Private Maneuvers / Page 18

Page 18


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"Oh, great. I can hardly think straight and you're able to strategize a schedule for consummation. Nice to know I really sent your hormones into overload, Doc."


He'd hurt her pride. Again. But if he took her here, now when she didn't have a clue who he was...


No. She deserved better.


Darcy yanked her dive vest up from the sand. "I'm so sorry for what you've been through, Max, but I can't let you play mind games with me. I am fed up with people telling me what's right and wrong for me. God, I wish you would quit being so freaking protective." She spun on him, blazing anger and jabbing a finger his way. "And don't even toss the birth control protection excuse at me. Because it's not like you plan to follow through even if we swam straight back to a quick-mart."


Indignation radiated from her. Sparked through her. She was so damned hot. And gorgeous. And actually making some sense.


"Besides, I have a Norplant. Are you clean, of diseases I mean?"


Following her conversational twists was damn well giving him whiplash. "Yeah, but—"


"Me, too. Obviously." She jammed her arms through the vest one at a time. "Yeah, yeah, I know. You're wondering what the hell a virgin needs with implanted birth control. Apparently, I don't need it today."


"Hold on. Let's just—"


"I got it for combat." She plowed over his words as if he hadn't spoken. "I'm hoping like hell I never get shot down, but just in case, I thought I should protect myself." She paused to shoot him a toxic glare. "All of which I would have told you if you hadn't needed to retreat after today's 'interlude' as fast as humanly possible."


Her warrior spirit radiated. Damn, she was magnificent when pissed, and he wanted to kiss her pliant again. But his lack of control had already caused enough damage for one day. He deserved her rant. And more.


Darcy whipped her weight belt off the sand and began securing it around her waist. "Not all captors are sticklers about following the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners. It won't protect me from diseases, but at least I won't risk ending up pregnant."


Whoa. What the hell was going on? He struggled to follow the conversation shifting faster than riptides.


Max sorted through her words while she jerked on the rest of her gear with angry hands. She'd never shared her kidnapping experience with him, but he heard the reverberating implications all the same.


He tried to focus on the word virgin. She hadn't been raped during the kidnapping. He hadn't wanted to consider that might be one of the holes in her file, but knew too well what those kinds of bastards could and would do even to a thirteen-year-old.


A thirteen-year-old who would have known the possibility existed for every torturous day of captivity. The fear had no doubt left its mark on her.


Max reached for her, needed to hold her and protect her from a helluva lot more than he'd ever dreamed. A dolphin clicked in the background. Not one of his so he ignored it along with reasonable thoughts. "Darcy, okay, you're right. Let's talk now."


She slapped his hands away. "I'm through talking to you, Max Keagan. I'm through letting you flip my world. I want my life under control again."


Slipping on her mask, she backed into the lapping tide. His emotions churned like the water kicking up behind her as she charged into the ocean, disappearing into a wave back toward their bobbing boat. He yanked his gear from the sand. She did not need to be out there alone for even a minute. With no dive partner underwater....


Underwater.


The wreckage.


With a buried cable alongside.


The search pattern unfolded in his mind. Clarified...


Why the hell hadn't he considered it before? Just because conventional technology indicated the tap would be on the cable didn't mean it had to be so. What if there was a pulse-detecting instrument close by?


Concealed. Very possibly inside the wreckage where they'd been circling, stirring God only knew what kinds of warnings. Hell.


Max shrugged into the rest of his gear. Double time.


Checked his knife strapped to his thigh. His feet pounded sand as he tightened, cinched, ran, fins last, then plunged into the surf.


He had to haul Darcy safely back to base pronto so he could start a comprehensive search. He would call Crusty to check on her. Max spotted Darcy, a dolphin fin circling ahead. Faster. Alarms jangled in his head.


The clear lagoon waters showed more than the outline of a downed plane and Darcy dipping below the surface. Dark figures, four at least, worked their way toward her. Some might have thought it nothing. Deep in his CIA seasoned gut, Max knew better.


Just like before.


A woman had been targeted because of him.


And this time he would die before letting history repeat itself.


Darcy plunged underwater, welcoming the roar of her breathing from the oxygen tank. She'd wanted a memorable farewell with Max Keagan.


She'd succeeded in spades.


Kicking her feet, she propelled herself deeper, farther away from him, her body still tingling with the lingering aftereffects of his touch. Her life had been so focused just a few short weeks ago. She'd known what she wanted. While she'd been frustrated by the obstacles and delays, she had no doubt that she could succeed in achieving her goals eventually. Never had she let anything stand in her way, not even her indomitable father.


For the first time in her life she was torn with indecision. And all because of one little kiss. Okay, and one really hot, long and insides-searing release.


Damn, but she was confused. She wanted the underwater Max back. She wanted Max. Period.


But she wanted her plane and her independence and some closure to her past. And, God, yes, she was scared spitless of a real relationship. Max might keep his distance with loner solitude, but she found hers through superficial, pal-style friendships.


Being with Max was never simple or superficial. The past hour on the sandbar proved that. His rejection, even a temporary one, hurt. Too much.


