Seven Days To Foreverñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Until this mission is over, consider me your shadow. Do you have a problem with that?” asked Flynn.
Abbie decided to clear this up right away—before it could go any further. “Not as long as you understand that our relationship isn’t personal. I don’t want to repeat what happened at my apartment the other night.”
“Check. No kissing or fooling around in bed. Got it.”
His blunt comment startled her into meeting his gaze.
Flynn watched her intently, his eyes gleaming. “Did I misunderstand what you were referring to?”
“No, you understood perfectly.”
“Too bad, Abbie. I enjoyed kissing you and being in your bed. I think you enjoyed it, too.”
This month we have something really special in store for you. We open with Letters to Kelly by award-winning author Suzanne Brockmann. In it, a couple of young lovers, separated for years, are suddenly reunited. But she has no idea that he’s spent many of their years apart in a Central American prison. And now that he’s home again, he’s determined to win back the girl whose memory kept him going all this time. What a wonderful treat from this bestselling author!
And the excitement doesn’t stop there. In The Impossible Alliance by Candace Irvin, the last of our three FAMILY SECRETS prequels, the search for missing agent Dr. Alex Morrow is finally over. And coming next month in the FAMILY SECRETS series: Broken Silence, our anthology, which will lead directly to a 12-book stand-alone FAMILY SECRETS continuity, beginning in June. In Virginia Kantra’s All a Man Can Be, TROUBLE IN EDEN continues as a rough-around-the-edges ex-military man inherits a surprise son—and seeks help in the daddy department from his beautiful boss. Ingrid Weaver continues her military miniseries, EAGLE SQUADRON, in Seven Days to Forever, in which an innocent schoolteacher seeks protection—for starters—from a handsome soldier when she mistakenly picks up a ransom on a school trip. In Clint’s Wild Ride by Linda Winstead Jones, a female FBI agent going undercover in the rodeo relies on a sinfully sexy cowboy as her teacher. And in The Quiet Storm by RaeAnne Thayne, a beautiful speech-disabled heiress has to force herself to speak up to seek help from a devastatingly attractive detective in order to solve a murder.
So enjoy, and of course we hope to see you next month, when Silhouette Intimate Moments once again brings you six of the best and most exciting romance novels around.
Leslie J. Wainger
Executive Senior Editor
Seven Days to Forever
admits to being a sucker for old movies and books that can make her cry.
A Romance Writers of America RITA®
Award winner for Romantic Suspense, and a national bestselling author, she enjoys creating stories that reflect the adventure of falling in love. When she and her husband aren’t dealing with the debatable joys of living in an old farmhouse, you’ll probably find Ingrid going on a knitting binge, rattling the windows with heavy metal or rambling through the woods in the back forty with her cats.
The adventure continues….
Out of the hundreds of tourists who had passed by his post in the past hour, why should Flynn notice this one? Even if he wasn’t on duty, he shouldn’t have noticed her. Sure, she was attractive enough, in a compact, earth-mother type of way. Soft-brown hair, eyes the color of caramel, a hint of freckles on the tip of her small nose and a quick, coiled-spring energy to her movements. But she was the kind of woman who would want to meet a man’s parents. She had probably picked out a china pattern and two names for her firstborn. She was the kind of woman who usually made Sergeant First Class Flynn O’Toole of Eagle Squadron, Delta Force, break out in hives.
A spot just under his left shoulder blade developed a sudden itch. Flynn rubbed his back against the wooden bench. “I don’t think she’s our target.”
He barely moved his lips as he spoke. His words wouldn’t have been audible to a person sitting beside him, but the microphone under his collar had no problem picking up everything he said.
“She would be a good decoy.” The voice of Captain Sarah Fox, Eagle Squadron’s intelligence specialist, came through the pea-size receiver in his ear. “I wouldn’t underestimate her.”
Sarah had a point, Flynn thought. The brunette with the freckles would make an excellent decoy, since no one would suspect someone who looked that wholesome and innocent to be involved with a group of terrorists who were dedicated to the overthrow of the Ladavian government.
Then again, no one would expect a group like the Ladavian Liberation Army to be using the National Air and Space Museum for a ransom drop in the first place.
The woman hurried past the bench without giving Flynn a second glance. She headed straight for a pair of boys who were paused under the biplane that hung from the ceiling. For a moment all three of them craned their necks, gazing at the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer with expressions of delighted awe. Then the woman herded the boys toward a group of more than a dozen chattering, fidgeting children.
