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Assassins Rogue by Rachel Amphlett

 

Overview: When duty calls, do you follow orders – or risk everything and rebel? An injured pilot discovers Eva Delacourt’s safe house moments before dying from her wounds, thrusting the female assassin into a global conspiracy. Within days, a new war will begin in the Middle East, and Eva is the only person who can prevent it. In a race against time across a fractured Europe, and fighting a mysterious enemy working within the upper echelons of the British government, Eva must confront her past once more if she is to survive her mission.

 

Assassins Rogue by Rachel Amphlett Book Chapter One


Flight Lieutenant Kelly O’Hara would live for another forty-eight hours.
Right now, she was preoccupied with finding the packet of cigarettes she swore blind she had tucked into her pocket upon entering the van that collected them from the base last night.
She patted her breast pocket, then checked her trousers before uttering a string of curses.
‘Want a smoke?’
Turning at the sound of a male voice, Kelly rolled her eyes and stuck a hand on her hip as her colleague Josh Connor sauntered towards her.
‘Cheeky bastard – those are mine. Is nothing sacred around here?’
‘Your lungs.’ He grinned, and launched the packet at her.
Catching it in a practised grip, Kelly pulled out a cigarette and accepted the lighter Josh held out. ‘You sound like my mother.’
‘Perish the thought.’
‘Where’s Marie?’ she said, exhaling smoke to the side before making sure the packet went back in her pocket, not his.
Josh jerked his head towards the door of the building that resembled a large corrugated steel Portacabin. ‘Wanted a word with the chief.’
‘Christ.’
Kelly turned her attention to the setting sun, and breathed a trail of nicotine-laden smoke skywards.
The concrete landing strip in front of her provided an uninterrupted view across a wide vista.
An indigo tint darkened the fringes of the horizon while half a dozen small bats dived upon the insects hovering close to the hedgerows bordering the open space on the western edge.
An eerie silence had descended on the flat landscape. No birds called from the copse of trees behind the temporary building, no shouted commands carried across the airfield.
Compared to their home base, the place was a ghost field, similar to one of the crumbling World War Two bomber airfields that remained in the English countryside.
A countryside that was at least a five-hour flight from whatever Eastern European hiding place they had been ushered to in haste last night.
Kelly sighed, took another drag on the cigarette and rolled her neck muscles, easing the tiredness from her arms after a twelve-hour shift, and watched as the sun began to drop below the beech trees half a mile away.
Silhouetted against the quivering orange blush on the horizon stood the aircraft she had been flying, all thirty-six feet of it.
A MQ-9A Reaper, to be exact.
A drone.
‘When are they taking us back home?’
‘I’m not sure.’ Josh scuffed at the dirt path running alongside the landing strip. ‘The chief said they’ve got some post-operational discussions to have, and then he’ll arrange for the car to take us over to the main hangar to save us the walk. I reckon we’ll be flown out of here before midnight.’
He squinted through the cigarette smoke to a large tumbledown hangar at the farthest edge of the field. ‘I could murder a beer after that. Do you think they’ve got a bar here?’
Kelly wrinkled her nose. ‘I don’t think they’ve got anything here. I mean, look at this place. What did he call it?’
‘He didn’t say.’ He shrugged. ‘I didn’t catch the name if he did. Too much else to take in, to be honest. I was concentrating more on the mission briefing.’
‘Yeah, me too.’
‘Probably won’t tell us anyway. He did say this one was top secret, hence all the paperwork we had to sign on the way here.’
‘True.’
Kelly wasn’t overly concerned by the secrecy – it would still be noted on her service record and maybe, just maybe, add a little more weight to her credentials when she sought promotion at the end of the year.
Because it was one thing to be the Reaper’s pilot, but quite another to be the one in the background, calling the shots.
Giving the command to strike.
Six hours ago, that had been the chief’s decision.
