Chapter 1

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The walls shook.

My favorite sunset photograph crashed to the floor. Again.

Why the Air Force felt the need to fly so low over the houses was beyond me. Whole sky up there, guys. Geeze.

I picked up the frame and checked the glass. No cracks, thank goodness. I hung the photo back on the wall with the rest of my collection: landscapes, animals, daily living, the greatest of the great. Someday my photos would be featured in galleries across the country. But first I had to graduate high school and get my butt off Maguire Air Force Base.

One more year—that's all that separated me from the real world. The clock wasn't ticking fast enough. Not for me, at least.

Settling back down at my desk, I flipped through the pages of August's National Geographic. Dang, those pictures were good. NG photographers had it down. Emotion, lighting, energy ...

I contemplated the best of my own shots hanging around my room. Would they ever compare?

Another jet screamed overhead.

Stinking pilots! I lunged off the chair to save another photo from falling. The entire house vibrated. This was getting ridiculous.

Dad came in and leaned his bulky frame against my door. "Redecorating?"

"Not by choice." I blew a stray hair out of my eyes. "Are they ever going to respect the no-fly zone?"

"Unlikely."

"Then next time you have my permission to shoot them down."

"You want me to shoot down a multi-million-dollar jet because a picture fell off the wall?"

"Why not? Isn't that what the Army does? Protect the peace and all?" I tried to hold back my grin. Didn't work.

He grimaced while rubbing the peach fuzz he called a haircut.

So much for sarcasm. "It was a joke, Dad."

A smile almost crossed his lips.

Come on, Dad. You can do it. Inch those lips up just a smidge.

His nose flared.

Nope. No smile today. Must be Monday—or any other day of the week ending in y.

The walls shuddered as the engines of another aircraft throttled overhead, followed by an echoing rattle.

Dad's gaze shot to the ceiling. His jaw tightened. So did mine. Those planes were flying way too low.

My stomach turned. "What—"

"Shhh." His hand shot out, silencing me. "That sounds like ..." His eyes widened. "Jessica, get down!"

A deafening boom rolled through the neighborhood. The rest of my pictures tumbled off the walls.

Dad pulled me to the floor. His body became a human shield as a wave of heat blasted through the open window. A soda can shimmied off my desk and crashed to the floor. Cola fizzled across the carpet.

My heart pummeled my ribcage as Dad's eyes turned to ice. The man protecting me was no longer my father, but someone darker: trained and dangerous.

I placed my hand on his chest. "Dad, what..."

He rolled off me and stood. "Stay down."

Like I was going anywhere.

As he moved toward the window, he picked up a picture of Mom from the floor and set it back on my dresser. His gaze never left the curtains. How did he stay so calm? Was this what it was like when he was overseas? Was this just another day at the office for him?

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