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Authors: Emmy Curtis

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary Women, #Erotica, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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BOOK: Pushing the Limit
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Chapter Five

Harry stood up, stretched, and stifled a giggle when Matt groaned as he slid out of her. He hadn’t disappointed. Here’s to fantasies coming true. She grinned at him in the mirror, but his eyes weren’t on her face—they were on her back.

He swept her hair across her shoulders. Ah, he must have seen her tattoo. “It was my husband’s unit. EOD,” she said, hoping that would be enough information. But no.

“I know what it is, and most of them are divorced. EOD doesn’t only stand for Explosive Ordinance Disposal. It also stands for…”

“Every one divorced.” She turned to him. “I know. And I’m not divorced.”

He stared at her, a rush of different emotions passing over his face. “I’m sorry.” He backed away and grabbed his pants. “I know a lot of good guys who aren’t here anymore.”

“I knew just one.” Damn. How had this conversation become so out of control in the space of about thirty seconds? She wished she could dial it back in. Clearly this wasn’t a great conversation for him, either; he hadn’t looked at her since he said he was sorry. “It’s okay. It’s been seven years since he died. I’m fine. Please don’t feel sorry for me.”

“Seven years? Maybe I knew him. What branch of service?” He was practically dressed now, as if he was layering on armor. She would laugh if he didn’t seem so… distressed?

“Air force. Danny McCantry.”

His jaw dropped and his head was shaking before he said anything. “Danny’s wife was called Marko.”

How would he even remember that? Shit and hellfire. This was a whole other kettle of fish. His teeth were actually grinding. She grabbed her shorts and tank and sat next to him on the bed. “My maiden name is Markowitz; Danny and I met when we were twelve. He always called me Marko.”

“Danny was my best friend. I just fucked my best friend’s wife.” He ground the words out, and her heart dropped along with her stomach. Nausea rose, and she took some deep breaths to steady herself. Memories of Danny talking about his unit buddies flooded back. Stories, photos. She’d never met many of them until the funeral. And she barely even remembered the funeral, just the faces of the people that visited afterward.

She touched his arm, but he jumped away as if her hand was white-hot. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he said, running his hands through his hair. His voice was low, but it had the intensity of a shout. He grabbed for his clothes and was dressed before she could formulate an adequate response to this nightmare.

“I’m sorry you’re upset. This was… unfortunate. But Danny died years ago. I’ve moved on.” Wow, she’d said it so often she nearly believed it herself. Yes, she’d moved on sexually, professionally, and physically, but not emotionally. Never.

“I haven’t.” He said the two words as two distinct sentences. “How could you just sleep with me like that? Doesn’t Danny’s memory mean anything to you?”

Fury flashed through her. Heat throbbed through her head. “How dare you.
How dare you.
Get. Out.”

He slammed the door behind him.

Harry curled up on the bed. Hot tears already ran down her face. How dare he judge her? How dare he say the words that only she could say to herself? Damn him. She sniffed and pushed her chin up in defiance, swiping the drips that fell from her face. She wasn’t crying for Danny. It was the humiliation. As if someone was calling her out on the doubts she’d always had about the proverbial “moving on” widows were supposed to do.

Damn him to hell. This wasn’t her. Why the hell was he getting to her like this? She lived life to the full, every second she could. She knew she would eventually end up with Danny somewhere, so how she lived her life here was completely up to her. She loved life, and she was damn well going to live it the best way she knew how. Adventures, being beholden to no one, and lovely, amazing sex when it felt right.

She wasn’t going to apologize for how she lived, how she chose to live, and she wasn’t going to let Matt get to her. No way. She got up and turned the shower on.

No effing way.

* * *

What had just happened? What shit had just descended on his world? How was it possible to go from ecstasy to horror in a minute?

He paced up and down his room, trying to make sense of what had happened. He’d fucked Danny’s wife. She’d given herself to him like… like what? his coherent side asked.

Dammit. He’d just basically called her an adulterer. A slut, even. He stopped pacing and fell back on the bed as if he’d been shot. He’d touched her the way Danny had touched her. It was bad. Like he’d broken an unspoken oath.

