Wyatt's War

Hearts & Heroes - 1

Myla Jackson


This book is dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces who protect our lives and liberty. I have nothing but love and respect for them and the sacrifices they make daily. Also, I’d like to dedicate this book to their families who keep the home fires burning for their heroes’ return.

Chapter One

Sergeant Major Wyatt Magnus pushed past the pain in his knee, forcing himself to finish a three-mile run in the sticky heat of south Texas. Thankfully his ribs had healed and his broken fingers had mended enough he could pull the trigger again. He didn’t anticipate needing to use the nine-millimeter Beretta tucked beneath his fluorescent vest. San Antonio wasn’t what he’d call a hot zone. Not like Somalia, his last real assignment.

It wouldn’t be long before his commander saw he was fit for combat duty, not playing the role of a babysitter for fat tourists, politicians and businessmen visiting the Alamo and stuffing themselves on Tex-Mex food while pretending to attend an International Trade Convention.

The scents of fajitas and salsa filled the air, accompanied by the happy cadence of a mariachi band. Twinkle lights lit the trees along the downtown River Walk as he completed his run around the San Antonio Convention Center and started back to his hotel. Neither the food, nor the music lightened his spirits.

Since being medevaced out of Somalia to San Antonio Medical Center, the combined armed forces’ medical facility, he’d been chomping at the bit to get back to where the action was. But for some damn reason, his commander and the psych evaluator thought he needed to cool his heels a little longer and get his head on straight before he went back into the more volatile situations.

So what? He’d been captured and tortured by Somali militants. If he hadn’t been so trusting of the men he’d been sent to train in combat techniques, he might have picked up on the signs. Staff Sergeant Dane might not be dead and Wyatt wouldn’t have spent three of the worst weeks of his life held captive. He’d been tortured: nine fingers, four ribs and one kneecap broken and had been beaten to within an inch of his life. All his training, his experience in the field, the culture briefings and in-country observations hadn’t prepared him for complete betrayal by the very people he had been sent there to help.

He understood why the Somali armed forces had turned him over to the residual al-Shabab militants that were attempting a comeback after being ousted from the capital, Mogadishu. He might have done the same if his family had been kidnapped and threatened with torture and beheading if he didn’t hand over the foreigners.

No, he’d have found a better way to deal with the terrorists. A way that involved very painful deaths. His breathing grew shallower and the beginning of a panic attack snuck up on him like a freight train.

Focus. The psych doc had given him methods to cope with the onset of anxiety that made him feel like he was having a heart attack. He had to focus to get his mind out of Somalia and torture and back to San Antonio and the River Walk.

Ahead he spied the pert twitch of a female butt encased in hot pink running shorts and a neon green tank top. Her ass was as far from the dry terrain of Somalia as a guy could get. Wyatt focused on her and her tight buttocks, picking up the pace to catch up. She was a pretty young woman with an MP3 device strapped to her arm with wires leading to the earbuds in her ears. Her dark red hair pulled back in a loose ponytail bounced with every step. Running in the zone, she seemed to ignore everything around but the path in front of her.

Once he caught up, Wyatt slowed to her pace, falling in behind. His heart rate slowed, returning to normal, his breathing regular and steady. Panic attack averted, he felt more normal, in control and aware of the time. As much as he liked following the pretty woman with the pink ass and the dark red, bobbing ponytail, he needed to get back and shower before he met the coordinator of the International Trade Convention.

Wyatt lengthened his stride and passed the woman, thankful that simply by jogging ahead of him, she’d brought him back to the present and out of a near clash with the crippling anxiety he refused to let get the better of him.

As he put distance between him and the woman in pink, he passed the shadow of a building. A movement out of the corner of his eye made him spin around. He jogged in a circle, his pulse ratcheting up, his body ready, instincts on high alert. The scuffle of feet made him circle again and stop. He crouched in a fighting stance and faced the threat, the memory of his abduction exploding in his mind, slamming him back to Somalia, back to the dry terrain of Africa and the twenty rebels who’d jumped him and Dane when they’d been leading a training exercise in the bush.

