I like being on a mission, working alongside my brothers in arms to get the damn job done, but we've been running on fumes for 48 hours. What I wouldn’t give for a good night’s sleep, with a woman in my arms.
But we’re getting close to our target. We can feel it. Taste it.
"They're up ahead," Carnage shouts. He shouldn't scream, not when we’re closing in on the terrorists we’re tracking, but like I said, maybe we are all just a bit delirious. The caves we’re in are underground, water at our feet, and it’s dark. The Yucatan Peninsula may be a beautiful, lush jungle, but we’re not seeing any of that today.
When gunshots begin to sound, I know we’re in trouble. "Get down," I urge Flint and Storm. "Stay low."
We separate then, the five of us. And that’s probably our first mistake. Carnage goes one way, Rock another. Someone must have tossed a grenade toward the sound of the bullets because there’s a blast that decimates a chunk of earth, giving us time to get away. Instead of going deeper into the caves, we veer left, hoping we'll lose whoever’s shooting at us. Hoping like hell we'll get out alive.
But the walls of the cave shake with the aftershock of the blast. I try to catch Storm’s arm, but I can’t. He seems to have fallen through the floor of the cave – to where, I don’t know. He calls out for me, scared. I know he is. We all are. We may be bad ass burly men, but we’re still human.
Before any of us can reach one another, the cave begins to tremble.
We were sent here on a mission, but suddenly it feels like this is where we’re going to die.
If we are buried in the rubble, none of us will come out alive.
In this moment, as my world begins to fade to black, I think how much it hurts that I’m dying alone without the love of a woman, without any love at all.
I’ve spent my life working up the ranks, focused on my career, and now it's all flashing before my eyes. Sure, I’ve done a good job serving my country, but the cost has been pretty great considering I’ve never had the chance to tell someone I loved them. Never had the chance to draw a woman I loved into my arms and tell her I'd never let go.
I black out before I can worry about any more regrets.
When I come to, I'm stunned that I can move my fingers and toes. There's a gash along my chest, along my head too. When I press my fingers to it, I feel blood. My mouth tastes like metal and I spit, looking around, calling for the guys. Carnage, Flint, Rock, and Storm. No one shouts my name, calls for me.
Dammit, I know I'm in a hell of a lot of trouble now. I stand. The cave's as dark as I remembered, and I tug off my backpack, reaching for a headlamp. I flip it on, taking in my surroundings. I need to get out of this cave, stat.
Parched, I grab my metal water bottle from the pack, but it’s empty.
There's crystal-clear water at my feet, no longer murky like it was before the grenade went off. I bend over, reaching for it, suddenly desperate for something to drink. It feels like years since I’ve had water. I cup the water in my hand, taking a drink. And it’s the sweetest water I've ever tasted in my whole damn life.
I spend an hour looking for the guys – for any signs of life. But there is no one. Nothing. All I want is to get the hell out of here. If something's happened to the other men, maybe I can find them on the other side. Hell, maybe they're already out of these caves.
I'm exhausted, but the thought of daylight pushes me forward. When I finally reach an exit, I climb out of the cave, taking in the clear blue sky above.
But it’s the absolute quiet that has me stopping in my tracks. Sure, we are in the remote jungle, but this kind of quiet is unsettling. No distant cars, planes, people. A monkey swings from a tree in front of me, startling me with his howl as he catches hold of a vine.
A bird flies overhead, its wingspan wider than my outstretched arms, and I try to place it, but I can't. I've never seen a bird like that before. Bright yellow feathers, a beak that’s long and pointy, eyes alert. Looks like he could be out of The Flintstones, like a dodo bird mixed with a hawk. I don't remember learning about a creature like that when I studied this region of Mexico.
Looking around, none of this is how I remember it. None of it at all. In fact, the very ground I'm stepping on doesn't seem the same. I don't know where I exited the cave and maybe I came out the wrong way, but this can't be right.
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