Phoenix’s Ascent

Book Cover: Phoenix's Ascent
Part of the Hera Force Series series:

Series: Hera Force Series

Book Cover: Mockingbird's Cry
Mockingbird's Cry
Book Cover: Phoenix's Ascent
Phoenix's Ascent

The Phoenix has risen from her ashes and her enemies will burn.

A maniac developing a fantastical drug wants one more thing to finalize the project; a test subject that fits all the parameters. But that test subject is as elusive as her namesake.

Ex-SAS operative Mitch Edwards has been on the run since the moment he was framed for treason by someone in the British government. But he’s never forgotten the flamboyant and seductive CIA operative with the tongue of a thousand languages. In a bar in Cancun, Mexico, Mitch comes face to face with her once more, and with her comes the full force of her enemies.

Reinstated Hera Force linguist and assassin, Nadia Roth, code named Phoenix, has no memory of Mitch Edwards, or of their affair before her team’s disastrous mission. Her TBI is tricky that way. But something about this man sets her on fire, and tickles the back of her mind. Her Hera teammates remember him, so why can’t she?

Mitch partners up with Hera, with the sole intent of locating the person or persons hell-bent on killing him and all who are associated with him. Yet more is at stake than their lives. A traitor hides among their ranks, one that has been revealing all their secrets to an enemy hell-bent on procuring this special drug and Nadia for his scheme.

Hera goes into operation mode, doing what they were created to do, but someone is watching, and the team finds themselves trapped behind enemy lines with no way out.

Will Nadia ever remember the man she once loved, or will they perish with the secret between them?

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Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
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One

 

Eighteen months in Cancún, he’d seen the cartel violence escalate at a rate that made his time fighting in the Afghan war look like a Sunday stroll through Kensington Gardens. Despite it all, exiled SAS operative Mitchell Edwards stayed on. Where else was a man framed for treason supposed to hide out?

Swirling margarita glasses in hot, soapy water, he kept an eye on the open doorway, nodding at the comings and goings of the patrons. A breeze off the sea rippled through the grass roof. The salty, sweet air buffeted his damp face, cooling him. The sea beckoned, tempting him to come and play.

Later. After his shift. A swim in his little alcove sounded marvelous.

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Mitch set the sanitized glasses on a drying rack. He raked his fingers through his blonde hair—it still took some getting used to having his hair this long—and flipped the curled strands out of his eyes. Looking and feeling more like Robinson Crusoe than Mitch Edwards. Snorting, he grabbed another handful of bar glasses and plunged them into the hot water. That he wasn’t stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the bloody sea was a better outcome compared to his fictional counterpart.

Shadows passed over the bamboo shades, dampening the late afternoon sun that bounced off the pristine sandy beach. Three men entered the bar and paused inches inside the doorway. The lead man wore a cream-colored blazer over a brilliant blue shirt, and khaki slacks. The two flanking him wore similar styled clothing, the exception being the noticeable bulges under their blazers. Lead man pulled his sunglasses from his eyes and did a quick sweep of the bar. Seemingly satisfied by whatever he did or didn’t see, he pointed at the two with him. They stepped past, and did a circular walk around the bar. Their predatory motions put Mitch at attention.

Bodyguards.

Mitch’s little, insignificant bar had attracted unwanted visitors. His quick initial assessment turned scrutinizing. These were not casual visitors, not with those bulges. No. Mitch’s blood ran cold. These three had to be cartel. What the hell were they doing here? They tended to avoid the tourists’ haunting hours, preferring to do their dirty work in the black of night.

The dapper dressed man strolled up to the bar. “El camarero, Modelo Especial, por favor.”

Giving him a curt nod, Mitch moved to the fridge. From the corner of his eye, he spotted three more men enter the bar, sporting similar bulges under their jackets to the other two, who were now stationed on opposite sides of the bar. Tension coiled through Mitch’s muscles. The place was half-full of patrons. He didn’t need or want a turf war to go down with innocents caught in the crossfire.

He retrieved the asked-for beer. The fridge door slapped shut behind him as he returned to the dapper dressed man. Mitch cranked off the metal top and held out the beer. Dapper Man flicked a ten peso across the bar top, then wandered over to a booth under one of the large open windows. Mitch stuffed the money in the cash box and picked up his cleaning cloth. The two bodyguards took position on each side of the booth.