She propelled herself forward, drawn almost against her will toward the submerged Vietnam War era bomber. Barnacles encrusted rusting metal. Faded paint depicting a busty woman in a red bathing suit glimmered dimly along the side, rows of brown bombs painted to signify missions flown. Twenty-two before the plane went down. Had the crew perished with the plane?


Rainbow-colored fish streaked through the gaping cockpit window. Darcy startled back. Arms swirling beside her, she stared at the hulking metal, caught in a timeless bond with those who had gone before her.


Those who would go after.


And in that moment she was a part of something bigger than just herself. How odd to feel so very small and yet suddenly so much older at the same time. Her world focused in a flash of time that had nothing to do with proving herself to crewdogs or to her father, and everything to do with living up to the legacy of a group of leather-clad aviators who had taken hits to their craft over a foreign ocean, far away from loved ones.


For loved ones.


In that mystic swirl of water, Darcy Renshaw felt the determination, the drive, the strength of will that powered countless men and women to give all for others.


And she'd been focused only on herself. Her professional mission. Her personal needs.


How had she strayed so far off course in every aspect of her life? Selfishly, she'd focused only on her need to fight in Cantou, not what the Air Force needed from her.


Even worse, on the beach she'd thought only of her own disappointment, never once considering where Max might be coming from, given what he'd shared about his past.


How damned ironic that in growing up a person realized how very far she still had left to go.


Rushing water swirled, caressing her skin. She needed to wake up. Diving alone wasn't safe and who knew how far behind her Max would be.


A dolphin circled in front of her...Darcy squinted, searched the features. Then reminded herself Max's dolphins were penned, although this one looked a bit like Lucy.


The dolphin swam closer, closer still until she bumped Darcy with her snout.


Ouch. Apparently subtle wasn't this one's strong suit either.


Darcy slowed, stopped. You want to play?


The dolphin moved closer, nudged again.


Not right now, if you don't mind. I'm busy running from getting my heart tromped.


The sleek body shoved. Propelled Darcy forward.


Ouch!


Her side tingled from the powerful push. Unease bubbled through her with as much force as the rushing current around her. The dolphin looked insistent. Even pissed.


Unease trickled down her spine. There were few reports of dolphin attacks, but the mammals possessed the strength and speed to disable her in half a heartbeat.


A diver eased into view in the distance. Thank God. Max would know what to do.


The figure eased closer, clearer. Darker.


No wild dive shorts screamed colors through the crystalline waters. Just an ominous black wet suit. The figure charged forward. Spear in hand leading the way. Followed by another diver. And another.


Unease roared into full-blown panic, certainty— vulnerability. Without her plane. Or even her 9mm.


She was under attack.


Chapter 10


Fear twisted in Darcy's gut, constricting her breathing faster than the dolphin swimming away. But she wouldn't let panic conquer her. Forcing steady drags of air into her lungs, she backstroked behind the wing of the submerged plane. She needed time to strategize.


What the hell was going on? And why?


Wasted thoughts at the moment. She had to concentrate on survival. Questions could come later. And, damn it, she would have a later.


She slid her hand to her thigh, freed her knife, a knife only meant for cutting away seaweed. It was better than nothing.


Blinking inside her mask, she studied the distant cluster of swimmers, at least a couple of hundred yards away. And closing. Two spears glistened, sparked rainbow refractions in mocking arch.


Her mind raced with options unfolding like an in-flight emergency checklist. Could she make it back to shore? To the boat? Or maybe she should continue to hide in the plane wreckage and defend herself until Max arrived.


Even then, her odds sucked.


She considered luring the divers away from Max. For all of three roaring breaths.


Max would find her. No way would he quit searching until he located her, landing unaware into God only knew what.


Warning him would increase their odds. She had to race for the shore and alert Max. Likely he was already on his way. Close. She hoped.


Darcy palmed the knife and kicked. Hard. Sweeping around the other side of the plane and searching the water for signs of Max. At least the clear Guam waters had allowed her the advance warning of seeing the attackers from a distance.


A small advantage, but she'd take it.


Darcy's arms strained. Her breathing labored. She sucked in air from her tank. The underwater beauty she'd so enjoyed earlier dulled to monochromatic grays streaking past. Not nearly fast enough.


Why the hell did this have to happen underwater? She could kick the crap out of two guys on land. Or one underwater. But even with Max's help, these two-to-one underwater odds chilled her. If she could just make it to shore, that would level the playing field.


Her legs pumped harder past a reef of poisonous red coral.


God, she hoped when she hauled onto the sandbar those four divers would laugh and apologize for scaring the hell out of her when they were only hunting.


Instinct told her otherwise, and trusting instincts was critical to flyers who planned to stay alive in combat.


Darcy risked a glance behind her. The gap narrowed as the swimmers streamed over the downed bomber. No more than a hundred yards between her and the four looming bodies and two spears. Did they plan to kill her outright? Or take her, as she'd been taken before.


Panic bubbled up her throat. Darcy propelled by the coral reef. Around.


A figure exploded into view. She clutched her knife. Ready. Her vision cleared.


Max.


Relief punched through her until she couldn't breathe. Had her tank gone dry? Air rushed in. Darcy gestured behind her, searching for ways to make him unders—


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