They came for Nick Broussard in the dark, guns drawn, harsh shouts shattering the night.
It was 0430 hours, a time in the morning that the navy referred to as "oh-dark-thirty," when all but the most determined party animals or chronic drunks were asleep – or at least passed out – in bed.
As he'd been. Until they'd stormed onto his ketch, dressed all in black like ninjas, pistols drawn.
"On your knees!" one of them screamed, his voice cracking with nervous adrenalin that slammed into Nick's bloodstream like a stinger missile. "Hands on top of your head."
"Hey, stay cool, cher. I know the drill."
Nick's head nearly exploded as he crawled out of bed, laced his fingers together on top of his pounding skull and refused to flinch when the metal barrel pressed against his temple.
A storm had boiled in from the Gulf; the torrential rain hammering on the deck of The Hoo-yah created a thick, slanting curtain of white noise that must've be why he hadn't heard them coming.
It had to have been the rain. Or all the damn Jack Daniels he'd drunk last night. Because the only other possibility was that he was losing his edge. Which would suggest he might be getting old.
And wasn't that a fun thought?
Nah. Couldn't be. Six months ago he'd been running black op missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sure, he'd been wounded, but a little shrapnel in the thigh and chest couldn't make a guy go downhill that fast.
Hell, no. Still getting older was definitely preferable to an up close and personal meeting with the Grim Reaper. Which could well be in his future if these thugs decided to take a little drive out into the swamp.
There were four of them, and one of him. Which might present a problem for some Delta Force dog-face, but if you were a SEAL, well, hey, that just meant the odds were in your favor.
His problem was, he had to keep his eye on the mission. Which meant if he took the bad guys out, he might fail to infiltrate Leon LeBlanc's organization. Which wasn't an option.
"Y'all cops?" The easy conversational tone wasn't easy given that his mouth was dry as Death Valley and tasted like he'd sucked up every last bit of mud in the Mississippi delta. "Or maybe LeBlanc sent you?"
Getting the attention of the guy who ran the South Louisiana rackets is what had put him in that Algiers bar last night, which was, in turn, responsible for what he suspected was going to end up being the mother of all hangovers. The trouble with going undercover was that you had to act like the bad guys. Who last night had appeared to be trying to drink the state of Louisiana dry.
"Shut the hell up!" A big ugly thug, built like a refrigerator, slammed a steel-toed boot into his back.
A shock of fiery pain tore up Nick's back. Hell, he'd be pissing blood for a week.
If he stayed alive that long.
"Let's go, Broussard." The refrigerator jerked Nick to his feet.
"Y'all gonna let me get dressed first? Even down here during Mardi Gras, dragging a guy off to jail naked might make some bystander a tad suspicious."
Proving that he wasn't exactly dealing with NASA scientists, the men seemed stumped by his request. Finally, fridge guy lifted his knuckles off the floor long enough to scoop up the underwear lying on top of the discarded pile of clothes Nick couldn't remember stripping out of, and tossed them at him.
Nick snagged them out of the air and yanked them on. The gray knit boxer briefs were a long way from a suit of armor, but if a guy had to go into battle, and it looked as if he was going to be doing exactly that, it was a helluva lot more preferable to tuck your balls away beforehand. He'd never gotten why so many of his old SEAL team found going commando a cool thing to do.
The thug yanked his arms behind his back so hard, he was surprised his shoulders didn't pop out of their joints. A pair of handcuffs locked around his wrists, digging tightly into his skin. Nick had always enjoyed that click of metal, which was so much more satisfying than the rasp of plastic the military was using these days.
Everyone on the boat, including Nick, froze as a siren from a cop car screamed nearby on Lake Marina Avenue. Then faded into the distance.
"Let's go." His captor pushed Nick toward the splintered door that was hanging by its hinges.
"Since you asked so nicely, how can I refuse?"
"You keep mouthin' off, numbnuts, and you gonna be gator bait."
It was not, Nick suspected, an idle threat.
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