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M. L. "Matt" Buchman

Target of One's Own

Target of One's Own

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The greatest endurance car race in the world becomes a mission only a SEAL and a Night Stalker pilot can survive.
“If not the best of the Night Stalkers books, very close to it. Buchman commands background detail, interwoven with incredibly descriptive writing and superb characterization.” – Booklist
Zoe DeMille flies from her “coffin”—the steel box from which a drone flies into enemy territory. From there her past remains buried and forever hidden.
SEAL Team 6 commander Luke Altman commands from the tip of the spear. Yet he has no strategy for dealing with Zoe.
Together they uncover a “Most Wanted” target. But the only way to catch him is chasing him straight into the brutal Dakar Rally car race.
The green flag drops! The hunt of a major arms dealer is on. Now if only the mission and their pasts don’t get them both killed.
“Climb in. Buckle up your 5-point harness. Enjoy the amazing ride!”
“Excellent read.” “Now my favorite in the series.” “The very best ever.” “A story of hope and healing.”
[Can be read stand-alone or in series. A complete happy-ever-after with no cliffhangers. Originally published in “The Night Stalkers 5E” series in 2018. Re-edited 2021 for improved reader experience but still the same great story.]
Buy now to join the military romance adventure.

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The view was awesome from up here. To the far north, the mountains of the Hindu Kush were jagged ice points etched across the limits of the horizon. To the south, the arid wastelands of Pakistan.
At the New Year, all the peaks were sheathed in layers of snow; only the valleys were barren. Scattered villages, even nomadic groups, showed up as bright spots in her infrared vision, but with little of note in between. It looked like a half-finished artist’s painting—ever evolving, never complete. Midnight silence reigned, so near perfect that it echoed. She could almost smell the dry desert air—so clean and clear that it was like cool water on a hot day.
For now, she floated above it all like some disembodied alien: seeing but unseen. Her favorite state. As if she was finally forever disconnected from—
Lieutenant Sofia Gracie’s voice slammed Zoe back into her chair. One moment she’d been soaring through the night at sixty-thousand feet, so completely in tune with her twenty-million-dollar Avenger stealth drone that she might as well have been up there. The next, she was back in the coffin, as drone control stations were called, staring at the command console for her bird. The air so sterile that it had no scent at all. The vast silence replaced by the soft whir of ventilation fans.
Her soul had been in the sky over southwest Asia, but her butt was undeniably planted in Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Some remote pilots got all wound up, It’s not a drone. It’s a remotely piloted aircraft, an RPA. Whatever. As long as they let her fly, she was cool with anything folks wanted to call it. She didn’t even mind when they said she wasn’t really a pilot. All they were doing was proving that they were ignorant dweebs—stroking their massive egos to compensate for tiny, Air Force pricks—and were not worth speaking to ever again.
She’d left the Air Force behind and good riddance. Zoe had answered the call to become an RPA pilot for the US Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and not regretted it even once. She flew with the Night Stalkers, the very best helicopter pilots anywhere. No one could debate that. Not even the Air Force jocks with their big jets…and tiny pricks.
And while she didn’t fly rotorcraft, there was no question that she flew with them, over them. She was their all-seeing eye. Her view was a multi-screen array that had once made her head hurt, but now felt second nature. LIDAR (high-resolution 3D laser-scanning radar) on one monitor with image resolution to under a meter even from this altitude, infrared night vision on another, visible light on a third (which wasn’t much on this moonless night deep in Pakistan), and finally the RPA’s operations and weapons status. Each screen itself multi-tasking with superimposed readouts of relevant data: terrain, targeting, friendly assets, and the like. A keyboard and a pair of joysticks, flight (not the running-away kind) and fight, completed her world.
Zoe glanced over at Sofia, sitting in an identical seat beside hers.
Just once she’d like to look at her commander and not feel inadequate.
Sofia was a tall, voluptuous beauty that her Army coveralls did nothing to hide. Her smooth Brazilian accent made her sound even more beautiful than she was—which was saying something.
