by Becky Harmon
Nikki Mitchell found a home when she joined Flagler Security as an undercover agent over ten years ago. It didn’t take long for Nikki to completely immerse herself inside the organization, easily adapting to the secrecy that was essential to the job. That is until she becomes Mel Carter’s next mark.
Mel has her own secret mission—finding the leak that is putting every agent’s life at risk. Willing to do whatever necessary to accomplish her assignment, Mel’s suspicions have settled squarely on Nikki and her team. Could Nikki possibly be the leak that Mel is determined to find and bring to justice?
Completely dedicated to their individual missions, the lives of both women become tangled as personal and professional lines begin to blur. With the danger so real and the stakes so high, they risk it all in search of the truth—not quite knowing where their safety truly lies.
The Lesbian Review
I took pleasure in reading this book and it was exciting to see such sexiness written into an action book. If you are an action reader and looking for a book with engagement and some passionate loving, I'd recommend this book.
Lesbian Reading Room
This is a refreshing combination of storyline. Despite the hot romance the action adventure keeps on coming. The plot is full of suspense and definitely creates an intriguing page turner. Excellent debut novel, look forward to reading more, whether it is a sequel/series or something completely different. Definitely one to watch.
Rainbow Book Reviews
This debut novel is an action-packed tale of security agents Nikki Mitchell and Mel Carter, who both work for the same private agency but on opposing sides. Both agents are strong women; they did not get the jobs they have by not being so. And yet what Harmon reveals as we learn more about them is that they each carry vulnerabilities when it comes to matters of the heart. There's a great lurch in the plot later on that I didn't expect that ramps up the drama in a very satisfying way, and leads to an equally satisfying conclusion. Fast-paced, good characterizations, lots of action and a nice love story in tandem—there isn't much more I could want from this kind of story. A good debut, and I'm intrigued to see what Harmon will write next.
“You have a go, Sierra One.”
Nikki took a deep breath before responding into the headset microphone that rested along her cheek. “Roger,” she said softly. Without moving the rest of her body, she switched the rifle’s safety off with her thumb. Slowing her breathing, she made a final check on the wind direction before gently pulling the trigger. The rifle gave a small kick as her target exploded. Flipping the switch back to safe, Nikki silently rolled over and moved to a sitting position.
She had barely found her feet before she heard Mission Control say the words she hoped to never hear during a mission. “Your position has been compromised, Sierra One.” She cradled the rifle to her chest and began running in the direction of her team. There wasn’t time to wait on Brad to secure her weapon. She listened to multiple voices in her headset as the team ran through its evacuation protocol.
“Move, move, move,” Brad demanded as she searched the trees in front of her, willing him to appear. “Come on, Nikki. Get here. Now.”
A flash of light to her right warned her of the upcoming explosion and she veered to the left, trying to avoid it. The impact pushed her forward and she struggled to remain standing. Her legs worked quickly to find their rhythm again. When she could no longer feel the heat from the fire on her back, she slowed to a steady jog and smiled. She was going to have a talk with Josh when she returned to base. She was sure he was responsible for the location of that explosion. She was thankful there was enough of the morning sun showing in the sky to keep her vision from being hindered by the burst of light.
“It’s about time.” Brad fell into step alongside her, unzipping the rifle case in his arms.
“It’s not like I was out for a stroll.” She passed her rifle to him, and he secured it before swinging the carrying strap across his shoulders.
There was a lot of things Nikki liked about Brad, but this was one of the best sides of him. Brad didn’t carry her weapon to be chivalrous. He carried it because it made sense. His six-foot-two frame could handle the four-foot-long rifle better than hers could, especially on the run. For her and Brad, efficiency was not something they debated.
He bumped her shoulder. “That explosion looked really close to you.”
Brad laughed, but before he could comment a burst of heat and fire blocked their path. “Well, shit!” he exclaimed. “Let’s pick up the pace.” He took off through the trees and around the fire.
