by Becky Harmon
Newly appointed US ambassador Elizabeth Turner is still getting used to her post in Mauritania, Africa. She has lots of plans for her time in office, but those plans are forgotten when a crowd of angry protestors start to gather outside the embassy—bringing both sporadic gunfire and concern for the Ambassador’s safety.
Flagler security agent Angel McTaggart will never understand why an intelligent woman would choose to come to a country where women are devalued. Not that her opinion matters, she knows, because she’s here to do one job and one job only—keep the ambassador safe at all costs.
Angel needs to get the situation under control quickly before an attempt to storm the embassy becomes an option for the rioters. Elizabeth Turner isn’t uncooperative, she reasons, just headstrong and opinionated. Angel knows she’s worked with worse, but no one that’s had the effect on her that the ambassador seems to be having now.
Focusing on her job might be harder than she thinks…
Michelle P. - Becky Harmon is becoming one of my favorite authors and this book just ensures that. What I loved about this book is that you could tell it was well researched by how she described the countryside and the issues, especially regarding women and slavery. I just didn’t want this book to end…
Cathie W. - Guardian Angel is one of those books that I crave. Two strong women with very different backgrounds and a bit of thrilling suspense. The author is adept at building chemistry between the two leads while weaving in a thread of danger while living abroad. Honestly, I wish this book was longer.
Ginger O. - Well written story that teases the two characters towards a budding romance. I highly recommend this book.
Bethany’s Reviews - There's a lot to like about this story. Harmon does a superb job of describing the setting, a US embassy in the middle of a charged Mauritania society. I loved the disparity between cultures and really enjoyed reading about a country that wouldn't normally fall on my personal radar. Having this story be between an ambassador and her security agent perfectly fell in the beloved "protector" trope, but it was also fresh enough to be new based on the setting. Truly, the international setting and the action/adventure in this story is really what sold it for me.
Orlando J. - One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the novel setting and plot. We have the American ambassador to Mauritania dealing with a crowd of protesters barricading herself and her staff inside the embassy walls and the private security agent who is sent to protect her. What was really interesting were the extensive descriptions of Mauritania and the local people. It's not a country I knew a lot about before and was fascinated by the journey we were taken on through the desert and some of the towns, also meeting (and being helped by) some of the nomadic tribeswomen. An enjoyable read from an author I suspect we'll be reading more books by.
Ambassador Elizabeth Turner paced her office, resisting the urge to duck as gunfire erupted once again on the street outside the embassy. She glanced through the four-pane window installed to protect her from physical hazards and tried to locate the gunman in the gathered crowd. Taking a deep breath, she repeated in her head the words that had become her mantra over the last week. I will not be driven out of my embassy.
“Madam Ambassador,” her assistant called through the open door. “Mr. Flagler is on line one.”
“Thank you, Chloe.”
She picked up the headset and switched it on before placing it over her head so she could continue to pace. “Hey, Vince. How are you?”
“I was fine until the secretary of state called me.”
“She did, huh? What did she have to say?”
“She said you needed protection, Ellie.”
She frowned at the serious tone of his voice. She had expected his call but maybe not quite this soon. Her situation wasn’t dire enough to make the six o’clock news back home yet. Apparently her earlier phone call with the secretary of state hadn’t gone as well as she had thought.
“Tell me what’s going on and I’ll send whatever you need,” he continued.
Vince had been her surrogate big brother from the day he had joined her father’s embassy detail as a young Central Intelligence agent. At fifteen, she hadn’t completely understood the dangers of living in Africa. Mauritania was simply her home. Vince had readily added her personal safety to his already heavy load of responsibilities.
Twenty years later when she left her position at the Central Intelligence Agency—a career inspired, in part, by his example—she had considered joining his private security company. Flagler Security worked for and with the US government as well as more clandestine operations around the world. She had seen enough of the secretive behind-the-scenes operations and had instead opted to run for the United States Senate.
