Authors: Lindsay McKenna
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction
Flying was her first passion
Then Chris Mallory met Major Dan McCord, her instructor in test-pilot school. The attraction—compelling, magical, overwhelming—was definitely mutual.
The first woman in a male-dominated field, Chris had enough to handle without beginning a love affair. But the powerful feelings between them were irresistible, and with Dan she could soar to such ecstatic heights....
Touch the Heavens
“How I want you, my raven-haired love.”
Dan’s voice was roughened by desire as he wrapped Chris in his arms. “Tonight, tomorrow, forever....”
An uncontrolled fire swept through her as he kissed her deeply, possessively. Then his fingers slipped under the straps of her nightgown, baring her shoulders.
Chris gasped when his hands moved down to the fullness of her breasts. Arching upward, she met his hunger with her own, wanting, needing all of him.
“Now,” she murmured entreatingly. “Please, Dan, love me now....”
In Memory of Doug Benefield, Test Pilot
When I first met you to interview you, I wondered if you were born part eagle. You lived to fly, flew to live. Your world never consisted of feet on the ground. No, you felt happiest with a stick in your hand and rudders beneath your booted feet, sailing through that vast blue ocean called the sky. And having been a test pilot for such a long time, you had survived longer than almost all of them. There was a natural intimacy between you and the bird you flew, an understanding. You were a natural stick-and-rudder man.
Your ability to share your knowledge of test piloting, with even the uninitiated such as myself, forever imprinted you in my heart. On August 29, 1984, you died at the stick of your beloved B-1B bomber; you went out like you came in: flying. And I know from the way your voice grew gruff and your eyes softened when you looked at that bird that you loved what you were doing. And I was privileged to not only see, but feel that fierce pride and satisfaction within you toward your profession, as one of the greatest test pilots in the world.
Doug, you were an eagle and truly, you did Touch the Heavens
narrowed as he spotted the woman in a dark blue Air Force uniform standing near the flight line. So this was their woman test-pilot student, Captain Chris Mallory. So intent was she on inspecting the line of jet aircraft parked on the concrete ramp that she hadn’t heard him approach. A wry smile tugged at his mouth as he allowed himself to fully enjoy the sight of her.
She was tall for a woman, but not for a test pilot; probably around five-foot-seven, he guessed. Her hair was a luxurious black with blue highlights, like those of a raven’s wing gleaming in the early-morning light. Although Dan had met several women Air Force pilots during his career, he was pleasantly surprised: Chris Mallory was decidedly feminine in every respect. Her thick black hair curled softly into a shoulder-length page boy that barely brushed her shoulders. Small, dainty pearl earrings adorned her earlobes. Nice, he decided. Very nice. There was an air of confidence around her that widened his smile. Even at a distance of twenty feet, she was a woman who would definitely command any male’s attention.
As if finally sensing his presence, Chris Mallory turned her head slowly toward him, giving Dan the full impact of her violet gaze. He had never seen anyone with such wide, heather-colored eyes. Her face was square, softened by slightly full lips that curved upward. Overall, he decided, an arrestingly attractive woman—the kind who made him want to stare at her like an eighteen-year-old boy instead of a thirty-two-year-old man. He walked forward, extending his hand.
“You must be Captain Chris Mallory. I’m Major Dan McCord, one of the instructors at the Test Pilot School.”
Chris smiled warmly, automatically proffering her own hand. Her slender fingers met and were enclosed by his in a firm grip. She gave a slightly embarrassed laugh, as he continued to hold her hand. Reluctantly, he released it.
‘‘Yes, I am Captain Mallory. How did you know? Or is test-pilot student written all over me?”
He grinned. “Just a lucky guess. Actually, some of the guys think I’m psychic.” Nice sense of humor, he thought. Dancing amethyst eyes with a real spark of life in them. Chris Mallory possessed a blend of femininity, confidence and allure, with emphasis on the allure. He felt excited by her presence in the test-pilot curriculum. If her looks were any indication of her skill as a pilot, she was going to do well as the first woman to challenge the male dominion of test piloting for the Air Force.
Chris found herself warming to Dan McCord, missing little in her initial inspection of him. He was a good five inches taller than her, with lean features and eyes the color of the sky she loved to fly in. Deeply tanned by the California sun, he carried himself with easy grace. Yet within him, Chris sensed there was a tightly coiled power. She would have been more on guard if his mouth had been thin or cruel looking. But it was a firm, well-shaped mouth. His walnut-brown hair was neatly trimmed and tapered in typical military style.
“I’d accept the psychic bit if I didn’t know that nearly every national newspaper had announced that I’d be arriving today at Edwards Air Force Base to begin processing for Test Pilot School.”
“Looks like I’ve been caught in the act,” Dan admitted. “Now I’ll have to confess to reading all the publicity anticipating your arrival.”
Chris groaned. “Not to mention the television coverage. You’d think I was the first woman astronaut or something.”
He liked her ability to remain at ease with him; something that other women military pilots never did accomplish. “You are a first, Captain. But I was hoping that all this fanfare wouldn’t deter you from looking forward to school.”