Nikki ducked her head, using her arms to protect her face as they skirted the flames. Clearing the heat, she watched Brad check their direction on his GPS wristband. When it came to directions outside of urban terrain, Brad was a genius. Nikki knew if their GPS should fail, Brad was equally efficient with a map and compass. She would follow him anywhere. She’d had several partners since she first joined Flagler Security, but she and Brad had been inseparable for the last five years. She considered him the brother she never had.
“Big jump coming up,” Brad called over his shoulder.
Nikki watched him take a flying leap, bending his knees to take the impact of his landing. She lost sight of him when she launched herself over the ledge behind him. She pulled her legs in close to her chest, allowing her body to roll when her feet met the ground. Thankful there wasn’t a tree in her path, she let the momentum from her jump carry her back to her feet as she cursed Brad under her breath. The fifty-pound pack they each carried on their backs didn’t seem to faze him, but on her 160-pound frame, it was unbalancing. She tightened the straps on the pack and grasped her P90 with both hands. One of the advantages to the personal defense weapon everyone on the team carried was its hands-free capability. Nikki could clip it to any piece of equipment and let it dangle until she needed it again.
“ETA.” The gravelly voice of Tyler, their team leader, sounded in her ear.
“Not more than ten,” Brad responded.
Nikki sighed and wiped the sweat from her face. Based on the information Brad had relayed, they must have a little over a mile left to cover. It appeared they were past the explosions, but Nikki still watched the tree line closely. After a while, she allowed the sound of their boots on the damp earth to soothe her and she replayed the mission. This was only a practice run. When they returned to base, Josh would give them their final briefing and then they would catch their flight. Practice would be over.
Forty-eight hours later
Nikki fought the urge to lift her head from the scope of her rifle. She listened to the nocturnal sounds of the forest surrounding her, checking them all off as normal. The gruff grunts and hoots of night monkeys broke the silence repeatedly as they defended their territory from her and Brad. Nearly thirty minutes had passed since Brad had finished his reconnaissance on the villagers and moved out of her line of sight. She calculated the distance to the village below as barely within the effective one-mile range of her M82 sniper rifle. It shouldn’t take Brad longer than twenty minutes to cover that distance, but she knew he would avoid a direct path back to their position. She listened for any sound identifying his return.
Nikki flexed her muscles to keep the circulation moving throughout her body. The seasons south of the equator were the reverse of those in Florida, so it was summer here. But now, in the early hours before daybreak, the ground was cold and hard beneath her body, and there was a pebble under her stomach that sometime in the last hour had morphed into a boulder. Taking a deep breath, she blinked her eyes several times, shifting her cheek against the cold steel of the rifle. She peered through the thermal imaging scope mounted on it and scanned the valley below, returning to rest on a group of people gathered around a campfire on the eastern edge of the village. A quick count confirmed that no one had moved out of her line of sight in the few seconds her eyes had been off them.
The display inside her scope was set to Zulu time, the universal basis for all time zones. Flagler preferred this for reports and operational briefings to avoid confusion. After years of working within multiple time zones, Nikki could quickly make the conversion from civilian time, the twenty-four-hour military time or Zulu time with barely a second thought. She mentally calculated local time. Argentina was three hours behind Zulu time and she knew from the mission briefing, sunrise was barely three hours away. She hoped instructions would come through soon so she and Brad would be able to complete this mission under the cover of darkness.
Listening intently, she heard a soft crunch of leaves and gave an involuntary shiver at what could be moving in the darkness around her. She again fought the urge to pull her eye away from the scope, not wanting to lose a visual on the target area until Brad returned. There was another rustle of leaves, and she heard Brad’s voice whisper softly through the trees, “Hot dog.” She smiled, resisting the urge to shake her head. Brad took great pleasure in creating the passwords they would use on each mission. On this mission it was all about hot dogs and their condiments.
Nikki relaxed slightly as she felt Brad slowly lower himself onto the ground beside her.
“I count fifteen people in the village,” he said softly. “All men. No women. Houses are empty and everyone is around the fire. I sent a secure text to Josh before I started back.” He shifted his position, trying to find a comfortable spot before continuing. “I’m back on the team frequency. Any word from Mission Control yet?”
“Nothing,” she whispered. She couldn’t help wondering if instructions from Josh would make things any clearer. “So we continue with the initial mission directive.”
