Chapter 4: A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

We are thrilled to bring you a new book installment this May. We bring to you A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael.

A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3

CHAPTER FOUR

A few hours later, Doogie caught up with her team. The men sat on a ring of sandbags, waiting for their C. O. to come and tell them what the next mission would be. The heat reflected off the hard sand, intensifying the temperature. Lines of tents filled the outpost. They considered Camp Dietz the Hilton of Afghanistan. It contained a few buildings with air conditioning, a computer hub, sporadic cell service, and the best hospital in the country, even if it was in a gigantic tent with plywood walls placed sporadically throughout.

Other teams stood in various formations around the outpost, making it clear this was going to be a big operation. Doogie stood behind Tahk, waiting. Raven called him her personal guard; the guys called him her babysitter. The Taliban didn’t fight fair. In wars of the past, the corpsman wore a large white cross to signify they were the medical support. The Geneva Convention protected them. This enemy didn’t abide by those rules. So, the cross was removed, and in her case, she was given a guard. He was supposed to know where she was at all times. Before he was assigned to her, he’d been on a Special Ops team with Raven. Tahk’s specialty, amongst other things, was as a sniper. She felt bad he had to hang back with her so much.

The exhaustion of the day flowed through her body. Her eyelids closed, and her body started to sway. Tahk grabbed her arm and pulled her down onto the sandbag next to him. “Do not fall asleep when he’s talking.”

Raven came out of the logistics building with another C.O. Their expressions were grave as they approached their respective groups.

“What’s the plan, Chief?” Johnnie asked. He was one of the few men who was called by his actual name. The Marines were full of nicknames. Most of them stemming either from a physical feature they’d like nothing more than to forget, or a stupid act they did once that they’d never live down. It was almost like they were functioning under aliases so their transgressions could be blamed on their alter egos. Doogie certainly wouldn’t have been her first choice, but she recognized it as an honor to be given a nickname by her Marines.

“We’re heading out at midnight. The Osprey Helicopters are here, so they’ll take us to Five Points Junction. Drop a few Humvees for us. We’ll make our way through the poppy fields on foot, and then work our way into Marjah. Delta will converge with us from the north; Alpha from the south, and the ANA, the Afghanistan National Army, from the west. The ANA is supposed to be sweeping for mines before we get there. Tahk’s done some recon. You got anything?” Ravenscar redirected the group. Tahk stepped forward.

Now she knew where the rash came from. He was allergic to poppies. She closed her eyes and whispered, “Thank you Lord. Thank you for not making my friend a giant louse.”

Tahk stood to face the group. Doogie rubbed her eyes, trying to erase the vision of him naked.

“We’ll be camouflaged by the darkness but want to get into the city before dawn. The poppy fields will provide protection for the landing. Our target is a mosque located deep within Marjah. Once we leave the field, we’ll be completely exposed until we get into town. Town consists of one-story structures with thatched roofs. A sand road runs through the middle of it,” Tahk finished.

“The poppy fields are a source of funds for the Taliban.” Raven stepped forward to finish the briefing.” Harvesting the flowers, turning them into opium, has made it a primary location for the Taliban. This mission is the first step in a counter insurgency policy, COIN is its official name.” Raven took his cap off and ran his hand over his short hair. “Intel doesn’t have the exact level of insurgents in the area, but we’re going to assume the worse. You’re gonna be asked to make one hundred decisions in seconds. There are no right answers. But make a decision. Don’t let your emotions rule you. This has been in the works for a while. The civilians have been told we’re coming, so the insurgents know we’re coming as well. This isn’t a surprise. The Taliban’s had three months to prepare for us. The civilians should have evacuated, but I’m sure many of them didn’t. Our main objective is to win over the local population. Not kill them. Civilian casualties must be avoided at all costs. Understand, the last time an area was given a heads up we were coming, they were met with RPG’s, AK-47’s, and IED’s. Be ready. We meet at the landing pad at eleven thirty.” Raven headed back to the logistics building.

“OORAH,” the men chorused after him, and then walked to their prospective barracks.

“See ya there.” Tahk nodded before leaving to collect gear.

****

Doogie was standing on a stepladder in the supply closet, reaching into a cupboard when Raven found her.

“Here let me help.” He stepped up behind her and reached over her head. Doogie wasn’t short, five foot six with her boots on, and mostly lean muscle. Some of the women she’d met in the military walked a fine line of womanhood. For better or worse, she seemed to have held on to her feminine side, even after the training beat her down. Raven was close to six foot four. A solid rock of a man. Between Tahk and Raven, Doogie felt like a twig.

He leaned over her, easily reaching back to grab the box she was searching for. His shirt made a stiff scratching sound as it rubbed against the back of her fatigues, pushing her blonde braid over her shoulder. He smelled like heat and sand. She felt the solidness of his chest when he leaned in and pushed her against the counter. A strange sensation drifted through her at his close proximity.

She felt her knees go soft.

He took a step back. She turned and sat on top of the stepladder, trying to figure out why Raven was having this effect on her when he was probably looking to chew her out again. The ladder made their heights more comparable. She could tell he wanted to say something; their conversations had been limited since she joined his unit. He usually relayed messages through Tahk. For the first time, she noticed the lines of worry at the corners of his eyes. He couldn’t have been much older than her twenty-two years, but his added responsibility seemed to be taking a toll on him. Doogie’s mouth went dry as she watched his long lashes graze the top of his cheeks with each blink. He looked almost shy, which unsettled her. She was furious at his accusations earlier. But now he was distracting her with this softer side. She rubbed her face, she needed to focus.

He fiddled with the box of bandages. “I want to apologize for earlier. Tahk told me what you were doing.”

She shifted on her perch.

“I shouldn’t have assumed the worse.”

She sat quietly, watching him squirm.

“You’re not going to make this easy are you?” He shook his head, a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

“You need to respect my job with the team. Trust I wouldn’t cross a line.” Doogie tried to keep her voice firm while she chastised him for assuming she would be providing inappropriate benefits in the staff room, but his mouth was distracting her.

“It’s just . . . well . . . you . . . Sawyer, you were down there. He was standing . . . I’m sorry. It looked bad.” He ran his hand over his short hair in his tell-tale sign of uneasiness.

“It kind of looked bad from where I sat, too.” She gave him a small grin.

Raven let out a sound like a cross between a laugh and a choke, and then locked his gaze to hers. His eyes were flecked with amber and held her with a warmth and intensity, differing from the look he usually gave her, which was one of irritation. He could act without a second of hesitation; his intensity was unnerving. Raven scared the crap out of everyone, except Tahk. Rumors whirled around Tahk and Raven’s participation in some pretty amazing missions, missions Tahk refused to talk about. But if she’d learned anything in her time with the Marines, it was to never show weakness, even though Raven scared the crap out of her.

“Just for clarification, when you’re with my unit, you are under my command. I am responsible for you. I don’t want there to be issues.” Raven didn’t let his stare falter.

“Understood,” she said carefully.

Raven took a deep breath, stepped back, and held the box out in front of him. Her fingers grazed his; electricity tingled up her arm.

Raven cleared his throat. “Just don’t want to go out there with things unclear.”

Doogie nodded. “We’re clear.”

“Not sure how long we’ll be out, so be prepared for the long haul.”

“Will do.” It felt like something completely different than a simple apology had transpired.


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