As he swiped the white cloth over the bar top, Mitch watched the three latecomers join Dapper Man and his guards. A hushed conversation ensued.

Mitch’s instincts were revving into hyper drive. He set the wet cloth on the metal sink, then reached under the counter. His fingers brushed against the dappled grip of the 9mm Sig Sauer. He took the gun in hand; his trigger finger twitched over the cool metal barrel then settled along the trigger guard.

Another cooling breeze blew through the door, bringing with it the succulent scent of coconut oil, pineapple, and sea spray. His attention strayed to the door. He stiffened at the sight of the beauty leaning on the bamboo frame. The lavender haired woman pushed off the smoothed wood and sauntered, barefooted, across the sand-dusted floor. Mitch came to attention, his hand slipping away from the Sig.

She swayed to the flamenco guitar music piped through the sound system, her turquoise sundress flowing around her golden legs. Strappy silver sandals, hanging from a crooked finger, bumped against her leg as she sauntered up to the bar. She flung her sandals over her shoulder and leaned an elbow on the top.

Holá, guapo.” Her sultry voice skirted along his spine and curled around his chest.

He gulped down a sudden feathering of desire. “Holá,” he croaked.

Her gaze flicked upward and the full force of those crystal-blue eyes hit him. She smiled.

Mitch’s stomach clenched. Those eyes. God, he could drown in them. He blinked. He knew those eyes. Had spent years trying to forget them and what they did to him every time she had looked at him. It was her? The hair color was different, but …

She shifted to peer over her sandal-bearing shoulder at the bar patrons, then brought those stunning blue eyes back to him. “What do you have that a gal like myself could quench her thirst with?”

A zap of awareness struck him. Bloody hell, she knew how to wield her words and her voice to bring about arousal.

A bejeweled hand slipped between Mitch and the woman. Manicured fingers lightly danced up her bare arm. Instead of pulling away, the lavender haired beauty turned to meet Dapper Man. She smiled seductively, setting her sandals on the bar top.

“Such a beautiful woman. What brings you to a bar like this?” Dapper Man asked in Spanish.

“It must be you.” She leaned in closer, giving Dapper Man a good view of what was hidden beneath the folds of her gauzy dress. “Looks like it’s my lucky day.”

It was a part of her job, but her shameless flirting always left a bad taste in Mitch’s mouth. He backed from his spot and reached for a bottle of sparkling water. He twisted off the cap and brought the bottle to his lips, then hesitated.

As the woman’s fingers danced up Dapper Man’s sleeve, she tilted her head to the side. Her thick hair shifted away from her neck, exposing a tiny tattoo of a yellow/red flaming bird right behind her ear lobe.

It was her! That tattoo confirmed it. The Phoenix had risen.

Movement behind Dapper Man caught Mitch’s eye. The bodyguards horseshoed their man and the other three lingered on the fringes. Hit once again with the sensation something was horribly off about these men, Mitch inched closer to his Sig.

The beauty lifted her right hand and sank her fingers deep into the mane of lavender waves. Mitch froze in place. He had seen her make that move countless times in the past. All hell was about to break loose.

She bent forward to whisper in Dapper Man’s ear. He chuckled, placing his bejeweled hand on the bar top. Her hand came free of her hair, a knife gripped within her fist, and with the speed of a striking hawk, she buried the blade in the center of Dapper Man’s hand. He screamed.

Mitch jolted at the high-pitched noise, dropping his water bottle.

The woman gripped Dapper Man’s contorted face and slammed it on the bar top. His forehead bounced off the polished surface. Like a specter, she slipped past him, reached inside one of the stunned guards’ jackets and withdrew his gun. Once the weapon cleared his holster, she pulled the trigger twice. As he crumpled, she spun and shot the man next to him twice.

Mitch’s brain went on the fritz as she about-faced. Through his daze, he heard the screams of the other bar patrons and Dapper Man’s caustic swearing. Mitch tracked the lavender haired Phoenix as she dodged a sweeping arm. She snapped upright, her gunless hand coming up with her and smashed into one attacker’s nose while her gun hand swung left and she delivered a double-tap to the chest of another guard. She spun on her heel, bringing the weapon about, and killed the guard with the bloody nose.

