Wedding at White Sands

Taking Cover by Catherine Mann
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1187, 11/02, $4.75, R) ISBN 0-373-27257-X
As far as I am concerned, Catherine Mann has done it again, and is now two for two with her Wingmen Warrior series, and I anticipate another winner in Zach’s story, coming in January, 2003. But that’s another book. This one is Bronco’s story, as another pilot and doctor hook up.

Tanner “Bronco” Bennett is a copilot, flying missions in an eastern European war zone, stationed in Germany, and just months away from his upgrade to aircraft commander. He isn’t about to let feisty Dr. Kathleen O’Connell ground him again for a pinched nerve in his back, even when he can hardly walk because of pain and muscle spasms. As a result of their loud, toe-to-toe battle out on the tarmac at the end of a mission when he refuses to get into the ambulance and go to the hospital, their commander, Lt. Col. Dawson, sends them on a special TDY (temporary duty) mission to investigate a C-17 incident at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. The plane was on a test flight when things suddenly went extremely wrong, and the pilot was just barely able to get it safely to ground.

Complicating the situation is the fact that both Kathleen and Tanner know pilot Daniel “Crusty” Baker well, having gone through the Air Force Academy with him. Kathleen was their training officer, and rode them both constantly. Both men fell hard for her, but as freshmen, they couldn’t fraternize with an upperclassman. But neither of them forgot her, and Bronco also never forgot the one searing kiss he and Kathleen shared on the worst night of his life. Now, with the chemistry between them even more powerful than before, Dawson has said he wants them “joined at the hip” until the investigation is complete, and the two of them have learned to trust each other and work together without fighting. If they fail, they can both kiss their upcoming promotions goodbye.

But once they get to Edwards, there are few clues about what happened. Everything looks “by the book”, and Tanner isn’t happy about having to write up an old friend. He’s even less happy about any other men paying attention to Kathleen, and provokes yet another fight with her while everyone in the bar is looking on. Then, as they persevere, things begin to go wrong with the investigation, evidence disappears, the flight recorder is erased, and nothing comes even close to going smoothly. When the investigation closes down for Christmas, and Tanner and Kathleen leave the base to fly back east for Gray and Lori’s wedding (see Grayson’s Surrender), they haven’t gone but a few miles when they have two flat tires, wreck their rental car, which then explodes, and end up on their own in the middle of the desert, still fighting their attraction and each other.

These two are well-matched, both afraid to reveal themselves and their flaws to each other until they are finally forced to do so. The mystery they are unraveling provides a counterpoint to their relationship, and is resolved satisfactorily, if somewhat neatly. These are complex characters, and the shifting viewpoints allows the reader to see both of them from inside their own heads as well as from the other’s perspective. As they get to know each other better, and understand the forces that made each of them the persons they presently are, their relationship begins to change, as they begin to see each other and themselves more realistically.

The series romance format limits Taking Cover to about 250 pages long, but Mann takes full advantage of that length, revealing her characters gradually, detailing her setting carefully, and providing background and motivation for all but a few of the more minor characters. Unfortunately, one of those characters is the villain, who is rather flat, his crime being only briefly justified or explained, with no foreshadowing at all. However, the members of the C-17 Squadron are warm, sympathetic, realistic and imperfect characters that readers will enjoy getting to know in their own books, and then appreciate the glimpses they will get of them in the future books focusing on their friends. Fans of military romance will be certain to enjoy this new promising series.

--Joni Richards Bodart

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