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“One of the best writers today.” (Johnny Olsen)
“A master storyteller.” (Betty Richard)
ONE OF THEIR OWN IS DEAD.
NOW IT’S TIME FOR REVENGE.
On a mission to rescue a young American woman held by ISIS as a sex slave, one of the Delta Force’s Bravo Team is killed, betrayed by a mole within the Unit. As the team reels from the loss, the CIA presses hard to find the young woman and give the team a second chance to fulfill their mission.
And seek revenge for the death of their comrade.
Torn from today’s headlines, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy’s Forgotten confronts one of the greatest tragedies of our time—the massive, systematic rape of thousands of innocent young girls, and the misguided American women desperate to join the perpetrators. A non-stop action-packed thrill ride, Forgotten is filled with humor, tragedy, romance and hope, with an intensity only Kennedy can deliver.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen
"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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“[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame.”
“There is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to capture unbelieving women [who are characterized by] original unbelief [kufr asli], such as the kitabiyat [women from among the People of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians] and polytheists.”
Pamphlet entitled: Questions and Answers on Taking Captives and Slaves
This book deals with the very sickening reality facing thousands of young women in ISIS-controlled territory—life as a sex slave. While this book does not delve into graphic sexual detail—I don’t think any of us need to suffer through those images—it does deal with the fact this is actually occurring, on a scale unprecedented in modern human history.
It is estimated at least 3000 young women, some just girls as young as eight, are being systematically raped by ISIS soldiers and supporters, with some estimates as high as 25,000. Auctions to sell them off are held on a regular basis, with the younger girls fetching a higher price. ISIS has even issued a manual outlining the rules for owning sex slaves, an officially endorsed practice condoned by the Koran.
This is ridiculous, yet is rarely spoken about, perhaps because the vast majority of victims are Yazidis, and the perpetrators are Muslim, a group the media and too many government administrations have for some reason chosen to forgive when it comes to transgressions like these. If it were Russians raping thousands of women on a constant basis, would it be ignored? Or Chinese? Or what if it were Jews?
I think not.
This book’s subject matter should enrage you.
I know writing it did me.
ISIS Held Territory Outside Thawrah, Syria
“Dude, you weigh a ton!”
“I’m the way my momma made me.”
Sergeant Carl “Niner” Sung grunted as he helped the muscled frame of his buddy, Sergeant Leon “Atlas” James, toward the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk that had just touched down. Gunfire peppered the area, several rounds pinging off the reinforced skin of the chopper as mortar rounds slammed into the ground around them. This entire mission had been a Charlie-Foxtrot, and now Atlas had taken a round to the ass, something Niner intended to tease him mercilessly about over the coming days.
To say this mission was a mess was an understatement, though they were Bravo Team, part of what the public liked to call Delta Force, officially known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta. They were the best America had to offer, the highest trained Special Forces in the world, sent where their country needed them, usually with the public never knowing what they had done.
Except for those Chuck Norris movies. Awesome!
He looked up as another Apache helicopter passed overhead, its weapons pods opening up on the approaching enemy, but there were too many. The city they had been in was an armed camp, and it appeared everyone had decided to get in on the fun.
Niner spun toward where Sergeant Will “Spock” Lightman was pointing, and cursed, the rocket-propelled grenade streaking toward them in a lazy sideways arc. “Oh shit! Let’s move!” He shoved Atlas into the chopper, two of the crew hauling him inside, he and Spock following. Niner turned, urging their lead on the mission, Master Sergeant Mike “Red” Belme, forward. It felt like slow motion, but Red pushed toward the helicopter, his legs pumping, hunched over as gunfire continued to streak across the battlefield.
The grenade hit.
The explosion was massive, knocking Niner backward, his head smacking on the metal floor of the Black Hawk’s cabin. He shook his head, disoriented for a moment, then jumped back up. “Red!” The chopper lifted off and Niner rushed toward the open door. “We have to go back!”
The pilot glanced over his shoulder. “Negative. The position is overrun. We go back, we all die.”
Niner stood in the doorway, peering through the dust and debris from the explosion, dozens of ISIS fighters swarming their former position.
And closed his eyes as he spotted the body of his friend in a twisted heap, surrounded by the enemy.
Todd Residence Queens, New York City, New York One Week Earlier
“You’re a fool!”
