Authors: Cerise Deland
Tags: #Romance, #Military
“Where’d you pick him up?”
“Off the streets.”
She chuckled and crooked her finger at him.
“Un-uh. Can’t leave just yet.” Mike made for her with a swagger she’d swore he used out in the field to intimidate foes.
She backed up. “What are you doing?”
He had plastered a shit-eating grin on his face and she knew she was in for some heavy breathing.
But he hauled her up over his shoulder, sack-of-potatoes style.
“What in god’s name are you doing?” She managed to catch her breath before she hit his fine taut ass with her two fists.
“Taking you downstairs,” he said, so damn matter-of-factly while he jogged down the stairs to the ground level. “Got a nice little room for you.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Lyons?”
“Padded. Sound proof.” He turned into the rec room complete with dartboard on the wall and billiard table where they used to play and watch tv when they were kids. But he went left and she heard him punching in numbers in a lock.
“What’s going on?”
He pushed wide a door and she felt the air change. Inside, the atmosphere was cool but with good humidity. It was also silent. As he strode forward she noted that the walls were lined with shelves. Books, a pack of cards, tins of food stood on three different ones.
He up-ended her and swung her down into a big upholstered chair. And he smiled at her with a new expression so tender her heart wrenched. “This is my safe room.”
Safe room? Oh, boy. She wanted out. Away from here. Anywhere out of his reach. “It’s giving me the creeps.”
She punched him in the arm.
He caught her hand and brought her fingers to his lips. They were fervent as they lingered on her skin. “I won’t be long. A few minutes at most. I’m going to see if I can retrieve my rental on Wisconsin. Either it’s booted and soon to be towed or I can drive it back. Either way, you’re here where I know you’re safe from anything and anyone.”
She stared at him, a storm of fear and gratitude and tenderness whirled round in the region of her heart. “And if the house catches fire?”
“Fire-proof. Besides, where you’re concerned, I’d rather be safe than sorry. Right now, you may be my job. But funny as it may be to hear me say it after all these years, you are my everything. And after this is done, if you let me, I’ll prove it.”
Fall for that, Rebecca Tierney, and you are a bigger fool than you imagined.
Jolly Roger stood about four feet tall, sported shaggy white hair, doleful grey eyes and paws the size of dinner plates. Mike was relieved Roger was of the canine variety, but wondered about the practicality of his presence in the life of a woman who changed jobs, cities, professions like the wind.
“What possessed you to take him in?” Mike asked as they stood in her tiny living room overlooking Florida Avenue. He had to change the subject and distract her from her fury that he’d locked her in his safe room while he retrieved the rental car on Wisconsin. She’d ranted about nothing else in the past half hour as he drove her over to her condo and parked in her high-rise garage. “He’s bigger than your kitchen.”
She flitted around, getting Roger’s dinner ready. “If you had seen him. He was sleeping rough, out on the streets. His hair was matted and he was full of fleas.”
“I can imagine,” he said as the dog sat before him, serene as a preacher, his grey eyes locked on Mike’s, wagging his tail.
“I was lonely.”
That gored him.
“You used to be Miss Congeniality.”
“That was yesterday,” she said and sounded unconcerned about the change.
All through grade school and high school, everyone had loved her, wanted to be with her. He knew a few reasons why she’d changed. Her father’s conviction had torn her young life apart, cascading into her mother’s mental decline and her nuclear family’s ruin, emotionally, financially and socially. That Becka had picked up the pieces of her own life to care for her mother until her death was proof of her inner strength, her moral center, and her courage. Beyond her quick wit, her charm and her natural physical beauty, those traits were what he loved about her.
Loved about her.
He flexed his fingers, as much to ease frustration as to improve his circulation. Maybe he’d get some blood to his brain so he could admit once more he did love this woman. To stop examining her, he moved around her living room, noting photographs of her mother, none of her father, plus one of her, her cousin Marissa and her uncle who’d been the senior senator from Connecticut. The picture that made him clutch was the one of her and him last year grinning at each other as they posed in front of the Eiffel Tower. “What happened?”
“You know how that goes. People move away, get jobs, get married. I bet you can’t name anyone from high school you still call.”
He picked up the picture of them both and looked at how happy they’d been. The transcendent euphoria of living with her and making love to her swamped him. His hands shook. His mind blanked. Fury at himself burned behind his eyes. How he longed for that…
He could taste it on his tongue. Languorous. Musky. Silky. Her. “Oh, but I can.”
