IRRESISTIBLE FORCES (EBOOK)
IRRESISTIBLE FORCES (EBOOK)
Book 3 in the Sisters in Arms Military Romantic Suspense Series
New to the Sisters? Start Here
True love never fades...but can it forgive?
Air Force Capt. Samantha Hall never forgot the man she loved and lost. When her plane crashed in enemy territory and he came to her rescue, Sam’s reminded of the future they’d once dreamed of sharing. Col. Griff Towers can’t believe Sam’s back in his arms, even if it’s only part of his mission. She feels so right. Griff’s determined to discover what—or who—brought down that plane. And this time, Griff vows, Sam won’t be getting away from him.
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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READ A SAMPLE
READ A SAMPLE
The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.
The rules of the game were about to change.
United States Air Force Captain Samantha Hall knew it the moment she spied the crisp envelope amid the stack of manila folders she’d grabbed from her overflowing in-box. The envelope wouldn’t have given her pause were it not for the tastefully embossed medical insignia in the upper left corner—and the tiny, inked script at the lower edge.
That single word was enough to put the fear of God into her. Or at the very least, the fear of man-made medicine.
Why had she decided to bring the files, anyway? She had enough to worry about. She should stuff the letter back into her briefcase and forget about it. In less than two hours their C-130 Air Force transport would be touching down in Moscow and she’d yet to polish her presentation. A presentation she’d scripted while mourning her boss of four years, no less. If she opened that envelope, she’d have to read the reprimand that was undoubtedly inside. Where would her hard-earned concentration be then?
Damn it, she didn’t need this, especially now. Frankly, there were times when dealing with possibilities and conjecture were easier than dealing with reality.
Pretty scary admission for a scientist, Sam.
She frowned. The heck with it. It wasn’t as if she’d been able to keep her mind on her work anyway. Sitting in the cargo hold of a C-130 Hercules wasn’t conducive to concentration of any kind. The Herc crews were right, the cargo compartment had been designed to keep noise in. Even with foam plugs and a set of rabbit ears layered on top, she could still make out the distinctive drone of the Herc’s four turboprop engines, muffled though they were. Might as well get it over with. She wouldn’t be concentrating on anything until they landed.
Sam flipped the envelope over, slipping her index finger beneath the seal to tear it open. Her hands shook as she retrieved the sheet of paper within. She took a deep breath and unfolded the sheet, quickly skimming the Kirtland Hospital letterhead and the brief note that followed. As expected, the reprimand was there. But what followed was worse.
Second opinion jumped out immediately.
When she reached as we suspected, the bottom of her stomach dropped out. Nausea sloshed into its place as the worst-case scenario she’d discussed with her doctor slammed in like she’d never anticipated. She had to force herself to read the rest, until she finally reached her doctor’s heartfelt apology. He hated informing her like this. Unfortunately, she’d left him no choice.
Stan was wrong. She wasn’t ducking him. At least, not completely. Yes, she’d missed her last two appointments. But she’d intended on keeping them.
Life just kept intervening.
She’d called the lab the morning of her first appointment to remind her secretary she’d be late, only to end up taking the entire day off. She’d opened the front door to her house to discover one of her closest college sorority sisters pulling into her driveway. Even before she’d succeeded in prying Anna’s death grip from the rental car’s steering wheel, she’d known Anna had been in no condition to leave alone. Not with her sanity hanging by a thread and her once-illustrious naval career all but torpedoed by one of the more nebulous elements within their own government. Instead of heading for the hospital, Sam had spent the day listening to the trap an ethically-stunted special agent had set for her sister amid the Panamanian underworld. The following night had been spent planning or rather, plotting, the best way to salvage her Sister’s career—and life. She’d rescheduled the appointment for as soon as she could. The three days after Anna had been summoned back to Panama, in fact. But fate stepped in again. This time during a noon meeting at the lab.
One minute, she was helping her boss with his last-minute preparations for a scientific conference in Moscow and the next, she was being tasked with taking Phil’s place while the man lay on a cold slab at the morgue, dead of a heart attack at the ripe old age of fifty-eight. Just went to show, once again, that even when you thought you’d figured out which piece the Grim Reaper had chosen to checkmate you with, he selected another. Sweat slicked her palms as she carefully refolded the letter and slid it back into the envelope.
The rules had changed for her, too. Her mind and her heart no longer had a choice in the matter.