“Watch the village and stand by for fire support.” Brad sighed. “Yeah, I got that part.”
Nikki could hear the usual frustration at lack of information in his voice. “Don’t forget to say ‘only if needed.’ Fire support only…” she paused for dramatic effect “…if needed.”
“Right. Clear and concise, as usual.”
Nikki knew he was smiling now. She liked to lighten his mood. She knew she was better at the follow-instructions-without-question attitude that Flagler expected. Missions were operated on a need-to-know basis and she understood that she didn’t need to know. Josh would consolidate incoming information from all sources and send them new data when necessary. Brad wanted more details and instructions faster. He would wait with the rest of team, of course, just not very patiently.
Brad softly broke the silence. “The buzz I heard before we left was that it was political.”
“They don’t look very political to me.”
“Political or not, they’re having one hell of a party.” Brad shifted his position again. “I wonder if they do this every night or if it’s a special occasion.”
“So all of the houses were empty?” Nikki confirmed.
“Yep, everyone is around the fire.”
“No nonparticipants already in bed?”
“A complete village party.”
“Well, all right then.” Nikki sighed. “Settle in. I have visual.”
Several hours passed as Nikki watched the sky through the trees as it lightened with the coming of the new day. Brad lay beside her with his spotter scope and they watched the villagers below pass the bottle. The details given during their flight didn’t elaborate on the identities of the villagers. Based on their appearance and the lack of women, Nikki assumed this was a farming camp. They had been told the area was sparsely populated and lacked roads capable of being traveled during the wet season. Which told her farming was the main occupation and that their families probably didn’t live nearby. Though this was the wet season and they had packed for rain, it looked like they might make it out before it came. The majority of individuals around the fire appeared to have passed out, but a handful were still talking and drinking. She couldn’t imagine that this behavior was a nightly ritual. Even fraternity boys couldn’t drink all night and function properly the next day. It did seem odd to her that no one was returning to his residence but instead choosing a spot to sleep around the fire. To her the night seemed chilly so maybe they preferred the warmth of the fire to the huts with open windows.
Nikki didn’t like to think she was targeting farmers with her rifle. Over the years, she had learned to compartmentalize the more difficult issues of her job. She trusted Flagler and the integrity of their directives for each mission. If they told her to fire, then she obeyed. Her training officer had taught her early on that hesitation could get her and her team killed. She wondered if additional instructions would follow today or if they would only be told to return, as they had on the last couple of missions. Reconnaissance and nothing more. The missions seemed insignificant to her, but apparently the information they were gathering was important.
She and Brad were considered veterans and usually worked alone. Mostly they were assigned protective details for US dignitaries traveling abroad. On those missions they were briefed thoroughly before leaving the United States and they always knew what was expected of them. Unlike this mission, where they were operating as part of a six-man team and seemed to always be in standby mode, being fed small morsels of information at a time. As part of a team, she and Brad normally worked with Tyler, the team leader, who was always accompanied by his number two man and technical genius, Shawn. The other two members had changed several times in the last two years, but Mike and Jewels had been with them for almost six months now. Mike was also a sharpshooter; Jewels was his scout. Nikki had worked a training mission once with Jewels and she had been surprised at her stealth. She was five-foot-eight, just over two hundred pounds of solid muscle, and could move like a feather, barely rustling a leaf or brushing a tree branch. Brad was equally talented even though he was at least twenty pounds heavier than Jewels. Nikki often wished she had their abilities, but somehow Flagler had managed to match each team member with their own greatest skills.
The majority of missions Flagler Security agents were sent on were shrouded in secrecy, and Nikki had discovered quickly that she liked this lifestyle. Over the years she had settled into the position and found it was easier to avoid having friends outside of Flagler rather than having to create lies to explain her absences. As for family, all she had was the foster mom and dad who had taken her in when she was ten after her parents had been killed in a car accident. Their death had taught her two things: that things she loved could be taken away and that loss was easier if she wasn’t emotionally attached. Her relationship with Brad had melted some of that coldness, but she still insisted she had the ability to control whether to love someone—or not.
