When one of her pilots is shot down behind enemy lines, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner will stop at nothing to save her before she’s captured and tortured, even if it means being part of the dirtside team led by Colonel Cameron McAllister. Bren might respect the way the colonel commands his men, but she’ll never trust Cam—no matter how charming he is—because he was responsible for her brother’s death.
Colonel Cameron McAllister has a covert mission behind enemy lines to team with the Ilari rebels and overthrow the bloodthirsty dictator who’s torn their planet apart. The last thing he needs is to get sidetracked searching for a downed pilot, especially since it means having Lieutenant Theresa Brenner tag along. Not only doesn’t the frosty pilot have the ground game to keep up with his seasoned group, she’s a potential distraction with all those gorgeous blond curls of hers—and she might be just like her brother, whose foolhardiness got his men killed.
Each book in the Valiant Knox series is STANDALONE.
Book #1 Escape Velocity
Book #2 Damage Control
Book #3 Cover Fire
Book #4 War Games
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On board the Valiant Knox
The enemy had gotten the better of her, there was no doubt about it. This was one battle she was ready to wave the white flag on.
Captain of the Fighter Force, Lieutenant Theresa Brenner, couldn't decide which of them to take out first.
The squadron shift roster? The logs on jet maintenance? The briefing from the last skirmish three of her pilots had been involved in? Her monthly CAFF report?
The paperwork was building up at an alarming rate, and every single one of them had the potential to bore her to death.
"I'm surprised that datapad hasn't caught fire with the way you're frowning at it."
Ex-CAFF, Captain Leigh Alphin — or Alpha as most people called him — leaned against the doorway of her office.
She'd taken over the position of squad commander when he'd stepped down, due to his relationship with a subordinate. Of course, Alpha hadn't complained a single day about it, since he and Mia were deliriously happy together. Alpha was one of her oldest friends, and the whole thing had come as a shock — out of all the people she knew, she'd thought Alpha would be married to the job until his dying breath. Just like her. But he'd ruined all that by falling in love and leaving the responsibilities of CAFF to her.
"I'm starting to think you got yourself demoted on purpose, because being CAFF is 75 percent reviewing and submitting reports. My head is going to explode."
"I sure as hell don't miss the screenwork." He pushed off the doorway and came closer to her desk. "I can give you a hand with it, if you want."
She shook her head without evening thinking about it — her usual stubbornness winning out. Since she'd basically gotten her promotion to CAFF by default when Alpha's relationship with Mia had come out, every day she woke up feeling like she had to work extra hard to prove she deserved the position. Even the days where she did nothing but sat at this desk, drinking too many coffees and reporting herself right into a headache.
"I'll get it done. It'll be painful, but I'll do it."
Leigh sent her a reproachful look. He knew her too well, damn him. "Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me."
"Thanks." She randomly tapped on a file because it didn't really make a difference what she started with; they just needed to get done. "Was there something you wanted?"
"A few of us are heading to Harley's for after-shift drinks. Just stopping by to see if you wanted to join."
Yeah, a cold beer or two would be just the thing. But the reports ...
"You've been sitting at that desk for hours," he continued. "Take a break. The reports will still be there later."
"That's the problem," she muttered, pushing to her feet. Apparently, she didn't need much convincing to abandon her work. Leigh was probably right, however. If she took a break, she might be in a better frame of mind to finish them later.
She grabbed her jacket from where she'd carelessly tossed it at another chair earlier, but as she shrugged into it, her comm started buzzing. A glance at the screen revealed she was wanted in the squadron war room.
"Hang on, I've got to take a detour," she said as she joined Alpha where he'd gone to wait in the passageway for her.
"Anything wrong?" He fell into step beside her as they headed down the corridor toward the launch deck where the war room was located — used to monitor the pilots and fighter jets whenever they left the Valiant Knox.
"I hope not. Someone planted the idea in my head of getting a beer."
Alpha's only response was a quick half smile as they reached their destination. The four squad members on duty were communicating with a six-patrol unit that had been doing a flyover of a hot zone along the battle lines on the ground.
"What's the sit-rep, Sub-Lieutenant?" she asked, addressing the most senior squad member.
"Sir, the enemy has engaged our ships over the battle lines. Waiting on your orders," the sub-lieutenant replied.
"Eight enemy ships."
More than their own six, but it didn't leave them completely outnumbered.
"Lure them away from the lines. We don't want our own people killed by stray fire or falling wreckage. Then give the go-ahead to engage."
The sub-lieutenant turned to relay the instructions, while she focused on the large split screen in the middle of the room showing six different views from their individual fighter jets.
"Squad will be reaching fifty clicks into enemy territory in three, two. Now," the sub-lieutenant reported.
"Engage." She crossed her arms, hating when she had to watch the battles unfolding from up here. But more and more, since becoming CAFF, she was on deck giving orders, not out in her own jet providing backup to the squad when they were under fire or on a mission.