Her body had made it for her.
She rubbed the corners of her eyes in an effort to ease the inexplicable burning, staring in shock at the tips of her fingers as she pulled them down to her lap.
But she didn’t even want children. She hadn’t for years. Not since a cocky chopper pilot by the name—
She slammed the name back out of her brain before it could settle in, automatically using the pain-control biofeedback techniques she’d gotten too darned good at these past few years to ease the inevitable ache that followed, this one in her heart. The throb was almost—he was almost gone—when a hand tapped her left shoulder, jolting her back to the here and now.
Dimitri. He’d returned.
The letter! She folded the envelope discreetly before slipping it off her lap to tuck it down between the steel frame of the webbed seat and the trousers of her Air Force Blues. Yes, Dimitri knew and, yes, he’d been nothing but supportive. It didn’t matter. She was not in the mood to talk about it. And he’d only be hurt. She’d discovered that two weeks earlier when she’d declined to discuss much less introduce Dimitri to her “mysterious houseguest” as he’d dubbed her sorority sister. Sam swiped her eyes and pushed a smile to her lips as she tugged the rabbit ears from her head. Without the second degree of ear protection, the roar from the Herc’s turboprops reverberated straight into her. She turned to meet her friend and fellow scientist of three years, raising her voice to compete with the engines.
“I thought you wanted to check out the scenery. You know, gaze upon the land of your parents’ birth.”
His brow furrowed at her teasing. “I did. Samantha, I’ve been chatting with the pilots for twenty minutes.”
She pushed a shrug out after the smile. “I didn’t realize it had been that long.” She tapped the stack of files on her lap. “I guess I got caught up in these, after all.”
Guilt flooded her as the concern in Dimitri’s warm brown eyes deepened. It intensified as he removed the jacket to his dark gray suit and laid it across two of the empty webbed cargo seats further down before claiming the one beside her.
“What makes you think there’s something wrong?” The second the words came out, she regretted them because he studied her face. Her eyes weren’t red, were they?
“You seem upset.”
“Nonsense. I’m just tired, that’s all. Ten hours in the air is my limit and we passed that four hours ago.”
Dimitri chuckled as he slipped his hands over hers and squeezed lightly. “You are the only aerospace engineer I know who dislikes flying.”
She managed a real smile at that. “I don’t dislike it. I just get bored. Especially when I’ve been jammed into the side of a cargo bay like an afterthought.” Like they were now.
There were so many pallets and crates tied down in the Herc, she couldn’t see around them—much less deduce which crew member had just slipped around the corner of the pallets to sneak a smoke. She knew someone had, because she’d just caught a whiff of the match. Evidently she wasn’t the only one who wasn’t pleased with the length of the flight.
“Besides.” She squeezed Dimitri’s hand. “You know as well as I do that designing an aircraft is a heck of a lot more fun than flying in one.” At least, that’s what she’d been telling herself since her rotten eye-hand coordination had knocked her out of the running for flight school before she’d even graduated college.
As usual, Dimitri took her seriously.
“True.” Despite her attempts to prevent it, her smile bled off as he tugged her hand to his mouth and pressed his lips to her knuckles. “Naturally, this only adds to my arguments on why we make a perfect pair.”
He shook his head, saving her from the embarrassment of voicing it out loud. He really was a good friend.
It should have been enough.
It had been enough. Until a couple of months ago. The day the twinges in her abdomen had started up again, she’d started thinking about the past. Children. She shoved both out of her mind now.
Tried to shove him out.
But this time, he wouldn’t go.
Dammit, Griff Towers had no bearing on her future. He hadn’t for a very long time. So what if she’d been fighting this insidious urge to look him up? The fact that it had been so easy to find him only made it worse. What if she did call him? What would she say? Would she really have the nerve to look into those dark gray eyes and demand to know why?
As if his absence hadn’t been answer enough.
Besides, a man like Griff was bound to be married by now.
She knew that better than anyone.
As Dimitri touched her cheek, she flinched. Regret bit in as hurt flared in his eyes. He released her hand to busy himself with retrieving the briefcase he’d stowed beneath the green webbing of his seat hours earlier. She reached out and squeezed his arm. “Dimitri, I’m sorry. I’ve got a lot on my mind with the conference—”
He nodded stiffly. “I understand.”
But he didn’t.