He wanted to hear why she kept this picture. But he knew, in her present state of irritation with him, he risked her wrath if he dared to ask. “Do you remember Zack Hamilton?”
“Zack? In my graduating class? The track star?”
“Yeah. As a matter of fact, he made the SEALs, too. A year after me. He gained a slot on an East Coast team. Not mine.” He recalled the last time he’d seen Z.
as everyone called him because he could still run faster than a speeding bullet, had been oddly still, flat on a special burn bed in an Army hospital in San Antonio. They’d flown him in from Landstuhl in Germany for treatment about a month after Mike arrived.
“Did you ever go out on a mission with him?” she asked as she stirred Roger’s food and put it down. “Come over, boy. Dinner.”
Mike bit his lower lip, the fire that had attacked him, burning him again, fierce as hell in his mind. Why did he choke like that? At weird comments. He grimaced. PTSD. What a bitch. “Never.”
“Oh, Mike.” She walked to him and put her hand on his arm. “You’re white as a sheet. I’m sorry I mentioned it. Is Zack…is he dead?”
“No. But he’s been in BAMC.”
“The Army hospital in San Antonio?”
He nodded. “Brooke Army Medical Center. Burn and amputee center. Best there is. All military go there if they’ve lost of a limb or they’ve been burned.”
She winced. “Is he in terrible shape?”
Mike recalled his friend, pale and listless in a hospital gown. Had he himself looked that weak and helpless? Rage boiled up and he swallowed it back. “He’s got burns. An IED struck him.”
“I keep telling him he’s still pretty.”
“He always looked like a movie star.”
“Yeah. Women throw panties at him for looking like the dude who plays Superman.”
She chuckled. “Yeah. Come to think of it. He did look like Henry Cavill.”
“Whatever.” Mike considered the picture of them in Paris again. How Becka smiled, her arm clutching his. How he looked down at her with a grin. He hadn’t felt so whole since he left her. Odd, wasn’t it, that after he ended their relationship, after he’d let her too close, he’d gone back to the field only to come home without a few pieces of himself.
“So what part of him is injured?”
“Burned. His cheek, chest and part of a leg.”
She rubbed her arms. “Terrible. I can’t imagine.”
“No. No one can. Until suddenly it’s you and you swore it never would be. It’s you and you’re not the person you were before. You’ve got limitations and before, anything you wanted, anything you needed, you could get for yourself. Rank, assignments, prestige. Now, no more. It’s mind-blowing. Numbing.”
He gazed at the picture of them in Paris and his guts churned. He loved her, needed her naked and open to him. His cock stirred to life at the picture in his mind’s eye of how she threw her head back, her luscious mouth open in the throes of her ecstasy, her hair fanned like a rich dark curtain over the sheets. He grew harder, his body insistent he take what belonged to him.
He snorted. The sexual part of him was not numbed. Not incinerated. He wanted her back. Wanted her now. But he’d blown his chances. Totally. And what did he have to give her now? Half a man? One with injuries, pieces missing, with a jagged mind too filled with errant rages that someone labeled traumatic shock. Hell. It wasn’t shock. It was outrage. Outrage at the gall of men to kill and maim to gain advantage. Fury that others took up killing and maiming as a profession. That he’d been one, still was, did not know how to be anything else. That he could be an animal. He could kill. In the name of duty and honor and country. Yeah. He’d done it all. Been proud to do it. Still would, if he could. Because he had the moral ground. That firm belief had buoyed him. For that, he’d trained. He’d pushed his body to the limit with marathon runs and night crawls through snake-infested jungles. He’d starved, sat watch for weeks, climbed mountains in his bare feet, swum oceans risking frostbite and dehydration. He’d learned how to survive all manner of deprivations. And he had literally burned for it. And now, he was wild, insatiable with desire for her and what she gave him, this serenity, this comfort that he only now could name or value. A full year after he’d lost it. Correction, a year after he’d walked away from it and her.
And at this moment, what burned inside him like acid was curiosity. Even resentment that she possessed this picture and she had propped it up in her living room where she could look at it without rancor or whatever the hell she felt about their relationship…their affair. What did she think of him? Aside from the fact that he was rash and dedicated to so much else, but never to her. What did she value in him? Did he know? He cared.
, did he care!
He glanced at the photo. His brain was firing on all pistons. Maybe illogically. Maybe frighteningly so. But what she felt for him was what he had to know. And the lack only burned his insides worse than the fire that had melted his skin. “Why do you have this?”
