Excerpt: Crossfire

Book 2 : High Risk Series

Crossfire (High Risk Series) by JoAnn Ross

“Go, bid the soldiers shoot.”
– Shakespeare, Hamlet –

Excerpt One

“Do you really have to leave so soon?”

“Now, darlin’.” Brigadier General John Jacobs paused while tying his spit-polished shoes long enough to nuzzle the neck of the lusciously naked blonde lying in the middle of the rumpled sheets. “You know I do.”

“Just a few more minutes?” She arched her back like a sleek Siamese, displaying the voluptuous breasts, which, although not natural, were still damn fine.

He was tempted. What male wouldn’t be? A former Miss Watermelon Belle, Meredith Hawthorne was one helluva good lay. But he’d begun to suspect that she had set her sights on marrying up.

Her husband — who hadn’t even attended one of the Academies — had only made captain before joining the faculty of the Admiral Somersett Military Academy. While he himself was not only a retired brigadier general but had graduated from West Point, as had all the males in his family going back to the Revolution.

He was also, if Meredith was to believed — and it stroked his ego to accept her word — a better lover. But, dammit, he’d been honest about his intentions from the start. They were both married. Neither was looking for commitment. Both had reasons to keep their affair discreet.

As the highly visible commandant of a very successful athletic department (which brought in beaucoup bucks from ASMA alumni), he was on the fast track to be commander of the school whose roots had first been established in the Lowcountry to supply the government with a citizen corps of cadets during the war of 1812.

His wife, the daughter of a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, whom he’d married solely for her social and Pentagon connections, had served him well. Loyalty prevented him from putting her out to pasture just because some blond beauty queen gave the best blow jobs in the South.

“Your husband’s going to be home at eighteen hundred hours,” he reminded her.

He should know, given that he’d been the one to send Captain Hawthorne to Savannah on a recruiting trip. Both VMI and The Citadel had their eye on a seven-foot-tall high school basketball center, but Jacobs had every intention of winning the phenom for ASMA.

One more trip to the Final Four and he figured that plush commander’s office with its stunning view of the Somersett River bridge, and the harbor beyond, would be his.

“I know.” She sighed prettily, drawing his attention back to her breasts. “It’s just that every time I’m with him, I wish I was with you.”

She touched a hand to his face. On a distant level, he admired the way she allowed the single tear to trail down her cheek. “In fact, just the other night, when he was upstairs, playing war games on that damn computer, I was thinking that maybe I should just tell –”

“Don’t.” He grasped hold of her wrist. Tight enough to make her flinch. “You’re not going to tell your husband anything. Because if you do, I’ll make sure he’s shipped out of here so fast that pretty blond head of yours will spin. And given that you dropped out of college when you nabbed yourself an officer and a gentleman, it’s not as if you have a lot of career skills.”

His face was inches from hers. His other hand tangled in her long hair, holding her gaze to his. “Unless you decide to take that talented mouth of yours out on the pro circuit.”

She frowned. Her eyes swam. This time the tears were real. “That’s nasty.”

“That’s what we’re about.” His tone was hard. He could have been raking a cadet over the coals for an honor code infraction. “We get together twice a week to do the nasty. I get my rocks off, you get a man who, instead of treating you like glass, knows you like rough sex and likes giving it to you the way you want it.”

“That’s it?”

Hell. Realizing that this could get out of hand, he backtracked. “No.” This time it was he who touched a hand to her unhappy face. “You’re right. It was cruel and uncalled for. You know you mean more to me than that.” He stroked her cheek. “But we’ve got to be careful. If your husband gets so much of an inkling of what’s going on, I could kiss my future good-bye.”

“That’s the most important thing, isn’t it?” She sniffled, but from the tilt of her chin, he could sense she was regaining the spirit that came so naturally to stunningly beautiful women. Women accustomed to the attention of men. “You becoming commander of ASMA.”

“It’s important.” He was not above lying. When necessary. But this was the absolute truth. “But you need to keep your eye on the big picture.”

“Which is?”

“I’m going to need a proper hostess once I move into the commander’s house.”

Sky blue eyes narrowed. “I assume that would be your wife.”

“You’d assume wrong.” He stroked her arm and felt her stance soften. “You know that Eleanor and I haven’t been living as man and wife for some time.”

“That’s what you told me.”

He could also tell she hadn’t entirely bought the story. He didn’t blame her, but again, it was the truth. His bride had let him know early in their marriage that she found sex messy and distasteful. So long as he behaved discreetly, and never slept with any of her friends, she’d been more than willing to allow him his little affairs.

“Our marriage has always been –” he paused for effect – “complicated. But it’s become more and more difficult for us to live under the same roof. So we have an agreement that as soon as I become commander, we’ll divorce. At which time Eleanor will receive a substantial financial settlement.”

From the way her smooth brow furrowed, he could tell she was sensing the lie. “Why would she give up the opportunity to play lady of the manor?”

“Simple. Because she’s never enjoyed the role of an officer’s wife.”

