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0800 Hermosa Beach

Matt was jogging on Hermosa Beach when he heard automatic files being fired. He stopped in his tracks and looked around for the source. He caught sight of the woman running from the armed men. When she was within reach, he pulled her over to him. Matt jumped over the ice cream vendor's counter, pulling her after him. Pinning her to the ground with his weight, he whipped out his cell phone and called Benny Ray. "Hey. Got a situation on the beach. Shots fired at the civilian. I'm unarmed and pinned down with the civilian."

"Got it boss, be right there," Benny Ray answered before disconnecting. A glance around the Silver Star told him the only other team member there was Nick. "Come on Delvecchio. The Major's got a situation on the beach, need you to watch my six."

"Yeah," Nick confirmed as he got to his feet. Margo approached the door as the two men were leaving. "What's up guys?"

"Situation on the beach," Benny Ray explained. "Wanna come along?"

Margo grabbed her gun. "Sure. It's been a boring day."

The armed goons hauled Matt and the woman from their hiding place and forced them at gunpoint to a waiting black van. "Sit down," they were ordered gruffly as a rope was secured around their wrists and then their arms and waists, binding them together, back to back.

When Benny Ray, Margo and Nick approached, the goons slammed the doors shut on the van and armed themselves for a confrontation.

"Damn it," the woman yelled. "Sorry about dragging you into this," she said to Matt with a sultry voice.

"What's going on?" Matt asked as he worked at the rope, cursing when he found no knots near their wrists.

"My father, Armand Varanti, had my boyfriend killed and set his goons on me. I took offense to what he did for a living. James didn't deserve to be blown to bits."

Surprise registered in Matt's eyes. "Armand Varanti, the arms dealer?"

"The one and the same," she sneered derisively. "I never cared about what he did until I realized he was arming terrorists who killed children and innocents. James and I were working together to bring him down.

When James was killed, I said I was going to the police and that's when those men began coming after me."

"My name's Matt. I can help you. What's your name?"

"Cindy. How can you help?"

"I work with this team, we bring down terrorists," he explained, still trying to get the rope loose.

"Ouch," Cindy exclaimed as the rope dug into her flesh.

"Sorry," Matt said as he gave her hand a squeeze.

"Got a knife?"

"Back pocket," Matt confirmed.

"Left or right?"

"My right." Matt felt her hand slip into his pockets and extract the knife. The only sound was the soft snick of the blade being opened and the rope fell away as she deftly sliced it. She climbed over Matt to grab some guns from the storage area of the van.

"I just knew they were stupid enough to use the transfer van," Cindy stated as she handed Matt a gun. They slid the van door open to find Benny Ray, Margo and Nick standing over the bodies of three goons. "Friends of yours?" Cindy asked Matt with a smile.

Silver Star
0900

Deke was making a peach smoothie for Cindy, noticing her staring nervously in the direction of Matt's office. As he sat the glass down in front of her, he asked, "What's your story, darlin?"

"Bad guys after me," Cindy answered non-commitally, eying the man up. At nearly seven foot tall, he was quite a sight with his body piercings, tattoos and his short orangey hair. He didn't look like someone in government/military work.

Alone in his office, Matt paced as he waited for Trout. He needed intel, quick.

"Matt?"

"What have you got?"

"Cindy Varanti is Armand's daughter. However, she was working on an FBI taskforce to bring him down. James McAlvey was her partner, not her boyfriend. She was supposed to be in the car, too, but got out at the last moment because she forgot something. There's now a $50,000 price on her head, courtesy of dear old dad."

"Wow. How'd she end up here?"

"That's where it gets interesting," Trout began slowly. He knew Matt wasn't going to be happy.

"Why don't I like the sound of that?" Matt grumbled, clicking his pen open and closed. "Her boss at the FBI, Richard Jones, somehow accessed my files for your location and sent her your way."

"Son of a ---"

"Before you take it out on her, Matt, he didn't tell her about you and the team. Just told her to go to Hermosa Beach and hide."

