FOR HIS EYES ONLY (PAPERBACK)
FOR HIS EYES ONLY (PAPERBACK)
Book 2 in the Mission Undercover Military/Undercover Agent Romantic Suspense Series.
New to the Mission Undercover Series? Start Here
The mission was everything...until he met her.
Special Agent Reese Garrick has a mission—bust a criminal ring aboard the USS Baddager. But first, Reese must get around his “running mate” and baby-sitter, Navy Lt. Jade Parker. Jade doesn’t have the time nor the inclination to help some two-bit actor get into character. By the time Jade learns Reese’s real identity, getting him into the warship’s Nuclear Support Facility is the least of her worries—keeping him out of her heart is another matter altogether.
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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“Is he here yet?”
The irony of the question slapped Jade Parker across the face as she entered the captain’s cabin. The one man on the ship who should be immune to the circus they’d sailed smack into the middle of—who should be more concerned with the USS Baddager’s readiness than with his arrival—had turned into the ringleader.
Jade stared at the crisp Navy whites the captain had donned—the ones usually reserved for sailing in and out of port. She was probably the only officer who’d declined to wear the ice-cream suit today. The faint frown as his gaze swept her khaki uniform suggested she revisit the decision.
“No, sir, he hasn’t arrived.” And if fortune favored her, he’d fall off the pier before he boarded the ship. She smiled at the fantasy as she handed over the sheaf of papers she’d just carted up four decks. “Here’s the write-up of yesterday’s General Quarters drill. As you can see, I’ve highlighted the changes crucial to passing the inspection in yellow. Underneath is the ship’s newly revised Nuclear Warfare Doctrine. The Chief Engineer has already signed off on the changes.”
The captain barely glanced at the top sheet before carefully arranging the ream of paper in his in-box.
Jade stifled a groan—so much for staying up until 0200.
“Is his stateroom ready?”
“Yes, sir, and the extra desk you requested has been placed in my office.”
“Good.” The captain dusted a piece of black fuzz from the pocket of his whites and straightened the rack of ribbons above his pocket before returning to his seat.
Jade bit the inside of her cheek as the chair found the audacity to squeak.
“Well, if that’s all, Lieutenant Parker, you’re dismissed. I’m sure you’re eager to change your uniform and position yourself topside before our guest arrives.” He nodded toward the door. “Make sure you let me know when he’s here.”
He had to be joking.
She had a billion things to do—hell, the entire ship had a billion things to do—and she was expected to trot up to the quarterdeck and hang out like some groupie until the star deigned to bless them with his presence? Somehow, that particular chore didn’t sit well on her to-do list. Unfortunately, the captain had spoken and there was only one correct response.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Jade shoved open the door to Medical and stalked past the two sailors in line at the counter, not even slowing down until she reached the hospital corpsman at the end of the passageway. “Is the doctor free?”
“Yes, ma’am. She just finished sick-call. You can go right in.”
Jade nodded as she cruised by. Rounding the corner, she headed straight into Karin’s office and flopped into the chair next to the desk. “I need Valium.”
Karin laughed. “Come on, it can’t be that bad.”
Jade plunked her forearm out over the edge of the desk. “Skip the pills, Doc, just give it to me straight. An IV bagful oughta do it.”
Karin laughed harder. “Jade, he’s not even here yet...or is he?”
She scowled at the hopeful note. “Oh, no you don’t. Not you, too. You swore you wouldn’t go all gaga on me. The whole damn ship can volunteer to baby-sit his butt for all I care, but not you!”
Karin was laughing so hard she had to pull a tissue from the box at the corner of her desk. She took a swipe at her eyes before wadding it up and pitching it into the garbage can. She tucked a cropped blond curl behind an ear as her laughter subsided. “God, you are so much fun to torment!”
Jade winced. Damn, she’d fallen right into that one. Oh well, it wasn’t the first time—and knowing Karin, it wouldn’t be the last. “What can I say? I live to amuse.” She eyed the steaming mug of coffee on the far side of the desk and sighed. “Okay, if you won’t prescribe the Valium, can I at least get a cup of caffeine?”
Karin glanced up at the wall clock as she shoved the ceramic mug over. “You sure you have time for this? I thought the captain said he’d be here by now?”
