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No Chance In Hell: A No Fail Heroes Prequel

No Chance In Hell

Troy Phail (Epic)

Summers in Afghanistan made Troy Phail long for his hometown in Vermont. Today, the breeze was nonexistent, and he figured even his ammo was sweating.

Carrying and wearing a half-dozen pounds of weaponry and equipment wasn’t unusual, but today everything seemed heavier. Even the weather.

The clouds were low and ominous. Flash floods in the lower hill region were dangerous as hell, and he hoped they didn’t have to face another one today.

They were a mile out from the village of Suraih. Their leader, Marcus Ramirez, aka Arrow, had heard intel saying the village was a potential target for a batch of extremist assholes.

Troy’s team had been together for more than two full tours, and they trusted each other implicitly. They also knew each other’s strengths. Arrow put together intel and clues like no one else Troy had ever met. A bit of Sherlock Holmes and a bit of the Terminator mashed together in a man who never raised his voice or acted impulsively.

A real leader. Probably the best man Troy had ever met.

The villagers of Suraih were good people. They worked their asses off all day long to ensure that everyone in the village survived. They made sure the kids had time to play as well as learn.

Troy’s team hadn’t even known about the girls’ school until they’d been helping the people of the village for more than a year. It was a privilege to be in on the secret, and none of them took that lightly.

An American woman, Elina Vasquez, ran the school and stayed with the villagers. When the people had allowed Arrow to meet her a few months back, they’d known the group had truly accepted them and their mission to help the people.

Today, they were returning to that part of the country, and Troy kept all of his senses alert. As usual, he was on point today, and the ominous feel to the world worried him.

Falcon and Oz moved on the left, Slick and Scooby on the right with Arrow watching their six.

It was always unnerving to return to the villages they knew well. In this volatile region of the world, the people mostly just wanted to survive. Politics was a luxury few could afford. Still, villages were decimated as examples all the time.

Troy hoped that Elina, her girls, and the other villagers were doing well. It had been a few months since they’d been in the area, and almost anything could have happened.

Through the ear pieces, Arrow called for a report. In only moments, he and the others reported all clears.  He hesitated a moment and then added. “But something feels off.”

“Acknowledged and agreed. Keep alert.” Marcus’s calm voice came through.

Troy kept moving steadily until he reached the final turn before the village. “Epic here. At the corner. All remains clear.”

They always used call signs instead of names. For security, and out of habit as well. Call signs were always picked by the group, not the individual. Once the team had learned his surname was Phail, he’d been labeled Epic. As in Epic Fail.

Could be worse, as he well knew. With his surname, he’d learned early on the benefit of a thick skin.

The first to approach his position was Scooby, with Shaggy on his heels. The flipflop of the names had been automatic when Garrett’s K-9 partner had come with the name Shaggy. The small Shepherd was smart as any human Troy had met. She knew dozens of hand signals and verbal commands. She also knew who to trust, and wouldn’t follow orders from anyone she didn’t know even if they learned the signals.

Arrow and Slick would be climbing the hills of either side of the narrow road ahead. It was a prime spot for an ambush, and with the eerie vibes surrounding them today, it wouldn’t surprise Troy.

When they got the all clear, he took the lead with Scooby and Shaggy on his heels. The others wouldn’t be far behind.

Once they’d fully turned the corner in the road, he could see several women washing clothes and prepping food at the small creek.

Good signs. Maybe it was simply the weather.

But he doubted it.

Sean Falcone (Falcon)

Sean Falcone wasn’t as sensitive to the atmosphere as Epic and Arrow. They were somehow attuned to more than what they could see and hear. Shaggy too.

He knew everyone’s brains were wired differently, and he was glad to have those men and the dog on his team. Their skills had kept the team alive and intact on more than a few occasions.

Sean was better with a brick wall to crash through, or a visible enemy to take down. He was also damn good at building those walls back up, and teaching people to do it themselves.

They’d done a lot of that rebuilding over the past two tours. Helped a lot of villages just like this one after they’d been destroyed by assholes who liked blowing shit up, and didn’t care who they hurt.

Sean and Oz followed behind Epic and Scooby as they neared the village. With the worrisome vibes in the air, they wouldn’t cluster themselves together, or make themselves easy targets. They’d also keep all their senses open because it didn’t take long for shit to go sideways.

The women down at the creek looked their way, and then around the area, before going back to their tasks. All of them tensed and worked more quickly.

Damn. The itchy vibes were everywhere.

As they neared the village, more people came into view. The boys playing soccer ran over to talk to the guys in front. Shaggy always drew the kids, and the dog loved on them all equally.

