It was a dreary 6:00 am when the sleek white Cessna Citation glided smoothly onto the runway at Ram stein AFB in Germany. Oscar looked out the small Plexiglas window watching the beads of water pelt the macadam. As the government-owned plane slowed to park he stood and donned his tan trench coat over his dark business suit before carefully heading down the slick metal stairs.
He found Steve comfortably slouched in an upholstered chair in the empty officer’s lounge, sipping a black coffee, looking no worse for wear. The tall man sighed in relief knowing the extended mission was bloody and tense to say the least. He smiled, thankful that his special covert operative was able to once again pull off the near impossible.
“Well I see you’re in one piece.” He teased. Steve just nodded and finished his bitterly strong drink without looking up. “Something wrong?” Oscar asked concerned.
Steve took a deep breath, “Nothing that can’t be fixed with a couple days off.” He said quietly feeling completely drained. He stood slowly, his human parts strained from the recent stress and lack of sleep, “Ready to go?”
“After you pal.” Oscar gestured to the now refueled aircraft.
They both settled quickly in their seats, Oscar sitting with the beige leather seat back upright as he thumbed through the file resting on his lap. Across the aisle Steve sat belted in, staring out the starboard side of the plane, waiting patiently for taxi and takeoff with plans to catch some much needed sleep on the way home.
After 15 minutes without activity in the cockpit and the stairs still extended Oscar looked at his watch before using the intercom to contact his crew. He sternly addressed his co-pilot since he could not remember his new pilot’s name. “Mr. Jacobs, Why are we not moving?”
A muffled voice responded professionally, “Sorry Mr. Goldman. There’s more weather heading towards us. Your pilot is inside getting an updated weather briefing and probably filing an alternate Flight Plan. I’m sure it won’t be much longer.” As the intercom clicked off Oscar saw his new pilot jogging across the wet tarmac and up the stairs. His smiled suddenly realizing Steve had not yet seen his new employee.
Steve had listened to the conversation between his annoyed boss and the crewmember without much interest still watching the rainfall outside the window. He felt a tinge of sympathy for this crew who had to fly this impatient man all over God’s creation knowing Oscar had little understanding as to what it took to safely pilot a plane through bad weather and even less tolerance for inactivity and lateness.
Hearing the swift ascending footfalls on the metal stairs Steve slowly turned and saw the back of a rain soaked shirt as the pilot quickly secured the door. Turning to make her nervous apologies to her new boss she barely noticed the passenger they came to transport.
“Mr. Goldman I apologize for the delay.” The 30-year-old said gracefully wiping the water from her face. “I will have us in the air in 15 minutes.” Without waiting for his response she spun her lean, well-toned tanned body and ducked into the cockpit, closing the door behind her. Oscar watched her disappear and turned his gaze to his friend whose mouth was still open as if he was going to say something, his blue eyes glued to the cockpit door.
“Yeah?” His eyes remained on the door.
“Have you noticed I hired a new pilot?”
“Uh huh.” His stare remained locked on her hidden position. Goldman barely suppressed a laugh watching his stunned friend.
“Do you think she was a good choice?” Oscar was enjoying teasing his friend.
“Do you think she will fly us over the ocean, loose control and crash us into the frigid waters, only to have us die of hypothermia?”
“Uh huh.….What?” Steve suddenly snapped back realizing what was said to him. Seeing a playful glint in Oscar’s eyes he replied, “Very funny.” Steve was not in the mood for taunting, adjusting himself in his seat and closing his eyes he waited patiently for the vibration of the wheels on the ground to yield to the serene smoothness of being airborne.
The plane moved forward with the brakes released and they headed out to the runway for the flight home to Washington. Once off the ground Steve reclined his seat and tried to fall asleep. Her face floated on the dark backdrop created by his closed eyelids, burned into his memory. He singled out each characteristic he had seen, the sandy-colored hair pulled up away from her delicate face, flawlessly smooth skin accented with high cheek bones and eyes such a deep blue they looked brown from a distance, the perfectly proportioned body looking feminine even in the navy pants and white blouse required of the OSI flight crew. After mentally reviewing the attributes he had already seen he imagined a few he hadn’t seen as he drifted off into a deep sleep.
After his debriefing he was given a two-day reprieve before he would be called into service again. Steve stayed in Washington and just relaxed. Several times throughout the two days the anonymous woman would pop into his head. One evening while he relaxed on his 8th floor apartment terrace sipping an iced tea he chuckled realizing he never even got her name. Soon he was entertaining himself with what her name could possibly be. ‘Susan’, No she didn’t look like a Susan, ‘Heidi,’ yeah she could be a Heidi, ‘Karen’, that fit her too, ‘Marie,’ No, definitely not a Marie. He sighed, feeling frustrated that he couldn’t redirect his thoughts. ‘Sarah,’ that’s possible…. ‘Danielle,’…
As soon as his two days were up Steve was sent on one assignment after another effectively keeping his thoughts off the pretty pilot. Three weeks later while on a mission he sustained minor injuries to his leg.
Oscar had him taken to Rudy’s present location in California. While patiently waiting for the doctor to complete his task Steve allowed the mysterious woman with wings to once again be the center of his thoughts. The doctor found him in good spirits as he repaired the lower extremity. Steve didn’t tell his friend it was because he could use this as an excuse to take the OSI jet back to D.C. and finally meet the woman who invaded his thoughts on an increasingly regular basis.
“So Rudy are you flying back to Washington tomorrow morning?” The doctor nodded without looking up and didn’t see the juvenile grin spread across his patient’s face. “Maybe I’ll tag along with you.” Steve said trying to sound nonchalant.
Rudy raised his head and met Steve’s lopsided grin, “I thought you would stay in California to visit with your parents for a day and then fly yourself back?”
