Authors: Lindsay McKenna
Tags: #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Love stories, #Romance - General, #Fiction - General
“Not a chance,” Maya replied, her green eyes blazing. “I know you. I suffered under your command. This time, you’re the one on the edge of the sword.”
Dane held her gaze. “I promise not to let our past get in the way of this mission. Is that enough? Or do you want a pound of my flesh while you’re at it?”
“You don’t have anything I want,” Maya replied, shaking with fury. Why did Dane York have to be such a bastard?
And yet, although she hated to admit it, she was powerfully drawn to the army officer….
A homeopathic educator,
teaches at the Desert Institute of Classical Homeopathy in Phoenix, Arizona. When she isn’t teaching alternative medicine, she is writing books about love. She feels love is the single greatest healer in the world and hopes that her books touch her readers on those levels. Coming from an Eastern Cherokee medicine family, Lindsay has taught ceremony and healing ways from the time she was nine years old. She creates flower and gem essences in accordance with nature and remains closely in touch with her Native American roots and upbringing.
For Hal Klopper, Boeing public relations,
Todd Brown, Boeing Apache test pilot,
and Philip Mooney, Boeing aviation expert.
Thank you for your help, your dedication
and your passion for the Apache helicopter.
organ, I’ve got to warn you. Captain Maya Stevenson is a modern-day woman warrior,” Mike Houston said as he sat down with his boss at a round table beneath a red-and-white-striped umbrella. “She kicks butt and takes names later.”
Morgan sipped his fragrant Peruvian coffee, his gaze restless as he looked down the narrow, red tiled walk toward the entranceway of the India Feliz Restaurant, where they were shortly to meet the clandestine and legendary Maya Stevenson. Directly in front of them rose the massive, loaf-shaped dome of Machu Picchu. It was December, summertime, and the landscape was dotted with orchids.
Morgan and Mike had arrived a half hour earlier by helicopter from Cuzco. Agua Caliente was a small, bustling tourist town, the closest community to the archeological wonder that was Machu Picchu.
“She’s kind of like a real-life Lara Croft,” Mike
continued, using the action heroine and the popular video game to describe Maya.
“My son, Jason, is in love with Lara Croft, the female archeologist in his Tomb Raider game.” Morgan chuckled. “He’s fourteen years old and plays that game every chance he gets.” Quirking one eyebrow toward Mike, he said, “A living Lara Croft. That’s saying a lot.”
Mike, dressed in the typical tourist gear of a Machu Picchu T-shirt, jeans and hiking boots because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself, grinned and sipped from his china coffee cup. “You know, for years while we were out here chasin’ the bad guys—the drug dealers—my soldiers and I would come busting into the area north of Machu Picchu. We’d fly in with helicopters, then drop down and start raiding. Our goal was to stop shipments from getting into Bolivia. Every once in a while we’d get outnumbered and outgunned, trapped by the druggies, who were trying to take us out. I knew there was no help coming to save our butts. We performed our missions alone, with the government’s approval, but they didn’t have the money to bankroll us like we needed. So if we got into trouble, we were on our own.”
Mike’s eyes sparkled. “And out of nowhere would come these black Boeing Apache assault helicopters. Two of them. And I mean out of nowhere.”
“You’ve told me about these unmarked black helos coming in and saving your neck from time to time,” Morgan acknowledged. “Way back when, we didn’t know it was a spec ops—special operations—that was behind them. Now we do.” He looked up at the late morning sky, a pale blue with thin white clouds silently wafting overhead. Every now and again a snakelike
wisp would coil around the top of one of the towering mountains that literally surrounded Agua Caliente. At six thousand feet in altitude, the small Peruvian town looked to Morgan like a mystical Shangri-la, hidden deep in the mountainous jungle, in the middle of nowhere. The roar of the mighty Urubamba river, less than a half mile away, was clearly audible from the restaurant patio.
Watching the ceaseless flow of tourists passing the India Feliz, Morgan heard snatches of German, French, Italian, as well as British and American accents. It was a Tower of Babel, quite literally, a baby United Nations.
Morgan had boned up on Machu Picchu and found out that what drew people from around the world was the spiritual nature of this old Incan temple complex. It was said to be the center of feminine energy on the planet, just as the Tibetan Himalayas, on the opposite side of the globe, were considered the masculine center. New Agers came here, from the looks of it—many on some kind of spiritual quest, he supposed.
“This is a very peaceful place,” he murmured. “And drop-dead gorgeous. Look at the thousands of orchids clinging to that lava cliff face in front of us. That’s pretty astounding.”
