Baashi’s eyes got huge. A small squeal of terror stretched out of him. “Ayiiii …”
“Kane, come here,” Tucker ordered, at the sound of the boy’s distress.
The shepherd returned to his handler’s side.
“Down.” Tucker reinforced the command with a flat-handed gesture. He sank to a knee next to his dog, but his words were for the boy. “He won’t hurt you. I promise. He’s a good dog.”
Tucker held out a hand, asking the boy to come forward.
Baashi remained frozen at Captain Alden’s side.
“Just let the boy be,” Seichan warned. “He’s clearly afraid of dogs.”
Kowalski made a grunt of agreement, even Jain’s eyes pinched with concern.
Tucker ignored them all and kept his arm up.
Seichan looked to Gray for help. He simply shook his head, remembering the man’s empathy scores. They had been through the roof. Tucker had a preternatural ability to interpret another’s emotional core. And maybe it wasn’t just with animals.
Clearly bonded to the child, knowing the boy, Alden also seemed to share Tucker’s understanding. “It’s okay, Baashi. If you want …”
The boy stared at the dog for a long breath, cocking his head, perhaps searching inside himself for that lost bond children have for all things furry and warm. Finally, he stepped clear of Alden’s legs, trembling a bit.
His gaze never shifted from Kane. “He good dog?” Baashi asked.
Tucker nodded once.
Baashi crept forward, approaching as if toward a perilous cliff.
Kane remained alert, only the tip of his tail twitching with excitement. Baashi reached out the back of his hand toward the dog. Kane stretched his nose, nostrils flaring, snuffling.
Baashi moved an inch closer—it was far enough.
A long pink tongue slipped out and licked the boy’s fingertips. The tail twitch turned into a big wag.
“He likes you,” Tucker said softly.
Baashi’s smile returned, shyly at first, then stronger. He moved near enough to touch Kane on the top of his head. The dog’s nose sniffed along the length of his arm.
Baashi giggled and said something in a Somali dialect.
“Tickles,” Alden translated.
Moments later, the boy was sitting on the ground, ruffling the dog’s fur and trying to avoid an onslaught of licks. Gray stared at them both, remembering Kane’s savage attack on the commando yesterday. Likewise, he tried to picture the boy with a rifle at his shoulder. In different ways, the two—boy and dog—were both warriors, and maybe Tucker had recognized that such harshness needed an outlet of innocence and play—and also trust.
Alden joined Gray. “Baashi is slowly coming around. The base here works with such children. They try to rehabilitate them, to bring out the scared child still trapped within the nightmares of those past horrors.” He eyed Baashi and the dog—then Tucker. “You’ve got a good man there.”
Gray had to agree.
Tucker stood off to the side, studying the distant mountains. After seeing how the handler and his dog had operated back in Boosaaso, how the shepherd had tracked Seichan’s blood trail through the myriad scents and smells of the city, Gray wondered if it wouldn’t be better to simply drop the pair into the mountains, let them hunt Amanda down by themselves, and radio back her location.
But that could take days … days he felt sure the president’s daughter didn’t have.
Cal Madow mountains, Somalia
From the shouts and calls beyond the tent-cabin, Amanda knew something was happening. She heard the coughing choke of several truck engines, accompanied by the barking of orders.
One of the African soldiers burst into the cabin, talked to Dr. Blake, then turned on a heel and dashed back out again. Blake crossed the medical ward and disappeared behind a privacy screen that hid another bed. The outline of his nurse shadowed the screen. They bent their heads together, talking softly.
Amanda strained to hear. If she could’ve slipped quietly out of the bed to eavesdrop, she would have attempted it. But stealthy was not a word that best described her current state. Still, another reason also fired that desire. The outline of the other hospital bed clearly showed someone occupied it.
She had no idea who it was. An injured soldier? Another of the medical staff who had fallen ill? Whoever they were, they’d been slipped into the tent in the middle of the night when she’d been sleeping. She woke to find the privacy screen up and the doctor and nurse going back and forth to attend the new patient.
All she knew was that it was a woman, hearing at one point a small cry rising from beyond the screen, definitely feminine. But the new patient had been silent ever since. Likely sedated.
At last, Blake appeared again and headed over to Amanda with a chart in his hands. He must have read her worry. “Nothing to concern yourself with, my dear.” He waved an arm toward the commotion going on outside. “It seems someone has been making inquiries as to your whereabouts. Practically knocking at our doors.”
Hope surged in Amanda at his words, stirring the child enough to kick. “Shhh,” she whispered, rubbing her belly.
Having traveled under false papers, she feared that no one knew she was the true target of the midnight raid in the Seychelles. She avoided glancing at the cross symbol with the genetic markings, knowing the truth. The high-seas kidnapping had not been random bad luck. It had been purposefully planned and executed.
But now … could someone be trying to rescue me?
Icy water quickly doused that momentary hope as Blake continued, “But they’ll be dealt with swiftly enough.” His eyes settled on hers. “We wouldn’t want to be interrupted. Especially with such good news in hand.”
She understood, looking at the chart he held. “You got back the amniocentesis results.”
Blake flipped through a couple pages. “Your baby tested perfectly. The genetics remain stable. Better than we hoped.” He smiled at her. “You’re about to give birth to a miracle.”
UNICEF camp, Somalia
Seichan huddled with Gray inside one of the huts at the edge of the hospital encampment. Kowalski and Major Jain kept guard outside, making sure no one overheard their conversation—and considering how loud they were arguing, that wouldn’t be a problem.
“Because beef is murder!” Jain said. “Hindus believe that God—”
“And if God didn’t want us to eat cows, he wouldn’t have made them so damn tasty—especially smothered in barbecue sauce!”