a step forward.

He never got farther than that. Something fast slammed into the exhaust pipe of the helicopter. The bird exploded.

Fiery debris flew through the night, knocking Zach down, cutting through his clothes and burning his skin. Despite the pain, he tried to crawl away. But his leg wasn’t working. It hurt too damn much to be gone, but he knew he’d injured it badly. He’d hurt something else, too. Maybe his head. The night sky started spinning as the ground rushed up to meet him.

Just before he lost consciousness, he saw several pairs of military boots surround him. The bastards were going to get him alive and they were going to make him pay for what he and his men had done this night. As the darkness claimed him, Zach Jones knew Albatross was the lucky one.

He’d had the good sense to die.

Chapter 1

“You can’t leave him there,” Jamie Sanders said, then shoved her hands into her jeans pockets so no one would see that she was shaking. She wasn’t sure if it was caused by rage or fear.

Probably a little of both.

“Zach Jones is dead,” Winston Danville III stated calmly.

“You don’t know that. According to the men who got away, he wasn’t in the second helicopter when it exploded.”

Winston leaned back in his leather chair and stared at her. Jamie had always thought his combination of pale blue eyes and white blond hair made him look like a Hollywood casting director’s idea of the perfect villain-cool, confident, in control. Winston’s reputation did nothing to dispute that image.

“Three weeks, Jamie,” Winston said softly. “Three weeks in one of their prisons, being tortured several times a day. If Zach Jones wasn’t dead, he is now.”

Her stomach rolled at the thought. She desperately needed him to be alive, but the thought of him having to endure that kind of suffering was more than she could bear. The word torture wasn’t just a casual phrase to her. She was intimately familiar with the inhumanity of deliberately inflicting pain on prisoners. Surely death would be a kinder fate.

But Zach wasn’t dead.

She crossed the richly decorated room and sank into one of the leather chairs opposite her boss’s desk. She stared at him, meeting his cold gaze with an equally determined stare of her own. She’d trained at the hands of a master. She knew how to intimidate as well as anyone in the agency.

Surprisingly Winston looked away first.

Before she could pounce on her unexpected advantage, there was a quick knock at the door. Winston’s pretty, young assistant stepped inside and brought them each a mug of coffee.

Jamie accepted the cup with a muttered “Thanks” and took a sip. The assistant glanced at her, then left. Jamie knew she looked out of place. The worn jeans, scuffed athletic shoes, faded tank top and the flannel shirt she wore instead of a jacket didn’t fit the dress code of the office. She had never been the suit-and-high-heels type. She filed away the feeling of discomfort, knowing she would deal with it at another time. All that mattered now was Zach.

“He’s not dead,” Jamie repeated.

Winston raised one eyebrow. “How do you know?”

“I just do.”

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