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WAR: Opposition: (WAR Book 3)

WAR: OPPOSITION

Book 3 in the WAR Series

Sometimes second chances come at the darkest hour...

A desperate pilot who’s out of options.

When bush pilot Seth Jarrod receives the new assignment from his blackmailer—to fly for the brutal leader of a breakaway West African rebel group—he knows he can’t comply. Not if he wants to hold onto the remaining fragments of his soul.

Yet if he fails, his niece will die.

An up-and-coming singer on the verge of international success.

Indie singer Kirra Neilson is on her way to a benefit concert when her bus is attacked by rebels hoping to recover stolen diamonds. Kirra is shocked to discover that the rebels suspect that the thief passed the diamonds to her. She is no stranger to the darker side of life. A former jewel thief who spent time on the streets, Kirra uses those skills to escape. But she soon discovers that eluding armed men—who don’t care who they hurt during the chase—is trickier than sneaking into a secure high-rise.

A chance encounter presents Seth with a possible way out. It’s dangerous, but he’s desperate enough to seize any opportunity.

Kirra stumbles into Seth’s life, looking like a bedraggled angel, with rebel soldiers hard on her heels. Seth can’t sit back and do nothing, even though it puts his escape plan in jeopardy. He tells himself he’ll run interference once, then send her on her way.

Their enemies are more powerful than they realize, and time is running out.

The rebels are deadly serious about retrieving the diamonds, and they aren’t the only ones on the hunt. It will take the combined skills of Seth and Kirra, with a dash of luck and a helping of love, to keep them both alive. And even then, the power of Seth’s secret might destroy any chance of a future.


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  • EXCERPT
  • PLAYLIST

Chapter One

Saturday

The Republic of the Volta

West Africa

SETH JARROD LOCKED the door to the hangar housing his DHC-3 Otter. Not that he expected trouble at this seldom-used airstrip, but given the type of men he’d been dealing with lately, he could never take security for granted. After all, four hours ago a boy had slipped onto the tarmac in the New Mali Federation where Seth had been readying his plane for his return flight. The boy had shoved a padded envelope at Seth, then disappeared before anyone else noticed he was there.

Dread weighed Seth down as he dodged a cluster of guineahens pecking at the dusty, weed-ridden strip of dirt alongside the runway. Seth still hadn’t opened the envelope. Previous deliveries had taught him to be alone when he looked at the contents. Discovering before a flight what new sadistic action his blackmailer had taken would have put Seth’s passengers in danger.

So he’d shoved the envelope in his backpack, flown the NGO workers back to their headquarters, then returned to this long-forgotten airstrip that had served as his base for the past eight months.

He wheeled his motorcycle out of the corrugated metal storage shed at the edge of the jungle. When he started the engine, the goat dozing nearby opened one eye, glared balefully at Seth, then settled back to sleep. Yeah, buddy, I get it. Look how far the ace pilot has fallen. Once upon a time, a challenging landing had involved flying his Black Hawk to extract troops in the middle of enemy fire. Now his biggest challenge was bringing his plane in without hitting the livestock.

His teammates would burst out laughing if they could see him now.

Except none of them would ever be laughing again.

Burying that grief down deep with skills earned in the three years since the attack that had destroyed his life, Seth navigated the ruts and potholes of the dirt road by rote. His hands tightened on the handlebars as his mind circled around the danger represented by that envelope.

Hold it together.

If there was one thing he’d perfected, it was tightly controlling his emotions. Still, he found it more difficult than usual to remain calm as he parked the bike behind his rented bungalow and let himself inside. The air was stuffy and hot after his two-day absence, so he tossed the backpack on the coffee table and went around opening the louvered windows.

Then he returned to the small living room and removed the envelope from his pack. If a yellow mailing envelope could reek with evil, this one did. Seth stared at it for a moment, afraid to open it.

Coward.

Yeah. Delay never did soften a blow.

Seth ripped the envelope open and spilled the contents onto the table top.

Glossy eight-by-tens caught the afternoon light. His breath stopped. Each photo showed a five-year-old girl with blonde curls sleeping in a mound of pink sheets and pillows. His niece, Brianna.

The first photo showed the black muzzle of a suppressed, semi-automatic pistol resting near her temple and pointing to a long scar that still hadn’t lost its pink tinge.

Seth’s stomach dropped out. He was going to kill that bastard. Some day, some way, he was going to find out the name and location of his blackmailer. Then he’d hunt the man down and destroy both him and the hit man his blackmailer had assigned to haunt Seth’s family.

