Forged in Fire

Chapter One

Lieutenant Commander Zane Winters shifted uneasily against the grungy white wall across from gate C-18’s ticket counter. He felt naked without his Glock. Exposed. An itchy, irritating prickle of vulnerability tightened his skin and knotted his muscles. Which was ridiculous. They were on leave, for Christ’s sake, booked on a civilian flight.

Yeah, he and Cosky and Rawls had to check their weapons with their luggage, but so what? They weren’t facing deployment to some godforsaken foreign jungle or burning swath of sand.

“Did they have to pick Hawaii? We have the same blue sky and warm weather in Coronado. And without the tourists.”

Zane barely heard Cosky’s disgusted mutter through the drone of excited voices surrounding them. With a grunt, he massaged the back of his neck and surveyed the growing crowd. More passengers were arriving by the minute. There were already too many people to keep an eye on. Too many jackets and pockets and purses. Too many places to conceal a weapon.

A stacked brunette across the gate area caught his gaze and offered a sultry smile. Zane turned away.

“Jesus.” Rawls’s lazy grin was a slash of white in his sun-bronzed face. “You two need to get off base more often. You’re as hinky as a pair of hounds during tick season. Those are civilians y’all are glaring at, not a room full of terrorists.” Bright blue eyes zeroed in on the brunette across the room. “What you need is some of that. Sun, sand, and sex. All the fixin’s for a memorable vacation.”

Cosky shot his teammate a derisive glance. “When did you become so fond of sand and sun? Sure as hell not last month, judging by your nonstop bitching.”

Rawls flipped him the finger. “It’s that third s, Cos. Makes all the difference. You should try it sometime, but without that blow-up Barbie you keep stashed beneath your bunk.”

Shrill laughter erupted across the room. Zane tracked the sound, skimming an abandoned stroller and clusters of luggage. When the brunette tried to catch his eye again, he swore beneath his breath. Shifting against the wall, he gave her his back.

“See? This is why I like hanging with you, skipper,” Rawls drawled. “You attract the little darlin’s over, and when you turn that cold shoulder on ’em, they start buzzin’ round Cosky and me.”

“Leave me out of it,” Cosky said. “Unlike you, I don’t need to surf Zane’s wake for a hookup.”

“A hookup?” Rawls shook his head and smirked. “Is that any way to talk about your hand?”

Bracing his elbows against the wall behind them, he tilted his head and studied Zane’s face. “Seriously, skipper, you should take her up on that offer. It’s not like—” He broke off to scan Zane’s face more intently. Suddenly he frowned. “You’re shittin’ me. That’s some prime real estate over there, and you don’t have any interest in her? None at all? That just ain’t…natural.”

Rawls was right. She was prime. A real looker. Long, thick mahogany hair. A tight, curvy ass. Stacked across the chest. Enough flare through the hips to hold on to. She was the kind of woman who’d give wet dreams to any straight male between puberty and death.

Which must mean he was dead. Because he was way past puberty, yet he didn’t feel even a twitch of interest. No chills. No thrills. No goose bumps.

She could be his great-grandmother, for all the attraction he felt.

Every year the numbness dug a little deeper, spread a little further. He’d been warned about this particular side effect of the family gift—or curse, depending on who was talking. But knowing about it, and living with it, were completely different animals.

“Let’s hope that woman of yours shows up ASAP. Much more of this drought and you won’t remember what to do with her.” Rawls reached over to punch Zane’s shoulder.

The moment Rawls’s fist made contact, every muscle in Zane’s body clenched. He froze, his breath locked in his throat. His vision blurred.

Click.

It was a subtle sound. A switch flipping inside his head. An image flashed through his mind. Quick. Brutal. Ugly.

Rawls sprawled across a bank of narrow seats. His blue T-shirt splotched with black. Blood dripping from limp fingers. A fixed stare glazing his blue eyes.

The vision vanished.

“Son of a bitch.” Sheer disgust vibrated in Cosky’s gritty voice. “We’re on stand-down. This is a civilian flight. Regardless of that all-too-familiar look on your face, we cannot be in any goddamn danger.”

Zane knew he wouldn’t get anything further from Rawls, so he turned to Cosky instead and clamped a hand on his lieutenant’s bicep.

This time he was expecting the vision. He tensed anyway.

Click.

He strained to capture as many details as possible as the new vision flashed through his mind.

Gray eyes locked and empty, already filming with the unmistakable haze of death. Black hair saturated with blood. Hands clenched. He was splayed across a narrow aisle, dark-blue upholstered seats rising on either side of his head.

When the image vanished, he released Cosky’s arm and wrestled air back into his lungs.

“Tell me this is a joke,” Cosky demanded.

