Authors: Julie Ann Walker
It was an old phrase her momma liked to use in reference to her dad. But Harper figured it summed up Michael in one go, too.
Of course, regardless of how happy she was to see him, or how savage and gorgeous he looked standing there in the middle of the room, she felt her brow furrow, her mouth pucker, and her hands jump to her hips, because, “Really? That’s what you lead with?”
He turned to set his weapon on the table, one of his beefy shoulders lifting in that supremely unconcerned way that only males of the species could pull off. Talk about
But when he yanked his helmet from his head, revealing his thick mink-colored hair and the damp tendrils curling around his temples, her irritation disappeared. Mostly because she became wholly distracted by the fact that her fingers were itching with the memory of what it was to bury themselves into that lush, living mass.
Oh, for love of ladies’ underpants, Harper. Now is not the time.
“I figured that was as good a question as any,” he said, and she tried not to notice how his hard muscles coiled like knotted rope under his fatigues when he shrugged out of his rucksack and undid the Velcro on his body armor. The holster securing the handgun to his thigh came off next, and he set the whole kit and caboodle atop the table.
“Oh, yeah? How about,
you, Harper? Everything okay in here?
” she huffed. “Or maybe,
That’s a pretty good one considerin’ it’s my job to look after the cowardly ol’ coot.” Yup, she had
forgotten the way O’Leary had slammed that door in her face. “Of course, if neither of those do it for you, you could always go with the obvious,
we’re doing lockin’ ourselves in here instead of gettin’ the hell out of Dodge?
That’s a good one, too. I like that one a lot, and…and…and…”
She stuttered to a stop when he took two heavy, yet remarkably fluid steps in her direction. She’d noticed months ago that Michael pretty much embodied the phrase
, because even though he was a hulking mountain of a man, there was also an undeniable grace to him. A nimbleness that spoke of innate coordination and tightly controlled strength.
A memory of the smooth, forceful way he’d moved against her,
her, flashed through her mind in crystal-clear Technicolor glory. Sure, she’d been pretty tipsy at the time. But even had she been three king-sized sheets to the wind, she was confident she would still be able to recall the miles upon miles of his tough, tanned, burning-hot skin. The way his mouth and tongue had teased her like nobody’s business. How his big, rough hands had been so gentle and so very,
knowledgeable. And all that was before you got to the thick, pulsing length of his…well…
. Because a woman would have to be six feet under not to remember something
When he stopped no more than a hairsbreadth from her, the toes of his giant, scuffed combat boots almost touching the tips of her black kitten heels, chills cascaded across her flesh. Not because the air inside the safe room was cold. But because with him so close, his heat radiated out to her in an unseen, highly sensua
Doing her best to hide her reaction, she tilted her chin far back to glance into his face. He had the kind of deep-set eyes that made it look like he was always gazing out from under his eyebrows, watching, calculating, studying. But right now, the ocean-blue of his irises revealed a sardonic glint. And if she wasn’t mistaken, his lips were pulled into the tiniest of smirks.
“First of all,” he said, his voice pitched so low it rumbled through her chest, more felt than heard, “I can see you’re okay. Not a scratch on you. And the wet shirt is a really nice touch, by the way.”
She glanced down at her white cotton blouse and discovered the dousing she’d given herself a moment ago had rendered the material see-through. The peek-a-boo lace of her bra did nothing to hide the deep red of her areolas or the provocative thrust of her pebbled
She yanked the sodden fabric away from her body. And now there was no mistaking that, yes, indeedie, those fabulous lips of his were most certainly
She opened her mouth to tell him to wipe that sardonic grin right off his face, but he beat her to the punch. His expression hardened to living stone.
“Secondly,” he said, “your boss is being held hostage by a group of TTP who’ve barricaded themselves in a room upstairs.”
Oh, holy hell. Why
had the silly man thought he’d be safer in the offices?
“My Team is doing their best to either negotiate his release or formulate a plan to go in and grab him,” he assured her. “But depending on which scenario command chooses, it’s possible you and I could be stuck in here for a while.”
Stuck. In a room. One that had various surfaces on which to get horizontal. With Michael.
Lord, help me.
She’d managed to protect her heart from him after one night together. But two? That would be pushing it. And not because she was a woman and susceptible to the oxytocin—the bonding hormone—that Mother Nature had decreed should flood her system after orgasm. But because Michael was…well…
Sexy and smart. Loyal and courageous. But here was the kicker: in the time she’d known him, she’d come to appreciate the fact that he was just flat-out
And the more she was around him, the more she wanted to
to be around him. In fact, it would be so stinking easy to
She gifted herself with the mental version of a bitch-slap.
lovin’ a soldier.
Right. She couldn’t forget that. Not when it’d shaped her entire childhood.
So, stick to your guns. Stick to the
that’s holy, stick to the conversation!
“Well, I suppose that’s good news,” she said quickly, then added, “About the ambassador still bein’ alive. Not about us bein’ stuck here.” And then it occurred to her. “Which brings us to my third point.
are we stuck in here again? Can’t we just…I don’t know”—she shrugged—“slip out the back door or somethin’?”
“There are still a few remaining Taliban fighters lurking around the building. And since neither I, nor anyone else, is willing to take a chance that a surprise bullet might find you”—
Yup. She could go her whole life without experiencing one of those, thank you very much—“we’re staying locked up safe in here until the place has been completely cleared.”
