The day was nearly over. The setting sun made the golden sand
turn dark caramel in its waning light, but even now, the heat was incredible. There
was no wind, only the gently shifting sand, and the deceptive beauty of this place belying
its deadly nature. The stillness was broken by a figure, staggering in the heat, a
woman running, stumbling, alone. Her breath coming in dry gasping pants.
She ran on, just a few more steps, just a few more and she could stop. Her
breath burned her lungs in dry pants. She felt the sweat roll down her back and
between her breasts, the salt drying on her skin causing it to itch unbearably. Her
head pounded, her nostrils felt on fire with every wisp of inhaled air, her muscles ached,
but she ran on. With her hat removed, the sun beat down on glossy black hair,
burning her scalp and adding to her discomfort. The once neat knot of ebony had
become loose, allowing tendrils to escape and stick to the sweat on her forehead and neck.
She did not stop to wipe them away, only to brush the constant rivers of sweat from
her brow, to keep the salty water from burning her eyes.
Captain Dylan Hawke ran beneath the hot October sun, away from the camp and out into the desert. Behind her, in the distance, she'd left the Army outpost, a sprinkling of tan colored tents, and olive drab vehicles, low, flat and nearly invisible in the Saudi Desert. Far ahead she could see a ridge sloping upward. Her First Sergeant, 1SG James Beckham, having already done recognizance for the area when they'd first arrived, had verified the location of a spring fed oasis and possibly some caves in the foothills, which she hadn't yet verified. The existence of the oasis bore examination and after a day like today, had been too tempting to delay.
"Damn! Finally," she swore as she stopped and fell to her knees, panting out her exertion. The oasis, at the foot of the dune in front of her, was the only fresh water for miles around. Dylan knew that the nomads of the area stopped and drank from the cool water occasionally, but today, she had the pool to herself. Dylan coughed the dry air from her throat.
"That was so stupid." She said aloud as she shook her head slowly. The soldier knew better than to run in the extreme heat, but she needed to get away, to feel her muscles move, to spend some time in solitude.
Dylan shifted from her knees, turned onto her rear and slid down the embankment a bit until she came to rest with her back against the side of the dune. Here, she could take advantage of the small amount of shade the tiny sand hill offered. She sat with her legs bent and her arms extended to rest on the tan knees of her BDU trousers. Bowing her head, she sucked in the sweltering air. Finally, she glanced up to watch as the sun glittered on the water, causing it to shimmer like a mirage. The oasis was a minor miracle in this part of the desert. A deep blue pool bordered on one side by steep cream colored rocky hills pitted with caves and dense brush and on the other by smooth hot sand dunes dotted with tall swaying desert palms, the center stirred by the bubbling of the underground spring. It was a dream to her tired, heated body. She was surprised at how exhausted she felt. The hot and humid summers spent in her home in North Carolina had prepared her for heat, but not for this dry, desolate waste of barren land. Every breath was like inhaling the hot sand; every blink reminded her of how fast her eyes dried and to keep her sunglasses handy. Luckily her naturally golden skin simply darkened a bit more under the unforgiving sun, turning a burnished bronze.
Turning her head and unable to see past the next hill, her searching eyes saw only the vast nothingness. Here I am thousands of miles from home, in some God forsaken land, training green troops. She shook her head, in disbelief. I can't believe I asked for this. Next time, I better be more careful what I wish for.' She grinned. Damn, the Chinese sure knew what they were doing with that proverb.
The Captain was sticky, hot, tired and figured she probably smelled strong enough to attract any interested male camels within 100 miles. Not to mention Ive got sand in places that God just didn't intend sand to go. That was another reason why she was here. She rested, catching her breath and waiting for the sun to dip behind the ridge to the west and for the water of the spring fed pool in front of her to cool enough for bathing. While she waited, Dylan tried to explain to her ever-active mind the sense of urgency she felt, her overwhelming need to leave the camp. Im not sure whats going on, but I know it wasnt a sudden desire for better hygiene. Her lips quirked into a half smile.
She had been jumpy all day, biting off the heads of any soldier stupid enough not to recognize the signs of a woman on the warpath. The hair at the nape of her neck tingled; all her instincts were on full alert, warning her. Something was wrong, she just didnt know what. All she did know was she needed to get away for a while to think. She couldn't breathe there, surrounded by millions of tons of sand. Everything seemed to be closing in on her in the camp. It really didnt make any sense; she had always been comfortable around this type of environment. The men, the activity, the smell of gun oil and gasoline; it was all normal, safe, home to her. That thought really surprised her. The Army is home, she smiled. Still, she thought, the smile fading, something was not quite right. She just couldnt put her finger on it. Yet.
Dylan pushed the worrisome feeling aside and with a sigh and a deep breath, she stood. Brushing the sand off her rear she made her way to the edge of the pool. Kneeling, she reached a hand out into the sun-heated water, it was still overly warm. It's either this or let the troops know when I'm coming from the smell, which would probably arrive a good five minutes before me. She chuckled.
Closing her eyes, Dylan concentrated, "seeing" with her other senses. This was a skill taught to her by her Grandfather, the tribal War Chief of the Cherokee Nation, back in the Piedmonts of North Carolina. Her Grandfather had taken the elected position quite seriously and made it a point to insure that all the young men of the tribe were taught the old ways. He had once explained to her that the young people of the community needed to learn something about their heritage and themselves. He had re-instituted the training of young men as warriors and often took groups of young men on summer-long camping trips into the hills. They dressed in traditional buckskin, carrying only bows, arrows and a small blanket. They learned to live off the land, just as their ancestors had hundreds of years before them. He instilled in them a sense of pride and self-reliance. Dylan had spent more than one long hard spring begging, persuading and bribing him into allowing her to attend the training sessions. He had finally, reluctantly, agreed and was both amused and proud to discover that his granddaughter out performed all the young bucks of the tribe, a feat he bragged about to this day. Focusing inward, on her senses, she cocked her head to the side. Don't hear anything out of the ordinary. She breathed deeply. No strange smells. She opened her eyes. No startled critters. Coast clear.
She reached down and removed her tan boots and socks, being careful to stuff a sock inside each boot to prevent any crawly visitors from setting up housekeeping in her footgear. She shrugged out of her LBE [load-bearing equipment] rolling the beige suspenders neatly and laying them across the toes of the boots. Next she unbuttoned the BDU [battle dress uniform] shirt, slipping it down bronzed arms and rolling it into a neat package as well. She stuffed the rolled outer shirt into a boot top to keep it out of the sand and free of sand fleas.
LBE, BDU, God, does the Army love acronyms? Everything gets a new name. I bet they would name bras something really weird. She mused to herself as she removed, first, her tan undershirt and then the beige bra. Hmm, FTBSG. Yep, that works. Female Tactical Boob Suspension Gear. She chuckled, placed the bra on top of her undershirt and removed her pistol and belt. She paused, checking the pistol to ensure the safety was on, re-holstered it, and laid it neatly across the LBE on the toes of the boots but well within lunging distance of the pools edge. Pulling off her trousers, she reached into one of the large cargo pockets on the side of one pant leg and removed a two-inch square cake of soap and a washcloth. She stripped out of her panties, rolled the last two items up with her bra and slipped them into the other boot.
The tall Military Police officer stood on long, tapered legs and stretched, flexing taut muscles beneath smooth skin. Arms raised, she reached for the sun, feeling her spine pop as the vertebrate re-aligned.
"Ugh," she groaned in relief. Unpinning her hair, she tossed the glossy length of it back over her shoulders. Letting her arms drop, she shook them as she stepped toward the gently rippling surface of the pool. She stopped to glance at the lightly shimmering reflection. Not bad for and old war horse.
The woman reflected back at her from the water was tall, almost six feet, sleek, and toned. Blue-black hair had been cut into efficient bangs over raven wing eyebrows now arching as she stared into her own reflection. Long hair, released from its pins, tumbled past her shoulders, sections falling forward to hide full firm breasts and tickling a lean muscular back before reaching the slim, tapering waist. The face shimmering up at her was striking: high cheekbones, chiseled features, and coral lips. She stared for another moment, and then shook her head, wishing again for the gentle brown eyes of her mother's people. Instead, what she saw were startling ice blue eyes, standing out sharply against bronze features, a constant reminder of her father. She shrugged sleek, powerful shoulders and stepped into the water.
Bathing in a pool of water in the middle of the desert, who would have thought it? She smiled and lowered herself until she lay in the shallows. Leaning back, she let the water bear her weight, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her breasts and the warm water on her back. She soaked up the heat, letting the clear water melt away the salty sweat. Stretching her arms out, with a smile of pure bliss on her lips, she thought she probably looked like some sort of ancient primal sun worshiper.
Resting the washcloth and soap on her stomach, Dylan floated, almost dozing off. God, this really feels great. I know there is a lot to get done today, but I really needed this. She thought about the things she wanted to accomplish: find a new field location with better strategic opportunity for the next field exercise, make her daily report to COL Gerry Fowler, Commander of the 159th MP Battalion, her immediate supervisor and call for more supplies. They were low on training ammo, barbed concertina wire and MREs. Damn those MREs, they should be called corks in a bag. Cant go to the field without those damn Meals Ready to Eat killing my stomach. Oh well, if theres any time left maybe Top and I can speak to some of the locals. Hopefully we can get some real food, before we go check out those caves.
Dylan made it a rule to learn as much about the native culture and language as possible whenever she was in a foreign country. It seemed to help relax the locals when you spoke the language, especially once they found out you were a cop - and a military cop on top of it all.
No matter where ya go in the world people just cant seem to get over the cop issue. Male, female, black, white, no real biggie, they eventually adjust, but be a cop man, then they freak for sure. She smiled. Chuckling, she closed her eyes against the suns nearly blinding glare.
Finally finished with her sun bathing she stood, wrapped the washcloth around the small bar of soap and began scrubbing the dirt from her now relaxed body. After bathing, Dylan rolled back into the waters warm embrace.
Oh well, better not stay too long or theyll send out a search party looking for me. Now there's a thought. She grinned, imagining Tops face if he ever caught her out of uniform. Literally. Hed probably die of apoplexy. She snickered, but realized that she shouldn't be so hard on her first Sergeant. He was a really competent soldier and she liked him. Lately she had relinquished more responsibility to him as the trust and mutual respect grew.
