Authors: Seleste deLaney
Tags: #spy, #one-night stand, #cosplay, #geek, #suspense, #secret identity, #Seleste deLaney, #convention, #role-playing games, #contemporary romance
Blaze of Glory
A spy. Even hours after being “debriefed,” Pen was still reeling. He hadn’t even
lied. Coding…code-breaking… She could forgive h
im for that. Esp
ecially considering without him, she’d have been dead. Because he’d been in the screening room—and she’d gotten the door open—his coworkers managed to vent the gas before it killed anyone.
His boss, some guy named Marron, hadn’t been really happy about talking to her at first. Then Cal had said something about her “breaking through” his battle haze, and Marron had shut up and done a one-eighty on the attitude. Like somehow that made her part of the team. Granted it was in a “You have to sign these papers to acknowledge if you talk about TRAIT in any non-authorized fashion, you might be tried for treason” kind of way. Who the hell was she going to tell? Worf? No one else would believe her anyway. Cal still hadn’t explained exactly what it all meant, but the night had been filled with more than enough revelations. The battle haze bit could wait.
As a bonus, she was more or less an assistant spy now. Or a spy recruiter. Either way, it was kind of cool.
She couldn’t believe the entire ordeal; from the moment Cal stood up until they stood outside the screening room had only taken ten or fifteen minutes. Even in that short span, the gas had affected dozens of people badly enough that they were in the hospital. Quarantined, since the government had to analyze the compounds and figure out exactly what kind of damage it would do long-term. Those not severely affected—including her and Cal—were just on watch. Monthly checkups…pretty much until the end of time.
Somehow TRAIT had managed some sort of cover-up already. Anyone who was in the screening room had to be debriefed. Those outside were treated to a bullshit announcement about a tech malfunction during a planned skit before the screening. Apparently there was nothing to worry about. She guessed it was true enough, since the arms dealer, his buyer, and a bunch of their lackeys were in custody…and the rest were dead.
Which left her free and clear to snuggle closer to Cal. With her head on his chest, she splayed her hand over his abdomen, the crazy urge to tickle him awake making her smile.
“Don’t do it, Darling,” his voice rumbled from deep within his chest, and Pen shivered, reveling in the sound.
“Wouldn’t think of it.” She twisted in the sheets, propping herself up to lean over him. “I thought you were asleep.”
“I was.” He winked at her before tracing a circle around her nipple with his tongue until she moaned. “Spy. Remember? I heard you thinking evil thoughts.”
She mock-gasped and clutched the sheets to her chest. “Did you put something in my brain during debriefing? How could you possibly know that?”
He just smirked as his fingers toyed in her hair and wrapped around the back of her neck, pulling her toward him.
“Oh no you don’t,” she said, putting up the tiniest bit of resistance. “I don’t plan on letting you interrogate me. You’ll find out all my nefarious plans, and then what will I do?”
“Mmmmm…” His tongue traced a path from her earlobe to the pulse drumming in her neck. “Even if my torture method involves tying you to the bed and using my wicked tongue on you until you confess everything?”
Heat flooded her, pooling between her legs at the image. “Would there be screaming?”
“I can probably guarantee that.”
This time when he tugged her down, she sagged against him and snuggled close, breathing in the scent of him. A spicy hint of musk toyed with her senses and made her want to do whatever he asked. “What happens if your brain scanner is faulty, and I don’t actually have anything to confess?”
He nuzzled her neck, biting her gently as he reached toward the nightstand and the condoms sitting on top of it. “Then I’ll just torture you until you beg me to finish you off.”
“Mmmmm and then what?” She allowed her fingers to slide under the sheet, inching lower and lower on his stomach, ready to take over the work he was doing on himself beneath the sheets. Letting him tie her up would have to wait for another day. She had no intention of giving him that long to “finish her off” tonight.
“Then”—Cal flipped her over on her back, grabbing her hands and pinning them overhead—“I knock you unconscious so we can be well-rested enough to kick some ass in the
She stopped squirming in his grip to gape up at the grin spreading across his face. “But…how? All the slots were filled, and neither of us had a chance to snag one of the last minute spots. Or I know
didn’t, and I’m assuming you were too busy saving the world.”
Dipping his head, he kissed her, his lips searing a path from her mouth, down her neck, until finally sucking on one of her nipples. “A couple guys who were very thankful for being alive went home to their wives and kids. Gave us their spots.” He teased her other breast with his tongue. “And I may have arranged it so if we both win our first couple rounds we’ll go head to head with that asshole you used to play with.”