A wild shot went past her head. She ducked, brought the pistol up under her arm and fired. The pistol-wielding man fell, dead. She pivoted on her bare feet and faced her last wide-eyed opponent. He leveled his gun at her. Before he could pull the trigger, a blade sung through the air and plunged in his eye. Shrieking , he reached for the knife. It was a deadly mistake. Phoenix emptied her stolen weapon, dropping him where he stood.

Mitch gaped as the echo of the last blast faded. Not including the bodies, the bar was deserted except for Phoenix, Dapper Man, and Mitch.

Phoenix swept her loosened hair from her face. She hefted the pistol up, examined it, then tossed it on a guard’s body. When she turned back to the bar, she winked at Mitch. “Stay where you are, barkeep, and you’ll live.”

Bloody hell, she hadn’t even broken a sweat or been winded by her actions. She coiled around her prey like a python and slapped her hand on the knife handle, halting Dapper Man’s desperate attempt to dislodge the buried blade.

He looked up at her, spitting a litany of nasty names Mitch barely understood.

“Now, now, Alejandro, is that any way to speak to a lady?” she asked in English.

Mitch cleared his throat. “Maybe this isn’t the best—”

“Bitch! I’ll see pieces of you are sent all over the world for this.”

She chuckled. “You amuse me.” She leaned forward and blew into his ear. Alejandro convulsed. “There won’t be any such orders going out.”

Mitch bit his tongue. Do like she said and he’d live. Whatever she was up to had to go right back to the States, somehow. It would be all over for Mitch if any Yank managed to figure out who he was.

Alejandro recoiled. “Who the fuck are you?”

She grabbed him by the throat and dragged him closer. “That doesn’t matter.” Her tone pitched down into a lethal timber. “I want the Chessmaster.”

Alejandro stared at her in shock. Then he broke into hysterical laughter. “The Phoenix! I’ve been tracked and captured by the assassin. He warned me you would come.”

“So you know him?”

“Know him! Bitch, you can only dream of him.”

“He’s got something in the pipeline. Doesn’t he? You’ve been helping him make the right connections.”

“You have been pecking your beak in the wrong places, little bird.” Alejandro squeaked as Phoenix applied more pressure to his throat.

“That’s my job, pinche pendejo. What does the Chessmaster have his li’l pet doing for him?”

Alejandro stared at her, his face turning a deep red.

“You have thirty seconds to give me his real name and his current whereabouts.”

“Or you’ll do what?” Alejandro gasped.

She brought him closer still. “How would you like to lose that silver tongue?” She jabbed her free hand into his crotch. “Or perhaps you’d like to live the life of a eunuch?”

“I do not fear you. Far worse men have threatened me and not lived.”

She laughed, then cut it off with a bone-chilling growl. “Yet it’s not a man who has your balls on the chopping block. It’s a woman.”

Alejandro’s gaze flickered to Mitch, pleading with him to intervene. But Mitch had no such designs to stop her. She was in her element here and if tried to sway her otherwise, she would make good on her promise. Phoenix was first and foremost an assassin.

Finding no help from Mitch, Alejandro met Phoenix’s steady stare. “I would rather die than ever give him up.”

“Is that your final answer?” she asked.

Drawing himself up, Alejandro sneered at her. “.”

Shaking her head, she sighed. “Too bad.”

“The Chessmaster will not allow this assassination to go unanswered,” Alejandro spat.

“Oh, I’m counting on it.”

Her hand was a blur as it pulled another knife from some hidden place on her body and drove the blade into Alejandro’s throat. Choking on his blood, Alejandro slapped at the knife handle. His eyes rolled back in his head as he suffocated, then he slumped over. Dead. What a horrifying way to go. His body hung from the bar top by his impaled hand.

Phoenix blew at the stray strands of her lavender hair as she turned to Mitch. “Well, handsome, I think I’ll take a rain check on that drink.”

Sirens pierced the sea air.

“Shit. The police.” Mitch grabbed his Sig.

She swung to the open doorway. “That was fast.”

He hopped onto the counter and hurdled the bar. He landed on the floor beside her. “Follow me.”

“Wait!” She hurriedly slipped on her sandals, then relieved two of the dead guards of their weapons.