“No I really should get back to Washington tomorrow.” Stepping away from the treatment table, his back to his patient, Rudy allowed a knowing smile to drape itself on his face realizing what was so interesting Steve would depart from his usual routine.
Steve was at the air base hanger at sunrise. He took the opportunity to watch the flights come and go while sipping his vending machine coffee anxious to see the Citation make its appearance. Rudy arrived and smirked at the look on Steve’s face as the OSI jet landed in a strong crosswind. “Beautiful,” Steve commented softly, mentally connecting the adjective to the pilot landing the craft. Rudy teased, “Yes, she is a beautiful plane.”
“Uh huh.” Was all he got in return as Steve headed to the parking aircraft.
Steve was slightly disappointed when the pilot remained in the cockpit while her co-pilot took care of the necessary chores outside. He felt too uncomfortable to approach her to just introduce himself. He watched her from his seat, the narrow cockpit door open. She completed some menial tasks then approached them, excused herself and swiftly exited the plane. Rudy now understood what Oscar was talking about when Rudy told him Steve would be returning to Washington with him. Steve looked very distracted. “How’s the leg?”
“What?” He replied watching her walking across the tarmac.
“I asked how your leg was.”
“It’s fine.” His eyes went to the door as the pretty pilot returned with a frown.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news gentleman. My co-pilot was fallen ill, possibly food poisoning from last night. Since the FAA requires two pilots to fly this aircraft we will have to wait until we get another co-pilot.”
Steve almost burst at his good fortune. He looked at Rudy who had the same look of surprise. It was obvious this young woman, being new to the job, didn’t know or recognize Steve and was unaware he was a licensed pilot. Rudy chuckled as he came to Steve rescue giving him a partial introduction. “Well I guess we are in luck then. My friend here is a pilot and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind co-piloting for us.” Her gaze moved from Rudy to the handsome blue-eyed, brown-haired man across the aisle who wore a lopsided grin, “Are you rated to fly multi-engine jet aircraft?”
Steve just nodded before answering, “I have a few hours under my belt.” Rudy held back the laugh that was threatening to escape at Steve’s understatement. The three turned as co-pilot entered the plane, perspiring and looking more than a little pale, taking the closest seat. After the young woman explained their situation to her co-pilot and seeing as how they already had a second qualified pilot on board they would be taking off shortly.
The slender woman turned, secured the stairs and exterior door before heading to the cockpit. Steve immediately bolted after her. He was never so happy in his life to have his multi-engine rating. As Steve closed the cockpit door he shot a devilish look at his physician friend. While the two pilots secluded themselves Rudy couldn’t help but wonder about the interaction taking place in the cockpit. After only a moments consideration he reached to his left and clicked the cockpit intercom open to entertain himself. He knew this would get interesting as he listen to the conversation. The ill crew member smiled thankfully at the doctor also curious about the goings on up front. He too was attracted to the new pilot but had gotten nowhere with her. He wondered if Austin would have better luck
Steve made the first move, “I’m sorry but I don’t know your name.”
She looked up from her seat, “I’m sorry. I’m Kayce Myers.” She held out her hand. ‘Kayce’ he thought and mumbled, “Would’ve never guessed that one.” He said taking her hand.
“I beg your pardon?” She asked confused by his comment.
“Oh…nothing. Steve Austin.” He said with a charming smile shaking her hand. His face fell when she immediately refocused her attention on the pre-flight checklist that rested on her lap. He reluctantly moved to the right seat.
She stopped suddenly in mid-task and watched him belt the 4-point harness around his muscular six-foot frame and place the headset on, “My God, you’re not THE Steve Austin are you?” she asked in disbelief.
He just gave her a mischievous grin watching her blush, “I’m sorry Colonel. I’ve been so distracted with my duties that I…well I should have known. You should be pilot-in-command not me. I’m sure you have many more hours than I do.”
“It’s okay I don’t mind co-piloting. Besides you have more hours in this specific aircraft than I do. I doubt the FAA will mind.” He replied with a chuckle. Wanting to lighten some of her embarrassment he teased her, “So where are the turn signals?” He looked frantically around the instrument panel.
She chuckled loudly nodding her head. She was sure this would not be the boring cross-country flight she was expecting. “I hope your flying skills are better than your comedic skills Colonel.” She flashed him a perfect white-toothed smile.
“You’ll never know if you don’t start calling me Steve.” He sat with his arms crossed and his feet off the rudder pedals, implying he wouldn’t be lifting a finger or foot unless she complied with his request.
“Okay, Steve, why don’t you taxi us out while I finish the checklist?” He did as the pilot-in-command instructed. “Yes, M’am.” She gave him a stern look and a giggle, “Don’t ever call me M’am.”
He saw an opportunity, “What should I call you then? Miss. Myers, Ms. Myers, Mrs. Myers...Captain…what?”
She immediately knew his reason for asking the simple question in such a creative way. She wouldn’t make it that easy, “You can call me whatever you want…surprise me.” She said absently, with a smile, keeping her attention on the dials and gauges as she worked through the required list. He was thoroughly enjoying their friendly banter until business called in the form of a faceless voice from the control tower as they approached the end of the taxiway.
“OSI – One you are cleared for takeoff at your discretion, runway Two-Seven.” Steve took the call. “Roger, OSI-One cleared for Two-Seven. Please open our flight plan for 0830 hours.” Kayce took over control of the aircraft, swinging the nose to the centerline while adding full power and they were off the ground in seconds.
“Roger and have a good flight Sir.”
The five-hour flight was uneventful and Steve was able to catch glimpses of her unnoticed. He wondered who gave her the beautiful gold diamond bracelet she wore on her right wrist. It didn’t seem like something a woman would buy for herself. It also stood out because she scarcely had any other jewelry on aside from her gold watch. ‘Another mystery to solve’ he thought.