"That makes no sense. Send someone for help but give them no information."

"He claims he knew you all would find her. Just to make sure it's really her, however, I'm downloading Cindy's photo to Margo. If it's not her, deal with it."

"You know it."

After Matt hung up, he stared out the window. Calling the team and Cindy into his office, Nick looked at Cindy suspiciously as Matt told them what Trout had said about the situation. The group filed out of Matt's office and eyed Cindy, warily.

"Look I understand you're hesitant to help. No one asked you to try and rescue me!" she yelled at them, drawing herself up and meeting their gazes. Matt nodded at her as he crossed his arms over his chest.

"I love my father, don't get me wrong. But that doesn't mean I like what he does for a living. I hate it!" Cindy defended herself, tears springing into her eyes.

"Truth of the matter is, you're not safe going home. Not now," Matt told her, acknowledging the fear in her eyes.

"You can stay with me. But I have to warn you, my place is small," Margo offered with a grin. Matt glanced at Margo, silently thanking her for taking the frightened woman in. Cindy smiled at the team, telling them again how thankful she was for them helping her. Margo got her stuff together as Matt walked Cindy out to the burgundy Jag.

Benny Ray walked over to Margo. "You be careful, ya hear. We still don't know much about her." Margo smiled at him, reassuring him. Benny Ray watched her go outside to the car. Matt held the door open for Cindy has she got in, then closed it. Over the top of the hood, he shot Margo a thankful glance. Margo smiled back, winking as she got inside and started the car. Matt watched the car until the taillights disappeared. He rubbed his hand over his face and sighed. Walking inside, he found Nick and Benny Ray cleaning and putting away the weapons they had used earlier.

"Hey, thanks guys," Matt told them, striding over to the table they were working at. "Don't mention it, boss," Benny Ray replied, not looking up from cleaning his MP5.

Matt watched the sniper for a while then returned to his office. He looked over the fax Trout had sent him on Cindy's father. Shaking his head, he knew something wasn't right.

Margo's apartment
1230

Margo showed Cindy around the apartment, telling her to make herself at home. She called the Silver Star to let Matt know they had made it home. Cindy sat down on the couch and Margo sat across from her.

"So, do you work for Matt?" Cindy asked Margo, tilting her head as if wondering something. "I mean they way you guys handled those goons...you must be military or something."

"I'm sorry but I can't discuss that," Margo told her, hoping not to offend her.

The phone rang and Margo crossed to the kitchen to get it. "Hello?" she answered, thumbing through a pizza coupon book, holding it up for Cindy to see.

"Hey Margo, how's it going?" Benny Ray drawled on the other end.

She smiled at the phone. "Fine. What's up?" She mouthed to Cindy about ordering pizza and Cindy nodded back.

"Nothing. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay on your end," Benny Ray continued.

"Yeah, it's fine. We’re just going to order a pizza and watch a movie on TV.," she told the sniper.

"Okay. Well call if you need anything." Margo assured him she would and hung up. She called in the pizza order and sat back down on the couch, flipping through channels until they found an old movie.

A knock on the door announced the pizza. Margo jumped up and paid the delivery boy, returning to the couch with the hot box. She went into the kitchen and grabbed some drinks from the fridge and returned to the living room. Cindy sat deep in thought and Margo watched her as she sat back down on the couch.

"You okay?" she asked, reaching out and gently touching Cindy's arm.

Cindy smiled at her. "Yeah, just thinking you know."

"Well if you want to talk, I'm here." Cindy nodded at her and grabbed a slice of pizza.

Margo's apartment
1930 hours

Cindy sat staring blankly at the TV screen. James' death had really shaken her. Her mind drifted to Matt and his friends. She didn't want anything to happen to them. Cindy was debating sneaking off in the middle of the night when the touch of Margo's hand caused her to jump.

"You want to hit the sack, Cindy?"

"I think so. It's been a long day. Good night Margo."

