Her Perfect Mate(4)

By: Paige Tyler

He motioned with his hand for Angelo and Tredeau to hurry up. Diaz didn’t use that particular profanity lightly, so it had to be something big.

“Check out the far left window, Captain,” Diaz said. “The one with the light coming through the curtains.”

Landon slewed his scope from the large courtyard area he’d been scanning over to the left, focusing on the house. It took him a moment to find the window Diaz was talking about, but the second he did, he knew why the commo sergeant was so excited. Sitting there at a table, bigger than shit, was Qari. The man’s beard was longer than it was in their most recent intel photo of the Taliban leader, but there was absolutely no doubt this was their guy. Landon and his teammates had studied photos of him from every angle for days on end, then quizzed each other by picking their target out of situational lineups. Every member of the team knew Qari’s face better than his mother probably did.

“That’s our man,” Landon confirmed. “Call in air support.”

Diaz turned to follow out his instructions, but then stopped and pressed his hand to his earpiece the way he always did when he listened to something on the radio. He frowned as he spoke into the mic. “Say again, all after ‘abort.’”

Landon did a double take. Who the hell would be calling an abort now?

Diaz looked at Landon, a stunned expression on his face. “Captain, we’ve been ordered to break contact and immediately move back to the extraction point.”

“Did you tell them we have Qari in our sights and were about to call in air support?”

“Yes, sir, but it was the old man himself, and he didn’t give a shit. He wants us at the landing zone yesterday.”

Landon swore under his breath. The original plan was for his team to head to the landing zone once the mission was done, unless there was an emergency. There wasn’t an emergency and their mission wasn’t done, so why the hell would the battalion commander order them to bail? He and his team had been after Qari ever since they’d come to this country. To be pulled out now, when the big payoff was at hand, was nuts. Who knew what information they could find in that compound?

Resisting the urge to get on the radio and argue with the commander, Landon barked orders to get the gear packed.

They got to the landing zone two hours later to find a Black Hawk waiting for them, rotors turning. Landon immediately headed for it, only to stop when his executive officer, Major Bennett, stepped off the bird. Some serious shit had obviously hit the fan for the battalion’s executive officer to be out here.

“Major,” he said.

“Captain.” Bennett surveyed Landon’s teammates with a critical eye before turning back to him. “You’re the only one who’s going out on the Black Hawk. I’m taking over your team.”

He sure as hell hadn’t expected that. No formalities. No Hey, great job finding Qari. Just a harsh, straightforward I’m taking over your team.

Landon glanced over his shoulder to see his teammates looking at him in disbelief. He felt as if he’d just been hit with a ton of bricks. Well, he wasn’t going anywhere without some answers. That might take time, though, and he didn’t want his guys exposed out there while he got them.

“Set up a perimeter,” he said to Angelo, then turned back to Bennett. “Sir, am I being relieved of command, and if so, why?”

“No, Captain, you’re not. You came down on orders. That’s why you’re being pulled out.”

Orders? He could have handled a kick in the balls easier. “In the middle of a fucking mission? Sir, we’re not due to rotate back for another month.”

“Captain, I can’t explain it and I’m not going to try. Battalion received the word barely three hours ago. The old man personally finalized the transfer orders himself and told me to put you on that bird ASAP.” Bennett’s mouth tightened. “No matter how I have to do it.”

Landon looked around at his team. They’d followed his order to position themselves around the helicopter to provide security in case of an attack, but all of their attention was focused on him. They looked just as bewildered as he was.

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