Ava by Deanna L. Rowley

 

CHAPTER1

“Wind velocity, seven point three degrees, north, northeast,” came the whispered voice in her ear.

Without saying a word, Ava Hanson, moved her head slightly, adjusted the scope on her rifle, then settled in to wait. When her target came into view, she mentally talked herself through the entire procedure.

“Breathe in, breathe out, hold.” Ava mentally nodded. Comfortable with her position and her breathing, she watched through the tiny viewfinder on her scope, and when her target was in the cross hairs, she eased her finger on the trigger. She did one more rotation of her breathing exercises, and tightened her finger on the trigger.

“ABORT! ABORT! HANSON! GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE!” a voice screamed in her ear. Shocked, Ava removed her finger, rolled over onto her back, and released her pent up breath. She looked up in time to see something aiming toward her face. Feeling a sharp pain, she tried to fight off her attacker, but was hit again. The last thing she heard before her world went black was the Commander of the mission she was on, screaming in her ear that help was on the way. Then her world disappeared.

* * *

Ava sputtered and coughed awake when she felt a heavy deluge of water pounding her face. As she gasped for air, she sputtered and coughed again as she inhaled some of the water. She looked around frantically to see where she was, but realized that her face was covered with a dark cloth. Expecting another deluge of water, she held her breath as she waited for it. When it didn’t come, she used her hearing to try to find out what was going on.

The first thing she heard was someone screaming in Arabic. Though she could understand every word being said, it took a few seconds for them to sink in. She listened as several men were arguing over the fact that they wanted to rape information out of her. Before she could react, the dark cloth covering her head was removed, and a man with a heavy beard, and black eyes stared down at her. He reached in and gripped her jaw tightly, causing her cheeks to hollow. Because of the tightness of his grip, she felt her face bruising where his fingers held her.

“Where are you from?” Came the demand along with a shake of her head. If she wanted to answer, she never would have been able to, not with the grip he had on her face. As the man screamed his questions at her, Ava watched the spittle fly from his mouth, and small amounts of white foam formed in the corners of his mouth. Her head was wrenched in the other direction, and a man stood there with a knife in his hand. The first three inches of the tip were glowing red, without saying a word, he held up the knife so she could see it, then lowered it and Ava screamed in ungodly pain when it was laid across her stomach. She must have passed out, because she didn’t remember anything, until she felt the water hit her face again, but this time, there was no cloth buffering the impact. Confused and disorientated from the water, and the pain from the knife, she looked around frantically. She realized she was lying with her head lower than her body, and mentally swore when she also realized she was naked, with her arms tied above her head, and her ankles tied, also. She had no clue whether she’d been raped while she had been unconscious or not.

As she lay there, fearing for her life, the man who had grabbed her face earlier was back, asking the same question over and over. Then, there were three more men standing around, and they all held knifes with the tips of them glowing red. As one of them looked her in the eyes, he laughed as he laid the hot knife on her thigh, this time, Ava held her ground and didn’t react, other than gritting her teeth, and glaring her hatred to the man. Not three seconds later, another man laid a red hot knife on her other thigh, and one was simultaneously placed on her stomach. She drew in a deep breath to scream, but suddenly the three men holding the knifes to her skin keeled over her. The weight of their bodies seared the knife deeper into her skin. Ava felt liquid running down her body, but this time it wasn’t water. She watched as the man holding her face looked at the three men in horror, each of them had keeled over with a hole in their head, then he looked around frantically. He lifted a bucket and before he could pour the water over her face again, both he and the bucket crashed to the floor.

Ava lay there helpless, not knowing what the hell was going on. She had her suspicions, but until she saw other people enter, she didn’t know what to expect. As she looked around the room, her first impression was that she was in a basement. There were rough-hued walls, and dirt floors, with only two overhead lights in the form of swinging light bulbs. Ava lay there deadly quiet with her eyes closed, and she slowed her breathing so if anyone looked at her, they would think she was dead. It helped that her entire body was covered in the blood of the men who had been wielding the knives, plus they were slumped over her body. With her eyes closed, she thought she heard a noise coming from behind her head. Suddenly the room was awash with several flashlights, and several swearing men.

