Dr Corrine Carter’s job as medical adviser heats up when daredevil Austin Mitchell joins the astronaut training programme. And it’s soon clear their chemistry is hotter than a Texas summer!
For all his cheeky self-confidence, gorgeous Austin makes this relationship-shy doctor feel out of this world. So when their sizzling fling has an unexpected consequence, does Corrine dare to dream of a home and a future with her star-bound pilot…?
The Doctor's Baby Secret
“Here you go, Dr. Carter. Your successful candidates.”
Corrine’s heart gave a little flutter at the sight of the four buff folders in front of her. This was one of the best parts of her job. Of the thousands of applications received from a wide range of people – both civilian and military - only a few were chosen for the intensive Astronaut Candidate Programme. She smiled and fingered the folders on her desk. These applicants had gone through weeks of intensive interviews and medical and psychological screening. As part of the medical team at the Worldwide Science and Space Agency Corrine had already met some of the successful candidates.
“Where am I going then?”
Every candidate got told in person if they’d been successful by a member of the team at WSSA. She’d been here three years and had been waiting for the chance to do this. The training programme only accepted applications every few years.
Her secretary handed her the schedule. “California, Washington, Idaho and Nevada.”
Her colleague Blair stuck his head around the door. “You got yours too?” He was carrying his folders in his arms. “Who did you get?” He crossed the office in two strides and spread the folders out to see the names.
Almost immediately he started laughing.
“What? What is it?” Corrine looked at the names in front of her. Three were familiar to her. One was a civilian school teacher. One a marine. One an engineer. Blair picked up the last folder before she even had a chance to read the name.
“You got the Top Gun? Good luck with him.”
She snatched the folder back out of his hand. “The Top Gun?” She stared at the name, Austin Mitchell. There were so many candidates there was no chance of meeting them all. She frowned, “What’s wrong with Austin Mitchell then?” She opened his folder and started flicking through the pages. Distinction. Merit. Top scores on just about all his testing. The guy seemed more or less perfect.
Blair shook his head and laughed again, “You’ll see.”
Austin checked his instruments one final time and gave a cheeky smile.
“Bates, don’t you dare,” came over the intercom.
His laughter had already started. Some traditions would never die. He was already descending for landing – he just wasn’t exactly over the landing strip he should be.
“Bates, I’m warning you…”
The adrenaline was coursing through his body – just like it always did when he got behind the controls of a plane. But this wasn’t just any plane. This was a brand new prototype of the F-35. A modified stealth bomber. People wouldn’t even hear it coming until it was directly overhead. Including his colleagues in the control tower.
He gave a final check of his instruments – he was the only aviator in the sky right now. The way was clear.
As he positioned the plane he glanced around the surrounding area. There was a reason the Top Gun aviators trained in the middle of the Nevada desert. No one to disturb.
There was a little speck on the landscape ahead. A member of the military personnel headed towards the tower. Let’s hope they were prepared.
He manoeuvred the F-35 into perfect position. “He’s doing it again folks. Hold on to your coffee cups.” There was a resigned sigh over the intercom.
“Yeee-haw!” he yelled as he passed twenty feet above the tower. Buzzing the tower was one of the perks of the job. Maybe not for them – but definitely for him. And if his luck played out the way he hoped it would, this could be his last time.
She was halfway up the stairs when the noise wave hit. The plane had passed over head in the blink of an eye. They didn’t call them stealth bombers for nothing. Her fingers tightened their grip on the rail just as the whole building rattled and the noise washed over her.
Did people still do that crazy stuff? Surely that was just for the movies?
The sand swirled around her, pulling her carefully styled bun out of its pins and sending stray tendrils across her eyes along with a choking mouthful of sand. She coughed and spluttered, then tried to brush some of the sand off her black knee length skirt and jacket.
Ignoring the slight shake of her legs she thumped up the rest of the stairs and keyed in her security code, throwing the door wide. “Who is that idiot?” she yelled.