They didn’t converse much on the trip as Flight Following had them changing altitudes and headings frequently to avoid fast-moving storms. The flight was too short in Steve’s opinion and he was disheartened when they received clearance to land at Andrews AFB.
Upon shutting down the large jet engines and securing the plane Steve’s mind raced with how to approach the intriguing woman when she surprised him, “Well Steve thank you for stepping in or sitting in I should say.” She gave him a gracious smile. “I’d hate to think what Mr. Goldman would have done if I had brought you and Dr. Wells back late. I owe you one. How about I buy you a drink sometime?” She felt it was the least she could do.
Of course Steve’s mind was three steps ahead of hers, “Well, how about tonight you buy me a drink and I buy you dinner?” She was able to overlook his rugged good looks but his infectious free flowing charm was another thing altogether. This may be harder than she anticipated.
She smiled confidently, well trained in dodging the human male’s mating rituals, “I think a drink would be plenty don’t you?”
“That all depends?”
“Depends on what?” she asked seriously.
He chuckled, “It depends on whether you’re hungry or not.” He winked at her and she smiled.
“Okay how about this. I buy you a drink to show my gratitude and then we can decide if dinner is needed.”
“Works for me, say 7:00 at the Watergate hotel bar?” He said with a smile and she nodded. He allowed her to exit the cockpit before him. His smile grew as he watched her walk away thinking, ‘My, oh, my, she looks just as good going as she does coming.’
An amused Rudy grabbed Steve’s arm and turned him to the exit door whispering, “Come on Romeo you have a date with Oscar.” The doctor laughed seeing Steve’s smile instantly turned into an exaggerated frown at the thought.
That evening in the dimly lit bar the two acquaintances talked the night away. Most of the conversation revolved around aviation and general topics. Steve learned of her middle-class east coast upbringing and the death of her parents in a house fire and her older brother whom she rarely sees anymore.
Steve was easily drawn to her witty sense of humor and the occasional devilish glimmer in her eyes told him she was fun-loving. He was entertained hearing of her college days and was surprised to learn that she recently left her career as a psychologist to be a pilot. ‘Yes, she was definitely a risk taker that was for sure.’ Steve thought.
Kayce was fascinated with Steve’s Air Force career and the time he spent with NASA, finding him to be intelligent, direct and polite. She too noticed they shared a lot of traits like their dry sense of humor, their love of the outdoors and of course a passion for flying. She found herself becoming curious of his vague reason for leaving a life of test flying to become an operative for the government but decided not to push him for answers.
By the time they realized the extremely late hour it was too late for dinner. They laughed at their oversight and headed to their cars. Steve opened her car door for her and thanked her for a fun evening and she nodded, agreeing with his description of the evening. He requested another date but she politely declined stating her schedule was picking up and vaguely promised to stay in touch. He nodded and watched her drive away. A crooked grin slowly made its way across his lips as he realized she was the first woman to ever decline a second date with him. ‘I must be losing my touch’ he thought humorously. As he opened his car door he shook his head and thought ‘Damn if that didn’t make her even more attractive!’
Over the following weeks the pair frequently spoke in passing either on the plane or in the OSI building. Steve thoughts were on her for days after any contact with her. He noticed by Oscar’s frequent absence that Kayce was not exaggerating about her work schedule getting busy. The operative just took what he could get when they were together. On a rare occasion the platonic friends would grab a quick bite to eat together and discussed possible opportunities to go hiking or fishing together but soon their busy careers pulled them into opposite directions.
Finally acting on their plans for some outdoor excursions they found they shared a competitive spirit and many activities soon turned into contests. They clearly enjoyed spending time together fishing, hiking, kayaking and horseback riding.
They were quickly becoming best friends and on his way the work one morning Steve realized he had fallen for her and wondered if the feeling was mutual. It was hard for him to tell since Kayce was such a nice and kind person she treated everyone around her with warmth and caring. Pulling his corvette into his spot at the OSI lot he hoped to see her to ask her out for a night of dinner and dancing. His birthday was tomorrow and he hoped to spend it alone with her.
Lady luck was on his side when he literally ran into her as she left Rudy’s office. Steve asked if everything was okay since he didn’t think there would be reason for her to see the doctor.
She held up the paperwork, “Just the required FAA flight physical. I must say it’s pretty handy having a Certified Flight Surgeon right here at the OSI. I was in a jam and Dr. Wells graciously offered to help me out.” She chuckled, her long hair falling forward framing her face.
“What kind of a jam?”
“Well my usual physician couldn’t see me until tomorrow and I don’t have to work but I had plans for the whole day so Rudy helped me out, now I can have fun all day tomorrow.”
Steve felt deflated, “So you have plans for the whole day huh?”
She smiled at him, a glint dancing in her cobalt eyes, “Yeah a friend and I are heading to Colorado. There’s a flight school there that allows civilian pilots to play with the big jets, you know dog fighting and acrobatics.” She couldn’t help sounding excited, she was. “He and I will be spending the whole day just playing in the sky.”
Steve was jealous, not only because it sounded like something he would really love doing but because she was going with another guy. “Well enjoy your day off, it sounds like you and he will have a great time.”
“Yes we definitely will. So can you pick me up at 0500? We have to be in the air by 0700 hours. ” She shot him a dazzling smile. Steve stared at her expressive eyes for a moment slowly realizing it was him she planned on taking with her. A smile slowly hung itself on his face and a twinkle danced in his eyes.
“I’ll be there by 0500 with breakfast!!”
“Good I’ll see you then.” She spun on her heels and headed into the elevator. They locked eyes and smiles until the door closed, his heart pounding in his chest. He whistled happily as he walked to Oscar’s office.
