About the Author Jodie Bailey is an avid reader and a life-long writer. When not tapping at the keyboard, she teaches middle schoolers how to love the written word and follows her Army husband around the country. Jodie is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and daughter. Read more Excerpt. ? Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. The explosion blasted a tidal wave of sound through the yellow cinder block walls, rocking the building like an earthquake.Army Chief Warrant Officer Cassidy Matthewss hands flew to the back of her head. She dived for cover on the floor, cracking her forehead against the top of the desk. Her sinuses rattled. Stars shot through her vision. For an instant, the room evaporated, and the foul oiliness that permeated the air of Iraq overwhelmed her.Only this wasnt Baghdad.Mac! She shook her head to clear her vision and inventoried the room. No blast holes in the wall. Roof intact. No smoke. But where was Master Sergeant Mclntyre? Hed been standing right in front of her not ten seconds earlier. Planting her hands on her desk, Cassidy pushed herself to her feet just as Mac braced his hands opposite hers and rose to meet her eyes.Macs eyes scanned the room. You okay, Chief?With a quick nod, Cassidy ducked around the older man and headed for the windows that overlooked the enormous wooden tables on the parachute packing floor below. The few riggers who were packing their quota of static line chutes before lunch raced for the door, their muffled shouts a strong indicator that whatever went off was right outside the large concrete and cinder block Eighty-Second Airborne Rigger Shed.She whirled to Mac. Get down there. Stop them from exiting the building before we know whats going on. The last thing we need is?To draw fire if this is some kind of setup?Cassidys exhale almost echoed off the walls of her office. Not on Fort Bragg. Surely they were safe here. Corral them the best you can.Sergeant Erin Landon appeared in the doorway, wisps of her wavy brown hair straggling from the knot beneath her red riggers cap. Sweat sheened her forehead, which creased her porcelain skin into deep lines over dark blue eyes. Chief, Private Andersons car just went up in the parking lot.With a glance back, Mac disappeared out the door.Andersons car? Where is Anderson? Right now? Please dont say hes in his car. Cassidy snatched the phone and dialed 9-1-1, the receiver quaking in her hand. Find him. Make sure hes? The words refused to come. Anderson was a green private, new to the company as of a couple of months ago, fresh out of basic and rigger school. He couldnt be more than nineteen.She had to know all of her soldiers were okay. Never mind. As the operator answered, she thrust the phone at Landon. Tell them whats going on. Without waiting to see if the sergeant followed her order, she brushed past her, racing for the stairs.Lungs burning and heart thumping so hard he could hear it, Major Shane Logan pushed harder and tried to keep a line of sight on the man he pursued across the parking lot. It got harder by the second. The advantage tipped the wrong way. The July heat worked against him in his desert boots and Army Combat Uniform. The man ahead of him wore jeans and running shoes. Every thud of foot on pavement reinforced the difference.The pair plunged into a maze of shipping containers on the back side of the parking lot. By the time Shane skidded around the corner of the second trailer-sized container, the man had disappeared. His eyes roamed the sea of identical tractor trailer-sized containers and stopped. The guy could be anywhere.Sweat burned his eyes. How did he get here anyway? If this day had gone as planned, by now hed have a soda in his hand, baseball on the TV and two weeks of vacation stretching before him. He should have minded his own business. Instead, he had to come and see for himself whether or not what his interpreter in Afghanistan had told him was true. Someone was using the parachutes returning from the war zone to smuggle Afghan opium into the country.The smart move would have been to let the authorities handle it, but no. Hed shown up in time to spot someone bolt from a souped-up Honda near the building just before it exploded in a shower of flame.The container door twanged a hollow rattle as he slapped his palm against it. Shane gave up the chase and dropped against white-hot metal. He propped his hands on his knees, gulping thick air that didnt do anything to slow his heart rate.Shouts and sirens overtook the pounding in his ears as his body settled down. Pressing his hands against the container, he pushed himself upright and trudged toward his truck.The torched Honda lofted oily smoke into the air. Yellow fire trucks rounded the corner with sirens squealing and pulled into the parking lot, firemen at the ready.Shane reached his truck and snatched his cell phone off the seat in disgust. No power. The battery in the thing died on a whim if it