The vibration on her headset signaled an incoming update. She felt Brad shift slightly and key the mic to acknowledge they were ready to receive their next directive.
A digital voice, neither male nor female, came through her headset. “Alpha One. Mission follows.”
Nikki listened closely as the message relayed from the operations center in Pensacola was disseminated to the rest of her team. Though the voice of Mission Control was digital, Nikki knew Josh Houston, the on-site leader for this mission, was giving the instructions. She didn’t necessarily need to know where the team would be headed once they all linked back up, but if anything occurred during the linkup, she would have to find the extraction point on her own. So she stored the details in the back of her mind. Beside her, Brad typed the coordinates into their GPS, in case they did need them. She heard Shawn acknowledge receipt of the mission.
Then it was her and Brad’s turn for instructions.
“Sierra One. Mission follows,” said the mechanical voice. “Lay silent support for Charlie Ten. Black Jeep approaching from the west.”
Nikki took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Designator Charlie meant CIA agents were involved and, unfortunately, that meant even less information than normal.
The mechanical voice continued, “Charlie Ten will approach village for package exchange. If mission is a success, you will receive two flashes of the vehicle’s headlights as it exits from the village. Return to the rendezvous point. If the flashes are not given, hold your position for further instructions. End message.”
She felt Brad’s hand move slowly to the mic on his shoulder and double-click it to acknowledge that the mission had been received.
Releasing a soft breath, Brad whispered, “So, all we have to do is ‘watch.’”
“Yeah,” she whispered back. “Easy enough.” She was relieved there was more to this mission than there had been to the last couple. “Watching someone do something” was a step up from reconnaissance. It meant the possibility of needing to pull the trigger, and there was nothing she took more seriously.
She slowly scanned the entire area below them again, taking a quick inventory of all fifteen bodies, each dressed in jeans or coveralls, still around the campfire. None of them looked like soldiers, but she knew from past experience that what might seem insubstantial, like men drinking and chatting, could quickly turn into a fight for her life. She hoped all of these farmers were as they appeared and that she wouldn’t have to fire upon them. She slid her finger back and forth along the trigger housing, remembering another occasion she and Brad had been on a mission to provide fire support only. A sheepherder, along with his flock, had stumbled upon their mark. He had looked harmless enough until the group of insurgents traveling with him emerged from the shadows. Luckily she had been able to take down enough of them for their mark to retreat.
The thermal imaging of her scope didn’t allow her to identify faces or expressions and she was thankful for that. Her first kills had occurred under the cover of darkness, but the cover didn’t follow her home. Despite her intensive training, after the first one she had become withdrawn and sullen, remembering the loss of her parents. Flagler had forced her to a therapist who helped her learn to separate the two situations. Now she could identify the people she saw through her scope as targets or marks. She was sorry for her part in their demise, but her trust in Flagler outweighed her regrets. She studied the few men that were still awake by the fire, trying to identify which mark would pass the package. None seemed inclined to move, but when they did, Nikki would be watching and ready to act.
It wasn’t long before she could hear the faint rumble of a vehicle in the distance.
“There he comes,” Brad said.
She didn’t respond but blinked her eyes several times to clear them. Readjusting her position to get a more secure grip, she flipped her safety off and rested her index finger along the side of the trigger housing.
“Moving,” Brad said to let her know he was not spotting for her. Less than five hundred feet in front of them, a Jeep rumbled along on the barely broken trail. Brad used the cover of the noise to pull a gel pack from his rucksack. He bit the top off and spit it back into his pack.
Keeping her eye in the scope, she opened her mouth and Brad poured the entire container of energy gel into her mouth. She held the thick goo in her mouth, letting it blend with her saliva, before swallowing the strawberry sugar mix.
She heard him take out another gel pack for himself as a flash of color moved inside her scope. “I got movement,” she said softly, alerting Brad.
Brad stuffed the empty container into his pack and grabbed his scope, settling in beside her again.
“Red shirt. Right side,” Nikki whispered.
“Got him,” Brad mumbled around the gel still soaking in his mouth.
They watched the man withdraw from the group around the fire and move into one of the surrounding huts.
