He’s a strong, ex-military man with a fierce proclivity to protect those he loves. They call him an alpha. She calls him her hero. We call him Kade Butler. And this is where it all began...
Kade Butler has to do one thing before he starts over. One man saved his life and catapulted his career. And after a mysterious disappearance, Kade knows he owes it to him to drop everything and find him.
Leaving Peyton Wolf is the hardest thing he’s ever done. She’s his world. But sometimes, loyalty trumps love. He must promise to come back to her even when the odds are stacked against him. After all, there’s only one man Peyton will ever need: Kade Butler.
It was always a trade-off…whether he wore the restrictive dust goggles that fogged up and made him so sweaty he couldn’t see through them anyway, or suffered the flying sand that would blast into his eyes because his fifty-fifties—night-vision goggles—didn’t provide an adequate shield.
After coming within seconds of dying only minutes earlier, sand in his eyes was the last thing Kade should be worried about as he stood at the landing zone with the rest of his element, waiting for extraction.
He scanned the surrounding landscape for signs of any approaching threat during what was—next to the approach on a target—the most vulnerable part of any operation.
“K19-Bravo, this is Tetrus. Over,” he heard through the bone-conduction bud in his left ear.
“Tetrus, this is K19-Bravo. Good copy.”
“Two minutes out. Rope me in, Doc.”
“Roger that.” Kade moved his laser first in a circular motion over his head to give the helicopter pilot a general target. Next, he repeated the same motion on the ground to give him the desired touchdown point.
“Impose radio silence. Over,” he said to his element through his mic. In an op like this, strict radio discipline was always exercised to mitigate the inevitable confusion caused by noise, obscured vision, and the stress of quickly loading and accurately accounting for all personnel. Every small-unit leader’s nightmare was leaving someone behind.
As he waited for the aircraft to land, he counted the seconds while its sound progressed from a brassy hum to a rhythmic rattle, and finally to the thundering rumble and loud slap as it drew closer to the earth.
The hulking image of the helicopter momentarily disappeared and then materialized back out of the billowing dust storm caused by the rotor blades’ “prop wash.” The build-up of static electricity at the rotor tips created the appearance of a dusty yet luminescent halo hovering over the unwieldy aircraft as it settled to a clumsy stop.
Kade sprung from a kneeling position and sprinted in a crouched posture toward the aft ramp of the aircraft as it lowered like the jaw of a huge great white shark.
Standing at the trailing edge of the ramp, he took an extra step toward its port side and stopped. As each man loaded into the troop compartment, Kade tapped them on the shoulder to obtain an accurate head count.
When the last man had loaded, Kade ran in and took his seat next to the crew member manning the M240 machine gun in the starboard gun door. Another mirrored his action on the port side.
“Tetrus, this is K19-Bravo. Chalk one is up,” he said through the mic, signaling the pilot that all personnel was accounted for and prepared for lift-off.
“K19-Bravo, this is Tetrus. Roger that, good copy. Exfil, exfil, exfil.”
The rotary-winged albatross carrying him and his team lurched forward, teetering from side to side as it lifted from the ground—the pitch of the engine noise intensifying in concert with the speed of the main rotor.
As the lift and forward speed increased, Kade closed his eyes in anticipation of that brief moment when the air passing through the two open doors would hit his exposed skin, wet with perspiration. The refreshing feeling was fleeting as the radiant blast from the bird’s turbine engines overcame the cooler air and the furnace-like heat blew through the troop’s cabin.
Peering through the gun door, Kade looked out at the vast, barren desert floor and its endless variations of geometric markings, wondering as he had so many times before, what purpose they served and who might have etched them on the landscape.
He reached up and extinguished the infra-red strobe attached to the top of his ballistic helmet. Soon, the opposition would acquire the technology, and the tactical advantage would be lost. By then, though, men like his father would stay one step ahead, developing things men like Kade had never even dreamed of.
As the helicopter reached cruising altitude, he did a quick equipment check, turning off the small GPS mounted on his left wrist to spare the batteries.
As he repeatedly did during the course of an operation, he checked the selector switch on his M4 with his right thumb to ensure it remained in the safe position. He would keep his weapon hot, though, until they were back on the ground.
He leaned against the skin of the aircraft and reached for the power switch on his fifty-fifties and turned them off as well. He rotated the goggles up, away from his face, and locked them into position above the forward lip of his helmet.
It took a few seconds for the visual purple in his retinas to adjust to the darkness, but the reflective light from the full moon sped it up.
The white noise of the constant din of the turbine engines, combined with the warm air, brought him to a near-catatonic state.
He was tired, thirsty, and hungry. His clothes were wet with perspiration, and in the cramped space, his body ached from having worn the sixty-plus pounds of tactical gear and weapons for the last several hours.
Deep inside, Kade felt a strange sense of belonging in the country that had been destroyed by decades of tyranny and years of war. He couldn’t explain why he felt that way. Sometimes this felt more like where he belonged than home did.
He looked at the men sitting next to and across from him in the aircraft. Many he couldn’t converse with, given their language barriers, yet he still considered them his brothers. They were bound by the ties of shared experiences in the face of danger, all feeling the same sense of duty and devotion to a purpose greater than themselves. Their dedication was to those they served, those they protected, and above all, to each other.
The landmarks indicating the approach to their final destination appeared on the horizon, and they prepared for their descent. The chopper made contact with the ground with a jolt and came to a stop.
The turbines began to wind down as the ramp dropped. They exited the aircraft with the standard sense of urgency to assemble on the edge of the apron, where a head count of personnel would be taken and weapons cleared.
There would be pats on the back from those who weren’t on this op. Congratulations given for another successful mission. As hungry as Kade felt on the ride back, his appetite was now gone. A beer would be nice at a time like this, but their station was dry.
“Sir?” one of the men called to him as he walked toward the bunkhouses.
He waved behind him before continuing in the same direction. Tomorrow they would assemble for the hotwash. There was no need to relive the mission now. He’d do plenty of that in his dreams.
After shedding his gear, Kade walked into the ten-by-ten room that was his home more often than the five-thousand-square-foot house he had back in the States. He lay on his back on the single bed, put his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes. This tour was almost over. Soon he’d be on a transport that would take him first to the United States European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, where he’d debrief. Unless he was called to report for another mission, he’d be stateside for at least two months.