Defenseless - Corinne Michaels

For my readers. Thank you for the unending love and support that you show me every single day. You’ve kept me going when I wasn’t sure I could. Thank you for loving my characters, and my evil ways. I love you infinitely.

And to show my appreciation . . . NO CLIFFHANGER! You’re welcome!

Mark

“Everyone locked and loaded?” Liam Dempsey draws our attention. There’s a part of me that wants to slap him, but then I remember: I’m the guest. It would probably be frowned upon.

“Ready,” Jackson says and bangs the magazine into the rifle. “What’s the plan?”

“We have the location where Aaron’s being held captive. We’ll split into two teams, surround the building, and get him out. The helo will be on standby for extract. Muffin, Twilight, you guys will handle meeting with the CIA agent.” Liam lets us know how this will go down.

He’s the big cheese of our small team. Commander was fine with allowing Muff and me to go on the rescue. First, we know what the hell we’re doing; I could be the damn commander at this point. Second, if it isn’t Aaron, we have the best chance of knowing quickly. I know it is, though. The code word that the CIA agent communicated was the one we’ve used for years. She relayed his area and the best way possible to enter the compound. Of course, deciphering her instructions was difficult, and it left us to make plans for the plans.

“Let’s get this shit done and get back in one piece this time, okay Muff?” There’s no hiding the sarcasm in my voice.

“Fuck off, Dixon.”

“So touchy.” I grin and double-check my gear. As funny as it is, it’s also not funny at all. Jackson Cole was once the leader of our SEAL team when the mission we were tasked with went really wrong. We lost three teammates that day, and all of us suffered injuries both mental and physical. Then we sent Aaron to deal with a lost shipment of weapons and he was killed. Well, possibly not, but still. Each time one of our asses touches down in this fucking place, someone ends up shot or killed. I’d love to be able to forget, but the truth is, I never will. The guys I’ve lost reside in my heart. The memories take hold in all of us, and for some, they torment us. The wondering if we could’ve done something different, remembering their last moments—it’s a heavy burden to carry.

I’ve lost too many friends and too much blood to this hellhole.

“Okay,” Liam says through our earpieces. “Two minutes out.”

Everyone stands, heads toward the back of the plane, and readies for the ride. We’re parachuting in, and there’s a part of me that’s alive for the first time in a while. I live for this shit. The command of the sky, the adventure, the danger—I love it. It’s a part of who I am, and while I don’t regret leaving the Navy, I miss the fun. Being a SEAL was everything to me. I was damn good at it, too. While Aaron and Jackson had no problem getting out and starting Cole Security Forces, I would’ve been buried in my uniform. However, my arm had other ideas and made the choice for me.

Jackson slaps my shoulder. “Ready to be badass again?”

“I never lost it. Unlike you other pussy whipped assholes.”

“At least I get pussy, unlike some shithead who talks a lot of crap,” he mutters under his breath.

“Keep it up, fat boy. You’re starting to earn your call sign again, Muffin.” I pull my goggles down and watch for the light to turn green. There’s no hesitation as I jump out the hatch. The plane fades away as I plummet to, once again, do what I live for.

We all reach the ground safely a few miles from the IED site where this whole mess started.

Liam gives the hand commands as we split into teams of two. If I ever felt like a piece of shit before, it was nothing compared to now. Aaron is possibly still alive and nearby. We didn’t search before, partly because Muff got shot, but I never even considered coming back. They claimed there were no survivors, and we listened.

If it were me, would I be pissed? Fuck yeah, I would. We should’ve looked.

“See that, up on the building?” Dempsey’s voice cuts through the silence.

My eyes dart to where his hand is pointing. I can’t see it clearly, but hanging from the antenna is