The envelope burned into her thigh. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to discuss it. Maybe that was the problem. Dimitri was right. They were alike. Perhaps too much. When he’d hinted at taking their friendship to another level six months ago, she’d balked. She knew Dimitri was lonely but, frankly, she’d been holding out for more. She’d been holding out for another Griff. Deep down she’d always suspected there might never be another man who fired her blood as quickly and as thoroughly as Griff Towers had. But she always hoped she’d have time to look, to make sure. Evidently not. She’d known that from the moment the twinges had begun.
“Hey, Towers, that you?”
Griff tossed his flight helmet on the seat of his Pave Hawk and spun around, his curiosity fired by the familiar shout that rang out from two choppers away. Three Secret Service suits were striding across the tarmac but none looked familiar. As they drew closer, he caught a glimpse of red hair pulled into a thick braid and smooth skin beneath the splatter of freckles.
The same wide grin he’d first seen his freshman year at Texas A&M University on a slip of a kid tagging after her Marine officer instructor of a father broke out as Meg Gallagher reached his chopper. As fate would have it, the same grin that’d teased him years later as Meg watched him fall head-over-heels in love with her best friend at the University of Texas at Austin. Bright blue eyes winked up at him as she whipped off her sunglasses. “Fancy meeting you here, Zoomie. Been a while.”
Griff laughed, bypassing the faint disapproval in her companions’ matching aloof frowns as he reached out to grab Meg by her shoulders and haul her in close. “That, it has.”
Eleven years, one week and three days to be exact.
He had one heck of a marker.
He kept that to himself as he pulled away, focusing instead on the irony of running into two Gallaghers in as many days. “It’s good to see you. Though I have to admit, I had a heads up. Ran into your old man out on the tarmac yesterday. His chopper landed a few minutes before I did.” Griff flicked his gaze over Meg’s conservative navy blue suit. “Your dad didn’t mention a career change, though. What did you do with the uniform, Jar Head? You trade it in for a pair of mirrored shades and that cool earpiece?”
She shook her head. “Nah, I’ve got it crammed in my sea bag, just in case.” Meg’s throaty voice lowered to a whisper as her companions nodded stiffly before heading off toward the aircraft hangar beyond. “The brass thought I’d blend in better if I slipped into a monkey suit with all the trappings before teaming up with Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”
“In other words, Secret Service doesn’t like taking orders from Marines, much less on Russian soil.”
“Give that man a medal, or in your case a silver eagle.” Her grin broke out again, this time wider. “Congratulations, by the way. I saw the promotion list, Colonel. How long are they gonna let you continue to fly?”
“Until my orders come through.”
“Yeah.” He turned slightly and slapped the side of his bird. This time next year, he’d probably be begging to fire this baby up and take off to hang out up in the wild blue yonder for longer than a thirty minute check ride. “But command should make up for it.”
“Any idea which one, or where?”
“Nope.” With his ticket already punched in both Afghanistan and Iraq, there was no telling where he was headed. But, then, that was the beauty of the life wasn’t it? And the addiction. One minute you were dodging anti-aircraft rockets over Baghdad and the next, you were playing taxi, ferrying the military and political brass around Moscow during the upcoming Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty Summit. Best job in the world if you could get it, though it did tend to wreck havoc on a man’s personal life. Not that he’d ever bring that up with this woman. Her father might’ve been more mentor than instructor his first year at A&M, and Meg might still greet him like an older brother of sorts, but her allegiance had shifted once she’d formed that cross-branch ROTC sorority at UT. Sisterhood had quickly taken priority.
With one Sister in particular.
Griff deliberately shifted to a safer topic. “So, you had a chance to link up with your dad?”
The glint in that razor gaze told him Meg had recognized the evasive maneuver for what it was.
Fortunately, she let it slide.
She shook her head. “Nope, haven’t seen him yet. He’ll have his aide call when he gets settled. He always does. Then I’ll end up trying to sanitize my own silverware under the table at some local dive he just heard about because it has the best food.” She didn’t bother suppressing her shudder.
Griff couldn’t blame her.