Zoe stood five-four on a good day and had all the curves of a computer screen. Of course, they were making curved ones now, which…
She sighed and reported. Sofia had been busy on a command frequency while Zoe was doing the flying.
“Air space is clear,” Zoe told her. “I’m seeing no ground forces on the move. Couldn’t even see our people if they weren’t linked up.” The Night Stalkers 5th Battalion E Company was on the prowl tonight and really didn’t want to be seen as they were deep inside a friendly country without permission. Of course, being invisible was their specialty. The only completely stealth helicopter company in the US military, they truly ruled the night.
It felt odd to be flying here. The fact that she was sitting in Fort Rucker, Alabama, half a world away from her team, was nothing new. But she hadn’t flown over Pakistan since joining the elite Night Stalkers.
Back when she’d been flying Predators for the US Air Force 27th Special Operations Group—out of a coffin at Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, New Mexico—she’d flown over Pakistan and Afghanistan all the time. The hours had been brutally long and the missions emotionally gutting. Authorization to fire in the face of collateral damage—dead civilians—permitted in order to take out a Tier One target. Women and children traveling with the target were deemed by command to be guilty by association and therefore expendable.
“Keep it smooth.” Sofia’s reminder to stay focused. Maybe she’d learned that lesson from when she walked fashion runways in exotic climes. If she had. Sofia never talked about her past, but it was easy to picture her there.
Zoe didn’t talk about her own past either, but that was because she couldn’t imagine anything more boring—other than the one part she refused to remember.
Her mother was a stereotypical legal secretary and her father a Pismo Beach, California, car mechanic: a business he’d started with his high school best friend and next-door neighbor. It was a family she’d never belonged to. Their conversations weren’t exactly what Zoe would call intellectually stimulating. Thankfully, they also hadn’t been strife-laden, just…dull. Which wasn’t right for descendants of the great filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, not even if they were distant ones. As their only child, it had been up to Zoe to amuse herself. For the last nine years it had amused her to fly drones for the US military.
“Two minutes to perimeter.”
This was a smaller mission than normal. The 5E only had four birds aside from her Avenger: a massive twin-rotor Chinook helicopter (the cargo van of Special Operations Forces), a heavily-modified DAP Black Hawk (the most lethal rotorcraft weapons platforms anywhere), and a pair of Little Birds. The last two didn’t have the range to strike this far from any support so were parked in the hangar alongside her coffin in Alabama.
In the heart of Balochistan Province in friendly Pakistan, a ground team had identified a major arms dealer—perhaps the major arms dealer. Not only was Hathyaron (Weapons in Urdu) supplying the Taliban in Afghanistan, but he’d been doing it since the Americans had first arrived. Hundreds of millions of dollars for weapons and ammunition had flowed through his hands every year.
The bastard had slipped the net more times than bin Laden. He’d left behind booby traps that had decimated teams. He’d mailed informants’ heads to the US embassy in Islamabad—with the tongues cut out. This had to be the night they took him down.
Zoe scanned again.
Still a whole lot of nothing.
More nothing than there should be. No shepherd boy. No traders camped with their mules by scattered campfires. It was as if the land had been undressed.
“It’s quiet.” Now that she thought about it, almost nothing had happened at the target compound in the four hours she’d been in position.
“One minute to deployment,” Sofia announced as she scanned her screens carefully, then they shared a look.
Zoe keyed her mic. She could broadcast without pinpointing the 5E’s aircraft for any enemy. They could hear her transmission, which would cover a wide area—encrypted burst signal, of course—but the mission team wouldn’t respond, to avoid their response giving away their position.
“Carrie-Anne, this is Raven.”
The big Chinook helicopter of the Night Stalkers 5E was named for Carrie-Anne Moss, who had played Trinity in The Matrix. Their own RPA, Raven, had been named for Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Their whole company was named for dangerous women. One more reason to love flying with the 5E.
“It’s too quiet.”

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