Kayce and Steve arrived at the flight school ready to fly. On the flight to Colorado their bets were placed. Before entering their respective aircraft Steve assured her he would not make her look too bad. She promised him when she out flew him she would not tell more than 100 people that a female civilian beat an experienced Air Force pilot. With their money where their mouths were they headed skyward to their playground.
By night fall both pilots were pleasantly tired. Their day was filled with excitement and fun. Even their flying skills were a little more fine tuned by the time the experience was over. Over a late dinner Kayce pleaded for Steve to confess that he allowed her to win three of the four dog fights. Steve insisted that she actually did prove to be the better pilot today, assuring her that if he did let her win he would be the first to admit it but it was, in fact, not the case. Staring into her delicate face he grinned and handed her the $200.00 to pay off his bet.
Over dinner Steve realized his attraction for her had grown exponentially after seeing her execute some of the best flying maneuvers he had ever seen for a civilian. Her reflexes were incredibly sharp and her ability to anticipate the other pilot’s moves was uncanny. She would have moved up quickly in the military ranks of combat pilots if women were offered such opportunities.
The flight home was quiet with both lost in their thoughts. He walked her to her door step to say good night.
“Kayce thanks for such a great day. I must say I’ve never flown with better company.”
“Thanks Steve that’s very nice of you to say. I’m glad you enjoyed your birthday.”
“How did you know today was my birthday?” He was surprised to say the least.
“I don’t give out my secrets.” She grinned wickedly as she looked up into his eyes and her heart skipped a beat. Over the past few weeks she was able to easily bury her attraction to him but after today it just wouldn’t be smothered. Suddenly she felt incredibly close to him.
She saw him lean down and she instinctively met his lips halfway. It was a brief, tender kiss that just left them both wanting more. After a quiet moment of blue eyes staring into blue eyes he leaned in again this time parting her soft lips with his tongue to deliver a passionate goodbye. The contact left her flushed as she felt his strong arms wrap around her narrow waist pulling her tight against him. Slowly he pulled away, “I guess I’d better be getting home.”
She smiled knowingly, “I guess you’re right. See you soon?”
“You bet.” He turned, hopped into his car and headed home alone.
The couple hadn’t been able to spend much time together over the following weeks. Oscar had Steve running from one end of the globe to the other. The few stolen moments they did find themselves together Steve joked that if Kayce became an operative they might see each other more often. Kayce thoughtfully considered the proposition for a brief moment thinking how intriguing it would be, certainly full of excitement and challenge.
Kayce countered with the suggestion that if he became part of Oscar’s flight crew they would also see even more of each other. He laughed at the thought of Oscar’s reaction when he requested the change of duties. As expected neither one was willing to budge from their present professions.
Oscar and Rudy frequently joked with Steve that he would lose his military jet rating for his lack of flying hours since he no longer flew himself from coast to coast, opting to use the OSI jet when it was available. Both men were well aware of Steve and Kayce’s relationship, using it to tease their friend whenever the opportunity presented itself. They both liked Kayce. She even joined them on occasion for dinner. She was very bright and charming. They enjoyed watching her and Steve verbally spar over the silliest things. Oscar and Rudy even had a private bet going on how long it would take Steve to propose to the pretty woman since they did make a perfect pair.
One night, lying alone in his bed with his arms behind his head, Steve realized how much he missed her when she wasn’t with him, not just her body but her thoughts,… her witty humor,… her emotions. The more he got to know her the more she contradicted the long-standing stereotype of a woman. He grinned recalling how she hated shopping and cooking, could sit with him for hours without saying a word, loved watching sports, only owned 5 pairs of shoes, and could handle an aircraft better than most men. He loved everything about this beautiful and unique woman. She was, without a doubt, unlike any woman he had ever met before. His grin spread to a huge smile thinking she just might be the perfect woman, at least for him, chuckling softly at the thought he fell into a deep sleep.
At 6:00 am Kayce pushed the last of her clothes into her duffle bag when the telephone startled her. Hoping the caller was her traveling companion and not her boss she grabbed the receiver from its home, “Hello.”
“Are you ready to go?”
“Sure am. I just finished packing.”
“I’ll be over in 15 minutes.” Steve said with a happy tone. Over dinner last night he and Kayce had spontaneously planned a 2-day trip to Mexico. He couldn’t wait to get far away from the stress his job posed and he knew Kayce was feeling the same way. This trip would be good for both of them. Steve was surprised Oscar was so generous in giving them both time off.
Upon arriving at Kayce’s house he entered and greeted her cheerfully as she swiftly sorted through the large pile of unopened mail on her desk. He quickly grabbed her bag off the floor. Standing at the door he asked in disbelief eyeing the small bag, “It this it?”
She looked at him confused, “Yes, why?”
He chuckled realizing this was just another reason she didn’t fit the mold of the average female. Knowing how she would react to his reply he tried to stifle a laugh, “Well because you’re a woman.”
“And what’s that suppose to mean?”
“I just assumed I would be carrying 5 suitcases to the car for the overnight trip, you know women don’t know how to pack light.” He winked.
“Very funny. Keep it up and I’ll leave you here and go by myself.” She threatened with a giggle and a wink as he headed to the car. Before locking up the house she took the only personal letter from the pile and placed it in her pocket. Recognizing the handwriting on the envelope she wondered why she would be receiving a personal letter from the sender after all this time.
