The #1 New York Times bestselling Terminal List series continues as James Reece embarks on a global journey of vengeance.
A woman boards a plane in the African country of Burkina Faso having just completed a targeted assassination for the state of Israel. Two minutes later, her plane is blown out of the sky.
Over 6,000 miles away, former Navy SEAL James Reece watches the names and pictures of the victims on cable news. One face triggers a distant memory of a Mossad operative attached to the CIA years earlier in Iraq—a woman with ties to the intelligence services of two nations…a woman Reece thought he would never see again.
Reece enlists friends new and old across the globe to track down her killer, unaware that he may be walking into a deadly trap.
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Chapter 1 Kumba Ranch, Flathead Valley, Montana
“WHAT’S THAT HUNK OF steel on your hip?” Reece asked as his friend entered the cabin.
They called it “the cabin.” Most people would have called it a home but for the fact that it was on the Hastingses’ property and was originally built as a guest house. It wasn’t ostentatious by any stretch, but it certainly was not a hovel. Its log timber frame blended in with the environment with a beautiful stone fireplace and large wraparound deck. A sloping grass lawn led to a dock where James had been staying in shape with morning swims and kettlebell workouts.
“It’s good to see you, too, Reece.”
“So, what’s the pistol?”
“That is not your old 1911.”
“I didn’t say it was.”
Raife Hastings had been carrying the family heirloom for as long as Reece could remember. The pistol began its life as a commercial Colt 1911 .45 that made its way to Great Britain in the early 1940s under the Lend-Lease Act. Raife’s grandfather was issued the sidearm when he joined B Squadron of the Long Range Desert Group, an elite reconnaissance unit that operated behind the lines against German and Italian forces in North Africa during World War II. He was a leader in the Special Air Service after returning to Rhodesia at the end of the war, and his handgun went with him. Raife’s father, Jonathan Robin Hastings, had followed family custom, passing SAS selection in England. When Southern Rhodesia split from Great Britain to become its own, rogue nation, Jonathan stayed on with the now-independent SAS regiment and later helped found the famed Selous Scouts alongside Colonel Ronald Reid-Daly. The pistol was passed to Raife upon his graduation from BUD/S and he smuggled it downrange on each of his deployments to continue the tradition. It had served his family well and though he wouldn’t admit it, he thought of it as a good-luck charm.
“Yes, I get it, Raife, but that’s a different 1911.”
What weapon a person carried and how they carried it told Reece a lot about them. Reece’s eyes always went to the hands; the result of growing up with a father who served in the SEAL Teams in Vietnam and then transferred into the ranks of the Central Intelligence Agency. Right- or left-handed, concealed or open carry, appendix or 4–5 o’clock holster position, striker-fired polymer-frame pistol or cocked and locked 1911, Kydex or leather holster, type of knife clipped to pocket, shoes, pants, belt, hat, watch; all of these things tell a story, his father had said.
In Raife’s case, he wore Courteney Selous boots, jeans, and a belt Reece knew was made from the hide of a Cape buffalo. A leather holster from Alessi sat just behind his right hip. Two inches taller than Reece’s six feet, he radiated competence and strength and looked like he would feel right at home in the UFC’s Octagon. His emerald-green eyes and tan face with a scar that ran from his left eye to his lip, camouflaged by three days of stubble, gave one the not-incorrect impression that Raife was a man of the land and someone not unfamiliar with violence.
Raife shook his head and looked to Katie, who was setting up a fly rod on the kitchen table.
“Since Reece is socially inept and is incapable of just saying ‘hello,’ I will tell you, Katie; I finally retired the old warhorse to the safe, at least until I can pass it along to my son.” Raife’s wife had given birth to a baby boy as Reece was emerging from the wilds of Siberia on a previous mission. “Your boyfriend keeps getting me into firefights, so instead of worrying about losing it, I had Jason Burton at Heirloom Precision build this for me.”
“Well, you will be happy to know that one of my goals is to keep him, and you, out of additional firefights. I think I’ve had enough of those to last a lifetime,” Katie said, remembering that her relationship with Reece had been interrupted on more than a few occasions by men with guns who wanted them dead.
