Authors: Marysol James
Tags: #romance, #military, #sex, #contemporary, #fiction
She shook her head and stood up. “No. We seal this deal another way. Back at your place.”
He stood up too and threw some money on the table. “Sounds good.” He was hard already. “Sounds very good.”
Emma felt hands on her back, gently stroking her awake. She made a small sound in her throat, snuggled deeper in to the warmth surrounding her. She raised her hand to adjust her pillow and touched a hard surface. It was breathing. Her eyes popped open and she gasped when she realized that she was lying on a broad chest with blond hair softly tickling her cheek. She lifted her head and looked in to bright green eyes.
“Hey, there,” Dean said in a sexy morning voice, all rough and deep. “How you doing today?”
“Oh, yeah?” His hands were moving lower now, across her hips, over her ass, down the backs of her thighs. “You sleep OK?”
She nodded. “You?”
“Yeah, pretty good.” His hands slid inside her thighs, pressed them apart. “I was damn tired out.”
Their eyes met and they remembered the night before: they had gotten in to the shower together and taken turns going down on each other under the hot spray. They had both collapsed back against the wall, their hands fisted in the other’s hair, their cries echoing in the steamy shower cabin. After they had recovered, they had fallen in to bed and started things up again. Dean had flipped her over and taken her from behind, his hands holding her firmly in place. Emma had been pinned between the bed and his body and she had loved every second of it.
Dean rolled her on to her back now, his hands between her legs. She moaned as his fingers parted her lower lips, stroked inside her. His eyes sparked when he felt her arousal against his hand.
My God, she’s just so fucking hot. So wet.
He lifted himself up on her, his erect cock brushing against her heat. She arched under him. His eyes travelled down the length of her body, faltered, then widened in shock.
“Dean?” she said. “What?”
He rolled off her so quickly she barely had time to blink.
“Fuck,” he said, a wave of revulsion and anger rising in him. “Why didn’t you tell me I was hurting you? Why didn’t you stop me?”
She gazed up at him, totally confused. “What are you talking about?”
He gestured. “Your side, Emma.”
She glanced down and saw the mass of dark bruising along her left hip. “Oh. Oh, God.”
“I did that to you last night, didn’t I? When I was on top of you in bed?” He reached out to touch her face, his hand gentle. “I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t – was I that rough?”
“No. It wasn’t you.”
“What do you mean it wasn’t me? There was nobody else here, and I
that weren’t there when you took off your clothes last night. So if not me, then who?”
“I have anemia, Dean. I bruise easily.”
He stared at her, disbelieving. “Emma. Don’t lie to me. If I hurt you…”
“How can I be lying?” She sat up. “We weren’t drunk last night, so you must remember everything, right? Do
remember throwing me up against a wall or punching me in my side? ‘Cause I have no memory of either of those things happening.”
He paused. She was right, actually. Nothing he had done to her would have caused this. OK, he’d been passionate, but certainly not aggressive or abusive. And yeah, he was a big guy, a strong guy, but in all his years of being with women, he’d never left a mark on a single one of them. Throwing women on the bed, fucking them against a wall, pinning them down and holding their wrists in one hand… he knew exactly how rough he could be without crossing a line.
Still, though. Something’s not right here. She’s holding out on me.
“No,” he said reluctantly. “I didn’t do anything like that. Still…”
She kissed him, her lips lingering on his, distracting him. “No, Dean. It wasn’t you at all, OK? I really
bruise easily. Remember that idiot at the bar who grabbed me and I bruised just from that?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. But have you been to see a doctor about it?”
“Yes.” She ran her hands over the muscles in his upper arms, trying to switch his focus to more pleasant things. “I have. My doctor is totally aware of my bruising.”
“And you’re getting treatment for it?”
“Dean,” she said. “Are you in direct violation of rule number one again?”
“Am I – what?”
“Not too much personal stuff, remember? Now, you asked if you did this to me, I told you that you didn’t. I’m OK, I promise you. It doesn’t even hurt.”
He looked down at it again and winced. “It doesn’t?”
“Nope. It just looks awful.”
“I just – I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You didn’t. You won’t.” She took his hands and placed them on her breasts and climbed up on his lap, straddling him. “Now. Can we talk about something else? Or, better yet, stop talking altogether?”
He grinned and lowered his face to hers. Their lips had just met when his cell phone went.
“Damn,” Dean said. “That’ll be Dallas, I bet. I need to pick him up from the hospital.”
Emma nodded and slid off him. He bit back a groan of frustration and disappointment.