Cindy disappeared into the guest room and slipped into a t-shirt. After climbing into bed, her mind wandered back to that fateful day. Cindy had been on the roof, her rifle aimed to take out the visiting Ambassador. Just as she prepared to squeeze the trigger, she was hauled roughly to her feet. At FBI headquarters, she was given an ultimatum. Go to prison or work with them to bring down her father. James had been assigned as her partner and she introduced him to her father as her boyfriend. Their closeness had grown into something more significant. Or so she had thought. A background investigation launched by her father revealed James' marital status as well as the truth about herself. The car had blown up two days ago and she had been running ever since.

Margo's apartment
0030 hours

Still awake and restless, Cindy had come to the decision she couldn't stay here and put these people in danger. Getting up from the bed, she put her jeans and t-shirt back on, and went out the window, shimmying down the drainpipe. She had taken about ten steps on the ground when a hand snaked out to pull her into the shadows, a hand clamping over her mouth.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" Matt growled in her ear as he dragged her to his truck. He had been worried about the two women and had parked several hours ago outside Margo's apartment. Unable to speak or respond, Cindy bit his hand. With an exclamation of pain, he removed his hand, shaking it.

"Obviously I was leaving."

"Why?" he asked still gripping her wrist as he unlocked the truck door.

"I don't want you or your people in danger."

"So you don't care about yourself being in danger? Varanti doesn't take betrayal well." He stated as he shoved her in the truck, then followed in behind her.

Cindy ignored him as they drove along listening to him talk on his cell phone.

"She's with me, Margo. Yeah, I'm taking her somewhere safe. Won't be out of my sight for a...damn it," Matt yelled, dropping the phone and slamming on the brakes.

As he had been talking to Margo, Cindy had opened the truck door and jumped out, rolling down an embankment. However she hadn't counted on hitting her head against a rock when she came to a stop, losing consciousness.

Matt scrambled down the embankment, finding her body sprawled out. Concerned, he gently rolled her over, finding the bleeding gash on her forehead, some of her long auburn hair sticking to it. He brushed her hair from the gash as he cursed. Then he scooped her into his arms and returned to the truck.

Silver Star
0900 hours

Margo walked in to the large basement and saw Nick and Benny Ray. She walked into the office and saw that Matt wasn’t there. Then she remembered what had happened.

“Hey guys.” She called as she walked over to the coffee pot. Pouring herself a cup, she filled the two in on what had happened. “But he said he would be in touch this morning.” she finished telling them. Benny

Ray returned to cleaning his weapon and Nick sat taking turns between watching him and reading a magazine. Margo wandered over to the computer and punched up the file that Matt had been looking over. There was a lot of disturbing information on Cindy’s father included on the file. She read over it and felt a knot form in her stomach. Nick looked up from his magazine and saw that Margo had gone pale.

“What’s wrong?” Nick asked, concern coming over his face. He got up and joined Margo at the computer. Benny Ray had been watching Margo look over the file and had seen her disgusted look. He watched Nick and Margo from his seat at the table and continued to strip his weapons and clean them.

“Well, some of this information of Cindy’s father is just plain sick. I mean, I’ve dealt with arms dealers before but never anything like him.” Margo shuddered, looking at the picture of the man on the screen. She saw the deadly look in his pale green eyes. It was the look of a psychopath.

Benny Ray walked over to his two team members, looking over Margo’s shoulder at the man’s picture. He narrowed his eyes and memorized the man.

The fax modem rang out in the quietness of the basement and made Margo jump. She hurried into Matt’s office and grabbed it as it finished. Looking over it, she walked back to the table where the others had been.

She handed the fax to Benny Ray, who read it. “We’ve got to find Matt and Cindy and fast!” He turned and stuffed his weapon in his duffel and hurried out, Nick and Margo following.

Middle of Nowhere
1200 hours

Matt had watched Cindy sleep for a few hours before he wandered into the woods to cut some firewood. When he had returned, she had been yelling in her sleep. Matt quickly crossed the room to the small cot she was laying in, close to the fire. He gently touched her arm and her eyes sprang open.

