On Target [Secure]
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by Catherine Mann
Description: On his way to deliver divorce papers to his soon-to-be ex, a terrorist attack put U.S. Air Force Sergeant Shane 'Vegas' O'Riley back into soldier mode. His wife and her two adopted children were in danger. He didn't give a damn if she wanted him out of their lives--they were under his full-time protection now. Being back with her husband had Sherry in upheaval. She still wanted Shane. Yet she was afraid obligation was the only reason he was sticking close. With a terrorist targeting their lives, Shane was all she had to hold on to. Danger lurked close to home. But it was a marriage that had to survive the ultimate battle.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/HQN,
eBookwise Release Date: July 2007
52 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [456 KB]
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Over the Caribbean Sea Present Day
"B LACKBIRD 33, B LACKBIRD 33, this is Sentry 20 reporting a pirate ship at your ten o'clock, twenty-eight miles."
Pirate ship? The improbable radio call from Sentry rattled around in flight engineer Shane "Vegas" O'Riley's headset as he manned his station of the CV-22 aircraft. He couldn't have heard what he thought.
Sure they were out over the wild and wooly Caribbean, but someone must be screwing with them. Air Force crewdogs were well known for their practical jokes.
Except today, he couldn't be any less in the mood for gags. This flight to deliver supplies served a dual purpose for him. He would make a stop at a tiny godforsaken island where his wife worked teaching in the latest needy village to cross her aid group's radar.
There, he would also hand over divorce papers for her to sign.
But back to these freaking pirates. Since the weather was dog crap, he was in charge of the radio while the two pilots had their hands full with the bouncing airplane.
Shane thumbed the radio "transmit" key, sweat burning his eyes, his flight suit sticking to his shoulder blades in the unrelenting summer heat. No AC could keep up. "Sentry did you say a pirate ship? Is Johnny Depp onboard with his swashbuckling costume? Do you want us to land this puppy on the poop deck and get his autograph for you?" Since the CV-22 took off and landed like a helicopter, then rotated the blades forward to fly like a plane, they actually could manage just such a feat if there were a pirate ship. "I'll tell him it's for your daughter if you're embarrassed."
The jerking craft jarred his teeth, hard, faster than the roller coaster ride he'd taken with his two daughters at Six Flags last summer.
In front of him sat the two pilots. Aircraft commander Postal gripped the wobbling stick while newbie to the CV-22 copilot Rodeo took wildly fluctuating system reads off the control panel. Shane glanced over his shoulder back into the belly of the craft to check on the three gunners—and yeah, thank God—they'd strapped their butts down tight.
Their radio crackled in the inclement weather, words sputtering through unevenly, "Pirates…guns at…cruise ship."
Some theme cruise perhaps? A pocket of turbulence whacked Shane's helmet against the overhead panel and rattled his brain worse than a baseball bat upside the temple. "I'm so not in the mood for this 'Argh' and 'Shiver me Timbers' garbage. We've got a weather emergency here."
"Sorry," the radio voice claiming to be Sentry 20 responded, "not yanking your chain, Blackbird 33. We have a message relay from Southern Command Headquarters. Ready to copy?"
Shane straightened in his seat. "Really? No joke?" he said, still only half believing. "We'll play along for the heck of it, ready to copy."
The radio crackled to life. "Blackbird 33, proceed to one-eight dash zero-five north, zero-six-three dash five-nine west to intercept a pirate vessel, suspected to be terrorists threatening a passenger cruise ship. You are ordered to disable the pirate boat—" the connection went staticky for another two jostles "—or destroy the pirate's vessel, a cigarette boat, if you or the cruise ship are fired on. Copy?"
An order to shoot a cigarette boat that just happened to be tooling around in the water? This could be the worst kind of setup for an ambush in such a lawless corner of the ocean. Unease prickled up Shane's spine as he could already see all his crew members' faces plastered across the six o'clock news.
That would be a helluva way to end his career and his marriage in one fell swoop. "Who is this?"
"Listen up, Blackbird," the voice barked back, "I authenticated the communication when I got it and I think you should do the same."
Well, they got that right. "Rodeo, dig out the code book."
"Way ahead of you, Vegas. Here ya' go." The copilot's normally easygoing demeanor was nowhere to be found as he passed back the book before quickly returning to the controls. Rodeo had his hands full running both his copilot's position and checking Shane's flight engineer regular duties, monitoring engine and aircraft health since he had to deal with this buccaneer BS.
Vegas thumbed through the pages until he found what he needed. "Sentry, authenticate foxtrot-mike."
"Sentry authenticates with zulu-tango."
"So, Sarge?" Rodeo's voice shot over the radio to Tech Sergeant Shane O'Riley. "Is that correct?"
Holy crap. Shane verified it once, reread again. No movie star autographs in their future today. This was the real deal. "That is the correct response, sir."
The aircraft commander, Postal, cursed into the interphone. "Well, spank my ass and get me an eye patch." Clicking over to radio to broadcast beyond the plane, "Good authentication, Sentry, we are headed that way…Rodeo, give me a—"
"Already on it," the copilot interrupted. He might be new to the craft but the man was a freaking genius, a quick thinker on his feet to boot. That worked well with a gut instinct player like Postal. "Come left to heading one-seven-seven. Showing time to intercept at eight minutes. Target is now twenty miles ahead."
"Copy all." Postal's normally wired façade faded at the very real threat ahead—a flipping terrorist pirate ship, no less. "Crew, lock and load, cleared to fire a burst. Let's make sure those babies are working in case we need them."
Brrrrrp. Brrrrrp. The sound of quick bursts from electrically powered mini-guns hammered through his helmet just before the smell of gunpowder drifted up to linger in the cockpit. The right gunner, left gunner, back gunner—Stones, Padre and Sandman—all checked in ready to go.
Copyright © 2007 by Catherine Mann.