Title: Deadly Strain
Book 1: Biological Response Team Series
Author: Julie Rowe
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: June 15, 2015
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Format: eBook, PDF
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through the heart of every man. —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
the chessboard. There was no hope. None. Not a single move left open to her.
her head at the patience on her opponent’s face. “I concede.”
where you went wrong?” he asked as he cleared the board. He set the pieces up
again. Those big hands of his could bandage a wounded soldier, field strip a 9
mm and box her into checkmate with equal skill.
this chair,” she answered with a straight face. The mess hall was busy with
soldiers, American and Afghan alike, either beginning their day or ending their
“You played the board.”
about it for a second, but it still didn’t make any sense. Then again, it was
0600 and she’d only been up for twenty minutes. “Huh?”
Weapons Sergeant Jacob “Sharp” Foster looked at her earnestly. “You played the
board,” he repeated. “You should have been playing the man.”
had to fight not to roll her eyes. When she first met him she’d thought his
flirting was for real, and had been worried she’d have to shut him down. She
didn’t want to, because he was hilarious, but the impropriety couldn’t be
ignored. Then, she discovered when he wasn’t on the job, he had a wicked sense
of humor, and everyone was a target.
I’ll have to study you.” She leaned forward and made a show of giving him a
spread his hands wide. “By all means, study me.”
man, about six-two, and she’d guess he weighed about two hundred pounds. He
flexed his biceps and waggled his eyebrows in response to her joke. Though he
had brown hair, with a mustache and beard to match, he had the lightest blue
eyes she’d ever seen—like looking into glacial ice.
eyes were challenging her. She just wasn’t sure if it was regarding the game or
something she didn’t want to talk about. At all.
Sharp wasn’t going to leave it alone. The chess game should have warned her.
They usually played poker.
reset the chessboard while, for the first time in a week, letting her mind go
back to the moment she realized she was in trouble. On her way to her quarters
late at night. They’d arrived at Forward Operating Base Bostick the week
before, and she’d been introduced to the base commander, Colonel Marshall. He’d
barely spoken to her. So why was he waiting for her outside her quarters with
clenched fists and a face so blank she knew he was in the grip of a powerful
known for any kind of emotion.
several feet away. “What are you doing here at this hour, sir?”
upper lip lifted in a sneer and he snarled, “I wanted a private conversation.”
triggered every internal red flag she had. “I don’t understand.”
response was two words. One name. “Joseph Cranston.”
she could forget. “You…knew him?”
words into weapons. “He was my son.”
involuntary step backward. Now that she knew, she could see the son in his
father’s face, the same eyes and jawline as the young man whose features she
couldn’t forget. As if conjured, his shade floated in front of her mind’s eye,
thrusting her into a memory she wanted desperately to erase. His face, covered
with blood, whipped her heart into a gallop. Her breathing bellowed, lungs
attempting to push air through her terror-closed throat. She fought the
invisible hands pulling at her and her vision spiraled into a narrow tunnel.
out of the dark, his presence breaking the memory’s chokehold.
front of her, calling her name, ordering her to respond before he did something
stupid like give her mouth-to-mouth. She coughed out a response, couldn’t
remember what, and fought her way to her feet.
to hold her. He didn’t touch her at all, but he shielded her body from prying
eyes with his own. He refused to leave her, facing down Colonel Marshall, who
showed no sympathy and less tolerance for her fainting spell. Two of Sharp’s team members appeared and, after
glaring at them all, Marshall left without saying anything else.
inside her quarters before anyone could demand an explanation, shut the door
and locked it. She’d only felt relief when no one knocked to ask for an
explanation. It wasn’t until the next day that she realized their lack of
questions was as suspect as her behavior.
expected to meet anyone connected to Joseph Cranston outside of the United
States. Hadn’t expected something that happened that long ago to thrust her
into a memory like it was happening all over again.
Sharp had been mother-henning her like she was some fragile little chick, and
she’d had about as much of that as she could take. She was a Samuels. Her
father, also a military doctor, had just retired from the army, and her
grandfather had run a MASH unit during the Korean War. He’d met her grandmother
during WWII; she’d been one of the first Air Force service pilots. If there was
one thing she wouldn’t accept from anyone, it was pity.
studying you for a while.” Sharp finished setting up the board and met her
gaze. “You’re a damn good doctor, a hellacious good shot on the range and you
put up with our male stupidity with more patience than we deserve.”
between you and Marshall?”
to stare at her, she added, “Look, I’m not going to saddle anyone else with my
personal grievances or the fact that I don’t get along with someone.”
grievances?” Sharp asked. “Twice last week I thought you were going to damage a
guy for jostling you in the chow line. What’s going on with you?”
would notice. She’d damn near freaked out each time, a scream hovering on her
lips, her hands and feet moving to defend against an enemy who wasn’t there.
weapons pointed at her, yet she still found herself reacting as if it were
happening all over again.
reacting that way until Marshall had confronted her. Meeting the father of a
soldier who’d died an unnecessary death in front of her must have detonated an
emotional trip wire in her head. One she needed to deal with.
when on active duty and nowhere near a base with more than a glorified
anywhere she went on the base, Sharp or one of the guys from the A-Team was
there. Not doing anything, just there. They weren’t fooling her.
and their overprotective tendencies.
handle. I take care of myself.” She narrowed her eyes. Her sidearm, a Beretta M9,
might have to make an appearance. Then Sharp’s words sunk all the way in.