Mary Todd glared at her father. “Yeah, well you’re an old fool!”
“Don’t you dare talk to your father that way!”
Mary redirected her aim at her mother. “Christ, Mom, you always take his side!”
“You obviously haven’t been paying attention, then, dear.”
Mary’s dad grunted. “She clearly hasn’t been paying attention to anything I’ve been saying, or to the news.”
She leaned forward, her head jutting out, her chin extended, her fists clenched in frustration. “But I have been! That’s exactly why I’m going! Don’t you see? I have to do something. I can’t just sit by and wait for some news report that might never come! Somebody has to do something about it!”
Her mother clasped her hands in front of her mouth. “But why you, sweetie? Why do you have to be the one? Let a man do it!”
Mary’s jaw dropped, her eyes bulging. “I can’t believe you just said that! I thought you were a feminist! Always telling me there’s nothing a man can do that a woman can’t do just as well. Now you’re telling me to let a man do it! Are you kidding me?”
Her mother’s hands dropped to her waist, still clasped together. “This is different, honey! I can’t believe you can’t see that!”
“Oh, I see it perfectly well. All that talk of me going places and accomplishing great things was just BS. If Bobby was going, you wouldn’t try to talk him out of it!”
Her mother’s mouth opened wide for a moment before words erupted. “Of course we would! But that’s different.”
“Why? Because he’s a boy and I’m just a girl?”
“Exactly!” Her father threw his arms up. “My God, I thought I raised an intelligent young woman, but you’re acting like a naïve little moron! You want to fly to Turkey, sneak across the border into ISIS held territory, and try to find proof that your friends were kidnapped and sold as sex slaves, rather than let the government handle it! How stupid do you have to be to not realize that if you get caught, you’ll become a sex slave yourself?”
“I’ll never let that happen.”
Her father spun on his heel, heading toward her bedroom door before spinning again. “And just how are you going to stop it?”
“What? I’m not strong enough? I’m a black belt in karate!”
“A hell of a lot of good that will do! They have guns and you’ll be just one person.”
“I’ll go with her.”
“Bobby!” Mary leaped from the edge of her bed and hugged her brother, not having heard him arrive home.
Their father jabbed a finger at them. “No, under no circumstances are you going. And neither is your sister.”
Mary smiled up at her brother, squeezing him tight. She turned to her father. “We’re both adults. We can do what we want, and you can’t stop us.”
“If you go then don’t come back! You’ll no longer be welcome in this house! If you’re going to throw away the life we gave you, then you aren’t the children we thought we had.”
Her father held up a hand, silencing her mother. “I mean it! You go out that door, you’re cut off!”
“Fine! I don’t care. You’re always saying we’re broke, so we’ll leave and save you some money. You’ve always said we should earn our own way, so we will. After today you won’t have to worry about supporting us anymore.” She glared at her father, her chest heaving.
Her brother’s calm voice broke the stunned silence. “Okay, how about everyone take a deep breath and calm down. Mary’s right, Dad, we’re both adults. She’s going to go and try to help her friends. I’m going to go to try and protect her. I’ve got some money saved. Everything works on bribes over there, so we’ll be okay.”
Her father grunted and headed for the door. “You’re both morons.”
Her father stopped, always having a soft spot for her when she called him “Daddy” instead of “Dad”.
“Please, can I have a hug before I leave?”
Her mother rushed forward, grabbing them both and squeezing hard, her shoulders racked with sobs. “Oh God, please be careful!”
She stared past her mother at her father, who watched them over his shoulder, his back still facing them. He glared at Bobby then left the room, heading toward his den. She broke free of her mother and stepped into the hall, her voice cracking. “Daddy!”
But he didn’t stop. His shoulders shook and she heard a stifled sob escape as the door to his sanctuary closed.
Her mother joined her in the hall, taking her arm. “You’ll have to forgive your father. You know what he’s like.”
She sniffed hard, squaring her shoulders as she searched for her resolve, shaken by the knowledge she had genuinely hurt her father. “Well, if he doesn’t want to say goodbye, then that’s his choice. I could die out there, and he’ll have to live with the fact that our last conversation was a fight where he refused to even give his daughter a hug.”
