Ophelia Lang needs money, and she needs it bad. Her parent’s restaurant is going under, and ever since she lost her job teaching third grade elementary, scraping enough cash together to pay the bills has proven almost impossible. Her parents are on the brink of losing their home. The vultures are circling overhead. So when Ophelia is offered an interview for a well-paid private tutoring gig in New York, how can she possibly say no?
Ronan Fletcher is far from the overweight, balding businessman Ophelia expected him to be. He’s young, handsome, and wealthy beyond all reason. He’s also perhaps the coldest, rudest person she’s ever met, and has a mean streak in him a mile and a half wide. A hundred grand is a lot of money, however, and if tolerating his frosty temperament, his erratic mood swings and whatever else he throws at her means she’ll get paid, then that is what Ophelia will do. Her new boss is keeping secrets, though. Awful, terrible secrets. The ghosts of Ronan Fletcher’s past are about to turn Ophelia’s future upside down, and she can’t even see it coming.
“Get back, Fletcher! Get back! The tank’s gonna blow!”
I was running. Behind me, seven miles of desert stretched out toward Kabul city, glowing in places where burned out military trucks were being devoured by fire. Twisted metal rained down from the sky, on fire and sharper than a razor’s edge, impacting in the dirt. Thud. Thud, thud. Thud. Shrapnel whistled through the air, striking the ground a few feet away from me as I weaved my way through the wreckage. Smoke was biting at my lungs, acrid and burning, making it hard to breath.
“Fletcher! What the fuck, man!”
Behind me, Specialist Crowe was losing his mind. Alternating between shouting into his radio and shouting at me, he couldn’t seem to decide which course of action to take. I’d ordered him to follow, but I could understand why he hadn’t. The situation was more than unsafe; charging headlong into the fire and destruction was a suicide mission, and I knew it. I also knew that my men were trapped inside the upturned vehicle still a hundred feet ahead of me, however, and I knew the truck was going to blow any second. They were going to burn to death if I didn’t help them. I wasn’t going to abandon them to that fate.
“Captain! God, man, stop!”
My heart was surging, my veins overflowing with adrenalin. My boots hit the dirt, left, right, left, right, left, right, my fists pumping back and forth as I sprinted toward the truck that was laying on its roof up ahead. Through the fractured windshield, I could see Hellaman and Wicks still strapped into the front seats of the vehicle, upside down and unmoving. They were either unconscious or dead. Hopefully they were just out for the count, but there was a lot of blood splattered on the inside of the glass. A lot of blood.
Black smoke curled upward from the underside of the truck, and I could already hear the hissing sound of fuel burning and sizzling somewhere. Groaning. I could hear groaning, too.
I reached the truck just as something inside the engine caught fire, and Hellaman came to. His eyes were wide with pain and fear as I dropped down onto my belly next to the driver’s side window, which was smashed out, small cubes of safety glass scattered into the dirt.
“Captain? Captain Fletcher. Shit, I can’t breathe. I can’t…breathe.” His face was deathly pale, and his hands shook violently as he tried to claw at the seatbelt that was digging into his chest.
“It’s okay. It’s okay, Private. We’re gonna get you out of there, okay? Just hold on a moment.” My bowie knife was in my hand. I took it and made quick work of slashing through the webbing holding Hellaman in place. There was nothing I could do to cushion his fall. Slamming into the roof of the truck, Hellaman groaned weakly, and then passed out again, either from pain or from the shock, I didn’t know. I stowed my blade and grabbed him by the shoulders, then wrestled him free through the window. His face was cut; his arms were striped with blood and running rivers of crimson out onto the ground. No time to be gentle, though. No time to be safe. I hooked my hands under his arms and I quickly jogged backwards, dragging him away from the wreckage. Twenty feet was enough.
I ran back to the truck. Flames were visibly licking at the underside of the vehicle now, snaking upward toward the night sky. Wick was still out cold. I ran around to the back of the truck and tried to force the loading doors open, but they were jammed closed, bent and warped, refusing to budge.
There was someone alive inside. Running out of time. Almost no time left. I positioned myself by the truck’s rear right window, thanking god the thing was already splintered. The bulletproof windows on military trucks were no joke. You could take a semi automatic to them and it would take longer than I had to smash them. The impact of rolling three times had obviously been enough to compromise the glass, though.
“Shield your faces,” I hollered. “Glass, glass, glass!” Bracing, I spun around and smashed the sole of my boot against the window as hard as I possibly could. The glass groaned, fracturing some more, but it didn’t shatter. I kicked again, and again, and again. Finally, the window exploded in a shower of bright shards, giving in under the force of my boot.
“Captain, there’s fuel in here,” someone inside yelled. “Get back!”
I ducked down and lay flat on my stomach again, crawling in through the now empty window frame. Inside the truck, gasoline hung heavy in the air, burning my nostrils and my eyes. Next to me, Roberts was dead, his head twisted at an odd angle, eyes staring, unseeing into the abyss.
On the other side of the truck Private Coleridge, Sam, a nineteen-year-old kid from Houston, was lying on his back on the roof, holding his rifle in both hands, his body convulsing wildly. His eyes swivelled to look at me, but his head remained locked in position, his teeth grinding together.
“What…what happened, Capt’n?” he asked. “We were drivin’ along, and then…everything was…spinning.”
“IED,” I told him. “Desert’s full of them. Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
“I can’t…move. I can’t feel…anything.”
