Stain on the Earth book Two of the MIT2 Series
Stain on the Earth book Two of the MIT2 Series
Author: Louise Dawn

Chapter One

Somewhere near the South Sudan/ Uganda border

The black stallion skittered sideways, and the rider brought him harshly back into line. He couldn’t blame Atheas. Temperatures soared into the mid-forties and they’d been here too long. He patted the sweat-soaked stallion’s coat and called out to one of the men.

“The horse needs water. How long does it take to clear a damn village?”

“We’re almost done, master. I’ll find something.”

“Fuck it. We’ve gone too far north. We’ll backtrack to the church we passed.”

The church they’d ransacked. The Scythian adjusted his soaked hood, feeling perspiration chafing his already raw skin. This was the price he paid for being the most notorious extremist on the African continent. A woman started wailing, and her shrieks added to his already irritated mood.

“Someone kill the bitch.”

The Scythian led Atheas to a miserable patch of shade, then observed the carnage from a distance. His men were well trained. They’d better be after all the slaughtering they’d done—it had been a productive year. They’d concentrated their efforts on remote outlying villages in East and Central Africa. Working near borders meant his army of mercenaries could easily slip into new territory when threatened by local military. Recently, they’d focused on new Sudanese refugee settlements in North Uganda. The newly built thatched settlements were easy pickings for his well-trained unit.

Aside from two of his men contracting malaria, the past month had been uneventful, and Scythian hated to admit that he felt a little bored. The same thing every week—accept a contract, then spread Scythian terror. Extremist organizations tripped over themselves to use his legendary services and they paid well. This being aside from the other businesses he ran, he was constantly traveling, splitting his time between his old life and his new Scythian persona. Growing his unique persona took consistent work, and he’d reached the apex of infamy. Now that he was a wealthy man, it no longer felt like a challenge, and the Scythian needed a new interest. But he had personal business to complete and business contracts to fulfill over the next month before he could even consider a different life path.

His soldiers separated the men from their families. They lined up the last of the stragglers and waited for his final commands. He nudged his horse and walked it over. In a weary tone he ran through a speech that he chanted on a daily basis.

“I will eat your harvest and bread, I will eat your sons and daughters, I will eat your sheep and oxen, I will eat your grapes and figs. The Horse Lord is coming.”

One of the men began to sob and pointed to his wife and young boy.

“Your woman will be sold. Your son will work for me, and you will die. Accept your fate.” The Scythian switched to Dutch and Arabic and repeated his statement. He dismounted and drew a machete, pausing to revel in the thrill of the moment, imagining how imposing he must look to the prisoners trembling before him. Over six feet of honed muscle clad in a pointy, red leather mask, with a sleek stallion snorting at his back. Yeah, his brand was a striking and glorious one.

He raised the machete and swung with all his might.


Three months later


James “Johnny” Cane topped the hill, raising his Smith sunglasses while looking down at the park revelers below. He’d dressed to blend in, wearing tan cargo shorts and a black shirt. His size drew attention. In his line of work, Johnny used that to his advantage—especially when working an asset. Too many people were clustered near the giant oak tree to make out the target, but he’d find her soon enough. 

Joining the F******k group Americans in Jo’burg and accepting the invitation for the outdoor picnic had been as easy as apple pie. He had a feeling that seducing Lizette Steyn would be just as easy, and judging by her photo, she might just taste of apples with a side of sunshine. He hadn’t met any of the Americans yet, but this was what today was about, specifically befriending the airhead princess who would eventually lead them to their primary target. He wouldn’t play the game too hard, flirt just enough to string Lizette along.

The picnic was being held at Emmarentia Dam, a scenic spread of water surrounded by botanical gardens and tranquil lawns. He headed for the shady tree, marking his destination. A grocery bag nudged his leg as he loped down the hill. Rug rats chased each other, screaming as they ran circles around him, and Johnny paid them little heed. An eighties ballad blasted through a portable speaker as he greeted the outlying couples and worked his way into the center of the chaos. He laid out the pasta salad he’d bought among the rest of the wares. Still no sign of his blonde target. A group of teenagers and fathers were gaping up at the oak as Johnny wandered by, pausing to scan the perimeter. A couple of kids played down by the water as their mothers corralled them in. Lizette Steyn wasn’t with them at the water’s edge. 

A woman shrieked, gazing up while pouncing too close to Johnny. “That has to be the most idiotic thing you’ve done to date!”

He sidestepped and glanced at the excitable woman, who waved her manicured hands in the air.

“Holy shit!” a pimply teenage boy shouted as the crowd scrambled back in a wave.

His only warning was the sound of wood cracking from above. A body crashed through the leaves, bouncing off branches on its downward trajectory. 

Johnny catalogued the missile as he lunged to catch it. A skinny kid dressed in dungarees, approximately a hundred pounds. Thanks to gravity, this was going to hurt like a mother. 

Out of time, he situated himself as the body slammed into him. Johnny staggered and tripped on a raised root, and they both crashed to the ground. He sheltered the kid as best he could. Heads knocked together in a jarring thud as they rolled down a grassy hill. 