“Wait. Are you telling me I should play chess with the same mind-set as poker?” She buried his ass every time they played poker. He was
terrible at keeping his attention on his cards and lousy at pretending he
wasn’t checking her out—not that he was serious about it. He knew the rules
same as she, and she was glad, ridiculously
glad, she had a friend she could count on, someone she could trust.
demands more of you than poker, but the principles are the same.”
say.” She’d been playing poker with her dad since she was ten years old. He’d
taught her how to bluff anyone.
chuckling. “If I were lying, you’d be beating me, but you aren’t.”
forward and tapped the board. “Make your move.”
mouth to respond, but he never got a chance to say anything before another
Beret, the team’s other weapons sergeant, Harvey Runnel, strode over to them.
It wasn’t the speed he was moving that drew her and Sharp’s attention, it was
the look on the soldier’s face. Flattened lips, clenched jaw and a slightly
flared nose. She couldn’t see his eyes due to the tinted safety glasses he
wore, but she could guess that the skin around them would be tight—a man who
was on full alert.
soldiers did not get amped up for no reason.
Runnel said. “Doc, grab your go-bag.”
sank over her, numbing her to the horror to come. It was the first
self-preservation tactic doctors learned. Compartmentalize all that terrible
stuff or go crazy in a week. Sometimes she wondered when all those boxes in her
mind would break open and rip her apart from the inside out.
entire crate named Joseph Cranston.
She asked even though she already knew the answer. Runnel never looked this
rattled. Please say warm.
was a trauma kit, a backpack with everything she’d need if she was dealing with
bullet holes, shrapnel lacerations or broken bones. The typical things most
people expected her to treat since she was a trauma surgeon. But that wasn’t
all she was.
infectious disease specialist.
contained the very latest in biological detection technology. One- or two-step
tests that identified anything from anthrax to Ebola to a weaponized flu. She
was a member of a select group of virologists, microbiologists and infectious
disease specialists the US Army relied on to train not only their own troops,
but the soldiers of other nations, in the detection of and protection against
biological weapons. They were known officially as the Biological Rapid Response
team, but most soldiers called them Icemen or Icequeens.
had been assigning BRR team members to work with Army Special Forces
teams—Green Berets. She’d been working with Sharp’s team for almost a year. Her
job was to assist in training Afghan forces in everything from combat and
demolitions to the most survivable responses to biological, chemical or nuclear
said. “No drill.”
through her system as Grace got up and followed Runnel. He led the way back to
whoever was calling the shots, Sharp right behind her as they ran at a trot.
She might be the base’s resident expert on biological weapons, but it was
knowledge she wished fervently she didn’t have to use.
staging area where she’d been doing some of the training. Several members of
Sharp’s team were using it to gear up. Runnel glanced at her and angled his
head toward the base commander, a tall man in his forties who wore a permanent
frown. He was looking at a map with several ranking officers, including the
A-Team’s commander, Geoffry Cutter.
her. “The major is here, sir.”
Colonel Marshall gave her a glare before returning his attention to the map in
front of him.
past her. If he kept demeaning her in front of the Afghan forces and their own
soldiers, she’d lose the credibility she needed to successfully train them.
said without looking at her. “One of our patrols reported in about ten minutes
ago with what appears to be a
didn’t add any more details. “What led them to believe that, sir?”
with an even colder expression. “An entire village dead. Some of the bodies
show lesions and bleeding from the nose, mouth and eyes.”
their assessment of the situation, sir. Your orders?”
there,” he snarled at her. “Figure out what happened and fix it.”
already. Asshat. She’d hoped he’d
give her some detailed orders, with a timeline and what kind of manpower she
could expect. Not more sarcasm and snark.