Colonel Paul Richards had remained at her shoulder while the Reaper glided over mountains and rivers, crossed an inland sea and bore down on the Middle Eastern territory that was the aircraft’s final destination.
He stayed there for the entire flight, watching the screens, murmuring encouragement from time to time, and updating Marie on incoming intelligence about their target’s progress on the ground from a small group of resources who would do anything for cash.
‘Who is he?’ Josh had asked at one point, glancing up from his constant monitoring of the Reaper’s sensors.
The chief had shrugged.
Kelly had glared at Josh – the target’s identity was none of their business – but the chief had answered after a time.
‘Just another terrorist to deal with, before it’s too late.’
Satisfied, Josh had returned to his screens and fallen silent while Kelly had called in their approach.
The crew took no pleasure in what they did. It was a job, that was all, but a split second before the AGM-114 Hellfire missile found its target, Marie had let out a shocked gasp that made Kelly look up from her instrument panel.
The woman had turned white as she’d watched the black four-by-four vehicle explode thousands of metres below their cameras, her hands shaking as she reacted to Kelly’s barked command to stay focused, to bring the Reaper safely home.
A clatter shook Kelly from her thoughts and she turned to see Marie Weston, mission intelligence coordinator, push her way out through the Portacabin door, her boots clanging on the metal steps leading down to the stony soil where they stood waiting as the door crashed closed behind her.
The thirty-year-old had been quieter than usual once the Reaper had taxied to a standstill and Kelly had killed the engines, and now a shocked stare filled her eyes.
Kelly crushed the remains of her cigarette under her boot, blew the smoke away from the other woman’s face and peered at her.
‘What happened in there?’
Marie didn’t stop when she reached them. She grasped each of them by the arm and dragged them with her, away from the Portacabin, away from where the Reaper waited for its next mission.
‘We can’t say here,’ she managed, her breath short. ‘We’ve got to get out of here.’
Her eyes darted left, then right, then over her shoulder.
‘What’s going on?’ said Josh. ‘You all right?’
‘No, I’m not all right.’ Marie’s pace quickened. ‘There’s a gap in the hedge over there, see? We can squeeze through it – with any luck there’s a road or something nearby. We might be able to get a lift off a local, or someone.’
Kelly frowned at the desperation clawing at the woman’s words, and pulled her to a standstill. ‘Marie? What’s going on?’
Marie’s eyes found the Portacabin, then Kelly once more. ‘Have you ever seen Colonel Richards before?’
‘No.’
‘Have you heard of him?’
‘No,’ said Kelly, then smiled. ‘But there’s a lot of top brass I haven’t met before.’
‘Did either of you check his credentials? His background?’
Kelly fished out her mobile phone. ‘No, but then there’s no mobile signal anyway. Besides, we haven’t stopped since we got picked up last night and flown here.’
‘Exactly.’ Marie turned away and began to walk again.
Josh held up his hands to Kelly, and she shrugged before nudging him forward.
‘We’ve been used,’ said Marie once they’d caught up with her.
‘What do you mean, used?’ Josh shoved his hands in his pockets, his height giving him an advantage over the two women. He reached the gap in the hedge before them and paused. ‘Used by who?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Marie. She looked as if she was going to cry. ‘But it wasn’t a terrorist in that car. I saw his face. He looked out of the window just before the missile hit. I saw his face.’
Josh’s eyes opened wide. ‘You mean you recognised him?’
Marie nodded, her expression distraught.
‘Who was it?’ said Kelly, keeping her voice calm despite her heart hammering, a sudden rush to her head that made it difficult to hear, as if she had just dived underwater.
‘Jeffrey Dukes.’
‘Who?’
‘He’s the special adviser to Robert Nivens. The Foreign Secretary,’ said Marie. ‘He’s been in the papers on and off for the past three months.’
Kelly swallowed. When she looked at Josh, he was staring at Marie with his mouth open in shock.
‘Are you sure?’ she managed.
‘I’m sure. When I asked the chief––’
‘Wait, that’s what you were talking to him about? Why would you––’
Josh’s words were cut short as Marie let out a scream.
