Title: Taking Fire (Shadow Warriors, #7)
Author: Lindsay McKenna
Genre: Military | Romantic Suspense | Contemporary
Release Date: February 24, 2015
She dances on the edge of life…and death
Not all are meant to walk in the light. Marine Corps Sergeant Khat Shinwari lives among the shadows of the rocky Afghani hills, a Shadow Warrior by name and by nature. She works alone, undercover and undetected—until a small team of US Navy SEALs are set upon by the Taliban…and Khat is forced to disobey orders to save their lives.
To go rogue.
Now, hidden deep in the hills with injured SEAL Michael Tarik in her care, Khat learns that he’s more than just a soldier. In him, she sees something of herself and of what she could be. Now duty faces off against the raw, overwhelming attraction she has for Mike. And she must decide between the safety of the shadows…and risking everything by stepping into the light.
Hello, Khatereh Shinwari. Welcome to the blog! Please have a seat and make yourself at home. I hope you don’t mind dog toys all over the place; my big dog likes to see his “options” all over the house. Do you like dogs?
I love all animals. I especially love horses. If it weren’t for my two black Arabian mares, which are full sisters to one another, I might not have survived five years out here in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban. You see, I’m considered deep black ops. And my duties are to protect the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I ride Mina, my main riding horse, through the night, attacking Taliban encampments. During the daylight hours, I will ride her ten or fifteen miles, setting up a sniper op to take out roving bands of Taliban soldiers. My love for her is endless. She is brave and courageous under fire when I must stand and fight the enemy. There will never be another fearless horse like her. She has saved my life, and the lives of others, so many times that she deserves a medal for her heroism under fire.
Tell me a little about yourself?
I am an American citizen and was born in San Diego, California. My mother is American. My father, Jaleel Shinwari, is Afghani. He was born in the village of Dur Babba, near the Af-Pak border. He was a second son in our family, so he went to Pakistan when he was twelve years old, to make money and put himself through school. He worked very hard and put himself through the university later, and became a civil engineer. He made something of himself and moved to America, where he met my mother. Later he married her and she became pregnant with me.
What do you do for a living?
I’m Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, a sniper and am an operator out in the Hindu Kush Mountains. I sometimes help other black ops groups, such as SEALs, Delta Force and Special Forces, when necessary. No one except the top level of the E Ring of the Pentagon knows my orders or what I’m doing in Afghanistan.
Can you even talk about that or is it a secret?
I am a member of a top secret Operation Shadow Warriors. Forty military women volunteered to be trained for all kinds of combat for a year by the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton. We were then inserted into the above mentioned black ops teams. Only, my orders were very different than most of the other women warriors, and I was a lone operator who became a ghost in the Hindu Kush, hunting down our mutual enemy, the Taliban and Al-Queda operators. I also protect the Shinwari tribe from their ancient enemy next door, the Hill tribe.
How did you meet your significant other and did you know right away that they were the one or did it take some time (and plenty of denial)?
I saved Petty Officer First Class Michael Tarik’s life. He and his SEAL team were coming up a scree slope and there was a Taliban ambush of over thirty soldiers, ready to wait for them to go by their hiding place, then surround and kill them. I had set up an op on that ridge, waiting for an HVT, high value target. I didn’t know there was a SEAL op in the area, so for them, it was lucky I was there, above the Taliban and where they were coming up that scree slope. The SEALs had no idea of the ambush that was awaiting them. I wasn’t going to see four good men die in that ambush, so I got involved against orders by my handler out of J-bad (Jalalabad, Afghanistan). I was ordered to stand down and not get involved because I was deep black ops and my handler didn’t want me or my secret operation exposed to anyone. He was willing to let four SEALs die because of my military situation, and I said screw it and disobeyed a direct order. I took the fight with my sniper rifle, to the Taliban. By getting involved, it gave the SEAL team a chance to save themselves. Mike Tarik, the leader of the team, was knocked out and into a wadi (ravine) when an RPG exploded very close to his position. He was very brave to remain behind so the other three team members of his team were able to escape. The Taliban dispersed moments after that because I was sending fire into their position and they scattered, running away. It was dusk when he was wounded, so I rode Mina down a goat trail that led me directly into the wadi. I found him there, unconscious and wounded. I took him back to one of my many caves I lived out of and cared for him. That’s how we met.
When Mike Tarik awoke and saw me, a woman, he couldn’t believe his eyes. And of course, I wouldn’t tell him who I was except that I saved his sorry ass and had patched him up. He had a concussion and a broken arm. He was bent on trying to find out who I was. The man never gave up, either. I lived a solitary life for five years out of caves in a fifty square mile area of this area of the mountains, I performed hit and run attacks against the Taliban, causing continued havoc in their network as a result. The last thing Mike promised me was when the Medevac helicopter was about to land, was that he was not only going to find out who I was. Next time? He said he wasn’t walking away from me, that he wanted the right to get to know me better. And then, I was shocked when he leaned down and kissed me! I was stunned! I was going to miss his company because we shared many of the same things. He was half Saudi and American. I was half Afghani and American. We shared Middle Eastern blood and culture. I really liked him, but I had an op to fulfill and I couldn’t just walk away from it. Too many villages relied on my sniper rifle, stealth and protection from me to leave them open to the murderous Taliban or the Hill tribe. If I wasn’t there, as their protector, so many villagers would be kidnapped, tortured and murdered. I was a lynch pin between them and our mutual enemies. So, I grieved when Mike left because he was an intelligent, kind man who was very drawn to me. And I was drawn to him, as well. I’d never met a man like him. Ever.
