About Linda Style...
It’s our pleasure to welcome Author, Linda Style to our blog. Linda is the award-winning author of 14 novels published by Harlequin Super Romance. She’s also the co-founder of Bootcamp for Novelists Online where she teaches the advanced level writing courses. With degrees in behavioral science and journalism, Linda has worked as a case manager, a human rights advocate, a program director for mental health services, a management consultant, and as the editor-in-chief for AZ View Magazine. In addition to her novels, Linda has written both fiction and nonfiction for newspapers and magazines.
Linda loves talking with other writers and frequently speaks at writer’s meetings and conferences. Her books, described by reviewers as emotional, fast-paced stories that keep you riveted to the page, have won several awards, including the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence, the Orange Rose award for Best Book of the Year. Linda was recently featured in a USA Today interview where she talked about her current release, A SOLDIER’S SECRET. Today she's sharing an excerpt with us.
Natalia Sokoloff is an Iraq war veteran, a former rescue helicopter pilot who has taken her skills into civilian life where she pilots for a search and rescue team in the mountainous areas in Arizona. David (Mac) MacAllister is also an veteran who worked with Natalia in Iraq as a medic and continues to do so at Mountain Air Search and Rescue. They are buddies, good friends. In fact, Mac saved her life in Iraq…and now he needs a favor from her. He needs her to agree to a temporary marriage so he can convince authorities he’s fit to adopt the son he fathered while on active duty in Iraq. But Natalia has wounds from combat that no one can see, and if anyone finds out, she could lose everything she’s worked for. Being around Mac in such an intimate setting, is too close for comfort. But she owes him… She owes him everything. How can she refuse?
From her pilot's seat in the search and rescue helo, Natalia glanced toward the deep part of the canyon where Mac pointed, but she couldn't see anyone.
Her tactical flight officer and rescue paramedic, David MacAllister, lowered his binoculars and held up four fingers. "Two adults and two children," he said into the mic attached to his helmet.
"Geez. What were they thinking?"
"I doubt they expected an avalanche." Mac glanced at her, then took a swig of coffee from his thermal cup.
"I meant what were they thinking bringing little kids to a place like this? Parents should know better."
"Is that the voice of experience talking?"
"It doesn't take experience as much as common sense."
Natalia grinned. "Exactly." Mac knew her well. After five years working SAR together, two in Iraq and three with Mountain Air, they weren't just a team, they were best friends, like brother and sister. She doubted she could work so closely with anyone else.
Mac had his flaws, but he was caring and honest to a fault. If he said he was going to do something, he did it. His word was his bond and that meant everything to her. His best asset as a friend was that he knew when she needed space, and gave it to her.
"Yeah. Taking kids into a place you know is dangerous isn't just stupid, it could be considered child abuse," Mac said through thinned lips.
She did a double take. She'd never heard him voice his opinion so emphatically. And even stranger than that, he'd actually agreed with her. "Calling it child abuse might be a little much."
The area could be dangerous, though, and many hikers failed to do their research beforehand. Flash floods were common in the canyons during the monsoons, and though the rain had stopped now, foreboding gray sky and thunderheads the color of gunpowder threatened to unleash more. No one was out of danger, hikers or rescuers.
Invariably, apprehension chipped away at the certainty she needed to feel to complete a successful rescue. Natalia said a quick prayer that they'd reach the victims in time. She knew better than anyone that anything could happen—at any time. The weather was as unpredictable as people.
It wasn't that long ago that a Phoenix news chopper had gone down, killing all inside. No matter how safe the aircraft, or how easy the job seemed, there was always risk involved. One little mistake, one blip of the weather, or even a bird sucked into the chopper blades, could mean disaster.
Earlier this morning, the search and rescue ground team had come in to rappel down the canyon, but with sheer cliffs and boulders in the way, they hadn't been able to reach the family. Now it was up to Natalia and her crew to airlift them out.
Normally, she carried a three-man crew: tactical flight officer, rescue paramedic and herself, the pilot. Today, because it was only a pickup, it was just her and Mac.
"Over there." He gestured again. She spotted the ground guys, and then, making a pass directly over the narrow box canyon, saw the family, trapped by an avalanche of rocks and boulders.
Natalia had flown these canyons hundreds of times, but every rescue was different. As usual, she made a couple of orbits to get a visual on the best place to go in.
"I need to get married," Mac said during the next flyover.
She jerked her head sideways. "Excuse me?"
"I'm serious. I need a wife."
"For what? Did you run out of women to sleep with in the greater Sedona area?" As Natalia came around again, focusing on the ground crew, Mac opened his door to watch for the signal.
"I don't sleep around."
"Yeah, and I'm Captain Kirk. Now pay attention. We have people in need here."
For years Mac had spouted off about wanting to be free of responsibility because he'd had to step up and be the man of the house for his mom and four sisters after his dad died.
He had to be joking about the wife.
"There…" Natalia nodded to her right. "I can hover to lower the hoist. Ground said no injuries, so all we need to do is get them up. Their crew will take it from there."
"Great. We'll be in and out, and then maybe you'll find a few minutes to talk to me."
