Authors: Jayne Rylon
This was the first time the rest of the crew was meeting Archer, Tosin, and Miguel as well. That sort of took precedence, deflecting a lot of the pressure from her.
Waverly listened attentively, though she could feel the blast of Archer’s stare from time to time. She ignored him, or tried desperately to, memorizing the names and roles of each person on the team.
Staff was organized into a few main groups—officers, deck crew, engineering, and interior. She didn’t really fit anywhere. Along with the ship’s medic, massage therapist, and of course the divemasters, Waverly was lumped in with the other specialists. Since she’d been the last to arrive and was standing near the end of the line, she was the final person to run through her spiel.
“Good morning, everyone. I’m the ship’s helicopter pilot. I spent the last eleven years training with and flying Seahawks for the Navy.” If she wasn’t mistaken, Archer seemed to relax visibly as she spoke, so she tossed in a joke. “I promise I won’t fly like I have on some of my missions. Easy does it. Unless you ask for a wild ride.”
She risked a peek at Archer then, only to find his nostrils flaring.
What had she said…?
Oh, oops, she hadn’t meant it like
She would have tried to smooth over her gaffe if Tosin Ellis hadn’t shot his hand in the air, his eyes growing huge. He shouldn’t have bothered since he spoke before anyone could give him permission. “Hold up a second. If she’s a super sexy, badass helicopter pilot…does that mean we have a helicopter for her to pilot?”
“Yes, sir.” Banks nodded solemnly as a few other staff members attempted to disguise their snorts behind napkins.
“Hells yeah! I call first ride in the chopper, suckers!” Miguel fist pumped as he looked between Tosin and Archer.
The guys laughed along with their counterpart, but choked when Banks interjected, “Seems only fair then that Tosin and Archie take the maiden voyage in the supercars we have on board for shore excursions. I assume a Lamborghini and a Bentley will suffice?”
“Are you shitting us right now?” Miguel clasped his chest over his heart. “You wouldn’t joke about something like that, would you?”
“I shit you not, sir,” Banks replied with the perfect dose of feigned snootiness.
Waverly tried not to let a smile crack her stolid mask. It was impossible. They were so fun to be around. She felt herself wanting to belong already. A dangerous proposition.
Archer shushed Miguel as best he could. Then he nearly melted her insides when he turned his full attention directly on her. “Sorry, with this dumbass losing his mind over here, I didn’t catch your name.”
So he didn’t recognize her after all.
Her smile dulled, becoming forced.
Banks nodded at her, so she drew herself up and led with the bit she was most proud of even if technically she was retired. “I’m Lieutenant Commander Waverly Adams.”
Archer gripped his mouth then wiped his hand down his chin. The motion didn’t disguise the fact that his jaw had dropped. Flabbergasted, he practically gasped, “Holy fucking shit. It
Not in a
Well, how about that! My long lost puppy love. What the hell have you been up to this past decade? So great to see you again!
sort of way, either.
Color leached from his face. His mouth opened and closed a few times. Then color rushed back into his cheeks. This time it was an unhealthy shade of lava red instead of tan, though.
“Banks. I need to see you out in the hall. Immediately.” He marched off without another glance—steamy, intense, or otherwise—in her direction.
So…that hadn’t gone well.
Of course not. Since she’d just decided she hoped to stick around.
With everyone gawking at her in utter disbelief, she didn’t know what to say.
Or what to do.
After a couple tense minutes and muffled shouts, she had had enough.
“If I don’t come back, send a search party, would you please, sir?” she asked Captain Alex.
“I’m more worried about that idiot,” she thought she heard the man mutter as she stormed out the door, simultaneously humiliated and crushed.
And pissed off because of it.
, swinging around to face Banks, trying not to bellow.
He failed miserably. “Why the
is she here?”
“Because the lieutenant commander is highly qualified for the position. Overly so, in fact. I only hired the best for you, Archie.” Placid expression in place, Banks merely stared back, hands folded in front of his uniform. His ensemble consisted of khaki shorts and a navy polo instead of the full tux required by Archer’s asshole father. Somehow the cotton had been pressed and was perfectly crisp.
