Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chica Lit Blog Tour

Welcome to the final day of the New Year's Chica Lit Blog Tour! With all of the date switching and link confusion, I figure it'll be a miracle if anyone gets here. But if you do, just answer the question at the end in comments, and you'll be eligible to win a $10 (indie bookstore) gift certificate and a copy of my latest Harlequin Intrigue, I'll Be Watching You.

**I will post the winner of L.M. Gonzalez's prize as soon as I hear from her.**

The following is the very-much-in-progress prologue from my new manuscript for Intrigue, working title Soldier Resurrected.

Mosul, Iraq, 200 miles north of Baghdad

At exactly 1730 one summer evening, four shadowy figures materialized out of the dimness surrounding a squat, nondescript house on the southern edge of Mosul. They moved quickly, melting back into the shadows alongside the stone structure long before anyone noticed they were in the area.

At least, that’s what Private Angel Delgado hoped. Because otherwise, they were all kinds of screwed.

The Iraqi city was widely known as a terrorist hot-spot, one of the few areas that US military forces hadn’t been able to fully take throughout the whole of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although they were among the best that the Army had to offer, Delgado had no interest in taking Mosul at the moment, and neither, he knew, did his fellow soldiers. All they had to do was capture one small house on the outskirt of the city. Just a walk in the park for six men from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 2nd battalion.

Driven by the high of the thrill-seeker’s cocktail—adrenaline and fear—Delgado crept along the rough-hewn wall toward the stone structure’s back entrance. He had to admit, it was mostly adrenaline that coursed through his muscles, fast and furious. He probably should have been feeling the fear more—especially since from where he stood, all signs pointed to the fact that they were heading into an ambush.

This mission was either going to earn them Bronze Stars, or become the biggest fustercluck in Ranger history.

They’d been tipped off that an American soldier, a flyboy by the name of Captain Johnny Chang who’d been MIA for the past two years, was being held in this very residence. And so the Air Force had called on the Rangers to find their boy and get him out, after which their planes would rain flaming destruction down on that creep-tastic stone house until it and the terrorist scumbags who called it home were nothing but a rubble-strewn black crater.

But Private Delgado had his doubts about that intelligence. Sure, the source was a Shi’a—a member of the Muslim faction who’d been persecuted by Sadaam Hussein’s regime and had the most to gain from the US presence in country. And yes, that Shi’a proven his worth in information previously on at least two occasions, although said information had never been this hot.

“What do you think, Delgado?” his commanding officer had asked him just before they’d moved north from Camp Diamondback into Mosul.

Delgado had turned his head to look pointedly at the sky. “If I were trying to ambush us, I’d say right now was a perfect time to drop the news about Chang.” And drop the news that the airman could be relocated any minute, so they had to move now. The hot desert sun loomed huge on the horizon like a ball of hellfire coming to smack them all in the face. It had just started its descent behind the sand dunes—and Delgado didn’t have to explain that dusk and dawn were the most dangerous times of day for soldiers battling insurgents in Iraq’s dangerous northern territories.

Visibility was always excellent under a hot, relentless desert sun. And at night, they had equipment that gave them cat-like night vision. Dusk and dawn? Neither their own eyes or the damn goggles worked as well as a soldier under fire would like, so until the sun made up its mind to come up or disappear, visibility was seriously jacked.

Like it was right now. Murky, dim, impossible light.

But his CO had just nodded grimly, acknowledging the challenge—and that Operation Free Johnny Freakin’ Chang was going to go forward as planned. The intelligence said that Chang could be relocated on the drop of a dime, so they had to move now. They were Rangers. If there was the remotest chance that Chang had survived imprisonment and torture for three years in enemy hands, they had no choice but to move in and get him.

Never quit.

Never accept defeat.

Never leave a fallen comrade.

And ambush or not, the insurgents probably hadn’t counted on coming up against the full force of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s 2nd battalion.

Private Delgado waited for the signal, blending into the long shadows on the structure’s east wall, moving only his eyes. Their target stood set apart from a cluster of homes to the northeast. Silence weighed heavily in the still air, coating the neighborhood like a stifling security blanket. Nothing stirred—not a hand behind a curtain, not a shadow in a doorway, not a gunman on a rooftop.

All clear.

All quiet. All still.

Too quiet. Too still.

But it didn’t matter now. Never leave a fallen comrade.

Johnny Chang, you’d freaking better be alive.

“RLTW,” someone whispered over the headsets. Rangers lead the way.

In a swift, sudden movement, Private Delgado kicked open the back door. The wood gave immediately, splintering underneath his boot. He moved in, swinging his GUN in an arc across the room. A black-cloaked figure rose from behind a table. Delgado’s finger flexed on the hair-trigger of his weapon. He had only milliseconds to assess “friend or foe.”

Private First Class A.J. Ramez moved up to flank him. And Delgado stepped in the line of fire.

“Civilian!” he shouted, sweeping an arm out to move the veiled woman aside, his hand on her waist to confirm that she wasn’t hiding a boatload of C4 under her hijab. She shouted at him, a bowl of rice clutched in her brown hands. PFC Ramez spoke quickly into his headset, then started chattering to the woman in Northern Mesopotamian Spoken Arabic—a language he’d learned from his Jordanian-American parents—as he hustled her toward the door.

While Ramez handed the civilian off to a couple of soldiers outside who would hustle her over to the Humvees, Delgado strode across the room, clutching the handle of the door on the back wall. He heard the shout of “all clear!” behind it, seconds before he pulled it open and came face to face with PFCs Harrold and Isenberg.

All clear. All too quiet. All too still.

