Book 2 in the WAR Series
He's trained to kill
WAR military team leader Lachlan MacKay has a simple mission: determine who is smuggling weapons to a vicious group of West African rebels, and stop them. His number one suspect is Dr. Helen Kirk. Everyone else believes Dr. Kirk’s reputation as a generous do-gooder, but with Lachlan’s deep-rooted distrust of doctors, he’s not buying it. He’s determined to ferret out the truth and stop the illegal flow of weapons before more innocent lives are lost.
She's trained to heal
In a remote corner of war-torn West Africa, Dr. Helen Kirk is struggling to leave her past behind her. If she finishes restoring her general practice clinic to showcase status before a crucial fundraiser, then she’ll be able to return to the trauma center work she loves. The last thing she needs is Lachlan MacKay nosing around and asking uncomfortable questions. She can’t wait to be rid of him and get her life back on track.
Their definitions of right and wrong are about to be challenged
But there’s a new rebel leader on the rise and he’s decided to involve Helen in his deadly games. In order to stop him, Helen must work with Lachlan—a man who believes violence is an acceptable means to peace. A man whose actions may have cost her the career she loves.
In order to untangle the web of violence and deceit protecting the real mastermind of the weapons smuggling, Lachlan will have to reconsider his belief in Helen’s guilt. If she’s innocent, he’ll be forced to make choices with increasingly deadly consequences—for his reputation, for the war against the rebels, and particularly for Helen.
Faced with death, Helen and Lachlan must decide if their beliefs are worth dying for…or if their love is worth living for.
The Republic of the Volta
“You're certain you don’t want me to handle the doctor, Commander?”
Lachlan MacKay closed his rucksack and reined in his temper before answering. “Do you have a problem with me being in charge of this mission, English?” The last rays of afternoon sun filtered through the jungle canopy, throwing Tony Jacobs’s face into shadows enhanced by his camo paint.
Tony stared at Lachlan a moment. Then he blew out a breath that was half laugh, half snort. “I’ve got no problem with your leadership so far, Scots. What I’m concerned about is sending you into a situation where you’re clearly prejudiced. An anonymous tip and a grainy, blurry photograph isn’t enough to prove that Dr. Kirk is involved in the weapons smuggling, no matter what her mother did. With your damn fear of doctors, you’re more likely to scare her off than get any actionable intel.”
Lachlan’s hands clenched into fists. He suspected that Kristoff Wren, the man in charge of assigning missions to WAR’s military teams, had deliberately paired two of the newest members—Tony and Lachlan—on this mission precisely to test them. And clearly Kris wanted to determine if Lachlan could overcome his aversion to doctors. Which was why Lachlan couldn’t let Tony step in and handle this next bit. Lachlan needed to prove his worth before the lads would fully accept him as team leader. To earn their respect, he had to make a success of this mission.
“I’m the best choice.” Lachlan glanced around their hidden camp to make certain he wasn’t leaving anything behind. He’d scrubbed the paint from his face and changed into civilian clothes. He’d passed all weapons but his pistol and his knife over to Tony for safekeeping. His knife was military-issue, but with its worn leather hilt and sheath it could pass as an outdoorsman’s knife. The pistol at the small of his back was hidden by the loose flow of his over shirt.
“You’re equally prejudiced,” Lachlan said. “Only you’re wanting to prove the doctor innocent. My way, we’re more likely to discover the weapons faster.” He would have preferred to have a bit more research on the situation, such as the local politics, economics, and social setup, but WAR’s research department was woefully understaffed and their equipment was antiquated. He was lucky to have received a report on Layla’s Foundation, the non-profit that had built the clinic, and a background report on Dr. Kirk.
“Not buying it, mate,” Tony muttered as he slapped at an insect on his neck. “You just want the chance to sleep in a real bed while I bunk out here in the bloody jungle providing dinner to every bloodsucker in the vicinity.”
Lachlan clapped Tony on the shoulder. “Ah, lad, you’ve found me out.” He shook his head, then grinned at Tony. “But since I outrank you, there’s not much you can do about it, now is there?”
Tony grumbled something uncomplimentary that Lachlan pretended not to understand.
“Besides, it’s only for three more nights,” Lachlan pointed out. Four days ago, they’d inserted via helicopter several kilometers north of here. Searches had uncovered no signs of weapons in the two most northern villages, leaving just this last village and Dr. Kirk’s clinic as possible locations for the smuggled weapons. Unless they found a cache of weapons that would justify calling in the rest of the team early, Lachlan and Tony were scheduled to be extracted the morning after the big festival.
“Surely a fine soldier like yourself won’t melt?” Although, given the increased humidity and the gathering clouds, Tony might be in for a spot of uncomfortably bad weather. “If a monsoon blows up, perhaps I’ll be able to slip you into my quarters to protect your sensitive English skin.”
Tony made a rude gesture, then saluted, turned around, and vanished into the jungle.
Chuckling to himself, Lachlan shouldered his pack.
Fifteen minutes later, he was striding down the red dirt lane toward the medical clinic when he heard a child singing in the local language. On instinct, he moved into the protective shelter of the jungle, then remembered that he had a cover story to explain his presence. He shifted forward, then froze as a wee lass wearing a bright green and white batik dress skipped out of the jungle and onto the grassy verge not twenty meters in front of him.