It took her some time to get over his reason for being assigned to her unit; after all, he hadn't asked to baby-sit her. The smile disappeared as she thought of her over-protective, self-serving father. Father? Hell, more like a sperm donor. A sneer came, unbidden, to her face. Her father had "requested" that First Sergeant Beckham be assigned to her unit and his primary mission was to keep a watchful eye on Captain Dylan Hawke. Beckham was a well educated, specially trained, and very highly qualified Military Police Officer, but his area of expertise had been Personal Security and she was, after all, the Senator's only child and a political asset to boot.
She sighed in resignation. Ever since the man had rediscovered his daughter, at the tender age of fifteen, Senator Cameron was determined to be a part of her life. It had been a while, since he decided that politics were more important than family and had distanced himself from his wife and daughter. Years ago, when he was in the early stages of his career, an interracial marriage was considered political suicide, so he had told everyone that his wife had disappeared following a tragic accident. Later, when it became fashionable to be associated with blacks, Native Americans and other minorities, the girl was suddenly "discovered", safe, with her mother and Grandfather on a small reservation in the Carolina Mountains. The "mystery" of her disappearance was swept under the rug and the lost family was reunited.
Initially, Dylan had been thrilled to discover that, like the other kids at her school, she had a father. That, however, only lasted until she became aware of his true feelings.
He forbid her to attend her Grandfathers classes, believing it was inappropriate for a young girl, insisting that she take more feminine instruction instead. He forced her into singing classes and ballet. Though she loved the singing classes, she hazed her ballet instructor to no end, often driving her to tears, showing up for class in full Indian Brave regalia. It really pissed her off that her father dressed her up too, but in frilly ruffled dresses and patent leather shoes, parading her out for the cameras at every opportunity. All those years shed been without him, she had dreamed of meeting him, of being his girl and doing things together. Then he entered her life and destroyed her world. All of a sudden he wanted to be the perfect Daddy with the perfect family.
Dylan grinned remembering one final exhibition. He had been exhilarated. Dylan was turning into a beautiful young woman and he was looking forward to a family photo shoot. That was 'til he discovered his little darlin' liked girls. Guess he figured having a gay daughter wasn't good for his political career. Reflecting quietly, she thought back to the pivotal incident.
It was the day after her eighteenth birthday. She had failed to present the appropriate, sweet little mixed breed picture her "Daddy" wanted. Instead, she showed up in tight jeans and a traditional native beaded shirt, with a few modifications: it was missing half the front and all the back. She had planned to party with her school friends. Unfortunately she neglected to explain this to her plans to her father who had arranged for a publicity photographer to take pictures of the elaborate party he had planned. In his anger he had struck her, leaving a vivid red handprint on her cheek. He then restricted her to her room without benefit of friends, presents or even so much as a hug from her mother.
That evening Dylan sat in front of her computer screen reading a hot lesbian love story, one of her favorites, Mysti: Mistress of Dreams. She had just gotten to a steamy scene involving a sofa pit group when her phone rang. She jumped onto the bed, reaching for the bright red M&M shaped phone. Hoping that it was one of her friends offering to rescue her from the boredom of the four walls. Leaving the story in plain sight on the screen, she lay on her stomach to talk to her running buddy. She became so engrossed in the conversation she completely forgot she hadnt locked her door. Its amazing how fast your heart can beat and still stay in your chest. The bedroom door burst open. Her father stood there, fists balled up and firmly planted on his self-righteous hips.
"You young lady, are not allowed to have any entertainment when you are grounded, that means no phone calls and no... WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!" He pointed to the monitor. Turning her head to look at what had caught his attention, immediately a rather graphic description of a hot love scene jumped out at her.
"Oops!" Well, she had thought of coming out with her parents but this was not exactly the way she had planned to do it.
Still angry over the slap and reacting instinctively to the attack, she responded, as usual, without thinking, "Well, father, what confuses you the most? The fact that its two women or the fact that theyre enjoying it?"
Her father hit the roof. Her mother, who had come into the room after hearing all the screaming, cried. Her Grandfather, the only one whose opinion really mattered, stood with his arm encircling her shoulder in silent support. He seemed unsurprised and was taking this all in stride.
Though Dylan loved her mother and her grandfather, she knew that in order to live she needed her freedom. She glanced up at her Grandfather through tear filled eyes and silently said good-bye. That was the last time she spoke to her father and the last day she was home. That evening she packed a small bag, and under the cover of darkness, slipped quietly out of the house. Dylan Elizabeth Cameron ran away from home.
She legally changed her name, abandoning her fathers name of Cameron in favor of her mother's name, Hawke. Dylan Hawke walked directly from the courthouse to the recruiting station. The rejection of her father to her lifestyle and his use of her heritage for political gain had affected her more than even she wanted to admit. She joined the Army to escape his always critical and oftentimes harshly judgmental eye, to escape a man she had once fervently prayed to meet.
Dylan moved up quickly in the ranks, senior Non-Commissioned Officers saw her potential and recommended her for OCS [Officer's Candidate School]. At the tender age of 21, she graduated at the top 5% of her class. When she pinned on the bars of a Second Lieutenant, virtually no one knew she was the daughter of Senator John Cameron: Senior Senator of North Carolina and closet Homophobe.
Her assignment to the Military Police Corp. had meant yet another hill to climb. Women were just not seen in the Corp., and successful minority women were rarer still. Simply put, Dylan Hawke was an anomaly. Her fathers position could have made it easier in many aspects. In those areas she felt mattered however, the fact that she was the daughter of a US Senator would have made her life a living Hell. The respect she now enjoyed was all hers. She knew she had earned it on her own. It was not the result of her fathers position. In addition, the militarys dont ask, dont tell policy made her lifestyle a moot point as long as she was discrete and she was.
Lying back in the warm water of the desert oasis, the beautiful woman contemplated her career and decided that she was happy with things just the way they were.
Returning to the moment at hand, she reluctantly but realistically considered her bath.
Well, if I stay in here any longer I'll get water logged and sink.
Dylan sighed and swam towards the shore. Reaching the bank she stood, the warm water sliding from her sleek form glittered on her skin. Turning a smiling face upwards to the sun she walked gracefully towards her clothes. Shaking her hands to rid them of the remaining drops of water, she realized she had forgotten one critical thing: No towel, drip dry. She reached for her clothes and dressed quickly. Dusting off her BDU's, she adjusted the pistol on her hip, and started back towards the camp, strolling through the deep sand.
Having finally crested the hill she paused remembering her first sighting of the camps location. She had arrived two days earlier, selecting the site, which was just Northwest of the town of Riyadh. Forty-five soldiers, including a Second Lieutenant, her First Sergeant, two NCOs and four Corporals accompanied the enlisted men, many of which were new to the Army. Four HUMMVs with six, half-ton trucks full of men, gear and equipment all took the bumpy ride out to the site. There were also two ancient jeeps, one for her and one for her First Sergeant, which led the way. Truth be told, she still preferred that old reliable Army workhorse to the HUMMER. The old jeep was lacking in suspension as well as all the modern bells and whistles and was very small but it was able to get into spaces that the wider Hummer just couldnt go. It rarely broke down and had no need for special adjustments to deal with the excessive sand, just put fuel in it and go. Plus she could drive the hell out of it and not worry about lost pay for damages. Gotta love the old yeep. She grinned, nearly skipping and she trotted down the hill and towards the camp.
The camp was well camouflaged, the netting and tan coloring made it nearly impossible to see from above and difficult at best from a distance. As she stood looking down on the busy sight she could make out the shape of one large tent, which they used for briefings, meals and general operations. Nearby sat a mid-sized tent, which served as a command post and commo center. Her spacious Commanders tent was on the other side and several smaller tents encircled that. Concertina wire, its sharp, razor-like blades glittering, surrounded the perimeter, completing and securing the site. All in all, it seemed to be a secure location.
As she approached the edge of the well organized camp she reached into her cargo pocket again, coming out with her sunglasses and headgear, each a necessity in the glaring desert sun. She entered the busy site by way of one of the two entry/egress breaks in the concertina wire, unaware of the relieved looks from her soldiers. They had seen the Captain leave the area and were concerned when she remained gone for so long. They knew that she was more than capable to taking care of herself but that did not stop them from worrying. She was the first female commander who had ever been assigned to this type of unit and the protective streak in the all-male NCO ranks came out in full force. Her NCO's had been briefed, prior to her assuming command earlier that year, on the qualifications of the beautiful Captain. Yet, they felt the inherent need to protect her. Even the new green troops felt protective of the dark haired MP. Many still remembered their first encounter with the tall, deadly beauty.
They had arrived early that morning and were in the process of settling in when they were called out of the barracks to stand in formation in the hot August sun. Everyone knew that the unit had a woman commander and they had been told that, though she was definitely female, due to her position, she was also definitely off limits and quite out of their league. After the initial shock wore off, the junior NCOs began to grumble. Many voiced their opinions of females in the Army and a few made crude suggestions about positions they felt were much more appropriate for females in general, all to the chuckles and jibes of their comrades. The laughter quickly died down when they noticed the approaching duo.
The First Sergeant was trailing a tall, dark woman in tan BDUs. The first thing they all noticed was her walk. She moved with a graceful, powerful stride that gave the immediate impression she knew exactly where she was going and what she would do when she got there. The next and far more obvious thing they noticed was her height: she was very tall and very well built. The smiles and chuckles began again but were quickly squelched when she removed her sunglasses and stared at the laughing offenders with one raised dark eyebrow over startling crystal blue eyes.
They all felt the chill as she stared into each and every soldiers eye, or at least thats the way it felt. She gave them all a quirky half smile and, placing her balled up fists on her hips, stated in a clear, calm voice: All right, I know you were expecting something a little different but you got me, so lets try to get along, shall we?
The Motor Sergeant, who was the main offender in leading the crude remarks, grunted and sneered. I ain't working in the field with no got damn woman. He mumbled just loud enough to be heard by the tall Commander.
You got a problem with me Sarge? The Captain asked, turning icy daggers towards the hulking figure of her new Motor Sergeant. Let's get it out in the open, shall we? Let's meet in the Fitness Center at 1800 and you can explain it to me.
The First Sergeant tried to change her mind and forewarn her that the Motor Sergeant was know as a bar room brawler, who never ever fought fair.
