From the author of the Alpha Ops series comes an action-packed, super sexy military romance. A legend among black ops teams, Col. Duke Cameron can't wait to get back in action again--no matter how high the risk. Two of the world's best military pilots are missing after a midair collision, and he's made it his job to find out why. U.S. Air Force veteran Casey Jacobs loves working for a cutting-edge, high-tech company - until she suspects their newest design might have caused a horrible plane crash. But after a few "accidents," it's clear no one wants her asking too many questions. The only person she trusts to help her is Duke, the sexy secret crush from her flying days who still turns her on like no one ever has. But someone is watching their every move, making sure they don't uncover the truth. And when the danger turns physical, it's not just their love that's on the line. It's their lives. "Dangerous secrets and undeniable chemistry are the hallmarks of Curtis's steamy third Elite Ops contemporary military romantic thriller." - Publishers Weekly "Very thrilling, with lots of action and lots of sex. Recommend for those who read Julie Walker." - Library Journal
Release date: July 10, 2018
Publisher: Forever Yours
Print pages: 240
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Colonel Duke Cameron wasn’t the squared-away commander everybody saw. He wasn’t the obedient by-the-books officer he’d accidentally become.
But that was going to change. Right now.
Two pilots were missing—on his watch. And it didn’t matter that the military had farmed out these Red Flag training games in the Nevada desert to a huge tech corporation this year. It didn’t matter that he had only two years to go before he hit the minimum retirement length of service if he just kept his head down and played by the rules.
It did matter that he now had only one hour before he was supposed to meet with Casey Jacobs. They’d encountered each other a couple of times when he’d been deployed—once flying MJ-130Js in Germany, another couple of times in Afghanistan. Now she worked for TechGen-One, the third-party military contractor sponsoring these training exercises for the most elite pilots around the world.
When Casey had come to his office that afternoon, she looked as beautiful and sharp as usual, but there had been an imperceptible barrier between them. He was sure she knew something about the crash, and why her company was taking forever to find the aircraft and the pilots.
He told himself, again, that this meeting had nothing to do with the looks they had exchanged when they’d crossed paths in Kabul. Nothing to do with the time they’d taken shelter in the same bunker when their base had been attacked by insurgents. Nothing to do with how she’d been his “what if” person. Nope. Nada. Never.
Casey Jacobs had her phone in her hand and was pacing the length of her hotel room. She should switch the phone off, right? But maybe TGO would get suspicious if she did. Her brain was jumping from thought to thought. She had to calm down.
She took some deep breaths and sat on the bed. Then after a couple of seconds, she put the phone in the drawer of the bedside table. It would be better if it rang and she didn’t hear it. Less suspicious maybe. Easier on her nerves, at least.
All she’d done was make an innocent inquiry to head office about the equipment on the planes that had crashed, and her world had collapsed around her. If she kept her mouth shut, everything would be okay. Maybe.
Her work-buddy Malcolm, at TGO’s headquarters, had warned her off. Suggested that TGO tapped its employees’ phones. Suggested that they sued people who asked too many questions. Suggested that when TGO whistle-blowers committed suicide, that maybe it wasn’t exactly suicide. What the hell had she gotten into? She couldn’t begin to fathom what had happened to her life in the previous twenty-four hours.
But if TGO had tapped her phone, they would have already heard her panicked message. Malcolm! What’s going on? We have planes and pilots missing, and their last transmissions suggested they were experiencing the same bugs we reported in our PreCall software last year. Aircraft overcorrecting, lack of pilot control, radio static. Did we put PreCall on their aircraft? Did they even know? Is that legal? Call me back!
Even if she didn’t have specific knowledge of any wrongdoing, she already sensed that her new company—and her new boss, Mr. Danvers—were somehow above the law. The company letterhead boasted names from the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. From high up in the Pentagon. From the West Wing of the White House.
She had to try persuade them that she was on board with the company line. But her military training—her honor and integrity—were battling against her survival instinct. She just plain didn’t know what to do.
After her panicked message to Malcolm, he’d sent her a newspaper clipping about how her company had won a lawsuit against a man named James Turner, who had leaked information to a journalist. The judgment had left Turner close to destitute. No one had raised an eyebrow when he’d killed himself. Except now, Casey had been given reason to wonder. Malcom had suggested to her that TGO had ruined him as a message to other whistle-blowers, and then killed him to stop him from talking.
