Red Team Boxed Set, Volume 1By: Elaine Levine
THE EDGE OF COURAGE
A Red Team Novel by
THE EDGE OF COURAGE - BOOK BLURB
Step into Elaine Levine's exciting new series of alpha warriors--products of the government's secret corps of assassins called the Red Team:
Haunted by memories he cannot reach, stalked by an enemy bent on revenge . . .
Rocco Silas has come home to Wyoming after long years as a Red Team operative in Afghanistan. It isn't easy returning to civilian life, especially burdened as he is with a staggering case of PTSD or hunted as he is by an enemy determined to seek an eye-for-eye--neither of which can he battle until he confronts the truth of what happened one fateful day in the high mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush.
. . . She alone holds the key to his sanity.
Mandy Fielding's dream of opening a therapeutic riding center on her family's ranch is almost within her grasp--until she hires Rocco Silas, a dangerous ex-Spec Ops friend of her brother's. His haunted eyes and passionate touch promise a love she never dared believe possible. Can they confront the truth of his past and build a future together or will the enemy stalking him destroy them both?
Length: Approximately 367 pages
Ages: 18 & up (story contains sex, profanity, and violence)
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He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t hear, couldn’t stand, but his goddamned eyes could still see. Everything.
Women hurried in random directions, their faces filled with terror, their mouths open and straining with silent screams. Most of them were still in their house clothes, exposed in their panic to the eyes of men. Children were clinging to their mothers. Others cried where they stood. Or worse, lay silent and bleeding in the dirt.
He pushed himself up to his elbows and looked behind him.
Dust fell like snow. Not dust. Ash. Debris rained down on him. A boot. A brick. An arm. A scream pushed its way from his gut, cut through his heart, and erupted from his mouth.
Silent, like all the others.
Rocco landed on his stomach, his hands clasped to his ears. He pulled a deep breath, felt the air scrape his raw throat, then screamed again.
And woke himself up.
People surrounded him. Faces he didn’t know. A room he couldn’t remember. Where the hell was he? Men pulled at him. The jagged noise of their shouts slammed into his head like knives. They yanked him up to a sitting position, dragged him into the light, shaking him and gesturing.
“No. Don’t. Don’t touch me!” he shouted to everyone around him, in this reality and the one he’d just left. “Don’t touch! Get the fuck off me!” They looked at him with odd expressions.
Christ, what language was he speaking? He looked at his clothes, seeking a clue from what he wore where he might be. He had jeans and a T-shirt on. Not a shalwar kameez. He was not in Afghanistan, then. He should have spoken in English or Spanish.
“What’s he saying?” one of the men asked the others.
“Who the hell knows? He’s still hallucinating. Shit, can’t a man get a little sleep?”
“It ain’t English. You heard him.”
“It’s Pashto. I served over there. I know that language. Look at him. He ain’t American. He’s a Pashtun, a goddamned haji.”
More men gathered around, frowning, reaching toward him. He pushed himself back with the heels of his bare feet, shoving and tearing at the people around him as he did a crab-walk shuffle to the nearest wall. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get free. And the blood. The blood was everywhere. Tears spilled down his cheeks. He let loose a roar and shoved again at everyone around him, punching them, warning them.
But it was too late.
The burned flesh was already drying, sticking to him, to them, to everything. He leaned to his side, bucking against the dry heaves squeezing his ribs. He sucked in a harsh breath, smelled the smoke of the burning village, and heaved again.
Rocco leaned against the wall as he wiped the spit off his mouth with the back of his hand. The cinderblock was cold through his sweat-dampened T-shirt. Keeping his eyes closed, he drew small breaths through his mouth. He didn’t dare smell the air, fearing it would stink of smoke and ash and burning flesh. This world and the other kept flashing in and out, back and forth, like a TV that flipped between two channels. He squeezed his head between his fisted hands, trying to make it settle on a single reality.
Let it have been a dream. Just a dream. Nausea writhed in his stomach like a living thing. God, he couldn’t take seeing Kadisha’s home collapse again, tracking the cloud of dust that had risen from what had been her house. It wasn’t real, this. It was a dream.
He cautiously opened his eyes. Someone had switched on the fluorescent panels, flooding the room with sterile, white light. He looked around, blinking, unable to reconcile where he found himself with where he’d just been—where his soul still was.