“Shhh. It’s okay, it’s just me.” He assured her. “Have a bad dream?”

“What happened?” her hand coming up to the cut on her forehead and she felt a bandage covering it.

“You tried to jump out of a moving car. Not too smart. Didn’t the FBI teach you anything?” He scolded gently, looking at the bandage. When he was satisfied that it was still ok, he sat down next to her cot and looked at her.

She looked at the man. “Where are we?”

“We’re safe and that’s all you need to worry about for now. Now, maybe you should tell me as much as you know about why your father’s goons are after you. That way I can be prepared.” Matt told her, searching her eyes.

“If they find us, they will kill us. That’s why you have to leave me here and forget about everything you know or think you know.” She told him, looking away from him.

“You can forget that idea. I’m not leaving you.” Matt told her sternly.

Cindy looked at him and saw that he was being serious. She looked at the man and wondered what drove him to do this kind of work and why he had made her safety his first priority. She sighed and started at the beginning.

“When I was younger, my father was a wonderful man. He believed in law and order, he ran a small gun shop. It all changed when I was sixteen and a gang killed my mother and kidnapped me. I got away unharmed but he had changed. He was cold and hard. Vigilante justice consumed him, and then when the gang members got off with a slap on the wrist, he turned against the system. He became cynical and trusted no one. Next thing I knew, he was selling arms to anyone with the money to buy them. Now he doesn't only deal with arms. He's worse than the gang members who kidnapped me. We branched out into assassinations, drugs, you name it. There was no question for me. He had threatened to kill me if I didn't join his business. The guys who worked for him trained me to be an assassin and how to use my body to get close to my target if that was what was needed. I hated it but feared for my life. One morning I was out on the veranda eating breakfast when the neighbors' little three year old girl came into our yard chasing her ball. One of his men grabbed her and tied her hands behind her back. Dad came out and shot her between the eyes and they took her body out in the woods a few miles down the road to be dumped. I was sickened. I threatened to walk out then, but he said if I walked, I was dead. So off I went like the dutiful little daughter to the days job. I was to assassinate the visiting Ambassador from small country. Sick to my stomach, I had my rifle aimed and ready to fire when an FBI agent got the drop on me. He told me it was join them to bring my father down or go to jail. " Cindy reached up to wipe a tear escaping and Matt leaned over to take her hand. "All I had to do, they said, was introduce James as my boyfriend so he could gain entrance to the compound. Sounded easy enough, so I did. We were undercover several weeks when the bottom fell out. We did sleep together, once. I thought we had something special. Unknown to me, my father had run his own investigation on James and uncovered not only his FBI position but his marital status. He had ordered me to kill James and I refused and we went on the run. Dad then found out about the FBI offer. He issued a hit on both of us. I should have known better than to let James get back in the same car at that hotel," Cindy stated as she broke down in tears. Matt took her into his arms and held her against him as she cried.

When she quieted, he lay her back down. "We'll be okay."

"Matt, you need the whole team here if you're staying with me."

"I already tried to call them, my cell phone doesn't have range from out here."

Cindy shivered, sitting up in the cot and wrapping her arms around her knees. What she had told Matt was just the tip of the iceberg where her father was concerned. All of the bodies that were buried, the missing people he was accountable for.

"Matt," she whispered.

"Yeah?" Matt asked, deep in thought.

"He's got moles in the government. He's going to know about your people and where we are."

"We're highly classified," Matt assured her. "So are his moles."

Benny Ray's Truck
1300 Hours

Margo's cell phone rang and she pulled it from her pocket. "Yeah?"

"Margo? It's Trout. Is Matt with you? I can't reach him on his cell phone."

"We're trying to find him. He's hiding with Cindy. What's up?"