Evidently, the woman hadn’t come to the museum alone, she had brought a classroom worth of kids with her. Unless the LLA had dropped their height requirements and were recruiting fresh-scrubbed seven-year-olds now, it was unlikely that the woman was involved. She was probably exactly what she seemed, a teacher on a field trip.
“Heads up. Vilyas just passed the front entrance.” The warning came from Flynn’s friend, Master Sergeant Rafe Marek. He was positioned outside where he could observe the approach to the building without attracting undue attention—Rafe’s scars tended to spook people who didn’t know him.
Although his posture didn’t change, Flynn’s senses went on high alert. Ambassador Vilyas was carrying the ransom himself, as the terrorists had demanded. The man was adamant. He would do anything for the safe return of his son.
If it had been any other case, the FBI would have handled it—Delta Force normally didn’t operate on American soil, and when they did, it was in the role of advisors to other law enforcement agencies—but this was no run-of-the-mill snatch.
Absolute secrecy was vital. Not only was Vilyas the Ladavian ambassador, he was married to the niece of the Ladavian king. If a child with royal blood was killed here, the delicate negotiations that were already underway to bring democracy to the strategic, oil-rich Balkan nation would be derailed. And if the media caught wind of what was happening, they might as well put on their silver suits because the political powder keg of Eastern Europe would blow.
So Ambassador Vilyas had demanded the best. He had insisted on nothing less than the legendary hostage-rescue expertise of Delta Force and the president had agreed. Which was why Flynn and the team of highly trained commandos from Eagle Squadron were spending the day scattered around one of the most visited museums in Washington, D.C., dressed in civvies to blend in with the tourists. The mission was straightforward: recover the Vilyas boy unharmed, hand the terrorists over to the Ladavians and keep the entire operation completely secret despite the few hundred bystanders with cameras who were wandering through the target zone.
Oh, hey, piece of cake, right?
A small, balding man Flynn recognized as Anton Vilyas walked past his bench. His features were sharper than they had appeared in the briefing photo. Exhaustion did that to people—the man reportedly hadn’t slept since his kid had been taken three days ago. Poor bastard looked to be near collapse. The top of his head gleamed damply and his fingers were white where they curled around the strap of the green canvas backpack he carried.
How heavy was twenty million dollars? Flynn wondered. Even in the large denominations the kidnappers had demanded, the weight would be substantial. He’d heard the entire amount of cash had been provided by the U.S. government, an indication of how vital they considered Ladavian goodwill…and the mission of Flynn’s team.
Vilyas reached the designated spot and stopped. It was hard to tell whether he intentionally dropped the pack or whether it simply slipped through his sweaty fingers. It hit the floor with a quiet thud, wobbled briefly, then slumped against the base of a trash can. The green backpack stuffed with twenty million dollars lay discarded like someone’s forgotten lunch. The ambassador walked away without a backward glance, just as he’d been instructed.
“All right, people. Stay alert.”
Flynn heard Major Redinger’s voice and grunted an acknowledgment. Mitchell Redinger, the team’s commanding officer, was stationed at the temporary base they had established in a vacant warehouse. He was monitoring the feeds from the surveillance equipment that was positioned around the target zone, watching everybody’s backs. When this went down, it would go down fast.
And that’s just the way Flynn liked it. He felt his pulse pick up. It didn’t race. He was too disciplined for that. No, it was a steady, solid rush of blood to well-conditioned muscles that hummed in readiness.
He didn’t know what the target would look like, or how many there would be. He didn’t know what direction they would come from or how long he would need to wait. The odds of following the kidnappers without their knowledge, of assessing the best way to free the hostage, of bringing the whole incident to a quiet, successful conclusion weren’t good. As a matter of fact, they were abysmal.
But Flynn’s team had pulled off missions that had been far worse. When they did, there was never any recognition. No medals or official commendations, because the government wouldn’t even admit that Delta Force existed. The hours sucked, the stress was incredible. He had to be prepared to go anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice. His home was whatever base he was stationed at, his family was the soldiers of Eagle Squadron. He was expected to accomplish the impossible, continually challenging his brain and straining his body to the limit.
Flynn pressed his lips together and exhaled slowly through his nose.
Damn, he loved this job.
“Everything sure is old here, Miss Locke.”
Abbie smiled at the boy on her left. “Yes, Bradley. That’s because this is a museum.”
The child on her right side leaned over to roll his eyes. “Boy, Bradley, are you ever dumb.”
“You’re dumb, Jeremy.”
