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Authors: Catherine Mann

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Explosive Alliance

BOOK: Explosive Alliance
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Explosive Alliance

Catherine Mann

Wingmen Warriors 09

Silhouette Intimate Moments #1346

February 1, 2005

ISBN: 0373274165

Chapter 1

"Hey, I thought you said there was a woman behind every tree here." Captain Bo Rokowsky stared through the windscreen of his C-17, broken clouds revealing the barren landscape of Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

Not a damn tree in sight.

Laughter rumbled through his headset from the loadmaster "Tag" and the in-flight mechanic "Mako."

"Yes, sir," Mako drawled from the cargo hold. "Suckered you right into working this air show with that one, didn't we?"

"You dudes got me good." Bo gripped the throttle and let them have their victory. Better to take the ribbing over being "tricked" than to admit his real reason for signing on to this mission.

"The clue bird should have hit you like a whole flock smacking the windscreen when old, married Tag told you that Minot joke about the trees." Mako continued to gloat. "His wife would kick his butt if she thought he was checking out the female population. I just tell my girlfriend you keep them all too busy, anyway."

"One at a time, pal." Bo eased back on the throttle, as usual using a casual tone and attitude to mask a deep-seated attention to detail. "Always one at a time."

Stick in hand, Bo guided the craft toward the base, a mere speck ahead in the middle of flat, flat and more flat farmland, where he would spend the weekend at Minot's annual air show—dateless.

Okay, so he had a reputation around the squadron as a player. But he wanted a steady relationship, wife and kids someday as much as the next guy. Maybe even more, since he'd never had a real home of his own.

If that meant he went through a lot of breakups in the search, such was life. It seemed damn shallow to keep dating a woman once he realized she wasn't The One. Some dumped him, too. He figured he was running fifty-fifty when it came to broken hearts given and received.

Painful? Sometimes. All told, though, the journey wasn't a major hardship. He loved women. After growing up in a boys' home, drifting off to sleep every night with sweat and gas hanging in the air, what guy wouldn't prefer to spend the rest of his life pressed up close to a soft, jasmine-smelling woman? Or rose-scented.

Or even spring-flowers-deodorant scented. He wasn't picky.

Still, he was grateful for Minot's treeless state. Now wasn't the time to shuffle those fifty-fifty odds either way. He had more important things to attend to on the ground than his exhaustive and sometimes tantrically exhausting quest for a Mrs. Rokowsky.

He wasn't working the Minot Air Show to meet flyboy groupies, but rather to meet one woman in particular. And no way in hell would
she
be open to sex with
him.

From the left seat, the squadron commander snapped his critical gaze Bo's way while the boss evaluated.

Scowled. "If you boys are done discussing your dating prospects in the Land of Tatanka, let's see about getting this plane on the ground."

Bo clamped his jaw shut. Fun time over, thanks to Lieutenant Colonel Lucas Quade, a gloomy micromanaging pain in the keister kind of leader, better known unofficially around the squadron as "Darth Vader." To be fair, the guy was a solid flier and a technically perfect commander.

Overly perfect.

Loosening his hold on the throttle, Bo flexed the stiffness out of his fingers, already anticipating a couple of hours with his guitar to work out the twinges and frustration. He hadn't "enjoyed" this much supervision since Sister Mary Nic had walked him to the lunchroom in first grade.

Of course he did have a habit of detouring even then.

Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't volunteer to judge the Miss America Contest with Quade, much less spend the weekend under his thumb on a TDY—temporary duty. But nothing had been normal for nearly a year, since the crash landing and capture overseas to be exact. Discovering that drug-running Air Force personnel and civilians in his own community had supported terrorists responsible for the shoot down only rocked his already cockeyed world.

He wasn't even sure he wanted to stay in the Air Force once his commitment was up next month. And wasn't that a kick-in-the-ass life crisis for a guy who'd been certain since the cradle that he would tear up the skies and raise hell with airplanes? He suspected he wouldn't have his answer until he'd put a piece of his past from a year ago to rest by checking on Paige Haugen and her daughter.

The widow and child of the man he'd helped send to jail. The drug-running bastard with terrorist ties.

"Well, Rokowsky?" Quade hissed low through the headset, punting Bo back into the present. "Are you planning to call for landing weather? Review the approach? Any of this ringing a bell for you, Captain?

You're not a lieutenant anymore. How about pulling your weight."

"Roger, sir, I'm on it."

Radioing for the weather report five freaking minutes early, Bo scanned the sky and kept his temper in check. He might question his call to the air these days, but he knew his job and had done everything to the letter on this mission. His check rides attested to his overall nuts-on flying. But wearing the uniform dictated no arguing with the big kahuna.

Bo continued to scope the horizon while listening to the all-clear weather report. So what were those dots mutating the sky—

"Birds!" Bo shouted, yanking back the stick.

A flock of birds—geese maybe—swooped into view, funneling below the craft as the C-17 climbed. Somehow Mako's "clue bird" had taken on a life-threatening reality.

His heart drummed in his ears while his hands worked with training-honed instincts. Smacking a goose at this speed would shatter the windscreen, could even kill a pilot.

The plane groaned at the abrupt ascent, then leveled, hummed again. Damn, that had been close. His pulse started to slow—

Whoomp.

His brain barked the answer in sync with Quade's affirmation.

