Holiday Heroes Page 1

Author: Catherine Mann

Series: Wingmen Warriors #13

Genres: Romance

Chapter 1

General Hank Renshaw hadn’t often seen a man’s hand down the bra of esteemed senator, Ginger Landis.

Of course, as he stood astounded in the doorway of the VIP lounge in the tiny airport on the Bavarian border, he couldn’t recall a time he’d ever seen his longtime friend Ginger’s underwear at all. Much less with a man’s hand slipped inside.

Hank slammed the door closed so nobody else would snag a view of what now filled his eyes.

Technically, the security fellow wasn’t groping around inside her satiny camisole thing. Ginger had taken off the jacket to her Christmas-red power suit so the reedy guy in a black coat could outfit her with the latest listening device for her upcoming meeting with the German Chancellor and Minister of Arts as well as the Vice-Chancellor of neighboring Kasov. All a part of a holiday goodwill trip across Europe, ending on Christmas Eve at a medieval castle with chapel ruins set to be rebuilt. Ginger would be donating an heirloom from her family’s antique art collection, a small but priceless porcelain crèche.

Hank’s role? To stand at her side as her official military escort. Unofficially, he was here to protect her. He was the final wall of defense between her and the threats that had been made on her life. Those threats were the very reason for the heightened security with a listening device.

Arms extended, Ginger stood in spike heels, legs to kill in a pencil-thin skirt and satin camisole trimmed in lace.

His midnight dreams about this woman played out much like this—with him standing beside her, of course. He would stretch her out on that froufrou creamy chaise behind her.

But only in dreams when he tossed off the restraints of waking hours did he allow himself to fall victim to fantasies about his pal of over twenty-five years. He was a red-blooded man, after all, and age hadn’t diminished Ginger’s appeal in the least. Which could also have something to do with the genius brain she packed underneath that head of perfectly styled platinum-blond hair.

Still, never had he done anything to put their friendship at risk by relaying the attraction.

Then he realized the silence had gone on too long to be anything but freaking awkward, and his slack-jawed look could very well put a chink in their all-important friendship.

“Sorry, Senator Landis.” Hank used her official title in deference to the security personnel present—and out of a need to put some distance back into their relationship. “I hadn’t realized you weren’t ready yet. I’ll just step outside.”

Outside. A fine place for him to stand guard anyway, while he sweated his way through images of her wearing red-hot lingerie. This would be a very long day.

He twisted the doorknob behind him.

Ginger waved a manicured hand through the air, white tips of her nails fluttering. “Oh, hell, Hank. Quit with all that formal madame stuff. We’re not at a press conference.”

She had a point. Still he couldn’t help thinking he would be safer standing guard in the airport corridor by the decorated tree getting his head on straight again. “Ginger, I’ll wait in the hall by the door until you’re ready.”

“Hold on. Get out from under that mistletoe and come over here. See if you can clip this microphone on right so I’m not trailing tiny computer bits out of my skirt,” her South Carolina drawl curled through the cloud of unease. “This poor secret service fellow’s so worried about copping a feel he can’t get the damn thing secured to save his soul.”

The young security agent must have been all of seventeen—okay, twenty-seven. They just looked like babies when you’d hit fifty-five.

The kid didn’t help matters by blushing to the roots of his Idaho-farm-boy red hair. “Senator Landis, I apologize. These new listening devices have a tricky clasp, but they’re far less visible.”

Ginger cocked a delicately arched brow. “Well, I wanted to use those fancy teeny-tiny ones that fit in the ear canal, but all this flying gave me a double ear infection.”

She smoothed a hand over her blond hair away from the aforementioned ailing ears. The simple gesture hitched her camisole up to expose a tiny strip of stomach when Hank was already reeling from the surprise of seeing his old friend in a new light. Hank blinked his way through the fog and focused on her words. She’d mentioned being sick? Concern slammed away everything else.

He charged deeper into the room, the plush carpet muting his frustrated footsteps to dull thuds. “Are you sure you’re up to this trip? They’ve packed in more stops on this goodwill tour than there are waking hours in the day.”

“I’m fine. The antibiotic’s kicked in. My ears are just a little sensitive.”

Relief rocked through him as the secret service agent stepped away from her, giving Hank a clear path. Yeah, he knew he was a little overprotective of women. His daughters labeled him an alarmist when it came to illnesses. Send a bullet or mortar fire his way and he could stand firm without flinching. But ailments of the body still made him break out in a cold sweat since he’d lost his wife to a fluke aneurysm twenty-four years ago, leaving him with three children to bring up.

He didn’t know how he would have made it through without Ginger’s help. He’d tried to help her as well when her senator husband had died ten years ago in a car crash, leaving her with four strapping boys. She and Hank had pooled resources when they could.

He blinked through thoughts of the past, their past, their friendship. Anything to keep himself from focusing overlong on the fact that his fingers were now inches away from Ginger’s chest.

Her breasts.

Hell. What was he thinking? She was an esteemed member of the Senate Arms Committee, for Pete’s sake. He considered himself nonsexist, a professional. He’d risen through the ranks treating everyone in his command equally, fairly. So get the job done.

He slid his hand inside Ginger’s camisole. He schooled his features to stay blank in spite of the fact that her creamy skin smoothed along the back of his hand with a sweet temptation reminding him how long it had been since he’d been with a woman.