She marched over and snatched it from him.
She was angry? Well,
, he was too.
“The reason anyone has a photograph. I like the way we look there.”
But there’s no one else you’ve put here except your relatives.
She arched a brow. “You object to being part of my menagerie?”
Was she insulted? He didn’t mean it that way. He should cool down, not take out his insanity on her. He licked his lips. “I’m honored.”
“Terrific,” she said, turning her back, walking away and sounding pissed.
He followed her. “You can put it back, you know.”
“I’ll keep it in my closet, thank you.” She marched into her bedroom.
He tracked her. “You don’t have to. I like being out there.”
With other people you love.
Did she love him?
She yanked open her closet door and threw the picture in. It clattered to the floor. She whirled around to face him, ice cold fury in her eyes. “I should have consigned you to the back of my memory long ago.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.” Surprised he’d been so bold to say it, he liked that he’d been honest with her. It was time in his life to be very honest with her on a regular basis. He walked up to her, his chest against her sweet breasts. “Put me back.”
She shrank away. “You shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Thanks for pointing out that you were on conspicuous display.”
“Don’t be like that.”
She stepped backward, right into her closet, dresses and scarves draped all around her. “I want to.”
“Let me stay.”
Her lashes fluttered for a second. “No.”
“Can’t a man change his mind?”
She swallowed hard. “No.”
”Let me change it.”
“What do you mean?”
Groping for words, not wishing to alarm her with a sudden declaration of his newfound love for her, he slipped his arms around her waist and put his lips to her cheek. “I mean that I love the way you smell and the way you feel, the sound of your voice and each time we meet, I want more of you.”
She’d gone still but she searched his gaze, wary. “I’m still not sure what you’re saying.”
He pressed her closer so that their bodies meshed and she shivered. “I’m saying that I’m glad we’re together again. That I’ve missed you. That I’ve remembered a lot about our time in Paris and wished I were back there with you again.”
This near to her, he could see the way her green eyes faceted with gold in the light, the way she frowned at his words. And he couldn’t let her question his words. “You don’t believe me?”
“Why should I? You were never interested in me as a lover before last summer with the Paris job. Before that, like an idiot, how many times did I offer? How many?” She choked on a sob. Her cheeks flared pink and she turned aside. “I’m ashamed.”
He caught her arm and held her fast to her spot. “I’m the one who should be ashamed.”
Blinking back tears, she snorted. “Let me go.”
“No.” He buried his lips in her fragrant hair. “For all those years, I was too focused on duty and country. I had no room for a love affair.”
“Oh, never doubt,” she seethed. “Your message was received. Loud and clear.”
He wrapped her against him, his mouth at her temple. “And then last June, people at State and Special Ops put us together because we had a verifiable past. Because we both spoke French. Because we were credible lovers. But there was more, Becka.”
She shook her head. “No, we were—“
With two fingers under her chin, he tipped up her face. “Sweetheart, we were incredible lovers.”
She stilled, her gaze digging into his.
He smiled at her, his mind bursting with what they could become. “We could be again.”
“I don’t want to be.”
“That’s because I hurt you. That last day out there on the sidewalk, I was an idiot.”
She sniffed. “So true.”
“I don’t want to be so stupid again.”
“Good for you.”
He cupped her face, his fingers stroking her cheeks. “I won’t run away.”
She didn’t move.
“Okay,” he whispered. “Don’t believe me. Just watch.”
So he kissed her. Sweet and warm at first, he took her like it was the first time he’d ever put his mouth to hers. But the taste of her was better than a good dose of that med they’d fed him for pain in the medevac. Serenity was addictive and he needed all of her. He kissed her again, this time with one hand to the curve of her spine and the other to her nape. He took a long sweep of the wet cavern of her mouth with his tongue and she answered with the same kind of probe. She was so easy to love.
Lifting her in his arms, he took the few steps to her bed. Big and broad as the bed was, he noted the counterpoint of the fragrance of lavender floating around them. He set her down and crawled over her. “I’ve never made love to anyone like you. You’re always so willing, so giving.”
“You’re sure?” she asked, her voice rough, her eyes questioning.
“Very.” He flicked open the top button of her jacket and his lips followed the curve of her neckline. Her hands flew over him, his throat, his chest. One of her hands drifted lower and covered his zipper. His cock jumped, loving the tenderness of her caress.