CROSSING THE LINE (EBOOK)
CROSSING THE LINE (EBOOK)
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Book 1 in the Sisters in Arms Military Romantic Suspense Series
Love begins with trust...and he's already broken hers.
When their chopper went down behind enemy lines, US Army pilot Eve Paris and Special Forces Captain Rick Bishop were forced to work together to escape. Their attraction was intense, but back home their relationship crashed. To save her career, Eve and Rick must return to the crash site.
But will they be able to salvage their love?
Written by a former US Navy Lt.
If you like strong, female protagonists mixed with intense romance and page-turning suspense, you'll love this story by Candace Irvin.
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You have never lived until you have almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a special meaning that the protected will never know.
—U.S. Special Operations motto
She was on top of the world—literally.
Eve grinned as the newborn sun finally seared up through the dense canopy of trees that formed the Central American jungle below, igniting the world with swaths of emerald green, fiery red and burnt orange. She tightened her grip on the chopper’s joystick and leaned forward in the cockpit, drawn in by the Black Hawk’s panoramic windows and the spectacular view below. There was no doubt about it. She’d finally made it into heaven and she wasn’t even dead.
“Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?”
Another shot of adrenaline pulsed through Eve’s veins, matching the rhythmic thunder of the chopper’s blades. She grinned across the cockpit to her copilot. “You got it. The question is, how can you give it up?”
Carrie’s answering laughter bubbled though Eve’s earphones. “I’m not giving it up, exactly. I’m just trading it in for a hot bath back in the old U.S. of A. with enough bubbles to soak the sweat and grime off my face and restore my complexion to manageable.” Carrie swept her hands toward the dense trees two hundred feet below. “It’s all yours, honey. For the next six months, anyway.”
“I’ll take it.” Eve nodded crisply, then cocked her mouthpiece toward the aerial map spread out on Carrie’s lap. “But first, find my blasted landing zone, woman!”
Once again laughter bubbled above the thundering blades as Carrie turned her sparkling blue gaze to the map she’d been using to supplement the Black Hawk’s malfunctioning global positioning system for the last thirty minutes. Carrie was all business as she glanced up and pointed dead ahead. “Keep it steady. The LZ is just over that ridge.”
Two minutes later they were there.
Eve nudged her stick and swooped the Black Hawk down into the tiny clearing. Even before she felt the gentle thump as the bird touched down into the six-foot elephant grass, the squad of San Sebastián soldiers and their two U.S. Special Forces advisors were storming out of the chopper and melting into the perimeter beyond. Eve didn’t bother taking off but peered into the dense foliage.
Nothing but early-morning shadows and trees.
Where was the American soldier she was supposed to pick up and fly back to the San Sebastián presidential compound? Eve glanced at the clock on her instrument panel. The man had better show soon. His briefing started in less than an hour.
“Relax. He’ll be here.”
“Me? I’m not the one blushing like a sophomore waiting for the school jock to cruise past my locker.”
“I am not blushing.”
But she was and they both knew it. Just as they both knew why. Or better yet, who Carrie was hoping to see.
Eve waited until their crew chief bailed out of the bird to scan the perimeter for their next set of passengers before she powered the chopper’s engine down to idle. As the roar eased, she switched off her mouthpiece and pulled off her helmet, running her fingers through the tangles on her head as she scrounged up the courage to voice what had to be said. She might have only been in San Sebastián a couple of days, but she knew Carrie well enough to know that this time the woman was in over her head.
Eve finally sighed. “He’s enlisted.”
Evidently, Carrie had been waiting for her pronouncement, because she just shrugged. “He’s a hunk.”
“You could lose your wings—and your commission.”
“I don’t care.”
Damn. It was worse than she’d feared. Eve glanced out the side door of the chopper. The jungle was eerily silent beyond, no doubt due to the recent man-made intrusion. She turned back to Carrie, but Carrie still wouldn’t meet her gaze. For once she wasn’t sure how to respond to her best friend. Though they’d spoken regularly on the phone, they hadn’t seen each other in two years.
Evidently things had changed.
She swallowed hard. “Carrie, do you realize what you’re saying?”
