Authors: Kimberley Troutte
He grinned and lifted an eyebrow. Total male-cockiness.
She wasn’t demanding he stay so she could jump him, even if she had a passing thought of doing so. No, the heat he’d started up in her would have to wait. But he wasn’t going to the surface if she could help it. The triad might shoot him. She didn’t need another dead boyfriend on her conscience.
She hardly knew Charlie.
But in a real way she knew the Black Pirate better than any of the men she’d dated.
If she was being honest with herself, she’d always cared deeply for the Pirate. There was something so strong and loyal about him. He was generous and kind. While they’d played video games, she’d told him things about herself she shared with anyone. That time he talked about his mom—a single-mother who raised him and his brother by herself—Amber’s heart had melted. At that moment, she’d been missing her own mom. She trusted him, completely. But he was a persona, not real. What if he and Charlie really weren’t one and the same? She stared into his green eyes, trying to see the Pirate inside. The man holding his breath didn’t move as if he was waiting for her to make up her mind. To see him.
Sucking in a deep breath, she filled her lungs, and then pulled the thingy out of her mouth. She handed the breather to Charlie. He cocked his head, studying her. Then he took a couple hits off the rebreather and handed it back.
He offered his hand and she took it. They locked their fingers together and swam deep under the water, sharing life breaths as they went. For now, she was going to put her faith in the Black Pirate and cross her fingers. God, she hoped Charlie really was a good guy.
They rose to the surface at the far side of the
“All clear.” Charlie motioned for her to go first. “Duck behind the protection screen once you're aboard.” Strong hands onboard reached to pull her up, while Charlie, still in the water, gave her ass a shove.
Shooting a glance over her shoulder Amber snapped, “Hey, watch where you’re putting your hands.”
“He’s watching all right. Got himself an eye full.” Shielding her with his muscular frame, the man on deck moved her behind a screen.
“Shut up,” Charlie grumbled and hoisted himself aboard. He followed behind, shucking his scuba gear as he moved. "Amber, this is my brother, Willy."
She eyed the brother. Damn, he was hot too. These boys were blessed with top male model faces and weight-lifter arms.
“Towel?” Willy offered.
“Please. I’m freezing.” She was dripping and colder than she’d been since her last trip to the Himalayas.
“I can fix that.” Moving as fast as a cat, Willy wrapped the towel around her. He rubbed her shoulders and back, warming her up. There wasn’t much room behind that screen. Willy stood so close that his thighs bumped the back of her legs, knocking her off-balance. She had no choice but to lean into him.
“Relax. I’ve got you.” His voice was a soft purr in her ear. She could feel his heat, and as cold as she was, it took all her strength not to snuggle even closer.
“What are you doing?” Charlie ran a towel over his tanned, bare chest.
Her heart nearly stopped. With Willy pressing into her back and Charlie’s half-naked beauty in front, she could barely think straight.
“This is called warming up a woman, Charles. Shit, how long has it been since you’ve held one?” Willy teased.
The way Charlie’s green eyes flashed, she suspected a nerve had been hit.
“I’m warm. Thanks.” Amber cinched the towel tight around her.
“You two were out there a long time. Mack was just about to send a search party. What happened?” Willy’s breath made the hairs dance on her neck.
Amber wasn’t going to mention the kiss. It seemed like a dream, anyway. She’d been fantasizing about having her way with the Black Pirate for weeks and bam, there he was, as if she’d created him from need and desire. She was getting warmer by the second remembering how right his lips had felt on hers. Who kisses like that while treading water in the middle of the harbor?
Charlie’s gaze was on her. “Triad had us surrounded. We had to stay down.”
Willy rested his hands on her shoulders. “You had one rebreather the whole time?”
“We shared,” she said.
“We did. Thanks for trusting me.” Charlie wiped a drip of water off her cheek. “You could have kicked me with those ball-busting heels and left me to drown out there.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “You got lucky.”
"I like getting lucky," Willy whispered. “And sharing.”
She swallowed hard.
“Take your hands off the girl.” A voice rumbled through Charlie’s comm.
Charlie winced. “You don’t have to bellow, Mack. We all heard that.”
“Good. Cut out the shit…” Charlie stepped away and Amber couldn’t hear the rest.
“Tavon and Mack are keeping an eye out from another location,” Willy explained. “As soon as we get the all clear, we’ll rock and roll.”
Amber faced him. “Where are we going? 14K will be crawling over the airports.”
“Mack will fill us in.” He cocked his head when Charlie came around the screen.
“He wants us on-point.” His gaze was on her again, warming her soul. "Jenna is down below with a dry change of clothes. You’re safe now. Try to relax.”
“Jenna?” Amber blinked. “Jenna Collins? That means…My dad really did send you.” Relief rushed through her veins. Dad sent the pirate. It was a miracle. Before she could stop herself she leaped into Charlie’s arms and kissed him on the lips.
Charlie seemed stunned, but only for half a second. He lifted her wet hair off her shoulders and deepened the kiss. Shifting his weight, he pulled her into him. Her breasts pressed against his solid chest. His lips were a life ring, keeping her afloat in the rushing, scary world.
“Charlie!” A voice roared through the earpiece dangling over Charlie’s shoulder.
“Dude, apparently you do remember how to hold a woman. But I’d suggest you come up for air, or Mack’s going to beat the living hell out of you,” Willy whispered.
