Blue Skies
Harlequin Arabesque
June 2007
ISBN-10: 0373830122
ISBN-13: 978-0373830121
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ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY

Air force fighter pilot Sydney Garrett was born to fly. No other thrill came close enough to shake her--until she met Captain James Colton and found a reckless passion that led to fifty-five hours together as husband and wife. When they went their separate ways, Sydney's heart understood what her pride refused to admit--that someday, somehow, fate would reunite them. But no one imagined that it would be a matter of life and death....

When Sydney's plane was shot down enemy territory on a routine reconnaissance flight, James and his crew were deployed on a dangerous search-and-rescue operation where every second counted. But James was not only going in after one of the military's finest pilots--he was also racing to save the woman he loved.



Prologue

August 18, 1985-1300 hours...

“Daddy’s not coming home.”

Seven-year old Sydney Garrett lost count how many times she spoke the words, but she was determined to keep saying them until the girl in the mirror believed her. Really, it didn’t make sense. Her father promised he would come back and everyone knew Lieutenant Colonel Devin Garrett always kept his promises.

“Daddy’s not coming home.”

A knock sounded at the door. When she turned, her twelve-year old brother, Steven, poked his head into the room. He, too, was dressed in his best church clothes and looking as sad as everyone else in the house. Since they heard the news, Steven took it in his head to start pretending to be the man of the house. Honestly, he wasn’t all that good at it, but she would never tell him¾plus she suspected he already knew.

“You ready?” he asked.

She was and she wasn’t. Yet, instead of answering, she dropped her gaze to her shiny black shoes.

Her brother sighed and entered the room. “Uncle Billy says the limousine is on the way and we need to be downstairs when it arrives.”

Tears swelled in Sydney’s eyes and she quickly blinked them dry. She was big girl and big girls don’t cry. At least that’s what her father told her; but her mother cried all the time now, and she was definitely a big girl.

But soldiers don’t cry.

Steven looped his arm around her shoulders, but she shoved it off and raced from her room.

“Syd,” he shouted after her.

She ignored him and raced down the hall to her father’s private study. Once inside, she locked the door and backed away. Maybe if she stayed here, she wouldn’t have to go. Sydney kept her eyes on the doorknob as she continued to back from it, her chest heaved as though she’d ran the entire backyard a bazillion times.

She bumped into something hard and swiveled around to stare through tear-glazed eyes up her father’s work desk. There, an old, grainy brown and white photo of her grandfather, Tuskegee Airman Lieutenant Anthony Garrett. More tears leaked from her eyes and she drew no comfort from the knowledge her father and grandfather were now together in heaven.

Anger rushed through her body, but she couldn’t bring herself to sweep all her father’s beloved War World II model planes to the floor. Instead she took pride in the fact she knew the American fighters Grumman F4F Wildcat to the P-51 Mustang and the American bombers SB2C to the B-29 Super fortress-the one that dropped the atomic bomb.

She knew them all by heart because her father knew them.

She loved them because her father loved them.

A soft knock sounded at the door.

“Sydney?” her mother’s voice trembled from the other side. “Honey, it’s time to go.”

I don’t want to go. She turned, dropped to her knees and crawled beneath her father’s desk. From there she inhaled the strong wood scent of her father’s homemade furniture while the carpet held the smoking fragrance of his evening cigars.

“Sydney, open the door,” her mother coaxed patiently, and then added, “I miss him, too¾

we all do.”

Sydney’s tears poured like a waterfall. No one missed him more than she did. No one.

“You know...sweetie.” Her mother sniffed. “Your father would want you...us to be strong right now. We have a duty...”

Duty. Her father speak the word often as well as others like: honor, courage, and integrity.

Sydney made another wipe at her tears. Next, she heard a key rattle in the lock. She pulled her knees up and tucked them beneath her chin. When the door inched open, she wrapped her small arms around herself and transformed into a tight ball--a tight trembling ball.

Her mother’s smooth legs, thin ankles, and black shoes entered the room.

Sydney shook her head but no longer made an attempt to silence her sobs. They couldn’t make her go if she didn’t want to. They couldn’t.

Those long legs folded slowly until both knees kissed the carpet. Her mother’s head appeared as well as her soft, sad brown eyes.

“Sydney, baby. Please come out.”

Despite the eyes, everything else about her mother appeared cool, calm, and collected. Her mother was beautiful¾everyone said so; and today was no exception. If anything, she was more beautiful.

If her father were here he would tell her.

Sydney dropped her gaze when she thought disappointment flickered across her mother’s features.

“I can’t do this without you,” her mother confessed. “I can’t stand there and pretend to be strong.”

“P-pretend?” Sydney eyed her mother wearily.

Her mother nodded, a part of her cool composure thawed before Syd’s eyes.

“I want so very much to get undress and crawl back into bed and cry forever. But I know in my heart your father wouldn’t want that.” She smiled as though she remembered something. “Your father used to say my tears broke his heart.”

“H-he told me that, too.” Sydney sniffed and this time succeeded in drying her face. She didn’t want to break her father’s heart, but she still didn’t want to go to the funeral.

When Syd made no move to crawl out from under her father’s desk, her mother’s composure continued to thaw. “Sometimes, honey,” she began. “We have to do things we don’t want to, but we always have to the right thing.”

Mother and daughter’s gazes locked.

“Do you remember what your father used to tell you about doing the right thing?”

Sydney nodded. Her father was a solider twenty-four hours a day. He lived by the code and died by the...

More tears blurred her eyes and then rolled down her face, but thoughts of her father’s heart breaking made her erase them. Big girls don’t cry. Soldiers don’t cry.

How many times had she told her father she wanted to be airman just like him—and grandpa? She closed her eyes and remembered how his smile grew whenever she told him that.

“You’ll make a great airman!” He pulled her pigtail and winked.

Sydney drew a deep breath and thrust up her chin. “I won’t cry,” she murmured, opening her eyes.

Her mother’s tears had now worn a visible track through her makeup.

Sydney forced herself to smile and then crawled from of her hiding place. “I’m ready to go now.”

Pride glimmered in her mother’s eyes as she pulled herself up from the floor. Before heading out of the study, her mother pulled out a compact from her black purse and fixed her makeup. Once the damage was repaired, she smiled down.

“You look beautiful, momma.”

“Thank you, baby.” She took Sydney’s hand and led her out the door. They joined the rest of the family downstairs just as the limousines arrived.

It was a beautiful day. Sydney couldn’t remember ever seeing the grass so green, the clouds so white, and the sky so blue.

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