Dean grabbed the phone off the bedside table. “You OK, man? Ready to come home?”
“Fuck, yeah,” Dallas said. “Get me out of here. I need a real coffee.”
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” Dean said.
“Make it ten,” Dallas said. “I
a real coffee.”
By the time Dean had negotiated an ETA of fifteen minutes and disconnected, Emma was fully dressed and in the bathroom pulling her hair back. He leaned in the doorway hopefully.
“So – you have this whole week off work?” he said.
“So you want to come by later? Spend the night again?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, I can’t. I have plans tonight.”
“Damn.” He looked at her breasts in that dress, longing to run his hands over them again. “Tomorrow?”
She paused, thinking. “Yeah, OK. Tomorrow night.”
“Come over around seven?” he said.
“Seven it is.” She brushed his lips as she passed him, heading for the front door.
She turned and he just drank in her beautiful eyes and generous curves for a few seconds. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah.” Emma almost shivered as she remembered the weight of his body on top of her the night before. He was so big, so gorgeous, and just what she needed to get through her life right now: he was the perfect escape. “See you.”
“OK, wait. Let me get this straight.” Dallas shook his head. “She actually agreed to just sex?
sex? No relationship crap – none at all?”
Dean shrugged. “None.”
“Shit, man. How do I get a woman like Emma to go along with that?”
Dean drank his beer. “Dunno. I guess you need some charm.”
“Well, he’s sunk then,” Chris said. “Charm is not Dallas’ strong suit.”
Dallas scowled. “I got charm, boy. Loads of it. I just never thought of using it
“OK, I actually don’t get this. Like, at all.” Jim leaned forward. “
suggested keeping it casual?
wants to stay here only?
said you can see other women while she’s away for work, no problem? I mean – I can’t think of a single woman who’d go along with any of this. What’s her deal? Really?”
“Her job,” Dean said. “It seems to be the centre of her life and it sounds like it’s twenty-four/seven. I guess she’s just looking for some time off once in a while. You know, a stress-release.”
can be a stress-release!” Dallas protested. “Why didn’t you send her to me?”
“OK, hold on.” Dean looked at his friends. “Let’s get this straight right now: no making her feel bad if you run in to her while she’s here. Emma isn’t some cheap little whore. You got me? She’s a nice girl, she’s just not in the place for a relationship. How does that make her any different from any of us?”
“Come on, Dean,” Chris said. “We’d never embarrass her or say anything disrespectful. I thought you knew us better than that.”
“Yeah,” Jim said. “Shit, man. We’re just jealous. You get it all, right? A sweet woman in your bed and the freedom to still go to Shooter’s and pick up? Come on. We’d kill for that kind of deal.”
would.” Dallas took a gulp of beer, inconsolable. “You lucky bastard.”
“Yeah.” Dean grinned. It
actually kind of unreal, what he and Emma had agreed to. The thought that this hot woman would be reappearing the next night, for the sole purpose of getting in to his bed, was breathtaking. And she’d just go the next day, back to her life, whatever it was, and he’d get on with his, until the next time they got together. It was easy; it was relaxed. It was the perfect. She was the perfect diversion.
“OK, wait. Let me get this straight.” Olivia shook her head. “
sex? No romance, no dates, no commitment? And you agreed to this?”
Emma shrugged. “I suggested it.” She took another of Jenny’s amazing zucchini wraps from the tray and tried to act casual; she knew the girls weren’t buying it, though.
“Why, Em?’ Jenny said. “Why would you want something like this? You go from five years of celibacy to what – casual sex with some guy you picked up in a bar?”
Emma looked at them, trying to think how on earth to explain this to them. She was sure that Liv would understand it, and probably Kat too, to a certain extent. But Jenny… Jenny was scared of men, terrified of sex, and would no doubt struggle with this.
“You guys know about compartmentalizing, right?” she said.
“Sure.” Kat took a sip of her wine. “Splitting your life up in to sections and keeping them totally separate.”
“Exactly. That’s what I’m doing here. My real life – my job, you guys, now cancer – is all in one place, and Dean is separate. He doesn’t know anything about my real life and he’s not even allowed anywhere
it. He’s just a welcome break from my life. He offers me the chance to be – not sick.” She looked at them, almost pleading. “Can you guys get that? He’s the only person right now who doesn’t know about the AML. Even when we aren’t talking about it, I see you all thinking about it. Everyone at work is looking at me like I’m about to drop dead any second. I need one place to go where I’m not Emma with cancer. I’m… Emma the sex goddess.”
Liv laughed. “I get it, Em. I do.”