Carrie turned then, pulling off her own helmet and running her fingers through her inky curls as she shrugged. “Yeah, I do.”
Fortunately, she didn’t need to worry about a comeback, at least not right then. Because, as Eve tipped her head to the left and stared past her friend’s olive-drab flight suit, she spied two camouflaged soldiers with fully-loaded rucksacks on their backs stepping out from the trees beyond.
She must have stiffened, because Carrie turned around to stare as well. Her friend was smiling as she swung back. “It’s him. I was hoping he’d have to tag along. But I couldn’t be sure.”
Eve’s heart sank. Though there’d been more men in Carrie’s life than either of them could count, she’d only seen that beatific smile once before. It was during their senior year of college. During the reign of Jake-the-Great. Her heart sank even further. Carrie hadn’t been pretending. Her friend knew darn well she was playing with fire.
And she didn’t care if she got burned.
Eve flicked her gaze back to the men as their crew chief, Sergeant Lange, joined them. A couple yards more and they were close enough for her to make out their camouflage-greased facial features, though not the flat black ranking insignia on their collars. It didn’t matter. Her heart sank to her toes as she studied the taller of the two Green Beret advisors. If that was Sergeant Turner, it was too late for Carrie or the woman’s career. Heck, even she’d be tempted to rip off her wings for a night with the man.
Hunk was an understatement.
With those dark forbidding brows beneath the man’s field cap, strong cheeks and firm lips, combined with that mouth-watering physique beneath his jungle fatigues, the Army could skip the Be All You Can Be recruiting logo. For the women, anyway. Just slap a poster of this guy up in the halls of America’s high schools and they’d be signing up in droves.
As he drew closer, Eve sucked in her breath—and realized she’d been staring. A split second later, she caught the twin bars on his collar. They matched hers. Thank heaven. At least she hadn’t been ogling the man her best friend thought she was falling in love with.
If Carrie wasn’t already beyond saving.
Moments later, Eve knew she was. Before Eve could stop her, Carrie had vaulted from the cockpit and headed out to meet the men. The blinding grin still on her face as she turned back confirmed it. Jake-the-Great and every lover after was nothing more than a distant memory.
Against her better judgment, not to mention standard procedure, Eve climbed out of the cockpit as well. She rounded the front of the bird as her crew chief tossed the soldiers’ rucksacks into the rear of the chopper and climbed in after. Carrie stepped forward and grabbed her arm, practically ripping the sleeve of her flight suit off as she hauled her toward the men.
“Eve, this is Sergeant Turner. Bill, Captain Paris.”
Not only had Carrie lost her head, she’d lost her manners, at least her military ones. It was bad enough for Carrie, also a captain, to be on a first-name basis with the enlisted man while in uniform, but did she have to advertise the fact before Turner’s commander?
Maybe the man would let it slide?
The deep frown on his face said otherwise.
Anxious to ward off a set-down within earshot of their crew chief, Eve nodded to the sergeant and stuck out her hand toward his commander. “Captain Paris. You must be Captain Bishop.”
If anything, Bishop’s frown deepened as he ignored her outstretched palm. “I am. Now, if social hour’s over, perhaps you soldiers would do me the favor of getting this damned bird off the ground before I miss my briefing.” He flicked his steel-blue gaze into the belly of the chopper. “Where’s my headset?”
Eve stiffened as the jackass stepped crisply past, dismissing her as curtly as he’d ignored her hand.
“My spare headset is on the fritz.”
Bishop spun about, the swift arch in his deep black brows clearly voicing his suspicions.
Too bloody bad.
Her crew chief would support her, as would Carrie.
In fact, behind Captain Marvel’s very back, Lange was already calmly slipping the extra headset with its perfectly functioning two-way communications link into its storage slot. From the way her chief snapped the door shut, she wasn’t the only one who’d taken offense at Bishop’s brusque comments.
Eve shrugged. “Global positioning is down, too. Fancy that.” She turned her back on the man before he could answer and strolled around the front of the chopper to climb in.
Captain Marvel wanted to play drill sergeant?
