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Authors: Catherine Mann

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

Under Seige (9 page)

BOOK: Under Seige
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"Really?"

"Yeah." God yes, he did. And he didn't.

"Me too."

"So we'll just do it. Backtrack a few months and pick up from there."

"I'm not so sure I can do that."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because you're looking damned fine to me too."

Blown out of the sky and he never even saw the missile coming.

Zach exhaled, long and slow. It was one thing suspecting she felt the attraction too. But hearing it. Well, that was a-whole-nother pack of trouble altogether. "No chance of anyone accusing you of holding things back."

She turned her head and smiled, soft and womanly and close. Only a few inches separated them, a hand span maybe. Even less space separated their mouths. It would be so easy to reach, so easy to grasp her arm and tug her to him. Her body language shouted a very firm go-ahead.

But her smile faded, her eyes blaring an unmistakable wary message,
Please, don't hurt me.

Damn Lance Sinclair.

Damn himself too for wanting something so obviously wrong for both of them.

Zach shoved away from the car. "Go home, Julia. We're both tired and too lonely to be having this conversation now."

He opened the driver's door and stood aside. He never knew what to expect next with Julia. Anything from impromptu whittling lessons for Ivy to defiantly baring her pregnant body to a pool full of onlookers.

Zach prepped himself for anything.

Except her touch. There was no way in hell to steel himself against that.

Julia cupped his face in her hand, the numb side, frustrating him all the more with the diluted sensation.

His brain knew her soft palm was there, and he felt the slightest pressure. But he wanted it all—the full-out feeling of her hands on him, and he had to settle for a phantom caress.

Her hand fell away. "Good night, Zach."

He held the door wide for her, tucking her inside and out of arm's reach before making tracks for the house. He forced himself not to look back. Eight hours of sleep and a solid morning of work and he'd be back on track. He gripped the doorknob.

Why hadn't she turned on the car?

He glanced over his shoulder and found Julia Sinclair doing the very last thing he expected.

Crying.

Not wracking, dramatic sobs like Pam had poured all over their arguments, but slow, leaking tears. Her whole body trembled as if from the mammoth effort of holding back.

Those few tears hammered him more than open floodgates.

The past year had been beyond hell for her, but never once had he seen anything more than those restrained tears. Even at her husband's funeral, she'd been pale but composed when Zach, Bronco, Cutter and Tag had walked past carrying the casket out of the church. Zach could still feel the weight of her dead husband in his hands, the weight of her constrained grief on his shoulders.

And none of it came close to the ten-ton thud on his soul as he saw a tear slide off her nose.

Zach charged down the steps. He'd spent the past months hell-bent on making sure Julia had whatever she needed. Damned if he would fail her now.

Julia clenched the steering wheel until her palms slicked with sweat. The muscles in her arms vibrated with tension. She would not cry. She would not cry.

Two tears did not count as crying!

Julia swiped both drops from the end of her nose. Damn Zach for making her vulnerable with all that concern tearing down her defenses.

Count blessings. Her son was happy, the most important blessing of all. Even one of his precious baby smiles cancelled out anything else.

Yet, as much as she wanted to believe raising a happy child was her only goal, she knew Patrick needed so much more from her than smiles, especially during this first year. Another tear leaked free. Between work and Patrick's packed schedule of doctor appointments, therapy sessions and support meetings, when would she have time just to smile with her baby?

The car door clicked just before it opened.

She didn't even have to look. She could feel him there. Zach. Tall, strong and always there for her no matter how shrewish she was as she sent him on his way because she couldn't handle a few silly hormones.

Zach knelt beside her. He pulled her into his arms and God help her, she didn't have the will to say no.

She would steal just a few minutes to relax against his chest, a chest even more wonderful than she'd dreamed it would be. And man, had she ever savored some secret dreams about that chest over the last six weeks. Musk and man swirled through her senses.

Comfort break officially over.

Julia inched away. "I don't cry."

Zach held firm. "I know."

Maybe she could stay another minute. "I won't cry now."

