Call-sign Blackball. Lieutenant Colonel Terri Whitfield is the Air Force's "golden girl", an officer on the fast-track with a very good chance of going all the way to the top. With nearly twenty years in the service under her belt, Terri was a master combat pilot and had logged thousands of hours in the skies over hostile terrains all around the world. She wasn't someone who frightened easily, if at all. But when unknown adversaries strike her at home, the veteran Air Force warrior needs help from an old friend. It's a good thing for the colonel that her old friend just happens to be Derrick Olin, at one time a rising star with the Air Force's elite Office of Special Investigations, now a freelance bodyguard-for-hire. Temporarily pressed back into the service, Derrick begins the hunt for the people threatening his friend. And knowing Derrick Olin as we all do by now, it won't be long before he finds them. The question after that: would they rather he take them alive or dead!
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIFORNIA
"This is really nice," Deana Eddington said.
"It is," I said. "And only the second time in twenty-plus years that I've been on a vacation."
Dee turned and smiled at me.
"Like I told you when we first met, big guy, you need to learn to lighten the f**k up!"
I grinned at her and gently squeezed her hand in mine.
It was about an hour after sunset and we were walking along the beach down from Dee's Huntington Beach home. It was getting darker but the lights from the houses up the beach helped us keep our bearings.
We were barefoot, Dee wearing a floral print dress that stopped just above her ankles and I was wearing a black T-shirt and blue jeans with the bottoms rolled up to my ankles. Every time a wave rolled in the water washed across our feet but neither of us minded. It felt good. Actually, everything tonight felt very good, especially the company.
"You're getting quiet on me again," Dee said as she looked over my way once more. "What are you thinking about?"
"You," I told her.
"Well I should hope so," she said. "Considering that you're here with me."
I glanced at her and was still able to make out many of the features of her face. Her narrow cheeks, her pointed nose, slightly crooked, her shoul- der-length curly red hair, her horn-rimmed glasses, and behind them, the most beautiful light brown eyes. I had known Dee for about twenty years and in all that time, she had only become more beautiful. I suppose that was one of the reasons why she had maintained a highly successful modeling career right up until her late thirties.
"You are a very beautiful woman, Ms. Eddington," I said to her. Dee smiled again, squeezed my hand, and stopped walking.
I stopped too, and we turned to face each other. Dee is about three inches shorter than I am so she had to lean her head back just a little to look up into my eyes.
"I am so glad to see you, Derrick," she said in a small voice full of emotion. "I really have missed you."
I placed my right hand on her cheek and stared into her eyes for a long time.
Dee stared back and after a while, I could see a tear in her left eye. I smiled, leaned close, and we kissed.
"I'm glad to see you, too, love," I said in a heavy voice. "It's been too long."
"It has. Far too long. I know the trip is longer now that I live out here instead of back in South Florida, but I'm glad you made it."
"Me too," I told her. "And I'm glad you found what you wanted out here. You seem very happy."
"That's because I'm staring at the sexiest man alive right now." I grinned.
"But you are right," she went on. "I have found what I needed out here. A fresh start. After everything that went on when I was in Miami, with Excelsior1 and all, I wasn't sure that I would ever be able to move past it, to leave the pain of all of it behind. And not just the physical part."
I put my hand on her shoulder and gently squeezed.
"You are one of the strongest people I know, Dee. If anyone could bounce back from what you went through, I knew it would be you. Don't sell yourself short. You are the reason you survived and have been able to move on. You're a remarkable woman, sweetheart. Never forget that."
She smiled again and leaned forward to kiss me.
"You are so good for my ego, Mr. Olin. Kind of wish I had you around all the time to stroke it."
We both stared at each other for a few moments and then burst into laughter.
"Well I meant stroke my ego," she said, barely able to contain herself. "But now that I think about it..."
I was shaking my head and still grinning, but I saw the hint in Dee's eyes, and was glad of it.
"Last time I was on a beach with you I seem to remember getting raped on the sand," I said mockingly.
Dee put her hands on her slender hips and cast a defiant gaze my way.
"And you enjoyed every minute of it, sailor," she said. "Airman," I corrected. "I was in the Air Force, remember?"
"Oh I remember quite well," she said. "Just be thankful I didn't call you seaman!"
And we started laughing once more.