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*includes a digitally signed author note*


A broken agent. A once in a lifetime chance. A new mission that threatens to destroy her again.

Rachel Carter has it all. A brilliant career in the DEA, a man she loves at her side, a future filled with possibilities. Until the night she loses everything.

Considered damaged beyond salvation by the people who once trusted her, Rachel enlists into the secretive Division Eight and becomes part of a new breed of special operatives working in the shadows.

When a critical mission goes wrong in North Africa, Rachel finds herself face to face with ghosts from her past. Embroiled in a deadly cat-and-mouse game against a brutal adversary determined to win at any cost, she must face her darkest fears in order to defeat the enemy who once tore her life apart.

Mission:Black is the first novella in the new military romantic suspense series Division Eight, from bestselling author AD Starrling. This is a fast-paced adventure featuring strong-willed heroes and heroines and non-stop action set in the world of covert ops.


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June 2014. Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea.

The man standing outside the communications room of the cargo ship yawned and stretched out the kinks in his neck. He adjusted the sling of his AK-47 rifle before leaning against the steel compartment door behind him. It wasn't long before his chin started to droop and his breathing grew slow and deep.

Twelve feet away, in an adjacent passageway, Rachel Carter crouched against a bulkhead. She ignored the cold metal at her back and the vibrations traveling through her boots from the engine room several decks below, her gaze focused on the miniature mirror on a stick she held in her left hand. Through it, she could see the snoozing guard outside the communications room.

She stole a glance at her watch before slipping the mirror inside her tactical gear. Adrenaline surged through her veins. She gripped her Sig Pro tightly in both hands, her muscles tensing in anticipation of the upcoming battle. Right on cue, a male voice started a countdown in the wireless receiver in her ear.

'All stations, this is Alpha One. On my mark in three, two, one!'

Rachel twisted, dropped to one knee, and squeezed the trigger twice. A distant explosion shook the bowels of the ship at the same time the bullets left the suppressor at the end of her gun and slammed into the guard's chest and head. He jerked and slid down the door, his grip relaxing on his weapon.

Rachel was up and running before the dead man hit the deck. She grabbed the AK-47, slung it around her neck, and dragged the guard’s body down the passage. She was back at the communications room in seconds. She rapped the door twice with her knuckles and stood to the side of the doorjamb.

The sound of gunfire rose from the direction of the galley and the main deck. Alarmed shouts followed in the distance.

Rachel rose on the balls of her feet. By now, the men inside the communications room would know the ship was under attack.

The door opened without warning. An automatic rifle burst into life and a spray of bullets ripped through the doorway. The shots slammed harmlessly into the opposite bulkhead.

Rachel yanked the pull ring on a stun grenade and lobbed it through the opening. She turned, dropped on her heels, pressed her hands over her ears, and closed her eyes tightly. The flash from the subsonic deflagration registered as a bright light through her eyelids, the accompanying bang of the grenade throbbing through her bones.

Footsteps sounded on her left just as she rose to her feet. Two men turned the corner of the passage. They stopped, shock registering on their faces at the sight of a tall, blonde woman in the midst of the battlefield. That brief hesitation cost them their lives.

By the time they started to raise their assault rifles, Rachel had cut them down with the AK-47. She strode inside the communications room and stopped a few steps past the doorway.

The chamber was fifteen by twelve feet. A bank of tables crowded the bulkhead to the left. Sitting atop them were the merchant ship's radio and satellite communication hardware, its lifeline to the outside world. Two men lay groaning on the floor ahead of her.

The hairs rose on the back of Rachel's neck.

Satellite infra-red images over the last twenty-four hours had shown three guards permanently stationed inside the ship's communications room and a fourth posted outside.

Instinct had her dropping to the ground. There was movement out of the corner of her eye. The AK-47 slipped from around her neck and clattered across the floor as she hit the deck. She rolled onto her back and saw a blade swoop across the space where she had been a second ago. She narrowed her eyes.

One thing satellite images didn't tell you was the size of your opponents.

At six foot three and over two hundred and fifty pounds, the third guard was a virtual colossus. Though the flash grenade had incapacitated his companions, it seemed to have had little effect on him.

He charged toward her.

Shit, too close!

Rachel flipped onto her feet, swooped at the waist, and brought her right leg up in a roundhouse kick. Her boot made contact with the man's left ribcage. An 'Oof!' left his lips. He slowed a fraction.

She whipped her Kbar knife out in time to block his blade. Her earpiece buzzed to life.

'Alpha Two, this is Alpha One. What’s your status, over?'

Busy trying not to get myself killed!

Rachel jumped back to avoid the knife heading toward her heart. Rage darkened her opponent's face as she continued to evade him, her movements nimble in their deadly dance. He roared and attacked with savage, wild swings of his blade.

She smiled. That's right, big guy, get angry all you want.

'Alpha Two, this is Alpha One. I repeat, what's your status?'

Had she not been trying to dodge her opponent's attempt to disembowel her, Rachel would have sighed at the undercurrent of tension in her team leader's voice. She glanced to the right. The fight had brought her next to the communications equipment.

Time to finish this.

She stepped up against the closest table just as the large man barreled toward her, jumped in the air, and drove her left knee into his chest. He grunted and toppled backward. She went down with him, her thighs straddling his upper body. They landed hard on the deck.

He brought his arms up, his knife arcing toward her face while his other hand reached for her throat. She blocked his blade and gritted her teeth as his fingers closed around her windpipe. Instinct would have had her trying to free herself from his grip. She ignored it, switched her Kbar to her free hand, leaned into his hold, and slashed her knife across his neck in a clean movement.

The man's eyes widened as arterial blood started pouring from the gash in his flesh. He dropped his blade and clutched helplessly at the scarlet flow with both hands, a gurgle escaping his lips.

He would be dead in minutes.

Rachel heard movement behind her. The two stunned men on the floor were crawling to their feet. They blinked and shook their heads dazedly, assault rifles swinging wildly in their grips. Rachel rolled off the dying man, dropped on her back, and brought her Sig around and up a second before they depressed their triggers. By the time their bullets peppered the air several feet above her head, her shots had found their flesh with deadly accuracy. They went down hard.

Her earpiece buzzed again. 'Alpha Four, this is Alpha One. Move to Alpha Two's last known location and prepare to—'

'Alpha One, this is Alpha Two. Comms room secured, over,' Rachel snapped into the wireless transmitter pinned to her tactical gear.

There was a brief silence.

'Roger that, Alpha Two. Stand by for further instructions, out.'
The voice was brisk. Rachel suspected she was the only one who heard the trace of relief modulating Alpha One's tone.

Definitely going to have to have words with him.

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