Authors: Lynn Raye Harris
No one had held her in so long. She and Marco had ceased being intimate in the last few months of their marriage. She’d understood why and she’d thought it was for the best.
But it was a shock to realize now that she wanted to be held. But not by just anyone. By this man. She shivered. If Kev noticed, he didn’t say anything.
Instead, he bent until his cheek was next to hers, the profile of his handsome face right there in her peripheral vision. If he turned just a little bit, she could press her mouth to his. She could feel, once more, that firm, gorgeous mouth claiming her own.
Did she want to do that? She did, and it was overwhelming as hell.
The heat rolling off him distracted her, shook her to her core. She hadn’t felt anyone’s heat like that in a very long time. She’d vaguely thought she was fine with that, but now she realized she wasn’t. She
comfort and connection.
Lucky blinked as she tried to process the tsunami of feelings roiling inside her.
“You’re trying too hard,” Kev told her, his arms around her, his cheek so, so close.
Her heart was about to pound right out of her chest. She gripped the gun in clammy fingers as her pulse rocketed into the danger zone. He was touching her and… she didn’t want to shrink from it.
“You gotta concentrate on the weapon, on the way it feels in your hand. You have to let it be a part of you. Imagine you’re pointing at someone and the gun is an extension of your finger.” His hand caressed hers like a lover. “Don’t think so hard. Just point… and then squeeze as you let your breath out. Don’t hold it.”
She pointed, because she had to do something, but she didn’t squeeze. She couldn’t think with him so near. Or, rather, all she could think about was being a part of him. Not a part of this damn gun, but of
God, she was so pathetic. After so long shutting herself away from the world, her senses came roaring back to life with the wrong man. A man who’d already shown her once before that he didn’t want her.
“Stop touching me,” she choked out. Because she had to get away from him before she did something stupid. Before she leaned into his heat and melted against him.
Kev’s arms dropped as if he’d touched a hot stove. He took a step back.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I forgot.”
Her stomach clenched. He knew about her difficulty with being touched. She shouldn’t be surprised, because Marco and Kev had been best friends and would have talked, but it made her feel like a freak. What else had Marco told him?
She gritted her teeth and sighted down the gun. Marco had sworn he’d told no one that he’d asked her for a divorce. He’d wanted her to be able to say she’d broken it off. He’d wanted to leave her with a shred of pride. She closed her eyes as tears welled in her throat. Marco would have kept that promise. He wouldn’t have told a soul.
But he had told Kev she didn’t like to be touched. That much was clear.
And she couldn’t tell him that what she’d really wanted was for him to hold her. He’d think she was crazy. Or pitiful. She couldn’t explain a damn thing.
Lucky lined up the shot and fired, determined to get on with this. To move past the awkwardness and just be normal for a few minutes. But of course she missed. She put the gun on the table and shoved the goggles off. It was no good. She sucked, and she was going to put them all in danger in Qu’rim.
Kev’s arm shot up, trapping her in place when she would have stalked out of the lane. Once more he was close, and she could feel the heat rippling off him. The anger.
“You aren’t walking away from this.”
She pressed her back against the lane divider and stared up at him. It was dim in the range, almost intimate if not for the gunpowder and the methodical sound of Jack firing rapidly and no doubt accurately. She couldn’t see Jack, but she could hear him.
Kev loomed over her, his brows drawn low, a question in his eyes as he searched her face.
Emotion welled inside her, but she swallowed it down and glared hard because she didn’t want him to see the boiling feelings below the mask. Her voice was laced with sarcasm because she needed to lash out. “You never walk away, do you, Kev?”
His jaw flexed, his eyes glowing bright. His mouth was a flat, hard line. And she knew that he understood exactly what she meant. Embarrassment threatened to turn her beet red. Why had she gone there again? Why had she brought up the hospital and his failure to show up when nothing was ever going to change it?
“I walk away when it’s the right thing to do.”
“And how do you know when it is?”
He looked wild for a minute. And then he looked determined. “I couldn’t be what you needed. I wasn’t going to give you false hope.”
Her stomach clenched into a knot. She should know better than to tangle with this man. He might be big and tough and cocky, but he was intense and intuitive. And he damn sure wasn’t stupid.
“I’m mystified that you could have possibly known what I needed when I didn’t know myself.”
She turned and picked up the goggles. Then she grabbed the gun. She wasn’t giving up, damn him. She wasn’t walking away.
Lucky braced her feet apart in the lane and sighted the target. She breathed in and out, in and out, channeling her anger and frustration into her determination. And then, finally, when she let her breath out one more time, she squeezed the trigger.
And the shot connected with the silhouette. It wasn’t perfect—a shoulder shot—but it was progress.
“That’s how it’s done,” Kev said from behind her, as if they hadn’t just been on the brink of an argument. “Do it again.”
They spent another hour target practicing. She knew it was nothing like what Kev usually did, but then she was getting an abbreviated session today anyway. HOT operators fired for hours at a time, until they could do it blind. She wouldn’t ever be able to shoot blind, but she could practice until her accuracy improved.
Which it started to do after an hour. She fired the last of her bullets and Kev appeared in her periphery.
“That’s enough for today.”
The range smelled like spent ammo, all flinty and smoky, when they finished packing up the gear and walked out into the staging area again. Lucky felt oddly calm after obliterating pretend bad guys for the past couple of hours.
Perhaps she’d be even calmer if she could forget what it felt like standing there with Kev’s arms around her, his breath in her ear, his lips a whisper away. He’d rattled her with that move, but not for the reasons he thought.