Danny’s death was the faded receipt in the book of his life. There was before, and after. Before, he’d been carefree, light, happy. After he watched his best friend dissolve into the pretty pink mist, he was stressed, tense, heavy. There was light and then dark. Sex served two purposes for him. Got him out of crowds, and for a minute, maybe an hour, made him forget that day.

Suddenly it was as if all his hens had come home to roost. She was right—it had been seven years. He should be over it. But how did anyone get over something like that?

Therapy,
a little voice inside said.

He shook his head and ignored the voice. How did he make this better? He couldn’t un-fuck her. There was only one thing to do. He would do his job and go back to Hawaii. Forget it happened.

Because he always found it so easy to forget.

Well first he’d have to apologize to her anyway. If she let him. How could this have gone so wrong? It was like fate was playing chicken with him. The odds of meeting her at a wedding, then that amazing—whatever you could call it—in the restaurant garden. Then three months of fantasizing about seeing her completely naked, burying himself in her, only to find her here, halfway across the world, as exciting and beguiling as he remembered. Shit. She had him using words like “beguiling.” He was truly fucked. And not in a good way.

Chapter Six

Harry was down for breakfast before anyone else. The metal fragment was back in her pocket, and her work folders were spread out on the big table she’d taken.

“Harry? Harry Markowitz?” An unfamiliar English-accented voice made her look up.

It belonged to an elderly man in a three-piece suit, who looked slightly familiar. Yes, an archaeologist she’d met at a conference maybe three years before.

“Malcolm, right? I’m sorry, I don’t remember…” she stood and held out her hand.

He shifted his folders to his left arm and shook it. “Rapson. Malcolm Rapson.”

“Of course. You gave a talk on Middle Eastern antiquities. I was transfixed by the artifacts you brought with you. I really enjoyed your lecture.” She looked at his folders. Top one was the same as hers. From the Megellin Foundation.

“That’s very kind of you to say. Yes. Very kind indeed,” he said, already eyeing the breakfast buffet.

“You’re here with the Megellin Foundation, too?” Strange that it had more than one surveying team at a time out here. Usually they only worked one area at a time. She flipped over her folder so he could see her identical one.

He looked as puzzled as she was. “How odd, my dear. Where are you working?” He placed his folders on her table and opened the black shiny one and pulled out his map. It was identical to hers in every way, except the highlighted area on his map was geographically to the west of hers, so his east boundary abutted her west boundary. She showed him her map.

“Strange, but not unheard of, my dear. They pay well, so I assume their coffers are not as depleted as some of my clients’ are. Maybe they just don’t have time to do consecutive surveys.”

“I’m sure that’s it. Maybe our teams can get together sometime while we’re here. I’d love to hear your take on the recent finds near Erbil,” she said, trying not to gush. She’d love to spend time with an archaeologist with his reputation. God, if they found something here, maybe she could coauthor a paper with him.

“That would be delightful. We’ll organize a get-together later in the week when we’ve got to grips with the landscape.”

“Perfect. Well, enjoy your breakfast!” she said sitting down. What a treat. To be here with a world-renowned archaeologist, one who remembered her name. This was going to be an awesome couple of weeks. And then she remembered Matt, and sighed. Well, once she got rid of him, it would be awesome.

Molly and Jason came down together, making her wonder again if they were already involved. If so, that was unusually fast work for Molly. Usually Molly was a watcher. She’d watch and understand every aspect of a man before she started flirting. She said it was the little things that showed who a man really was. How they talked to waitresses, how they behaved when they thought no one was watching. But she always was.

“Morning, guys. Go grab some food, and we’ll make a plan for the day,” she said after Molly had kissed her cheek. She swore Molly made her feel more like a mother than she was comfortable with.

A friendly waiter filled three coffee cups with the wonderful aromatic strong brew that made her happy for the morning. She craved it when she wasn’t in the Middle East. She hadn’t found a restaurant anywhere in the U.S. that made it the way they did here. She looked around briefly and wondered if she could find someone here to give her a lesson. She made a mental note to ask before she left. She inhaled the scent before taking her first sip.

Molly returned to the table and laughed. “You’d think this was the closest you’ve come to sex in ages by the look on your face. You look like you’re in heaven.”

Hmmm. “Oh, I am. Taste it and see.” She took another sip.

Molly sniffed the coffee and took a sip. A second passed as her face started to flush. She took a quick look around and dribbled it back into the cup.