Jade snatched it up and cradled it, savoring the heavenly blend of vanilla and coffee before she took a sip. God bless Medical and their gourmet bean grinder. “You can’t trust the captain anymore—he’s turned as rabid as the rest of the crew.” The coffee was smooth, so smooth she took another sip. “In fact, you should probably take a look at him. He started salivating the minute I walked into his office. We’ll be drowning in drool by the time the guy makes it aboard.”
“That guy has a name.”
Jade glowered into the mug as she slumped into the vinyl chair. “Don’t remind me, I’m trying to forget.”
“That’s probably not a good idea, considering the fact that it’s your job to keep him happy for the next six weeks.”
“Yeah, well, there’s a lot I’m supposed to accomplish between now and then. What do you suggest I bump to make room for Macbeth? The fire drills? Flooding? How about the chemical-spill exercises?” She drew a long swallow from the mug. “No, wait. Why not cancel them all? Who cares if the ship isn’t ready to deploy to the Gulf? It’s not like defending the free world is more important than baby-sitting some two-bit actor.”
“Come on, Jade, he’s not that bad. In fact, he’s pretty good. If you’d seen the movie, you’d know that.”
“Why bother? It’s a lousy B-grade slasher flick. One lousy slasher flick at that. I seriously doubt he’ll get nominated for an Academy Award this year.” She kicked out her combat boots and crossed them. “Besides, why saddle me with him? I didn’t even want the job.”
Karin laughed. “Which is exactly why he was assigned to you. You’re the only officer who didn’t spend the morning primping in front of the mirror or compiling a list of sea stories with an autograph request tacked on the end.”
“Hey, I don’t see you primping, either.”
Karin grinned. “Trust me, girlfriend. I’ve seen the strapping, blue-eyed blond up on the silver screen, remember? If I hadn’t been stuck in sick-call all morning, I’d have been primping, too.”
Jade glanced down at her watch and frowned. “Shoot.” She hauled herself to her feet and set the empty mug on the desk. “Speaking of which, I’d better get changed. I’ve got a date to sell ice-cream sundaes on the quarterdeck in fifteen minutes. Thanks for the caffeine. I owe you.”
“No sweat. Get me an autograph, and we’ll call it even.”
Jade turned back as Karin ducked playfully. “Oh, I’ll give you an autograph, all right. I’ll sign your—”
“DCA, please lay to the quarterdeck.” The disembodied voice cut off her threat.
Jade glanced up at the gray, 1MC speaker hanging in the corner of the office and feigned disappointment. “What a shame...no time to change.”
Karin laughed. “At least the guy’s punctual. Even you can’t find fault with him for that.”
Jade flashed her a wicked grin before she slipped through the door. “Wanna bet?”
He did not want to be here.
Reese paused at the end of the pier, allowing himself one last moment of honesty as he stared up at the floating gray monster.
He really did not want to be here.
Unfortunately, for the next several weeks this ship was exactly where he needed to be, despite the fact that it was the one place he’d sworn he’d never set foot again. He tried sloughing the memories off as he reached the ladder marked Officer’s Brow. But with each clank of the metal steps, the past tightened until it formed a vise about his chest.
Don’t think about it!
He reviewed his mental cheat sheet as his cowboy boots counted down the paces to his own incarceration. He was Mack Reese, actor extraordinaire. He was thirty years old, and he was here to—
“Face the rear of the ship and snap to attention!”
His right foot hovered inches from the deck of the ship as he stared up at the cluster of Navy whites and one lone khaki uniform. “I beg your pardon?”
The khaki spoke again. “I said, face the rear of the ship and snap to attention. Now.”
That voice was not acquainted with disobedience. Even as he gritted his teeth and turned to comply, he wondered why the hell he was bowing to it. His spine stiffened as the position came back instinctively—almost.
He had to smile at the appreciation permeating the husky alto. Somehow, he knew he’d just scored a point by honoring the nation’s flag correctly. “Do you want me to salute, too?”
Damn, he’d lost it.
“Turn to the Officer of the Deck—he’s the one in white with two gold stripes on his black shoulder boards—and state your name and request permission to come aboard.”
Reese executed a perfect right face.
He grinned—and lost his point again. “Mack Reese. Request permission to come aboard, sir.”
