Read Under Seige Online

Authors: Catherine Mann

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #cookie429, #Extratorrents, #Kat, #Single Parents, #Family & Relationships, #Parenting, #Single Parent

Under Seige (7 page)

BOOK: Under Seige
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Six weeks since she'd seen Zach.

Or he'd seen her.

The sitter had been the one to bring the girls over to meet Patrick. Never Zach.

What would he think of her trimmed-down body? Not that he could even see it in her baggy clothes. The khaki overalls had seemed logical when she'd packed. Practical, comfy. Safe. And they were her favorites even if they made her look like a blob. She didn't want to change herself for a man ever again.

Even one with sleepy bedroom eyes and endless lanky appeal.

"On second thought..." Julia whipped the bag of pretzels from Shelby's hand, poured a pile on the table and scooped one through the chocolate. "Who needs a spoon?''

She plopped into a chair, drawing her legs up and sitting cross-legged. She popped the chocolate-covered pretzel into her mouth. Her eyes slid closed. Euphoria melted through her in a tide of warm chocolate.

If only life could always be this simple, friends and junk food. But Zach wasn't a simple man to understand.

Julia, I need your help.

Her heart stuttered. Another bite of chocolate soothed the unsteady beat.

Shelby clicked a fingernail against the stud in her eye brow. "Is it true that chocolate is the next best thing sex?"

Julia dropped a pretzel in the pan.

Kathleen coughed, twice, then hefted herself from the chair with surprising speed to pitch her spoon in the sink

Clearing her throat, Julia turned to Ivy. "Hon, would you run back into your father's room and look through the diaper bag for Patrick's pacifier?"

"But he's not cranky."

"Better to be prepared."

"Sure." Ivy sighed. Ponytail swinging, she tiptoed around a poster, markers and wooden box full of cactus, on her way out of the kitchen.

Julia waited for Ivy to clear the room then turned back to Shelby. "Do you think that was really appropriate to say around your little sister?"

The teen shrugged. "Well, she's gone now. So? Is it the next best thing to sex?"

Julia longed for simpler problems, like diapers and feedings. Even if she wanted to answer that question, which she absolutely did
not,
she wasn't sure she could. It had been so long since she'd had a man and chocolate in her bed at the same time for comparison.

She willed herself not to think about the past night she'd spent in Zach's bed. Alone, but so very aware of the man

Where else could she have slept other than the sectional sofa? Not that she'd slept much wrapped in blankets that smelled too much like the man who used them.

Shelby quirked a pierced brow. "Well?''

Julia looked to Kathleen at the sink for help, but her traitorous friend had suddenly decided to wash her hands. She pumped soap from a dispenser with intense concentration.

Weren't doctors supposed to have training in answering these sorts of questions? Julia pulled a weak smile. "I guess I should be grateful you don't already know the answer."

Shelby rolled her eyes. "Forget it."

"Wait. You just surprised me."

"Never mind. I mean, come on, as if you'd really tell me anyway."

Way to go, Jules.
"Okay, let's talk about it then."

Shelby pulled her term paper from under the pan. "I just said it to get a rise out of you anyhow. Lucky I didn't ask the Colonel, huh? He would have had a stroke."

Understatement of the year.

The teenager skulked toward the refrigerator, ten pounds of attitude dragging her steps. How had life become so complicated for all of them in the span of one year?

A truck rumbled on the street.

Julia curled her toes, tucking their painted tips out of sight. Her eyes shot straight to the window over the sink. It could be anyone's vehicle. Lots of people drove trucks. Red trucks. Slowing.

And pulling into the driveway.

No time left to wonder if Zach's reaction to her after Patrick's birth had been a fluke.

Time to find out.

Zach shut off the engine, stared at the porch light and wondered when he'd turned into a coward.

Geez, why couldn't he do something simple, like fly combat, dodge some missiles, deliver enough supplies to feed a third-world nation? But no. He had to walk into that house and find out if the rogue attraction to Julia had an anomaly, and the timing couldn't be any worse.

Flying always left him restless, pumped with excess adrenaline, in need of the very best release for all that testosterone slugging through him, in need of a bed and a woman for a few uninterrupted hours. And for the past six weeks, the only woman who came to mind was Julia. One hint of that mind-blowing image would send her long legs sprinting away from him and his girls again.