The beautiful woman simply said, Good, I need the work out, and gave the Motor Sergeant a toothy smile that did not reach her sparkling blue eyes.
The word got out that the beautiful new MP Captain was going to talk' to the Motor Sergeant at 1800 and the betting was on. Dylan arrived in the gym in her green BDU's with a green and gold MP gym bag slung over her shoulder. The Motor Sergeant was there dressed in his gray ARMY sweats. Captain Hawke slipped into the women's locker room and changed into her favorite shirt. Pembroke State University was emblazoned in bright gold over the black cotton across her chest, and a pair of soft gray Army shorts hugged her slim thighs.
She stepped out of the locker room unaware that her long tanned legs were drawing admiring glances from both the male and female inhabitants. She stepped barefoot onto the blue mat in the center of the gym floor and began to stretch. The Motor Sergeant snickered and nudged his cronies but Dylan dutifully ignored them and continued her stretching. As she stood and turned toward the NCO the smile that played on her lips was anything but pleasant.
Well, Sarge, you had something you wanted to talk to me about didn't you? She asked.
The Sergeant flexed his shoulders and rolled the head around on his stump of a neck. Grinning at the tall lean woman before him, he reached for her with one meaty hand and suddenly realized that he was no longer standing. As a matter of fact, his view of the world had completely shifted. He was laying, flat on his back, staring at the iron girders lining the gym ceiling while a slim foot rested on his throat and a pair of ice blue eyes looked down at him.
You want to try that again? The deep contralto voice asked.
He rose to his feet and turned his back on her, faking confusion. It was a move he had used successfully in the past. Spinning quickly, he swung, anticipating the feel of his powerful fist striking flesh. The problem was there was no one there. Dylan dropped quickly to a squat, allowing the arm to pass over her harmlessly, and rose as the sergeant's momentum threw him off balance. Bringing up one powerful leg, she spun and caught him on the right side of the head, staggering him. Dylan followed through with a leaping front kick taking the stunned NCO to the mat. Straddling his chest with her knees, she pinned his shoulders to the mat and a pressed a forearm into his throat.
The Sergeant looked up at the grinning MP and smiled in chagrin and defeat. Dylan folded her arms over her chest and sat back, still resting on the soldier's chest. Truce? She asked.
Beer Ma'am, he offered with a grudging smile.
Yes, they all knew how deadly she could be but were still amazed. "How could anything that looked that good be soooo bad?"
The soldiers were confident in the ability of the Captain to protect them and they all agreed it didn't hurt one bit that the officer was easy on the eyes.
She approached the First Sergeant noticing that he was observing a block of instruction on the use of Night Vision Devices [NVDs]. He was a competent soldier and she smiled realizing that she really enjoyed working with him. She made it a point to know those soldiers she had close or constant contact with and in learning about her "Top" she had discovered some amusing things. The man was a Porsche fanatic. If you ever wanted to get on his good side or to distract him just bring up, say a 1967 Carrera and off he went. Between that and his habit of constantly chewing gum - he swore it kept him from smoking - he reminded her of an over-sized teenager. His chestnut hair was now liberally sprinkled with gray but his care-worn face still showed signs of the telltale freckles he had sported in abundance as a youth. Noticing her silent arrival, he turned and nodded in deference to her rank.
"Evenin Capn". He drawled in his mid-Western accent.
"Evening Top, how are things going?" She inquired.
"Bout as well as can be expected." He sighed in resignation.
They looked at each other and grinned, knowing that this group was far more advanced than the last one they had trained and they were silently pleased with the progress so far. It was a hidden pride they shared as they were unwilling to let the troops in on it just yet, for fear that they would get cocky and let up on their training.
"All right then, keep at it Top." She turned her back to the troops, giving her First Sergeant a grin and a wink as she strolled off towards her tent.
She passed First Lieutenant, Milner along the way. Stopping to speak to the young officer, she was pleased to note that he was checking his copy of the small map they all carried and marking off the location of the caves she was interested in. The Lieutenant was an earnest young man anxious to make an impression on the stalwart Captain. He followed her around like a puppy looking for a home and emulated her every move, decision and action. Milner was a fresh faced "California boy. He reminded Dylan of a poster child for clean living. His brown hair streaked with red from the sun intensified the sparkling green eyes. It seemed that no matter where he was or what type of situation he was in, he always managed to appear freshly pressed.
That is just too freaky for words. Dylan thought, shaking her head and continuing on to her quarters. Since he already has the location marked on the grid map maybe Ill take the LT with me instead of the Top, she considered, ducking to enter her tent. Still thinking of the caves mentioned by her First Sergeant earlier, she grabbed her duffel bag and began searching it for the flashlight and Bowie knife given to her by her Grandfather. The eerie sense of: something is wrong returned, suddenly and with a vengeance. The hackles rose on her neck and her head jerked up as her focus immediately centered on her hearing.
"What the Hell ? A tank, here? We didn't plan for any tanks."
Dylan ran from her tent, eyes frantically searching. "Milner, report! Where the devil are you? Milner!" Who the Hell is driving a tank through my camp? The rapid popping of automatic rifle fire caused a dark brow to rise. Were under attack! Who the fuck are these guys? She watched as the red streak of traces illuminated the camp in twilight and helped locate the soldiers direction of fire. The sight was terrifyingly beautiful.
Turning, she ducked back into her tent and snapped up her M16, the extra clip for her 9mm and any other ammo she could find, stuffing it all into a cargo pocket. As she stepped back out she heard it, the rattling cough of machine gun fire nearby and realized her men were engaging the attackers and holding their own. She needed to locate Top. Remembering the location of the NVD class she ducked and headed in that direction. Her feet pounded the ground and her heart raced as she searched the area for her senior NCO. Hearing the growling voice of the 1SGT, she turned on the speed and angled toward the sound. She knew she had to pass the communications tent to get there so she made a mad dash towards it. She entered and saw the LT on the mike calling for support,
"Good man, LT. We need some back up, were out gunned."
Glancing outside she saw something that made her skin crawl. More enemy soldiers were coming over the rise. The attackers were Arabs, some wore Eastern block BDUs but the majority were dressed in desert robes, blacks, tans, and brown. Most wore boots with cloth leggings, their heads covered in old BDU caps or turbans. They crested the hill in ragged formation, some with sabers, others carrying vintage carbine rifles. Still others were armed with modern Tech 5 sub-machine guns. The strange hodge-podge of men and weapons seemed endless. Dylan turned back to the Lieutenant,
"Correction LT, were out-gunned and out-manned, at least three to one. Tell them to get their Asses here pronto or there wont be a here to salvage."
She exited the tent, running low towards the HUMMVs. Thats where she had heard Top. She glanced over her shoulder, back at the commo tent and watched in utter disbelief as the enemys tank turned its big gun and let loose. The tent exploded in a flashing ball of fire, flaming canvas drifting to earth like scarlet dancing butterflies. Caught in the horrid beauty of destruction, Dylan was momentarily distracted by the shivering earth and charred smell of burning flesh but was quickly returned to reality by a chilling sound: the grinding of the turret as the tank turned its smaller gun turned towards her.
RUN! her mind screamed, as she turned and raced towards the Motor pool.
The First Sergeant looked up, startled by the explosion of the communication tent. He had taken up a secure location behind a HUMMER and was holding his own with his M16 when he saw her. Jumping quickly to his feet he sprinted towards her. The instant he reached her, she felt him throw her to the ground and roll, almost immediately putting her completely beneath him. His body jerked and shuddered as rounds penetrated his back. Feeling the jarring of the body suddenly on top of her, Dylan grabbed the mans arms and looked upward into his surprised brown eyes. The courageous NCO stared down at his Captain, a look of intense shock and unimaginable pain was frozen on his face, then his eyes stilled and glazed over.
Dylan grimaced as she wriggled and crawled out from beneath the dead man on her chest, realizing he had just saved her life.
Climbing to her feet, she grabbed the fallen mans rifle and looked up, her eyes widened at the sight that greeted her: chaos. She swallowed her shock and fear, gathering her strength and wits, heading at a dead run towards the NCO's tents. Dylan knew she could allow the fear to have full rein and run for her life or gather her courage and take action. She looked around as she ran and allowed anger to be her guide. A red heat built in her heart and mind. She knew that if she gave in to it her actions would be irrational and fatal. Her other option was to use the anger and hate. She would destroy them with it.
The tank, followed by several rough-looking soldiers in ragged uniforms, was rolling through the center of camp, cutting down everything in its path. She ran, weaving and dodging around fallen men, stopping only long enough to drag a mobile radio from a dead soldier. She looked around for the remainder of her men.
"Come this way. We have to move out. Now!" Got to regroup, she thought. Then set up for a counter attack, if there are enough of us left to counter attack. "DAMN, these guys just keep coming!" She exclaimed to no one in particular, staring as even more dirty enemy soldiers rushed from the sand.
She gathered the men she could find around her and headed towards the low-lying hills in search of the caves the First Sergeant had mentioned earlier. Seeing the Lieutenants map in her minds eye and remembering the location he had marked for the caves, she headed towards the center of the hills, fairly sure of where she was going.
Her eyes seemed to see everything in red and she was almost too angry to realize what she was doing. The men following her rushed through low-lying bushes and finally into the mouth of a small cave, happy to be out of the line of fire. Dylan used the last of her strength to guard the entrance. Going in last, she staggered to a stop. Falling to her knees, her rifle was clutched tightly in one hand while the other, trembling, still locked itself around the radio. Glancing down at the gear she noticed that the radio had taken a direct hit. Now it was just an expensive doorstop. Tossing the useless equipment aside she straightened, pulled herself to her feet and turned towards the cave mouth.
She stood, staring in shock as the ragged enemy herded the soldiers they had captured into a group and turned the heavy turret-mounted 50 caliber towards the unarmed and utterly defenseless prisoners. That was when she heard it, the distinct bark of the big 50-caliber machine gun and the horrifying screams of dying men. Her dying men.
"NO!" Dylan yelled as she lunged towards the mouth of the cave.
Her surviving soldiers tackled and held her to the ground, despite her valiant struggle.
A Corporal, placing his hands on either side of her face, shouted: "NO Maam, no, you can't go out there. You can't help them. You can't help them now. You have to help us. Do you hear me? We need you. We need you, Captain."
