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By Lindsay McKenna
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTrouble hunted him. And Chief Warrant Officer Jason Trayhern knew it had found him today. As he climbed the concrete steps of the Ops building at Fort Collins, Colorado, he began to sweat beneath his flight suit. Taking off his cap, he entered the swinging doors. As he did, he could hear the whapping sound of the Longknife Squadron Apache combat helicopters taking off and landing on the other side of the massive operations facility. How he wished he were up in the air now!
Mouth tightening, he nodded perfunctorily to the meteorology and air-control-desk personnel who stood on the other side of the tiled lobby. He knew both of them well. One didn't fly without getting a meteorology report from the weather desk, or a flight plan from the air desk.
Locating Major Butler's office, Jason girded himself internally for his meeting with his commanding officer. The passageway was clear of personnel for a moment, so he took a quick swipe at the perspiration on his brow before he entered the office. He didn't want Major Butler to see him sweat. He wouldn't give the bastard the satisfaction.
Jason knew the routine. This was the second time he'd been called in by his C.O. for the same damn reason. Mentally trying to barricade himself from his writhing feelings of fear, rage and frustration, Jason took a deep breath. Then he squared his shoulders, put his chin up and moved through the open door, displaying the cocky attitude he was known for.
Butler's secretary, Mona Evans, a civilian in her fifties, looked up from her desk, her small, gold wire glasses halfway down her prominent Roman nose. "Ah, Chief Tray-hern. Thank you for coming."
Jason stood at attention in front of her desk. "Yes, ma'am. I'm here to see Major Butler, as ordered." Of course this was an order. One didn't just waltz into the C.O.'s office without a prior appointment.
"Right," she murmured, putting her appointment book on the desk. "One moment ..."
As he watched her get up, walk to Butler's door, open it and disappear inside, his gut tightened. He'd rather be facing El Quaida, with a Stinger missile aimed at his Apache helicopter, than be here right now. What would his father think? Morgan Trayhern, USMC, was a living legend in the military. Everyone, no matter what their service affiliation, admired and respected him. Jason fought a surge of anger. He didn't give a damn what his father thought. All his famous father cared about was his reputation - not his first-born son. But his mother, Laura? Groaning inwardly, Jason momentarily closed his eyes and fought a wave of sadness at the thought of the disappointment she might feel to learn her oldest son had screwed up - again.
Jason loved his mother with his life. It hurt him every time he knew he'd disappointed her. What would she think now?
The door to Butler's inner office opened.
Mona smiled gently and pushed her glasses back up her nose. "Major Butler will see you now, Chief Trayhern." She stepped aside. "Go right in. He's expecting you."
I'll bet he is.... "Yes, ma'am." He kept his voice deep and unruffled, though he was anything but. He felt as if he had a hundred angry rattlesnakes writhing inside his gut.
Major Yancey Butler raised his head and pinned his narrowed gaze on Jason as he entered and snapped to attention.
"Shut the door," Butler ordered, brusqueness in his tone.
"Yes, sir!" Jason turned and shut it, did an about-face and then snapped back to attention. Butler was lean as a hungry wolf, with short black hair and gray sideburns. His green eyes glittered, sending a frisson of terror through Jason. Butler wasn't taking any prisoners today, judging from the thundercloud look on his face.
Sitting back in his burgundy leather chair, the man said, "At ease, Chief Trayhern."
Jason swallowed, spreading his feet apart and placing his hands behind his back. His commanding officer's pale face was speckled with copper freckles reminding Jason of a spotted Appaloosa horse. The thought made him want to laugh, though now was not the moment for humor. Today was not the day to flaunt cocky grins or shoot off smart remarks.
"Son, you're like a cat," Butler began silkily as he opened Jason's service record in front of him.
"Sir?" Jason's brow furrowed with confusion. Where was Butler going with this? Heart pounding in his chest, Jason felt his adrenaline surge as a bad feeling pervaded his system. He wanted out of here. Out of Butler's office and out of the Longknife Apache squadron he'd been assigned to. It had been hell on him ever since he'd arrived at this base.
"You know a cat has nine lives, right?" Butler said finally.
"Well, Chief Trayhern, you've used up, by my count, eight of your nine lives thus far." Grimly, the major folded his hands on the desk. "You got tossed out of the Naval Academy in your third year after a drug scandal. Though the charges didn't stick, your reputation was tainted. Then you came begging the Army aviation people to give you one more chance. We decided, since your record was clear, to take that chance on you."
Jason stood very still. He'd heard this litany before.
"After your officer training, you went to Fort Rucker, Alabama, and learned to fly the Apache Longbow combat helicopter. But there was a problem with you there. You were arrogant, Trayhern. Hard to get along with. You never saw yourself as a team member. The colonel of the flight school kicked you out of his squadron and put you in mine. You've been here six months, and I can't say it's been a positive experience for any of us. Two times now I've had seasoned combat pilots ask to transfer you out of their cockpit because you couldn't get along with them. With you, it's your way or no way, and that's not what Army aviation is all about, son. The Army is about teamwork. But you don't want to be part of a team. You want to lead, and listen to no one but yourself. This is not an Army of one, Mr. Tray-hern. It's an Army where everyone works together."
Tapping his finger on the maple desk, Butler said slowly, "When Chief Doughtery requested another pilot to fly with, and he told me why, I saw the handwriting on the wall. I have given you more chances than you deserve, Trayhern. I've asked you to fit in, to be a part of our team. And for some reason, you fight it. You rebel against the status quo for no good reason." Shaking his head, he muttered, "I gave you all these chances because I know your father, Morgan Trayhern. He's a hero to all of us. He's a man who did the right thing, fought back, made things better for everyone around him. He's a helluva role model in my opinion."
Unlike his son. Jason filled in the rest of Butler's sentence. Bile curdled in his throat. "Sir, with all due respect - "
"Just stand there and listen," the major growled.
Grabbing a set of orders, Butler scribbled his name across the authorization line with barely contained ferocity. "Mr. Trayhern, you're down to your ninth life. I've been in touch with Colonel Red Dugan, who commands the 2-101 Aviation Regiment of Apaches at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Presently, all squadrons there are undergoing qualification trials before they're shipped overseas for duty in Afghanistan. He has agreed to put you into the Eagle Warrior Squadron under his command. If I didn't have so much respect for your father's name, I would be sending you to personnel to be processed out with a bad conduct discharge. Instead, you're going to Screamin' Eagle country, the 101st Airborne Division, air assault."
Jason's eyes widened slightly as shock slammed into him. His mouth dropped open. Quickly, he snapped it shut. Butler wanted to give him a BCD? Oh, God, no!
"That's right, son. You heard me." The major lifted his hand and held his thumb and index finger an inch apart.
"You are this close to getting canned. Is that what you want?"
Excerpted from Firstborn by Lindsay McKenna Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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