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Sister Of Fortune
By Lindsay McKenna
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChief Warrant Officer Vickey Mabrey woke up screaming. She threw off the light U.S. Army green cotton blanket and sheet, and her sweaty bare feet landed on the cool surface of the wooden floor. Breathing hard, with her hair falling in disarray around her face, she groaned and leaned forward. Her elbows dug into her thighs.
Dammit! The same dream! A friggin' nightmare, actually. Her hands covered her perspiring face as she took huge, gulping breaths. Vickey felt the sweat trickling down her temples and following her rigid jawline. Trying to unclench her teeth, she kept repeating, "It's just a dream ... just a dream...."
She slept naked, wanting to be one with the earth.
Not that a U.S. Army bunk was the earth, but it was as close as she was going to get under the circumstances.
Breathing raggedly through her mouth, she hoped her screams hadn't woken anyone in Black Jaguar Squadron barracks.
The two-story structure stood at the rear of a huge natural cave in a loaf-shaped mountain roughly fifty miles south of the famed archeological wonder Machu Picchu, Peru. Only the nearly all-woman combat squadron wasn't here for archeology. They hunted, all right: drug dealers flying cocaine out of Peru to Bolivia's border in order to sell it tothe rest of the world. The buck stopped with her squadron.
Right now, Vickey wished she was anywhere but here, sitting in her own pooling sweat.
"Damn ..." she muttered, lifting her head. After wiping the perspiration from her upper lip with a trembling finger, she turned and reached blindly for the pitcher of water and glass on her bed stand. Water. A mirthful grin cut across her tense features as she found the glass. It was automatic: wake up in the middle of the night with this dream, pour herself a glass of tepid water and then fall back into an exhausted sleep.
As she chugged the water, rivulets ran from the corners of her mouth. Vickey relished the feel of cool-ing water spilling onto her chest and trickling down between her small breasts. She would have loved to take a shower to get rid of the fear sweat clinging to her skin, but needed sleep even more desperately.
The BJS squadron flew 24/7. They were short on pilots, so everyone flew for more missions than they should. Vickey had heard that Major Maya Stevenson, the commanding officer of their four-year venture, was getting in new Apache combat pilots to help relieve the murderous flight schedule. That was something they all prayed for. Working a twenty-four-hour shift every other day was a killer in more than one way. Pilots without adequate rest between grueling and dangerous missions upped the ante on them getting killed.
Setting the yellow plastic glass back on the bed stand, Vickey eyed the dull light leaking from beneath the closed door of her cubical. All things considered, the place was relatively quiet. She heard some snoring and someone down the hall muttering in her sleep. The sounds were typical and soothing to her frayed nerves. Sleep was precious. Had she awakened her dorm mates on either side of her? It wasn't unusual for a pilot to have a nightmare and wake up shrieking. Why not? They put their asses on the line every day out there, flying the Peruvian skies in the battle to halt drug shipments.
The planes carrying millions of dollars' worth of cocaine might not have the arsenal to knock Vickey and her colleagues out of the sky, but the drug lords had hired Russian mercenary pilots, who flew deadly Black Shark helicopters. Those state-of-the-art machines were more than able to take on a U.S. Army Apache. And of late, Maya's team had lost two helos and two crews to the bastards.
Looking at her watch, Vickey saw it was 0300. That was when this nightmare always came. Why? Wiping her face savagely, Vickey groaned and lifted her feet off the cool floor, tucking them beneath the blanket once more. Snuggling her nearly six foot frame down in the cot, she pressed her face into the pillow, wanting to escape the dream. Lying on her stomach, she shut her eyes tightly. She had to get up at 0530 to be ready for another twenty-four hours of flight duty. She prayed to the Great Spirit for sleep to quickly return to her.
"Hey, Snake! Get your sorry butt outta that bunk!" Wild Woman gave the wooden leg of the bed a deliberate kick.
Vickey Mabrey, known to everyone as Snake, was sleeping. The green wool blanket was pulled up over her head and strands of her dark brown hair peeked out the top.
"Uhh ..." Snake moaned as she stirred beneath the blanket.
"Come on, Snake! Rise and shine, girlfriend. We got duty in two hours! It's 0530, sweet thing. Up and at 'em ..." Wild Woman grinned and nudged the cot leg again with the tip of her polished black flight boot.
"Get outta here," Snake mumbled.
Chuckling, Wild Woman went to the desk where Snake kept her automatic coffeemaker. It was the one luxury she insisted on having here at the Black Jaguar Base, hidden deep within the jungle-clad mountain.
"Ohh, I know that groan," she said, flipping the switch. Snake always prepared the coffee beans and set up the machine when she got off a twenty-four-hour duty in her Apache. That way, she could flounder blindly out of her bunk the next morning or night, depending on the schedule, and hit the switch. Turning, Wild Woman watched as Snake groaned again.
"Get the hell outta here...."
"No can do, Chief."
Vickey was half Navajo, so her colleagues called her "Chief" - her real title as a warrant officer - as often as they called her "Snake." Chief was a common title for warrant officers. Every Apache pilot had a nickname, and Vickey had earned hers the hard way. One day, shortly after being assigned to the black ops unit, she had climbed into the cockpit of her helo and found a young anaconda constrictor curled up on her seat. Of course, she had let out a shriek that could be heard throughout the massive cavern that housed the operation, including the two-story H.Q. building. In the Navajo religion, snakes were considered evil. Seeing one show up on the seat of the copter one was about to pilot wasn't exactly a dream come true.
The fragrance of perking coffee began to waft through the tiny plywood cubicle. Outside the thin walls, Vickey could hear other pilots waking up and moving around. Grumbling softly, she threw off the cover and sat up. Giving her friend a bleary look, she pushed her straight, shoulder-length brown hair off her face.
Excerpted from Sister Of Fortune by Lindsay McKenna Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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