Time-Shift Heroes, Book 1
by Donna Michaels
eBook ASIN: B009XLK6CY
Print ISBN: 978-1480197701
Captain Samantha Sheppard takes a test flight back in time, saving the life of a WWII pilot. Convincing her sexy captive he’s in another century proves harder than she anticipated. As their desire burns into overdrive, a discovery threatens her very existence. Can love truly survive the test of time?
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“Phantombird VL Zero Three, you have a go to initiate invisibility.”
Third generation Marine Pilot Captain Samantha Sheppard lived for this moment. An impeccable flying record and combat experience in the Gulf had garnered her a spot on a list of five pilots, selected out of hundreds from all military branches, to serve on the Phantom Project.
One step closer to NASA.
“Roger that, Command Central,” she replied with a grin.
Man, she loved to fly. Loved it. The same applied to the Phantombird. Unlike any craft she’d ever piloted, the silent, V-shaped VL sported a side-by-side manning station and vertical lift capabilities, eliminating the need for long runways. A true testament to the evolution of aircraft.
This is it. My chance.
Anticipation and excitement sparked to life, heating Sam’s body with a pounding determination to succeed. A successful mission today would pad her already sparkling record. She turned and slapped the upheld hand of Lieutenant Maria Garcia, her copilot and best friend since boot camp.
The redheaded beauty silenced communications before pinning her with a soulful stare. “Your grandfather would be so proud.”
A swift onslaught of tears burned behind Sam’s eyes. Maria knew Edward Sheppard, Sr. was Sam’s hero. Fond childhood memories abounded of her climbing onto his lap, head resting on his chest, enthralled by his deep, animated tone, while he recanted his days as a VMA Black Sheep pilot in the South Pacific. She’d imagined herself beside him in the cockpit, flying battles with his comrades—each of whom she’d come to know and admire through his exhilarating tales. Thanks to those memoirs, her blazing desire to become a Marine pilot had sparked at an early age.
“Yes,” she finally answered her friend, reaching for the patch she’d sown into the left arm of her black flight suit the previous night. “He would’ve been thrilled.”
Tight stitching and jagged edges met the pad of her forefinger as she gently stroked her slightly charred but dearly cherished good luck charm. Captain Edward Sheppard Sr. had presented Sam with his Black Sheep patch four years ago, a few days before a massive heart attack had claimed his life.
She closed her eyes and brought to mind the firm, albeit proud tone of the beloved eighty-eight year old Vet. “Give ‘em hell, Sam.”
And she did, whenever she climbed into a cockpit. Sam never flew anywhere without her grandfather. He’d been to Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and now, she blinked and swallowed a laugh, he was going invisible.
Gramps always did have a love for unidentified flying objects. A smile tugged her lips. Today, he would fly in one. The Phantombird certainly qualified as a UFO to those who weren’t aware of its existence. Pride straightened her spine. History was just around the corner—their corner. Captain Samantha Sheppard was about to be the first pilot to go invisible.
Or she could also be about to blow up.
That would suck. Especially for her dream of one day piloting the space shuttle. Her smile disappeared. NASA was tough enough to get into. As an apparition, she wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance.
A quick glance to the right had her raising her brow. “Ready, Lieutenant?”
Maria reopened communications and held up her thumb. “All clear here, Ma’am.”
“Roger.” Sam nodded before facing forward.
A crowd of military and government brass, their medals glinting under the bright mid-October Nevada sun, sat on a set of metal bleachers, hoping to witness history. Ordered to take the Phantombird to only a thousand feet, Sam prayed their flight would be the one logged in and recorded as a success.
Already tested twice in the past six weeks by two different teams, the Phantombird was O for two. The first run barely got off the ground when the hydraulics froze for Captain Daughtry. Then last month, Lt. Colonel Hanson went airborne, but had absolutely no response after he hit the invisibility switch. Scientists and mechanics had worked around the clock ever since and reassured the higher-ups they’d fixed the glitch. Sam hoped so. Her gut told her this test flight would change her life.
“Phantombird VL Zero Three initiating invisibility,” she stated, another warm rush of adrenaline heating her blood.
Okay baby, her thumb hovered over the red toggle switch as she silently implored the craft, Maria and I are allergic to flames so this is no time for fireworks.
With a dry throat and sweaty palms, Sam gazed out at the sparkling blue horizon and flipped the switch.
“Did it work?” Maria asked a moment later.