Steve and Kayce thoroughly enjoyed their time south of the border. After a night of dinner and dancing they retired to their rooms. Steve lay on his bed thinking of the woman who occupied the adjacent room. He almost found enough courage tonight to tell her his true feelings for her but he stopped short every time. Although she was enjoying the evening there was something distracting her. When he asked about it she brushed off his question without a meaningful reply. He definitely knew something was amiss when they said goodnight and she just gave him a quick peck on the lips before swiftly entering her room, locking the door behind her. Now he stared at the white ceiling fan spinning, slightly unbalanced, above him, thinking maybe he did something to upset her. He sighed heavily before rolling onto his stomach and allowing sleep to claim him.
The next day they finished the fun-filled activities on their agendas before having dinner and checking out of the hotel. They quietly enjoyed watching the sunset as they took off from the westbound runway of the local airport before changing their heading northeastward to Washington in Steve’s twin-engine piper aircraft. It was dark within an hour of the flight but neither pilot minded since it was a peaceful time to fly, less air traffic and no glaring sun. He looked across at his co-pilot as she stared absently out the windshield at the darkness, the orange instrument panel lights casting a warm glow on her lovely face.
“You look a million miles away.” He ventured.
“Huh?...Oh ah..I guess I’m just tired from all the fun we had.” She offered him a weak smile but he quickly saw through it.
“Kayce, I can’t help but notice how distracted you’ve been since we landed in Mexico. Did I do something to upset you?”
“No absolutely not…it’s not you, really.” She assured him. She sighed heavily, “I think I’ll rest a little if you don’t mind?”
He looked at her feeling hurt that she didn’t trust him enough to share her problem with him, “No go ahead. According to the weather report it should be a smooth flight all the way home.”
“Thanks.” She leaned her head against the side window and closed her eyes, not wanting to discuss the situation spawned by the personal letter she read after they checked into the hotel. Her head filled with thoughts and memories, her heart struggling for clarity of her conflicting feelings.
A half hour later the young woman was rudely shaken out of her doze by the severe unexpected turbulence. She looked at Steve who was coolly addressing the situation. A sudden summer storm had popped up in their path, the strong winds whipping at the light aircraft. Without warning a lightning flash was seen off the port side instantly followed by a second striking the wing which held one of the two fuel tanks. Blue liquid Av-Gas poured unseen out into the thin air. Steve noticed the needle on the gauge slowly crawling to the left. He informed Kayce of the situation before radioing the closest tower. He was only able to call off his tail number and the words ‘lightning strike’ before another powerful bolt struck the front of the plane effectively rendering the electrical system, including the radio, useless.
Both passengers continued to react calmly even though they suddenly realized their flight would be ending much sooner than expected due to the urgent situation. While Steve began emergency procedures and adjusted the planes pitch for the best glide speed he started his visual search of the landscape knowing a straight forward descent without much turning was the safest option. Kayce grabbed the sectional map attempting to locate an airport nearby but found they were over very rugged terrain. She glanced out the windows and saw the storm clouds had blocked out any light from the full moon. Seeing nothing but pitch blackness around them she wondered how they would ever land, especially without a landing light.
“Steve I can’t make out a thing. I know we are over the Appalachian Mountains which could quite possibly be directly in front of us.”
“Don’t worry I can see the geography. The mountains are still slightly below our altitude.” His infrared lens scanned the topography for a possible landing sight.
“How can you see anything?”
“I’ll explain later. Just trust me.” He suddenly found a valley which afforded them a long enough path. He just hoped it was wide enough. “I see a grassy valley just ahead, not much rock or brush from what I can tell. It looks pretty flat.” He adjusted the controls and headed for the natural runway finally out of the vicious storm cell.
As they dropped gracefully from the night sky Steve exhaled slowly relieved that the valley was just as he hoped, long, wide and grassy. The plane touched down and slowed quickly to a stop, a small mountain on each side. The young couple hastily deplaned to check for fire but found none.
Steve stood with his hands on his narrow hips and surveyed their surroundings realizing it would be difficult to get a radio signal out even if he did fix the radio. He chuckled softly getting Kayce’s attention, “What so funny?”
“Nothing. I was just picturing Oscar’s face when he finds out we never landed in at Andrews. He’s going to have the whole US Air Force out looking for us by morning.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
He gave her a sly smile and in a mischievous tone replied, “That all depends on your perspective. Come on let’s set up our tent.”
“You keep a tent stored in your plane?” She asked surprised.
Steve popped open the cargo compartment and pulled out a large blue airplane cover used to protect his aircraft when it was tied down at the airport. “No but I plan on making one, unless of course you want to sleep in that cramped cockpit.”
She nodded as she grabbed the opposite side of the canvas tarp and helped him drape it over the wing. He jogged to a nearby hill and gathered large heavy rocks to secure the large cover. Kayce scoured the area, using the limited moonlight, for firewood hoping the rain storm missed the area and wasn’t on its way.
After securing the makeshift shelter Steve carefully opened the tail section of the craft reached in and manually activated the Emergency Locator Transmitter already aware it was probably futile with their secluded position.
With a healthy fire built Steve and Kayce just sat in disbelief that their wonderful trip had taken such an unexpected turn. Steve hoped Kayce would confide in him before the night ended. He desperately wanted to know what was disturbing her usual cheerful disposition. With the late hour they soon found themselves under their crude tent sharing the large blanket Steve removed from the rear seat. Steve dozed off quickly but Kayce tossed and turned her mind overwrought with questions. She slowly and quietly slid out from under the blanket and tarp, walking over to a nearby boulder. Sitting herself on the large stone she stared at the starlit sky and took a deep breath.
Looking over her shoulder she stole a quick glance at her friend sleeping in the distance. She really cared about him, enjoying every minute they spent together. She smiled thinking she might be in love with him. At least she seriously entertained the thought before the letter arrived. Now she was just confused and unsure about everything. Warm tears gradually appeared, meandering slowly down her cheek. Lost in thought she didn’t hear him approach.