“Yeah, me too,” Kat said. She ran her fingers through her hair, which she’d cropped close to her head the day before. “I actually think it’s great. I can see why you’d need a place to get away from it all.”
“What happens when you get visibly sick?” Jenny asked quietly. “After chemo, say, when you’re lying in bed for days?”
“When I have chemo scheduled, I’m going to tell him that I’m traveling for work.”
They blinked at that.
“Why would a clinical psychologist with a full patient-load be traveling all the time?” Jenny said.
Emma squirmed. “Um. Well… that would be because he doesn’t actually know that I’m a psychologist with a successful local practice.”
“No?” Kat said. “So what does he think you do?”
“He thinks that I’m a PA.”
Liv cocked her head. “Who’s PA?”
They stared at her.
“Mine?” Liv said.
“Yep. And hey… you make me work all the time, just so you know. That’s why I look so exhausted sometimes, and why I don’t always eat properly and lose weight, and why I travel so much. I come to all your photo shoots and press stuff, you see.”
Liv laughed again. “My God, Em! Brilliant cover!”
“Yeah?” Emma relaxed and drank some more wine. “Really? You’re not angry that I lied about it?”
“Hell, no.” Liv waved her hand. “I guess that was your cover story at the bar when you picked him up that first time, right? Better to say ‘PA’ when some guy asks what you do, since ‘clinical psychologist’ can be a bit freaky.”
“Exactly,” Emma said. “I mean, it was supposed to be one night, for God’s sake. I didn’t think there would be any follow-up.”
“But since there is, don’t you think you should tell him the truth?” Jenny said. “What’s the harm of telling him your real job?”
“No harm,” Kat said. “But what good? Look, the guy isn’t her boyfriend, right? This whole thing may just fade to black in two weeks… let Emma enjoy it. Let her be someone else when she’s with Dean. Give her this time away from it all, Jenny. OK?”
Jenny thought about that. “Yeah. Yeah, OK. I can see why you need this.” Her soft blue eyes looked at Emma, worried and kind. “But promise me this, OK? If you do start to develop real feelings for him, or him for you, you’ll tell him the truth. All of it: your job, your illness. OK?”
“It won’t come to that, Jenny. It won’t. If my treatment goes well, then I won’t need to compartmentalize my life anymore and I can just let Dean go. If my treatment
go well, I have the escape hatch in place. Either one of us can end it after one conversation. No recriminations, no explanations. I’ll just go, and he never needs to know what happened to me.”
“Well, it sounds like you have all the bases covered.” Kat shook her head admiringly. “I say have fun for as long as you can.”
“Yeah, I second that.” Liv raised her wine glass. “Hot guy, lots of mind-blowing sex, no need to let in the real world? Where do I sign up?”
The next night, Emma pulled up in front of Dean’s house. She grabbed her overnight bag from the back seat and turned around.
“Well, hey there, darlin’. Nice to see you again.”
Startled, she looked at the front porch of the house next door. There sat Dallas, as huge and gorgeous as she remembered him.
“Dallas?” she said walking up the path between the houses.
“The one and only.” His blue eyes were warm as he smiled at her. “How you doing?”
“Good. I’m good. What about you?” She gestured at his shoulder. “I heard what happened. Are you OK?”
“Fine. Just a flesh wound.”
She laughed. “God. I don’t know many people who’d call being stabbed by a maniac a ‘flesh wound’.”
“Well, like I said: I am the one and only, darlin’.”
“You are indeed.”
“Hey, Emma.” Dean was standing on his front porch, taking her in. She was dressed casually tonight, in jeans and a t-shirt, her glorious hair loose and blowing in the breeze, but she looked all the more stunning somehow. She stared back at him, admiring his arms in that tight t-shirt, his bright green gaze stripping her naked even from eight feet away. She caught her breath.
“Hi,” she said. “So, I guess you two are neighbors, huh?”
“You didn’t tell her that?” Dallas asked Dean. “Never mentioned that little fact?”
“Nope.” Dean shrugged his massive shoulders. “You never came up in conversation at all, if you can believe it.”
“Goddamn.” Dallas slumped. “I’m losing my touch.”
Emma laughed again. “So how’d you end up being neighbors?”
“Oh, Dallas actually owns both houses,” Dean said. He came down the stairs and took her overnight bag from her. “I’m the perfect tenant.”
Dallas snorted. “You’re an
“And you’re a decent landlord,” Dean told him. He shifted his attention to Emma and his eyes went soft. “How are you?”
He looked her up and down again, noting that she looked better than she had even the day before. “You got some rest last night?”
