18 years ago
“Mama!” My 3-year-old daughter, Scarlett, ran into my arms.
“I gotcha baby.” I held her tight. Her long brown curls tickled my nose while I picked her up. The last few years have been tough, moving from place to place trying to outrun the men looking for my husband. I knew being a military wife would be hard, but when he joined the CIA, I did not know our family would be in danger.
“Ready, Rebecca?” Our bodyguard and my husband’s best friend, Michael Hart, motioned for us to leave yet another place we called home. This was no way to raise a family.
“Ready.” I breathed, walking out to the car, and placing Scarlett into her car seat with her favorite stuffed panda.
“How is the family?” I asked Michael while we began the long drive to yet another house. He had a son a few years older than Scarlett and his wife was a friend of mine.
“They’re good. Mason is growing so fast. He just turned 10, his birthday was just last month. The years go by too fast. Rachel is such an amazing mother; she is the strongest woman I’ve ever met.” I could sense the tears he was holding back from missing his family.
“It must be hard having to leave them for so long to watch us. Hopefully, you can get back to them soon.” I patted his back.
“I hope so too.” A smile lit up his face thinking of his family waiting for him back in North Carolina. “We have so many plans once all this is over.”
We drove for hours. Fortunately, Scarlett finally fell asleep, only a few more to go and she can wake up in her new bed. “We have company.” Michael’s voice was low, “Buckle up, is Scarlett buckled up tight?”
“How close?” I checked over my sleeping baby and hurried to buckle myself. “You have to promise me, if anything happens, keep Scarlett safe!”
Present Day Scarlett’s POV
Pain was radiating from every inch of my body; my head was pounding while my muscles were tightened. I gradually regained consciousness, hoping it was merely a nightmare; but the frigid, unyielding concrete beneath me confirmed the reality. The room was damp and dark, I couldn’t make out my hand from the darkness.
“Mason?” I whispered, searching the ground for anything to give me a sign I wasn’t alone and that he was okay. Was he here with me? “Mason!” I spoke louder. The realization I was alone in a dark, strange, cold room made the fear bubble in my stomach. My heart pounded faster and harder than my head. “Hello?” I yelled.
After no response, I stood, scanning my body, feeling for any pain or possible blood. Other than a few bruises and scratches, I think I was okay, just in pain from being jolted around. Stretching my arms out in front of me, I walked forward, searching for a wall, a door, a light switch, just anything to give me a clue. The walls were coarse and cold, large rectangular cinder blocks made up the room. I didn’t feel any windows. My heart faltered when I felt a cold metal door. I wrapped my hands around the handle and pulled and pushed with all my weight, but it would not budge, but I just kept trying, trying to escape.
I collapsed out of exhaustion, my body slumping against the door. Where was Mason? I felt so alone. All I hoped was for Mason to be okay, that he was alive and on the way to me. I felt the necklace he gave me resting against my chest. I clung onto it tight, thankful I had something to keep me from giving up.
My body was weak. The room was humid and uncomfortable. I couldn’t help but to let my eyelids fall, my breathing shallow.
Unnervingly bright white lights lit up the room, jerking me awake and burning my eyes. The sound of the large metal door unlocking filled the once silent room. I still lay against the wall, my eyes shut tight. Footsteps led into the windowless room. The sound of metal clanking against the concrete floor filled the room.
“Eat.” The man had a thick Russian accent and an intimidating voice. I opened my eyes and looked over at the bald, very tall, aging man. He looked familiar, but just couldn’t figure out where from. I knew I’ve seen this man before. I know I did, but from where?
Ignoring him and his request, I turned my head away. In return, he kicked the metal tray of foul looking slop at me, covering my legs and my arm in whatever was on it. “Fine, starve then.” He walked out and slammed the metal door behind him.
“Hart!” Someone was shaking my face.
“Scarlett?” My eyes slowly opened.
“He’s alive! Get me a stretcher now!” It was Tricia Sweeney, the medic on our team. What is going on? I looked around, shocked by the surrounding wreckage. Flashing lights and sirens filled the road above us. The realization and memory of what had just happened came flooding back to me.
“Scarlett! Where is she?” I shot up, searching for her. Looking around for any trace she was here.
“Lay down, Hart. You’re injured.” Sweeney tried to hold me down.
“No! I don’t give a fuck! Where is Scarlett?” I dug my hands into the earth below me, trying to stand, but Sweeney held me down. “Where is she?” I roared. I needed to know she was okay. Several agents ran down to me with a stretcher, fighting to get me to comply with them. I refused, wrestling with the other men. I needed to find her.
“Mason!” Sweeney’s voice calmed. “They took her.”
I collapsed onto the stretcher, panting; my face fell into my hands. No. No! I refused to believe it. I couldn’t. “Are you sure? Have you checked everywhere?” My eyes looked around. Trees were laying on their sides, bushes were crushed, the truck was mangled and upside down.
"Yes. We have a team looking for them.” Sweeney rested her hands on me and propped me onto the stretcher. “You did everything you could. More than anyone else could have. You can’t do anything until you get yourself looked at.”
