Authors: Julie Ann Walker
A line appeared between Harper’s brows. “Were you…” she licked her lips, pressing up on her elbows. The move caused her lovely breasts to bounce ever so slightly. “Were you
“Always,” he told her. Then barked out a laugh when her piquant little chin jerked back. “No,” he relented. “We use condoms to keep sand out of the barrels of our M4s. But I think you and I have found a better use for this one.”
“Oh, yes,” she sighed, her shoulders relaxing. Then her gaze drifted down his body, zeroing in on the painfully swollen, angrily red length of him as he rolled on the condom. “Mmm,” she murmured, scooting her plump ass to the very edge of the table. “Hurry,
And by God, she didn’t need to tell him twice. He finished with the condom and stepped between her legs, using his thumb to bend himself down to her. Then, fascinated, he watched his swollen head press between her folds, press into her body, stretching her, filling her inch by excruciatingly slow inch.
And just as it had the first time, every pleasurable sensation he’d ever experienced before was instantly forgotten. Because nothing could compare to Harper’s soft, silky walls closing around him.
“Don’t stop,” she begged. And there was no way he was going to. Not unless he wanted to walk funny for the next ten years…
“Oh, God,” Michael groaned when Harper hooked her heels behind his ass, jerking him forward and seating him that last inch. She was stretched to capacity but not so much that she couldn’t squeeze him, loving the way her nerve endings
with approval. “Do it again, angel. Just…” He pulled out the tiniest bit before pressing home again. “Squeeze me like… Yeah. Just like
He bent to reclaim her mouth, not moving one more inch save for the languid thrust and retreat of his tongue past her teeth. Its cadence matched the pulse of his blood, the pulse of
held so securely inside her.
And that was something she’d learned the night of the party. That Michael liked to savor the first moments of joining, revel in the simple act of being buried inside her and feeling her muscles contract around him as he throbbed and ached and grew harder still. She liked it, too. Because in her very limited experience, most men tended to go straight into jackhammer mode. And that was a crying shame, because this moment was…
There was no other word for it.
Skimming her hands beneath the halves of his shirt, she relished the sleek feel of his back under her fingertips. Except for where a scar marred its perfection, his skin was smooth as Tennessee whiskey, hot as an oven, and hard as stone. In a word, he was
And she? Well, she was woman.
“Now, Michael,” she demanded against his mouth. “Make love to me now.”
She felt his lips curve into a smile, his beard rasping against her cheeks. “Your wish is my command,” he said, and then? Oh, and then he began to
In the way that only Michael could move. With a gentle force that was the epitome of coordination, dexterity, and the deep understanding of how a woman’s body worked.
Thrust and retreat. Thrust and retreat. Each smooth glide ratcheted her pleasure up another notch. She wanted to draw it out. She wanted to make it last. And she could tell by the way he held his breath that he was fighting for the same. Fighting against the pleasure. Against release.
But the pleasure wouldn’t be denied. And despite her best efforts, she climbed higher and higher. Up and up and
Her orgasm exploded through her as surely and as forcefully as any of today’s
“Jesus! Harper!” he bellowed, slamming home and following her into the abyss. And then together they throbbed, her flesh clinging and grasping, contracting around him in hungry pulls. His flesh filling her to the brim and caressing her walls with each forceful pulse.
After a couple of minutes, he bent and pressed a dozen soft kisses to her shoulder. “My sweet, delightful Harper,” he whispered between caresses.
And right then and there, with his strong arms around her, she could almost make herself believe that she
his, that everything she knew to be true was all a big lie, and that maybe, just maybe, she should give him, give
, a chance.
But then reality—and the memory of her mother crying herself to sleep night after night—intruded…
• • •
“You’re lookin’ pretty proud of yourself, sailor.”
Michael realized then, braced as he was on his forearms and hanging above Harper, that his face was split into a huge grin. “Well, I’ve never been one
to congratulate myself on a hand well played,” he told her, chuckling and dropping a kiss on her passion-swollen
And even though she returned the gesture, even though their bodies were still joined, there was something about her response—a subtle withdrawal, a minor retreat—that had all his mental bells and whistles blaring.