Zane shook his head and gripped the back of his neck with both hands.

“What did you see?” Rawls finally asked.

Zane drew a shallow breath. “You dead. Cosky dead.”

“From boredom?” Cosky asked dryly. “We are going to a wedding.” A quick glance at Zane’s face, and a glint of steel darkened his gray eyes. “Where’s this going down?”

“On the bird.” Zane frowned. “Couldn’t tell whether she was in flight. Didn’t get a good enough look.”

Cosky turned to study the boisterous crowd. “When do you ever?”

Zane scrubbed his palms down his face and forced back a surge of frustration. The flashes never lasted long. No more than two or three seconds. Just enough to warn, without giving details. Just enough to raise guards, but not enough to mitigate the danger.

“Which bird? Over or back?” Cosky braced his hands on his hips and studied Zane’s face. “Either fits the three-day window for those flashes of yours.”

“Today.” Zane nodded toward Rawls’s blue-clad chest. “Same clothes.”

Cosky grunted. “I don’t suppose you saw who killed us?”

“When have these damn things ever been that accommodating?”

“Fuck.” With a disgusted shake of his head, Cosky dropped his chin and scowled at the worn carpet. “What about the wounds?”

“Lots of blood. Could be a gun. Or a knife.”

“A crash?” Rawls broke in quietly.

“Doubtful. Neither of you were burned. We’re looking at some kind of weapon.”

Cosky frowned. “It would be easier to smuggle a blade through security, but few people are good enough to take us on with a knife. Chances are it’s a gun.”

Zane pushed away from the wall. “Whatever’s going to happen is bad enough to take the three of us out.” The flashes never centered on him, but if Cosky and Rawls were in danger, he was as well. “We need to get hold of Mac.”

As the officer in charge of SEAL Team 7, Commander Jace Mackenzie had the pull to get the plane grounded and the passengers searched.

“Question.” Cosky’s attention zeroed in on Zane’s face. “What are we going to tell him? We don’t know what’s going to happen, who’s behind it, or what kind of weapons will be used. If Mac gets this bird grounded only to have nothing show during the search, the backlash is gonna be a bitch.”

“What are you suggesting?” Zane cocked an eyebrow. “That we skip the wedding, keep our mouths shut, and let events play out?”

“Don’t be an ass. I’m saying it would be handy to have some solid intel to pass on for a change. Why can’t you ever pick up more information if you touch us again?”

Zane shrugged. Just because he suffered through the visions didn’t mean he understood their properties. “We’ve got some time before boarding. Maybe one of the passengers will stand out.”

A wave of heat suddenly rolled through him. It started at his scalp and flowed down—a tide of molten fire that left chills in its wake. A tingling, numbing sensation followed, as though he’d been hit with an electrical shock.

“What’s wrong?” Cosky’s question came from a distance. Muted and warped.

Zane turned, searching for…something. The gate area spun in slow motion. That strange, electrical tingling raised the hair on his arms and down the back of his neck.

He found her in the mouth of the waiting room. She was blonde, slender. Perfect. Her cream-colored slacks and ivory blouse glowed beneath the harsh fluorescent lights, as though she stood squarely in a spotlight—lit up to catch his attention.

Her chin lifted, their eyes connected, and that strange, pulsating current shot straight to his cock. Electrified him. His libido, numb for years, reared up and howled. He took one long step toward her.

Cosky grabbed his arm and hauled him back. “Goddamn it, Zane. What’s wrong?”

Zane shook his head, tried to clear the fog from his mind. The tug toward her was incredibly strong, like she was a magnet and his bones were metal. He took another step forward, his body vibrating at some strange frequency.

Cosky’s hand tightened with brutal force around his forearm, piercing the primal urge to claim her.

Zane drew a shaky breath. His muscles were rigid. A vicious ache had seized his groin. His skin must have shrunk at least three sizes.

Holy shit.

It had to be her.

After all these years of waiting…this had to be her.

To go from nada to nuclear in the blink of an eye…yeah. He drew a slow, burning breath, grappling to drag his body back under control. This had to be her.

From listening to his brothers’ stories about meeting their mates, he’d expected a strong reaction, but nothing like this whirlpool of hunger.

And he hadn’t even touched her yet.

“Who is she?” Cosky demanded. “Did you see her in one of your flashes?”

The question snapped the world back into focus. The memory of those damn visions flooded his brain.

He watched, frozen, while she headed toward one of the plastic benches strewn throughout the waiting room. She was apparently booked on his flight.

His chest seized. His skin started to crawl. Christ, he couldn’t breathe.

Of all the bad timing.

He’d finally found her. His soul mate. At a time when he couldn’t afford the distraction. When the slightest mistake could get her killed.

 

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