In BEYOND VALOR, Megan Trayhern is part of a test sending
women into the front lines of combat. It's especially
important for a woman in Afghanistan, because the village
women aren't allowed to talk to strange men. As a combat
medic, Megan can set up a clinic for women and children and
also get information on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Her
family is very familiar with combat and duty to country,
but for her the nursing and non-commissioned route fit best.
As Megan learns the ropes of life and rules of the front
lines, with mortars and grenades flying especially in the
dark of night, she is also learning about the people there
with her. Luke Cole, also a combat medic, is more than
willing to help her with anything she needs. He's a
scrounger and has a remarkable way of getting things needed
and some extra items that make the marines deployed there
and the villagers lives easier and fun.
It's unfortunate in Luke's eyes that Megan arrived when
she did. Not for the anti-women reasons that afflict some
men... it's the instant attraction he feels for the pretty
red head. Fraternizing, even among non-comms, is frowned
upon and could get the both of them a court-martial. Stolen
moments and long talks is all they dare take while
stationed together. When Megan is endangered by a leader
with ties to the Taliban, Luke is ready to break all the
rules for her.
BEYOND VALOR is an eye opener to a world few will ever
really see. Ms. McKenna brings to life the men and women
who serve our country, doing what is asked of them without
question, in a harsh foreign land. There were a number of
light moments, strong camaraderie among these realistic
characters as well as the frightening battle scenes. The
romance is well hidden from the others but you can feel the
growing attraction between the two medics until
circumstances force them to acknowledge what they felt. I
have read a number of the author's books about the Trayhern
family and found BEYOND VALOR one of her best.
Luke Collier knows his duty. A marine corps combat medic,
his job is to save lives-not satisfy his own desires. Megan
Trayhern is his corpsman, but the beautiful redhead can't be
anything more. Luke has already given his heart once, and he
understands the toll the corps can take on a woman, on a
romance...on a marriage.
Megan has her own mission. While she doles out medical care
in the nearby village, she's also gathering intel. It's a
dangerous assignment, one that the onetime military brat
undertakes without fear. She needs to focus-and be
careful-and the growing passion she feels for Luke can only
put them both at risk. Honor binds them both, but the heart
gives its own orders....
Navy field medic Luke Collier looked up from what he was
doing. Their Marine Corps company had just been choppered
into Lar Sholtan in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan. He
stopped adding medical items to a cabinet he'd just hung on
the wall. As he studied the grizzled
thirty–year–old Marine Corps sergeant, his mouth
curved. "I'm going to set up a Scrabble tournament as soon
as I can, Buck. I know you like to play. And win."
The sergeant ambled over to the dusty desk where Luke was
working. "I know you like your Scrabble tournaments because
you win a pot of money, but this has nothing to do with it."
Outside the room was a small mud–and–rock
structure where he and several other men from Lima Company
had been assigned to sleep. It also doubled as his medical
facility. Luke looked toward the open door. The early June
sunlight was strong, shafts entering and making it easier to
see around the Afghan hovel.
"What, then?" Luke asked. Tension mingled with urgency
because Lima had just replaced another Marine company for
the next year. The Afghan village of Lar Sholtan was a
dangerous place. The villagers were equally scared of the
Taliban and the Marines.
"Sit down," Buck said, and gestured to a nearby wooden
keg. He pushed his fingers through his short brown hair. "I
just got done talkin' with Captain Hall, and he's one
unhappy dude. He's only happy that this assignment is gonna
land in your lap and not his." He added a toothy grin,
revealing that one of his front teeth was missing.
Frowning, Luke stared at the hillbilly–born Marine
sergeant. Buck ran the company and had nearly as much power
as the captain and the executive officer, Lieutenant Speed.
The Kentucky sergeant was the glue between the officers and
the one hundred thirty enlisted Marines in Lima.