When Kelly turned to face him, he was no longer there.
Confused, she took a step back, her mind trying to process the fact that her crew mate now lay on his back in the grass, a bloody entry hole in his torso.
He uttered a final gurgling breath, and then his head slumped to one side.
The second shot narrowly missed her cheek, but she felt its searing hot presence as it caressed her hair.
‘Move!’
Marie’s scream galvanised her into a sprint, terror and confusion marring disbelief that this was happening, that Marie was right, that Josh was dead.
Another whip crack overhead shattered any illusion that someone had shot him in error, and she ducked as the tree trunk beside her exploded.
Raising her hand to protect her face from the splinters that showered her, Kelly grimaced as she stumbled over uneven ground, the terrain dipping and undulating under her boots.
Marie wasn’t slowing down – the intelligence officer tore through the undergrowth, vaulting fallen branches as she led the way down a hill.
Kelly could see a track at the bottom, a single ribbon of pebbles and dirt splitting the forest in two, and then collided with her crew mate when she stopped beside a fallen tree, hands on her knees as she gulped for breath.
‘Which way?’
‘I don’t know.’ Marie spun on her heel at the sound of voices at the top of the embankment and pulled Kelly into a crouching position.
In the distance a vehicle engine carried on the breeze, its driver clunking through the gears as he negotiated the twisting route.
Kelly strained her ears to listen. It was coming from below the airfield, not from it.
And it would pass right under their position.
‘We need to stop that vehicle. It could be our only way out of here.’
Marie clenched her jaw. ‘Listen, we know we’re in Eastern Europe, right?’
‘Probably.’
‘Okay. There’s a place I know about. They’ll help us.’
Kelly listened while her intelligence officer rattled off the details, her thoughts spinning. ‘Wait, how do you know this?’
‘I just do.’ Marie clutched hold of her arm, her fingers digging into the muscles. ‘We have to split up, Kel. You need to go.’
‘Are you sure? Where are you going?’
‘I’ll meet you there, but I’ll make my way down to a village, or find a house – something. I’ll get help once I’m there.’
‘What if something happens to you?’
Her colleague’s eyes hardened. ‘We have to tell someone what happened back there. We stand a better chance if we split up. Remember the code words, all right? They won’t help you otherwise.’
Marie rose and took off at a sprint, her boots snapping twigs as her figure disappeared amongst the trees until all that was left was the sound of Kelly’s breathing.
Panicked breathing, gasping breaths as she forced herself to move and half-ran half-tumbled down the slope towards the road and the sound of the engine.
She slid to a halt beside the thick trunk of an ancient oak, dappled sunlight turning its leaves, and peered around it.
Please don’t let it be them.
A rusting hulk of an ancient pick-up truck rumbled towards her, the suspension creaking as it negotiated potholes, puddles and deep ruts in the dirt track.
A single man was behind the wheel, his grizzly features more apparent as the vehicle drew closer…
Kelly stepped out from behind the tree and waved her hands above her head, moving to the middle of the track and blocking its path.
When the pick-up truck eased to a standstill, she moved to the driver’s window, and his brow creased as he lowered it.
‘Do you speak English?’
‘A little, yes.’
‘I’m sorry – I don’t know where I am.’
‘Dzerzhinsk.’
‘I meant, which country?’
The driver blinked. ‘Belarus.’
Belarus?
The driver was looking at her with an inquisitiveness bordering on suspicion.
Kelly forced a grim smile. ‘I’ll kill that boyfriend of mine when I find him. We got lost, hiking.’
He stared at her, his eyes running up and down the green overalls she wore.
She shrugged, held his gaze.
‘Ah. Do you want to wait here for him?’ he said, an eyebrow cocked.
‘No.’ She heard the fear in her voice, forced another smile. ‘He’s got the car keys. He can find his own way back.’
The driver threw back his head and laughed. ‘He doesn’t deserve you.’
‘Damn right.’
‘Get in.’
‘Thanks.’ She drew the seatbelt over her chest and exhaled.
‘Where are you headed?’
Kelly swallowed, peered in the door mirror, and then urged the driver to get going.
‘Prague.’

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