"I came in this morning to the office and security warnings are all over. Someone has breached my system and they have all the information on you people. I know who did it and they're being interrogated now. But none of you are safe, especially Matt and Cindy. The price on her head has doubled and there's now a $50,000 hit on Matt. Obviously Varanti knows they're alone together."

"Damn," Margo uttered as she disconnected the call. "Come on, Benny Ray. The odds have just gotten way worse."

She related what Trout had said to Benny Ray and Nick who both became very intense. Benny Ray stomped on the gas pedal. "I think I know where he might have taken her."

Middle of Nowhere
1400 Hours

Cindy woke up in the circle of Matt's arms, her head on his shoulder. When she started crying again he had climbed into the cot beside her. Obviously he had fallen asleep when she had cried herself to sleep. Her hand caressed his cheek which was covered with rough stubble. She jumped when he woke up.

"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay. You feel better?"

Cindy nodded as she moved to leave the cot.

"Where do you think you're going?" Matt asked as he held onto her wrist.

"I need to, er, use the facilities."

"Oh. They're out back. I'll walk you out."

On their way back to the cabin, a shot rang out and Matt threw Cindy to the ground and covered her body with his.

“We have to get out of here and take some cover.” Matt yelled. He climbed off Cindy, who was already climbing to her feet.

“Are you hurt?” She asked, looking him over. He shook his head and grabbed her hand. Keeping her low, they ran towards the cabin. The shots had stopped but as soon as they had taken off for cover, they began again. Cindy saw the bullets whiz by them, hitting the ground around them. She screamed and Matt increased his grip on her hand. When they reached the door, Matt pushed Cindy inside and then threw her to the ground. She sat hovering under the window as the glass shattered around them.

“Your friends better hurry or we’re not going to make it!” Cindy shouted as the bullets came flying by them. Matt pulled out his Glock and returned fire but it was useless. With the weapons they were using, his might as well have been a slingshot. Hurry guys, he thought.

Benny Ray pulled the truck up the winding, rocky road that led to Matt’s cabin. He remembered that Matt had taken them here to go fishing and thought that that would have been where Matt had taken Cindy. He was starting to doubt himself when he heard the shots ring out. Margo looked at him and he hit the accelerator. The truck sped up the driveway. Nick reached onto the floorboards and pulled a MP5 out of the duffel that Benny Ray had brought. He handed Margo another and they checked the weapons as Benny Ray squealed to a stop next to a brown Bronco. Nick jumped out, shouting out the truck, calling an all clear when he found it empty. Benny Ray grabbed another weapon and ran down the trail that led to the cabin. He stopped short, firing at one of the men. The man whirled around, surprised and Benny Ray fired a round, hitting the man in the chest. The other man turned, seeing his partner go down and returned fire. Margo snuck up behind him and shot him in the leg and Nick finished him off.

“Major!” Benny Ray yelled at the cabin, hoping they weren’t too late.

“Benny Ray?” Matt called back.

Matt emerged from the darkness of the cabin, motioning to Cindy that it was okay.

The three operators made their way down the steep hill and Matt grinned at them.

“Man, am I glad to see you!” Matt told them, slapping Benny Ray on the shoulder.

Cindy looked around, searching for more of her father’s men.

“We’re not safe here. They know where I am now.”

“She’s right. We have to get out of here.” Nick replied, still watching the perimeter.

Matt nodded. They returned to the cabin, getting his stuff and walked back outside.

“Let’s go.”

The team moved out. Nick drove the SUV, while Matt called Trout and told him what was going on. He looked toward the backseat, where Cindy sat looking out the window.

“Got it. I’ll call when we get there.” He told Trout, hanging up. “Listen up. We’re going to take the highway till we get to Santa Maria. When we get there, I’m to call Trout back.” He told them, relaying the message to Margo and Benny Ray, who were following in Benny Ray’s truck.

“Roger that, sir.” Benny Ray answered.

The ride was uneventful and Margo watched the mirrors for anyone that may have followed. Her cell phone rang and she grabbed it on the second ring.

“Hello?” she answered.

