Copyright © 2012 Katie Porter
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Captain Leah Girardi loved her time in the flight simulator. Not every pilot did. She figured that when Big Daddy Air Force was being stingy with the jet fuel, the simulator was as good as it got. Besides, the full mission simulator was almost like the real thing. Best video game ever.
But as much as she liked it, a few hours spent in there tended to take the oomph out of a girl.
By the time she walked into the 64th Aggressor Squadron’s hangar, she was worn out. Her back ached, her eyes were blurry and her neck was as tight as it ever got. Luckily she only had to report in to Major Ryan Haverty and she was good to go. She ought to be home in about twenty minutes. Fifteen if she pushed her motorcycle as fast as she shouldn’t.
Fang’s office was barely bigger than a cubicle, but he had it to himself. He looked up from his stacks of paperwork as Leah dropped into the spare chair. “You up to date?”
“Yep. Everything’s straight. I came through with flying colors.”
“When don’t you?” He clicked away on his computer for a second.
“Never. Because I’m awesome.” Leaning forward, she snagged a framed picture from beside his monitor. The woman behind the glass was an elfin-featured redhead. “Aw, so cute. Does Cassandra know she rated desk space already?”
A hint of a blush spread over Ryan’s cheeks. It was still bizarre to see him in a real relationship. Leah, Ryan, and their third friend, Captain Jon Carlisle, had been a solid unit. They still were, but Ryan and Jon had both added girlfriends to the mix.
Leah didn’t like to admit how much it bugged her. Not because she begrudged them their happiness, since they both totally deserved it, but because it had become wickedly apparent she had no one. A nagging frustration and ridiculous sense of boredom pervaded her waking hours when she went home alone.
She was a fighter pilot, for Christ’s sake. A female fighter pilot. She needed to be better than perfect.
But when she wasn’t in the air, she was bored.
She wiggled the picture under her chin. “So…does Cass know?”
“Yeah,” he said on a slightly awkward chuckle. “She caught me printing it off.”
“You two are so adorable, I think I might die of a diabetic coma.” She put the picture back on the desk then stretched her legs out and crossed them at the ankles. She was still stiff from four hours in the flight simulator. “But why’d you want me to come by? Everyone else got to go straight home. You’re crimping my four-day.”
“Don’t pout,” he said dryly. “It’s unbecoming of an officer.”
She stuck her tongue out. “Spill.”
Pulling a dark blue folder out from the bottom of a teetering stack of paper, Ryan released a chuffing breath. “We’ve got a new pilot. He just showed up today.”
“Don’t say it,” she warned.
“I’d like you to be his point of contact.”
She flopped back in her seat. “I knew that was what you were gonna say. Come on, Fang, don’t do this to me. It’s Washington’s birthday on Monday. Four-day weekend. I have plans.”
“And what exactly do those entail? Getting s**tfaced and calling me for a ride?” He lifted his eyebrows. Ryan was generally a nice guy. Buff, and so clean-cut he should’ve joined the Army just to be in the 82nd, the nickname of which was the All Americans. There were times Leah remembered why he was the boss.
“I’ve been good lately,” she said, and even more freaking bored as a result. She’d gotten too near to inappropriate with an ineligible guy at the yearly Air Force Ball. Luckily Ryan and Jon had hauled her out of there before she got too far flirting with an executive officer’s husband. They’d also chewed her a new one. Quite the night.
It had been a bit of a wake-up call.
She’d barely had a drink since. Just a few beers now and then.
“I really don’t want to spend the whole weekend dragging some random guy all around Vegas trying to find him a place to live.”
“Then we’re good on that front,” said a voice from the doorway behind her. “I’m already locked down. Had my household goods delivered this morning.”
Leah went stock-still, like her engines had shut off. She gripped the padded arms of the seat. And her heartbeat… Yeah, she could admit her heartbeat went into overdrive. Hardcore.
She knew that voice.
It had been a long time—six years, as a matter of fact—but that didn’t matter. When a woman’s strongest memory of a man was his voice in her ear telling her that he loved the way she smiled when she came, it tended to be memorable.
Ryan smiled past Leah. “There you are. Templeton, I’d like you to meet Captain Leah Girardi. Also known as Princess Leah.”
Her eyes narrowed. She was tempted to deck Fang. Princess might be her call sign, but that didn’t mean she liked it.
Ryan kept talking as if he didn’t feel the death threats she was telepathically sending his way. “Princess, this is Captain Mike Templeton. Call sign Strap Happy, right?”
She made herself twist in the seat to look. Seeing him would only get worse the longer she put it off.
In the absence of any logical thought, a creative string of curses assembled in her mind. The man looked better than ever. Good enough to nom down on. A few times.
When Leah had last seen him, Mike had been…cute. Kind of adorable in the way he hadn’t yet grown into his lanky hands and tall height.