Dylan stopped struggling. She stared at the young NCO and realized he was right. Getting captured or killed would do no good.
"Let me up," she said. "Now!"
Struggling to her feet again, she staggered to the caves mouth. Her insides rolled with tension as her eyes took in the sight. She stepped farther outside, holding onto the rock face as she leaned forward to empty her stomach into the small bushes near the caves entrance. Even with her eyes closed, she could still see the ragged bleeding bodies everywhere. Tan BDUs splattered with blood, the torn cloth shifting gently in the light breeze of early evening. She heard the rough sounds of the victors, her shaken mind unable or unwilling to translate.
Her throat burned from throwing up, her mouth was parched from gasping the dry air and her eyes hurt from holding back tears. Her head pounded from the fear, anxiety and hatred she was feeling - all at the same time. The smell of burning flesh and gunpowder singed her nostrils as she inhaled great lungs full of foul air. Fists balled in tension and rage at her sides as she stared at her camp, her men, and her home: all violated.
The sound of footsteps caught her attention; there was movement in the bushes below. She watched as three figures emerged, two were dragging a blackened third between them. As they approached Dylan recognized the red sun streaked hair of the Lieutenant.
We need some help here. She bellowed, rushing forward to help bring the horribly burned junior officer to the safety of the cave.
The Corporal bent over the young man examining his wounds, then lifted sad eyes. Sorry Maam, hes gone.
Dylan glanced back down, then out again at the camp. Terrorists laughed as they kicked and prodded the bodies of the dead soldiers, unaware of the piercing blue eyes that watched and planned.
The sun finally set and Dylan sat staring silently into the small fire in the back of the cave. The men sat nearby cleaning the virtually useless weapons. What good were guns without bullets and the escape had used up nearly all of theirs. Still they continued, gaining some small measure of comfort in the routine as they silently watched the Captain.
Dylan had not moved, had not so much as blinked, in what seemed like hours. Slowly she stood, her head bowed, still staring down at the fire. Finally, she turned and moved to squat near a pile of equipment. Methodically she searched the gear, pulling out two grenades; she attached them to the suspenders of her LBE. Standing, she adjusted her holster and pistol then jumped up and down, settling the additional equipment and checking for rattles. Looking up, she motioned for the Corporal. Squatting again, she picked up a canteen and poured some of its water onto the dark dirt at her feet. Waiting a few minutes she stirred the mixture with two long fingers. Flattening the ground with the edge of her hand, she began to form a terrain map.
"Corporal, Im going down there to try to find out whats going on. Im gonna see if I can contact Headquarters and get us some help." Pointing at the hill on the rough map, she continued. "This is our present location. There is a small oasis here," she stated, pointing to a small indention on the map. "Im going down and recon the enemy. If I can, Ill call for fire on the camp. You keep the men here - out of the possible impact zone. If, for some reason Im not back by 22 hundred take the men and head for the oasis. When you get there, stock up on water and head east. There is a small village about 30 clicks from here. Travel steady and slow. You should make it by early evening. Make sure to brief the Colonel on what happened and send back help. Any questions?" She asked.
The Corporal looked into the piercing blue eyes, then down at the map. Shaking his head in resignation, he muttered. "No Maam damn stubborn woman."
An eyebrow arched in well-practiced intimidation. "What did you say Corporal?" Dylan had heard the statement but asked anyway.
"Uh, Good luck Maam." He stuttered, embarrassed at having been caught.
Dylan poured more water on the temporary map. Reaching over, she scooped a handful of ash from the edge of the fire and added it to the gooey mud, stirring it again until it formed a soft paste. She watched her hand as if it were attached to anothers body. She remembered the lessons taught by her grandfather and unconsciously began to hum an ancient Indian chant, swaying back and forth as she streaked the high planes on her face with the thick, black mud.
As the soldiers watched their commanding officer, a vacant looked glazed Dylan's face. Slowly she stood and turned to face them, her blue eyes startling in the now nearly black face. The chill that radiated from her eyes sent shivers up more than one spine. Making eye contact with each individual, Dylan watched as every soldier nodded his head in silent acknowledgement and understanding. They knew that the men who remained in the camp were not prepared for what was about to happen and they each fully understood that she was going to do whatever it took to accomplish the mission. The eerily synchronized nod was their acceptance as well as a silent tribute to her unimaginable courage. The atmosphere inside the small refuge shifted dramatically. Once filled with a sense of desperation and terror, it now pulsed with hope and the burning desire for vengeance.
Dylan moved wordlessly to the mouth of the cave. Turning briefly, she stared back into the faces of her young troops and smiled. Then, Captain Dylan Hawke disappeared into the darkness.
"Focus" Dylan thought as she moved, like a shadow, through the small bushes at the mouth of the cave. Pausing, she allowed her eyes to adjust to the darkness before continuing. She entered the small scrub area covering the base of the hills. Stealthily, she moved to the outer edge of the camp. The demolished concertina wire had been pushed aside by the enemy for better access into the camp. Cautiously she stopped again to mentally count and place the location of each of the enemy. She grinned and bent at the waist as she ran towards her tent.
Entering through the rear opening, she quickly searched her now scattered gear. In their haste to find valuables the enemy had overlooked a small pile of clothing and blankets shoved under her cot. In the tent corner, under the blanket, was her spare duffel bag that carried additional equipment, ammo and a small two-way Land Sat-radio with a solar battery. Reaching under her cot, she pulled out a tan backpack and located her Grandfathers bowie knife and the spare clip for her 9 mm.
Clipping the knife in its sheath to her LBE, she stuffed the remaining equipment, ammo and radio into the pack and, shouldering it, took a final look around. With a sigh of regret she pulled the pin from the first grenade. She was about to roll it under her cot when she heard the rustle of canvas. Her head jerked up and she stared at the front entrance as the canvas flap was drawn back. Standing there was a handsome dark-eyed Arab, his sharp features back-lit by the burning fires behind him.
Glancing up and down her body, his eyes stopped at her nametag. "Well, the hawk has returned to her roost. Welcome little hawk."
Dylan drew herself to her full height and glared at the stranger with narrowed, angry eyes. "Are you the bastard who is leading these animals?"
The man bowed at the waist, arrogantly touching his hand to his forehead then flicking it outward in a taunting salute. "May I introduce myself? I am Sharif Kadine. And you, beautiful woman, are my prisoner." He smiled and reached for her.
"I think not, asshole." Dylan replied. Tipping her head slightly to one side and lifting a single dark eyebrow, the officer quietly held up the grenade. She relaxed her hand and allowed the spoon to fly off with a chiming: ping. "See you in Hell, dick head." She smiled broadly and tossed the now live grenade to him.
Kadine caught it purely out of reflex and stood, gaping at her. Dylan turned, still smiling, and ran from the tent, glancing back in time to see the man throw himself out the entrance just as the tent exploded into a fiery ball of flames and canvas.
"Damn, missed him!" She exclaimed.
Now on borrowed time, she ran straight to the tank, the steel behemoth that rested near her quarters. She stopped by the tread and, pulling the pin, placed her last grenade - shoving it into the rubber matting of the left tread. She heard the sound of rifle fire and dirt jumped at her feet. She scrambled, dodging bullets; the shouts of the enemy in her ears. Turning, she headed towards the oasis, knowing that she would be followed and hoping to lead them off her trail.
Thats when she heard it, the sound of cheering. Glancing over her left shoulder, she looked up. Through the shadows of night she saw her men, standing in the bushes at the mouth of the cave. She noticed the frantic Corporal, trying to get the men back inside. Behind her, mixed with the sounds of rifle fire she heard him. Kadine was laughing, loudly, insanely, laughing.
"Aw shit," she thought. "They think this is some kind of game. They just gave away our position."
Hearing the explosion of the second grenade, she desperately hoped it had drowned out the sounds of her men. Turning, she headed towards the cave, frantic to reach it, knowing that the young soldiers were in terrible danger. Their youthful exuberance had targeted their location. Arms pumping and feet flying, she dodged bushes as she scrambled to reach the cave, diving in just as she heard the explosion of the big gun on the tank. Cursing silently she knew she had stopped its capability to move but not to fire.
The rocks resting above the mouth of the cave exploded violently, throwing sand and rock into the cave. A second round hit the ground directly in the front of the cave.
"Theyre bracketing our location," she thought.
"Get back, get to the rear of the cave. Get down NOW!" She screamed and felt the air rush by her as a third round whipped past her head and into the rear wall of the sanctuary. Another round slammed into the roof of the cave entrance. The ground trembled and the air filled with dust. Dylan felt herself being lifted and thrown backward into a wall of stone. She was vaguely aware of her head and shoulder slamming into the rock, a bright white light flashed behind her eyelids. Then, there was nothing.
The almost blessed nothingness was temporary; soon it was followed by the sound of a buzzing like a thousand bees.
"By God, I hurt. Where what happened?"
Her head throbbed, her ears rang and her side was on fire. Dylan drew her legs up and tucked them close to her bruised body. The movement caused her side to ache. Slowly she brought her feet beneath her and stood on shaking legs. The ringing in her ears grew louder and the ground swayed beneath her as she reached out blindly for the wall. Her vision cleared gradually, as she looked around. Her men broken, bloody, dead all of them were dead. Silently she fell to her knees, pitching forward, as the world again, went mercifully black.
As she surfaced again, Dylan began to remember the events of the past few...what was it? Had it been hours, minutes, or days? Holding a shaking hand to her head in a vain attempt to stop the world around her from spinning, she stood. Staggering from body to body, feeling for a pulse, she was to be disappointed again and again. She gathered the dog tags from the bodies, one from each, leaving one to identify the remains. As she wandered through the destruction she gathered body parts, arms, legs, even boots with feet still in them, placing some near the appropriate remains and stacking others that she couldnt ID into a pile at the rear of the cave.
Dylan stopped often to empty what little remained in her stomach, finally ending with dry heaves when there was nothing else left in her empty stomach. She continued, her mind not yet fully grasping that her efforts were in vain. The parts would not reattach. The men would not stand if she shoved their feet back onto the mangled legs. But still she continued. Finally the last body, the Corporal, his eyes locked open in shocked amazement, stared at her. The expression on his face reached deep into her subconscious. He was DEAD! Her brain finally kicked in, and the numbing shock became gripping, indescribable terror.