"Of course not."

"Life's all about attitude." Since she'd already tossed control to the wind for the moment, Julia allowed her fingers the pleasure of exploring the rough texture along his hairline, bristly hair trimmed short into a tapered military cut. "Crying doesn't fix anything but smiles can move mountains."

Or this man could, by sheer force of his will.

Zach didn't speak, his silent acceptance of her need to vent wearing down her resistance more than a thousand platitudes.

"I probably just need a good night's sleep."

"Babies have a way of making that tough."

Julia pulled free and tried to ignore the urge to climb back into his arms. "No, Patrick's not any trouble.

He's such an easy baby, eats and sleeps most of the time. Sure, he has his moments, like when he doesn't want his feet uncovered. But he's such a blessing."

Zach nodded. "Yes, ma'am, he is."

"It's just..." Her restless hands landed on a poofy bear that had spilled from the diaper bag. Her thumb stroked a silky patch, soft like Patrick's tiny hands. "He demands so little but needs so much from me. I want his life to be normal, except I know I have to face reality too. He has some practical needs beyond what other mothers expect from their babies for the first year."

"Like what?"

She hesitated. Would he try to be there for those too? The man already had stretched his time paper-thin with his own life.

"Julia?"

His tone left no room for argument, not that it really mattered. She knew well enough already that if she didn't tell him, he would find out anyway.

"Early intervention is important. Patrick's educational program calls for more than just talking myself hoarse to stimulate language. The appointments are mind-boggling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, along with the pediatric speech therapist. Zach, he probably won't walk until around twenty-four months. And then there's learning to talk, to feed himself, dress himself, so many milestones other parents expect to pass with ease."

Her thumb stroked comfort from the silky toy like a talisman. "This first year is crucial for helping Patrick reach his full potential."

She held up a hand to stop Zach from saying something that would launch her into another teary moment

—and right back against that perfect chest.

"I know, Zach. I know. I'm really lucky."

He braced his forearm on the doorframe and leaned his head against it, sealing off the opening with his shoulders. Somehow he sealed off the rest of the world too until all she could see was Zach, his chest and those chocolate eyes that melted over her with warmth, comfort and damn it yes, excitement.

"Lady, from where I'm looking, you've had a helluva year," he drawled. "You've lost your husband. Had a baby alone. And now you have some very real concerns for your kid. Nobody's going to think less of you if you want to scream down the whole neighborhood. Definitely a helluva year."

A watery snort tripped free. "I've had better." She scrubbed her nose and wished for a pair of form-fitting jeans and a nose that didn't resemble a clown's. "I try to focus on the blessings, and there really are so many. Money's not an object. Even though the life insurance was eaten up with old debts, I still have a great job I enjoy. I can afford the best child care. And believe me, child care for a special-needs baby costs major bucks."

Julia hugged the bear to her stomach. "The thing is, I want to take care of it all myself. Is that so wrong? I want to be with him every step of the way this year, see and rejoice over every one of those milestones and somehow find time between all those appointments and work just to hold him."

A fresh spurt of frustration stabbed through her at Lance for leaving her behind, at the military for taking him when their baby needed him most. "Is it so wrong for me to want a few months more to hold my baby?"

Warm chocolate eyes darkened, deepening with a determination she'd come to recognize. The commander had a plan of action. What should have been an impossible situation would work out because this man willed it so.

A part of her niggled, reminding her of hard-won independence, her resolve to be strong and fix her own problems. But time was running out. With her son's welfare in the balance, could she really afford to say no to whatever Zach suggested?

He ducked to eye level with Julia, clasping her hand in his as he pinned her to the seat with nothing more than the magnetism of his gaze and the power of his determination.

"Marry me."

Chapter 6

What the hell?

He'd planned to offer her a job as his girls' nanny so she could have more time with Patrick. Instead, a marriage proposal had fallen out of his mouth.

Now those words floated between them, and he found himself actually considering it. He couldn't pay enough for to maintain her house, and if she moved in as a full-nanny there would be talk. The base community was tight. Gossip would flow. The whole base had known he and Pam had split before she made it to the security gate.