Mitch ran to the back door, Phoenix hot on his heels. He paused. “We won’t be clear. They’ll give chase.”

She grinned. “Sounds like fun.”

He huffed. “God, I’ve missed you, Nadia.”

The humor slipped from her features and she gaped at him. “What did you say?”

He grabbed her elbow and guided her through the door. “We don’t have time for this.”

She stiffened under his grip. There was no time to analyze her reaction as the pound of boots came up the boardwalk.

“Go.”

She bolted at his command. Mitch turned and fired at the doorway, deterring the arrival of the police, then raced after Nadia. She slowed, her head swiveling.

“How are we getting out of here?” she yelled.

Mitch jogged past her, pointing at a battered Jeep. “That’s how.”

They hopped in. Mitch cranked on the key and the engine roared to life. The ping and thunk of bullets had him ducking.

“Get a move on,” Nadia said as she crawled around her seat and fired back at the pursuing police.

He threw the Jeep into gear and stomped the gas pedal to the floor. The tires spun out on the loose drive, grabbed purchase, and the Jeep shot forward. Mitch manhandled the steering wheel, pointing the nose for the exit between a dense row of shrubs.

Standing beside him, Nadia strapped herself to the roll bar. The wind whipped her sundress into a frenzy, exposing the smooth, muscled expanse of her leg. Mitch’s brain flitted to memories of those legs entwined with his own.

Pinging metal startled him out of his wayward thoughts. “Shit!”

“Drive, Brit!” Nadia open fired.

Plowing through the narrow gap, the Jeep humped over the curb and skipped onto the street. Mitch jerked the wheel to straighten the vehicle, then yanked it again the opposite way to avoid parked cars. A twitter of laughter reached him over the squeal of tires and the piercing wail of sirens.

After righting the Jeep, he increased the speed and zigzagged around traffic. The twittering grew into a belly laugh. He glanced up at the woman leaning on the roll bar. She let out a whoop.

“We’re not out of this yet,” he said over the rush of wind.

“This is fucking awesome!”

Police cars passed them, squealed to a stop, spun around, and gave chase. Frightened motorists veered out of the way, some hitting their horns as the Jeep raced by. Mitch pressed the pedal to the floor and tightened his grip on the wheel.

Nadia crouched down, hugging the seat back. “Got anything more powerful than a pistol?”

He peeked at her. “Never go anywhere without it. In the back seat.”

She scrambled between the front seats, her tight arse hanging in the air next to his head. The wind took hold of her dress and flipped it high, exposing more of her mouthwatering tanned skin, and the string that was supposed to be her knickers. Mitch wanted to die. When she scrabbled back to the front, she held his modified HK MP5.

“Now this is what I’m talking about.” Nadia hauled herself upright. She leveled the weapon and let off a round.

“Don’t kill them.”

“Not planning on it.”

Mitch kept his focus on trying to outrun the cops, his brain recalling and rejecting places for them to hide from their pursuers. Shit! He was running out of options.

Nadia’s tanned arm flashed in front of his eyes. “Take the next street. Hard left.”

“Hang on!”

He slowed the Jeep just enough to make the turn without flipping it. Mitch twisted the steering wheel, cutting a path through the oncoming traffic, and careened onto the street.

“Five blocks, then a hard right,” Nadia directed between bouts of gunfire.

Behind them there was a horrific screech of metal and shattering glass.

“That’ll slow ’em down.”

“Don’t kill them.”

“I’m not! Just drive!”

Growling, Mitch lowered his head. He eased off the gas to make the corner for the alley and plowed into a stand of crates; leafy vegetables went flying. “Shit!”

“Keep going.”

As they sped along the alley, Mitch’s pulse ratcheted up at the looming wall at the end. “Nadia, where are we going?”

“Hard left … Now!”

He did as she said and rammed the Jeep through a rickety gate. He backed off on the speed and guided the vehicle through the narrow passage. Daylight at the end of the tunnel was encouraging.

“Don’t go out there. There’s a parking ramp entrance to the right.”

Mitch saw what she was talking about. He hit the brakes and just managed to make the corner, only ripping off the side mirror and scraping rust off the Jeep’s side. Inside the garage, he followed the yellow painted arrows going up. “Now what?”