Fine with her. But she’d be damned if she was going to give him the courtesy of listening in while he did it.
Of all the lousy luck.
Rick bit down on his scowl as he studied the two pilots who had been tasked with ferrying him to the presidential compound for his briefing. He had no idea who the blonde was—and if she was anything like her copilot, he didn’t care. But the dark one, he knew that one all right. Better than he wanted to. Carrie Evans was going to cost him the best sergeant he’d ever had if he wasn’t careful. Dammit, he should have requested a set of male pilots. He would have, too, if it wouldn’t have led to questions.
Questions he couldn’t risk answering.
Still, he should have kept a tighter lid on his disappointment, not to mention his anger. After all, it wasn’t Captain Paris’s fault.
Well, it was too late now.
The crew chief slid the chopper’s side door shut as the officer he’d snubbed settled in the pilot’s seat and powered up the Black Hawk. Rick tugged off his field cap and scrubbed his hands through his shorn hair as he sank down into the webbed bench at the rear of the bird.
Another bad move.
His sergeant promptly took advantage of the forward empty seats, commandeering the one directly behind the pilot’s. In doing so, Sergeant Turner had afforded himself a choice view of the copilot—the same copilot Turner had been preoccupied with for five of the last six months. Rick tried scowling at the man as the chopper’s crew chief moved to the rear instrument panel to busy himself with the takeoff checks. Unfortunately, Turner’s attention was already focused on Carrie Evans.
The bird took off smoothly, thundering over the trees where Rick had spent the last eighteen months training San Sebastián’s soldiers. He allowed his gaze to stray to the back of Captain Paris’s helmet. Eve. A good two inches of dark-gold curls spilled out from beneath the bottom edge of the Kevlar bucket, curls that were a shade lighter than the smooth brows framing those striking emerald eyes. He’d seen them for all of five seconds as the woman initiated their introduction. Thickly lashed, her eyes were unusually large…until her gaze had narrowed.
For the first time in a long time, he pushed aside regret.
In the end it wouldn’t matter how professional the woman was. In twelve years in the Army, he had more than enough experience to know that a woman that stunning was nothing but trouble out in the field. Take Carrie Evans. The captain was already paying more attention to his sergeant than to the aerial map spread out on her lap. It’d be a miracle if they reached the presidential compound on time. If at all.
Just then, Paris turned to say something to her copilot. Unfortunately, Rick couldn’t make the words out over the pounding of the chopper’s blades. If only the extra headset wasn’t down. What he wouldn’t give to listen in on that conversation. Rick had the distinct impression Captain Paris hadn’t been any more thrilled with Carrie’s familiar behavior toward his sergeant back at the LZ than he’d been. The suspicion bit into him again as the curve of the woman’s jaw tightened. Especially when Carrie jerked her gaze from his sergeant’s and fused it to the aerial map.
Way to go, Paris.
Evidently an apology was in order when this bird landed because at least one of the women was intent on the mission at hand. His sergeant, however, had an ass-ripping coming as soon as he shifted that blasted lovesick-puppy gaze of his to the rear of the chopper long enough for Rick to catch it.
Of course, his sergeant didn’t.
Nor did Paris’s reproach last.
In the next fifteen minutes, Rick caught Carrie Evans’s gaze sneaking back to his sergeant’s at least that many times. And given Paris’s concentration on her own tasks—that of flying this blasted thing, she didn’t seem to be aware of the majority of the glances. That last gaze, however, she did catch. It sent her head snapping to the right once more and, this time, that delicate jaw locked. Again, Rick couldn’t make out the words, but from the slump in Carrie’s shoulders as she refocused her attention on the map, they weren’t any kinder than the ones he’d have fired off.
Unfortunately, Paris’s latest rebuke was too late.
Rick was certain the second he glanced out of the chopper’s oversized side windows. Differentiating one section of jungle canopy from the next was about as easy as squeezing a platoon of soldiers into a one-man foxhole. But even he knew from that fifty-foot waterfall they were now flying over, the chopper was a good eight kilometers off course. If they didn’t get back on course soon, there’d be hell to pay—from San Sebastián’s neighbors.