“Oh my God, are you kidding me?” Harry said, mock sternly. “I’m never going to be able to show my face in here again.” She shook her head as if Molly was an exasperating child.

Jason sat next to Molly. “I saw that from over there.” He nodded toward the buffet. “I ordered you some tea.”

“Thank you, Jason.” She turned to Harry. “See,
someone
here has my back.”

Harry rolled her eyes. And then she saw Matt. She’d taken the biggest table against the wall, so she had a view of the foyer, but she knew that he couldn’t see the others at the table because they were out of his line of sight. She tried to shake her head, but he made a beeline for her nonetheless.

She stood up abruptly, rattling the table and causing the other two to look up quizzically.

“I’m really sorry for what I said. I was so far out of line…” he began.

“Matt, these are my assistants on this trip: Molly and Jason.” She pointed around the wall to the guys.

* * *

Fuck.

Smooth, Stanning. Real smooth. “Good morning. I’m Matthew Stanning from JPAC.” He shook both of their hands and noticed that Jason looked a little pissed to see him. Competition for the ladies?

“JPAC?” Jason asked, spearing a piece of fruit a little too aggressively.

“Joint POW/MIA Command. It’s our job to find and bring our troops home. I was sent to look at the piece you found.” He sat down, and a waiter brought him a coffee.

Jason sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. “That was fast, we found it less than twenty-four hours ago.”

He wasn’t going to explain himself to this pipsqueak. “The air force is just, really, that fast.”

Molly leaned over the table, pushing her glasses up her nose as she peered at him. “Ooh, you’re air force? How lovely. Did you bring a uniform?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry did a double take, and Jason bristled under her words. He didn’t know what the fuck dynamic he’d walked into here, but it was interesting, that was for sure. Now if he could just get Harry alone so he could apologize and do his job and move on.

“I do have a uniform with me, yes,” he said carefully.

“Is it hard?” Molly continued, making him choke on the coffee he just sipped. There was a silence.

“Is what hard?” he asked, smiling at the sight of Harry with her face in both hands.

“Oh my God, get your minds out of the gutter,” Molly said, looking around the table. “I meant, is your job hard? Searching for people you know are dead.”

He set his cup back on the table. “It’s the most satisfying job I’ve ever done. It is also hard, for the reason you just said, but when you find them, and you reunite them with their families, who can now give them a proper burial, it’s the best job in the world.” He looked at Harry. “A close friend of mine died here in Iraq, and we were barely able to bring any of him home. That made me choose this line of work. To bring some peace to people who had always been left wondering.”

There was a silence, and then Harry said, “Then I’d like to thank you for your service.” In a quiet voice.

“You’re welcome.” He cleared his throat. “So what are the plans for today? I take it it’s okay if I tag along with you?”

“Of course it is,” Molly said with a big smile. “The more the merrier.”

Matt eyed them all. “You know you’re supposed to have security at all times in Iraq, right? All American citizens are.”

“We do. We have Mueen. He’ll be waiting outside in a truck, ready to take us to the dig,” Harry said. “Why don’t you grab some food, and we’ll gather our stuff and meet you outside in, say, ten minutes?”

Molly and Jason got up and left. Leaving Harry. She looked at him in silence.

“I’m sorry about this morning. I overreacted. I… there was no excuse for it. Just… Danny’s still very alive in my mind.” He looked back down at his coffee. Damn. He had not meant to say anything as revealing as that.

She got up and pulled out the chair next to him. “He is in mine, too. But I can’t live with his memory dictating my every move. I choose to live without him now, because I made the choice long ago to die
with
him.”

What?
His shock at her words must have reflected in his expression, because she laid her hand on his arm.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t explain that at all well.” She cleared her throat. “I choose to live without Danny in my head. He was the love of my life. But I’ll die with him in my heart. I made my peace with that long ago. You should, too. It’s nothing to feel ashamed of, the way you feel. But you can’t go through life miserable because of his death.”

He scraped his chair on the floor in his rush to get up. People looked up from their breakfast to see who had made the noise. “So we’re okay, then?” he asked.

“Of course,” she said simply.

He got the hell away from her and took the stairs to the rooms two at a time. This trip was fucking with his head.
She
was. Or maybe it was his own demons, insisting they were heard for once.

BOOK: Pushing the Limit
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