The adults nearby nodded at them as they moved further into the village. Things appeared normal. It had been a while since they’d been through this particular village. He and the others knew enough Pashto to greet people and have basic conversations. Slick was the most fluent, and his ease with people made it easy for him to chat with both the kids and the adults to see what was happening.

Sean wasn’t much of a talker. He liked the army because it was similar to the construction jobs he’d worked back in the States. Keep your head down, and do your job. Follow the plan and the blueprints, and things mostly turned out well.

But sometimes shit still went sideways.

They moved into the village proper with their hands on their weapons and senses alert.

Slick chatted with the people but didn’t gather anything new. Arrow, who was also fluent in Pashto, and Levi had entered the village as well, proving no one was following them from that direction.

They moved slowly along the street, making their presence known, and listening for any intel.

As they neared the area that housed the secret school, one of the men shouted, and waved them over. It only took a glance to see that the man and his son were working to shore up the foundation of their home. The buildings were anchored into the side of the hill on this side of the village. With the recent heavy rains, some of the foundations had weakened, and the two were working to fix it.

After a quick look at the others, he and Oz slung their rifles onto their backs, and moved to help while the others remained in place, watching their six and keeping alert for any issues.

Maybe the tension was from the recent rains and bad weather. Hopefully nothing else.

Levi Connors (Oz)

Levi moved another rock into place while Falcon worked his magic with angles and whatever kind of cement the locals mixed out of mud. It was always a revelation to Levi when he watched Falcon work at his passion. The man was an excellent teammate. Strong, steady. Didn’t chatter much, but neither did Levi.

What Falcon excelled at was fixing and building. Levi would bet the man could whip up a house more quickly that the rest of the team together.

Levi was better suited to tossing hay bales than swinging a hammer, but growing up on a farm, he had a wide skill set. And a ridiculous call sign.

When they finished setting the last bit of the wall, the man thanked them both.

An explosion from the other end of town had the man grabbing his son and heading inside, while Levi and Falcon swung their rifles back into position and broke into a run with the rest of the team.

Arrow led the way through the suddenly deserted streets, and toward the screams.

Another explosion rocked the earth, and Arrow used hand signals to have Levi and Slick heading east, away from the hill. Hopefully, they could circle around and help surround whatever assholes had decided to attack the village.

Levi worked through possible scenarios as they ran. It was probably the group Arrow had heard the rumours about.

Assholes attacking their own people because they could. Sometimes because there were schools for girls, or because they wanted to steal whatever they could. Sometimes because they wanted workers for their opium business. Sometimes for no reason at all.

Smoke filled the sky from further east, making Levi swear, and pick up his speed. The fields were on fire. Setting the food source on fire meant these men were looking to either wipe out the people, or force them to move on, likely to work in the poppy fields or another aspect of the drug business.

He’d bet the group would be mighty pissed when they found out the villagers weren’t alone. This time, Levi’s team wouldn’t only be able to help with the aftermath. This time they would fight to help the people keep their land.

Heath Wilcox (Slick)

The third explosion had Heath’s feet slowing slightly so he could take the next corner. This one was within the heart of the village. If he wasn’t wrong, it was from where the people had hidden the school for girls.

From their positions, he knew the team would split. Try to gauge the size of the offence, and how best to take them down.

Often the insurgent groups in this area worked in teams of ten to forty people. Heath hoped this was a smaller one. Setting explosions in three different areas didn’t bode well, unless they were trying to appear larger than they were.

Did they know Heath’s team was on site? Because of the rumors, they’d only driven so far and had walked the last few miles. Now, he was wishing they had the vehicle in case any of the villagers were injured beyond their ability to fix them up.

Before they worried about the injuries, they’d have to eliminate the threat to these people.

Smoke thickened as he moved toward the latest blast. Through his earpiece, he heard Arrow’s instructions, keeping everyone in the loop. The first explosion appeared to have been a diversion. Most of the team focused on the girls’ school, while Oz checked out the fields. He’d call in if he needed help.

A couple of kids were huddled in a doorway and Heath slowed. Last time they’d been in the area, the boys’ mom had been very ill. Their dad had been killed in another attack a few years before. The other villagers would have taken the boys in, but in the terror of the attack, the boys had likely got lost.

Heath squatted beside them and spoke softly in Pashto while keeping his eyes and ears open around them. “Baahir. Musa. It’s Slick.” The villagers always used the call signs. The team never gave out their own names in the field.

The boys both flinched then stared at him. He pointed to the opposite end of the village. “I need you to find Khadijah. You know Khadijah. Find her. Quickly. Go.”

