Alec Esposito knew an impossible op when he saw one. He’d been on plenty of impossible ops during his days as a SEAL. Foolishly, he’d thought civilian life would be easier. Somehow his private security days were a lot more harrowing.
Sitting in the conference room of the Aegis Group Seattle office, he could feel the bite of danger just watching the intel unfold. His housemates were there with him, focused on the screen laying out the numerous reasons why they should not be focused on this op. And yet, they’d all promised to go. Because every military branch and diplomatic mission had failed one woman for ten years. It was a miracle the almost sixty-year-old documentary film maker was still alive after being in the hands of Al-Qaeda then ISIS. Their latest intel said that Jules Neilson had traded hands again and was temporarily in Damascus, Syria.
There was another woman in that city. One Alec had a far more personal connection to.
His heart throbbed and his ribs ached at the force it took to contain the knot of emotions still residing in his chest. Most days he didn’t think about her, but every so often he’d get smacked with one and all his regrets came rushing back.
She was the one who got away.
Not that he’d ever truly had her, and if he were being honest, he got away. Not her. No, he’d left her standing in a parking garage bawling her eyes out while he marched forward being the good SEAL he’d been trained to be.
Alec had heard through other contacts and friends that Vara was working in Damascus. As a smuggler. That didn’t conform to his memory of the young woman he’d fallen for, but she always did have an eye for how to meet the needs of those less fortunate. Getting goods, medicine that sort of thing into an area desperate for help was the kind of thing she’d do. But from the sound of it the work she was doing wasn’t altruistic..
It didn’t sound right to Alec. That wasn’t the Vara he’d known. His gut said there was more going on with her than simple smuggling. But what did he know? If everything went well, he wouldn’t run into her on this op. They wouldn’t share a surprise reunion followed by grabbing coffee to catch up. But she’d never been much for coffee. Vara was a tea girl.
He had this snapshot of her in his mind. She was sitting on the wide window of their Thailand suite wearing his shirt like a dress; her legs curled under her. She’d glanced back at him at just the right moment for the sun to catch her midnight hair and make it look almost blue. She’d been holding a massive cup of tea in both hands. Her still sleepy face had spread into a wide smile and his heart had swelled.
It was the moment he knew he was in love with her.
Now he’d be lucky if she gave him the time of day.
“What resources do we have? Do we know anyone working in Syria?” Ryan Scott leaned forward, intent on the screen. He was most invested in this mission given his history with Senator Joe Neilson, brother to their asset.
“Not much.” Zain Lloyd, their direct boss and overseer of everything in the Seattle office, stared at the screen projected onto the wall. “I’m not going to lie. This is going to be tough. If any of you decide you don’t want to do this, say the word.”
“We’re going,” Alec said. It was the right thing to do. Vara would have done it.
“Never been to Syria. Could be fun.” Paxton grinned across the table at him, the blonde hair and blue eyes balancing out his many-times broken nose.
“Let’s just say it.” Silas glanced around the table, his dark eyes meeting each of their gazes. “We’re all going and we all know it’s a bad idea. Cool?”
Vito grunted. It was as much of a reply as they’d get out of the gruff guy.
“Cool.” Silas nodded at Zain.
“Okay.” Zain blew out a breath and turned from the screen to look at them. “Our intel says that Jules is being held in a building on the north side of Damascus still considered a sketchy area. The prisoner transfer is tomorrow. That doesn’t give us any time to get you guys in place. You’ll have half a dozen connections to get you on a smuggler’s puddle jumper and into this suburb of Syria.” Zain indicated a dot on the map to the north east of the city. “From there you’ll be on your own for a vehicle and the rescue. I’ve got access to a drone to give you an eye in the sky, but it’s not a lot. I don’t have to tell you guys how dangerous this is.”
“I do know someone working in Syria, but I don’t know if she’s there on her own or if she’s working for Uncle Sam or what.” Alec crossed his arms over his chest. He didn’t want to bring her up, but he couldn’t in good conscience ignore her presence. If they got into bad shit, she could be their only friend.
“Who is it?” Zain asked.
“I see.” Zain frowned.
“Who is she?” Ryan asked.
“Vara...” Alec cleared his throat. “Her mother worked for Army top brass—”
“I remember.” Zain’s voice lowered. Which story had he heard?
“What?” Paxton swung in his chair, studying them.
“Lisa Price was her mother, right?” Zain nodded, not needing Alec’s confirmation.
“What’s the story?” Paxton glanced between them now.
“The story doesn’t matter right now.” Alec wasn’t sharing the sordid past with the room. “Right now, word is Vara has set up shop as a smuggler getting goods in and out of Syria. Specifically to Damascus.”
“But we don’t believe that story?” Paxton asked slowly.
“I don’t.” Alec’s gut was doing the talking.
“Someone with Vara’s history and skills would make for a perfect undercover asset. She was raised around the military and mostly grew up in embassies or on bases. She speaks how many languages?” Zain glanced at Alec. “I wasn’t aware you knew her.”
“You understand why I don’t think she’s a resource for us?” Alec wouldn’t want their rescue operation to mess up whatever Vara could be working on for Uncle Sam.
“What if she isn’t, though? What if she’s over there like lots of other people just trying to make a buck?” Silas crossed his arms behind his head and bobbed in the rolling chair.
“There are a lot of other ways to make a lot more money with her skills.” Alec tapped his fingers on the counter.
“It’s too risky. For her and us,” Ryan said after a prolonged silence.
“Agreed,” Alec said.
He hadn’t seen Vara in years. She might not be the woman he remembered. His gut could be wrong. He didn’t think it was, but they couldn’t make decisions based on his feelings for her.
“Here’s a picture of her.” Zain frowned at his phone then glanced at the wall as the image projected onto the space.
“Damn,” Silas muttered.
Alec balled his hands into fists.
Vara stood with one arm resting against the hood of what looked like an ancient army truck. Her hair was covered by a scarf. Was it still long? Did she favor those high ponytails that made her hair swish as she walked?
He’d liked sliding his fingers through that hair, winding it wound his fingers then pulling her head back for a kiss.
In the picture she was caught mid-laugh, glancing to her right at a group of four men in similar clothes. Some kind of uniform if he had to guess by the protective gear and the logo stitched onto their shoulders. It was the same logo spray painted onto the doors of the truck. A sort of shell shaped design that ended in spikes rather than soft curves.
A lot like the woman.
Looking at her picture now Alec had to wonder if he ever ran into her again, would the chemistry still be there? Could he beg forgiveness? Or had he messed up too badly to have another go?
He’d probably never know.