PROLOGUE

20 March, 1954

"Good evening, Captain."

John Smith glanced over his shoulder, and his eyes swept over the slender, well-proportioned frame of a woman only a few years older than himself. He recognized her immediately; she was the general's young, pretty wife. Though they'd never been formally introduced, she was hard to miss.

"Good evening," he answered politely. He turned to face her, a cigar in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other as he leaned on the balcony railing. "Shouldn't you be inside, entertaining your guests?" he questioned, with a smile on his lips. He wasn't so bold as to ask her outright why she'd left the party to seek him out.

She laughed, a light-hearted sound, and stepped further out, into the cool night air. "They're not my guests," she corrected with a flip of her long hair over her shoulder. "Most of those people, I wouldn't even recognize in a crowd."

"You and me both." He took a sip of the scotch, and watched her as she approached, leaning on the railing as she looked out over her estate. She seemed comfortable, and he didn't stand on formalities as he leaned back and raised the cigar to his mouth. "In any case, I suppose the champagne is doing a fine job of entertaining them without our help."

She smirked as she glanced sideways at him. "I noticed you don't mingle very well," she said, eyeing him.

He shrugged, and turned to face the railing again, and the wide-open backyard. "I suppose I don't have much in common with most of those men."

"You're a captain, aren't you?"

"I am."

"Then you're not outranked by every man in there."

Smith laughed. "Not quite what I meant."

"What did you mean, then?" she asked, her tone light and playful.

"I was in elementary school when the war ended," he reminded her. "Most of those men achieved their ranks before I even graduated."

"Graduated," she repeated, almost wistfully. "West Point, right?"

"That's right. 1950."

"You've made your rank very quickly."

"So I've been told." He glanced at her, tipping his head as he watched her carefully. She was flirting. Her body language screamed it. The way she played with her hair, the sensuous pose, the raking gaze that moved up and down his torso, and lingered a little too long in certain areas. He smirked a little, not the least bit self-conscious.

"So what is it about you that the general likes so very much?" she asked, touching her lips lightly with one finger. "To say you're not the only captain here is not to say that there's an abundance of them. What did you do to attract his attention?"

"What did you?" he smiled back.

She laughed. "Attractive and witty." Her eyes darkened as she took the tip of her finger between her teeth, a seductive pose if he'd ever seen one. "You're a man of many talents, Captain Smith."

He smiled back. "A man of many goals," he corrected. "And many ways of obtaining them."

"Well, Captain..." She took a step closer and he stood up straight. Past the boundaries of what might have been considered socially acceptable, she crouched in on his personal space until her lips were only inches from his. He remained calm, uninterested by all indications, and certainly not intimidated. "If your methods are as diverse as you claim, then I suppose you will be very successful in obtaining your goals."