“Damn,” Brad whispered. “I wish we had eyes down there. How are we supposed to know what he is doing inside that building?”
They continued to watch in silence as their thermal imaging scopes tracked his movements. After a few moments he returned with a manila envelope tucked tight against his side. He walked toward the edge of the village and the approaching vehicle. When he emerged from behind the last hut, Nikki could see him silhouetted by the lights of Charlie Ten’s Jeep. It was clear by the positioning of the vehicle that Charlie Ten was aware of the location of his fire support. He’d angled it to give them a clear view of the exchange.
Nikki watched Red Shirt through her scope, scanning as much of the area around him and the CIA agent as she could see. She counted on Brad to watch a broader area and to let her know if she needed to shift her focus. Red Shirt approached the window and passed the envelope to the hand that emerged. The inside of the vehicle was dark, despite the lightening sky, and Nikki was unable to see anything more than the silhouette of the agent. The conversation was brief and within seconds the agent had turned the Jeep around and was headed back down the firebreak flashing his lights twice. They temporarily held their position and Nikki watched Red Shirt return to the fire to take a swig from the bottle that was passed to him. As soon as the Jeep was out of earshot, Brad got quietly to his feet, securing his spotter’s scope in his pack, and then turned to assist her. Switching the safety back on, she allowed him to steady her rifle on the ground while she moved into a sitting position and the circulation slowly returned to her muscles. Brad detached the bipod and ammunition magazine from her rifle, and with one hand dropped them into his pack.
Standing, Nikki slung her rucksack onto her back and took the rifle inside its protected carrying case from Brad. Pulling the strap over her head, she attached the Velcro strips of the long case to her rucksack, compensating for the awkwardness of its length by carrying it at a forty-five-degree angle. If they came under fire, Brad would take the rifle, allowing them both to run faster, but otherwise his objective was to clear their path with his machete, as quickly and as quietly as possible.
She quickly ran her hands over the tactical load-carrying vest she wore, conducting an inventory of all her equipment and checking that all straps were secure. The Five-seveN pistol strapped to her waist weighed less than two pounds and the pound of ammunition she carried worked for both it and the P90 dangling at her side. When she completed her check, she cradled her P90 in her arms and looked at Brad. His black and green tactical clothing and camouflage-painted face hid him in the shadows of the trees—until he smiled and his teeth gave off an eerie white glow. Knowing she looked much the same, she smiled back and gave him a nod to move out when he was ready. Punching buttons to pull up the coordinates on the GPS, he took off at a trot with her on his heels.
Thirty-five minutes later, Brad slowed, allowing her to move beside him. He pointed into the tree line and she strained to see what he saw. Apparently the return trip in the daylight had been faster than their outbound trek, which had been more cautious and after dark. Brad led the approach and, as they neared a clump of trees, they heard a faint “Halt” followed by “Pickle.” Nikki recognized Tyler’s voice and gave a little sigh of relief.
“Relish,” Brad whispered in response as the two of them entered the perimeter.
She heard Tyler chuckle before he stood and led them into the circle of camouflaged bodies. “Move out.” Tyler motioned for Mike and Jewels to take the lead while he and Shawn followed. Brad and Nikki brought up the rear. With packs on their backs, the six of them formed a staggered line and headed toward the extraction point.
When they reached the coordinates that they had been given, Nikki waited for Tyler to direct each of them to a security position around the perimeter of the landing zone. Nikki’s number within the group was five and she would board in that order, the same as she had exited when they arrived the previous day. She took cover in the spot Tyler directed her to and scanned the area in front of her. She couldn’t see him behind her, but she knew he would be dropping chemical sticks to mark the landing zone before taking his position in the perimeter.
Several minutes later, she could hear the wop-wop of the helicopter’s blades growing louder and then the wind began to whip as it lowered to the ground. Nikki counted in her head, allowing fifteen seconds for each team member to board in front of her before pulling her focus from her assigned area. She moved when her counting reached sixty. Jogging backward her first couple of steps, she gave a final scan of the area before turning toward the waiting helicopter. She grabbed the hand that reached down to her and allowed herself to be pulled into the helicopter, taking a seat on the narrow bench behind the pilot. She swung her pack around her body to rest in her lap, the rifle filling the space in front of her, as Brad slid onto the bench beside her. The helicopter’s engine roared and she felt them leave the ground, gaining altitude quickly. With the whipping of the wind in the open doorway, there was no possibility of talking, so Nikki relaxed against Brad and dropped her head onto her pack. She dozed until they landed at the airfield.