Searching his face and seeing the lines of strain around his eyes—not to mention talk of the surprise bullet—it suddenly sank in. He’d come in so brash and cocky, acting like everything was A-okay, but the truth of the matter was, he’d been fighting for his life, for
life all afternoon long. And even though she was certain he’d seen and done worse things in his storied military career, that didn’t change the fact that this was the first time he’d seen and done those things for
Her heart immediately swelled up like her lips had done that time she was stung in her grandpa’s barn by a whole nest of dirt dobbers. And it was a wonder her ribs were able to contain the silly organ.
“Oh, Michael,” she whispered, unconsciously dragging a hand through her hair. With tears of gratitude burning the back of her throat, she started to thank him for…
, for being brave and fierce, for being a warrior in every sense of the word—even though a simple
seemed like such an insignificant way to acknowledge all he’d undoubtedly done.
But before she could croak out one heartfelt syllable, he demanded, “And now how about you answering
She swallowed the burgeoning tears in one gulp, frowning up at him. “I’m sorry.” She shook her head. “Which question was that?”
One of his eyebrows lifted, his expression bland. “You know exactly which question.”
know. She was just stalling because…well…because she didn’t know what to tell
I’ve been avoiding you because you were so wonderful that night, more wonderful than I ever imagined, and now I’m afraid that fallin’ for you would be far too easy
certainly wasn’t going to work because… Number one: lame-oh. And number two: she wasn’t ready to hash out the reason why she was convinced going head-over-keister for him was not at all copasetic with her current life plan.
“I…I…” She stopped and licked her suddenly dry lips. What bastard had gone and stuffed cotton in her mouth? And when?
Michael’s ocean-water eyes flashed down to the flick of her tongue, sharpening instantly. The blood coursing through her veins burst into flames like it was made of gasoline and that look of his, that unmistakably
look of his, had been a match.
“I just figured I’d make it easy on you,” she managed, almost convinced that if she glanced down she’d see little sparks flashing through the air separating their bodies. “You know, considering you Navy boys like to practice the art of one-and-done.”
“Bullshit.” Okay. Yup. Leave it to him to call her on it. “You should’ve been relieved of that misconception after I called you the first time much less after I called you the
time. Now, maybe I can understand if you’re playing a little hard to get. I enjoy a good game of cat and mouse as much as the next guy, but—”
“Hard to get?” She went to cross her arms, but he was standing so close her knuckles brushed against the hard, washboard muscles of his stomach. That one touch, that one accidental contact was enough to send electricity shooting up her arm and across her chest, causing her nipples to furl into sharp, painful buds. She did her best to ignore them. “Michael, you already
me. Got me
, if memory serves.”
At that admission, his teeth blazed blindingly white within the dark scruff of his beard. “That’s how I remember it, too,” he rumbled, mistaking her confession for an invitation to snake an arm around her waist. He was quick to dispense with the scant few inches separating them, and she was left with no recourse but to put her palms on the hard bulge of his biceps as the front of her just went ahead and reacquainted itself with the front of him. Her whole body instantly lit up like a roman candle, and it was a wonder she didn’t go shooting off into the air.
Sweet, sweet heavenly Jesus…
Her blood fizzed like the champagne at the embassy party. Her head spun like it had when he’d whirled her around the dance floor. And all this happened because he was already… Whoa. Wait a minute.
“Is that…? Are we talking adrenaline here?” she asked since there was no mistaking the hard, insistent bulge throbbing against her belly. She’d heard the SEALs joking about slinging wood in the midst of battle, and now it seemed she was witness to that very thing.
Or maybe not.
In answer, he spread his wide hand over the small of her back, pressing her closer, rubbing himself against her just the teeniest bit. And now it wasn’t her head that was whirling, it was the room. “No, angel. That’s all for you.”
She gulped, vaguely realizing a little voice was screaming something in the back of her brain. Something that sounded a lot like
that’s holy, Harper! Save yourself the heartache!
But she couldn’t be sure. Not with her ears filled by the sound of whooshing blood and most of her mind occupied with cataloging every minute detail of Michael’s face. The fine lines radiating out from the corners of his eyes, the ones that spoke of the long years he’d spent squinting through the scope of a rifle or laughing with the SEALs. The ever-so-slight list to his nose that attested to a break that was never properly set. The thick fringe of his dark lashes that almost made him look like he was wearing eyeliner.
And the ludicrousness of
thought, of hardcore, rough-and-ready Michael “Mad Dog” Wainwright sporting makeup was enough to jangle some sense into her. “Come on now. We can’t.” She attempted to push away from him.
attempted, if she was being honest. Because nothing was better than being held in his strong embrace.
“Well, because…because…” Truth was, she was having a hard time remembering. With him so close, touching her, her brain had turned to mush. So she fell back on that ol’ tried-and-truism. “This isn’t the time. And this isn’t the place.”
“And there’s a battle ragin’—”
part of the fight is long over,” he interrupted. “Now it’s just cleanup, which my boys are pretty good at.” She could see the certainty in his eyes, hear the confidence in his tone. He truly believed they were safe here, and that it was simply a matter of sit and wait. “I’d say we have a good hour left before we’re sprung from this lockup,” he continued. “So that takes care of your
issue. And as for this not being the place?” He glanced over his shoulder, surveying the table…the cots…the chairs. “Looks pretty suitable to me.”