“Huh?” She could barely focus on his words with the way he kept distracting her with his glorious mouth. Then it hit her. “Uh…there was a communication glitch. He wasn’t who I thought he was.”
Cal raised his head. “And who was that?” Then he proceeded to blaze a trail down her stomach with his lips.
Pen’s eyes rolled back in her head as his tongue flicked at her clit. She so very much didn’t want to tell him, but the whole reason she’d been in the mess with Kent was because she’d hidden from Cal in the first place. “He said he was you.”
And just as he’d promised, she wanted to scream—mainly because he stopped his ministrations to frown at her.
“You thought he was me?”
To keep from crying out in frustration, she bit her lip for a moment, but he wasn’t taking silence as an answer now. Damn it. “Considering Maksamar is my ex and what an ass he is, it wasn’t such a huge leap for me to believe Lohonas could be a jerk, too.”
“You dated Maks? No wonder you didn’t want to meet me.” He laughed and kissed the inside of her thighs. “In that case, I’ll forgive you for believing the lech was me…on one condition.”
Her eyelids fluttered as he kissed her again, nipping at her skin. “Does it involve cliff-diving?”
“Only as initiation. Of course, you can choose death by dragon fire, too. That one’s popular. Blaze of glory and all.”
She propped up on her elbows when he stopped kissing her. “Huh?”
His mouth curled into a devilish grin. “No woman of mine is staying in a guild with her ex.” He flicked her clit again, and she shuddered. “Especially not when he treats you like crap.”
Pen groaned as she lay back on the bed. “So you’re planning to find me a new guild?” She’d happily go up in a fiery inferno if Cal was by her side. It wasn’t like it would be the first time.
“Depends. How many times can you come tonight?”
“I…don’t know.” What the hell did that have to do with anything?
“Well, since the motto of the Fourth Wall is ‘Ale and Whores,’ I need to be sure you fit in. I figure we can do the liquor consumption portion of the test later, but we might as well start on the sex part now. There’s a five-orgasm minimum.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
The Wallers? She knew from raids that they seemed like a good group, and with Lohonas…er, Cal, she didn’t think she could go wrong there. The initiation thing kind of bothered her, though. “Does everyone have to do these tests?”
“Darling,” Cal said, his face going serious for a moment as he crawled up her body, “you don’t want to know what those of us not dating in-guild have to do.”
She could only imagine, and her imagination was having way too much fun with the dirty pictures it created. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I don’t know. We’re a pretty wild group. We have a mean beer-cozy knitting circle on Thursdays. As for the sex thing…this guild officer wants to have you over and over and over again. I need to make sure you’re up for the task, so I figure it’s wise to know what you can handle.” And just like that, he found her center and pushed inside.
Pen gasped and rocked her hips toward his. A lot. She could handle a lot. Soon, she was lost in the rhythm of making love to the most incredible man in the world. Her geek. Her paladin. Her spy. Her lover.
And she realized she didn’t care about getting the best of Kent or winning some stupid contest. Here, with Cal, she knew she’d already won.
Ten times. Thank God, he’d managed to bring her to more than half those orgasms with his hands and mouth. She’d finally begged for sleep just when he was ready to go again. The contentment in her smile and the passion burning behind the exhaustion in her eyes had been enough to cave. She’d already promised this was only the beginning for them.
Pen was the most amazing woman he’d ever met, and he got to share his life with her. All of it. No hiding his job or his geeky nature or…anything. They were a team beyond the confines of the game. She’d given him a reality he’d only dreamed of. And when he woke to her stretching in the morning, he wound his arms around her tighter, not wanting to ever let go.
“So…about that competition,” she murmured. “In all the guild initiation stuff last night, I forgot to mention. I don’t want to do it.”
“I was kidding about the initiation.”
“I know.” She wrapped her leg over his, her thigh brushing against his early-morning erection and making it stiffen to something that would need attention soon.
“As for the other…you aren’t interested in E3?”
“Nah.” Pen rubbed her leg against his. “I figure if I’m going to let you try to get me killed again, it better be somewhere a little more exotic than a gamer convention. Besides, this gives us more time alone before the weekend is over and we head back to real life.”
Frowning, Cal laid a hand on her leg, forcing her movements to stop. As much as he wanted her, he needed at least a marginally clear head for this conversation. He searched her gaze for a sign that would give him a clue one way or the other. “What does that mean now? For us?”