All heads in the room turned towards her. She gulped. Not exactly the best entrance in the world.
One of the controllers stood up and walked towards her. “And you are?”
It was clear she had security clearance or she wouldn’t be here. That didn’t mean that anyone would know who she was.
She covered her mouth, coughing again and stared at his outstretched hand. She reached into her bag and pulled out some sanitizer, giving her hands a quick rub before she reached out and shook his hand. “Hi, I’m Dr Corrine Carter from the Worldwide Science and Space Agency. I’m looking for Austin Mitchell. I believe he’s one of the instructors.” She gestured back towards the gate. “They sent me over here.”
There was the tiniest raise of his eyebrow, but he disguised it well. The guy gave a nod and a firm shake of her hand. “Bill Kennedy, Air Force Controller.”
She gave her head a little shake and a sprinkling of sand landed on the carpet. She bit her bottom lip and took off her jacket, giving it another brush. Windswept and dishevelled wasn’t exactly the look she wanted to tell the candidate of his success. She held up her hand and shook her head. “What on earth was that about? Surely these guys are past all the cheap stunts?”
She looked around the office, trying to guess which one of the uniformed personnel was Austin – the guy who’d aced practically every test during the astronaut application procedures.
Her eyes were drawn to a plane landing on the adjacent runway. The plane that had nearly made her land on her butt.
Bill Kennedy smiled. He followed her line of sight. “It’s kind of a tradition for the Top Gun instructors.”
“Doesn’t it drive you crazy?” She stared at a few tiny blotches of coffee on his shirt.
“Oh..it drives me crazy all right.” His accent was so thick it was almost a drawl. “You said you were looking for Lieutenant Commander Mitchell? Bates?”
She gave a nod of her head, then frowned. “Bates? Why do you call him Bates?” She glanced at the file in her hand. “That isn’t in his medical file.”
His smile reached from ear to ear. “It’s his call sign. I’ll let you find out for yourself why he’s called that.” He pointed across the tarmac to the plane on the far side. “Well, I guess you found him. Give him a few minutes. He’ll take the plane back to the hangar.”
Corrine’s mouth fell open. “That’s him?” she gestured towards the plane which had safely landed and was slowly making its way back to the hangar.
Bill Kennedy turned back to his chair. “That’s him all right. Good luck.”
She bit her lip. That was the second person to wish her luck talking to Austin Mitchell. What was with this guy?
She put her jacket back on and left the control tower with a nod of her head. One of the ground crew gave her the go ahead to cross the tarmac and she headed towards the hangar.
This was her last candidate. Her teacher had cartwheeled down the corridor of the school she worked at when she got the news she’d been accepted. The engineer had stood up and announced his success to all his colleagues to much celebration. Even her marine had whoop-whooped when he’d been told and then proceeded to jump off one of the pieces of training equipment and body surfed across the upheld arms of his colleagues. What would a Top Gun instructor do?
This guy was a little unusual. He hadn’t just been selected because he was a pilot – he’d also been selected because he had a master’s degree in microbiology. It seemed he’d completed his studies and immediately signed up for the navy doing two tours of duty in Afghanistan as a pilot before being selected for the Top Gun programme.
Lots of the work on the International Space Station was research based. Experiments could be carried out in a non-gravity environment with cells reacting in different ways. This guy wouldn’t just be able to pilot, he’d also be able to take a lead on some of the experiments onboard. He would be a real asset to the team.
She could see the heat rising from the tarmac as she crossed it. The sand was still whipping past her eyes. What on earth had she done with her sunglasses? The heat in the Nevada desert was stifling. An uncomfortable trickle of sweat ran between her shoulder blades. It didn’t matter what the TV adverts said – no anti-perspirant could work here.
The walk to the hangar was longer than she expected. Corrine liked to keep up a pristine appearance. Working at one of the most respected agencies in the world meant she constantly felt the need to keep up appearances. But the swirling sand and winds seemed to have other ideas for her.