“I’m not sure.” Outside, the bright blue sky took on a gray, almost smoky sheen. Odd. Sam frowned. “Command, this is Phantombi—”
A sudden intense jarring cut off her attempt to contact base and rattled the aircraft. With a tight grip on the stick, she increased their altitude, her brain seeking a reason for the jerking while she worked to regain control of their shaking craft. Only one explanation came to mind.
“That felt like…we were fired at.”
“Because we were.” Maria’s finger shook as she pointed to the radar.
Multiple green blips glared out a warning. There shouldn’t be any blips, and yet dozens of planes filled the skies seven hundred feet below.
“Who the hell is that?”
A deep male tone barked in Sam’s headset, sending shivers straight to her booted toes.
That was not Command Central.
“Mitch, Mitch, are you okay? You’re smoking,” a slightly familiar male voice blasted over the radio.
Sam’s heart stopped. The urgency in his tone bespoke concern for a comrade in battle.
“That Zero let loose, but only three rounds hit you,” the familiar voice continued.
Zero? Her pulse resumed thumping at a frantic rate. No friggin’ way!
“Are you sure, Shep? Only three? How’s that possible?” The deeper tone asked, reactivating Sam’s shivers.
“Because he hit us,” Maria answered, flipping an internal extinguisher switch to douse the sparks inside their cabin.
“Who the hell said that?” The one called Mitch barked again. “Sounded like a woman.”
Sam shook her head at Maria and, finger to throat, made a slicing motion to silence audio. They mustn’t make contact, at least, not until they figured out what in the world was going on.
“No idea,” Shep replied to Mitch. “But the Zero shot at you and half of his bullets stopped in mid air.”
“Okay, Shep.” Mitch’s voice changed into a calm, take-charge tone. “You need to shake of this dementia. Are you feeling all right? Dizzy? The Zeroes are still out here, buddy. Buck it up before you end up in the drink.”
Shep? Dementia? Drink? Sam swallowed the hysterical laughter bubbling up her throat. Okay, Sammie, you can wake up now. Her gaze traveled to her copilot. Maria jabbed a finger at the radio.
“I swear, Sam, if Hanson and Daughtry are playing tricks, I’m going to have their asses for lunch.”
“I—I don’t think it is.” She shook her head, unable to voice her crazy notion one of those men was her dead grandfather.
“You should fly to Torokina while you’re still capable, Captain.” Concern deepened Shep’s tone. “You’re really starting to smoke now.”
As if on cue, dark gray plumes billowed up from below. Trepidation pinched Sam’s shoulders. Not good. She tipped the Phantombird to obtain a better view, and promptly stopped breathing.
“This can’t be…”
Maria’s sharp intake confirmed otherwise. “Holy friggin’ shit.”
Sam’s mind worked feverishly to rationalize the battle-ravaged scene below. Corsairs, bullets, smoke, and Mitsubishi Reisens with unmistakable red circles painted on the sides and wings filled the sky.
The fear vibrating in Shep’s voice startled Sam from her shock.
“Quit being such a stubborn ass. You’d better land before December 28th, 1943 turns into your last day on this earth.”
Cool air funneled into Sam’s lungs until it backed up and lodged in her throat. She coughed. “Oh my God!” Reality hit hard and squeezed her chest. “What have we done?”
One of the smoking Corsairs broke away and took a northeast heading. She consulted the radar and noted several points of land in that area.
“What, Sam?” Maria asked, alarm lifting her tone. “What’s wrong?”
Sam expelled her breath and slowly turned to face her copilot. A pair of dark rounded eyes stared back. Through her grandfather’s tales, Sam knew who survived the war and who didn’t…
“We just changed history.”
“What? How?” Maria frowned, her gaze snapping back to the window. “We didn’t help kill an enemy, although I have to admit…” Her copilot’s grip on the control panel whitened. “…the thought did cross my mind.”
“No! We can’t. We mustn’t.” Sam shifted in her seat, tautness increasing across her chest. “It’s bad enough we altered Captain Anthony Mitchell’s fate.”
“Captain Anthony Mitchell, the pilot flying to the refueling and emergency strip at Torokina, Bougainville.” Sam pointed toward the disappearing plane. “Thanks to our untimely arrival, his Corsair only received minimal damage because we took the rest.”
