Authors: Cerise Deland
Tags: #Romance, #Military
His neon blue gaze locked on hers. A ghost of a smile crossed his chiseled lips. And then he moved. Like quicksilver, he wove through the maze of furniture. His stride was long. His goal clear. He’d come for her.
Panicked, she remembered the flash drive. The green bar on the screen moved an iota more. Almost done.
Mike rounded the doorway to her office. Up close he looked pained. But furious. At her?
What had she done?
“Come with me,” he said in that bass voice that reverberated inside her like the roar of the huge male lion at the Washington zoo. He could say her name and her insides got all mushy. With that voice torrid in her ear, he could tell her anything and she’d believe in Snow White, reindeer that flew and happily-ever-afters .
“What are you doing here?” He’d stormed away from her last summer, warning her yet again that he might not return. And he’d been prophetic, coming home from the mission to Kandahar badly wounded.
“I’ll tell you. But you have to come with me now.”
“Where? Why?” She shot a glance at her drive.
She grasped it and yanked it from the computer. Then she dropped it in her skirt pocket.
“Can’t explain. Need you to walk out with me.”
“No.” If she did that, if she stayed with him for more than five minutes, she’d hop into bed for a damn luscious lay, and then he’d be gone again. Messing up her life. Always. “Never.”
He winced, bared his teeth and shook his head. “Either you come quietly or I take you.”
She seethed. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Right now? I’m the guy who’s saving your pretty ass. So come quietly or you won’t like what happens.”
“No?” She folded her arms and glared at him. “Well, now hear this—“
“No time.” He stepped forward, hauled her into his massive arms and anchored her head with one meaty hand. “Kiss me, baby. Like there’s no tomorrow.”
There never has been.
“You’re crazy if—“
“Crazy is my forte,” he crooned, turning her so her back was to the shop floor. And then he crushed his mouth to hers.
She was gone to heaven. His lips were hot as August, his demand heavy and urgent. She loved him rough. She loved him tender. She loved him any way at all and part of her wanted to linger here, kiss him back, forget why he came and destroyed her.
She pushed at his chest.
With a man this freaking size, what woman had a chance?
Not me. Never me with this man.
He pressed his thumb over her swollen lips. “Look like you want me. Hate me, but want me.”
Like that wasn’t the truth.
“Listen to me. You have documents?”
“Y-yes. How do you know?”
“Tell you later. I’m assigned to help you.”
“Like we did in Paris?”
“I have them.” She sidled closer to him, whispering, “On me. But I’m not going with you, Mike. Every time I do, I get myself in a hell of a bind. I won’t do it again.”
He took her by her upper arms and gave her a little shake. “I have no time to argue with you. There’s a gunman out there. Maybe headed this way.”
Her jaw dropped. But her old Langley training kicked in. “What’s going on?”
“Do you have a phone here? Wallet?”
“Phone. No wal—”
“Get it.” His tone was an order.
Reaching for the far desk, she yanked open the bottom drawer. Grabbing her cell, she slipped it in her jacket pocket. “I need to know—“
“You will.” He picked her right up off her feet and hauled her over his shoulder. “Off we go.”
One hand to her ass, he pivoted and threaded his graceful way double-time through the tables and chaises, the mirrors and marbles.
As he passed Vince and the senator, he said, “Thanks, got what I came for.”
“Rebecca?” Vince followed behind Mike.
She glimpsed his feet tracking her. She tried to raise her head, but all she could do was watch the beautiful muscular play of Mikael Lyons’ fabulous gluts. She suppressed the urge to laugh and indulged the need to bitch. “I’m fine, Vince. I know Superman, here. He’s harmless as a pussy cat.”
“For that,” Mike growled when they were on the sidewalk and he ran up Wisconsin with her ingloriously over his shoulder, “you will pay.”
“Put me down,” she yelled at him. “You’re crushing my breasts.”
“Good for me,” he said with immense satisfaction as he turned left onto N Street and picked up his pace. Fewer scared people on the sidewalk meant he ran unobstructed.
She groaned and beat his ass with her fist.
“Stop that.” He spotted the gleaming alabaster of his family’s three-story two-hundred-year-old house.
Comes in handy.
“I don’t want to go.”
“It means your life. I’ll explain.”
“Let me get inside.”
He sprinted up the front steps to his home. Actually, since his folks had passed away in an auto accident years ago, it was only the place he crashed when he visited his Nana. He kept the Federal mansion more for sentimental reasons than financial. Today, the location was ideal. But he knew Becka wouldn’t want to stay. Too many memories for her next door. Bad ones.
She sighed and her body went lax.
Good girl. Give in to the immovable object.
He entered the key code in the front lock box. The broad white Palladian door swung open to the grand foyer, and he smiled.
Home again, home again. Safe. For now.