The ships had been exchanging warning shots, but now the skirmish began in earnest. In a matter of moments, their more technologically advanced fighter jets had taken out four of the older CSS ships. Two had gone down, but the other two had sustained damage and backed off. When a fifth took a hit, it seemed the enemy decided they'd taken enough for one day. But just before they broke off, one released a volley of fire, catching the wing of a fighter jet. The ship went into an uncontrolled spiral.
"Whose jet is that?" She closed in on the console, reading the various warnings scrolling in from the damaged ship.
"It's Sub-Officer Shen."
Bren stared at the screen, willing the younger pilot to regain control of the ship. But the ground was closing in, and the jet was still out of control.
"Tell her to eject."
The sub-lieutenant cut her an apprehensive glance. "Sir, she's almost seventy clicks behind enemy lines —"
"I know where she is." And what would happen to her if the CSS captured her. But the other option was dead, so there was no choice. "Tell her to eject, now. I'm going to clear a retrieval team with Yang."
Not waiting to watch Shen escape the plummeting jet, because the sub-officer was well trained and would make the ground safely, she turned to find Alpha standing just inside the war room hatchway, a grim expression on his face.
"You did the right thing," he said in a low voice as she hurried past him.
"That remains to be seen," she muttered as she took her comm out and sent a message up to Commander Yang's office in the command center that she needed to see him immediately.
Alpha didn't say anything else as they took the transit down into the heart of the ship. Not that he needed to. He'd always been there for her, and now didn't prove to be any different. But not because he thought she couldn't do her job, simply because he was loyal and steadfast, easily the best friend she'd ever had. There was no doubt he'd do just about anything for her and the rest of the fighter pilot squadron.
They arrived at Commander Yang's office, but got waylaid by his assistant, Command Officer Olivia McAllister.
"Commander Yang is in a meeting, but he'll be out shortly."
Olivia was too damned good at her job. There was no getting past her to see Yang, no matter what a person did. Anyone who'd successfully been the assistant of the fearsome Commander Kai Yang for as long as Oliva had to have a backbone of pure steel. The commander had been renowned within the forces long before he'd been captured by the enemy. But after everyone thought him dead — he spent a year and a half in a POW camp — and then made a daring escape despite being injured, the man had become nothing short of legendary.
"I appreciate that, but I've got a pilot down behind enemy lines."
Surely that had to take precedence over whoever Yang was talking with.
"Commander Yang is aware of the situation," Olivia returned in a no-nonsense voice, as if someone's life wasn't in mortal danger.
She took a breath, not sure what she was going to say, only that her impatience was starting to get the better of her, but Alpha clamped a hand on her arm, stopping her before she could even exhale.
"Pissing off Yang's assistant isn't going to help you," he murmured only loud enough for her to hear.
Before she could reply, the door to Yang's office slid open, revealing the other McAllister. Olivia's brother, Colonel Cameron McAllister, who was one of the men in charge of the Ilari base on the ground. The colonel was in his midthirties, but had that natural salt-and-pepper short-cut hair that gave him an air of quiet authority. He was broad all over — wide muscled shoulders and square features with an angular jawline. Add in the slate gray eyes, and he was masculine perfection.
He was one of those people who'd been born for the military and wore his rank with ease. There probably wasn't one person on the ship or the ground who didn't respect and admire him. Yep, everyone loved him. Except her.
She couldn't stand the guy.
The fact that she always noticed exactly how well he wore his uniform irked her to no end.
"Cam." Alpha brushed by her and went over to do that forearm-clasping, shoulder-slapping greeting thing guys liked to do. "Seriously, you spend so much time up here, we might as well get you a rack."
"Not by choice," the colonel replied. "You know I'd rather have my boots on the dirt."
The colonel glanced over at her, sending a reserved, but respectful nod in her direction. "CAFF."
"Colonel." Her reply was equally cool and professional. Just the way it always was whenever they interacted. Which wasn't very often, and exactly the way she liked it.
The man might have been third in charge on the ground, but he hadn't always been an exemplary soldier — she knew that from personal experience. And his mistakes had cost other soldiers their careers and lives. Not that he'd ever admitted it or paid the price for it. Everyone just liked to pretend it hadn't happened, but she had a long memory and wouldn't be forgetting any time soon.
"You have a situation, Bren?" Yang asked, gaining her attention.
"Yes, sir. Sub-Officer Shen was just forced to eject behind enemy lines. I'd like to take in a retrieval team."
Yang's mouth pressed into a grim line. "I'm not sure that's possible right now, Lieutenant."
The immediate refusal was like a blow, resonating shock through her body. She'd assumed clearing this with Yang had just been a formality. She'd never thought, for even a second, he'd refuse her.