She had to get out! Still clutching the bloodied dog tags, she scrambled towards the entrance. The explosion had virtually sealed the cave. The terrorists had not bothered to break through the barrier that sealed the entrance. Noticing a small opening at the top of the mouth, she began to climb. The smell of burnt stone and charred flesh, the sickeningly sweet metallic smell of fresh blood and the putrid smell of urine and feces were heavy in the air. Dylan was frantic to escape.
By the time she reached the tiny opening she was babbling and incoherent. Forcing her bruised, bloodied and battered body through the jagged hole, she felt the cool air of the night finally strike her face. Lacking even the strength to stop herself, she rolled down the other side of the mound of stone and landed in a heap at the bottom. Dazed, but alive, she staggered to her feet and began walking.
Night had fallen and the shifting sands stilled as if resting for the next day. A light breeze filled the air but no sounds were heard except the faint whisper of cloth lifting and shifting in the still heated air. A tiny oasis sparkled in the night, the water reflecting the twinkling stars on its black surface.
A figure sat on the crest of the dune looking past the water, out into the desert, quietly staring across the darkness of the sand. If not for the gentle breeze moving the cloud of black hair she may have been mistaken for a long forgotten statue, half buried in the sand, abandoned by some ancient desert tribe.
Icy blue eyes focused on an unseen target somewhere in the distance, imagining her objective. It was three years now. Three years since the rabid animal had visited insanity upon her life, laughing maniacally as her world blew apart around her. Now she guarded this portion of the desert and sought out the man responsible for the destruction. For these past three years the people of the area had lived in peace and security, protected by a being they considered almost mythical. Here, in the hot desert sand, the myth sat alone - watching, remembering, planning and waiting for the moment when justice would at last be served and rest would come for the memories.
Dylan thought back to the day theyd found her. Even now, the memories were sketchy. They had found her near the oasis, torn, bloody and unconscious. For three days shed remained that way. With no thought of reward and little thought of the possible dangers involved, they, the people of the desert, had cared for her, dressing her injuries and seeing to her needs, but she did not wake. The tall stranger screamed and mumbled in her sleep but her eyes did not open. On the fourth day, she woke.
They knew instantly that she was different. She had the evil eye, blue eyes, glazed with hate. They feared her but were more afraid to abandon her in the greater fear that she would curse them. Now they knew that she had been sent, not to curse them but to curse Kadine - the man who raped their daughters, stole their food and beat down any resistance. She was their answer from Allah. She killed the men of Kadine. In return, they provided her with food, clothes and, when needed, medical attention. They ran messages to the nearby villages for her and dutifully turned over the men she captured alive to the NATO authorities, those few she let live. They knew her only as Hawk for that was the name she gave them.
Whenever the raiders attacked, a silent killer appeared like a dark apparition, bearing down upon their enemy. She fought with dead eyes, feeling nothing and remembering only the smell of scorched stones and the faces of soldiers dead now for three years.
For three years, Dylan had hunted for Kadine. Now only a handful of his most loyal soldiers stood between her and the mad man. She knew it would be over soon, he was desperate.
Dylan stood. Brushing off her trouser bottoms, she turned and retraced her steps to her camp in the foothills near the oasis. She always returned here after battle to recover, to bathe her wounds in the cool waters of the small spring fed pool. She thought of the time before, when the desert people found her. Though she remembered very little clearly, she did recall the hands that had cared for her, healing her body but not her mind. Now, whenever she needed a retreat, a quiet place to fight the demons in her soul, she returned to this place.
"My birth place." She thought with a grim smile. "Now I can finish it."
Dylan squatted near her small campfire and stirred a pot of shepherds stew, the aroma of cooking mutton filled her senses. She smiled grimly thinking back to the MREs that had been a mainstay during those early days.
"I still hate those damn things." She muttered to herself, reaching into her small bag for a pinch of salt. She hummed to herself as she slowly sprinkled the salt into the stew, staring as it dissolved.
Some days her memories were vivid, memories of the events before Kadine. Other days, like today, were more difficult. She had started the morning early, a headache waking her to the predawn light. Her sleep had been even more disturbing than usual. She relived the explosion in the cave again and again, but last night had been different. Last night she had heard screams, a womans screams. At first she thought they were her own but in the dream she was searching for someone, the screaming woman. In the dream, the womans voice was as familiar to her as her own and she knew that the woman was in danger and she, Dylan, would do whatever was necessary to protect her. The woman had screamed Dylans name and, in the dream, reached out to her. In desperation to reach her, the soldier woke sitting straight up with her hand outstretched, the womans name still on her lips. But now, in the light of day, she could not remember it. Dylan closed her eyes and tried desperately to recall the details of the dream, but all she could see was a face surrounded by a veil of blond hair and the impression of green eyes.
Frustrated, she sat with her head in her hands and cursing under her breath at the fates that had put her there, so far from everything she knew. Taking a deep breath she stood and slipped silently to the edge of the camp. Her appetite gone, she paced in the fading light.
Finally, stopping on the crest of the dune, she stared out at the distant hills, unmoving, the light breeze catching her black flowing robes. She had adopted for the dress favored by the natives and used them to blend in whenever she needed to go into the nearby village. Though her height and eye color was impossible to hide, she did make a more convincing native in the robes.
She returned to the camp and squatted near her small fire, drawing a large Bowie knife from a sheath hidden in folds of her leggings. With a glazed look on her face she mindlessly began sharpening the knife in long even strokes, staring into the flames. She knew better than to dwell on the memories. Instead, she used the anger to drive her on. Remembering that terrible time again had saved her sanity.
Kadine had given the orders for the attack on her unit. He had initiated the entire mission. Her hatred of the madman had fueled the methodical destruction of his empire. It had also made him desperate, he needed men and money to rebuild. Now his greed had brought him back here, back to her.
Lura stared out the window of the decrepit 747, watching the ground creep closer. Everything in sight was one monotonous color: tan. The ground was tan, the runway was tan, and the people were tan. She smiled at that thought.
Hell if I stare long enough I bet the sky will turn tan, she chuckled to herself.
She shifted uncomfortably in the seat, tightening the ancient seat belt and brushing the wrinkles from her travel worn trousers. She really hated flying but she would do anything for this story, even fly to god knows where in an overcrowded excuse for an airplane with nearly nonexistent air conditioning. To make matters worse, she was seated next to an older man who seemed to think that she was a lounge pillow and took every opportunity to lay his head on her shoulder and attempt to wrap his arm around her waist. Rolling her eyes towards the ceiling, Lura sighed and, faking a stretch, politely elbowed the offender in the nose, gasping in mock surprise at the grunt of pain from the man. She smiled and stared at him until he turned away, only to lean on the shoulder of the passenger on his other side.
Turning back to the window Lura stared again out at the barren landscape that flowed below her. It had taken every bit of her charisma to talk her boss into allowing her to take this trip, but she knew a story when she heard one and this was definitely a story.
God, it had better be a story. I sure have a lot riding on this. Only eight months left to prove myself. Why did I make that stupid deal with Mother? Maybe I should have just worked my way through school like I threatened to do. Sometimes tradition and money can bite donkeys butt. Mother and her Southern ideas will be the death of me yet. Well, more likely the death of my career if I dont make this work. Only eight measly months between the career Ive always dreamed of and being a frigging Romance Writer in the nauseatingly grand tradition of Knights on white horses and wussy females waiting to be rescued. Not! I cant think about that right now. I have to think about the Hawk. He exists. I know he exists. Why else would I be so damned obsessed?
For years the people of this region had spoken of a mythical being they called Hawk. Now, thousands of miles from home, she actually had the chance to investigate the stories.
She remembered how the guys back in the newsroom had laughed at her, offering to pay the travel expenses for her next story, a trip to Loch Ness to find the Monster. Shed laughed along in good humor. Grinning, shed waived her ticket at them as she strolled out the door toward the waiting cab. That had been two long days ago. Now, just beneath her laid the deserts of Saudi Arabia, a country fought over for as long as humans could remember. She was about to touch down in a land bathed in mystery, steeped in history and, she hoped, holding the key to her future.
Could I have come up with a place more different than home? This dry, hot unending tan is such a sharp contrast to the cool soothing greens of Virginia. Here theres sand as far as the eye can see, where at home thered be rolling hills and ivy covered walls. The genteel southern charm of Virginia verses the harsh, brutal reality of this barren wasteland. So why do I feel so torn? Virginias always been home for me. My head tells me it still is but my heart is telling me something else.
She opened her journal and reviewed her notes. The Hawk was believed to be the spirit of an ancient warrior, returned to once again protect the people from marauding killers. He was said to protect the innocent from the horrors of the roaming armies of terrorists who called themselves holy soldiers. The people described him as incredibly tall, with cold blue eyes that could penetrate the bodies of the wicked and steal their very souls. If one believed all the locals said, this being was amazingly strong, never felt pain and was never injured. He could walk through the sand and never leave tracks, he would simply appear in the heat of battle, silent, deadly and unstoppable.
Yep, and he leaps tall buildings in a single bound. Lura chuckled. Why am I here? Is this guy for real or am I on some kinda wild goose chase? Here I sit, trying to psyche myself up to do what? Not be frightened that I won't find him or be terrified that I will?
She turned her head again, staring at her own reflection in the scratched Plexiglas window. Her soft green eyes, large and haunted from lack of sleep, her short blonde hair, a tossed cap of gold on her head. She studied her eyes, trying to see the truth there. She had no idea what had drawn her here or why, she simply knew she had to come.
If I were being honest with myself I would realize I didn't come here only for a story, but I would also have no other clue as to why I am here. I just know I had to come.
Ever since she had begun hearing stories of the Hawk, while in her journalism classes at the University of Virginia, she had been drawn to this point, this place in time. For the last two years she had seen him almost every night when she closed her eyes.
She saw the tall dark figure standing alone in the sand. The wind whipping his robes, he always stood alone facing a small quiet pool. She tried every night to see the features she knew would be reflected in the still water. She never did. It didnt matter, she had known who he was. He was Hawk. But, lately, the dreams had changed. The image that had always appeared distant, powerful and very masculine had begun to soften. The image of the flowing robes had changed. Now Lura could tell that it wasnt just long black robes lifted by the desert wind but also long jet-black hair. The profile had begun to clarify, to sharpen into the profile of a beautiful woman with crystal blue eyes. Eyes that held unimaginable sorrow in their icy depths. Lura felt drawn to the strange apparition. She felt the need to protect not her body, but her soul. Every night now she dreamed of the beautiful woman. Every night she felt the pull of a battered soul calling to her own.
