Alex (In the Company of Snipers)

By: Irish Winters

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First to my husband, Bill, who reminds me often that I’m living my dream. Thanks for supporting me, sweetheart. You are and always will be my sexiest hero.

To my beta readers, Nancy Richardson and Lynn Hill, who have only always boosted my spirits, thank you for reading all ten books and telling me they’re fabulous. Keep lying to me. I love it!

To my critique partners, Kathy Rochelle and Alysia Ricks, the mean girls who have tossed my books into the grinder of their experience and helped me polish my stories, thanks for keeping my feet on the ground. Without the yin and yang of my critique partners verses my beta readers, I would be just another frustrated writer who could have been.

You gals rock!

To Rhett Hoffmeister, my amazing cover artist, you have worked magic just for me. My cover is alive!

To Emmaline Hoffmeister, what can I say? You gave me my first big break. Thanks for believing in Alex. He breathes today because of you (and he’s damn good looking, too.)

And lastly, to my mother - I know you’re looking down on me, Mom. I feel those Irish blues smiling all the way from heaven. Thanks for teaching me to pray, to love, but mostly to laugh. Life is short. You showed me how to live it. Love you still. Always will.





DEDICATION

This book is dedicated to the men and

Women in our nation’s military.

To those who have come home

Unheralded and unappreciated;

To those who have come home to

Hero’s welcomes;

To those who have died in past

Wars and in present;

To those who have to live with

What they have seen and done

While allowing me to remain unscathed;

To those who have stood in harm’s way -

For me.

I take it personally.

Every single day.

Welcome home.

Thank you.





One

Kelsey

Kelsey sat down within the perfect cover of green pines and greener ferns. She had been walking for what—hours? Days? She wasn’t sure. One minute walking through the forest seemed logical, but the next, she couldn’t remember where she was going. Where was she? What happened? How long ago?

Nothing made sense. All she knew was she had to get away from something. Whatever had initially propelled her into the woods, it must have been bad, or she wouldn’t have this nagging feeling she had to keep moving. Maybe if she sat for a minute, she would remember?

Maybe not ….

She pressed dirty fingers to her swollen cheek. Her head hurt the worst, but every muscle all the way down to her bones ached, too. Blood oozed from patches of scrapped skin she didn’t know how she got in the first place. Sharp stabbing lights forced her eyes shut until it was too much effort to walk. She leaned against something solid. A wall. Why a wall was in the middle of the forest never crossed her mind. She had already slipped past the world where things made sense. It was hard to focus, much less think straight. Shock and slumber beckoned. The wall felt—safe.

From branches high overhead, a nosey chipmunk scolded, annoyed he had a new neighbor. The late afternoon sun shone down through layers of pine, casting a dusty beam of golden light as it fell. Insects buzzed. Kelsey closed her eyes to the gentle rhythm of nature. She relaxed. Simple thoughts flickered behind her eyelids. Stay. Hold. Be still.

She sighed in total surrender. Okay. I can do that.

Alex

No. It can’t be. This is impossible.

Alex Stewart watched the Air Force reconnaissance footage, a black and white video feed that displayed a solitary man crouching outside a cave somewhere in eastern Afghanistan.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

The bearded man in the footage laughed into a satellite phone even as he kept nervous watch overhead. Smoking craters and debris pockmarked the winding road up to the cave, but stopped short. As the picture drew in, it became apparent the cave remained untouched. The surgical strike wasn’t even close.

He lied to me. Rod Kensington lied.

Peering closer, Alex carved both hands through his hair, wanting to pull it out. Another video of smoking vehicles appeared on his computer screen. Darkly veiled women huddled around a prostrate man on the ground. Somber children stood nearby crying.

This must never happen again.

Alex burst out of his office. “Sit Room. Now,” he bellowed to his team.

Men and women scrambled to obey, at least the few that were not out of the office on missions and operations.

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