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Authors: Lindsay McKenna

One Man's War

BOOK: One Man's War
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It was Vietnam, 1965, but the rockets' red glare wasn't hot enough for brazen, challenge-hungry pilot Pete Mallory. He fanned the heat by wagering he could seduce his C.O.'s sister and fly away unscathed. But no-nonsense Tess Ramsey zeroed in on his soul-deep vulnerability—and the cocky chopper jockey took a nosedive. Worse, once he'd found her, no-strings Pete had something to lose. And he'd have to battle every devil of war's hell to snatch Tess from the widening jaws of mortal peril.

Previously published.

ONE MAN'S WAR

LINDSAY McKENNA

CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Epilogue

CHAPTER ONE

Da Nang, Vietnam
April 1, 1965

H
unting time! Captain Pete Mallory savored the thought as he drove the Marine Corps jeep down the heavily potholed red dirt road. Mentally, he rubbed his hands together as he savored his next target: Tess Ramsey, the younger sister of his commanding officer, Major Gib Ramsey.

The village of Le My drew into view as the jeep bumped along. A huge patchwork quilt of rice paddies and dikes paralleled the road, with the village spreading out to his right. Pete ignored the hundred or so thatched huts and the Vietnamese families who lived in them. He was on a mission, his target a woman he'd never even seen. Of course, he had to remind himself, she
was
the sister of his CO, so he'd have to watch his step.

He grinned. Hell, with a little fancy footwork, his famous smile and a few clever lines, he'd have Tess Ramsey in his arms—and bed—in no time. And that's exactly where he wanted this mysterious woman whom he'd been hearing about off and on since he'd been assigned to Da Nang six months ago.

He'd already tired of chasing the local Vietnamese women, who, in Pete's opinion, were lovely but offered no satisfaction to his hunter's instincts. He hungered for a challenge—a woman who was less willing, more of a moving target. And from what he'd heard about the independent Tess, who worked in the field as an agricultural advisor, she might be just what he was looking for. Pete braked the jeep in a cloud of reddish dust and got out. His black flight boots were covered with dirt, he noticed, scowling momentarily. When he got back to his barracks in Marble Mountain, he'd have to have the Vietnamese boy spit shine them all over again.

Then, remembering his mission, he began to hum to himself. Thrusting his hands into the pockets of his one-piece green flight suit, his utility cap drawn so low that the bill nearly touched his nose, Pete sauntered into the village. He had the perfect excuse: Gib Ramsey had sent him to find Tess and bring her back to a small officers' party at the Marine Air Group squadron's headquarters, Marble Mountain, tonight.

Pete had made it a point to learn enough Vietnamese to be able to swap and haggle with the natives. He entered the village, situated on a flat piece of real estate surrounded by trees and lush jungle growth that created a sort of protective wall. He stopped and scratched his head. Who to ask?

Children, naked or wearing only tattered shorts, played throughout the village. Cooking pots hung over small, smoky fires here and there with
mamasans,
clothed in black and wearing pointed bamboo hats, laboring at them. The men were out in the rice paddies plowing behind their harnessed water buffalo. He didn't see many young or middle-aged women. They must be in the rice paddies, too, he surmised.

An old man, his face pinched and weathered, hobbled up to Pete and gazed at him with assessing brown eyes.

Pete hadn't gotten over the fact that the Vietnamese were such a small, slender people. The old man, his chest sunken, his ribs showing clearly beneath several shell necklaces, tilted his head in birdlike fashion. A bright red cotton skirt covered him to his knees, and his large, callused feet stuck out below. The whole pictured seemed comical, and Pete grinned. The old man would never know he was laughing at him, he thought.

“Hey,
papa san,
where's Tess Ramsey? I'm looking for Tess. Where's she at?”

The man blinked.

Pete rolled his eyes and threw his hands on his hips. “You don't understand a damned word I'm saying, do you? Why can't you people learn English as a second language like the rest of the world?”

“Tess?”

Pete opened his mouth, wanting to take back what he'd just said. Obviously the old codger did understand him. Heat nettled Pete's cheeks. Then he shrugged off his guilty conscience. “Yeah,
papa san.
Tess Ramsey. I'm looking for her.”

Lifting his branchlike arm, his flesh dark from decades under the tropical sun, the old man pointed toward a rice paddy in the distance. “Missy Tess is with our women out there. You go find her. She like a tall bamboo reed. You will know which one she is.”

“Yeah...I will.” Inwardly fuming because the old man hadn't seemed to take offense at his insulting words, Pete turned on his heel and aimed himself toward the paddies. If anything, he'd seen laughter in the old man's eyes. Pete couldn't bear to be caught off guard by anyone or anything. Irritated, he lengthened his long stride. Then he forced himself to focus on his hunting instincts, pushing away the incident with the Vietnamese man. He couldn't waste his time worrying about some peasant's opinion—now was the time to make a damn good impression on Tess Ramsey.

* * *

Tess smiled warmly at the four Vietnamese women standing respectfully around her.

She stood four feet from a huge dry dirt dike, up to her ankles in murky brown water, as she talked to them, slender rice shots surrounding her.

The overhead sun was bright, as always, but Tess's bamboo hat effectively shaded not only her face, but her shoulders and upper back as well. It was, in her opinion, one of the most brilliant designs the people of the Far East had created.

