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Crossing The Line
By Candace Irvin
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou have never lived until you have almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a special meaning that the protected will never know.
- U.S. Special Operations motto
* * *
She was on top of the world - literally.
Eve grinned as the newborn sun finally seared up through the dense canopy of trees that formed the Central American jungle below, igniting the world with swaths of emerald green, fiery red and burnt orange. She tightened her grip on the chopper's joystick and leaned forward in the cockpit, drawn in by the Black Hawk's panoramic windows and the spectacular view below. There was no doubt about it. She'd finally made it into heaven and she wasn't even dead.
"Takes your breath away, doesn't it?" Another shot of adrenaline pulsed through Eve's veins, matching the rhythmic thunder of the chopper's blades. She grinned across the cockpit to her copilot. "You got it. The question is, how can you give it up?"
Carrie's answering laughter bubbled though Eve's earphones. "I'm not giving it up, exactly. I'm just trading it in for a hot bath back in the old U.S. of A. with enough bubbles to soak the sweat and grime off my face and restore my complexion to manageable." Carrie swept her hands toward the dense trees two hundred feetbelow. "It's all yours, honey. For the next six months, anyway."
"I'll take it." Eve nodded crisply, then cocked her mouthpiece toward the aerial map spread out on Carrie's lap. "But first, find my blasted landing zone, woman!"
Once again laughter bubbled above the thundering blades as Carrie turned her sparkling blue gaze to the map she'd been using to supplement the Black Hawk's malfunctioning global positioning system for the last thirty minutes. Carrie was all business as she glanced up and pointed dead ahead. "Keep it steady. The LZ is just over that ridge."
Two minutes later they were there. Eve nudged her stick and swooped the Black Hawk down into the tiny clearing. Even before she felt the gentle thump as the bird touched down into the six-foot elephant grass, the squad of San Sebastián soldiers and their two U.S. Special Forces advisors were storming out of the chopper and melting into the perimeter beyond. Eve didn't bother taking off but peered into the dense foliage. Nothing but early-morning shadows and trees. Where was the American soldier she was supposed to pick up and fly back to the San Sebastián presidential compound? Eve glanced at the clock on her instrument panel. The man had better show soon. His briefing started in less than an hour.
"Relax. He'll be here."
"Me? I'm not the one blushing like a sophomore waiting for the school jock to cruise past my locker."
"I am not blushing."
But she was and they both knew it. Just as they both knew why. Or better yet, who Carrie was hoping to see.
Eve waited until their crew chief bailed out of the bird to scan the perimeter for their next set of passengers before she powered the chopper's engine down to idle. As the roar eased, she switched off her mouthpiece and pulled off her helmet, running her fingers through the tangles on her head as she scrounged up the courage to voice what had to be said. She might have only been in San Sebastián a couple of days, but she knew Carrie well enough to know that this time the woman was in over her head.
Eve finally sighed. "He's enlisted."
Evidently, Carrie had been waiting for her pronouncement, because she just shrugged. "He's a hunk."
"You could lose your wings - and your commission."
"I don't care."
Damn. It was worse than she'd feared. Eve glanced out the side door of the chopper. The jungle was eerily silent beyond, no doubt due to the recent man-made intrusion. She turned back to Carrie, but Carrie still wouldn't meet her gaze. For once she wasn't sure how to respond to her best friend. Though they'd spoken regularly on the phone, they hadn't seen each other in two years.
Evidently things had changed. She swallowed hard. "Carrie, do you realize what you're saying?"
Carrie turned then, pulling off her own helmet and running her fingers through her inky curls as she shrugged. "Yeah, I do."
Oh God. Now what? Fortunately, she didn't need to worry about a comeback, at least not right then. Because, as Eve tipped her head to the left and stared past her friend's olive-drab flight suit, she spied two camouflaged soldiers with fully-loaded rucksacks on their backs stepping out from the trees beyond.
Two? She must have stiffened, because Carrie turned around to stare as well. Her friend was smiling as she swung back. "It's him. I was hoping he'd have to tag along. But I couldn't be sure."
Eve's heart sank. Though there'd been more men in Carrie's life than either of them could count, she'd only seen that beatific smile once before. It was during their senior year of college. During the reign of Jake-the-Great. Her heart sank even further. Carrie hadn't been pretending. Her friend knew darn well she was playing with fire.
And she didn't care if she got burned. Eve flicked her gaze back to the men as their crew chief, Sergeant Lange, joined them. A couple yards more and they were close enough for her to make out their camouflage-greased facial features, though not the flat black ranking insignia on their collars. It didn't matter. Her heart sank to her toes as she studied the taller of the two Green Beret advisors. If that was Sergeant Turner, it was too late for Carrie or the woman's career. Heck, even she'd be tempted to rip off her wings for a night with the man.
Hunk was an understatement. With those dark forbidding brows beneath the man's field cap, strong cheeks and firm lips, combined with that mouth-watering physique beneath his jungle fatigues, the Army could skip the Be All You Can Be recruiting logo. For the women, anyway. Just slap a poster of this guy up in the halls of America's high schools and they'd be signing up in droves.
As he drew closer, Eve sucked in her breath - and realized she'd been staring. A split second later, she caught the twin bars on his collar. They matched hers. Thank heaven.
At least she hadn't been ogling the man her best friend thought she was falling in love with.
If Carrie wasn't already beyond saving. Moments later, Eve knew she was. Before Eve could stop her, Carrie had vaulted from the cockpit and headed out to meet the men. The blinding grin still on her face as she turned back confirmed it. Jake-the-Great and every lover after was nothing more than a distant memory.
Against her better judgment, not to mention standard procedure, Eve climbed out of the cockpit as well. She rounded the front of the bird as her crew chief tossed the soldiers' rucksacks into the rear of the chopper and climbed in after. Carrie stepped forward and grabbed her arm, practically ripping the sleeve of her flight suit off as she hauled her toward the men.
"Eve, this is Sergeant Turner. Bill, Captain Paris." Eve winced.
Not only had Carrie lost her head, she'd lost her manners, at least her military ones. It was bad enough for Carrie, also a captain, to be on a first-name basis with the enlisted man while in uniform, but did she have to advertise the fact before Turner's commander?
Maybe the man would let it slide? The deep frown on his face said otherwise. Anxious to ward off a set-down within earshot of their crew chief, Eve nodded to the sergeant and stuck out her hand toward his commander. "Captain Paris. You must be Captain Bishop."
Excerpted from Crossing The Line by Candace Irvin Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.