Her stomach flipped at the venom in her own voice, it shocking not just her mother. She stepped back in her bedroom and grabbed her backpack, jammed with everything she figured she would need for her trip. She gave her mother one final hug then turned to Bobby. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
He nodded. “Somebody has to look out for you. Let’s go to my place and grab some things.” He gave his mother a hug. “Love you, Mom. And tell Dad we forgive him.”
Mary glared at Bobby for a moment then sighed. “Fine.” She took one final look at her room, the only home she really remembered.
And was overwhelmed with a sense she’d never see it again.
Turkish-Syrian Border Three days later
Bobby shivered in the cold of the night. They had been hiding for more than an hour, the instructions his sister had received before leaving New York telling them to wait at these GPS coordinates for their contact to arrive. How she had received these instructions had been a source of constant frustration for him. He was desperate to know who had told her to come here, and she stubbornly refused to tell him. It had been a sore point between them since they had arrived.
Their trip had been uneventful, both of age, both Americans, both with valid passports, there no reason for anyone to question them. They were here on vacation, brother and sister, to explore the wonders Turkey had to offer. And with the country on edge since the coup attempt, it was eager for tourism to resume, to restore some sense of normalcy to the troubled nation.
Unlike his sister, he was fully aware of the world’s problems. He had spent the past few days bringing her up to speed on the region, the problems, the reality of ISIS, pretending to assume she already knew everything he was saying, merely recapping what they both already knew. He had hoped if she knew the dangers, if she heard it from someone other than their father, she might realize what she was doing was foolish. He had no intention of crossing the border. When their contact arrived, he would put an end to this once and for all.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Despite everything you know about this place.”
She stared at him. “Because of my friends. I need to know what happened to them.”
He frowned. “I looked into that, you know. There’s been nothing on the news.”
She shrugged. “The news doesn’t know everything.”
“But you do?”
She grunted. “More than them in this case.”
“How do you know they’re here? If they were kidnapped as sex slaves, how could you know that?”
She didn’t answer, and his train of thought had his stomach in knots. “You don’t know, do you? This is all a smoke screen for something. What’s going on, Mary?”
“There they are.”
Mary rose, pointing to a shadow bouncing along the horizon, the vehicle’s lights off.
“Mary, tell me what’s going on.”
“All you need to know is that I’m going and you’re not.”
A pickup truck skidded to a halt in front of them, two men climbing out, their expressions in the moonlight anything but pleased, one pointing at his sister’s bare legs and shouting something in Arabic.
“I don’t think he likes your clothes.”
“As-salam alaykum, my brothers.”
“Wa alaykum e-salam, sister.”
Sister? And how does she speak Arabic?
He tensed. “When did you learn Arabic?”
She laughed. “I didn’t. It’s like saying bonjour in French.”
The driver reached into the truck and tossed a bundle at her. “You wear this while you’re with us.”
Mary unwrapped the bundle, Bobby gasping when he realized what it was.
He watched in horror as she willingly donned the symbol of female oppression so many in the West who were Muslim apologists claimed was a religious symbol, though wasn’t at all, it instead cultural.
“Who are you?”
Bobby turned his attention to the driver. “I’m her brother.”
The man waved his hand in front of him. “Not part of deal.”
Bobby bristled. He hadn’t intended to go, though that was when it was his choice. He’d be damned if this man was going to tell him what he could and couldn’t do. “Where she goes, I go.”
“No! No! No!” the driver fired rapidly. “She will be living with us. You, there will be too many questions.”
Bobby’s eyes narrowed.
Something was going on. “If I’m not going, then neither is she.”
“But I have to!”
Bobby stared at his sister, unrecognizable, anonymous in her burqa.
“It’ll be okay, Bobby. Don’t worry.”
“No, it won’t.” He lowered his voice, leaning closer. “How can you trust these people?”
“We go now, or deal off.”
“But you’ve already been paid!”
“What, you think there is money back guarantee? You the problem, not us. He stays, you come, or no one come. Don’t care. We paid either way.”
Mary looked at Bobby, only her eyes visible, eyes that were pleading with him. “I’m going.”
“Don’t do this!”
She stepped back. “I thought you were on my side!”
“I am, but Mom and Dad are right. This is insane!”
“So what, all this time you’ve been lying to me? You were just going to try and convince me not to go?”
He frowned, not sure how to answer. He decided a white lie was better. “No, I was coming to protect you, but now that they won’t let me come, then yes, I’m going to try and convince you not to go.”