Steve heard the quiet sniffle when he stopped next to her. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, “Kayce?” She bowed her head feeling confident that the extremely dim moonlight hid her tears not knowing he saw everything. “Please tell me what’s wrong. I want to help you.” His tone was so soft and caring it made her the tears come faster.
“Oh Steve I wish you could but…” She exhaled slowly without finishing the thought.
“How do you know I can’t help if you don’t tell me what the problem is?” She looked at his obscured features, squinting through the dark. He was such a nice guy, hurting him was the last thing she wanted to do.
“I received a letter before we left D.C. I read it when we arrived at the hotel.” He waited patiently for her to elaborate on the letter. “It was from my husband.” Steve’s staggered a bit at the bomb she just dropped between them.
“Your husband?” He asked incredulously. She nodded affirmatively.
“Ex-husband actually. We divorced a year ago. He sent the letter…to…to…ask for another chance. He wants me to come back to Montana.”
“I don’t know what to do?” She stared out into the nothingness.
“Do you still love him?” He choked out, his throat constricting at the thought of losing this woman forever.
“No…I mean yes…Oh God I don’t know! I guess I did at one time. We had 4 great years together.”
“He cheated on me with another woman.” She stated plainly but Steve could tell the statement cut her deeply. She chuckled while wiping the wetness from her cheeks, “He said it was an accident. Tell me, how does one sleep with someone by accident?”
Sitting down next to her he wrapped his arm around her shoulders as he replied softly, “I don’t know.” He couldn’t believe someone could hurt this wonderful woman deliberately and silently agreed with her that a situation like that is never an accident. They sat without saying a word for a long while, the still night surrounding them. Steve wanted so much to say her ex-husband didn’t love her, didn’t respect her or even deserve her but he remained silent hoping she would see her own way through.
She finally spoke again in a hushed tone, “I really enjoy our time together and I truly value our friendship. I think I was falling in love with you but…” His heart sank at her use of the past tense. “Steve suddenly I don’t trust my judgment anymore. I thought I was in love before but it fell apart. I trusted him and thought he loved me. How can I trust myself to make the right decision now?” He took a deep breath and rubbed her back trying to decide if this was the appropriate time to share his feelings with her.
“Kayce you didn’t do anything wrong. You loved him and he apparently loves you. I can’t explain or justify why he did what he did; only he can.” Steve suddenly became really quiet until Kayce questioned bluntly, “Are you in love with me Steve?” She felt his body stiffen slightly before he replied quietly without eye contact, “Yes I am. I think I fell in love with you that night at the Watergate Hotel Bar.” He looked at her, she was beautiful in the moonlight. “But I won’t keep you from reuniting with your husband if that’s what you want.”
She giggled realizing he wasn’t going to make the decision for her, “I thought you wanted to help me.” He shared the laugh and stated with all sincerity, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” She stood and faced him. Placing her hand on his cheek, “You are such a wonderful man. I think I fell in love with you at the same time I just fought it until last week.” She mirrored his smile and she leaned forward putting her lips to his. As she broke off the abbreviated contact he placed his gentle hands on each side of her face and slowly brought his head closer, desperately wanting another taste of her. He kissed her deeply, wrapping his strong arms around her womanly form. Their spontaneous giggles threatened to interrupt the tender interaction as soft rain fell upon their entwined bodies neither wanting to break the contact. They continued to explore each others mouths until the rain fell at a steady pace.
“We really should take cover.” He whispered with a smile taking her hand and leading her back to their tent at a fast pace. Feeling like teenagers they both slid onto the soft dry grass under the wing laughing. They sat listening to the raindrops make a hollow staccato sound on the metal wing. Each silently wondering if the other shared their thoughts. She turned and looked at him, at this close distance she could make out the details of his handsome face in the muted light. His hand reached up and caressed her cheek lovingly before pulling her close to continue their intimate contact. The tingling sensation his touch evoked on her soft skin made her heartbeat faster imagining what making love to him would feel like.
Kayce slowly pulled his shirttail from his jeans, sliding her hands under the fabric and up his smooth back feeling every toned muscle flex as he shifted closer. He suddenly broke of contact and searched her sapphire eyes, “Are you sure?” He asked with a raised brow. She nodded confidently and returned her lips to his.
His romantic kisses slowly meandered down her long neck as he methodically unbuttoned her white blouse. Together they lowered their upper bodies onto the ground. His skillful hands made their way over her feminine form as she rubbed her palms eagerly over the course hair of his broad, tanned chest. The sound of the pouring rain drowned out their verbal responses as their bodies openly expressed the complicated and deep emotions that could never be articulated with words, sharing each other’s breath until their tender coupling concluded.
The sound of the rainfall gradually receded as Steve covered their spent bodies with the cozy blanket and Kayce promptly fell into a restful sleep curled up next to him. Steve stroked her rain-dampened hair until he finally allowed the passing minutes to send him into a deep slumber, holding on tight to the woman he loved.
Just a few hours later the newly rising sun crept under the wing hitting Steve’s peaceful features. He slowly opened his eyes and noticed Kayce was still sound asleep next to him, neither had moved all night. Moving his gaze to stare at the underside of the white wing he allowed a huge grin to cross his face, although they were stranded in the middle of nowhere, without food or water he suddenly realized he was never so contented in his life. He just continued to lay there feeling the rise and fall of her bare chest against his exposed torso wanting to preserve the moment forever.
His prodding conscience slowly reminded him she may not have made her decision yet on whether to return to her ex-husband, his anxiety quickly peaked and he could no longer lay still. He carefully slid out from under her and the warm blanket. He was glad to find his clothes were dry by this time and dressed quickly. Finding his toiletries handy in the rear seat of the plane he completed his usual morning routine minus the shave. After staring at her relaxed features for a few minutes he headed out to find some food, starving after last night’s soulful experience.