"Sir, if she's captured —"
"I know better than anyone what will happen to her if she's captured." Yang's expression got even tighter. No doubt fighting memories of his own time as a CSS prisoner of war. "But Cam has just informed me that with the new rebel movement stirring things up, operating behind enemy lines is more dangerous than ever."
Logically, she understood the gravity of the situation on the ground, but she couldn't abandon Shen. Not when she'd been the one to give the order to eject. With the jet so far out of control, the younger pilot couldn't have done anything else. But she still felt the weight of Shen's safety sitting on her shoulders — the CAFF mantle that weighed more and more every day.
"Then I won't send a team, I'll go myself." It was something the cowboy of the squad, Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne, would have said. And she would have been the first one telling him he was being a moron. But in this instance, she was going to take a leaf out of his book.
"It's too dangerous, Bren." There was a hint of remorse in Yang's otherwise hard tone.
"I can't just leave her —"
"Where did she go down, exactly?" The colonel butted in as if he had every right to know.
She cut him a sideways glance, only just managing to keep the annoyance off her face. This had nothing to do with him, and he was the last person she needed help from. Him and his ridiculously handsome face.
"Seventy clicks east of the beta-two outpost," Alpha answered. "But there was a problem, some sort of interference. It interrupted the final signal from the jet, so we don't know where exactly."
Which was going to make finding Shen that much harder and more dangerous.
The colonel looked at Yang. "Right near where a lot of the rebel activity has been happening."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Yang asked, crossing his arms.
"Could be a good thing. If your pilot runs across a group of rebels, they might help her." The colonel cut a glance between Yang and Alpha. Like she wasn't even there. Her temper started expanding like a balloon.
"This is not supposed to be common knowledge, but I'm heading behind the lines with a small team before dawn tomorrow to meet one of the rebel leaders. If I come across your pilot, I can bring her in," the colonel continued.
The news probably should have brought her some measure of relief. Except, this was Cameron McAllister they were talking about. She didn't trust him not to cock it up.
"I'm coming," she announced, gaining everyone's attention.
The colonel's brows lowered. "That's not —"
"It wasn't a suggestion or a question." She settled a hard look on the colonel, the one she used on the new recruits when they weren't staying in line. "I'm coming, and I'm going to find Shen. I know the jet systems inside out. Without that final transmission, I'm pretty much the only one who'll be able to find her."
"Lieutenant, this isn't going to be a smash-and-grab. This is going to be an extremely covert operation. The CSS can't know we're in their territory."
"Bren is a solid operator, Cam," Alpha put in. "She won't slow you down. Besides, for all the times we've saved your asses with air support, you owe us a favor or ten by now."
The colonel glanced at Yang, and though McAllister didn't say anything, from the way he had his jaw clenched, he didn't like it one bit. Well, he didn't have to like it. He just had to let her tag along. And if she was getting a small amount of pleasure from needling him ... well, no one was perfect.
"I'm happy to approve, Colonel. You'd be doing us a huge favor," Yang said.
"I'll have to clear it with Commander Emmanuel, but that shouldn't be a problem." From the tone of the colonel's voice, anyone would think he'd just been ordered to take an unruly poodle behind enemy lines. Whatever. She wasn't the one with a huge blemish from a massive error in judgment on her military record.
"Can I suggest you take Seb as well?" Alpha directed the question at her, but she wasn't the one who had final say. "He's operated behind enemy lines a few times in the last weeks and even met some of the rebels."
That was putting things mildly. Little had she and Alpha known, but Seb had secretly ended up in the middle of a Command Intelligence assignment with agent Jenna Maxwell. They'd all thought he was finally going off the rails, but in actual fact, he'd been putting himself in harm's way to uncover moles in the UEF forces and protect Jenna, because he'd fallen hard for her.
"Seb met some of the rebels?" The surprise in the colonel's voice erased his obvious annoyance at having an extra person tacked onto his small team. "Why the hell didn't I know about that?"
"You never asked." Alpha shot the colonel a smart-ass grin.
"Then, hell yeah, Seb can come. He might prove handy."
Now the colonel was all enthusiastic about having a couple of fighter pilots tag along. The guy was going to severely test her patience for however long this little jaunt took. At least she'd have Seb to act as a buffer.
"If you'll excuse me, I have a few things to get done before we leave. Sir."
She sent a respectful nod to Yang, and despite it blurring the line of protocol, barley spared the colonel a glance as she left, even though he outranked her and she should have acknowledged him before leaving.
It wasn't ideal, heading behind enemy lines with the colonel. A solider needed to trust their teammates, and there was no way she'd ever trust Colonel Cameron McAllister. Not with his history.
Maybe it wasn't fair to judge the guy off one incident when the rest of his service had apparently been exemplary. But her brother was dead because of him, and she would never be able to forget it.
Excerpted from "War Games"
Copyright © 2017 Jess Anastasi.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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