There had been invitations, but his rank kept him from accepting most of them, and his jammed schedule eradicated most of the rest. He adjusted the clamp to a crevice in the lace. Damn it all, he wasn’t some unseasoned kid to be floored by a simple stroke against skin.

But he was man enough to appreciate the subtler temptations of life as being far more seductive than blatant displays.

Sweet sin, something shifted in his world in that moment. It didn’t matter that he was an old cantankerous bomber pilot, widowed father of three, a grandpa even. He couldn’t make himself look away from the holly-green of Ginger’s eyes.

She cocked her head to the side. “Hank?”

He whipped his hand free. “All set.”

Hank tugged her jacket from the back of an ornate wooden chair and held the coat open for her to slide her arms inside. Then his brain tripped over itself.


This wasn’t an overcoat. It was clothing. He should have simply passed the jacket to her while waiting to give her the velvet bag that held the miniature porcelain crèche. Now, he couldn’t miss the intimacy of helping her dress. Luckily, Ginger simply smoothed over the moment by taking it in her normal easy stride that had aided her in negotiating legislation during senatorial debates.

She slipped one slim arm then the other inside, shrugging the suit jacket into place. Her fingers glided down the golden buttons until she was once again fully clothed. “Thank you, Hank.”

Too bad he still saw satin and lace.

Not wise. He needed to remember that he was here as part of Ginger’s protective detail for this string of politically strategic visits across Europe. With two death threats and pockets of terrorist cells all over Eastern Europe, her security had to be his number-one priority.

His brain didn’t have room for satin and lace when her life could be in danger. But because of those very problems with spreading terrorist factions, she’d stressed more than ever the need for strengthening ties between their country and representatives from countries on their list.

Ginger stepped forward, the hem of her sleeve gripped in her fist and reached to rub the fabric over his shoulders. “You’ve got snowflakes melting on your uniform. Don’t want to tarnish those three shiny stars on your shoulder boards.”

“Thanks, it’s kicking up out there, but I’ll have an umbrella to cover you on the way to the limo.” He kept his face stern. “I’m going to state the obvious—again. You should wear a bulletproof vest.”

“Impossible to hide under this suit.” She shook her head.

“Easy enough to hide beneath your overcoat if we kept your appearances outside.”

“We can only take security so far without insulting the people we’re trying to win over.” She tapped his temple as if the awkward moment had never happened. “What’s done is done, so lighten up. What’s wrong with you today, Hank?”

He let his real feelings show for the first time since he’d been frozen solid in the doorway. “I’m worried about you. I’ve got a bad feeling about this that I just can’t shake. You’re sick with that ear infection anyway. Why not bow out of the next two days of meetings and just make the final appearance at the chapel ruins?”

“Oh Hank, you know better. We’ve come a long way from when our kids used to play together while we drank a bottomless pitcher of tea with Benjamin and Jessica.”

Benjamin and Jessica. Ginger’s husband. His wife. Back when they’d all been friends and who’d thought of the future? “Or longneck bottles of beer.”

“That too.” Ginger gave his shoulders a final swipe and pat. “You gave up personal-comfort choices when you took on your position with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And I’m taking a walk I never expected when Benjamin decided to get out of the Air Force and run for the Senate. So let’s put on our best game face and do our jobs.”

Their jobs. Right. Except as he stared down into her deep-green eyes and wondered why she wasn’t as affected by the moment as he was, he realized her hands still rested on his shoulders.

Her hand resting in the crook of Hank’s elbow, Ginger stepped out of the airport, her time to “freshen up” in the VIP lounge over. Her stomach clenched. From the security threats, surely. Not from the surprise jolt of awareness she felt from taking the arm of the towering man beside her. This was her longtime pal, her dear friend.

A man who had been unmistakably checking her out.

Her nerves fluttered like the trills of music from the band playing Christmas tunes under the red-striped awning. “Oh, Tannenbaum” floated on the snowy swirls as she made her way along the preswept red carpet leading to the limo fifty feet away.

Hank held the umbrella as she waved to the distant crowd who’d braved the snowstorm to welcome them. She had almost gotten to the point where she didn’t notice the protective detail. However her safety depended on it, and she simply had to accept that.

Cameras flashed and snapped as reporters caught their images for the papers and the Internet. She strode past the cargo plane with its spit-polished crew who had hauled all their gear, personnel and vehicles across the Atlantic, then around Europe. The redheaded secret service agent walked alongside, talking into his sleeve.

Hank stayed ever-present in step, his strides a loose march, snow spiraling around their feet. She gripped his arm, her velvet bag dangling from her elbow. She wasn’t sure why she’d been so insistent on carrying the crèche herself. It would have been simpler to include it with the luggage. But she’d always treasured the little piece, one of her children’s Christmas favorites each year and she wanted to keep it with her as long as she could.

Hank’s face dipped toward hers. “Is the microphone on yet?” His voice rumbled low.

“No, General, not until I’m in the meeting with the German Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor of Kasov,” she answered while smiling, nodding, waving. “I can say pretty much whatever I want as long as I smile sweetly for the cameras and we keep our voices low. But there will be a driver in our limo after we finish this little walk-and-wave gig. You have about one minute.”