“Hanson,” came a voice from her head. She kept her eyes closed, still feigning being passed out, until a hand touched her head. Her eyes flew open, and she stared into the blue eyes of one of the Navy SEALs she’d worked with in the past.

“Nelson,” she tried to say, but nothing came out. It wouldn’t be until at least two days later that she learned the extent of her injuries. She watched as LT Nelson removed his pack, then his flak jacket, and finally his tee-shirt. After he removed that, he redressed in his bulletproof vest, and put his pack back on. Someone must have been beside her, because she screamed in pain when the three men were lifted off her body, her arms and legs were cut free of their bindings, and when Nelson swore, she looked down and saw that all three knives used to burn her flesh had been shoved into her skin. Instead of removing them, they secured them with tape from their packs, Nelson and a pair of unseen hands helped her sit up, then Nelson put his tee-shirt over her head. The next thing she knew, she was floating through the air. Again she’d realize later that they had picked her up and carried her to safety. Ava didn’t remember anything on the ride back to the states. She didn’t come to again, until she’d woken from surgery.

* * *

“Christ,”Ava said as she scissored straight up in bed, and covered her scream with her pillow. It took several minutes to realize she was home in her own apartment, and safe. “A fucking dream,” she sighed as she swung her legs from the bed to place on the floor. She slammed her elbows on her knees, and cradled her head in her hands. As her breathing became slower, she shook her head, then looked back at the mess she’d made of the blankets. Smelling sour sweat, she jumped to her feet to stumble to the shower. In no time, she stood beneath the bracingly cold water until it began to heat, then she washed herself so hard, that she felt her skin might be raw. She turned off the shower and didn’t bother grabbing a towel. Only one to quickly dry her spiked hair. She reached up and wiped the steam from the mirror, and as it cleared, looked at her scars. It had been two years since she’d been taken captive, held hostage, and tortured. The only good thing that occurred was that she had not been raped. However, she bore several scars from her ordeal. Not only had the knives burnt her, but they’d also penetrated her skin when the SEALs that had rescued her shot her captors, and they fell forward, forcing the blades to pierce her skin. Her rescuers had left the blades in her body, because they didn’t want to pull them if a major artery had been hit. It was lucky they had done that, because the one in her left thigh had not only nicked her bone, but it also almost severed her femoral artery. She was forever grateful the doctors didn’t remove it until they had her in the operating room, or she wouldn’t be standing here today.

Along with the several knife cuts, she’d also sustained several burn scars in the shape of the tips of the knives, a total of eleven on her stomach, and legs. The bruised face, and broken ribs had healed, along with the small skull fracture. Hell, her entire body had healed, but the military had forced her into retirement, saying that she’d endured enough for her country. To this day, they never knew how the enemy had realized that Ava was there to take out one of their leaders. If she had just taken the shot when she’d had the chance, she might never have been caught. Sighing heavily, she quickly dressed in a pair of panties, and a sports bra, then pulled on a pair of running shorts.

After exiting the bathroom, she grabbed the sheet and blanket off the bed, carried the sheet to the washer, and dumped it in. Ignoring the coffee pot, she grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator, looked at the clock on the microwave, and shrugged when she saw the time was 2:45 a.m. With a shrug, she grabbed her keys, pinned them to the inside of her shorts, and picked up the sweatshirt on a chair on her way out the door. She knew she would never get back to sleep now, so she decided to go for a run. Who gave a rat’s ass that it was almost three in the morning? At least the streets had lights, and she wouldn’t be running in complete darkness.

Three hours later, Ava let herself into her apartment, after tossing the empty water bottle in the recycling bin, she grabbed another one and downed it in several swallows. She felt good, having run twenty miles. It seemed like the only thing she had going for herself these days were her runs. With no military career left, she was at her wit’s end as to what she would do with the rest of her life. Hell, she wasn’t even thirty yet, and she hated having nothing to do, or nothing to look forward to—like a job.