“Okay, I’d love to know how you know that, but right now, we’d better land so I can get this bird repaired.” Maria scratched her temple and sighed. “Then we’ll figure out what the heck just happened…and where the hell Nevada went!”
“Nevada?” Sam sputtered. “What about the twenty-first century?”
Every one of her grandfather’s stories came rushing back. She stared down at the Corsairs. Their beauty and maneuverability were everything he had boasted. What she wouldn’t give to stay and view her grandfather in action. The chance to witness one of his tales was a gift. An absolute gift.
But she had a more pressing matter. Thanks to their accidental interference, she had to follow a certain sexy voiced Black Sheep. To do what? No idea. She’d worry about that later. Right now, she tilted the stick to the left and carefully maneuvered above and around the dogfights.
Her gaze fell to the patches on her uniform. “It’s not here!”
“What’s not where?”
“My grandfather’s Black Sheep patch. It’s gone.” Sam thrust her arm toward her friend. “I have the Corp, the Phantom, and the U.S., but not the VMA 214.”
Maria paled again. “Sam, I watched you sew it on last night. So either we’re both having a wicked-ass dream, or we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“Even my dreams aren’t this crazy,” she muttered, keeping her gaze on their prey.
With all of the enemy fighters engaged in battle, Captain Mitchell flew from the scene without incident. A simple round of bullets from any one of the Zeroes could have righted history. Her spine stiffened.
She could right history.
Her grip tightened on the stick while her finger hovered over the trigger. One squeeze would fix the wrong her trip to the past had created. One squeeze…
Sam’s pulse pounded so rapid in her ears the drumming rattled her skull. What should she do? Had fate ripped her from the future to save Captain Mitchell just so she could shoot him?
Didn’t matter. He was a Black Sheep. Not an enemy.
Her finger eased off the trigger. She would not take the shot. There had to be another way to fix the mistake.
Five minutes stretched into fifteen and she was still no closer to enlightenment. Why were they there? How were they there?
The hesitation in Maria’s voice grabbed her attention. She squashed the uncertainty and glanced at her copilot.
Maria gestured at the window with a nod of her head. “Isn’t that island down there Bougainville?”
Sam’s gaze dropped to the panel. “Yes, according to radar.”
“Then why isn’t the good captain landing?”
Attention snapping back to the smoking Corsair, she watched as he held altitude and flew right past the appointed emergency stop. Stupid stubborn Marine.
“Apparently, flying another hour in a busted plane is worth the risk to set down at base.”
“Oh, smart.” Her friend rolled her eyes. “Not.”
Sam nodded, but refrained from commenting. She’d learned years ago the thought process of most men and women varied greatly. A woman used her brain. A man sat on his. Hard to think logically when you cut off your oxygen supply. Captain Mitchell’s foolish move proved it.
Fifty-eight minutes later, a splotch of green rose out of the sea. Finally. Sam would never take today’s technology for granted again. Well, the twenty-first century’s technology. A snail’s pace didn’t work for her.
Decreasing altitude and velocity, she approached her grandfather’s old stomping ground with a rush of excitement heating her veins.
Coconut plantations dotted the level areas while dense jungle overtook the rest of the island. Damn. Where did he go? A thick, dark canopy concealed everything.
Several tense seconds passed before Sam spotted smoke. Gotcha. She followed the billowing mass to a damaged plane on a well-worn runway. A group of military buildings and a fenced off area confirmed her target.
Just like grandpa’s stories…
A sudden movement to the right caught her attention. She angled the Phantombird and watched a lone figure rush toward one of a dozen tents littering the ground near the thicket.
“Black Sheep found.”
“Good, now how about somewhere to land this puppy where we won’t get sucked up?” Maria asked. “Damn, they should rename the island Vella Laswampy.”
Sam agreed. “Too dangerous to use the runway. Let’s find another option.”
After a two minute search, she spotted a patch of firm ground flanked on the left by a cluster of mangrove trees. A perfect barrier.
Once landing was completed, Sam yanked off her helmet and glanced at her copilot.
“How’s our fuel?”
“Good. We’re only down a quarter tank.” Maria removed her headgear, unbuckled her seat restraint and rose to her feet. “And if the invisibility shield holds up after you power down, we won’t have to camouflage ole Brad here while I make repairs.”
“Brad?” Sam held back a snicker, amusement momentarily relieving her anxiety.
“Yes,” Maria said, sliding her hand up the inside of the craft with long, loving strokes. “He’s capable and chalk full of surprises. Why, just look at his time-jump stunt.”