“Yep. And today, too. I literally lay on the sofa watching TV and reading. I barely moved at all.”
He dropped his voice so Dallas couldn’t hear. “Conserving your energy and strength for tonight?”
She grinned. “You know it.”
“I have no idea what you’re saying,” Dallas called down. “But I can tell it’s dirty as hell. Get on in the house now, kids.”
Emma blushed and Dean glared. Dallas didn’t look even remotely abashed.
“Come on,” Dean said. “I’ve got some food heating up. You hungry?”
She blinked up at him. “You cooked?”
“Yeah, of course.” He opened the door for her. “You think I live off bowls of cereal and take-away?”
“Uh, well. I hadn’t thought about it.”
“OK, well, to be fair, it’s not much. Just a stir-fry. I hope you’re not vegetarian.” He helped her with her jean jacket and hung it up next to the door.
“Nope. Pure-blooded carnivore.”
“Then we’ll get along just fine at meal times,” he said. “Sit down.”
She sat, a bit taken aback at the sight of Dean in the kitchen. He brought her a plate of noodles, vegetables and beef and her stomach growled at the sight: the food looked fantastic. She was immediately starved.
“Thanks,” she said.
He sat down across from her. “No problem. Dig in.”
They ate together, chatting about his day at the tattoo parlour. His clients that day had included a drug dealer, a university student, and a new mother. Emma stared at him, imagining those huge hands carefully inking the baby’s date of birth and tiny footprint on the mother’s breast, just above her heart. Dean could be gentle, she’d experienced that personally, but she was still astounded at what his hands could do and where they’d been.
She knew a tiny bit about his time in Afghanistan. He’d skimmed over it that night at the bar, but she knew enough about what Ranger training and three tours meant to know that he’d seen battle and death. She was positive that he’d killed people – maybe lots of people. His hands were large and lethal, but when they touched her, they were nothing but tender.
She had never had a former-Ranger as a patient, but she had counselled lots of military spouses over the previous six years. Mostly, they were women whose husbands had come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and were struggling with PTSD. The men had nightmares, they were distant and closed-off. Sometimes, the women were very afraid of their husbands; they truly believed that the men were traumatized and dangerous.
In one case, Emma had had to help a woman get herself and her two children out of her home. Her husband was so unstable that he’d required forced hospitalization, and Emma had genuinely feared for all of their lives. PTSD among the former troops was serious, and it was more common than most people wanted to believe. She’d never counselled a female soldier with PTSD, but one of her colleagues specialized in them, and her client list was full – overflowing, actually.
At Shooter’s, when she’d heard that Dean had been a Ranger, she had backed off a bit. Any sexual spark she’d felt was pushed down as her psychological training took over. She had probed gently, asked lots of questions, felt him out. After an hour of talking, she had no doubt that he was a hard man, a man capable of violence, but he didn’t have any anger that she could pick up.
Dean – and Dallas too – seemed to be coping with their time in Afghanistan by emotionally disconnecting from people outside of their little circle of friends. The men refused to commit to women, didn’t allow themselves to care for anyone too deeply, couldn’t handle anything long-term. Emma understood this psychological coping mechanism well, and Dean’s desire to stay aloof in relationships worked with what she needed in her life.
He’s offering what I need right now; I’m offering what he can handle right now. It’ll work. At least for a while.
Dean watched Emma, not missing a thing as she chatted and ate. Her face was shining and well-rested, her eyes bright and calm. She was hands-down the most attractive woman he’d ever known. OK, sure, she wasn’t the most beautiful, or the sexiest. The blonde at the bar was something else entirely and Dean knew that if she and Emma were standing side by side, most men would choose the blonde – but he’d choose Emma now. He had a whole new appreciation for sweetness, something that he’d done without in his life for a very long time. She soothed him, and he hadn’t even known that was what he’d wanted or needed.
He cleared the table then came back to her. Without a word, he pulled Emma to her feet and kissed her. Her legs weakened right away, her body went soft in his arms.
“What do you think, baby?” he whispered. “You ready for dessert?’
She bit back a moan. “What’s for dessert?”
She gazed up at him, her body pulsing with want. “Oh, yeah, I’m ready for dessert. I’ll probably even have seconds.”
His hands skimmed the front of her t-shirt and he smiled when her nipples hardened. He pulled the shirt over her head and his hands moved to her back, unsnapping her bra. He lifted her breasts, savoring their weight, pushing them together. His mouth moved back and forth, licking and sucking her hard peaks. Her shuddering drove him on; he loved knowing that his touch did this to her.