When they finally came to a painful stop, Johnny took note of aches and pains. He’d tweaked his shoulder and it burned like the blazes, and his wrist felt a little sore. Nothing broken. The kid lay over him, head tucked into his shoulder, hair smelling like a bowl of ripe peaches.

Johnny rolled them over, and his brain came to a screeching halt. Lizette Steyn’s wide blue eyes stared up at him. From the stats in her file, he knew she was petite—but fucking hell, she was tiny in every way. He studied her delicate features, wanting to trace his thumb over her bow-shaped upper lip. A knot formed on her forehead and instead, he swiped at the swelling egg. 

“Fishsticks! That hurts, stop bloody touching it!”

He grinned and immediately apologized as a crowd gathered.

“Don’t move, where do you hurt?” Johnny asked as he scanned her limbs, taking note of the cute dungarees paired with a white tank top. 

Lizette ignored his question. “Where the heck did you come from? Who are you?”

“Ja—John Calaway.” Shit, he’d almost said his actual first name. That had never happened before, must be the knock to the head. At least he’d used his fake last name. 

She stared at him like he was an alien, so he elaborated. “I joined your American F******k group a couple of days ago.”

She reached out to touch the tiny scar running from his temple to the corner of his eye, then reconsidered the intimate action and pulled back. “I must’ve not checked out your profile, you’re beautiful!”

He felt his face heat at the compliment and concentrated instead on the task at hand. “Wiggle your toes, tell me if anything hurts.”

“I would except you’re still lying on me—not that I mind a giant hottie man-blanket but it’s getting kind of warm under here.” 

Johnny quickly rolled to the side, and Lizette grinned. “I’m Liz by the way. You can call me Lizzy.”

A pretty brunette knelt next to Lizzy and swiped a muddy smudge off her tanned shoulder. “Cuz, you’re damn foolish. You could’ve broken your neck! Don’t you dare move, we’re calling an ambulance.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lizzy grumbled, trying to sit up. He pushed her back down. “Wait for the paramedics. You may have a concussion or a neck injury.”

“And ruin a perfectly good picnic! Stop standing round and gaping, everyone, get back to the barbeque.”

He jumped into a crouch, shaking out his sore arm. “Those were some hard hits while bouncing down that trunk.”

“Other than the two of us de-braining each other, I’m perfectly fine.”

“I used to be a medic, lie still while I check you out.” After two minutes of checking pupils and asking her about dizziness, nausea and a headache, Lizzy was done.

“Stop fussing,” she said, slowly climbing to her feet. “I’ve had worse.”

“Damn right you have, silly girl.” A minuscule older woman slapped at the leaves clinging to Lizzy’s back. “You’re too old for tree climbing. Those tomboy adventures will be finishing off the rest of your father’s gray hairs.”

Dust clouds rose as slaps increased. “Ouch. Mom! Stop. I’m fine—I have hard bones just like you.”

“More like a hard head—a stubborn one!”

They both had the same Californian accent, which made sense as Lizzy grew up in San Diego. Her father—a South African—met her mother, Tina, while managing a boron mine in the States. Twenty-six years later, Daniel Steyn was now an influential mining magnate who managed two coal mines just outside of Johannesburg.

“Hey, Carl!” Lizzy called to a gang of teenagers. “I won the bet. Pay up.”

A gangly kid broke off. “No way! The bet was if you climbed the tree, that also means climbing back down, and you fell out.”

Lizzy refastened an eighties-style bandana in her curly blonde hair. “That’s so bogus. The bet was if I got to the sixth branch, and I did. Now either you pay up, or you’ll have to climb way higher than I did.”

Johnny frowned at the crazy female standing before him. She’d climbed the tree for a bet?

Carl stared up at the top branches. “There’s no way I’m climbing up that thing.” 

“Then you owe me twenty bucks, in dollars—not rands.”

The kid grumbled before shelling over the cash. Lizzy shoved the bank note in a back pocket. 

He narrowed his eyes. “You nearly killed yourself for a twenty?” 

Lizzy grinned over her shoulder before walking away. “I’ve done it before for a ten. Sorry about the head-bashing thing, big man. Put some ice on it.”

Okay, so maybe he’d profiled her all wrong, he thought as the tiny blonde flitted among the picnickers. Definitely not a high-maintenance rich girl. More like a Madonna-wannabe hellion.

Johnny’s shoulder ached, so he walked behind a hedge to stretch out his back and arm in private. When he turned, a gang of women were watching him with a predatory gleam. And here we go. His build got him unwanted—and sometimes wanted—female attention. At 6’4” with 230 pounds of Ranger muscle, Johnny didn’t exactly fade into the background—which was sometimes a hassle as a member of a black ops team.

Johnny was trained to work targets and assets—and he’d work around the distraction. The really pretty distraction. A red-haired vixen broke off from the group and sauntered towards him. Damn. He’d always loved a tall and shapely redhead. He preferred not to date short women. He liked to stare in a woman’s eyes when they worked up to fucking—an A****n who could give as much as she got and wasn’t afraid to get a little rough. He preferred women who weren’t afraid of his brute strength.