“Uh-huh. As if.”
The children were getting tired, Abbie thought. The squabbling was a sure sign. “But as museums go, the exhibits here aren’t all that old,” she said. “How can anyone think of space flight as old? Not that long ago it was science fiction. Look over here.”
“It’s the space capsule that John Glenn used when he orbited the earth.” She paused. “The first time, anyway.”
“He went to space twice?”
“Yes, but the second time he was much, um, older.”
“It looks burned.”
“Yes, it heated up when it went through the atmosphere. That was before NASA developed the space shuttle. Astronauts were shot into space inside a little capsule like this that was fitted on the tip of a rocket.”
“Wow,” the boys said, tipping their heads one way and then the other to study the capsule.
“That was more than forty years ago.”
“Wow! That’s older than my mom!”
“It’s older than my mom.”
Abbie put her hands on their shoulders and gently guided them along with the rest of the class. “It’s older than me, too, Jeremy.”
The boys looked up at her, their mouths rounded. “Hey. Really?”
Abbie suppressed a grimace at their expressions of disbelief. She wasn’t old, she reminded herself. Turning thirty didn’t mean that she was over the hill. She was just coming into her physical and sexual prime. A woman’s vitality peaked in her thirties, isn’t that what people said? She had plenty of good years to look forward to.
But if she had intended to keep a positive attitude about her youth, visiting a museum on her birthday wasn’t that great an idea.
She smiled at a plump redheaded girl. “Yes, Beverly?”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Me, too,” another child said.
Abbie turned to the parent volunteers who had accompanied the class and efficiently divided everyone into rest room squads. It was time to call it a day, anyway. They had been on the go since the morning, and the bus was due to pick them up in half an hour. Well-accustomed to the vagaries of seven-year-olds, she knew enough to allow plenty of extra time to organize their departure.
The unfortunate reminders of her advancing age aside, it had still been a good day. She was lucky to have a job she enjoyed as much as this one. She loved children and longed for the chance to have one or two of her own someday. Yes, her ambition was embarrassingly old-fashioned: a home in the suburbs filled with the warmth of a loving family…and of course, a nice, stable husband to share it all with. Was that really too much to ask?
Perhaps it was, since she’d always assumed she would have been married by the time she was thirty. That’s probably what was causing her to be so conscious of this milestone of a birthday. But chances were that she wasn’t going to find Mr. Right by the end of today…unless he jumped out of the cake at her surprise party.
For a moment Abbie imagined the scene in her parents’ house. Her family always threw her a birthday party. She always pretended to be surprised. There was something wonderfully comforting about the whole thing, a sweet ritual that arose from her family’s love. Her mother would fix her favorite potato salad, plates of fried chicken and egg sandwiches with no crusts. Her father would make the same joke he always did about how Abbie couldn’t possibly be more than two because her mother hadn’t aged a year since her birth. They would hug and laugh and make toasts to the future while she opened her gifts.
She would bet a hundred, no, a million bucks that the gifts wouldn’t include a cake with a man inside.
Abbie chuckled at the whimsical thought and scooped up a pair of discarded jackets from the rest room counter, then guided the children to the lobby where they waited for the stragglers. Of course, more jackets came off and backpacks hit the floor as they waited.
“Miss Locke, I lost my hat.”
“What did it look like, Ricky?”
“It was blue.”
Well, that narrowed it down. Abbie spotted a ball cap on the floor and pointed. “Is that it?”
“Yeah! Thanks, Miss Locke.”
She held out the jackets. “Whose are these?”
Two children raced up to take them, then dropped more of their belongings as they contorted themselves to put the jackets on.
Once the whole group was assembled, Abbie did a head count. As soon as she was assured that everyone was present and accounted for, she hurried them toward the door before anyone could wander off or decide they needed another rest room trip. Ricky’s hat fell off as soon as he started moving. Abbie picked it up as she passed by, along with three stray backpacks, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw the yellow school bus already waiting outside.
“What the hell just happened?” the major demanded. His voice was low, his words clipped, always a bad sign. “O’Toole, report.”
Flynn stared at the empty spot on the floor, then looked at the departing group of children. “She took the backpack.”
“I told you not to underestimate her,” Sarah said.
Flynn folded his museum guide, stuffed it into the back pocket of his jeans and followed the woman to the door. He deliberately kept his strides slow and easy, in case anyone was watching for a tail. “I can’t believe this,” he said. “She would have been my last choice.”