She came to attention and saluted. “Yes, sir.”
then stopped and turned around. He addressed Cutter and only Cutter, who had
somehow inched his way over until he was right next to her, with Sharp on the
other side. What a couple of papa bears. “Send half of your A-Team with the
Icequeen. The other half will stay here in case I need a second team to go in.”
tongue hard to keep from telling what she thought of him and his orders, and
mentally promoted him to asshole.
saluted. “The location of the village is here.” He glanced at Grace and pointed
to a spot on the map. From a distance Cutter looked like the least threatening
person in the room. He was the shortest, skinniest guy on the A-Team, but he
more than made up for that in stubbornness and stamina.
so she could get a better look. “How far is it from the Pakistan border?”
far.” She ran her index finger over the spot on the map. “Mountain valley?”
small village. Less than one hundred people.”
no one alive?”
through her nose and out through her mouth. “Did they get their breathing gear
on right away?”
their report they did, but they’re nervous. Whatever killed those people,
killed them fast.”
have to tell you guys how to prep. You’re as well trained as I am. Consider
this a live weapon.”
responded. He looked at Sharp standing next to her. “I’m assigning Sharp to
ride herd on you, Doc. Where you go, he goes.”
Commander. I’ve worked with Sharp plenty of times.”
fifteen.” Cutter nodded at her, gave Sharp a nod, then moved off to brief the
rest of his team.
go-bag and the rest of my gear,” she said to Sharp, her mind on the eight
million things she needed to do before those fifteen minutes were up.
don’t need any help.” She was going to have to deal with his protective crap
sooner rather than later, but carefully. “I do need every friend I can get,
though. Are you in for that?”
relaxed a little and refocused on the job at hand.
seconds too long.
replace you with Runnel?” Cutter asked.
around to stare at his commander. He’d thought Cutter had been briefing the
rest of the team. “No.”
his arms crossed over his chest and his feet apart. “Then pull your tongue back
into your head. You’re damn near panting after her.”
likely. She’s just the only person on this base who can beat me in poker. If
something happens to her, I’ll have nothing to do for the next month,” he said.
“Besides, something’s not right. She’s been off her game since Marshall decided
to be an ass. She’s our number-one asset. I’m worried.” The way he’d found her
the other day, damn near passed out, shaking and hyperventilating like she was
about to fly apart… It had hit him—a sucker punch to the gut. She was reliving
he know who lived with PTSD? Ten, twenty, fifty?
connection? Something he’d done or said had set off a bomb in Grace’s head.
Marshall hadn’t liked it when Sharp wouldn’t leave Grace alone with him.
Grace been involved with that earned her the dislike of a career military man
who normally didn’t give a rat’s ass about what a doctor like her might be
doing or not doing?
yourself. Word around the base is, he’s got a hate on for the doc and you got
in the way.”
Marshall hasn’t talked, but his attitude toward the doc is clear. He hates her
Marshall’s face had been twisted by disgust and hostility as he stared at her
the night he got between her and the colonel. What had happened to cause it?
Whatever it was, Sharp wasn’t going to let anyone hurt her. She worked just as
hard and long at training their allied troops as the A-Team did. And she was good.
voice had a wary edge and he took a step closer. “Be careful, man. I like the
doc, too. Hell, the whole team likes her, but you and I both know falling for
someone while on deployment is a mistake.”
choir here, boss. I might enjoy the view on occasion, but there’s a line I have
no interest in crossing.”
watched as a former team member fell hard for a woman he’d met while overseas.
The relationship disintegrated within weeks after he’d been reassigned. It had
damn near broke him, and he’d left the military altogether.
Sharp told his commander. “She’s smart and she’s worked her ass off this last
year. I also think Marshall has some kind of vendetta against her. The look on
his face the other night…” Sharp shook his head. “He’d have killed her if he
could have. She belongs to us.”
for a couple of moments, his gaze steady on Sharp’s face. Finally, he angled
his head toward the knot of soldiers and gear. “Come on, no one is going to
bother her now. Marshall needs her. Get your shit together.”
thing right. He needed to keep his focus on the mission. Sharp followed the
other man, but there wasn’t much for any of them to do, since they were always
ready to move out on a moment’s notice. Every man on the team had developed the
habit during training and had only refined it since. One of their instructors
used to say that an unprepared soldier was a dead soldier.
rest of his team, double-checked his weapons, pulled on his battered gear and
bio-suit and got out of the way. Focus.
with Bart, one of their communications guys, when Colonel Marshall walked in a
few minutes later with another half-dozen soldiers behind him and headed
straight for the Special Forces group.
coming at twelve o’clock,” Sharp informed him quietly.
Marshall came to a stop, the entire A-Team was standing at attention.
with a salute. “The go-team is ready, sir.”
six minutes, sir.”
“You’re taking these men with you on this mission. Two additional medics, Yanik
and Anderson, and four of my infantry for security. Your mission objective is
to assist Major Samuels.”
since their arrival two weeks ago, Marshall was actually helping a situation
rather than shitting all over it.
that bitch doesn’t screw up,” Marshall added. “I want the men on that patrol
back in one piece. Understand?”
and Marshall stalked off like he was Patton or something.
guy not being a tremendous bag of dicks,” the team’s second in command, John
Leonard, said in an undertone.
About The Author
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Author Website: http://www.julieroweauthor.com/