Harper was pulling an emotional escape-and-evade maneuver.
He caught her face between his hands, forcing her to hold his gaze and, never being one to pull-his-punches or prevaricate, got straight to the fucking point. “Now, you want to tell me the
reason why you’ve been avoiding me since the embassy party?”
“I told you I thought—”
“Cut the crap, Harper,” he interrupted before she could break into that whole
song and dance. “I never took you for a woman who’s afraid to speak her mind. Don’t you go and prove me wrong.”
Her jaw hardened against his palms. And when she placed a hand on the center of his chest, he was left with no recourse but to pull away from her, pull
of her. The desertion of her warm body was so unexpectedly devastating, his knees loosened and he was forced to brace a hand against the edge of the table. Sullenly, he watched her hop to her feet, her skirt falling to cover her sweet ass as she bent to retrieve her shirt and bra.
And once it became obvious she had no intention of answering him until she’d clothed herself, until she’d placed a barrier between them, he figured he might as well follow suit. After all, if they were about to have a heart-to-heart, it probably behooved him not to do it with his dick swinging in the breeze.
Pulling the used condom off, he hissed when the ring of latex rasped over his hyper-sensitive skin. Tugging his fatigues up his hips one-handed, he left them undone as he went in search of a trash can.
Over by the shelves.
Tossing the prophylactic away, he was in the process of re-buttoning his shirt and tucking it into his pants when she asked, “Where are my panties?”
A smile tugged at his mouth as he dug in his pocket. He plucked out the bit of black satin, causing the two spent shells to also emerge. They fell,
against the concrete floor. And the juxtaposition between the softness of her underwear and the hardness of the casings, between the sweetness of making love to her and the horror of the battle beforehand struck him as totally
But he didn’t have long to dwell on it. She took two steps in his direction and made a swipe for her panties. As lady luck would have it, his six-foot-three stature meant it was easy for him to hold them out of her reach. “Uh-uh. Not until you answer my question.”
Her lips flattened. “You’re not seriously holding my underwear hostage, are you?”
“A man has to take any advantage he can.”
And there they went—her hands found their way to her hips until she stood in front of him like a flame-haired comic book heroine. But when she ran a shaky hand through her curls, God help him, he relented, handing over her panties.
After she stepped into them, wiggling them up her thighs—and that one small sight was enough to have his blood running hot once again—she stood and blew out a breath. “I like you.”
The way his chin jerked back, you’d think she’d popped him one on the jaw.
“Well, that’s good,” he managed, hooking a thumb toward the table. “You know, considering what we were just doing.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I mean I
He couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. And if he wasn’t mistaken, that was his heart turning somersaults inside his chest like one of those Cirque du Soleil performers at the Bellagio. “I
like you too,
She blew out a breath, throwing her hands in the air in disgust. “What I’m tryin’ to say is that I think it’d be real easy for me to…um…
than like you.”
Everything inside him came to a sudden, screeching stop. His heart quit doing flips, his lungs quit sucking in oxygen, and each second that ticked by on his diver’s watch became a little eternity.
“Harper…” Was that
voice, all tight and rusty? “You better just do a full disclosure here, angel. Because I have a feeling this convo just got really real, really fast. And I want to make sure I understand you.”
When she rolled in her lips before running a hand through her hair again, it took everything in him not to reach for her, not to pull her close. But for whatever reason, the woman was spooked. And he dared not make a single move to send her skittering away from him. Not
“I think I could,” she began, then stopped and shook her head. “No. That’s not true. Because I
I could fall in love with you if I let myself.”
Tick. Tick. Tick…
He could hear the second hand on his watch counting the seconds. Which was strange, since it seemed to him that time had stopped.
Now before, when a woman whipped out the L-word, he’d always gotten a little itchy. Like he’d slept on sandy sheets. But this time? Oh, this time there was nothing but bright, tingly warmth spreading over his skin.
“I, uh…” He ran a hand over his beard. Dude, were his fingers shaking? “I suppose if we’re throwing all our cards on the table, I should admit I’ve been thinking I could do a little bit of falling in love with you, too. You know, given the chance.”