How ironic people well-versed in keeping top-secret military intel couldn't hold onto a piece of gossip for more than thirty seconds.

No, he and Julia couldn't share a house without a ring and an official piece of paper. She would have those months with Patrick, and he could finish out his tour as commander without the roof caving.

"Marry me," Zach repeated, course set. His job never allowed him the luxury of time wasted wavering.

Decision made. Move forward.

He waited for her reaction. Readied for battle by prep-ping his rebuttals. Thought through a dozen possible scenarios from Julia.

Except laughter.

She slapped a hand over her mouth.

Then smacked his arm. "You always do know how to cheer me up. Thanks for making me smile."

Zach swiped a hand over his face. "Damn, Julia, good thing I have a mighty healthy ego or that could have set me back a step."

Her laughs trickled to a stop. Green eyes widened. "You're not joking?"

He shook his head slowly until her hand gravitated to her mouth again. No laughs this time. "Marry you?"

Time for those persuasive arguments before she poked a finger through the bear's stuffing. "A temporary marriage. Until the end of the summer when I transfer to Air War College in Alabama. You'll have your months with Patrick and I'll be able to finish out my tour as commander without my family falling apart."

"But isn't marriage going a little overboard? We could just help each other more."

He planted a boot on the running board, elbow on his knee as he leaned toward her. "That won't fix the fundamental problems. You want to be a hundred percent available for Patrick these next few months and I need someone I can count on to be there for the girls twenty-four/seven. My job has insane hours, TDYs like the Guam deployment, midnight calls from the flight line. God, can you imagine what it was like arranging day care for my kids from the middle of the Pacific Ocean via phone patch?"

The more he thought about it, the more the proposal made sense. "My kids deserve better. My squadron deserves better."

And he couldn't afford to give his second in command a toehold for pulling more stunts like he had with Bronco's nose gear six weeks ago. More than his peace of mind rested on this decision. The safety of his kids and an entire squadron hung on one simple word from Julia.

Yes.

He willed her to say it, and when she didn't, he charged ahead full-throttle. "We're already friends. The girls are used to you. You know their routine. Patrick will have even more support with all the extra hands and smiles around here. You can rent out your house. Beach property always fills, and your place will be there waiting for you afterward. Think about it, Julia."

He could see the wheels churning, and his instincts told him he was making headway. The promise of victory surged through him.

Her eyes narrowed. "What about sex?''

Victory leapt backward.

Leave it to Julia to spell it out, but then he'd always liked that about her. No games. No artifice. Just Julia. Too bad he didn't know the right answer to her question.

Honestly, he wanted her. Not a chance could he see himself turning down an offer to have those long legs and her husky laugh wrapping around him. But if her acceptance hinged on a no-sex agreement, he would lock up those thoughts so tight she would never know.

"What about sex?"

"I'm afraid I misled you with what I said earlier, about finding you attractive. I do. Find you attractive, I mean." A smile whispered over her mouth. "Really attractive. But." The smile vanished. "I'm not ready to have a man, any man, in my bed again."

"Julia, I understand you just had a baby. I realize your body needs time to heal."

"That's not what I meant. It's been the requisite six weeks. My body may have healed, but my heart..."

Straight up and honest, she met his gaze. "It's a long way from ready, and right now, I can't imagine a time when I'll ever be ready to open myself up to any kind of relationship again."

Disappointment chugged through him, but he wouldn't let that rock his determination. "All right, then.

We'll make it a platonic thing. I'll put a daybed for myself in the computer room. You take the master bedroom since it's large enough for the crib too."

"For nearly a year?" She laughed again, a short snort of disbelief. "Get real, Zach. I don't expect you to stay celibate that long because I have some hang-ups." She clutched the bear to her stomach like a lifeline. "Call me crazy, but if we did marry, even a no-sex kinda thing, couldn't take it if you slept with someone else."

BOOK: Under Seige
4.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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