I looked down at myself. Blood covered my white tank top and blue gym shorts. The dried blood cracked around my cheeks as I moved my face. I felt around my head, only to discover a large gash across my scalp. They loaded me into an ambulance and drove to the closest military hospital. The entire ride I stayed silent, thinking of how I failed, still in shock at what happened. Angry at myself, I am going to kill those men if it’s the last thing I do. Dreading what those men would do to her, what Luca tried doing to her. I had to get to her now. My heart was filled with rage, like someone was crushing it. I could not rest until I found her.
At the hospital, they did a CT scan and gave me several stitches, nothing I wasn’t used to. But that’s when I remembered. She was wearing her necklace when we left. Hopefully, she still had it on. “Sweeney!” I yelled to the agent sitting outside the room. “Get me a laptop now!”
“Getting bored already?” She joked, not noticing the urgency in my voice.
“I think I can find Scarlett. Hurry!”
She bolted out of the room and immediately returned with a military laptop. “What do you mean?” She asked, peering over my shoulder.
“I gave her a necklace for her birthday. It has a GPS tracker in it in case something like this happened.” My fingers moved as fast as they could, opening the maps. My chest tightened, waiting for the page to load. Please work. Please be wearing it. I held my breath as the map began tracking her movements. “Yes!” I stood up and began walking out.
“Hart!” Sweeney yelled at me to stop.
As I turned the corner out of the door, I crashed into another man. “I’m sorry,” I apologized, looking at the man. It was General Aberra. “Sir.” I stood in salute.
“Relax, Officer Hart.”
“I know where she is. We have to go now.” I spoke with exigency, trying to run out of the hospital.
“No. You are not going anywhere.” The general was adamant.
“Yes, I am, with all due respect, sir. I am seeing this mission to the end.” I demanded. Is he crazy? I need to be there!
“Mason, you have done more than I could ever ask of you. Let the other men lead the rescue mission. I can’t have you getting killed, too.”
“Sir, I made a promise and I intend to keep my word. I swore to keep Scarlett safe, even if it cost me my life. I need to be there.” I began walking down the hallway. Nobody can keep me away from her, nobody will protect her the way I will.
“Your father made the same promise.” His words stopped me in my tracks. My father? He died in war, though. I turned to face David, speechless. “You have the right to know, if you plan on risking your life again.”
“What do you mean? You knew my father?”
“And I knew you as a child. Your father was my best friend.”
“You may lead the rescue mission, but first, let me explain.” David sank into a wooden chair and gestured for me to do the same. I complied and sat silently, eager to learn more about the man I had strived to be like, the man who was my hero. “The reason I asked you and trusted you to protect my daughter is because your father lost his own life saving her.”
“I thought he died in war.”
“Well, technically, he did. But no one could know the full details behind his death except for a handful of agents. Not even your mother could know the full details.” My eyes were locked on the general, praying for more information. He spoke factually, trying to keep the emotion out of it. “Your father and I were like brothers growing up. We made the stupid choice to join the Marines right out of high school. We were both later accepted into the CIA and had the luck to be partners. A group of Russian assassins targeted me. After a top-secret mission, the leader wanted to get back at me for the death of his father, who was a very evil man, and gain information I had. We spent years running from them, and your father vowed to help us.” He looked at me, tears welled in his eyes. His face grew red, trying to hold back the emotions. “The Russians took out the car your father was driving with my wife and Scarlett. He tried getting Rebecca out, but he couldn’t. She was crushed under the dash. The car caught fire, and he had to choose. Rebecca or Scarlett. Rebecca begged him to save our daughter and leave her. He got Scarlett to safety before the explosion and tried going back for Rebecca. There were just too many men, and he had to lead them away from Scarlett. He took out most of them, keeping Scarlett hidden in a tree. Backup got there as fast as they could, but they weren’t fast enough.” Tears fell down his face. I had never seen him like this before. Usually so calm and collected, but now he was letting me see more than the general I knew him as. “I lost two of the best people in the world that day.”
My mind was in shock at the details. My father was a legitimate hero. “Thank you for telling me, sir.”
“You know, it was not just luck that day I pulled you out of Afganistan. I kept tabs on you ever since losing Michael. When I heard your name over the radio, as the foolish soldier leading a small group of men into an insane rescue mission, I knew there was a reason I was so close. Your dad was watching over you. You are so much like him. Just as fearless and determined.” David squeezed my shoulder and looked me in the eye. “He would be so proud of you. I know I am.”
His words took a weight off my shoulders. All my life I aspired to be like my dad and make him proud, but thought I was failing him. Maybe I am doing good and deserve to carry the name Hart. “Thank you, that means more than you know.”
“There is a van waiting downstairs to take you to brief your men on your plan. Get my daughter out of there and keep yourself alive, you hear me? We need you, soldier.”
“You have my word, General.” I stood in salute, which the general reciprocated.
Running out of the building and down to the van, I had the realization; there is no way I can go on without her in my life. I have never felt this way before, all I care about is her, all I think about is her, all I want and all I need is Scarlett. I am certain I am in love with her, genuinely and truly love her and need to tell her before it’s too late. If one of those disgusting monsters lay one finger on her, I will kill them. She is my everything and I will do anything and everything possible to get her out of there, even if it means sacrificing myself.