Of course, who said he had to let Julia know how he felt? He wasn't some teenager ruled by his libido.

Although he felt damned close at the moment.

She might not want the military in her life, but she needed him as much as he needed her. Time to set their friendship back on its old path.

Zach slammed his truck door closed just as the side door to the house swung open.

"Daaady!" Ivy sprinted out the kitchen door, one of Patrick's pacifiers clutched in her hand. Sailing from the porch step in a leap that would have made her ballet instructor proud, she flung herself at her father.

"Hey, kiddo. I was only gone for a couple of weeks."

"Missed you."

"I missed you too." He hugged her, amazed for probably the millionth time at how much he could love another person. Until Shelby was born, he'd never had a clue. He glanced through the open door. His older daughter buried her head in the fridge.

"Hey, Shel."

Not even bothering to turn toward him, she waggled a wave over her shoulder, already headed for the hall with a soda can in hand. '"Night, Colonel."

Okay, so it wasn't enthusiastic, but at least she'd kept the normal Shelby-zinger to herself.

Zach swung Ivy to his back. She looped her arms around his neck, hanging like a monkey as she'd done countless times. He lumbered up the steps and into the house.

Tossing his helmet bag and radio onto the counter, he lowered Ivy to the ground and prepped himself to face Julia for the first time in six weeks. He turned, not a hundred percent sure if he wanted the attraction to have been an aberration or not.

She sat at his table.

Just sat. No special or seductive pose. Just Julia in khaki overalls sitting cross-legged, her tangled curls pulled back from her face by some kind of band behind her ears. Chocolate smudged her cheek, exhaustion smudged her eyes.

She was a mess. She was gorgeous.

Then she smiled.

Ah, hell.
Beyond gorgeous. Not even a full-out smile this time, just a half grin pulled at her full lips, lips trembling it the corners.

Something shifted inside him, something he'd cemented into place years ago out of a need for survival so strong nothing should have shaken it loose. The hell of it was, he could swear he saw an answering attraction in her eyes.

"Colonel?"

Zach's gaze snapped to the other woman in the room, how had he missed Kathleen Bennett sitting at the table too? "Evening, Major." He tugged Ivy's ponytail. "It's late, kiddo. How about you get ready for bed while I thank these ladies for helping out. I'll be back in a few minutes to tuck you in."

"Story?"

"One chapter."

"Three."

"Two."

"Roger that, Papa Wolf."

"Roger, Cub Pilot." He shot a thumbs-up.

Ivy paused in the doorway. "Julia?"

"Yeah, honey?"

"Don't forget to tell me goodbye before you go, okay?"

"Of course I won't forget."

But Pam had. She'd bolted in the middle of the night packed up, stormed out, leaving him to explain everything to their children in the morning. Four weeks later, Pam had resurfaced from a cooking cruise with hugs, a new boyfriend and a box of saltwater taffy for the girls.

Julia had been the one to take Shelby shopping for prom dress, the one to twist Ivy's hair up into that ball recital hairnet thing. Julia had been all that kept his family from falling apart.

Zach scrubbed his hand over his jaw, scratching the numbed nerves awake. He could do this, pretend to be unaffected by those toes she tucked out of sight. He could pretend he didn't notice the curve of her breast outlined in a stretchy T-shirt just showing in the gaping side of her overalls. "Hi, Julia."

"Zach."

He knelt beside Patrick, cupping a hand over the pale fine hair. "He's grown into quite a bruiser."

"He's a happy baby." She shifted, one foot poking free. Purple polish. Silver sparkles right at eye level.

Zach stood. "Major, thanks for stopping over to help so soon after coming home from a TDY yourself."

"Nothing to it, Colonel. I just hung out and enjoyed the pizza and fudge. A pregnant woman's idea of heaven. Kathleen bumped the pan toward him. "It's really good stuff. You ought to try some."

Julia dropped the bag of pretzels. "There's pizza in the fridge."

He reached for a spoon. "Great. I'll get to that too later. Flying always makes me hungry."

Among other things he damned well didn't want to think about right now. Fudge offered a poor substitute for what he really wanted after a flight, but it was better than nothing.

Zach scooped through the chocolate and ate. "Good stuff. Who made it?"

"Uh," Julia squeaked, then continued, "that would be me."

"Damn good stuff. Is there more? This doesn't stand a chance of lasting much longer." He turned to the pregnant woman choking on a laugh behind her hand. "Did you want some, Major?"