“Madam Secretary may have exaggerated my situation. A crowd has gathered outside the embassy gates, but I’m completely safe behind my bulletproof glass.”
“Your embassy security isn’t able to engage offensively to protect you, but my agents can. I’ll send Angel’s team. That’s forty agents, but I can easily send more.”
“Hold on a minute, Vince. I don’t want to escalate things. Except for a little unfocused gunfire, we haven’t been threatened.”
“Yet,” she conceded. “If we increase security with trigger-happy—”
“I take offense to that, Madam Ambassador. My agents are well-trained, and they know how to hold their fire until the response is needed.”
She struggled to keep her frustration out of her voice. “I’m sorry, Vince. I’m afraid more troops on display will heighten the resistance. I think it’ll all blow over on its own.”
“When did it start?”
“Just over a week ago. Groups started to appear randomly and within a few days they were staying through the night.” She sighed. “Yesterday they began backing up their chanting with occasional bursts of gunfire into the air.”
“Did you pull your staff in?”
“Yes, everyone has been advised to remain inside the embassy gates.”
“Angel’s my best negotiator. Maybe that’s what you’re missing.”
“I’m listening,” she said hesitantly.
“How about if I send ten, but keep another ten waiting in-country in case they’re needed.”
“I can live with that.”
“That’s all I want to accomplish, Madam Ambassador.”
She chuckled. “You always were such a charmer.”
“Too bad my efforts were wasted on you.”
She could hear the smile in his voice as he said goodbye, promising to call her when Angel’s itinerary had been planned. This wasn’t the first time Vince had stepped in to rescue her from a difficult situation in Mauritania. That had happened several decades earlier when she had accompanied Ameera, the prettiest girl in school, to the local street market for pizza. She would never forget the look of surprise on his face when he had run into them in the Marche Capitale. Although she had been there many times with her father, she wasn’t supposed to traverse the streets of Nouakchott by herself, let alone use public transportation to do so.
She and Ameera had been helping each other grasp their native languages. Ameera’s father, a local hire at the embassy, had been encouraged to allow her to attend the American International School of Nouakchott, which was located on embassy grounds. English was the language of instruction, but students were expected to know French and the local dialect, Hassaniya Arabic, as well.
The school closed before noon on Fridays so the Mauritanian boys could attend prayer at the local mosque with their fathers. Ameera had been told to return straight home after their tutoring session, but instead she suggested they go for pizza in the market. Few restaurants were open on Friday afternoons, but Ameera knew of one near her house.
Taking public transportation was a normal way of life for Ameera, and neither teenager realized it might not be safe for Ellie. Her pale skin stood out like a lighthouse beacon on a clear night and drew many curious and potentially threatening stares. Despite Ameera’s attempts to put everyone at ease, the harsh comments were hurtful and frightening to Ellie. She had been scared and very relieved to see Vince, even if it meant she was in trouble.
Ellie pulled off her headset and stepped to the door of her office, abstractedly wondering what had happened to Ameera. She should try to find out but not today.
Chloe Allen sat with her back to the wall and with a direct visual on the doors that led into and joined their offices. Opposite her desk was a sofa that was more for décor than comfort. The last night or so, though, she had seen some of Chloe’s embassy friends lounging on it while they waited for Chloe to finish her work for the evening. It wasn’t a normal occurrence and she understood being restricted to the embassy had changed everyone’s way of life.
Chloe’s blond hair was pulled away from her face with several decorative barrettes; her fingernails, though not long, were painted a vibrant blue to match her outfit. Ellie estimated that she wasn’t more than an inch or so taller than her own five foot eight, but Chloe always wore heels which put her closer to six feet.
Chloe’s neck was bent as she concentrated on the computer monitor on her desk. She was barely twenty-five and had a rosy morning-fresh complexion no matter the time of day. These factors combined to make Ellie feel much older than she really was whenever she was around her. Their conversations were superficial and they were still getting to know each other, but she had managed to get Chloe to talk long enough to know that her mom was a marine. Chloe had moved from base to base her entire life, some overseas and some in the States.