“I have been doing quite well as of late, isn’t that right, Katie? I haven’t been shot at in at least two days.”
Katie rolled her eyes.
“Let me check it out,” Reece said, gesturing to his friend.
Raife drew the pistol, being sure to keep the muzzle in a safe direction. He removed the Wilson Combat magazine and placed it into his front pocket, pushed down on the thumb safety, and racked the slide to the rear, ejecting a .45-caliber round from the chamber before handing John Browning’s iconic masterpiece to his blood brother.
Reece inspected the pistol and let out a long whistle. “This must have cost you hundreds,” Reece said, knowing the pistol was essentially priceless, coming from one of the top 1911 gunsmiths in the world.
Now it was Raife’s turn to roll his eyes.
“Nice,” Reece said admiringly. “Jason Burton does incredible work. Pre-Series 70?”
“When did you become a 1911 expert?” Raife asked.
“Since you walked in here with this.”
“Base gun is a 1969 Colt Pre-Series 70,” Raife confirmed. “National Match–style slide with serrations which were most likely an overrun from a contract with the Army Marksmanship Unit.”
“Can I try the trigger?”
“Be my guest.”
Reece visually inspected the chamber and then rode the slide home out of respect for the masterpiece in his hands. He pointed it in a safe direction and pressed the trigger.
“Wow! Perfection,” he said, locking the slide to the rear and taking a closer look at the impeccable work.
“That action is smooth. Did you pin the safety?”
“Short trigger, ivory grips, ambi-safety, Kart National Match barrel, flattened slide top with ‘arrowhead’ serrations, custom rear sight, gold-inlaid front sight, and maker’s mark under the grip panel. Classic. The rear slide serrations stop at the top of the frame rails—that’s a sweet touch.”
Raife’s eyes moved to Katie.
“Don’t look at me. He might as well be speaking Greek.”
“You know, I should get one of these. Good thing I have your dad’s credit card.”
Raife shook his head. “I don’t know why he did that.”
Reece could not help needling his friend. The only reason he had reluctantly accepted the card was so he could bring it up to get under Raife’s thick skin.
“And I quote,” Reece began as he handed the pistol back.
“Here he goes,” Katie said. “See what you’ve started.”
“Thank you for saving my son’s life. You are welcome to stay in the cabin as long as you would like. That’s when he handed me the credit card, which I of course readily accepted.”
“He’s going to regret that,” Raife said, tucking a strand of shoulder-length dark blond hair behind a cauliflower ear.
“It’s a distinct possibility. Right now, I’m using it to pay for physical therapy; my back’s still a little sore from carrying you up that mountain in Russia.”
“Bloody hell,” Raife replied. A hint of Rhodesia still slipped into his voice, especially when he was annoyed. “It was more like a hill.”
“Easy to say when you are passed out on my back for most of the climb.”
“You two are something else,” Katie said, getting to her feet. “Raife, can I get you something to drink? Beer? Wine? Beer might be easier to get to, as the wine is in the garage and is currently blocked in by about a hundred boxes of books James had shipped out from Virginia.”
“Oh yeah,” Reece interjected, “Jonathan also said that I could visit the wine cellar anytime I wish and that nothing was off-limits.”
“Now I know you are lying.”
“I might be paraphrasing a bit.”
“Katie, spare no expense for our friend,” Reece shouted to Katie, who was going over the beer inventory in the kitchen refrigerator.
“He’s incorrigible,” Katie said to their guest.
“Katie, don’t use big words like that around Raife. He’s going to have to look them up later.”
The truth was that Raife was one of the smartest and toughest people Reece had ever met. From a family that defined the word rugged, the blood of Africa still flowed through his veins. In what was then Rhodesia, you didn’t call a plumber if a water pipe broke or an electrician if you lost power or a mechanic if your truck wouldn’t start. You fixed it yourself. If your home was attacked you didn’t call the police, you defended your land and your family. Then you dug a hole and buried the bodies. You were self-reliant as a practical necessity. Your very survival, and the survival of your family, depended on it.
“I’ll take a beer,” Raife said.
“IPA? Cloudcroft?” Katie asked, looking in the fridge.
Katie grabbed three beers from the fridge, handing two off before opening one for herself.