He had to repeat it again before both of them scurried off. He didn’t move until they were out of sight and then he crept forward again.

When he was as near as he could get without being seen, Heath stopped and squatted before peeking around the corner. A dozen men surrounded the building holding the school. They raised their weapons in the air and cheered as two men kicked in the door.

Idiots.

In his ear, he heard Arrow order. “Fire.”

Garrett Briscoe (Scooby)

Garrett squatted down with Shaggy at his side and his rifle in his hands. The fighting and killing part of this job never got easier, but these insurgents were aiming to wipe out every girl in the village because they wanted to learn to read and write. They were also burning down the fields that provided food for the village with the aim of forcing the people into working for their drug business.

Hopefully once this group realized that Garrett’s team was here, armed and ready, they’d turn tail and run like the cowards they often were.

“Okay, Shaggy. Arrow is clearing the area by the back door. We’ll be in charge of finding all the girls and getting them out. They’ll be scared, so you know your job.”

Not only was Shaggy the smartest dog Garrett had ever met, she had more empathy than most people. She could calm people down quickly, and language was never a barrier. She could also sniff out explosives, but that wasn’t the job today. Today’s was search and rescue.

On Arrow’s command, he patted Shaggy and they moved to the doorway with him. Arrow spoke softly but urgently in Pashto. We’re here to help. The back door is safe. Hurry. Go.

The teacher, Elina, rose from where she’d been sitting in front of a door. She opened it and girls ran out of the storage room and to where Arrow was pointing them. Through his ear piece, he heard Slick helping direct them outside.

Shaggy moved to the walls and started to sniff, following Garrett’s order to Search.

Elina picked up two of the smaller girls while Arrow provided cover. The cupboard was empty and the noise from outside increasing by the minute. Only his earpiece told him his team was holding back the crowd, and that other villagers had circled around to help the girls. Still others were helping Oz save the fields.

“Shaggy. Heel. Let’s go.”

“Wait!” Elina’s panicked voice preceded her as she rushed back into the space. Arrow turned to guard the entrance while she raced in. “Damsa.” She called the girl’s name at the same time as Shaggy softly barked an alert.

Garrett moved to the spot where a shelf met a wall. In the tiny space, a little girl huddled. Shaggy stuck her nose into the space and did her doggy-ESP thing. Sure enough, the girl, Damsa crept out of the space, one hand touching Shaggy.

As soon as he could, Garrett scooped her up. Arrow ushered the teacher out, and Shaggy nipped at their heels to get them to move.

As he crossed the threshold with Damsa, Shaggy barked another alert. Was there another girl?

Before Garrett could pass off Damsa, the building exploded behind them. Someone had tossed an explosive their way, and Shaggy had recognized it.

Garrett covered the girl while the debris rained down on him. He heard the teacher gasp, and Arrow grunt. But nothing from Shaggy.

Nothing.

Marcus Ramirez (Arrow)

Marucs’s leg was on fire, and he was half-buried beneath the wall, but he could see Elina was well-clear of the debris field. A quick look showed Scooby and the small girl were clear and unharmed as well.

But Scooby’s eyes were full of despair and grief.

Shaggy.

The dog had been behind Marcus, nipping at his heels to get everyone out to safety.

A stab of grief rocked Marcus as he realized the German Shepherd was likely buried beneath the wall. She’d done her job, maybe at the cost of her life.

He had to help.

Status reports from the others came through his earpiece. Oz and the villagers had the fire under control but they’d lost most of the fields and crops.

Marcus tried to angle to move some of the rocks off of his body, but everything below his waist was covered, limiting his mobility.

Garrett dropped beside him to help, face blank. He shifted rocks, moving like a robot.

Falcon and Epic called in, saying they were chasing off the mob which wasn’t nearly as brave when faced with trained soldiers.

Scooby called for all hands on deck as soon as the village was safe.

Marcus’s vision was fading in and out, but he kept working at the rocks he could reach.

Soon Slick was there. Then Oz. The two of them spoke but the words blurred as his vision swam in and out of focus.

He managed to croak out two words. “Elina? The girls?”

Slick nodded. “They’re good, Arrow. Everyone’s safe.”

There was more, but he didn’t catch it.

The dust from the debris had to be coating his throat and his eyes.

Epic called for immediate evac support.

He had to help.

Hands held him down and he couldn’t fight them off.

He had to help.

The voices faded into noise and his eyes closed.

He had to help.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this bonus prequel to the No Fail Heroes Romantic Suspense series!

 

I think these men have all earned the right to a Happy Ever After.

 

The first book in the series is No Good Deed spotlighting Troy and Piper.

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