“Chloe,” she said again, raising her voice only enough to gain the young woman’s attention.
Chloe jumped to her feet. “Yes, ma’am.”
Ellie motioned her back into the chair. She still wasn’t accustomed to the way her staff responded to her. She had repeatedly asked her staff to call her Ellie, but they were still as formal as the day she had arrived at the embassy six months ago.
“Please call Sergeant Miller and ask him to come see me when he gets a chance. No rush. Whenever he’s free is fine.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll call him right now.”
She returned to her office as Chloe picked up her phone. Though most meeting rooms in the embassy contained pillows for seating to make their local guests feel more comfortable, she was pleased that her office here on the second floor had been outfitted with couches for her comfort.
She sank into her chair and spun to look out at the crowd beneath her window. Not for the first time, she wished she could pick up the phone and call her father. His knowledge of embassies and the challenges she faced would certainly be welcome. She felt the niggling thought that she had reacted to his death the same way he had reacted to her mother’s passing—by running away to a country where she could re-create their happiest of memories. She pushed the thoughts aside. Now wasn’t the time for her delve into the past or second-guess her decisions.
She would need to brief her staff on the changes that were coming. They probably wouldn’t be surprised that she was increasing security. When the picketing had started, she had requested that all embassy employees consider relocating their families to inside the embassy rather than returning to their homes throughout the city. At the time, she thought it was a temporary precaution, but the sporadic gunfire had ended up transforming her request into an order.
The marines and the diplomatic security agents that protected them did an outstanding job, so she wasn’t looking forward to her conversation with Sergeant Miller. She respected him and the job he did and didn’t imagine he would be very happy with a private security agency sending in reinforcements.
Sergeant Shane Miller was on his second three-year tour as a member of the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group. As the highest-ranking marine on embassy staff, he handled all security-related communications with her. He was always formal during his contacts with her and she felt like she needed to always maintain a professional demeanor with him as well. She longed for someone she could discuss ideas with. Maybe the Flagler agent would be someone she could use as a sounding board. Maybe she could bring him into her inner fold and she wouldn’t always have to be the ambassador.
* * *
The wind whipped through Angel McTaggart’s hair as she stared through her binoculars. She didn’t need her sniper rifle for today’s simulation. Her voice was the only weapon she required.
“You’re dead, Johnson,” she said softly. The microphone running along her cheek relayed her message to both sides of the mock battlefield.
“Stiner, what are you laughing at?” She frowned as the tall, red-headed man quickly dove for cover. “Too late. You’re dead too, Stiner.”
She hated Friday afternoon maneuvers. It was hard for the agents to keep their heads in the game. They were anxious to start the weekend and she couldn’t really blame them.
Taking a deep breath, she barked into the microphone. “Everyone freeze. Remain in your current position.”
She glanced down at the forty agents below her. From the observation post high above the fake town Flagler had built for practice maneuvers, she could see almost all of them. She needed them to take every drill seriously. How they performed as they trained was how they would react in real situations. She let her binoculars dangle on the strap around her neck as she glanced at her watch. They had two more hours reserved at this site and she wanted to end their week on a positive note.
“Alpha Team, return to your rally point. Bravo Team, return to your original protected positions. We’re going to start this exercise again. If I spot you, then you get to run it again. Those that meet their objective can head home for the weekend.”
Her announcement was met with cheers. They now had motivation to complete the course properly.
“Move,” she ordered.
She watched the agents scamper like ants below her as they all returned to their starting positions.
“Here we go again. The clock is ticking,” she said, restarting the exercise.
Alpha Team moved slowly toward the first building they needed to clear, and she was pleased to see each agent carefully locating cover or concealment before moving to a new position.