"I dont know who you are or where youve gone, but I know that we will meet. Ill be there for you. I will find you."
Lura was startled from her thoughts by the sudden jarring of the plane as it touched down, the huge body shuddering as the alerons lifted to slow the ancient craft.
'I'm here, finally I'm here.'
Finding herself short of supplies, Dylan decided to venture into town. Dressed again in the dark desert robes, she wandered through the local market looking for material to replace her worn sleeping blankets and stock up her food supplies. As always, Dylan kept her ears opened for leads on the monster she hunted. Thats how she heard about the visiting television crew.
Gossip in the markets were godsends to her. Better than CNN, she smirked.
Dylan had been hunting the animal now for three years. She had tried to keep abreast of the changes in the US but some things were almost impossible to monitor. This new anchorman LG Evans was one of them. She had never heard of Evans, but the idea of camera crews in the area had excited the locals. She heard that this crew was here searching for the mysterious Hawk.
Having learned enough Dylan hurried to complete her shopping and head back to the oasis. She intended to have enough supplies to stay hidden until they left. The last thing on her agenda was to blow her cover with a news story.
I need to pick up some meat and fruit, then Ill head back to camp.
Having purchased a cured leg of mutton, she wandered toward the fresh fruit stands intent on some citrus to supplement her diet. As she walked closer she overheard the discussion of the vendor.
Apparently, Kadine, was intent on kidnapping the anchorman and his crew. The equipment alone was worth a fortune, not to mention the value the news company would place on the crew and anchorman.
Dylan smiled grimly. Finally, the opportunity to be in the same place as Kadine.
The time was near. Soon, she would have the chance to bring an animal to justice. Dylan knew Kadines intentions, he would ransom the men and then turn around and sell them to the highest bidder. He would try to use them to restore his ravaged army. She intended to throw a wrench into the works. Stopping Kadine from kidnapping the news group would not work. She knew she needed to allow the kidnapping to occur, then she could follow the men back to their camp and finally destroy the viper in his pit.
Gathering her supplies Dylan headed back to the oasis to plan.
The hotel room was stifling and miserably dark. The yellowed walls showed signs of age in every crack. The once gold curtains had faded to a sickly yellow and the formerly deep green carpet was what Lura like to refer to a baby upchuck green. An ancient desk crouched in a corner by the rooms only window, a wobbly wooden chair provided the only seat with the exception of the bed.
Lura sat gingerly on the edge of the chair, trying to avoid getting splinters in some very uncomfortable places and stared into the colorful screen of her laptop, reviewing the notes she had compiled for her story. A disgusted expression appeared on her face as she read her interview comments from earlier in the week.
She had met with a horrible little man named El Kadine, who claimed that he was the savior of the people. The impression Lura had gotten was that he was, in fact, exactly what all earlier reports had called him: a greedy disgusting glorified terrorist who fed on the misfortunes of the poor and ignorant. Thoughts of him conjured up pictures of slimy eels and the feeling of needing a steaming hot shower, preferably with lye soap.
They had been in Riyadh for three days now. Lura had visited every restaurant, bar and dive in the town. No one was talking. No one would tell them anything useful about the Hawk. After all their efforts they had no more information now than they had when they arrived. Lura knew the Hawk had a habit of appearing when most needed, that he was tall and incredibly strong, but that was all.
Most of the inhabitants of the town were either in fear of the Hawk or loved him to distraction and would rather turn in their fathers than betray this supposed hero. Whenever she asked for a description of the man, they would smile, shake their heads and look at her as if she had lost her mind.
My god, you would think we were asking them to give up information on National security, Lura thought. Well, one more chance. Bob said something about a small village in the desert where the Hawk was supposed to hang out. If we stay there long enough he may show up. I just hope the paper lets us extend our visit.
Shutting down her laptop, Lura closed the lid and slipped the slender computer into its padded carrying case. Zipping it shut she set it on the floor next to her small suitcase. Still mentally preoccupied, she walked into the bathroom and began packing her toiletries.
What if we do meet him? God I hope I dont make a complete idiot of myself. I had better review my interview questions again. I doubt he will be in the mood for any long conversations, so I have to narrow them down to really pertinent things. That means asking about his girlfriend is a definite No No. God, why am I so interested in his love life? What is it about this Hawk?
Stuffing her toiletry bag into the top of her suitcase completed her packing. Lura shouldered her laptop bag, picked up her suitcase and headed out the door, down the stairs to the desk and her waiting camera crew.
Bob waited in the hot sun by the van for the reporter. He smiled when he saw the young anchorwoman. She was dressed in khaki walking shorts, a short sleeved white top, and a tan sleeveless vest with lots of pockets finished her outfit. Her arms and legs had still not tanned in the hot desert sun her skin was a soft pearl tone. The sunlight had brought out the burnished red highlights in her golden hair, making the light green in her eyes sparkle. Feeling more like an over protective father than the senior member of the crew, Bob grabbed Luras bag and tossed it into the back of the rented van. He then held the sliding rear door open and helped the petite woman inside. Making sure that she had fastened her seat belt and that the door was secure, he slid into the front passenger seat and gave Richard, the camera man, a nod to head out.
The village was about two hours away and Lura had decided to nap on the way there. She had been asleep for about 45 minutes when the sharp swerving of the van jarred her awake.
"HEY! Richard, whats goin on?
"Hang on Lura!" Richard yelled, struggling with the steering wheel to keep the vehicle on the road. "Some asshole is trying to run us off the road."
Lura screamed as the van was rammed in the side by an ancient SUV. The driver was dressed in dark brown robes and seemed determined to cause an accident. Beside him, the passenger waived a semi automatic rifle and gestured wildly, screaming at the driver.
"Get down Lura!" Bob yelled, spotting the weapon. He reached back to force the young reporter to the seat when Richard lost control of the vehicle. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. The truck slammed into the side of the van. The left front wheel of the van caught on a bolder on the edge of the road. A loud grinding followed by a harsh metallic snap and the wheel went flying off. The front of their van dropped. Digging instantly into the dirt, it stopped suddenly. Lura felt herself thrown forward; she saw the headrest of the seat in front of her coming towards her at an alarming speed, then nothing.
It was the throbbing that woke her. She had no idea where she was. It was dark and she couldnt breathe. She heard voices, angry voices; some in English some in Arabic. Raising her hand to her head, she realized that there was a blanket covering her face.
" Well, that explains the breathing problem and the darkness." She thought. "What the hell is all the screaming about? For the love of Zeus, dont they know I have a splitting headache?"
Lifting the blanket, she saw Bob. Some strange man was yelling at him. She watched in stunned amazement as the man in dark robes raised the rifle he held, swinging it down towards Bobs head. The older man turned at the last minute, taking the blow on his shoulder, then fell to his knees, his arm going instantly numb from the impact.
What are they doing? I have got to stop them! Lura threw back the covers and sprang onto the back of the armed man. "Run Bob!" she screamed, beating the man with her small fists.
The strange man twisted his body throwing the frantic woman to the ground. Laughing, he drew back his foot and kicked her in the side. Glancing over his shoulder he looked at his friends and commented in Arabic. They laughed. He turned again and looked down at the small blonde. The smile disappeared from his face as he knelt beside her. Gathering her shirtfront in his fist, he drew his hand back and slapped her sharply across the cheek. The men behind him laughed and gestured, encouraging him.
Lura was thrown to the ground where she curled tightly into a ball, struggling to control the scream of pain and trying to present as small a target as possible.
Bob watched in horror as the man in dark brown slapped the young woman. As the attacker drew his hand back again Richard and he both sprang to their feet and charged the armed guards.
Dylan stared into the fire, her hands methodically sharpening her bowie knife. The sound of the whetstone sliding against the blades edge seemed to calm her. She smiled, thinking of the night ahead. She knew that Kadine would have to make camp soon so that he could film his demands. He couldnt move fast, his hostages needed to be in good condition if he expected any return on his investment. The anchorman, LG Evans, and the two-man camera crew were worth their weight in gold to any despot who was willing to pay the price. Most wanna-be dictators would love to set up their own propaganda television show and be capable of televising it worldwide. The technology and equipment the crew possessed would allow anyone access to satellite bans around the world. No, endangering the crew would be foolish. The key to screwing Kadines mission was to rescue Evans and that crew, then to destroy the remainder of Kadines army.
I think I will pay little Kadine a quiet social call tonight and stir up the pot a bit. Dylan smiled and returned the knife to its sheath. Standing, she melted into the darkness.
Kadine was furious; he stormed into his tent screaming at the top of his lungs. His men would ruin everything. They were endangering his entire plan just because they could not their limit their needs to the camp whores. The men had been dealt with as an example to others but the damage had been done, one of the camera crew was dead, one was badly injured and the woman had been abused. How was he going to make any money now?
"Idiots! Rashiem!" he screamed. A swathe giant lumbered into the tent and knelt on one knee before Kadine.
"El Kadine." He said with his head bowed. Rashiem had been with Kadine since the early days and though he was older and much larger that the other man, he looked upon him as a savior of the people. His devotion was almost fanatical.
"Find the families of those idiots and kill them all." he stated, flicking his wrist dismissing the giant to carry out his bidding. Kadine stalked to the large mirror in his tent staring angrily at his own image. He thought himself a rather handsome man. His slick black hair was cut in a fashionable style, which could not hide the receding hairline. His nose was fine boned and not at all the prominent beak of his father. His skin was a golden brown, which had darkened to a rich mahogany as he was exposed too long to the desert heat. He was, at first glance, almost irresistibly handsome, until one looked into his cold dead eyes. After admiring his image in the tall glass he turned, speaking aloud as he paced the length of the tent, deep in thought.
"I must ensure the girl lives. I will need her to train another camera crew. Then, perhaps I will enjoy her myself before I sell her."