There was a definite harrumph from behind the face covering. “Well, it’s no use. I have to go.”
“What? To find your friends? Then what? Who comes to find you?”
She leaped forward, hugging him hard, and he couldn’t help but return the embrace, tears filling his eyes. “You worry too much,” she whispered in his ear. “I’ll be okay.” She broke the embrace, grabbed her backpack, and hurried to the truck, tossing it in the back. She blew him a kiss then climbed into the front of the truck, sitting in the middle as the driver climbed in after her. The passenger made a display of eyeing her as she climbed in then gave Bobby a lecherous grin as he rounded the front of the truck, licking his lips suggestively.
Bobby sprinted toward the truck as the passenger climbed in, gravel kicked up at him as the truck roared away. He chased them for a few moments but soon stopped, it hopeless.
Oh, God, Mary, what have you gotten yourself into?
One Court Square Queens, New York City, New York
William Todd released the run trigger, the upright floor polisher hopping to a halt. He leaned and stretched his aching back, digging the palm of his hand into the small of his spine, grinding it in a semi-circle. It did little good, merely transferring the pain to his also sore arms. He sighed, gripping the handles of the polisher and squeezing the trigger, the rhythmic motion beginning anew, a motion he was so sick of, he’d consider throwing himself out one of these windows if they weren’t sealed in like sardines.
He hated his job.
And he really hated the fact he had been doing it for over ten years.
They used to have a good life in Detroit before the auto plant had laid him off, the jobs transferred to Mexico. Over twenty years of the good life, the first twenty years of his adult life, had been secure, well-paid employment with ridiculous benefits. And it had left him with no clue what the real world was like.
Unemployed with no prospects, they were forced to leave Detroit, the city now a whisper of its former self. It had been his home since he was a boy, his father moving them from New York City to work in the booming auto industry, its glory days behind it as well.
His son would never work in the industry, and that was fine with him, though he had no idea what the boy was doing with his life. Environmental Engineer? What the hell was that? He had no time for this global warming garbage his children bought into. To him, it was simply a wealth redistribution program, proof of that in his own job, redistributed to the poor Mexicans.
What about us poor Americans?
His brother had taken them in, getting him a job here on the cleaning crew. Minimum wage. He had worked his way up a few more bucks an hour, but that was it. His employer loved the fact he was always on time and always did a good job, though only so much.
“We can almost hire two guys for what I’m paying you. I’m sorry, Will, but there’s no more money in the budget.”
That was four years ago, and he was lucky to receive a cost of living increase to help keep inflation at bay. Yet they were recovering. They had a decent apartment for their neighborhood, his wife Louise was working, one kid was already living on his own, finished college, and their daughter was almost finished, thankfully both getting scholarships to offset some of their student loans.
Oh, Mary, where did I go wrong with you?
While his son had chosen to study a profession he didn’t understand or respect, his daughter seemed to be studying how to be a professional agitator. Higher education today seemed to have been hijacked by Social Justice Warriors and the Political Correctness Police, the stuff she came home spouting the most ridiculous things he had ever heard.
And the Internet!
Filled with lies and half-truths, it manipulated young people who were too busy rebelling against their parents and a perceived establishment, to pay attention to the fact it was the establishment inciting them to rebel.
And she had fallen for it.
Every cause célèbre of the day, she jumped on, whether it was fighting pipelines, greenhouse gasses, Wall Street—anything lumped into the rightwing way of thinking. He had voted Republican his entire life, his wife Democrat, and the agreement from Day One was that politics weren’t discussed in the house beyond his grunting and jabbing a finger at the screen during the debates, his wife tsk-tsking at the counterpoints.
It had maintained their marriage for almost 25 years, and he wasn’t about to change it.
Yet their daughter, from about the time she hit 15, had been spouting off at the dinner table about everything political, and they were consistently left-of-left views, enough to make even his wife cringe at times.
And Bobby didn’t help, purposefully taking the opposite extreme, despite not believing most of what he was spewing.
The vitriol between the two of his kids at times was enough to tear the family apart, and would have if he and his wife hadn’t stuck to the agreement.
No political discussions.
The children had never been party to the agreement, and sometimes he looked forward to the day his daughter would move out so there could be peace in the home.