The Officer of the Deck nodded. “Permission granted.” The man held out a hand as Reese stepped onto the ship. “Lieutenant Greg Coffey. Welcome aboard, Mr. Reese.”
Reese clapped his hand into Coffey’s.
“Lieutenant Coffey will need to examine your luggage.” The khaki stepped squarely into view, and it was all he could do to pull the bag off his shoulder and thrust it blindly at Lieutenant Coffey.
Good God, that wasn’t an officer. It wasn’t even a woman. It was a sea nymph. A mermaid with legs. One hundred percent slender, curvaceous proof the Ancient Greeks were wrong. All the way from her wide gray eyes and dusky cheeks to her sinfully full lips and stubborn jaw. Past the gentle slopes pushing at the pockets of her drab khaki shirt, right down to the maddening dip cinched in by a brass belt buckle.
They were dead wrong.
Aphrodite didn’t spring from the foam of the sea; she was created right here, right now, on the steel decks of a modern U.S. Navy warship.
The sharp bark split through his musings. Reese jerked his gaze back to her face. To those gray eyes beneath a red ball cap that proclaimed USS Baddager, AD 52. He wondered if her hair was as black as those inky lashes.
“The name is Reese—Mack Reese.” He grinned. “But you can call me Reese.”
His gut tightened as her hand slid into his and returned his firm grip. She must have felt the jolt, too, because she jerked her hand back and tucked it behind her waist.
“His bags are clean, Lieutenant Parker.”
So that was Aphrodite’s name. Reese turned around at the man’s pronouncement, casually scoping the quarterdeck and its security as he reclaimed his canvas bag.
Lieutenant Coffey cocked his head toward the bag. “Sorry, sir, standard procedure. Every item coming on or going off a Naval vessel must be searched.”
“By the way, you’ll need to get your Walkman checked by an electrician if you intend to plug it in.”
Reese noticed the Petty Officer of the Watch the moment he exited the guard shack just off the quarterdeck. He studied him quickly—seeking, and finding, the .45 caliber pistol strapped to his waist. He made a note to find out if it was loaded as he turned back to Lieutenant Coffey and flashed him a grin. “Nope, I’m strictly an alkaline kinda guy. So, what’s the game plan—when and where do I start?”
“Here and now.” Aphrodite spoke again, and he turned to pay homage. “You start with an overview of the ship, Mr. Reese. A crash course in seamanship, if you will. Public Affairs felt if the Navy was to take on this particular project, it should be supported all the way.”
He nodded. “And this support entails...?”
“You’ve been assigned a running mate—a buddy. Someone to assist you during your stay aboard the Baddager. A sailor to show you around, answer your questions, to aid you in your characterization.”
He could feel his grin widening. “You’re telling me I’ve got a baby-sitter, aren’t you?”
Was that grudging respect flickering in those dark gray eyes? “I wouldn’t put it precisely like that.”
Yes, she would. For some reason, Reese also sensed she was having difficulty forming her next words. He prompted her. “So, who’s my baby-sitter? Where is he?”
“He is a she.”
Reese froze. He didn’t dare breathe. He was certain if he was absolutely still, that if the stars and planets were perfectly aligned in the heavens, God might smile down upon his humble form and grant him a reward for agreeing to this blasted plan in the first place.
His breath escaped on a soft whoosh as that single husky word slithered down his body and coiled into his groin. For the first time since he’d taken this job, his world was nearly perfect and he was almost content.
But she was not.
Oh, she was trying pretty hard not to show it, but it was there, nonetheless. It was in the stiff, too-proper smile and in the slightly over-squared shoulders, but most of all it was in those gorgeous gray eyes that weren’t quite looking at him.
“Captain’s on deck!”
Reese turned to the toothy grin striding toward him.
“Mr. Reese—Mack. Welcome aboard. I hope my crew has told you what an honor it is to have you staying on the Baddager.”
Reese returned the captain’s shake. “Yes, sir, they have. In fact, Lieutenant Parker was just telling me how much she’s looking forward to helping me get into character.”
“Good, good.” He turned. “DCA, I thought I asked you to let me know when Mr. Reese arrived.”
Reese didn’t care if the man was her captain, he did not like the man’s tone. He stepped forward. “It’s my fault, sir. I’m afraid I’ve monopolized the lieutenant’s time since the second I stepped on board.”
