Chapter 5

Edge of Defiance

Derrick knew as soon as he made it to the briefing room with his ruck in hand that this wasn’t an exercise. His CO didn’t have the devil’s glint in his eye he usually did when he pulled the unit in for a week of what he called fun training. No, by the stony demeanor of the man’s face, this was the real deal. Derrick wasn’t getting home anytime soon.

But he was okay with that, he almost snarled to himself. He’d busted his ass to get to where he was, going through hellish training in order to prove he belonged with the best. Fuck. He was not going to regret leaving Cassie. She was just a girl he liked. He looked at his team sitting in chairs around the table, all proven hard men who’d give their life for him and vice versa. They all lived on or near base. He’d been the furthest away and they’d been waiting.

Maybe he could get Cassie to move closer to the base?

“Sorry, I’m late, Sir.”

His CO only nodded at a chair before pulling up a map.

Iraq.

No. He wasn’t going home anytime soon.

 

* * *

 

 

Cassie pulled her bike into her parking spot in the lot behind her building. The weather had turned hot and she pulled off her leather jacket as she strode to the front doors.

It had been four weeks since she’d heard from Derrick. She didn’t know if he was still on his mission, if he’d come home hurt from it, or if she’d been dumped in the worst way possible. Would someone inform her if he’d been hurt or…? Her mind veered from the unspeakable. She’d had too many nightmares lately where Derrick lay dead in dessert and she wandered blindly looking for him. Knowing he was out there, but unable to find him.

Please let Derrick be okay.

She almost hoped she’d been dumped.

She jerked open the glass door of the building. Jesus, she had it bad. She fumbled for her keys and opened the little metal box to check if she had any mail. A bill, a pamphlet for a new pizza place, and a thick envelope. She flipped it over and sucked in a breath.

Addressed to Cassandra Grant. It was from Global News in Toronto.

Her fingers trembled as she opened it, her heart thundering as she read.

They’d loved her piece about the gay marriage. She’d been accepted for the intern position.

She held the letter to her chest and grinned. She’d been accepted. Her grin faded. She had to move to Toronto in four weeks.

Would Derrick even be home by then?

 

* * *

Derrick adjusted the magnification on his night scope. The house screamed abandoned, from its sand and weed filled yard, to the crumbling stone half-wall surrounding it. The family inside was always careful not to let any light shine through the cracked front window.

But Derrick observed the back of the house from the alley. The blinds had been left open in the kitchen. The wife placed plates of food on the table lit by a single candle before turning and calling out something. She still wore her hijab, maybe because she’d left the windows open. It was stinking hot and night seemed to be the only time any semblance of a breeze could be felt in this maze of a city. Three children under age ten rushed into the kitchen, smiling and laughing. The woman moved about them with the grace of a dancer.

Her delicate features scrunched up as she laughed at something one child said. Something about her, or the way she moved reminded him of Cassie. It had been six weeks since he’d seen Cassie and he tried not to think of her, though she invaded what little sleep he got on this mission.

Damn it. She was taking over his thoughts again. The other men on his team had girlfriends and wives, but Derrick didn’t see any of them mooning over their partners. How did they stay focused? He clenched his teeth.

Focus on the mission.

He scanned the street in front of the house, ignoring the woman inside. His team had been tracking their tango for weeks now. Tonight they’d finally execute the snatch and grab operation. If all went well his men would take the tango before the insurgent made it to the front yard.

His comms came to life in his ear. “This is Bravo Four. Tango sighted. Two cars. Four men each.”

“Copy Bravo Four. Wait out,” he replied. “Bravo Two report.”

“Bravo Two,” his sergeant responded. “All clear.”

His sergeant covered their escape route and waited by the car. Derrick and the other three men would take out the guards from their covered positions and grab the leader before reinforcements came. Simple and quick.

Then he could go home to Cassie.

No! He slammed that mental door shut. He would not allow thoughts of her to interfere with this mission.

He started to through the backyard to get to the front of the house, keeping an eye on the kitchen window. He keyed his mic. “Bravo Three, Bravo Four this is Bravo One. Oscar Mike,” he said, letting them know he was on the move to the front of the house. “Wait for the cars to stop. Take out the drivers first.”

He could see the cars pulling up now. The woman inside the house turned toward the street, a smile on her face. She waved her hands at the children and they all left the room.

Shit. Was she taking the kids outside to meet their father? This could turn into a clusterfuck.

He shook his head. It didn’t matter. Their orders were to retrieve the insurgent leader. He ran silently to the front of the house keeping below the half wall.

The cars stopped on the street. The engines cut off. The silence held for a second.

“Bravo Three. Green.”

“Bravo Four. Green.”

His men signaled that they had the drivers in their sights.

“Fire,” he said.

The shots sounded like one crack as they ripped through the night and the windows of the vehicles, creating a spider web of broken glass. Yelling sounded from inside the vehicle. Two more shots not quite as coordinated and two more men-one from each vehicle-jerked and went still. Shouts echoed. A car door opened.

Crack.

The man who tried to exit collapsed with a bullet in the brain.

Derrick lifted his rifle and waited as his two best snipers demolished the men in the vehicles before they’d had a chance to form a plan. Derrick advanced slowly to the lead car. The target was in the back seat.

“Anyone have eyes on our tango?” he asked.

“Negative,” his men both replied.