With a plan now in mind, he began to remember the face of the woman. Blondes were quite rare here and this one had hair of yellow fire, her eyes were the cool soothing green of the desert palms. He understood the fascination of his men, she was indeed a rare treat, and she would sell quickly on the white slave market.
Lura lay on her back in the dark corner of the hot tent. Bob Carter propped himself into a position closer to her and wrung out the cloth of lukewarm water. Wiping the girls bruised and battered face he grimaced as he remembered the beating she had taken.
Dumb kid, should have just let them slap us around. We would have never told.
The cameramen had hidden the girl in a depression in the back of the tent and covered her with the torn blankets and pillows they had been given to sleep on. They had seen the looks the guards had given the small woman and knew that it would only be a matter of time before one of them acted on their evil thoughts. The guards had come in that night and, not seeing the girl, had guessed that the cameramen had somehow helped her escape. They were taking out their anger on the crew when the girl had thrown off the covers and attacked the larger guards.
"She's got guts. Not real smart," he smirked with a proud grin, "but, she does have guts."
Bob smiled sadly at the memory of the fiery young woman attacking. Then he remembered the guards first driving off the cameraman. Then they began to beat the girl into submission, tearing at her clothes and kicking her once she fell. Finally, as they began ripping at her underwear, the crew, unable to sit and watch her get raped, attacked again, driving back the guards. Richard had fallen under the blades and fists of two of the guards, while Bob had struggled with two others, getting stabbed repeatedly in the process. The noise had alerted Kadine who rushed into the chaos screaming obscenities, all the while beating the guards with a riding whip. Bob had fallen to his knees by the small huddled form and shielded her with his own body, but the damage had been done. Lura lay half naked and still, her eyes clamped shut in pain and her arms wrapped around her midsection.
That had been hours ago and she still had not awakened. Now, partially dressed, she was stretched out on a torn blanket. Bob looked at the battered face again. Her lips were split and bloody, the right side of her face from hairline to jaw was swollen and bruised from the kick she had taken to the side of her head. He had been glad at first that she had lost consciousness, knowing that she would be in a great deal of pain once she woke. He thought she may have some bruised or broken ribs and possibly some internal damage. He was worried.
Shes been out for too long, I need her to wake up. Im not sure how much longer Ill be here for her and shes got to protect herself.
The older man inhaled sharply, aware of the slowly bleeding gash that ran the length of his side and across his midsection. He again rinsed out the tattered rag and gently wiped the battered face, saying a silent prayer for help.
Dylan crept along the edge of the camp, noting the location of the guards, surprised at the bodies she had passed earlier on the edge of the large camp. Four men, who appeared to have been soldiers, three fairly young women, an elderly couple and two young boys, all dead and left for the desert beast to feed on. At least the boys and the women had been killed quickly, Dylan thought, remembering the strange angles of each neck. Kadine needed to set an example. Wonder why? A feeling of dread began to creep up her spine with that thought. I have to hurry. Dylan paused shaking her head in confusion. Where did that come from? I gotta get it together, gotta focus. Im too close to fuck this up now.
Moving silently through the shadows she slipped up behind a small tent placed close to the center of the camp. Pulling her scarf across her face to further darken her features, she drew her knife and neatly slit a seam in the back. Slowly dragging herself inside she lay motionless, allowing her senses to adjust to the interior, trying to pick out a target. Movement drew her eyes to a still, dark corner where she made out the form of a man sitting, hunched over. Slowly she rose to her feet and silently stepped towards the figure. As she approached she noticed the mans dress. He was a Westerner, Probably one of the kidnap victims. I wonder where the others are? She paused to see what the man was working on and startled him with her gasp.
Lying wrapped in torn blankets was a beautiful woman with a hauntingly familiar face. I know you. Dylan thought, as she stared down at the face of the young woman.
Bob felt a presence in the tent, and then a shadow fell over him. He glanced quickly behind and was startled to see a figure there, seemingly having materialized from thin air. He gasped in surprise, then gathered his strength to rise and face this new threat.
The man tried to stand to confront her. Dylans eyes left the prone figure on the blanket for a second to watch him, dismissing him instantly as no threat.
"Who are you? Im warning you, come any closer and Ill kill you." Bob stared at the tall silent figure before him: at least six feet tall, his face covered with a black cloth leaving only the eyes visible. Icy blue pools that reached deep into his soul and sent shivers down his spine. He watched the eyes, first staring at the girl with anger, then they lifting to meet his. Bob was no coward but what he saw there made him swallow as a cold sweat broke out on his forehead.
It was apparent to Dylan that this man was in no shape to take on anyone but she admired his tenacity in trying.
A low voice whispered, "Are you LG Evans?"
"Youre the Hawk. You're a woman!" he exclaimed.
Dylan paused, confused; staring at him, surprised at his comment. "Yes, and yes." Dylan answered, frustration evident in her voice. "Are you LG Evans?"
"No," Bob responded. "She's hurt."
"I don't have time for this. Where is LG Evans?" Dylan demanded.
"I told you." Bob said, pointing at the small prone figure wrapped in the tattered blanket. "She's hurt."
"She is LG. Evans? LG Evans is a woman?"
"Yes, Lura Grant Evans." Bob stated, smiling at the role reversal. The smile left his face with the next comment. "She was hurt pretty badly by the guards earlier this evening. You gotta get her out of here. She needs medical attention."
Dylan pulled the cloth from her face and knelt down next to the small prone figure. She did not hear the gasp of the man still standing.
"My God, she's beautiful!" Bob thought. "Who is she and what is she doing out here in the middle of this Hell hole?" He completely forgot that train of thought however, when the strange woman reached towards Lura. "What are you doing?" He asked, instinct causing him to reach out to stay her hand. His wrist was grasped in a steel vice and bent backwards. He found himself on his knees.
"Don't touch her and don't touch me ever."
The dark woman spoke in a harsh, bitter voice. She released his arm, throwing it back towards him and forcing him to fall backwards onto his butt with a painful grunt.
"God shes strong." Bob thought.
She reached again for the blonde woman, laying a surprisingly gentle hand on the pale, unbruised cheek.
Lura was in pain. She did not want to open her eyes. Then she felt it, a warmth her body remembered.
"Finally," she whispered, slowly raising a single eyelid, revealing one soft, moss green eye. "Youre here. I knew you would come for me."
She closed the eye and sank deeper into the darkness, into a place without pain, knowing she would be kept safe now. 'She was here now. Everything would be OK.
Dylan froze. "What had she said?" She stared down at the small woman and felt herself drifting. Memories flashed through her mind; memories of this woman, dressed in what looked to be some kind of ancient battle gear, smiling at her.
Bob watched the tall stranger, confusion written on his face. She sat there in a daze, not moving, not speaking; just staring.
"Hey, you have to get her out of here. Please." He reached out to touch her but remembered the last time he had done that. "Please!" He pleaded, louder this time.
The dark head turned towards him. He was struck again by the icy stare. "Who did this to her?" The voice was harsh, deep and quivering with anger. When no reply was forthcoming she spoke again. "I asked you a question. Who did this to her?" This time Dylan's hand shot out, gripping the man's throat.
"Please, I can't breathe. Ill tell you if you just let go." Bob gasped for air, clutching at the powerful hand, trying to ease the vise-like grip on his throat.
Dylan loosened her hold and lowered her hand, her voice barely more than a growl. "I will not ask you again. Who is responsible for this?"
"The guards, they came looking for her. We tried to hide her but they got rough. She tried to protect us. They beat her, they were trying to, to "
Dylan closed her eyes, lowering her head. "Where are they?" She asked.
"Dead, I think. I heard screaming then nothing. I think he killed them."
Nodding his head, Bob replied. "Yeah, he came in here and drove them off. He was screaming and yelling about how he couldn't sell the dead. Then he had them taken away by more guards. I think he had them killed."
Dylan remembered the bodies she had seen earlier.
"Listen," Bob said, "you gotta get her out of here. He'll be back and she may not survive another mix with him or his men."
"Yeah, were getting out of here."
"No," Bob said. "You go. Take her with you. I prayed someone would come and you did, but Im hurt. Id slow you enough to get caught. Please? Just take her and get her out."
Dylan looked closer at the older man, for the first time she really looked. The man was so pale he was almost gray, his lips had a blue tint to them and his eyes were dulling. She had seen that look before. This man was dying.
"Where are you wounded?" She asked.
Bob moved his shirt to the side and raised a rough bandage, revealing the gaping wound. The blood had not stopped and was still slowly oozing from his side. Dylan knew the wound was fatal, he had lost too much blood and there were no medical facilities close enough, or with the proper equipment, to save him. Dylan raised her eyes to his and saw that he knew the truth.
"Ill get her out of here. You have my word." She knew she could never leave the small blonde behind but had no clue why.
Bob glanced up at the tall woman with a tired look of gratitude. "What's your name?" he asked.
"I was Captain Dylan Hawke." She stated, glancing down again at the smaller woman and missing the stunned expression on the face of the dying man.
Captain Hawke? But shes dead. The Army had turned out in force to search for her body when her camp was discovered destroyed three years ago. He thought.
"But youre dead!" Bob blurted out, then realized how that sounded. "I mean well, you know what I mean."
Dylan found herself smiling at his confusion.
"Damn, woman! Some hot shot Senator from your home state showed up here raising Holy Hell. Called out every unit in Saudi looking for you. Never seen anything like it." Bob exclaimed excitedly before being stopped by a fit of coughing ended in a dry rasp. "Hell, that hurts." He whispered, falling forward into Dylan's arms.
She gently lowered the man to the sand.
"Hey, take it easy. Breathe slowly." Dylan admonished, rolling the man onto his back, easing his breathing.
Bob smiled up at the beautiful woman above him.
"Shit!" He moaned in pain. "Lady, you almost caused Desert Storm Part 2. The Saudi's did some fast-talking to get out of that one. They never found the rest of your unit. The Government here said it was terrorists, but that Senator didn't give a shit. Hell, he's still lookin' for you!"
Dylan stared at the wounded man in confusion. He's still looking. Why?'
Bob lay gasping. "What a way to go." He said, smiling sadly. "One beautiful woman lying beside me and another one leaning over me. Only one regret: I got the biggest damn story this side of the Mason Dixon and I don't even get to film it." He sighed and breathed one last time.
Dylan stared silently down at the brave man, then gently closed the eyes still staring at her and bowed her head in silent prayer.