“You did good in there,” Kev said. “You still need practice, but not as much as I worried you might.”
“Thanks.” The silence between them was starting to grow awkward when they reached the locker rooms again.
Kev’s expression was grave as he faced her. “You’re doing well, but you know we have to do the hand-to-hand stuff soon, right?”
She swallowed. “Yes.”
“I can’t go easy on you, Lucky. Because the other guys certainly won’t. I hope you know that.”
She lifted her chin. “I do. And I’ll be fine.”
And then, on impulse—just to prove she could—she reached out and touched his arm. It jolted her down to her core, but she didn’t jerk away. “I know what has to be done. I’ll handle whatever you throw at me. Because there’s no other choice.”
His gaze dropped to where her hand rested on his arm. Then he looked at her again with a heat that almost took her breath away. But he hid it so fast that she found herself wondering if she’d imagined it.
His expression was placid now. Bland. As if nothing bothered him. “We’ll start early tomorrow. For now, there’s more paperwork to do. And Mendez has some briefs about the Freedom Force he wants you to catch up on.”
She pulled her hand away and tucked it under her arm. “Then I’d better get going,” she said. “Any progress on a car for me?”
He shook his head. “Not yet. Maybe in a few days.”
She tried not to frown too hard. Damn Mendez anyway. “So I’ll meet you somewhere when it’s time to go?”
His voice was soft and deep. “I’ll find you.”
He turned and walked away, and she found herself rooted to the spot, staring at his broad back, his words echoing in her head.
I’ll find you.
They were simple words, but they got under her skin, made her think of other times, other places. North Africa. Hawaii. He’d found her in those places too, just when she thought she never would or never could be found.
Kev always found her. But then he left her alone.
“You doing okay, Big Mac?”
Kev looked up from his desk to find Matt standing over him. He hadn’t even heard his team CO come in. He tossed his pen down and leaned back in his chair. Was he doing okay? Hell no.
He was fighting so many confusing feelings that his head was spinning.
What had he been thinking to wrap himself around Lucky like that? To have her in his arms but not for the reason he wanted her there? She’d stiffened immediately, but still he hadn’t let her go. He’d stood behind her, his hands on her wrists, the flowery scent of her hair in his nostrils, and his body had hardened. It took everything he had not to pull her back against him and let her feel what she did to him.
But then she’d told him to stop touching her, and he’d realized what he was doing. And that she didn’t like it. How could he have forgotten it for even a second?
What a fucking mess. He was holed up in a house with her, thinking about her sleeping in the bed next door to his room and wondering how in the hell he was going to survive the next few weeks.
“Sure,” he lied. “Why do you ask?”
Matt sank down in the chair beside Kev’s desk, leaned back, and folded his hands over his abdomen. His eyes were sympathetic and Kev’s gut clenched.
“I know it’s got to be hard on you, being responsible for Lucky.”
An understatement. Marco had asked him to look out for her, but fantasizing about her naked probably wasn’t what he’d meant. Worse, it wasn’t what she wanted, regardless of her questions about why he’d walked away after she’d been rescued.
She was still hurting over losing Marco. That much was obvious. And he was a bastard for wanting to take advantage of that.
“She’s been through enough thanks to us, don’t you think?”
Kev refused to take the bait and talk about the way Lucky’s presence made him feel. Enough of that and he’d be spilling his guts like a little girl. Worse, he’d probably be off the mission and sent to the shrink to discuss his inappropriate thoughts about his friend’s widow.
“Yeah, I do.” Matt frowned. “But we need her. You know how crucial this is.”
Kev gritted his teeth. “Yes.”
Matt leaned forward then, elbows on knees. “She needs to be ready. And I need to know you can keep your emotions out of this.”
Kev wanted to deny there were any emotions involved. But what was the point? They both knew otherwise. Except Matt thought the emotions were because Lucky was Marco’s widow. And Kev wasn’t about to let him think otherwise.
“We watched our brothers die out there,” Kev said, his throat tight. “If I didn’t fall apart then, what makes you think I will this time?”
Matt’s gaze searched his for a long moment. And then he straightened. “All right. That’s exactly what I wanted to know.” He got to his feet, but he didn’t walk away. “If this changes for any reason, I need to know. If you prefer one of the other guys to take on the role of her husband in Qu’rim, you have to let me know soon. Once we go in, there’s no changing places.”
Kev didn’t even blink. Let one of the other guys be responsible for Lucky’s safety? No way in hell. “Copy that.”
In another hour, Kev logged off his computer and went to find Lucky. She was in a briefing room, film of the Freedom Force running on screen, her eyes shining suspiciously as she turned to see who’d interrupted her.
She hit the pause button and turned away, and he knew she was working to regain her composure. There was no film of Al Ahmad, of course, but they had ibn-Rashad and many of the others. Not to mention shots of the terror they wrought—suicide bombings, massacres, beheadings. It wasn’t light viewing, and it wasn’t for the weak of heart either.
“We have to stop them, Kev.”
He came inside and pulled out one of the chairs around the conference table. “Yeah, we do.”
She drummed her fingers on the tabletop. “I guess I thought I could make it all go away by running as far as possible and trying to be someone different. But the reality is that it didn’t go away. Guys like you are still fighting these bastards while people like me pretend they don’t know what’s going on.” She looked up at him, her eyes still shiny. “How do you stand it?”
He sighed. “I don’t think you do. You just get numb deep down. And you keep on fighting because you know it’s the right thing to do. People like that can’t be allowed to win. Whatever the cost.”
She leaned her head back on the chair. “I know. Poor Marco.”