He wore the usual olive-green flight suit, but he filled it out like whoa and damn. His shoulders had gotten wider—way wider—while his hips were as narrow as when she’d wrapped her ankles around him. He’d even matured through the face, his jawline sharper. His eyes were still that unforgettable neon blue, silently laughing at her. Constantly.
He grinned at her. “Leah and I go way back.”
Leah sent up a silent prayer that he’d leave it at that. She and Ryan had briefly dated what felt like a century ago. Since that time, she’d called a moratorium on sleeping with fellow pilots. It was hard as hell to be taken seriously in the sky when the guys thought she was also a throttle groupie.
Forcing herself to stick a hand out was easier than she’d expected. “Hey, Mike.” Even her voice had a more tranquil pitch than she’d feared. “Where you been hiding yourself?”
He shrugged, took her hand and shook it. As he drew away, he trailed his middle finger down her palm.
No way in hell would she admit the shiver that worked past her shoulder blades. Or the way her nipples tightened. Thank God for the thick-ass layers of her flight suit.
“Been here and there.” Thankfully, he positioned himself along a triangle between her and Ryan’s desk, so she could assess them both. “Few tours over Iraq and the ’Stans. How’d you get lucky enough to hide out here so fast?”
Poof. Tightened-nipple problem fixed. She slumped back into her seat. Nothing killed her attraction faster than condescension. Her teeth ground together, but she kept the smile on her lips. “By being better than you, obviously,” she said in a syrupy-sweet tone.
Ryan folded his hands over the folder. “Are we going to have a problem here?”
The laugh lines spreading out from the corners of Mike’s eyes were new. “No problem at all. In fact, it’s almost like being home again.”
Ryan wasn’t stupid. He scrutinized them both, finally landing his gaze on her. A firm glint of warning sparked in his eyes. He’d been on Leah’s ass to clean up her act for a while now, arguing that she was due to have been major a year ago. Sparring with a fellow squadron member wasn’t going to win her any gold stars.
“So,” he said slowly, glancing at Mike. “Strap Happy? How’d you get saddled with that?”
Since there was nowhere else for him to sit, Mike leaned those freaking wide shoulders against the wall. He put on a gee-shucks grin and darted Leah a look out of the corner of his eye. “You know how it is. Get caught with one tiny riding crop and there’s no shaking the jokes.”
She coughed into a fist to hide a hot rush. Her thighs loosened—just a fraction—before she clenched them again.
Mike into the kinky stuff? No way. What a joke that was.
Hell, not once over their three-month relationship had she been able to tease him into giving her the kind of f**king she’d wanted. Although the sex hadn’t been bad by any means, it hadn’t been a rocking good time. Sex that was all sweetness and slow touches had its time, but occasionally Leah needed something meatier. Rougher.
Mike hadn’t ever managed to cough it up.
“So if Templeton already has a place, it sounds like there won’t be much for you to do, Leah,” Ryan said. “You’ve lucked out. Maybe show him the clinic and the BX.”
Leah lifted her eyebrows. “Are you kicking us out, Fang? What, you got a hot date?”
“I’ve got a hot date every night,” Ryan said after a laugh. “Because I am one lucky son of a gun. Now out. I need to lock up.”
Reluctantly, she cranked out of her seat.
Mike still looked just as good. F**k. So not fair that men only got hotter as they got older. Even his smirk better fit his angular features.
As she walked through the near-empty headquarters with Mike at her side, Leah passed an uncomfortably nervous hand over the slick sweep of her hair. Still knotted up right and tight, not a strand out of place. She couldn’t wait until she could get home and let the heavy weight down. Who knew how long that would be now.
She slipped on her dark-as-hell sunglasses as they stepped out into the parking lot. Even in mid-February, the Nevada sun was bright—shocking after the dim shadows of the cool building. Unseasonable heat made her flight suit cling damply to the back of her neck.
Mike still looked as cool as a cucumber. His hair was longer than it used to be, the golden brown coming way too close to his ears. The length revealed a hint of curl she hadn’t remembered. Without a haircut before Tuesday, the higher-ups were going to give him hell. But far be it from her to point that out. He knew the regs. He had to. He’d already been a fighter pilot when she’d been fresh out of commissioned officer training.
“I know you only made captain two years ago,” she said.
He raked his fingers across his scalp. The move thickened his biceps to a seriously unfair degree. “Sets a guy back when he can’t fly for a year. Torn ACLs will do that. I was lucky the surgery worked. Didn’t realize you were keeping tabs on me, Leah.”
“Small community. Hard to avoid the s**t.” She turned her gaze out to the far-off horizon. A C-17 was lumbering into the air just over the rows of hangars. “I’ve got more time in grade than you.”
Like he didn’t know what she was talking about. He’d been absently dismissive of female pilots when he and Leah were involved. Apparently chicks in jets didn’t even rate enough to get worked up over.
“So,” she said, as if speaking to a child. “I’ve been a captain longer. I want to know the same thing Major Haverty did. Are we going to have a problem?”