Seth paced away, unable to bear the guilt that threatened to send him to his knees. He couldn’t do this anymore. He couldn’t keep on working for the scum of the earth, waiting for the periodic photos to prove that his family was still alive, if not well.

The ringing of his satellite phone sounded like the call of doom. The display read NO CALLER ID, which was typical for the type of people usually calling him. Yet he knew even before he heard the hated, mechanically scrambled voice, that it was his blackmailer calling.

“I have a new assignment for you,” the voice said. Instinct told Seth the blackmailer was male. Past word choices hinted at someone with military experience, so Seth had initially wondered if his blackmailer was General Sandberg. But the general wanted Seth dead, so he’d discarded that idea.

Speaking past the familiar tight ball of anger and fear in his chest, Seth did the only thing he could. He said, “Of course, sir.”

“On Saturday you will report to Frederic Bureh at the airfield in the Republic of West Guinea. The directions are included in the envelope that was delivered earlier.”

Frederic Bureh. Christ.

Since the death of Sani Natchaba, the mastermind behind the Hospital Massacre several months ago up in the United African Republic, Bureh had been gathering all the extremist, ultra-violent factions of the rebellion and encouraging them to commit acts of brutality. He bragged openly that the Hospital Massacre was only a taste of the coming violence.

And this was the man he was supposed to report to?

He didn’t fucking think so.

It was bad enough that Seth had flown some of the attackers involved in the Hospital Massacre into that region. Worse that some of the weapons Seth had ferried at his blackmailer’s request had been used in attacks against foreign targets, including his fellow Americans. He’d rather die than be even a remote accomplice to another event like the Hospital Massacre.

Hands trembling, Seth hunted among the photographs until he found the typewritten instructions on how to find the airfield, what time to show up, and what security codes to use with the guards.

“Security at the airfield has been alerted to expect the arrival of Michael Hughes.”

Seth still didn’t know how his blackmailer had figured out the connection between Seth Jarrod, former hotshot special ops helicopter pilot, and Michael Hughes, down-on-his-luck airplane pilot. He thought he’d thoroughly covered his tracks.

“You should find a security pass for Mr. Hughes among the items in the envelope,” the man continued.

“I have it.” What a surprise. His voice wasn’t shaking despite the churning of fear and revulsion in his stomach.

“Good,” the voice said. “You will be expected to fly the plane provided. I trust that won’t be a problem?”

“No, sir.” He’d only encountered a few models of planes since flying for the rebels, all of which he had experience with. Still, before he started the assignment, he’d call ahead for details so he could brush up on the plane’s specs.

“Very well. Your fee will be deposited as usual upon successful completion. And do remember that suicide will not protect your family.” Without further conversation, the man hung up.

Seth tossed his phone on the sofa. Tilting his head back, he squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists, fighting to put a lid on the roiling emotion that threatened his hard-earned control.

He couldn’t…He wouldn’t…

His body shook with the effort not to give in to the rage and helplessness. But he didn’t trust himself not to destroy his entire house if he let that beast off its leash.

When his breathing finally evened out and he could move again without wanting to savage something, he gathered up the photos and stuck them back in their envelope. He tucked the directions to the airfield and the security pass into his backpack. Then he carried the photos out to the fire pit behind his bungalow where he burned his trash and made certain that the photos turned to unrecognizable ash.

The greatest irony was that all factions of the rebels specifically targeted foreigners, who they blamed for most of the region’s problems. Yet behind the scenes they had no problem using foreigners to do their dirty work. West Africa had become a haven for vicious mercenaries from all over the world. Bureh could easily find a pilot willing to fly for him.

His blackmailer sent him on missions that supported the rebels and increased the deadly chaos in the region. So, how did Seth flying for Bureh help his blackmailer?

If he could figure that out, maybe he could find a way to finally slip free of the man’s influence.

Too restless to stay home, he grabbed his keys and wallet and rode his motorcycle to the open-air market.

What the hell was he going to do? There was no way he’d retain any shred of self-respect if he worked for Bureh. And while his acting skills had sharpened over the years so that he’d become better at hiding the revulsion he felt for his unsavory clients, he doubted his ability to hide his emotions from Bureh. The man was pure evil. The one time they’d been in the same room, Seth’s skin had tried to crawl off his body. As soon as he’d been able to get away, he’d scrubbed his hands and face even though he hadn’t touched the man.

Seth cursed. If he let a single drop of his hatred show, his entire house of cards would fall apart and his family would suffer. His sister and niece had already been hurt in one car “accident” thanks to Seth trying to circumvent his blackmailer’s orders. He wouldn’t risk that again.

