Her Master Defender

By: Karen Anders

Chapter 1

The Sierra Nevada, California

“One point six degrees is all that stands between us and death.”

There was complete silence from the nine snipers USMC Master Sergeant Tristan Michaels was training on a mountaintop in the Sierra Nevada. They knew all this information, but there was nothing like driving it home.

“At 97.0 degrees there’s mental impairment, poor judgment. One degree is all it takes to lead you to death’s door. At 86.0 degrees, there’s no more shivering—there’s coma and lights out.”

The frigid air and this trek into the clear, cold mountains drove home the truth of Tristan’s lesson today. He exhaled, the heat from his breath fogging the air, and there it was again...that feeling, a heaviness in the pit of his belly and in his head, too, the backs of his eyes hot, a weight across the nape of his neck. As a member of Force Reconnaissance—known as both Force Recon and FORECON—Tristan heeded his gut feelings.

He’d felt this off-balance sense right before a battle, right before an explosion, as if the molecules of air were bracing themselves for conflict. With the snow-covered trees and the heavy snowfall, these training grounds were far from a winter wonderland.

All of those millions of lace-patterned water drops piling up on top of each other... The sound of it had a way of impeding hearing, just a bit, with a tone that came from everywhere and nowhere while creating a strange sense of urgency.

It felt like a pent-up breath.

It felt as if something was about to happen.

The only worry on his mind right now wasn’t that these guys wouldn’t hit their targets. It was about survival, as they were going to be out in these conditions for the next three days with no tents in the middle of January.

Crouching in the snow, Tristan said, “You all face a unique situation when you’re sniping in this environment. The cold weather acts as an adversary that can be as deadly as an enemy soldier.”

The intent young faces hung on his every word and he emphasized enough the first day of class how he would be their savior, his words were gold and he was the god of winter. Freaking Jack Frost had nothing on him and Old Man Winter was just blowing smoke.

“Every time. Every time you pit yourself against the elements, it’s about survival. Regardless of the job you do, staying alive is all that matters. When we started out, it was clear and sunny—”

“Yeah, sir, it was downright balmy,” one marine said down at the end of the line, and everyone chuckled.

“We can go skinny-dipping later,” Tristan said, deadpan. “As I was saying, clear when we arrived, but always prepare yourself for blizzard conditions.”

Jerking down his bark-colored cap covering his dark hair, he went to one knee and sighted his own scope across the tree-lined terrain. “Tell me why cold is a greater threat to survival,” he said, his breath fogging the air.

“It decreases your ability to think,” one marine replied.

“It weakens your will to do anything except to get warm.”

“It sucks moisture, and dehydration is a threat.”

“Good answers,” he said. “But remember this, if you forget everything else. Cold makes it very easy to forget your ultimate goal—to survive.”

Tristan didn’t have to instruct these men on how to shoot a target. They were all seasoned snipers, but there was still a 10 percent washout rate for this class. One shot, one kill was their motto. His job was to teach them how to shoot in this terrain and at steep angles and how to survive against the insidious cold. He’d done both numerous times.

“Your target is the normal one-thousand-yard distance. I want you to work out the coordinates and take your shot.”

As five successive shots cracked across the white noise of the falling snow, Tristan put his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the targets below him. As he went to lower the field glasses, something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

His breath backed up in his lungs as he stared and adjusted the clarity. It looked... Ah, damn! “Stay here,” he ordered, and he took off at a run through the snow. Navigating the decline with the skill and ease of a pro, he slid slightly on the loose snow but got the traction he needed in his snowshoes. The cold air hurt his lungs as he loped, his muscles loose and pumping.

Hot Read

Last Updated


Top Books