Heart Strike (Delta Force #2) - M. L. Buchman

Chapter 1

Richie Goldman eased back into the darkness.

Most of the Bolivian farmworkers were sitting around the nightly campfire, eating their salteñas—meat-, veggie-, and quinoa-stuffed pastries. He’d learned to pretend that their food didn’t agree with him. It gave him an excuse to duck into the trees frequently, though he’d actually learned to enjoy the local food almost as much as a good New York pastrami on rye.

Some of the farmhands were idly chewing on a strip of charque de llama; the llama jerky lasted forever despite the jungle heat. Others chewed on coca leaves—little more than a low-grade stimulant in that form, and it grew in lush abundance all across the hillside above their camp. Refined cocaine was too valuable for mere farmers, but chewing the leaves was practically a national pastime. Street vendors had piles of them in all the cities.

Richie had tried it, thinking it would help him fit in, but found the taste so astringent that he had no problem just tucking it in his cheek and only pretending to chew. Others on his team had found similar tricks. Only Duane had flat-out declined, but his formidable silence made it so that he wasn’t an easy man to question. The locals let him be.

Once out of the firelight, Richie met up with Duane. That left the other three members of his Delta Force team—Chad, Carla, and the team leader, Kyle—still at the fire making sure that no one followed them into the darkness.

He and Duane spoke softly in Spanish about nothing in particular as they strolled along the edges of the coca fields they’d been working for the two weeks since their arrival. A thousand hectares, almost five square miles of coca plantation in this farm alone. They’d been building up to this one for six months; it represented almost five percent of Bolivia’s coca production. They’d be gone in a few more days.

And that would be the last day of this farm’s existence.

Only two more measurements to take. They strolled the edge of the field like a pair of hombres walking off the day. Their feet were nearly silent on the rich dirt. To one side was thick jungle, with no two trees alike. A massive kapok, a spindly palm, and a fig tree that was bigger than the Goodyear blimp sitting on its butt were crowded together. Beneath them were banana, rubber, and a hundred other small trees he couldn’t identify in the dark, but the rich, loamy scent was lush with life. The leaves rustled, whether on the light breeze or due to some passing band of monkeys, he couldn’t tell. To the other side, there lay row upon neat row of man-tall coca bushes with their thick leaves ready for harvest.

When they reached the southwest corner of the main field, Richie ducked down low while Duane kept watch. He pulled a GPS tracker out of his boot, checked that he had a valid and stable reading, then recorded the numbers. He slipped it back into his boot, and once more they were just two shadows strolling the line.

The two of them had originally bonded during the six-month training course for The Unit—as Delta Force operators commonly referred to themselves. They had discovered a shared inner nerd over various triggers for different types of explosives, which was Duane’s specialty. Being the team’s chief nerd was Richie’s specialty.

Duane’s deeply laconic nature made for a very lazy conversation, a rhythm which Richie had come to rather enjoy. It felt as if they blended better into the night that way—the occasional bat flitting by with a quick brrrr of wings, the dry grass rustling against their calves, and two guys down on their luck sharing quiet commiseration.

Kyle and Carla were a couple now, and it was rare to have a conversation with one and not the other. And any conversation involving Carla was more like a debate match than a conversation. The lady was intense. Amazing, beautiful, and incredible…but intense. And Kyle and Carla’s relationship was like that too. Richie had never seen anything like it, had never imagined it was possible. When the two of them were together, the day became brighter. His parents had always been his ideal of a good relationship, which was solid and stable, but Kyle and Carla made it look like a heck of a lot of fun too. For the first time, Richie was forced to recalibrate the standards of what he hoped for from his own future.

Chad, on the other