The Princess and the Sabra by Melanie Thompson by Melanie Thompson - Read Online

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The Princess and the Sabra - Melanie Thompson

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Chapter 1

Thomas Wolfheart, call sign House, knew he was screwed. Syrian Chief of Staff, General Ali al-Hinnawi, lay dead on the seventh floor of the Damascus Four Seasons in a cloud of cordite, along with eight bodyguards. House had known going in he might not make it out, but that was something he never considered. This was a job that had to be done. Al-Hinnawi’s death would temporarily cripple the Syrian Army. The general had been the driving force behind a lot of civilian deaths in Damascus and House was all about saving people.

He’d been hit during the fire fight. He felt along his side and drew back a hand covered in his own blood. A bullet had slipped between his armor plates. If he didn’t get out of here now, he would surely die.

The mission had been considered difficult to impossible from the start, but he’d accomplished it. Now, all he had to do was get out of Syria. There had never been an exit strategy. House had been okay with that because he had skills his bosses knew nothing about. All they did know was he was good and could accomplish amazing things, so they’d sent him. House lived for the fight, the mission, and the adrenaline rush.

With the general dead and Syrian reinforcements no doubt on the way, he had only one option. House quickly stripped off his plates, his clothes and boots, and shifted. His skeleton contorted, his flesh changed shape and he sprouted a thick coat of black fur. House had become an enormous black wolf, an apex predator. He stared at the hotel room out of silvery eyes with enhanced vision. Everything in the room stood out in sparkling clarity. The coppery scent of blood mixed with the hideous stench of death filled his nostrils. He lifted his head and howled.

When he shifted, the bullet still lodged in his chest fell out and the bleeding slowed to a trickle. Werewolves had amazing healing abilities, but getting out of the hotel would be a neat trick as a wolf. He left the room through the open door. Out in the hall, he looked toward the elevators. Reinforcements would come from there or the stairwell at the end of the hall. Somehow, he doubted the Syrians would climb seven floors, but you never knew.

This was without doubt the worst situation in which he’d ever found himself. It might be his last mission. If his super-human abilities were not enough to save his life, House would have no regrets. This was what he lived for. He fed off danger. There was no emergency extraction plan in place, no way to call for a pickup. He was on his own.

When he reached the door to the stairs, he stared at the handle. Wolves do not have thumbs. He whirled in mid stride on the lush bottle-green carpet and raced for the elevator. A shot pinged above his head. As he nosed the down button, a barrage of lead exploded walls all around him. The bullets sounded like they were coming from the stairwell. Well damn! They had climbed the stairs.

He hunkered down counting the seconds. When the elevator dinged open, he was faced with five Syrian soldiers armed to the teeth, ready to rush to the rescue of the already-dead general. With a roaring growl, House leaped on the stunned men as more gunfire erupted from the stairwell. He tore the throat out of the first man in one snarling bite. Blood gushed like a fountain from the man’s torn flesh. He knocked three to the ground with his weight, engulfed the head of one in his jaws, delighting in the crunch of bone and the warm spray of blood in his mouth. Then he tore off the arm of another and spit out the severed limb. The elevator was a steaming blood bath filled with two dead, one dying and the two remaining soldiers. Their terrified screams ended in gurgles as House finished them off.

Shots zinged into the elevator as he nosed the button for the basement and the doors closed. All the shots were chest-high for a human. They apparently couldn’t believe their eyes and were still under the impression they faced a human. More shots hit the closed door as the elevator began descending. The doors opened on the fourth floor. Two heavily veiled women screamed and screamed when they saw the carnage and the black wolf snarling at them. The doors closed and the elevator dropped. When the doors opened again, House was in the basement. He raced on four legs into the parking garage.

Two Syrians stood smoking cigarettes in the guards’ booth. His powerful sense of smell told him they were smoking Kents, a product of British American Tobacco. He also detected baharat mushakalah, a spice blend made predominately of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper found in all Syrian food. Goat and garlic topped the odor blend along with a dusting of filthy man. Humans reeked.

House dropped into a crouch. The two men were guarding the only exit. With his super-keen hearing, he detected sirens heading toward the hotel. The Four Seasons was filled with foreigners. The Syrian government tried to keep them safe, even though everyone knew there was no safe place in Damascus. It was a city at war.

The two guards were in his sights. House dropped into stalking mode. The guards stopped talking and stubbed out their smokes when they heard the sirens. It was now or never. House took off at a bounding gallop for the exit. The guards spotted him, but didn’t believe their eyes. Their mouths dropped open and screams emerged. Both threw down their AK-47s and ran toward the front entrance of the hotel shrieking and calling for Allah.

House emerged into the Syrian night. Al Barazil Street was crowded with cars, vans, military trucks and limousines. Al Jalaa’ Park across the street, a decorous promenade of grass and palms, beckoned. House raced into the park as a barrage of shots pinged into a tree next to him. Splinters pelted him but he didn’t slow. He had to go south; it was his only hope. He’d be safe in Israel. His wound began to ooze blood. The bullet might have been rejected by his werewolf body, but the hole it made was still there. He ignored the pain, but knew if he didn’t find a place to lay up, he’d slowly weaken and maybe die. Killing werewolves wasn’t easy, but it could be done.