She found herself beginning to relax. Maybe this new Chapter in her life wasn’t going to be as tough as she thought. Dan stood before her, one hand resting lazily on his slim hips. His flight cap was edged in silver with the gold major’s oak leaf on one side, perched confidently on his head. His one-piece olive flight suit fit his lean, whipcord body to perfection, emphasizing his broad shoulders and well-muscled chest. “What almost stopped me from coming was my car,” she admitted ruefully. “It broke down outside of Lancaster, about thirty miles from here.”
His brows dipped. “Oh?”
She gave a shake of her head. “I got lucky and found a loose wire on the distributor; otherwise, I’d be hitchhiking onto the base. Somehow, I suspect the other test-pilot students wouldn’t think much of that.”
Dan became serious, watching her through half closed eyes. “You’re a pilot, not a car mechanic. I don’t see why anyone would make fun of you if you hadn’t been able to fix it.”
“I expect some of the students are going to try and find the least little flaw in me and blow it out of proportion.” She forced a smile, realizing the palms of her hands were damp. McCord was affecting her strangely, and suddenly Chris felt nervous around him. And at twenty-nine years old! Still she could see that she was affecting him similarly. Was this chemistry? Had that invisible web snared both of them within its unseen grip? In a characteristic gesture, Chris touched her hair, smoothing several strands back into place from her now rose-flushed cheeks.
“Don’t worry about that. We’re prepared to deal with any student who might cause you a problem, Captain.” He looked at his watch. “You were supposed to arrive over at personnel at 0900 this morning.”
“How did you know that?”
“Because the commandant ordered me to meet you over there and help you with the processing procedures.” Then he gave her an appraising look. “But, like any good student, you’re here early.”
“I just wanted to come down and take a look,” she whispered, keenly aware of his maleness. “Some of these jets I’ve flown. Most of them I haven’t. I just wanted to see....”
“I understand. Once flying gets in your blood, it’s there to stay. Look, I have to do some proficiency flying in that F-4 Phantom sitting over there. Why don’t you go over to the cafeteria and get some coffee? I’ll meet you at personnel at 0900, and then we’ll get you settled into the Barracks Officers’ Quarters.”
A new thrill coursed through her. Dan McCord appeared to be genuinely interested in her welfare. She had been prepared to steel herself against the chauvinism she would be facing because she was breaching the male dominion of test piloting. “You’ve got a deal, Major McCord.”
“When we’re alone like this, call me Dan. I only stand on military formality when necessary, Chris.”
She felt the caress in his voice as he used her name, and felt a shiver of expectancy ripple through her. “Well—” she began uneasily.
“No argument. Hey, I’ve earned the honor of escorting you around, I want you to know that.”
She tilted her head, confused. “What do you mean?”
Dan grinned boyishly. “Every instructor at TPS wanted to do the honors. We drew cards and I got the queen of hearts.”
Chris found herself unnerved by his probing look.
“In more ways than one,” he added huskily. Then, gesturing toward the flight line, he said, “And if I have my way about it, I’ll be your instructor in three of those combat aircraft.”
Before she could think of a glib retort to his flirtatiousness, McCord had gone, moving down the flight line toward the awaiting aircraft. Chris watched him, unraveled by his charm, friendliness and warmth. A silly smile touched her lips, and she shook her head. Normally, after having survived seven years in the military, she could trade teasing retorts with the best of them. But Dan McCord made her feel like a giddy seventeen-year-old girl on her first date.
* * *
ATER THAT MORNING
, after two hours’ worth of paperwork, Chris was officially enrolled as a student for Test Pilot School. She was about to ask where the barracks was when Dan appeared at her side.
“I’ll escort you over to the Barracks Officers’ Quarters and get you settled in your assigned rooms,” he offered, lifting his flight cap in playful imitation of a porter.
“You don’t have to do that,” Chris spoke quickly. “I’ll find my way.”
“But I want to,” he answered, settling the flight cap back on his head. “Come on, I have all the necessary forms filled out so we can whisk you through.”
The BOQ was the home for all single officers who wanted to live on base. It was mandatory that all students stay at Edwards simply because of the amount of training and flying that took place. All the married students were assigned to small, stucco, one-story homes on Sharon Street. Dan pointed out that it gave moral support to the families to be with others going through the same grind.
Chris entered the large rooms, looking around. Dan leaned casually against the door and watched as she inspected her new quarters.
“I thought you might like some lunch before you start unpacking,” he offered when she had finished.
“What’s this? The Air Force’s finest woman pilot at a loss for an answer?”
She gave him a flat look, trying not to smile. “That’s happened a few times,” she acknowledged lightly.
Dan gave her a boyish grin. “I imagine after being hounded by the media, there’s something to be said for silence. Come on, grab your hat and I’ll give you a quick tour of the base,” he urged. “I’ll bet you’re tired. You’ll probably want to crash after lunch.”
A cold chill swept through her. “Please don’t use the word
,” she said, a sobering quality in her voice.
“Poor word choice on my part. Let’s think about lunch instead, okay?”