Her phone rang and she grabbed it from her belt. Switching her headset microphone to mute, she held the phone to her ear.
“Too bad.” Tamara Bowden’s voice boomed in her ear. “I’m about to make you busier.”
She held back a groan. Her teams wouldn’t be headed home tonight after all. “I’ll be there in thirty.”
She placed her phone back on her belt and turned her microphone back on. “Rally in the town square immediately.”
She removed her headset but not before she heard the groans of her team. They knew a rally meant training had ended, but their day was only beginning.
Angel slid onto the hard, plastic classroom chair and focused her attention on the woman standing in front of her. At fifty-three, Tamara Bowden was tall and athletic with the ability to command a room with only a glance. At Vince’s side Tamara had guided, praised, consoled, and instructed agents at Flagler Security for over twenty years.
As she had thousands of times, she watched Tamara remove the elastic hair tie holding her blond ponytail and carelessly secure it again. As a teenager, she once had grown her hair long to emulate her. After her parents had passed away, Tamara and Vince had become her role models. As she got older, Vince had changed from caregiver to mentor. Tamara was always around, but she maintained a working relationship with Angel, offering a strong female example of what Angel could do with her career and always reminding her that she could do anything her male counterparts did.
Working her way up through the ranks, Angel performed and then ran basic security and protection details as well as clandestine operations. She never used her relationship with Vince to gain favors or receive better assignments; she was willing to go anywhere and do anything that was asked of her. Now she led a team of forty men and women.
Tamara slapped an eight-by-ten glossy color photo on the desk in front of her. “Ambassador Elizabeth Turner.”
It wasn’t a close-up, but even so Angel found herself captivated by the mosaic pattern of the ambassador’s eyes. In only a second, she was transported from the classroom to the nearby emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There the bright sun, periodically covered by fluffy white clouds, illumined the algae hidden beneath the surface of the water. Dark green, light green, and a variety of shades of blue, their hues all swirled together to protect secrets hidden within them.
She mentally shook her head. Being distracted on occasion wasn’t unusual, but giving in to random thoughts like these was unlike her. She sat back and studied the publicity shot in front of her, noting that Ambassador Turner wasn’t wearing a power suit as most female politicians did. Dark blue pants and a creamy off-white blouse with only three buttons at the top gave her a casual, genuine appearance.
Angel was surprised to feel an interest stir in her that she hadn’t felt in a long time. Women were a hindrance, something she preferred not to be bothered by. The ambassador was an attractive woman, but she was drawn more toward her turquoise and emerald eyes. There was a deep hollowness within them that she felt a strange longing to fill.
She could feel Tamara’s eyes drilling into her and lifted her head. She saw the flash of a questioning look before Tamara began her briefing.
“Our embassy in Mauritania is at risk of being attacked. The crowd of protesters is growing every day and random gunfire has started to erupt. Vince believes a show of force would settle things down, but Ambassador Turner disagrees. They’ve met in the middle. You’ll take a team of ten directly to the embassy to work with the marines. Leave twenty agents here for rotation in case the job lasts longer than expected. The remaining ten members of your team will position north of Nouakchott.” Tamara pointed to a location on the map of Africa behind her. “Exact coordinates are in the file.”
“Their response time from that location?” she asked.
Tamara’s hesitation was brief but obvious. “Approximately thirty minutes.”
“That’s not really an adequate response time.”
She met Tamara’s eyes, waiting to see if she would call her out for her criticism. What she saw surprised her—hesitancy with maybe a little sympathy, which Tamara didn’t hide in her words.
“I voiced the same concern this morning. I was told to make it work.”
Angel frowned. It was unlike Vince to put her team at such a disadvantage. “How large is the crowd?”
“It’s irrelevant. Your team of ten will be the only response unless tensions escalate.”
She nodded her acknowledgment of Tamara’s instruction and moved on to her next concern. “Do I have control of the backup team?”
Tamara’s silence answered her question.