The park was no answer. It was more wide concrete paths than grass and shrubbery. There was no place to hide and Damascus was full of Syrian soldiers. He hunkered behind a small aromatic bush and looked for a way across Shoukry al Qouwatly, a major artery in and out of the city, bordered by the Barada River.

The broad street lay just in front of him. Two trucks of soldiers roared across the bridge toward the Four Seasons while he waited, tail switching, blood dripping onto the grass. If he could only commandeer a vehicle. But House knew if he shifted back into his human form, he would probably die. His wound was serious and even deadly when he was a man. He was only alive now because he was running as a wolf. His amazing healing powers would eventually take care of the bullet wound, but he needed to stop, to rest, to eat and drink.

He watched the bridge crossing the ancient Barada River. The river was formed from the massive flow of one of the world’s largest springs. The water from Figeh Springs was some of the purest in the world. Two more trucks raced toward him across the bridge. When they roared onto Shoukry al Qouwatly, the bridge was clear. It was after midnight Syrian time. His black color was great for hiding in the shadows, but the bridge was lit with three blinking sodium vapor lights. They shed an unstable sickly yellow glow across the concrete structure. The power grid in Damascus was badly damaged which was the most likely cause of the flickering street lights. The city was rapidly returning to the Dark Ages. Ironically, the only working street lights in the entire city were between him and freedom.

There was no time for him to look for another route. He gathered himself and took off like a shot, crossed the bridge and sprinted into a small business district on the other side. He was surrounded by hotels and big buildings as he turned south. He saw evidence of a car bomb. The rusting hulk of the burned out truck still sat next to the pile of rubble it had created. The streets were quiet, no lights anywhere. A city in the middle of war shut down early.

Loping along at his traveling pace, House entered a marketplace designed for tourists, the booths and small shops dark and shuttered. A group of six or seven soldiers emerged from between two buildings, spotted him, and opened fire. Instead of running from the shots, House ran for the soldiers.

He knew his fast-moving black body was hard to hit, and all Arabs are highly superstitious. When the terrified men saw they faced an enormous, snarling, slavering black wolf, they threw down their weapons, turned and ran from him.

House whirled and bounded into a tree-lined lane he knew ended at the Syrian National Museum. The soldiers recovered from their fright quickly and a grenade whistled over his head. He stopped as it exploded in front of him.

He ran on. Darkness and shadows enclosed him as he slowed to a trot, swinging his huge head back and forth, watching for more soldiers or police, scenting the air, listening for another grenade. He heard the familiar thumping of helo blades. The helicopter was probably heading for the hotel. Too little too late. General al-Hinnawi was already dead. House had always known he would complete the mission. The only thing in doubt was his ability to escape Damascus.

There hadn’t been enough Intel to form an exit plan. Accurate Intel was nearly impossible to acquire. No one was willing to risk their lives infiltrating either the Syrian Army, al Qaida or ISIS. By their very nature, those groups were close knit.

It was easy to get into Syria, but there were rarely decent extraction plans. He’d been told to find a way out and given some ideas and a map, but there were no safe houses in Damascus and he’d lost all his gear when he dumped his clothes.

Another grenade flew above him. He flattened his body. The grenade blew, opening a massive hole in front of him. Deep inside the crater, he heard water running. Without pausing to think, he leaped into darkness.

House landed on hard rock. His night vision, terrific in this body, showed him a massive cavern with a pool in the center. Tunnels shot off from the cavern. He trotted to each one and sniffed, searching for fresh air. He wanted to go southwest. Of the two tunnels on that side of the cavern one emitted a hint of dry desert, cordite, dust, diesel exhaust and chilly night air. He slipped into it as the sounds of soldiers talking, considering whether to jump into the opening or not, drifted to his pointed ears.

The floor of this tunnel was slippery with condensation and slime. He sped up as the scent of fresh air grew stronger. The tunnel narrowed. He dropped into a crawl and squeezed through an opening emerging into the sewers. He must be in the al Midan section of town which meant he was going the right way. The al Midan was south of the city center and famous, or maybe infamous, for its sewers, built centuries ago by the Romans. Rebel insurgents had been known to use them to travel beneath the city. He could be in luck.

His sense of direction was never wrong. Even in the dark, deep underground, he knew which sewer main to enter. He found a narrow walkway beside the filthy sludge-filled runnel and trotted faster. Terrified rats scattered in front of him. Above, the thickly populated areas of al Midan had been mortared and bombed. It was an area filled with the poor and lost souls of Syria who remained in a city out to kill them. If he could find an exit, he could stay in the shadows and easily escape into the desert.

His nose led him to a sewer grate. He shifted into human form and pushed it open. With one hand clutching his wound, he limped through the shadows between two empty buildings, found a clothes line with a black burka hanging to dry and a head veil. He hoped it wasn’t the woman’s only one