The pale white marble tile shimmered in the sunlight streaming through the glass dome in the ceiling. The cool air at a constant seventy-five degrees year-round hit his perspiring body like a dunk in the ocean. His caretaker and housekeeper were doing their jobs very well. And for their dedication and the fact that he could walk right in and lock the door behind him, he’d pay them a bonus.
He cupped Becka’s back and let her slide down his body. The treat that was, he knew, would be short-lived. Her pride at being his booty would rear up. After the way he’d left her so callously last summer, he wouldn’t blame her if she punched him. He hated himself so much, he’d let her. Right now though, he had business to take care of and so he spun her to the closing door and flattened his torso against hers. The lure of her curves and planes sent sparks of need to his groin. He shouldn’t touch her. To want her messed with his mind. And he owed her the respect to keep away from her.
Talk, Lion. Tell her why you’re here.
But the animal in him disobeyed. This was the one woman who lit him up like the fourth of July. The mate who matched him in word and deed. So he pressed against her, caught her wrists and lifted her arms against the wood. “Now hear this. I can repeat, but I’d rather not.”
Her cat’s green eyes flared wider. She opened to her mouth to talk but thought better of it.
He licked his lower lip. Christ, she was a sight for his sore eyes. The porcelain doll’s flawless skin. The hollows beneath her cheeks. The pouting red lips. The feel of her heavy breasts against his. Men stopped in the middle of the street to gaze at her. Women frowned at her in envy. He’d seen inside the beauty to the wizard she was, and wanted her for her brains as well as her rockin’ bod.
He pushed back on his desire. “I’m on assignment. I’m with a group out of Tampa and—“
“You do client security, investigations.”
“Your grandmother told me you’d gone back to work.”
He cocked a brow. “Oh?”
“I visit her once a week. I take lunch.”
He barked in laughter. “With champagne?”
“What else would she drink with her crepes from Antoine’s, hmm?” Becka tilted her head, a smile playing at those fabulous lips.
He sniffed. “True. Good of you to go. She always liked you.”
“I always liked her. A lot. And if you let go of my wrists, big boy, I’ll like you more than I do at the moment.”
“Un-uh.” The urge to kiss her again zipped through his brain. And his cock. “I’m in charge. So hear me.”
“I was on my way to see Nana minutes ago when I got a call from my boss.”
“Holden. Omega Team. Tampa.”
He narrowed his eyes on her.
Boy, what she knew.
“Two months employed. Good for you to be back in the saddle. Physically healed.”
He moved his jaw around while he marveled at what she said. “Is there anything you don’t know about me, Tierney?”
She gazed into his eyes with languid consideration. Curiosity mingled with concern for his health. “Yeah. How’s the PTSD recovery coming along?”
He pursed his lips. “I’m workin’ it.”
“Keep it up.”
“It goes better when I can focus.”
“Then do it,” she said in that buttery contralto that had his cock sitting up higher, harder.
“It’s tough,” he admitted and wanted to kick himself. But his appetite for her had always been a ravenous beast, even more so now when he no longer had the best grip on his impulses. With a grimace, he splayed his fingers into her incredible hair. The wealth of it had come undone from her prim knot during his jog up here to the house. “You distract me.”
“So that means whatever your job is, you shouldn’t be holding me so tightly, should you?” Her tough talk frosted him.
He set his jaw. Her indifference, new and savage, gnawed at his train of thought. What had he expected? That she’d welcome him with open arms? He’d destroyed any affection she had for him when he left her with no hope of a tomorrow for them. He swallowed his self-ridicule to make his finer point. “I’ll step away but you’ll stay put to hear me out. Your life—“
“Is in danger. I copy, Lion. I copy,” she said sounding more agreeable. “Back off.”
He raised his arms, his fingers splayed, and stepped away. “Do not interrupt me.”
“I had just finished an assignment at Fort Detrick. They had vials of a new virus that had gone missing. I found them. Quickly.”
“None of your business.” He’d found them in the duffel bag of an Army E4 who hoped to sell them to an Iraqi refugee. But that was the end of that GI’s sales career—and his freedom.
She shrugged. “Go on.”
“So, I was in a rental in traffic coming south on Wisconsin when sirens started to whirl, people began to run, act crazy. There was a shooter at the corner of M and Wisconsin. I didn’t know that until a minute or so into the chaos when I got a call from Grey Holden in Tampa with a new assignment.
“Amid that noise and hustle, he told me about a new case. Rescuing one woman. Name, Tierney, Rebecca. He gave me the address. Baylor’s. At that point, sitting in my car not a block away, I could see the shop front. No sweat. I jumped out and ran in to get you.”
“And the client?”
“Private. Not government. No more description. Not yet. I have to call Holden.”
She frowned. “You wouldn’t know anything else and not tell me, would you?”
“Why? What’s in it for me? Full disclosure is my policy.”
I told you so last summer before I left.
And I walked away from you for your own good.
“We’ve known each other too long to play games of withhold.”
She searched his gaze. “Agreed.”
