Authors: Lynn Raye Harris
“Find her, Farouk. Find her and kill her.”
Kev didn’t like the way Lucky sat there so quiet and still and chewed on her lip. He wanted to tell Mendez to leave her the hell alone, tell them all that there was no way in fucking hell she was going to Qu’rim and facing the prospect of Al Ahmad.
And, Jesus Christ on a cracker, how in the hell was he supposed to play her fucking husband? Lucky wanted him anywhere but where she was. She said she didn’t hate him, but he knew she despised him—despised all of them. He understood why.
If somebody had to pretend to be her husband, let one of the other guys do it.
Any of them would be better at it. Chase or Ryan—or maybe Sam, though he was pretty hot and heavy with that English professor they’d bailed out of trouble a couple months ago and might find it difficult to pretend.
Yet the thought of them—any of them—pretending to be Lucky’s husband made him want to growl. Mendez had chosen him for a reason—probably because the colonel knew that Lucky had been tight with him and Marco back in the day—and he would see it through. Even if it killed him.
Because being near her twenty-four seven was certain to kill him. He’d spent years thinking about her, months calling her, and hours fantasizing about kissing her again. He still didn’t know why he’d kissed her, except that he’d been so damn relieved she was alive. He’d been the one to find her, and in those few moments before the other guys arrived, she’d clung to him. It had killed him to see her so vulnerable. So he’d just lowered his head and kissed her. Maybe to impart strength, maybe because he just had to.
Whatever it was, it had rocked him to his core. Shaken his foundations. And now he wanted to do it again.
Jesus, he was one sick bastard. She’d lost her husband—a man he’d called his best friend—and she didn’t need his fantasies intruding on her life.
She glanced over at him. He didn’t give away, by word or deed, what he was thinking. Her gaze darted back to Mendez and what he was saying. Kev heard it all, but his eyes remained on Lucky.
There would be some hard training first, so they didn’t just haul her back into the danger zone and expect she could handle it. She’d been out of the Army for over a year, and she needed to be recertified in weapons. Then she needed to get her combat skills up to snuff. She went a little pale at that, but Kev was the only one who seemed to notice. He knew that Lucky didn’t like to be touched. He remembered Marco telling him once, a sad note in his voice, how Lucky flinched whenever he reached for her.
Marco wouldn’t tell him details—nor would Kev have wanted to hear them—but he could imagine. Kev had gone home that night and punched the shit out of the bag he’d kept in his apartment when what he’d really wanted was to bury a knife in Al Ahmad’s throat.
Kev’s head snapped up. “Yes, sir?”
Mendez was looking at him with narrowed eyes. “You’re with Lucky twenty-four seven starting now. We’re training hard for the next few weeks and then we’re going in. You’ll start practicing your cover story right now.”
“I’d rather not.” Lucky’s voice was hard as she looked at Mendez. “All I need is a hotel and a rental, and I’ll be here every day as required. I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Not negotiable,” Mendez snapped back. “This mission is too damn critical, and I need to know if you two can work together or if one of the other boys needs to play the part.”
Her chin lifted. “I’ve agreed to help. But I’m not active and I don’t take orders.”
“Yes, ma’am, you do.” Mendez’s voice had that edge to it that all the guys knew meant serious business. “You’re active, soldier. We don’t send civilians into combat.”
Lucky’s jaw worked. “You said if I came willingly—”
Mendez’s chair scraped as he stood. Everyone else in the room snapped to attention. Except Lucky. Kev watched her sitting there, that militant look on her face, and prayed Mendez was amused rather than irritated.
“This is war, Sergeant San Ramos. You know it as well as the rest of us. Just because you leave active duty doesn’t mean you can’t be called back, which you also know since you had to sign papers to that effect. You can consider yourself recalled to duty.”
