UPDATE: The winner is…Ann Ivey!
Fight Like Cats and Wolves by A.J. Harris
After their helicopter is forced down by a rogue war machine, an Army veteran must use wits and fangs to survive with his mysterious pilot.
Wolves and helicopters are a natural mix. Like peanut butter and chocolate.
Don’t believe me? Say the word Airwolf to folks of a certain generation. Watch as they get chills as the theme song starts up in their heads. The show gave me a distinct appreciation for the art behind piloting a rotorcraft – much less flying one in emergencies and combat scenarios. Meeting real medivac pilots, both civilian and military, just cemented my admiration. Stringfellow Hawk had nothing on them.
And I’ve always loved wolves – and this transferred to my werewolves. Always the underdogs (ha!) of the supernatural world, I did my best to highlight what I loved about their real-world counterparts. Survivors and hunters, yes, but also deeply social animals. Loyal. Playful. And, when visiting an auditorium full of stunned college students, majestic.
“Pack is family” became my creed.
It all came together in this story for Silver Soldiers: A wolf with a history and family obligations. A helicopter pilot hired to take her Huey into the mountains for an afternoon. To people who don’t think they have much in common. Until fate — and a heavily armed rogue mech — intervenes.
Hope everyone enjoys the tale. I’ve got a feeling these two have more adventures ahead.
A snippet from “Fights Like Cats and Wolves”…
Two days later, Marco’s impression of his pilot went sideways the moment he saw Tanya Shaw conduct the pre-flight inspection of her Bell 205 under the noonday sun. She’d undone the top half of her flight suit and wrapped the sleeves around her waist. Sweat glimmered on her bronze skin and cut abs. Her sports bra, zippered down the front, was more mesh than fabric. Tattoos peeked through the straps crossing her back, and the suit clung to her generous backside as she bent over to check the landing struts.
Tanya stroked the helicopter’s skin with care and precision. Her fingers danced along the struts, the tail boom and rotor, cockpit, and canopy. She knew every nook and cranny of this helicopter. There was love and respect in that touch. Marco never expected this kind of attention to detail from a civilian. He wondered if she touched people the same way.
“Good day.” Tanya waved, sun gleaming off her aviator glasses.
Marco straightened, shouldered his pack, and nodded in return. Stay on mission, Marco. “Ms. Shaw. We still cleared?”
She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she gave him a quick visual review. Much like her Bell, Marco had some miles on him, but he didn’t show his age too badly, outside of silver streaks in his hair. Working in the parks kept him in shape. He wasn’t fighting fit, straight from the 75th, but he still took care of himself. He almost quipped that she was ogling his arms, but her gaze fixed on his silver and black Special Shifter Operations tattoo. And not him.
He buried a sigh. Civilians.
“We’re still cleared. Thanks for showing up on time.” He was fifteen minutes early—”on time” for him but not for most civilians. “Weather’s clear,” she continued. “We’ve got wind warnings later in the afternoon. May have chop coming back. I did a second satellite check on the LZ. Looks clear. Our flight plan is filed with local ATC and with DyneTech. And—is that an entrenching tool?”
“Yes. It is.” Marco stifled a growl. His wolf side had thought he’d be done with helicopters after his service. Worse, it took Tanya’s attitude as a territorial challenge. His human half didn’t disagree. “My gear will be safely stowed. This isn’t my first rotorcraft ride.”
“Lower those hackles, wolf-boy. Never said otherwise. You’re here, sober, and only lightly reeking of that body spray.” She wrinkled her nose.
Marco fought the urge to dump a Camelbak full of water over his head. He suspected the scent had been a gag gift from his nephew in every sense. But he wore it. He wasn’t about to admit he’d been conned.
“I’m almost done with checks. Get in. Second seat. Cargo’s in the back of the main cabin.”
Marco stowed his gear. The desert tan pack and tools clashed with the Bell’s deep green interior. He hopped into the cockpit’s second seat, adjusted the five-point harness, and settled the headset on his head.
Tanya opened the door with a quick, “Hey, sorry.” She yanked his harness tight against his chest and belly. He winced. Was she smirking?
Tanya’s smirk vanished when she strapped into the pilot’s seat. Rotors at full, she lifted the Bell off the helipad with ease. Marco focused on the horizon and the hills. Savage River Forest stretched out below him. Acres of green stood fast against new development, a changing climate, and pollution. Even the DyneTech campus respected the landscape. Buildings hid under the canopy. Only the noontime sun bouncing along the windows revealed their presence.
“Bravo-One-Seven-Niner to DyneTech control, we’re on approach to the north. Do you read?” Tanya banked around unseen barriers, keeping clear of the automated defenses.
DyneTech’s dog-like bots got under his skin. Using them to haul cargo? Sure. He was fine with that. Arming them? No. You needed wolves and men to ensure nothing went wrong. He’d seen the cargo bots smash themselves into rocks due to sensor failures. He’d sooner arm a Canadian goose.
“Copy that, Bravo-One-Seven-Niner. We’ve got you on track. You are cleared for a wide pass around Testing Quadrant Delta. All clear.”
“Thank you kindly, DyneTech control.”
The testing grounds occupied the high hills beside the facility. Hazard lights flashed atop the perimeter fencing. On instinct, he watched the tree line for movement. Tanya flew steady, eyes impassive behind the aviator glasses.
“Additional, Bravo-One-Seven-Niner. Got a message from Carl Drayton and the security team. Quote: ‘Hope you can come running with us next time. Clothing optional. Carl.’” The radio operator kept the mic open. A chorus of lusty wolf howls filled their ears.
“Fuck off. Over and out.” Tanya grimaced. She flexed her fingers against the flight controls. “Fucking goddamned PMC dudebro werewolves.”
Marco coughed. “I served with some of those guys.”
“Sorry about that.” Tanya frowned. “And the werewolf bit.”
“No worries.” Marco crossed his arms. “Carl lets his little wolf do his thinking. He’d knot a mossy rock if the wind blew right.”
“Ha! I’d pay to see that.” Tanya straightened their flight path, paralleling the edge of the proving grounds.
“No. You wouldn’t. Trust me.” Marco grinned. “I mean, one time he thought ‘I bet I could use the maple syrup from MREs as lube,’ and—”
A horn blared from the instrument panels. Warning lights flashed. Proximity alert.
Tanya called out, “Missile incoming! Brace!” just before jinking right.
Marco grabbed his harness tight. Time slowed. The familiar glare of a short-range surface-to-air rocket tore past the Bell’s transparent lower canopy. It detonated high above them. He followed the contrail back to a dog-shaped bot atop a high boulder.
About the Author
A.J. Harris is a native of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, who indulges in a bit of photography, spends entirely too much on books, and uses Twitter to comment on old movies. A.J.’s spicy romance stories have previously been published in the anthology Stranded and The Big Book of Orgasms 2.
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