He clearly took this role no less seriously than he had his estate manager duties.
It was also painfully obvious that he’d endured far worse temper tantrums from Archer’s father. Though Banks didn’t flinch in the face of Archer’s ire—and, to be honest, pure terror—he did seem surprised by the uncharacteristic outburst.
Shit. This wasn’t the kind of guy Archer aimed to be. But…
Seeing her had just about knocked him on his ass. Thinking about her sharing opulent, yet still limited quarters with him…
No. That wouldn’t work.
Because one look at her had him forgetting the promises he’d made to himself the night before. As she always had, she turned him on in a heartbeat. It must be some crazy compatible pheromone thing they had going between them. What else could explain this instant and insatiable lust?
It was even more inappropriate now than it had been back then.
When he was sixteen, he’d thought his guaranteed boner in her presence was…well, due to being sixteen and horny every minute of the day. When he was nineteen, he’d thought it was because she might be
Though they’d never gotten a chance to find out before that possibility had been ruined.
Now that he was thirty-one, he had matured enough to be positive his attraction was driven by something a hell of a lot more potent. And more treacherous. Addictive, too.
Even now, like some creeper, he wished he could spy on her in the other room. See the thick braid of onyx hair that would make the perfect tether as he mounted her from behind and rode…
Not after what he’d done to her. She’d
be down for that. And he did not blame her.
Disgusted with himself, he hung his head and tried to think.
Why would she sign on to the
Wasn’t seeing him as painful for her as seeing her was for him?
And…seriously? She was a kickass helicopter pilot?
Confusion battered him from a dozen directions at once. What the hell was going on here?
He’d never have assumed she’d have to work at all, let alone conquer something as daring and non-traditional as that. If he’d ranked every single job in the world he thought Waverly Adams might have in her lifetime, helicopter pilot would likely have fallen below fire breather in a traveling circus or rattlesnake venom milker or pet food taste-tester.
Had he been responsible for the complete annihilation of the playful, fuzzy bunny she’d been before
If so, did it make him even sicker that this ferocious version of her turned him on even more than the softer side had?
How had she convinced her ultra-conservative, elitist father to allow her to enlist in the military?
She was obviously stronger willed than he’d given her credit for.
Add another black mark to his record with her.
Uncounted questions swirled around his brain, paralyzing him.
“If you’d like me to release her and find someone else, I will.” Banks tipped his head almost imperceptibly. For him, that was as blatant a dissent as if he’d screamed. “I assure you, though, this wasn’t some nepotistic hire. She’s ranked at the top of her field. Has several commendations in her file. Besides, Archie, I remember how well you two used to get along. You asked me to keep an eye on her when you left. So I thought—”
“You couldn’t have known. But you thought wrong. Get her out of here. Please.” For the first time, Archer wished he’d done as Banks had requested and reviewed the staff applications. He’d have crumpled Waverly’s and thrown it in the trash.
Or maybe even burned that fucker.
Anything to keep her safe from him.
Because even now, he didn’t want her to go.
What kind of insanity was this?
“Excuse me?” Anything but contrite, Waverly stood a few feet away, her brows arched, her hands on her lush hips and her toes tapping against the teak.
Even pissed, she looked amazing.
Archer could hardly catch his breath, never mind think straight. Had she come here to demand an apology? If so, he would gladly grovel. It was just that he didn’t think acts of contrition would suffice. Words couldn’t take back what he’d done.
Or did she plan to haunt him?
His mind scrambled, trying to analyze the problem from every angle, starting with her perspective. The one that mattered most.
What if this wasn’t about him at all?
So far she hadn’t made it seem as if it was. Hell, she hadn’t even mentioned his sins when she could have outed him to a roomful of people.
If that was true, and she was here to prove something to herself, then he owed her anything she desired. If this position was it, he’d have to find a way to bury his attraction to her. Demonstrate that he had preserved some shred of a gentleman in him somewhere, despite his inherited evil streak.