"No thanks. I'm getting plenty at home."

Julia shot from the table. "Kathleen, isn't that Tanner's car pulling into your driveway?"

Kathleen braced a hand on the edge of the table to rise. "I should go then. After a flight, he's usually pretty, uh, hungry too. G'night, Colonel," she said as she waddled out the door.

Quiet settled over the kitchen.

Julia grabbed the pan. She wound around Ivy's spilled bag of toothpicks and a bag of aquarium rocks as she whipped past to toss it in the sink. "Sorry about the clutter everywhere."

"Leave it." Zach stopped behind Julia, closer than he'd meant to. Too close. "I'll put it all away later."

"Yeah, well..." She kept her back to him, twisting on the faucet and filling the pan with water. "There's leftover pizza in the fridge if you're still, uh, hungry, and some iced tea." Her voice drifted off as the water trickled to a stop. Still she didn't turn.

Zack stayed behind her, unmoving, but she didn't move either, just stood in front of him while they looked out the window and exchanged body heat. He breathed in the mix of strawberry shampoo, baby lotion and chocolate.

The soft curve of Julia's neck begged to be kissed. Zach forced his eyes somewhere safer, like back to the window. Tanner Bennett jogged across the street, meeting Kathleen at the edge of the driveway.

With a whoop, the big lug scooped his pregnant wife off her feet and kissed her as if they'd been separated for a year rather than just two weeks. He dropped another kiss to her rounded stomach.

A sigh whispered from Julia. "They look good together."

She sounded so wistful, Zach couldn't help himself. He had to touch her. His hands fell to rest on her shoulders. His thumbs stroked the curve of her neck, her skin even silkier than he'd imagined.

She swayed under his touch, shoulders dropped, head lolled forward. Her body started a lean back that would bring her flush against him, her hair to his face, her bottom nestled snug against him. Damn it, she did feel that tug between them too.

His arm started the glide around to draw her closer.

Julia ducked from under his hands. "I should gather my stuff and go."

Yes, she should, but he didn't want her to and couldn't stop the urge to keep her talking so she would stay. Pizza and Julia looked a helluva lot better in his kitchen than the chili and solitude he'd been facing the past year. "Everything go okay with the girls?"

Julia scratched her eyebrow, then dried the wet spot with her wrist as she backed out of the kitchen.

"Uhm, yes, homework's almost done. We built a cage for Ivy's desert habitat project. Shelby's in her room typing in corrections on her term paper. And there's pizza in the fridge."

"Yeah, you told me already."

"Oh, right. I'll just say goodbye to Ivy first before she falls asleep." Julia spun away, darting down the hall.

Zach slumped against the counter in his wrecked kitchen, not too different from his wrecked libido after standing so close to Julia. He glanced around the trashed room full of pizza boxes, dishes in the sink, Ivy's science project on the floor. At least he would have something to do to burn off the restless energy from his flight. Not that he minded the mess in the least. For the first time in too long, his house felt...

Normal.

He wanted someone who would be there for his kids. And from where he was standing, the scene in front of him fit the bill too damned perfectly. Of course he was far from being the perfect man for Julia Sinclair or her son.

Zach knelt beside the baby. "Hey, little man. Good nap?"

Patrick stretched stiff-backed in his car seat.

"Good. Glad to hear it." The kid deserved the best. Grabbing a sleeper-clad foot, Zach tweaked the baby's toes. "You go easy on your mama tonight, okay, Bruiser? She needs her sleep and there isn't anybody around to help her with those night feedings."

Would there have been even if Lance had lived?

Zach frowned. Where had that thought come from? Still, he couldn't stop wondering if the already rocky Sinclair marriage would have lasted. Did Julia still love the guy?

A moot point anyway.

Zach stared at the tiny foot in his hand and forced himself to be honest. He was trying to justify the possibility he could be finding the man guilty of negligence on the job. If Julia didn't still have feelings for Lance, then she wouldn't resent Zach for what he had to do if the results of Bronco's interview with the board went wrong.

Yeah, right.

Regardless of how Julia felt about her cheating husband, he was still the father of her child. Just as Pam was the mother of Zach's children. And even as pissed as he was at Pam, he wanted his children to have good memories of their mom.

BOOK: Under Seige
10.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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