His dick stirred just thinking about the she-devil standing in front of him. If he wasn’t working…

They chatted for a few. Her name was April and she smelled like ripe jasmine and sex. So what if his eyes watered slightly at the overwhelming scent as she tucked an arm in his and led them back to her gaggle of friends.

When the conversation turned to designer handbags and other first-world neuroses, he lost interest, homing in on Lizzy as she prepared the lunch. She ran back and forth to the men crowded around the smoker. Did she ever stop smiling? One of the men made her giggle as he waved a pair of tongs in the air like a sword. Goose bumps crawled over his skin at the sound of that melodic laugh.

Lizzy ran back to her mom, who pointed to a rental trailer in the parking lot. Johnny broke away from the high-maintenance band of women and walked over to offer his help, which Lizzy accepted.

“Are you sure you’re up for the trek to the car? How’s your giant head feeling?”

“Just a small bump. How’s your noggin, any nausea or dizziness?”

“Nope and too busy to care.” Pulling out her phone, she tapped away. The music blaring through the speaker changed over to a U2 ballad. She adjusted the volume on the speaker. “Sorry. I’m the resident DJ. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, chairs—we’ll need to grab a dozen more fold-out chairs from the trailer—thank God I rented a whole stack. Can you help my mom with that? I’m reckoning a hulk like you can carry at least ten.”

Johnny easily carried the full dozen down with Tina protesting as she ran alongside. By the time they’d laid out the extra seats, food was up and Lizzy flitted off again.

After lunch as the party simmered into the late afternoon, Lizzy chatted with a couple of moms near the sandpit. He planned his next move, needing to worm his way into her inner circle. Lizzy was the closest link to Abigail Evans—a suspected terrorist. A little girl shoved a toddler off a swing. The boy wailed as his mother and Lizzy tried to comfort him. Nothing deterred the kid, and his cacophony doubled in volume. Lizzy ran and grabbed the portable speaker, selected a new playlist on her phone and cranked up the music before bouncing up to the kid. It took him a minute to place the vintage song. “Circles in the Sand” by Tiffany. Nope…Belinda someone or other…Belinda Carley…Belinda Carlyle.

Lizzy pulled the wailer into her lap and started singing along. Johnny walked over as she put actions to the words, interspersing the song with kisses and tickles. The tyke started to listen.

Lizzy held his stubby finger and traced a figure eight in the sand along with the chorus. The kid smiled and kept on squiggling circles in the sandpit.

Lizzy tickled the youngster’s neck as he laughed hysterically. They were darn cute together and Johnny settled in the sandpit opposite them, enjoying the interplay. He couldn’t hear her clearly over the music or the crowd of Americans spread out across the field, but it sounded like she had a pretty voice. Lizzy Steyn wasn’t self-conscious in the least, she just did what made her happy, and that was a refreshing change from the selfie-obsessed generation in Johnny’s dating pool.

Soon the other kids joined in, drawing shapes in the sand. She tickled the lot of them, rolling around, before shifting onto her stomach and setting her sights on Johnny.

“Well, well. If it isn’t my fellow head basher.”

He laughed along with the older kids.

Lizzy grinned, never taking her eyes off him. “Kids, what do you call a woodpecker without a beak?”

The youngsters threw out some possibilities and Lizzy shook her head, still staring deep into his eyes before yelling out the answer. “A headbanger.”

He snorted and Lizzy threw sand on his stretched-out calf.

“Hey, easy, hellcat! I liked the tune by the way. Aren’t you a little young for that playlist. What are you, like twenty-three?”

“Twenty-five. As a kid, my dad got me hooked on the eighties. Freddy Mercury beats out anything from this decade.”

“What’s your name?” one of the older girls asked.

He played up a Western drawl. “Well howdy, ma’am. It’s Johnny, John Calaway.”

The children giggled and he smiled, still staring at the blonde pixie sizing him up from across the small sandpit, a smudge of dirt streaked across one pretty cheek.

One of the boys waddled up on his knees. “You’re He-Man, aren’t ya?” Now it was Lizzy’s turn to snicker.

“How do you know about He-Man?” Johnny asked the freckly kid. “He-Man was around long before you were born.”

The kid sighed dramatically. “They still play it here. I prefer Skeletor. He has an awesome castle. He-Man has a cool sword though. We can’t afford N*****x so I have to watch the other, stupider channels. Anyway, He-Man is always playing on the television. You look just like him. My daddy is much smaller than you, but I still think my dad could kick your butt—even though you’re bigger, my daddy is meaner—he’d actually kick you in the karunas—sorry. I’m not allowed to say ‘balls,’ cause my mom says that’s a bad curse word.”

Lizzy tried to stifle an unladylike snort. Mirthful tears filled her ocean-blue eyes. Johnny’s heart pounded once before turning over. His hands curled into fistfuls of sand because just like that, Lizette Steyn slid into his battle-scarred heart.

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