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By Lindsay McKenna
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2004 Lindsay McKenna
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Hey!" Wild Woman hissed as she stuck her head around the door of the ready room. "Have you heard yet, Cam?"
Cam halted her pacing and quit gnawing on her fingernails, which were almost nonexistent at this point. "Er, no ... not yet." Turning toward the door, she watched as Jessica Merrill, U.S. Army CWO2, otherwise known as Wild Woman, entered the room, dressed in her close-fitting black flight uniform. "You got the duty?"
Cam had had flight duty for the last twenty-four hours and was waiting to be relieved by another crew.
Wrinkling her nose, Wild Woman said, "Yeah. Me and Snake are taking over from you." Hooking a thumb across her shoulder toward the door of the Quonset hut, which stood inside the massive cavern where the Black Jaguar Squadron had its base of operations, she added, "Snake'll be along any second now." Looking at her watch, she uttered darkly, "Geez, 0600 comes so early. What I'd give to have a day off and sleep in. No such thing as 'beauty sleep' around here, is there." She patted her cheek. "I'm still good-looking despite that handicap."
Chuckling, Cam nodded. Sitting down at the picnic table and picking up her cup of coffee, she said, "Yeah, I know what you mean. But you're right - we're such gorgeous girls we don't need beauty sleep."
Going to thecoffee dispenser that sat on a dark green army-issue desk, Wild Woman laughed. "But isn't that why you volunteered for this new mission coming up, Cam. So you'd get to sleep in?"
"Oh, sure!" Cam snorted. Running her fingers through her shoulder-length reddish-chestnut hair, she muttered, "I'm on pins and needles. I don't think I'll get it."
"I saw Morgan Trayhern a few hours ago. He just flew in from Agua Caliente, piloted by Storm Queen." Grabbing a chipped white cup, Wild Woman poured herself some of the strong coffee. "He looked serious."
"Yeah," Cam said unhappily, "I saw him. He's with Major Stevenson and Major York, reviewing the short list of possible pilots for this mission." Shrugging, Cam watched her colleague walk confidently to the table and sit down opposite her. Jessica had short blond hair with a bright red streak dyed in it. Major Maya Stevenson, commanding officer of the BJS, allowed Wild Woman this unique expression of herself. It went well with her pilot handle, Cam thought with an inward smile. And all you needed to do was take one look at Jessica's square face and frosty blue eyes filled with feral intelligence to understand why she was one of the best Apache gunship pilots here at the squadron. She was competitive, rebellious, and never afraid to break rules and regulations over the skies of Peru or Bolivia when it came to stopping the drug trade.
"You'll get it," Wild Woman said confidently, sipping her coffee.
"I dunno," Cam muttered worriedly. She gnawed again on her index finger.
"You don't have any nails left, Cam."
Chuckling, Cam looked at her fingers, then at her friend. "You're right about that."
"You always do that when you're nervous - No Nails Tree Trimmer!" Jessica chortled.
"Tree Trimmer" was Cam's nickname. Every pilot got one after graduating from flight school. She'd earned hers by dropping the Huey helicopter she'd been flying into the jungle in Peru. Of course, at the time she was being shot at by a Kamov Black Shark helicopter, piloted by a Russian mercenary hired by a drug lord to shoot her out of the sky.
Feeling heat rush into her cheeks, Cam grinned. "I look forward to the day when I can earn a new and better handle."
Laughing huskily, Wild Woman turned her head as the creaky door to the ready room opened and closed. "Hey, Snake! My, don't you look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, girl."
Snake glared at them as she entered the hut. Pushing her straight, dark brown hair off her shoulders, she headed for the coffee urn. "Shut up. I haven't had my java yet," she growled.
"And a dreary good morning to you, too," Cam murmured, a grin crawling across her mouth. "Depriving Snake of her coffee is like stepping on the rattles of her tail...."
"Yeah, and she bites," Jessica giggled. "Forget any hissing. This girl just sinks her fangs into you."
Cam saw that Vickey Mabrey - Snake - was dressed into her combat uniform, too. She was all set for her twenty-four-stint duty with Wild Woman. The Velcro fastening of her uniform collar was open at her throat, exposing the dark green cotton T-shirt she wore beneath. The body-fitting uniform, made of special fireretardent materials, hugged her tall, lean figure.
"Both of you can it. Gawd, I need my coffee." And Vickey reached for the pot.
Cam grinned across the table at Wild Woman, who had a twisted, evil smile on her own face. "No one walking into this place could tell you two were the best of friends, could they?"
"Military friendships are like that - full of verve and content," Wild Woman murmured sagely, sipping her coffee.
"Humph," Snake said, pouring herself a mug of coffee.
"So, you're worried about getting this assignment, Cam? You're cut out for it, you know," Wild Woman stated.
Shrugging, she muttered, "I don't even know what the assignment is, so why am I sweating it?"
"Who's in the running?" Snake asked as she sauntered over and sat down at the end of the table near her friends. Stirring creamer into her coffee, she breathed in the rich scent as she lifted the cup to her lips.
"Storm Queen and Pele," Cam replied. She truly admired Pele - Lieutenant Mirella Gallardo, one of the first two women helicopter pilots in the Peruvian Army. Pele was the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, and Mirella had gotten the handle because of her hair-trigger temper and in-your-face attitude. Mirella was a take-no-prisoners kind of woman on the ground and in the air. She'd fought hard to become one of the first Peruvian women to fly helicopters and her competitiveness was legendary. Here at BJS, she was competent, aggressive and combative in the air - the exact qualities a gunship pilot needed in order to survive.
"Humph. You'll get it, Cam," Snake said, huddling possessively over the coffee, her long, thin fingers wrapped around the mug in a death grip.
"Yeah? Why?" Cam asked.
"Because it's your turn for something good to happen to you." A sly grin edged her full mouth. "I mean, there was nowhere to go but up after you gave that poor jungle a haircut with the runners of that Huey."
Excerpted from Honorable Woman by Lindsay McKenna Copyright © 2004 by Lindsay McKenna. Excerpted by permission.
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