Lost Connection

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The smell of hay and the chill in the October night air reminded Isabel of her youth. The last days before winter meant hot apple cider and frolicking through leaves. Everything was different now, of course. Isabel was no longer a child and the night sky that dazzled with stars also rang with the sounds of bullets flying and cries of the wounded.

Each moment was a death knell, a life extinguished too soon.

She rolled herself behind a hay bale larger than her own petite frame. The bullets don't sound like bullets, she thought. After a while, the sounds of pain and defeat became surprisingly easy for Isabel to ignore. She wondered if the others all became numb too.

Thirty minutes had passed. If I'm not back in twenty minutes, go on without me. Izzie, I love you. His voice echoed in her head. The last thing Ian told her before he ran out of the barn and into the unforgiving night was that he loved her. The kiss on her forehead still lingered like a promise.

Isabel knew he'd come back for her. He had to. What would she do without him?

She patted the thick vest that was supposed to protect her from being shot through the heart or stomach, but the consolation it brought was of little comfort. Safety was an illusion. An attack on enemy territory under the cover of the night always meant some wouldn't survive.

He hadn't wanted her on this mission. "I can do it." Isabel's confident voice was reassuring as her gear was strapped on and she was fitted for combat. "I'm stronger than I look and I can sneak around faster than guys three times my size."

She was stubborn and headstrong, but her bravado had only gotten her as far as this. Isabel cowered behind haystacks, pondering her next move. The enemy camp announced itself in a brazen way, with fire and armed soldiers standing in front of the structure.

Isabel didn't care about the bags they'd come to reclaim, but they were valuable to Ian. The feisty brunette wasn't one to ignore a challenge or injustice. Ian had never told her exactly what they were taking back, only that it meant the world. It couldn't fall into the hands of the other side.

Somehow, it had gone too far.

Ian wasn't coming back, and the knowledge tore through her like a searing blade. She was alone and shivered with the grief suffered only by those left behind.

"Ian!" Isabel's desperate voice fell onto the tiny microphone connected to the almost invisible bud tucked inside her ear. "Ian, please tell me you're safe. I need you to be okay. I need you to--"

Her voice faded into nothingness, a choked sob of fear and despair lodged in her throat. It lingered like an unmovable lump. When he didn't reply, she immediately thought, They've got him, and now, they're coming for me.

The sound of footsteps marching on fallen leaves announced she wasn't wrong. Panic flooded her veins as Isabel drew her weapon, starting a slow, quiet belly crawl toward the entrance. Isabel lurked in the shadows. She felt like the victim in one of those creepy horror movies, the sort where people are stupid enough to go into the woods at night.

She was nothing if not a creature of instinct. The moment she saw a pair of black boots near her small tan hands, both her eyes and her rifle rose. Isabel could only think of Ian and how he must have suffered.

The night blurred as the noise of her rifle rang out against her enemies. One. Two. Three. They were all intelligent, viciously directed kill shots.

It took her a moment to realise she was not the only one shooting. When she felt the sharp searing pain just above the collarbone, Isabel knew. They'd gotten her, but it wasn't a capture they were looking for. Ian was at least worth some leverage. She was disposable.

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