Today's Reading

Bethan had been highly trained in a variety of scenarios. She'd signed up for the army right out of high school, mostly to appall her high-ranking air force general father. But then, spite enlistment or not, she'd loved basic training. She'd loved it when she got into psyops, too, and for a time, she'd greatly enjoyed her work as an interpreter, translator, and interrogator, connected to highly classified missions all over the world. It was after one of those missions—the one where she'd met Jonas, though neither one of them ever spoke of it—that she'd decided she wanted to be able to do more. To 'do something', on a grand scale.

That had led her to becoming one of the very few women to ever make it through Army Ranger School.

But the army hadn't given her what she wanted, and now she was here. Using all her years of army training to stay calm in the face of provocation. Whether it was a building that shouldn't have blown up or Jonas freaking Crow.

"Proceed," Jonas ordered her.

"I have you covered," Griffin said, cold and precise.

Bethan's gut was working overtime, but courage wasn't the absence of fear. It was using it as fuel. She eased out of her protected position, squinting past the billowing smoke from what they'd had down as a meaningless outbuilding in this creepy, abandoned place. She could feel eyes on her, no doubt friend and foe alike, and wished she were in full combat gear—but that wasn't how they were playing this.

She quickly considered her options. The inhabited ruined building was directly across the square from where she was. The original plan had been for her to take the long way, skulking around the back of what was left of the row of houses where she'd been squatting. Then find a way in through a window that was almost certainly alarmed, if not actively guarded.

Bethan hadn't seen any guards yet. And it was always possible that someone was blowing stuff up on the outskirts of this crumbling ruin of a mining town for reasons that had nothing to do with why she was here. Anything was 'possible.'

But the more likely scenario was that there were guards, and those guards knew Alaska Force was here. And that they'd expressed themselves with a little C-4 as a welcoming gift, so there was no point sneaking around anymore.

Bethan stood. Then she sauntered around the corner of the ruined house like she was out for a stroll somewhere civilized. She headed across the arid dirt square, in the kind of broad desert daylight that made her lungs hurt, to go knock on what passed for the front door opposite.

"I like it," Rory said with a quiet laugh from his position around the far flank of the building she was approaching. "A frontal assault always confuses them."

"Shock and awe, baby," August agreed.

Jonas, naturally, was completely silent.

Bethan knocked. The sound echoed strangely out here, with the Andes towering in the distance and that profound, if deceptive, emptiness all around. She knew how American she was, because she wanted to see a tumbleweed roll by, or a creaking saloon door, or the beginning twangs of a Wild West theme. But there was nothing.

Bethan knocked again. Louder.

She could feel all the targets up and down her back as she stood there. As if the eyes on her were punching into the light everyday tactical gear she wore, and worse, directly into the back of her deliberately uncovered head.

Look how friendly and approachable I am, her clothes were meant to proclaim across the desert, to all the various bad guys lurking around. No need to shoot.

Every single alarm inside her body was screaming bloody murder and she wanted nothing more than to duck, cover, and hide. Instead, she stood tall. Because she knew the fact she wasn't visibly cowed was as much of a statement as a blast of C-4. A bigger one, maybe.

"I know you're in there," Bethan said through the makeshift door, leaning against the gutted wall beside it as if she felt nothing but casual, here in the middle of a creepy, abandoned desert village in a place even the few hardy locals avoided. "The trouble is, everyone knows you're in there. And sooner or later, they're going to come. All of them. And they won't knock at the door, as I think you know. They'll come right in—if they haven't already."...

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