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Code Name: Ghost (Paperback)

Code Name: Ghost (Paperback)

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I knew the risks of this job when I signed on with Jameson Force Security. Knew my time as a marine would prepare me for the danger I would face. But no amount of training could have ever prepared me for the helplessness of watching my teammates die, the agonizing mental and physical pain of torture, or the despair of captivity.

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Returning home to Pittsburgh following a mission gone wrong, I am riddled with guilt and haunted by nightmares. I spend my days trying to regain the parts of myself I lost in that desert, the pieces that made me the Malik Fournier I once was. While the physical effects of my torture are fading, the emotional ones are proving much more stubborn and I find solace from the last person I should ever seek such comfort.

Anna Tate lost even more than I did in that mission. Now a widow and a single mom to the daughter she gave birth to shortly after her husband’s death, Anna offers me comfort I don’t deserve. As my feelings for Anna grow, I worry that once she learns the truth about what happened, she’ll turn her back on me.

I pull her to me just as tightly as I push her away. Hoping this forbidden love will save me from the ghost I’ve become.

Read Chapter One

Malik

Pulling the blanket around me a little tighter, I try to suppress a shiver. I can tell by the bluish tint around me that night has fallen, although I have no clue of the actual time. I gave up knowing dates and time of day a long time ago.

All I know is I’ve been in this wooden hut, which has mud slathered into the joints, for months. Of that, I’m confident, but I’m not sure how many.

The hut is no more than the shell of a structure placed on the packed desert floor. It’s a geological phenomenon called desert pavement where closely packed rock fragments and pebbles make an almost pavement-like surface. It’s one of the reasons I suspect I might be deep in the Syrian desert, but that’s not saying much since over fifty-five percent of the country is, in fact, desert.

Regardless, my captors aren’t content with just keeping me in this hut. At some point prior to my arrival, they dug out a hole roughly ten-by-ten feet inside the hut, embedded a spike deep into the bottom of it, and chained me inside. When standing, my head barely reaches the top. Even on tiptoes, I can’t see anything but the roof of the hut. There’s no door and only one window without glass or wooden shutters. They have me chained like a dog. I often wonder why they feel the need to put me in a hole, but the only thing I can figure is it’s part of their torture plan. I have to say it sucks not seeing the sky or the sun, nor being able to feel its warmth.

The nights are getting pretty cold, which makes me think we’re approaching the winter months in Syria. If I had to guess, it’s getting down into the forties at night. The two scratchy woolen blankets they’ve given me are no match against the cold temperatures. I can’t sleep at night, too busy shivering and being miserable, so most of my rest comes during the day when it warms up a bit.

I rise from my bed—which is nothing more than one of the wool blankets doubled up and laid as far from my waste bucket as possible. Not that it really matters. I lost my sense of smell a long time ago, which is a godsend. I can’t even imagine what I smell like. I’m wearing the same clothes I was captured in—minus my boots, which they took off my feet. Black fatigue pants, long-sleeve black thermal shirt, and cotton socks. They’re stiff and unyielding, having been soaked with my sweat, blood, and urine over the months of my captivity.

Never my tears, though.

Not once since I was captured have they gotten my tears.

I move stiffly around the small area of my hole in the ground, holding the thick chain tied to one ankle up so I don’t trip over it. Standing on my tiptoes, I try to spot anything, but it’s futile. There was a time when I could have easily pulled myself out of this hole, but these days, I don’t have the strength. It’s been beaten and starved out of me. Besides that… there’s the whole chain-around-my-ankle thing.

When I was first captured, there was no sense of relief that I was still alive. I knew being held in the hands of the enemy—presumably ISIS—that I was probably on a swift path to death by route of torture. On top of that, I was beyond grief-stricken over the teammates I’d lost.

I was quickly zip-tied, hooded, and driven for what seemed like hours away from the brief firefight we had engaged in. In my ears, I could still hear the anguished moans of the men who had been shot.

What came next was expected. I was Special Forces in the Marine Corps before joining the private sector with Jameson Force Security. I’d been through SERE school.

Survival. Evasion. Resistance. Escape.

I had no chance to test out my survival and evasion skills. They took me right to the resistance portion when the hood was pulled off my head and I was launched straight into their torture efforts to get me to spill my guts.

I’d like to say I withstood the torture for days on end, but that’s not reality. The human body can only take so much, but when it boiled down to it, I just didn’t have the information they wanted. I wasn’t active duty military. Once they finally believed I was a private security contractor fallen into enemy hands, my use to them changed.

Just before they moved me, I was told I’d be very useful in a spy trade with another country or they might just use me in a good old-fashioned beheading that was sure to go viral, as most of those videos often did.

I was hooded once again, driven for hours, and dumped into this hole where I’ve now been for God knows how long. It’s hard for me to tell time here, especially the last several weeks since I’ve become weaker and weaker. I tend to sleep a lot. That means I’m often comatose at sunrise or sunset, and the passage of time is too fluid for me to understand.

My good health is not important to them. I get fed, but not consistently. My ribs stick out, and my knees are bony. Most meals are rice, sometimes stale and dried out ka’ak, and once in a blue moon, goat meat. Water is plentiful but tastes like rust. I have to force myself to drink it. My urine is as brown as the water, and I’m pretty sure it means I’m slowly dying.

It’s something I’ve come to accept.