Isenberg swore at the sight of Delgado and Ramez, at the too empty house. At the knowledge that Johnny Chang was nowhere near them and never had been.

And the ground shook with fury as a mortar hit the side of the house.

“Ambush! We walked into a goddamned ambush!” Jenkins shouted as he followed Delgado out the western door, into the kill zone. Sure enough, IEDs ignited around them, raining sand and chunks of God-knows-what down onto their helmets. With ear-piercing whistles, RPGs whizzed through the air around them.

Ducking his head, Delgado charged down the dusty road, flanked without hesitation by Ramez, Isenberg, and Harrold. Men wearing black hoods melted out of the shadows, in doorways, on rooftops, behind stacks of tires and piles of rubble—some so close, the shell casings fly into the air like popcorn.

The dim twilight made it almost impossible to spot every one of the telltale muzzle flashes from the enemies’ AK47s, and lesser men would have ran to the east, back to the Humvees hidden behind the abandoned mosque, two clicks away. But operating completely on Ranger instinct, Delgado led the other three men straight into the worst of the fire, and they followed—as he’d known they would--firing their own weapons and running with everything they had.

Rangers were armed with close-assault weapons, no match for the long-range of the AK47s. So they did what they were trained to do. Assault the ambush. Close the range. Do exactly the opposite of what the insurgents expect.

Because had they gone east, they’d all be dead now.

With a guttural rebel yell, Privates Roderick “Alabama” Harrold swept into the nearest one-story building, Isenberg flanking him. Ramez and Delgado put their backs against the wall, providing cover. Delgado pulled the stock of the M4A1 against his shoulder and fired at a nearby rooftop. The kickback of the weapon left his hands tingling.

A hooded, black-clad figure jerked back, then went limp and toppled off the roof.
Another took his place within seconds.

The world slowed down, and Delgado moved as if through water, easily dodging a rain of gunfire from the roof. Ignoring the needles piercing his palms, he brought his weapon back up.

Isenberg and Harrold barreled out of the house, blood spatter dotting their dirt-smeared faces.

Delgado aimed for the man on the roof.

The bullets crossed in the air. The terrorist fell to his knees, sliding down the slanted tiles toward the ground.

Harrold went down with a shout. He clutched his leg, raw and bloody from where the AK47 bullets had shattered his kneecap.

Time sped up again. Delgado ran forward, stumbling as he stepped over Harrold to shield the fallen soldier. It only took a second to right himself again, but Isenberg shot a quizzical look at his leg. “Sir, what--?”

Delgado shook him off, grabbing Harrold under the arms and dragging him behind a pile of old tires propped up against the side of one of the buildings. The smell of burning rubber assaulted his nose as another hail of gunfire hit their makeshift barrier.

“GO! GO! GO!” He jerked his whole forearm back and forth, pointing to the west. Away from the rooftop snipers. Isenberg and Ramez took off toward the next building. Delgado swung his weapon around the tire shield and fired again and again, his hands burning as they clutched his weapon. His mind went blank. All he could do was pull the trigger. And howl.

Black cloaked figures came at him from every direction, RPGs exploded yards from where he stood. But Angel didn’t leave Alabama’s side. He just continued to fire. In the name of Johnny Goddamned Chang.

Then his leg gave out.

It felt like someone had pulled the ground out from under one side of him. He staggered, favoring his left side. His shoulder slammed against the broken stone wall.

A quick glance down confirmed his worst fear—he hadn’t been hit. No bullet, no RPG, not even a stray piece of rubble had caused this.

Mind over matter, soldier. There’s nothing wrong with you.

Delgado’s hands stiffened around his weapon, sharp, pointed pain stabbing through his right palm like he was gripping a handful of needles. He tried to stand upright again, but the damn leg buckled like a puppeteer had jerked on its string. His gun slipped out of his grasp, and he fumbled clumsily for it, only to watch it clatter to the ground.

Oh, hell no. He’d thought he’d had more time. He’d thought he could make more time, through sheer force of will. And now Alabama was going to die because of that effed-up miscalculation.

He crumpled to his knees, stared into the bewildered, pain-racked face of one of the men he'd served with, eaten with, fought beside, for the past year. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a black-hooded shadow slip around the corner. It moved toward them.

Delgado lurched toward his weapon, a loud, guttural cry escaping from the depths of his lungs. He fell chest-first onto the hard, packed sand, his body armor slamming into his ribcage. Dust filled his mouth, got in his eyes. His left hand closed on the barrel of his M4A1.

He heard the insurgent behind him lock and load.

Even as he swung his weapon around, he knew it was too late.

On his back, weapon at the ready in the wrong hand as his useless right leg refused to cooperate, Private Angel Delgado looked into the dark, burning eyes of the man who was about to kill them.

And he let one name fill his mind and wash over him like rain—the one he’d had to keep in a mental box since the firefight started.


* Here's a question for which there's no right or wrong answer (seeing as you all can't see what's in my head at the moment): What do you think caused Angel's leg to give out?


Zulmara said...

An infected wound...

Love this and hope a few more people find their way to your blog...



Cathy in AK said...

Wow, what an intense opening. I'm not usually one for this type of action, but I like this. Then again, you've opened my eyes to several types of books/stories I didn't think I'd like ;)

I think Angel is having some kind of PTSD episode that, considering the last line "Darcy." isn't necessarily related to war.

Let us know where you're going with this, eh?

Tracy Montoya said...

Nope, but good guess, Zulmara! Seeing as you're the only one who found me on the day of the contest, you win! Please email me your address for your prize.

Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks so much, Cathy! Good guess, but no. There is PTSD though, of course. And more romance shortly thereafter--I promise!

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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