David Ryland's final mission is to fly a Middle Eastern orphan to Texas for lifesaving surgery. Yet, the secret awaiting the brave pilot at home requires courage of a new kind. The father David never knew suddenly has a name. A late war hero confessed his parentage in a deathbed letter--a letter that beautiful charity worker Anna Terenkov knows all about. If David can open his heart to the truth, will he also find room there for Anna?
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July 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Lone Star Secret by Lenora Worth
Chief Warrant Officer David Ryland glanced around the sterile waiting room at Fort Bonnell Medical Center, taking in the crowd of well-wishers gathered around the little boy on the stretcher. The circuslike atmosphere made him feel a bit frazzled and edgy, but then he'd just landed on American soil--on good ol' Texas soil--after flying medevac Black Hawks for eighteen months in the war-torn Middle East. He had a right to be edgy.
Moving his gaze from the excited group hovering near the doctor and little Ali Tabiz Willis, David found himself staring straight into the blue-green eyes of Anna Terenkov. Anna looked away, then quickly glanced back at David, a slight smile on her heart-shaped face.
David studied her closely, deciding he'd better dust off his social skills now that he was home. And his flirting skills. Because he definitely wanted to get to know the woman responsible for helping to make this day happen. David had heard about the legendary humanitarian who ran the Children of the Day charity, but seeing her in person was a whole different matter. She was not what he had expected.
She was even better.
Her blond hair was pulled back in a haphazard coil held up by an intricate silver clip. She was petite, but her calm, assured presence made her seem taller. She wore loose-fitting green cargo pants and a crisp white button-up blouse. And around her neck she wore a choker-style strand of dark leather, from which hung a chunky sterling-silver pendant with the cross and the lance of Golgotha set against an etched background. He couldn't move his gaze from her.
Caitlyn Villard, the Care Coordinator for Children of the Day, and Army Chaplain Steve Windham introduced Caitlyn's twin nieces to Ali. While the precocious five-year-olds wished him well in Arabic and English, David watched Anna's face. She lit up around children, her smile turning to sunshine. He'd noticed that the minute he'd exited the plane with little Ali earlier that morning.
"CW3 David Ryland, ma'am," David had said by way of a greeting back at the airfield. "Delivering one Ali Tabiz, as ordered."
Anna grinned as she studied the three square bars on his insignia. "It wasn't exactly an order, Chief. More of a hope sent out on a wing and a prayer."
David nodded, liking the way the slight lilt of her foreign accent mixed nicely with a little bit of Texas twang. He'd learned in all the back and forth coordination for Ali's trip that she was Russian and had lived there until her early teens, when her father had been killed in Afghanistan.
"Well, I got the wings secured and I guess you took care of the prayer, ma'am."
She touched her fingers to the cross at her neck. "We all had a big part in that." Reaching out to shake his hand, she said, "Thank you so much. And please don't call me ma'am. I'm Anna."
"You're welcome, Anna," David replied, the warmth of her energy shooting through his tired, travel-worn system.
She held his hand, cupping it between both of hers. "I'm not just thanking you for helping Ali, sir. Thanks for serving our country, too."
David was both humbled and shaken by her sincere, misty-eyed gratitude. "Okay, if I can't call you ma'am, then you sure don't have to address me as sir."
She nodded. "Then I'll just call you Chief."
David laughed. "From what I hear, you're the real chief around here."
She shook her head. "No, just someone who understands that war is devastating to children."
All of the activity around them had blurred into the background. He could hear the sounds of other soldiers coming off the jet, the cries of family members who'd been waiting for their loved ones to come home. He could feel the way the hot August wind pushed through the humid Texas air. David heard all of this, saw images passing by all around him, but the light of Anna's eyes seemed to outshine all of that. He was smitten, but he chalked it up to being home. Having such a reaction to the petite blonde would be normal for any man who'd been at war, he supposed. She was easy on the eyes.
David had dreaded this journey. Finally, things were looking up. While everyone around him celebrated Ali's safe entry into the United States, David thought back over the last forty-eight hours and the intensity of his final mission as he'd airlifted Ali away from Camp Die-Hard to a staging area and on to Landstuhl, Germany, to a waiting C-17 air force plane.
Now that David had made it home to Texas, he stood back as he always had, watching. He'd grown up in Prairie Springs, but he had never been a part of this place. He'd been a struggling outsider back then, and now his worst fear was that he'd return to that yet again--no matter what he'd done to serve his country. And no matter how interested he was in the pretty blonde who'd started this whole chain of events.
But they weren't the only two who'd worked to get this little boy to America and safety. Ali's grandfather had called in a whole passel of favors, though still making sure he went by the letter of the law to get the little boy to Texas. The old warhorse had finally realized he'd failed his son, but Ali would give all of them a renewed chance to make things right. To honor the memory of Greg and Karima Willis.