Authors: Jillian Burns
Suddenly Cole couldn't think. Maybe it was all the blood rushing south. He shrugged out of his leather jacket, draped it over Jordan's shoulders and she slipped her arms in. Then he gestured for her to get on his motorcycle. “Where do you live?”
As she settled behind him, she wrapped her arms around his waist and her breasts pressed against his back. “I don't want to go home.”
Her words socked him in the gut. “Where to, then?” He held his breath.
“Anywhere. Away from everything. Please.” Her arms tightened and one hand roamed over his chest, the other down over his zipper.
His breathing hitched, and as Cole sped onto Las Vegas Boulevard, all he could think about was the heat, and the movement of her plastered to him.
Jordan slid her hand and cupped him through his briefs. And even though she hadn't moved her hand except to accommodate his lengthening, he was the most turned on he'd ever been in his life.
In fact, he felt as if one wrong move and she'd have him begging for mercyâ¦.
There's nothing sexier than a man in uniform. And there's no place more sizzling than Sin City, Las Vegas. Put the two together and you have a recipe for blazing passion. Eight miles north of the city is Nellis Air Force Base. It's home to the Air Base Defense School, where the Raptors, the elite team of fighter pilots, practice air combat maneuvers in their F-22 jets. These real-life heroesâand heroinesârisk their lives every time they take to the skies. They live life on the edge.
But what if a pilot was shot down in combat, injured and permanently grounded? I often think about our men and women who are wounded in the line of duty and how they adjust to life after combat. Maybe he or she will need a challenge of a different sortâ¦hence the premise for my first novel.
I'm so thrilled to be writing for Harlequin Books and hope you enjoy my first Harlequin Blaze novel. If you liked reading about hot desert nights with a fighter pilotâin uniform, and out of itâI'd love to hear from you. Contact me at www.jillianburns.net. And remember, whenever you're betting in Vegas,
Let It Ride!
Jillian Burns has always read romance, and spent her teens immersed in the worlds of Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett. She lives in Texas with her husband of twenty years and their three active kids. Jillian likes to think her emotional natureâsometimes referred to as
âhas found the perfect outlet in writing stories filled with passion and romance. She believes romance novels have the power to change lives with their message of eternal love and hope.
To Wanda Ottewell, for believing in me and sticking by me.
And to Kathryn Lye, for spinning gold from wheat.
And in honor of all America's military heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan who gave their lives or were wounded in the service of their country.
I'd especially like to thank two brave air force personnel for supplying information on fighter pilots and the air force. Thank you to Major Paula Lieberman, ret., and Carrie Hester for being so patient with all my questions!
Any mistakes are entirely my own and not theirs.
Three o'clock.” Major Cole Jackson nodded toward the amazingly hot blonde across the casino. “The Keno girl with the mile-long legs and the bigâ”
“Her?” Cole's buddy, McCabe, snorted as he fed another five-dollar bill into a slot machine. “Good luck.”
“Why? What's wrong with her?” She was the sexiest thing he'd ever laid eyes on. And after a decade of living on the wild side, that was saying a lot.
McCabe shrugged. “This is Vegas. You got your pick of women.”
“Yeah, well, I'll start with her.” When Cole had spotted the Keno girl a moment ago the past months of hell had momentarily faded. Having her in his bed for a night or two would certainly help make up for lost time.
Cole's buddies from Nellis Air Force Base had talked him into a week of rest and recreation to celebrate his discharge from the hospital. He was on medical leave until further noticeâand who knew how long it would take the powers that be to decide his fate? But for now, he planned to party hard with his buddies and a city full
of beautiful women. If he couldn't be in the cockpit of his F-22, this would do.
He stared at the blonde as she moved around the casino, stopping at blackjack and roulette tables. He'd always been a sucker for blondes, and this one had his babe meter clocking in the stratosphere. Her lips alone sent his fantasies to places that could get him court-martialed. His gaze roamed lower to her skimpy red uniform. Damn, what it didn't cover might burn his eyes to the sockets.
“You couldn't even get to two Gs with that one, much less complete a roll. Trust me,” McCabe warned.
Ahh! Understanding clicked like an engine turning over in Cole's brain. He shifted on his stool to face his buddy. “She shut you down.”
“Him and every other guy who's tried,” Captain Alexandria Hughes chimed in from her stool next to McCabe, a satisfied smirk on her face. Their buddy since basic training, Hughes was the kind of chick who'd slug the first guy who tried to treat her like a girly female.
McCabe scowled at her, and then looked back at Cole. “I'm telling you, that Keno girl's got a rep on base as Ms. Crash-and-Burâ” McCabe broke off.
There was a second of awkward silence before Cole jumped in. “Yeah, well, she hasn't seen my maneuvers yet.”