He wasn’t paralyzed. If he were, he wouldn’t be shaking the way he was right now. He was just in shock. A sharp slap to the face would probably go a long way to getting him moving, but there simply wasn’t time for that kind of motivation. Grabbing him by the webbing stitched onto the strap of his pack, which was still on his back, I hauled him to me and then backed out through the window as quickly as I could. The fire was raging now. I dragged Sam back to where I’d left Hellaman and was about to run back to the truck when a loud metallic crack split the air apart, and then a ball of fire rocked the truck, a wall of heat and pressure slamming into my body, sending me reeling back into the dirt.
“Oscar!” Sam yelled. “Oscar’s still alive in there!”
“Fuck.” I was up on my feet and running. The heat was intense—so intense that I had to shield my face as I grew closer to the wreck. The fire had consumed the underside of the truck, the tires blazing, the gas roaring as the fuel line was engulfed. And I could hear screaming. The kind of blood curdling, awful screaming of a man being burned alive.
My radio headset crackled with static, and then Colonel Whitlock’s voice barked out through the speaker. “Fletcher, do not go back inside that vehicle. Do you hear me? Do not go back inside that vehicle.”
Disobeying a direct order from a colonel was an offence worthy of court marshal. I ripped my headset from my ears and threw it to the ground, ignoring it. Ignoring the consequences. Another blood curdling scream reached me, and that was it. I was on my stomach, crawling into the mouth of hell.
My side pressed up against the frame of the window, and pain tore at me, sinking its teeth into my skin. Heat. The heat was overwhelming, so fierce and violent that there was no oxygen inside the truck. Only smoke and confusion. Only death.
“Oscar!” I called out, reaching with both hands, trying to find him. “Where are you, man?” The truck was only a six-guy transport, but the billowing, rolling clouds of black smoke hid everything. I went by touch until I heard him cry out again, weaker this time, voice riddled with agony. He was at the very rear of the truck. A few seconds was all I had. Any longer and I would either suffocate or burn up myself. My head was pounding, my lungs begging for clean air, and I could feel myself start to drift.
The journey to the back of the truck took an eternity. One hand over the other, I pulled myself around an upturned transport box, and jammed my body in between the narrow gap at the right hand side of the vehicle, reaching out, groping, searching, until I found what I was looking for. A leg. A foot, to be precise. I grabbed hold of it and pulled. An agonised yell filled the truck.
“Ahh, my leg. My leg. It’s fucked!”
“I know. I’m sorry, man. I can’t get you any other way.” I gritted my teeth, and I pulled. In any other situation it would have been a crime that I was handling an injured man this way. The clock was running down, though, and if causing more pain, causing even more damage meant the difference between one of my guys being injured or being dead, then I was going to do what I had to do.
I somehow managed to maneuverer myself so that I was over Oscar—I couldn’t even see his face, the smoke was so thick—and then I started shoving. Six hard pushes and I managed to drive him through the gap in the window frame, out onto the desert floor. His body was ripped away, pulled free by someone else, and then he was gone. I was almost too tired to heave myself free, but I scrounged up my last scrap of energy and I crawled forward, determined to make it out before the entire vehicle was enveloped. Halfway out, my fingers clawing in the dirt, my body lit up with pain. Indescribable. Unbearable. A pain so sharp and breathtaking that I couldn’t even cry out. It felt like something was ripping my body in two. I spun around and looked up to see a burning line of fuel pouring down on me, hitting my side, burning into me. I was on fire.
I kicked and jerked myself out of the truck, ripping at my jacket. Tearing at the material, trying to get it off. The fabric seemed to come away in my hands, and then I was shirtless in the cold, cold desert, rolling on the ground, trying to put the flames out.
The world went black. Someone threw something over me, and then hands were beating at my body, slapping and trying to roll me. A strangled gasp worked its way out of my mouth, but that’s all I could manage. The flames were out. The thick, heavy material that had been thrown over me was pulled back, and Crowe stood over me, face covered in soot and grease, eyes the size of dollar coins. I could barely see him properly. Barely hear the words coming out of his mouth.
Colonel Whitlock appeared next to him, and then the sky was filled with the beating thump of helicopter blades. They spoke for a second, and the thundering drum of the helo overhead dipped long enough for me to make out what Crowe said to Whitlock.
“He didn’t stop, sir. He didn’t stop until they were all out.”
Whitlock scowled. “I can see that, Specialist. He disobeyed a direct order in doing so, too.”
“He’ll be reprimanded?” Crowe asked. He was speaking as if I was no longer present; both of them were.
“No,” Whitlock said sternly. “Ironically, I think Captain Fletcher’s more likely to be honored than punished in this particular instance. Now get him on the chopper before I change my mind. The crazy bastard’s bleeding everywhere.”
Callie has experienced many changes throughout her life, and gone through many ups and downs that have all worked towards shaping and moulding her into the person she is today: fun loving, active, social, and hard working. The only thing that has remained a constant throughout her life is writing. Creating characters who will tear your conscience in two is a favorite pastime of Callie’s. There are few real saints and sinners in her books; more often, the denizens of her stories are all very human. Broken, flawed, and always with the potential for redemption. Despite the subject matter being markedly hot and heavy in comparison to the stories she wrote in elementary school, there will always be an element of fairytale to her work. Callie Hart is the author of the Blood & Roses Series. Zeth & Sloane’s story is now complete, but there are a number of stories still to be released under the Blood & Roses banner. 2015 will see Cade, Michael and Rebel’s stories being released, as well as a number of brand new stories, all of which will be Dark Romance novels. If you would like to contact Callie, you can do so here. If you would like to sign up to Callie’s newsletter for info on upcoming releases, exclusive teasers, excerpts and competitions, you can do so here.