“Everything all right?” Reverend Daniels asked. He leaned toward Rocco, but didn’t touch him.
“Hell no, it’s not all right, Rev,” one of the men said. “You heard him screaming. All of Cheyenne heard it. Ain’t none of us can get any sleep with him here.”
Rocco looked at the man who spoke. In deference to the minister, his fellow vagrants had moved a few steps away. But they stood in a tight circle, staring at him as if he’d sprouted feet out his ears. The bus from DC had dropped him here three days ago. Faithful Heart Homeless Shelter. A holy fucking Mecca to all drifters, hungry and lost men, women and children.
“You ain’t lettin’ him stay, are you, Reverend?”
“He does this every night. He could hurt someone.”
Rocco’s gaze slashed toward the new speaker. He could hurt someone. It would be so easy. He bent his ankle, feeling for the strap of his knife’s sheath. It was gone. All of his weapons were gone. No matter. An arm around the forehead, a quick twist. The end would be the same.
Sweet, goddamn silence.
“I’m sorry, son. I’m afraid they’re right.” The minister set his hand on Rocco’s shoulder. Rocco jerked free, sending a quick look from his arm to the preacher to see if the blackened flesh had moved.
It didn’t. Of course it didn’t. It wasn’t real. He held his arms up and looked at them, seeing only his bare skin, damp with sweat. He felt like vomiting again, but knew nothing would come up. He’d not eaten since he’d been here. He’d taken only water as his body rid itself of the meds the shrinks had pushed on him at Walter Reed. That shit fucked with his head. He needed to get clean, to start thinking straight.
“Get your things, son, and come see me. I’ve got some coffee on in my office,” the minister offered. Having nothing else better to do, Rocco moved to his cot. Someone had set it back upright. He shoved his feet into his still-new combat boots, struck by the oddity that after ten years’ service, he didn’t have a pair of boots that was broken in. Forcing himself to stay focused, stay present, he grabbed his jacket and green duffel bag, then followed the older man.
Reverend Daniels poured two cups of coffee. He was stirring sugar and powdered creamer into one. “How do you like yours?”
Rocco ignored the question. Answering it would involve too many decisions about preferences he didn’t have. And way too many words. He shrugged. He’d drink it however it was served him. It wasn’t as if food tasted like anything anyway. He took the proffered mug and sat in one of the chairs in front of the minister’s desk.
“You got a place to go, son?”
“Yeah.” That’s why he was staying in this shithole.
“You serve overseas?”
“Come back recently?”
Rocco sighed and leaned forward, scrubbing a hand over his face. The inquisition made him nervous. All he needed was for the helpful minister to put a call in to Walter Reed. They’d send a couple of muscles out with a straitjacket for him. Hell, they could come right over from F. E. Warren. He set the mug on the desk and stood.
“Thanks, Reverend, for the coffee, the place to crash.” Rocco slung his duffel over his shoulder and made his way outside. It was a few hours to morning. The chilly spring air cooled his fiery skin. Shoving a hand in his pocket, he dug out the key to the old Ford truck he’d picked up. He tossed his duffel in the truck bed and climbed inside. The vinyl seat was cold, the steering wheel like ice. He leaned his forehead on the hard, cracked surface.
Pressure had been building in his head since he woke, expanding his skull, throbbing against his eyes. He grew still, pretending his brain hadn’t become an IED about to detonate.
Maybe it didn’t matter. None of it. Maybe a person could will himself to die. Just stop breathing.
But if he died, who would save his son?
He dragged a breath into his lungs. And another. And then they came in rapid, ragged gasps.
God, he was fucked.
The cell phone’s shrill ring was loud in the morning’s still air. Rocco let it go unanswered. He tucked his hands deeper under his arms then rolled to his back, his legs still folded uncomfortably in the short length of his truck’s bench seat.
The phone rang again. How the hell was he even getting reception out here in the empty prairie outside Cheyenne? When he left the shelter, he’d driven to the ranch where he’d lived as a kid, only to find it was a ghost of its former self. No cattle dotted the wide range. The main house was abandoned and badly in need of maintenance. The outbuildings were gray and buckling from years of Wyoming’s savage weather.