She took the sheets from the washer, and put them in the dryer, then stripped where she stood, and placed the sweat-soaked clothes in the washer. Walking naked through her home, she immediately stepped into the shower. This time when she finished, she threw a towel around her body, and used the one from earlier to rub through her short hair. Thirty minutes later, she’d gathered the rest of her dirty clothes and had them washing. In the kitchen, she opened the refrigerator, and frowned at the dismal choices she had. Deciding on toast, she waited for it to pop from the toaster, and because she didn’t have any butter, or jam, she ate it dry.

“At least it’s something,” she sighed, and sat down to make a grocery list. As she dug through her unopened mail, looking for a pad of paper, an envelope fell to the floor. She picked it up and frowned at the return address. She looked off into space, and couldn’t recall anyone that she knew that lived in Montana. There wasn’t a name, but there was a return address. Curious, she flipped it over and opened it. As she read the short note, she looked up, and started laughing.

She grabbed her phone and quickly dialed the number that had been in the letter from someone she’d known while she’d been in the Marines. As the phone rang, she looked at her microwave, and winced when she realized it was only six in the morning her time. Doing some quick math, she shook her head when she realized it was seven in the morning where she was calling.

“Hello?”

“Angel? Angel Carson?”

“Yes, who’s calling at the ass crack of dawn?”

Ava laughed into the phone. “It’s Hanson, Ava Hanson. I just found the card you sent me.”

“Hell, woman, I sent that three weeks ago. I know the mail is slow, but damn.”

“Sorry,” Ava winced and chuckled at the same time. “I just found it in my pile of mail. So, what’s up? Why did you reach out to me? Not that I’m questioning you, but this is a surprise.”

“Hanson,” came the stern voice. “Shut up, you’re babbling.”

“Sorry,” Ava sighed, then sat back, and waited for the other woman to get to the point.

“I reached out, because one of my former teammates told me what happened to you. Before I go any further, how are you? Did the psychiatrist clear you for active duty?”

“Yes, but my commander said there was no position left for me on the teams. It took fourteen months to recover.”

“How are you now? Completely recovered, and Hanson, don’t bullshit me.”

“Physically I’m fine. Mentally I’m fine, or the shrink never would have cleared me.”

“But…?”

“But, I still have nightmares.”

“Scale it for me.”

“Which one? The actual nightmare, or how often they occur?”

“Both.”

“I always recall when the commander told me to abort the mission, then the torture at the hands of the men who kidnapped me. Then when the SEALs took out my captors, and what happened when they got me out of there. The nightmares have slowed down. I don’t have them every single time I sleep.”

“How often do you have them?”

“I had one this morning, woke in a cold sweat at three this morning, then went for a twenty-mile run.”

“Before this morning, when was your last one?”

“Three months ago.” Ava bit her bottom lip and waited for the other woman to process the information. She didn’t have long to wait.

“I don’t really want to talk about this over the phone, but could you get away?”

“Yes, there’s nothing keeping me here, and I don’t have a job. Why do you want me to get away?”

“Just a quick rundown on my life. I now live in Montana with my fiancé, and he works for the Brotherhood Protection Agency. It’s a bunch of former military men that do security for some very rich people.”

“And you want me to come work for them?”

“No, I want you to work for a friend of mine. Like I said, I don’t want to get into this over the phone. Can you come to Montana?”

“I can, I can leave today.”

“No need to rush, but I’d clean up your life there, then come on up. Trust me, you’re going to want to hear what my friend has to offer you.” Ava heard some noise in the background, and Angel came back on the line. “I have to go, but call this number when you get closer. I really hope everything works out for you.”

“Thanks Angel, I look forward to seeing you again.”

“You too, Ava, good luck and I hope to see you soon.”

They hung up and Ava sat there for several minutes thinking about the mysterious phone call from a former military friend. Though Ava herself had been on a team of elite women in the Marines, Angel had been a female Army Ranger. Ava looked around her dismal apartment, and made the decision to pack up and head to Montana. She had nothing holding her here in San Diego, so the phone call couldn’t have come at a better time. Finding the pad of paper she’d originally been looking for to make a grocery list, she began making a list of the things she needed to do to conclude her life here, and move.