Nikki awoke as the helicopter began its descent and she nudged Brad awake. In the tight space, she maneuvered her gear around her body, sliding her arms back into the straps. Through the open door, she could see the small commercial airfield they had arrived at almost twenty-four hours earlier. Nikki followed Brad out the door as the helicopter landed in front of the blue hangar that contained their travel boxes and provided a place where they would exchange the gear they wore for their travel clothes. Nikki dreaded the commercial flight they would return home on, but she was thankful that Flagler always handled their weapons and other gear.
Nikki and Brad waited while the rest of the team ducked under the rotors and jogged over to join them outside the hangar. When the noise of the retreating helicopter began to fade, Tyler handed each of them a boarding pass. Before he could begin his briefing on the details of their return travel, though, the hangar door opened and two men in black tactical clothing emerged. They gave a nod to Tyler and walked toward the opposite side of the hangar, disappearing around the corner.
Tyler was speaking quickly to disseminate the relevant information when the rumble of an approaching vehicle drew everyone’s attention. On the road circling the inside of the airfield, a black Jeep came into view.
Brad nudged Nikki. “Isn’t that the Jeep from this morning?”
She nodded but didn’t say anything as the entire team watched it draw closer.
“Is that who we were babysitting?” Jewels whispered.
Brad nodded. “I think so.”
The two men in black tactical gear came back around the building and met the Jeep as it pulled to a stop in front of the hangar.
Tyler resumed his briefing, but Nikki noticed everyone on the team was still watching the Jeep. When the driver exited the vehicle and turned toward them, Nikki’s brows shot up. Female. Brad nudged her again and she gave him a crooked smile. Tyler stopped talking as the three CIA agents approached the hangar entrance.
Nikki appraised the woman as they got closer. Her shoulder-length, chestnut-brown hair was wavy and fell across her face as she moved. She was slightly taller than Nikki’s five-foot-seven, and her broad shoulders stretched the black T-shirt across her chest. Her right arm was bent to hold the tactical jacket she had slung arrogantly over one shoulder. Her gaze briefly flickered over the team and slowed as it crossed Nikki’s face. She seemed to find humor in being the center of attention. The three agents nodded to Tyler before disappearing into the hangar and letting the door slam behind them.
“Asses,” Mike whispered under his breath.
Tyler gave him a hard stare.
“Well, they are,” Mike declared.
“Maybe,” Tyler agreed. “But we still have to work with them.” He resumed his briefing again. “Normal protocols are in place. No contact once we leave the hangar. See you in Florida.” He pulled open the hangar door and entered with Shawn on his heels.
Mike shrugged. “They didn’t even acknowledge us and you know they know who we are.”
“It’s like we’re below them and only here to serve,” Jewels added.
“My lady,” Brad said, pulling the hangar door open in front of her and bowing slightly at the waist.
Jewels strutted toward the door and crooned over her shoulder as she stepped inside, “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”
Nikki followed Jewels, pausing inside the door until her eyes adjusted to the dark interior. Under the muted glow of the fluorescent lights, she quickly located her lockbox in the far corner where she had left it. She scanned the room for the CIA agents, but didn’t see them. A ray of light escaped from under the door of the small office in the opposite corner, and she imagined they must be inside behind the closed window blinds. She stopped at the team lockbox and secured her personal weapons with the straps designed to hold them in place before stowing her rifle in the bottom of the box. Crossing to her own lockbox, she dropped her remaining gear inside and grabbed her clean clothing before heading to the bathroom.
The shower was refreshing, but Nikki didn’t linger. She scrubbed her face and neck to remove the camouflage paint and quickly ran the washcloth over the rest of her body before washing her hair. Jewels came in as she was finishing and they passed at the shower entrance.