When Charlie pulled back, she felt disoriented, lost. “You’re leaving me?”
“I won’t be far. Get dressed.” He cupped her check. “You’re safe now, Amber. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
won’t. The whole team is ordered to bring you in safely,” Willy said.
She leaned into Charlie’s palm and searched his green eyes for the truth. “Promise?”
His full lips turned up. “Promise.”
Wowza, he was gorgeous. Once again, she wished she’d taken him up on his offer to meet earlier. “You know, I figured you’d be chubby, bald and pasty. Thank God you’re…”she let her gaze take a nice easy stroll across his chest and abs. It took a whole lot of willpower to keep her eyes from dipping lower. “…you’re definitely more than I pictured, Black Pirate.”
When his mouth dropped open in surprise, she lifted her towel up to block her face from potential spying eyes, and stepped around the protection screen. Jenna was down below. Hopefully, with answers.
“Have you two met before?” she heard Willy ask.
ammit to hell! You two get you asses out of there. I want a
. Inconspicuous, plenty of cover. Can you two handle
“Copy that, Mack.” Charlie’s voice came over the line.
“Good. Get it done and report back to take point.”
“Hey, Mack, Charlie’s already got a point,” Willy laughed.
Flat on his belly in the bottom of a skiff, Mack dipped the binoculars he had trained on the
and groaned. “Those two are slow learners.”
Tavon was on his belly too, facing the opposite direction, and scoping out potential hostiles at sea. “I know, brother. When God was handing out brains, they got in the penis line.”
“If the horny Handlys won’t keep it in their pants, we’ll be benched for eternity.”
“Okay by me. I’m retiring from the Navy. I thought maybe you would too, considering…”
Mack turned his head slightly so he could see his best friend. “What?”
The big man’s shoulders lifted and fell. “Nothing.”
Mack ran a hand through his short hair. He knew what Tavon was thinking. “I haven’t decided yet. The SEALs are in my blood, what I was born to do. I don’t know how to give it up.”
“Understood, but I’m surprised you think you can leave Jenna behind.”
Mack frowned. “She and I are talking through that.”
“Really? How’s that working out for you?” Humor rippled through Tavon’s deep voice.
“Uh-huh. I have big brown eyes that function 20/20, Riles. And my momma says I’m not stupid.”
“You brought Jenna on this op. Unless she’s had years of extensive field training in the last few weeks, she has no business being here. You’re in it deep, brother.”
“She has intel, knows the ins-and-outs of Hong Kong better than any of us.”
“Right. She couldn’t give us that intel before we left? She had to be present?”
“Fitz thought his daughter would be spooked if we went in without Jenna.”
“Charlie and Willy seemed to calm her down pretty quickly.” He could hear the grin in Tavon’s voice.
“Don’t remind me. Because of those horndogs, I’ve got to commission another boat. I don’t want them distracted.”
“Copy that. We wouldn’t want any female distractions.”
Mack fell silent. They both scanned the area for hostiles. So far, the triad had moved on.
“It’s me, brother. What’s really going on?”
Mack exhaled deeply. “I need to keep an eye on Jenna. That’s all.”
“Because of what happened in the jungle?”
Mack’s insides clenched. He was having trouble with what happened in Colombia and he hadn’t been beaten by the guerrillas like she had. “She says she’s fine, but you and I have seen trained men snap under less stress. I couldn’t leave her alone. She’s having nightmares.” He left off the panic attacks she was going through. Tavon didn’t need to be worried. Mack could handle it.
Tavon shook his head. “Shit, Riles, she’s a liability out here, a danger to us all. We need to get her on the next flight home.”
Mack ground his teeth. “She’s my responsibility.”
“Yes, she is. Protect her. Send her back.”
Jenna should have flown home before they rescued Amber from the yacht. He knew it at the time, but he couldn’t let her go. He lifted his binoculars again and focused on the
. His girl was over there, helping Amber clean up. He liked breathing the same air she did, being able to touch her skin, hear her sweet, soft voice. Having her close was the only thing that truly mattered. He couldn’t take care of her if she was back home.
“Shit.” Tavon let the word drag out nice and slow and loaded it with contempt. “You watch her, I watch you, who’s watching out for me?”
Mack’s hackles rose. “Tavon, if you’ve got a problem with my authority you don’t have to stick around.”
A giant boot kicked his calf so hard that Mack knew there’d be a bruise in the morning. “Dammit, Mack! Don’t pull that rank crap on me. We’re a team. You need me so your love-hazed brain doesn’t get us all killed.”
Even though he wanted to rub the ache in his leg, he didn’t move, didn’t say a word. Tavon was probably right. It wasn’t the smartest thing to bring Jenna, even if Fitz demanded she come. There wasn’t anything he could do about it now that they were all floating in the South China Sea.
“I’d love to hear what the admiral said about this. I bet he shit a truckload of bricks when you told him you were bringing Jenna along for the ride,” Tavon said.
“I haven’t informed him of that fact yet.”
Tavon chuckled, deep and low. “Well that’s it. It was nice knowing you. I’ll be a pallbearer at your funeral.”
“I’m serious. You’ve got to get your shit together, brother. For everyone’s sakes. Including Jenna’s.”
Mack exhaled. “I know. I’m working on it.”