Her succulent mouth opened. Then closed. Then opened again. But not a peep came out.
“Harper?” He dared to reach forward and brush two fingers over her satiny cheek. He didn’t know what he was expecting, probably for her to jerk away from him—she looked fragile enough to break with the slightest touch. So he was surprised when she closed her eyes, leaning into his caress.
, he decided.
It’s all or nothing
. “Tell me what you’re so afraid of.”
She pinched her eyes more tightly shut, shaking her
“Why not?” he asked, his breath held.
“Because my momma always told me it’s better to keep my mouth shut and seem a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
“I could never think you foolish, Harper.”
She opened her eyes then. And if he wasn’t mistaken, a sheen of tears gathered on her lower lids.
If she started crying, he didn’t know what he’d do. Probably just break down right alongside her. The thought of brave, boisterous Harper Searcy reduced to tears because of
was just too much.
“Could you think me a coward?” she asked, her voice hoarse. “Because that’s what I am.”
“Why do you say that?”
She dragged in a breath, and he noticed her naturally pale skin was chalk white, making the cinnamon-colored freckles on her nose stand out. “Did you know my father was an Air Force pilot?”
The change of subject was so jarring, Michael felt like he suffered from whiplash. “Uh…that’s a negative. You never said—”
“Well, he was. He’s retired now. But he was active duty for nearly twenty-five years.”
“Harper, what are you trying to tell me?”
She searched his eyes. Then shook her head, her shoulders drooping dejectedly. “Just that I listened to my mother cry herself to sleep every night when my father was deployed. Just that I saw them struggle to reform their bond, their
, each time he came back home just a little bit different than when he left. Just that being married to an airman was a burden that nearly broke my mom who, by the way, is a much stronger woman than I am.”
She held up a hand to halt his interruption. “And since that’s the case, I promised myself early on that I wouldn’t make the same mistake she did. That I wouldn’t let myself fall for a military man. That instead I’d choose a nice
guy to love. One who wears a tie and comes home for dinner every night instead of one who goes off to war in places I can’t even pronounce. I don’t
to be scared every day that two uniformed officers might knock on my door with their hats in their hands. I don’t
to go to bed alone more nights than not. I want barbecues in the backyard and baseball in the park and B-rate movies on Sundays. I want a man who will
there, Michael. And if you think that’s cowardly or foolish, I won’t blame you. Because it
It’s both of those things. But it’s the way I feel.”
And there it was. The truth. In all its unvarnished glory.
He started grinning.
• • •
Harper expected any number of expressions from Michael. A curled lip of disgust, maybe. The narrowed eyes of disapproval, for sure. Which meant his smile had her cocking her head and staring at him. “Um…why are you grinnin’ at me like a billy goat in a briar patch?”
To her utter consternation, his smile widened. “Because all those things you say you want, I want, too. The barbecues and the baseball and the B-rate movies.”
He snaked an arm around her waist, dragging her forward. And just like they always did, her nerve endings lit up like Fourth of July firecrackers. She couldn’t breathe. Either because he was taking up all the air in the room, or because, despite her best efforts to keep her heart uninvolved, she’d failed. And the silly thing was breaking…just a little.
She thought she’d explained herself. She thought she’d made herself inexplicably clear. But he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that she—
“In fact,” he continued, oblivious to her growing distress, “catching reruns of
is one of my favorite things. You know what I’m talking about? When the guys sit down front and comment on the B-rate movies that—”
“I know what
is,” she interrupted, exasperated. For such an intelligent man, he sure was pulling that whole
light’s on but no one’s home
“Oh, good.” He nodded, hitching her another inch closer, until she was forced to either let her arms dangle uselessly or put her hands on his chest. She chose the latter—poor, misguided woman that she was—and could feel his heart beating beneath her palm. It was so solid. So steady. And the urge to lay her head there and listen to its heavy cadence was overwhelming. Almost as overwhelming as the impulse to throw all her carefully constructed plans right out the window. To give in to him in all ways. Even if it meant a lifetime of frightened tears and lonely nights. “Because here’s the thing, Harper. Since the very first day I met you, I’ve felt certain of something.”