Chapter One

Captain Nathan Fordham stood under the blazing sun and scanned the confidence course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He needed only seconds to spot her. Through tall for a femals, she was much smaller than every other soldier out there. Yet what she lacked in stature, she clearly made up in fortitude. She hadn't hesitated even a moment before scrambling up the thirty-foor incline on all fourse and then rappelling down the other side with grace and agility.

Watching her, Nathan felt a warmth inside him that had nothing to do with the relentless heat. For here was a woman who dazzled him with her contradictions and intrigued him with her complexity. And when she grinned at one of her teammates, showing white teeth that stood out against her mud-covered face, he couldn't take his eyes off her.

He'd seen a photograph of her before departing his duty station at the Pentago, but the photo hadn't done her justice. The officer in it was delicate and slim, with a heart-shaped face. At five feet seven inches, she could be described as willowy and feminine--the kind of woman men fall all over themselves to protect. Major General Walter Cornelius Donner would ejoy toying with Chief Warrant Officer RAchel Southwell. Nathan was her to make sure he never got the chance.

"C'mon, you guys, move it!" Rachel shouted from the far side of the stream she had just crossed. One team member had followed her lead and stood nearby

Two men dangled form the solitary rope stretched tightly over the water Their legs were loosely slung over it as they hauled themselves hand over hand along its length. Two other teammates awaited thier turns.

Her six-man team was ahead by several minutes, but Rachel was eager to increased their advantage. As always, she was driven to prove to everyone that she could compete as well as most men, that she would nto hold anyone back, that she was an important member of the team. So she'd led the way over the river, showing these young men how easily a body could travel ont he rope by staying relaxed and fluid. And ow she urged them to hurry, spurring them not only with her words but with the fact that she herself had crossed with such alacrity.

"You made it loo easy!" cried Private MacDonald as he completed the obstacle. "How the hell did you do that so quick?"

Rachel shook her head in disgust. What the young soldier really wanted to know was how a 'woman' could manage it so fast. "Just get moving!" she barked as the last man dropped to the ground beside her. "Up and over!" she called as she followed the men toward the seventh grueling event of the course.

Her stamina was amazin, Nathan observed If nayone was up to the challenge of dealing with Donner, it was Rachel southwell. Provided she fully understood the risk to herself. He'd already decided weeks ago that the danger to himself was nothing compared to the damage Donner could inflict on others. Witnessing what the General had done to SErgeant Sheila Walker had been all the persuasion he'd needed.

"I'm not the first and I won't be the last," Sergeant Walker had muttered one day after sh'ed been with the General in his office for a while. "It's liek being a prin=soner of war, working here." After that, she'd pursued res=assignement doggedly until she finally PCSed glad to make an unpopular permanent change of station to Korea even in the midst of America's war on terrorism.

There had been other soldiers upon who the General had preyed. In the six months since Nathan had become General Conner's aide, he'd seen him destroy too many lives. Hating to involve his own brother but knowing of no one else who could help, Nathan had gone to Julian in the Army Criminal Investigation Division, or CID, on Fort Belvoir, Viginia, nto too far from thePentagon. Newly promoted to Major, Julian had been more than willing to help. His plan had involved finding an office worker with the emotional strength to join in the effort to stop Donner. They needed a person who would press chan=rges even against a General--someone with the fortitude to stick with the prosecution even through the inevitable scandal. Julian's connections had led him to the transfer request Rachel Southwell had submitted.

"Her father is sick and she wants to move closer to her parents to help out. She's a 420A," Julian said, reading her MOS, or military occupational speciality code. "As she's a personnel technician, the opening in your office isjust about her only chance of coming north. This warrant officer is perfect, both for the job and for stopping Donner. Look," he said as he tossed some stapled sheets from the dossier toward Nathan, "her personnel records show sho's unmarried with no dependents. We agreed we'd need someone iwthout a family."

"Donner doesn't hesitate to silence his victims by threatening to drag spouses and children through scandal," Nathan noted. "We definitely need a dependent-free fremail for thismission."

Of course, Donner could still use his other tactice to control the Chief--threaten to transfer her to a tour in somalia to keep her silent. Somehow, Donner had managed to employ such threats successfully for a very long time. But watching the tough, unmarried and childless Chief Southwell as she ran the confidence course, Nathan felt a surge of hope. As much as he hated putting her in harm's way, this particular woman appeared to have the strength of character to help him end Conner's reign of terror.
A Captain's Honor

"Ha!" Nathan cried. "I've got you now!"

Rachel laughed and so did he, but their amusement suddenly gave way to something more intense. Her pulse quickened, her senses came alive. He stared down into her eyes. And she couldn't hav ebroken from hisgaze even if she'd tried. He would kiss her now, she thought. She wante him to kiss her very much.

Instead, he loosened his hold on her. "I…we…" He pulled away abruptly, turning from her. "I can't believe I did that, given what you've been through today."

"A kiss from you would have nothing to do with what the general did earlier," she assured him.

But he stood stiffly apart from her and rubbed the back of his neck. "Maybe we should call it a night," he suggested.

She raised her arm and slid her fingers through his hair, encouragin him with every subtle shift of her body.

His eyes flashed with desire. But instead of kissing her, as she wanted him to, he spoke softly. "I want you, Rachel. There's no denying it. But I need you to think about what YOU want first…Don't say anything now. Go back to the hotel. If this is really what you want, it'll still be what you want in a little while."

If he said more, she didn't hear it. She forced her legs to move her toward the bright lights of the hotel. Once there, she would have to decide--without lust drugging her, without the heat of the moment coaxing her…
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