Lowering back down to my blanket, I lean against the cold dirt wall and pull the other blanket more tightly around me. I close my eyes, thinking about my family. My parents and siblings are working every angle they can to find me, I bet. I’m positive my boss, Kynan McGrath, is working every possible government contact doing the same. There’s not a doubt in my mind no one has given up on me the way I have. They’ll never rest until they have closure about me. That makes my heart hurt for them, because I’m like a needle in a haystack, stuck in a hole in the middle of the Syrian desert. I’m unobtainable.

I hear voices outside the hut, but I can’t understand Arabic at all. No way could I even begin to distinguish the dialect.

As best I can tell, there are always two guards and they rotate every few days. One is usually awake while the other will sleep on the floor of the hut. Sometimes, a vehicle will approach, then leave again, presumably to switch out guards and drop off supplies.

They never talk to me, and I don’t necessarily think it’s because they don’t speak English so much as I’m a non-entity to them. Just a prisoner who they must assure stays in the hole in the ground. They don’t consider me a threat, so we just mutually ignore each other. I think they can tell just by looking at me that I gave up trying to figure out an escape plan a long time ago.

Footsteps scuff over the desert pavement as someone comes into the hut, and a man’s face appears above me.

Bill peers down at me.

Well, not really. I don’t know their names, but as I’ve come to see these men over and over again, I’ve given them monikers myself.

Bill is actually the nicest of my captors, but that’s not saying much. Instead of dropping the bucket that holds my food down on me, he will kneel at the edge and hand it to me so it doesn’t spill. He’s also the only one who ever lets me out of the hole, but I don’t think it’s because he has a heart.

He only takes me out so I can shit or piss on the desert floor rather than in my bucket, which he eventually has to clean out.

He has no food in his hands, but he makes a motioning with his hands, wordlessly asking if I’d like to go outside to relieve myself.

I never miss the chance, whether I have to go or not, so I nod quickly.

Bill is a big man, and he knows I’m no match to take him anymore. He swivels the rifle hanging from a strap to his back, then drops to his stomach at the edge of the hole. When he issues an order—even though I’m not exactly sure what he’s saying—I know he wants me to put my hands together so he can tie them. I step to the edge, hold my hands up, and lace my fingers so he can diligently work rope around them.

When they’re secure, he hops down into the hole and releases the lock that secures the bracket around my ankle that hooks to the thick chain.

Without a sound, he stoops, puts his hands together, and—as I’ve done on many other occasions—I put my foot in them so he can hoist me out of the hole. He’s strong, so he manages to launch me right out. I land hard, knocking the breath out of me. Bill is as spry as he is large, and he easily vaults out of the hole behind me.

He roughly grabs my arm, then hoists me to my feet. Giving me a rough shove, he propels me out the doorway into the night air. It’s freezing, but it’s refreshing at the same time. I have a brief moment of clarity and a slight surge of strength. Should I turn and attack him? Try to wrestle his gun away?

My gaze lands on his partner—my other captor whom I’ve named Mortimer. He sits next to a small fire, chewing on some sort of bone with gristly meat. Most likely goat. I’d kill for a bite, but I know it won’t be offered.

Unexpectedly, Bill shoves me again. My head whips back and I stumble forward, going down on one knee. I’m past the humiliation of not being able to fight back. I long ago stopped caring that I don’t even have the strength to stay on my feet when I get pushed.

Yelling something in Arabic, Bill hauls me up until I’m standing. Mortimer calls out, and they laugh.

I just stare at Bill, wondering if he has a family and why he does the things he does. Is he being paid good money? Does he believe in whatever cause my captors are pursuing?

He says something else to me… something I’ll never understand in a million years. Just as I don’t understand when I hear a slight zinging noise… and then his head bursts apart in a spray of blood, bone, and brains.

Mortimer gives a sharp curse—at least I think that’s what it is, then I hear that zinging noise again and Mortimer’s head explodes, too.

Both men slump to the desert pavement, Bill right at my feet. Mesmerized, I watch as blood seeps out of what’s left of his head, forming a large puddle that starts sliding toward my socked feet. It sparkles in the moonlight, actually looking quite beautiful.

And then it hits me… I’m free.

I glance around, peering into the dusky night, but the glow from Mortimer’s fire makes it impossible to see much.

“Hands up,” an American voice orders from the perimeter of darkness. I don’t hesitate in putting my roped hands high in the air as I search around me.

And then… they all seem to step forward out of melted shadows, my teammates from Jameson. Tank and Merritt, along with a handful of other men, all dressed to the hilt in camo with guns and grenades.

Tank and Merritt were with me back in June on a hostage rescue mission when we were ambushed. Until this moment, I had no clue if they survived.

My head starts to swim with the enormity of what I’m seeing. I had given up all hope of this ever happening.

Suddenly, my friend, Cage Murdock, is standing in front of me as I feel my legs giving way. His arms come around me, holding me upright. Tank and Merritt move in closer to get a good look at me while the other men check on what remains of Bill and Mortimer.

“I got you, buddy,” Cage reassures me. “No one else guarding you, right?”

I shake my head. “I don’t think so. I only ever see two at any given time.”

Tank glances around, nodding over at the building where I was held. “We’ve been watching for several days now. We didn’t see anyone else, either, but we need to make sure we’re secure.”

“We’re secure,” I mumble, although I’m not really sure of anything at this point.

“That’s good,” Cage replies with a smile, giving me a not-too-rough slap on my shoulder. “That means we can get your ass home. Bet you’d like that, huh?”

I grit my teeth together, knowing my words will never be sufficient to answer that question.

Instead, I give the desert something I’ve withheld all these months.

I let my tears finally flow free.

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Product Release Date: June 30, 2020

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