Except he wasn’t sure he had.
Even now, he was finding it hard to pry his attention off her breasts and the way they filled out the Banks Foundation shirt she wore. Some part of him roared in satisfaction, seeing his name on her body.
Could putting up with his lechery really be worth it to her?
“Why the hell do you want this job?” he barked at her.
She didn’t retreat despite the things she knew he was capable of. The military had hardened her.
Or maybe he had.
“Because I’ve earned a cushy gig after risking my life for my country this past decade?” She didn’t sound a hundred percent convincing when she said it, but he was willing to let it slide.
“Just tell me one thing.” He stared at her fingers as he asked. He’d seen her rubbing the hem of her polo between her thumb and forefinger earlier. Right when she’d revealed herself. A classic Waverly tell. He’d know if she lied.
“Are you doing this only for the money?” He swallowed hard, downing some of his pride to make as many amends as he could. “You know I’d have Banks write a check right now from the Foundation with as many zeroes as you tell him to add if that’s what you’re after. It’s yours. Anything you need. Or hell, even if it’s just what you want from me. No reason to make us both suffer.”
The only thing her fingers did was curl into a fist at that last bit. He was liable to end this conversation with a well-deserved shiner if he wasn’t careful.
“I think you’ve lost your mind. Yeah, I took a job for money. That’s how most people do things. But…that stuff, about the kids. That means more. I would have liked to have been part of something generous, compassionate, and consequential. Whatever’s happening here, though, it’s not worth it. You know what? Fuck this. And fuck you.” She turned as if to leave.
Archer reached out without thinking. His fingers wrapped around her upper arm to stop her. To turn her to face him. Something.
No matter what his intentions were, they were asinine.
He would have to learn to suppress his instincts around her if she stayed.
He had no right to touch her. Ever again.
So why did electricity arc between them when he did? And why didn’t she shrink from the contact?
Archer could no longer figure out if he wanted her to stay—or wanted her to go.
Then he realized he was screwing up again. If she was okay with this, who was he to punish her further by denying her a pretty damn sweet job?
He owed her.
If this was what she called her debt in for, he would make it happen, even if it meant he would be driven insane with remorse and guilt before their first tour was complete. It wouldn’t come close to paying for what he’d done.
At least she didn’t seem afraid of him. If she had shrunk away, or whimpered, it would have killed him.
Hopefully he could convince her that he would never hurt her again.
Never would have the first time either, if he’d realized what was happening.
Not that it was any excuse.
He was a man now. One intent on doing the right thing, no matter how hard the universe seemed to try making that for him.
“Take your hand off me,” she snarled.
Why was he still holding on to her? Part of him was scared she’d storm away and he’d never have the chance to set things to rights. This could be his shot at redemption.
Archer released her. His fingers splayed, palms perpendicular to the floor as he backed away step by step. “I’m sorry, Waverly. It won’t happen again.”
He hoped she realized he was talking about more than that single stolen touch.
She dusted herself off as if he’d given her cooties then stood straight, defiant, and committed.
Banks stepped between them then, breaking their line of sight and whatever insanity seemed to have overtaken them both. “I have to admit, I’ve got no idea what’s going on here.”
“That makes two of us.” Waverly threw her hands up.
“Three,” Archer growled.
“So why don’t we try this? The guests will be here shortly. Call a truce. Go to separate corners of the ship for a while. Tomorrow you can hash things out like adults.” The steady calm with which Banks outlined his plan had Archer unwinding slightly. Enough to see the wisdom in his suggestions. “If either of you decide then that I’ve royally screwed something up, there will be plenty of flights back to the States from Curaçao. For Waverly, or me, or both.”
“No one’s getting fired.” Archer wanted to bang his head on the wall. “But if you want out, either of you…”
“I never intended to upset you. Or Waverly. But I clearly have stepped in it this time.” Banks frowned. “There should be repercussions for poor judgment.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Archer said, thinking this might be payback for his own errors.
Anything he added would take them right back into their argument.
So they left it at that.