Prince Jefri of Bahania refused to believe he could be beaten by a woman. It was simply not possible. Yet here he sat in the cockpit of his F15, going over five hundred miles an hour and staring into the sun where he’d last seen the other plane soar out of sight.
“You’d better get moving, big guy.”
The amused female voice came through his headset and caused him to grind his teeth.
Where was she? He turned his head, searching for a glimmer of sunlight on metal.
Something. Anything that would give him a clue as to her whereabouts. He saw nothing.
Jefri had been flying since he was a teenager and in all that time, he’d never once been anything but confident. For the first time in his life, he felt a cold sweat trickle down his back. Seconds later a high-pitched warning tone sounded in the cockpit. She’d locked on to him. Had this been a real combat situation, he would be dead.
“Bang, bang,” the woman said and then chuckled. “You lasted all of two minutes.
Not bad for a rookie. Okay. Follow me down.”
Suddenly her jet swooped in from his left. The machine turned gracefully, then moved in front of his. Even at this speed, she was close enough for him to read the call sign painted on the fuselage.
Jefri groaned. This could not be happening. He was a prince, a sheik, heir to untold wealth and land. He was the youngest son of the king of Bahania. He did not get shot out of the sky by a woman!
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “You’re upset and humiliated. You men always are. Console yourself with the fact that no one’s beaten me in a dogfight for six or seven years. This is war, not personal. My job is to make you better.
Your job is to learn. Nothing more.”
“I am aware of my responsibilities,” he said curtly.
“You’re going to hold a grudge, aren’t you? I can already tell.” She sighed.
“Some guys are like that. Oh, well. It’s your ulcer.”
With that, her jet rotated as gracefully as a ballerina, then streaked across the sky. Jefri stared at the space where it had been just a heartbeat ago. How the hell had she done that?
He shook his head and keyed in the code for the recently installed military air traffic control tower. After giving his number and approximate position in the desert, he requested permission to return to the base. When it was granted, he turned his plane to the correct coordinates and headed south.
Twenty minutes later, he landed and taxied his jet toward the large, newly constructed hangars. When he’d stopped the plane and opened the hatch, he heard someone call his name.
“Two minutes,” Doyle Van Horn yelled from the tarmac. “That’s the record so far.
Good for you.”
Good? Jefri gritted his teeth and climbed down the ladder. “It was a disaster.”
When he reached the ground, Doyle slapped him on the shoulder. “You can’t take it personally. Nobody beats Billie.”
“That’s what she said.” Jefri stared at the blond man. “How long has she been with your firm?”
Doyle grinned. “Technically, all her life. She’s my sister. Dad had her driving tanks by the time she was twelve. She soloed in a jet on her sixteenth birthday.
You said you wanted to be trained by the best, and that’s what we provided, Your Highness.”
“Call me Jefri. I’ve told you, no formalities. It will be easier that way.”
Doyle nodded. “Just checking. I thought you might be touchy after being shot down and all. Some guys are.”
Jefri didn’t doubt it. He watched as a second aircraft came in for landing. The jet moved lightly, barely raising any dust when the wheels touched down.
“I wish to meet her,” he said firmly.
“I figured you would. They always do.”
Jefri raised his eyebrows. “Do they?”
“Yup. No one can believe it. Things only get worse when they get a look at her.”
“In what way?”
Doyle laughed and held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “You go find out for yourself. Just one warning. You might be a prince and the guy who hired us, but Billie is off-limits. To everyone. Even you.”
Jefri was not used to being given orders, but he didn’t argue with Doyle. He wasn’t interested in Billie Van Horn as anything but a resource. If she was the best, he wanted to learn from her. Then he would take her on again, and this time he would win.
Billie climbed out of the cockpit and tugged on the zipper of her flight suit.
No matter how many times she sent the manufacturer her measurements, they always
got the fit wrong. Whoever designed the stupid things seemed to forget women had parts men didn’t.
She jumped the last couple of feet to the ground and removed her helmet. As she did, she saw a tall man striding toward her. She recognized the determined pace, the stubborn set of the shoulders. Oh, yeah, this would be Prince Jefri. No doubt Bahanian royalty weren’t used to losing. Well, he’d better get used to it.
She didn’t plan to treat him any differently than any other client, which meant he was going to keep on hearing that tone-lock for the rest of her time here.
Men always hated being beaten by her. They couldn’t seem to accept that a woman could be good in a dogfight. In her experience the men she trained fell into two camps. The first got angry and aggressive, often attempting to take out their frustrations in the air by bullying and intimidating her on the ground. The second kind ignored her. Outside of the classroom or an airplane, she simply didn’t exist.
A few men—a very few—saw her as an actual person and were pleasant.
But no one she’d ever trained had bothered to see her as a woman. She supposed it was asking too much to find a man who could accept that she could whip his butt in the air and still want to go dancing on Saturday night.
Prince Jefri continued to stalk closer and she wondered which camp he would fall in. Was it too much to ask that he be one of the nice guys? Did royal sheiks get trained in manners these days? Were there—
The man in question pulled off his helmet and whipped off his sunglasses as he approached. At that exact second, Billie’s brain shut down.
He was gorgeous.
No, that didn’t describe it. She needed a better word to explain how beautiful he was—but in a totally masculine way. Was it his eyes—deep brown, thickly lashed and sensual? Was it the firm set of his mouth, the perfect cheekbones, the dark hair? Was it the combination of features, the determination in his expression?