"Bird strike in the number-one engine."

Death for a jet engine. And hopefully only one engine, with no explosion.

Caution lights flooded his control panel, an engine-fire alert. The landing strip grew closer, a stretch in a region as flat as any desert. But was it near enough?

Bo slammed aside memories of last year's desert crash landing quicker than he cut the fuel to the engine with a jerk of the fire handle. "Roger, fuel cut, beginning boldface checklist for engine shutdown."

Voices popped through the headset. Commands. Updates. The cargo plane shuddered through the air with the drag and pull of power adjustments to the remaining engines to compensate for the diminished thrust on the left. Protocol and division of labor was crucial for getting their butts on the ground in one piece. From here on out as copilot he would talk and Quade, in the aircraft commander's seat, would fly.

No more evaluation, but plenty more scowling.

"Minot tower," Bo barked into the mike on his headset. "This is Moose zero-one, leveling off, present heading. We just took a bird strike and we've shut down an engine."

"Roger, zero-one," tower answered. "Are you declaring an emergency?"

Bo rocked the microphone button down for private inner-phone. "Colonel, are you ready to declare?"

Lean and impassive, Quade hesitated, then nodded. "I think she's flying okay, but yes, let's go ahead and declare."

No surprise. Quade was a conservative aviator to the end. Not a bad thing right now.

Bo thumbed the mike button up for open-air frequency. "Roger, tower, I am declaring an emergency at this time."

"Copy, zero-one, are you able to switch frequencies or are your hands full?"

"Zero-one will accept a frequency change."

Chatter from other aircraft faded as he brought up the new frequency reserved for emergency personnel

—the fire chief, command post, flight surgeon's office, maintenance and the supervisor of flying. In spite of his resolve, memories whispered through. During last year's crash landing there'd been no help, no friendly faces waiting for them on the ground as they descended their crippled craft into enemy territory.

A missile hit, not a bird, had nailed them because of a flight-plan leak from one of their own.

"Moose zero-one, reporting up, three-two-two-dot-two."

Command Post responded, "Moose zero-one, Minot Command Post. Hotel Conference initiated—"

Emergency personnel were up and listening. "Moose zero-one, souls on board and fuel remaining?"

"Four souls and 35,000 pounds."

"Copy four and thirty-five K. What's your plan?"

"We're going to do a controllability check and then a straight-in approach for landing."

Bo continued the radio calls while Quade slowed the cargo plane in midair to ensure it would be controllable at landing speed. At least in the air they could bail out. And there sure as hell was plenty of level, empty and totally treeless countryside for them to ditch.

Tag and Mako thundered up the stairwell into the cockpit and strapped into the two instructor seats behind the pilots, higher in the craft being safer in an emergency-landing situation.

"Gentlemen—" Quade's near-whisper calls had the damnedest way of booming "—everyone locked down tight?"

"Roger," the answer echoed in triplicate.

"Excellent. Once we land, no hesitation, haul ass out and as far away from the plane as possible." In case the plane blew. The unspoken possibility clouded the air with a noxious threat. "Now let's get this baby down in a way that doesn't feature us in the six-o'clock news."

Bo's hands clenched along with his gut. He issued instrumentation updates, keeping himself grounded with his reason for being here in the first place, to check up on Paige Haugen and her daughter. He wasn't sure why he felt so damn responsible for her after what her traitorous bastard husband had done


Okay, he
did
know why, and it sucked even remembering tagging along with his own teary-eyed mother on her weekly visits to her convict husband. His father.
Father
being a damn loose term for a dirtbag who cared more about jacking cars than hanging out with his wife and son.

Bo rechecked his five-point harness. Not that he'd felt any loss over his father being locked up. He couldn't remember ever having Jackass Dirtbag around the apartment.

Then—surprise, surprise—Jackass had filed for divorce after his release. Teary-eyed Teresa Rokowsky had opened a vein rather than live without him.

As a kid, Bo had blamed himself for not being enough reason for his mama to live. As an adult, he knew where the blame belonged, but that still didn't stop his heart from squeezing at the lost look on Paige Haugen's face when she'd walked into the police station the night of her husband's arrest. The disillusioned expression had multiplied exponentially in newspaper photos after her husband's mob-hit death in prison.

Bo tried to blink away the haunting image even now. Damn it all, he preferred his dreams be filled with visions of luscious babes in bikinis. Instead his sleep was packed with nightmares of a widow with troubled eyes and a kid who was better off without her old man but probably missed him all the same.

Bo braced for landing and closure. Outside the windscreen, the runway waited in the cracked expanse of Dakota soil and cluster of military buildings. Planes dotted the parking area, other craft for the weekend's air show scheduled to start tomorrow.

Lower, lower still they descended. Small clumps of people gathered to watch today's arrivals.

Was
she
there already? Regardless, he would find her.

After he checked on Paige Haugen and her daughter, he would be free to decide his future in or out of the Air Force. He already had his dream custom ordered for that first night of peaceful sleep. By Monday evening he would be snoozing his way into a Caribbean fantasy, his guitar in hand, serenading a coconut-oil-scented blonde with a penchant for skinny-dipping.

A woman without glasses framing pain-filled eyes.

Paige Haugen nudged her glasses straight on her nose again, righting her view of the landing cargo plane.

BOOK: Explosive Alliance
7.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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