When Adam burst into the command center with Tuck and the others right behind him, everyone inside was in a flurry of activity. Director Foster glanced up at him from an analyst’s desk, his expression grim.
Adam stopped moving, his feet suddenly stuck to the floor. He couldn’t move. That look on the director’s face was something straight out of his nightmares. It told him the unthinkable had happened.
Then DeLuca appeared out of nowhere, stepping in front of Adam and gripping his shoulders tight. His jade green gaze met Adam’s squarely. “She’s alive.”
Adam closed his eyes and let his head drop forward, his legs damn near buckling underneath him. A ragged groan escaped him.
DeLuca squeezed harder, holding on. “I know, man.”
He sucked in a painful breath, raised his head to look at his commander. “How do you know?”
“Captors released a video of her a few minutes ago. We just heard about it while you were on your way over here.”
Adam jerked his attention to the large screen at the end of the room. “Let me see her.”
“Okay. They’re just starting to analyze it now.” DeLuca released him and moved out of the way so he could see what was going on. A group of analysts and the director were all gathered around a laptop set up on the long rectangular table.
Adam headed for it without being conscious of moving, his eyes glued to the screen, hungry for the sight of his wife.
The director straightened. “We’ve watched it through once. She appears to be in good health and she says Jim and Mark are both still alive as well. If the date and time are right, it was made just a little while ago. Right now it looks like the people who recorded this sent the video to another source for broadcasting, to make it harder to track them. The NSA is running diagnostics now, trying to get a lock on a location. Or a signal origin. Anything that might tell us where they are.”
“Let me see her,” he rasped out, staring at the screen with burning eyes.
The analysts gathered around it looked at the director uncertainly. Foster nodded at them. “Put it on the big screen and turn up the volume.”
Adam was aware of his teammates silently gathering around him, standing on either side of him. All their attention was riveted on the screen at the end of the room, all of them revved and waiting for the chance to mount a rescue.
Tuck stood closest to him, so close their shoulders touched. Maybe because his team leader was worried Adam might keel over once he saw the video. Bauer stood on his other side, a huge, solid presence. If Adam did drop, he knew his teammates would catch him before he ever hit the floor.
It was comforting to know, but if Summer didn’t survive this then no one would be able to soften that blow.
Steeling himself for what was coming, he braced his feet shoulder-width apart and folded his arms, his hands curling into fists. His stomach was in knots, his pulse erratic as he waited for the video to load on screen.
Finally it began to play. Arabic music and writing appeared against a black background, spewing whatever bullshit propaganda the ATB was using. Then Summer appeared on screen.
He’d thought he’d been prepared for the sight of her, but the truth was nothing could have prepared him for this.
He covered his mouth with one hand, stood there staring through swimming eyes while he felt his heart crack in two. They had her dressed in the robe of a burqa with her hands bound behind her back. Her red hair lay limp around her shoulders, her skin pale, dark circles beneath her eyes. The left side of her face was bruised, her cheek swollen.
Her expression was completely devoid of emotion as she stared into the camera. She looked…broken. As broken as she’d been after the stillbirth and the last miscarriage.
That, more than anything, hit him in the solar plexus with the force of a sledgehammer.
Sweetheart, what have they done to you? he cried silently.
“My name is Summer Blackwell.”
The sound of her voice triggered something in him, cracked his defenses apart. He felt the tears gather, didn’t fucking care that he was crying in front of everyone. He blinked to clear his vision, afraid to look away for even one moment.
Tell me where you are, he begged her. Tell me how to help you.
“I’m an American citizen working for the Defense Intelligence Agency.” She gave the time and date—today’s date—and announced that she was being held by the ATB in retaliation for war crimes committed by the United States and its allies against the Syrian people.
The entire room was deathly silent as she continued.
She glanced to her left off screen, looking at someone, then back at the camera. And this time that blank mask disappeared for a moment. She swallowed visibly, drew in a deep breath. “Adam, if you’re watching this, I want you to know how much I love you. And I’m so sorry for everything I ever did that hurt you.”
Jesus, he couldn’t fucking take this. He clenched his jaw, fought back the sob trapped in his chest, his shoulders jerking sharply with the effort. He was shattering inside watching this, hearing her talk like she knew she was about to die.