“It worked for us in Paris,” he said, reliving erotic memories of their two months together investigating an art dealer who ran funds for a French-born
radical. “We’re just recreating what was a good thing.”
“Riiight.” Smirking, she walked around him. “This time, we’re recreating only the work, not the play.”
She whirled to face him, surprise on her pristine features. “You agree?”
“We’re great as friends. “
Ignoring that trust is a basis for more.
“And lousy as lovers.”
Her lie gored him. What he’d said to her last summer had taken root in her thinking. Like a toxin, his statement that he couldn’t be anything more to her than a friend had poisoned her against him. It was the grandest irony that now, a year after he’d renounced the ability to love her, he craved her like air and water. Now, he was no longer himself, not whole physically or mentally. Not even a SEAL, the very essence of who and what he had been was gone. The one element of his life that prohibited him from contemplating a life with her had vanished in a firefight in Kandahar. Today, he was less than he had been to himself. Even if she still might want him, he was not the same man as the one who had made love to her so fervently last summer in that little apartment in Montmartre.
“We’ll do just the work on this,” he said. Hoping he looked nonchalant, he took off his suit coat and draped it over the back of a living room chair. Hot and very bothered by her proximity and her anger, he loosened his tie and opened his shirt collar. “Let’s go in the kitchen. I’m starving. While we eat, I’ll call Holden. See what other specs we have. Then you can tell me what you’re doing, who you’re working for and what kind of documents you’ve got that threaten your safety.”
* * * * *
Becka silently cursed. Internet sites had no news she and Mike didn’t already know about a shooter in Washington, D. C. She let her phone go dark and placed it on the counter. Mike was talking with his boss in Tampa and he’d said he’d ask for status on that.
She took another sip of her sparkling water and gazed out the kitchen window of his house. She made herself glance out the side window. She didn’t have to. She’d forced herself to view the house quite a few times before this. Each time, she had felt less humiliated, less connected. She certainly knew what her former home looked like since the new owners had re-bricked the outside and redone the landscaping. Their renovations had helped her reassess her youth and recall the good times she’d spent there before her father was sentenced to prison and her mother drifted away into a mental world of her own.
She felt nothing. Her eyes fell shut. But she demanded she look once more.
She smiled. How had that happened?
It didn’t matter how only that for some good reason, she was beyond the humiliations she’d endured.
Over the past ten years, she’d coped with the shame and the sorrow of what happened to her parents. During her father’s trial, she had relied on her uncle’s moral support. But when he became ill and passed away, she had only the friendship of Mike’s parents. His mother’s kind interest. His father’s financial advice. But her relationship with Mike had predated any of that. They’d been friends since grammar school, schoolmates and neighbors in a town where friendship was usually regulated by parents who regarded politics or wealth as good parameters. Their relationship, she had first thought, was based on mutual interests in swim competitions, heavy metal bands and ruthless video game rivalries. Until the age of sixteen, she’d accepted his friendship as a given. Then one day, she began to dream of him romantically and he had refused to meet her half way. Over and over again.
Catching a sharp breath, she downed another drink of water.
He spoke with Grey Holden, his comments brief, and his voice rumbled into her consciousness. How could it not?
She gave a short laugh. His bass was as stirring as Darth Vader’s, smoother than any R & B crooner’s. For years, she’d been able to close her eyes, hear his voice in her head, hunger for him—and get wet.
She faced him. He was frowning as he listened to Holden. Not taking notes. Just recording details, she could guess, in that splendid brain of his.
She hadn’t seen him since last summer when they’d done the State Department debrief of their Paris operation. Afterward, as they stood on Twenty-first Street in the blinding sun, she’d needed some sign from him that their affair was more than a temporary fling. Frustrated, unable to blurt her desire for a declaration, she’d thrown reason out the door and told him that she considered quitting her position with State and the CIA. She might do private investigative work.
And he’d told her he had new orders. He was headed back to his team and a fresh assignment, protecting some sheik in the Afghan mountains. “We were good together, Becka. I won’t ever forget that.”
“When you come home, let me know?” She wanted to beg him to meet her wherever she decided to go.
“No. I’m not a safe bet,” he whispered and pulled her into his embrace. He had kissed her, his lips a tender farewell. “I want you to find a man who’ll be worthy of you.”
Trouble was, Mike didn’t want her in his life. Or to put a finer point on it, he didn’t want to make room for her in his life.
And yet here he was again. Summoned to help her by some anonymous agent.
He looked as yummy as last summer, a little the worse for his wounds and hospitalization. Today his tan was not quite the bronze of last summer. His hair not as light, but still dazzling to the eye. The hair, combined with the electric blue eyes, could make a girl drop her panties at twenty yards. She knew. She’d watched her high school friends as they preened and yearned for him and dubbed themselves Lyons’ Pride. She’d never joined their clique, but she’d wanted him as much, maybe more, than they did. She’d even offered herself to him time and again. Yet Mike Lyons had refused her. Politely. Charmingly.