She stabbed him with a glare.
But her captain turned back with a smile. “No matter, you’re here now. I suppose you’ll want to take a few moments to stow your gear before the DCA shows you around. Perhaps you’d like to join me in my cabin for lunch?”
Not really. But lunch was as good a time as any to begin probing his way into the crew of the Baddager. Who better to start with than the Commanding Officer? “I’d be honored to join you, sir.”
“Fine.” The captain nodded. “DCA, I’ll expect you in my quarters at 1230 hours.” With a flurry of salutes, he was off.
Reese followed his new running mate as she turned and lifted the lever on a heavy oval door. She stepped over the bottom lip, motioning him to follow her through the steel skin of the ship.
“Why does he call you DCA?”
She didn’t even glance at him as they headed down a narrow passageway. “That’s who I am. I’m the Damage Control Assistant—DCA. A lot of officers on a ship are referred to by their position.”
She nodded a greeting as another khaki passed. “That’s Ops—the Operations Officer—he’s in charge of the ship’s movement: navigation, radars, communications, anything electronic that involves getting the Baddager from point A to point B. I work for the Chief Engineer—the Cheng. She’s in charge of the mechanical side of the ship’s movement—the boilers, turbines, anything and everything it takes to make the steam turn the screws.”
They rounded a corner and suddenly the entire ship went black. An eerie silence followed. Reese tensed as he felt her hand come down on his bare forearm.
“Relax.” Her throaty chuckle washed over him, unexpectedly causing the most erotic fantasy to flash to life.
In the dark.
In a bed, against the wall, on the floor—it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he could feel her hands on him. Not just on his arms, but all over him. On his chest, on his waist. His hips, his thighs, his—
A deep mechanical keening reverberated through the ship, and a split second later, the lights came back on, searing the fantasy to embers. The background noise had come back, too. He could almost make out the sounds of individual motors and fans, as if various machinery were being restarted.
He glanced down at the slender fingers still pressed into his arm, regretting it as her gaze followed his.
She jerked her hand away and continued walking. “That’s called dropping the load. The electrical load. Right now, the ship is on shore power—we usually only generate our own juice when we’re underway.”
“What happened? Someone stick a finger in a light socket?”
She was not amused.
He tried to stifle his grin—and failed.
“Reese. I told you before, the name is Mack Reese. But you can call me Reese.” He willed her to say it as he met her gaze. Never before had it been so important that he be addressed by his real name. Until now.
Her gray eyes stared right back at him for so long he was certain he’d won.
“Listen, Macbeth, I don’t know what you think you’ve gotten yourself into, but this isn’t some game and my ship isn’t your toy.”
“Your ship?” He took the liberty of irritating her again as he grinned down at her. “I thought this was—” he jerked his thumb behind them. “—that guy’s. The one with the scrambled eggs all over his hat.”
She stopped short at the base of a steel ladder, and he had to put his hands out to keep from slamming into her. The glance she blistered him with as his palms brushed her ribs could have vaporized the Pacific.
Regretfully, he pulled them back.
“That hat is called a cover, those eggs are gold leaf, and that guy is a captain. Captain White, to be specific. While I may not agree with his harebrained scheme to bring you in here so you can bastardize our image in some television series, make no mistake, mister, this ship is mine. I train the crew to fight her fires, I stop up her leaks, and I send out the welders to stitch her back together. I even clean up her air when it stinks to high heaven from the latest toxic gases. If that doesn’t make her mine, I don’t know what does.”
Reese stood there, stunned, as she spun on her boots and practically stomped up the ladder. His gut screamed she wasn’t the one he was looking for. With an attitude like that, she couldn’t possibly be.
But he ignored his instincts. He had to. He didn’t have a shred of evidence to support them.
Hell, he didn’t even know her first name.
“DCA, wait up!” He took the steps three at a time and caught up with her as she stabbed a key into the lock in one of the slim gray doors lined up on parade along the corridor.
She pushed the door open and pointed inside the tiny rectangular cabin. “This is your stateroom for the duration of your stay. Enjoy.” That last word did not mean what it was supposed to.
Reese lifted a brow. “I thought you were going to show me around?”