Lucky scraped to her feet and stood rigidly. Kev wouldn’t have quite called it attention, but it was close enough. “Sir,
Mendez nodded in satisfaction. “It’s one operation, Sergeant. One and done.” His eyes drifted across the rest of them. “You’re dismissed. Get to work.”
“That rotten old sonofabitch!” Lucky took a swig of the beer the waitress had set in front of her and shivered inside her sweatshirt. She still wasn’t used to this damn cold weather, but she was going to have to get used to it in a hurry.
She’d spent the morning going over some paperwork with the guys, but when it came time for training, Matt told Kev to take her home and come back tomorrow. Apparently, her jet lag was showing.
But instead of taking her wherever he was supposed to take her, Kev had asked if she was hungry. She’d been surprised to realize she was. Now they were here, in a bar, drinking beer and waiting on cheeseburgers and fries to arrive.
“He knew he was activating me. He knew it all along, but he just had to sweet-talk me first.”
Kev sat at a right angle to her, nursing his own beer and looking distinctly unhappy. No doubt because he’d been tasked with babysitting her for the foreseeable future.
His gaze strayed to the blond waitress with the big breasts and fake nails as she walked by their table again. Lucky didn’t miss the way the girl looked at him or the tip of his chin he gave her in return.
Irritation flared inside her. “Would you like me to wait in the car?”
His gaze slid over to her. “What? Why?”
Lucky couldn’t help the little hitch in her chest every time he looked directly at her. Why did Kevin MacDonald have to be so damn gorgeous? And so, well, dark and dangerous and unfathomable? Marco had always been an open book, but Kev… Kev was like a locked vault in Fort Knox. On the outside, he was amiable good-old-boy friendliness. But on the inside… Well, she wasn’t sure anyone knew what was on the inside. Kev didn’t share—not even with Marco.
“I asked if you’d like me to wait in the car. After you pick the waitress up, that is. You can take her home and fuck her brains out and I’ll wait in the car until you’re done.”
Kev’s face was granite. “I’m not taking the waitress home.”
“But you want to.”
He took a drink of his beer. “Maybe. So what? It’s not against the law.”
Lucky ran her finger up and down the side of the cold mug, playing with the condensation. It wasn’t any of her concern, and yet she was irritated. What did that say about her?
“I’m sorry if I’m cramping your style. I didn’t know Mendez would put us together. And I don’t think you did either.”
Kev leaned forward, both elbows on the table, and gave her a hard look. “I didn’t know he was going to activate you. All I was tasked with was bringing you back. I didn’t know the plan, and I didn’t know he’d want you to go with us.”
She bit the inside of her lip. And then she sighed. “I believe you. It’s not Mendez’s style to share his plans before he needs to. He sent you because of Marco.” Her throat hurt to say the name aloud to Kev, but she was getting better at it. She dragged in another breath. “He knew I’d listen to you.”
One of his dark eyebrows arched. “Seriously? I called you for months and you blew me off.” He leaned back and took another long drink of beer, trying to look casual when she could feel the tension rolling from him. “Hell,
didn’t think you’d listen to me. I also didn’t think you’d try to brain me with a surfboard.”
Lucky closed her eyes and tried to shrug some heat into her shoulders. “I was pissed. And I didn’t brain you.”
“No, you didn’t. But you did ignore my calls.”
She darted her tongue over suddenly dry lips. How could she explain without revealing things about her life with Marco that he wouldn’t understand?
“I didn’t want to talk to you. Any of you. Ever.”
“Yeah, I get that. And I understand.”
She forced a smile. “Well, looks like I didn’t get that wish after all, so what now?”
He shrugged. “We finish these beers, eat the burgers we ordered, and go home. Tomorrow’s an early day.”
“Home.” The word sat in her gut like a stone. She didn’t have a home, not anymore. Unless you counted a zillion acres in Montana where she’d never felt like she belonged. Her mother had begged her to come home after Marco, but she just couldn’t face all that wheat-blond perfection. Her mother, her stepfather, and her half sisters were all cut from the same golden cloth while she’d been the odd one. Her hair was more brown than gold, her skin olive whereas theirs was milky pale. It had been difficult enough to deal with as a teenager. Now? No way.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got two bedrooms, and the place is clean.”