"We're trying to save lives here, MacAllister. Get with the program."
Mac went silent. She didn't look over, but felt the intensity of his gaze.
Her pulse quickened as she zeroed in on the family below, who were jumping up and down and waving their arms like windshield wipers. "Ready the hoist."
Double-checking the equipment, he shot her another sidelong glance. "Sure thing, mein capitan!"
She stiffened at the well-deserved gibe. Joking and needling each other was their antidote to the stress of any rescue. Every moment in the air could mean life or death to someone, including themselves, and over the years they'd developed an irreverent banter that relieved the tension and allowed them to stay on an even keel.
Someone else hearing them might be shocked at the tone and their seemingly callous disregard, but it was necessary. Emotions clouded judgment, and cloudy judgment caused mistakes. In the air, there was no room for mistakes.
She released a sigh. "I'm glad you realize who's in charge." And then, in almost the same breath, she said, "What are those ground guys doing? I can't hover all freaking day."
Then one of the SAR team below waved a flag, directing her to a specific point. She riveted her gaze on the ground crew, depending on them and Mac to guide her into position.
"We're good," he said. "Let's do it."
The first step was to send down the hoist to lower one of the ground guys into the canyon. He'd hook the people in and send them up, usually a couple at a time. Natalia and Mac had worked SAR together for so long the process was one they could do in their sleep. Yet every time was different—and equally dangerous.
Once they started the rescue, there was no bantering, just the business of saving lives, and they both gave it full concentration.
Two hours later, they'd finished and were winging their way back to the Mountain Air SAR office at Love Field in Prescott. The sun had reappeared, steaming hot through the bubble of Plexiglas surrounding them. Natalia shoved her flight helmet up a little. "God, I've never been so tense."
"Nothing a shot of tequila won't fix," Mac shouted from the back, where he was securing the equipment.
The muscles in her shoulders felt like double knots under her skin. She shrugged a few times to relax them. The sunlight magnified through the glass was making her clothes stick to her skin.
Mac came back up front and sat next to her. "You've been tense a lot lately. Maybe you should see a doctor. Find what's really the matter."
Not a chance. Hearing her symptoms, a doctor would ground her immediately. If that happened, she might as well put a bullet in her brain.
But Mac didn't know, and despite herself, she smiled. He couldn't help himself. Fixing other people's lives seemed to be a part of his DNA.
"It's not a problem, Mac, so let's change the subject." As the words left her lips, sweat broke out on her forehead. She sucked in a deep breath, but it felt as if she'd inhaled fire instead of air. Suddenly the chopper was like a sauna. Sweat oozed from her every pore. When she looked at Mac, she realized it was just her.
Her gut seized. No! Not in the air. It was not going to happen! She wouldn't let it. Wiping her face with her shirtsleeve and acting as normal as humanly possible, she drew another breath, then slowly let her lungs collapse. She did it again.
Mac stared at her.
"Just a little tension. I know how to handle it." She pulled herself up and repeated the ritual of rolling her shoulders to get out the kinks—and as she did, she felt the sensation dissipate. She glanced at the controls, her hand still steady on the cyclic, one foot on the antitorque pedal. It was all good.
"Okay," he said, but she could hear the doubt in his voice.
She wiped her face again, and with the airfield thankfully in sight ahead, she said, "We're going in."
Mac folded his arms across his chest. He and Natalia never talked during takeoff and landing, the most dangerous parts of any mission, and she hoped he wouldn't resume the conversation later. If he did, his words would fall on deaf ears.
All she wanted to do was finish the reports for the job and then take a drive to unwind. "Prescott tower, this is Mountain Air Search and Rescue, Hotel Romeo One. Over."
When they were back at the SAR office and had deposited their neon orange vests in the bin, Mac crossed the austere room and stood next to Natalia's metal desk. He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his faded jeans. "So," he said. "Can you talk now?"
She picked up the report papers, sat on the desk corner and started reading. "I can always talk. I just open my mouth and—"
He plucked the papers from her hands. "Part of a conversation includes paying attention. Can you do that for just a minute?"
She stared at him briefly, then crossed her arms and narrowed her green eyes. "Well, I guess I better."
He stepped back, out of the line of fire. "Don't look at me like that. I've got a problem and I need your help."
Her eyes widened. "You need—" she placed a hand flat on her chest "—my help? Moi?" He couldn't stop the smile. "Seriously?"
"Seriously." But how the hell could he explain quickly? Today she seemed even more antsy than normal. She didn't like to hang around the airport once a job was over. Neither of them did, preferring to get out and do something to relieve the tension that was common after completing a rescue.
The more dangerous the mission, the more winding down was needed. For him it was a beer and a game of pool with his buddies. Natalia liked to get in her Mustang and take the switchbacks between Sedona and Flagstaff as if she were trying for a NASCAR slot. When she couldn’t do that, she ran as if training for the Boston Marathon. He had to be quick or she’d be outta here.
“Okay,” she said, eyeing him suspiciously. “Spit it out.”
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Linda's book may be purchased from Amazon.com and from Harlequin Romance online.
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