Sam’s insides re-knotted. Time-jump. Great. A reminder she didn’t need. Life had gotten bat-shit crazy.
She powered down, unhooked her belt and stood. “I’d better check if we’re still cloaked.”
“Okay.” Maria motioned toward the blackened hull. “I’ll get started on the repairs.”
Sam slammed the release button with the side of her fist and a door slowly lowered to form a ramp to the ground. A swift dose of apprehension and adrenaline rushed through her veins “Welcome to the South Pacific,” she muttered.
Grass and fleshy leaves swayed in the warm breeze while the heavy odor of mildew nearly knocked her backward. Gross. Covering her mouth and nose with her fingers she attempted to keep the putrid air from sticking to the back of her throat. Gramps had mentioned mold grew overnight on anything damp. How awful.
Glancing up, she noted sun and a beautiful blue horizon. All clear. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for her head. The South Pacific during World War II… Seriously? What the hell?
With an inward sigh, she closed her eyes and strained her ears, listening for the percussion of battle. Nothing. Studying her surroundings once more, she rubbed her temple. None of this was in the Test Pilot MOS manual.
Her mind somewhat in denial, she walked down the ramp onto solid earth and contemplated if she’d fallen asleep in front of the television again. Certainly would explain her crazy morning. She turned around, and with her gaze trained on the Phantombird, she backed up a few steps and blinked.
“Wow, Maria. This is unreal.”
“Can you see me?” The copilot’s voice carried in the breeze.
“No, only trees, vines, and shrubs. Incredible,” she said through the fingers still pressed to her face.
We did it!
Excitement momentarily stamped out her apprehension. Holy smokes. They actually did it. She and Maria were the first to go invisible.
And back to World War II.
“I told you Brad was full of surprises,” Maria stated.
Stretching her free hand out in front, Sam walked forward until her palm met smooth, warm metal. Wow. Just like science fiction. Her shoulders dropped. Only, this wasn’t a movie and no gorgeous, bald, muscle-bound hero would save the day. It was up to her.
“Well, I hope Brad has a surprise to take us back home.” Sam reentered the craft and shut the door. After a few deep, clean breaths, she realized her friend was staring with wide eyes.
“Of course he will. There’s no alternative. If this is 1943 like that voice said, then we don’t belong here. We could change people’s timelines…their very existence. If we interfere, people could vanish from our time. We could vanish.” A long curl broke free from Maria’s regulation barrette as her auburn head shook hard. “No. We must do whatever it takes to get back to our present without interacting with anyone here. Including your grandfather.”
Sam’s chin snapped up.
“Yes. I know you think the Shep on the radio is your grandfather, and the crazy thing is…I think you’re right. But that’s all the more reason to remain unnoticed.”
Sam’s chest tightened until breathing became painful. “I agree. We can’t stay, but neither can Captain Mitchell. He was supposed to die today.”
A deep V wrinkled Maria’s brow. A sight rarely seen on her good-natured friend.
“How do you know? Maybe that Zero was only supposed to hit him a few times.” Maria approached, dark eyes hopeful. “He could’ve outmaneuvered or—”
“No. On December 28th 1943 Captain Anthony Mitchell went down in a dogfight over the South Pacific,” Sam recited the aged statement word for word. “He was supposed to die today. My grandfather told me. In fact, I know when each and every Black Sheep died or went MIA.”
Maria closed her eyes and exhaled. “This isn’t good.”
“No. Not at all.” Sam rubbed her temples, wracking her brain once again for a solution.
Her friend’s eyes snapped open. “You have to kill him.”
And that wasn’t it.
“No.” She’d already had the perfect opportunity and was unable to pull the trigger.
“Yes,” Maria countered. “Look, you said it yourself, Sams. He doesn’t belong here now. His survival will change the course of history, and who knows what will happen.” Jamming her hands on her hips, her copilot frantically paced the ten-by-ten-foot cockpit.
Sam had never seen Maria so upset. Another first for the infallible Lieutenant.
With her dark gaze focused on the floor, the petite bombshell continued to ramble. “Maybe he does something to allow more terrorists to attack, or…or serial killers. Or a President’s assassination. No.” She stopped, strode straight back to Sam, and grabbed her upper arms. “We can’t let him live. If the captain was supposed to die today and we just screwed that up, then we have to make it right. We have to kill him.”
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