Then, Major Bud Gallagher’s culinary finds in and around College Station, Texas, had been legendary—and at times, emergency-room worthy. He ought to know. He’d spent a night in the cadet barracks worshiping the porcelain god himself. Not that it had stopped him from accepting another invite. Two decades ago or this morning. Griff leaned back against the steel skin of his dormant bird. “I’ve got bad news, Meg. Your dad’s translator has already hooked him up. I know ’cause I got suckered in. We’ll be rehashing old Aggie times tonight over Chicken Kiev and borscht. Ten-to-one you’ve got an invite already waiting for you at your quarters. Who knows, we hit the right joint, you might be dodging fire outside your stomach for a change.” Something odd flickered in her gaze and he didn’t think it had to do with his reference to the recent rise in Chechen terrorist bombings in and around the city. He was about to ask if something was wrong, but it was gone.
She smiled brightly. A bit too brightly. “Sorry, I’m off the hook this time. You’ll have to suffer through alone. I’ve already got a dinner date.”
“So bring him along.”
He wasn’t worried she’d get the wrong impression. Meg Gallagher might be an attractive woman, but she was not his type, nor he hers. Or was that it? Had he inadvertently hit on the source of that odd expression, as well as her brief, uncharacteristic, hesitation?
He shot her a teasing grin. “What’s the matter? You got some knee-knocking Marine captain on the string who’s too scared to meet the mighty General Gallagher?”
But instead of shooting back a retort, her smile faltered. The odd glint had returned, too. She shook her head slowly. “You really don’t know, do you? I mean, I thought you were just avoiding talking about her, but—”
His stomach fisted as she broke off, sighed.
No. It was not possible. Meg was not trying to tell him what he suspected she was. He’d have known. The moment he’d learned he’d been assigned to ferry scientists from Jarco Labs out of Kirtland during the coming week, he’d checked the names on the security manifest. Then he’d double-checked.
It wasn’t there.
But the apology in Meg’s shrug claimed otherwise. “Griff, Samantha’s a last minute substitute for Jarco Labs. Her boss had a heart attack yesterday. Her C-130 is due to land about an hour and a half from now. That’s why I’m here. That’s why you’re here. You’re her escort now.”
Griff stiffened against the side of his chopper as the confirmation punched through his gut with more force than one of those damned ballistic missiles this entire summit was centered around. Against his will, his gaze shot out over the acrid, oil-stained concrete aircraft apron, past the half-dozen choppers lined up behind his own, out toward a distant runway where a KC-130 refueler was touching down. Where Sam’s C-130 would be touching down. Today. The images slipped in before he could shutter his mind against them. Long blond hair, straight and thick with the barest hint of a wave at the ends. Dark, whiskey eyes. Soft, clear skin with just a hint of the fresh peaches she’d smelled so much like. Smooth cheeks and a gently curved jaw. Full, sinfully perfect lips.
For a moment, he allowed himself to wonder how much she’d changed during the intervening years. He knew she had. To be honest, he’d never been completely comfortable with their eleven-year age difference. He’d actually looked forward to Sam’s lithe, nineteen-year-old body blossoming into the fuller curves of womanhood. To watch time gradually etch the proof of her quick wit and ready laugh about those mesmerizing eyes. Of course, he was supposed to have been by her side while it happened. He purged the memories from his brain. The fantasy.
Reality was, Samantha had wanted someone else.
Someone her own age. Someone there.
He pushed past the unwelcome tightening lingering in his chest as Meg began tentatively, “I don’t suppose you’d like to join—”
“No.” He might be a crate short on Maalox, but he would not be blowing off dinner with her father to dine with Samantha Hall. How the hell could Meg even ask?
Still, the rebuke had come out sharper than he’d intended. Ruder. It had also drawn the attention of the twin Suits twenty yards away at the entrance to the chopper maintenance hangar. As far as Tweedledee and Tweedledum knew, Meg was a Marine Corps captain, he an Air Force colonel. From their smirks, the Suits had also evidently assumed Meg had just received the set-down they had to have been itching to give her since the moment she’d been ordered to invade their turf and usurp their authority.
“Sorry, Meg. Didn’t mean to draw attention.”
“S’ okay. They’ll get past the gloat. I didn’t mean to intrude either. Sam never said why you guys broke up. The rest of us just assumed it was the distance. I wouldn’t have even mentioned it except…well…Sam’s taken a few knocks lately. We both have. One of our sorority sisters died recently and two others have ended up with their careers on the block.”