"Uh–oh," Luke teased. "I guess this is a
sit–down moment?" What on earth could Buck be talking
about? Luke was on his third deployment in Afghanistan, and
nothing surprised him much anymore. He set the bandages
aside, pulled up the wooden keg and sat down.
Buck took the other keg, wiping the sweat off his darkly
sunburned face. "The captain just got a call from Black
Jaguar Squadron at Camp Bravo. You know about
Searching his memory, Luke shrugged. "Not a whole lot.
I've been stationed down south in Helmand Province for the
last two tours. I know Camp Bravo is a big CIA forward
operating base. They have a lot of stealth stuff going on.
Their mission is to stop the Taliban from crossing into this
Buck settled his large, spare hands across the thighs of
his desert camouflage utilities. "You've got good scoop.
I've been over here for—" and he held up his fingers
and counted "—three tours. Comin' here to Lar Sholtan
is number four."
"You win that round," Luke said, enjoying the humor
dancing in Buck's green eyes. He liked the hillbilly
sergeant, but so did everyone else. His Kentucky drawl and
his easy way of managing the Marines had earned him trust
among the men. "For once, you look serious. This must be bad
Buck rubbed his hands slowly up and down his thighs. The
heat was stifling, nearly a hundred degrees in the early
afternoon. "Well, the cap'n sure thinks it is. But—"
and he shrugged a little "—I don't necessarily think
so." His grin widened considerably. "But I'll let you tell
me how you react to the news."
"Okay, you got me curious."
"You're a scrounger by nature, so you always like knowin'
the little details." Buck chortled.
"Every company has a scrounger," Luke said proudly. That
was a person who could get items that no one else could.
Luke had spent enough time in–country and knew the ins
and outs at the U.S. military headquarters in Kabul. Anyone
who needed anything came to him. Luke got results. As a
field medic, he was trusted by the men with their lives. As
a scrounger, he was a demigod who could perform miracles.
"Well, the cap'n just spent a half hour explaining what's
gonna happen tomorrow mornin'."
"What is going to happen?" Luke asked, meeting the
sergeant's foxlike smile. "Is this a person, place or
Chuckling, Buck pulled out his canteen and unscrewed the
lid. "Naw, this ain't some Scrabble game, Luke. It's a
person we're talkin' about. And I've gotta say, it's a sweet
deal in my eyes. The cap'n thinks he's just been handed his
biggest career killer to date." Buck guzzled some of the
water. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he drank half
of the contents. He then wiped his mouth with the back of
his sleeve, screwed the lid on and placed it back in his
belt. "How'd you like to be assigned another field medic?"
Luke's brows rose. "Well...sure. I'm busy 24/7. I could
use another pair of hands around here. There should be four
medics assigned to every company, but there's only me at
It was no secret that Navy corpsmen were some of the
highest casualties of the war. They were the ones who braved
hostile fire to get to their injured Marines.
"Is this what it's all about? Another field medic is
being rotated in here to help me?" Luke asked. What could be
bad about that? Nothing, in Luke's opinion.
Holding up his hand, Buck said in a warning tone, "Now,
son, don't get your hopes set too high. There's more to my
story. Did you know there's a superse–cret group of
women Apache drivers at Camp Bravo? They're called the Black
Jaguar Squadron. When you see Apaches in this area, they're
being flown by all–woman crews."
"Hey, that's cool," Luke said, admiring the whole idea.
"I didn't know."
"Not many do. The woman who started the BJS is General
Maya Stevenson," Buck said. "She formed a plan to have U.S.
Army women flying the Apaches in Peru to stop cocaine from
leaving that country to the United States. She went to the
Pentagon and argued it could be successful. The boys, of
course, said she'd fail. But the opposite happened. That was
fifteen years ago. Since then, Maya Stevenson has proved
having women in combat works and works well. She's a general
in the Army, stationed at the Pentagon, and came up with
another idea involving women."
"She sounds like an effective leader," Luke said. "I knew
nothing about this."