Dylan gazed again at the still, blonde figure lying on the rough, well-worn blankets. It hadn't been easy getting the woman out of the camp. The hardest part was getting her out of the tent unseen. Then there had been the trek back to the camp, carrying her precious burden fireman style.
"God, I must be out of shape," Dylan grinned. She had had to stop several times to rest during the arduous trip. After finally reaching her camp, near dawn that morning, she had gone out again to backtrack and hide their trail.
She had stolen back into the terrorist camp and laid a false trail leading into the shrouded foothill, breaking branches and turning stones to give the impression of an injured woman fleeing in terror, with little regard for stealth.
"This should keep them busy for a while." Dylan thought. As she moved silently through the low lying bushes her mind returned to the beautiful woman back at her tiny camp.
Lura was dreaming there was a handsome woman bending over her and speaking in a soft low voice. She was safe. Then, as she watched, the woman became a giant bird that reached down and picked her up.
"Im being carried off by a giant hawk. This is too weird."
She felt it as the great bird set her down. She even felt the sun shining on her face. It felt so
"Painful! Ow, that really hurts." She tried to raise her hand to soothe the sore area, realizing only now that her eyes were closed and she couldn't move her arms. "What the devil ?" Slowly opening her eyes she gazed around. Things seemed flat and distorted. Gradually, she realized only one eye was opened and the 'sun' was really a small campfire. "Whats going on? What's wrong with my eye!?" The voice sounded horrible, a croaking noise. She realized it was hers. Her throat hurt terribly and her tongue felt swollen and dry. "Ugh, I hurt all over." She moaned, finally able to press one hand to her forehead.
"Hey, easy there." A voice, soft, low and soothing spoke from the right. She turned her head, trying to focus her one good eye in the direction of the voice. It was her again. The beautiful apparition glided out of the darkness, silent as a shadow, and knelt at Luras side.
"It's you. Youre here. Youre real. Aren't you?"
Dylan looked at the confused swollen face, startled by the soft questions. "Yes, I am real. How do you feel?"
"I'm not sure but I hope you got the tag number of the eighteen wheeler that ran over me. Ow."
Dylan chuckled at the sarcastic humor of the smaller woman. Well, she has a sense of humor. I guess shell survive. She thought with a smirk.
Still dazed, Lura squinted her one good eye in an effort to get a better look at the face behind the voice. But the other woman had her back to the fire, effectively putting her face in shadow.
Trying to sit up, the smaller woman glanced around with her one functioning eye.
"Where are the guys? Wheres Bob?" The blonde asked in a soft voice. When she received no response she felt her heart jump in her chest. "Hey, where are the guys?" She asked again. "Where are we?" She asked, struggling again to look around.
Dylan reached for the canteen and knelt closer to her charge. "Hey easy there. Easy, now. Lie still. You have some badly bruised ribs". She said, lifting the canteen to gently touch the cut lips. "Here swallow slowly. Youre in my camp. I brought you here from Kadines camp."
Dylan paused in her explanation, unsure of how to continue. Lowering her head in thought she finally raised icy cold eyes to the face of the smaller woman.
"The men didn't make it." Dylan did not know how to put it gently. She watched her words sink slowly in, watched the blonde woman close her eye as a single tear crept from beneath the swollen lid.
"What do you mean? Dead? They're dead?" She whispered.
"I'm sorry." Dylan stated, quietly. "I couldn't save them. I I was too late. Please, you have to drink some of this." She said, once again lifting the canteen to the bruised lips. "Youve lost a lot of fluids and youre dehydrated."
Lura took a small swallow, forcing the tepid water past the tight lump in her throat. Once it had settled she took another swallow, then another, allowing herself time to accept the truth behind the words.
Finally, she spoke in a halting voice. "It's not your fault you couldn't save them. It wasn't your fault it's just that they were my friends, my, my family. I wish "
Dylan watched helplessly as the small blonde broke - first into soft weeping, and then ragged sobs. She shifted closer to the sleeping bag unsure of how to comfort the battered woman. Gently, she gathered the other woman onto her lap. Rocking slowly, she hummed an old Indian lullaby her mother used to sing to her into the smaller womans ear.
After Lura had finally cried herself out she drifted into a fitful sleep. Dylan carefully eased her back down onto the sleeping bag. She stared down at the small blonde, noticing once again the torn clothes and dark purple bruises standing out on the pale face. Her belly knotted when she thought of how those marks had gotten there. She inhaled, flaring her nostrils and curling her lips as if she could catch the scent of the dead men. The bitter taste of acid burned in her mouth.
Why was she reacting like this, as if she had taken the beating herself? She didnt understand it at all. She knew only that she felt each and every bruise marring the small body in front of her. It was in that instant Captain Dylan Hawke realized that she would not allow it to happen again.
"Ill make sure no one ever hurts you like this again Lura", she vowed. A sudden and fierce possessiveness descended upon her. "I found you and you belong to me. You just don't know it yet."
Here in the desert if you possessed and protected, you owned. The small blonde now belonged to the Hawk.
Dylan was startled by this thought but knew it for the truth. She looked at Lura Grant Evans. She was a beautiful woman that much was certain, but it was more than that, it was deeper. She reached down and gently wiped a tear trail from a dirty cheek, then tenderly pulled the blanket across the still form. Leaning forward Dylan started to stand when a small hand reached out and wrapped itself around hers. Glancing down she saw that the young woman remained asleep. She smiled and stretched out next to her, pulling some of the blanket over her own body and closing her tired eyes. Still holding the small hand in hers, she drifted into sleep.
Back at his camp, Kadine was sleeping too. The smile on his face also caused by the small blonde. He dreamed of her, helpless beneath him; fighting, struggling to get away. He dreamt of her small fists and frightened screams. He loved it when they fought; it made breaking them that much more pleasurable. In the morning he would have her treated and moved to his tent. Once he had gained her confidence, the fun could begin.
Yes. Tomorrow, he thought, would be an interesting day.
Dylan woke slowly, feeling constricted and warm. Struggling to awaken fully, she felt a weight across her mid-section and, looking down at her body, she saw a pale arm encircling her waist. The little blonde had moved in her sleep, drawing closer to the lean warm body next to her. As she watched, Dylan saw the gentle face drawn into a frown. The blonde brows lowered and a painful whimper eased from the other woman's throat.
In her sleep, Lura was fighting the guards again, trying to protect herself from their vicious attack. The vile men were grabbing at her again and again as Lura struck out in self-defense.
Dylan felt the first blow and quickly sat up. Turning to face the disturbed, nearly hysterical woman, she reached for the blindly flailing arms.
"Lura, Lura wake up. Youre having a bad dream. Wake up."
Lura felt the guards grab her arms, holding her down. "NO!" she screamed, struggling even harder.
"LURA!" Dylan called out, frightened that the young woman would injure herself further.
"Please, help me. Make them stop. It hurts, it hurts."
Dylan listened to the painful pleas. They tore at her heart. If those bastards weren't already dead, Id hunt them down and kill them myself.'
"Please Lura, wake up. I'm here, they won't hurt you. No one will ever hurt you again, I promise." She soothed.
Lura opened her eye, drawn awake by the gentle voice. She wiped the tears from her face with a trembling hand. "Where are they? Please, keep them away from me. I can't take anymore." She whispered.
"It's all right, they're gone. Youre safe now. They're gone." Dylan repeated the soft assurances, pulling back slightly and hoping the young woman would realize the truth of the statement.
"I hurt." Lura moaned, looking at the older woman.
It was full daylight and Lura finally got a chance to see the woman who had saved her life. Her breath caught in her throat. Shes beautiful. I know her. Ive seen her in my dreams.
"I know you." She mumbled softly as Dylan stood and turned away, unaware of the comment, her mind preoccupied with the need to help Lura.
Dylan was searching through her limited medical supplies. She grimaced, wishing she had something other that aspirin for her young charge.
"Here, take these," she said. Turning, she knelt next to Lura. Holding out two white tablets, she reached down and shook the nearly empty canteen. She gently held it while Lura sipped. There was just enough to wash down the aspirin. "Now lay still. Youve got to give your body a chance to heal."
"Whats your name?" Lura asked.
"My name is Dylan, Dylan Hawke." She stated, as she repacked the supplies.
"Dylan Hawke, the missing Military Police Captain? Ive heard of you. But everyone said you were killed in a terrorist attack." Lura half blurted, half gasped, as excitedly as possible under the circumstances.
"Yeah, I know. Pretty lively for a dead person don't ya think?" Dylan remarked, holding her arms out wide and smiling down at the battered face, wanting desperately to make the little blonde smile.
Lura smiled back feeling an instant bond with this tall dark woman.
"Yeah, I guess so. Do you have any more of that water? Im awfully thirsty."
"Sure." Dylan replied, thinking it was a good sign that the younger woman was willing to drink. That means there is little chance of internal injury,' she thought in relief.
"I'm sorry about being so much trouble, it seems like I'm real good at finding that." Lura stated, shyly.
"Humph," Dylan snorted. "I think this time it found you and, between you and me, I think you handled it pretty well. Not too many people are willing to endanger themselves for others."
Lura remembered the men. "Yeah for what little good it did, theyre gone. They killed my friends because of me. Its my fault ya know. My fault. If I hadnt insisted on doing this story " She said.
Getting more and more upset as she remembered the events of the previous days, Lura struggled to sit up. She wrapped her arms around her tender ribs and rocked back and forth, crying silent tears.
Dylan picked up the canteen that lay on the sand between them and moved it aside.
Lura, noticing the movement, panicked, reaching out to Dylan, her arms outstretched. "Please, don't leave. Don't leave me. I'm sorry, Im such a baby but I'm so frightened."
Dylan quickly slid closer to Lura taking her into her arms. "It's all right, I'm not going anywhere. You're safe, shh. I've got you, I got you." Dylan drew the smaller woman closer, trying to pull Lura into her heart, tears pooling in her own eyes. "No, it's not your fault. They were big boys and they knew what they were getting into. Bob told me what happened. It didn't matter what you did; it would have ended the same way. It isn't my fault, and it isn't your fault."
It is Kadines fault, and now I owe him big. Dylan thought. Wrapping her arms more securely around the smaller woman, she began to hum again.
Continued - Part 2 (Conclusion)
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