But things like that just didn’t happen in real life. Did they? She’d known only the air force before she joined TGO. What did she know? Her heart started racing again. Could one company do that? Surely not. Unless the company was stacked with former military and former CIA types. And they thought they were at risk. And the company’s shareholders were the most powerful people in the country. She collapsed on the bed, her knees fizzing, as if she were about to pass out. Could that really happen to her?
The bedside table vibrated. When she’d taken a breath and climbed down from the ceiling, she leaned over and opened the drawer, peering in, not daring to touch the phone in case…well, she didn’t really know.
The number was from Nellis Air Force Base. She frowned and slid her finger across the screen to pick up the call. “Hello?”
“Thank God you’re there, baby.”
She frowned, not being able to place the voice. “Who is this?”
“Really? We flew together downrange and you don’t even remember me? I saved your life.” He sounded hurt.
She grinned. “Animal? Is that you?” Relief threaded through her as she sat back down on the bed. The Korean air force pilot had saved her life, and the lives of her crew. He’d taken out the nest of a surface-to-air missile that had locked on to her aircraft, and then took out the missile too. He’d been laughing over the intercom as he had performed a maneuver that had seemed to defy physics as he’d blown the target to hell. Educated in America, he sometimes sounded more like a Texan than a native of Seoul.
“You know it. How’ve you been? I hear you defected to TGO,” he said. His tone was casual, but there was something tense simmering beneath it.
Her stomach clenched again. She took a breath. “I’d never defect.” She left it hanging there.
He paused. “Then I’m calling in my favor.”
“What do you need?” she asked, knowing she was already in the hole. They wanted to go search for the missing pilots.
“I need you to get us off base. I hear TGO has it on lockdown,” the Animal said.
Her mind started whirring, and he fell silent to let her think. “How many of you?”
“Eight, give or take.”
“Can you tell me what you’re planning?” she asked. And then she remembered about her phone. “Oh, wait. Don’t even tell me. There isn’t enough booze or women on base to satisfy the Animal?”
“Riiiight?” he said, obviously perplexed.
“Let me call you back.” She hung up before he could say anything else, and picked up the phone on her bedside table. She input the number he had called from. “It’s me.”
“Okay. Sure you’re not in the CIA instead of TGO?” the Animal said, a touch of humor in his voice.
“I’m just being careful. As you should. Can you get a minivan from transport and make out like you’re all going out to party? I’ll make sure I’m at the back gate. What time?”
“As soon as possible. It’ll take me about fifteen minutes to get a van. Hold on.”
She could hear him talking to someone.
“Yeah. Fifteen minutes. Let’s make it twenty, I need to pick up some supplies.”
“You’re going into the desert, aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re going to look for the two pilots.”
“We’re going out looking for our friends.” The Animal’s voice was firm and unbendable. “The way we’d go look for you, if you’d crashed out there.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “I know,” Casey said simply. She had no doubt about that. And if she were still in the military, she too would have busted out of lockdown to search for a missing airman.
She looked at the clock by the bed. She was due to meet Cameron in ten minutes at the officers’ club. She hoped he’d wait for her.
“See you there,” she told Animal.
She grabbed her bag and car keys and slipped on her sandals. She was already in the dress she’d planned on wearing on her date. No. Not a date. Would strappy sandals make it seem too much like a date? Would sneakers make her dress look stupid? Urgh. She’d grab both pairs of shoes and make up her mind in the car.
She ran down the stairs rather than waiting for the elevator and was in her car in five minutes. She drove past the officers’ club on the way to the gate, just to see if Cameron was already there. If he’d been waiting for her outside, she’d have stopped to tell him she had an errand to run first. She couldn’t see him, so she pressed on through the base.
When she reached the rear side of Nellis, she parked her car at the visitor center and walked over to the TGO guys manning the gate. When they saw her coming, they ran to the door of the security hut and held it open for her.
“Good evening, ma’am. What can I help you with?” the younger of the two men said.
“My friends want to go out on the town tonight, and I told them they could go.” She rolled her eyes, as if totally exasperated with them.
“I’m afraid the base is on lockdown,” the young guy said.
An older man looked over the top of his glasses at her. “It’s okay, Scott. This is Ms. Jacobs. She’s a senior VP on the board of directors. She speaks for Mr. Danvers.”
The young man looked confused.
“Mr. Danvers is the CEO of TGO, Scott. You know, the company you work for?” the older man said, as if he were talking to a kid. He got off his swivel chair and came from around the high desk, shaking his head. “Can’t get the staff these days.”
She grinned. “We were all new once,” she said.
The older man shook his head again, as if in dismay, and raised his eyebrows at her. “He’s not that new,” he said drily.