"I know," Buck said. "Remember, this is a top secret
"What does all of this have to do with me?"
"General Stevenson is at Camp Bravo right now. She's
spearheaded a new strategy plan through the Pentagon. JSOC,
Joint Special Operations Command, has given its full
Curiosity burning bright, Luke could barely sit still as
the sergeant, who was well–known for his
long–winded stories, took his own sweet Kentucky time.
"Okay, okay, so how does it involve us?"
"You always want to ruin a good story, Luke. Ya can't sit
still longer than two seconds. You're always flittin' around
like a hummingbird."
"Guilty," Luke admitted, holding up his hands. "My mother
blames it on the fact that I'm a Gemini, and they're the
tumbleweeds of the world."
Buck laughed. "That sounds about right. Okay, so here's
the scoop. General Stevenson asked women volunteers to train
with the Marine Corps. This group of women came from all
branches of our services. They went through one year of
combat training and learned Pashto. Some are specially
trained to go into the villages and befriend the women. Of
equal importance, these gals could get information from the
women that none of the men leaders could give the military.
In other words, they're a brilliant intel weapon."
Luke sat thinking about the concept. "It's not a bad
idea. Given that in the Muslim tradition here in
Afghanistan, women are totally subjugated, they must hear a
"Exactly," Buck agreed. "Women hear everything. They're
married to the chief of the village. They talk to the other
wives in the village. And you know from being over here, the
chiefs of a village often play both sides of the deck with
us. They do that because they're afraid of reprisals by the
Luke became sad. "We've lost a lot of men to injury and
death because a village chief would know where the IEDs were
being planted by Taliban sympathizers, but they wouldn't
"Right on," Buck said. "But what if one of these women
soldiers befriends the women of the village? What if she's
able to get dental and medical help for a woman and her
children? These gals are trained to make connections and
then be there if an Afghan woman wants to speak with them.
Muslim women aren't allowed to talk to male strangers. It's
taboo. Why not use the women instead?"
"That's a helluva plan," Luke agreed, finding the concept
fascinating. "Are we getting one of those women here? In our
"Your mama didn't raise a dummy, did she? Yep, we sure
are." Buck pulled out a notebook from his pocket and flipped
it open. "This gal's name is Megan Tray–hern. She's a
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman second class." He looked over at
Luke. "Not all the women volunteers are in the field of
medicine. They're all trained in first aid and the like, but
Megan is a qualified field medic, so I figure that's gonna
make you a happy man. She can actually help out the women
and children in this village like you do the boys and men."
Brightening, Luke smiled. "Hey, this sounds great. She's
the same rating I am." Finally, he'd have help taking care
of the daily health issues of the men of Lima Company.
"Yep, she's your equal. The captain was happy to hear
Megan was a field medic, but he sure as hell was unhappy
about having a woman in an all–male combat company."
"I can see why," Luke said, thinking about his good
fortune. "We've never had women in combat companies since
it's against U.S. law."
"Yeah, yeah, I know all that, but General Stevenson
argued women are already in combat whether they want to be
or not. There are no more front lines. Congress just has to
get over it, is all."
"Captain Hall doesn't think women can handle combat?"
"You got that right. Me?" Buck snorted. "This officer is
a Northerner. He don't know hillbilly women at all. Hell,
they can shoot just as good as any man, or better. They're
tough, smart and hardy. Cap'n Hall is a rich city boy who
has a very narrow view of women."
"I don't see her as a problem, Buck. Afghan women here
won't talk to us. Megan might be a real resource."
"I think so, too, but the cap'n is sour on it. He's
worried this woman will get kidnapped or killed on his
Luke could appreciate Hall's dilemma. "If these women
have had a year of training in combat and weapons, that
should minimize the risk."
"You'd think," Buck said. He tore off the paper with the
notes scribbled across it. "Here, you're gonna need this.
The woman doc is flyin' in by CH–47 tomorrow at 0800.
You're to meet her. The cap'n wants her to stay with you.