Her gut clenched with foreboding. She didn’t like any of this. If boots on the ground couldn’t call in backup then what good was having them nearby? Not that she considered thirty minutes response time as nearby anyway. Getting permission through the chain of command would take even longer. She never hesitated to speak her mind, especially if the safety of her team was in jeopardy, but she also knew when to remain silent and accept her orders.
She nodded again and stood. “I’ll prepare my team.”
Tamara handed her the closed file as she passed.
Angel stepped into the empty hallway and leaned against the wall. Something felt funny about this mission. She had always been able to count on Vince to make sure every detail was properly covered and assigned to the best team. This wouldn’t be her first venture into the political world on foreign soil, but this would be the first time working with a female ambassador. Especially one as attractive as Ambassador Turner. Despite her concerns, there was a part of her that was looking forward to this mission.
* * *
“Yes, please come in, Shane.” Ellie stood and motioned for Sergeant Shane Miller to take one of the seats in front of her desk. The call from Vince had just come in advising of the Flagler team’s imminent arrival and now she searched for a tactical way to relay the information.
“What can I do for you, ma’am?” he asked politely.
She studied his lean face. He was the perfect marine. His uniform was pressed and clearly worn with pride. His hair was cut short in traditional military style. There wasn’t enough on the top of his head to identify its color, but his eyebrows and the shadow on his chin showed the dark strands.
She knew from past conversations that he had two sons living with his wife in the States. Though US troops on embassy detail could bring their spouses and children, he had chosen not too. He had never been forthcoming with his reasons, and she had never felt the need to question him, knowing how hard it had been to convince her father to allow her to join him here after her mother’s death. She had liked the boarding school in Switzerland and she loved to ski, but the shock of being shipped there by her father was too much to handle on top of learning to adapt to life without her mother. Her father had selected the post in Mauritania to help himself get over the loss, she knew. It was a country in endless need of assistance, a place where he could make a difference. Which was one of the many reasons she had volunteered to be here now.
She paced in front of her desk, struggling to find the proper words to inform Shane of the private security force on its way to join them. She didn’t want to undermine his authority and she certainly wasn’t questioning his or his marines’ ability, but—
“Ma’am, just lay it out and we’ll deal with it.”
She smiled. She loved his clear-cut, we-can-handle-it attitude. She took a seat in the other chair in front of her desk and turned toward him. “The secretary of state is concerned for our safety.”
“Well, your safety is the reason we’re here. Is she sending FAST?”
Ellie shook her head. Active aggression was required before the Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team was deployed and apparently the disturbance outside was considered only a small-scale irritation to most of the politicians in Washington.
“Right,” he said, nodding his head. “Not considered a large-scale aggression yet. Does she want to send more troops?”
“She did, but she couldn’t get approval for the funds.”
He shrugged. “We’re a small post and normally things are fairly quiet here.”
As if on cue, gunfire erupted from the street outside.
She watched his face tense. “Do you need to go check on things?”
“No, ma’am. My men will call me if I’m needed. Please continue.”
“Are you familiar with Flagler Security?”
“Sure. I’ve worked with a few of their staff on other details.”
She sighed. Maybe this wouldn’t be as hard as she had envisioned. “Great. Vince Flagler is sending us a team of ten to supplement your staff.”
“Only ten? They couldn’t spare more?”
She laughed. “I was afraid you would feel that I didn’t have confidence in you or your team, so I lobbied for as few as possible.”
Shane shook his head. “I’m happy to have the help. Do you know who they’re sending?”
“I can’t remember the last name, but Angel, I believe, was the first name.”
“Oh, right. That makes sense. The Guardian Angel.”
“Guardian Angel? Do you know him?”
“I know of her. She’s an excellent sniper. Now she mostly deals with volatile groups, negotiating, and crowd control. Never been lucky enough to work with her though.” He stood. “When should we expect them?”
“They’re scheduled to arrive in the morning. Bring this Angel person directly to my office and the three of us can make a plan.”