But now, this idealistic idiocy she had pursued, to try and find her two friends that had disappeared in Syria, had him at the end of his rope. He had never thought of his daughter as stupid, just intensely naïve like most millennials, and now her naiveté was putting her life at risk, as well as her brother’s.
Bobby was going with her to try and protect her, and probably to try and convince her to stop before it was too late, but she was pigheaded, and once her narrow little mind was set on something, it could rarely be changed, especially by her brother.
But if some Kardashian told her to stop, she would.
But her family?
He had lost any influence he had over her years ago, and it was his fault. He had been too busy and too tired to put in the effort, and his wife had indulged the girl’s fancies far too often. She had stopped going to church with them almost a year ago, and when she wasn’t at school or out with her friends, she locked herself in her room.
Locked in her room!
If he had even been allowed to have a lock on his door when he was a kid, his father would have kicked the door down the first time he had used it.
But his wife had allowed her to install it, a simple chain.
And he hadn’t seen the inside of her bedroom until the other day when she had announced she was leaving for Syria.
His phone vibrated in his pocket and he killed the machine, removing his earmuffs. He glanced at the display, his heart racing as he took the call.
“Bobby, is everything okay?”
“I’m sorry, Dad, but I couldn’t stop her.”
He tensed. “Let me talk to her.”
He leaned his back against the wall, knowing what he was about to hear would be devastating. “Why not?”
“Because they already took her.”
ISIS Held Territory Syria
Mary Todd bounced around in the center seat, to call what they were traveling on a road, an insult to real roads. Despite the claustrophobic nature of the burqa she was wearing, she was enjoying herself, this the first time she had been in a pickup truck.
The only thing the excitement of the situation couldn’t overcome was the powerful body odor from her two companions. But this was a war zone, and she’d have to accept the fact deodorant, and possibly even soap, weren’t readily available.
She just hoped she’d find her friends. She had met Alia and Nala a couple of years ago, though never really became friends until a year ago, and since then they were inseparable, either hanging out together or messaging each other all the time. She couldn’t wait to see them. She knew where they had been a couple of months ago, Alia texting her their location, having arrived successfully, exactly as promised by those who had organized the trip. She was supposed to have gone with them but had chickened out, though when she had learned they had arrived safely, she had decided to go through with it and join them in their adventure.
A hand squeezed her leg. She looked down at it then at the man in the passenger seat. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Whatever I want.”
She slapped his hand away and he glared at her.
“You forget where you are, sister!”
The driver snapped something in Arabic, a language she had been studying intensely for six months, but what was said was lost on her, though she thought she had caught the words “not yet”.
A chill ran down her spine.
What does that mean? Not yet?
The hand didn’t return, but she wondered if she had made a mistake in coming here to join her brothers and sisters in the cause. Was her brother right? He had asked how she could trust these people. She didn’t know them at all. She just assumed they were here to help her, to take her to the family her friends were living with.
Friends she hadn’t heard from in over two months.
She stared ahead, her heart slamming hard, her mind racing. She closed her eyes, drawing a long, slow breath.
Stop worrying. Allah will watch over you.
She smiled behind her burqa at the thought. He would protect her. She had converted and was now one of the true believers. Those that didn’t truly believe, who didn’t sacrifice themselves to the daily struggle against temptation, the internal Jihad demanded of every true Muslim, they were the ones who harm would come to.
Not someone giving up everything they had known, giving up all the trappings of the modern world.
Her smile spread as her heart calmed.
How could anything bad happen to one willing to sacrifice everything to live by the Koran?
Todd Residence Queens, New York City, New York
Louise Todd sat on her daughter’s bed, sobbing at this latest revelation. She had been a basket case for days, from the moment their precious little girl had stormed out of here in a fit, taking her poor brother with her.
And now she was gone.
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.” Her husband, sitting in the chair of the corner desk, shoulders slumped, sighed. “They have her. She’s gone.”
Louise stifled a cry, reaching out for the Bible sitting on her daughter’s nightstand. She clasped it to her chest and closed her eyes. “Please, God, help our little girl.” A sob escaped. “Tell us what to do.” She kissed the book then leaned over to return it to the nightstand, the dust jacket slipping, a strange gold symbol revealed. “What’s this?” She opened the book, removed the cover, and gasped. She held it up for her husband to see.
“What the hell is that?”
But the question was redundant. He knew exactly what it was.
And so did she.
It was the Holy Koran.