Yet as he parked the bike with the other motorbikes and scooters and walked into the bustling, noisy, open-air market, he had no clue how to avoid this assignment. The first time he’d received a set of photos, Seth had planned on mailing them to the police in the hometown where his sister and his mother lived. Only to reach the bottom of the stack and see a photo of a cop talking to his mother next to her car.

According to his blackmailer, the cop worked for him. Of course, the cop’s back had been to the camera, preventing identification. The blackmailer had warned Seth that he had allies in every branch of law enforcement and the military. If Seth made any move to protect his family, they would be kidnapped, tortured, and killed.

Unable, as usual, to find any way out of his dilemma, Seth randomly worked his way through the market as he bought food for the next several days. You could buy just about everything here, from used American clothing to locally crafted jewelry to live guineahens. He never visited the same vendors inside of a week and always varied his path through the maze of wares displayed on wooden tables or on large blankets on the ground. The market wasn’t terribly crowded this late in the day, but the press of other people close to him on the more popular aisles still made him jumpy. The scents of cooking fires, unwashed bodies, and spices hung thickly in the stifling hot air.

Seth was waiting for his change after buying a bag of dried fish when the vendor asked, “Did your brother catch up with you?”

“What?”

The woman nodded toward the end of the aisle. “That man claims he is your brother.” She eyed Seth. “But you do not look much alike.”

Seth shifted deeper into the shadow cast by the next stall. Turning his head slightly, he caught a glimpse of a white man in faded fatigues moving left-to-right along the path perpendicular to Seth’s row. The man was in his early forties with shoulder-length, shaggy, brown hair streaked with gray and a scruffy beard. He looked ragged, as if he’d been on the road under rough conditions for days or even weeks.

The chill of recognition slid over Seth like ice water.

No! I killed him. He’s dead.

“Sir? Sir?!”

Seth pulled himself back to the present and took the change the confused vendor was holding out to him. “He’s not my brother,” he murmured, forcing the words out past his shock. “But he is trouble. You and your friends should steer clear of him.”

The woman raised her eyebrows and nodded.

Seth tucked the money in his pocket, then slipped across the aisle and into the part of the market that had a permanent covering. The dimness underneath the metal roof gave him some cover as he trailed after the stranger. He had to get a clearer look at the man’s face. Because this couldn’t be the assassin. Seth had shot him and watched his dead body float away on a stream in Southeast Asia.

Seth hurried through the market until he reached the corner where the lane turned left. He positioned himself behind unrolled bolts of brightly colored cloth hanging from wooden racks. A moment later the man strode into view.

The man bore a strong resemblance to the assassin, but this close Seth noticed the difference in the length of the nose and the shape of the jaw. More importantly, he saw the man’s eyes as he flicked them over the stall.

They were a cold, ice gray. Not the brown of the man Seth had killed. Yet this man’s stoney expression tickled a memory.

The man had been walking out of General Sandberg’s office and his gaze had landed on Seth. He’d had such dead eyes that Seth had instinctively shifted out of the man’s way, fully aware that the stranger didn’t see him as a fellow human being, but a potential target to be eliminated.

Son of a bitch. General Sandberg’s pet assassin had found him.

Seth lowered his eyes so the assassin wouldn’t sense attention on him, and held still until he passed. Then Seth turned away. He had to get out of here before the assassin spotted him.

Knowing that speed would only draw attention, he forced himself to match the pace of those around him as he headed back to the place where he’d left his bike. Fortunately, that was in the opposite direction from where he’d spotted the assassin.

It wouldn’t take the assassin long to find Seth, though. He was one of only a handful of white guys still left in this once-thriving tourist area. Still, Seth took a long, circuitous route back home.

How in the hell had the man found him? Did the assassin’s appearance mean that the U.S. military had figured out Seth was still alive and therefore AWOL? Or had General Sandberg somehow discovered Seth’s location and sent the assassin outside of official channels?

The man’s resemblance to the dead assassin indicated a family relationship. Seth didn’t know what would be worse, having the assassin here officially, or on a personal mission of vengeance.

Shit. It didn’t matter. He was screwed either way. He couldn’t run, because if he failed to show up for the meeting with Bureh on Saturday, his family would die.

But if he stayed put, the assassin would—

He pushed the bike faster. He needed to get home and think this through. Maybe, just maybe, he could use the assassin’s appearance to his advantage. But he’d have to be very careful not to break any of his blackmailer’s restrictions. No matter how badly he wanted freedom from his blackmailer, he would not be the cause of more harm to his family.

OTHER BOOKS IN THE WEST AFRICAN RANGERS (WAR) SERIES


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