She watched him leave and then returned to her chair behind the desk. Turning it, she looked out the window. For the last week constantly appraising the situation and trying to anticipate what the future might bring had been her regular practice.
At first glance, the men gathered below didn’t appear threatening, but somewhere in their midst was the rifle or rifles responsible for the sporadic gunfire. They stood in one massive group that stretched from sidewalk to crumbling sidewalk, parting slowly whenever it was necessary to allow a vehicle to pass. She couldn’t see any difference in their demeanor from earlier in the week, but apparently Shane did. He seemed to readily accept the assistance being offered, and she wondered how worried he really was.
Her thoughts turned to the woman who would be leading the security detail and her curiosity grew. Guardian Angel. She picked up her secure line, bypassing Chloe, and dialed the direct number to the CIA office she had worked in for many years.
“Agent Cutter’s office,” a pleasant feminine voice announced. “Would you like to leave a message?”
“This is Ambassador Turner. I’d like to speak with Agent Cutter, please.”
“Yes, ma’am. Please hold.”
Several seconds passed while Ellie debated the logic in making this phone call. Though she trusted Micalah, she knew secrets weren’t always kept and she didn’t want to get off on a bad start with the woman Vince had chosen to head the protection detail. Before she could change her mind, her friend’s voice came on the line.
“Thanks for taking my call. I know you have better things to do, but I have a personal favor.”
“I thought you’d never ask. I’m ready and willing,” Micalah teased.
“Do you ever take a break?”
“Lighten up, Ellie. You know I’m only joking.” Her tone turned serious. “What do you need?”
“Any information you can find on a Flagler Security agent named Angel.”
“I’m not sure. They call her the guardian angel?”
“Yep, that’s McTaggart. Why do you want information on her?”
“Vince is sending her team to back up my security.”
Micalah was silent for several seconds, and Ellie knew she had said too much. When Micalah spoke again, her voice was filled with concern.
“What’s going on, Ellie?”
She released an audible sigh. Another friend hell-bent on protecting her. “A small crowd has gathered outside the embassy. Vince is reinforcing the boots on the ground. Everything is fine.”
“It doesn’t sound fine. Is there gunfire?”
“I don’t like this. It sounds more like rioters to me. Why don’t you leave for a while? Come back to the States for a visit.”
“I refuse to be driven from my home,” she easily spoke the words she had only said in her mind.
“That’s ridiculous,” Micalah chastised. “Will you be saying that when they overrun your marines and storm the embassy like they did in Benghazi?”
“If the threat intensifies, I’ll leave, but I can’t jump ship every time things get a little uncomfortable. I’m in a country that’s not always friendly and I have to put a strong face forward to get anything accomplished.”
“Maybe I should come for a visit.”
“Please, no,” she groaned. “I don’t need you to babysit me. I have a staff of marines and Diplomatic Security, and the Flagler agents will arrive tomorrow.”
“Okay, but if anything changes I’ll be on the first plane.”
“If you want to help, send me the information on Agent McTaggart.”
“I’m sure we have a complete file. Do you want that or only background?”
She bit her tongue. She wanted the complete file, but her stomach knotted at the intrusiveness. She knew firsthand how deep the CIA could go. After she had announced her run for the US Senate, information from her many background checks had been leaked to multiple news outlets. From interviews with the grade school principal who had expelled her for fighting to the friend she had once smoked marijuana with in college. Fortunately for her, the attempt at a negative spin had provided the voters with a personal view of her that quite possibly had won her the election. Taking a deep breath, she vowed to let the Flagler agent speak for herself especially about anything not pertaining to her job qualifications. “Just the background is fine.”
“I’m going to send it all. If it bothers your morals, you don’t have to open anything but the background.”
“Thanks, Micalah. I’ll talk to you soon.”
“You bet you will. I’m going to be checking on you.”