“We’re losing power!”
Rick jerked his gaze forward, certain he’d misheard the crew chief’s shout. After all, it had barely registered above the roar and vibration of the chopper’s blades before the chief spun around to his instrument panel.
But he hadn’t.
By the time Rick snapped his gaze to the cockpit, both women were frantically flicking levers and switches. Once again he found himself wishing the spare comm headset wasn’t busted.
Suddenly, he didn’t need to hear their frantic words.
The choke of the engine as it cut out altogether confirmed his suspicions, as well as the sudden fisting in his gut. Especially when the comforting roar of the chopper’s blades gave way to the chilling whoosh of a rotor no longer under man-made power, but that of Mother Nature.
This was it, then.
It was time to kiss their boots goodbye.
It didn’t take a degree in rocket science to know that seven tons of Army steel were about to drop out of the sky with all the aerodynamics of a slick brick.
No…not pain, piercing agony. It sliced into Eve with each breath she took. Her lungs were on fire.
No, not her lungs. It was her ribs that seemed to be splitting asunder. But her lungs were screaming too.
On her next breath, she knew why. The air searing through her nose and mouth contained the wrong ratio of gasoline fumes to fresh air. The jet fuel was way too pungent.
Oh, God—they were leaking fuel.
Eve forced her eyes open and struggled to focus.
Shattered glass, shredded steel.
Trees. The distinctive dark green of jungle undergrowth. Patches of dirt.
Where the devil was the sky?
Someone groaned. It wasn’t until Eve inhaled again that she realized the rasping sound had come from her own mouth.
Good Lord, what had happened?
And then she remembered. The crash. The chopper’s engine had stalled before cutting out altogether. She’d tried to pull pitch to soften the landing but then—
Eve twisted her head to the right and nearly threw up.
Her crew chief was dead. His right arm was flung limply between the seats of the now-crumpled cockpit, his gut impaled by the thick tree limb that had punctured one of the windows imbedded in the side door of the chopper’s skin. Death had captured the stark horror of the crash within Sergeant Lange’s glassy gaze with eerie perfection. If she ever got out of this chopper alive, she would never forget that bottomless stare.
She forced her gaze from her crew chief’s and struggled to scan what was left of the rear of the chopper. She couldn’t see Captain Bishop or his sergeant.
Had the two been thrown clear?
Had anyone else survived?
Her answer came in a whimper and then a rasping choke.
Eve cried out as she pushed the chief’s arm into the rear of the chopper in order to see Carrie’s battered body. Her helmet had fallen off and the left side of her dark, gorgeous curls were now matted and soaked with blood…as was the torso of her flight suit. With each breath Carrie took, Eve could hear the tell-tale gurgling, sucking sound beneath.
Sweet mercy. Carrie had punctured a lung.
Eve wiped the tears from her eyes only to discover they were mixed with her own blood. She didn’t bother seeking out the source, just wiped her hand on her sleeve and gritted her teeth against the agony in her chest as she reached out to smooth her fingers down the side of Carrie’s frighteningly pale neck, automatically checking her pulse.
It was thready, but it was there.
She swallowed firmly, nearly choking on her relief as she prayed her friend was conscious. “C-Carrie?”
Nothing. Not so much as a groan. Just the soft scratching of a thousand rustling leaves and branches scraping against the outside of the chopper.
Relief seared through Eve again. “Carrie, wake up. We have to get out of here. I smell fuel—” Eve winced as she risked a deeper mouthful of air. It hurt just to breathe. “The chopper must be leaking.” And given the twisted wreckage surrounding them, there was no way she’d be able to reach the fuel cutoff switch. “Carrie?”
The whisper was so low she almost missed it. Carrie’s lips moved again, but she couldn’t make out the words that followed. Eve braced herself as she took another agonizing breath, this one cautious and shallow.
Yes, shallow was definitely better. Manageable.
Her chest still hurt like hell, but not nearly as much. “Carrie, please. The chopper could blow any second.”
Dammit, she didn’t have time to argue.
They didn’t have time.