Her footsteps echoed as she stepped into the hangar. She squinted as her eyes tried to adjust from the glaring sun to the darkened hangar. The place was surprisingly quiet.
A shadow caught her eye. One guy in a grey suited overall pushing a set of steps away from the plane that had just entered.
She walked swiftly towards it. Her footsteps slowed. The pilot hadn’t left the aircraft. He was walking around it, touching it, talking softly under his breath as he did so. She smiled. She’d heard that pilots became attached to their planes but she’d always thought that urban myth – something reserved for the bomber pilots of years gone by.
Her eyes finally adjust to the gloom. He had his helmet in one hand and she could see the embroidery on his flight suit.
She planted a hand on her hip. “Well, Lieutenant Commander Mitchell, I guess you better tell me why your call sign is Bates.”
He’d spotted her as soon as she entered the hangar and listened to the click of her heels as she’d crossed the concrete.
The sight was a little unusual for around here. He usually flew with a female radio intercept officer. But Morah was always dressed in her flight suit – he didn’t think he’d ever seen her in skirt. Certainly not a skirt like this. One that accentuated the flare of her hips and drew attention to a pair of very shapely legs.
His lips curled upwards. The black suit was smart. Appropriate. Covering every single part that should be covered but revealing every curve. The pink silk shirt strained slightly across her breasts, willing him to tug it out from where it was tucked in around her waist. Then it could be as equally as dishevelled as her windswept hair.
He’d known why she was here from the second he’d seen her. People didn’t visit Naval Air Station Fallon without good reason. It was too hot. Too inaccessible.
He’d met a lot of people at WSSA during his application process. But he’d never met her before – he’d have remembered.
Her skin was gleaming with the compulsory sheen of sweat that everyone around here permanently wore. He gave a little smile as she neared. His hand was still touching the body of the plane. He always did this. Part of his ritual. Didn’t matter how mundane or routine some of the flying might be, he always gave a little thanks when he reached the ground safely.
Two tours of duty had made him appreciate life. As a Top Gun instructor he wasn’t expected to tour again. He was expected to train other pilots to be the best they could be. He’d trained forty so far. But as much as he loved to fly. As much as loved the buzz, space had always been his ultimate goal. Now, it was finally almost in his grasp.
Maybe it was the fact that he knew what she was about to say. Failure had never been an option for him. But something about this woman made him stop and stare. Stop, and almost hold his breath. He could practically see little sparkling stars around this beauty. She looked like a movie star princess. And since when did he ever think like that?
It must be the moment. The expectation that he’d finally almost reached his ultimate goal. It couldn’t possibly be anything else.
He smiled at the sound of her voice. She had a twang he hadn’t heard before. Cute.
He spun around to face her just as a soft waft of her perfume drifted across the hot air between them. It wasn’t the usual kind of perfume. More citrusy, with an edge of spice.
He kept chewing his gum. It helped him concentrate on training exercises. Even in the dim light of the hanger he could see she was a knock out. The curves had been visible from afar, but up close and personal she was younger than he thought. Fresh, unlined skin with a little touch of make up. She probably hadn’t reckoned on the total sun block she should be wearing in Nevada. Her blonde hair was straight in some parts, curled in others, with one part that seemed determined to flap around her eyes. It was obviously driving her crazy.
He gave the plane a final tap and stepped towards her. He couldn’t help the smile that formed on his face. “Call signs are kind of personal. You’ll have to know me a whole lot better before I tell you why I’m called Bates.”
He probably shouldn’t have done it. But he couldn’t resist the teasing edge in his voice. Who wouldn’t want to flirt with a woman who looked like this?
A hint of colour appeared in her cheeks. But instead of looking uncomfortable she was staring him straight in the eye. It seemed like the mystery lady liked a challenge – a bit like himself.
She held out her hand towards him. “Dr Corrine Carter, part of the medical assessment team at WSSA.”