Instead of Somali militants garbed in camouflage and turbans, a small child darted out of his parents’ reach and ran past Wyatt, headed toward the edge of the river.

His mother screamed, “Johnnie, stop!”

By the time Wyatt grasped that the child wasn’t an al-Shabab fighter, the kid had nearly reached the edge.

Wyatt lunged for the boy and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck as the little guy tripped. Johnnie would have gone headfirst into the slow-moving, shallow water had Wyatt not snagged him at the last minute.

Instead of thanking Wyatt, the kid kicked, wiggled and squirmed until Wyatt was forced to set the boy on the ground. Then Johnnie planted the tip of his shoe in Wyatt’s shin with razor-sharp precision.

Wyatt released him and bent to rub the sore spot.

Little Johnnie ran back to his mother, who wrapped her arms around the brat and cooed. Safe in his mother’s arms, he glared at Wyatt.

Wyatt frowned, the ache in his shin nothing compared to the way his heart raced all over again.

The boy’s mother gave Wyatt an apologetic wince and hugged her baby boy to her chest. “Thank you.”

A small crowd had gathered, more because Wyatt, the parents and child blocked the sidewalk than because they were interested in a man who’d just rescued a child from a potential drowning.

His heartbeat racing, his palms clammy and his pulse pounding so loudly in his ears he couldn’t hear anything else, Wyatt nodded, glancing around for an escape. Fuck! What was wrong with him? If he didn’t get away quickly, he’d succumb this time. Where was the woman in the pink shorts when he needed her? Some of his panic attacks had been so intense he’d actually thought he was having a heart attack. He hadn’t told his commander, or the psychologist assigned to his case, for fear of setting back his reassignment even further. He wanted to be back in the field where the action was. Where he was fighting a real enemy, not himself.

As it was, he’d been given this snowbird task of heading up the security for the International Trade Convention. “Do this job, prove you’re one hundred percent and we’ll take it from there,” Captain Ketchum had said. To Wyatt, it sounded like a load of bullshit with no promises.

Hell, any trained monkey could provide security for a bunch of businessmen. What did Ketchum think Wyatt could add to the professional security firm hired to man the exits and provide a visual deterrent to pickpockets and vagrants?

Wyatt had tried to see the assignment from his commander’s point of view. He was a soldier barely recovered from a shitload of injuries caused by violent militants who set no value on life, limb and liberty. Sure, he’d been so close to death he almost prayed for it, but he was back as good as—

A twinge in his knee, made it buckle. Rather than fall in front of all those people, Wyatt swung around like he meant it and stepped out smartly.

And barreled into the woman he’d been following. Her head down, intent on moving, she’d been squeezing past him at that exact moment.

The female staggered sideways, her hands flailing in the air as she reached out to grab something to hold onto. When her fingers only met air, she toppled over the edge and fell into the river with a huge splash.

Another lady screamed and the crowd that had been standing on the sidewalk rushed to the edge of the river, pushing Wyatt forward to the point he almost went in with the woman.

A dark, wet head rose from the water like an avenging Titan, spewing curses. She pushed lank strands of hair from her face and glared up at him. “Are you just going to stand there and stare? Or are you going to get me out of this?”

Guilt and the gentleman in Wyatt urged him to hold out his hand to her. She grasped it firmly and held on as he pulled her out of the river and onto the sidewalk. She was so light, he yanked with more force than necessary and she fell against him, her tight little wet body pressing against his.

His arm rose to her waist automatically, holding her close until she was steady on her own feet.

The redhead stared up into his eyes, her own green ones wide, sparkling with anger, her pretty little mouth shaped in an O.

At this close range, Wyatt saw the freckles sprinkled across her nose. Instead of making her face appear flawed, they added to her beauty, making her more approachable, though not quite girl-next-door. She was entirely too sexy for that moniker. Especially all wet with her skin showing through the thin fabric of the lime green tank top.

Then she was pushing against him—all business and righteous anger.