Mike grimaced. “Yeah, it is. On the surface it’s peaceful.” He pointed at the hazy, mist-shrouded canyon, where a whole series of mountains nestled shoulder-to-shoulder along the raging, unharnessed Urubamba. The mountains looked like soldiers at attention to him. “Go twenty miles north or east or west, and you’re going to meet drug runners trying to get their cocaine crop across the Peruvian border into Bolivia, where they know they won’t be pursued by us.”
“At least the Peruvian government let Maya come in here with U.S. support. The records suggest she and her squadron of women pilots are slowing the trade out of Peru more than a little. Fifty percent reduction isn’t a bad figure considering what she’s up against.”
Mike nodded and lifted his chin. “Yeah, she’s done one helluva job on a shoestring budget. Normally, spec ops get money thrown at them. Millions of dollars, as a matter of fact. But not her program. It was her idea to start an all-women squadron hidden deep in the mountain jungles to take out the bad guys. The only reason the idea took off was because her father’s an army general and backed it. If he hadn’t been, she wouldn’t be here today or done the incredible job she and her band of women rebels have done.” Mike grinned, respect in his tone.
“My wife, Laura, who is a military archivist and history buff, is very taken with Maya’s legend.” Morgan waved his hand. “Not that I’ve told her that much, but Laura is gung ho about what she knows, and glad we’ll be supporting Maya’s mission now, in place of the CIA.”
Rubbing his jaw, Mike sat back and stretched out his long legs. Two local dogs came up to the table and lay down between them. One was a black-and-white terrier type and the other looked like the descendant of a golden retriever who’d met an ugly mutt in one of the back alleys of Agua Caliente one night. The dogs sat contentedly near their feet, hoping for a few handouts. “Personally, I think the spooks wanted Maya to fail,” he stated.
“Of course they did.” Morgan chuckled as he finished his coffee. “She’s a woman. And she has a band of women doing a ‘man’s job’ better, probably, than
any male squadron would do it. Doesn’t look good to the Pentagon to have women outshining men in spec ops, you know?” He smiled across the white-linen-draped table at Mike, who was also grinning like a fox.
“I think she’ll be happy to hear that her squadron has been transferred over to you.”
Raising his thick black brows, Morgan said, “I hope so. You’ve met her, right?”
“Yes, a number of times.”
“Anything I should know so I don’t put my foot into it with her? I’d like to get off to a good start with Maya, since I’m going to be her new boss.”
Mike smiled hugely. “She doesn’t suffer fools gladly or for long. She shoots straight from the hip, doesn’t waste words. She was raised an army brat, flew civilian helicopters when she was just a teenager, and went directly into the warrant officer program the army offered. Took her training in Apache combat helicopters at Fort Rucker, Alabama, which is where everyone takes their training to fly an assault helo. When she volunteered for this spook spec ops, she suggested a very provocative idea to the head honchos—let her choose a band of trained women Apache pilots, handpick the crews, and come down here to stop the cocaine drug trade from getting into Bolivia. They promoted her from the warrant ranks and made her a captain because she was going to be C.O.—commanding officer—for this mission. She makes Indiana Jones look like pabulum compared to what she and her women pilots do down here.”
“And why does she have such determination to do this? That’s what I don’t understand,” Morgan murmured. “It’s the one piece of her background I can’t integrate.” He gazed over at Mike. “Do you know why
she would scuttle a potentially brilliant army career and go into a spec ops mission like this?”
Mike moved uncomfortably. “I know
of it. The rest, you’ll have to ask her.” He propped his chin on his folded hands and placed his elbows on the table. “I know you have Maya’s personnel records. She was adopted as a baby. General Stevenson was an attaché in São Paulo, Brazil, for the U.S. ambassador. At that time, he was a light colonel. He and his wife hadn’t been able to conceive a child. They’d tried everything and nothing worked. One day, a Brazilian Indian woman came to the embassy asking for Eugenia Stevenson. She carried a baby girl no more than two weeks old in her arms. When Mrs. Stevenson came to the back gate to see the Indian woman, she found the baby lying on the walk, alone. That’s how Maya was adopted—she was dropped on the U.S. Embassy’s doorstep. Eugenia fell in love with her, and they went ahead with formal adoption, giving her the name Maya, which means ‘mystery.”’ Mike smiled a little. “No one knows Maya’s real origins. I’d say she was part Brazilian Indian and part Portuguese aristocracy, judging from her features and skin color.”
“So, Maya has a stake down here in South America because of her bloodlines?”
“Yes, I’d say so. Just like bloodhounds need to hunt, she needs to be down here with her people, would be my guess.”
“That makes sense with what I know. From what I understand, Inca is her fraternal twin sister,” Morgan said. “They were born in the Amazon. Somehow, Maya was taken to the city, while Inca was left behind in the jungle to be raised.”
“Yes, and Inca didn’t know she was a twin until just
recently, when you worked with her on that drug mission in the Brazilian Amazon jungle.”