She grinned and planted a kiss on the hollow of his neck. “It means I won’t be spending the night with you all the time. I have a dog to think about. And it means dates. We might actually have to go out into the non-geek world together.” As soon as she said it, all pretense of teasing dropped away and worry lit her eyes as if she was afraid he wouldn’t want to be with her outside these walls.
Clearly, she was insane. And he was pretty sure he loved her that way.
Of course, she had that blasted fingernail between her teeth a second later. He gripped her wrist, dragging her hand away from her mouth. “How does tomorrow sound? I still have a day off work before the next crisis needs averting.”
Her lips twitched into a smile. “And no more throwing yourself in the line of fire, right? I mean, I’m all for the whole my-boyfriend-the-spy thing, but I don’t want to worry about you all the time.”
The world grayed around them, only Pen glowing with color, with life. He wrapped one arm around her, crushing her to his chest, and tipped her chin up with the other. “I promise to remain at my computer, analyzing codes, like the geek you’ve always known, and I will only dive headfirst into danger if I need to save the world, or your life, again. Fair?”
Penelope heaved a sigh before kissing him fiercely. “Deal. And I promise to lead a nice, quiet existence working on the computers in the library while scoping out the student body so I can report back to TRAIT if I notice anyone who looks like a promising recruit. Unless, of course, your ass gets itself in trouble. Then I’m all about the guns and bad decisions. Actually, no. I’m rather fond of the bad decisions in general.”
He knew Josh had talked to her about watching the college kids, but he wanted her away from the craziness of a life with TRAIT. And between her words and the fire dancing in the depths of her eyes, he couldn’t help but worry. “Pen…”
“Oh come on. Blaze of glory…there’s worse ways to go.” She put a lilt in her voice that told him he’d given her a taste of adventure and she wanted more. Probably more than he ever thought he could handle.
“I’m bucking for old age with you by my side but, for the moment, I’ll take a nice quiet date tomorrow.”
“Quiet? Who said anything about quiet?” She pushed herself up, straddling his hips, and looked at him in a way that said in no uncertain terms the discussion wasn’t over. Fortunately she had something a lot more fun in mind.
A good thing too because, at the moment, he didn’t want to hear any crazy schemes that involved the potential for death. He pulled her down, crushed his mouth against hers, tongue tracing the seam of her lips until she opened to him, surrendered to him. As his tongue slid against hers and his body lit on fire, he couldn’t help but smile against her mouth.
No, he had all sorts of other plans. He’d go along with hers right now, but tonight’s happened to involve a pair of handcuffs and a very sturdy headboard. And the next one involved a less slippery shower.
Then again, that meant she was right and it wouldn’t be a quiet night after all. It was a win-win—always the preferable outcome in a game that he was playing for keeps.
A lot more work goes into the creation of a book than just the writing. To that end, I have a bunch of people to thank for their assistance in getting
Gaming for Keeps
ready for primetime.
First off, a huge thank-you to the real Fourth Wall. Not only did they all enthusiastically agree to let me use the guild in the story, they are the whole reason the Geek Collection appealed to me in the first place. Without them, I’d have no love of MMORPGs or gaming in general. The friendships I built playing with that amazing group of people taught me so much. Thank you all for welcoming a crazy Druid who cared more about chatting than leveling. You will
embody the gaming family to me. Much love.
No manuscript I write would be publishable without the woohoos and the WTFs from Katee Robert and Janelle Alexander. They always let me know precisely where I’ve gotten something right and where I need to pull my head out of my ass. Everyone should have friends like them.
To Shane, my kids, my dogs, and anyone else who has had to put up with me disappearing while I worked on this story. Your patience and love keep me going through the two a.m. writing sessions and the pounding headaches of revisions. I am truly blessed by the people who share my home and my life. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Love forever and always to The Boy, Mini-Me, and the Furballs.
Last but not least, I can’t ignore Libby Murphy, who didn’t think I was insane when I sat down in front of her at RT wearing a corset, bustle, and mini top hat to pitch a story. She took this story and streamlined it into something so much better and more full of heart than I could have ever managed on my own. To Heather Howland and Liz Pelletier for creating an amazing company, taking a chance on me as an author, and being absolutely fantastic to work with. And to everyone at Entangled, I feel truly blessed to be part of such an incredible group of talent. You all humble me every stinking day. <3