So the tango was hiding low in the back, probably with a weapon, ready to blow Derrick’s brains out. Derrick’s pulse thudded hard but steady.

“Come out with your hands up,” he called out in Arabic. “You have ten seconds before I throw a grenade in the car.”

He waited a few seconds. Then he took the grenade from the front of his utility vest. He pulled the pin and tossed it through the shattered front window to land in the back seat.

A man shrieked. The back door flew open and a wiry man with a beard and wearing a long white tunic and pants scrambled from the car. He carried a weapon and turned to fire.

Derrick had been expecting that and fired a single shot into the man’s upper right arm. The weapon dropped and the man bellowed in pain, still staggering away.

“Stop or I will shoot,” Derrick yelled in Arabic.

The man’s wild gaze traveled back to the car and the grenade waiting inside.

Derrick chuckled. “It’s a dud. It won’t explode. But it’s sure useful for getting a fuck like you out and into the open. Now get down on your knees.”

“No!” a woman cried out behind him, running footsteps came closer.

“Bravo Three, watch my six,” he said into his mic.

“Wilco.”

Derrick pulled a Browning 9MM from his thigh holster and without looking pointed it in the direction of the footsteps. The wife gasped.

“I will shoot you and your wife if I have to,” Derrick warned the man. “Tell her to go back inside.”

The man scowled but did as he bid, yelling at the woman when she argued against the order. One of his men came across the street after having left his rooftop sniper position.

“I’ve got her covered, sir,” he said.

Derrick lowered his Browning but didn’t put it away until he heard the door of the house shut. Within moments his team had the insurgent leader hooded, tied and in the trunk of their sedan.

Now they just had to get him out of the city and to their people. Then the mission would be over.

He glanced at his sergeant who drove through the deserted streets like a native. The thrill of a successful mission made him grin. “One more for the good guys.”

“Fucking A, sir. Now you can get home to that girl that’s got you all twisted up.”

“What?” Derrick’s adrenaline high skidded and crashed. He scowled.

His sergeant laughed. “We’ve all noticed it, sir. You’re not quite on your game.” He shook his head when Derrick would have said something. “It hasn’t affected anything. But we can all tell you’ve got someone you’re thinking about.”

“Fuck,” Derrick muttered. He thought he’d been hiding his distraction. The fact that his team could tell? That wasn’t good. This had to stop.

“It’s okay, sir,” his sergeant said. “It happens to the best of us.”

Not to him. Not after all he’d gone through to get where he was.

He had to end it with Cassie.

 

* * *

Two months.

It had been two months since Cassie had heard from Derrick. She put thoughts of him out of her mind as she wrapped up the last mug from her kitchen cupboard in paper towel. She put the mug beside the rest of her kitchen supplies in a cardboard box, before taping it shut and stacking it with the other boxes filled with her life.

As a student she hadn’t acquired much and everything she had fit into five boxes and two duffle bags. She was leaving in the morning. She decided to pack the car and grab breakfast to go tomorrow. She’d given away most of her furniture, the rest would be picked up by a friend. All she had left was her bed and a single lamp.

She glanced at her cell phone.

Of course, there were no messages.

And no emails either.

No contact at all.

When would he get back? Was he alright?

She shook her head before she could go down that rabbit hole of depression. Time to get ready for bed. She’d already decided. When she left the apartment behind, she was also leaving Derrick.

For good.

 

* * *

 

Derrick eyed his bunk in the barracks. Exhaustion made his shoulders slump. Two months. It had been two fucking months since he’d spoken to Cassie. He’d missed her too much, so much his team had noticed.

He couldn’t let that happen again. He wasn’t some lovesick fool who’d end up married to a girl who hated his job.

He’d made a decision. He’d have to cut Cassie out of his life. And he was going to start by just grabbing some much needed shut-eye here rather than running to her as soon as he landed.

He sat on his bunk and pulled out his cell. She deserved a call from him at least. Just to let her know that he was okay. That’s all that he was doing.

She picked it up on the first ring.

“Derrick?” Her voice held hope.

His chest expanded as too many emotions rushed through him, at the same time his throat constricted and he couldn’t speak.

“Derrick?” Her voice now held a touch of panic.

He spoke quickly, his voice hoarse with the need to sooth her. “It’s me. I’m here.”

“Oh Derrick, I’ve missed you.”

His shoulders loosened. “Me too.”

“Are you back? Can you come see me?”

All thoughts of his decisions went out the window. “I’m on my way.”

He broke speed limits driving to her apartment and he took the stairs rather than wait for the elevator. His impatience drove him and he needed the exercise to work off the need inside him, the need that had been building ever since their plane had landed in Ottawa. The need he’d suppressed these past two months, the one to see her, to touch her. The one that said, get to her, get to her.

She waited in her doorway, staring at the elevator. He grinned as he strode down the hall, the stairwell door swung closed, drawing her attention.

“Derrick!” Her eyes widened at the sight of him.

Then she was in his arms and he swung her high. Her scent of vanilla and spice surrounded him and he buried his face in her neck, breathing deep and laying a kiss there. Her arms tightened around him and something inside him that had been stretched taut, loosened.

He kissed her then, his lips finding her soft ones unerringly. He swallowed her little gasp and stroked his tongue against hers. Jesus, he’d missed her. He pushed open her door with his foot and carried her inside her apartment.