Your life seems to be in constant motion. Do you ever think about slowing down, maybe switching professions?
Because my father’s Afghan village, Dur Babba, sits on the Af-Pak border? They are always a target of the Hill Tribe that lives nearby, as well as Taliban crossing back and forth across the border. I carry my father’s blood in my veins. I have the ancient blood of Afghan warriors flowing through me, and for me to even think of stopping what I do as an operator, is not realistic. Plus, I had military orders to do what I was doing and I wasn’t going to disobey them. I love protecting my relatives, all the people of the villages in the area where I run my operations. They know me, and I know them. There is a great love from them to me and vice-versa. I am happy with what I am doing. Nothing was more important to me than protecting my father’s tribe and my relatives.
What’s your favorite thing to do on your downtime, if you get any at all?
I dream of meeting Mike Tarik again, somewhere, sometime. I don’t know how it could happen, but now, since I cared for him for two days before he could be picked up by Medevac and flown to Bagram for further medical treatment, I have begun to dream again. I stopped dreaming five years ago. I feel as is my life is stained forever since that time. I am still useful as I am, but Mike has made me yearn for time with him. Just to talk further with him, to know him, his life, what makes him laugh, cry or smile. What are his dreams? I miss him. I feel as if there is a hole in my heart now that was never there before I rescued him. He makes me dream of other things, a life beyond what I do now. He makes me dream of what can never be: being in love, a marriage and having a family.
If you could, would you change anything about your life?
The first year of my op in this area, I was captured by the Taliban. I never broke beneath their questioning and cutting lashes of the whip they used on my back. I knew if I told them that I was in the Marine Corps, they’d have beheaded me. I thought if I could survive their torture, keep lying to them, that eventually, they’d let me go. They knew I was an American and that’s in part, why they captured and tortured me. They thought I was a paramedic with an NGO, non-governmental organization charity. In reality? I was a Marine, a paramedic and their enemy. I was being whipped every three days. They would pour salt into my wounds and tie me up to scream and then, I would faint from the pain. After a week, those opened wounds on my back became septic, and I developed a high fever, was delirious and dehydrated. They gave me very little water and no food. It was the Shinwari women of the closest village where I was captured while giving them medical aid, who came and rescued me from that cave. They took me back to the village, tended me the best they could. One of the older Afghan women walked forty miles across the mountains to an Army forward operating base, pleading for them to come and get me. I came close to dying even though the Medevac picked me up two days later. I had blood poisoning, was out of my mind, and hallucinating with a fever of a 105 F. The hospital at Bagram saved my life. But the scars? They are thickly ridged, and now, I am considered ugly by my Afghan father. No man will ever look at me without being disgusted. I will never be considered marriage material. That is why I don’t mind being alone for the past five years. I have no future. But I can at least be of help and continue to protect my people’s tribe. They do not care if I’m ugly or that my back is scarred. They love and welcome me as I am, and I’m content. Except, since meeting Mike Tarik, I dare to dream the impossible.
First thing you think about when you wake up?
Since meeting Mike, I dream of him and me being together. Oh, I know it won’t ever come true, but before my capture and being tortured? Mike is like the man I dreamed of someday meeting and marrying. It’s an impossible, dream of course. Even if Mike thinks he can find me in one of my mountain caves and track me down? If he ever saw my back? He would be repulsed, call me ugly as my own father has called me. My father came to visit me when I was flown into the Naval Hospital in San Diego to recover from my wounds and torture. He was ashamed of me. Women did not do what I did. Women did not join the military. Women stayed home, cared for the house and children. I know from my father’s reaction of seeing my scarred back, that no man would ever want me. My father was so ashamed of what happened to me, that he disowned me, told me to never return home in America. He never wanted to see me again. That devastated me worse than the lashes and whippings I endured. Not even Mike Tarik, although I suspect he thinks he wants me, does not know how ugly I am. He will walk away if he ever saw my back.
Lastly, is there anything you’d like readers to know about you?
My Afghan blood drives me. I’m passionate. I’m fearless in the face of death because I protect my people, my tribe and my relatives from the murdering Taliban and their enemy, the Hill tribe. My enemy has put a million dollar bounty on my head, because I cause them that many problems. So, I am useful. My dreams of falling in love, of a man someday desiring me, falling in love with me, is just that. Yet, at odd moments, when I’m feeling very alone and aching for just such a thing to happen, Mike Tarik always pops into my mind, now. We had many talks in the cave where I kept him hidden so he could get well enough to get flown out of there. The way he looks at me? It brings tears to my eyes. It makes my heart yearn for what might have been. If I wasn’t scarred and ugly looking, I might have gone on to find him where his team is assigned. But not now. My name, Khatereh, is Pashto for “memory.” And isn’t it ironic? I have a long memory and I sometimes wish I could forget my father’s shame toward me? Of him disowning me? He had dreams of me being married and having many children, of being a grandfather to all of them. I wish I hadn’t been captured and tortured, my body now a disgrace to any man who would ever view my scars. But I dream. I dream of Mike. Of what might have been, but will never be.
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