Home > Chasing Daylight

Chasing Daylight
Author: Brittney Sahin

Chapter One

 

 

Just Outside Birmingham, Alabama


“They’ve got me surrounded.” Roman’s deep voice remained calm despite his statement as he spoke over comms. “Need an assist.”

A.J. quickly took cover behind a thick oak probably older than his granddaddy. “What’s your grid?” he asked urgently, slightly out of breath and regretting the big breakfast he’d eaten. But when it came to grits and sausage, he had no self-control.

“The safe house,” Roman shouted as the crack of enemy fire erupted in the background.

“Help is on the way,” A.J. confirmed. “Hold your position.”

“Seriously? Like I have somewhere else to go? You think I want to get my ass nailed?” Roman snorted. “Don’t you dare respond to that.”

A.J. bit back a laugh. They needed Roman intact. Out of the five of them, he was the guy on Echo with a virtual Wikipedia app inside his head. Swinging his weapon around from where it hung off his shoulder, A.J. snuck out from behind the tree.

“Shit, Wyatt’s down,” Roman announced. “We need that backup and now.”

A.J. maneuvered through the woods toward the safe house that wasn’t all that safe at the moment, considering Roman was surrounded, and now they were out their best sniper.

“Hang tight,” Owen’s voice broke in. As the only pilot on Bravo and Echo Teams, Bravo Two was their secret weapon today. Well, the bird he was flying in on, at least.

The tree branches erupted and birds took flight at the chuff chuff chuff of helo rotors beating the hot, heavy air hanging above the treetops.

“The guys are fast-roping to you,” Owen alerted over comms, and A.J. advanced to the prearranged spot to wait for Chris and Finn. Echo Three and Five, respectively, had won the Rock Paper Scissor challenge for the privilege of making a dramatic entrance.

Owen was flying a bird that belonged to one of A.J.’s friends, who was currently overseas doing some sort of clandestine shit in the Air Force. A.J. had called in a favor, and while it wasn’t a Chinook, the Sikorsky his friend had modified to allow for such an occasion as jumping out of it worked for what they needed today. With no place to land, Chris and Finn entered the forest by way of a thick, braided rope dangling from the chopper.

“They got Wyatt, huh?” Chris’s booted feet hit the ground, and he detached from the rope. Finn next.

A.J. nodded. “But Roman’s now at the safe house. Old Man Shaw’s place.” A boarded-up dilapidated cabin that’d sat empty ever since Shaw’s wife passed away, and Shaw claimed she haunted the place. Swore he heard banging pots and pans. Floorboards popping up and smacking him in the head like in a Roadrunner cartoon.

You know better than to go play hide-and-seek on Shaw’s property, his mom used to yell at him and his brothers when they’d head to the cabin in an attempt to spot the ghost.

A smile crossed A.J.’s lips at the childhood memory. They never did see Mrs. Shaw, but the spine-tingling creeps that hit A.J. whenever he got within a hundred yards of the place inched over his skin even now as he was fixin’ to rescue Echo Four.

“You sure you’re alone in there?” A.J. prompted over comms. “Not seeing ghosts or anything?”

“You’re hilarious,” Roman responded as a snap! snap! snap! rang out in the background. “Paranormal phenomena is a cultural creation not supported by science.”

A.J. grinned. “Yeah, but you got the heebie-jeebies, don’t ya?”

“You seriously trying to creep Echo Four out right now?” Chris shook his head while clutching his gun. Mission-focused and ready to kick some ass.

“Trust me, if you’d ever been inside that cabin—”

“I can still hear you,” Roman cut off A.J., and he practically heard the eye-roll accompanying his words loud and clear.

“Mmhm. We’re moving out.” A.J. pumped his fist in the direction they needed to go, and they fell into formation, using the cover of trees to approach the property. Once in view of the cabin, they stopped behind a bank of oak trees. “We need to neutralize the threat on the south side first.”

“Roger,” the guys replied in unison.

A.J. broke through the line of trees as carefully as when he’d gone outside the wire in Afghanistan and had to avoid stepping on an IED.

IEDs had been everywhere in Afghanistan. Literally everywhere. No place, no speck of ground was safe. His world had once been defined by the territory that had been cleared of devices and areas still at risk.

He was pretty sure Old Man Shaw hadn’t set any booby traps out there, but it was still a possibility. “Watch your step,” he warned the guys.

“Got a live one,” Chris commented. “He looks like he’s preparing to make a run for it,” A.J. followed Chris’s gaze to an enemy crouched behind an oak thirty yards away on the perimeter of Shaw’s property.

A.J. readied his Spyder .68 but halted with a grunt when something pegged him in the arm. Where the hell are you? He backed up and ducked behind the closest tree, weapon still drawn as he eyed his surroundings for a possible hunting tree stand where the opposition may have been perched. “I took one in the arm,” he informed Echo Team.

“Doesn’t count. It’s not a head shot or center mass. Keep moving.” A snap followed Chris’s order. “Got him. You’re clear to pursue.”

“Who’d you nail?” A.J. shifted out from behind the tree and crossed over a pile of rocks.

“Brian,” Chris replied, his tone far too blasé.

“Damn it, Chris, I had dibs on Brian,” A.J. grumbled.

Brian was marrying A.J.’s sister, Ella, on the Fourth of July, and maybe he was looking to instill a little fear into the man first. Brian needed to know what he was signing up for when he joined the Hawkins family.

As far as A.J. was concerned, he was taking it easy on Brian by using paintball guns today. Of course, they weren’t standard-issued models used for recreational games. They were the kind utilized in battle simulation training. Paintball guns were more effective than laser tag when prepping for missions. The physical force of getting struck by a paintball or two was a dose of reality and served to hit home the consequences of a failed real-life op.

As Chris began his approach toward Brian to zip-tie his prisoner, Finn shouted, “It’s a trap!”

Chris dodged the paintball bullet using his lightning-fast reflexes, and in a smooth maneuver, dropped to a knee, spun around, and took the shot. “The enemy team is down to two from what I can tell,” he announced. “Looks like one of them is up on the cabin roof preparing to breach.”

“Old Man Shaw will lose his shit over a hole in that roof, even if the place is already falling apart. Hell, Mrs. Shaw might even make an appearance.” A.J. aimed his weapon toward the opposition, currently doing a little shimmy on the shingles, who also happened to be one of his best friends growing up.

Jesse was the kid who’d encouraged A.J. to sneak into Shaw’s cabin and search for ghosts.

The one to “borrow” A.J.’s dad’s farm tractor and ride into town to spy on the girls at the ice cream parlor at thirteen.

And he was also the kid that jumped in front of another guy who’d been about to punch A.J.’s brother in the face, taking the punch instead.

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