“You could certainly have fooled me.”

“She’s a good actress.” And a spectacular hostess. Having always believed in giving credit where credit was due, he allowed that Eleanor Longworth Jacob’s inborn Southern graciousness was part of the reason for his success. “But she’s growing weary of the part.”

His lover’s hair had tumbled over her shoulder. He smoothed it back, skimmed his hand over her breast, and felt her heart pick up its beat. “Besides, there’s another reason she wants to be free as much as I do.”

“What’s that?” Her flesh was warming. Tempting him even as he played her.

“She’s in love.”

“You’re kidding.”

“On the contrary. And there’s more.” Like putty in his hands, her mouth softened beneath his as he pressed a line of kisses from one side of her lips to the other. “Her lover just happens to be a woman.”

Her head snapped back. “Your wife is a lesbian?”

“It seems so.”

“When did you find this out?”

“I’ve always suspected. But that’s all it was. A feeling. She confirmed it last month.”

“Wow.” He could see the wheels turning in her head as she absorbed the lie. “Talk about ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell.’”

She tilted that busy little head and studied him. Despite her Barbie doll body and sugary Southern belle charms, Meredith Hawthorne was a cold, calculating female. It was one of the things he honestly admired about her.

“If that got out, it could really screw up your chances for making commander.”

“Exactly.” He kissed her longer. Deeper. Leaning her back against the pillows. “Which is why I’m counting on your to keep my secret.”

He skimmed his lips down her rosy torso. He didn’t really have the time for this, but neither did he want to risk her deciding to come clean with the cuckolded captain. “For just a little longer. Until we can be together.”

Slender thighs opened. “In the commander’s house,” she said.

“Absolutely,” he agreed robustly as he clamped his mouth over her and closed the deal.

Five minutes later, twenty minutes before Captain Hawthorne was due back from Savannah, Jacob, with his future firmly back on track, left the house six blocks from the ASMA campus.

It was a pretty neighborhood. Brick sidewalks were shaded by leafy green trees lined up like soldiers in front of tidy nineteen-thirties style bungalows; the Stars and Stripes flew crisply from every porch; lawns were neatly trimmed; gardens darkly mulched.

It was dog days in the Lowcountry, the air so scorchingly hot it rippled along the ground as he strode with military bearing to the black Cadillac parked in the Hawthornes’ driveway.

A sound like a tree branch cracking overhead shattered the summer silence.

Although he’d spent his entire life around weapons, Brigadier General (Ret.) John Jacob never felt the shot that penetrated his skull.

He was dead before he hit the bricks, crimson blood oozing from the hole left by the copper penny-colored caliber rifle slug.

One shot. One kill.

Excerpt Two

It was funny how things worked out, Quinn McKade thought as he left his office in the Admiral Somersett Military Academy.

There were times when he wondered if his father, one of the country’s most infamous war protesters, was able to watch his only son’s strange journey. Was it even possible for atheists to end up in heaven? Or hell?

Or was Daniel McKade residing on some other plane, spending his eternity the same way he’d lived his life — challenging authority, creating unrest, and eventually proving himself an ultimate hypocrite, a pacifist who used violence as a weapon against war.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword.

And wasn’t his old man proof of that? Though in reality, it’d been a perfectly aimed round from an FBI SWAT team sniper’s rifle that had taken Quinn’s father’s life that long ago summer’s evening.

Quinn, who was eight at the time, figured he’d be hearing the crack of that bullet until the day he himself died.

Now here he was, twenty-five years later, not only a decorated war vet but published novelist and writer-in-residence, teaching the occasional creative writing class at one of the nation’s premier military academies.

Heat hit like a sweaty fist as he left the building, headed toward the parking lot on the far side of the parade ground.

It was dog days in the Lowcountry, that steamy, somnolent time of year when any guy who had the sense God gave a gator would be kicking back in a Pawleys Island rope hammock beneath the spreading limbs of a moss-draped oak, a sweating glass of sweet tea or an icy brew on his bare stomach and a dog-eared paperback nearby.

Which was exactly what Quinn intended to do when he got home, where a bottle of Sam Adams and an unfinished James Lee Burke novel were waiting for him. Maybe he’d pick up some blue crabs on the way.

Unlike so many of the imitation antebellum structures that were so popular throughout the Lowcountry, there was nothing romantic or graceful about the academy’s buildings. They were all gray stone – massive, imposing, fortresslike, without architectural adornment, turning their backs on the three-hundred-year-old town.

The rest of the South may be in summer mode, but apparently the drill instructor hadn’t gotten the memo that heat kills. An entire plebe class was marching in the staggering humidity, their ranks a little ragged but their shouted cadence strong and enthusiastic.

Pausing on the sidelines to watch, he was breathing in the scent of fresh-mown grass when the unmistakable sound of a rifle shot shattered air thick enough to drink.

Reacting on instinct, Quinn hit the ground just in time to hear the bullet whizzing past his head.