Not wanting to frighten her, Lachlan decided to wait until she passed before leaving his cover.
Oblivious to Lachlan, the child swung her rag doll by one arm as she skipped along. Suddenly, she made a sound of distress and cradled the doll against her chest. Crooning soothingly to the doll, the lassie plunked herself down in one of the few remaining patches of sunlight and pulled something out of her pocket. Then she proceeded to fuss with the doll.
Lachlan sighed, inched back a bit into the trees, and prepared to wait the lassie out. Then he spotted a sinuous ripple of brilliant green and yellow slipping through the grass next to the child. With a squeal of delight, the lassie reached for the tail of the western green mamba snake.
“No!” Lachlan pulled his knife and dove out of his hiding spot.
The child grabbed the snake’s tail and the mamba whipped its head around. Lachlan sliced down with his knife, severing the snake’s head from its body milliseconds before it sank its fangs into her tender flesh.
Riding the momentum of his dive, Lachlan rolled across the grass until he was out of range of the snake’s death throes. He checked to make certain the head was completely separated from the body, then rose to his feet.
The child still had one hand outstretched toward the snake’s twitching body. With her other hand, she clutched her doll to her chest. Her big brown eyes stared up at him from a face with skin dark as coffee.
“It’s okay,” he said in the local language. “You’re safe now.”
The lassie screamed and burst into tears.
Shite. Maybe he’d mangled the phrase. Maybe he’d mistakenly told her he was going to hurt her. There were too many damn dialects in this region. It’s possible he’d used the wrong one. “Ah…” He didn’t know any other phrases that might comfort her.
The lassie kept screaming while huge tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Shh.” He knelt beside her, then realized he still held his bloody knife. Brilliant. She probably thought he meant to kill her, too. “Shh.” He wiped the snake’s blood off on his pant leg, then stuck it back in its sheath. “You’re safe.” This time he spoke in English, hoping that even if she didn’t understand his words, she’d find the tone reassuring. “It’s okay. I killed the bad snake.”
The lassie ignored him and continued wailing like a banshee. Bugger it. Now what was he supposed to do? He was a soldier, not a nursemaid. He didn’t know the least bit about bairns. The few times children had been freed by his former SAS hostage rescue team, someone else had been in charge of the wee ones. “There now, lassie. I—”
“Step away from Sisi,” a female, American voice commanded. “Now.”
Lachlan turned his head. Now didn’t that just bloody figure? Dr. Kirk stood in the middle of the dirt road holding an older model Winchester pump-action shotgun in her hands. From the steady way she aimed it at his chest and her solid stance, she’d had some basic training. Of course, at this range, any idiot could hit him.
Well, then. He’d just have to make certain she had no reason to fire, hadn’t he? “Easy, lass.” He held out his empty hands. “I meant no harm. I just wanted to make certain that the wee bairn here hadn’t been hurt by that mamba.” He jerked his chin toward the decapitated snake.
Dr. Kirk’s deep green eyes widened at his brogue, which he’d deliberately thickened because Yanks, particularly the female ones, seemed to like it when he turned up the Scottish. Her gaze flicked to the dead snake and her lips tightened.
That’s right, lass. I’m the good guy here. Just a pleasant fellow trying to save a little girl’s life. This wasn’t exactly the way he’d intended to introduce himself, but perhaps he could work it in his favor.
A moment later, Dr. Kirk returned her wary gaze to him. He climbed slowly to his feet, then raised his hands to waist level with palms out. See? No weapon. Of course, he could grab the pistol at the small of his back, roll, and get off a couple of shots in less time than it would take to say hello.
“So, what’s it going to be lass?” While he waited for her answer, he did a little scrutinizing of his own. A few inches shorter than him, she wore a white doctor’s coat over an olive green t-shirt, matching cargo trousers, and sand-colored, mesh-paneled walking shoes. Her mahogany-colored hair was pulled back in a braid that barely reached her shoulders. She had a strong, intelligent face and Lachlan felt a faint stir of unwanted male interest. Yet her entire body, despite some lovely feminine curves, was taut with purpose and warning. One wrong move, and he had no doubt he’d be dodging shot. “Are ye going to shoot me? Or help me calm the wee one down and return her to her family?”
Here is a short playlist of songs that are connected to WAR: Disruption:
- "Not That Different" by Colin Raye sums up the struggle of Lachlan and Helen to accept one another.
- Soundtrack to Brigadoon. The tone of many of these songs is a lot more cheerful and playful than Lachlan. But Brigadoon was one of my earliest exposures to Scotland, so writing Lachlan made me want to listen to the soundtrack again.
- "Only the Good Die Young" by Billy Joel. Because like Virginia, Helen needs to let go a little and live.
- "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" by Billy Joel. The message here, to hold on and wait for that second wind to sustain you, is applicable to both Lachlan and Helen, although I thought of Helen first in relationship to this song.
- I started listening to the music of Two Steps From Hell while writing Intrusion. While I seldom listen to music while actually writing, I will occasionally listen to instrumental soundtracks or similarly inspiring music when writing action scenes. The music of Two Steps From Hell fits this bill perfectly.