Hard Core Online - Jennifer Lowery

Chapter 1

Remote Island off the coast of Nicaragua

Slade belly-crawled across the jungle floor. Patience and stealth: both were essential if he wanted to survive. He checked the Gerber knife strapped to his thigh, felt the weight of the rifle slung across his back. His gaze locked on the man casually smoking a cigar in the distance. Cuban, by the scent of it.

Perspiration trickled between his shoulder blades. God, he hated the dark, dank jungle. His lungs ached when he breathed in the thick, wet air. He preferred his beach house on the west coast or penthouse in Chicago. At this point he’d be grateful for the rustic cabin he kept in the Rockies.

He continued to drag his body through the dense underbrush. The sting of an insect bit into the exposed area of skin on his neck. His shoulders tensed with effort to resist slapping it. To slap at it and take his focus off the objective could be fatal. He let the insect take its fill and move on.

Fifteen feet now. Close enough to see the color of the mark’s eyes. Slade settled into a prone position, body slack. He positioned the FRF-2 on solid ground and sighted down the scope, his finger wrapped feather-light around the trigger.

The cacophony of monkeys screeching in the trees faded to the slow, steady rise and fall of his own chest. The soft thrum of his heartbeat. A bead of sweat trickled down his cheek. Bugs swarmed his head. Some went in for a bite or sting, but he didn’t waver from the target.

The man in his sights crossed one leg over the other, inhaled deeply on his cigar and blew out a lazy stream of smoke, unaware he was in the enemy’s crosshairs. Slade’s finger tightened on the trigger.

A noise which didn’t belong registered before he could pull the trigger. Cold steel of a gun barrel pressed against his temple.

“Let go of the weapon.” A hard, accented voice gave the order.

Slade let his hands slide off his rifle and drop to the ground.

“On your back. Slowly.”

Slade rolled and drove a booted foot it into the guy’s knee, bringing him to the ground with a grunt of pain. Within seconds Slade pinned the guy beneath him, a knife to his throat and an arm locked behind his back, dangerously close to breaking it.

“You’re making a big mistake,” the guy choked out. Little drops of blood pebbled where the razor sharp edge of Slade’s knife pressed against his flesh.

The distinct click of numerous guns cocking, one after the other, echoed through the jungle. Slade mentally counted ten of them, locked and loaded, and aimed at him.

He dropped the knife, let go of the man’s arm and raised his hands in surrender.

“You should not have done that.” Pain exploded in the back of his head. The ground slammed into him before everything went black.

* * * *

A punch to the ribs knocked Slade and the chair to the floor. He landed hard on his shoulder with a grunt, kicking up a cloud of dust.

Recon when he’d come to had revealed cement walls without windows and a steel door with a heavy lock. Not a room a prisoner escaped. Built for interrogation–not the first he’d been in–definitely soundproofed.

He breathed shallowly through aching ribs and braced for the next round of interrogation. One man demanded answers as to why he’d had the jefe in his sights and two others did his dirty work. None of which he would answer. He would die before he betrayed the group he worked for.

A pair of hands dragged him off the floor and forced him back in the chair. The scent of Cuban cigars penetrated his nose. El jefe.

“You haven’t uttered one word since you were brought here.” The mark, Gavin Ross–an American–spoke, narrowed green eyes curious as he studied Slade. He clasped his hands behind his back. “Your will is commendable, if not foolish. We both know you cannot hold out forever.”

Slade remained silent.

“What I can’t figure out is which agency hired you to kill me. FBI? DEA? No, the CIA. This stinks of their work. You’re very good, I’ll give you that. You got closer to me than anyone ever has. Military background? Marine, maybe? I doubt it was the Navy. You don’t have the devotion with this career choice. I’ll go with Marine. Sniper. Am I close?”

Slade said nothing. He wouldn’t disillusion the man by telling him he was partially right. He’d been military, but not anymore.

“You choose silence?