Slowly realizing she was alone she rolled onto her back and stretched her five foot eight inch frame. A blissful smile perched itself on her face remembering last night. She sighed never having known a man’s slow hand could express such tender yet powerful emotions leaving her feeling loved and appreciated. She pushed herself into a sitting position, scanning the horizon for her lover. Not seeing him she shrugged and donned her faded jeans and white blouse.
She was busy searching through her bag in the backseat for a hairbrush and elastic band when he reappeared with some berries. She was hungry enough to eat anything. “Good morning.” She greeted while pulling her hair away from her face and fastening it in a neat ponytail.
“Good morning. How did you sleep?” He handed her some fruit for which she thanked him.
“I slept great! You?”
“Fine.” She heard his curt answer but couldn’t see his eyes to read the emotion behind it.
“You should’ve woke me up I would have helped you forage for food.” She still had difficulty letting a man take care of her.
He smiled, “You looked so peaceful I couldn’t.” She returned his smile thinking she was reading too much into his previously curt reply.
Steve stood and headed to the cockpit, “Well let’s see if we can bring this radio back to life.” He quickly made work of the screws and pulled the box from the console while Kayce removed the battery from the plane. In the back of his mind he knew the imbedded antenna in his chest would provide enough range if he was high enough but only if the radio was salvageable. He concentrated on his task while Kayce just stared at him. ‘Now who’s distracted and quiet?’ her well-trained psychologist’s mind thought.
She walked over and sat next to him, “Steve is there something wrong?” Without looking up from the pile of wires he just answered, “Not really.”
“What kind of answer is that?” She asked.
He stopped his fiddling to look at her for a long moment then returned his attention back to unhooking the damaged wires before saying tersely, “You haven’t told me what you are planning on doing about your husband.”
“My ex-husband.” She clarified sternly. “I decided not to go back to him.”
He continued his tedious task, “Why all of a sudden are you so sure? After our talk last night I thought you’d have to think it over for at least a few days.”
She gave him a devilish smile, “Well after our little session in the wee hours of the morning I decided you’re more important.”
He immediately stopped his manual work to look at her, “Kayce, I told you I don’t want to come between you two. Maybe what we did shouldn’t have happened.” He stared at her face trying to read her emotions. They displayed surprise and disappointment before she made the attempt to lighten the mood.
“I hope you’re not trying to say it was an ‘accident’.” She said only half-jokingly.
“That’s not funny.” He said tersely, obviously not amused.
Kayce took a deep breath. “Steve last night made me realize I love you more than I ever loved him.” She stated with complete sincerity. He slowly allowed the knife that had been twisting in his gut since he awoke this morning to dissolve. Dropping his screwdriver he reached over and placed his hand under her chin, kissing her before offering a crooked smile and a wink.
“So can it be fixed?” She said leaning over his shoulder.
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Well if it can’t I wouldn’t mind spending another romantic night here in the valley.” She gave him a dazzling smile before heading off to bottle some of the rain water that collected on the tarp before the hot sun evaporated it.
Meanwhile back in Washington D.C. Oscar was notified at 2:00 am when the aircraft was two hours overdue. He was awoken from a deep sleep but was quickly jarred into alertness by the unsettling news. He dressed quickly deciding to contact Rudy from his car. Rudy’s gut lurched when he received the unexpected news. They met at Andrews AFB, the plane’s intended destination.
Shortly after arriving all they knew was the blue and white twin-engine, four-seater aircraft was en-route from Mexico to Virginia. Their flight plan had been opened on takeoff at 8:00 pm local time. The weather report from last evening informed them of the fierce, unexpected storms that swept through the area close to the aircraft’s flight path. There was no way the pilot could have predicted or avoided them. A control tower in Kentucky shared the last radio broadcast from the flight which confirmed it was indeed Steve’s plane and they had been hit by a lightning strike. After hearing their friend’s calm recorded voice abruptly cut off the two men nervously looked over the map spread across the large table as the Lieutenant on duty pointed out possible crash sites. Unfortunately they were all in or around the mountain range. The Lieutenant also commented on how difficult it would be to navigate by sight alone on such a dark stormy night without lights. It was a pilot’s worse case scenario light plane, unpredictable winds, no light and rugged terrain.
Oscar and Rudy hoped it wasn’t as difficult as it sounded with Steve’s infrared vision. Search and Rescue planes could not be dispatched until sunup. They would have to wait 2 hours to begin searching for their friends.
“What about the Emergency Locator Transmitter?” Rudy asked hopefully. The Lieutenant explained that it only activated automatically if the plane landed hard enough. It was almost reassuring that the ELT wasn’t being picked up informing the group that the plane may have been set down smoothly. If the passengers were unhurt and able to turn it on they would have to be on the mountainside or open field to be of any benefit. Looking again at the map the men knew there were too many valleys that could block the transmission of their position.
By 7:00 am Steve had completed repairs on the radio but as expected he needed to get out of the valley for it to be effective.
Kayce was sitting quietly, capping the various containers she collected the rain water in. Watching her Steve just nodded his head at her ingenuity. She offered a bottle to him, seeing how he was already sweating in the heat, and he smiled appreciatively.
“Thanks.” He said after taking a long drink. “I’m going to hike up the mountain for better reception.” She turned and looked at the long hike. “Steve that will take you all day.”
He smiled suddenly realizing what she didn’t know. “I’ll have you know I’m in great shape and it won’t take me that long.”
“Oh believe me I know you’re in great shape but didn’t the Boy Scouts ever teach you not to hike alone.” He smiled at her comment.
“Yes but Kayce I can move much faster without you.” She eyed him and asked in a challengingly tone, “So you don’t think I can keep up with you huh?”