“Yeah, it’s me baby. Trout said you couldn’t find Matt.” Deke told her.

“We found him and Cindy. They’re okay. Um…we’re headed to the place where you met that girl, Lisa from.” She told him, hoping he would understand.

“Ok. Got ya. Call me when you get there and I’ll meet you at the next spot.” Deke replied. “Oh and be careful.”

Smiling, Margo hung up the phone. “That was Deke. He’s going to meet us at the next location.” She told Benny Ray, who had been concentrating on watching the road. He nodded. A flash of light alerted him.

“Get down!” He yelled, swerving the truck and flying over the embankment.

Nick saw the red Dodge Ram swerve. “What the hell!”

Matt turned to him and saw that he was watching the rearview mirror. “Damn!”

They watched the truck go over the embankment and saw a Hummvee come out of a side road, where it had been concealed.

“Keep driving! It’s my father!” Cindy yelled, suddenly aware of what was going on.

“But Benny Ray and Margo…” Nick started.

“GO!” Matt told him, praying the others would be okay. He noticed the Hummvee was still gaining on them.

A man leaned out the window of the Hummvee and fired a shot that struck the tire. Nick fought to retain control of the SUV. Cindy screamed for him to look out. Matt reached under the seat and grabbed several guns, handing one to Nick.

"Give me a gun, Matt," Cindy requested.

"No."

When Nick yelled, they turned to find the goons had wrested the gun from him and now had hold of Nick, a gun at his throat.

"Give me a gun, Matt," she repeated.

"No, Benny Ray can...."

"Fine. You don't trust me. That's all right. But I won't let Nick take my punishment," she stressed as she started down the hill to the men.

Matt grabbed her arm and pulled her back. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Give me a gun Matt. I can make this shot and save Nick. Or I go down there and trade myself for him. Your choice." When Matt hesitated, Cindy wrenched her arm free of his grip and started away from him. "Yo, Cindy," he yelled.

When she turned, she caught the rifle in one hand. Shouldering the weapon, she got a bead on the goon holding Nick and fired one shot, hitting him between the eyes. Nick scrambled across the rocks back over to them when her father emerged from the Hummvee. Nonchalantly he strolled across the rocky terrain to the threesome. Cindy was checking Nick for injuries as Matt was trying to reach Margo and Benny Ray. When Cindy turned, she found her father aiming at Matt who's back was to him. As he pulled the trigger, she fired off one shot that struck him between the eyes and got in front of Matt, the bullet tearing through her shoulder. Matt caught her before she hit the ground as Nick went over and kicked the gun away. He looked up to find Benny Ray and Margo limping over the hill.

"What the hell happened, Delvecchio?" Benny Ray demanded.

"Cindy saved me and then she saved Matt. She needs an ambulance."

Hospital
1200 hours
the next day

Matt was sitting next to Cindy's hospital bed, watching her sleep. The surgeon had informed them all had gone well and there was no muscle damage. He reached up to brush her auburn hair from her face.

Slowly she woke up to find him sitting there. "Hey, what happened?" Cindy asked groggily, noticing her left arm was strapped to her chest.

"You took a bullet. A bullet that was meant for me. You know, you could have just yelled get down," Matt said with a small smile.

"There wasn't time. When I realized what he was doing, he had already fired. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, the rest of the team's fine. I talked to Trout this morning."

"Trout. Oh, you're boss," Cindy remembered.

"If you're interested, he'd like to bring you into the team. Benny Ray could use some back up as a sniper." Cindy lay there silently, deep in thought.

"If you're not interested, there's the witness protection plan. You were too high profile to stay with the FBI." She still lay there quiet, worrying Matt.

"Cindy?"

"What do you want?"

"Does it matter?" Matt asked.

"Yes, it does. It's your team, for one thing. Even if Trout is your boss." Her eyes searched his, expectantly. "Well, if you're looking for my thoughts, I'd like you to stay on," Matt whispered as he leaned over to brush a kiss on her lips.

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