Home > Mackenzie's Mission (Mackenzie Family #2)(15)

Mackenzie's Mission (Mackenzie Family #2)(15)
Author: Linda Howard

When she didn't reply he said calmly, "When we get back to your quarters, unlock your door, then turn and hold out your hand to me. I'll take it, lean over and kiss you. It won't be a long kiss, but it can't be a quick peck, either. Does three seconds sound long enough to you? Then I'll let go of your hand and say good-night. On a busy base, any number of people will see us, and the word will spread that we don't seem to be having a flaming affair, but we're definitely involved."

She cleared her throat. "Three seconds?" That didn't sound like very long. Surely she could manage not to disgrace herself for three seconds.

"Just three seconds," he reassured her.

Chapter Four

The cheeseburger-without onions-and fries were delicious, reminding her of those few precious times during her childhood when she had been allowed to stay over with her mother's brother and his wife, both of them about ten years younger than her parents, and Uncle Lee had invariably treated her to the biggest, juiciest hamburger she could eat, followed by ice cream, another forbidden food. Her parents had allowed her to eat sorbet or frozen yogurt, but never ice cream. If it hadn't been for Uncle Lee, Caroline thought she might have reached the age of majority without knowing the joys of junk food. She still always felt as if she were having a special treat when she indulged.

After the cheeseburgers, he gave her a slow smile and asked, "Ever played the slots?"

"No. I've never been to a casino."

"That's about to change." He started the truck, and soon they were tooling down Las Vegas Boulevard, an endless array of flashing neon lights in every color of the rainbow. They blinked, they arrowed, they cascaded, they exploded in endless neon showers, inviting one and all to sample whatever it was they were advertising. The big casinos drew the largest crowds, of course, but a goodly number of people were just strolling, tourists determined to see everything in this town geared toward attracting them. People were dressed in clothing that ran the gamut from shorts to formal gowns.

"Do you like to gamble?" she asked.

"I never gamble."

She snorted. "Except with your life. I was in the control room today, remember? Hitting eighty degrees alpha and pulling 10 Gs isn't what I'd call safe living."

"That isn't gambling. Baby was built to give us an unlimited angle of attack, but her capability doesn't do us any good if we don't know how to fly her. My job is to make certain she does what she's supposed to do, get her fully tested out and operational and find out her limitations. I can't do that if I don't exceed what we're already doing in the F-22."

"None of the other pilots are pushing the envelope like that."

His eyes were utterly calm when he looked at her. "They will now. Now that they know Baby will operate under those conditions."

"You did it just to show them it could be done?"

"No. I did it because it's my job."

And because he loved it. The thought echoed in her mind. She had seen it that day when he had entered the control room after his flight, tired and sweaty, his eyes bloodshot, his expression as remote as ever. But his eyes had given him away. They had been fierce and... exalted, the fires of life burning white hot in him.

He parked the truck, and they strolled down the sidewalk. "Do you feel lucky?" he asked.

She shrugged. "How does lucky feel?"

"Want to try it?"

She paused before the entrance to one of the casinos, feeling the cool air gush out through the opened doors. Rows and rows of slot machines stretched before her and even spread out on the sidewalk. Most of them were manned by people automatically feeding in their tokens of worship and pulling the levers. Occasionally there were cries of delight as coins in varying numbers came tumbling out to reward their persistence, but mostly the machines took rather than gave.

"It isn't cost-effective," she said after studying the procedure for a few minutes.

He laughed softly. "That isn't the point Never gamble if you can't afford to lose, that's rule number one. Rule number two is to have fun."

"They don't look like they're having fun," she said doubtfully.

"That's because they've forgotten rule number two, and maybe even number one. C'mon, I'll stake you."

But she waited another few minutes, until she saw someone abandon a machine that hadn't paid anything in quite a while. The law of averages said it was more likely to pay out than one that had just disgorged a few coins would be to do so again. She sat down in front of it and fed in the quarters, feeling like an idiot as she did so. Joe stood behind her, softly laughing when the mechanical bandit gave her nothing in return. After she had fed in about five dollars without winning anything, Caroline began to take it personally. She muttered warnings and threats as she went through the procedure again-and lost again.

"Remember rule number two," Joe cautioned, amusement in his voice.

She told him what he could do with rule number two, and he chuckled.

She hitched her stool closer to the machine and shoved a quarter into the slot. She pulled the lever and the pictures began whirring, then one by one clicked into place. Bells began ringing and quarters began flooding out of the bottom slot, spilling out onto the floor. Caroline jumped up and stared at the silver coins as other slot players crowded around, offering congratulations, and a smiling casino employee came over. Then she gave Joe a look of consternation. "All those quarters won't fit in my pocket."

He threw back his head and began laughing. She stared at his strong brown throat and felt suddenly dizzy as that damn light-headed feeling swept over her again.

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