“You’d think with a new facility like that one Mendez would turn loose of a little cash to let me stay in a hotel. Or at least in billeting.”
Except she wouldn’t be quite so easy to control that way. Mendez knew all about breaking a soldier down in order to build them into what he wanted them to be. Taking her independence out from under her was the first step.
“Well, he didn’t, so we gotta live with it.” Kev sipped his beer. “Not only that, but he’s right that we have to spend time together before heading to Qu’rim. Our cover has to be seamless, and for that we have to be comfortable together.”
As if she could ever be comfortable with him.
“I’m supposed to go to Montana for Christmas. Wonder if Mendez will call my mother for me?”
She wasn’t serious, but Kev shrugged. “You’ll think of something.”
She sipped her beer. Yeah, she’d think of something.
Mom, I’ve been recalled to active duty. The world needs me to stop a terrorist.
The waitress showed up with their burgers then and flashed Kev a smile. He smiled right back, and Lucky could hear the woman’s breath catch.
“Anything else I can get you, sugar? Anything at all?”
“Not just yet, darlin’,” he said in that Alabama drawl he liked to exaggerate for effect.
Lucky rolled her eyes as the woman flounced away. “Same old Kev,” she said as she shook salt on her fries. “Dazzling the ladies with Southern charm.”
“Not my fault if they’re dazzled.”
“No, of course not.” She dredged a fry in ketchup and put it in her mouth. She didn’t usually eat like this, but then she didn’t usually get dragged halfway around the world and recalled to active duty either.
She looked up and found Kev watching her, his eyes unreadable. The air between them seemed to grow thicker. Her skin prickled with heat and an awareness that shocked her after so long of feeling nothing. Before she could figure out how to deal with it, how to push it away again, Kev spoke quietly.
“You were never dazzled.”
“I was plenty dazzled,” she said before looking down at her plate and carefully selecting a french fry. “But then I learned you can turn that drawl up or down for effect. It kind of killed the magic. Besides, you had enough women hanging on you. You didn’t need another one.”
Kev didn’t know why he’d said that. Except they were sitting here in this restaurant, the waitress was flirting with him, and he was wondering why just about every woman he’d ever met flirted with him when Lucky never had. He remembered her walking into HOT HQ at Fort Bragg that first day. She’d just been assigned interpreting duties with them, and she’d shown up in her cammies and boots, her hair twisted upon her head, and a take-no-prisoners look on her face.
He’d been cleaning his weapon and he’d looked up as someone—he couldn’t remember who now—brought her in and introduced her. He’d reached out to shake her hand, turned on the charm, and watched her brown eyes go soft. And he’d thought,
Yeah, man, I am
He’d thought about asking her to join him for a beer later, but things came up and it was another week before he’d seen her again. By then, her eyes were no longer soft when she looked at him. They were… unimpressed. That had knocked him for a loop. And yet there’d still been a current of heat between them that only grew stronger the more they worked together.
He’d wondered if it was just him most of the time, but then sometimes he’d catch her looking at him in a way that said it wasn’t. And then there was Marco. She’d seemed a lot freer with Marco than she had with him. He’d taken that as a sign, especially when Marco indicated he wanted her.
Kev drained his beer while his heart throbbed with old memories. The waitress was back before he set the glass down.
“Another?” she asked, lowering her lashes and gazing at him sideways from beneath them.
“No thanks. Just water now, Lisa.” He winked. “Gotta drive tonight. The missus will have another though.”
Lisa’s expression registered confusion as she glanced at Lucky. Kev felt a like an asshole because, yeah, he had been flirting with her. It was second nature to him, but he shouldn’t have done it tonight.