“Cheers, boys. Raife, can you stay for dinner?” she asked, walking to the kitchen to start prepping.
“I’m going to need to get back. Just wanted to say a quick hello.”
“I believe Raife has diaper duty tonight. How’s the leg feeling today?” Reece asked with genuine concern. Just as Raife had helped Reece get back into fighting shape after his brain surgery, Reece had been hitting the trails with his friend, slowly upping the mileage and moving to progressively more difficult terrain as Raife’s leg continued its rehabilitation. The break from a fall on Medny Island, Russia, that almost killed him had taken its toll.
“Feels good, brother. It’s almost there.”
“Great, because tomorrow’s run will be one to remember.”
“Aren’t you guys worried about overtraining?” Katie asked from the kitchen.
“I’m not familiar with the term,” Reece quipped.
“I don’t know why I even try,” Katie muttered to herself.
“So,” Raife said, taking a seat. “Where is that Cabot?”
“That ol’ thing? I think it’s around here somewhere.”
That ol’ thing was relatively new. Reece had accompanied Raife and Jonathan down to Helena for the Montana Outfitter and Guides Association banquet to support Big Hearts Under the Big Sky, a program focused on children with life-threatening illnesses and military members who have provided extraordinary service to the country. An Apocalypse 1911, kindly donated by Rob Bianchin of Cabot Guns in Pennsylvania, went up for auction. Two cattle ranchers went head-to-head in a bidding war. The crusty old rancher who won promptly marched over to Reece and presented it to him. Apparently, after five or six too many Neversweat bourbons, Raife’s father had confirmed a rumor or two. Reece tried to turn it down, but the old rancher would hear none of it. He finally turned to the elder Hastings and proclaimed: Jonathan, I am sending this to you. Make sure the boy gets it. Now, I’ll not hear another word about it.
“Let’s give them a run before we get too far into these beers, eh?” Raife said.
“Were you guys always this competitive?” Katie asked. “Never mind, rhetorical question.”
“Why don’t I just run my carry?” Reece asked.
“Still using that XL?” Raife asked, referring to the SIG Sauer P365 XL that Reece had taken a liking to over the past couple of years.
“Yep, I love this thing,” Reece said, tapping the BlackPoint Tactical Mini WING holster on his belt. “Icarus Precision grip module, Parker Mountain Machine threaded barrel and comp, Trijicon RMRcc red dot.”
“Did you go with the 3.25 or 6.5 MOA dot?”
Reece eyed his friend quizzically.
“Since when do you know anything about pistol red dots?”
Raife smiled and shrugged. “Think you remember how to use iron sights?” he asked.
“It’s possible. Let me see if I can find that Cabot. I know it’s around here somewhere.”
Reece, of course, knew exactly where it was. Following their early morning trail runs, functional fitness routines, and shooting drills, Reece would bid his friend farewell and then put in another shooting session later in the day when Raife was in town, this time with the Cabot Apocalypse. Reece was starting to suspect that Raife might be doing something similar with red dot optics.
“Look at that, I found her,” Reece said, returning from the bedroom. “Where is the safety on these things?”
“For Christ’s sake. Let’s do it. What course of fire?”
“Shooter’s choice,” Reece responded. “What are we shooting for?”
“I’d say pink slips, but your new ride leaves something to be desired,” Raife said, referring to the 1985 Jeep Wagoneer that Reece had driven to Montana and that had limped its way into the barn off the driveway.
“You just don’t appreciate the golden age of SUVs.”
“You do know that ICON Land Cruiser you managed to destroy cost more than most people’s homes, right?”
“That’s the best part about it having been a gift,” Reece countered, getting to his feet and heading for the door.
Raife shook his head.
Katie forced a smile, remembering being trapped in her seat belt in the overturned vehicle, the blood running from her nose and mouth, Iranian assassins converging on the truck, the pistol thrust through the broken window in front of her face, Reece unconscious next to her. She turned her attention to the Bravo Company carbine in the corner of the room next to Reece’s LBT plate carrier, remembering something Reece’s CIA buddy “Ox” had told her as he put them through a team tactics course in Virginia: The pistol is just to fight your way to the rifle. Then get to work. The rifle’s magazine was loaded with Black Hills 77-grain cartridges. The rail held an Aimpoint Micro with magnifier, SureFire Scout light, Viking Tactics sling, and an ATPIAL infrared laser aiming device. Katie had an identical setup in the bedroom. Just in case, Reece liked to say.
“How about this: Whoever loses hosts the next wild game dinner,” Raife said.
“The next three,” Reece countered.
“The next three,” Raife agreed.
“I also would have pushed for pink slips, but I want a vehicle that works,” Reece said, alluding to Raife’s Defender 110. “Where is she anyway? In the shop?”
Raife looked back at Katie for help but she just shrugged.
“Keep me out of this. My 4Runner does just fine.”
“What’s that?” Reece asked, stopping dead in his tracks on the front deck that overlooked the gravel driveway. “I thought Land Rover stopped making the old-school Defenders. Did they feel bad and want to put mechanics back to work?”
“It’s an INEOS Grenadier.”
“Some bloke in England wanted to build a truck that kept the look of the old Defenders but...”
“But actually worked?”
“But that were built to modern standards,” Raife corrected. “This is the first one in the States. My dad somehow got his hands on it.”
“I changed my mind. Let’s shoot for pink sli—”
The radio on the desk just inside the door interrupted them.
“Reece, Kumba Base, over. Boys, pick up.”
The tone in Jonathan’s voice indicated this was more than a simple check-in.
Reece moved to the radio, picked up the mic, and hit Transmit.
“Kumba, go for Reece. I’m here with Raife and Katie.”
“Turn on the telly, boys. Aircraft shot down back home.”
“We’ll check it out.”
“It’s on the BBC now,” Jonathan added.
“Roger. Katie, can you...”
Katie was already on it.
“... 128 people are confirmed dead in Africa’s worst terrorist incident in recent memory. Early reports indicate that multiple missiles were launched from a nearby field. Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement saying the offensive will continue until French military forces and their civilian enablers have been pushed from West Africa: ‘French civilians are complicit in the massacres of our people and only when the last French citizen leaves Burkina Faso and Mali will our territory truly be liberated from French colonial oppression.’ In October of 2020, French special operations forces killed fifty militants in northern Mali, including several key leaders of the JNIM organization. It is unclear at this time if this most recent terrorist attack is a direct retaliation for that engagement.”
“Bloody tragic,” Raife said.
Reece looked to his friend and back to the BBC report.
“It’s someone else’s war, Reece,” his blood brother said, reading his friend’s mind.
Reece took a breath.
“Okay, let’s train,” he said. “Katie, we’ll be back in a few.”
They left the cabin and walked to the range Reece had set up just behind a barn that served as his functional fitness Sorinex gym, mixed martial arts training facility, and weapons cleaning area, but his mind was no longer on 1911s, courses of fire, or wild game dinners. It was on a plane, half a world away.
When they returned, Katie was preparing the grill.
“Raife, sure you can’t stay? Smoked trout.”
“I’m guessing you caught those. I’ve seen this guy attempt to fly-fish,” he responded, gesturing to Reece. “As much as I would love it, I’ll be getting home.”
“Next time,” Katie said.
“Any word on getting your own show?”
“I’ve been guest-hosting quite a bit so we will see.”
Investigative journalist Katie Buranek had burst into the media spotlight with a series of articles she had written exposing the lies surrounding the 2012 Benghazi fiasco. Her follow-on book, aptly titled The Benghazi Betrayal, uncovered the truth behind the attack in which the United States ambassador to Libya and a Foreign Service officer were killed. A small group of dedicated CIA contractors fought for their lives that day, abandoned by the elected and appointed officials in Washington, D.C. Reece had known the two SEALs killed during the thirteen-hour gun fight and was aware of Katie’s reporting before she introduced herself on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan after the ambush that killed Reece’s SEAL Troop and changed the course of his life. Katie was thrust back into the headlines when she became part of the story involving the testing of drugs on the nation’s most elite special operators. Her reporting on the conspiracy to cover up the effects of those experiments led to the resignation of a president. Katie was a thorn in the side of the political establishment and legacy media corporations more concerned with promoting an agenda than seeking truth, regardless of where it might lead. That made her dangerous.
“They’d give you your own show if they knew what was good for them.”
“Thank you, Raife.”
“Can I interest you in another beer?” Reece offered.
“I’ll take one to go. Annika is feeling a little tired of late so I’m going to do my duty.”
“Understood. Cheers, my friend,” Reece said.
Raife’s home was just a few miles away, higher up on the mountain and nestled back in the trees. Jonathan and Caroline Hastings wanted to create a place where their kids would want to return with their grandchildren. It had worked for the most part. Raife was home running the outfitting side of the business, building custom rifles, and caring for his young family. Victoria was in Connecticut and working in finance but a separate home for her and her family awaited anytime they returned for a visit. His youngest sibling, Hana, the wild child, had been abducted in Romania and then hunted for sport on an island off Kamchatka, Russia, by a man Reece had ultimately killed. She had launched herself off a cliff, taking her own life rather than allow Aleksandr Zharkov the satisfaction of the kill. Reece had shot the Russian intelligence officer twice through the chest with a recurve bow just as the monster was about to take Raife to the grave. Caroline and Jonathan were bound to Reece in ways just as strong, if not stronger, than blood.
“Glad you have that Grenadier,” Reece called after his former Teammate.
“It means I can enjoy my evening with Katie and not have to tow you home in the Defender.”
Raife reached in his pocket as if he were searching for his keys and came out with his middle finger extended.
“You deserve it,” Katie said, smiling at Reece. “Please give Annika our best. Let’s get together for dinner tomorrow. I assume, because you shot 1911s, that we are hosting.”
“You assume correctly,” Raife confirmed.
“I just couldn’t bear the thought of us having to suffer through one of Raife’s meals,” Reece said. “Bring everyone down. Let’s do a mullie leg, Marin County–style on the Burch Barrel: rosemary mop, Flip Flop sauce, salt, pepper, Jonathan’s finest Cab.”
“We’ll be here. Let’s shoot with my dad before dinner. You have twenty-four hours to work on your skills.”
“Deal, loser has to—”
“Reece,” Raife interrupted, suddenly serious again.
Katie had left the TV on as she prepared dinner. It was turned to Fox News, where she continued to work as a contributor remotely from a studio in Whitefish.
Reece turned his head and then joined his friend behind the couch.
The network was running the names and photos of the victims.
“Katie, does this rewind?” Raife asked.
“Yes,” she said, walking over and handing Raife the remote.
Raife pointed it at the screen, the images now playing in reverse.
Katie looked at Reece. She had seen him like this before. He stared at the screen as if nothing else mattered. Gone was the jovial man of mere moments ago. In his place stood someone who was all business and radiated death.
Raife paused on an image. The name Mélanie Cotillard was displayed under the photo of a woman in her late thirties or early forties. Dark hair. Olive skin. She was dressed in business attire and the photo appeared to be from a professional online bio.
“Is it her?” Raife asked.
Reece continued to stare at the screen. Eyes narrow and focused.
“Reece?” Katie asked, concern creeping into her voice.
But Reece wasn’t in Montana. He was in an ambush in Baghdad. Bullets skipping off the street in front of him, a man to his left going down, the turret gunner from his vehicle taking a round to the throat, Reece returning fire at the muzzle flashes that lit up tubes of his night vision, scrambling into the vehicle to get behind the .50 caliber machine gun.
“Reece,” Raife said more firmly.
Reece was in the Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone, covered in blood, sweat, dirt and grime, rifle still at his side, waiting for word from the trauma surgeons. The door opening. A dark-haired woman in civilian clothes moving toward him.
“Reece,” Raife said again.
“It’s her,” Reece confirmed, not taking his eyes from the screen.
“Who? What’s going on?” Katie asked. “Mélanie Cotillard? French citizen?”
Raife looked at Katie and then at Reece.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“I’m sure. But her name is not Mélanie Cotillard and she is not a French citizen.”
Katie wanted to press but restrained herself, knowing Reece was thinking something through.
“Her name is Aliya Galin. She’s an assassin.”
“What?” Katie said.
“I’m sorry, Katie. I need to get back to Langley.”