“Which is how we learned of Maya and her spec ops,” Morgan murmured. “If she’d never shown up that night after Inca got wounded, we’d still been in the dark about her and her mission.”
“I think we got lucky,” Mike said. “Fate, maybe.”
“What else can you tell me about her?”
“I think you know that Inca belongs to a secretive spiritual group known as the Jaguar Clan?”
“Yes. Does Maya, too?”
“Yes and no. She’s a member of the Black Jaguar Clan, a branch of the main clan.”
“What does that all mean? I know you have Quechua Indian blood running through your veins, and you’re more educated about this mystical belief system than I am.”
Mike avoided Morgan’s incisive gaze. He knew more than a little, but he wasn’t willing to bet the farm that Morgan was ready for the bald truth. Mike’s wife, Ann, had had enough trouble grasping what it meant to be member of the Jaguar Clan, when she’d learned her husband was one. Mike hedged. “As I understand it, genetically speaking, there’s a strong spiritual mission bred into the people who belong to the Jaguar Clan. They’re here to help people. To make this a better world to live in. The Black Jaguar Clan is the underbelly, so to speak. They do the dirty work with the ugliness of our world, handle the confrontations in the trenches.”
“And you think that’s why Maya sacrificed her army career to become a pain in the ass to the drug lords down here in Peru?”
Chuckling, Mike nodded. “Would be my guess.”
“She’s more like a laser-fired rocket,” Morgan murmured. “Almost a zealot or fanatic.”
“Isn’t that what it takes to be successful at something like this?” Mike questioned. “And aren’t you a little bit of a fanatic yourself? Didn’t your own background, your unsavory experiences in Vietnam, turn you into a do-gooder for those who couldn’t fight and win for themselves?”
Lifting his hands, Morgan said, “Guilty as charged. I’m the pot calling the kettle black.”
“Glad you can see that you and Maya have the same jaguar spots.” Mike chuckled. “It takes one to know its own kind.”
Morgan raised his chin, suddenly alert. “Is that her?”
Mike cocked his head, his eyes narrowing. There, turning into the entrance of the French restaurant, was a woman who stood six foot tall. Her long black hair, slightly curled from the high humidity, swung loosely about her proud shoulders and full breasts. She wore khaki-colored shorts and hiking boots with thick black socks peeking over the tops. Her dark brown T-shirt had a picture of a cream-colored Condor, its wings spread wide, across it. Over her left shoulder hung a fairly large olive-green backpack. A pair of sunglasses on a bright red cord swung between her breasts.
“Yeah, that’s her,” he told Morgan in a low tone.
Morgan watched Maya with a keen, assessing eye. He knew warriors, and he knew how to size up someone astutely. Captain Maya Stevenson looked like a tourist, plain and simple. She was dressed in what rich travelers from foreign countries wore around here. Only her golden skin and long, rippling black hair suggested that she might be South American. Morgan liked
the way she moved; on those firm, long legs of hers—with a bold, confident stride. Maya’s eyes were wide and alert. Their emerald depths showed interest, excitement and wariness all at the same time as she pinned her gaze directly on Morgan.
There was no wasted motion about this army aviation officer. Morgan found himself smiling to himself. The energy, the power, the confidence around Maya Stevenson was something to behold. She was at least a hundred feet away from them, yet Morgan could swear he felt her stalwart presence, as if the sun itself was shining directly upon him. No photo did her justice, he thought. She was beautiful and looked very similar to Inca, her fraternal twin sister. But there were dissimilarities, too. Maya was six foot tall and a big-boned woman. She had a slight cleft in her chin, and Inca did not. Her face was oval, cheekbones high, shouting of her Indian heritage. Yet the aristocratic thin nose, flaring nostrils and full mouth were very similar to Inca’s features.
Morgan was fascinated with this story of twins separated at birth, one becoming an environmental warrior in the Amazon jungles for the rights of the Indians, and the other a maverick military helicopter pilot. While Inca was calm, proud and quiet there was an edginess to Maya, he noted. Maya wore her brazenness, her strength, without fear. He admired that. Getting to his feet, Morgan was glad he was over six feet tall. Yet as she approached him, he saw Maya’s eyes narrow speculatively on him, as if she was using x-ray vision to see right through him. Did she read minds, as Inca was purported to do? Morgan hoped not. If Maya knew that he thought her statuesque and possessing a bold, primal quality few women willingly showed, she’d probably
deck him where he stood. This was a woman who brooked no bull from anyone—ever. No, she was an equal and it was obvious in every step she took that she expected to be treated as such.
Mike rose. He moved forward, his hand extended toward Maya.
She glared at him and halted. Glancing back toward the street, she whispered, “Follow me. And don’t look so damned obvious, will you?”