Eve struggled to ignore the rasping gurgle coming from Carrie’s lungs as well as the agony slicing her own as she reached out to unlatch Carrie’s harness. She’d just have to find the strength to drag her friend out. Her slippery fingers found the buckle to Carrie’s harness. But just as she was about to release it, Carrie’s icy hands closed over hers.
“Carrie, please. I can’t leave you. I won’t.”
“Must…doesn’t m-matter. He’s dead. It’s dead. F-feel it.”
Eve raised her hands to those dark, silky curls she’d always envied, desperately trying to ignore the blood as she smoothed them from Carrie’s cheek. “You can’t know that. He could be okay. I don’t see the passengers, just the chief. They must have been thrown free.”
“W-was. See him…th-there.”
Eve braced herself against the pain and turned to follow Carrie’s tortured gaze, and understood the deep keening within it. Sergeant Turner was five, maybe six trees away.
Given the sickeningly odd angle in his neck, there was no way the man could be otherwise.
But Eve couldn’t see him. She could only pray the captain had been thrown free as well—and would live to tell of it. But right now, she had to get Carrie out of the wreckage. The searing stench of fuel had taken on nauseating proportions. At least, she was pretty sure the reaction in her stomach was due to the leaking fuel and not her own injuries.
Either way, they had to get out.
“Honey, I’m sorry he’s dead. But you have to live. You have to try. Sergeant Turner—Bill. Bill would want you to. You have so much to live for. You know you do.”
But her friend just blinked back her tears.
“T-told you. It’s d-dead…gone.” She coughed. “I c-can…feel it.”
“Don’t talk like that—”
“The b-baby…ours…it’s gone.”
Eve hadn’t realized she’d breathed her shock out loud until Carrie answered her. Or maybe Carrie had read her mind.
“So s-sorry. I didn’t know h-how to…tell you. Please, m-make sure we’re b-buried w-with him.”
Dammit, no. Carrie was not giving up.
She wouldn’t let her.
But before she could argue, Carrie started coughing again—and this time, she began hacking uncontrollably. Eve forced the panic down and held her friend’s hand until the coughs eased. “One m-more thing, p-promise m-me…” Oh God, Carrie’s whispers were getting weaker. The rasping gurgle in her lungs, louder. Frothy blood had begun to bubble and seep from the side of her mouth. She was losing her.
She had to act.
Eve ignored Carrie’s gasps as she grabbed the buckle again. But again, Carrie’s hands found hers. They were beyond icy now. Almost white.
“Anything.” She’d promise anything in the world if Carrie would just let her help.
Eve’s mind and heart shrieked in unison. No! Dammit, no. This was not happening. Her best friend was not dying.
But she was.
Eve could feel it even as those icy fingers lost their grip and slipped away from her own hands altogether.
Just do it. Promise her. Let the woman die in peace.
She smoothed Carrie’s matted curls back one last time and kissed her shattered cheek. “I promise. I won’t hate you.”
Carrie managed a smile, and then she was gone.
The loss was excruciating. Unbearable. So intense, she couldn’t even feel the agony wracking her ribs anymore. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there, shaking Carrie’s shoulders, begging her, shouting at her to come back, not to abandon her. But eventually, reality set in.
The smoke set in.
The sweltering flames.
The leaking fuel had finally ignited. The Black Hawk was burning, its searing metal creaking and bubbling around her. The sweet stench of melting rubber filled her nostrils.
She had to get Carrie out of here.
Their crew chief, too.
Dead or alive, she was not leaving them to roast in this fiery shell of buckling steel. Determination seared into her, giving her the strength to unlock her own harness and bash her aching shoulders and splintered ribs into the chopper door. She fell out into a whimpering heap on the jungle floor.
But again, determination forced her to overcome the agony. She lurched to her feet and managed to stagger several steps. But in the pain and confusion that followed, it took several more before she realized she was moving away from the chopper and not toward it.
The next thing she knew, something hot and hard slammed into her body, shattering her eardrums and ripping the very breath from her lungs as she went flailing backward into the choking gray mist. But the moment she smashed into the tree she also knew that, dead or alive, it was too late for Carrie or anyone else in that chopper.
Because it had just exploded.