She hung up quickly before Micalah could change her mind and decide she did need her protection. She looked out the window again at the crowd. They were chanting and waving their arms. She couldn’t tell what they were saying, but it was probably something about death to America. She studied the men closest to the gates. Their clothing was simple, and they didn’t look like radical extremists. She laughed at herself. What did radical extremists look like? Some of the protesters carried signs or banners, but she still couldn’t see any weapons.
She knew there had been horrific events at US embassies over the last decade, and thanks to her years in the CIA she knew how quickly a peaceful protest could turn deadly. It wasn’t always possible to see what was brewing. She was trained to recognize global hot spots and deep down she understood why everyone was concerned about her, but that didn’t mean she was ready to tuck her tail and run. She had plans for this country. Plans to make it a better place for all of its citizens. A plan to end slavery and child abuse. A plan to save lives.
Angel stuffed her toiletry kit into her duffel and zipped it. Closing the window on the fall breeze blowing in from the Gulf Coast, she looked around her small two-room apartment. Vince had designed it and he had an identical one across the hall. After one too many back-to-back missions, he had found her sleeping on the wooden bench in the locker room. Two weeks later, they moved into their new apartments in the rear of the Flagler headquarters building.
Tucked into a wooded area on the panhandle of Florida, this huge one-story building was used by soldiers in the 1800s. The Spanish-style design provided a surrounding stucco wall that led to the tiled courtyard entrance. Dozens of native and imported palm trees were scattered around the grounds like silent sentries, greeting her each time she returned. On a windy day she could smell the salt in the air from Pensacola Beach. She was proud to call this building, with its arched windows and clay-tile roof, home.
One day she would have a place of her own, though. One with lots of horses. It had been her mother’s dream and now it was hers. When she was little, before her mother had gotten sick, they had lived beside a horse farm. Evenings and weekends were spent riding and grooming the horses. She liked that horses didn’t try to hide their moods and that they didn’t ask a lot of questions. Unlike most of the women she had tried to date.
The social world outside of Flagler was something she chose to avoid. She wasn’t antisocial, but if she was honest maybe she was a little asocial. She interacted when it was necessary and could be quite charming at times, at least that’s what she had been told by more than one person in the past. But given the choice, she would stay away from dating and social events. Not because they made her nervous or uncomfortable, but because she preferred the peacefulness of being alone.
A solitary life on the horse farm was all in the future. A retirement plan. For now the few personal items she owned barely filled the apartment and she felt comfortable here. Vince took advantage of her being onsite and if she wasn’t out on a mission he put her to work providing intelligence or coordination for other teams. He often hinted at her job becoming more administrative, but she loved what she did too much to think about a time when she wouldn’t be doing it.
“Hey, Tag, you ready?” Eric Fleming, one of her team leaders, called as he knocked on her open door. He was an inch or two shorter than her six-foot frame, but his shoulders were broad and his arms bulged with huge biceps. He liked to work out and could be found in the gym at all hours.
He was single and, like her, he preferred the company of other Flagler agents to that of anyone in the outside world. His dark curly hair barely touched the collar of his uniform shirt. Its unruliness was a contrast to his starched tactical uniform and freshly polished black boots.
She picked up her duffel and backpack.
“Everyone’s returned?” she asked as they walked toward the briefing room.
She had given the twenty men and woman who would be accompanying her a few hours to return home and visit with their families. The others had remained to prepare equipment since they would be able to return to their families later that evening.
Eric nodded. “Shroder was the last to arrive.”
She couldn’t help but smile. Jim Shroder was dependable and disciplined but always the last to arrive.
She stepped into the briefing room and dropped her bags by the door. She looked around the room at the men and woman in various stages of undress and relaxation. Like her and Eric, they each wore a variation of the Flagler official dark blue tactical uniform—cargo pants, a Flagler-embossed polo shirt with a button-down shirt to go over it as needed, and boots. Making eye contact with her team leaders, she headed for the front of the room. When she turned, she wasn’t surprised that the chaos from moments ago had vanished and rows of eager faces awaited her instructions.
