-a Delta Force romance story-
Hal Waldman’s next assignment: skydive through a storm into hostile territory. The mission’s greatest risk? His own jump partner.
Teresa Mann, on special assignment to assist Delta Force, must make a leap of faith.
Nothing prepares them for when they both take a Lightning Strike to the Heart.
It was a bitter New Year’s Eve, especially at thirty-three thousand feet standing on the open rear ramp of a C-130 Hercules cargo plane. The rain drummed on the plane’s skin with such ferocity that she could barely hear the roar of the massive turboprop engines over the storm. She had to stay light on her toes to keep her balance on the shifting deck.
Chief Petty Officer Teresa Mann of the US Coast Guard checked her watch: oh-two hundred. Happy New Year. What better time, place, and weather for her first combat jump with a Delta. She’d been thrilled at the chance to accompany a Unit operator—as Delta Force soldiers called themselves—but this was a little extreme even by the Airborne Jumpmaster Course’s harsh standards. She’d done HALO jumps before—bail out at high-altitude but wait for the last second before doing a low opening—but not in the middle of the night during a major storm.
The C-130’s Loadmaster spoke over the intercom wired into her earphones, “Jump in fifteen seconds.” Only the dull red jumplight lit the cavernous rear of the aircraft. He and his assistant were anonymous in a full helmet and armored vest as the four of them grouped together for their final checks.
Teresa began counting backwards.
“Ground reports winds out of the southwest at forty,” he provided the last key element before the jump.
In other words a total nightmare for the landing.
“In ten!” He was a second fast. Then he yanked her and Hal Waldman’s communications cables, and her earphones went quiet.
He disconnected their oxygen hookups to the aircraft’s supply system.
For a jump from this altitude, she and Hal were wearing full facemasks and carrying five minutes of oxygen. Instead of helmets, they wore insulated caps that fitted tightly against the mask. Five minutes allowed plenty of margin for error as they should fall into breathable air within ninety seconds, but they couldn’t risk cracking their masks for the full three minutes of the jump until they deployed their chutes—the chance of getting frostbite from the wind chill was too high. They’d already checked each other head to toe to make sure there was no exposed skin. With a sixty-second margin of air, they were good to go.
The Loadmaster unlatched Master Sergeant Waldman and then her own safety lines that had kept them securely connected to the racing cargo plane once the rear ramp had been lowered.
Then the Loadmaster caressed her a*s and gave it a hard squeeze.
Rather than going for the obvious response—a sharp kick to the balls, which he was already turning aside to protect against in addition to having an armored flap dangling over his groin from his bullet-proof vest—she made her hand into a knife edge and drove her fingertips upward into his armpit through the gap in his armor between vest and sleeve. Once there, she grabbed and twisted the leading edge of the pectoral muscle hard enough that his arm wouldn’t work right for days without causing a shooting pain down its whole length. She gave an extra yank; he’d walk with a hunch for most of that time.
His hand, which had clutched her even harder in initial shock, finally let go.
As he jerked it back, she brought the edge of her hand down in a hard chop that may or may not have broken his wrist.
By the volume of his scream—which was loud enough to be heard over the roar of rain and engine, despite no longer sharing the intercom—she’d guess a bad break. Hardly a traditional start to the New Year.
She stepped to the rear edge of the cargo ramp with Hal. At the last second Teresa turned so that she was facing the still screaming Loadmaster and his assistant, who was clawing at his headphone’s volume control. She snapped to full attention as she stepped off the end of the ramp. With a sharp salute, she drifted off the plane and fell backwards into the storm.
“Any problems?” Hal asked over their short-range encrypted radio link as they slammed from the plane’s two hundred miles an hour into freefall. Once they were flying with the wind, the battering eased.
“It depends Waldman, are you a macho asshole?” In the pitch dark, Teresa oriented herself head down and lined up her body for the fastest descent speed.
“I’ve been accused of the macho often enough. I try to avoid giving women a cause to call me an asshole though.”
“Then we’re fine.”