ISIS Held Territory Syria
Mary Todd woke, the truck fiercely bouncing over ruts in the road. She gagged at the smell, disgusted to find her head had been resting on the shoulder of the passenger she had learned was named Marwan. Something pushed against her panties and she gasped, slapping his hand away.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He glared at her. “Silence!” He cuffed her with the back of his hand, her face throbbing from the blow as her eyes watered. Terror filled her chest as her stomach flipped, realizing she had no power here, that she was nothing but a woman in a misogynistic culture with no rights.
She had to tread carefully.
Reasoning with him was her only choice, her words perhaps appealing to the driver who had so far left her unmolested. “You would treat a sister like this? I have come here to join your cause, to help Allah’s warriors in their cause, and this is how you treat me?”
Marwan scoffed at her. “You are an infidel and a woman. I will treat you as I please.”
She gulped, trying to control her developing panic. “You know very well I am not an infidel. I have found the true path, and am to be treated as a sister, as the Koran commands.”
He reached out and grabbed her throat, squeezing hard. “You dare use the Holy Book against me, you blasphemous whore!”
She reached for his hands, battling for air, but he was too strong. The world around her darkened, his continued tirade mere murmurs in the fog now clouding her mind. In one final, desperate act of self-preservation, she reached out and grabbed the steering wheel, yanking it toward her.
A string of Arabic curses erupted from the driver as he struggled to regain control, the grip on her throat released.
“Enough! If I hear anything out of either of you, I’ll shoot you myself!”
She gasped for air, her world coming back into focus as she massaged her aching throat, pushing as close to the driver as she could, if only by an inch or two. “Th-thank you.”
“We’re almost there, then this will all be settled.”
“Where are we going?”
“Kobani. Now shut up!”
She clamped her mouth shut, the terror on her face hidden by the veil, though not her eyes. And as they peered into the night ahead of them, the road revealed by thin slices of light from the headlights, she realized her desire to join her friends in this holy cause was going horribly wrong.
She wasn’t to be a sister in the fight, but a slave.
Vanessa Moore Residence, Abbotts Park Apartments Fayetteville, North Carolina
Niner sniffed long and slow, savoring the aroma. “Man, that smells goo-ood.” He looked at Atlas. “So I know you’re not cooking.”
Atlas dismissed the insult with a wave. “Just because I had the sense to find a woman who’s a good cook, doesn’t mean I can’t cook.”
Niner eyed him. “Dude, you can’t cook. Remember that spaghetti you tried to make? Al dente means it sticks to the wall when you throw it against it, it doesn’t mean it should dent the wall.”
Laughter and giggles from the others only encouraged Niner to continue, though the big man wasn’t about to let the insult go unchallenged. “Hey, little one, you know perfectly well it turned out fine. You’re the one who kept begging me to hurry because your little tummy was aching, it was so hungry.”
More laughter, Niner nodding as if facing a worthy opponent. “Whatever, dude, you just can’t cook.” He turned to Atlas’ girlfriend, Vanessa. “Darlin’, thank God you came into his life. Every once in a while this bum gets the urge to invite everyone over then inflicts his lack of culinary skills on us. Now with a chef in the family, we never have to suffer again!” He raised his beer. “To the best damned cook in the family! Vanessa!”
Cheers erupted as drinks were raised high, glasses clinking loudly followed by long drags of mostly alcohol.
Vanessa blushed. “Thanks, Niner. I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” She swatted Atlas. “You could learn a thing or two from your friend.”
Atlas groaned and Niner grinned. “Oh, babe, do you realize what you just did?”
Vanessa’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
“You complimented him and you insulted me. Now I’ll have to hear about it for weeks, then I’ll have to shoot him, and then there’ll be paperwork coming out the yin yang.”
Vanessa looked at Niner. “Sorry, Niner.”
Niner shrugged, opening his mouth to reply when Atlas reached for where his gun would normally be.
“Maybe I should just get it out of the way, now.”
Niner took a step back, taking a defensive stance. “Nooo, I think I’ll wait and let you surprise me with it.”
Atlas shrugged. “Okay, your choice.” He grabbed a red pepper off the cutting board, holding it out for Niner. “Pepper?”
Niner eyed the odd-looking thing. “What kind is it? Looks different.”
“Ghost pepper.” Atlas pushed it closer to Niner’s face. “Try one, they’re great.”