“Perfect timing.” Nikki smiled at her.
“So I’ve been told.”
Nikki laughed as she crossed to the bench where she had left her clean clothing. Jewels was very flirty, even with the guys, so Nikki wasn’t sure which team she preferred. If she was honest, she liked not knowing. There wasn’t any tension or discomfort between them. She pulled on jeans and a cotton T-shirt, and quickly dried her short hair with a towel. She was lucky that her hair hung straight. Jewels would be another twenty minutes just fixing her hair.
She grabbed her travel mirror to check for remaining camouflage paint on her face but was caught by her own reflection. She ran her fingers through her light brown hair, pushing it back out of her face. Almost time for another haircut. She had never been obsessed with her looks, but she knew keeping it short was key to avoiding styling time in the field. She studied her face. The bags under her eyes annoyed her. They made her look older and more tired than she felt. The rest of her body had adapted to the crazy hours Flagler required. Why hadn’t her eyes? Shrugging, she pulled a wipe from her bag, scrubbed at the few missed spots of paint on her chin, grabbed her carry-on and exited the bathroom.
After stowing her towel inside a plastic pouch, she placed it and her tactical clothing inside another bag before securing them inside the lockbox. She knew from experience the sweaty clothing would be unbearable by the time they were unpacked in Florida. She dropped her muddy boots into a separate container and placed them beside her clothing. She pulled on a light Windbreaker and slung a backpack containing her iPad and cell phone over her shoulder before moving her lockbox closer to the door. It would be shipped back to Florida with their weapons and any other gear they had left behind. Tyler was still in the shower room, so she gave Brad a wave to let him know she was headed out. The commercial hangar was about a half mile across the airfield and she followed the dirt road leading to it.
Ticket in hand, she approached the security checkpoint inside the small airport. Her stomach gave a light tug as the agent closely inspected her passport and airline ticket. On a protective detail, she carried her real passport and traveled as an employee of Flagler Security, but on the dark missions, she could be anyone. For Nikki the thrill of using different identities would never get old, as her name was rotated with each mission. It was standard for the team to travel with no contact between them so it wasn’t necessary for them to identify each other by name. She had been briefed on every overseas mission to remain calm if detained and Flagler would provide whatever documents or representation were necessary to get her released from custody. She had never had any problems, nor had she heard of any agents who had. Flagler took their agents’ security and safety very seriously by producing professional government-issued documents. She gave the agent her best innocent look, and it must have worked, because he handed her ticket and passport back with few questions. She bought a bottle of water and moved to her departure gate to wait.
She took a seat by the window with her back to the wall and within minutes she saw Mike take a seat in the gate area too. She made eye contact with him and then returned her gaze to her iPad. Unlike other male team members, Mike wore his hair a bit shaggy. He didn’t match the typical military profile. He, also, liked to wear baggy clothing that didn’t show off his physique.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched each of the other team members enter and take seats. Brad wore a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt and she knew she would harass him later about it. Probably a Father’s Day gift from his kids. Tyler and Shawn both wore skinny jeans with sweatshirts and running shoes. Of course Jewels was last to arrive with her hair perfectly styled. She also wore jeans and her favorite black Chuck Taylors, as did most of the under-twenty kids at the airport. Nikki was only a couple years older than she was, but she liked to tease Jewels about her ability to blend in with the average teenager. To the casual observer, all six of them looked like typical weary travelers. Neither she nor Jewels was a high-heels, dress-wearing kind of woman, but she liked that they didn’t look like soldiers ready for a fight either. Appearances can be deceiving, she thought with a grin. Either one of them could take anyone in the gate area to the ground in seconds, if needed.
When the gate attendant called their flight, Nikki placed earbuds in each ear to avoid conversation with fellow travelers. She kept the music low and sometimes she didn’t even turn it on, but it discouraged unnecessary small talk. Her seat was in the rear of the plane so she was one of the last people to board. She was happy to see her window seat but unhappy to see the large man in the seat beside her. She really hated flying coach. She pretended to sleep and was thankful for the short flight to the international airport where she boarded a much larger plane for the return trip to the United States.