He chuckled, “No. I know you can’t.” He replied as he hefted the silver box, that was now duct taped to the battery, onto his hip. “Please just stay here okay? I’ll be back soon.” He kissed her cheek and headed out.
His jog got him to the mountain’s base quickly. He was so intent on his fast, one-handed climb he didn’t see Kayce follow in a run. She arrived at the base just as Steve reached a plateau just 200 feet from the top. ‘Boy he does climb quickly’ she thought. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to catch up she just watched him with her hand flattened over her brow trying to block the sun from her eyes. She thought it was a glare from the sun that made it appear Steve had just leaped up the last 200 vertical feet. She shook her head and realized if that was true he wouldn’t actually be at the top within the last 2 seconds which he was.
She exhaled and made her way back to their camp in a slow walk all the while trying to figure out her friend’s obviously unique physical abilities. It was then she realized he never did explain how he could see the landscape in the pitch blackness as they landed. The questions filled her head while she patiently waited for his return.
Once at the top Steve opened his shirt to access the internal antenna in his chest feeling more than a little uncomfortable with the situation. Kneeling on one knee he turned on the machine and adjusted the frequency before cueing the mike. He knew they would already be in the air searching.
“Search and Rescue this is Piper Four-Six-Two-Niner-Tango. Do you read?” Static was the only reply. “Search and Rescue this is Piper Four-Six-Two-Niner-Tango. Do you read?”
Oscar and Rudy jumped at the familiar voice coming over the crackling radio. They shared relieved smiles as they listened in.
“Go ahead Piper Four-Six-Two-Niner- Tango we read you loud and clear.”
“We made an emergency landing in a valley along the western slope of the Appalachian Mountains near Kentucky.” Steve then followed with the exact coordinates but assured Search and Rescue that the only viable approach would be by helicopter.
“Roger that Two-Niner-Tango. We’ll send one to you within the hour.”
Oscar leaned in and requested confirmation that both passengers were uninjured.
“Two-Niner-Tango do you have any injuries to report?” The background crackling continued for a several tedious seconds until the distant mike was cued.
The tired voice replying was barely heard over the increasing static, “That’s a negative Rescue. Two passengers will be waiting and ready to fly out as soon as you arrive. Two-Niner-Tango out.” Steve’s two closest friends both let out a sigh in unison, thankful that their worst fears were extinguished.
Placing the metal boxes back on his hip Steve headed back to the plane. His thoughts were on Kayce and where their relationship might go from here. He smiled realizing from the time their unexpected campout started she never once complained. He could list a many, no all of the women from his past who would have whined his ear off the last 12 hours about the lack of food or no bathroom facilities and, of course, the fact they had to sleep on the ground. No, not Kayce, she is independent and rolls with the punches. She even carries her own weight, never expecting to be taken care of. Another reason he loved that woman. He chuckled remembering her statement about spending another night here. He almost wished that would happen.
Steve returned to the plane to find Kayce no where around. His anxiety peaked quickly as he scanned the area with his eye only to find her coming down a small hill, her arms clutched to her stomach. She greeted him with a smile and he lovingly returned it.
“Well any luck?” She questioned handing him some berries she had collected.
“Yeah but you might consider it bad luck.” He tried to sound serious.
“What do you mean?” She asked with sincere curiosity.
“They will be here in an hour.” He watched her face fall into an exaggerated pout that included the puffed out lower lip and sad blue eyes. Her expression tugged at his heart. ‘She is so cute’ he thought. A huge devilish grin crossed his face and with a wink as he offered, “Of course a lot can be accomplished in an hour. Don’t you think?”
She nodded with a dazzling smile and took his hand. He quickly led her back to their temporary shelter. With their spontaneous doings she forgot to ask him about his unusual physical abilities.
The rescue chopper landed next to the disabled plane. Steve held Kayce’s hand as they jogged towards the red and white rotorcraft. After jumping aboard they were offered bottled water to re-hydrate their tired bodies. The couple held hands the entire flight to Andrews, both too tired to converse.
Goldman and Wells stood on the sun baked tarmac watching the helicopter touch down. Steve hopped off and turned to lift Kayce down by her small waist. They both thanked the crew and with their duffle bags in hand headed toward the hanger. Oscar and Rudy enthusiastically welcomed the haggard and hungry survivors back to civilization offering sandwiches and drinks they acquired from the commissary.
Oscar was still concerned over his friends’ well-being, “Are you sure you two are alright?”
Steve answered for the pair with an affirmative nod, “We’ll be even better after a meal, a hot shower and good night’s sleep, preferably in that order.” Steve quickly dug into his ham and cheese sandwich.
Rudy questioned in a lighthearted tone, “What’s the matter couldn’t sleep last night?”
Steve and Kayce shared a mischievous glance when Steve answered, “Oh we slept fine, just not very long.” The pair kept their gaze on their food trying not to giggle.
The couple’s constant physical closeness was not lost on Rudy as he watched them interact. Their relationship was not doubt stronger than when they left 48 hours ago.
“I guess this experience will be burned into your memory for awhile.” Oscar commented innocently.
Steve smiled, “Oh I’m sure it will be with me for a lifetime.” He winked at Kayce who, for the first time since he had known her, blushed bright red. “How about you?” He teased.
Kayce replied with a giggle, “If I live to be 100 years old I know I will never forget it.”
There was shared laughter as the foursome headed to Steve’s car which was parked between Oscar’s and Rudy’s.
“Well pal, have fun trying to get your plane off the mountain.”
“Thanks, I’ll send you the bill.” He winked as he opened the passenger door for Kayce.
Oscar and Rudy laughed as they watched as the smiling couple drive off toward a very uncertain future….together.