“You're full of it, man.” McCabe shook his head. “You nail her before my leave is up, and I'll give up women for a month.” He raised an arrogant brow as he took a swig of beer.
Son of a bitch. McCabe had just challenged him. A rush of adrenaline coursed through Cole the way it had when he and McCabe and Grady and Hughes had all trained together, pushing the limits of their jetsâand their commanders. If this Keno girl was hard to get, all the better. He didn't want some pity fuck. He was ready for something to make him feel alive again. To prove he still had what it took.
And she was it.
“She got a fiancÃ©? Boyfriend?” He'd make sure the playing field was level.
McCabe shrugged. “She was seeing someoneâcivilianâa while back, but the word is she hasn't used that excuse lately.”
“God, what a waste that would be.” McCabe stared wistfully at the blonde, his slot machine forgotten.
Cole couldn't agree more. If he'd ever dreamed of the perfect woman to hit the sheets with, she was it. Long, shapely thighs to cradle his hips andâhis gaze went back to her chestâthe kind of rack usually only seen in Hugh Hefner's mansion. He stood, his comfortable Levi's suddenly constricting. You were in the hospital too long, Jackson. But thankfully the crash hadn't damaged anything vital to this mission. “All right. You got yourself a bet.”
“What?” McCabe's gaze focused on Cole.
“You said you'd give upâ”
“I know what the hell I said.”
“And she shot you down, right?”
“I prefer to think of it as a failure to pass the preflight check. It must be the uniform.” With his movie star looks and charm to spare, McCabe was the certified chick magnet of the group. He'd been known to bed two and three women in the same night. Occasionally at the same time.
“She got a rule against Air Force men?” Cole directed his question to Hughes. He wanted some high-level intel on his subject. Of course, he wasn't in uniform tonightâ¦.
“I don't know,” Hughes answered, her arms crossed over her desert-camo uniform. “And even if I did, I wouldn't tell you.”
“Come on, Hughes, you aren't turning all girly on us now, are you?” McCabe grinned at Hughes, but she didn't return his smile.
She stood and finished her beer in one long gulp, then set the bottle down with a thunk. “Poor McCabe. Thirty days without a woman.” She leaned in close. “You won't last.”
His face screwed up in confusion, McCabe watched Hughes stalk off. “What crawled up her ass?”
Cole shrugged. Air corps or Keno girl, females tended to stick together. Hughes was probably disgusted with him for making the bet. But this Keno girl had a rare kind of beauty that could make a guy forget everything that sucked about his life. Even without the bet, he'd go for her. And after months of surgeries and physical therapy, this challenge put him back into play.
It sure as hell beat sitting around the vet hospital listening to some shrink talk about post-traumatic stress
disorder. So, he had a few night sweats and bad dreams. That was to be expected after being shot down and having to make it back to his base camp with a third of his body burned. He'd get over it eventually.
It was his future he was worried about.
All he'd ever wanted to do was be a fighter pilot, and eventually get into the space program. But that wasn't going to happen now. Even if they didn't force a medical discharge down his throat, with this permanent inner ear damage, the best he could hope for was a desk job. Either way, life as he knew it was over.
“So, what do I get if you lose?”
McCabe's voice brought Cole back from his dark thoughts. He grinned at his buddy. “You get to save your right hand a lot of muscle strain over the next thirty days.”
“And you risk nothing? Screw that.”
“Screw what?” Lieutenant Colonel Grady appeared next to them with his perpetually grim expression. His hulking dark presence tended to scare most dogs and small children.
McCabe explained the challenge, and Grady cut his gaze to the Keno girl. His eyes widened and he whistled under his breath. “Oh, yeah. Ms. Craâ” He cleared his throat. “I'm in. How about that bottle of whiskey Jackson's uncle left him?”
“Damn it, Grady,” Cole spoke up, “you've been after my Scotch since we were cadets and you don't even drink. It's fifty-year-old Cragganmore. You know how much it's worth?”
“You want to back out?” McCabe taunted.
“Screw you, McCabe.” He could get this girl. He just needed to learn everything about her. “So, if I win, does Grady turn celibate, too?” Cole asked.
“Hey, I nevâ” Grady began.
“Hell, no,” McCabe cut in. “He's already got the worst temper in Nevada. What he needs is to relax. Learn yoga. Get a massage. There's an old lady on the strip, does that herbal-aromatherapy stuff. I'd give a lot to see him get smeared with sweet-smelling oil and chanting New Age mumbo-jumbo.”
Cole grunted at the image. “Hell, I'd bet the whiskey to see that.”
“I want that Scotch. You're on.” Grady stuck out his right hand to seal the deal and Cole shook it, his insides churning with the dare. He could already taste the sweet flavor of victory. And he couldn't wait to see “Don Juan” McCabe suffer without a woman for a whole freakin' month.