Nadia turned and sank into the seat, cradling his HK. “We park this beast and abandon it. I’ve got another car stashed in here.”

Outside the wail of the sirens increased.

“We need to do this fast,” he said.

“There.” Nadia jabbed her finger at an open spot.

Mitch whipped the Jeep into the spot, then killed the engine. The two of them jumped out. From the boot, he pulled a desert tan canvas bag and slung the strap over his shoulder. Nadia grabbed his hand and tugged him forward.

“This way.”

Still holding her hand, he jogged with her. Without the need to concentrate on driving, he was able to check her over. Other than the few splatters of dried blood from her earlier kills, she looked whole and hale. His American assassin looked even better than he remembered.

Nadia released his hand and slapped the boot of a putrid green Toyota with equal parts rust and paint. Apparently the paint was holding it together. “Here we go.” She moved to the driver’s side. “Get in, Brit.”

Why did she keep calling him that? He climbed into the passenger side and tossed his bag into the back seat. She handed him the HK, then started the car. Despite its outward appearance, there was power under the bonnet. She backed the rust heap out of its spot, then guided it around the car park to the exit where she stopped in the mouth of the parking garage. On the street police cars screamed past.

Coolly sitting there, Nadia wrapped her wild hair into a messy bun and slipped on a pair of large, reflective sunglasses. Once the coast was clear, she drove the Toyota onto the street and entered the stream of traffic.

“Here.” She handed Mitch another pair of sunglasses. “There’s a ball cap floating around in here somewhere.”

He slipped the glasses on, and with a glance at her, turned around to check the back seat. Finding the cap bill sticking out from under his bag, he pulled the hat free. He smoothed back his hair, settled the cap on his head and faced forward.

“Now what?” he asked.

“We try to avoid any checkpoints they might get up in the next hour.”

Mitch watched the buildings creep past, his gaze flicking to the side mirror and the rearview for any sign of chase. “Then what?”

Nadia chuckled. “Got a hidey-hole in your back pocket you can whip out?”

“Not likely.” There was no way in bloody hell he’d take her to his place. The moment the cops figured out he was on shift at the time she slaughtered those men, they’d be all over his makeshift home. “Nadia, did you have this planned out when you entered the bar?”

She scowled and swiveled her head his way. “There it is again. How do you know that?”

“Know what?”

Her features went slack. She was probably giving him the look like he was a dunce—he couldn’t tell with those huge sunglasses covering her brilliant blue eyes. Her attention returned to the road. “Brit, I’m giving you a pass because you helped me get out of a jam without a scratch. But if you play dumb with me one more time, I’ll kick you out of this car.”

Frowning, Mitch stared at her. “Nadia, what’s my name?”

She ripped the sunglasses from her face and glared at him. “I don’t know who the hell you are. But I sure as hell want to know how you know my name.”

Mitch gaped, his brain churning. She didn’t remember him? Remember what they had together? Did his government make sure everyone who had any connection to him thought he was dead? Was that why she was acting like he was a stranger to her?

“Nadia, it’s me. Mitch. Sergeant Mitchell Edwards, SAS, British Army. Does any of it ring a bell?”

She jerked the car off the road and slammed on the brakes. Once parked on the sidewalk, she turned in her seat and leaned forward. The lethal glint in her eyes matched the one she’d had when she systematically executed Alejandro and his bodyguards.

“I don’t know a Mitchell Edwards. Never have.” She reached for his neck.

Instincts kicked in and he caught her wrist, and slammed it against the dash. When her other hand came for him, he grabbed that too, and pinned it to the seat back. With her arms crossed in front of her body, she was somewhat restricted in her attempts to kill him. Just don’t let her go for a knife.

“I know all your moves.”

She tried to headbutt him, but he was ready forit, jerking his head back before her thick skull could crack his nose.

“Stop this.”

“Let go of me.” She tried to wrench free, but he held fast.

“Look at me.”

She paused in her struggles and sneered at him.

“You don’t remember me at all?”

The piercing wail of a siren made her stiffen.

“Damn it,” she whispered.

Releasing her, Mitch leaned away. Instead of going for his throat, she gripped the steering wheel and got the car off the sidewalk. Once they were headed south, Mitch sat back. Dark, brooding silence filled the car.

Where had his sexy assassin gone?

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