wasnt plugged in nightly. Fat lot of help it was right now.He let his eyes drift toward the fire as he pocketed the device. Through the smoke, soldiers gathered on the far side of the parking lot. One stood apart from the others, shoulders slumped until he almost bent double. Probably his car. Poor kid. No telling how much of his enlistment bonus hed dropped on jazzing that thing up.Shane leaned his hip against the side of the truck and crossed his arms, waiting for the Military Police to arrive so he could describe what hed seen. Because all hed gotten a good look at was a black T-shirt and jeans, he doubted anything he said would do much good. At least he could convince them this most likely wasnt an accident.Movement at the near end of the loading dock caught his eye. A side door opened, and two other soldiers?a middle-aged man and a tall, slim blonde?stepped out. They stopped to view the carnage, and she appeared to give orders before he walked off and she turned in Shanes direction.His heart, which had returned to normal after his full-tilt flight across the parking lot, thudded to his feet. He straightened and squinted against the sunlight. It couldnt be her. It just ..couldnt be.Before he could duck and cover, she pivoted on one heel and stalked across the loading dock in the direction of the soldiers on the other side of the lot.Releasing the breath he hadnt realized he held, Shane sidestepped toward the bed of his truck to keep her in view. It was her all right. In almost a decade, her stride hadnt changed.Scattered thoughts clicked like tumblers in a lock. It appeared she was in charge of the rigger shed. Everything his contact had told him pointed to?Cold sweat broke out along his back. It all indicated his ex-wife was the target.Nitrous? Over the fuel line? Genius. Cassidy wanted to pound her palm against her forehead. The amount of money some of these guys poured into their cars?either to look cool or to boost the engines for street races?could buy her an early retirement and a house on the coast. She stopped herself before she rolled her eyes heavenward.Private Andersons chin dipped, and his shoulders tipped forward before he caught himself and straightened. He was wound so tight even his close-cropped red hair seemed to shiver.Is that even legal, because Im pretty sure its not street legal? Cassidy looked over the privates shoulder at Master Sergeant McIntyre, who shrugged and shook his head. She turned her attention to the younger man. You hooked nitrous to your car last night. In the barracks parking lot, under the supervision of your buddies who have zero experience in the process. Am I tracking? Have I got it straight?We didnt actually leave it hooked up, maam. I think thats the illegal part. Anderson stared at a spot just over her shoulder. Maam.Oh, how she wanted to confine this kid to quarters for walking the line just this side of stupid. But it wasnt her place to dish out that kind of discipline and, try as she might, she couldnt find one single thing hed actually done wrong. I really, really hope you had your car insured.At the hint of his charred vehicle, the privates expression slipped even further. I did, he muttered.Doubt theyll cover after-market parts like nitrous, though.I dont think the nitrous? He shook his head. Ill check, maam.Cassidy bit the inside of her lip. It was already well past the end of the duty day, a day in which the investigation ate up their time and put them behind on the number of parachutes packed for the Eighty-Second Airborne Divisions soldiers. The chute riggers would have been finished and gone already if the fireworks in the parking lot hadnt locked them all down until the investigators found the source of ignition. Go ahead. Youre dismissed. And youre lucky this little stunt didnt get your buddies all stuck here for the whole weekend. Its a post-9/11 world. Nobody likes it when things go boom on a military base. She waved a hand toward the door. Keep me posted on what happens, and I have a pretty strong hunch the commander will want to meet with you sooner rather than later when he gets back.Snapping a salute, Anderson was out the door, through the outer office, and already on the stairs before Cassidy could blink.She looked from the door to McIntyre as she sank against the front of her desk. Think hes scared?More like grief-stricken. His baby just went bye-bye. A guy like Anderson would sooner break up with a hot girlfriend than get a scratch on his car. Imagine what this kind of carnage is doing to his soul. He leaned against the door frame and crossed his arms over the rank on his chest. Hell get over it eventually. Think about it. The kid just bought himself legend status in the Division. Hell forever be the guy whose car went up like the Fourth of July in the parking lot of the rigger shed. Theyll still talk about him when theyre in their seventies and swappin stori... Read more
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