She'd just finished explaining some rice fertilization techniques when she heard her name being called from a distance. Tess looked in the direction of the sound. The four women also lifted their heads.

Coming along the paddy complex's western dike wall was a marine in a dark green flight suit. Tess knew from the uniform that he was a pilot. But she could tell, even at a distance, that it wasn't her brother, Gib. Tess heard a noise behind her and looked over her shoulder. A ten-man squad of marines, heavily ladened with packs, M-14 rifles and protective helmets, was slowly making its way across the southern dike. She frowned. If only the marines didn't have to run patrols around her village of Le My. If only... Tess gave a whispered sound of frustration. The marines had landed in force at Da Nang a month ago, and already their presence was being felt and dreaded. It could only escalate the conflict, she feared.

She excused herself from the women and walked forward through the muddy water toward the approaching pilot. Tess vaguely recognized him. Most of the men in Gib's helicopter squadron were stationed at Marble Mountain, and she had met some of them on various visits to her brother. Although she was sure she'd seen him around, she knew she'd never met this officer. Almost against her will, she noted how handsome he was.

Pete Mallory's heart was doing funny things in his chest. Unconsciously, he rubbed that area as he approached the woman who obviously was Tess Ramsey. He ignored the fact that her dark green cotton slacks, resembling baggy pajamas, were haphazardly rolled above her nicely shaped knees, and the fact that she stood in rank, murky brown water. Her heart-shaped face, wide, intelligent green eyes and full mouth held his fascination. Lord, what a mouth she had. The urge to taste her exquisite lips was nearly overwhelming.

Just as Pete raised a hand, mustering his charm to casually introduce himself, sporadic rifle fire sounded nearby. His gaze snapped to the south, where a marine squad had been slowly making its way across the dike. The men all dived for the earth, flat on their bellies. At a sharp order from the officer they prepared to return fire.

Damn it!
Pete's gaze snapped back to Tess and her group of women. They were standing there as if nothing were happening! The idiots! Didn't they hear the sniper fire? The shots probably were aimed at the marine squad, but the women could be in the line of fire!

“Get down!” Pete shouted. He made a sharp gesture for Tess to hit the deck—or, in this case, the flooded rice paddy. “I said, get down!” he roared, beginning to run toward her. How stupid could she be? All five women had curious looks on their faces as he yelled at them. Typical women, Pete decided.

More shots sounded, and the squad of marines began returning fire at a jungle wall half a mile away.

The paddy dike sloped steeply down into the water. Pete didn't give a damn about the four Vietnamese women standing around looking nonplussed as he hurtled toward them. But he did care about Tess Ramsey. She was an American and she could be killed. Pete leaped off the dike and made a lunge for her.

Tess gasped as the pilot jumped directly at her. What was the fool doing? But even as the thought formed, his hands connected with her shoulders and Tess was flung backward. They both landed in the rice paddy with a tremendous splash, sheets of chocolate-colored water flying up in veils around them.

Water flowed up into her nose and choked her as Tess fought the pilot's grip, knocking his hand away so she could struggle out of the two feet of water.

“Let go!” she sputtered as she staggered to her knees, and then her feet. She glowered at the pilot, who was still on his hands and knees in the paddy, sopping wet. “What do you think you're doing?” Tess croaked. She coughed violently, her fingers pressed against her throat.

Scrambling to his feet, Pete could still hear the marines returning fire. He charged Tess. “Get down!”

Dodging his flailing attack, Tess leaped backward out of reach. “What for?” she yelled angrily.

Water streamed from Pete as his jaw dropped in utter disbelief. “What for?” he bellowed. “Lady, there's sniper fire right over there.” He jabbed his finger angrily toward the trees. “Now get your butt down in this paddy and stop fighting me! You want to get killed?”

Tess burst out laughing. She couldn't help herself. The marine pilot looked like a drowned rat, his military short black hair plastered to his skull, the flight suit clinging to his lean frame, his intense blue eyes flashing with anger and frustration.

“Captain, it's okay. Really it is. That isn't sniper fire!”

Disgruntled, Pete turned toward the marines hunkered against the southern paddy dike. They'd stopped firing their M-14s and no further gunshots were heard from the jungle.

“What the hell are you talking about?” he snarled, returning his attention to Tess.

The four Vietnamese women covered their mouths with their hands and began giggling. Tess grinned as she pushed her wet hair off her face.

Pete glared at the women. “What the hell's so funny?” He couldn't help but notice that Tess was indeed like a tall piece of bamboo next to the four tiny Vietnamese women. She must be at least five foot eight or nine, Pete guessed, but she was dressed like the other women in every respect. Why? he wondered, when she could have worn her khaki US AID uniform, instead.

Tess ruefully rescued her bamboo hat from the water and tipped it to empty out the contents. “That firing you heard, Captain, was Nguyen Oanh, this woman's son. They own an old rifle—about thirty years old. He was going into the jungle just now to hunt for wild pig.” With a shrug, Tess placed the bamboo hat back on her head, her smile widening. “Oanh is only ten years old, and we all know he can't hit the broad side of a barn, but his father's with him to teach him how to shoot properly.” Then she added, “I just hope they're okay.”

BOOK: One Man's War
2.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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