“It was neatly done,” Sarah said. “The children swarmed the target zone while she lifted the ransom. We never saw it coming.”
Flynn emerged into the crisp sunshine of the autumn afternoon. The woman was making no effort to disappear. In fact, she couldn’t have chosen a more obvious mode of transportation. “You can’t miss seeing her come now,” he said. “Bright-yellow mini school bus with a whole bunch of screaming kids. That’s going to stand out in traffic.”
“I need a visual confirmation that she has the money,” Major Redinger said.
“The bus is blocking my view,” Rafe said. “Flynn, can you see the bag?”
Flynn ambled toward the sidewalk. The woman formed the kids into a line, then stood by the open door of the bus and counted heads as they climbed inside. She handed what appeared to be a hat to one boy as he passed her and held out a sweater to another kid, all the while balancing three backpacks against her chest with one arm.
“Affirmative,” Flynn said. “The green backpack she’s holding appears to be the one Vilyas dropped. Aren’t the electronics we installed in the pack working, Major?”
“The mike’s muffled.”
“She’s holding the pack to her chest,” Flynn said.
“Clever woman,” Sarah said. “Anything on the homing signal, major?”
“That’s coming through no problem.”
As the last child climbed on the bus, the woman’s shoulders rose and fell with a sigh. She started after them, pausing on the first step to glance over her shoulder at the museum. And despite the noise from the squirming kids that Flynn could hear all the way over here, she was smiling.
Flynn took an involuntary step backward. If he had seen her smile before, he wouldn’t have needed to wonder why she had drawn his attention. Despite the freckles, despite the wholesome demeanor, there was something…alluring about her smile. It was a private little tilt of the corners of her lips, not meant for display. It was the smile of a woman who knew what she wanted, and for a crazy moment it made him wish he could give it to her.
What the hell was he thinking? She had just walked off with twenty million dollars in cash. What more could she possibly want?
She turned away. The doors of the bus closed. Flynn snapped his attention back to the conversation that was coming through his earpiece.
“…the mike’s working now. All I can hear are children’s voices.”
“…chase vehicles in position.”
Flynn pivoted and headed for his motorcycle. He’d chosen to use it because of the advantage it would give him in the Washington traffic, but considering the nature of the getaway car—no, bus—there was little chance of losing track of the ransom.
“This doesn’t add up,” he said, unlocking his helmet from the back of the seat. “She can’t be with the LLA. They wouldn’t use a bus full of kids to transport the ransom. It’s too obvious and it’s not maneuverable enough.”
“But it would provide excellent cover,” Sarah said. “They know we wouldn’t dare make a strike with all those children in the way.”
“Come on, people. Can’t you see it was an accident?” Flynn persisted. “She picked up that pack because she thought it belonged to one of the kids.”
“That’s a possibility, but—”
“She’s not one of the LLA,” he said.
“That’s immaterial.” At Major Redinger’s voice, the radio chatter stopped. “Until we know for sure whether this was a legitimate ransom pickup or just bad luck, our only option is to split up. Team A follows the ransom, Team B remains in position to continue monitoring the museum.”
Flynn kicked his bike to life, slid down his visor and slipped into the line of traffic that inched along behind the school bus. He noticed Sarah’s van waiting at the next cross street and heard the distant chug of a helicopter overhead. Much farther overhead, a satellite was beaming down second-by-second updates from the Global Positioning System that had been stitched into the pack.
Redinger was right. They had to cover all the possibilities. Considering what was at stake, they couldn’t afford to make any assumptions.
Why was Flynn so sure that the woman was innocent? Simply because she didn’t look like a terrorist meant nothing. Trouble came in all shapes and sizes. He’d seen old women in patched coats and kerchiefs lob hand grenades. He’d seen children act as spotters for assassins with high-powered rifles. He knew better than to trust anyone except the members of his team.
Besides, even if he was right and the pickup had been accidental, it was too late to put the ransom back in place. Boarding the bus now and retrieving the money would attract too much negative attention, to say the least. And the LLA had ordered Ambassador Vilyas not to alert the authorities about the kidnapping. No one, especially not Delta Force, was supposed to have been at the ransom drop, so how would they have known of the bungled pickup? The LLA could be following the ransom as easily as Flynn was, and they would be sure to spot any attempt at interference.
Oh, hell. For the sake of the mission, he should hope he was wrong about the woman. It would be far easier if she really was a clever terrorist in disguise who had just pulled off a brilliant plan.
Then again, since when had Flynn liked things easy?ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî