If cooperating with the U.S. military means staying in places like this—I quit.
Kenan scowled as yet another rat darted to a hole in the corner of the concrete bunker. There must be more rats in that wall than Savas has guns.
“Here.” Savas’s gruff voice startled Kenan from his thoughts as his brother shoved a steaming mug at him. Kenan grabbed it, wincing as the heat soaked through his thin gloves and into his chilled fingers. Savas settled next to him on the rickety cot, cradling his own mug close.
The sniper took a sip and winced. “Remind me to never let Eser cook on Tuesdays again.”
Kenan eyed the thick meat stew in his mug. “Doesn’t look that bad to me.”
Eser was the best cook out of the Katiller—maybe not 4-star restaurant worthy, but at least it was always edible.
Kenan took a tentative sip and swallowed hard, grimacing at the heavy charred aftertaste. “Oh, ew. What—”
He looked over at Eser, the glow of the laptop revealing his brother’s smirk. Oh.
Rapidly becoming known as the unofficial “chat-night” with the girls, if they had decent internet and a break from the mayhem. Kenan smothered the pang of longing burrowing uncomfortably into his chest. Just because Eser and Savas both chat with Stef and Jena doesn’t mean I have to talk to Kris.
He choked down another mouthful of charred soup, letting the scalding mixture burn away the ache. Or that she even wants to talk to me. She hadn’t exactly asked to talk to him in the month since they’d first made contact.
Of course, he hadn’t been asking to talk to her, either. It’s better this way, anyway. Both of us need to have our own lives, apart from each other. Yeah, and maybe if he told himself that enough, he’d begin to believe it.
Kenan shot a sideways glance at Savas. “He got a little distracted arguing—I mean, chatting with Stef, huh? Not unusual, I guess. At least the food’s hot.”
The sniper nodded, glaring at the mug’s contents. “I guess that’s something. Rather eat something disgusting and hot than risk hypothermia out there tonight. Never thought I’d say this—but I would take the desert and all its sand over a winter in Siberia any day.”
Kenan grinned, raising his mug in mock salute.
Savas’s dislike for the desert—and the unending desert sand—had been vocal and constant for the month they’d been hunting Ghazi in the Arabian Peninsula.
“Don’t worry,” Kenan said. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
The two sat together in comfortable silence, Kenan enjoying Savas’s steadying presence. Out of all his brothers, he and Savas had always seemed to understand each other’s needs and moods the best.
Eser let out an amused snort, fingers flying over the keyboard as he and Stef continued to snipe at each other long distance.
“So. When are you going to stop being a coward and finally talk to that girl of yours?”
Kenan’s eyes widened as he choked on a mouthful of soup. He hacked out a cough, managing a strangled, “What!”
Savas raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “You know ‘what.’ Kris is either too afraid or too stubborn to ask, so it’s up to you to initiate. And don’t you dare deny you want to—you mope for hours on chat nights.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just—not the right time.” Kenan hid a wince. Wow. That sounded a lot more pathetic out loud.
Savas rolled his eyes, growling in Turkish. “You know, for being so good at connecting with people, you really are stupid sometimes. That was the lamest thing I’ve ever heard you say—and I’ve heard my share.”
His gaze pinned Kenan with a sniper’s accuracy. “Give me one good reason you won’t talk to her.”
“Because—” Kenan swallowed. Come on. It’s Savas. Out of all of his brothers, he could talk to Savas about anything. Even something so personal, so painful.
“What if she really doesn’t want to talk to me?”
What if she’s decided she’s better off forgetting all about me and moving on with her life? Better for both of them to face reality. She’d be right.
Savas stared at him for a long moment, then heaved a sigh. “Salak. You really believe that? If you’re this twisted up about it, imagine what she must be going through.”
Kenan flinched. Yeah, Kris is strong. But neither of us seem to know what we’re doing here. He was the extrovert, the people person. Connecting with others had always come easily for him. And if he was having this much trouble figuring out—whatever he and Kris were—then Kris was likely having an even worse time. Interpersonal relationships weren’t exactly her strong point. She’d rather stitch someone up than make conversation with them.
Savas leaned closer, elbows on his knees. “Kenan, Kris is an amazing woman. And for some strange reason, she seems to like you. But she’s still human, and she still has doubts. Is she worth risking a little heartache?”
Is she worth it? Kenan swallowed. Yes. Kris is worth—just about anything. Too bad knowing that still didn’t make the situation any easier.
Savas’s frown softened. “Come on, kardeş. Man up and talk to the girl. Anything’s got to be better than this limbo you’re putting yourself through. And a girl like Kris—she deserves to be pursued. And if you’re lucky? She’ll let you.”
Kenan stared into the dregs of his mug. He’s right. About all of it. Savas usually was right, even if he found less-than-tactful ways of saying it.
Kris did deserve better than the uncomfortable limbo they’d been living in ever since they parted ways. Maybe she’s been just as nervous as I have about moving forward. It was time for things to change. Hopefully for the better.
Kenan grinned, nudging Savas with his shoulder. “Fine. I guess even you have to talk sense once in a while.” Thanks, kardeş.
Savas grunted, retaliating by nearly shoving Kenan off the narrow cot. “Deli salak. Go get your girl.”
Hopefully, I’ll do just that. Kenan forced himself to his feet, walking casually to Eser, who was still attached to his laptop like a growth.
“Hey—um—not to interrupt your riveting conversation.” Kenan shifted his weight, running a hand through his hair. Come on. Spit it out. “Could you maybe ask—is Kris there? Is she—” He blew out his breath. “Is she available to talk?”
Eser glanced up, giving Kenan a rare smile. “Finally manned up, huh? Sure, give me a sec. We’ll get her on the line, if she’s there.”
The hacker hunched over, fingers flying over the keyboard. “Be glad we’ve got text only. Stef will probably squeal up a storm when she gets this.”
Kenan leaned one shoulder against the wall, feeling lighter than he had in weeks. Okay, Kris. If you still remember—I’ll make this work. We’ll make it work. If you want it to.
The room shuddered, bare bulbs flickering before plunging the room into darkness.
“What the hell was that?” Bener swore in fluent Turkish across the room.
Eser growled, features barely illuminated by the laptop balanced on his knees. “Perimeter sensors triggered before going dark. Looks like we’ve been located. We need to leave ASAP. There’s likely a patrol out there, more likely two.”
“Come on, boys, time to move!” Bener scooped up his pack, heading out the door. Eser slammed the laptop shut, shoving it into his pack before lunging after Bener.
Kenan sighed as he hefted his gun, following his brothers into the darkness. Savas clapped a hand to his shoulder. “Sorry, kardes. Your timing sucks.”
“Tell me about it.” Kenan clenched his jaw. Sorry, Kris. Next time.
Special thanks to our models, Travis Churchill and Luis Alicea. Photography by Katie Morford.