“Here she comes,” Grady warned.
A fruity scent teased Cole's nostrils. Dammit, she'd approached him on his deaf side.
He spun to find the Keno girl standing next to him, his gaze drawn to the pale, soft flesh spilling out of her tight, red uniform top. He imagined palming those tits, rubbing his thumbs over the nipples. His body, long denied, roared into four Gs, but he called on years of discipline to focus his attention on her engaging smile andâman, her eyes were such a deep blue they were almost purple.
Up close she was flawless. Her lips moved, but she spoke so softly he couldn't hear her above the rumble and ringing of the slots. He angled his head and leaned closer as he stood and pulled out his wallet.
“âbuy a Keno card?” Her voice matched her appearance. Voluptuous and feminine.
“I'll take two.” He slipped out a twenty and placed it on her tray.
She handed him the cards and he tossed them on his stool as she dug in her fanny pack for change.
“Keep it.” He covered her hand to stop her from making change. Damn, it was like ice. “You're freezing.” He curved his fingers around her palm and enclosed her hand in both of his. Soft. Dainty. And so cold.
Her eyes widened, but she pasted on a bright smile as she eased from his grasp. “Thank you.” She turned to McCabe and her smile faltered a bit. “Did you want a card, Captain?”
“I think my friend hereâ” he slapped Cole on the back “âhas it covered.” He turned to Grady. “You up for some poker?”
Grady nodded and they took their beers and headed deeper into the casino.
The Keno girl's gaze shot back to Cole. “You're a fighter pilot too? A friend of Captain McCabe's?” There was a distinct edge to her voice. What the hell had McCabe done? Or did she have a grudge against all military personnel? Had some airman done her wrong?
He shook his head. “Not if you don't want me to be.”
Her smile dropped and she raised a brow. “Don't
lose a friend on my account.” She turned to leave, but Cole sidestepped to block her retreat.
“Major Cole Jackson, 81st Airborne. And you are?”
She stared over his shoulder a moment, her lips a tight line. Bringing that gorgeous gaze up to meet his, she put her free hand on her hip. “Jordan Brenner. Mother of five. Looking for a man who can support me and all my kids.” Her expression said,
Now will you leave me alone?
If she had five kids he'd stand on this slot machine and quack like a duck. “Five, huh? What are their names?”
Without missing a beat, she rattled off, “Anna, Billy, Charlie, David andâ” she faltered, glanced down at the commercial-grade carpet, then back up at Cole “âFred!” She smiled triumphantly.
Cole chuckled, unable to keep from returning her mischievous grin. Smiling pulled the scarred flesh on the right side of his face. “Not Eddie? Or Ethan? Or Eugene?”
A hum bubbled up from inside her, and a sweet laugh erupted, but was stifled just as quickly. Something inside Cole stilled. Why would she stop such a wonderful sound?
“All right. You caught me. I couldn't think of an
name.” She shifted her tray of Keno cards to her other hip and her smile faded.
So did his.
“Aren't you going to fill those out?” She nodded toward the Keno cards on his stool. “They'll be starting another game soon.”
He glanced back and scooped them from the stool. “I've never played Keno before. Maybe you could show me?”
Wariness returned to her eyes, but she stepped closer, leaning in to point to his cards as she explained. He inhaled the scent of her fruity shampoo and closed his eyes. Damn. Heat raced up his spine.
“You can pick up to ten numbers on each card. The computer randomly chooses numbers between one and eighty and you win based on how many you matched.” She began rattling off the odds of certain numbers being chosen like a calculus professor.
“You really know your stuff.”
Her eyes narrowed. “For a blonde? Anyone with half a brain can figure odds if they work here long enough.”
So, she had a chip on her shoulder about being labeled a bimbo. He wanted to ask her how long she'd been a Keno girl. She couldn't be much older than twenty-five. But he couldn't open fire on her tonight. He'd do a little recon first.
“Just because you're a beautiful blonde doesn't mean you can't be a genius, too. Look at Jayne Mansfield or Sharon Stone. Both have IQ levels close to Einstein's.”
She stared at him, her face inscrutable. But something flickered briefly in her eyes and hit him right in the gut. As he stared back, the air between them vibrated as if he'd just started up the jets of his Raptor.
But he didn't want to come on too strong too soon, so he broke eye contact, severing the connection. “I'll let you get on with your work.”
She stepped away and fidgeted. “Enjoy the casino, Major.”
Cole watched her leave, enthralled with the way her
perfect little butt moved beneath the miniskirt. A shock wave of lust roared through his blood straight to his dick and he tightened his jaw. Yeah, he needed to get control.
He'd made first contact. This time tomorrow, he'd have an intelligence report to aid him. Getting her into bed within a week? That was a challenge he was more than ripe for even without the added bonus of winning the bet.