A doctor. Interesting. Maybe she was a little older than she actually looked. WSSA wouldn’t take a newbie just out of school. There had to be some experience under that non-existent belt.
Her handshake was firm. She was used to working with military staff and obviously used to holding her own. He pulled his hand back and folded his arms across his chest. She wasn’t military, she was civilian. There was no need to salute.
“So, what can I do for you Dr Carter?” He liked the way that sounded, the way it rolled off the tongue. He could get used to saying that. If she was conscious of his eyes skimming her figure she didn’t flicker. Instead she stood for a second, her gaze pointedly holding his before she took a long time looking down the length of his body and then moving up slowly across his chest, shoulders and head again. Kaboom.
She was playing him at his own game. He liked her more already.
She kept talking. “I don’t believe we met during your assessment process.” She gave a little wave of her hand. “Or maybe we did and I’ve just forgotten.”
He could feel the immediate surge of adrenaline. She was baiting him – deliberately. Letting him think that he was forgettable. He didn’t have any doubt that she would have remembered him, just like he would have remembered her.
She straightened her shoulders, unwittingly thrusting her chest towards him. “But I’m here today and have the greatest pleasure in letting you know that you’ve made it through the astronaut selection process and have been selected as one of her candidates. Congratulations Lieutenant Commander Mitchell.”
She didn’t look like this was the greatest pleasure of her life. Instead the end of her nose had started to turn slightly pink – as if the Nevada sun had managed to do its damage already. And the words sounded rehearsed – even a little forced.
“Thanks,” he said briskly as he turned to walk away. His stomach gave a little flip. It didn’t matter that this was the news he’d been waiting to hear since he was eight years old. It didn’t matter that he’d taken the time to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, becoming a navy pilot first. It didn’t matter that his other big love – microbiology – had taken a back seat for the last few years. Astronaut training had always been the golden ticket – the ultimate goal.
When he’d dreamed of this happening he’d been with a squadron of men and would have yelled at the news. But this day was a little different from what he’d expected. He’d been confident. He’d been sure he would qualify. He knew he’d aced most of the tests and he was at his peak of fitness right now. There wasn’t a single medical reason to keep him on this planet.
So, why wasn’t he being more gracious about this?
It was that dang woman. She was causing crazy distracting thoughts in his head. He was thrown off his game. Austin Mitchell was used to being completely in control. Usually everyone around him was singing to his tune. Dr Carter seemed like the kind of woman who was only interested in her own tune. She wouldn’t be swayed by a duet with him. And that kind of irked too. Austin Mitchell always got the girl.
“Lieutenant. Lieutenant!” The last one was a yell. He could hear the rapid fire of her stiletto heels across the concrete. It almost sounded like a run.
Her hand reached for his shoulder and she pulled him around sharply. Being manhandled by a woman. This was a first. And he liked it.
Fire was sparking from her eyes. “I wasn’t finished.”
Wow. He liked her like this. All simmering rage, with colour flushing into her cheeks. He knew he could be infuriating. He’d infuriated everyone from a janitor to an Admiral, with all the people in between. He gave a nonchalant shrug. “Sorry, I thought you were.”
She sucked in a breath and drew herself up. It was all he could do not to allow his eyes to divert to those straining breasts. Pink satin really suited her skin tone and complimented the dark suit.
She thrust a large brown envelope towards him. “Your papers with your instructions. You’ve to report to Houston, Texas at 0800 on August 10th.” She inclined her head a little. “I trust you are able to follow instructions.”
He gave a little smile. “Only the important ones.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Lieutenant, do you know that as an astronaut trainee you’re assigned an overseeing officer?”
He blinked. He’d researched just about everything, but this was something he’d forgotten about in amongst all the other stuff. He gave a brief nod. “Of course.”
She smiled. A wide, slightly wicked smile that made her eyes gleam. “You’ll be pleased to hear you’ve got the toughest officer of all.”
“And who might that be?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Oh, that Lieutenant Commander, would be me. See you in Houston.” And she turned on her heel and left.
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