“We’re headed to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. For those that don’t know, it’s on the northwest coast of Africa. It’s a country about the size of Egypt or six times the size of Florida.” She pointed to the map on the wall behind her. “Eric’s team will be team one and positioned with me at the US embassy in Nouakchott, the capital. Currently, there is a crowd of protesters on the street outside. Random gunfire has been heard, but it has not been deemed a threat yet.”
She walked the length of the room while she talked. It was a habit she had developed to make sure each team member was listening. She watched their eyes follow her as she paced. “Our mission is to protect the ambassador and her staff. Mauritania borders Mali, where al-Qaida and the Islamic Maghreb are active, so the risk of terrorist activity is great.” She held up her hand to stop any questions that might be coming. “At this point there is no reason to assume the gathered crowd is connected to any terrorist group. They have not made a public statement or given themselves a name.”
She looked at the attentive faces around her. Terrorism was a part of everyone’s life these days and even more so for this organization of men and women. They trusted her and for the moment she had curbed their concern for what they were going to face. She only hoped the information was accurate. She would make her own determinations once she was on the ground.
“Ninety percent of Mauritania is desert. The northern portion is part of the Sahara. The population is sparse in this area, roads are few and far between, and travel is limited. We will remain in the populated areas, but we’ll need to keep in mind that there is a curfew for Westerners.”
She turned to address the leader of her second team, Sarah Duncan. As usual, Sarah’s shoulder-length hair was stuffed under a Boston Red Sox cap but a few curly, red strands stuck out. At five foot five, she was one of the shortest members of Angel’s teams. Over the years, she had earned respect with a resilient vivaciousness. She was often referred to as Flagler’s Energizer Bunny.
“Sarah, your team will be at a remote location approximately thirty minutes from the embassy, so setting up and maintaining communications will be a top priority.”
She saw the questions in Sarah’s eyes but continued, knowing Sarah wouldn’t ask them unless they were alone. “Our plane departs in two hours. Travel will be courtesy of Flagler so you will be responsible for your own weapons.” This news brought smiles to the faces around her. Not only was normal commercial travel slow, but special arrangements had to be made for weapons. “The two active teams will assemble in the parking lot in thirty minutes. Everyone else, stay prepared. Team leaders, stay behind for additional information. Everyone else is dismissed.”
The room erupted as the agents grabbed their luggage and hurried into the hall. For the next twenty minutes, she laid out the specifics of their mission to the team leaders. She was clear and concise, leaving no room for questions. Then she sent them to prepare their teams.
She made her way to the weapons room and signed out her lightweight Five-seven pistol, along with a P90 automatic weapon and a metal case full of ammunition. To make things easier on the agents in the field, both weapons fired the same caliber of bullet and the ammunition was interchangeable. She secured both weapons and ammunition in her duffel bag. She had one more stop to make.
The halls were empty, and she easily made her way to the last office at the rear of the building. She nodded at Mandy, his secretary, as she crossed the room and rapped lightly on the interior door.
“Come in,” Vince Flagler’s husky voice commanded.
She pushed the door open but remained in the doorway. “We’re heading out now.”
Vince leaned back in his chair behind his huge mahogany desk and took a deep breath. He was a large man and the desk seemed to fit him rather than dwarf him. The gray hair at his temples didn’t reach to the rest of his dark hair or the stubble on his chin.
She watched his eyes as he contemplated what to say. When he spoke his voice was firm and without hesitation. “I don’t have to tell you that she’s important to me?”
She nodded. It was a conclusion she had already reached. There was no other reason for Vince’s accommodations to the ambassador.
“She’s levelheaded, but very headstrong. You can push, but she’ll push back. Just keep her safe, okay.”
She nodded again and tapped the door in salute.
“And keep in touch,” he called to her retreating back.