You're in charge and responsible for her."
Luke laughed. "Oh, great! So if she gets injured or
killed, it's my fault?"
"That's about it in a nutshell, Luke. Hall wants nothing
to do with her. Out of sight, out of mind."
"Okay, so I meet this woman. What then?"
"Well, she's assigned to this house. She's now one of the
boys. No special treatment, okay?"
"Okay." Luke was suddenly excited by the promise of a
woman, a field medic, living among them. "I'll take care of
"Yep, you will. I'm sure her needs as a woman will be
different from ours. I'm havin' some Marines build an
outhouse and a private shower stall for her."
"That's special treatment. The Marines probably aren't
happy about it, but it would give her some privacy."
"I like women. I don't see that as treating her special,"
Buck said with a wily grin. He rose and picked up the rifle
he'd leaned against the dusty table. "And I know how strong
they are. My only worry is you won't respect or admire them
like I do. I don't want you pul–lin' a Hall on me."
"No worries on that score, okay?"
"Okay," Buck said, settling the helmet on his head. "But
if you got problems, come to me first."
The shaking and shuddering of the CH–47 helo
deepened as it began its descent into the valley toward Lar
Sholtan. Megan sat tensely in the nylon–webbed seat
squeezed between the aluminum hull and a large shipment of
pallets beneath netting in the center of the bird. The
loadmaster, a young blond Army spec, sat opposite her. He
seemed bored. Looking to her right, Megan felt relief. Her
cousin, Captain Rachel Trayhern–Hamilton, was flying.
Next to her, in the copilot's seat, was her husband, Captain
Ty Hamilton. They were recently married and were now
assigned to the Black Jaguar Squadron. Megan's
red–haired cousin was guiding the huge, unwieldy
workhorse helicopter into a circle to land.
Megan saw glimpses of a wide valley notched between two
huge mountain ranges. With her helmet on, she could follow
chatter between the Marines on the ground and the pilots in
the cockpit. Everyone was looking for a flash from the
slopes of the mountains. This could indicate that a Taliban
soldier had fired a grenade launcher or rocket against the
incoming helo. There was tension in everyone's voices.
Megan held her medic pack across her lap. The shuddering
of the helo and the roar of the two mighty engines above
them made her anxious. Would she get on the ground in one
piece or not? Craning her neck, Megan could see the blue of
the sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. Below, she spied
the sharp, rocky brown mountains. Everything looked dry and
dead, like a desert.
The helo jostled as it hit an early updraft of heat from
the valley below. As she gripped her pack, Megan's heart
sped up. Her cousin dropped the helo swiftly toward the
ground. If it hadn't been Rachel at the controls, Megan
would probably have screamed. She held her breath as the
aircraft dropped out of the sky. At the last minute, Rachel
flared the helo, the nose coming up. In seconds, all Megan
could see was yellow dust rising in thick clouds around
them. Rachel had warned her this would happen. It blinded
both pilots and they had no instrumentation to tell them how
close they were to the ground except for an altimeter.
Breath exploded from Megan as the wheels touched the
earth. She felt relief. The helo sagged and suddenly the
engines were cut. The shaking stopped, the blades whirling
The loadmaster was up and hurrying toward the descending
ramp. Megan saw Rachel unstrap and squeeze out of the
cockpit. She grinned at Megan and gestured for her to get up
and move out of the helo. Haste was part of their life here.
Megan quickly jumped up, held on to her pack and hauled
her duffel bag behind her. Rachel picked up the other strap
and they carried the heavy bag down the ramp.
The dust still swirled and moved around them. Megan
coughed and choked. Bits of dust got into her eyes as Rachel
guided her off the ramp and toward some unknown point she
couldn't see. Eyes watering, Megan felt the tears running
down her cheeks. Hurrying, the duffel bag weighing more than
ninety pounds, Megan followed Rachel. She was amazed her
cousin seemed to know where she was going.