Griff nodded. He’d heard. It’d been hard to miss. The Army Black Hawk crash that’d killed Carrie Evans and all but ended Eve Paris’s career had led the nightly news six weeks ago not to mention the military flight communities’ rumor mill. To make matters worse, a mere month earlier their Navy sorority sister, Anna Shale, had been accused of stealing and then selling classified information. Though the Navy Criminal Investigative Service had issued a follow-up statement claiming there was no evidence to support Anna’s guilt, her commission had been terminated nonetheless. Griff had thought of Sam on both occasions. Despite her humiliating kiss-off eleven years ago, he’d felt for her. A college junior to the remaining women’s freshman status when Sisters-in-Arms formed, Sam had been unofficial mother-hen of the group. It was nice to know Samantha’s loyalty had persevered in one area of her life. It’d barely survived two months following his departure.
Meg sighed. “Anyway, I was just hoping—”
“What? We’d all sit down and have a good old-fashioned friendly reunion?”
She frowned. “I guess it was a bad idea.”
He didn’t bother denying it. It was also time for him to extricate himself from this reunion and head for the ready room. He didn’t know which pilot he’d bribe into swapping flight assignments with him or what he’d have to give up in return, nor did he care. He might manage to be civil to Samantha if he ran into her during the summit, but he’d be damned if he’d shuttling her around for a week. He clipped a nod. “Well, it’s been great seeing you again. I’ll let your dad know I ran into you when I see him tonight.”
He stuck out his hand.
To his surprise, she didn’t take it.
Instead, she stiffened. A moment later, Meg’s entire five-foot-eleven-inch body flinched. Her color bled off as she snapped her right hand up to cup the audio receiver in her ear. An unconscious attempt to amplify the sound, he knew.
She waved him off.
Griff caught sight of his copilot as Vince left the hangar and skirted the twin Suits—who were also cupping their respective earpieces—to stroll across the tarmac to their bird. Griff snapped his gaze back to Meg’s, his earlier anger suddenly and completely purged. Apprehension had replaced it. The daughter of the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, Meg had been trained from an early age not to panic.
But she was panicking now.
He could see it in those wide blue eyes.
By the time she focused on his face, he could see the horror, too. “It’s Sam’s C-130. She’s not going to be here in an hour and a half. The Herc is going down now, Griff. It’s on fire. The pilot’s trying to land in a remote ravine a hundred miles southeast of Kursk. But it’s not looking good—”
He was in his bird, powering it up before she could finish, his heart pounding harder and faster than it had over Iraq and Afghanistan combined as he raced through his remaining preflight checks. “Vince, find Chief Kitterman and get the hell in here!” Something in his bellow must have stood out, because his copilot and best friend spun around and hauled-ass like Griff had never seen the man move before.
He shook his head as he donned his helmet. Meg grabbed his hand the second he finished locking his harness into place. He forced a calm he didn’t feel as he squeezed hers hard. “She’ll be fine, Meg. We’ll be there before those turboprops cool.”
It was a lie and they both knew it.
Kursk might be an hour and a half away by C-130, but it was a good two and a half hours away by rescue chopper, with a decent tail wind. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a choice. Neither did Sam. The next closest American air wing was over a thousand miles away in Turkey. To add to the gravity of the situation, there’d been a blitzkrieg of coordinated Chechen terrorist bombings from the northern steppes of the Caucasus Mountains, all the way up into the Russian interior during the preceding weeks in an attempt to draw the world’s attention away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Summit and focus it instead on the plight of the Chechen separatists. Their goal? To bring the decades-long struggle out of Chechnya and into the heart of Russia at a time when the entire world was watching. They’d succeeded. The Russian cities of Kursk and Voronezh had felt the deadly punch in a dozen separate car bombs just that morning. Russian troops were still spreading out into the surrounding fields and forests to retaliate. At a cruising altitude of twenty thousand feet, the roiling internal dispute hadn’t mattered.
It did now. God help Sam and the rest of the Herc’s crew if they got caught in the cross-fire.
If they even survived the landing.
Vince raced across the now scrambling tarmac, Chief Kitterman in tow as Meg finally released his hand. By the time his crew vaulted inside, Griff had already shoved Meg from his mind. God help him, all he could think about was Sam. The piercing irony of it. Two minutes ago, he’d have traded in his brand-new silver eagles to avoid the pain and, yes, humiliation of running into her during the coming week. In an instant, everything had changed. He’d changed. He’d sell his soul to see Samantha Hall one more time.