Her cheeks took on a hue that nearly matched her scarlet ball cap. Hell, she was just too damned easy to rile. It took the fun out of it—almost. Reese shoved his chuckle down deep as she entered the room and stalked around the pea-green carpet.
“Very well. If that’s the way you want it.” She pointed to the bunk. “That’s your rack. This is your desk, your chair and your sink. Feel free to stow your toiletries behind the mirror.” She popped it open with her index finger to reveal the metal shelves behind, then snapped it shut before turning to the modular wall unit. “These are your drawers, and this is your closet.”
She marched over to the open porthole and tapped the center of the cover hanging beneath it, a large D with a black Z spray-painted inside. “This symbol is referred to as a Dog Zebra. While underway, all doors, portholes and hatches bearing this symbol must be kept closed between sunset and sunrise—”
The look she gave him stopped him cold. It told him more than her words could ever say. She didn’t want him here, and she didn’t want to change her mind.
Maybe it was time he convinced her otherwise. It couldn’t hurt. And if it worked, it would certainly make his job a lot easier. Especially if she planned on taking her baby-sitting duties seriously.
Oddly enough, that seemed to increase the chill emanating from her.
He tried a different tactic. “I’m sorry.”
That didn’t work, either.
“Look, Macbeth. We both know you had to have pulled some pretty powerful strings to land this gig. We both also know I’ve got a couple stitched into me by that guy upstairs.” She sighed deeply. “And even though I can’t find the time to sit down to re-tie my own shoes, I’m supposed to make like the happy marionette. So why don’t you just cut to the chase and tell me what you really want?”
A dangerous question.
Then again, he had a dangerous job ahead. Still, he didn’t know who he could trust, and as much as his gut screamed she wasn’t involved, he’d yet to convince his head. Until then, she was a means to an end. And the sooner he was able to get to her, the sooner he’d be able to use her to that end.
“Take off your cover.”
Her gaze narrowed and turned steel gray. His response seemed to be down among the last she’d expected. Good.
He shrugged. “Maybe I get off on pulling strings.”
She continued to glare up at him from underneath that damned obscuring bill. He didn’t think she was going to do it. But she did.
She reached up and slowly peeled the cap back. It took every ounce of concentration he possessed not to suck in his breath as a light fringe of bangs fell forward, almost into her eyes.
Her hair was black.
The precise bluish, luminescent shade he’d first noticed way back in the sixth grade. Just catching a glimpse of the color through the years was enough to get him hot. And right now—as he clenched his fingers into his palms to keep from digging them into that gloriously fat braid—he was positively smoking.
Her chin came up, along with a defiant brow. “Like what you see?”
He repeated his mantra over and over as her cool gaze slid down his body, searing his skin right through his T-shirt and jeans, leaving him piercingly alert. She was a means to an end—a means to an end—nothing more.
She finally returned to his face. “So do I.”
Somehow, he managed not to groan.
He was so damned close to forgetting why he was here, it was frightening.
“What’s your name?” His voice bordered on hoarse.
He tried it out in his mind as he restrung his vocal cords. Jade. It suited her. It suited him.
She moistened her lips in the silence.
As the magnet snared and drew him in, he knew without a doubt it was time to end this round. Before it went all the way. He smiled. “Well, Jade, I suggest you let me unpack, or we’ll never make it to lunch with the captain. You’ll have to fill me in on the Zebra Dog later.”
She blinked, and in an instant the serious lieutenant returned.
He hated it.
She briskly capped her hair and glanced at a chunky sports watch before nodding. “Fine. I’ll meet you back here in twenty minutes.” And then she was gone.
Reese ignored the emptiness that assumed her place as he glanced at his own watch. Twenty minutes. That didn’t leave much time.
He turned to the modular wall unit and released the catch, flipping down the painted steel to form a temporary desk. There it was. Just like in all the staterooms.
He pulled the small door open and retrieved the generic slip of paper listing the step-by-step instructions on how to reset the combination. After completing the task, he backed away and lowered himself onto the side of the bed Jade had called a rack, sinking deep into the mattress as he pulled off his boots.
His bag had been clean, all right.
Too bad he wasn’t.
Reese removed his gear from his boots and concealed it within the safe. Then he spun the dial to lock it, before he picked up his bag and turned his attention to the mission ahead.