She grinned and handed her TGO ID to the younger security guard and signed a piece of paper on the clipboard he handed over. As she did, she realized her mistake. Her name was documented now. Danvers would know she’d let the airmen out. There was no getting away from it. She saw a minibus from the air force recreation facility headed toward the gate. It wasn’t hard to figure it was them as they were literally the only vehicle exiting the base.
“Here they are,” she said, trying to inject a cheeriness into her voice, when all she was feeling was doubt, bordering on fear. “I’m going to follow them out. I think it would be safer to chaperone them, and make sure they come right back on base after.” She didn’t know why that had slipped out, but as soon as she said it, she knew she’d feel safer off base.
She opened the door and breezed out of the security hut. Her car keys in hand, she dashed to her car and pulled in behind the minivan. She could see five heads in the government vehicle. One of them was the Animal, and she wondered who the others were.
The younger guy opened the electronic security gates. She waved to thank him, but he was looking at the old security guard, who seemed to be shouting. With a radio to his ear, the older guy slammed his hand down on the control board, and the gate started to close on her.
Adrenaline shot through her. She wasn’t stopping. She needed to get out, maybe find a lawyer. Hide. She gunned the car, stomping on the gas.
A motorcyclist outfitted in black came up behind her. Nope. No way she was stopping. She took one last look at the security man, who seemed to be punching all the buttons on the gate mechanism in fury.
She accelerated through the gate as it closed, clipping a side mirror off her car. She was free. She took a deep breath. But also, she’d just passed the point of no return. There was no talking her way out of this one.
She wondered if she should flag down the Animal to warn him, but as she went to flash her high beams at him, about eight other heads popped up from the floor of the minivan. She couldn’t help but nod in approval. She would let him get on with what he was doing—the air force would protect them all against TGO.
It wouldn’t protect her, though. She’d just disobeyed a direct order from her CEO. Her mind went to the elaborate contract she’d signed when she’d joined TGO. She was pretty sure she’d just broken about five clauses.
She was in the shit now.
Cameron had just been about to pull off his motorcycle helmet in the parking lot of the officers’ club, when he’d seen Casey.
She’d slowed right down as she passed the entrance to the parking lot, then accelerated off. And the expression he’d seen on her face made him change his mind about going in to order drinks.
She’d looked tense. Lines had furrowed her brow, and her lips had been pressed firmly together as she scanned the front of the club, maybe looking for him?
Instinctively he put his helmet back on and gunned the engine. Barely even registering the decision, he peeled out of the parking lot and looked for her car.
By the time he’d caught up—and he was doing the strictly enforced base speed limit of twenty miles per hour—she was running from the security office at the gate back to her car.
Something prickled his skin as he watched the security gate open to let a government-issue minivan leave the base. That was strange. No one had been allowed to leave the compound since TGO had taken over operational control of the base.
Casey looked as if she were heading back to the officers’ club and their date, but at the last minute she swung in behind the van and followed it out. He’d been well and truly stood up.
He took a breath and was about to return to his house when he heard shouting. He looked back at the gate to see it literally closing on Casey’s car. Something metallic grated and a projectile flew off her car and clanged on the pavement—a side mirror maybe?
If there wasn’t a malfunction with the gate, TGO was deliberately trying to stop her from leaving. Cameron slipped his visor down and accelerated toward the gate, this time paying no mind to the speed limit.
The gate was closing faster, now that Casey’s car wasn’t in the way. He only had a couple of seconds before he would crash into the completely closed titanium gate. It was unsurvivable at his speed. The engine growled as it surged under his control. Time slowed as he watched the gate slide shut in front of him. He could make it. He got closer. Nope. No, he couldn’t.
He squeezed his eyes shut as he slid through the tiny space left between the moving gate and the wall. His leg scraped across the brick as he flew through.
Adrenaline flushed through him as he realized he was still alive. He shouted into the wind. Victory! Except, he didn’t know what he’d scored against. Who the fuck cared, though?
He gunned it down the road in pursuit of Casey’s car. Fuck the speed limit.
The minivan turned off into the courtyard of a Hertz rental company storefront. He was insanely curious about what was going on, but he kept his eyes on the prize. Something had chased Casey off Nellis Air Force Base, and he was determined to find out what. Too much crazy shit was going on for him not to run down a lead—and frankly, Casey had been his only lead.
He slowed down as he approached her car, holding back in case…well, he wasn’t sure what. He was 75 percent sure that she was in some kind of trouble. He just hoped she wasn’t responsible in some way for the TGO shit show they’d made of Red Flag. Because if she was. . .
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